We are just a shade over 6 weeks until kickoff of the 2011 college football season. Our next stop on the preseason preview train is the midwest, and the Big 10, a conference that will host its first ever championship game this December. Before you read this year's preview, check out last year's Big 10 preview.
Koenning and Guile
Casual college football fans likely don't know who Vic Koenning is, and why should they? Koenning was a failure in his brief stint as a head man, winning just 5 games in 3 seasons at Wyoming. However, since returning to coordinator duties, Koenning has consistently elicited fine showings from his defenses. 2010 was no exception as Illinois posted the third best defense in the Big 10. The table below lists the defensive SDPI of each of the last 6 defenses Koenning has coached, as well as their defensive rank in the their respective conferences.Koenning took over as defensive coordinator at Clemson in 2005 and within one season had the Tigers at or near the top of the defensive pecking order. He joined Bill Snyder's staff at Kansas State in 2009, and while the defense was below average, the Wildcats still improved dramatically as they were dead last in the Big 12 in defense in 2008 (-1.82 defensive SDPI). He then joined the Illini staff in 2010 and coaxed a fine showing from a defense that had finished 9th in the 11 team Big 10 the previous year (-0.75 defensive SDPI).
So it's clear Koenning has a track record of producing solid to outstanding defensive performances, but how much did he improve the fortunes of Kansas State and Illinois in 2009 and 2010 respectively? Since their defenses were so bad in 2008 and 2009, it's likely they would have improved regardless of who was coaching up the defense. To answer this question, I first looked at all BCS conference defenses between 2005 and 2009 that produced a defensive SDPI of between -1.50 and -2.00 (that is one and a half to two standard deviations below average). These defenses were comparable to Kansas State in 2008. 17 BCS conference defenses (not including Kansas State in 2008) in that 5-year period met those criteria. Of those 17 teams, 15 improved the next season. The average improvement was nearly an entire standard deviation (+0.95). The table below summarizes the results and compares them to Kansas State's improvement from 2008 to 2009.The average defense that posted numbers as bad as those of Kansas State improved by about one standard deviation the following season. Kansas State improved by 1.45 standard deviations. Only four other defenses with comparable SDPIs saw better improvement. For the curious, they were in order of improvement, Nebraska 2007-2008, Cincinnati 2005-2006, Florida State 2009-2010, and Texas A&M 2009-2010.
Alright, so Koenning likely helped improve Kansas State by a more significant margin than we would have expected of an 'average' defensive coordinator. What about Illinois? The Illini posted a defensive SDPI of -0.75 in 2009, so the situation was not nearly as dire as the one Koenning inherited in Manhattan. To compare how similar defenses fared the following season, I looked at all BCS conference defenses between 2005 and 2009 that produced a defensive SDPI of between -0.50 and -1.00. 45 BCS conference defenses (not including Illinois in 2009) in that 5-year period met those criteria. Of those 45 teams, 31 improved the next season. The average improvement was a little more than a third of a standard deviation (+0.37). The table below summarizes the results and compares them to Illinois' improvement from 2009 to 2010.Once again, Koenning and his defense beat the average, this time by an even healthier margin. Illinois improved by nearly a whole standard deviation more than the average of the 45 comparable teams. Only eight other defenses with comparable SDPIs saw better improvement, with Wisconsin from 2005-2006 leading the way.
I guess what I was trying to get at here in this piece is that Vic Koenning is one of the better defensive coordinators in the game today. I fully expect Illinois to remain in the upper-echelon of Big 10 defenses in 2011 and beyond (should he remain in Champaign). While he may not have the necessary skills to be a head coach, he appears to be someone who is quite capable of coaching up a defense.