The Guys Who Follow College Football’s Coaching Legends

May 9, 2008

We’ve all heard it a million times: “You don’t want to be the guy who follows a legend; you want to be the guy who follows the guy who follows the legend.”

It makes intuitive sense, and it certainly would seem true. Urban Meyer is the guy who followed the guy who followed the legend at Florida, and things have worked out quite well for him so far. Then again, Bill Callahan was the same at Nebraska, and the fans were ready to run him out of town two years before he finally got the axe.

To see how true this adage is, I’ve looked at some coaching legends and the guys who followed them. They are as follows, in chronological order from when the legend was hired:

OKLAHOMA

Legend: Bud Wilkinson, 1947-63, 145-29-4 (.826); 3 national and 14 conference titles

Follower: Gomer Jones, 1964-65, 9-11-1 (.452); 0 national or conference titles

Next: Jim Mackenzie, 1966, 6-4 (.600); 0 national or conference titles

This is somewhat of a bad example to start off with, since Mackenzie sadly passed away due to a heart attack after his first season.

Jones definitely had a difficult time following Wilkinson though, having not been able to break even in his two years. Wilkinson is the coach who led Oklahoma to its famed 47-game winning streak, and he failed to win the Big 8 title in only three of his 17 years.

AUBURN

Legend: Shug Jordan, 1951-75, 175-83-7 (.674), 1 national and 1 conference title

Follower: Doug Barfield, 1976-80, 29-25-1 (.536), 0 national or conference titles

Next: Pat Dye, 1981-92, 99-39-4 (.711), 0 national and 4 conference titles

Jordan held the job for 25 years and the stadium is named after him, but his .674 winning percentage is lower than any of the other legends on this list. Barfield followed him up with 5 forgettable seasons, with 8-3 being the best record he posted.

Dye had the most success in his tenure of the three, though he was forced out of his coaching and AD position when it was revealed that assistant coaches and boosters had paid a player. He still is fondly remembered, though, as the field at Jordan-Hare stadium was named after him in 2005.

OHIO STATE

Legend: Woody Hayes, 1951-78, 205-61-10 (.761), 5 national and 13 conference titles

Follower: Earle Bruce, 1979-87, 81-26-1 (.755), 0 national and 4 conference titles

Next: John Cooper, 1988-2000, 111-43-4 (.715), 0 national and 4 conference titles

Earle Bruce did an admirable job in following Woody Hayes after Hayes’ unexpected meltdown and firing. He did not see the same success however, though he nearly won the national title in his first year.

John Cooper is a goat in OSU annals, having posted a 2-10-1 record against Michigan and having presided over numerous academic and discipline problems.

TEXAS

Legend: Darrell Royal, 1957-76, 167-47-5 (.774), 3 national and 11 conference titles

Follower: Fred Akers, 1977-86, 86-31-2 (.731), 0 national and 2 conference titles

Next: David McWilliams, 1987-91, 31-26 (.544), 0 national and 1 conference title

Akers did a much better job than McWilliams did. Akers caught flak though for losing bowl games and in his final few years having bad records against Oklahoma and Texas A&M.

McWilliams’s 1990 SWC championship year looks like a fluke in light of the rest of his seasons, with the 7-5 record in his first year being the second-best record he had.

ALABAMA

Legend: Paul Bryant, 1958-82, 232-46-9 (.824), 6 national and 13 conference titles

Follower: Ray Perkins, 1983-86, 32-15-1 (.677), 0 national or conference titles

Next: Bill Curry, 1987-89, 26-10 (.722), 0 national and 1 conference title

Perkins left the New York Giants to coach at his alma mater, and he left four years later to take a rich contract with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. An incident where a former player that he had recruited claimed he was paid led to the school being placed on probation in 1995.

Curry was doing well in his three years, though he was 0-3 against Auburn. He didn’t like the contract offered to him in 1990, so he left to coach Kentucky.

GEORGIA

Legend: Vince Dooley, 1964-88, 201-77-10 (.715), 1 national and 6 conference titles

Follower: Ray Goff, 1989-95, 46-34-1 (.574), 0 national or conference titles

Next: Jim Donnan, 1996-2000, 40-19 (.678), 0 national or conference titles

Neither Goff nor Donnan panned out for the Bulldogs. They both failed to win even an SEC East title, and both were used as Florida’s whipping boy. Goff is perhaps most famous for being called “Ray Goof” by Steve Spurrier.

