Monday, July 10, 2017

Polling Differences: Addendum

Per request, this is an addendum to the most recent post regarding Power Five teams and the difference between their finishes in the postseason and preseason AP Poll since 2005. Previously, I used net difference between their postseason and preseason cumulative finishes, but a reader requested I use percentages instead. I have done just that. Obviously, larger numbers equal more improvement. Numbers less than one indicate a team has under-performed relative to their preseason positioning in the AP Poll and vice-versa.

In the previous posts, I began with the top and bottom ten and then went through each conference individually. I am going to reverse that formula here and begin with each individual conference and then finish with a caveated top ten. We’ll go alphabetically as always and begin with the ACC.
You can probably tell why I started with individual conferences. Thanks to sample size issues, the numbers can be a bit wonky. Wake Forest has exactly one ranked finish in the past twelve seasons, but thanks to continuously being ignored by the national media (and rightfully so), ranks second in the ACC in percentage increase. However, in my opinion, Clemson has the more impressive accomplishment. The Tigers have actually over-performed relative to their preseason prospects despite being burdened with pretty high expectations. And of course, if you paid attention in high school algebra, you know the other problem with using percentage increase instead of net – dividing by zero. Technically Duke and NC State have exceeded their preseason expectations by infinity (at least if you try to take it to the limit one more time), but I digress. Let’s just move along to the Big 12.
I don’t have a problem with Kansas State appearing at the top of this list as they always seem to defy preseason expectations. However, wonky issues with sample size also put their Sunflower State brethren near the top as well. Moving to the Big 10.
Here we have more wonkiness at the top with Northwestern grabbing the pole position. Penn State, Michigan State, and Wisconsin have been impressive in consistently out-performing their preseason expectations despite also consistently having some preseason expectations. Ohio State has basically broken even despite massive preseason expectations. And finally, Purdue, along with Virginia, is the only Power 5 team to not finish a season ranked despite at least one ranked start in the preseason poll. Here is the Pac-12.
Based on how many postseason points they have accumulated under Kyle Whittingham, I would rank Utah as the most overachieving Power 5 program. They are technically behind Boston College, but the Utes have nearly 40% more postseason points and the Eagles have not finished ranked since 2007. And finally, here is the SEC.
As I mentioned last week, Alabama has not only been super-elite since 2005, they have also exceeded their preseason expectations. That is very tough to do. The other over-achievers in the SEC are the perennially underrated teams in Starkville and Columbia respectively.

Since using percentages can make the data a bit wonky, I am going to list the top and bottom teams with a few caveats thrown in so that teams are compared to similar teams. It makes no sense to compare Alabama, a perennial top-ten team with Vanderbilt, a team that has not been in a single preseason poll in the time period examined here. So with that out of the way, here is the first grouping. The following table sorts elite teams by the percentage difference in their standing in the postseason and preseason AP Poll. Elite is defined here as having at least 100 preseason AP Poll Points. Those parameters yield fourteen teams and while some may not really be ‘elite’, attaining triple digits in preseason points seemed like a good arbitrary cutoff.
Not only is Alabama great, but for teams that enter each season with lofty expectations, they do the best job of exceeding them. Oregon and Clemson are the only other two elite teams to have exceeded expectations in this time span and Ohio State has basically broken even. Every team below Ohio State with the exception of Oklahoma has fired/forced to retire/exiled to the Phantom Zone at least one coach in the past twelve seasons. It seems with great power comes great responsibility.

This next grouping is what I would consider ‘good’ teams. These teams have accumulated at least 60, but less than 100 preseason points since 2005. This arbitrary cutoff yielded a nice round number of teams (ten).
For teams just outside the elite, TCU and Stanford have been the gold standard. The Horned Frogs and Cardinal have combined for four Power Five conference titles since 2012. The other two ‘good’ teams to exceed their preseason projections are Michigan State and Wisconsin. The Spartans and Badgers have combined to win or share six Big 10 titles since 2010 and at least one of them has appeared in every iteration of the Big 10 Championship Game. Look away Nebraska and Tennessee fans. Pretend it is still the 90’s and things are great.

Before we get to the top over and under-achievers regardless of preseason points, I wanted to list the five teams that accrued postseason points despite never appearing in the preseason poll during this time period. These teams have out-performed their expectations by infinity.
This is mostly a function of one good or decent year with no national expectations since 2005.

