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.
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 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.
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 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.
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).
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.
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.