Thursday, May 25, 2023

2022 Yards Per Play: Sun Belt

I know it doesn't seem possible, but somehow we have arrived at our last conference recap. This week we focus on the Sun Belt.

Here are the 2022 Sun Belt 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 Sun Belt 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 Sun Belt met this threshold? Here are Sun Belt teams sorted by performance over what would be expected from their Net YPP numbers.
Appalachian State and Old Dominion underachieved relative to their YPP numbers while Coastal Carolina and South Alabama overachieved. For three of the four teams, close game results tells the story. Appalachian State, the preeminent Sun Belt program since their arrival in 2014, finished 1-4 in one-score conference games. In the process, they finished with the first losing conference record as an FBS team. However, their one close Sun Belt victory was quite memorable. On the flip side, Coastal Carolina finished 4-0 in one-score conference games while South Alabama was 5-1 in such contests. The reasons for Old Dominion's underachievement are a little less clear. The Monarchs were 1-2 in one-score conference games and had a negative in-conference turnover margin (-2), but the I believe the biggest reason for their underachievement was fourth down variance. In Sun Belt play, the Monarchs attempted fifteen fourth down conversions. They were only successful four times. Meanwhile, their opponents had twenty fourth down attempts, of which they converted thirteen (65%). Those extra possessions cost the Monarchs dearly in their six game skid to close the season.

The Coach or The Quarterback?
For a coach in his mid-forties, Jamey Chadwell has been around the block. The former Coastal Carolina head coach is now at Liberty which is his fifth head coaching stop. Chadwell was successful at three of his previous four stops, making the Division II playoffs at North Greenville, the FCS playoffs at Charleston Southern, and winning two division titles at Coastal. We'll give him an 'Incomplete' for his one year stint at Delta State. His stint at Coastal introduced him to a national audience as his triple-option variant offense helped the Chanticleers solidify themselves as contenders in the Sun Belt. And while Coastal Carolina has been fantastic over the past three seasons, I would make the argument a certain quarterback deserves more credit then Chadwell.

Chadwell's head coaching career at Coastal was a bit wonky. He left Charleston Southern to become the offensive coordinator at Coastal in January of 2017. In July of that year, he was named interim head coach when Joe Moglia took a medical leave of absence. Moglia returned to coach the team in 2018 and Chadwell resumed his duties as offensive coordinator. Moglia stepped down after the 2018 season and Chadwell became the full-time head coach. In all, Chadwell was was the head coach at Coastal Carolina for five seasons (2017, 2019-2022) and on staff for six.

Coastal was known for being coached by a former CEO of TD Ameritrade, but other than that, they toiled in FBS obscurity until Grayson McCall came along. McCall threw four passes as a true freshman in 2019, but was the starting quarterback heading into the wild and extemporaneous 2020 season. His first start for the Chanticleers came in a road win against a Power Five team (granted, it was Kansas) and he never really slowed down from there. If McCall had played 35 years ago, the college football media would have had a great opportunity to christen him with a nickname related to the hero of a contemporary spy thriller (I know the show has been rebooted, but does anyone watch?). But I digress. If you look at the numbers, as we are want to do around here, you'll see that Chadwell has not done much (at the FBS level) without McCall running his system.

This analysis is going to focus on the years that Chadwell was at Coastal as head coach and ignore his one season as offensive coordinator (2018). I wanted to get a clear picture of how Chadwell's offenses performed when he was fully in charge of the team. Check the stats from 2018 and you'll see we are probably doing him a solid by ignoring that campaign for what its worth. Anyway, I am going to compare Coastal's offensive performance against Sun Belt opponents with and without McCall. The results may surprise you.

