## Thursday, April 25, 2024

### 2023 Yards Per Play: Pac-12

The next two weeks will be bittersweet as we wave goodbye to the Pac-12. It would be foolhardy to say the Pac-12 is gone for good (the WAC after all is back -- sort of), but for the next few years at least, FBS will be one conference short.

Here are the 2023 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 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 2023 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.
Washington significantly exceeded their expected record based on YPP while their Apple Cup rivals in Pullman underachieved relative to their YPP numbers. The Huskies finished an incredible 6-0 in one-score Pac-12 games. After dominating Cal in their conference opener (beating the Bears by 27 points), Washington won their final eight Pac-12 games by a combined 49 points (no victory by more than ten points). This continued an amazing trend for teams coached by Kalen DeBoer. In his nine seasons as a head coach, his teams are an incredible 26-6 in one-score games!
He has an unenviable task in following Nick Saban at Alabama, but he might be the man for the job. On the other side of the state, the Cougars finished 1-4 in one-score conference games and also boasted the worst in-conference turnover margin (-8) of any Pac-12 team.

Lincoln's Home Cooking
For the first time in his head coaching career, Lincoln Riley faced some adversity in 2023. The Trojans highwire act from 2022 (combine great offense with bad defense and force timely turnovers) nearly earned them a spot in the College Football Playoff, but the turnover fortune shifted and the Trojans lost five regular season games in 2023. It was very nearly six, but Southern Cal escaped their nerdy brethren from Berkley thanks to a failed two-point conversion. The five losses were more than double the previous regular season high for any Lincoln Riley coached team and for the first time in his career, one of his teams finished unranked. But perhaps the biggest story was how poorly his Trojans performed at home.
During his first six years as a head coach, Riley's teams lost just twice at home. Both losses came during his time in Norman (to Iowa State and Kansas State respectively). The Trojans surpassed that total in 2023, losing to Utah, Washington, and quite embarrassingly to crosstown rival UCLA. The Trojans also struggled at home against the betting line as compared to previous seasons.
During his career, Riley's teams have tended to be massive home favorites, so their home ATS record, while much less sterling than their outright record, was still solidly above the breakeven number for gamblers (52.4%). The Trojans were a dumpster fire at home ATS in 2023, hemorrhaging cash like Truth Social

The move to the Big 10 may cause some logistical issues for a team based in Los Angeles, but I like the Trojans to bounce back in 2024. Lincoln Riley has a proven track record and I'm inclined to see 2023 as an outlier rather than a new normal. Expectations are muted with the loss of star quarterback Caleb Williams, but I could easily envision the Trojans eclipsing their modest preseason win total (7.5).

## Thursday, April 18, 2024

### 2023 Adjusted Pythagorean Record: Mountain West

Last week we looked at how Mountain West teams fared in terms of yards per play. This 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 2023 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.
No Mountain West teams saw their actual record differ significantly from their APR. Similarly, last week we saw that no Mountain West team saw their actual record differ significantly from their expected record based on YPP. The Mountain West was kind of boring in 2023 all things considered.

What's Up with the Hawaii Bowl?
Since Christmas was on a Monday this past year, the Hawaii Bowl ceded its typical Christmas Eve spot to the NFL. But if you stayed up late on December 23rd, you would have seen something both amazing and mundane. Instead of a rotund Turkish bishop defying both the laws of time and physics you got to see yet another double digit underdog win outright in America's most exotic locale.

