Thursday, June 23, 2022

YPP Throwback: The 2001 Big 12

I had so much fun revisiting the 2001 SEC last year, I decided to go back to 2001 again and look at the Big 12. We'll begin as always with the 2001 Big 12 standings. 
As with the rest of college football, the 2001 Big 12 season featured a lot of twists and turns. Nebraska, Oklahoma, and Texas all began the year ranked in the top five of the AP Poll. Oklahoma won a low-scoring Red River Shootout to take control of the Big 12 South and were unbeaten when they traveled to Lincoln three weeks later to face Nebraska in a matchup of teams ranked second and third in the AP Poll. The Cornhuskers won 20-10 with Eric Crouch producing his Heisman moment on a trick play reception that iced the game. Heading into the Thanksgiving weekend, it looked like Nebraska and Oklahoma were destined for a rematch in the Big 12 Championship Game, but fate had other plans. Oklahoma lost at home to Oklahoma State giving the South to Texas which had won six in a row (all by double digits) following their defeat in Dallas. In the North, Nebraska entered their regular season finale against Colorado unbeaten, but having failed to clinch the division. Colorado opened the 2001 season by losing to Fresno State. The Buffaloes won their next five games, but were throttled at Texas in mid-October. After losing to the Longhorns, Colorado won their next three games against a middling trio of Big 12 opponents (Oklahoma State, Missouri, and Iowa State) and could steal the division from Nebraska if they managed to upset the Cornhuskers at home. The Buffaloes would do just that, forcing four Nebraska turnovers while rushing for nearly 400 yards in a shocking 62-36 victory. Instead of a rematch between the Cornhuskers and Sooners, we were instead treated to a rematch between the Buffaloes and Longhorns. Texas quarterback Chris Simms played poorly, throwing three interceptions and Colorado led 29-10 late in the first half. Seeking a spark, Mack Brown benched Simms in favor of Major Applewhite and the Longhorns nearly orchestrated a comeback, but Colorado held on to win 39-37. Colorado advanced to the Fiesta Bowl where they fell to Oregon, while Nebraska backed into the Rose Bowl (and BCS title game) thanks to the Big 12 title game upset and upsets in the SEC as well. 

The More Things Change
While Nebraska and Colorado vied for North supremacy in 2001, Kansas finished in the basement. The Jayhawks won a single Big 12 game in 2001 (somehow beating Texas Tech and head coach Mike Leach in Lubbock). Their single victory and was a harbinger of things to come. 
In the Big 12's quarter century of existence, Kansas, Baylor, and Iowa State have dominated the bottom of the standings, with the three combining to win either zero or one conference game an amazing 36 times! The rest of the conference has done it just three times. However, nearly all of Baylor's zero or one win conference campaigns came in the infancy of the Big 12 (more on them in a second) while Kansas is on a thirteen year streak of winning one conference game or less!

Baylor's Historic Ineptitude
The Big 12 began playing football in 1996. The conference maintained the divisional format through 2010 (15 seasons). In that span, Baylor win 18 conference games. And that includes a 4-4 record in 2010 as the program was beginning to coalesce under Art Briles and Robert Griffin. While the 18 wins are bad in isolation, more than two thirds of those victories came in inter-division play. The Bears were bad against Big 12 North teams, but respectable bad. They went 13-32 against the weaker opposition in the Big 12 North, sweeping the division on two occasions (2006 and 2010). However, against Big 12 South teams, the Bears were 5-70 in the fifteen seasons of divisional play! 
The Bears beat a Big 12 South team in their second season (Texas LoL), but did not win another division game for seven years! In fact, they never won more than one division game for the duration of division play!

