A Couple Good Links

December 4, 2008

These are from Smart Football, an excellent site for learning about the nuts and bolts of football.

First is an analysis of where the Meyer/Mullen offense came from and how it work. Second is an analysis of Nick Saban’s defensive philosophy. They’re long, but worth it.

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Upsets in the SEC: General Information

November 13, 2008

I have been running some numbers lately on upsets in games between two SEC opponents. I have restricted it to just the past five seasons for reasons I’ll get into in a later piece, but it has to do with limited data availability more than anything else.

Since what constitutes an upset can be subjective, I have defined upsets using the following assumptions:

1. You are what your record says you are.

I bring out this old chestnut from Bill Parcells to say that teams’ final records are what I used to judge them. Specifically, it was their win total for the year. I know that it’s not always an accurate way to gauge the difference between teams since their non-conference and inter-division slates can differ.

However, no one in the league generally kills themselves in their non-conference scheduling, and division opponents rotate while the quality of the teams varies as well. It’s fairly random, and I can accept that.

2. Teams with the same final win count plus or minus one are basically the same.

Is there really a difference between two six win teams? How about a six win team and a five win team? Or a six and a seven win team? Of course there is because no two teams are identical, but chance does play a role in football.

If teams are within one win of each other, then I say the difference between them is not significant enough to call one winning over the other an upset. When teams that are within a win of each other played, I classified those games as tossups. It is only from the mismatches, where the difference of the final win totals of the two teams was two or greater, that I classified games as upsets.

These are not perfect rules, but I think they are acceptable compromises. You have to draw the line somewhere because analyzing every game is not feasible.

Overall

In the 225 SEC mismatch games of the past five full seasons, there were 22 upsets. That is 9.78% of them, so about one in every ten SEC mismatches turns into an upset. There was no real pattern as to whether home favorites or road favorites got upset, as 12 of them were home favorites losing and 10 were road favorites losing.

Most people think of upsets as being close, last-minute wins by the lesser team against the better team. That is not really the case, as only 12 of the 22, or 54.55%, of the games were decided by a touchdown or less. Essentially, that’s random.

Despite the conference being known for parity (i.e. teams “beating each other up”), fewer than a quarter (23.47%) of the conference games were tossups. In addition, only 2007 saw more than four real upsets:

upsetsbyyear

The low of two upsets in 2004 is largely due to Auburn going undefeated. When the conference champion loses, it’s almost always via upset according to my accounting methods here. Therefore, an undefeated champ (2004) will cause there to be a lower number of upsets, and a two loss champ (2007) will cause there to be a higher number.

The other culprit causing 2007 to have more upsets was South Carolina. Early wins over eventual eight-win teams Kentucky and Mississippi State count as upsets because the Gamecocks collapsed to a 6-6 final record.

You could argue whether they were truly upsets or not, considering how hot SC was at the beginning of the year, but you can’t really measure “hot” objectively and as I said you have to draw the line somewhere. I can’t discount those games without analyzing every other one. No thanks.

Frequent Upset Participants

Some teams are more likely to be involved in upsets. If you’re a Florida fan like me, you’re probably nodding your head and for good reason: the Gators head up the list along with Kentucky and South Carolina.

6 Upsets: Florida (3 wins, 3 losses), Kentucky (3 wins, 3 losses), South Carolina (5 wins, 1 loss)

5 Upsets: Georgia (1 win, 4 losses)

4 Upsets: LSU (0 wins, 4 losses)

3 Upsets: Auburn (2 wins, 1 loss), Miss St. (2 wins, 1 loss), Tennessee (1 win, 2 losses), Vanderbilt (2 wins, 1 loss)

2 Upsets: Alabama (1 win, 1 loss), Arkansas (1 win, 1 loss)

1 Upset: Ole Miss (1 win)

You can thank Ron Zook for Florida being at the top, as four of UF’s upset games were under his watch. At least he had a 3 wins/1 loss ratio, though the one loss was the game that got him fired. Urban Meyer presided over two upset games, and both were losses (South Carolina 2005, Auburn 2006).

