Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Pac-10 2008 SDPI

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. After a one week hiatus, we will now move out west and examine the Pac-10.

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 Pac-10 teams in conference play was 3126 yards. The standard deviation for yards gained was 782.72. The standard deviation for yards allowed was 651.28. Arizona gained 3454 yards in conference play and allowed 2934. Their offensive SDPI was 0.42 = ([3454-3126]/782.72). Their defensive SDPI was 0.29 = ([3126-2934]/651.28). Their total SDPI was 0.71 which ranked 4th in the conference.

To refresh your memory, here are the 2008 Pac-10 Standings.

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

Surprise surprise. The Trojans from Southern Cal were head and shoulders above their Pac-10 brethren. If you took the second place team (Oregon State) and doubled their SDPI numbers they would still be in second place. After the Trojans and Beavers, the next set of teams were just about even. Cal, Arizona, and Oregon are all separated by 8 one-hundredths of a standard deviation. After a little drop off, the next three teams were also eeffectively even. UCLA, Arizona State, and Stanford are separated by only 18 one-hundredths of a standard deviation. Then we have the dregs of the conference. Washington and Washington State combined to go 0-23 against IA schools outside the state of Washington. While the Cougars were able to defeat the Huskies and avoid a winless conference season, they were clearly the worst of the duo over the entire year.

Best Offense: Oregon 1.22
In a photo finish, the Ducks edged the Trojans by a single yard over the course of the Pac-10 conference season. I'm inclined to give the Ducks the benefit of the doubt as well, since they accumulated that extra yard despite having to face the Trojans defense. The Trojans, aside from their eight other common conference foes, got to face an Oregon defense that was much more generous.

Worst Offense: Washington State -1.74
The Cougars averaged under 200 yards per game in conference play. They broke the 300-yard mark only once in conference--against the Huskies in the Apple Cup.

Best Defense: Southern Cal 1.75
The Trojans allowed about 221 yards per game to their Pac-10 foes. Put another way, they made nearly every Pac-10 team look like a slightly better version of Washington State. After opening the conference season getting run over by the dimunitive Jacquizz Rodgers, the Trojans allowed only 206 yards per game to their next eight Pac-10 opponents. Somehow Stanford was also able to run wild on the Trojans (200 yards rushing and 367 total yards). If we remove that game from consideration, their other seven Pac-10 opponents averaged only 183 yards per game against the Trojans defense.

Worst Defense: Washington State -1.68
In five of their nine Pac-10 games the Cougars allowed over 500 yards. Even if we give them a mulligan and only consider their four 'good' games, their defense would only rank seventh in the conference.

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

Washington State
Just seeing if you were paying attention. Once again, 2009 appears to be the Trojans title to lose. There appears to be three tough Pac-10 games on the docket next season: road trips to Cal, Oregon, and Arizona State. Still, its a pretty safe bet the Trojans take at least two of those, and with the gap in performance between the Trojans and everybody else in 2008, it would take some great improvement, and a little luck, for a team to even share the conference crown with Pete Carroll's boys.

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

Washington and Washington State
The good news for fans in the Pacific Northwest is that extreme performances (whether good or bad) are simply not statistically likely to be repeated. The chances of Washington and Washington State performing worse than they did last season is infinitesimally small. Washington State for one, had to deal with an unprecedented amount of injuries. In fact, coach Paul Wulff even held open tryouts for the scout team quarterback in October; something that is almost unheard of at the Division IA level. Washington didn't quite have the injury problems of the Cougars, though they did lose quarterback Jake Locker for the season in the fourth game. The Huskies also had bad luck in another area--close games. They lost three games by a combined 11 points (BYU, Stanford, and Washington State). Locker is expected to return to the starting lineup in 2009 and the Huskies also brought in a new coach with a winning pedigree, Steve Sarkisian, so there is reason for optimism. While both teams were pretty bad last season, the Huskies have a much shorter distance to travel to become competitive. With five conference home games, the Huskies can realistically dream of a bowl bid to cap Sarkisian's maiden voyage. Washington State should improve, but a bowl game seems like a pipe dream. The goal instead should be doubling or tripling last season's solitary conference win.

