Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Big 12 SDPI

It's only March and we're already half way through the BCS leagues. This week, we'll examine the Big 12 and what to expect from that conference in the fall.

This first paragraph will explain how SDPI is calculated. So if you want the meat of this article skip on down. In the 2009 Big 12 regular season, conference play only, championship games excluded, the average Big 12 team gained and allowed 2926.917 yards. The standard deviation for yards gained (offense) was 419.36 yards. The standard deviation for yards allowed (defense) was 507.96 yards. Colorado gained 2352 yards and allowed 2721 yards. Their offensive SDPI was -1.37 = [(2721-2926.917)/419.36]. Their defensive SDPI was 0.41 = [(2926.917-2721)/507.96]. Their total SDPI was -0.97. This number ranked 10th in the Big 12.

To refresh your memory, here are the 2009 Big 12 standings.
Now here are the 2009 Big 12 SDPI standings. The standings are sorted by division by total SDPI with ranking for each category (out of 12 teams) in parentheses.The actual standings and the SDPI standings are a little misalligned. In the North, Missouri rates as the best team, despite the fact that Nebraska beat them on the field and in the standings. Elsewhere in the North, Iowa State ranks as the worst team (by far), yet they qualified for a bowl game, while Colorado and Kansas finished below them in the standings. In fact, the middle-four teams in the division (Nebraska, Kansas, Kansas State, and Colorado) were separated by only half a standard deviation. In the South, Oklahoma rated out as the best team, despite losing outright to both Texas Tech and Texas. Speaking of the Red Raiders, they rate as the second best team in the league, but they are always overvalued by SDPI because of the type of offense they run. We'll see if that continues with the changes at head coach.

Conference Superlatives

Best Offense: Texas Tech 1.52
In an interesting twist, the Red Raiders were held in check only once in Big 12 play, when they were held to 259 total yards against Nebraska (worst since a loss to TCU in 2006). Nebraska featured the 2nd best defense in the Big 12. Against the league's best defense (Oklahoma), the Red Raiders rolled up 549 yards. Perhaps venue had a little something to do with that. The Nebraska game was in Lincoln, while the game against the Sooners came in Lubbock.

Worst Offense: Nebraska -1.60
The Cornhuskers gained over 400 yards only once in conference play, versus Kansas. They were held below 300 yards 6 times in league play. In the Big 12 Championship Game, the offense was what prevented the Huskers from shaking up the BCS standings, as they wasted a great defensive performance by gaining 106 total yards!

Best Defense: Oklahoma 1.29
Outside of the aforementioned game against Texas Tech, the Sooners held their Big 12 foes in check. Kansas (305) and Kansas State (364) were the only other Big 12 teams to gain over 300 yards against the Sooners defense.

Worst Defense: Texas A&M -1.50
The Aggies defense kept them from enjoying a sensational season as they featured the 2nd best offense in the league. Only Baylor (297) and Iowa State (324) failed to gain over 400 yards against the Aggies in Big 12 play.

