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.
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?
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.
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.