Thursday, June 23, 2022

YPP Throwback: The 2001 Big 12

I had so much fun revisiting the 2001 SEC last year, I decided to go back to 2001 again and look at the Big 12. We'll begin as always with the 2001 Big 12 standings. 
As with the rest of college football, the 2001 Big 12 season featured a lot of twists and turns. Nebraska, Oklahoma, and Texas all began the year ranked in the top five of the AP Poll. Oklahoma won a low-scoring Red River Shootout to take control of the Big 12 South and were unbeaten when they traveled to Lincoln three weeks later to face Nebraska in a matchup of teams ranked second and third in the AP Poll. The Cornhuskers won 20-10 with Eric Crouch producing his Heisman moment on a trick play reception that iced the game. Heading into the Thanksgiving weekend, it looked like Nebraska and Oklahoma were destined for a rematch in the Big 12 Championship Game, but fate had other plans. Oklahoma lost at home to Oklahoma State giving the South to Texas which had won six in a row (all by double digits) following their defeat in Dallas. In the North, Nebraska entered their regular season finale against Colorado unbeaten, but having failed to clinch the division. Colorado opened the 2001 season by losing to Fresno State. The Buffaloes won their next five games, but were throttled at Texas in mid-October. After losing to the Longhorns, Colorado won their next three games against a middling trio of Big 12 opponents (Oklahoma State, Missouri, and Iowa State) and could steal the division from Nebraska if they managed to upset the Cornhuskers at home. The Buffaloes would do just that, forcing four Nebraska turnovers while rushing for nearly 400 yards in a shocking 62-36 victory. Instead of a rematch between the Cornhuskers and Sooners, we were instead treated to a rematch between the Buffaloes and Longhorns. Texas quarterback Chris Simms played poorly, throwing three interceptions and Colorado led 29-10 late in the first half. Seeking a spark, Mack Brown benched Simms in favor of Major Applewhite and the Longhorns nearly orchestrated a comeback, but Colorado held on to win 39-37. Colorado advanced to the Fiesta Bowl where they fell to Oregon, while Nebraska backed into the Rose Bowl (and BCS title game) thanks to the Big 12 title game upset and upsets in the SEC as well. 

The More Things Change
While Nebraska and Colorado vied for North supremacy in 2001, Kansas finished in the basement. The Jayhawks won a single Big 12 game in 2001 (somehow beating Texas Tech and head coach Mike Leach in Lubbock). Their single victory and was a harbinger of things to come. 
In the Big 12's quarter century of existence, Kansas, Baylor, and Iowa State have dominated the bottom of the standings, with the three combining to win either zero or one conference game an amazing 36 times! The rest of the conference has done it just three times. However, nearly all of Baylor's zero or one win conference campaigns came in the infancy of the Big 12 (more on them in a second) while Kansas is on a thirteen year streak of winning one conference game or less!

Baylor's Historic Ineptitude
The Big 12 began playing football in 1996. The conference maintained the divisional format through 2010 (15 seasons). In that span, Baylor win 18 conference games. And that includes a 4-4 record in 2010 as the program was beginning to coalesce under Art Briles and Robert Griffin. While the 18 wins are bad in isolation, more than two thirds of those victories came in inter-division play. The Bears were bad against Big 12 North teams, but respectable bad. They went 13-32 against the weaker opposition in the Big 12 North, sweeping the division on two occasions (2006 and 2010). However, against Big 12 South teams, the Bears were 5-70 in the fifteen seasons of divisional play! 
The Bears beat a Big 12 South team in their second season (Texas LoL), but did not win another division game for seven years! In fact, they never won more than one division game for the duration of division play!

