Thursday, April 05, 2018

2017 Adjusted Pythagorean Record: MAC

Two weeks ago, we looked at how MAC teams fared in terms of yards per play. This week, we turn our attention to how the season played out in terms of the Adjusted Pythagorean Record, or APR. For an in-depth look at APR, click here. If you didn’t feel like clicking, here is the Reader’s Digest version. APR looks at how well a team scores and prevents touchdowns. Non-offensive touchdowns, field goals, extra points, and safeties are excluded. The ratio of offensive touchdowns to touchdowns allowed is converted into a winning percentage. Pretty simple actually.

Once again, here are the 2017 MAC standings.
And here are the APR standings sorted by division with conference rank in offensive touchdowns, touchdowns allowed, and APR in parentheses. This includes conference games only, with the championship game excluded.
Finally, MAC teams are sorted by the difference between their actual number of wins and their expected number of wins according to APR.
I use a game and a half as a line of demarcation to determine if teams drastically over or under perform their APR. By that standard, no MAC teams saw their record differ significantly from their predicted APR.

Ball State was bad in 2017. That’s not a controversial statement. The Cardinals finished 2-10 (0-8 in MAC play) and nine of their ten losses came by double-digits. But its spring, and at least where I live, that means longer days, warmer temperatures, and a deluge of pollen. In other words, after a long cold mild winter, things are looking up. With that in mind, I’m going to give Ball State fans a reason for hope heading into 2018. Here are a few reasons why you should not only be cautiously optimistic regarding the 2018 season, but why you may want to schedule some additional time off work around the holidays to catch the watch Ball State in their bowl game.

2017 was a disaster for Ball State, but the Cardinals endured a historic glut of injuries. Mid-major teams tend to have depth problems regardless, but suffering through a biblical scope of injuries can only tamper down the won/loss record. Consider that before conference play began, the Cardinals nearly upset Illinois (yes, the Illini were bad as well, but it was a road game against a Power 5 opponent) and beat the resurrected UAB Blazers by 20. A team with that level of talent would likely have been competitive in the MAC instead of the winless bunch Ball State eventually became.

Ball State was a sieve defensively last season. They allowed 45 offensive touchdowns in conference play (or more than five and a half per game). Since 2005, that is one of the worst MAC defenses I have ever tracked. See below for a chronological list.
How did those worst of the worst MAC defenses perform the next season? They got better. One of the principle tenets of statistics is that extreme performances are unlikely to be repeated. For a team to play as poorly as Ball State did last season, a lot of things have to go wrong. It is unlikely the same confluence of factors will exist in 2018.
The previous seven bad MAC defenses all improved the next season. Every defense allowed at least five fewer offensive touchdowns and collectively they allowed about eleven fewer on average (almost one and a half per game).

Aside from being quite bad on defense, Ball State was also unlucky in regards to non-offensive touchdowns. The Cardinals allowed eight non-offensive touchdowns (three interception returns, two fumble returns, and three punt block/returns) in MAC play while scoring none of their own. Think about that number for a second. The Cardinals played eight conference games and were net negative eight in non-offensive touchdowns. This means the Cardinals effectively spotted every conference opponent one touchdown. That is very difficult to overcome. Nothing in life is guaranteed, but I would wager a significant sum Ball State does not see a similar rate of non-offensive touchdowns scored against them in 2018. These events are extremely consequential in terms impact, but they are also quite random. Since 2005, only six other teams have had a non-offensive touchdown net in conference play of negative six or worse. Here is how their conference record changed the following season.
Aside from Baylor, which was dying a painful death under Guy Morriss, every other team not only improved, but improved significantly. A similar result for Ball State would not surprise me at all.

Finally, 2018 will be Mike Neu’s third year in charge of the Cardinals. You don’t have to look far to find instances of significant improvement in a coach’s third season. Taken together, all these trends point to marked improvement for Ball State in 2018.

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