Coastal Carolina entered the Hawaii Bowl on a bit of a skid. After a 2-3 start gave way to a 5-0 run, the Chanticleers dropped their final two regular season games to Army and James Madison. The loss to the Dukes was not competitive. Couple that most recent data point with the continued absence of star quarterback Grayson McCall and the run that San Jose State was on entering the bowl game (six consecutive wins with five coming by double digits) and its easy to see why the Chanticleers were catching ten points in the betting markets. Despite those ominous signs, Coastal Carolina went up 17-0 in the fourth quarter and after a brief run by the Spartans cut the lead to three points, the Chanticleers put a final touchdown on the board to win by ten points. As I mentioned, this was amazing and mundane at the same time. I suppose amazing may be overselling it somewhat, but most college football fans, even partisan Coastal Carolina fans, probably would not have give their team much of a shot. That is of course, unless they had looked at the recent history of the Hawaii Bowl.
Since 2005, the Hawaii Bowl has seen the most upsets (tied with the Peach/Chick-Fil-A at ten) and most double digit upsets of any bowl game. Including Coastal Carolina in 2023, five underdogs of at least ten points have won the Hawaii Bowl. In 2007, East Carolina upset Boise State as a ten point underdog. In 2009, SMU blasted Nevada 45-10 as a twelve point underdog. One year later, Tulsa pummeled Hawaii as a ten point underdog on Hawaii's homefield. Finally, in 2012, SMU blasted another big favorite (Fresno State) as a thirteen point underdog. While the major upsets took a decade off before resuming with Coastal Carolina's victory in 2023, smaller underdogs won five of the eight Hawaii Bowls contested between 2013 and 2022 (the game was not played in 2020 or 2021). Here are the other bowl games that have seen more than one major upset since 2005.
Other bowl games can hang with the Hawaii Bowl in terms of overall upsets, but no game has seen more massive upsets. The Hawaii Bowl has accounted for twenty percent of all double digit bowl upsets since 2005! Is there a reason for this? Is the Hawaii Bowl uniquely suited for underdogs? I don't have a definitive answer, but I can think of a few possible explanations.
1. Its not a major bowl game -- For all its charm, the Hawaii Bowl will never be confused with the Rose or Sugar Bowl in terms of national importance. This could mean the favorite doesn't take the game quite as seriously as they otherwise might. Which segues perfectly to...
2. Distractions -- Hawaii is a beautiful place and though I've never been, I'm sure there are plenty of beautiful people on the island (both male and female), that could distract a young football player from the task at hand.
3. Weird time slot -- The game is typically contested on Christmas Eve, although there have been a few exceptions in the game's history (including 2023). Regardless, the game is always played close to Christmas which could impact the team's preparation for the game.
4. Unique travel -- Speaking of preparation, the game is a long way from the continental United State. A flight from Los Angeles to Honolulu takes nearly six hours. The long travel can certainly impact the internal body clocks of the players and coaches.
5. Matchups -- In that list of major upsets in the Hawaii Bowl, all the losing teams were from the Group of Five. Despite entering as massive favorites, those Group of Five teams probably had talent levels that were similar to their opponents. They did not have a massive personnel advantage, which is the driving force behind most college football results.
I would love to hear your thoughts. Why has the Hawaii Bowl seen so many upsets? Is there a reason behind it or is this just noise

## Thursday, April 11, 2024

### 2023 Yards Per Play: Mountain West

Six conferences down, four to go. This week, we head west of the Mississippi and examine the last remaining conglomeration of schools in the western half of the nation.

Here are the 2023 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 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 2023 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.
No Mountain West teams saw their actual record differ significantly from their expected record based on Yards Per Play. Nothing to see here.

Mountain West Championship Game Minutia
I don't really have a consistent through line for the Mountain West Championship Game (some may argue this blog itself does not have a consistent through line), but I wanted to share two unique facts surrounding the relatively new title game.

Four years ago, I developed the original (I think) concept of 'The People's Champ' for college football leagues. To be The People's Champ, a team had to not win their conference, but beat both teams that participated in the conference title game. Its a relatively rare phenomenon, occurring just nineteen times since conference title games began in 1992. It happened this past season in the Mountain West with Fresno State knocking off both title game participants (Boise State and UNLV) in back to back weeks. After the Boise State victory, the Bulldogs were 4-1 in league play and were in good position to defend their 2022 conference title. But the Bulldogs dropped their final three games, with two coming to bad teams (New Mexico and San Diego State), and they finished two games behind both the Broncos and Rebels. While a People's Championing has happened nineteen times, this marked just the second occurrence in a conference without divisions (Iowa State in 2017 was the other). While it is never easy to be The People's Champ, it is more difficult without divisions. In divisional play, a prospective People's Champ only has to finish behind one team they beat on the field. Without divisions, they must finish behind two. While Fresno State's regular season ended in a disappointing fashion with three consecutive defeats, it was still quite historic.

Our other Mountain West factoid also involves Fresno State. Compared to other conference title games, the Mountain West Championship Game is spry and youthful. The game has only been contested eleven times. Four of those eleven matchups have featured Boise State against Fresno State (series tied at two apiece). This is tied for the third most common conference title game matchup in all of FBS.
The SEC had a head start on the rest of the college football world so it is no surprise they have the most common title game matchup with Alabama and Florida facing off an amazing ten times! And let's give some props to the MAC, as Marshall versus Toledo is their most common title game matchup despite the Thundering Herd leaving the league two decades ago.

## Thursday, April 04, 2024

### 2023 Adjusted Pythagorean Record: MAC

Last week we looked at how MAC teams fared in terms of yards per play. This 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 2023 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.
Toledo was the only MAC team that saw their actual record differ significantly from their APR. The Rockets finished unbeaten in league play for the first time since 1995. That was mostly due to an unblemished record (4-0) in close games. Half of Toledo's league wins came by a combined fourteen points. This stood in stark contrast to Toledo's close game record from the past few seasons. Between 2020 and 2022, the Rockets were just 3-8 in MAC games decided by a touchdown or less.