Wednesday, June 30, 2010

MAC Recap: 2005-2009

In our half-decade retrospective, we now come to the other conference in the nation's heartland, the MAC.

First off, here are the combined MAC standings from 2005-2009.No surprise at the top. Central Michigan has won 3 of the last 4 MAC titles and holds their place at the top of the conference heap, 8 games clear of Ball State and Western Michigan. Temple has only been in the league 3 seasons (they joined prior to 2007), but their league winning percentage of .625 would rank second. In fact, Temple has more league wins in 3 seasons than Miami, Kent State, and Eastern Michigan have in 5! The MAC standings have been very fluid from year to year. 10 of the league's 13 members have had at least one winning and at least one losing conference record in the past 5 years. The only teams not have both are Eastern Michigan (only team with no winning record), Temple (one of 2 teams without a losing record), and Central Michigan (only team with a winning record each year).

Now here is the standard deviation of each team's conference record (in wins). Teams are ranked from the most inconsistent to the least.While the most inconsistent team hails from the MAC West, the model of inconsistency has been the MAC East. 4 of the divisions 7 teams have a standard deviation of at least 2 conference wins! Miami, Ohio, and Buffalo have all won division titles in the past 5 seasons and also finished in last or second to last place in the MAC East. The 3 Michigan schools have been among the most consistent with Eastern Michigan consistently finishing at the bottom of the MAC West, Central Michigan consistently finishing at the top, and Western Michigan consistently finishing near the top. Akron has been the most consistent team of the past 5 seasons, thanks in part to posting 3 consecutive 3 win seasons after their surprise league title in 2005.

Now here is each team's point differential in conference play since 2005.Once again, Central Michigan has been the king of the hill, besting their league opponents by nearly twice the margin of second place Northern Illinois. Similarly, at the bottom of the standings, Eastern Michigan has lost by more than the combined margins of Kent State and Buffalo, the teams ranked 11th and 12th in conference point differential.

With this being the end of the decade, here's the tally of conference and division titles.Remember Marshall? Before heading to greener (yes that's somewhat of a pun) pastures in Conference USA, the Thundering Herd were one of the MAC's best teams. They played in the first 6 MAC Championship Games (97-02), winning 5 of them. If the MAC has been anything in the past decade, its socialistic. 10 of the league's 13 current members have played in the title game at least once (and consider Temple has only been a member for 3 seasons), with 5 different (current) teams winning the league title.

And finally, what was the biggest takeaway from the 00 decade in the MAC? The dominance of the MAC West versus the MAC East. While the MAC East and MAC West have split on conference titles in the past decade (5 each), the West has dominated the East in regular season play. Despite several shifts in conference membership since the decade dawned, the West has maintained its superiority to the East as the chart below can attest.The West has had only 3 losing seasons against the East in intra-division play, and have won at least twice as many as they have lost 4 times.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010


Only a pair of leagues left to review. Even though summer has just begun, the long and perilous offseason is winding down. This week, we'll examine the Big 10's little brother, the MAC.

This first paragraph will explain how SDPI is calculated. So if you want the meat of this article skip on down. In the 2009 MAC regular season, conference play only, championship games excluded, the average MAC team gained and allowed 2955.615 yards. The standard deviation for yards gained (offense) was 458.77 yards. The standard deviation for yards allowed (defense) was 263.35 yards. Bowling Green gained 3313 yards and allowed 3193 yards. Their offensive SDPI was 0.78 = [(3313-2955.615)/458.77]. Their defensive SDPI was -0.90 = [(2955.615-3193)/263.35]. Their total SDPI was -0.12. This number ranked 7th in the MAC.

To refresh your memory, here are the 2009 MAC standings.