Now here are the top ten teams by percentage difference between their postseason and preseason point totals regardless of the total number of preseason points they received.
The top eight teams on this list are pretty similar. No team is a consistent national power, but they have each had their share of time in the spotlight over the past twelve seasons. However, the last two teams on this list seem to be different. Both Penn State and Washington can claim national relevancy (and titles) since the mid-80’s. Both teams finished in the top-ten last season and appear to be trending in the right direction under quality head coaches. If we revisit these numbers in five years or so, I think Penn State and Washington may find their way into the elite sphere.

And finally, here are the teams with the worst percentage difference between their postseason and preseason point totals.
Virginia and Purdue have not finished ranked despite receiving a little bit of love in the preseason polls, but for my money, Cal has been the biggest underachiever among Power 5 programs the past twelve years. The hippies from Berkeley have held on to just a quarter of their preseason poll points and have just two winning seasons since 2010.

When all is said and done, I think the addendum ended up being longer than the original post. Oh well. I hope you enjoyed it. In the next post, we’ll look at the most overrated teams (postseason poll) of the past twelve seasons.

Wednesday, July 05, 2017

Summer of Polls Part III: Polling Differences

In the first two posts on the AP Poll, I looked at the preseason poll and the end of season poll and calculated which teams accrued the most ‘points’ in each over the past twelve seasons. I awarded 25 points for teams ranked first, 24 for teams ranked second, and so on with the 25th ranked team receiving a solitary point. Now comes the next logical step: determining which teams have exceeded expectations the most and which teams have failed to live up to their lofty preseason projections. The methodology is quite simple. Just take the number of Postseason AP Poll Points (POAPPP) each current Power 5 team has accumulated and subtract their Preseason AP Poll Points (PAPPP) from that number. Positive numbers indicate teams that have over-performed and negative numbers indicate teams that have under-performed. So with the methodology out of the way, here are the top ten teams that have over-performed relative to their preseason ranking since 2005.
Congratulations Kyle Whittingham. Despite receiving almost no preseason love during his tenure in Salt Lake City (ranked 19th in the 2009 preseason poll), the Utes have racked up 49 points in the postseason AP poll over five ranked finishes. Missouri, with four conference title game appearances since 2005, is a close second and former mid-major TCU ranks third. It is interesting to note that the top three teams in this metric all upgraded to better conferences during this time period. You could have probably guessed most of the remaining teams on this list. For the most part, they are solid programs that are underrated nationally (Boston College, Kansas State, Wisconsin, and Mississippi State) or a non-traditional power that has exploded onto the national scene thanks to some great hires (Stanford). However, it is a bit surprising for Penn State and Alabama to appear here. The Nittany Lions have finished ranked in the top-ten four times in the past twelve seasons (2005, 2008, 2009, and 2016), but in two of those seasons (2005 and 2016) they were not ranked in the preseason poll at all and in another (2008), they were only ranked 22nd in the initial poll. For Alabama, this only serves to further Nick Saban’s legacy. As you may remember from a previous post, Alabama ranks fourth since 2005 in preseason AP Poll points. Yet, they have exceeded even that lofty standard with their final rankings. As we will see in a moment, most other preseason darlings have not been so fortunate. Speaking of, here are the top ten teams in failing to meet their preseason poll expectations since 2005.
This list features six teams (Oklahoma, Georgia, Florida State, Texas, LSU, and Southern Cal) that were in the top ten of total preseason AP Poll Points, with the recently retired Bob Stoops grabbing the pole position. That makes perfect sense. Teams that receive a large number of preseason points obviously have the most to lose. The teams that should really be shamed by this metric are Cal, Nebraska, and Tennessee. Those three all accrued 69 preseason points or less and still managed to make this list. For comparison’s sake, while Oklahoma lost 65 points from their preseason total, they still managed to hold on to more than 70% of their total points. Meanwhile, Nebraska and Tennessee only held on to about a third of their preseason points and Cal kept only a quarter of theirs. As with the past two posts, we will now examine the difference in POAPPP and PAPPP by conference. We’ll start with the ACC.
Outside of Boston College, no ACC team drastically exceeded their preseason expectations. And for Boston College, this is a function of three consecutive ranked finishes a decade ago. The Eagles have not finished in the final poll since 2007, but they have only appeared in a single preseason poll (2005). Clemson has done a good job of living up to their relatively lofty preseason expectations. Among teams with at least 100 preseason points, only the Tigers, along with Oregon and Alabama, have a positive differential. The rest of the conference is just not that interesting from an analytical perspective.

