## Thursday, January 27, 2022

### 2021 Yards Per Play: ACC

We breezed through the AAC, so next up in our conference breakdowns is the ACC.

Here are the 2021 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 division by Net YPP with conference rank in parentheses. Also note, the Wake Forest/North Carolina game is not included in these numbers either as that was not a conference game.
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 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 2021 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.
Wake Forest and Pittsburgh, the two conference title game participants, both overachieved relative to their expected record based on YPP while Syracuse and Louisville underachieved. Wake had the best in-conference turnover margin (+9) in the ACC, went 3-0 in one-score conference games, and were absurdly efficient on fourth downs in ACC play, going 10 for 11. Pittsburgh had a decent in-conference turnover margin (+2), but nothing spectacular. The Panthers were also mediocre in one-score games (1-1 in ACC play), but did benefit from great fourth down defense. Their ACC opponents combined to convert just 3 of 16 fourth down attempts, giving them a hidden thirteen additional forced turnovers. Meanwhile, Syracuse was 1-3 in one-score conference games. This close game deficiency was partly due to lack of an effective kicking game (made just 4 of 7 field goals in ACC play) and ridiculously bad luck when opponents were forced to kick (ACC teams made all 14 of their field goal attempts against the Orange). Louisville was also 1-3 in one-score ACC games causing them to finish with a .500 league record despite the best Net YPP in the conference.

Worst One-Loss Teams
You may have noticed that Wake Forest was actually underwater in terms of Net YPP. On a per play basis, the Demon Deacons were outgained by slightly more than one third of a yard (one foot). Despite this inefficiency, the Demon Deacons won their division for the second time in school history (they have as many ACC Championship Game appearances as the other three North Carolina schools combined) and finished with but a single conference loss. I have YPP data going back to 2005, so I wanted to see where my alma mater ranked in that metric among BCS/P5 teams that finished with a similar conference record. Believe it or not, they do not have the worst Net YPP of that group.
Wake had the second worst Net YPP of any BCS/P5 team that finished with one conference loss. A Northwestern team from a few years ago actually beat them by a significant margin. That Northwestern team lost to Akron and Duke in non-conference play but won eight of nine in Big 10 action. They also acquitted themselves reasonably well in the Big 10 Championship Game, trailing by seven with under ten minutes to go before Ohio State pulled away. In fact, despite their underwhelming YPP numbers, the teams on this list performed well in their respective conference title games. Seven of the nine teams won their division and those teams went a respectable 3-4 in conference title games. Two of the teams even contended for national championships, with Auburn losing in the final BCS Championship Game in 2013 and Michigan State qualifying for the CFP in 2015 (though their showing in the CFP was not great). These teams continued to confound their underlying numbers in the conference title games, but the next season was a different story. None of the previous eight finished with a winning conference record in the follow up season. As a Wake Forest fan, I must remember to enjoy this season for what it was and not expect a repeat performance in 2022.

## Thursday, January 20, 2022

### 2021 Adjusted Pythagorean Record: AAC

Last week we looked at how AAC teams fared in terms of yards per play. his 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 hereIf 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 2021 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.
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 the standard when determining whether a team significantly over or under-performed relative to their APR. By that standard, Tulane was the only AAC team to significantly under-perform. They also under-performed relative to their YPP numbers and we discussed some reasons why last week.

Multiple Undefeated Teams
The AAC became the first Group of Five conference to place a team in the College Football Playoff in 2021, but they also accomplished something almost as rare and a little more under the radar. Cincinnati was not the only team to roll through AAC play with an unblemished record. After losing their opener to Texas Tech, Houston closed the regular season by winning eleven consecutive games. The Cougars fell to the Bearcats in the AAC Championship Game, but finished tied with the Bearcats at the top of the AAC regular season standings. How often do multiple teams from the same conference finish with pristine, undefeated records?

Having multiple teams from the same conference finish with undefeated league records is a rare occurrence, but something that is more likely to happen in this day and age of bloated conference memberships. For most of the twentieth century, all conference opponents played each other ensuring there could be at most, one unbeaten standing at the end of autumn. However, as conferences have expanded, for the most part, conference schedules have not. This trend is poised to continue as the SEC will soon have a sixteen-team league or roughly double the size of most conferences that played last century (with a few exceptions). We're likely to see more conference seasons with multiple undefeated teams in the future. But back to our original question: How often has it happened (at least in this era of college football)? In the BCS/CFB Playoff era (since 1998), it has only occurred eight times, and two of those deserve pretty big asterisks.
This is actually the second consecutive year the AAC has had two teams finish the regular season without a conference loss. Cincinnati and Tulsa were scheduled to play last season, but Covid got in the way, preventing the regular season matchup. As such, both teams finished with identical 6-0 league records and met in the AAC Championship Game. The Mountain West also saw two teams finish with unbeaten conference records in their abbreviated 2020 season. Boise State and San Jose State played eleven regular season Mountain West conference games and won all of them en route to their showdown in the Mountain West Championship Game. If you look at the other seasons on this list, you'll notice they nearly all came in conferences that used divisional formats. If we ignore the two pandemic shortened seasons we just mentioned, that means the AAC was the first non-divisional conference to boast two unbeaten teams in nearly twenty years! 2002 was a very odd year for the Big 10. Ohio State ended up winning the national championship with an amazing run in close games. Meanwhile, Iowa [checks notes incredulously] averaged over 37 points per game and had a Heisman trophy finalist (on the offensive side of the ball)! After losing to Iowa State in non-conference play, the Hawkeyes won all their Big 10 games (six of them by double digits) and famously tore down their opponent's goal posts in the regular season finale. Alas, there was no Big 10 Championship Game in 2002, so they had to share the title with Ohio State.