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

This may seem like a very cowardly cop-out, but there is no single team in the Pac-10 that I can say without hesitation will have a worse year in 2009. In my opinion, the most likely candidate is Oregon State, but Mike Riley has kept the Beavers near the top of the standing the past three seasons with three very different teams.

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

Arizona, Stanford, and UCLA
Arizona would appear to have a lot going for them heading into 2009 fresh off the school's first postseason appearance in a decade. The team was statistically in the top half of the conference last season. However, the Wildcats have a few issues that stand out. First and foremost, they are coached by Mike Stoops. I'm not saying Stoops is a bad coach, in fact, he has done a fine job in rebuilding the Arizona program after the debacle that was John Mackovic. Unfortunately, the Wildcats seems to have several WTF? games each season. Last year it was road losses to a 4-8 New Mexico team (where the Wildcats committed five turnovers) and a 5-7 Stanford team, as well as a last second home loss to Oregon State that kept the Beavers in the hunt for the Rose Bowl. 2007 also featured losses to New Mexico (a 9-4 bowl team) and Stanford (4-8 in Jim Harbaugh's first season), and these were at home. 2006 saw Arizona lose at home to Washington (5-7) and archrival Arizona State (7-6), when a victory in either would have propelled the 6-6 Wildcats to a bowl game. Suffice it to say, don't bank on Arizona to deal well with prosperity. Oh, and I neglected to mention that the Wildcats must replace their all-time leading passer, Willie Tuitama, along with last season's leading receiver, Mike Thomas, in 2009. On the other hand, Arizona was 0-4 in one-score games last season and besides Tuitama and Thomas, returns nearly their entire offense from last season. Be wary of expecting excessive good fortune or disproportionate doom and gloom for Arizona. Another Pac-10 record of 4-5 or 5-4 seems about right. The Stanford Cardinal flirted with a bowl game last season before dropping their final three contests to finish 5-7. There was definite improvement in Year 2 of the Jim Harbaugh era as the Cardinal won four conference games for the first time since 2005. Stanford also defended their home turf very well, going 4-1 in Palo Alto, with the lone loss coming at the hands of the Trojans. Stanford fans have reason to look forward to the coming season with the return of senior running back Toby Gerhart (Stanford's first 1000-yard rusher this century). The running game has certainly improved under Harbaugh as Stanford averaged under 3 yards per rush from 2003-2007 before breaking the glass ceiling and nearly getting to 5 yards per rush (4.89) in 2008. An optimist would also point out the fact that although Stanford was eighth in SDPI, they were within shouting distance of the seventh and sixth place teams (Arizona State and UCLA). Of course the cynic has plenty of ammo as well. In conference games not involving the two Washington schools, Stanford was 2-5 and was outscored by almost 10 points per game. The offense has a passable but decent at best quarterback in senior Tavita Prithard, and though super-recruit Andrew Luck is waiting in the wings, the passing game is still a work in progress. Finally, for all the good Stanford did at home, they struggled mightily on the road. Their lone road win in seven tries came against Washington by seven points. With just four conference home games in 2009, the Cardinal must win some games on the road if they harbor postseason aspirations. What does 2009 hold for Stanford? I wouldn't bet against Jim Harbaugh, as he has made the Cardinal competitive in record time, but a lot has to go right for Stanford to get to a bowl game this season. And what about the Bruins? If it wasn't for the two Washington schools (a common refrain in 2008), the UCLA offense would have been the most reviled unit in the Pac-10. The defense was bowl-ready, finishing second to Southern Cal (though they allowed about 81 more yards per game than the Trojans) in Pac-10 play. The defense should continue to be among the best in the conference with four of the top five tacklers back, including linebacker and All-America candidate Reggie Carter. At least a little improvement can be expected from the offense, as the passing attack ammassed only nine touchdowns to go against 21 interceptions last season. If Kevin Craft, or whoever plays quarterback, can take just a little better care of the ball, and not put the defense in such unenviable situations, the Bruins could climb in the Pac-10 standings. Of course, it is important to mention that two of UCLA's three Pac-10 victories last season came against the Washington schools (surprise surprise). Outside of those games, UCLA's only other conference victory came in a squeaker at home over Stanford (23-20). Like Stanford, UCLA has only four conference home games in 2009, so if they are to improve in Rick Neuheisel's second season, they will have to win some games on the road.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Be Like Mike

Avid readers of this blog, if they exist, were likely looking forward to the post on Pac-10 SDPI. Alas, with conference tourneys winding down and the NCAA tournament winding up(?), I have been preoccupied. Thus, the Pac-10 SDPI post will have to wait until next week. However, I do have a Pac-10 nugget to share. With Mike Bellotti's shift from head coach to AD last week, I thought it would be a good time to wax nostalgic on his tenure at Oregon.

