Saturday, April 23, 2011

2010 Conference USA SDPI

We've rolled through all six BCS conferences so now its time to take a look at the little guys. We'll begin our mid-major sojourn with Conference USA, one of two mid-major leagues with a pair of divisions and a conference title game. For a primer, here's the link to last year's Conference USA post.

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 2010 Conference USA regular season, conference play only, championship game excluded, the average Conference USA team gained and allowed 3306.67 yards. The standard deviation for yards gained (offense) was 565.42 yards. The standard deviation for yards allowed (defense) was 328.68 yards. Marshall gained 2441 yards and allowed 2910 yards. Their offensive SDPI was -1.53 = [(2441-3306.67)/565.42]. Their defensive SDPI was 1.21 = [(3306.67-2910)/328.68]. Their total SDPI was -0.32. This number ranked 8th in Conference USA.

Here are the 2010 Conference USA standings.Now here are the 2010 Conference USA SDPI standings. The standings are sorted by division by total SDPI with ranking for each category (out of 12 teams) in parentheses.For the first time since the league expanded and split into two divisions in 2005, Conference USA had a team ranked in the final AP poll. In fact they had two (first time ever). With their bowl victories over Georgia and Hawaii respectively, UCF and Tulsa finished 21st and 24th in the last AP poll. Meanwhile, at the Hall of Justice, err, the bottom of the standings, Memphis has now lost 13 consecutive league games since beating UTEP in 2009.

So Who Was Better Than Their Record Showed?
Houston has been a threat to win the western division nearly every season since the league expanded. From 2006-2009, the Cougars finished either first or a game back of first each season. They weathered the loss of the school's all-time leading passer in 2007 when Kevin Kolb departed and one year later a coaching change when Art Briles left for Baylor. However, a confluence of forces in 2010 caused them to miss out on a bowl game for the first time since 2004. Cobb's heir to the quarterbacking throne, senior Case Keenum was lost for the year in the season's third game with an ACL injury. The good news for Cougars fans is that Keenum was awarded an extra year of eligibility so he will be back under center in 2011. Even without Keenum for seven of their eight league games, the Cougars still produced the league's second most prolific offense (behind Tulsa). Houston has now finished first or second in Conference USA in offense for each season that I have been calculating SDPI (since 2005). While Keenum's understudy, freshman David Piland, did gain some valuable experience, he also made a fair share of rookie mistakes. Piland threw nine interceptions in his seven league starts. By comparison, Keenum threw just eight in 16 starts from 2008 to 2009. With those interceptions, Houston had the second worst turnover margin in Conference USA in 2010 (-5). The Cougars also went winless in one-score games in 2010, falling to Rice by three, UCF by seven, and Tulsa by three. With Keenum back in the fold, expect the Cougars to return to their rightful place near the top of the west in 2011.

So Who Was Worse Than Their Record Showed?
Ruffin McNeill continued the Skip Holtz magic at East Carolina. Despite posting marginal to below average statistics, the Pirates continue to finish in the upper-half of their division and play in bowl games. While under Holtz, the Pirates won with a stout defense and middling offense, the 2010 Pirates flipped the script. East Carolina had an above-average offense for the first time since 2005 with Boston College transfer Dominique Davis throwing 37 touchdown passes in 2010 (the Pirates threw just 30 touchdown passes as a team in 2008 and 2009 combined). However, the defense went from the second best in all of Conference USA, to the worst. Ruffin McNeill, a defensive coach will have to coax some serious improvement out of that side of the ball, as the Pirates allowed at least 40 points in ten of their 13 games.

Conference Superlatives:

Best Offense: Tulsa 1.46
The Golden Hurricane were held below 400 yards just once in conference play. They gained just 364 yards in their loss to SMU that ultimately decided the western division.

Worst Offense: Memphis -1.67
With a new coach and a new quarterback, no one was walking with their feet 10 feet off of Beale. Outside of their first game against East Carolina when they set their high-water conference mark in yards (413) and points (27), the Tigers averaged just 279 yards and 14.4 points per game through the rest of conference play.

