Here are the 2021 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 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 MAC met this threshold? Here are MAC teams sorted by performance over what would be expected from their Net YPP numbers.
2017 in the season opener. Meanwhile, Toledo went 0-3 in one-score MAC games. Their three conference losses came by a grand total of eight points while all five of their conference victories came by at least ten points. The Rockets misfortune was also on display in non-conference action, where they lost tight games to Notre Dame and Middle Tennessee State.
From Worst to First
Northern Illinois accomplished an almost unprecedented feat in 2021. No, it wasn't winning the MAC. The Huskies appeared in seven MAC Championship Games (including six straight at one point) between 2010 and 2018 (winning four of them). The more unprecedented feat was going from last place in their division (or conference) to first place. Since 2005, it has only happened eleven times in non-BCS/Group of Five leagues.
Northern Illinois joins Miami, Florida Atlantic, and San Jose State as the only non-BCS/Group of Five teams to win their conference outright the season after finishing in last place. The other teams on this list either lost their respective conference title games or finished tied for first in a league that did not yet stage a conference title game.
At this blog, we care about the past, but our goal is trying to predict the future. How did the previous ten teams fare the following season? Well, were I a Northern Illinois supporter, tempering my expectations might be a rational course of action.Fresno State was the lone team able to resist regression's mighty pull. These teams all required at least a little good fortune to win their respective divisions after last place finishes. When that good fortune flips to bad, average, or even good, but not quite as good, a decline in record usually follows. Can Northern Illinois continue their hot streak in 2022 or does our old pal regression have something else in store for them?