Bellotti took over as head coach of the Ducks after the 1994 season when Rich Brooks left Eugene for the riches of the NFL. In his 14 seeasons at the helm, the Ducks have posted the second best record in Pac-10 play (see table below).In those 14 seasons, the Ducks played in 12 bowl games (winning half of them). They suffered only a single losing season (a 5-6 record in 2004) after posting seven losing seasons in the previous 14 years. His teams won or shared two conference titles (2000 and 2001) and finished second three other times (1999, 2005, and 2008). His teams won at least 10 games four times (2000, 2001, 2005, and 2008) and never finished worse than 3-5 in Pac-10 play. Every other Pac-10 school has finished at least 2-6 or worse in Bellotti's tenure. Twice, Bellotti had his team in contention for the national championship. In fact, Oregon may have been the better choice to face Miami in the 2002 Rose Bowl, and if not for a tough break (literally) to quarterback Dennis Dixon in November of 2007, his penultimate team may have played for all the marbles. Bellotti didn't build the Oregon program (you can credit Rich Brooks for that), but he did keep it on firm footing and made it better than it was under his predecessor. He is the apotheosis of maintaining and improving upon a moribund program's initial success, and every coach should strive to be like Mike.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Big 12 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. So far, we've looked at the ACC, Big East, and Big 10. Now we turn out attention to the Big 12. Here are the cummlative Big 12 standings since 2005.No surprise at the top of the conference, as Oklahoma and Texas have owned the Big 12 for the better part of this decade. The third place finish by Texas Tech speaks to the coaching prowess of Mike Leach, not just because he lacks the tradition of some of the programs below him, but also because he has to deal with Oklahoma and Texas every season. Against other Big 12 teams besides Texas and Oklahoma, Texas Tech is 18-6 since 2005. The best Big 12 North team since 2005 is Missouri, winners of the past two North championships. Remember who won the North in 2005? Colorado. Despite that chaampionship in 2005, the Buffs have a better conference record than only three teams since then. In fact, since that championship season, Colorado has lost twice as many Big 12 games as they have won (8-16 record).

Now here is each team's home record in conference play since 2005.The Sooners have defended their home turf in Norman perfectly since 2005. In fact, the last time Oklahoma lost at home to a Big 12 team was in 2001 to arch-rival Oklahoma State. The other elite teams in the South have also defended their homefield very well, though not quite at the level of the Sooners. The biggest disparity between home and road performance actually belongs to five teams (four of them from the North). Texas Tech, Missouri, Colorado, Kansas State, and Iowa State are all five games better at home. In fact, Iowa State has won only once on the road in conference play over the past four seasons (a 42-14 beating of Texas A&M in 2005). Speaking of the Aggies, their struggles at home are a little surprising. Their home and road records are both 7-9 since 2005.

Now here is how homefield advantage shakes out in the Big 12 (in conference play only) with respect to the nation at large (with rank out of the 11 IA conferences in parentheses).Homefield advantage has meant more in the Big 12 than any other conference since 2005. That makes sense considering the fact that the Sooners have yet to taste defeat at home to a Big 12 foe since 2005, and that other five teams are five games better at home than they are on the road (with Kansas narrowly missing the cut at four and a half games better at home).

