Five Things I Love About SEC Football

March 3, 2009

Recently, ESPN’s SEC blogger Chris Low did a list of five things he loves and hates about SEC football. It seemed like a good idea, so here are my votes on what I love. Feel free to leave yours in the comments, and it doesn’t count if a thing you love is your team. That’s obvious. The hates are coming up soon.

1. The camaraderie

Fans from other conferences hate it, and it can get tiresome from time to time. Even so, I love the collective spirit within the conference. The schools are like 12 brothers: there’s rivalries and resentments, but in the end we’re somehow all in this together.

My favorite example from last year was when College GameDay went to Vanderbilt. A lot of people barely even consider the Commodores part of the conference in football thanks to their historical struggles, but the “S-E-C” chant came out loud and clear. Even the nerdy brother is in on this.

2. The high level of competition

The SEC had a down year in 2008, but that’s forgivable considering the amazing run of success this decade (and it still produced the national champion). For as long as I can remember, it’s been an “any given day” conference.

I mean, even in 1996 when Florida set a record by winning five SEC games by 30 points or more, one of the close wins was by seven over 2-9 Vanderbilt. If you don’t show up ready to play, you can get a run for your money or even beat.

3. Bryant-Denny Stadium on game day

I’ve only been once, and it was in 2005 when Alabama massacred Florida 31-3. The feeling before the game was that the fans were eager to prove that Alabama was “back,” and it sure seemed like they did on that day. As it turns out, they feel like they need to prove that they’re “back” every four or five years.

Anyway, the Tide fans brought their A-game that day and it was the closest I’ve ever heard to the Swamp’s A-game in another venue. When they yelled “we just beat the hell outta you!” near the end, I cringed for the young ears in attendance, but it was impressive to hear as a visitor. If I ever go back to see a game without my Gators involved, I’ll be cheering for the Tide.

4. The insanity

To thrive in a high pressure environment, it often takes a special kind of crazy. It just so happens that there isn’t a higher pressure conference than the SEC.

You’ve got the intense, all-business types like Nick Saban and Urban Meyer (and Dan Mullen, I’ll predict). You’ve got Steve Spurrier, who had to be at least a little nuts to bring his pass-first style into a run-first league. Lane Kiffin can’t resist stirring the pot it appears, and he is employing Ed Orgeron, a man who probably shouldn’t be trusted with a properly sharpened pencil.

Rich Brooks has his famous, ahem, vocabulary. Houston Nutt is crazier than a sack of weasels. Everyone agrees Les Miles is crazy, but I’m with those who say he’s crazy like a fox. Gene Chizik may not be crazy (yet), but the people who hired him in the Auburn athletic department sure are. Bobby Petrino apparently has a pathological need to switch jobs every so often.

Just about everyone is nuts, and I love it. It’s never boring around these parts.

5. It’s always football season

There are four seasons in the SEC: football season, recruiting season, spring practice, and summer workouts. Sure, there’s other diversions along the way like basketball and baseball, but in the end, it’s all about football.

There are probably a million reasons why, but it pretty much has been that way forever for the whole league except Kentucky. When you win a national or conference championship in football, you just say you’re national or conference champion. Every other sport requires you to say that sport’s name along with the champion part. That just about says it all.


How I Would Explain the BCS to Mack Brown

February 27, 2009

Texas head coach Mack Brown is bringing in some BCS experts to explain the system to him and his players. Since the BCS poll was used as the Big 12 divisional tiebreaker (and that system has yet to be overthrown), it makes sense that he’d want to understand it better.

Coaches in general make a lot of flippant remarks about how they don’t understand the BCS, so I give Brown a lot of credit for wanting to know more. He’s going about it in a logical way by bringing in experts.

He’s also going about it in an expensive way. Just taking an afternoon and reading some old posts by the BCS Guru would probably be enough. Or, he could just read this guide that breaks it down within its component sections.

The Coaches’ Poll

The Coaches’ Poll should be very familiar to Brown. He was a voter in it last year.

It’s the oldest component of the formula and carries the most tradition. On the surface, it makes sense to poll the coaches. Most are getting paid millions of dollars to teach the game to the fine collegiate athletes of this nation, so wouldn’t it make sense to ask the experts for their opinions?

It’s all great until you take a peek at the coaches’ schedules. I personally have not, but Brown can look at his. I’d be willing to bet that everything on it during the season is in some way related to helping the Texas Longhorns win football games.

In short, the Coaches’ Poll is getting the opinion of people who don’t actually watch many college football games. They know their team and they study their opponents. They have no way of making an informed opinion on all 119 teams, or even just the 66 BCS conference teams, because they don’t have the time to do so.

When pondering what kept his team out of the Big 12 title game Coach Brown asked, “[i]s it margin of victory? Was it not scoring more because if it doesn’t matter to the computers it does to the human vote?”