Best Defense: UCF 1.66
For the second year in a row, and third time in the past four seasons, UCF owned the best defense in Conference USA. That unit also played pretty well in their clashes with the big boys. UCF held Georgia to six points in their bowl win, held NC State quarterback Russell Wilson to his worst passer rating in any start as a collegian, and held Kansas State running back Daniel Thomas to his second worst per carry average on the year.

Worst Defense: East Carolina -1.45
This is what happens when you lose nine starters and your head coach. The Pirates allowed roughly 112 more yards per game to their league foes in 2010 versus 2009 (473 to 361).

Jeff Godfrey: A Godsend
Heading into the 2010 season, UCF looked to be one of the favorites to win their half of Conference USA and perhaps earn a date with an SEC foe in the Liberty Bowl. The Knights defense had been one of the best units in the league for the previous four seasons and looked to be stacked again with seven returning starters. However, the offense, in particular the quarterback position looked to be an area of weakness. Wake Forest transfer Brett Hodges put up solid numbers in his lone year as a starter in 2009, but the only quarterback with any experience heading into 2010 was Rob Calabrese. As a starter in 2008, Calabrese appeared more suited for an offense run by Amos Alonzo Stagg as he completed under 40% of his passes (39.4). Calabrese got the nod in the opener against IAA South Dakota State and actually showed some promise, completing 12 of 15 passes for 176 yards and a touchdown. Against NC State in the team's second game, Calabrese showed that perhaps he should be playing IAA football as he completed just 10 of 18 passes for 106 yards and two interceptions. Down 21 points and in need of a spark, head coach George O'Leary turned to true freshman Jeff Godfrey. Godfrey completed seven of his ten passes, throwing for 107 yards against the Wolfpack. He did not throw any touchdown passes, but he did rush for two scores and 53 yards on the ground. UCF was within seven and in the red zone late in the game when receiver Quincy McDuffie fumbled a Godfrey completion which NC State recovered. The Wolfpack held on for a 28-21 win, but UCF had discovered their quarterback of the future (and present). Behind Godfrey's heroics and another fine defensive showing, the Knights finished 7-1 in league play, beat SMU in the championship game, and upset Georgia in the Liberty Bowl. Godfrey finished the season with the 15th best quarterback rating in the nation (154.31), and he also added over 500 yards on the ground for good measure. He has a ways to go, but Godfrey could end up being the school's most accomplished passer, surpassing even the great Daunte Culpepper.

Friday, April 15, 2011


This week we conclude our sojourn through the big boys of college football with the kings of the college landscape, the SEC. For first time readers, here's a link to last year's post on the SEC.

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 2010 SEC regular season, conference play only, championship game excluded, the average SEC team gained and allowed 2997.75 yards. The standard deviation for yards gained (offense) was 516.03 yards. The standard deviation for yards allowed (defense) was 373.68 yards. Georgia gained 3064 yards and allowed 2846 yards. Their offensive SDPI was 0.13 = [(3064-2997.75)/516.03]. Their defensive SDPI was 0.41 = [(2997.75-2846)/373.68]. Their total SDPI was 0.53. This number ranked 7th in the SEC.

Here are the 2010 SEC standings.Now here are the 2010 SEC SDPI standings. The standings are sorted by division by total SDPI with ranking for each category (out of 12 teams) in parentheses.For the fifth straight season, the SEC produced the BCS National Champion. However, by perusing either the actual standings or the SDPI rankings, its clear the 2010 SEC was anything but balanced. The SEC West went 15-3 against their eastern division foes. Outside of Ole Miss, the west was an even more dominant 14-1 with the lone win being South Carolina's upset over Alabama. The outcome was similar in the bowl season. The west went 4-1, with the lone loss coming from Arkansas in the Sugar Bowl versus Ohio State. Meanwhile, the east went just 1-4 with Florida's win over Penn State in the Outback Bowl representing the only positive postseason outcome.