Next up is how each Big 12 team stacks up offensively for each season. This is the ranking of yards per game in conference play.Mike Leach and the Red Raiders have been first or second in offense each season. In the two seasons they failed to grab the top spot, they were outdone by historic offenses than either won (Texas in 2005) or played for (Oklahoma in 2008) the national title. Oklahoma's struggles on offense in 2006 and 2007 are shocking, especially considering the 2006 team featured Adrian Peterson. If you remember though, Peterson missed the final seven regular season games, including the Big 12 Championship win over Nebraska. That team was also quarterbacked by Paul Thompson, a solid, but unspectacular player. The 2007 team's lack of offensive firepower is harder to explain. Sam Bradford led the nation in pass efficiency and the Sooners had two backs top 700 yards on the ground. The main reason for the Sooners low placement is the offensive environment they played in. The past few seasons, the Big 12 has been very condusive to offense, or adverse to defense, depending on where you stand. Nationally, Oklahoma has been a good offense, but when compared to their Big 12 peers, they have been mediocre on occasion. Speaking of mediocrity, Dan Hawkins would killl for a mediocre offense in Boulder. After finishing seventh in the league in offense in Gary Barnett's swan song, Hawkins has yet to develop a consistent offensive attack. In he is unable improve the offense in 2009, he may be on his way out. Its also interesting to note Missouri's relatively unimpressive offensive finishes. With one season of Brad Smith and three seasons of Chase Daniel under center, the Tigers have yet to finish better than third in the conference in yards.

And finally, here are the defensive rankings for each team. This is yards allowed per game in conference play.Which season did Missouri put it all together and nearly play for a national title? When they had an elite defense. That season sticks out like a sore thumb when compared with their other pedestrian finishes. Notice how the Husker defense steadily eroded under Bill Callahan (2005-2007) and then rebounded immediately when Bo Pellini became the coach. Oklahoma was anchored by their defense in 2005 and 2006. Imagine if they could have posted those same defensive efforts to match their historic offensive performance in 2008. There would been a great deal of 'best team ever' talk. Kansas went from elite defense in 2005, to also-ran in 2006, back to elite in 2007, to below-average in 2008. Will the trend continue in 2009? Despite all the offensive accolades Mike Leach has garnered at Texas Tech, its clear he also delegates to competent men on the other side of the ball. Along with Oklahoma and Texas, the Red Raiders are the only team to never finish below average on defense in the past four seasons.

Monday, March 02, 2009

Big 12 2008 SDPI

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've already looked at the ACC, Big East, and Big 10 so now we'll take a look at the Big 12.

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 Big 12 teams in conference play (championship game excluded) was 3450.47 yards. The standard deviation for yards gained was 604.40. The standard deviation for yards allowed was 448.37. Kansas gained 3283 yards in conference play and allowed 3577 Their offensive SDPI was -0.28 = ([3283-3450.47]/604.40). Their defensive SDPI was -0.28 = ([3450.47-3577]/448.37). Their total SDPI was -0.56 which ranked 7th in the conference.

To refresh your memory, here are the 2008 Big 12 Standings.

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

I'm a man who gives credit where credit is due, and it looks like the BCS got it right. Despite their head-to-head win over Oklahoma, in the other seven Big 12 conference games, the Sooners were simply more dominant than the Longhorns. Statistically, they were the best team and I have no problem with them earning the Big 12 Championship bid, and later the BCS National Championship Game bid. The Sooners offense was historically prodigious in 2008. In conference play, the second best offense (Texas Tech) was was nearly three quarters of a standard deviation worse, and the third best offense (Nebraska) was more than an entire standard deviation below the Sooners. Vehement SEC partisans might point out that Florida shut-down the mighty Oklahoma attack, but while the Sooners did gain a season-low 363 yards against the Gators, if not for two red-zone gaffes, they would have been in a great position to win the national title. Those same SEC partisans might also point out that Oklahoma put up those yardage and point totals against a set of Big 12 defenses that were not exactly rugged. It also bears mentioning that the other eleven teams in the conference also got to play those defenses. The Sooners separated themselves, at least offensively, from their conference brethren like few teams before them. Not surprisngly, as three teams in the division finished 7-1 in league play, the South was once again superior to the North as the top three and four of the top six teams resided in that division. What may come as a shock to some folks is that Nebraska rates out as the top team in the North. After being bludgeoned by Missouri on their homefield, on national television, by 35 points, the Huskers would lose only twice more the rest of the season--by six at Texas Tech and in embarrassing fashion at Oklahoma. Meanwhile Missouri would prove their pretender status, at least on the national scene, by dropping a home game to Oklahoma State, being blown out at Texas, and losing at a neutral site to arch-rival Kansas. Missouri certainly owned the Huskers in their head-to-head meeting, but over the rest of the Big 12 season, Nebraska was the better team.

