## Thursday, January 28, 2021

### 2020 Yards Per Play: ACC

One conference down. Next up is the ACC, a conference that got two teams into the College Football Playoff.

Here are the 2020 ACC 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 ACC team. This includes conference play only, with the championship game not included. The teams are sorted by Net YPP with conference rank in parentheses.
College football teams play either eight or nine conference games (typically fewer in 2020). 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 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 2020 season, which teams in the ACC met this threshold? Here are ACC teams sorted by performance over what would be expected from their Net YPP numbers.
Notre Dame and Miami over-performed relative to their YPP numbers and Louisville under-performed. Notre Dame was not exceptionally lucky in one-score games, finishing 2-0, but outside of a 45-3 dismantling of Pittsburgh, they had comfortable, but not dominant victories. Miami finished 3-0 in one-score games, riding the clutch play of D'Eriq King to tight wins against Virginia, NC State, and Virginia Tech. Meanwhile, both of their conference losses game in blowout fashion. The Hurricanes were crushed by Clemson and North Carolina by a combined 61 points. On the other end of the luck spectrum, Louisville finished 0-4 in one-score conference games and had the second worst in-conference turnover margin (-11) behind Duke.

Florida State's Absurd Run as a Conference Favorite
2020 marked the fourth consecutive season Florida State finished with an ACC record of .500 or worse. Their 2-6 conference record was their worst since joining the ACC in 1993. I'm not a fan of kicking someone while they are down, unless of course there is almost no chance they can get back up and exact some revenge, so I decided to look back on happier times for Florida State fans. Thanks to the fantastic database at Goldsheet and my handy Phil Steele magazines, we can look back at the point spread for every Florida State game since they joined the conference and compare their run of dominance to contemporaries like Alabama, Clemson, Ohio State, and Oklahoma.

When Florida State began ACC play in 1993, they were head and shoulders above the rest of their conference brethren. The Seminoles were double digit favorites in all eight of their conference games in 1993, 1994, 1995, and 1996. In fact, the first conference game in which they were not a double digit favorite was their penultimate conference game in 1997 (their 39th overall) when they were laying a touchdown in Chapel Hill against Mack Brown's final (first run) North Carolina team.
Bookmakers and the general public likely remembered the previous year's battle in Tallahassee when North Carolina allowed just one touchdown in a 13-0 loss. The Tar Heel defense played well again in 1997, but the Tar Heels could only muster a field goal a 20-3 defeat.

From that point on, Florida State was a double digit favorite in their final conference game of 1997, and all their conference games in 1998, 1999, and 2000. In 2001, the Seminoles showed their mortality in a surprising shellacking at North Carolina, losing 41-9 to a team coached by John Bunting. That loss didn't stop them from being heavy favorites. They were double digit favorites in their next two conference games before hosting unbeaten and tenth ranked Maryland. The Seminoles were eight point favorites against the Terps, marking the first time they were laying less than ten points to an ACC team at home (in their 69th conference game).
The Seminoles beat the Terps handily in that game, but Maryland would not lose again in the regular season and won the ACC becoming the first outright champion other than Florida State since the Seminoles joined the league.

Despite losing their stranglehold on ACC dominance, Florida State was favored (though not by double digits) in all their conference games in 2002 and 2003. Finally, in their conference opener in 2004 (in their 89th conference game) the Seminoles were underdogs at ACC newcomer Miami.
Although the Seminoles were underdogs, this was Miami's first game as an ACC team meaning the Seminoles had yet to be an underdog to any of the eight teams that were there when they joined in 1993. The Seminoles were favored in their other seven conference games.

This trend would continue for sometime. In their conference opener in 2005, the Seminoles were home underdogs in a conference game for the first time (97th conference game) against...Miami.
The Seminoles were favored in their other seven conference games.

Once again, in 2006, the Seminoles were underdogs at Miami, but were favored in their other seven conference games. Finally, in 2007, the Seminoles were underdogs twice in conference play. And neither team was Miami. However, both teams (Boston College and Virginia Tech) were also newcomers to the ACC, having joined in 2004 (Virginia Tech) and 2005 (Boston College) meaning the Seminoles had still not been an underdog to the other eight ACC teams that were there when they joined in 1993.

Finally, in their fifth conference game of the 2008 season (125th conference game), the Seminoles were underdogs at Georgia Tech.
This marked the first time they were not favored against one of the other long-tenured conference members. The malaise of the end of the Bowden era continued in 2009, with the Seminoles going off as underdogs three times. The Seminoles were underdogs at North Carolina, Clemson, and even Wake Forest!