MICHIGAN

Legend: Bo Schembechler, 1969-89, 194-48-5 (.796), 0 national and 13 conference titles

Follower: Gary Moeller, 1990-94, 44-13-3 (.758), 0 national and 3 conference titles

Next: Lloyd Carr, 1995-07, 122-40 (.753), 1 national and 5 conference titles

Moeller is a controversial figure for Wolverines due to his messy departure following a drunken altercation at a restaurant. Some argue his best years were already behind him; some argue that he was trying to modernize the program and that Carr won his national title with Moeller’s players.

Carr is one of the few followed-the-guy-who-followed-the-legend guys who actually won a national title. His legacy will remain mixed due to his futility against Jim Tressel and the loss to Appalachian State.

BYU

Legend: LaVell Edwards, 1972-2000, 257-101-3 (.716), 1 national and 19 conference titles

Follower: Gary Crowton, 2001-04, 26-23 (.531), 0 national and 1 conference title

Next: Bronco Mendenhall, 2005-present, 28-10 (.737), 0 national and 2 conference titles

Crowton won the MWC his first year with Edwards’ players, but failed to reach .500 in his remaining three years. Mendenhall has put together consecutive 11-win seasons, winning the MWC title each year. His 2008 team is expected to contend for a BCS bowl.

NEBRASKA

Legend: Tom Osborne, 1973-97, 255-49-3 (.836), 3 national and 13 conference titles

Follower: Frank Solich, 1998-03, 58-19 (.753), 0 national and 1 conference title

Next: Bill Callahan, 2004-07, 27-22 (.551), 0 national or conference titles

Solich is probably the source of the modern “You don’t want to be the guy who follows a legend” movement, having been fired after a 9-win season. Callahan ended up being a disaster, and will probably be despised by Husker fans forever.

FLORIDA

Legend: Steve Spurrier, 1990-2001, 122-27-1 (.817), 1 national and 6 conference titles

Follower: Ron Zook, 2002-04, 23-14 (.622), 0 national and conference titles

Next: Urban Meyer, 2005-present, 31-8 (.795), 1 national and 1 conference title

Zook was doomed from the beginning, having been a fallback choice for the coaching position and having never been a head coach before. He won games he shouldn’t have, but lost games he shouldn’t have too. He also presided over an explosion of off-field issues, including Zook himself being involved in a fight at a frat house. Some Florida fans still defend him, but the overall sentiment is that his hiring was a mistake.

After doubts about his offense abounded in his first year, Meyer solidified his position in his second by winning a national title. Some fans are uncomfortable with his highly aggressive recruiting tactics, which have drawn scrutiny from other coaches and the NCAA, but otherwise Gators are more than happy with his job so far.

*   *   *

Following a legend, regardless of place in line, is not easy. Only Pat Dye clearly surpassed his legendary predecessor’s accomplishments, but his departure was not the stuff of legends.

None of the followers distinguished himself after leaving, though Earle Bruce had a nice run with Iowa State before coaching the Buckeyes. Ron Zook still has time to carve out his legacy at Illinois.

The book is still open for Mendenhall and Meyer, but both appear to be in good shape. Despite their records, most of the coaches in that coveted “guy who followed the guy who followed the legend” role didn’t fare much better than the guy who did follow the legend.

There is some truth to the adage, but in the end good coaches will succeed in good situations regardless of who came before.


Coaches’ Contracts: Overrated?

April 14, 2008

In my world, there’s a scent of irony floating through that just as I begin a series on coach contracts, we come to find out that not everyone thinks they’re necessary.

Penn State and Joe Paterno have decided after weeks of hand wringing over him having just one year left on his contract that he doesn’t need one. PSU’s position is that his seniority is supposed to speak for itself, a contract is “not necessary or practical,” and not having a contract doesn’t imply a retirement date. Paterno, for his part, says that he doesn’t need a contract, trusts the university to do the right thing, and that if he needed a contract in order to keep his job then he’s in the wrong place.

