## Thursday, April 28, 2022

### 2021 Yards Per Play: Pac-12

We are careening toward the home stretch of our conference reviews. Next up is the Pac-12.

Here are the 2021 Pac-12 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 Pac-12 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 Pac-12 met this threshold? Here are Pac-12 teams sorted by performance over what would be expected from their Net YPP numbers.
No team in the Pac-12 significantly over or underachieved relative to their YPP numbers although Colorado and Arizona came close.

Three Downs
Southern Cal, Stanford and Washington are historically speaking, three of the top programs in the Pac-12. In fact, one could argue they are the best. You can make a case for Oregon, especially if you were born in the 21st century. But for the purposes of this post, lets assume those three are the standard bearers for the Pac-12. Those three teams finished with a combined conference record of 8-19 in 2021. This marked the first time their cumulative conference record was below .500 since 2008 and was only the fifth such occurrence this century.
Perhaps even more amazing, this was the worst combined conference record for the three programs. Ever. The Pac-12 has gone through a lot of iterations in its history and has even included teams like Idaho and Montana. Yet this trio had never been as bad at the same time as they were in 2021. With those three teams suffering historic downturns, who benefited? You could certainly argue Oregon and Utah, the two conference title game participants, but I would direct your attention a little further down the conference standings.

Oregon State and Washington State finished a combined 11-7 in Pac-12 play last season. The Beavers and Cougars went a combined 5-1 against Southern Cal, Stanford, and Washington. Oregon State beat all three. Their victory against the Trojans was their first since 2010 (lost previous four). They beat Washington for the first time since 2011 (lost previous nine) and Stanford for the first time since 2009 (lost previous eleven). Washington State beat Washington and Stanford, but lost to Southern Cal. Their victory against the Huskies was their first since 2012 (lost previous seven) and their win against Stanford was actually their fifth in a row against the Cardinal. The problem for middle weights like Oregon State and Washington State is that when programs the caliber of Southern Cal, Stanford, and Washington have bad or disappointing seasons, they often upgrade at head coach. That is precisely what Southern Cal and Washington presumably did in the offseason. The Trojans hired a proven head coach from Oklahoma while Washington hired an up and comer from the Group of Five. Stanford stood pat behind their long tenured head coach, but Southern Cal and Washington are likely to see improvement (perhaps significantly) in 2022. I don't know what to make of Stanford and their decline in recent years, but moderate improvement in Palo Alto would not shock me either. What does this mean for Oregon State and Washington State in 2022? They play all three teams again in 2022 and the odds of them finishing 5-1 (or better) against the trio are slim. Their 11-7 combined record from last season means they went just 6-6 against the rest of their Pac-12 slate. A bowl game for either the Beavers or Cougars is not a sure thing and my initial take would be to look at the 'under' on their season win totals when those numbers are released.

## Thursday, April 21, 2022

### 2021 Adjusted Pythagorean Record: Mountain West

Last week we looked at how Mountain West 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 Mountain West 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, Mountain West 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 to determine whether or not a team significantly over or under-performed. No team in the Mountain West met that threshold in 2021.

The Decline of Boise State
The expression 'life comes at you fast' is a bit trite, but there is a lot of truth in that short statement. We often struggle to recognize gradual change until a significant amount of time has passed. For example, without looking it up, how long has it been since Boise State finished a season ranked in the top ten of the AP Poll? Five or six years right? Longer. Seven or eight? It was 2011. Barack Obama had not completed his first term as President the last time Boise State was considered by the college football media to be among the nation's elite. The Broncos have not exactly been wondering in the wilderness for the past eleven seasons, but their national profile has dimmed and that coincided with the departure of Chris Petersen to Washington. Petersen coached the Broncos for eight seasons (2006-2013) and in an interesting bit of symmetry, the Broncos have been without Petersen for the past eight seasons (2014-2021) and sort of 'became' Boise State in the eight seasons preceding his ascendance to head coach (1998-2005).

