Sunday, January 25, 2009

ACC Review: 2005-2008

In addition to the SDPI posts, another offseason interest of mine has been to look at how each IA conference has shaken out since 2005. I chose 2005 as the starting point because that was the year the ACC expanded to 12 teams, the Big East added 3 new members and booted Temple, Conference USA added a championship game, the Mountain West added TCU, the WAC looted the Sun Belt after several of its members joined Conference USA, and the Sun Belt added 2 independents from Florida (FAU and FIU). Since 2005, there has only been one change in any IA conference. That was the expansion of the MAC by a single team with the addition of Temple. We'll begin with a look at the ACC since 2005. And one final note, each of the statistics posted here are for conference games only (championship games excluded). Since each school plays a vastly different non-conference schedule, this offers a better standard of comparison. First here are the cummlative ACC standings since 2005.It should be no surprise that the team with 3 ACC Championship Game sppearances (2 victories) leads the pack. The ACC teams are clustered around mediocrity. The middle 8 teams (from Clemson/Wake Forest to NC State) are within 6 wins of each other. That is mostly due to the veritable bye week that has been the Duke Blue Devils who are an improbable 1-31 in conference play the past 4 seasons.

Now here is each team's home record in conference play since 2005. It's no surprise that the team with the best record overall (Virginia Tech) has protected its homefield exceptionally well. One of the most amazing stats is Clemson's home record. The Tigers home record and road record are identical over the past 4 seasons (9-7). Most casual observers probably would have pegged Death Valley as one of the toughest places to play in the league. Who has benefitted the most from their homefield? I would say it is either North Carolina or Virginia. North Carolina is a solid 9-7 at home over the past 4 seasons, but a poor 4-12 away from Keenan Stadium. Virginia is also a robust 11-5 at home, but only 5-11 on the road.

Now here is how homefield advantage shakes out in the ACC (in conference play only) with respect to the nation at large (with rank out of the 11 IA conferences in parentheses). As you can see the ACC is usually in the top quartile of homefield advantage (until 2008). Overall, the home team in ACC conference games has won about 58% of the time. If we remove Duke's record, that number jumps to 62.5%.

Next up is how each ACC team stacks up offensively for each season. This is the ranking of yards per game in conference play. For all the flak Rob Spence has gotten for being a bubble-screen calling moron, his teams consistently fielded top-flight offense in his first 3 seasons. Suprisingly, in 2008, when he was fired about halfway through the year, the offense had its worst finish in the past 4 seasons. In 2005, Spence was hailed as a fecund coordinator, coming over from Toledo, who was poised to take the Tigers to the next level. By 2008, there were some serious grumblings that the offense bogged down against the better teams on the schedule. Is this true? Or did Spence hve an unfair reputation for choking in big games? To attempt to answer that I looked at Clemson's yardage numbers from 2005-2007 (the 3 full seasons where Spence was offensive coordinator) and calculated Clemson's yards per game numbers against 'good defenses' ranked (1-3 in the conference), 'solid defenses' (ranked 4-6 in the conference), 'below average defenses' (ranked 7-9 in the conference), and 'bad defenses' (ranked 10-12 in the conference). The results are in the table below. These results seem to back conventional wisdom that Spence and the Tigers dominated inferior competition, yet struggled mightily moving the ball against better defenses. Some other nuggets: We see the improvement of the Boston College offense with Matty Ice, culminating with the top-ranked attack in 2007, and returning to Earth sans the first round pick in 2008. We also see the precipitous fall from grace of the Miami offense, despite the fact that Kyle Wright was the primary maestro of the offense in 2005, 2006, and 2007. After his departure, the offense again returned to prominence in 2008.