Now here are the Big 10 rankings.
Joining Penn State and Wisconsin as the only Big 10 team with a double-digit positive differential is Michigan State. If I had done this look back prior to their forgettable 2016 campaign, the Spartans would have ranked even higher. Michigan State began last season ranked twelfth and thus lost out on 14 points when they finished 3-9. While Ohio State does have a slight negative differential, they have pretty much finished in line with expectations on average, holding on to more than 98% of their preseason points.

Here are the Big 12 rankings.
I feel like West Virginia has a reputation for not meeting lofty expectations, but the numbers do not appear to support this claim. This undeserved reputation is most likely due to the 2008 and 2012 seasons when West Virginia began the year ranked eighth and eleventh respectively. The Mountaineers finished near the bottom of the poll in 2008 (23rd) and outside the poll in 2012, but in the other ten years, the West Virginia outpaced their initial standing in the poll.

Here are the Pac-12 rankings.
The Pac-12 owns the distinction of being the only conference to have five teams post a double-digit positive differential. Washington State is one of only six teams (Indiana, Iowa State, Kentucky, Minnesota, and Syracuse) to not appear in either the preseason or postseason AP Poll since 2005.

And finally, here are the SEC rankings.
Are SEC teams overrated by the preseason poll? Nine conference teams produced negative differentials between their preseason and postseason rankings. Traditional powers like Florida, Georgia, and LSU produced negative differentials thanks to being consistently ranked in the preseason poll. However, mediocre teams like Arkansas, Ole Miss, and South Carolina also produced negative differentials.

This concludes our look at differences between the preseason and postseason polls. In the next post, I’ll run a regression analysis between team record (Power 5 only) and final poll ranking. I’ll use the resulting formula to rank the most overrated teams of the past twelve seasons and determine which teams probably should have finished ranked. Until next time, thanks for reading.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Summer of Polls Part II: The Year End AP Poll

In Part I of this Putlizer-worthy series on the AP Poll, we looked at the preseason poll from the last twelve seasons. This time out, we will examine twelve years’ worth of data on the final AP Poll. The methodology will be the same. The team that finishes ranked first will receive 25 Postseason AP Poll Points (POAPPP, yeah the acronym could probably use some work), the team ranked second will receive 24, and so on until we come to the 25th ranked team which will receive a single point. While the preseason poll is based on expectations and pedigree, the postseason poll is based on performance. Certainly, some biases still exist. A ten-win Texas will probably be ranked ahead of a ten-win Vanderbilt all else being equal, but performance instead of reputation should account for most of the position in the final poll. Once again, only current Power Five teams are included. Without further ado, here are the top ten teams in POAPPP since 2005.
The top spot is a little surprising to me. I expected Alabama to have a stranglehold on the top spot with four championships in the past twelve seasons, but Ohio State’s dependability wins the day. Eight schools have won national titles in the past twelve seasons and five are represented here. Auburn, Clemson, and Texas are the three champs that have not been consistent enough to break into the top ten. TCU, Stanford, and Wisconsin are the lone top-ten teams to have not won or played in the national championship game since 2005.

Unlike the preseason poll, no team has appeared in every iteration of the final poll. Twelve teams have appeared in at least eight editions of the poll. They are listed below, ordered by number of appearances.
Ohio State missed out on an appearance in the final poll in the bridge year between Jim Tressel and Urban Meyer. They have finished ranked eleven times, with ten of those finishes coming in the top-ten. Alabama, LSU, Oklahoma, and Oregon should not surprise anyone with ten ranked finishes, but Wisconsin showing up with the same amount was shocking to me.

Next, I thought it would be useful to compare the POAPPP by conference. This will tell us which school have had the most success in their respective leagues. We’ll start with the ACC.
Not much of a surprise at the top of the ACC standings. Florida State and Clemson have won one national title apiece in the last five years, and along with Virginia Tech, those three teams have combined for 15 of the 24 available slots in the twelve ACC Championship Games. Last week, I forgot to include Notre Dame in the rankings since they were the only Independent school. They are listed here for simplicity’s sake. Look how low Miami ranks in this metric. Hail Mary by Doug Flutie aside, Miami should not rank below Boston College over an extended period of time. Syracuse and Virginia have not finished in the final poll in this time period, but they both finished ranked relatively recently.

Now here are the Big 10 rankings.
Much like they did with the preseason poll, the Buckeyes have also dominated in postseason achievement. Ohio State has more POAPPP than the second and third place Big 10 teams combined. It’s interesting that Wisconsin and Michigan State occupy second and third in place of more traditional powers Penn State and Michigan. The Nittany Lions and Wolverines appear to back on the upswing, but both have a ways to go to catch Wisconsin. Elsewhere in the rankings, take a look at Nebraska. Somewhere Tommie Frazier is probably rolling over defenders at the thought of the Cornhuskers barely having more POAPPP than Rutgers (keep in mind this does include points Nebraska accumulated while a Big 12 member). Indiana has the distinction of being the lone current Big 10 team to not finish ranked since the turn of the century.

