## Thursday, January 26, 2023

### 2022 Yards Per Play: ACC

Next up in our conference breakdowns is the ACC.

Here are the 2022 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
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 2022 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.
Clemson significantly exceeded their expected record (more on them later) while Florida State and Virginia underachieved relative to their YPP numbers. Clemson won all their one-score ACC games, finishing 3-0 in such contests. Each close victory also came against division opponents, giving them a leg up in the conference race. Florida State was not terrible in one-score conference games, finishing 1-2. However, they were absurdly dominant in most of their conference wins. Four of their five ACC victories came by at least 25 points. Mike Norvell should have found a way to save some of those excess points for later. Virginia was 1-3 in close conference games and also finished with the second worst in-conference turnover margin (-6) making life rough for first year head coach Tony Elliott

Worst Unbeaten Power Five Teams
For all the talk of their demise, Clemson did win the ACC for the seventh time in eight seasons in 2022. They also finished unbeaten in ACC play for the first time since 2019. However, you didn't have to squint too hard to see this team's warts. While their defense was one of the best in the ACC, their offense was below average in league play. And their non-conference performance left a lot to be desired. Notre Dame whipped them in South Bend, South Carolina beat them for the first time since 2013, and Tennessee (sans their starting quarterback) handled them in the Orange Bowl. Their unbeaten ACC record probably says a lot more about the state of the conference in 2022 than it does bout their own prowess. In fact, as far as unbeaten Power Five teams go, Clemson was historically bad (or more accurately, mediocre) in 2022.

As I often mention, I have been tracking YPP data back to 2005. In those 18 seasons, only six Power Five (formerly BCS) teams have finished unbeaten in conference play with a YPP Net of less than 1.00. Those six teams are listed in the following table sorted by YPP Net.
There are technically six teams that qualified for this table, but Southern Cal should have a big ole asterisk. I know college football seasons can run together, but remember the 2020 season was played in the midst of a global pandemic. The Pac-12 initially decided not to play football, but eventually played an abbreviated campaign beginning in November. The Trojans won all five of their regular season games, including several in improbable fashion, all while barely outgaining their opponents on a per play basis. Had the Pac-12 played a standard schedule, its unlikely the Trojans could have continued their improbable run, but they did win all their scheduled regular season conference games. The Pac-12 Championship Game was a different story, but remember, I don't include championship games in the YPP stats. Anyway, whether or not we include Southern Cal in this analysis, its clear Clemson enjoyed an historic season in 2022. The Tigers became just the fourth team to finish unbeaten in conference play, finish with a YPP Net of less than 1.00, and win their conference championship game (Southern Cal and Iowa dropped their respective title games). I don't know if all of that will fit on a t-shirt, but Clemson fans can always check Tee Public to see.

Before we close, I think it is helpful to see how those five previous teams performed the following season. Finishing unbeaten in conference play often requires at least a small amount of good fortune and with a YPP Net of less than 1.00, it probably required some additional good bounces. It would stand to reason then, that these teams would see some regression the following season. And that is exactly what we see (teams in the table are listed chronologically).
If we include Southern Cal, this quintet declined from perfection to mediocrity. If we ignore Southern Cal, the decline is still significant, though not nearly as steep. However, the main thing to remember here is sample size. Five (or four) teams is hardly a representative sample. I'd bet against Clemson finishing with a perfect ACC record next year, but I don't think they are in store for a Tommy West style season. Despite his lofty hateability rating, Dabo is at least partially self-aware when it comes to football matters. He fired his offensive coordinator and replaced him with the OC from the national runner up. Clemson may not be as fortunate as they were this past season, but they will probably be better, much to the haters' (myself included) chagrin.

## Thursday, January 19, 2023

### 2022 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 2022 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.
Cincinnati won two more games than we would have expected based on the number of touchdowns they scored and allowed in league play. The Bearcats were involved in a lot of close games, and while their 3-2 record in such AAC contests was not extraordinary, they failed to dominate their conference foes as they had in the past. Three of their six conference victories came by at least ten points, but none by more than twenty. In 2020 and 2021, Cincinnati won eleven conference games by at least nineteen points. Meanwhile Memphis and South Florida won significantly fewer games based on their respective touchdowns scored and allowed. Memphis and South Florida also underachieved relative to their YPP numbers and we went into some reasons for that last.

The End of an Era
Between Cincinnati's loss to Tulane in their regular season finale and their rivalry renewal with Louisville in Fenway Park, Luke Fickell accepted the Wisconsin job. The Fickell era at Cincinnati was an unquestioned success. In Fickell's six seasons, the Bearcats won two conference titles, appeared in three league championship games, and became the first Group of Five team to qualify for the College Football Playoff. Each an impressive accomplishment. However, if the Bearcats had been able to beat Tulane or knock off Louisville in their bowl, they would have added one final feather to Fickell's cap. Had the Bearcats finished ranked in the final AP Poll, they would would have tied Boise State for the most consecutive ranked finishes among non-BCS/Group of Five teams in the BCS and Playoff eras.
Since 1998, five mid-major schools have finished ranked for at least three consecutive season (Boise State, BYU, Cincinnati, TCU, and UCF). Once the 2023 college football season kicks off, only one will remain in the mid-major ranks, as BYU, Cincinnati, and UCF are set to join TCU in the Big 12. Three mid-major schools finished ranked in 2022 (Tulane, Troy, and Fresno State), but neither finished ranked in 2021, so Boise's run from 2008-2012 will remain the gold standard until at least the latter part of this decade.