We'll begin with one of the standard numbers we like to use around here: Yards Per Play. Coastal played two full seasons of Sun Belt action without McCall in 2017 and 2019. He has been around for the past three seasons, missing five total games (one in 2020 and two apiece in 2021 and 2022). Here is how Coastal has fared with and without McCall in that span in each individual season and cumulatively against Sun Belt opponents in the regular season.
Coastal's offense has been more than a yard and a half better with McCall under center (or in the shotgun) versus without him. Even with the offense declining somewhat in 2022 with the loss of playmakers like Isaiah Likely, McCall has kept the among the best in the Sun Belt. For comparison's sake, Coastal's per play offensive numbers with McCall would have ranked third in the Sun Belt in 2022 (behind James Madison and Appalachian State), while their numbers without McCall would have ranked thirteenth (just ahead of Arkansas State).

Yards are nice, but points are what win games. Using the same parameters as before, here is how Coastal's raw point totals have varied with and without McCall.
The Chanticleers have averaged nearly twelve additional points per game with McCall than without him. The difference was especially pronounced in 2022, with the team nearly doubling their points per game with McCall.

Finally, to quote notable talking head and hypocrite, Herm Edwards, you play to win the game. Here is how the Chanticleers have performed in wins and losses with and without McCall.
The Chanticleers have dropped two (regular season) games with McCall at the helm. On the road in a weeknight thriller at Appalachian State in 2021 and a peculiar home blowout to Old Dominion in 2022. I know Troy fans may be miffed at me leaving out the 2022 Sun Belt Championship Game, but again we are looking at regular season games only.

What are we to make of this? I'm not predicting Chadwell will fail spectacularly at Liberty, but I can unequivocally say that Chadwell has not been successful at the FBS level without Grayson McCall running his offense. The Flames are positioned on paper to lord over (see what I did there?) the new look Conference USA, but I would temper my expectations.

Got a problem? Odds against you? Call The Equalizer: 212-555-4200

Thursday, May 18, 2023

Last week we looked at how SEC 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 SEC 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, SEC teams are sorted by the difference between their actual number of wins and their expected number of wins according to APR.
No SEC team saw their actual record differ significantly from their APR.

Biggest Mismatches in Conference Title Games Part II
Last week, we looked at the biggest mismatches in conference title games based on the difference in the participating teams' Net YPP. This week, we are going to do the same exercise, but instead use APR. While I typically list APR as an actual win total, in this table it is listed as a winning percentage so we can get a true measure of the difference since each conference does not play the same number of league games. With that intro out of the way, I present to you the biggest APR conference title game mismatches (since 2005).
The 2022 SEC Championship Game rated as the eight biggest mismatch based on Net YPP and rates a similar seventh in APR. Since 2005, there have been fourteen conference title games where one team entered with an APR at least .300 greater than their opponent. The ACC and MAC have been responsible for eight of those fourteen instances (four apiece). However, the biggest mismatch was the inaugural Pac-12 Championship Game. Oregon was rolling in their third season under Chip Kelly, while UCLA qualified for the title game on a technicality. They actually finished two games behind Southern Cal in the South Division, but the Trojans were ineligible for postseason play

As I mentioned last week, no discussion of mismatches would be complete without a look at how each game played out relative to the betting line. Once again, it is necessary to divide the cohort into BCS/Power Five and non-BCS/Group of Five leagues. Here are the results for the BCS/Power Five conferences.
All eight BCS/Power Five mismatches featured games involving a spread of at least two touchdowns. The favorite won seven of the eight games, with Virginia Tech suffering the lone loss in the inaugural ACC Championship Game in 2005. Favorites also went 6-2 against the spread with Oregon failing to cover their massive spread against UCLA in 2011. Brace yourselves. The non-BCS/Group of Five teams did not fare nearly as well.
The spreads were not quite as high at the non-BCS/Group of Five level, but five of six were at least double digits. However, only two of six favorites even won the game outright. And they were a perfect 0-6 against the spread. I mentioned it last week, but it bears repeating, talent is clustered much closer together at the non-BCS/Group of Five level than at the BCS/Power Five level. While these lower tier teams may significantly outplay their conference title opponents over the course of the season, their raw talent levels are usually closer so they have a hard time covering these large numbers.