Here are the Big 12 rankings.
In a bit of an upset, TCU and not Texas, finishes second in the Big 12. In fact, the Horned Frogs are closer to Oklahoma than Texas is them. Toward the bottom of the list, Kansas has only finished ranked once since 2005, but they made the most of their outlier year, finishing seventh. The Jayhawks are the only Power 5 team with just one ranked finish in that time period to end up in the top-ten of the final poll.

Here are the Pac-12 rankings.
The top of the Pac-12 is not very surprising, but it is interesting that Oregon was able to pass Southern Cal for the top spot. Stanford spotted the rest of the conference a half-decade head start, finishing outside the polls until 2010, but has racked up more than 100 POAPPP over the past seven years. The fact that Utah is ranked fourth is an indictment of the rest of the conference. Utah was a (quality) mid-major for half of the twelve-year time period, but no other mid-level Pac-10/12 squad (UCLA, Arizona State, Washington) managed to eclipse their POAPPP. Washington State finished ranked in the top-ten three consecutive years (2001-2003), but turned to dust just before the time period featured here.

And finally, here are the SEC rankings.
Alabama endured back-to-back 6-6 regular seasons (otherwise known as reasons for celebration at Vanderbilt) in 2006 and 2007, but have otherwise dominated the SEC during this time period. LSU is a distant second with Florida and Georgia also eclipsing the 100 point threshold. This chart shows why Tennessee has had to resort to ‘champions of life’ as they have bested only Vanderbilt and Kentucky in terms of POAPPP since 2005. Speaking of Kentucky, the Wildcats hold the ignominious distinction of being the current Power 5 team that finished ranked longest ago.

Another poll post has come and gone. If you think about it for a second you can probably guess where I’m headed next. That’s right, in the next post we’ll look at which teams have the biggest differences (positive and negative) between their preseason and postseason rankings. Basically, who exceeds expectations and who fails to live up to the hype. You can do the math yourself from the last two posts or wait for me lay it out for you. Either way, thanks for reading. Stay tuned.

Wednesday, June 07, 2017

Summer of Polls Part I: The Preseason AP Poll

The preseason AP Poll gives us a look into how college football teams are regarded by the national media. It sets an expectation for what will occur in the coming year. Voters base their selections on things like performance the previous season, returning production, staff changes, recruiting, and a host of other criteria specific to each individual. Over time, a team’s standing in the preseason poll is the amount of respect they have or their pedigree. Which teams have the best pedigree over the last decade or so? To answer that question, I developed a simple system for rating teams based on their position in the preseason AP Poll. In a bit of creative inspiration, I called my metric Preseason AP Poll Points or PRAPPP. The way it works is simple: the top-ranked team in the preseason AP Poll receives 25 PRAPPP, the second ranked team receives 24 PRAPPP, and so on with the 25th ranked team receiving a solitary PRAPPP. I decided to look at PRAPPP dating back to 2005 for current Power Five teams. I used 2005 as a starting point for several reasons. 2005 is when the ‘Realignment Era’ began in earnest and it also happens to be when I started this blog and began paying very close attention to college football. I looked at current Power Five teams because the only current mid-majors consistently in the preseason poll are Boise State and BYU. With the backstory out of the way, here are the top ten teams in PRAPPP since 2005.
No big surprise here. If I asked you to guess the teams with the most PRAPPP, you probably would have come up with at least seven of the top ten. These ten teams have all won or played for a national championship since 2005 with one exception.

Since 2005, five teams have appeared in each iteration of the preseason AP Poll. I bet you can guess four of them, but the fifth may surprise you. Anyway, here are the teams with the most preseason AP Poll appearances since 2005.
Georgia, along with LSU, Ohio State, Oklahoma, and Southern Cal has been ranked in the preseason AP Poll each season since 2005. Once again, the Bulldogs are the only team without a championship game appearance in that span. I was surprised that TCU has the same number of preseason appearances as Alabama, but the Horned Frogs were one of the most respected mid-majors before joining the Big 12 conference.