Well, I know he didn’t watch the Alabama vs. Georgia or Florida vs. Georgia games because Texas was playing Arkansas and Texas Tech, respectively, on those days. Which do you think he probably thinks was more impressive, Alabama’s 41-30 win or Florida’s 49-10 win? I’d bet he’d say Florida’s victory, but really each was about equally as dominant. Alabama just allowed window dressing points while Florida did not.

That’s the problem with the Coaches’ Poll. The coaches don’t watch many games other than their own, which makes their ballots mostly guesswork. They’re also prone to lazy voting where guys move teams around solely on one week’s results instead of stepping back and doing thorough evaluations.

The solution, as Texas found out, is to go Oklahoma’s route and run up huge scores to impress those people who have no idea what really went on in the games.

The Harris Poll

The Harris Interactive Poll replaced the traditional AP Poll, something Brown is probably also very familiar with. It’s not quite so simple to figure out as its predecessor, which simply consisted of sportswriters. Harris Interactive, a polling agency, describes its poll as follows:

“This year, the BCS has again commissioned Harris Interactive to construct a panel of former players, coaches, administrators and current and former media who are committed to ranking the college teams each week during the 2008 college football season. Panelists have been randomly selected from among more than 300 nominations submitted by the conference offices and the independent institutions. The panel has been designed to be a statistically valid representation of all 11 Division I-A conferences and institutions participating in the Bowl Championship Series.”

Basically, every conference and independent in Division I-A gets to nominate some people with ties to the game. Harris then selects a group of them to give everyone proportionate representation. Sounds good, right?

The first problem is that there’s no quality control on the nominations. The conferences can put up anyone they want and Harris doesn’t screen them after that. They could put up a former player who’s been selling insurance for the last 30 years, and that person would have a legit shot at voting.

The second problem is that no one keeps up with the voters to make sure they are actually following the sport. They could be watching even less football than the coaches do. We saw this with Pat Quinn, a 2008 Harris Poll voter who last December thought that Penn State was still undefeated.

The “Computer” Polls

People call the final element “computer” polls for convenience, but they are really just math formulas. They are included as a check against the human polls, which can be influenced by things like allegiances and tradition of schools.

They are supposed to be impartial, but they’re not. They emphasize what their creators believe to be important, reflecting the bias of the mathematician who put it together. That’s fine if the person is reasonable, but it’s bad if the person is not.

They also are limited because they are required to ignore margin of victory. Brown was right about that in his comment that I quoted above. However, that means that the people who put the polls together (most famously, Jeff Sagarin) don’t get to release what they feel is correct.

There are six formulas. Each team’s highest and lowest ranks are tossed out to get rid of any outliers, and the rest are added together to form the third part of the formula.

These formulas are not be able to account for who’s hot, see head-to-head results, or react to injuries. However, that’s exactly their point.

In All

One third of the system is people who know a lot about football but who watch almost no games.

One third of the system is people who may or may not know football that well anymore and who may or may not even pay attention to the scores and standings.

The final third is aggregated formula results that are crippled by the restriction against margin of victory and in at least one case, by its maker’s alarmingly incoherent methodology.

Makes perfect sense, huh?


How to Setup a Perfect Option Play

February 25, 2009

As unbelievable as it would have sounded in 1996, Florida has turned into one of the best option football teams in the country. The Gators use it about as effectively as anyone else, and it is a major part of the offense.

Since Florida doesn’t use the option as its primary offensive play like Nebraska used to or Navy currently does, it can be even more effective than normal if the Gators set it up properly. Of course, having devastating backfield speed helps it succeed as well.

Here I’ll show you how Florida set up an option play against LSU this past season to score a back breaking touchdown.

thesetup

This is the play prior to the option. TE Aaron Hernandez is lined up on the left side of the line, but the formation’s prominent feature is the bunch of receivers on the right. RB Chris Rainey is in the backfield to QB Tim Tebow’s left.

What ends up happening is a rather pedestrian hand off to Rainey who gets a rather pedestrian three yards. The receivers did a pretty good job of blocking for him, but the middle linebacker followed Rainey the whole way and made the stop.

The next play is from the right hash in practically the same formation.

theformation1

This time the running back is Jeff Demps, and he lines up on Tebow’s right. Otherwise, the formation is identical. It’s an unlikely proposition though that Florida would run the same play twice in a row, especially since the right side is now the short side of the field. Urban Meyer’s philosophy is to get players into open space, after all.

Anyway, LSU lines up in exactly the same defense and prepares to defend the formation exactly the same way. The Tigers are in a basic 4-3 defense with the safeties in cover 2. Each safety will move forward to provide support on his side.

Hernandez will peel off of the line immediately to block the outside linebacker. LT Phil Trautwein will go upfield to take on the middle linebacker. The two guards will go for the two defensive tackles, but C Mike Pouncey pulls away and shoots between the defensive end and left DT. His target is actually the left safety.