Whether it speaks for itself or not, his seniority is certainly self-evident.

Across the border in West Virginia, neither Bill Stewart nor Bob Huggins has a contract with WVU. Apparently both have handshake and verbal agreements with AD Ed Pastilong that they won’t leave, and they are only bound by term sheets that outline their pay. Granted, term sheets can be binding legal contracts (and are in this case), but they don’t cover nearly as many legal contingencies as contracts do. They’re just bullet point outlines, after all.

Stewart and Huggins are West Virginia natives and each has known Pastilong for more than 30 years. Perhaps this is a special case in which contracts are not needed. Given Stewart’s coaching history and age, it’s unlikely that a school like a Michigan will come to poach him, and he doesn’t even have an agent. They’re probably fine with him. Huggins is a more difficult case; it’s not so much that he’d leave for greener pastures soon, but his history of misconduct should raise red flags to anyone with a proper risk management policy regardless of personal histories.

West Virginia should know better, given the messy departures of both John Beilein and another West Virginia native, Rich Rodriguez. Rodriguez’s contract clearly states beginning on page 22 the terms of his buyout. The only way he could take another coaching job before August 31, 2008 and not have to pay the buyout is if WVU breached the contract. The agreement has no room for ambiguity there. Yet, thanks to an alleged verbal agreement with Pastilong that the buyout wouldn’t be enforced, the university is now trapped in court and no doubt spending quite a bit on legal fees trying to get the money that Rodriguez is contractually obliged to pay. Rodriguez said the school didn’t fulfill promises it has made to him over the years, but without them being in writing, I doubt he’ll win his case in court.

Rich Rodriguez: willing to fight in court to save Michigan boosters $4 million that they likely are more than willing to pay. Image CC by Flickr user CA2.

The proceedings with Beilein and Rodriguez should be enough evidence for the school that having all agreements be in writing is by far the best way to go. As I said, I don’t anticipate Stewart leaving for another job, but what if T. Boone Pickens throws a mountain of cash at Huggins after the guy who replaces Sean Sutton gets fired? Huggins’ term sheet has a $1 million buyout, but no one knows what handshakes and verbal agreements might be on the side.

The rumblings up at Penn State say that a movement to get Paterno out is building steam. The only thing allowing him to coach as long as he wants at this point is the desire of Penn State not to look bad for pushing a legend out the door. Based on how shameless big time college football powers have become lately, that may not be enough. At least the school hasn’t gone so far as to try to silence critics of Paterno.

In this day and age where legal ninjas roam the countryside, the importance of written contracts should be self-evident. The potential for ugliness is greater at Penn State, but I hope WVU doesn’t make a habit of this, or we’ll probably end up with more never-ending coach litigation sagas, and no one wants that.

A legal ninja (artist’s conception).


Capital One Bowl Wrapup

January 1, 2008

The Capital One Bowl – What’s left in your wallet?

After last year’s national title game, many people attributed Florida’s win to the Gators having “SEC speed.” While that was true to a degree, Florida was the more physical and aggressive team. I just watched most of the game DVD last week, and that fact was easy to see.

I bring this point up because Michigan dominated Florida on both sides of the ball today. Florida’s defensive line, which punished Ohio State last year, looked like a collection of linebackers going up against the Wolverine offensive line. Florida’s offense couldn’t figure out a way to pick up the blitz. The secondary played terribly as usual, but you knew that was coming. The physicality of Michigan won them this game. It’s rare to see a team completely push the other around and lose.

Urban Meyer gave some very accurate analysis in the postgame press conference. According to the AP, he covered the basics: “Florida didn’t give Tebow much time to throw, couldn’t get pressure on Henne and failed to cover Michigan’s receivers.” It’s just what I was mentioning – Florida couldn’t pick up blitzes all year, Florida never got any push up the middle all year on defense, and the defensive secodary was a sieve all year.

He was quoted as saying, “I don’t think we coached very well in certain areas,” and that’s for sure. The answer to the blitz on offense was to have usually Louis Murphy (who’s a twig compared to most linebackers) come back and block and still run slow-developing pass plays. Kestahn Moore is a much better blocker, but more often then not he was lined up way out by the sideline when he was in the game.