Best Offense: Oklahoma 1.86
The most remarkable fact about the Okahoma offense is not how many yards and points they put up, but how many negative plays they avoided. Sam Bradford threw four interceptions and was sacked six times in eight Big 12 games. If we include the Big 12 Championship Game against Missouri, those numbers do not change. Two of those interceptions and three of those sacks came in the loss to Texas. I hope Mr. Bradford took his offensive linemen out for some quality steaks after he won the Heisman.

Worst Offense: Colorado -1.64
Think Dan Hawkins regrets leaving the cozy confines of Boise, Idaho?

Best Defense: Texas 1.30
Maybe this Will Muschamp character knows a thing or two about defense. Not surprisingly, the only game where the Longhorns really struggled defensively was the upset loss in Lubbock where the Red Raiders gained 579 yards.

Worst Defense: Kansas State -1.82
In other years, a performance like this could be enough to get the greatest coach in program history to make a comeback...

Hardest Schedule (based on cumulative SDPI of opponents): Baylor 5.29
The Bears played in the more arduous South division, meaning they had to play Oklahoma, Texas Tech, Texas, and Oklahoma State. In two of their three games against the North, they drew the best teams from that division--Nebraska and Missouri. All in all, they faced the top six teams in the conference.

Easiest Schedule (based on cumulative SDPI of opponents): Iowa State -4.58
If I wanted to fan the flames of the Gene Chizik hiring fiasco, I might remind you that the team with the easiest conference schedule went winless in Big 12 play. Obviously, they played in the weaker division, and in their games against the South, they managed to avoid the triumverate of Oklahoma, Texas Tech, and Texas.

Entire Schedule Strength (hardest to easiest)
Baylor 5.29
Kansas 3.60
Kansas State 1.34
Oklahoma State 0.86
Texas 0.27
Texas A&M 0.17
Texas Tech -0.25
Oklahoma -0.46
Nebraska -1.72
Colorado -1.91
Missouri -2.77
Iowa State -4.58

