Monday, October 14, 2013

Mid-Season Handicapping: MAC, Pac-12, SEC

The past few seasons I have attempted to handicap the league races beginning in mid-October based on a rating system I stole from Eddie Epstein called SDPI. This season, I will still attempt to handicap the races, but instead of SDPI, I will use a more rudimentary metric, yards per play. Yards per play is a good indicator of how efficient a team is at moving the ball and preventing others from doing the same, and can be a better measure of how strong a team is versus standard won/loss record or scoring margin. In this first post, we'll examine three leagues that have already completed significant portions of the conference play, the MAC, the Pac-12, and the SEC.

Here are the MAC standings.
And here are the yards per play ratings.

MAC: Top-Heavy
The cream of the MAC has been very top-heavy in 2013. The top-six teams in terms of yards per play have gone 12-1 against their conference brethren with the sole loss coming this past weekend when Ohio fell at home to Central Michigan. MAC teams have won four games against BCS-conference opponents, posting an overall record of 4-23 in such situations. However, the top-six teams have gone a much more respectable 4-7, with the five of those losses coming to teams currently ranked fourth, eighth, twelfth, fourteenth, and twenty second.

Akron--The Zips have now lost 19 consecutive conference games and have won just once in their past 27 league games. Will the streak end this season? I'm thinking Terry Bowden and Co. will celebrate on November 2nd against Kent State.
Ball State--After their road win over Virginia, the Cardinals had to stage a comeback to beat Kent State at home. Realistically, they should be 9-1 when they travel to Dekalb to take on Northern Illinois for some mid-week MACtion on Wednesday November 13th.
Bowling Green--The Falcons currently rate as the top team in the conference and are seeking their first conference title since 1992. They proved their mettle this past weekend in losing by a single point at Mississippi State. The games that should decide this race will take place on non-traditional football days, when the Falcons host Ohio on Tuesday November 5th and when they travel to Ralph Wilson Stadium to play Buffalo on the Friday after Thanksgiving.
Buffalo--Since a rough opening stretch that included road trips to Ohio State and Baylor, the Bulls have won four in a row and are in good position for their first bowl appearance since 2008.
Central Michigan--The win over Ohio was huge for their bowl hopes. Their next two games are against Northern Illinois and Ball State, but they close with three games (Western Michigan, Massachusetts, and Eastern Michigan) that are infinitely winnable. Will a 6-6 Central Michigan team get to a bowl? The odds would be against it, but they have put themselves in position to get back to the postseason and petition to be the worst bowl team for the second year in a row.
Eastern Michigan--Not much to be said here. This team is bad and Ron English will probably be unemployed when the season is over, if not sooner.
Kent State--Where has Dri Archer gone? One of the most electric players from last season (three kickoff return touchdowns and nine yards per rush) has touched the ball just 33 times in 2013.
Massachusetts--The Minutemen earned just their second win as a IA program this past weekend against Miami of Ohio.
Miami--The Redhawks fired their coach a few days ago, and despite the winless start, the defense has been solid. I think they are winless no more after facing Akron this week.
Northern Illinois--The Huskies are probably not as good as they were last season, but they have beaten two Big 10 teams (Iowa and Purdue). Okay, maybe one and a half.
Ohio--Despite the loss to Central Michigan, the Bobcats have all their goals intact. With games remaining against Bowling Green and Buffalo, they still control their own destiny in the MAC East race.
Toledo--The Rockets acquitted themselves reasonably well against Florida and Missouri in non-conference play. The Rockets definitely drew the short end of the stick in the scheduling department, in having to face both Bowling Green and Buffalo from the East.
Western Michigan--As far as debuts go, things could have gone better for PJ Fleck. The Broncos have yet to win a game, but thankfully, Massachusetts and Eastern Michigan are still on the schedule.

Here are the Pac-12 standings.
And here are the yards per play ratings.

Pac-12: Can anyone challenge Oregon?
In the early going, the Ducks have been head and shoulders above their league brethren. In the Pac-12 South, will UCLA make it three for three in division titles? In non-conference play, Pac-12 teams have gone 6-4 against fellow BCS-conference opponents (and Notre Dame). Only one Pac-12 team has lost to a non-BCS conference team, and that was to a IAA opponent.