So Who Was Better Than Their Record Showed?
No team significantly underperformed their expected record based on their down-to-down stats, but if one must be chosen, how about Kentucky. For years, the Wildcats have posted bad SDPI numbers, yet still managed to win about three conference games and play in a nondescript bowl. This year, the Wildcats actually posted mediocre numbers (especially on offense where they finished 3rd in the conference), yet thanks to a poor record in one-score games (1-3) and the worst turnover margin in the conference (-6 in SEC games), Kentucky won just a pair of league games.

So Who Was Worse Than Their Record Showed?
Once again, there's not a great deal to quibble with here. However, the team with the biggest disparity between their SDPI rating and their finish in the league standings belongs to Mississippi State. The Bulldogs were very bad on offense (ahead of only Vandy) and a little above average on defense. However, they managed to eke out three one-score wins and finish the season ranked for the first time since 2000.

Conference Superlatives:

Best Offense: Arkansas 1.62
The Hogs topped 400 yards in every conference game and scored at least 30 points in every game but one. They needed all those yards and points because the defense was still below average.

Worst Offense: Vanderbilt -2.28
Vandy had a few decent games moving the football, gaining 400 yards against Kentucky and 333 versus Tennessee. However, they also had more than a few stinkers. They were held to 153 yards or fewer in games versus LSU, Georgia, Arkansas, and Florida.

Best Defense: Florida 1.37
The Gators chomped down on opposing offenses. The only SEC team to top 400 yards against them was Georgia.

Worst Defense: Vanderbilt -2.10
The 'Dores double-dipped in 2010, fielding both the worst offense and defense in the SEC. They began conference play with respectable performances against LSU and Ole Miss, limiting those two teams to just 389 yards per game. However, they imploded over their last six, allowing an average of 501 yards per game!

Auburn, Florida, and the Plexiglass Principle
On the surface, it may look like Auburn and Florida had extremely divergent seasons. Auburn finished undefeated and won their first national title since 1957, while Florida lost five games for the first time since 2004. However, both schools did post conference records that were drastically different from the ones they posted the season before. For Auburn, the change was very positive. The Tigers went from a 3-5 mark in 2009 to an unblemished 8-0 mark and SEC West championship in 2010. For Florida, the results were entirely dissimilar. The Gators went from an unblemished 8-0 mark and SEC East championship to a .500 record in the SEC. The Tigers improved by five games and the Gators declined by four games. What can this significant improvement and decline tell us about the teams in 2011? To attempt to answer that question, I looked at all SEC schools in the BCS era (1998-2010) that had either improved by five games or declined by four games in league play and how they performed in the year following their significant improvement or decline. Here are the results, first for those teams that featured marked improvement. As you would probably have guessed, improving by at least five games in league play is a relatively rare occurrence. Besides Auburn in 2010, it happened just three other times since 1998. With such a small number of observations, we can give a brief summary of the each team.
South Carolina 99-00
The Gamecocks not only went from winless in the SEC, but winless overall to a top-20 finish and five conference wins. 2000 marked the second year of the Lou Holtz regime and the end of a 21-game losing streak. The Gamecocks followed up their rise with an equally impressive 5-3 mark and another top-20 finish in 2001.
Arkansas 05-06
Arkansas lost a slew of close games in 2005 (four of their six league losses came by a combined 13 points). They rode the backfield tandem of Darren McFadden and Felix Jones (and some new formation called the Wildcat) to the SEC West title in 2006. With McFadden and Jones still in the fold in 2007, they dipped to 4-4.
Ole Miss 07-08
Like South Carolina nearly a decade before, the Rebels went from winless in the SEC to 5-3. It took Lou Holtz two seasons to turn the tide in Columbia, but Houston Nutt accomplished the feat in his first year at the helm in Oxford. Quarterback transfer Jevan Snead led the Rebels to a Cotton Bowl win and top-20 finish. The Rebels were the darlings of the 2009 preseason, but failed to make the major breakthrough many pundits expected and actually slipped to 4-4.