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

North: Nebraska
Projecting Nebraska as the favorite to take the North in 2009 is based on their good standing in 2008 (statistically the best team in the division with the third ranked offense and second ranked defense) and because frankly, its hard to come up with a convincing argument for any of the other five teams. Statistically, Kansas State was the league's worst team last season, and while they have a good shot at improving this season (more on that later), a division title may be the coaching job of Bill Snyder's career. Iowa State may finally have a coach who wants to to be their, but they were winless in the Big 12 last season despite owning the league's easiest schedule. Colorado has yet to find an offense in three seasons under Dan Hawkins, and actually regressed in Year Three after making significant progress in Year Two. Missouri, the two-time defending division champ, loses one of the best quarterbacks they've ever had (Chase Daniel), their number one playmaker (Jeremy Maclin), one of the nation's best tight ends (Chase Coffman), an over-looked senior receiver (Tommy Saunders) and two starting offensive linemen. On the other side of the ball, the Tigers will be without the services of alliterative defensive end Stryker Sulak who led the team with 10.5 sacks last season. Along with Sulak, six of the top eight tacklers from last season's mediocre defense are gone. Fortunately for the Tigers, game-changing linebacker Sean Weatherspoon will be around for his senior year. It looks like a rebuilding year in Columbia, and while rebuilding may mean the Texas Bowl instead of 4-8, it likely precludes a division title. That leaves Kansas as the likely only legitimate contender the Huskers will have to deal with. Kansas returns a great deal of talent on the offensive side of the ball with quarterback Todd Reesing, running back Jake Sharp, and receiver Kerry Meier (the best hands in college football) all back for their senior seasons. The Jayhawks also have a pair of talented junior receivers in Dezmon Briscoe (led the team in catches, yards, and touchdowns last season) and Jonathan Wilson. However, despite the glut of returning skill position players, Kansas may have some issues along the offensive line as three or four starters (depending on your definition) depart. The Jayhawks will also be without linebacker James Holt who led the team in tackles and sacks last season, as well as five other defensive starters. Oh yeah, and there's also the matter of the schedule. While the Jayhawks do host Nebraska, they have only three conference home games, and one is against Oklahoma. Still repaying the football gods for their tranquil 2007 conference schedule, the Jayhawks must travel to Colorado (one win at Boulder since 1995), Kansas State (one win in Manhattan since 1989), Texas Tech, and Texas. Ouch. I don't doubt that the Jayhawks can win some of those games, but they can't win enough to take the division. That leaves one team. Nebraska. Though it was overshadowed, the job Bo Pelini did in resurrecting the Nebraska defense in his first year on the job was amazing. In 2007, the Huskers finished dead last in the Big 12 in yards allowed per game in conference play, permitting 512 yards per game. In 2008, the Huskers finished second in yards allowed per game, permitting only 365 per contest. The defense also improved as the season wore on as the table below illustrates. Those first six games include clashes with powerful offenses like Missouri and Texas Tech, but also games with San Jose State (113th in total offense), New Mexico State (62nd in total offense), and Virginia Tech (103rd in total offense). In their last seven games, the Huskers tussled with Oklahoma and faced only two teams ranked lower than 44th in total offense (Colorado at 95th and Clemson at 87th). The primary difference between the first and second half of the season was the pass rush. In their first six games, the Huskers managed only 11 sacks. In their last seven, they totalled 24, including 19 in the last four games. The bulk of the players who accumulated those sacks will be back in 2009, including defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh, who led the team with 7.5 sacks. Another positive indicator going forward is that Nebraska played very good defense despite almost never forcing turnovers. The Huskers forced only nine turnovers in eight conference games, tied with Iowa State for the fewest forced turnovers in Big 12 play. The good news for the Huskers is that turnovers, while the result of skill and practice, are also highly random. A team that forces a minuscule number of turnovers one season will tend to force more the next season. Of course, the Huskers do have a few areas they will need to address to actually win the North in 2009. Foremost among them is quarterback. Joe Ganz tossed 25 touchdowns last season and posted the 14th best passer efficiency rating in the nation. If the Huskers can just get competent quarterback play, they should take the North crown.

South: Oklahoma or Texas
After my 'War and Peace' breakdown of the North, here's an abriged version on the South. Oklahoma or Texas have won the South every season since 1999. Texas Tech had their chance last season, and almost broke through. Unfortunately, the two biggest stars of that team, quarterback Graham Harrell and receiver Michael Crabtree, are gone. I'm sure Mike Leach will find an air apparrent under center and lead the Red Raiders to eight or nine regular season victories, but Oklahoma or Texas will represent the South in the Big 12 Championship Game.