What's in Store for Next Year?
North Division:
Just as a duumvirate has emerged in the South Division with Texas and Oklahoma, I have a feeling the same is well on its way to occurring in the North. Nebraska and Missouri have won the past 4 North Division titles, and since Nebraska's resurrection began under Bo Pelini in 2008, the Tigers and Huskers are a combined 14-2 against the rest of the Big 12 North, with the average win coming by more than 2 touchdowns (16.9 points per game). Missouri is set in the backfield with cannon-armed quarterback Blaine Gabbert and running back Derrick Washington, but the Tigers lose Gabbert's favorite target, receiver Danario Alexander, who hauled in 113 balls last season. The Tigers will also be without the services of do-it-all linebacker Sean Weatherspoon. The Huskers will be more limited on offense, but should improved upon their dismal showing from last season. The defense, even with the loss of superstar defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh, should once again be one of the Big 12's best. Couple the still strong defense with minor improvements on offense and the venue of this year's clash (Lincoln, Nebraska), and Nebraska should be the odds on favorite heading into 2010. The other 4 teams in the division, Colorado, Iowa State, Kansas, and Kansas State should not pose a serious threat to either Nebraska or Missouri. However, at least one, and perhaps two of the four will be participating in the bowl season. Colorado was a trendy sleeper last season, and the university's financial trouble could be a godsend for embattled coach Dan Hawkins. In most other economic climates, Hawkins would have been axed after a 4th straight losing season in 2009. However, Colorado couldn't afford his buyout, and Hawkins is around for year 5. I don't know that Colorado is a sleeper, but the Buffs were much better than a team that won only 2 league games. The defense was actually solid last season, and with only 4 starters gone, should remain the strength of the team. Colorado won't set the Big 12 afire in 2010, but with a little luck, Hawkins should have his first winning season in Boulder. Whether or not that's grounds for remaining employed is not up to me. Of the other 3 schools, Kansas State has the next best shot at getting to a bowl. In Bill Snyder's first year back in Manhattan, the Wildcats went from the worst defense in the Big 12 to merely below average. The offense, despite the loss of 1st round pick Josh Freeman, stayed about the same. Like Colorado, the Wildcats shouldn't be a legitimate threat to the top teams in the conference, but should only need to corral 3 league wins to get to the postseason. Iowa State was a great story last season, as only a madman or genius would have picked them to go to a bowl after an 0-8 Big 12 season in 2008. However, statistically, the 2009 bowl-winning Cyclones were a shade worse than their 0-fer Big 12 play 2008 incarnation. The difference was close games (3-2 in one-score games in 2009 after going 0-4 in such games in 2008) and turnovers (+8 in Big 12 play in 2009 and -2 in 2008). The Cyclones won't go winless in the Big 12 in 2010, but I wouldn't pencil them in for postseason play either. Kansas should compete with the Cyclones for the cellar in the North. Kansas is under new management with Turner Gill taking the reigns from Mark Mangino. Unfortunately, Gill will not have the services of 3 key skill position players that helped the Jayhawks win the Orange Bowl in 2007 (quarterback Todd Reesing, running back Jake Sharp, and receiver Kerry Meier). This will likely be a rebuilding year in Lawrence.

I'm not gonna come up with any ground-breaking predictions for the Big 12 South. For the 100th straight year (actually just the 12th) either Oklahoma or Texas will win the division. Oklahoma should be the odds on favorite for several reasons. Statistically, the Sooners had both a better offense and defense than Texas in 2009. Oklahoma was done in by poor luck in close games (1-4 in one-score contests) and an average turnover margin (even in Big 12 play). Meanwhile, Texas won both their one-score games, and featured a fabulous turnover margin (+11 in Big 12 play). Texas also scored 11 non-offensive touchdowns to Oklahoma's 4. Those other facets of play all help to win football games, but unfortunately for Texas, they are also not as consistent year-to-year as outperforming your opponent on a down-by-down basis. Another big reason to like the Sooners in 2010 is that their quarterback was thrown into the fire last season. Following Sam Bradford's injury in the season opener against BYU, Landry Jones threw passes in each game save one (Baylor). He learned on the job, and also performed well overall (130.82 passer rating ranked 52nd nationally), though he did have a few stinkers in the Sooners losses (3 touchdown passes and 8 picks in the 5 games the Sooners lost). Texas also had their quarterback get some crucial on the job training, but unfortunately it came in the BCS National Championship Game after Colt McCoy was knocked out early. Garret Gilbert had an uneven performance against one of the best defenses in the nation, and he probably won't face any circumstances as dire as that game in his college career. Still, the Sooners have a decided edge at perhaps the most important position. Elsewhere in the South, Oklahoma State enjoyed yet another solid campaign under Mike Gundy, posting one of their best defensive performances in recent memory. It's a true shame Dez Bryant only got to play in 3 games before the NCAA kicked him to the curb, as the accomplishments in Stillwater could have been historic. Without him, the offense was only 7th in the Big 12, and the Cowboys proved to be paper tigers against the more elite teams they faced. A downturn is sure to ensue after the Cowboys bid adieu to 8 starters on defense and the school's all-time leading passer in Zac Robinson. Texas Tech will be a team everyone has their eye on in 2010. Can Tommy Tuberville maintain the pace set by Mike Leach at a football outpost in Lubbock? Tuberville is a fine coach, but Mike Leach did some amazing things in his decade-long run at Tech. Texas A&M will also be an interesting team to watch. They were certainly the epitome of an unbalanced team in 2009. Their offense, behind quarterback Jerrod Johnson, was 2nd in the Big 12, but their defense was dead last. The defense loses only one significant contributor, but again, it was dead last. If the offense can at least somewhat resemble their 2009 form and the defense can become bad instead of awful, the Aggies could be a proverbial darkhorse in 2010. And finally, Baylor will attempt to qualify for their first bowl game since joining the Big 12. The Bears do have a stud in quarterback Robert Griffin, who was sidelined in the 3rd game last season with a torn ACL. If he returns to form, the Bears will have a puncher's chance of picking up some wins against the Big 12 underbelly (Kansas, Kansas St, and Texas A&M all come to Waco), and could play in their first bowl game since 1994.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Big 10 Recap: 2005-2009