We also saw a return to the Tebow-Harvin tunnel vision offense. Only two rushes in the game were by someone other than those two guys (Moore, 2 rushes for 9 yards). Harvin also had as many receptions as the rest of the receiving corps combined, and more if you throw out Chas Henry’s completion to Aaron Hernandez. I realize that those guys are the two best players on the offense, but there’s more than enough talent on the offense for the ball to get spread around more than that. On defense, we constantly saw a linebacker on the slot receiver, which makes no sense in any situation.

Michigan for its part appeared to go with Auburn’s game plan. Florida’s defense this year was one of the worst open-field tackling squads in the country, so Chad Henne spent most of the game throwing slants and screens. When you know that the first guy is going to miss and the second guy might not arrive until 20 yards later, there’s no reason to try anything riskier. On defense, it was blitz on any 4 or 5 wide receiver set on second or third down. With the Gators never doing anything to make them pay for sending an extra guy or two, it made for a great strategy.

In some ways, Florida was fortunate that it was such a close game. After all, Mike Hart lost two fumbles just short of the goal line, and he had lost only one fumble in the rest of his four year career. Those would have been touchdowns in any other game. Now, some Florida fans might counter with complaints about questionable officiating, but that’s a red herring. The Gators had a four point lead with 5:36 to go. In those final five and a half minutes, Michigan outscored Florida 10-0, and the Gators could only muster 4 yards on 8 downs.

In the end a senior-laden, hugely physical team beat a very young, smaller team. Last season, Urban Meyer preached that he wanted to have the most physical team in college football, and he just may have had it based on the national title game. That toughness was missing this year for a lot of reasons. It’s now time for everyone to learn some lessons, have the young players to get some bulk and technique in the offseason, and get ready to come back ready to blow the doors off Hawaii on Labor Day weekend.


BCS Projections

December 2, 2007

Before everyone gets their picks out, here’s my projections for the BCS:

BCS National Title Game: Ohio State and LSU

Rose Bowl: USC (auto) and Illinois

Fiesta Bowl: West Virginia and Oklahoma(auto)

Orange Bowl: Virginia Tech (auto) and Missouri/Kansas

Sugar Bowl: Georgia and Hawaii

The designation (auto) indicates a conference champion tie-in that will happen by contract.

I project LSU to pass up Virginia Tech since the Tigers beat the Hokies 48-7 earlier this year. I project LSU to pass Georgia because they have identical records, but LSU won the conference while UGA didn’t even win the SEC East. USC won’t pass LSU because USC lost to Stanford. End of that discussion.

The Rose Bowl will take Illinois because it is desperate to set up a Pac 10/Big Ten game every year, and no one else will want the Illini.

The Sugar Bowl will take Georgia because it prefers to have an SEC team. Hawaii has no fans on the mainland, so it too will go to the Sugar Bowl (who has the last pick this year). The Fiesta will have to take Big East champ West Virginia since it won’t want an inter-Big 12 game.

Kansas has a better record than Missouri, but Mizzou won the division and its two losses were to conference champ Oklahoma. My guess is Missouri will get the bid since it is now more well-known than Kansas, but the Jayhawks’ 11-1 record could prove too compelling to pass up.

The only way this could be wrong is if the Fiesta somehow grabs Georgia ahead of the Sugar, sending West Virginia to the Orange and Missouri/Kansas to the Sugar.

As for the Gators, it’s 99% certain we’re in the Citrus Bowl versus Michigan.

Updated 8:25 am to reflect result of Washington – Hawaii game.

EDIT: I should mention that this would make for a terrible year for the BCS. West Virginia/Oklahoma would be the only game guaranteed to be any good, and that’s assuming Pat White will be healthy.

The OSU/LSU title game would obviously be the most hyped, for the teams as well as what’s at stake, but we will be seeing Ohio State up against a barrage of speedy skill players and a hellacious defensive line. Sound familiar? (Honk if you sacked Todd Boeckman!)