Boise State played their first game as an FBS program on August 31st 1996. They lost to Central Michigan. The Broncos would win just two games in that inaugural season. They followed that up with another losing campaign in 1997, but have reeled off 24 consecutive winning seasons since. As I mentioned earlier, that 24 year run neatly sandwiches their greatest success under Chris Petersen between two pretty good runs under four other coaches. So let's do a little comparison. Here is the conference record Boise State posted during each eight year span along with their number of conference titles, both outright and shared.
Between 1998 and 2005, the Broncos won nearly 88% of their conference games with five outright league titles and a shared title in 2005. When the Big West folded following the 2000 season, the Broncos did not miss a beat in their new home, the WAC, winning 23 of 24 conference games between 2002 and 2005. Following the 2005 season, head coach Dan Hawkins took the Colorado job and his offensive coordinator, Chris Petersen, was promoted to head coach. And the Broncos kept on winning. During Petersen's eight years in charge, they upped their conference winning percentage ever so slightly to nearly 91%. However, they won fewer conference titles, both outright (3) and shared (2) thanks to generational teams at Hawaii (2007) and Nevada (2010) and the move to a stronger conference (the Mountain West in 2011). Once Petersen departed, Bryan Harsin was plucked from Arkansas State to lead the team. Under Harsin and his successor Andy Avalos, the Broncos have continued to dominate their conference brethren. They have won 82% of their Mountain West games and claimed the conference title outright 3 times with two other appearances in the league title game. In fact, they made four consecutive conference title appearances between 2017 and 2020. So if the Broncos are still winning conference games at a similar clip, why have they not finished in the top ten in more than a decade?
This is the biggest area where Boise State has fallen off. Under Dirk Koetter and Dan Hawkins, the Broncos dominated their conference opponents, but were unable to score any major non-conference victories. Between 1998 and 2005, they beat two teams from BCS conferences. They beat an Iowa State team that finished 7-7 in the 2002 Humanitarian Bowl and Oregon State in 2004. Their two wins against ranked teams in that span came against Fresno State in 2001 and TCU in the 2003 Fort Worth Bowl. Under Petersen, the Broncos more than quadrupled their win total against BCS conference teams, winning games against Georgia, Oklahoma, Oregon, and Virginia Tech to name a few. They also won twice as many games as they lost against ranked teams, knocking off two top ten teams (Oklahoma and TCU) in the process. While the Broncos have held their own against Power Five teams since Petersen left, they have not scored any genre defining wins. Of their seven victories against Power Five opponents, three have come against teams that finished with losing records (most recently Florida State in 2019) and only one has come against a team that finished the season ranked in the final AP Poll (Arizona). And speaking of ranked teams, while they have beaten seven ranked teams, six of them have been fellow Group of Five members (BYU, Fresno State thrice, San Diego State, and Utah State). The college football viewing public does pay as much attention when Group of Five teams cannibalize their own.

If the Broncos want to resume their place at the top of the Group of Five food chain in the college football ecosystem, they need to start winning more games against better Power Five opponents. Alas, the 2022 schedule does not really present any opportunities for such a feat. The lone Power Five opponent on the schedule is Oregon State, a bowl team from last season, but an unlikely true contender in the Pac-12. The Broncos do host a future Power Five opponent, BYU, but the 2022 team will at best have a sterling final record with few chances to wow the nation in non-conference action.

## Thursday, April 14, 2022

### 2021 Yards Per Play: Mountain West

Six conferences down, four to go. After spending the first three months of our reviews in the south, eastern, and midwestern parts of the continental United States, we follow Horace Greeley's advice and head west to a conference that saw a third of its membership win ten games in 2021.

Here are the 2021 Mountain West 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 Mountain West 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 Mountain West met this threshold? Here are Mountain West teams sorted by performance over what would be expected from their Net YPP numbers.
There was a lot of over and underachievement in the Mountain West in 2021. The two teams that faced off in the Mountain West Championship Game, San Diego State and Utah State, significantly overachieved, while a pair of teams that finished with a combined 4-12 conference record (Colorado State and Wyoming) significantly underachieved. San Diego State and Utah State finished a combined 8-0 in one-score conference games, but they went about winning those games in vastly different ways. San Diego State brought a smile to the octogenarian football fans by relying on their defense (best per play defense in the conference) and special teams (Matt Araiza punted brilliantly and kicked field goals adequately). Meanwhile, Utah State aired it out with transfer quarterback Logan Bonner and managed to win a conference title despite the second worst per play defense in the Mountain West. Colorado State and Wyoming cannot pin their underachievement entirely on close game misfortune. While the Rams and Cowboys combined for an 0-3 mark in one-score Mountain West games, my abacus indicates they still went just 4-9 in multi-score Mountain West games. Colorado State's per play numbers are buoyed by their game against New Mexico. The Rams won that game by 29 points, but outgained the Lobos by an absurd four yards per play. In their other seven Mountain West games, the Rams were outgained by 0.18 yards per play (5.93 to 6.11) which still means they underachieved, as they only managed one victory in those seven games. However, that level of underachievement is not nearly as drastic. For Wyoming, the culprit was an inconsistent offense. The Cowboys scored 14 or fewer points in five of their eight Mountain West games (all losses), but scored 96 total points in the other three (of which they won two). A more consistent offense would have resulted in an extra victory or two in Laramie.

Mediocre Conference Championship Games
The two teams that played in the Mountain West Championship Game last season finished seventh and eighth respectively in Net YPP. The Aggies and Aztecs were not bad, but they were also probably not the best teams in the Mountain West last season. How do they compare to previous championship game participants historically? Since 2005, among Group of Five teams, they have the second smallest combined Net YPP.
Utah State and San Diego State were beaten by another title game from 2021. However, they can take solace as they have the lowest Net YPP of any title game where neither participant entered with a negative Net YPP.