## Thursday, January 12, 2023

### 2022 Yards Per Play: AAC

The 2022 season is over. As always, the college football season feels like it will never arrive, and then when it does, it ends in a flash. To help you navigate the dark and depressing offseason, we'll be reviewing the 2022 season for each FBS conference through the lens of Yards Per Play and the Adjusted Pythagorean Record. We go alphabetically, so Sun Belt fans, check back around Memorial Day.

Here are the 2022 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 2022 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 Tulane exceeded their expected record while Memphis, Temple, and South Florida underachieved relative to their per play performance. For Navy, being an overachiever is par for the course (more on that in a bit). The Midshipmen and Green Wave combined to go 5-2 in one-score conference games, buoying their record. Tulane also had the best in-conference turnover margin at +9. Meanwhile, Memphis, Temple, and South Florida combined to finish an amazing 0-10 in one-score conference games. Memphis finished a perfect 0-4 in such games while Temple and South Florida were each 0-3.

Protect the Motherland
After the annual Army/Navy game, the United States Naval Academy rather unceremoniously fired longtime head coach Ken Niumatalolo. The firing may have been deserved. Navy has finished with a losing record in four of the past five seasons, but the timing and location were not a good look. But I'm not here to give Chet Gladchuk advice on handling his HR duties. Although, if he is a reader of this blog I do hereby offer my consulting services. No, I'm here to point out how great Ken Niumatalolo was at getting the most out of his Navy teams. Navy exceeded their expected record based on YPP the most of any AAC team in 2022. As I mentioned earlier, that was not unusual for the Midshipmen. Navy has been an AAC member since 2015 and in those eight seasons, they have consistently exceeded the meager expectations set by their YPP numbers.
In those eight seasons, Navy has exceeded their expected record based on YPP by .179 points of winning percentage on average. A few paragraphs up, you'll note that I consider any one season deviation of .200 or greater significant. Over eight seasons under the same head coach, Navy nearly averaged a significant over-performance. In the long run, we would expect most teams to finish close to zero in terms of difference from their expected record. Outlier seasons in one direction tend to be evened out by more neutral seasons or outliers in the other direction. However, it appears Niumatalolo possessed some kind of secret sauce to get his teams to overachieve (it was probably the triple option). For comparison's sake, four other teams managed a positive differential between their actual record and their expected record based on YPP. If we combine those four teams average differential (.142), it would still be less than Navy's.

Before we move on, a few things regarding the table. Connecticut has an asterisk because they left the AAC after the 2019 season. And the last column in the table is simply a way to contextualize the average difference in winning percentage. The number .179 may not intuitively seem large, in the context of an eight game conference schedule, it means nearly an extra game and a half in the standings.

Not only was Navy better than the sum of their parts under Niumatalolo, they also sprung quite a few upsets. In fact, they pulled off the most upsets in AAC play since joining the conference in 2015.
What's that you say? This table is devoid of context. Perhaps Navy pulled so many upsets because they were an underdog more often than everyone else. You make a great point. Context is important.
Not only did the Midshipmen pull the most upsets as a conference underdog, they also had the second best winning percentage as an underdog in conference games.

Navy pulled the most upsets, and they also pulled the most big upsets.
Navy won five conference games as an underdog of ten points or more, with four of the five victories coming over the past two seasons. And once again, it wasn't a function of them playing the most game as a double digit underdog.
The Midshipmen also had the best winning percentage of any AAC team as a double digit underdog. Also, props to Memphis for avoiding being a double digit conference underdog for the past eight seasons.

Niumatalolo was replaced as head coach by defensive  coordinator Brian Newberry. Newberry has been the defensive coordinator for the past four seasons (three of which were losing campaigns I might add). Will the Midshipmen continue to overachieve (at least relative to YPP) under Newberry or did Niumatalolo have some Bill Snyder magic that is impossible to replicate? We'll find out over the next few years. Or maybe we won't.

## Monday, January 09, 2023

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

The college football season is almost over the the NFL regular season is done. Let's take a look back and see how the predictions from our Vegas trip went.

Games of the Year
Things were not looking great after the first few weeks of the season, but our luck improved as the season continued.

College Football Win Totals
Time to brag a little here. The record is actually 15-5, but the San Jose State bet was refunded since they had a game canceled.

NFL Bets
Move along. Nothing to see here. Might be time to consider not making season long plays on the NFL. Most of these missed by a wide margin (Cincinnati and Philadelphia were really good) and I was extremely lucky the Panthers fired Matt Rhule and were able to cash that ticket.

Miscellaneous
I blame the Mets for this catastrophe. They choked in late September and conceded the division to the Braves.

Money Wagered: \$2020
Money Won: \$2462.35
ROI: 21.90%

Not a bad trip if I do say so myself. Hopefully we can keep picking winners on this year's trip.