As is often done on option plays, the defensive end will not be blocked. He must decide to play the quarterback or running back, and if all goes according to plan for the offense, whoever he doesn’t go for will spring for a big gain.

thepitch

Here we can see Hernandez engaging the linebacker on the left, and he will drive him towards the sideline. Trautwein has already taken out the middle linebacker. Mike Pouncey can be seen running through the line to go take on the safety.

Right guard Maurkice Pouncey tried to cut block his defensive tackle by diving at his feet. After all, since the play is to the left, he doesn’t have to get much of a block. However, the tackle sidesteps the cut block and can be seen pursuing Tebow.

At this point, LSU would seem to have defeated the play because the tackle can go for Tebow and the end can go for Demps. The only problem with that is that the end doesn’t know it, and he stays locked on the quarterback.

Tebow pitches to Demps, and the running back uses his speed to go right by the defensive end. There’s plenty of open space ahead for him to run in.

thecutback

Now out in the open field, Demps is running towards the sideline. He had to swing wide of the DE, and that is also the direction the blockers are going in.

Demps is not content simply to head out of bounds for a big gain though. He knows he has excellent speed to get even more. So, he cuts back once he has cleared the DE and is behind the blocks. Hernandez has done a great job of keeping his man contained and Mike Pouncey is about to push the safety over.

In the upper right you can see a couple other LSU defenders coming over to try to help, but it is far too late at this point for them to be of assistance. Demps is too fast for that.

thefinal

The safety that Mike Pouncey blocked is in the bottom middle, getting back up to his feet after having been knocked over. All of the defensive linemen and linebackers who had been in pursuit can be seen in the bottom right as they slow down. They know they can’t catch up.

That leaves one man to beat: the other safety. Once he recognized that the play was not to his side, he made a beeline to the other and as you can see, he took an excellent angle.

Unfortunately for him, Demps turns on his afterburners at about the 15 yard line. The diminutive ball carrier also changes his angle to go more towards the corner to escape the oncoming defender. The safety finally catches up at the one yard line, just in time to give Demps a helpful shove in the back as he crosses the goal line.

Here’s the play in real time from both the normal camera angle and the blimp shot. Gary Danielson does a quick rundown of what I laid out here in depth. I like how instead of discussing angles at the end, he opts instead just to say “ZOOM!” If I wasn’t a Gator fan, I’d probably hate him by now.

This touchdown put Florida up 34-14 with a minute to go in the third quarter, effectively icing the game away for good.

Wrap Up

Two main factors helped make this play a success. One is the outstanding speed of Jeff Demps. A slower back would likely have been tackled by the defensive end at the cutback stage, as that window was very small. Plus, someone with less speed would definitely have been tackled short of the goal line by the second safety.

The second factor was the setup for the option with the previous play. That one made it appear that the bunched receivers were there to serve only as blockers, and by running behind them, it drew the defense’s attention like a magician’s beautiful assistant.

While they were blockers the first time, the second time they were only there to keep four extra defenders on that side. It opened up the rest of the field, and by having the quarterback be a threat to run, Florida created a numerical advantage on the left.

Most modern offensive football theory one way or another revolves around creating a numerical advantage. The option is one way to do that, and if you set it up correctly, it can be devastating.


Points per Drive in 2008

February 23, 2009

Perhaps the most important thing you can do in football is to maximize the return of your offensive possessions. You only get so many per game, and you don’t fully control how many you get. If your opponent is determined to sit on the ball for most of the contest, you simply won’t get as many chances to score as you otherwise would.

Some people may disagree with that though. They may argue that the most important thing you can do in football is to ensure your opponent gets the least out of their possessions as possible. A stifling defense can make up for offensive struggles and give the offense more possessions with which to work.

Regardless of which side you believe in, the same stat can be used to figure out how well your team is doing at both: points per drive. It’s not perfect since things like special teams and turnovers can affect that stat, but I think I can show that it’s pretty darn good at measuring how good a team is.

To calculate points per drive, you need two parts: points and the number of drives. Figuring out points is the easy part since you just look at field goals, rushing touchdowns, and passing touchdowns. That filters out special teams and defensive touchdowns.

I left out extra points and two point conversions because they have little to do with how offenses and defenses truly perform over the course of a game. I had no choice but to leave in lost/gained fumbles in special teams situations since there are no stat sources that separate them out. I’m mostly fine with that though since gaining or losing a fumble in special teams results in gaining or losing a possession. PATs on the other hand do not have anything to do with possession counts.

To calculate number of drives, I added up the following categories: punts, fumbles lost, interceptions, failed fourth down conversions, field goal attempts, and touchdowns of the rushing and passing variety. The NCAA official stats only have the offensive version of these stats and a few of the defensive, but the fantastic site cfbstats.com fills in the rest.

The top ten teams in offensive points per drive were the following:

  1. Texas Tech – 3.27 points per drive
  2. Oklahoma – 3.24
  3. Florida – 3.22
  4. Texas – 3.17
  5. Tulsa – 3.12
  6. Oklahoma State – 2.92
  7. Missouri – 2.89
  8. Penn State – 2.80
  9. Rice – 2.70
  10. Ball State – 2.698

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If you read any of my pieces on pace, this list will look familiar. All of these teams were either in the top ten of yards per play or points per play. The fact that they appear here should not be a surprise.