The AAC should take great pride in becoming the first Group of Five league to put a team in the College Football Playoff. However, the bigger needle thread may have been producing two unbeaten teams in conference play without the benefit of divisions separating them.

## Thursday, January 13, 2022

### 2021 Yards Per Play: AAC

Well, the offseason is here. We had a more normal 2021 season with every FBS (regular season) game getting played. If you're new to this blog, first off, welcome. Secondly, this is the part of the year where we examine every FBS conference through the lens of Yards Per Play and the Adjusted Pythagorean Record. We go alphabetically, so if you came for the SEC, well, you'll have to wait until May. In the interim, enjoy a statistical analysis of the other FBS conferences and maybe learn a thing or two.

Here are the 2021 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. 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 2021 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.
Navy and Houston significantly exceeded their expected record based on YPP while Tulane drastically under-performed. Counter intuitive to what you might expect, Navy actually had a losing record in one-score conference games, finishing 2-4. However, the Midshipmen had an in-conference turnover margin of +6 which helped keep many of those games closer than they otherwise would have been. In those six one-score conference games, Navy was outgained by 1.40 yards per play! Meanwhile, Houston was 3-0 in one-score conference games and boasted the best in-conference turnover margin (+11). Tulane was 0-3 in one-score conference games and finished tied with Tulsa for the worst in-conference turnover margin (-7).

Big Time Underachievers
You may have noticed in the above chart that Tulane not only met the .200 threshold for underachievement, they blew past it, finishing with a winning percentage more than .340 points below where we would have expected based on their mediocre per play numbers. Are these big time underachievers more likely to rebound the next season that regular underachievers? Short answer: Yes.

Between 2005 and 2020, 26 mid-majors (Group of Five or non-BCS) teams finished with a conference record at least .300 below their expected record based on YPP. Two teams joined Tulane in accomplishing the feat in 2021 (Colorado State and Wyoming). Those previous 26 teams finished with about 1.8 more conference wins the next season.
Nearly two thirds of the teams improved by at least one conference win and almost 40% of the teams saw major improvement (at least three additional conference wins) the next season. However, when I was sifting through the data, I noticed a few outliers that I felt needed to be addresses. Two of the teams in the sample played in Conference USA in 2020. If you don't remember the 2020 college football season, it was marred by postponements and cancellations. I felt it best not to include those two teams in the sample as they played just four (UTEP) and six (Southern Miss) conference games respectively. Finally, one of the teams in the sample finished with a phenomenal record. In 2010, Boise State finished 7-1 in WAC play, dropping an overtime game to Colin Kaepernick and Nevada, but rolling through the rest of their schedule. Based on their outstanding YPP numbers and the limitations of regression, their expected winning percentage is greater than 1. While they technically under-performed by more than .300, it doesn't make sense to include them in this sample (they were the only team in the sample with a .500 or better conference record). So, when we remove those three teams, the numbers improve slightly.
The average improvement jumps to more than two conference wins and nearly 70% of teams in the sample improved. Willie Fritz is a good coach and the Green Wave have a very manageable non-conference schedule next year. Coupling that with this trend toward improvement in conference play, I would expect a return to postseason play in 2022.

## Monday, January 10, 2022

### Strangers in the Field Part VI: How'd We Do?

The college football season is over and the NFL regular season has finally ended as well. Let's take a look back and see how our predictions went.

College Football Plays

Over/Under Win Totals

Air Force over 6.5 wins -125 (\$50 to win \$40)
This one was an easy winner. The Falcons won nine games in the regular season and were not particularly lucky in doing so (2-3 record in close games).

Ball State under 7.5 wins -120 (\$50 to win \$41.65)
It looked like this one might be in trouble when Ball State won three in a row (two as an underdog) after a 1-4 start, but the Cardinals finished 6-6, giving me a one game buffer.

Buffalo under 7.5 wins -145 (\$50 to win \$34.50)
Buffalo lost their last four games to finish 4-8 and make this an easy winner.

Navy over 3.5 wins -105 (\$50 to win \$47.60)
This bet was not decided until the annual clash with Army, but thankfully the Midshipmen won their fourth game and pulled off their third upset of the year to cash this ticket.

San Diego State over 6.5 wins -120 (\$50 to win \$41.65)
Over the summer, I said San Diego State had a shot at starting 9-0 before a road trip to Nevada. I was a little off. San Diego State won their first six games and easily cashed this ticket before Halloween.