Next, I thought it would be useful to compare PRAPPP by conference. This can give us an idea of which teams are the most well-regarded in their respective leagues. We’ll start with the ACC (this includes current ACC teams and the PRAPPP they have generated regardless of the conference they occupied at the time). For teams that have not appeared in the preseason AP Poll in the last twelve seasons, their last appearance is included in parentheses.
The Seminoles, even when they were busy failing to live up to expectations, were a fixture in the preseason poll. Virginia Tech finishing second is somewhat surprising, but remember Clemson’s run of national relevancy is relatively recent. This cumulative ranking also demonstrates how far Miami has slipped in the conference pecking order (of course that may change in the coming years with Richt in charge). Finally, as a Wake Forest alum, it gives me great pleasure to note the Demon Deacons have more PRAPPP since 2005 than NC State.

Now here are the Big 10 rankings.
While the ACC had a more egalitarian top-three with Florida State, Virginia Tech, and Clemson bunched at the top, Ohio State is head and shoulders above the rest of the Big 10. Their total is more than that of Michigan and Wisconsin combined. I was surprised by Penn State’s low ranking on this list considering they have played in three Rose Bowls since the 2005 season. This list also shows that Purdue was once good at football not that long ago and even lowly Rutgers has been ranked in the preseason poll.

Here are the Big 12 rankings.
Oklahoma and Texas at the top of the standings? Who would have thought? The newcomers, TCU and West Virginia, rank third and fourth, but it should be noted they accumulated most of those PRAPPPs as members of other conferences. Down near the bottom of the list, remember Kansas was ranked in the preseason poll for two straight years!

Here are the Pac-12 rankings.
To me, the biggest surprise here is Cal. Remember when they were a nationally respected program under Jeff Tedford? I was also surprised at the lack of national support Utah seems to get despite consistent success in the Mountain West, their memorable Sugar Bowl win over Alabama, and solid play since joining the Pac-12.

And finally, here are the SEC rankings.
No other conference had more than three teams with a PRAPPP of greater than 100, but the SEC produced five such schools. I was surprised South Carolina ranked ahead of other teams like Tennessee and Texas A&M. Missouri seems to be chronically disrespected by the national media as they have four conference title game appearances since 2005, but just 29 PRAPPP (and no conference titles).

I wanted to do a chart for each conference showing how PRAPPP changed over time for each team, but with ten to fourteen teams included, the charts were hard to read and not very valuable. I still wanted to show some trends, so I made a few charts with no more than three teams and have included them here.

This pretty much sums up the Alabama football program over the last decade. The Tide were an afterthought from 2005-2007 (they did win ten games in 2005, but were not in the preseason poll after a mediocre 2004), but after demolishing Clemson to open the 2008 season amid modest expectations, the Tide have pretty much cornered the market on PRAPPP. Since 2009, the Tide have garnered 191 of a max 200 PRAPPP.
Out west, you can see when Oregon became a legitimate national title contender. After being a fringe preseason top-25 team, the Ducks have been a consistent occupant of the top-ten since 2010. Perhaps Willie Taggart can bring them back after a blip in 2016. Down in Palo Alto, Jim Harbaugh did all the heavy lifting after Walt Harris ran the program into the ground. However, David Shaw has maintained the foundation Harbaugh built and kept the Cardinal consistently in the preseason top-25 and occasionally the top-ten.
These three ‘old money’ programs have seen their share of ups and downs. Texas was a regular tenant in the preseason top-ten, until 2010, but the Longhorns have been ranked in the preseason just twice in the past six years. Michigan crashed and burned under Rich Rodriguez, rose for a moment under Brady Hoke before falling again, and now may finally be back on track under Jim Harbaugh. Notre Dame went from an unranked start under Charlie Weiss to being ranked second in the preseason poll in his second season. Notre Dame has been steadier in regards to preseason ranking under Brian Kelly, but in their best season (2012), they were unranked in the preseason poll.
Tennessee began Philip Fulmer’s final season in the preseason AP Poll, but it would be seven years before they would start a season ranked again. Meanwhile, Clemson was notoriously unpredictable under Tommy Bowden, alternating unranked and ranked starts in his final four seasons. It took Dabo Swinney some time to get the program on firm footing, but the Tigers have been in the preseason poll each of the last five seasons.
Two schools with more famous in-state rivals have seen their profiles rise dramatically under long-tenured coaches. Mike Gundy has seen Oklahoma State ranked in the preseason AP Poll five times in the past eight seasons while Michigan State has been ranked five times in the past six.
Back in George W. Bush’s second term, Cal and Virginia Tech were consistently respected programs. Cal saw their respect erode when the decade tuned, while Virginia Tech continued to be held in high esteem for another three years. The Hokies will probably break their streak of unranked starts in 2017.
Florida and Auburn have seen almost everything. The Gators and Tigers have combined for three national titles, seven division championships, four SEC championships, and three losing seasons since 2005. Despite the recent division titles for Florida, you can see the Gators are still not nearly as respected as they were a few seasons ago. For Auburn, the results are more scattershot, with the Tigers sandwiching top-ten starts between unranked beginnings since Gus Malzahn took over.
Georgia has surprisingly been in every preseason poll since 2005, but the national media has only regarded the Bulldogs as elite a few times (just four preseason top ten starts). You can see South Carolina’s brief time as a nationally respected program which was undone after their face planting as a preseason top-ten team in 2014.
After beginning the year in the AP Poll five times in seven years, West Virginia has started the year as a ranked team just once since joining the Big 12. Pollsters appear to be scared off after the 2012 debacle that saw West Virginia climb all the way to number three before losing six of their last eight games. Pollsters have shown more deference to TCU despite a few disappointing seasons since joining the Big 12.