Here are the top ten teams in defensive points per drive:

  1. USC – 0.65 points per drive allowed
  2. Boise State – 0.75
  3. TCU – 0.79
  4. Iowa – 0.95
  5. Alabama – 0.98
  6. Ohio State – 0.99
  7. Florida – 1.00
  8. Boston College – 1.02
  9. Penn State – 1.09
  10. Utah – 1.13

Interestingly enough, Florida and Penn State are the only two teams in the top ten of both. If I said earlier that there were two teams were in both, I’d imagine many people would pick out UF, but probably not Penn State.

In any event, these two measures are not infallible predictors of great success. Houston (8-5) was 11th and Arizona (8-5) was 14th in offensive points per drive. Tennessee (5-7) was 11th and Clemson (7-6) was 13th in defensive points per drive.

In order to find out how good of predictors of success these measures are, I decided to run correlations for them with winning percentage.

I fully expected to see the negative correlation of defensive points per drive to be stronger than the positive correlation of offensive points per drive with win percentage. After all, how many times have we all heard that defense wins championships? Probably more than we can count.

Having been a believer in that myself, what I found shocked me.

The correlation of offensive points per drive and win percentage was 0.715. The correlation of defensive points per drive and win percentage was -0.711. In other words, there basically is no difference in their ability to predict success. Offense and defense are equally important.

Now, that is only one year’s worth of data at work. I can really only say that offense and defense were equally important in 2008. I am in the process of running data on past years to try to get a better idea of how they relate. For now though, they’re equal.

The next obvious step was to try to synthesize these two into one measure to see how high a correlation I could get. It is not as simple as adding the two numbers together because with one, a high number is good and with the other, having a low number is good.

I chose to go the route of deviation from the mean. So for offensive points per drive, I simply subtracted the mean from the team’s number. For defensive points per drive, I subtracted the team’s number from the mean. I then added those two together.

That process gave a single number to correlate with winning percentage. For now I’m calling it combined points per drive, but if you have a better name, leave it in the comments.

First, here are the top ten teams in combined points per drive:

  1. Florida – 2.12
  2. USC – 1.90
  3. Texas – 1.68
  4. Oklahoma – 1.65
  5. Boise State – 1.63
  6. Penn State – 1.61
  7. TCU – 1.46
  8. Tulsa – 1.25
  9. Texas Tech – 1.222
  10. Utah – 1.220

The worst record among them is Tulsa’s 11-3 mark. All eleven teams with a winning percentage above .800 are contained in the top 13 spots.

Given those observations, it should come as no surprise that the correlation between combined points per drive and win percentage is 0.923 for 2008. That is an extremely high correlation and about as high as you can expect for just two stats put together.

The important thing to remember is that this describes what teams did in the context of their opponents. This stat has not been adjusted for strength of schedule, so it would not make sense to take the above list and proclaim that Boise State is better than Penn State because of a 0.02 difference between them. A WAC schedule just doesn’t compare favorably to a Big Ten schedule, regardless of what you think of the current state of the Big Ten.

The top four beg some sort of interpretation though. It puts Florida and USC well ahead of the top two Big 12 teams, Texas and Oklahoma.

One way to interpret it is to say that Florida and USC were the two best teams and should have played for the national title. After all, there really isn’t that big a difference between the top five or six conferences.

Another way to interpret it is to point out that the Pac-10 and SEC were down, while the Big 12 had perhaps the best year of its entire existence. Of course Texas and Oklahoma would be lower; they played in the season’s toughest conference.

As I said I haven’t adjusted for schedule strength, so until and unless that happens, the debate will remain open. For what it’s worth, the NCAA says Oklahoma, Florida, and Texas (in that order) had the top three toughest schedules. USC’s slate clocked in at No. 38.

Regardless, the stat of combined points per drive seems to be a very accurate indicator of what degree of a winner a team was. I plan to explore this one further to see what else it might hold in store.


A Wrapup On Pace in 2008

February 20, 2009

The past four days I’ve posted topics on how pace affected football in 2008. The primary impetus for doing the series was to put Oklahoma and Tulsa in their proper historical context.

Oklahoma scored the most points ever in a season, and Tulsa gained the most total yards ever in a season. When two records like that fall in the same season, especially one where a clock rule change reduced plays per game and scoring from the old rules, it’s worth taking a look to see why that might have happened.

The easiest answer is that both OU and Tulsa played in 14 games. The twelfth game added to the schedule earlier this decade, when combined with conference championship games and bowls stats counting towards season totals, basically meant that it was a matter of time before some of these records fell. Anything set back when the season had only 11 games and bowl stats didn’t count towards season stats was doomed.

