Wednesday, March 23, 2016

2015 Yards Per Play: MAC

Our 2015 conference recaps now take us to the Big 10's little brother, the MAC. Here are the 2015 MAC standings.
So we know what each team achieved, but how did they perform? To answer that, here are the Yards Per Play (YPP), Yards Per Play Allowed (YPA) and Net Yards Per Play (Net) numbers for each MAC team. This includes conference play only, with the championship game not included. The teams are sorted by division by Net YPP with conference rank in parentheses.
College football teams play either eight or nine conference games. Consequently, their record in such a small sample may not be indicative of their quality of play. A few fortuitous bounces here or there can be the difference between another ho-hum campaign or a special season. Randomness and other factors outside of our perception play a role in determining the standings. It would be fantastic if college football teams played 100 or even 1000 games. Then we could have a better idea about which teams were really the best. Alas, players would miss too much class time, their bodies would be battered beyond recognition, and I would never leave the couch. As it is, we have to make do with the handful of games teams do play. In those games, we can learn a lot from a team’s Yards per Play (YPP). Since 2005, I have collected YPP data for every conference. I use conference games only because teams play such divergent non-conference schedules and the teams within a conference tend to be of similar quality. By running a regression analysis between a team’s Net YPP (the difference between their Yards per Play and Yards per Play Allowed) and their conference winning percentage, we can see if Net YPP is a decent predictor of a team’s record. Spoiler alert. It is. For the statistically inclined, the correlation coefficient between a team’s Net YPP in conference play and their conference record is around .66. Since Net YPP is a solid predictor of a team’s conference record, we can use it to identify which teams had a significant disparity between their conference record as predicted by Net YPP and their actual conference record. I used a difference of .200 between predicted and actual winning percentage as the threshold for ‘significant’. Why .200? It is a little arbitrary, but .200 corresponds to a difference of 1.6 games over an eight game conference schedule and 1.8 games over a nine game one. Over or under-performing by more than a game and a half in a small sample seems significant to me. In the 2015 season, which teams in the MAC met this threshold? Here are the MAC teams sorted by performance over what would be expected from their Net YPP numbers.
Only two teams in the MAC met the threshold, with both just barely eclipsing the magic number. Ohio had the statistical profile of a slightly below average MAC team, but managed to win more than half their games and finish second in the MAC East. The Bobcats were 2-0 in one-score league games, but were hardly extremely lucky in that category. No, the most likely explanation for Ohio exceeding their YPP numbers is the fact that they played good, but not great in most of their wins, while they were absolutely destroyed in each of their three losses. Ohio won five games, and while three games by double-digits, their average MAC win was by just over 16 points. Meanwhile, each of their three league losses came by at least 24 points and two were by at least 35 points. On the other side of the coin, Massachusetts, in their MAC swan song, had a better statistical profile than Ohio, but won less than half as many games as the Bobcats. The Minutemen were a little unlucky, going 1-3 in one-score MAC games, but were not significantly unlucky. Whereas Ohio played horrendously in their three losses (being outscored by 97 points), Massachusetts was competitive in almost all their games. The Minutemen dropped their six league games by a total of 66 points. The Minutemen were consistently below average, but probably deserved an extra win or two based on how they played. The Minutemen end their disappointing quadrennial sojourn in the MAC with a 7-25 league record.

Frank Solich is the dean of MAC coaches, having joined the Bobcats prior to the 2005 season. Under his guidance, the Bobcats have experienced great success. They have played in three MAC Championship Games, made seven bowl appearances, and spent time in the top 25 of the AP Poll. However, the one accomplishment that has eluded Solich during his tenure is a MAC title. Here are the cumulative MAC standings since Solich has been in Athens, Ohio.
The Bobcats are tied for fourth overall in MAC winning percentage (and tied for first among teams from the East with Bowling Green) since 2005. However, while the three teams ahead of and tied with them have combined for eight titles, the Bobcats have not been able to break through. Meanwhile, Buffalo, Miami, and Akron have combined to win about a third of their league games since 2005, but own three league championships! As a wise man once said: I’d rather be lucky than good.

In another interesting piece of statistical minutia, Toledo does not even have a MAC Championship Game appearance despite posting the third best league mark since 2005! Part of this is because they play in the stronger MAC West where Northern Illinois has won six consecutive division titles under three different head coaches.

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