When Jimbo Fisher took the reigns in 2010, things improved. The Seminoles were conference underdogs once in 2010 (at Miami) and 2011 (at Clemson), but then began another brief era of dominance. They were double digit favorites in all their conference games in 2012, 2013, and 2014. Then in 2015, the unthinkable happened. The Seminoles were double digit underdogs in ACC play for the first time, catching 10.5 at Clemson (183rd conference game).
In 2016, the Seminoles were home underdogs to Clemson, marking the first time they were home underdogs to one of the other long-tenured ACC members. They were double digit underdogs at Clemson once again in 2017. While that may have seemed like a low point for the Seminoles, things were about to get worse.

In Willie Taggart's first season in 2018, the Seminoles were underdogs four times in ACC play, marking the first time they were not favored in at least half their conference games. 2019 was not any better with the Seminoles once again going off as betting underdogs four times in conference play. Finally, in 2020, Mike Norvell's first season, the Seminoles were underdogs six times in the eight conference games they managed to play. While we weep for the Seminoles dominance that is no longer with us, we should also admire it. The Seminoles were favored in their first 88 conference games (eleven seasons worth of games). How does that compare to the current crop of elite teams?
Pretty favorably (note these numbers are regular season only, so conference title games are excluded). Alabama has the longest active streak of being favored in conference play, but would still need to go five more years as a favorite in every conference game to match Florida State's streak. Clemson would need to be favored in all their conference games for more than six years to pass the Seminoles. Oklahoma, with a nine-game conference season, would need to be favored for nearly seven more years and Ohio State has more than eight years to go.

Florida State may be down at the moment, but their fans can always wax nostalgic about the 90's and early 00's. The ACC may not have been a football power, but Florida State's dominance deserves to be acknowledged.

## Thursday, January 21, 2021

### 2020 Adjusted Pythagorean Record: AAC

Last week we looked at how AAC 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 2020 AAC standings.
And here are the APR standings with conference rank in offensive touchdowns, touchdowns allowed, and APR in parentheses. This includes conference games only with the championship game excluded. Since teams played a varied number of games (everyone played at least six but only four played a full eight game schedule), the rankings are on a per game basis, not raw totals.
Finally, AAC 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 whether or not a team significantly over or under-performed relative to their APR. Using that standard, Memphis was the lone team to significantly exceed their expected record (although Tulane and South Florida just missed meeting the threshold for underperforming). The Tigers won five of their eight conference games in 2020, but four of those wins came by a total of eight points. Meanwhile, two of their three conference losses came by at least two touchdowns.

Is Temple In Trouble?
Many college football fans may have forgotten how bad the Temple Owls were. After winning ten games and the prestigious Garden State Bowl in 1979, the Owls finished with a winning record just three times prior to the inauguration of Barack Obama (coincidence or Deep State conspiracy?). In that span, they lost at least ten games eight times, were politely asked to leave the Big East, and were generally one of the worst programs in FBS. All that changed in 2006 when Al Golden was hired. It took him a few years to right the ship, as the Owls went just 1-11 in his first season, but they won four games in his second, followed by five in his third, before winning seventeen over his final two seasons. That success helped him land the Miami job and the foundation he built helped Temple become a launching pads of sorts. The next three coaches to follow Golden in Philadelphia all enjoyed some modicum of success and used the Owls as a springboard to a Power Five job (Steve Addazio, Matt Rhule, and Geoff Collins). Current Temple coach Rod Carey seemed to be an ideal candidate to follow suit. Carey spent six seasons at Northern Illinois, leading the Huskies to four conference championship game appearances and a pair of MAC titles. And his first season in charge of the Owls was a solid success. Temple won eight games and defeated two Power Five opponents. The bowl game was disappointing, but Temple appeared to be in the same position that they had been in for the better part of a decade - an upper tier Group of Five program. Then 2020 happened.

