As I joked with Brian Fremeau on Twitter after seeing this, it turns out that advanced stats can quantify brain farts. Who knew?
Category Archives: Stats Geek!
I’ve started pondering what to say in my annual SEC predictions post and I find myself growing more receptive to advanced stats in my analysis. Something else that’s registering with me is Dave Bartoo’s wins matrix, which you can see here. The gist of his calculations is very simple: 79.8 percent of all teams have been plus or minus two games of their previous season win total.
Yes, there are always going to be outliers. Sometimes a team like 2013 Georgia gets crushed by injuries. And sometimes a team like 2010 Auburn emerges unexpectedly because a unique talent like Cam Newton. (There’s also the Malzahn rabbit’s foot that comes and goes.) But in any given year, essentially four out of every five teams’ win totals are going to putter along fairly consistently from the season before.
If you want to see how Dave’s math projects for all P5 teams this season, here you go.
The only interest I have in the Heisman Trophy is that it’s an indication of which teams enjoyed a successful season. Nobody on a 5-7 team will be tripping to New York.
So with that in mind, you may find this Dave Bartoo piece on Heisman winner trends of interest.
This is your top 10 talent ranked teams minus Florida, with a new head coach, and Notre Dame, due to inconsistent play. With 10 of the last 13 winners coming from top 10 talent ranked teams, this is your best ‘odds’ group. Nick Chubb of Georgia, Kyle Allen of Texas A&M, Ezekiel Elliott and J.T. Barrett of Ohio State, and Cody Kessler of USC are my favorites from this group.
Like I said, if that’s the group that makes it to the next awards ceremony, we’re likely to be a bunch of happy campers about the place Georgia is in by then.
Because we haven’t had enough to argue about lately…
There’s an interview over at Football Study Hall with the Arkansas high school coach who’s going to try bringing some rugby-style tactics to his offensive gameplan that’s a good read. But there’s something in particular in it I wanted to focus on. It’s about his motivation for this innovation in his tactics.
The article details how Kelley analyzed a database of college football stats and discovered a strong relationship between explosive plays (specifically 20+ yards) and winning. And further, he found that the more players that touched the football on any given play (3+), the greater the chance of a 20+ yard play. So, while watching rugby on TV one night, he made the connection: why not add laterals as an additional wrinkle to his already innovative offense? Would that increase the likelihood of more explosive plays?
… The idea for Kelley’s newest offensive innovation began with a conversation with Brad Edwards at last year’s Sloan Sports Analytics Conference. Using ESPN’s Stats and Information database for a little while at the conference, Kelley found that winning the explosive play ratio was more important than even winning the turnover margin. [Emphasis added.] This echoed earlier findings…
Last season, Georgia was 32nd nationally in plays of 20+ yards. But when you look closer, it’s more revealing: 10th in rushing plays of 20+ yards; 78th in passing plays of 20+ yards. (Before you ask, Mason was tied for 23rd nationally in interceptions, with four.)
Now certainly some of that is a factor of the orientation of Georgia’s offense in 2014. Georgia ran the ball 555 times, compared to 322 passing attempts. But there’s a little chicken and egg aspect to all of that, too. Georgia didn’t throw the ball as much because it played to its strengths and those strengths didn’t include a serious downfield passing game.
Richt’s pooh-poohed analytics before, so maybe this is something that doesn’t matter to him. But what if behind the scenes, this kind of thinking has factored into the equation? It would certainly reinforce Richt’s general instinct favoring a downfield passing attack as a major part of his offensive philosophy. If so, the question becomes how much risk are he and Schottenheimer willing to tolerate in an attempt to juice Georgia’s offense beyond last year’s record-setting pace.
And just to add one more wrinkle to that equation, Bill Connelly has looked at the data and finds there’s almost no correlation between completion rate and yards per completion, and it’s close to the same story with yards per completion and INT rate. That goes against what I would have expected to see. The conclusion he draws from that:
Well, among other things, quality matters. That’s the ultimate “duh,” but this suggests that quality and skill matter even more than one would think. You can’t really generalize about a QB or a passing game based on merely his per-completion yardage or completion rate.