Where Are the Conference Titles?
Mack Brown took over the Texas Longhorns in 1998 and immediately returned them to national prominence. In his first seven seasons in Austin, the Longhorns averaged ten wins per season (70-19 record), finished ranked each season, and even finished in the top ten of the AP Poll three times. However, the Longhorns did not win a conference title in that span (something his predecessor John Mackovic managed to do in back-to-back seasons). They famously broke through in 2005, but there were a lot of missed opportunities between 1998 and 2004, with 2001 being the prime example. 
Statistically, Texas was the best Big 12 team in 2001. Their defense was the personification of the old adage 'Three Yards and a Cloud of Dust', allowing 3.24 yards per play to league foes. With Future pros like Cory Redding, D.D. Lewis, and Quintin Jammer at all three levels, the unit dominated Big 12 opponents. In addition to the low per play numbers, Texas also allowed just eight offensive touchdowns in Big 12 play during the regular season. Heading into the Big 12 Championship Game, the Longhorns seemed to be catching a break with Colorado upsetting Nebraska. The Longhorns had handled the Buffaloes with ease six weeks before in Austin and were about a touchdown favorite in the rematch. While the aforementioned turnovers by Simms aided Colorado in scoring nearly 40 points, the Buffaloes had the best offensive showing of any Big 12 team against the Longhorns. 
The Buffaloes scored four offensive touchdowns while running back Chris Brown and Bobby Purify combined to gain nearly 250 yards on the ground and average over six yards per carry. The upset added more fuel to the 'can't win the big one' narrative hovering over Mack Brown. Of course, Brown and the Longhorns would prove the doubters wrong by winning the national title in 2005 and adding another Big 12 title in 2009 equaling the total number of conference titles the Longhorns won under his predecessor.  

Final Thoughts
2001 was a weird season for college football. Before 2020, it was the only time I can recall such a massive schedule adjustment. The 9/11 terrorist attacks caused the third full week of the season to be postponed and an additional week to be tacked on to the end of the regular season. Some wild things happened on the field after Thanksgiving, with the aforementioned pair of Colorado upsets along with two more in the SEC (Florida over Tennessee and LSU over Tennessee in the SEC Championship Game) leading to yet another BCS controversy regarding which team was most deserving to take on Miami. In the end, Nebraska earned the nod. Obviously, results on the field have to be taken into account, but based on my YPP look back at the SEC and Big 12, I think Florida or Texas would have provided better competition for the Hurricanes. 

Wednesday, June 01, 2022

2021 Adjusted Pythagorean Record: Sun Belt

Last week we looked at how Sun Belt teams fared in terms of yards per play. his 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 2021 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 with the championship game excluded.
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 somewhat arbitrary standard to determine whether a team's record differed significantly from their APR. By that standard, South Alabama was the only team with a record that was significantly off from their APR. The Jaguars significantly underachieved relative to their APR and they also underachieved relative to their Yards Per Play numbers and we went over a few reasons for that last week.  

Dominating Your Division
Billy Napier had a pretty successful four-year run at Louisiana-Lafayette. The Ragin' Cajuns finished ranked in the AP Poll the past two seasons after never having appeared in the poll in their history. However, Napier's most impressive achievement may have been that he never lost to a division opponent. The Sun Belt switched to a divisional format in 2018 and in the four years since, Louisiana-Lafayette has gone 16-0 against their opponents in the West. 
The Ragin' Cajuns won those sixteen games by nearly fifteen points per game and averaged nearly a yard and a half more per play than their opponents. Perhaps even more impressive is that fact that no other team in the West posted a winning division record in that span. 
And while the East has been the stronger division in the early days of this new Sun Belt iteration, Louisiana-Lafayette has held their own when they step outside the friendly confines of the West. 
The Ragin' Cajuns went 1-3 against East division opponents in Napier's first season, but they are 10-2 since and their overall point and per play differential emphasize this strong showing. In fact, they are the only team from the West to have any success in inter-division play. 
The other West teams all have losing records against the East and that quartet has combined to win less than a quarter of their inter-division games.

Louisiana-Lafayette's amazing division streak is likely to end this season due to simple regression and the reorganization of the Sun Belt. And Billy Napier's personal division streak seems destined to end in Jacksonville if not before, but take a moment to genuflect on some unappreciated dominance at the lower levels of FBS. 