Now here are the 2009 MAC SDPI standings. The standings are sorted by division by total SDPI with ranking for each category (out of 13 teams) in parentheses.Out West, the SDPI standings are aligned pretty well with the actual standings. Central Michigan was head and shoulders above the rest of the MAC statistically, and they rolled to an undefeated league record. However, over in the East, we see some interesting results. 2008 champ, Buffalo, finished with a losing league record, but rates out as the 3rd best team in the league and best team in the East. Further down the standings, Miami of Ohio finished last in the East yet rates as the 2nd best team in the division and 4th best in the whole league! Furthermore, at the top of the East, we have a pair of teams (Ohio and Temple) that finished a combined 14-2 against the MAC, yet both were only middling according to SDPI. How can this be? Ohio and Temple posted the top-2 in-conference turnover margins last season (+11 for Temple and +10 for Ohio). Buffalo was -2 and Miami was awful at -15 (last in the league). Ohio was unbeaten in one-score league games (4-0) as was Temple (2-0). Meanwhile, Buffalo was 2-4 in such games and Miami was 1-2. Ohio and Temple also scored a lot of their points via special teams and defense. Ohio scored 5 non-offensive touchdowns in their 8 MAC games, with 3 coming via punt returner LaVon Brazill. Temple also scored 5 non-offensive touchdowns in 8 MAC games with Delano Green scoring twice on punt returns and James Nixon scoring twice on kickoff returns. Buffalo and Miami scored only once between them in non-traditional ways, with Miami returning an interception for a touchdown in their win versus Toledo.

Conference Superlatives

Best Offense: Central Michigan 1.88
It was a fitting swan song for the poor man's Tim Tebow, Dan LeFevour. LeFevour threw for 28 touchdowns and ran for 15 more in his senior campaign. Under his guidance, the Chippewas were never held below 406 yards against MAC opponents, until their closer than expected win in the MAC Championship Game versus Ohio.

Worst Offense: Eastern Michigan -1.72
The Eagles best performance was a 364-yard day against Western Michigan. Had they averaged that many yards per conference game, that figure would have only ranked 7th in the MAC!

Best Defense: Northern Illinois 1.98
Until their regular season finale with Central Michigan (allowed 512 yards), the Huskies held every MAC opponent to 387 yards or fewer. They held 5 of their 8 MAC foes under 300 yards.

Worst Defense: Eastern Michigan -1.82
Befitting a winless outfit, the Eagles had both the league's worst offense and its worst defense. Every team gained at least 310 yards against the Eagles, and 5 teams topped 400 yards.

What's in Store for Next Year?
East Division:
Last year's co-champion Temple Owls return the MAC's leading rusher in sophomore Bernard Pierce, so they will likely get the media's nod as the preseason favorite. However, the East has been very unpredictable the past few seasons. Off a 4-7 (3-5 conference) season in 2005, Ohio won the East in 2006. Off a 2-10 (2-6 conference) season in 2006, Miami won the East in 2007. Off a 5-7 (5-3 conference) season in 2007, but just a year removed from a 2-10 (1-7 conference) record in 2006, Buffalo won the East in 2008. Off a 4-8 (3-5 conference) season in 2008, Ohio won the East in 2009. Cinderella will likely be in contention once again in 2010. Look out for Buffalo and Miami, a pair of teams highlighted earlier who were better than their actual records last season. Buffalo has a new coach and quarterback, but returns 8 starters from the league's 4th ranked defense. Miami has 19 starters back, and despite a brutal non-conference slate (Florida, Missouri, and Cincinnati) could play in the MAC Championship Game, and finish with a losing record (as they did in 2007). With the exception of Akron and Bowling Green, the MAC East looks wide open heading into 2010.

West Division:
Central Michigan has won 3 of the least 4 MAC West titles, but without record-setting quarterback Dan LeFevour and with a new coach, the Chippewas look poised to fall back to the pack. Western Michigan and Toledo also lose experienced senior quarterbacks in Tim Hiller and Aaron Opelt respectively. So who is the favorite heading into 2010? A good bet to step up and take the West are the Huskies from Northern Illinois. Jerry Kill has continued a fine winning tradition in DeKalb. Under Kill and his predecessor Joe Novak, the Huskies have finished with a winning overall record 8 times in the past 10 years. The Huskies bring back 8 starters from the league's stingiest defense and also return their starting quarterback and running back.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Conference USA Recap: 2005-2009

In our half-decade retrospective, we now come to a league that spans from deep in the heart of Texas to the eastern part of North Carolina. While the league has yet to produce a BCS-caliber team like the Mountain West and WAC, Conference USA has seen its share of press clippings in the last few years. Who can forget East Carolina's tour de force upsets of Virginia Tech and West Virginia to begin the 2008 season or the similar path trekked by Houston at the beginning of 2009 when they knocked off Big 12 neighbors Oklahoma State and Texas Tech?

