Sunday, October 8

New statistic: yards per point

There's a great college football preview magazine out there by Phil Steele... most accurate predictions in the country over the last five years or so. It's full of more information than anyone but the most diehard fan could ever want, and one of Phil's statistics is Yards Per Point (ypp).

The idea is that an offense is efficient if their ypp is low, meaning they're turning yards gained into points scored. Likewise, a good defense doesn't let you turn yards into TDs, so a good defense will have a high ypp. Winning the field position battle also creates a favorable ypp statistic. Let's look at two examples:

1. The Texas Longhorns. The defining games of the season for the Horns so far have been Ohio State and Oklahoma. Against the Buckeyes, Texas gained 340 yards and gave up 368, but the score was a 24-7 loss. Why? A turnover on the two yard line killed a likely TD drive, and an interception to start the second half allowed OSU to score a field goal without having to move the ball. A missed field goal also negated a long drive by the Horns, though this also happened to the Bucks on their first drive.
In the Red River shootout, Texas consistently had good field position, and their first two offensive touchdowns needed only 62 and 52 yards. This and the fact that they had no turnovers allowed the Horns to score 21 offensive points despite just gaining 265 yards. OU on the other hand gained 380 total yards but scored just ten points. Five turnovers had a lot to do with that.

2. The Oregon Ducks. The defining games of the season for the Ducks so far have been the Oklahoma and California games. Against the Sooners, UO outgained OU 533 yards to 402, but they trailed 33-20 late in the 4th quarter. The reason? UO turned the ball over four times and forced just one Sooner TO. A -10 yard average punt deficit swung the field position battle, and the kickoff coverage team gave up 123 yards on just 4 returns. On top of that, the Ducks missed a 51-yard FG to wipe out a long drive in the second quarter. So what should have been a comfortable win by the yardage numbers ended up being one of the craziest finishes of the season.
Against Cal, the turnover battle was once again lost by a count of 4 to 1. The Ducks gave up a punt return TD and again had an average punt of under 40 yards. So in this game, the yardage totals were 428 for Cal and 374 for Oregon, but the score was 45-24.

Steele uses this to predict the next year's success - interestingly, with the premise that the law of averages means that team with very good ypp rankings won't have the same luck next season, and a team the poor ypp can only move up.

But how about how the top 25 teams are performing this season? By my rankings:

1. Ohio State: Offense 11.78 ypp, Defense 32.33 ypp
2. Florida: Offense 14.25 ypp, Defense 27.34 ypp
3. Michigan: Offense 11.43 ypp, Defense 17.64 ypp
4. Louisville: Offense 11.90 ypp, Defense 22.91 ypp
5. West Virginia: 10.74 ypp, Defense 23.98 ypp
6. USC: Offense 13.60 ypp, Defense 21.00 ypp
7. Texas: Offense 9.83 ypp, Defense 22.52 ypp
8. Tennessee: Offense 11.97 ypp, Defense 15.04 ypp
9. Auburn: Offense 12.99 ypp, Defense 24.47 ypp
10. California: Offense 11.33 ypp, Defense 17.55
11. Clemson: Offense 10.87 ypp, Defense 16.87 ypp
12. Georgia: Offense 11.22 ypp, Defense 18.19 ypp
13. Iowa: Offense 13.63 ypp, Defense 19.38 ypp
14. Notre Dame: Offense 12.55 ypp, Defense 14.67 ypp
15. Georgia Tech: Offense 12.33 ypp, Defense 17.02 ypp
16. LSU: Offense 11.9 ypp, Defense 20.92 ypp
17. Oregon: Offense 12.68 ypp, Defense 13.28 ypp
18. Missouri: Offense 12.39 ypp. Defense 21.61 ypp
19. Arkansas: Offense 16.73 ypp, Defense 16.26 ypp
20. Nebraska: Offense 11.68 ypp, Defense 21.05 ypp
21. Boise State: Offense 10.52 ypp, Defense 20.72 ypp
22. Oklahoma: Offense 12.26 ypp, Defense 15.31 ypp
23. Va Tech: Offense 10.53 ypp, Defense 19.98 ypp
24. Rutgers: Offense 10.62 ypp, Defense 23.34 ypp
25. Wisconsin: Offense 12.40 ypp, Defense 19.27 ypp