We have completed our offeason run through all ten FBS conferences. Thanks as always for reading. This blog will continue to make posts throughout the summer, but they will be more sporadic. Look for a YPP Throwback on the 2001 Big 12, some posts on first half point differential from this past season, a Vegas betting trip, and maybe an NFL post. We are about twelve weeks from Week Zero, but if we maintain our focus, we can make it through the long offseason. 

Wednesday, May 25, 2022

2021 Yards Per Play: Sun Belt

Somehow, we have arrived at our final conference in the offseason recap series. This week we examine the Sun Belt. 

Here are the 2021 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, with the championship game not included. The teams are sorted by division 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 2021 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.
Louisiana-Lafayette and South Alabama were the two Sun Belt teams that saw their actual record differ significantly from their expected record. In Billy Napier's final season in Lafayette, the Ragin' Cajuns became the first team to finish unbeaten in Sun Belt play and win the conference title game. Despite their unbeaten mark, the Ragin' Cajuns were far from dominant, winning five games by one score. South Alabama was not nearly as fortunate in close games, losing all four conference games they played that were decided by a touchdown or less. The Ragin' Cajuns and Jaguars faced off in early October and the final result was a microcosm of both teams' respective seasons. South Alabama outgained Louisiana-Lafayette and edged them slightly in yards per play. In fact, the Jaguars were in position to take the lead in the fourth quarter, but missed a 36-yard field goal with just over a minute left to seal a 20-18 loss

Divisional Oddities
From the looks of things, the era of divisional play in college football may soon be over. In the three decades of divisional play, there have only been three instances where a the division champ finished with a winning conference record while every other team in the division finished with a losing conference record. Those instances have all come in the past three seasons and the last two have come in the same division! Since this post is on the Sun Belt, you can probably guess which conference is responsible for the last two. 
Louisiana-Lafayette has gone 15-1 in Sun Belt action the past two seasons. In both seasons, the second best team in the division finished 3-5 in Sun Belt play meaning the division was decided before many MLB division races. Before Louisiana-Lafayette's Sun Belt dominance, Oregon finished four games clear of everyone in the Pac-12 North in 2019. And while it didn't quite make the cut, I wanted to remind readers of the mediocrity that was the Big 12 North in 2004. No one in that division finished with a winning record. Iowa State entered the final week of the regular season with a chance to wrap up their first North title, but dropped an overtime game to Missouri to give the division to Colorado. 

Thursday, May 19, 2022

2021 Adjusted Pythagorean Record: SEC

Last week we looked at how SEC teams fared in terms of yards per play. his 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 2021 SEC standings.
And here are the APR standings 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 the standard to determine whether a team's record differed significantly from their APR. By that standard, Missouri and Ole Miss significantly overachieved, while Florida underachieved. The Rebels and Gators also saw their respective records differ significantly from their expected records based on Yards per Play and we went over some reasons why last week. This week, we will focus solely on Missouri. A quick glance at their scoring margin will give you all the information you need to know. Missouri won three SEC games by a combined margin of thirteen points. Contrast that with their five SEC losses, of which four came by at least seventeen points. Their lone competitive conference loss came in the conference opener against Kentucky. 

Upsets in the SEC Championship Game
As you may have heard, Alabama upset Georgia in the SEC Championship game in 2021. It was the first upset in the iconic title game since 2013 when Auburn upset Missouri as a slight underdog on the way to an appearance in the final BCS Championship Game. It marked the sixth upset in the 30-year history of the SEC Championship Game. For your viewing pleasure, the upsets are listed below. 
As I was putting together this list of title game upsets, I noticed something. There have been four significant upsets in the SEC Championship Game (spread of more than a field goal). Three of those upsets have been authored by teams coached by none other than Nick Saban. Two of the upsets kept the defeated team from playing for a national title and the other came against a team an unbeaten juggernaut that had rolled through the regular season. Saban is already considered the greatest college coach of this generation (and perhaps all-time) and this tidbit won't be what most college football fans remember about him, but it is another superlative in his already sterling resume. 