“Quality matters”. Duh, indeed. But when you’re looking at three guys working with a new offensive coordinator, how quickly can you make that determination?
Why, Bill Connelly’s Georgia preview, of course. I mean, tell me this doesn’t sound familiar:
Georgia blew it last year. Badly.
Mark Richt’s Bulldogs spent most of the last two months playing at an absurdly high level. They crushed Missouri in Columbia, then bolted out to a huge lead and hit cruise control in Little Rock against Arkansas. They laughed at any sort of upset bid Kentucky thought it could make in Lexington, then made the most of a revenge attempt against Auburn. And in the Belk Bowl, they shoved Louisville around like a set of 11 rag dolls.
Combined with a season-opening pasting of Clemson, Georgia had the distinction of being one of the most frequently awesome teams in the country, despite losing surefire Heisman candidate Todd Gurley pretty early.
This frequently awesome team also got thumped by Florida, 38-20, thereby blowing the SEC East.
Hell, it might have been the most befuddling result of 2014. A team that allowed 443 combined rushing yards against Missouri, Louisville, Clemson, Tennessee and Arkansas, gave up 418 to Florida. Florida! A team that otherwise rushed for 167 per game!
If you keep nodding vigorously, it makes it harder to read the rest of his post.
The thing is, Bill keeps coming back to the same perspective most of us have about Georgia in 2015. The Dawgs should win the SEC East, but do you really want to bet the ranch on that happening? Even if most of the arguments against Georgia aren’t that strong when you look at them?
All of these are possible. But Georgia’s odds of winning a division title are as strong as almost anybody’s in the country. Let’s go ahead and walk through some rebuttals.
But Tennessee’s been recruiting so well for two years. So has Georgia. For more than two years. Tennessee peaked with a No. 4 ranking in this year’s 247Sports Composite. Georgia’s recruiting average over the last five years ranks sixth.
But Georgia has to play at Tennessee. True. Auburn, too. And Tennessee has to play at Alabama, Missouri, and Florida. In this year’s Football Outsiders Almanac 2015 (college-only version available for only $6 in PDF form), Georgia’s projected conference strength of schedule ranks 20th in the country; Tennessee’s ranks ninth.
But Missouri’s won back-to-back East titles. True. And the Tigers’ conference SOS ranks only 35th. But no one’s won an SEC division three times in a row in nearly 20 years (Florida, 1994-96), and the Tigers’ defensive line, such a strength in recent years, is rebuilding.
But the Dawgs choke every year. No, they really don’t.
- 2005: Won it
- 2006: Lost out to a better team, eventual national champion Florida
- 2007: Blew it with a dumb loss to South Carolina
- 2008: Lost out to a better team, eventual national champion Florida
- 2009-10: Weren’t good enough to blow anything
- 2011-12: Won it
- 2013: Lost out to a better team, Missouri
- 2014: Blew it with a dumb loss to Florida
Georgia has been the best team in the East five times in the last 10 seasons and has won the East three times. I realize that means they should have won five times, but I’ll take those odds.
And Bill doesn’t even mention there that Georgia’s done more than okay on the road in Auburn over the last decade. But you get his drift.
The bottom line is that Bill is a stats guy. And the stats shriek pretty loudly in Georgia’s favor.
I get that picking Georgia makes you nervous. And maybe it should. But even with a new quarterback and offensive coordinator, the Dawgs are the second-surest thing in the SEC behind Alabama. And considering they play in the weaker of the two divisions, maybe that makes them the surest, period.
The Football Outsiders Almanac 2015 projects the Dawgs fourth overall — ahead of Baylor, Auburn, Michigan State, Notre Dame, and other national favorites — and gives them a 77 percent chance of 6-2 or better in the SEC. For other teams in the East, those are 45 percent (Missouri), 14 percent (Tennessee), 12 percent (South Carolina), and 2 percent (Florida).
Tennessee, et al, might be capable of a run. Georgia simply is.
But Florida… but Florida.
Again, if you want to doubt the Dawgs because of this game, I can’t stop you. I have minimal explanation for it.
In the end, it’s not that Georgia isn’t without its share of flaws. It’s that Georgia is less flawed than any team in this season’s SEC East.
