Can Vandy really win eight games?

I’m not trying to beat a dead horse with this, but in the wake of the comments and links I got after posting about ESPN.com’s Chris Low’s prediction that Vanderbilt would win eight games this season, I wanted to elaborate on why I believe that’s a big stretch.

One of the commenters to that post argued that total offensive yards is a misleading stat in judging the quality of a team.  Certainly any stat can be misleading if taken out of context, but my point was that Vandy was performing poorly on both sides of the ball in terms of total yardage.  It’s hard to succeed if you aren’t moving the ball and can’t stop the other guy from moving it either.

Steele tracks net yards per conference games for the past three seasons in his mag.  As a general rule of thumb, good teams have a positive net and bad teams have a negative net.  More significantly, teams with large positive nets are typically dominant and teams with large negative nets are typically lousy.

Just to give you a few examples, LSU led the SEC last year in net conference ypg at +81.0 and in 2006 at +132.2, while Mississippi under Orgeron went -68.9, -107.3 and -92.3.  The worst number any school posted from 2005-2007 was the 3-8 Kentucky team of 2005 that had a net -142.4 ypg in conference play.

In comparison, Vandy’s current net in conference play is -141.5 ypg.  From a historical perspective, that’s pretty bad.  Granted, that’s only after a two game sample, but neither of the teams the Commodores have faced would be considered SEC powerhouses.

That’s not to say that there isn’t an overachiever or two each year – of course there is.  Last year, Mississippi State had the worst net yardage number in the SEC but still managed to go 4-4 in conference play and finish with eight wins.  The catch is that the Bulldogs’ net figure (-73.4 ypg) was roughly half of Vandy’s current net.  For Vanderbilt to get down to that figure would require it to average no worse than -50 ypg over its remaining conference schedule.  On the surface that doesn’t sound like too high a bar, but it’s about one-third the rate Vandy’s bleeding yardage so far.  Is it reasonable to expect the ‘Dores’ offense or defense to improve that much over the rest of the year?

Vandy’s run is being sustained by several factors, the most significant of which is its +9 in turnover margin, a +2.25 margin per game.  Over the course of a twelve game season, that would translate into a +27 in turnover margin.  If you think that sounds off the charts, you’d be right.  In the last six years, the best turnover margin any SEC school achieved was LSU’s +20 last season.  Vandy’s best previous number under Johnson was +4 in 2004, and it’s the only time the Commodores have been positive in that category while he’s been the head coach.  So there’s little to suggest that that rate is sustainable over the course of the season.

For Vanderbilt to win eight games this year, at worst it will have to go 4-4 in the SEC.  That means it has to win two games against this bunch:  Auburn, Mississippi State, Georgia, Florida, Kentucky and Tennessee.  It’s doable, but the margin for error seems to me to be razor thin.

I’ll say this.  Croom won SEC coach of the year honors last year with what he was able to squeeze out of his team’s efforts.  If Vandy wins eight games with a net conference yardage number over -125 ypg, Bobby Johnson is going to deserve consideration for more than just conference coach of the year.  It would be one of the best coaching jobs ever pulled off.

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9 Comments

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9 responses to “Can Vandy really win eight games?

  1. VandyPhilly

    Again, look at red-zone efficiency. Vandy leads the SEC and is actually perfect for the year (the one official “drive” that didn’t result in a score was when the Dores were running out the clock against Rice and the last run of the game ended at Rice’s 19-yard line). Say what you want, but the team capitalizes on its opportunities and hasn’t been denied ONCE in the red zone; the hidden yardage from punt, kickoff and interception returns simply means that Vandy hasn’t had to generate as many yards to score. As an aside, is anyone fretting that Tebow threw for less than 100 yards and the Gators only had 250 yards of offense against UT? Of course not. Defensively, check out Vandy’s second-half performance–they’ve pitched shut-outs the past two weeks against potent Rice and Ole Miss offenses. This is not the Mississippi State team that lucked up against ‘Bama and Ole Miss in ridiculous fashions last year.

  2. NebraskaDawg

    Vandy,

    Your reality check is in the mail.

    Sincerely,

    The rest of the SEC

  3. Again, VP, I agree that Vandy has done a terrific job of capitalizing on its opportunities so far. My point is that’s going to be a very hard thing to sustain over the rest of the season. And if the ‘Dores do manage it, my hat will certainly be off to Bobby Johnson.

  4. VandyPhilly

    No problem with the thesis, Blutarsky, but as a long-suffering Vandy fan, I just cringe when Vandy’s success is attributed to luck rather than a fast, highly-skilled defense and an offense that has consistently taken advantage of its opportunities. Again, there is no gnashing of teeth in Gainesville this week after a statistically terrible performance by the Gator offense against an SEC defense–different perceptions of the same thing (superior special teams play, other team turning it over at the goal line, etc.). Vanderbilt is not Northwestern, which is 4-0 against non-conference softies…the Dores are the only 2-0 team in the SEC. I’m the first to admit that Florida, Georgia, and Auburn are horrible matchups for us this year, but to think that Vandy has NO chance of beating Mississippi State, Kentucky, Duke, and Tennessee (based on year-to-date performance) to get to 8 wins is nonsensical–they may not do it, but Vandy should be favored in at least three of those games. Heck, Wake Forest isn’t unbeatable, either.

  5. I wouldn’t attribute Vanderbilt’s success so far to luck. I think Johnson’s done a good job of evaluating his team’s strengths and weaknesses and managing the games accordingly.

    But I don’t think the stats can be brushed aside as easily as you suggest, either. Winning games while giving up over 140 net yards to conference opponents isn’t sustainable. Neither is a +2.25 turnover margin per game.

  6. SRQDawgs15

    VP, I actually can see Vandy pulling this off, but let’s not get too carried away. It would still take a lot to get there. As for the red-zone efficiency stats, UGA is 15-16 and that 1 was as time expired in the ASU game, so I don’t see how Vnady is ahead of them in that category. On the other hand, Syracuse is 11-11 in the red zone, so that stat can be a little misleading. Just saying. Good luck to you guys and Go Dawgs!

  7. VandyPhilly

    SRQ: It’s close, but 16/17 (with our 1 being a run-out-the-clocker as time expired against Rice) is percentage points better than 15/16…per the SEC’s official statistics page:
    1. Vanderbilt 4 16-17 94.1
    2. Georgia 4 15-16 93.8
    Oh, and I remember starting 4-0 in Cutler’s senior year before losing to MTSU, so I’m well aware of our ability to lose the rest of our games! But I like our chances against Duke, I like our chances against Mississippi State, I like our chances against Kentucky, and as of right now, I like our chances against Tennessee and, to a lesser extent, Wake Forest. Just take it easy on us next month so we can at least try to win those games!

  8. Tom

    Eight games is a stretch unless Tennessee really is *that* bad, but I could see six or seven what with Miss. State, Duke, and Kentucky still on the schedule.

  9. Carruthers

    I’ve said for a while, give Bobby Johnson a little more time. He knows what he’s doing, and I think that showed in a big way in the win over South Carolina; the defensive schemes might have not considered Jared Cook (Sound familiar?), but the defense forced mistakes, and when you let a dangerous kid like Chris Nickson work an offense, even with a horrid o-line, you will get results.