So what does that mean? Well I look for two things:

1) High ypp offense or low ypp defense. These are the teams who aren't playing very efficiently, and that may lead to losses in the future.
* Florida 14.25 ypp offense. They've throw 6 INTs and missed numerous field goals.
* Arkansas 16.73 ypp offense. Averaging 21.2 points on 354.6 yards. That is not nearly enough point production to defeat a team like Tennessee, and yards will be hard to come by against LSU.
* Tennessee 15.04 ypp defense. Opponents are scoring way too easily.
* Notre Dame 14.67 ypp defense. Then again, we already knew UND's defense was weak.
* Oregon 13.28 ypp defense. Good lord. Some of the top offenses aren't averaging the kind of efficiency they're giving up every week.
* Oklahoma 15.31 ypp defense. The big play is killing them; they've got to turn some of these long TDs at least into long plays into the red zone (if not just stopping them altogether), where they have the chance to force a turnover or field goal.

2) Extremely low ypp offense or extremely high ypp defense. The idea here is that they're playing extrememly efficiently, but that might not last all season.
* Texas 9.83 ypp offense. The Horns aren't moving the ball that well, but defense and special teams are helping. How long will that last? Even the 05 Texas and USC offenses weren't this efficient.
* WVA, Boise State, Va Tech, Rutgers < 11 ypp offense. What this really says is that most of their opposition is just too weak to stop a drive.
* Ohio State 32.33 ypp. They're relying a little too heavily on the other team turning the ball over and missing FGs. I don't know that I've ever seen a team finish with a ypp over 30.

Of course, with the teams just starting to get into the meat of their schedules, these numbers aren't as telling as they will be in a few weeks. Just something to keep in mind...

Week 6 - my top 25 and impressions

1. Ohio State - I'd consider myself to have been a healthy skeptic of the Buckeyes for most of the season, but the skepticism can only go so far. The Bucks have the best QB-WR duo in the NCAA with Smith and Ginn, a strong #2 WR in Gonzalez, and have shorn up their defense. The kicking game has settled down since the first two weeks, and they've had comfortable wins over Texas and Iowa.

2. Florida - How'd 99% of people out there miss this team? Well I did too, so don't ask me. Their 1-point win over Tennessee looks a lot better now, and they gained 311 yards against a LSU defense that had been giving up less than 200 ypg, scoring 23 against a defense which had given up just 37 in 5 games. Defensively the team is amazing, with one of the best secondaries in the nation led by Ryan Smith and Reggie Nelson, and the defense is giving up just 56 ypg rushing despite having faced a tough SEC schedule. Tebow is a great change of pace, and when Wynn returns the offense will be even better.

3. Michigan - If Arrington continues to emerge, the offense will have five legitimate weapons which will make them one of the most well-rounded units in the nation. The defense has given up just 40 ypg rush per game, and they have faced Notre Dame, Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Michigan State's offenses. Looking ahead, this stat implies that the Wolverines may match up very well against West Virginia.

4. Louisville - Perhaps more than anyone else, this team exemplifies what it means to have depth. Incurred losses have had no effect on their gameplay.

5. West Virginia - Other than ECU, their wins have been impressive, but in every instance they've been against cupcakes.

6. USC - Struggling with the injury bug and struggling to defeat mediocre teams in conference play. Though they're still unbeaten, that Cal-Oregon-Notre Dame stretch suddenly starts to look like it may be too much for the Trojans.

7. Texas - This week answeed a lot of questions for me. The defense has held its own against two very strong offenses in Ohio State and Oklahoma. While the offense was held to just 7 against the Bucks, turnovers negated them actually gaining about the same number of yards. As McCoy matures, TOs will go down and scoring will go up, as we saw this past weekend.