The extra game doesn’t tell the whole story, though. Each of these records, both points scored and yards gained, were set by 2006 Hawai’i. That team played 14 games, and that season’s clock rules lowered plays per game and scoring even more than 2008’s clock rules did. The extra game helped OU and Tulsa pass most teams, but it was not the deciding factor in breaking the records.

That is where playing at a faster pace comes in.

There are distinct advantages to running a hurry-up offense full-time beyond just getting more opportunities to score. When you go at a faster pace, you can disrupt the defense and gain an advantage. The defense may not be set every time and it will not be able to substitute as often. Plus, your team is better conditioned to play at the faster pace than a team that doesn’t, so you can tire out the other side too.

Whether each team has six drives apiece or 15 drives apiece during a game, you still want to score on more of them than the other guy. Cranking up the pace is done with the idea of gaining an advantage that you cannot get at a normal pace and exploiting it to score more often than the other team.

Oklahoma chose to turn up the pace in response to the new 40 second play clock. Gus Malzahn of Tulsa has long been a proponent of the hurry-up, and you can purchase his book on the topic on Amazon. The end result of each team’s fast paced attacks was two big records falling.

As I mentioned yesterday, 1989 Houston still holds the record for points per game. That 2006 Hawai’i team that used to hold the total yards and points records still holds the yards per play record at 8.6 as well. Since Tulsa and Oklahoma do not now hold the rate records, only the total records, it is reasonable to conclude that the records fell almost entirely because of each team’s fast pace allowing them to run more plays than teams in the past.

I want to be clear about one thing though. I am not trying to bring down either of these teams. Each turned in remarkable offensive seasons that are among the greatest college football has ever seen.

There also is no way of knowing if those Houston and Hawai’i teams of the past could have kept up their rates at the faster pace either. After all, 1970 Notre Dame holds the plays per game record at an astonishing 92.4, but that Irish team doesn’t hold any other records to go with it. It’s one thing to theorize what a team could do, but it’s another to actually do it.

Bill Simmons of ESPN.com wrote a piece recently on the way that Mike D’Antoni’s “seven seconds or less” offense affected stats in the NBA. The most dramatic effect was taking Steve Nash and turning him from a good point guard into one of only nine players ever to win back-to-back MVPs. Simmons then showed that Nash’s stats from this year without D’Antoni are nearly identical to his stats from his pre-D’Antoni Dallas days.

As a fan, I have absolutely nothing against fast-paced offenses. I loved watching D’Antoni’s Phoenix Suns teams, and what I got to see from Oklahoma and Tulsa this year was very exciting as well. Kevin Wilson and Gus Malzahn appeared to maximize the talent they had with their uptempo schemes, and that’s a beautiful thing to see any time it happens.

At the same time, it’s important to realize the distinction between the NBA and college football. What people think doesn’t matter in the team sense in the NBA thanks to the league having a playoff. College football determines its champion largely thanks to opinion polls, so what people think does matter.

I can’t think of a year in which what people thought mattered more than it did with Oklahoma and Texas this year. I don’t mean to rehash old news, but Oklahoma’s impressive scores were largely the reason why it passed up the Texas team that beat it earlier in the year. That then allowed Oklahoma to go to the Big 12 title game and on to the BCS title game.

It’s possible that had OU operated at a slower pace and didn’t put up 60 points in five straight games, it might not have passed up UT. If that doesn’t happen, Texas likely beats Mizzou in the Big 12 title game and goes on to play Florida for the national title.

There’s no way to know, but Texas could have beaten Florida and won the national title. If Texas makes the national title game, then Colt McCoy probably wins the Heisman trophy as well. So, not only did pace potentially affect the Heisman race as it affected the NBA’s MVP race, but it potentially affected the championship.

It’s not likely we’ll ever get all of the voters to look at efficiency stats like points per play or points per drive instead of final scores, so as long as the BCS exists, this same thing can happen again. The moral of the story is that cranking up the pace is a fantastic way to game the system if you can pull it off, and for the record, I’m all for gaming the system.

The 2008 Oklahoma and Tulsa offenses are the two most prolific we’ve ever seen at generating points and yards. They were special, and no one can deny that. They were not uniquely special in the annals of the game though, and that’s the takeaway for thinking about the ’08 season in historical context.


2008 Scoring at Oklahoma’s Pace

February 19, 2009

Pace was one of the hot button issues in the 2008 college football season. Oklahoma’s highly publicized switch to a fast paced offense in reaction to the new clock rules was the major reason for it. The Sooners ended up leading the country in plays at 1,106 (79 per game), and they set a record with 716 total points scored.

The Sooners weren’t the only team to crank it up. Tulsa, under no-huddle guru Gus Malzahn, was second in plays behind OU, and Houston, TCU, and Nevada also broke 1,000 plays for the season.

The average number of plays per team for the whole season was 858.52. The average number of games played was 12.68. Therefore, the average number of plays per game for any given team was 67.7.

But what if everyone played at Oklahoma’s pace? Here is a look at what the top ten in scoring would look like if everyone ran 79 offensive plays a game.