First off, here are the combined Conference USA standings from 2005-2009.The league has been dominated for the last 5 years by a handful of teams. The top-5 teams in the conference in that time span have all won more than 60% of their league games. Its a close race at the top with Houston narrowly edging out East Carolina and Tulsa as the kings of the conference. Houston, East Carolina, and Southern Miss are the only schools to not post a losing season in league play since 2005. Tulane is the only school to not finish with at least a .500 mark in conference play at least once. The Green Wave had their best season in 2007 when they went 3-5. SMU is the only team to have gone winless in league play, having accomplished that 'feat' in back-to-back seasons (2007 and 2008). Amazingly, even with the combined 0-16 record in those seasons, they still rank ahead of 2 teams in wins over the past 5 years. No team has gone undefeated in the league since the divisional format was introduced in 2005. However, at least one team has gone 7-1 in each season. UCF went 7-1 twice, in both 2005 and 2007. East Carolina went 7-1 in 2009, Tulsa and Rice both finished 7-1 in 2008, and Houston went 7-1 in 2006.

Now here is the standard deviation of each team's conference record (in wins). Teams are ranked from the most inconsistent to the least.Most conferences have one or two teams that have been remarkably inconsistent since 2005. Conference USA has 4. SMU has seen both the extremes (0-8 record twice and 6-2 this past season) and the middle (4-4 twice). Rice has gone 7-1 and 6-2 as well as 1-7 and 2-6. Memphis has pinballed from 5-3 to 1-7 to 6-2 to 4-4 to 1-7. UCF has won a pair of division titles and also finished in the basement. On the other end of the spectrum, Marshall has won either 3 or 4 conference games each season since 2005.

Now here is each team's point differential in conference play since 2005.The league's best team has also been its most dominant. After narrowly edging Tulsa in the standings, Houston also narrowly edges the Golden Hurricane in point differential. Surprisingly, Southern Miss is very close to the western powers in terms of per game dominance. However, the Golden Eagles have struggled to win one-score games, going 7-11 in such games since 2005. Conversely, East Carolina is 13-5 in such games, enabling them to finish near the top of the standings despite a weaker point differential. Tulane has been the league's most dominated team by a healthy margin. Their point differential of -576 is more than that of the 2nd (UAB) and 3rd (Rice) worst teams combined (-443).

With this being the end of the decade, here's the tally of conference and division titles.Ah Louisville, remember them? The Cardinals won a pair of Conference USA titles under John L Smith in 2000 and 2001, then won another in 2004 under Bobby Petrino in their final season before heading to the Big East. Another former member, Cincinnati, also won the title in 2002. Since the divisional format began in 2005, the West has been represented each season by Houston or Tulsa in the CUSA Championship Game. However, after taking the first 2 contests (Tulsa in 2005 and Houston in 2006), the West has dropped 3 straight. East Carolina is the current member with the most titles in the 2000's, having brought home consecutive wins to close the decade.

And finally, what was the biggest takeaway from the 00 decade in Conference USA?
The metamorphosis of the Rice offense. Ken Hatfield came to Rice in 1994 after being canned by Clemson. Hatfield implemented an option-style, run-centric offense. Hatfield stayed at Rice until his ouster following the 2005 season. I don't have passing numbers for his tenure in the 1990's but from 2000-2005 (6 seasons), Hatfield's Rice teams threw a combined 43 touchdowns, with 11 being the most in any single season. Over those 6 seasons, the Owls averaged 24.6 points per game, topping out at 28.6 points per game in 2003. Hatfield was replaced by Todd Graham in 2006 and the offense shifted dramatically. Behind the passing of quarterback Chase Clement, the hands of receiver Jarett Dillard, and the toughness of tight end hybrid James Casey the Owls went on quite a run from 2006-2008. Over those 3 seasons, Rice threw 106 touchdown passes as a team and averaged 33.2 points per game. They also did it under 2 different coaches. After leading Rice to a bowl game in 2006, Graham bolted for division rival Tulsa. His replacement David Bailiff didn't change offensive schemes and the Owls continued to produce. Switching from a run-heavy option offense to one that relies on the pass does not usually produce such extreme results so quickly. Clement, Dillard, and Casey matriculated after the 2008 season and there were some growing pains in 2009. The 2009 Owls threw only 14 touchdowns and averaged just over 18 points per game, but did improve as the season wore on, averaging 25 points per game over the final third of the season after managing only 14.9 per game over the first two-thirds. With 9 offensive starters back in 2010, expect the Owls to more closely resemble the offense that took the field near the end of the 2009 campaign.