Thursday, May 12, 2022

2021 Yards Per Play: SEC

Hard to believe, but we are now on our penultimate conference in the offseason recaps. This week, we reminisce about the conference that squared off in the College Football Playoff Championship Game, the SEC.

Here are the 2021 SEC 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 SEC team. This includes conference play only, with the championship game not included. The teams are sorted by division 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 2021 season, which teams in the SEC met this threshold? Here are SEC teams sorted by performance over what would be expected from their Net YPP numbers.
Ole Miss and Florida were the SEC teams that saw their actual record differ significantly from their expected record. The Rebels overachieved by winning both of their one-score conference games and posting the best in-conference turnover margin (+5) of any SEC team. Meanwhile, Florida ended the Dan Mullen era by dropping their final four SEC games. Of their six conference defeats, four came by a touchdown or less. The Gators also had the worst in-conference turnover margin of any SEC team (-8) and were done in by non-offensive touchdowns. In eight conference games, the Gators allowed four non-offensive touchdowns without scoring any of their own. Two of those non-offensive touchdowns provided the exact margin of defeat in games against Kentucky (blocked field goal) and LSU (interception). The other two did not directly result in defeat, but turnovers that resulted in non-offensive touchdowns late in the first half in back to back weeks against Georgia (interception) and South Carolina (fumble) effectively ended any hopes of a Florida comeback. 

Dominating Conference Opponents
Alabama won the 2017 College Football Playoff in dramatic fashion. While the ending was an all-timer, that Alabama team was nondescript compared to other national champions of the modern era (since 1984). However, beginning with Clemson in 2018, the next three national champions (LSU in 2019 and Alabama in 2020) all had a legitimate claims to the be the best of all time. On the morning of December 4, 2021, it appeared Georgia would be able to make a similar claim once the season ended. The Bulldogs entered the SEC Championship Game having beaten ten Power Five opponents by an average of nearly 31 points per game. After a sluggish opener against Clemson in Charlotte, the Bulldogs had not been challenged by any team, leading all their conference opponents by at least a touchdown at halftime en route to the SEC East title. Even a loss to Alabama would not necessarily invalidate their argument as the best team ever. Other great teams like Florida in 2008 or Alabama in 2011 had dropped close games (at home no less) only to regroup and be regarded as some of the best ever once their body of work was examined. It was not the loss to Alabama that curtailed their run at 'best ever' status, it was the magnitude of the defeat. Alabama led by 14 points entering the fourth quarter and pushed their lead to 21 with about twelve minutes left. The 17 point final margin was not misleading. Alabama shredded a previously impenetrable Georgia defense for 526 yards and scored nearly as many points (41) as the Bulldogs allowed in their first seven conference games (49). But you know how this story ends. This was just a temporary setback for Georgia. They rebounded and exorcised their Alabama demons in the College Football Playoff, winning their first national title since 1980. Although, they will probably not go down as they best team ever, they should be remembered for their dominant performance in SEC play. In the BCS era (since 1998), they are one of just eighteen teams to finish unbeaten in conference play and win all their games by double-digits. What illustrious company have they joined? See for yourself, starting with the non-BCS/Group of Five teams. 
No surprise to see a couple Boise State teams on this list. And lets not forget Marshall's dominance of the MAC when they moved up to FBS in the late 90's or the original BCS busters in Salt Lake City. Of course, that's just the appetizer. You probably came for the entree. Here are the BCS/Power Five teams that have finished unbeaten in conference play with each victory coming by at least ten points. 
It may be a little surprising that only three of the nine BCS/Power Five teams that dominated their conference opponents went on to win the national championship (with two coming in the past two seasons). Other observations from the table: The 2000 Miami Hurricanes dominated their Big East brethren more so than the 2001 and 2002 teams that played for national titles. If the College Football Playoff existed in 2000, Bob Stoops may never have won a national title! 2005 was the only time that two BCS/Power Five teams dominated their conference opponents to such an extent in the same season. Finally, Michigan State's dominance in 2013 is often overlooked. The Spartans lacked the offensive firepower of the other teams on this list (note their margin of victory is by far the smallest), but their defense was rock solid in allowing just eleven points per game in Big 10 play. Their lone loss that season was at Notre Dame in a game where they allowed just 17 points