Arizona--Early on, the offense has been the issue. Can the Wildcats rebound with four home games left on the schedule?
Arizona State--When the Sun Devils win, they usually win big. Of their ten wins against IA teams under Todd Graham, seven have come by at least 20 points.
Cal--Can you find a conference win on their schedule? At Colorado or home against Arizona seem the most likely candidates.
Colorado--So much for that optimism after a 2-0 start. At least they should beat Charleston Southern this week.
Oregon--The Duck Dynasty has not missed a beat without Chip Kelly. Not to be outdone, the defense also ranks first in the Pac-12.
Oregon State--As if you needed further proof that the AP Poll is a crock. In the latest edition, Oregon State received 21 votes. Utah received 47. Oregon State won at Utah and is 5-1. Utah is 4-2.
Southern Cal--Is the defense really that bad? Probably not, but there are a number of strong offenses remaining on the schedule itching to prove me wrong.
Stanford--You had to figure the close game luck would run out sooner or later. The Cardinal had won six straight games decided by one score prior to the loss at Utah. Overall, they are 11-4 in such games under head coach David Shaw.
UCLA--We'll know a lot more about the Bruins in the next two weeks when they travel to Stanford and then Oregon. UCLA has not beaten either team since 2008.
Utah--The offense is much improved over last season when they averaged an anemic 5.03 yards per play.
Washington--The Huskies proved they could hang with Stanford, and then proved how powerful Oregon is. Now can they rebound with those two games behind them and win more than five conference games for the first time since 2001?
Washington State--When we look back on the 2013 season, perhaps the most bizarre final will be Washington State's 10-7 over Southern Cal in Los Angeles. How did these two defenses allow just a single offensive touchdown in that game?

Here are the SEC standings.
And here are the play by play ratings.

SEC: The Muddled East
The SEC East suddenly became intriguing over the weekend. South Carolina, Florida, Georgia, and Missouri are all in the mix. The big question is, will any of it matter when they (presumably) face Alabama in the SEC Championship Game? In non-conference play, the SEC has an 8-6 record thus far against other BCS-conference teams. The lone loss to a non-BCS conference foe came when Kentucky lost to Western Kentucky, coached by someone very familiar with the SEC.

Alabama--Since the Aggies moved the ball with ease on them, the Crimson Tide have returned to their dominant selves on defense. Oh, and the offense has continued to be explosive.
Arkansas--This might be a long season for the 'Hogs. There is not another guaranteed win on the schedule. Karma anyone?
Auburn--Quietly the Tigers are 5-1. Despite mediocre numbers on both sides of the ball, they are just a single win away from bowl-eligibility.
Florida--LSU proved the defense was not impenetrable, but the Gators can take solace in the fact that they will not face a more hostile environment the rest of the way than the one in Death Valley.
Georgia--The defensive struggles were bound to catch up with them. Still, the 'Dawgs control their own destiny in the SEC East.
Kentucky--Can the Wildcats play spoiler down the stretch and keep someone (maybe Vanderbilt or Tennessee) from attaining bowl eligibility?
LSU--The Tigers appear to be the biggest threat to Alabama in the SEC West. On November 9th, they travel to Tuscaloosa.
Mississippi--The Rebels should get back to a bowl game, but any talk of them being a player in the conference race were premature.
Mississippi State--The Bulldogs must win three of the of their final six to qualify for a fourth consecutive bowl. That could be a tall order as three of those teams are currently ranked in the top eleven of the AP Poll.
Missouri--The loss of James Franklin put a serious damper on their season. That is a real shame because the Tigers have three of the best road wins (Indiana, Vanderbilt, and Georgia) of anyone in the nation.
South Carolina--This is probably the best offense Steve Spurrier has had in his tenure in Columbia. The season ending game against Clemson could be for an at-large BCS bowl bid (for both teams).
Tennessee--One season after featuring a powerful offense and a sieve of a defense, the Vols have reversed course. With four ranked teams left on the schedule, a bowl game is not assured.
Texas A&M--The Aggies have big time issues on defense that will probably cost them before all is said and done.
Vanderbilt--Can the Commodores get to a bowl for a school-record third straight season? They will probably have to spring an upset along the way to do so.

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