8. Tennessee - What they've done against Cal, Georgia, and even Florida is impressive, particularly offensively, but at the same time I don't like a defense giving up 30 points to Air Force and Georgia.

9. Auburn - Let's not forget that the Tigers did beat a good LSU team and have one of the best backs in the nation, but at the same time Arkansas did expose their size issues and troubles in the passing game.

10. California - A 21-point win over Oregon is impressive, and now that 18-point loss to Tennessee on the road doesn't look so bad. The offense is incredibly explosive, but the defense hasn't had a truly good performance yet.

11. Clemson - I don't know what to make of this team, but they're unlucky not to be undefeated with a weird loss to BC. The FG block unit has scored two TDs and a 2-point conversion, which is impressive.

12. Georgia - With Tereschinski back, the offensive struggles may be over. The defense, though, was shredded by Tennessee... giving up 51 points is not acceptable for a team with title aspirations.

13. Iowa - Potentially strong, yet inconsistent performances.

14. Notre Dame - Can I gripe for one minute? They're ranked no lower than NINTH in any of the major polls. How quickly people forget their blowout at the hands of Michigan, a fortunate choke by Michigan State, or for that matter the fact that Stanford rivals Duke as the worst team in a BCS conference.

15. Georgia Tech - The win over Maryland was closer than it should have been, but they're a TD away from being undefeated, and that loss was to the team right above them.

16. LSU - The defense is still scary, but not being able to run the ball is a major liability.

17. Oregon - The defense is mediocre, the offense is great, but this team needs to learn how to hold onto the ball. The offense turned the ball over four times against Cal and four times against the Sooners, five of those being interceptions thrown by Dixon.

18. Missouri - They're solid on both sides of the ball, but they have a freshman QB and still haven't beaten a good team.

19. Arkansas - This team's not as bad as they looked against USC, nor are they as good as they looked against Auburn. Their HB duo is frightening, but Mustain's play has been weak for the most part.

20. Nebraska - Okay, so Big Red isn't exactly back. But their rush defense has been solid enough, and have looked good in four of their six games. (yes, we're getting to that level of teams) Frankly we won't know much about them until they play Missouri... well, unless they pull the upset of Texas.

21. Boise State - Undefeated and with a bruising running game... but right now, you could argue that their toughest opponent has been 2-3 Oregon State.

22. Oklahoma - AD's presence means that most defense can't stop them. The problem is, OU's defense doesn't look like they can stop too many people either.

23. Virginia Tech - They still haven't really done anything, but their loss to GT wasn't that bad either.

24. Rutgers - Well they are unbeaten afterall.

25. Wisconsin - Sure, why not. 5-1 record, averaging close to 200 ypg rushing.

Thursday, October 5

Weekend Matchups (Week of 10/7)

Totally delayed on getting stuff posted; I've been busy, and it looks like it'll stay that way. What'd help matters is if I didn't post incredibly, incredibly long entries. This way I wouldn't need to allocate 3 hours per post. Anyway....

(15) Clemson @ Wake Forest
Why to watch: Well, it's for the early-season title of strongest ACC team of the moment. Seriously, who thought Wake would be 5-0 anyway?

What to watch for: Rushing yardage. Clemson now has a dual-threat running game with C.J. Spiller and James Davis (Spiller finally emerged last week), while Wake only goes one-deep thanks to an injury to Micah Andrews - he won't be back this week, either.

What to expect: Again, Clemson has a stronger set of running backs, and I'm a sucker for a strong 1-2 punch on the ground. Oddly, Wake's been having issues stopping the pass (both defenses do a decent to good job of stopping the run), so for all the rushing yardage, Will Proctor might be the difference.

Purdue @ (19) Iowa
Why to watch: Momentum. Purdue didn't really play a bad game last week, but they were outplayed. Meanwhile, Iowa got embarassed at home. Think that'll be a factor?