One trend I noticed when conducting this research was the lack of success these dominant teams had in their respective conference title games. Twelve of these teams played in conference title games after their dominant regular seasons. While they did well straight up, they hemorrhaged cash for those betting on them. 
Ten of the twelve were favorites in their respective conference title games. Those ten teams finished 7-3 straight up, but were 1-9 Against the Spread (ATS). Two of the twelve teams were underdogs in their conference title games. The aforementioned Michigan State team faced an unbeaten Ohio State led by Urban Meyer then in his second season in Columbus. The other instance happened in the pandemic-shortened 2020 season when San Jose State faced an unbeaten (in conference play) Boise State team in the Mountain West Championship Game. Both underdogs not only covered, but won the games outright. Why have these dominant favorites performed so poorly ATS in conference title games? Going undefeated is hard. Perhaps the pressure of the moment gets to these teams, especially in an event that is branded as a 'championship'. Or perhaps these massive favorites take their opponents lightly. Their other conference opponents did not put up much resistance throughout the year, so maybe they expect more of the same in the conference title game. Or maybe the oddsmakers have made these numbers too high. The favorites are 7-3 straight up, so they are winning these games, just not covering. Or maybe ten games is too small a sample to draw any significant conclusions from. What do you think? Why have these dominant teams struggled in conference title games? 

Thursday, May 05, 2022

2021 Adjusted Pythagorean Record: Pac-12

Last week we looked at how Pac-12 teams fared in terms of yards per play. his 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 hereIf 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 2021 Pac-12 standings. 
And here are the APR standings with conference rank in offensive touchdowns, touchdowns allowed, and APR in parentheses. This includes conference games only with the championship game excluded.
Finally, Pac-12 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 the standard to determine whether or not a team's record differed significantly from their APR. By that standard, Colorado significantly overachieved, while Washington significantly underachieved. Despite overachieving, Colorado was still bad in 2021. They did have a dominant win against Arizona, but their other two conference wins both came at home by three points apiece. By comparison, all six of their conference defeats came by at least fifteen points. Meanwhile, Washington was competitive in most of their conference games thanks to their defense. The unit held the Huskies first eight conference opponents to just over 19 points per game. Thanks to their offensive struggles, they were only able to win three of those games. Then, with their bowl dreams dashed and their coach fired, they let go of the rope in the season finale, allowing 40 points to their in-state rivals in The Apple Cup

The Best New Additions
We are on the precipice of another round of conference expansion at the Power Five level. Oklahoma and Texas will soon be members of the SEC while BYU, Cincinnati, Houston, and UCF will replenish the Big 12's membership in quantity if not quality. As we await this brave new world, lets take a moment to reflect on the previous round of realignment that began at the then BCS conference level in 2011 and continued through 2014. In all, twelve schools either switched BCS/Power Five conferences or moved up to BCS/Power Five conferences. An alphabetical listing of those teams in case you forgot: Colorado, Louisville, Maryland, Missouri, Nebraska, Pittsburgh, Rutgers, Syracuse, TCU, Texas A&M, Utah, and West Virginia. 

Which teams have brought the most to their new conference? I don't care about branding, regional penetration, or television markets. At this outpost on the internet, we care about on field performance. To answer that question, lets first look at conference play. The following table lists the twelve newcomers in order of their conference winning percentage. Their number of division titles (or conference championship appearances) and conference titles are also included. 
Only a third of the newcomers have posted winning conference records in their new leagues. A quarter of the newcomers have won conference crowns, but two of them did so in 2021 (Pittsburgh and Utah). If we ran these numbers last summer, TCU's shared title in 2014 would have been the only conference title. Newcomers have appeared in ten conference title games, but they are just 2-8 in such contests, losing by an average of fifteen points per game. 

