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.