Thursday, June 22, 2023

YPP Throwback: The 2001 ACC

Our midsummer tradition continues as we take a look back at some pre-2005 Yards Per Play numbers. This week we take a look back at the 2001 ACC. This marked the first time a team other than Florida State won the ACC since the Seminoles joined the conference in 1992. However, as we'll soon see, the Seminoles were the best team in the conference. But lets start as we always do, with the conference standings. 
Maryland won the ACC for the first time since 1985. Under first year head coach and alum Ralph Friedgen, the Terrapins finished an incredible 7-1 in ACC play. To say the result was surprising was an understatement. The preseason magazines picked the Terrapins to finish seventh, just ahead of Wake Forest and Duke. It marked Maryland's first winning conference record (and bowl appearance) since 1990! Were the Terrapins as good as their pristine conference record? Here are the YPP numbers for the 2001 season. 
Friedgen arrived at Maryland after a four-year stint at Georgia Tech where he was the offensive coordinator for the Yellow Jackets. While the Terps were good on offense (third in the ACC in yards per play), they were equally as impressive defensively. While Maryland shocked the college football world by winning the league in 2001, I think the bigger story from that season is the North Carolina Tar Heels. 

Mack Brown dominated the ACC (outside of Florida State) over his final two seasons in Chapel Hill, going 13-1 against the rest of the league in 1996 and 1997. He parlayed his success at a basketball school into the Texas job where he won a national title with the Longhorns in 2005 and played for another in 2009. His successor, Carl Torbush, quickly brought the Tar Heels back to mediocrity, going 16-18 (10-14 in ACC play) over his three seasons. To replace Torbush, the Tar Heels turned to alum and longtime NFL assistant John Bunting. Bunting played linebacker at North Carolina and later for the Philadelphia Eagles and his experience as an assistant coach in the NFL was on that side of the ball. His defensive acumen, aided somewhat by All-American defensive end Julius Peppers, helped the Tar Heels lead the ACC in yards allowed per play. While they ultimately finished with five losses, they were much better than their record and in my humble opinion, may be the best five loss team in college football history. 

How can I make such a bold proclamation? Let's check the schedule. Not only did North Carolina play two Big 12 teams on the road in non-conference play, they played the two best teams. While neither Oklahoma nor Texas won the Big 12 in 2001, most statistical metrics rate them as the top two teams. The Sooners and Longhorns were ranked third and fourth respectively at the time North Carolina faced them, and both finished in the top six of the final AP Poll. Sandwiched between those two teams, North Carolina went on the road to College Park and lost to the eventual ACC champion Terrapins (final AP ranking of eleventh). After that 0-3 start, the Tar Heels dominated sixth ranked Florida State (the best ACC team by YPP standards). The Seminoles finished fifteenth in the final AP Poll. The Tar Heels were still just 1-3 after their unexpected win against the Seminoles. They won their next four games, culminating with a 38-3 beatdown of Clemson in Death Valley. After climbing into the AP Poll, the Tar Heels lost their next two games at Georgia Tech (final AP ranking of twenty fourth) and home to Wake Forest (only loss to an unranked foe). They beat Duke and SMU to finish 7-5 in the regular season and accepted a Peach Bowl berth against Auburn. The Tar Heels won a defensive battle 16-10 to finish 8-5. Their bold non-conference scheduling coupled with a little bad luck in ACC play resulted in five-loss campaign. Switch out one of those Big 12 road contests with an FCS or mid-major guarantee game and couple that with a little better luck in conference play and Bunting's initial ACC sojourn would be fondly remembered by Tar Heel fans. Alas, 2001 was the highwater mark for the Tar Heels under Bunting. The team would win just two conference games over the next two seasons. A rebound to 5-3 (6-6 overall) in 2004 helped him keep his job, but Bunting has relieved of his duties after the 2006 season having not led the Tar Heels to another bowl appearance. The Tar Heels lost more than twice as many ACC games (27) as they won (13) over his final five seasons after their fine performance in 2001. A better record in 2001 probably would not have saved his job five years later, but that 2001 team was not your typical five-loss college football team. 

Thursday, June 01, 2023

2022 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 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 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.
Coastal Carolina was the lone Sun Belt team that saw their actual record differ significantly from their APR. The Chanticleers significantly overachieved relative to their Yards Per Play numbers as well and we went over a few reasons for that last week. 