Conference play is but one area of achievement. We also need to examine national performance. While it is far from a perfect measure, the AP Poll does a good job of capturing the national esteem of teams at a moment in time. Below, the twelve newcomers are sorted by ranked finishes in the top 25 of the AP Poll with top ten finishes also included.
Ten of the twelve teams have finished ranked at least once, with Maryland and Rutgers the lone holdouts. There were six total top ten finishes with schools from Texas (TCU and Texas A&M) accounting for five of them. 

So to answer our original question, which new addition has been the best? I think their are only two potential answers: Texas A&M or Utah. Texas A&M has more top ten finishes that Utah and has a slightly better conference record, but the Utes have more top 25 finishes and have won their division three times (three consecutive times in non pandemic shortened seasons). Texas A&M has a tougher path to a division title, but Utah's conference dominance since 2018 should be recognized (25-7 since the start of 2018). I'll throw my support behind Utah. While it may not be a great sign for the conference when a team with the recruiting profile of Utah is winning it, there is no doubt the Utes have been a good addition. I would also argue that while the SEC has benefited from the addition of Texas A&M, the Aggies have benefited more from their association with the SEC. As for the worst new addition? Hard to make a case for anyone other than Rutgers. 

Thursday, April 28, 2022

2021 Yards Per Play: Pac-12

We are careening toward the home stretch of our conference reviews. Next up is the Pac-12. 

Here are the 2021 Pac-12 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 Pac-12 team. This includes conference play only, with the championship game not included. The teams are sorted by division 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 2021 season, which teams in the Pac-12 met this threshold? Here are Pac-12 teams sorted by performance over what would be expected from their Net YPP numbers.
No team in the Pac-12 significantly over or underachieved relative to their YPP numbers although Colorado and Arizona came close. 

Three Downs
Southern Cal, Stanford and Washington are historically speaking, three of the top programs in the Pac-12. In fact, one could argue they are the best. You can make a case for Oregon, especially if you were born in the 21st century. But for the purposes of this post, lets assume those three are the standard bearers for the Pac-12. Those three teams finished with a combined conference record of 8-19 in 2021. This marked the first time their cumulative conference record was below .500 since 2008 and was only the fifth such occurrence this century. 
Perhaps even more amazing, this was the worst combined conference record for the three programs. Ever. The Pac-12 has gone through a lot of iterations in its history and has even included teams like Idaho and Montana. Yet this trio had never been as bad at the same time as they were in 2021. With those three teams suffering historic downturns, who benefited? You could certainly argue Oregon and Utah, the two conference title game participants, but I would direct your attention a little further down the conference standings. 

Oregon State and Washington State finished a combined 11-7 in Pac-12 play last season. The Beavers and Cougars went a combined 5-1 against Southern Cal, Stanford, and Washington. Oregon State beat all three. Their victory against the Trojans was their first since 2010 (lost previous four). They beat Washington for the first time since 2011 (lost previous nine) and Stanford for the first time since 2009 (lost previous eleven). Washington State beat Washington and Stanford, but lost to Southern Cal. Their victory against the Huskies was their first since 2012 (lost previous seven) and their win against Stanford was actually their fifth in a row against the Cardinal. The problem for middle weights like Oregon State and Washington State is that when programs the caliber of Southern Cal, Stanford, and Washington have bad or disappointing seasons, they often upgrade at head coach. That is precisely what Southern Cal and Washington presumably did in the offseason. The Trojans hired a proven head coach from Oklahoma while Washington hired an up and comer from the Group of Five. Stanford stood pat behind their long tenured head coach, but Southern Cal and Washington are likely to see improvement (perhaps significantly) in 2022. I don't know what to make of Stanford and their decline in recent years, but moderate improvement in Palo Alto would not shock me either. What does this mean for Oregon State and Washington State in 2022? They play all three teams again in 2022 and the odds of them finishing 5-1 (or better) against the trio are slim. Their 11-7 combined record from last season means they went just 6-6 against the rest of their Pac-12 slate. A bowl game for either the Beavers or Cougars is not a sure thing and my initial take would be to look at the 'under' on their season win totals when those numbers are released.