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Conference USA SDPI

Slowly, but surely we are getting there. The regular season is only a little more than 12 weeks away. And we only have 3 more conferences to review. We'll start the home stretch with Conference USA.

This first paragraph will explain how SDPI is calculated. So if you want the meat of this article skip on down. In the 2009 Conference USA regular season, conference play only, championship games excluded, the average Conference USA team gained and allowed 3334.75 yards. The standard deviation for yards gained (offense) was 626.06 yards. The standard deviation for yards allowed (defense) was 319.87 yards. Marshall gained 3070 yards and allowed 3088 yards. Their offensive SDPI was -0.42 = [(3070-3334.75)/626.06]. Their defensive SDPI was 0.77 = [(3334.75-3088)/319.87]. Their total SDPI was 0.35. This number ranked 5th in Conference USA.

To refresh your memory, here are the 2009 Conference USA standings.

Now here are the 2009 Conference USA SDPI standings. The standings are sorted by division by total SDPI with ranking for each category (out of 12 teams) in parentheses.There's not a great deal of disconnect between the actual and SDPI standings. However, UTEP and SMU did perform a little differently than their respective conference records would indicate. UTEP only managed 3 conference wins thanks to a poor record in one-score games (1-4 in such games). However, the Miners have only themselves to blame for being in those games in the first place. The Miners crushed conference bowl teams Houston and Marshall by a combined 48 points, but let the poorer teams on the schedule (league doormats UAB, Tulane, and Rice) hang around. The Miners lost those 3 games by a combined 13 points. Meanwhile SMU was able to tie for the Conference USA West title because they won nearly all their one-score games (5-1 in such games). In their 8 league games, SMU outscored their opponents by a total of 9 points, which is much more indicative of a team that wins about half of its conference games.

Conference Superlatives

Best Offense: Houston 2.36
The Cougars were head and shoulders above the rest of the league when it came to moving the football. They gained over 600 yards in 5 of their 8 conference games. In their worst offensive performance, they gained 394 yards. The worst offense in the league, Rice, gained 391 yards in their best offensive showcase.

Worst Offense: Rice -1.39
Rice was held below 300 yards in half their conference games, and averaged roughly half the yardage (308) in conference play compared to the league's top offense (602) in Houston.

Best Defense: UCF 2.03
The Knights won 6 straight conference games after beginning the year 0-2, but they had an interesting defensive split in their final 3 contests. They held Houston in check (relatively) in allowing 423 yards. The following week, they made Tulane look like a high school, permitting only 50 yards to the Green Wave. They then closed the regular season by allowing a season high (versus conference opponents) 527 yards to UAB.

Worst Defense: Memphis -1.25
The Tigers suffered through an awful season, and their defense was the main reason. Only 2 conference opponents failed to top 400 yards against them.

