We've rolled through all six BCS conferences so now its time to take a look at the little guys. We'll begin our mid-major sojourn with Conference USA, one of two mid-major leagues with a pair of divisions and a conference title game. For a primer, here's the link to last year's Conference USA post.
As usual, this first paragraph will explain how SDPI is calculated. So if you want the meat of this article skip on down. In the 2010 Conference USA regular season, conference play only, championship game excluded, the average Conference USA team gained and allowed 3306.67 yards. The standard deviation for yards gained (offense) was 565.42 yards. The standard deviation for yards allowed (defense) was 328.68 yards. Marshall gained 2441 yards and allowed 2910 yards. Their offensive SDPI was -1.53 = [(2441-3306.67)/565.42]. Their defensive SDPI was 1.21 = [(3306.67-2910)/328.68]. Their total SDPI was -0.32. This number ranked 8th in Conference USA.
Here are the 2010 Conference USA standings.Now here are the 2010 Conference USA SDPI standings. The standings are sorted by division by total SDPI with ranking for each category (out of 12 teams) in parentheses.For the first time since the league expanded and split into two divisions in 2005, Conference USA had a team ranked in the final AP poll. In fact they had two (first time ever). With their bowl victories over Georgia and Hawaii respectively, UCF and Tulsa finished 21st and 24th in the last AP poll. Meanwhile, at the Hall of Justice, err, the bottom of the standings, Memphis has now lost 13 consecutive league games since beating UTEP in 2009.
So Who Was Better Than Their Record Showed?
Houston has been a threat to win the western division nearly every season since the league expanded. From 2006-2009, the Cougars finished either first or a game back of first each season. They weathered the loss of the school's all-time leading passer in 2007 when Kevin Kolb departed and one year later a coaching change when Art Briles left for Baylor. However, a confluence of forces in 2010 caused them to miss out on a bowl game for the first time since 2004. Cobb's heir to the quarterbacking throne, senior Case Keenum was lost for the year in the season's third game with an ACL injury. The good news for Cougars fans is that Keenum was awarded an extra year of eligibility so he will be back under center in 2011. Even without Keenum for seven of their eight league games, the Cougars still produced the league's second most prolific offense (behind Tulsa). Houston has now finished first or second in Conference USA in offense for each season that I have been calculating SDPI (since 2005). While Keenum's understudy, freshman David Piland, did gain some valuable experience, he also made a fair share of rookie mistakes. Piland threw nine interceptions in his seven league starts. By comparison, Keenum threw just eight in 16 starts from 2008 to 2009. With those interceptions, Houston had the second worst turnover margin in Conference USA in 2010 (-5). The Cougars also went winless in one-score games in 2010, falling to Rice by three, UCF by seven, and Tulsa by three. With Keenum back in the fold, expect the Cougars to return to their rightful place near the top of the west in 2011.
So Who Was Worse Than Their Record Showed?
Ruffin McNeill continued the Skip Holtz magic at East Carolina. Despite posting marginal to below average statistics, the Pirates continue to finish in the upper-half of their division and play in bowl games. While under Holtz, the Pirates won with a stout defense and middling offense, the 2010 Pirates flipped the script. East Carolina had an above-average offense for the first time since 2005 with Boston College transfer Dominique Davis throwing 37 touchdown passes in 2010 (the Pirates threw just 30 touchdown passes as a team in 2008 and 2009 combined). However, the defense went from the second best in all of Conference USA, to the worst. Ruffin McNeill, a defensive coach will have to coax some serious improvement out of that side of the ball, as the Pirates allowed at least 40 points in ten of their 13 games.
Best Offense: Tulsa 1.46
The Golden Hurricane were held below 400 yards just once in conference play. They gained just 364 yards in their loss to SMU that ultimately decided the western division.
Worst Offense: Memphis -1.67
With a new coach and a new quarterback, no one was walking with their feet 10 feet off of Beale. Outside of their first game against East Carolina when they set their high-water conference mark in yards (413) and points (27), the Tigers averaged just 279 yards and 14.4 points per game through the rest of conference play.
Best Defense: UCF 1.66
For the second year in a row, and third time in the past four seasons, UCF owned the best defense in Conference USA. That unit also played pretty well in their clashes with the big boys. UCF held Georgia to six points in their bowl win, held NC State quarterback Russell Wilson to his worst passer rating in any start as a collegian, and held Kansas State running back Daniel Thomas to his second worst per carry average on the year.
Worst Defense: East Carolina -1.45
This is what happens when you lose nine starters and your head coach. The Pirates allowed roughly 112 more yards per game to their league foes in 2010 versus 2009 (473 to 361).
Jeff Godfrey: A Godsend
Heading into the 2010 season, UCF looked to be one of the favorites to win their half of Conference USA and perhaps earn a date with an SEC foe in the Liberty Bowl. The Knights defense had been one of the best units in the league for the previous four seasons and looked to be stacked again with seven returning starters. However, the offense, in particular the quarterback position looked to be an area of weakness. Wake Forest transfer Brett Hodges put up solid numbers in his lone year as a starter in 2009, but the only quarterback with any experience heading into 2010 was Rob Calabrese. As a starter in 2008, Calabrese appeared more suited for an offense run by Amos Alonzo Stagg as he completed under 40% of his passes (39.4). Calabrese got the nod in the opener against IAA South Dakota State and actually showed some promise, completing 12 of 15 passes for 176 yards and a touchdown. Against NC State in the team's second game, Calabrese showed that perhaps he should be playing IAA football as he completed just 10 of 18 passes for 106 yards and two interceptions. Down 21 points and in need of a spark, head coach George O'Leary turned to true freshman Jeff Godfrey. Godfrey completed seven of his ten passes, throwing for 107 yards against the Wolfpack. He did not throw any touchdown passes, but he did rush for two scores and 53 yards on the ground. UCF was within seven and in the red zone late in the game when receiver Quincy McDuffie fumbled a Godfrey completion which NC State recovered. The Wolfpack held on for a 28-21 win, but UCF had discovered their quarterback of the future (and present). Behind Godfrey's heroics and another fine defensive showing, the Knights finished 7-1 in league play, beat SMU in the championship game, and upset Georgia in the Liberty Bowl. Godfrey finished the season with the 15th best quarterback rating in the nation (154.31), and he also added over 500 yards on the ground for good measure. He has a ways to go, but Godfrey could end up being the school's most accomplished passer, surpassing even the great Daunte Culpepper.