Last Over First
On October 15th, Old Dominion traveled to Conway, South Carolina to play their second game as a Sun Belt member against Coastal Carolina. The Monarchs won their Sun Belt opener three weeks prior against Arkansas State, but were just 2-3 overall. Their other victory was a memorable upset against Virginia Tech (their second victory against the Hokies in five seasons), but they dropped their other three non-conference games. Meanwhile, the Chanticleers were 6-0 overall and 3-0 in Sun Belt action and just outside the top 25 of the most recent AP Poll. Unsurprisingly, the Chanticleers were favored by double digits. Surprisingly, Blake Watson rushed for 259 yards and the Monarchs won going away 49-21. Old Dominion would not win another game the rest of the season, dropping their final six contests by more than two touchdowns per game. The Chanticleers rebounded from the shocking to defeat to win their next three games and clinch the Sun Belt East. The Chanticleers technically tied for the division title and under normal circumstances would have lost the tiebreaker to James Madison. However, the NCAA, in their infinite wisdom, deemed the Dukes ineligible for any type of postseason play as they transitioned to FBS. Therefore, the last place team in the division defeated the 'division champ'. How often does this happen at the non-BCS/Group of Five level? Not very often. 
In fact, this event is rare enough we can go through each one.

Central Michigan over Western Michigan
Western Michigan was 8-1 overall and unbeaten in the MAC when they traveled to Mount Pleasant in mid-November in 2000. The Chippewas were 1-8, having lost seven consecutive games. The Broncos turned the ball over three times and passed for less than 100 yards in a 21-17 defeat. Central Michigan was blown out by Northern Illinois in their regular season finale while the Broncos rebounded to beat Eastern Michigan and qualify for the MAC Championship Game. The Broncos were forced to play a true road game at Marshall in the title game despite finishing two games ahead of the Herd in the conference standings. Marshall won a tight game and despite a 9-3 record, there were not enough bowl spots for the Broncos and they stayed home for the holidays. 

Central Michigan over Northern Illinois
The Chippewas were at it again eleven years later, handing Northern Illinois their lone conference defeat in 2011. This game came much earlier in the season and after their 48-41 victory, Central Michigan (1-1) was actually ahead of Northern Illinois (0-1) in MAC play. The Huskies would not lose again, closing the season with nine consecutive victories, including a comeback against Ohio in the MAC Championship Game. Central Michigan won just a single game the rest of the season, beating 1-11 Akron by a single point. 

UNLV over Fresno State
Fresh off their first bowl appearance in more than a decade, UNLV finished 2-11 and won just a single Mountain West game in 2014. The Rebels beat Fresno State in overtime in mid-October, kicking off a three game conference skid for the Bulldogs. At 3-6, the Bulldogs rallied to win their final three league games to qualify for the second ever Mountain West Championship Game. The Bulldogs lost to Boise State to fall to 6-7, but still qualified for a bowl game where they also lost to Rice to finish 6-8 overall. 

Navy over Memphis
Navy opened conference play with a 22-21 victory against Memphis. The Midshipmen beat Lehigh the following week, but went two months before their next victory. Memphis actually lost their first two conference games (Tulane) but won five of their last six to finish in a three-way tie with Houston and Tulane. It was a Rock/Paper/Scissors situation (Memphis beat Houston who beat Tulane who beat Memphis), but Memphis had the better division record so they advanced to the AAC Championship Game where they lost to UCF. 

Fresno State over Hawaii
Fresno State entered the 2019 season as the two-time defending division champ. They actually began the 2019 season 2-2 in Mountain West play (4-4) overall, including a tight victory at Hawaii. The Bulldogs dropped their final four league games and finished tied with San Jose State and UNLV at the bottom of the West Division. After their loss to Fresno State dropped them to 2-3, Hawaii won their final three league games with the coup de grace coming in a winner-take-all battle with San Diego State. However, the Warriors did not put up much of a fight in the Mountain West Championship Game, losing to Boise State by three touchdowns. 

Western Michigan over Kent State and Northern Illinois
Western Michigan was the 'People's Champ' of the 2021 MAC by beating both title game participants. They dominated both, beating Kent State by 33 points and Northern Illinois by 21 (in a meaningless game). The Broncos actually finished 4-4 in MAC play, but that was only good for a tie for last place in the West Division

Old Dominion endured a lost season in 2022, but they accomplished something few other last place teams have. In addition to beating one of the conference title game representatives, they also became the only team to beat Grayson McCall in Conway

This concludes our season recaps. Thanks for hanging with us through the first half of the offseason. We will be taking a little break, but we'll be back with some throwback YPP posts in three weeks. We'll follow that up with some First Half Point Differential recaps and a Vegas trip post. And then, it will almost be time for the season to start. Enjoy the start of your summer and check back here in late June. Thanks for reading.