This concludes our look at PRAPPP. Thankfully, the AP also conducts a poll when the season is over (and every week throughout the year). While the preseason poll is about expectations and reputation, the postseason poll should be about results and achievement. In the next post, we’ll look at how Power Five teams stack up in regards to the postseason AP Poll. Stay tuned.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

2016 Adjusted Pythagorean Record: Sun Belt

Last week, we looked at how Sun Belt teams fared in terms of yards per play. This week, we turn our attention to how the season played out in terms of the Adjusted Pythagorean Record, or APR. For an in-depth look at APR, click here. If you didn’t feel like clicking, here is the Reader’s Digest version. APR looks at how well a team scores and prevents touchdowns. Non-offensive touchdowns, field goals, extra points, and safeties are excluded. The ratio of offensive touchdowns to touchdowns allowed is converted into a winning percentage. Pretty simple actually. Once again, here are the 2016 Sun Belt standings.
And here are the APR standings with conference rank in offensive touchdowns, touchdowns allowed, and APR in parentheses. This includes conference games only.
Finally, Sun Belt teams are sorted by the difference between their actual number of wins and their expected number of wins according to APR.
I use a game and a half as a line of demarcation to determine if teams drastically over or under perform their APR. By that standard no team saw their record differ significantly from their APR. Idaho and Georgia State were the biggest over and under-achievers respectively, but we already touched on some reasons for that last week.

Georgia Southern enjoyed a successful, perhaps the most successful, transition from FCS to FBS. In their first two seasons in the new classification, the Eagles went 18-7, won an outright conference title, won a bowl game, and played three Power 5 schools to within one score on the road. Despite their success, head coach Willie Fritz made what amounts to a lateral move (or perhaps even a downgrade) to Tulane. In his stead, the Eagles made an interesting hire. They tabbed Tyson Summers, a Georgia native, who spent just one season in Statesboro. That one season (2006) happened to be the worst in school history. Summers also came from the defensive side of the ball, as he had most recently been the defensive coordinator at UCF and Colorado State before coming to Georgia Southern. Summers did keep the run-first option the team utilized to great success under his predecessor, but the performance left a lot to be desired. After averaging over six yards per carry in both 2014 and 2015 and scoring 109 combined touchdowns on the ground, the Eagles averaged under four and half yards per carry and scored just 24 rushing touchdowns in 2016. This decline in production contributed to a 5-7 record in Summers' first season where the Eagles had to upset Troy in their final game just to get to five wins. Summers enters 2016 on the proverbial hot seat. So what are his chances of surviving and getting the Eagles back to a bowl? To answer that question, I looked at all first year coaches since 2006 who oversaw a decline of at least three regular season wins and an increase of an least three regular season losses. That query produced a sample of 38 coaches. How did those coaches perform the following season? The results are summarized below.
Overall, the teams improved by an average of about two regular season wins the next year. More than two thirds of the teams improved the next season, and only about ten percent saw a further erosion of their record. More than quarter of the teams in the sample improved by at least three games, so there is hope for a large positive shift in fortunes for concerned Georgia Southern fans. However, I don't want to give those fans a false hope. There is decent, perhaps good, chance that Summers is not the right man for the job. Of that sample of 38 coaches, 29 are no longer with their teams. Of those 29, only five had a winning record at the end of their tenure with the team. If we include the coaches who are still active, 9 of 38 have winning records with their team. There are some success stories to point to like PJ Fleck, Skip Holtz, and Butch Jones, but while the odds of Georgia Southern improving in 2017 are good, the odds of them retaining Summers for the long haul may not be.