And finally, here are the defensive rankings for each team. This is yards allowed per game in conference play. Not surprisingly, Virginia Tech rates as the best defense in the conference for 3 of the past 4 seasons. In the lone season they did not post the number 1 defense, they were runner up to Clemson. And speaking of the Tigers (once again, sorry), its clear Vic Koenning, for all his failures as a head coach, is one helluva a defensive coordinator. He became defensive coordinator at Clemson prior to the 2005 season, and after a solid start, his defenses have been consistently among the best in the league. Kansas State made a great hire in picking him up.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009


One of my favorite set of posts from the past two offseasons has been the SDPI recap/early preview. Don't know what SDPI is? It stands for Standard Deviation Power Index and is a tool Eddie Epstein used in his book Dominance to rate pro football's best teams. The basic idea is to look at how far above or below average (by standard deviations) a specific team is relative to their conference brethren. Since each team plays the same number of conference games, it can give us a good idea about who the best team was within the conference. However, it cannot tell us which conference is better. But the purpose of these posts is not to determine which conference is superior, but rather project ahead which teams in a conference will be contenders or also rans in the upcoming season. In the first post on SDPI two years ago, I calculated SDPI based on points scored and allowed within conference play. Last season I used points scored and allowed as well as yards gained and allowed. This season, I'm sticking with yards only. The yardage version of SDPI has a better correlation with future performance than points, and including both last season made the post seem (at least to me) quite muddled. Of course, this is by no means, the end all be all rating system, but it can give us an idea of which teams will improve and decline in 2009. We'll begin our offseason sojourn with a look at the ACC, followed by the five other BCS leagues in alphabetical order, and conclude with the five non-BCS leagues in an as yet to be determined order. For fans of Army, Navy, and Notre Dame, I apologize, your teams will not be examined.

If you want the meat of the article, skip this next paragraph as it just gives an example of how SDPI is calculated. The mean yardage for and against for all ACC teams in conference play (championship game not included) was 2545.75 yards. The standard deviation for yards gained was 226.32. The standard deviation for yards allowed was 322.39. Boston College gained 2529 yards in conference play and allowed 2249. Their offensive SDPI was -0.07 = ([2529-2545.75]/226.32). Their defensive SDPI was 0.92 = ([2545.75-2249]/322.39). Their total SDPI was 0.85 which ranked 4th in the conference.

To refresh your memory, here are the 2008 ACC Standings.

Now here are the 2008 SDPI Standings sorted by total SDPI, with conference rank in offense, defense, and total SDPI in parentheses.

The stats speak loud and clear, proclaiming Georgia Tech the best team in the conference. The Jackets performed exeptionally well in Paul Johnson's first season at the school, flanking the number one offense in the conference with the fourth best defense. They were one of only three teams (Clemson and Florida State were the other two) to be above average on both sides of the ball in conference play. Of course, the season did not end well for the Jackets as they were dismantled in the Chick Fil-A (still Peach to me) Bowl by LSU. I don't know if this is true, as I have not studied the issue and this is pure conjecture, but it seems like option teams such as Georgia Tech are more likely (than 'normal' teams) to be blown out if they fall behind early because of the nature of the offense they run. If they fall behind by two scores, it seems like an avalanche comes and the offense loses its poise and timing (see the loss to LSU and the 28-7 loss to North Carolina). That's not to say that Tech is incapable of winning championships, as Johnson won two IAA national titles at Georgia Southern and seems to have the bona fides to win at least a few conference titles (I would be hesistant to suggest national crowns) at Tech, just a trend that may be worth watching in the future. And one more Tech nugget before moving on, if they can get over their propensity to fumble, they will be very scary on offense in 2009. Tech fumbled 36 times in 2008 (only Washington State and Michigan fumbled more) and lost 20 of them. This does not appear to be a trait shared by offenses coached by Johnson, as his last four teams at Navy fumbled 19, 21, 34, and 21 times respectively.

Best Offense: Georgia Tech 1.63
As I've already stated, Paul Johnson's offense worked wonders in his first season in Atlanta. Surprisingly, NC State posted the second best offense in conference play. If Russell Wilson stays healthy, they could make some noise in 2009.