This would be the point where I mention that this is based off of the NCAA’s “scoring offense” stat, which includes defense and special teams scores in the totals. Because this study is looking at pace in terms of plays, and it proportionately increases or decreases each team’s total plays, it still works out under the assumption that teams would continue to get defense or special teams scores at the same pace as before.

The top ten in scoring, adjusted to be at Oklahoma’s 2008 pace:

Top Ten Points per Game at Oklahoma’s Pace
Team Total Pts Pts/Game Pts/Play Adj. Total Pts Adj. Pts/Game
Florida 611 43.64 0.70 773 55.23
Oklahoma 716 51.14 0.65 716 51.14
Tulsa 661 47.21 0.60 666 47.60
Missouri 591 42.21 0.60 666 47.54
Oklahoma St. 530 40.77 0.58 599 46.11
Texas Tech 569 43.77 0.58 597 45.92
Texas 551 42.38 0.58 593 45.58
Oregon 545 41.92 0.57 584 44.90
Penn St. 506 38.92 0.57 581 44.71
Rice 537 41.31 0.56 572 43.96

Tulsa edges out Missouri in points per game, even though rounding to the nearest point makes them equals in total scored.

What we can see here is that Oklahoma was ahead of pretty much everyone at scoring points. Adjusting for pace, they still were ahead of most of the nation and earned their record 716 points scored.

Florida was the one exception. Thanks to getting points in many ways other than just offense (INT returns, off of blocked punts, in the return game, etc.) while running about an average number of offensive plays, Florida would have shattered the Sooners’ new record in the very year they broke it.

The Gators would have topped out at a little over 55 points a game. That means Army’s all-time record would have been safe, but only barely. In 1944, Army scored exactly 56 a game, less than a point than Florida’s hypothetical total.

It is almost a little surprising to see Missouri so high since the Tigers were a bit of a disappointment this season. It goes to show that the offense was still good at turning plays into scores, but that defense just didn’t quite work out.

As great as Florida and Oklahoma were at turning plays into points by having relatively high points per play ratios, they weren’t the best of the decade. Since 2000, the team with the highest PPP was 2006 Hawai’i, with 0.72 points per play. At Oklahoma’s pace over 14 games, that would come out to 795 points on the season.

One would figure though that if they were that close to 800, they’d find a way to get one last touchdown to get to 802. Maybe something like the Florida Flop?


2008 Yardage at Oklahoma’s Pace

February 18, 2009

Pace was one of the hot button issues in the 2008 college football season. Oklahoma’s highly publicized switch to a fast paced offense in reaction to the new clock rules was the major reason for it. The Sooners ended up leading the country in plays at 1,106 (79 per game), and they set a record with 716 total points scored.

The Sooners weren’t the only team to crank it up. Tulsa, under no-huddle guru Gus Malzahn, was second in plays behind OU, and Houston, TCU, and Nevada also broke 1,000 plays for the season.

The average number of plays per team for the whole season was 858.52. The average number of games played was 12.68. Therefore, the average number of plays per game for any given team was 67.7.

But what if everyone played at Oklahoma’s pace? Here is a look at what the top ten yardage gainers would look like if everyone ran 79 offensive plays a game.

Top Ten Yards per Game at Oklahoma’s Pace
Team Total Yds Yds/Game Yds/Play Adj. Total Yds Adj. Yds/Game
Tulsa 7,978 569.86 7.27 8,043 574.53
Houston 7,316 562.77 7.20 7,395 568.86
Florida 6,231 445.07 7.13 7,885 563.21
Texas Tech 6,903 531.00 7.05 7,241 557.03
Oklahoma St. 6,340 487.69 6.98 7,171 551.61
Oklahoma 7,760 547.86 6.93 7,670 547.86
Missouri 6,778 484.14 6.90 7,634 545.28
Georgia 5,538 426.00 6.70 6,886 529.66
Ball St. 6,195 442.50 6.70 7,407 529.09
USC 5,911 454.69 6.63 6,813 524.10

The Tulsa Golden Hurricane tops the list at an incredible 8,043 yards for the season. The all-time record, if you’re wondering, was 7,826 set by 2006 Hawai’i before Tulsa broke it with its actual 7,978 yards in 2008. However, the per-game record of 624.9 set by 1989 Houston is still safe in theory as well in actuality.

The appearance of two SEC teams on this list while not appearing on the actual list shows that run-first, slower paced conferences can still produce some efficient offenses. That fact was lost on a lot of people when picking the national title game, as many saw Oklahoma as clearly the better offensive team. The Sooners were definitely more prolific, but we can see here that the Gators were more efficient.

Everyone on this list averaged more than 524 yards a game at Oklahoma’s pace. In real life, only four teams averaged that much: Tulsa, Houston, Texas Tech, and OU. Only one other team, Nevada, averaged more than 500 real yards a game.