Here are the results for those teams that declined significantly. Once again the sample is relatively small with just six teams besides Florida in 2010 fitting the bill.
Alabama 99-00
In 1999, Alabama won the SEC behind future NFL star Shaun Alexander. They began the 2000 season ranked number three in the country, but fell to UCLA in the season opener. It got worse from there as the Tide won only three league games. Head coach Mike DuBose was dumped and under new coach Dennis Franchione, the Tide improved by one game to 4-4 in 2001.
Kentucky 99-00
Kentucky played in their final bowl game under Hal Mumme in 1999, finishing 4-4 in the SEC. Their quarterback? Tim Couch? Nope. Jared Lorenzen? Nope. Dusty Bonner. Bonner transferred prior to the 2000 season and Lorenzen became the starter. He posted solid numbers, but the defense allowed nearly 35 points per game, the team went winless in the SEC, and Mumme was canned. Guy Morriss took over, but the Wildcats only improved to 1-7 in 2001.
Alabama 02-03
This marks the Tide's second, but not final, appearance on this list. Alabama actually won the SEC West in 2002, but was ineligible for postseason play. Head coach Dennis Franchione bolted to Texas A&M after the season and the Tide hired Mike Price. Coach Price paid a dear one for an alleged trip to a strip club and subsequent hotel tryst, never coaching a game for the Tide. The Tide then brought in Mike Shula, but the Tide won only two league games. He did get the Tide to a bowl game the following year, but they won just three SEC games.
Ole Miss 03-04
David Cutcliffe rode Eli Manning to a shared SEC West crown and Cotton Bowl title in 2003. After Manning became the number one pick in the draft, the team understandably declined in 2004, falling to 3-5 in the SEC. Unfortunately for Cutcliffe and Ole Miss, the coach was given the axe and replaced with Ed Orgeron. Orgeron proceeded to run the program further into the ground, winning just one SEC game in 2005 (and only three during his deplorable three-year tenure).
Tennessee 04-05
The Vols won oodles of close games in 2004. Six of their seven SEC wins came by a touchdown or less. In fact, they were the inspiration for my very first blog post. Their luck turned in 2005 and the team slipped to 3-5. Phil Fulmer had them back near the top of the SEC in 2006, when they won five league games.
Alabama 05-06
You again? After seemingly getting the program back amongst the nation's elite with six SEC wins and a Cotton Bowl berth behind a stout defense in 2005, Mike Shula lost his job after a 2-6 showing in 2006. Nick Saban was hired and the Tide managed a slight improvement to 4-4 in 2007.
Sample size is an issue here of course, but when projecting Auburn and Florida's respective 2011 seasons, it pays to take heed of the Plexiglass Principle. Teams that improve significantly in one season tend to decline the next and vice-versa. Without Cam Newton, they Tigers aren't likely to win another SEC title in 2011, but of the teams that improved by at least conference games, their average decline the following season was just a little over one win. Auburn still has a top-notch offensive mind in coordinator Gus Malzahn, so they while they may fade from the pinnacle of the national stage, they should be lurking around the nether regions of the top-25. Meanwhile, for Florida, the Gators should expect some improvement in 2011. Five of the six teams that declined significantly improved by at least one game the following season. The only team that did not improve was Ole Miss. While the Gators did undergo a coaching change like Ole Miss, Florida has infinitely more tradition and infrastructure. Plus, they didn't hire Ed Orgeron.

Thursday, April 07, 2011

2010 Pac-10 SDPI

This week, we'll try to shed out East Coast bias as we head out west to take a look at the Pac-10, another league that will be getting a makeover in 2012. Once again, for a primer, here is the link to last year's Pac-10 post.

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 2010 Pac-10 regular season, conference play only, the average Pac-10 team gained and allowed 3533.5 yards. The standard deviation for yards gained (offense) was 661.93 yards. The standard deviation for yards allowed (defense) was 359.76 yards. Cal gained 2629 yards and allowed 3010 yards. Their offensive SDPI was -1.37 = [(2629-3533.5)/661.93]. Their defensive SDPI was 1.46 = [(3533.5-3010)/359.76]. Their total SDPI was 0.09. This number ranked 6th in the Pac-10.