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

Iowa State and Kansas State
New head coach Paul Rhodes is not exactly stepping into an ideal situation, but the good news is, it only takes one win to improve upon last season's dismal campaign. Though they were winless last season (in conference play), the Cyclones actually rated out better than both Texas A&M and Kansas State (although those two teams did beat them on the field). The Cyclones were far from a 'good' or even 'mediocre' team (eighth in offense and tenth in defense in the Big 12), but they were certainly better than most winless squads. They were undone by a poor record in close games. Three of their eight conference games were decided by a single score (Kansas, Colorado, and Kansas State). The Cyclones lost each of those games by a combined 14 points. A few lucky bounces here or there and Iowa State would have been another middling 2-6 team, rather than one that bore the stigma of a winless conference season. Along with the likelihood of a little better luck in 2009, the Cyclones also bring back their starting quarterback (Austen Arnaud), running back (Alexander Robinson), eight of their top nine receivers, and seven starters on defense. Once again the schedule is very inviting as the Cyclones avoid Oklahoma, Texas Tech, and Texas from the Big 12 South. They also host Baylor and Colorado, as well as getting Kansas State at a neutral site in Kansas City. They won't be anywhere close to the best team in the division, but with North Dakota State, Kent State, and Army on the non-conference slate (as well as the annual showdown with rival Iowa), a bowl bid is at least within the realm of possibility. Elsewhere, in Manhattan, Kansas, the architect of the greatest turnaround in college football history returns to try to right the program once again. Let's face it, Ron Prince was a terrible hire. When he was the offensive coordinator at Virginia, did anyone ever stop and say to themselves, 'Wow. We have to get this man to coach our team.' I doubt it. Especially after this game. Much like two decades ago, Snyder has a long way to go to get this team back on track, but luckily for him the schedule may give him the chance to at least get the Wildcats back to the postseason. To be fair, the road trips are nightmarish (Texas Tech, Oklahoma, and Nebraska in conference play, along with a non-conference trip to UCLA), but the home conference schedule includes dates with Texas A&M (another statistically awful team last season), Colorado, and Kansas (Jayhawks win in 2007 was their first in Manhattan since 1989). Besides the schedule, the other good news for Kansas State is that they were partucularly young on defense last season. The top six tacklers from last season are back, and it would be hard to envision them being any worse. Three Big 12 teams gashed the Wildcats for over 600 yards last season and three others topped the 500-yard mark. Defenses that bad that are not coached by complete morons tend to get better (see Nebraska from last season as a luminating example). On offense, Snyder must find a quarterback to replace Josh Freeman, who departed for the NFL. However, even with Freeman, the Wildcats were only ninth in the conference in total offense. And against Big 12 defenses, well he wasn't that good.And a number of prognosticators have this guy going in the first round? Am I missing something here? He played below average ball in a conference not known for its defense. OK. Back to the matter at hand. Whoever (Iowa State or Kansas State) wins the showdown in Kansas City on October 3rd, will have a great shot at getting to a bowl game and wiping the taste of an awful season from their palates.

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

Missouri and Texas Tech
I've already examined the myriad of personnel losses Missouri is facing heading into 2009, but I can't emphasize how much Missouri will miss those skill position players. A bowl bid is a distinct possibility, but definitely not assured. Texas Tech will also be breaking in new skill position talent, and it should also be noted that the Red Raiders were very fortunate in one-score games last season. Their victories over Nebraska, Texas, and Baylor were by a combined 19 points and were all decided late. If the Red Raiders were a little less fortunate, that 7-1 breakthrough is just another ho-hum 5-3. The home schedule outside of Oklahoma (and who knows, the Red Raiders have beaten the Sooners the past two times in Lubbock) is very winnable, but if Texas Tech breaks even on the road in conference play (Texas, Nebraska, Oklahoma State, and Baylor), 2009 will have to be considered a success.

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

Believe me, no one is rooting for the Bears more so then yours truly. However, Baylor's first bowl bid since 1994 will probably have to wait until at least 2010. For starters, despite showing substantial improvement under Art Briles, the Bears were still only the fifth best team in their division. Quarterback Robert Griffin certainly gives the casual fan a reason to watch Baylor. I know as a Wake fan, I am certainly glad Kirby Freeman started the opener in Waco. Still, even with Griffin, the Bears finished eleventh in the Big 12 in offense, beating out only Colorado. The bad news for Baylor is that they only managed two conference wins despite an outstanding turnover margin of +11 in Big 12 play (second to Oklahoma at +14). The primary reason for that great turnover margin was the fact that Baylor had only five turnovers in their eight conference games. Part of that was the efficient play of Griffin, who threw only three interceptions in conference play, and part of it was the fact that Baylor only lost six of their twenty fumbles on the season. Griffin will probably throw more interceptions in 2009 (see Colt McCoy in 2007) and the Bears will certainly fail to recover 70% of their own fumbles. More turnovers are bad for any team, but especially for teams operating at a distinct talent disadvantage like Baylor. Another factor, and this will be the case for the foreseeable future, is the schedule. The Bears four conference home games are against Oklahoma State, Nebraska, Texas, and Texas Tech, all of which are likely bowl teams. The road schedule is not much easier with trips to Oklahoma, Iowa State, Missouri, and Texas A&M on the horizon. The Bears did beat Iowa State and Texas A&M in Waco last season, but the Bears have just two road wins since joining the Big 12 in 1996! The non-conference schedule will give the Bears a chance at a fast start (Wake Forest, Connecticut, Northwestern State, and Kent State), but barring multiple league upsets, Baylor will be home for the holidays yet again.