While the MAC and Mountain West produced historic conference title games in 2021 (at least in terms of cumulative Net YPP), this phenomenon is not limited to so called mid-majors. Power Five leagues have featured a few battles of mediocrity as well.
The ACC has been a habitual offender, with the 2008 incarnation grabbing the top spot (that season only one team finished with a conference record more than one game from .500). And don't think we can't see you there SEC. Tennessee's last conference title appearance came in a season when they were actually outgained and outscored in conference play!

## Thursday, April 07, 2022

### 2021 Adjusted Pythagorean Record: MAC

Last week we looked at how MAC 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 MAC 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, 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 somewhat arbitrary line of demarcation to determine whether or not a team's record differed significantly from their APR. By that standard, Northern Illinois and Kent State significantly overachieved, while Toledo significantly underachieved. Northern Illinois and Toledo also saw their actual records differ significantly from their expected records based on YPP and we went over some reasons for that last week. For Kent State, it was a story as old as time. The Golden Flashes went 4-0 in one-score conference games, clinching the MAC East title on the final day of the regular season with a one-point win over Miami when the Redhawks failed on a two-point conversion in overtime.

Unique Non-Conference Matchups
The corona virus has upended normal life for more than two years. Sports is one of the more trivial aspects of life to have been impacted, but I would argue not all impacts to the sporting world have been negative. While the 2021 college football regular season was more conventional, especially compared to 2020, the postseason was a different story. Five bowl games were canceled and two bowls had to find replacement teams thanks to a rise in Covid-19 cases. One of those bowls that had to adjust on the fly was the Sun Bowl. Originally slated to feature the Miami Hurricanes and Washington State Cougars, Miami withdrew on December 26th. On December 27th, Boise State withdrew from the Arizona bowl leaving Central Michigan without an opponent for the fledgling game. The Sun Bowl acted quickly and secured Central Michigan as Washington State's opponent in the Sun Bowl. Why was this significant? It marked just the nineteenth time a current member of the MAC has faced off with a current member of the Pac-12. If you are unfamiliar, MAC teams predominantly play in the midwest, so their non-conference games against Power Five opponents tend to involve ACC, Big 10, Big 12, or SEC teams. So we got a rare MAC/Pac-12 matchup in the bowl game, but more importantly, it was also the first victory by a current MAC team against a Pac-12 opponent. Technically at least. More on that in a moment. For now, here is the complete list of games between current MAC and Pac-12 teams.
Some interesting tidbits from this table.
• Give credit to Arizona and Utah. They are the only Pac-12 teams brave enough to venture into MAC territory by playing true road games.
• Arizona has played seven games against MAC teams, by far the most of any Pac-12 team.
• California, Colorado, Stanford, and UCLA have not played any games against current MAC teams. Technically.
• Buffalo and Ohio are the only current MAC teams that have never played a Pac-10/12 opponent.
• After the real Cold War ended, there was a bit of a Cold War between the MAC and the then Pac-10. There were no MAC/Pac-10 games between 1992 and 2007.
While the MAC has enjoyed a more stable conference membership that the rest of FBS, there have been some defections (and expulsions) in the league's history. Alas, the former MAC members were never able to deliver a victory against Pac-10/12 opponents.
As we did previously to Arizona and Utah, let's give some credit to Colorado as the Buffaloes traveled to the east coast to play Massachusetts in 2014. Also note the 2009 Eagle Bank Bowl was the first bowl game to feature a clash of MAC/Pac-10/12 teams. Temple had a double-digit lead at halftime, but was held scoreless in the second half as the Bruins secured the victory. Marshall is the only former MAC team to never face a Pac-10/12 opponent while they were a member of the MAC.

Finally, as I mentioned earlier, while this is technically the MAC's first victory against a Pac-10/12 team, the current MAC teams have beaten future Pac-12 teams and former or future MAC teams have beaten Pac-10/12 teams. Confused? Let me explain.
Before Colorado joined the Pac-12, they were a member of the Big 8 and then the Big 12 conference. During that time, they played three games against MAC teams, and even lost one of them

Finally, Northern Illinois (current MAC member), Temple (former MAC member), and UCF (former) have played games against Pac-10/12 opponents before or after they were members of the MAC.
Future MAC member Temple was able to net a victory against the Pac-10 in the 1979 Garden State Bowl in luxurious New Jersey, while former MAC member UCF bludgeoned Stanford when the Cardinal traveled across the country in 2019.

The 2021 Sun Bowl was an extemporaneous delight. Instead of a boring clash between middling Power Fives, we were witness to the MAC's first victory against the Pac-12. Oh, and we got to see Jim McElwain doused with Frosted Flakes.
They're grrrrrrrrrreat!