The presence of Georgia, Ball State, and USC also show that pro-style offenses can be highly efficient just like the spread offenses that are all the rage. You likely won’t hit Gus Malzahn-like pinball numbers, but there is something to be said for doing it the old fashioned way. It still gets the job done.

I don’t know if we can really learn much from this, but it’s still fun to look at and think about how close Tulsa was to getting to eight grand. Malzahn may have left Tulsa for Auburn, but Oklahoma returns a lot of tools from its team last season. What do you say, Bob Stoops and Kevin Wilson? Why not make a run at 8,000 yards next year?


2008 Scoring Adjusted for Pace

February 17, 2009

Pace was one of the hot button issues in the 2008 college football season. Oklahoma’s highly publicized switch to a fast paced offense in reaction to the new clock rules was the major reason for it. The Sooners ended up leading the country in plays at 1,106 (79 per game), and they set a record with 716 total points scored.

The Sooners weren’t the only team to crank it up. Tulsa, under no-huddle guru Gus Malzahn, was second in plays behind OU, and Houston, TCU, and Nevada also broke 1,000 plays for the season.

The average number of plays per team for the whole season was 858.52. The average number of games played was 12.68. Therefore, the average number of plays per game for any given team was 67.7.

To take a look at how well everyone was able to score points on equal footing, I have adjusted total points by pace.

This would be the point where I mention that this is based off of the NCAA’s “scoring offense” stat, which includes defense and special teams scores in the totals. Because this study is looking at pace in terms of plays, and it proportionately increases or decreases each team’s total plays, it still works out under the assumption that teams would continue to get defense or special teams scores at the same pace as before.

Here is a table showing the top ten teams in points per game if everyone played at the nation’s average pace in terms of plays per game.

Top Ten Adj. Points per Game
Team Total Pts Pts/Game Pts/Play Adj. Total Pts Adj. Pts/Game
Florida 611 43.64 0.70 663 47.33
Oklahoma 716 51.14 0.65 613 43.83
Tulsa 661 47.21 0.60 571 40.79
Missouri 591 42.21 0.60 570 40.75
Oklahoma St. 530 40.77 0.58 514 39.52
Texas Tech 569 43.77 0.58 512 39.35
Texas 551 42.38 0.58 508 39.06
Oregon 545 41.92 0.57 500 38.48
Penn St. 506 38.92 0.57 498 38.32
Rice 537 41.31 0.56 490 37.68

Here we can see that when pace is accounted for, Florida usurps Oklahoma as the total points leader as OU loses over a hundred points. The accelerated pace that the Sooner offense operated at allowed them to score about a touchdown a game more than they would have had they played at the average pace. On a per game basis, the Gators were first by a little more than a field goal over OU.

The Big 12 is well represented with five of the top ten. Oregon is the only Pac-10 team in the top ten, but USC is lurking just outside at No. 12.

Penn State meanwhile is the only Big Ten team here, and the next-highest conference colleague of the Nittany Lions’ was Iowa at No. 27. In numerical terms, the Hawkeyes are almost a full touchdown behind. That shows just how much more efficient PSU was than the rest of its conference.

Florida holds a similar status in the SEC since it was clearly the most efficient team at putting points on the scoreboard. Florida was two tenths of a point away from being a full two touchdowns ahead of the next highest SEC team, No. 21 Georgia.

The ACC and Big East are the only BCS conferences not represented here. FSU was the highest ACC team at 20th, but their numbers are skewed a bit by 115 points scored in its first two games against I-AA opponents. Those 115 points make up 26.5% of the Seminoles’ total points in 2008. The Big East’s highest team was actually Rutgers, at 33rd overall.

I can’t finish this without a word about Rice. It’s amazing what Chase Clement and Jarrett Dillard were able to do for that team over their careers there. “Rice football” has been synonymous with “losing” in Texas for many years, but the Owls won 10 games a year ago. Rice has some other players, but those two will be sorely missed next season.


2008 Yardage Adjusted for Pace

February 16, 2009

Pace was one of the hot button issues in the 2008 college football season. Oklahoma’s highly publicized switch to a fast paced offense in reaction to the new clock rules was the major reason for it. The Sooners ended up leading the country in plays at 1,106 (79 per game), and they set a record with 716 total points scored.

The Sooners weren’t the only team to crank it up. Tulsa, under no-huddle guru Gus Malzahn, was second in plays behind OU, and Houston, TCU, and Nevada also broke 1,000 plays for the season.

The average number of plays per team for the whole season was 858.52. The average number of games played was 12.68. Therefore, the average number of plays per game for any given team was 67.7.

To take a look at how well everyone was able to gain yards on equal footing, I have adjusted total yards by pace. Here is a table showing the top ten teams in yards per game if everyone played at the nation’s average pace in terms of plays per game.