Thus far, in our offseason half-decade look back, we've examined the ACC and Big East. Now we move toward the mid-west and the Big 10 (11).

First off, here are the combined Big 10 standings from 2005-2009.While the Trojans from Southern California get a great deal of the national pub for 'dominating' their conference, its clear the Buckeyes have also been on quite a roll over the last 5 years. Ohio State is 7 games clear of their closest competitor (Penn State), and their worst finish in that span has been a tie for first. Minnesota and Indiana are the lone Big 10 schools to not post a winning conference record in the past 5 seasons. The Golden Gophers finished 4-4 in 2005, while the Hoosiers best finishes were consecutive 3-5 marks in 2006 and 2007. Two teams have gone winless in league play, Illinois in 2005 and Minnesota in 2007, and only one team has gone unbeaten (Ohio State in 2006). Besides Ohio State, Penn State is the only Big 10 team to not have a losing record since 2005. Their worst finish was 4-4 in 2007.

Now here is the standard deviation of each team's conference record (in wins). Teams are ranked from the most inconsistent to the least.The most inconsistent Big 10 team in the past 5 years has been Michigan. The Wolverines were 18-6 in league play from 2005-2007, but are just 3-13 since. The second most inconsistent team is Illinois. In the past 5 years, the Illini have a winless conference campaign on their ledger as well as a second place conference finish that earned them a Rose Bowl berth. The most consistent Big 10 team has also been the best team. Ohio State finished 7-1 four times in the past 5 seasons, and in the other year went 8-0.

Now here is each team's point differential in conference play since 2005.These numbers line up pretty well with the actual standings. Ohio State once again stands as the most dominant Big 10 team, outscoring their conference foes by over 19 points per game since 2005.

With this being the end of the decade, here's the tally of conference titles.Please note that this does not include shared titles. Iowa is conspicuously absent from this list despite tying for a pair of titles in 2002 and 2005. The real travesty is that the 2002 undefeated Big 10 team never got to face off against the undefeated Buckeyes from the same season. I bet you had forgotten about the pair of titles won by Purdue and Illinois at the beginning of this past decade.

And finally, what was the biggest takeway from the 00 decade in the Big 10?
I would say it was the death and subsequent resurrection of Penn State football. If you asked most football fans in the middle of the 2004 season if Joe Pa would still be coaching at the dawn of the next decade, the answer would likely be 'absolutely not'. Penn State was 16-24 in the Big 10 from 2000-2004 (26-33 overall) with just a single bowl appearance and had lost 13 of 16 Big 10 games. Since then, Penn State is 29-11 in the Big 10 and 51-13 overall with 5 consecutive bowl appearances and a pair of conference titles.

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Big 10 SDPI

On our sojourn through the 2009 college football season we now head west, to the Big 10. Don't look now, but the Big 10 may have been the best conference in 2009. Here's the link to last year's SDPI post on the Big 10.

As usual, this first paragraph will explain how SDPI is calculated. So if you want the meat of this article skip on down. In the 2009 Big 10 regular season, conference play only, the average Big 10 team gained and allowed 2843.273 yards. The standard deviation for yards gained (offense) was 287.49 yards. The standard deviation for yards allowed (defense) was 428.63 yards. Illinois gained 2825 yards and allowed 3163 yards. Their offensive SDPI was -0.06 = [(2825-2843.273)/287.49]. Their defensive SDPI was -0.75 = [(2843.273-3163)/428.63]. Their total SDPI was -0.81. This number ranked 9th in the Big 10.