Georgia has enough legitimate questions to make you doubt. The quarterback situation has not sorted itself out yet, the new offensive coordinator isn’t the slam dunk that Pruitt appeared to be a year ago, and the run defense was downright bad at times last fall.
Still, the other East contenders have at least as many concerns and lower upside. Tennessee’s offensive line isn’t guaranteed to improve, and there are serious depth concerns throughout. Missouri is starting from scratch at receiver and on the defensive line. Florida barely has enough offensive linemen to fill a two-deep and has the same quarterback questions as the Dawgs, with fewer potential answers.
You have to go out farther on a limb to pick some other contender to take the East for the third season in a row. Which isn’t nearly the same thing as saying that can’t happen again.
… just because they blew it last year doesn’t mean they will do it each year. Remind yourself of that, even as visions of Kelvin Taylor running wild fill your head.
We couldn’t have said it better ourselves if we tried.
Both share some common themes, for instance, the role a running quarterback plays in changing the numbers game. Adelson quotes Rich Rodriguez.
When Rodriguez first started implementing the spread as an assistant 27 years ago, it was with throwing more in mind. But as the offense evolved, he found himself spreading more to run. The reason? A simple numbers game.
“We felt you had to have less good blocks to have a successful run than if you put everybody in there tight,” Rodriguez explained. “If we got two or three blocks at the point of attack, and the rest of the guys get run over slowly, we’ve got a chance — as opposed to having to make five or six blocks. So that was our reasoning behind spreading to run. And having the quarterback with a threat to run makes defenses play all 11 guys instead of playing 11 on 10.”
And that’s the gist of Dodd’s piece.
Average quarterback rush yards has nearly doubled in the last decade, according to research compiled by SportSource Analytics. Quarterback yards per carry are up 53 percent (1.83 in 2005, 2.83 in 2014).
Rushing yards gained by quarterbacks accounted for more than 15 percent of the national rushing yardage total last year. That’s up from 10.5 percent a decade ago.
It’s no secret why.
“The advent of the spread and the quarterback being a viable runner,” explained Utah coach Kyle Whittingham. “As a former defensive coordinator, that’s your biggest nightmare — a quarterback who can hurt you both ways.”
In that defensive coordinator parlance, an offense that features a running quarterback is called a “plus one.” Simply put, the defense has to account for 11 players, instead of 10. Down through the ages, that hasn’t necessarily been the case. In the last 10-15 years with advent of spread offenses, it’s been the norm.
You can tell from the flavor of both of those quotes that the rise of the spread is another common theme. And, again, it’s hard to argue with the numbers.
Defenses have been struggling to catch up. Over the past three seasons, running backs have averaged 5.1 yards per carry — higher than any point since 2004. According to ESPN Stats & Information, teams faced an average of 6.8 defenders in the box last season, a number that has been slowly dropping since the average was 7.0 in 2011.
Hmmm… that stat rings a bell from somewhere. Oh, yeah.
Note that Georgia and Arkansas, two unabashed pro-style offenses with power running attacks, sit well above that 6.8 DITB average. They’re obviously not playing that numbers game the way Rodriguez does. But what’s interesting is that there’s another common point to Adelson’s and Dodd’s pieces – Nick Chubb. And of course, Chubb doesn’t run from a spread attack. So what’s he doing there? Adelson has an explanation that I can buy into about that:
Traditional power run teams might be dwindling, but some coaches believe they have benefited from the spread too. With more defensive schemes predicated on slowing down the spread, players are not accustomed to playing downhill, power run teams.
Virginia assistant Chris Beatty worked at Wisconsin last year and watched Melvin Gordon run for 2,587 yards — the second-highest total in NCAA history. Gordon is a rare talent in his own right, but defenses not only struggled to tackle him, they struggled to defend the right gaps.
“It’s harder and harder on defenses, and I think an advantage for us at Wisconsin was everybody’s geared to stop the spread now,” Beatty said. “We were one of a handful of teams that runs a pro-style offense, so it creates an issue personnel-wise for defenses — how do they want to be? For us with Melvin Gordon, it was hard for people to match up.”