Top Ten Adj. Yards per Game
Team Total Yds Yds/Game Yds/Play Adj. Total Yds Adj. Yds/Game
Tulsa 7,978 569.86 7.27 6,893 492.38
Houston 7,316 562.77 7.20 6,338 487.52
Florida 6,231 445.07 7.13 6,757 482.68
Texas Tech 6,903 531.00 7.05 6,205 477.38
Oklahoma St. 6,340 487.69 6.98 6,145 472.73
Oklahoma 7,760 547.86 6.93 6,573 469.51
Missouri 6,778 484.14 6.90 6,542 467.30
Georgia 5,538 426.00 6.70 5,901 453.92
Ball St. 6,195 442.50 6.70 6,348 453.43
USC 5,911 454.69 6.63 5,839 449.15

As you can see, no one was able to rack up yards better than the guy who wrote the book on the hurry up offense. In Houston it was no Art Briles, no problem for the Cougars under first year head coach Kevin Sumlin. We can also see that Florida played under the national pace in 2008, which is likely a side effect of the more defense- and ball control-oriented SEC.

A run of four Big 12 teams with nearly identical marks come next before we get to another SEC team in Georgia. The Bulldogs were also below the national average pace, and Ball State was the only other squad on the list below that average. It shows that these teams had the capacity to rack up yardage comparable to the Big 12 and CUSA teams on the list, but either chose not to for philosophical reasons or were prevented from it by their opponents’ pace (or both).

USC surprised me at first not for being in the top ten, since Mark Sanchez was great and the Pac-10 was down, but for being above the national pace. The Trojans always field good offenses, but they don’t stick out to me as being in a hurry when they play.

That’s when it occurred to me. USC had a historically good defense this season, ranking second only to the 2001 Miami (FL) defense in terms of yards per point allowed in this decade. The fact that the Trojans’ defense caused a lot of three-and-outs probably pushed their plays per game above average. It goes to show that plays per game has to do with more than just offensive pace (though for these purposes, it’s close enough).

Of course, football is not won and lost on yards gained. I also adjusted points scored for pace as well. If everyone played at the national average pace, would Oklahoma still come out on top in total points scored?

Stay tuned.


Kiffin’s Speech Wasn’t Just for the Fans

February 12, 2009

This is going to be the last thing I write about Lane Kiffin until SEC media days. Or until he opens his mouth again. Or unless I write something about USC from earlier in the decade. Or something.

Anyway, there were two major theories about his now-infamous speech on the day after signing day. One is that he was just being stupid. The other, which I subscribe to, is that he knew exactly what he was doing and was trying to re-energize the Tennessee fan base.

However, I’m beginning to think it was as much for a group of people that weren’t at the booster function. His players.

Rewind the clock a little more than four months. Tennessee conducted a press conference to announce that its ultimate company man was leaving, and it wasn’t his choice. It was a very emotional day for everyone there, and even I, a rival fan, couldn’t help but feel bad for Phillip Fulmer.

But as bad as I felt for him, I wasn’t angry about it. Fulmer’s players were angry about it, and they made sure that the UT administration knew about it. The Knoxville News Sentinel described the scene like this:

“Players marched en masse from UT’s football complex a few blocks away to arrive in the stadium 30 minutes before the 5 p.m. press conference. Some grumbled, while others interjected, including wide receiver Josh Briscoe, who asked [athletics director Mike] Hamilton during the press conference why it was more important ‘that we make a dollar than it is to keep a tradition and keep the Tennessee family the way it’s been for years.'”

That’s right, the Volunteer players practically stormed the castle with torches and pitchforks and openly questioned the athletics director during that press conference. Say what you want about Phillip Fulmer, and someone probably has already, but he definitely created an intense bond with his players.

Now, every new coach has to work to do to win over the players that were there before him. For instance, Urban Meyer’s 2005 team struggled heavily because many of his new guys were unhappy about the vanishing of the player’s coach regime that preceded him. In Tennessee’s case, it was going to be a tall task for whoever followed Fulmer in Knoxville given that they all clearly were not happy about him being forced out.

With his speech that angered rivals and turned the world against him, Kiffin may have turned his team for him. He said at a booster event yesterday that the controversy has “re-energized” the team:

“The bottom line is that our players are extremely motivated, because what’s happened is that, yeah, we’ve said some things that may have ruffled some feathers. We’ve maybe gone in and not been exactly as polite as we can be when we go into a school and wait our turn. But you want to know what? [The players] know we’re doing that, and I’m saying things publicly because they have to perform. When they feel their head coach and their staff have so much belief and so much trust in them, they’re down there working harder than ever.”

It’s probably pretty easy for players to be inspired by a coach who has yet to run them hard or chew them out in practice. When push comes to shove, there will be some guys who don’t fully buy into what Kiffin is selling. That much is inevitable with any new coach.

For now at least, he has them refocused on work. They aren’t sitting around trying to figure out how Coach Kiffin compares to Coach Fulmer, they’re figuring out how they’re going to make sure Kiffin’s verbal checks don’t bounce this fall.

With the goal for 2009 undoubtedly being a return to a bowl after missing one in 2008, that change among the players may be the most important side effect of his speech of all.


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