Where Are the Conference Titles?
Mack Brown took over the Texas Longhorns in 1998 and immediately returned them to national prominence. In his first seven seasons in Austin, the Longhorns averaged ten wins per season (70-19 record), finished ranked each season, and even finished in the top ten of the AP Poll three times. However, the Longhorns did not win a conference title in that span (something his predecessor John Mackovic managed to do in back-to-back seasons). They famously broke through in 2005, but there were a lot of missed opportunities between 1998 and 2004, with 2001 being the prime example. 
Statistically, Texas was the best Big 12 team in 2001. Their defense was the personification of the old adage 'Three Yards and a Cloud of Dust', allowing 3.24 yards per play to league foes. With Future pros like Cory Redding, D.D. Lewis, and Quintin Jammer at all three levels, the unit dominated Big 12 opponents. In addition to the low per play numbers, Texas also allowed just eight offensive touchdowns in Big 12 play during the regular season. Heading into the Big 12 Championship Game, the Longhorns seemed to be catching a break with Colorado upsetting Nebraska. The Longhorns had handled the Buffaloes with ease six weeks before in Austin and were about a touchdown favorite in the rematch. While the aforementioned turnovers by Simms aided Colorado in scoring nearly 40 points, the Buffaloes had the best offensive showing of any Big 12 team against the Longhorns. 
The Buffaloes scored four offensive touchdowns while running back Chris Brown and Bobby Purify combined to gain nearly 250 yards on the ground and average over six yards per carry. The upset added more fuel to the 'can't win the big one' narrative hovering over Mack Brown. Of course, Brown and the Longhorns would prove the doubters wrong by winning the national title in 2005 and adding another Big 12 title in 2009 equaling the total number of conference titles the Longhorns won under his predecessor.  

Final Thoughts
2001 was a weird season for college football. Before 2020, it was the only time I can recall such a massive schedule adjustment. The 9/11 terrorist attacks caused the third full week of the season to be postponed and an additional week to be tacked on to the end of the regular season. Some wild things happened on the field after Thanksgiving, with the aforementioned pair of Colorado upsets along with two more in the SEC (Florida over Tennessee and LSU over Tennessee in the SEC Championship Game) leading to yet another BCS controversy regarding which team was most deserving to take on Miami. In the end, Nebraska earned the nod. Obviously, results on the field have to be taken into account, but based on my YPP look back at the SEC and Big 12, I think Florida or Texas would have provided better competition for the Hurricanes. 

Wednesday, June 01, 2022

2021 Adjusted Pythagorean Record: Sun Belt

Last week we looked at how Sun Belt 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 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 2021 Sun Belt 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, Sun Belt 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 standard to determine whether a team's record differed significantly from their APR. By that standard, South Alabama was the only team with a record that was significantly off from their APR. The Jaguars significantly underachieved relative to their APR and they also underachieved relative to their Yards Per Play numbers and we went over a few reasons for that last week.  

Dominating Your Division
Billy Napier had a pretty successful four-year run at Louisiana-Lafayette. The Ragin' Cajuns finished ranked in the AP Poll the past two seasons after never having appeared in the poll in their history. However, Napier's most impressive achievement may have been that he never lost to a division opponent. The Sun Belt switched to a divisional format in 2018 and in the four years since, Louisiana-Lafayette has gone 16-0 against their opponents in the West. 
The Ragin' Cajuns won those sixteen games by nearly fifteen points per game and averaged nearly a yard and a half more per play than their opponents. Perhaps even more impressive is that fact that no other team in the West posted a winning division record in that span. 
And while the East has been the stronger division in the early days of this new Sun Belt iteration, Louisiana-Lafayette has held their own when they step outside the friendly confines of the West. 
The Ragin' Cajuns went 1-3 against East division opponents in Napier's first season, but they are 10-2 since and their overall point and per play differential emphasize this strong showing. In fact, they are the only team from the West to have any success in inter-division play. 
The other West teams all have losing records against the East and that quartet has combined to win less than a quarter of their inter-division games.

Louisiana-Lafayette's amazing division streak is likely to end this season due to simple regression and the reorganization of the Sun Belt. And Billy Napier's personal division streak seems destined to end in Jacksonville if not before, but take a moment to genuflect on some unappreciated dominance at the lower levels of FBS. 

We have completed our offeason run through all ten FBS conferences. Thanks as always for reading. This blog will continue to make posts throughout the summer, but they will be more sporadic. Look for a YPP Throwback on the 2001 Big 12, some posts on first half point differential from this past season, a Vegas betting trip, and maybe an NFL post. We are about twelve weeks from Week Zero, but if we maintain our focus, we can make it through the long offseason.