To refresh your memory, here are the 2009 Big 10 standings.
Now here are the 2009 Big 10 SDPI standings. The standings are sorted by total SDPI with ranking for each category (out of 11 teams) in parentheses.There's not a great deal of disconnect between the actual and SDPI standings. I suppose the biggest difference is Penn State. The Nittany Lions ranked as the best team according to SDPI, yet they lost to the 2 teams that finished directly ahead of them in the standings, at home no less. No ranking system is perfect, but it should be noted that in their other 6 conference games, Penn State was very dominant, winning by an average of 20.5 points per game. Meanwhile, Ohio State lost to Purdue and made up for their modest yardage differential by leading the conference in turnover margin (+12 in league play) and scoring 4 non-offensive touchdowns, including 3 in their win over Wisconsin. Iowa was the master of winning ugly. Their 6 Big 10 wins came by an average of 9.2 points. Iowa and Ohio State are underrated by this system primarily because their defenses were so good (just ask Oregon and Georgia Tech) and because this system does not give any weight to special teams or turnovers, 2 key elements that can swing any football game. Conversely, Penn State is a little overrated because outside of those 2 contests (and the defense actually played very well against Iowa), the Nittany Lions were not really challenged in Big 10 play.

Conference Superlatives

Best Offense: Penn State 1.26
When they weren't being suffocated by the league's 2 best defenses (508 combined yards against Ohio State and Iowa), the Lions carved up Big 10 defenses to the tune of nearly 450 yards per game.

Worst Offense: Minnesota -1.67
Can't we all just admit you made a mistake in letting Glen Mason go? At least when the Gophers were a fledgling Big 10 team, they were fun to watch. Remember Laurence Maroney, Marion Barber, and Gary Russell? To be fair, the Gophers were without super star receiver Eric Decker for the last half of their Big 10 schedule. However, the Gophers actually averaged more yards per game over their last 3 conference games (326) than their first 5 (277) when Decker was healthy.

Best Defense: Ohio State 1.45
At this point, its only surprising when Ohio State doesn't field the best defense in the Big 10. The Buckeyes narrowly edged Iowa for this honor, allowing 11 fewer yards over the course of 8 Big 10 games.

Worst Defense: Michigan -1.36
Oh, how the mighty have fallen. It should be noted that Michigan was 10th last season (ahead of only Indiana). Rich Rod has now presided over the 2 worst Michigan defenses in the program's history.

What's in Store for Next Year?
Surprise, surprise. The favorite for next year according to all of the preseason magazines and this blogger extraordinaire will be Ohio State. Ohio State is seemingly underrated by SDPI each season thanks to Tressel's ultra-conservative nature. The Buckeyes take very few risks on offense and usually rank in the bottom half of the Big 10 in yards per game. However, they create a lot of turnovers and use their fine special teams to produce a field position advantage (or actual defensive or special teams scores) that help them win games. The chart below illustrates what I'm referring too. When this happens consistently over the course of time, it's a trend. If Indiana or Purdue or Minnesota does it for one season, it's a fluke and they are not likely to be as fortunate the next season. Judging from past returns, Ohio State will probably field a mid-level Big 10 offense in 2010, but with help from a superb defense and special teams play, should finish at or near the top of the league in scoring. The only issue standing against the Buckeyes and yet another Big 10 title is their road schedule. While the Buckeyes get key rivals Penn State and Michigan at home, they must travel to Madison to take on the Badgers and Iowa City to take on the Hawkeyes. Those 2 teams are your 2 best bets to dethrone the Buckeyes. Iowa loses some key players from their fantastic defense, including leading tackler linebacker Pat Angerer, but should be poised to do their best Ohio State-lite impersonation and win a lot of low-scoring blue collar battles. SDPI saw Wisconsin as the 2nd best team in the Big 10 last season. With the emergence of quarterback Scott Tolzien, receiver Nick Toon, and tight end Garrett Graham the Badgers finally had a passing offense to compliment their always potent running game. Graham has exhausted his eligibility, but Tolzien and Toon remain along with running back John Clay who rushed for over 1500 yards last season. Elsewhere in the Big 10, Penn State should be bowl bound again, but will likely struggle to compete with the league's elite thanks to the loss senior quarterback Daryll Clark. Purdue was much better than their record in Danny Hope's first season as coach and could return to the postseason for the first time since 2007 despite the loss of senior quarterback Joe Elliott. The rest of the league is very muddled. Michigan seemed to be back on track early in 2009 behind hot-shot quarterback Tate Forcier, yet the Wolverines still finished only 9th in the league in offense to go along with their poor showing on defense. Still, its Michigan, so a 3rd straight bowl-less winter would be unthinkable. Minnesota has been playing like the worst team in the Big 10 for a few years now, and their actual record may end up matching it in 2010. Northwestern will likely take a step back after losing what amounted to their entire offense in the person of quarterback Mike Kafka. Illinois has and always will be an enigma. After a solid performance in 2008 than belied their poor conference record, the Illini backed it up with a putrid showing in both categories in 2009. Who knows what the Zooker has in store for us in 2010? Indiana has typically been the league's whipping boy, but the Hooisers showed signs of life in 2009, losing 3 conference games by a combined 7 points. With a senior quarterback at the helm, they could get back to a bowl for the 2nd time in 4 seasons.

