I hate to pick on my man here, but insisting that unpaid college athletes preparing for the NFL draft should take another one for the team so that we can be entertained by the possibility of an even more lopsided game than we already get with the CFP seems, I dunno, a little selfish on our part.
Want meaningful bowl games? Then ditch the playoffs and go back to the time before the BCS.
If you don’t want to watch bowl games, don’t watch ’em. But don’t use them as a springboard for something that’s going to come with its own set of unfortunate and unintended consequences.
I’m more than familiar with the old saw “lies, damned lies and statistics”, but you can still count me in the group that finds advanced stats useful to evaluate college football teams. In most years, anyway. The problem for me now is how much can you rely on stats in a year that’s proven to be the mother of all anomalies?
Here’s how F+, which is the mashup of Bill Connelly’s SP+ and Brian Fremeau’s FEI metrics, sees the nation’s top teams. (Per the site, “FEI ratings (FEI) represent the per-possession scoring advantages a team would be expected to have on a neutral field against an average opponent, based on opponent-adjusted possession efficiency data. SP+ ratings (SP+) are tempo- and opponent-adjusted measures of college football efficiency based on play-by-play and drive data designed to be predictive and forward-facing.”)
Essentially, Cinci and Georgia are seen as fairly equally matched opponents. Hell, maybe they are. But color me a little skeptical about the data in a year like this one. Essentially, I’ve got three concerns with comparing the two:
Sample size is always something of a concern, even in normal seasons. 2020 is anything but a normal season. Teams played fewer than the usual 12-game schedule, meaning the data points are fewer, too.
Scheduling restrictions make it harder to analyze the data. Georgia played a conference only schedule. Cincinnati didn’t play a P5 program.
COVID and opt-outs meant roster size varied over the course of a season even more than usual. It’s been fun mocking Florida this morning, but let’s face it — the team that played Oklahoma was a different one than the team that played Georgia.
Taken altogether, I’m left with the impression that the value of such stats this year is on the micro level (conference play) more so than the macro level (national play). To illustrate, here are the final numbers on SEC net yards per play I compiled:
As a guide to judging within the conference, it’s a decent road map: one truly dominant team, another three good teams, each with their own set of flaws, and the rest ranging from merely mediocre to downright awful. My overall sense is that 2020 was a down year for the conference overall and I think the ypp numbers bear that out. But are those numbers useful in relating conference strength to other schools and conferences? It’s hard for me to say, even though I know Bill and Brian do a careful, considered job to make that case.
Ironically enough, I was looking to the bowl games to help make that case, but, at least in the SEC’s situation, between the cancellations and opt-outs, that’s becoming almost impossible to assess. I suppose there’s a measure of validation one way or the other to be gained from watching the Peach Bowl. Then again, small sample size, right?
Despite all the obstacles, Monken’s offense has improved (fifth in the SEC at 6.12 yards per play) over last year (eighth in SEC games at 5.39), when that offense had an experienced quarterback, two first-round picks and two more players currently starting for NFL teams.
The trends couldn’t be more opposite if they tried.
Quibble over the level of 2020’s competition as the season progressed if you like, but remember, the 2019 team got to start its season facing a murderer’s row of Vanderbilt, Murray State and Arkansas State, none of whom graced the 2020 schedule.
The story is that Monken and his offense are getting their collective shit together.
Pro tip: Before you label your opponent “not on our level”, you might want to check on your roster first.
“I kind of viewed — I don’t know, maybe this is wrong — that wasn’t the 2020 football team that you saw,” Mullen said of the Gators, who finished 8-4 after dropping their final three games. “There were 25 guys missing off the 2020 football team out there tonight. That was kind of a kick-start for us for the future, an opportunity for the young guys to play.”
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