What's in Store for Next Year?
East Division:
The top of the East Division should be very competitive in 2010. Two-time reigning champ East Carolina will have a hard time holding onto their title. Not only do they lose coach Skip Holtz, but also 8 of their top-11 tacklers, their starting running back, and starting quarterback. Head coach Ruffin McNeill plans to bring at least an abridged version of the offense he learned under Mike Leach at Texas Tech, but it will probably take at least a year before all cylinders are firing in line. With the Pirates likely in rebuilding mode, the champion of the East will likely be either UCF, Southern Miss, or Marshall. UCF boasted the league's best defense last season and returns most of the key contributors from that defense with one large exception. Defensive end Jarvis Geathers, who finished 2nd in Conference USA in sacks, is gone, but defensive end Bruce Miller, who led Conference USA in sacks, is back. The Knights do have to replace their starting quarterback, but could still see an uptick on offense as they return 4 starters on the offensive line and an 1100-yard rusher. Southern Miss suffered through a disappointing 7-6 season in 2009, and even with the loss of the school's all-time leading rusher, Damion Fletcher, could see some improvement in 2010. Wide receiver DeAndre Brown will be 21 months removed from a gruesome broken tibia that he suffered in the 2008 New Orleans Bowl. After catching 67 balls for 1117 yards as a freshman in 2008, his numbers slipped to 47 catches for 785 yards last season. Expect a return to 2008 form in 2010. If you're looking for a surprise champion in the East, keep an eye on Marshall. The Thundering Herd qualified for their first bowl game since 2004 last year, but that was not enough to save Mark Snyder's job. New coach John 'Doc' Holliday is the new head man, having come from in-state big brother West Virginia. The 2010 version of the Herd will have a senior quarterback under center (Brian Anderson) and the best freshman receiver from the 2009 season (Antavious Wilson). The loss of running back Darius Marshall, who had a year of eligibility remaining, will hurt, but the improvements in the passing game could offset the loss of Marshall. On the other side of the ball, the Herd do lose some key contributors, but they return their best defender in linebacker Mario Harvey who led the team in both tackles and sacks in 2009. After those 4 teams, UAB and Memphis will likely be bringing up the rear in the East. UAB had a real chance at bowl eligibility last season, but a rough non-conference slate, including BCS-conference members Texas A&M and Ole Miss, as well as Sun Belt champ Troy, gave them no margin for error within the league. The Blazers went 4-4, but unfortunately dropped their season finale against UCF and finished a win shy of bowl eligibility. UAB boasted the best offense in the East last season, but that certainly won't be the case in 2010 as the Blazers lose their do-everything quarterback Joe Webb. Webb not only threw for over 2200 yards and 21 touchdowns last season, but he was also the team's leading rusher with over 1400 yards. Needless to say, he won't be easily replaced. Memphis hit rock bottom in 2009, notching just one league win and fielding the league's worst defense. Head coach Tommy West was let go and his replacement Larry Porter will likely fair a little better in his initial season (maybe 2 or 3 league wins), but don't expect any miracles.

West Division:
Houston will once again be a prime contender in the West Division thanks to their high-powered offense. Quarterback Case Keenum, who has thrown 88 touchdowns over the past 2 seasons, returns along with 3, thats right, 3 1000-yard receivers. If the defense can just be a little better (only Memphis was worse last season) Houston will be the prohibitive favorite in the West. Speaking of great offenses, UTEP should again have one of the best in Conference USA in 2010. Quarterback Trevor Vitttoe, who has thrown 75 touchdown passes in his career, will look to get the Miners back to the postseason for the first time since 2005. Vittatoe will have help in his quest in the form of running back Donald Buckram who gained 1594 yards on the ground in 2009. The defense loses a lot of starters, roughly 7 depending on your accounting practices, but the players who were there didn't exactly set a new standard for greatness last season (9th in the league in defense). SMU would also seem to be a legitimate threat to bring home the crown too. While the Mustangs were not quite as good as their sterling league record, 2010 will mark the 3rd year of the June Jones regime, which means his system will be almost fully integreated in Dallas. After winning 21 combined games in 2007 and 2008, Tulsa took a surprising step back in 2009. The Golden Hurricane posted their first losing record since 2004. The offense was still solid, finishing 4th in the league, but the defense regressed and Tulsa suffered through a 6-game losing streak where they allowed an average of 36.2 points and 3 consecutive times allowed at least 44. If the defense can improve, Tulsa will make the West a 4-team race. You can pencil Rice in near the bottom of the West standings in 2010. After posting one of the league's best offenses in 2008, en route to a 10-win season, the Owls lost their all-time leading passer (Chase Clement), receiver (Jarett Dillard), and Thor (James Casey), and saw their offense become the worst in the league. The defense stayed bad, and the Owls were statistically the worst team in Conference USA. The offense should be a little better in 2010, but it will need to reach the heights of 2008 to compensate for the lack of defense, and thats extremely unlikely. But hey, at least Rice isn't Tulane. The Green Wave went the entire decade of the aughts without posting a winning record within the conference. Their best finish was 4-4 in 2002. That was also the only time they broke even. There a little to like about Bob Toledo's team in 2010 including sophomore quarterback Ryan Griffin who played well at the end of last season (8 touchdown passes and 3 interceptions in the final 4 games) and a defense that is unlikely to replicate their futility at forcing turnovers last season (5 in conference play and just 10 overall--last in the nation). Still, the West is jampacked with good to solid teams, so improvement will likely only get to Tulane to 3 league wins tops.