Thanks for reading my 2016 YPP and APR posts. Its been almost 20 weeks since Clemson upset Alabama, but we still have about 14 more weeks before college football season kicks off in earnest. Over the summer, this blog will add new content, but it won't be as frequent as the weekly updates you have (hopefully) been enjoying. I have some studies in the queue on polls and their accuracy and biases so if that interests you, check back every now and then. I'll also be making another Vegas trip and documenting my college football investments. Once the season starts, I'll continue with my weekly picks column and perhaps add more original posts here and there as the spirit so moves me. Have a great summer. I know we can get through the rest of this long offseason together.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

2016 Yards Per Play: Sun Belt

Nine conferences down, and now we move to our last FBS conference! Where did the time go? This week, we examine the Sun Belt. Here are the Sun Belt standings.
So we know what each team achieved, but how did they perform? To answer that, here are the Yards Per Play (YPP), Yards Per Play Allowed (YPA) and Net Yards Per Play (Net) numbers for each Sun Belt team. This includes conference play only. The teams are sorted by Net YPP with conference rank in parentheses.
College football teams play either eight or nine conference games. Consequently, their record in such a small sample may not be indicative of their quality of play. A few fortuitous bounces here or there can be the difference between another ho-hum campaign or a special season. Randomness and other factors outside of our perception play a role in determining the standings. It would be fantastic if college football teams played 100 or even 1000 games. Then we could have a better idea about which teams were really the best. Alas, players would miss too much class time, their bodies would be battered beyond recognition, and I would never leave the couch. As it is, we have to make do with the handful of games teams do play. In those games, we can learn a lot from a team’s YPP. Since 2005, I have collected YPP data for every conference. I use conference games only because teams play such divergent non-conference schedules and the teams within a conference tend to be of similar quality. By running a regression analysis between a team’s Net YPP (the difference between their Yards Per Play and Yards Per Play Allowed) and their conference winning percentage, we can see if Net YPP is a decent predictor of a team’s record. Spoiler alert. It is. For the statistically inclined, the correlation coefficient between a team’s Net YPP in conference play and their conference record is around .66. Since Net YPP is a solid predictor of a team’s conference record, we can use it to identify which teams had a significant disparity between their conference record as predicted by Net YPP and their actual conference record. I used a difference of .200 between predicted and actual winning percentage as the threshold for ‘significant’. Why .200? It is a little arbitrary, but .200 corresponds to a difference of 1.6 games over an eight game conference schedule and 1.8 games over a nine game one. Over or under-performing by more than a game and a half in a small sample seems significant to me. In the 2016 season, which teams in the Sun Belt met this threshold? Here are Sun Belt teams sorted by performance over what would be expected from their Net YPP numbers.
Idaho, in their penultimate season before moving down to FCS over-performed relative to their expected record, while FBS newcomer, Georgia State under-performed. Idaho finished with the best in-conference turnover margin in the Sun Belt at +11 and was a solid 2-0 in one-score conference games. That little bit of good fortune coupled with a powerful passing attack helped the Vandals win six conference games for the first time in school history. Georgia State can also blame turnovers for their poor record. The Panthers posted an in-conference turnover margin of -9 (which was not quite good enough for last place) and were also shoddy in the kicking game, making just 7 of 13 field goals in Sun Belt play.

If you were looking at the disparity between Sun Belt teams’ records and their expected YPP records and thought: ‘Hmmm. Georgia State sure did miss their expected record by a wide margin. I wonder if it was the widest margin ever.’ Well, I am here to answer that question. Here are the top (or bottom) ten mid-major teams since 2005 ranked by the largest disparity between their actual record and their expected record based on YPP.
Some notes on the table:

  • In an interesting statistical coincidence, 2016 produced the two teams that missed their expected record by the widest margin. Utah State and Georgia State, along with SMU in 2007, were the only teams to miss their expected record by at least .400 (a little more than three wins in an eight-game conference season). 
  • Georgia State actually appears on this list twice, which is perhaps one reason why Trent Miles is no longer coaching the team. 
  • Four of the ten teams on this list (Georgia State, SMU, New Mexico, and FIU) ended up losing their coach either via firing (sometimes at midseason) or resignation
  • Chris Petersen’s best Boise State team probably does not belong on this list, but the Broncos were so dominant (+3.68 YPP in a pretty good WAC) that the regression analysis believed they should have won more than all their games.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