Worst Offense: Duke -1.69
Duke's offensive numbers are immensely influenced by the two games where quarterback Thaddeous Lewis missed significant time. In the losses to Clemson and Virginia Tech (Lewis threw 5 passes before being injured against Clemson and missed the following game against Virginia Tech) Duke gained 304 yards of offense. In their other six conference games, they averaged 310 yards per game. If we extrapoltate those numbers over an eight game conference season, Duke would have finished a much more respectable 8th in yards gained. Though it may not appear as such on the surface, there was progress in Year 1 of the Cutcliffe era.

Best Defense: Virginia Tech 1.38
Surprise, surprise. Bud Foster. Australian for defense.

Worst Defense: NC State -1.63
The defense did improve substantially in the second half of the conference season (allowed 432 yards per game in the first four ACC contests and 336 yards per game in the final four), but it was not enough to avoid the cellar.

Hardest Schedule (based on cumulative SDPI of opponents): Florida State 2.86
The 'Noles were the second best team in the ACC according to SDPI and their schedule included tilts against the number one team (Georgia Tech), number three team (Clemson), number four team (Boston College), number five team (Virginia Tech) and number six team (Miami). In their three games against the Coastal Division, they drew the three strongest teams possible.

Easiest Schedule (based on cumulative SDPI of opponents): NC State -2.23
In their games against the Coast Division, the Pack drew the two weakest teams (Duke and North Carolina) and a Miami team that was middle of the road.

Entire Schedule Strength (hardest to easiest)
Florida State 2.86
Boston College 2.54
Duke 1.55
Maryland 1.52
Virginia Tech -0.22
Georgia Tech -0.38
North Carolina -0.61
Clemson -0.87
Wake Forest -1.10
Miami -1.49
Virginia -1.57
NC State -2.23

Looking ahead to next season, the prohibitive favorite should be...

Atlantic: Florida State
While I wouldn't buy into the hype that Florida State is 'back' (that is in the sense that they are ready to compete for a national title), they should well be 'back' as the best team in the Atlantic. As mentioned earlier, the 'Noles had the toughest conference schedule in the league last season, and still almost took home the Atlantic title. This year they swap North Carolina for Virginia Tech (a definite upgrade for them no matter what kind of pub North Carolina gets in the preseason), and keep Georgia Tech and Miami from the Coastal Division. The road schedule is rough (Clemson, Boston College, Wake, and the aforementioned Tar Heels), but the 'Noles should have the best team in the division. The 'Noles will be especially dangerous if they can get improved play from quarterback Christian Ponder. While Ponder showed promise in his first year at the helm (over 2000 yards passing and 400 yards rushing), he still made a lot of mistakes (13 interceptions) and had too many passes hit the ground (his completion percentage ranked 84th among qualifying quarterbacks). If he improves, the 'Noles could run away with the division title.

Coastal: Georgia Tech
Statistically, the Jackets were the best team in the conference, and with another offseason to learn the offense and fill the team with 'option' players, Georgia tech should be in the thick of things once again in 2009. The schedule is also condusive for a division title, as resident overlord Virginia Tech must travel to Atlanta.

The team(s) you should be buying are...

Florida State and Georgia Tech
I've discussed these two ad nauseum already, but they appear to be the ACC's cream of the crop in 2009.

The team(s) you should be selling are...