Thursday, May 11, 2023

2022 Yards Per Play: SEC

Only two conferences left in our offseason sojourn. After a month spent out west, we return to the south and the place where college football is king.

Here are the 2022 SEC 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 SEC 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 SEC met this threshold? Here are SEC teams sorted by performance over what would be expected from their Net YPP numbers.
LSU and Vanderbilt both significantly overachieved relative to their expected record based on YPP. For LSU, that earned them some fringe playoff chatter late in the season and a spot in the SEC Championship Game. For Vanderbilt, it got them to five wins for the first time since 2018. LSU and Vanderbilt both won the close ones in 2022. LSU was 3-0 in one-score conference games, beating Alabama, Arkansas, and Auburn by a combined eight points. The Tigers were also waxed in both of their conference losses, losing to Tennessee by 27 and Texas A&M by 15. Vanderbilt was 2-1 in one-score conference games, beating Kentucky and Florida in back-to-back weeks for their first league wins in more than three years. While the Commodores won multiple SEC games, that does not mean they played well. In fact, their YPP was actually worse than it was in 2021. Aside from the aforementioned bright spots against Kentucky and Florida, Vanderbilt lost three conference games by at least fifty points!

Biggest Mismatches in Conference Title Games Part I
For the second straight year, Georgia rated out as the top SEC team in Yards Per Play. And for the second consecutive year, the Bulldogs won the East with no problem. If you were paying close attention, you may have noticed their opponent in the SEC Championship Game, the venerable LSU Tigers, were pretty mediocre by YPP standards. The Tigers finished eighth in the SEC and were actually underwater with a negative YPP. This piqued my curiosity. Was this the largest mismatch in any conference title game, at least based on YPP difference? I have been collecting YPP data since 2005, so all the nineties and early aughts title games are not included, but we can still see where this game ranks in recent history.
I was initially only going to include the top ten and then I was going to separate out BCS/Power Five and non-BCS/Group of Five leagues, but there were only thirteen instances with a difference of at least two yards per play, so I included them all. Surprisingly, Georgia and LSU only rank as the eighth largest mismatch in terms of YPP disparity. The ACC holds the top two spots and has the most total appearances on this list with four. All four occurrences feature good to great Clemson and Florida State teams taking on relative also-rans that spun and won the ACC Wheel of Destiny

Of course, what examination of mismatches would be complete without a quick look at how each conference title game played out, both straight up and against the spread. After compiling these numbers, I realized it would be prudent to separate them into BCS/Power Five and non-BCS/Group of Five conferences for reasons you will soon understand.
The BCS/Power Five mismatches ended about how you might have expected. Eight of the nine mismatches involved double digit point spreads, with five coming in at 24 points or more. The favored team won all nine games and covered in seven of nine. Only one game, the 2012 ACC Championship Game, was decided by single digits. Intuitively, this makes sense. Outside of that 2012 Florida State team (which posted fantastic YPP numbers), the other eight teams on this list all eight made the College Football Playoff or played in the BCS National Championship Game. Four won national titles and two others played for national titles. They were supremely talented and its no shock they dispatched their conference title game opponents with relative ease. For the non-BCS/Group of Five teams, well that's another story.
Granted, its a small sample size, but the four mismatched favorites at the non-BCS/Group of Five level went 1-3 against the spread and one actually lost the game outright. Unlike their brethren at the BCS/Power Five level, these spreads were more compressed. Half were single digits and only one was more than twenty points. If you think about it a little, this makes sense. While the BCS/Power Five mismatches often featured teams with massive talent disparities. For example, based on the 247 composite ratings, Florida State was eleventh in roster talent in 2013. Duke was 71st. This is often not the case at the non-BCS/Group of Five level. While Buffalo played much better than Ball State in 2020, the Cardinals actually had more underlying talent

You may have noticed this piece was titled Part I. That often means a Part II is in the works. I'm not Mel Brooks, so there will not be a big gap before Part II drops. Look for it in the SEC APR write up next week.