This week, our final YPP takes us to the Sun Belt.
Here are the Sun Belt 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 Sun Belt 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.
Arkansas State and Preseason College Football
Watch any college football pregame show in late August or early September and you'll no doubt hear the talking heads emphasizing the fact that unlike the NFL, college football has no dress rehearsal. There are no preseason games to work out the kinks. Come Labor Day Weekend (and maybe a little before), the games count and teams have to work through their issues in real time. While this is technically true, Arkansas State head coach Blake Anderson has done of good job of manufacturing preseason games for his Red Wolves.
Anderson has been the head coach in Jonesboro for six seasons. During that span, his teams have been to six bowl games and won a pair of Sun Belt titles. And after three consecutive years of one and done head coaches, he has provided some much needed stability for the program. The Red Wolves have been very successful in the Sun Belt, posting a 36-12 conference record under Anderson, second only to Appalachian State in that span (41-7). However, the Red Wolves have not played very well against non-Sun Belt opponents. Excluding games against FCS teams (they did lose once), the Red Wolves are 4-13 against non-conference opponents in the regular season under Anderson. Obviously some of those games are against Power Five opponents that Arkansas State is not expected to win. So let's remove those from the equation. When we remove the eight games against Power Five opponents, Arkansas State looks a little better. Their record of 4-5 against other Group of Five opponents is mediocre, but a far cry from their .750 conference winning percentage.
Tulsa and UNLV twice).
The Sun Belt is typically the worst FBS conference, but using the point spread to level the playing field, Arkansas State has played much better against their conference foes than against other G5 opponents. It sure seems like there is more at play here than mere randomness. My theory? Anderson knows his team has no shot to make the College Football Playoff and only an infinitesimal chance to play in a New Year's Six Bowl. Thus, he treats the non-conference schedule, even against teams Arkansas State can theoretically compete with, as a chance to iron things out in preparation for the conference season. All that matters is Sun Belt play and a chance to win a conference title. In all six seasons, the schedule has played out the same way. Arkansas State opens with four non-conference games (three in 2017 thanks to a cancelation) and then eight Sun Belt contests. Despite the occasional rough start in the non-conference, by the time league play starts, Arkansas State is hitting their stride.