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Big East Recap: 2005-2009

A few weeks ago we looked at the last half-decade in the ACC. Now we'll move to the league the ACC plundered and left for dead in the mid-00's, the Big East.

First off, here are the combined Big East standings from 2005-2009.I was a little surprised West Virginia still has the best league record since 2005. In the 2 seasons Bill Stewart has been at the helm, the Mountaineers have continued to play well in the league, going 10-4. Against teams not named Cincinnati, the Mountaineers are 10-2 in that span. In fact, of the Mountaineers 8 league losses in the past 5 seasons, 7 have come to either Cincinnati (2), Pitt (2), or South Florida (3). The other loss came to what used to be known as Louisville. After winning 14 of their last 15 conference games, the Bearcats from Cincinnati rose up to take the silver medal. West Virginia is the only Big East team to not have a losing record since 2005. Not surprisingly, Syracuse is the only Big East team to not have a winning record since 2005.

Now here is the standard deviation of each team's conference record (in wins). Teams are ranked from the most inconsistent to the least.The most inconsistent team has been Louisville. From 2005-2006, the Cardinals went 11-3 in Big East play and seemed poised to be a national player. Since then, they are 5-16 in league play, besting only Syracuse over that period (3-18). Speaking of the Orange, they are the most consistent Big East team over the past 5 seasons. After going 0-7 in league play in 2005, the Orange have been remarkably consistent since, notching a single Big East win in each season. West Virginia has also been very consistent, following up their 7-0 campaign in 2005 with 4 straight 5-2 league records.

Now here is each team's point differential in conference play since 2005.In this methodology, the Mountaineers come out head and shoulders above every other Big East team. Their point differential is nearly 300 points better than 2nd place Rutgers. Teams 3-5 are clustered very closely together, with only 11 points separating 3rd place Pitt from 5th place South Florida. The main reason why Cincinnati is so far ahead of South Florida in the actual standings (+6 games) despite having a nearly identical scoring differential is their performance in one-score games. The Bearcats are 11-6 in one-score conference games since 2005, while the Bulls are only 2-9.

With this being the end of the decade, here's the tally of conference titles.
And finally, what was the biggest takeway from the 00 decade in the Big East?
History is no barrier to success, particularly if no one in the conference has a great history. Of the 8 current Big East teams, Pitt and Syracuse are the only 2 that can claim a national title. Pitt has 6 with their most recent coming in 1976, while Syracuse can claim the 1959 title. At the beginning of this decade, Rutgers was a perennial doormat, Cincinnati and Louisville were on the outside looking in at big money leagues as members of Conference USA, South Florida was still playing IAA ball, and Connecticut had just made the jump to IA. West Virginia had some moderate success under Jim Carlen, Bobby Bowden, and Don Nehlen, but nothing like the spoils they enjoyed under Rich Rodriguez from 2003-2007. I didn't include them in the above table, but West Virginia was actually the co-champions in both 2003 and 2004, giving them a technical run of 4 titles in 5 seasons. Who knows what the future holds for the Big East, but the conference appears to be in much better shape than was imagined when re-allignment began in 2004.