USC would thoroughly beat down Illinois. Georgia would thrash Hawaii. Remember that the Warriors play worse the farther east they go, and the last time they played in Louisiana, they eked out a 1 point win over La. Tech. Ouch. Virginia Tech and Missouri/Kansas might be a good game, a classic defense (VT) versus offense (M/K) game, but VT games somehow always end up boring. Unless you’re a Hokie (and maybe especially if you’re a Hokie) they just suck the life out of you as you watch. Plus, the Orange Bowl would have an extremely hard time selling out the stadium. So, if somehow the Orange gets to pick ahead of the Sugar, I wouldn’t be surprised at all for it to take Georgia for ticket selling purposes.


Name That Heisman Candidate

October 1, 2007

Everyone likes playing comparison games where you replace team or player names with letters to disguise them and prevent bias from entering the equation. Today, I’m going to do that with running backs. Who do you think is having the best season so far?

Player A (5 games)

  • Carries: 157
  • Yards: 761
  • Average: 4.8 yards/carry; 152.2 yards/game
  • Rushing TDs: 7
  • Receptions: 3
  • Yards: 18
  • Average: 6 yards/catch; 3.6 yards/game
  • Receiving TDs: 0
  • Average Opposing Rushing Defense Rank: 59.5
  • Average Opposing Yards/Game: 147.3

Player B (4 games)

  • Carries: 105
  • Yards: 657
  • Average: 6.3 yards/carry; 164.25 yards/game
  • Rushing TDs: 6
  • Receptions: 7
  • Yards: 56
  • Average: 8 yards/catch; 14 yards/game
  • Receiving TDs: 0
  • Average Opposing Rushing Defense Rank: 95.75
  • Average Opposing Yards/Game: 214.7

Player C (4 games)

  • Carries: 117
  • Yards: 713
  • Average: 6.1 yards/carry; 178.25 yards/game
  • Rushing TDs: 10
  • Receptions: 4
  • Yards: 57
  • Average: 14.25 yards/catch; 14.25 yards/game
  • Receiving TDs: 0
  • Average Opposing Rushing Defense Rank: 80.75
  • Average Opposing Yards/Game: 186.48

I think you can make the case that Player C is having the best year, especially when you consider that defensive stats for Player A do not include the I-AA opponent he has played. Players B and C look about even if you look at averages, but Heisman voters look at raw numbers more than averages and in that department, Player C wins for having 56 more yards and 4 more TDs. Plus, Player B has faced the weakest defenses of them all.

Who are these masked men? Player A is Mike Hart. Player B is Darren McFadden. Player C is Kevin Smith, who plays for UCF. I have to believe that if the Knights had pulled off the upset against Texas, we’d be hearing about Smith as a dark horse Heisman candidate. It just goes to show, sometimes the best players are not where you’d expect them to be.


Interim Saturday Wrapup

September 1, 2007

Wow. What a day it has been, and the prime time games are just getting going.

Michigan’s Lloyd Carr is definitely on the hot seat now. Forget his struggles in bowls and against Ohio State – the ignominy of losing to a I-AA school at home while ranked #5 is much, much worse. Michigan has the most talent in the Big Ten by most accounts, and losing to Appalachian State, no matter how many I-AA championships it has, it completely unacceptable.

Georgia Tech hammered Notre Dame. This is significant because A) it was in South Bend, and B) Chan Gailey is a very conservative coach and it was still 33-3. Notre Dame is in serious, serious trouble.

Washington State put up a valiant effort for a half against Wisconsin. Bill Doba might survive the year after all.

Georgia is looking better so far than I thought it would, and Kansas State is hanging in there with Auburn more than I was expecting. Cal got an early cheap touchdown against Tennessee, but the Vols came back with an Erik Ainge touchdown pass to tie it. This one might end up a shootout.

I am reserving my thoughts on the Florida game for a dedicated post about it, but suffice it to say the game felt familiar, and I think Urabn is going to be frustrated with his running game again.

By the way, my ESPN.com College Pick ‘Em Picks, which I will post each week after they have been locked in, were as follows:

  • UCLA over Stanford (10 points)
  • Wisconsin over Washington State (9)
  • Miami (FL) over Marshall (8)
  • Missouri over Illinois (7)
  • BYU over Arizona (6)
  • Auburn over Kansas State (5)
  • Georgia Tech over Notre Dame (4)
  • Georgia over Oklahoma State (3)
  • Colorado over Colorado State (2)
  • Tennessee over Cal (1)

The BCS Title Game: Offenses

December 31, 2006

One of the biggest differences cited between Florida and Ohio State is their offenses. Ohio State is credited with having an explosive offense, capable of anything, whereas Florida is characterized as having a sputtering offense that can be hard to watch. As it turns out, the difference between the offenses plays out the exact same way that the differences between Florida and Michigan’s teams do. Heuristically, Florida appears to be inferior, but the statistics say that argument is nothing more than truthiness at work.