Like every other team playing college football in 2020, the Owls dealt with cancelations and positive tests. Temple did not play their first game until October 10th, and while they were a disappointing 1-2 heading into a Halloween showdown at Tulane, they were at least competitive in each of their first three games. That was not the case over the final month of the season. Starting with Tulane, the Owls lost each of their final four games by at least 24 points. They were outscored 151-42 in that span and scored just four offensive touchdowns in those four games. Injuries and Covid-19 protocols account for some of that poor performance as the Owls had five different quarterbacks throw a pass in 2020. Even with the difficult circumstances, there is no doubt that for the first time in a long time, Temple was a bad team in 2020. The Owls lost four games by at least twenty points in 2020, giving Carey seven such defeats in his two seasons at the helm. That is already more than either of the three gentlemen who preceded him accumulated.
Carey has already put up seven blowout losses in two seasons after his predecessors combined for thirteen such losses in eight. But not all blowout losses are created equal. Coaches at Group of Five programs don't have the resources or personnel of Power Five teams, so we shouldn't hold it against them if they are blown out by stronger programs. To account for this, lets adjust the data to only account for blowout losses to other Group of Five programs. How does Carey look once we make this adjustment?
Not any better. Temple played a conference only season in 2020, so all of their blowout losses came to other Group of Five programs. All together, Carey has six blowout losses to Group of Five programs whereas his three predecessors combined for seven in eight seasons. So, circling back around to the question I posed earlier: Is Temple in trouble? Is 2020 a sign of things to come or was it a one-off bad season made worse by a global pandemic? Obviously, no one can know for sure, and we'll learn a lot more in the 2021 season, but were I a Temple fan, I would be a little worried. Not only were the Owls unquestionably bad in 2020, they were not quite as good as their record in 2019. Take a look at last year's APR post on the AAC. The Owls won five conference games, but actually allowed more touchdowns than they scored. In addition, look no further than the program Carey piloted before landing the Temple job. Northern Illinois, the dominant MAC program for a decade has finished with a losing record for two straight years and actually went winless in 2020! Some of that could be the man the Huskies tabbed to replace Carey, a former Northern Illinois running back whose most recent job was coaching NFL running backs, is not very good, but it could also be that Carey left the program in a bad state. I'll refrain from making any bold proclamations, but it wouldn't shock me if Temple is bad in 2021 and has a new coach in 2022.

## Thursday, January 14, 2021

### 2020 Yards Per Play: AAC

Despite my misgivings and doubts, the 2020 season happened. Since it did happen, we'll do what we have done for the past few years on this blog. Rundown the ten FBS conferences through the prism of Yards per Play and the Adjusted Pythagorean Record. Hopefully by the time this series commences, in about twenty weeks, the corona virus situation will have improved in this country and we can start fantasizing about a more normal 2021 season. And if it isn't, the powers that be have already shown the season will go on come hell or high water.

We begin our offseason recaps with the American Athletic Conference. Here are the 2020 AAC 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 AAC team. This includes conference play only, with the championship game not included. The teams are sorted by Net YPP with conference rank in parentheses.
College football teams play either eight or nine conference games (typically fewer in 2020). 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 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 2020 season, which teams in the AAC met this threshold? Here are AAC teams sorted by performance over what would be expected from their Net YPP numbers.
Tulsa and South Florida were the two teams that saw their expected record differ significantly from their actual record. The Golden Hurricane exceeded their expected record thanks to an unblemished close game record (4-0) in one-score conference games and a phenomenal performance in the second half of games. Meanwhile, South Florida finished winless in AAC play despite poor, but hardly horrendous numbers. The Bulls were 0-2 in one-score conference games and finished with the worst in-conference turnover margin (-7).

Dana's Bowl Struggles
Return with me to a simpler time. It was early January 2012. The nation was distraught that a pair of SEC teams would stage a rematch for the national title. But before that game in New Orleans, there would be an appetizer of sorts in the Orange Bowl. A young, mulleted, Red Bull chugging, offensive savant would lead West Virginia against a Clemson team that had been ranked as high as number six earlier in the season. The Mountaineers finished in a three-way tie for first in the Big East, but captured the penultimate Big East title and subsequent BCS bid thanks to owning the highest BCS ranking in the conference. West Virginia entered the game a slight underdog, but between the beginning of the second quarter and late in the third, the Mountaineers outscored the Tigers 49-3 en route to an easy 70-33 win. For Clemson, the loss likely set them on a path to win the national title as they fired Kevin Steele after the game and hired Brent Venables away from Oklahoma. For West Virginia, the victory propelled them into the national conscience. After middling preseason respect post Rich Rodriguez, the Mountaineers entered the 2012 season ranked eleventh in the AP Poll and rose as high as number five before their defensive issues were fully exposed in a 7-6 campaign. Over Dana Holgorsen's final seven seasons in Morgantown, the Mountaineers never really realized the expectations they set after the scintillating Orange Bowl performance. In Big 12 play, Holgorsen managed a winning record (33-30), but the Mountaineers only finished in the final AP Poll twice, and never higher than eighteenth. The primary reason for that? A deplorable bowl performance. And if you tuned in to college football on Christmas Eve, that trend continued at his new stop in Houston.

Since winning that Orange Bowl nine years ago, Holgorsen's teams have lost six of seven bowl games and have not covered in any. Five of those losses, including the past four have all come by at least two touchdowns and West Virginia's only bowl win outside of the beatdown of Clemson came by a single point. Here is the carnage in table form.
Are there legitimate excuses for some of those egg-layings? Certainly. In 2017, his quarterback, Will Grier, was injured in the penultimate game of the regular season and missed the bowl. In 2018, many of his best players opted out of the bowl game against Syracuse. However, taken together this is a pretty strong indictment of Holgorsen's prowess to motivate and prepare his team for bowl games. Keep this in mind next December when Houston is laying points against a team they are vastly superior to on paper.