Here are the 2010 Pac-10 standings.Now here are the 2010 Pac-10 SDPI standings. The standings are sorted by total SDPI with ranking for each category (out of 10 teams) in parentheses.The Pac-10 produced a BCS National Championship Game participant, as well as a second BCS team in 2010, but may have suffered a bit in terms of national perception thanks to the fact that only four of the ten (Southern Cal had enough wins, but were banned from the postseason) conference teams attained bowl eligibility. The Pac-10 became the first BCS conference since the 2005 Big East to send fewer than five teams to bowl games. The 2010 Pac-10 was a top-heavy league. Oregon and Stanford dominated their peers out west, going 16-0 against the other eight schools with an average margin of victory of 22.7 points per game!

So Who Was Better Than Their Record Showed?
For the second year in a row, the Arizona State Sun Devils played better than their won/loss record showed. The Sun Devils were a shade above average on both sides of the ball, and should have probably finished with an extra league win, which would have gotten them to their first bowl game since 2007. However, the Sun Devils turned the ball over more than any Pac-10 team save UCLA and finished 1-3 in one-score conference games, resigning them to a third straight year of watching the postseason in Tempe.

So Who Was Worse Than Their Record Showed?
They may have closed the season with a nice hot streak, winning their final three regular season games, and upset a top-20 outfit in their bowl game, but Washington was still not quite ready for prime time. Four of their five league wins came by a touchdown or less (combined margin of 12 points), while each of their four losses came by at least 10 points (average margin of 29.5 points per game). The Huskies were slightly below average on both sides of the ball in 2010, so while their first postseason game since 2002 (and first win since 2000) is a nice bullet on Steve Sarkisian's resume, the rebuild ain't over yet.

Conference Superlatives

Best Offense: Oregon 1.63
Chip Kelly's spread and shred topped the Pac-10 in offense for the fourth straight year! The Ducks were number one out west when Kelly was the offensive coordinator in 2007 and 2008, and have done nothing but continue that success since he assumed the head coaching role prior to the 2009 season.

Worst Offense: Cal -1.37
Guess who is taking back the play-calling duties in Berkeley? Jeff Tedford has tutored many a fine collegiate quarterback, but 2010 represented rock bottom for the Golden Bears as they were held below 300 yards of offense in two thirds of their conference games. That's quite a shame too, considering how good their defense was.

Best Defense: Cal 1.46
Speak of the devil. Southern Cal and Stanford maimed the Golden Bears to the tune of 1069 total yards and 96 total points. In their other seven league games, Cal held the opposition to an average of 277 yards and 16 points per game.

Worst Defense: Washington State -1.94
The Cougars have now finished dead last in the Pac-10 in defense for three straight seasons and for four of the six years of the SDPI era (2005-2010).

Washington State: From Worse to Bad
To say the Washington State Cougars have been stuck in a rut under head coach Paul Wulff would be putting it very mildly. In Wulff's three seasons, the Cougars have beaten just three IA schools, and have lost by at least 30 points 16 times! However, the Cougars did show a few signs of life in 2010. They beat a Pac-10 team for the first time since their (Cr)Apple Cup win over Washington in 2008 and were competitive in several losses (losing one score games to Washington and Cal and staying within two touchdowns of Stanford and UCLA). The following table will show you just how far the Cougars have come since Wulff's first season. As you can see, the Cougars were historically bad in 2008. They scored eight total offensive touchdowns in their nine conference games while allowing 59! To put that number in perspective, consider this: If we take away field goals, safeties, and non-offensive touchdowns and then assume each offensive touchdown scored by Washington State is worth seven points, while each offensive touchdown scored by their opponents is only worth a single point, the Cougars would still have been outscored in 2008! They improved a little in 2009, primarily on the defensive side of the ball where they shaved off more than a quarter of their touchdowns allowed. In 2010, they went from historically inept to merely last-place bad. They actually managed to scored touchdowns on a semi-regular basis while cutting into their touchdowns allowed slightly. The Cougars have hopes to be more competitive in 2011, as their junior quarterback Jeff Tuel posted solid numbers as a sophomore (nearly 60% completion rate, 18 touchdowns, and 12 interceptions), and sophomore receiver Marquess Wilson topped 1000 yards through the air as a freshman. A bowl game is probably out of the question, but Pullman could no longer be a punchline.