Disclaimer: right now, I’m only looking for evidence as to how good the offenses are, not how good the entire teams are. In addition, I am only looking at Florida and Ohio State’s opponents rankings as I do not have the time to go over their opponents’ opponents to determine whether, for instance, Bowling Green’s 43 rank in total defense really makes them better defensively than South Carolina’s 46 rank does them. That’s beyond the scope of this piece and can be debated elsewhere. Also, Florida’s game against Western Carolina has been thrown out of this discussion since it says absolutely nothing meaningful about the Gators.

First, if you look in terms of yards per play, the two teams are a wash. Florida rushed for 4.8 yards per play and threw for 8.54 yards per play. For Ohio State, the numbers were 4.7 and 8.45, respectively. There is no statistically significant difference between the two there. Ohio State averaged 66.25 plays per game to Florida’s 61.15, so it doesn’t make as much sense to compare the absolute numbers. I don’t know what that particular difference is due to, whether it’s because of SEC teams tending to run the ball more than Big 10 teams (this I don’t know) or any number of factors leading to Ohio State being more successful in ball control from their defense or doing better on 3rd downs (again, I don’t know). In any event, Florida wins this phase of the discussion handily since the averages per play are the same, but as we’ll see, Florida achieved those stats against noticeably better defenses.

Next is going to be a series of charts comparing offensive performance and opponents’ defensive rank. The rankings are taken from the NCAA website and the stats from the box scores on ESPN.com. Boxes highlighted red indicate a defensive rank in the top-30, which means top-25% overall (one fourth of 119 Div. I-A teams is about 30), and boxes highlighted green indicate a defensive rank in the bottom-30, or worst-25% overall.

Here is a chart of Ohio State’s offensive output compared with their opponents’ defensive rank:

osu_yards

Here is the same for Florida:

uf_yards

Ohio State out-gained Florida by about 27 yards per game, but remember that Ohio State averaged 5 more plays a game. That 27 comes out to 5.4 a play, which is less than their overall average of 6.28 yards per play, for what it’s worth. In any event, the defensive rank of the average Florida opponent is 14 spots better than the average Ohio State opponent. Florida also faced one more top-30 defense than did Ohio State, while they each played the same number of bottom-30 defenses. I would give Ohio State the slight edge here because I also ran these numbers for Michigan and USC for comparison (and their charts are all the way at the end) and against roughly the same aggregate defenses, Ohio State averaged 22 yards more than the Trojans did. Only nine BCS-conference teams averaged 400 yards a game; it’s very hard to do and the Buckeyes deserve credit for doing it.

Now, I am going to look at scoring. This is a little trickier since scoring is more complex than just plain gaining yards. I am using the scoring defense ranks of the opponents and offensive points. That counts out defensive and special teams scores. I am also going to discount scoring drives in which the offense started within their opponents’ 44, since such scores are nearly automatic and a result of either defense or special teams setting them up in excellent shape. I picked 44 just because a team doesn’t have to get a first down to get into realistic field goal range (defined as 52 yards or less, or a snap from the 35), Chris Hetland’s struggles aside. First, Ohio State:

osu_points

Now, Florida:

uf_points

Now it becomes a bit clearer as to why Florida seemed to have trouble scoring this year. The Gators faced six (!) teams in the top quartile in scoring defense, and three other opponents were within 10 spots of being in that group as well. Ohio State on the other hand had a lot easier of a time since some of their opponents were stingy with giving up yards but not with points. The gap between average opponents’ ranking also jumped to 20 spots between the two. Ohio State averaged a touchdown more a game by my metrics, but they also did not have a four-game stretch in the middle of the season containing four top-30 defenses in a row and got to avoid playing Wisconsin. Conversely, Florida did not miss playing any of the good SEC teams. I’ll give Ohio State another slight edge, keeping in mind that Florida was hurt more than Ohio State was by the must-be-longer-than-44-yards rule for scoring drives since the main way they won this year was by defense and special teams.

