Thursday, May 28

Rebuild or Reload?

Porn in college football statistics form has picked up its pre-season pace, and two interesting statistics were released this week: percent of yardage returning on offense and percent of tackles returning on defense.

Of course, this neglects any changes to the offensive line, in a way double-counts passing yardage, and neglects turnovers recovered by the defense. But nobody's claiming this is a great predictor of success. (at the top of one list, UCF returns 100% of their offensive yardage - from an offense that ranked 7th-worst in scoring last season) What it may be useful for is identifying teams who should be able to build upon what they accomplished last season - returning 11 starters means that units should be no weaker than it was a season ago... versus those who might have to play a bit of catch-up to get back to the same level - say, losing your starting QB and top two RBs.

Medians were around 71% returning yardage, 66% returning tackles.

Of our likely BCS contenders:
Alabama: 42% yardage, 85% tackles
Florida: 76% yardage, 99% tackles
Mississippi: 89% yardage, 66% tackles
Ohio State: 50% yardage, 58% tackles
Oklahoma: 80% yardage, 80% tackles
Oklahoma State: 89% yardage, 68% tackles
Penn State: 69% yardage, 56% tackles
Texas: 80% yardage, 76% tackles
USC: 55% yardage, 46% tackles

... I'm actually not going to talk about the ACC/Big East, since it looks like 8-4 might be good enough to land a BCS bid there. Oh, and lest I forget:
Baylor: 88% yardage, 81% tackles. Cream, bitches. Shitty December bowl.

Florida is a whole 8% above the next-highest school in returning tackles, and 14% ahead of the next-highest school that actually had a competent defense last season (Alabama). UF had a defense ranked around 4th last season... all 11 starters and most of the backups are back again in 2009. This should be a fearsome unit.

Oklahoma State and Mississippi are in the similar situations of being sleeper teams, arguably the third-best in their conferences - conferences that both got at-large bids last season and are likely to produce two BCS teams again. Both return essentially all of their offensive production, while both just barely return an above-average amount of tackles.

More interesting are the four teams that have definite concerns.

Alabama, while their defense should be on a similar level as last season, is 99th nationally in returning offense. I'm not sure that losing John Wilson is much of a loss, aside from his ability to manage a game - which I expect any Nick Saban quarterback to be able to do. (Watching 10 hours of game film a day does that. Free time's for pussies.) Losing Glen Coffee and Andre Smith will be tougher to deal with. Overall, I expect this offense to be about the same as last year.

Penn State will be hurting the most of the four. While Darryll Clark and Evan Royster return, PSU loses their entire receiving corps, including Derrick Williams who also scored 3 TDs on special teams. The defense is in shambles with the entire secondary gone as well as two NFL draft picks at DE. Penn State has an extremely easy nonconference schedule, they face Ohio State at home, and if you believe this team will be good - they also face Iowa at home. I wouldn't rule out a BCS season for those reasons. But this team will not be the same quality it was in 2008, and we saw what that got them in the Rose Bowl.

Our last two teams are Ohio State and USC, near-perennial BCS representatives who have dominated their conferences - USC in particular. This game was surprisingly lopsided last season, as USC showcased not only higher skill, but a complete dominance of the game planning and adjusting. Buckeye fans are licking their chops at the opportunity to see Terelle Pryor take on a USC defense that will be losing 9 starters. But what of their own team?

Ohio State loses experienced QB Todd Boeckman, although he is replaced by a more gifted athlete in Terrelle Pryor. While this will be mostly positive, I'm not sure that the Buckeyes won't miss his experience at some point, as it still remains true that every BCS champion has featured a Jr or Sr starting QB. More concerning are the losses of Beanie Wells, Maurice Wells, Hartline, Robiskie, and Rory Nicol. That's just the lost production. Boone, Rehring, and Person will be gone from the line. This offense should have one heck of a learning curve, but against many opponents Pryor's legs may be able to bail them out. Then there's the defense. The LB corps is depleted with the losses of Laurinaitis and Freeman. Thorpe winner Malcolm Jenkins and Nate Washington are gone from the secondary. Nader Abdallah leaves a big hole to fill up front. Let me be clear that, were it not for Terrelle Pryor, I'd expect this team to drop. With Pryor, who knows - OSU is helped by the fact that their closest Big Ten rival is in a similar predicament and they face USC after just one game with a completely new Trojan defense. But I'm highly skeptical of a perfect season.

Three seasons ago, USC lost Matt Leinart, Reggie Bush, and LenDale White but still won 11 games and would have faced _Buckeye_ for a national championship were it not for a bizarre loss to rival UCLA. That is the kind of quality recruiting that goes on at this program. For example, Aaron Corp should be an upgrade from Mark Sanchez at QB - mobile enough to evade and improvise even if his skills/their system won't have him producing much as far as rushing totals. Patrick Turner and Vidal Hazelton were never dominant receivers the way Mike Williams and Dwayne Jarrett were, and USC has plenty of depth that can step in and maintain that level. The entire RB corps (Joe McKnight baby!) and offensive line return. Suddenly, that 55% returning yardage sounds more like 95%. Defense is another story. In 2008, USC fielded a defense that was easily the program's best of the BCS era. Pete Carroll has got one hell of a pipeline going, but there is no reason to believe a second Rey Maualuga is waiting in the wings - not this season anyway. Six of the front seven that made this defense go have graduated or left, along with both starting corners. The lone bright side is the return of Taylor Mays, probably one of the top two safeties in the country. I don't know what the statistics will bear out, since the Washingtons may still not be good enough to qualify for the FCS tournament, but the defense is hurting for experience if not talent, and I do not expect it to be a top 10 unit. Their truest tests will come against teams fielding mobile QBs, where lane discipline and containment become more important.