2016 Adjusted Pythagorean Record: SEC

Last week, we looked at how SEC teams fared in terms of yards per play. This week, we turn our attention to how the season played out in terms of the Adjusted Pythagorean Record, or APR. For an in-depth look at APR, click here. If you didn’t feel like clicking, here is the Reader’s Digest version. APR looks at how well a team scores and prevents touchdowns. Non-offensive touchdowns, field goals, extra points, and safeties are excluded. The ratio of offensive touchdowns to touchdowns allowed is converted into a winning percentage. Pretty simple actually. Once again, here are the 2016 SEC standings.
And here are the APR standings sorted by division with conference rank in offensive touchdowns, touchdowns allowed, and APR in parentheses. This includes conference games only with the championship game excluded.
Finally, SEC teams are sorted by the difference between their actual number of wins and their expected number of wins according to APR.
I use a game and a half as a line of demarcation to determine if teams drastically over or under perform their APR. By that standard LSU significantly under-performed relative to their APR. There is not a lot of mystery as to why that is the case. LSU won five conference games. Four of those wins came by an average of 24 points. The other was a narrow victory over Mississippi State. Their three losses came by a combined 21 points, with the 10-0 loss to Alabama their largest margin of defeat.

Two weeks ago in the APR write up of the Pac-12, I looked at how well Pac-12 coaches over or under-performed relative to their APR and expected YPP records. In that post, I only looked at the Pac-12 since it expanded to twelve teams (2011-2016). Taking inspiration from Senator Blutarsky who noted Jim McElwain exceeded his YPP significantly in his first two seasons at Florida, I decided to do the same with the SEC. However, since it just means more in the SEC, I decided to go back as far as I have APR and YPP data - 2005. To qualify for inclusion on the leaderboards, coaches had to have at least three full SEC seasons under their belts in the twelve year period from 2005 through 2016. This criteria produced 27 coaches ranging from greats like Saban and Meyer to forgotten men like Croom and Dooley. Finally, before we get to the actual tables, just a housekeeping note. For coaches who did not finish a season (see Les Miles in 2016), I used the full season difference and credited them with the percentage they coached. For example, LSU was 1.88 games worse than expected in APR in 2016. Miles coached two (of eight) conference games so he receives 'credit' for negative 0.47 wins (-1.88*.25). The rest go to Ed Orgeron who receives 'credit' for negative 1.41 wins (-1.88*.75). Without further adieu, here are SEC coaches ranked by the average number of wins per season they exceeded their APR.
Chizik only coached for four seasons, so sample size is obviously an issue here. His national championship team was almost three wins better than their APR and his next team finished .500 in conference play despite an APR of only about two wins. His other two teams were pretty neutral in regards to their APR, but that sixteen game run puts him in front. Pinkel and Tuberville had similarly short tenures (remember this only includes Tuberville's stint on The Plains from 2005-2008), but fielded several teams that were better than their APR. For coaches with a significant tenure, Miles and Richt exceeded their expected records by about two fifths of a win on average. At the other end of the spectrum, you will find a plethora of Vanderbilt coaches consistently under-performing their peripherals. James Franklin, Bobby Johnson, and especially Derek Mason all occupy space in the bottom quartile. Houston Nutt coached at two schools during this time period and while his three Arkansas teams under-performed by about half a win per season, his four Ole Miss squads were even worse as they averaged more than a full win less than their APR!

Now let's look at Yards Per Play. Here are the SEC coaches ranked by the average amount they exceeded their expected record based on YPP. Keep in mind while APR was based on wins (i.e. +.500 equals half a win greater than expected), YPP is based on winning percentage. Thus, Tommy Tuberville's +.135 translates to a little more than one win (.135*8 = 1.08) per conference season.
Once again, we see some familiar faces at the top. Chizik and Tuberville were first and third respectively in APR and are second and first in YPP. Miles is once again the longest tenured coach in the top five while Richt is closer to average here. The bottom of the list also looks very similar with Ed Orgeron bringing up the rear. If you look back at the APR numbers, he was also fifth from the bottom there. I was a big fan of Orgeron's hiring last season, but these tables give me pause. On the one hand, Orgeron's teams have under-performed in each of his nearly four full seasons in charge. In addition, while the 2016 team was not totally his, keep in mind LSU was a consistent over-achiever, at least relative to their peripheral stats under Miles. On the other hand, Orgeron went a decade between head coaching jobs and in between appears to have matured while also guiding another team to a solid finish after a mid-season firing. Perhaps we shouldn't judge 2016 too harshly with all the turmoil surrounding the program. However, if 2017 plays out like 2016 did, with LSU blowing out five conference opponents, while losing a semi-competitive game to Alabama and two other close games in the SEC, not only will we have further evidence of a trend, Orgeron will find himself squarely on the hot seat.