Really when it comes down to it, Ohio State won like a college team this year, and Florida won like an NFL team. Ohio State put up lots of yards and points on long, sustained drives. Florida also put up a lot of yards, but not as many points and won by playing defense and doing just enough to win. It’s hard to compare teams with such different styles of winning since it’s impossible to predict accurately which team will mold the game into its image of winning. Ohio State does have the better offense, but it did not have as hard a road to go down.

APPENDIX A

Yes, there are problems with this. Some I have already pointed out. Others are due to oversimplification. In the end, I think this is a good approximation of how the teams performed offensively. For Florida to average as many yards per play as Ohio State did against substantially better defenses overall is impressive, but when the overall offensive effort is taken into account, Ohio State does appear to have the better statistical offense. The total yards numbers account for how well the team moves the ball, and the scoring numbers that I calculated reward a team for long drives rather than gimmies caused by defense and special teams.

This doesn’t account for red zone performance, trying to run out the clock at the ends of halves, putting in backups in blowouts, momentum, psychological effects, and changes in strategy due to changes in the score. It doesn’t differentiate between a 67-yard run and a 12-play, 67-yard drive. It is not perfect. I am not a professional statistician.

APPENDIX B

I also ran the same numbers for the Rose Bowl participants for comparison. Surprisingly, Michigan came out last among the four teams, and USC came out about even with Florida.

Michigan averaged 8 fewer yards per game than Florida did, with its average opponent ranked 22 spots behind Florida’s in total defense. Michigan also averaged only one more point a game, but did so against an aggregate defense that rated 17 places behind Florida’s aggregate opponents’ defense.

USC averaged 5 more yards than UF did, but their average opponent was ranked 15 spots behind Florida’s. The Trojans were a field goal better per game in scoring points, but kicked that field goal against an aggregate defense that rated 16 places behind Florida’s opponents’ aggregate defense.

The final rankings among the four, for statistical offense:

1. Ohio State

T-2. Florida and USC

4. Michigan

The final spreadsheet: PDF Document


This Makes Sense

December 4, 2006

For most of the year, voters were operating under the assumption that at some point Florida would lose a game. That makes sense somewhat, considering how Florida is about 10 or so plays from being 8-4 right now. Plus, no one was expecting UCLA to beat USC, so why consider the relative merits of Florida and Michigan when it doesn’t matter anyhow?

After Michigan – OSU, people were enamored at how exciting a game it was, and left Michigan at 2. The entire next week, they looked at the records and schedules and realized that #3 USC probably had a better claim to the #2 spot than Michigan did, so they bumped USC up over UM. Simple enough right? They did not put Florida over Michigan though since #3 carries no special significance, so why spend that much time thinking about who really belongs there?

Well, USC lost to UCLA. Now, it was time to actually visit the question of who deserves the #2 spot. Michigan has a better loss than Florida, but that only goes so far since Michigan did in fact lose to Ohio State, and even though the score was close, the Buckeyes gave away a lot of points in the second half through unforced turnovers and they still won. Florida’s 10-point loss to Auburn was really a 4-point loss since Auburn scored on the last play of the game, a failed hook-and-ladder play.

Florida has played more bowl teams. Florida has defeated more bowl teams. Florida has played more ranked teams. Florida has defeated more ranked teams. Florida had the strongest schedule in the country. Florida won the toughest conference in the country. Michigan’s only important injury was to Mario Manningham. Florida played most of its games without Marcus Thomas, and had nagging injuries that hampered Percy Harvin, Deshawn Wynn, Earl Everett, and most of the offensive line. Florida lost Tony Joiner in the first series against Arkansas and later Ray McDonald too, plus Ryan Smith was battling cramps and Drew Miller had trouble staying on the field. Florida still won by 10.

Michigan has the edge over Florida in only one category – best loss, and really, think about that. Their best game was a loss? Florida beats Michigan in every other category. That is why the voters changed their minds, and why Florida is rightly in the BCS Championship game.


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