North Carolina and Wake Forest
I know it seems like sacrilege to dismiss the Tar Heels as they are coached by Butch Davis, who has been stockpiling recruits in Chapel Hill as he readies his charges for a run at a conference title. But look at the numbers. North Carolina was below average at moving the sticks (9th in yards gained in conference play) and at stopping opponents sans the turnover (8th in yards allowed in conference play). The table below lists Carolina's statistics in yards gained, yards allowed, turnovers forced, and turnovers committed in its four conference wins and four conference losses.The defense was practically identical in the wins and losses, and thats with the debacle against NC State (allowed conference season high 466 yards) driving up the average. The offense was significantly worse in the losses, but the real difference was turnovers. The Tar Heels were plus +7 in the wins and -12 in the losses. When the offense protected the ball, and the defense took it away, the Tar Heels won. When they didn't, they lost. Even in their wins, the Tar Heels have a pedestrian down-to-down profile, and now they lose their game-changing receiver Hakeem Nicks to the NFL. FYI, the leading returning receiver in 2009 will be running back Greg Little, who had a robust 146 yards in 2008. Maybe the Tar Heels will improve in 2009 and take the division title, stranger things have happened, but to paraphrase Dennis Green, don't crown them just yet. And what of Wake Forest? For three years running my alma mater has parlayed a great turnover margin (+29 over the past three seasons) and a schedule that includes Duke each season (thank you ACC gods) into a 15-9 conference record. Well, now the defense will be without the services of eight starters including a pair of NFL draft picks in linebacker Aaron Curry and corner Alphonso Smith. While the offense does return a savvy senior quarterback and a pair of talented running backs, keep in mind, Wake gained more yards than only Duke in ACC play. Seems its time to pay the piper, and Wake will likely be out of the bowl picture for the first time since 2005.

The team(s) you should be holding are...

So what's the deal with this Dabo Swinney kid? Is he the next Danny Ford as some writers have hinted at, or is he just another coach? For all the goodwill a Gator Bowl bid bought him, it still pays to remember Clemson only went 7-6 in 2008. They were only 5-6 against IA teams, and Dabo was only 4-3 as head coach. Clemson did win their final three games to garner the bowl bid, but remember those wins came against Duke, Virginia, and South Carolina (combined record of 16-21). On the other hand, the stats love Clemson, pegging them as the third best team in the conference and second best in the Atlantic Division. The Tigers were also a hard luck 1-4 in one-score games, a statistic that often evens out over time, perhaps portending good things for 2009. Clemson could well break through and win the division in 2009 (they do host their likely biggest challenger in Florida State), but there are too many questions to dub them the favorite.

Coming later this week: A look at the ACC over the past four seasons (since the division format was created), complete with standings, tendencies, and a look at homefield advantage.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Bowl Season and What's Ahead

The Game: BCS National Championship Game
The Date: January 8
The Location: Miami, Florida
The Teams: Florida and Oklahoma
The Line: Florida -5
What's at Stake? A Mythical National Title.
Why You Should Watch: The last 2 Heisman winners square off in the last college football game of the season.
Spread Prediction: Both these teams were uber-dominant during the season, especially since mid-October. These teams appear to be pretty even, so take the team getting nearly a touchdown.

After Thursday night, college football fans are once again in for a long winter. Nearly 8 months will pass from the final gun of the BCS National Championship Game to the first regular season game of 2009. In between, this blog will stay active. Each conference will once again get the SDPI treatment, along with some other amulgamations of statistics. Check back every week or so, for new articles and some statistics that you won't find anywhere else on the web. The offseason is long, but if we stick together, I know we can get through it.

Sunday, January 04, 2009

Bowl Season

The Game: Fiesta Bowl
The Date: January 5
The Location: Phoenix, Arizona
The Teams: Texas and Ohio State
The Line: Texas -8.5
What's at Stake? An impressive performance by Texas gives them a minute chance of collecting a split national title should Oklahoma prevail in the BCS Championship Game. Ohio State needs a strong showing to get rid of their rep for not showing up in big games.
Why You Should Watch: Colt McCoy and Terrelle Pryor are 2 of the nation's best quarterbacks and fortunately for college fans, will both be back next season.
Spread Prediction: Texas boasted the best defense in the Big 12, which is quite an accomplishment considering Missouri, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, and Texas Tech were all on the schedule. Ohio State struggled to move the ball in the Big 10, even with Pryor. Texas will be highly motivated and take this one by double digits.