What to watch for: Defensive disparities. Purdue's been having issues stopping the run - witness the anemic ND rushing attack going for nearly 140 yards last week - and Iowa again has that 2-deep rushing attack I like.

What to expect: I figure Iowa's going to be pissed. When a team is hammered like that at home, they either fall into one of two groups: depressed for the year (the Michigan State side) or looking for retribution. Iowa's probably going to fall into the latter, and while I think Purdue will get their yardage, Iowa has an intangibles edge. Of course, I said this last week about BYU.

Navy @ Air Force
Why to watch: It's the only 2-1 team in the nation. Seriously. AF has only played 3 games so far. Also interesting if you like a) rushing and b) the academies.

What to watch for: options - lots of options. Also, two teams that are very familiar with each other; not only do both teams run variants on the same offense, but they play every year.

What to expect: Navy's triple option: Brian Hampton (QB), Reggie Campbell (SB), Adam Ballard (FB). Air Force's triple option: Shaun Carney (QB), Chad Hall (RB), Ryan Williams (FB). Those 6 guys will get the ball most of the time, and this game will take you back to 1925. This matchup lacks the luster of a lot of other games, but academy games are normally strongly contested and Navy looks like they could be bowl-bound again this year. Both teams could use the win.

Washington @ (3) USC
Why to watch: Tyrone Willingham has the Huskies sitting at 4-1, but this is their toughest test by far. USC is fighting off injury issues at receiver.

What to watch for: We know about USC this year; we know Booty and Moody will be good this year and next, but we also know that they're not the teams of years past. What we don't know is how Washington will play now that they have some confidence (remember that we didn't know anything about the Huskies when they played Oklahoma, really; the general response was "Oklahoma sucks", not "Washington might be good), and that's going to be interesting. What happens if Washington finds themselves close late?

What to expect: Lost in all the talk of offense is that USC still has a pretty good defense; again, it's mortal, though. Look for Washington to attempt to get the ball to Shackelford and Russo in an attempt to stretch the USC D. Shackelford is the better option of the two - he dominated the UCLA game. For USC, they'll do what they always do, and they'll probably do it about as well as they've done it so far this year.

(9) LSU @ (5) Florida
Why to watch: SEC is overrated lolz. Arguably the most complete 1-loss team in the nation going up against an undefeated team that ...well, really isn't getting respect. Also, Texas / Oklahoma is on commercial break (if you're from the Big 12).

What to watch for: Well, defense. Both of these defenses are impressively good, and both these teams have taken the best shot from the best teams they've played so far (Auburn and Tennessee, respectively). LSU's defense rose to the challenge against Auburn (check the stats; they outgained Auburn by nearly 100 yards, even if Auburn won the game. No disrespect against Auburn, either; that was an impressive win).

What to expect: LSU will have to take to the air to win the game. Florida's rush defense has been incredibly impressive, and as I can attest to, running the ball against the Gators is damn hard unless you have a solid back. Speaking of solid backs, Wynn is out for the Gators. This means that the Gators will either have to go to the air or rely on Tim Tebow for their rushing yards. Probably both - but LSU also has two safeties that played for their '03 championship squad. Besides, it's a SEC game between two national powerhouses - all (well, most) eyes will be here.

(7) Texas @ (14) Oklahoma @ Dallas
Why to watch: It's some kind of rivalry game. There's obvious Big 12 implications here, and possibly NC ramifications if the cards fall right. Also, LSU/Florida is on commercial break (if you're from the SEC).

What to watch for: Mack Brown in a big game. I'd really just repeat this about 20 times, but in the interest of the game, you've got Colt McCoy playing a game that's arguably bigger than the OSU game was and Adrian Peterson looking for revenge after missing last year.

What to expect: See above. Colt McCoy shouldn't be counted on to win this game like he was against OSU. Jamaal Charles should carry the game for the Longhorns, and Peterson will carry the Sooners. It'll come down to if Oklahoma can pull out a few stops; remember that this defense was well-hyped coming into the season, and they're coming off a bye week.