TCU over 7.5 wins -125 (\$50 to win \$40)
I only missed one standard college football over/under win total, but it was a pretty big whiff. This bet was dead and buried when TCU lost at home to SMU. The Horned Frogs had one of their worst defenses in school history and Gary Patterson did not finish the season.

Over/Under Conference Win Totals

Coastal Carolina under 7.5 Sun Belt wins -135 (\$100 to win \$74.05)
The Chanticleers lost to Appalachian State on a last second field goal and also dropped a shootout to Georgia State to come safely below this number.

East Carolina over 2.5 AAC wins -135 (\$100 to win \$74.05)
The Pirates doubled their expected conference wins, and while a few of them were close (beat Memphis and Navy by a combined four points), they also dropped a pair of tight games to Houston and UCF (margin of eleven points in those defeats).

Florida International over 2.5 CUSA wins +100 (\$40 to win \$40)
This was another big whiff. The Panthers lost all eight of their CUSA games by double digits.

Indiana under 5 Big 10 wins -110 (\$40 to win \$36.35)
The easiest winner I ever had. The Hoosiers did not win a single Big 10 game.

Marshall under 7 CUSA wins -140 (\$100 to win \$71.45)
Another easy winner. Marshall dropped their CUSA opener to clinch a push and then lost twice more for good measure.

Middle Tennessee State over 2.5 CUSA wins -110 (\$100 to win \$90.90)
The Blue Raiders finished 4-4 in CUSA play with three of those four wins coming by double digits.

Mississippi State over 2.5 SEC wins +100 (\$40 to win \$40)
This bet looked dicey after Mississippi State opened SEC play with a home loss to LSU, but they got back on track by winning at Texas A&M the next week and went over this number with some extra cushion.

Navy over 1.5 AAC wins -145 (\$100 to win \$68.95)
I double dipped on the Naval Academy and that worked out. Navy doubled their expected AAC wins.

Ohio over 4.5 MAC wins +100 (\$40 to win \$40)
I'm embarrassed to say I had no idea Frank Solich had retired when I made this bet. Ohio started out 0-4 in non-conference play and this looked like a sure loser. The Bobcats played better once conference play began and at 3-3 in MAC play I held out hope they could get this ticket home. Alas, they lost to their last two finish well below their win total.

Wyoming over 4.5 Mountain West wins (\$40 to win \$26.65)
I keep expecting big things from Wyoming and they continue to not deliver. The Cowboys went just 2-6 in Mountain West play to fall well below this number.

College Football Futures

Appalachian State to win Sun Belt +350 (\$10 to win \$35)
The Mountaineers made it to the Sun Belt Championship Game and were even a slight favorite against Louisiana-Lafayette. Alas, the Ragin' Cajuns defense was too strong.

Ohio to win the MAC +600 (\$10 to win \$60)
Once again, I did not know Frank Solich had retired when I made this bet. Ohio did not come close to winning the MAC.

NFL Playoffs Yes/No

Atlanta Falcons YES +250 (\$10 to win \$25)
The Falcons were a horrible team by any metric, yet their close game luck from the past few seasons turned around and they were in the playoff chase until the penultimate Sunday.

Baltimore Ravens YES -320 (\$200 to win \$62.50)
Ugh. Injuries and failed two point conversions will haunt me this offseason.

Los Angeles Rams NO +160 (\$10 to win \$16)
Stafford played well with the talent surrounding him in LA. I was wrong.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers NO +450 (\$10 to win \$45)
Tom Brady defies Father Time yet again.

NFL Over/Under Win Totals

Atlanta Falcons over 7.5 wins -120 (\$30 to win \$25)
As I mentioned earlier, the Falcons were bad. Yet they somehow managed to come within an eyelash of going over their win total thanks to fantastic luck in close games.

Los Angeles Rams under 10.5 wins -130 (\$20 to win \$15.40)
When the Rams dropped three in a row to fall to 7-4, I thought this one had a shot. Alas, the Rams won three tough road games in December and January (Arizona, Minnesota, and Baltimore) to easily go over this total.

Washington Football Team under 8.5 wins -125 (\$20 to win \$16)
This one looked like an easy winner when Washington started 2-6. Then a four game winning streak made it dicey. Thankfully, Washington returned to their early season roots and came in below this number with a game to spare.

NFL Division Futures

New York Giants to win NFC East +400 (\$10 to win \$40)
Making predictions causes you to look real dumb sometimes. Gambling is a great way to stay humble.

Seattle Seahawks to win NFC West +325 (\$10 to win \$32.50)
Russell Wilson has his first losing season. Perhaps I put the hex on him.

Reckless Parlays

College Football (\$10 to win \$750 -- all must be correct)

Army +2.5 Georgia State -- Easy winner.
Kansas State +1.5 Stanford @ Arlington -- Winner.
Rice +20.5 Arkansas -- Arkansas was down early, but they came back to cover.
Navy +3 Marshall -- Easy loser.
Georgia +4 Clemson @ Charlotte -- Winner.
Northern Illinois +17 Georgia Tech -- Easy Winner.
Southern Miss -1.5 South Alabama Easy loser.

To paraphrase Meatloaf, four out of seven ain't bad. But it doesn't cash.

NFL (\$10 to win \$60 -- all must be correct)