The Game: GMAC Bowl
The Date: January 6
The Location: Mobile, Alabama
The Teams: Tulsa and Ball State
The Line: Tulsa -2.5
What's at Stake? A win for Ball State gives them 13 on the season and would represent the first bowl win in school history. A win for Tulsa would be their second straight in the GMAC bowl and give them 11 wins on the season.
Why You Should Watch: Tune in to get a look at quarterback Nate Davis for Ball State. Davis is no stranger to the mid-week game, having played 4 times on Tuesday or Wednesday this season. Tulsa receiver Brennan Marion averaged an amazing 25.86 yards per reception after averaging 31.90 yards pr catch last season.
Spread Prediction: Despite their upset in the MAC title game at the hands of Buffalo, Ball State was easily the best team in the conference. Tulsa was also the best team in Conference USA, but by a much smaller margin. Look for Ball State to pull out the upset and win their first ever bowl game.

Thursday, January 01, 2009

Bowl Season

The Game: Cotton Bowl
The Date: January 2
The Location: Dallas, Texas
The Teams: Texas Tech and Ole Miss
The Line: Texas Tech -4.5
What's at Stake? A win would cap off the best season in Texas Tech history with 12 wins and a top-5 ranking. Ole Miss is seeking their first bowl win since their Cotton Bowl victory over Oklahoma State following the 2003 season.
Why You Should Watch: This could be the final game in the illustrious, but potentially short career of Tech wide receiver Michael Crabtree. Keep an eye on Ole Miss defensive end Greg Hardy, who led the Rebels with 8.5 sacks this season (Tech allowed only 11 sacks all season despite throwing the most passes in the nation).
Spread Prediction: Texas Tech has been hit or miss in their wins this season, destroying Kansas State, Oklahoma State, and Texas A&M, but squeaking by Nebraska and Baylor. I think this will be another squeaker, so the Rebs are the pick.

The Game: Liberty Bowl
The Date: January 2
The Location: Memphis, Tennessee
The Teams: East Carolina and Kentucky
The Line: East Carolina -3
What's at Stake? A win would give East Carolina 10 wins for the first time since 1991. Kentucky is looking for their third straight bowl win and third straight winning season.
Why You Should Watch: East Carolina defines winning ugly, but they also a very good defense. Just ask Pat White and David Johnson.
Spread Prediction: Some 6-6 teams belong in a bowl game. Vandy for example beat bowl teams in Ole Miss, South Carolina, Rice, and Kentucky. Kentucky beat no one of note, and in my opinion does not belong in the postseason. In non-conference play, they beat Louisville (5-7), Norfolk State (IAA), Middle Tennessee State (5-7), and Western Kentucky (2-10). In SEC play, their 2 victories were by a point apiece over Arkansas (5-7) and Mississippi State (4-8). It won't be pretty, but East Carolina will win by at least a touchdown.

The Game: Sugar Bowl
The Date: January 2
The Location: New Orleans, Louisiana
The Teams: Alabama and Utah
The Line: Alabama -9
What's at Stake? A 13-win season and top-5 finish for Alabama or an undefeated season and top-5 finish for Utah.
Why You Should Watch: David versus Goliath. Also check out Alabama corner Rashad Johnson who picked off 5 passes and brought 2 back for scores.
Spread Prediction: I think you can make the argument that Utah wasn't the best team in the Mountain West. On a down-to-down basis, TCU was better on both sides of the ball, epecially on defense. Utah has been a great story this season, but Alabama should end the Utes run at perfection.

The Game: International Bowl
The Date: January 3
The Location: Toronto, Canada
The Teams: Connecticut and Buffalo
The Line: Connecticut -5
What's at Stake? The first ever bowl win for Buffalo or Connecticut's first bowl win since 2004.
Why You Should Watch: Connecticut boasts the nation's leading rusher (before the bowls began) in Donald Brown. Buffalo senior quarterback Drew Willy threw 25 touchdown passes and just 5 interceptions this season.
Spread Prediction: Statistically Buffalo was a middling MAC, but they parlayed turnovers and good luck into a conference title. As a Wake Forest fan, believe me, I know it can be done. However, Connecticut had the best defense in the Big East this season, and I don't think Buffalo will be able to move the ball against the Huskies. This looks like at least a touchdown win for Connecticut.