(23) Missouri @ Texas Tech
Why to watch: Mizzou's first real test; another opportunity for TTU to get some respect after a tough win against A&M last week. They're still looking to fight off the TCU loss.

What to watch for: Check out the differences in team philosophy; Missouri's had a rock-solid defense all season and TTU is, well, TTU. One of the most obvious "what to watch for" lines on the board.

What to expect: Here's the interesting one. Texas Tech will have issues running the ball again this week, but since they're primarily a passing team, it'll fall to the Missouri secondary to stop the offense. The Tigers shouldn't have an issue moving the ball, though; TTU has given up big games both on the ground and through the air this season, although their big passing yardage mark is a total outlier. Still, Missouri should have some success on the ground, and they'll try to control the game with the rush.

(13) Tennessee @ (10) Georgia
Why to watch: Tennessee's first chance to prove its legitimacy after the Florida game, and Georgia's last chance to prove they're a legitimate unbeaten. (Think about it; if they lose, they can't really prove they're a legit unbeaten.)

What to watch for: Tennessee's running game (or lack thereof?), Georgia's passing game (or lack thereof?). Joe Tereshinski is back for the Dawgs, but Arian Foster will be - at best - limited for the Vols. It's up to LaMarcus Coker to prove that the last couple of weeks weren't flukes.

What to expect: A game that's way, way closer than anyone's figuring. Yeah, Georgia hasn't looked good. Yeah, Tennessee's done well between the hedges the last few years. But it's a night game in the SEC, and you can go ask Auburn what that means.

(11) Oregon @ (16) California
Why to watch: You live on the West Coast; another opportunity for Oregon to silence the critics and an opportunity for Cal to prove they're a legit team in the Pac-10.

What to watch for: Excellent QB play (Dennis Dixon and Nate Longshore) and excellent RBs (Jonathan Stewart, Marshawn Lynch, and Justin Forsett). While Dixon and Stewart are the better talents, Cal does run a strong 2-deep. Plenty of talent in the backfield for both teams.

What to expect: Again, with two great offenses it normally comes down to whichever team can stop them. Oregon's already seen a great RB in Adrian Peterson, and while Cal will give them a different look, Peterson carried 34 times against the Ducks. The most that Lynch and Forsett have carried in a game is 39 times against Minnesota. Similar to Oklahoma, Cal was supposed to have a good defense. This'd be a great time for it to show up for the Bears.

(22) Nebraska @ Iowa St.
Why to watch: If you're a fan of the Big 12 North, this is the game for you. ISU hasn't been on the winning end of a blowout yet this year, and Nebraska is coming off a way-closer-than-expected OT win over Kansas.

What to watch for: Whither the Cyclones' rushing attack? They've been stuffed on the ground the last couple of games, and that won't keep them in the division hunt if that continues. Nebraska should be looking to make a road statement, as Iowa State falls squarely in that area of "not national title contenders, but not bad teams" - and we don't know how Nebraska does against those teams yet, really.

What to expect: Nebraska will get yards one way or another; the only team that's stopped them was USC, and ISU doesn't have near that caliber of defense. Iowa State will do their best to keep the game close, and offhand I'd say this could be a contender for the All-Ugly Game of the Week (non-ACC division).

Other games to watch - quick edition:
Arkansas @ (2) Auburn: a battle for the early driver's seat in the SEC West. Arkansas needs to control the ball more than they do right now, and Auburn needs a decisive win after what came off as a lackluster win against South Carolina. (It wasn't, really.)

Penn St. @ Minnesota: more rushing yards. Offhand, it looks like the Golden Gophers have the better team, but PSU has a better record. Weird. No idea what to expect here.

Pittsburgh @ Syracuse: say wha? Syracuse is 3-2 and a win against Pitt totally legitimizes them for Big East competition. Nobody expects them (or Pitt, really) to do anything other than get waxed by the big guns, but if the Orangemen pull off the upset, it could be a dogfight for 3rd. Pitt has all the pressure, as Syracuse has realistically already exceeded expectations for the year.