Kentucky finds itself up there thanks to dueling with fellow traditional bottom-three teams of the SEC East South Carolina and Vanderbilt. It has an upset win over and an upset loss to Vandy and two upset losses to South Carolina. The only other series of games with more than one upset was Florida and Georgia. Upset wins over Arkansas (2002) and LSU (2007) round out the Wildcats’ slate.

I have covered South Carolina’s existence at the top fairly well.

I bet folks would have expected Mississippi State to be involved in more upsets, given Sly Croom’s reputation, but the two games where an opposing coach got Croomed (Zook in ’04, Shula in ’06) were the school’s only two true upset wins. Same goes for Arkansas, since Houston Nutt has a reputation for winning a game he shouldn’t every year. Turns out the upset win over LSU last year was his only true upset of the last five seasons.

Ole Miss’ win over South Carolina in 2004 marks the only upset it has been involved in over the past five seasons. Under David Cutcliffe and Ed Orgeron, the Rebels won the games they should have won and lost the games they should have lost. Score one for Nutt in 2008 though if Ole Miss fails to finish within one win of UF this season, an overwhelmingly likely scenario.

A Preview of Coming Attractions

Considering that Alabama dropped in both the BlogPoll and SEC Power Poll this week, folks apparently weren’t overly impressed by the Tide’s narrow overtime win over LSU. When the opposing quarterback throws four picks, one of them for a touchdown, and you only win by six in overtime, you’re not going to impress a lot of people.

But it was on the road! But it was in Tiger Stadium! But it was the Saban Bowl!

Alabama will finish with greater than one win more than the Tigers, and that’s likely true even if the hosts had won, so an LSU win would have been an upset on my parameters. That made Alabama a true road favorite.

For games that have been kicked off between 3:30 and 5:45 (inclusive) over the past five seasons, road favorites have a .913 winning percentage. Alabama had a better than 90% chance of winning based on that, and it took them to overtime to seal the deal.

The overall attitude of not being overly impressed is probably justified. Alabama should win that game nine out of 10 times under the circumstances. They didn’t give a performance that meshes with that stat. Now in games with a road favorite, the probability of a close game is 56.52%. That lets them off the hook some since it was slightly better that pure chance that a close game would occur.

But seriously… four picks, one a pick-six, and you need overtime to beat an overmatched team? Well, I suppose three turnovers of your own and two missed field goals will make that happen. Sometimes you don’t need fancy stats to diagnose a game.


SEC Power Poll Ballot: Preseason

August 19, 2008

The preseason SEC Power Poll this year (conducted by Garnet and Black Attack) is not a ranking of the teams, but a ranking of the coaches. Specifically, it is a ranking of coaching ability.

My ballot is based on who is good now, and it is slanted towards performance in this decade. No lifetime achievement awards are being handed out here.

Here’s my list and the explanations.

1. Urban Meyer

Call it a homer pick if you want, but he’s done well everywhere he’s gone. He turned in an undefeated season at Utah, becoming the first BCS Buster ever. Let’s also not forget that he did it before the BCS expanded to five games.

At Florida he won a national and conference championship and got a quarterback a Heisman. He proved the spread could work in the SEC and did it so convincingly that other coaches in the league are going to install some spread-style goodness of their own in 2008. Add to that his ace recruiting abilities, and you have my vote for top SEC coach.

2. Tommy Tuberville

I should specify that this is a vote for the Tuberville of 2004 and on and not for the Tuberville of 2003 and prior. There is a difference, and I outlined it here.

The post-2003 Tuberville has been one of the best coaches in the country in that span, though the fact he’s only parlayed that into one conference title is the reason why he’s second on the list. He also gets points for abandoning his old, conservative offense and actually giving former outcast/spread guru Tony Franklin the shot at major college coaching that he deserves.

3. Mark Richt

Richt is on pace for becoming the most successful head coach in Georgia history. He has two conference titles and a 13-1 season that wins him a national title in nearly any other year than the 2002 season in which he did it. He also lost to Vandy in 2006, something that a top league coach shouldn’t do six years into his tenure despite the strides the Commodores have made under Bobby Johnson.

He ended up third in the league on my ballot. That is still nothing to sneeze at in the best coaching conference in the country. How he does with the heaps of expectations on him this year will help to sort out his place in the hierarchy as well as help to define his legacy as a head coach.

4. Nick Saban

I know some people will be upset seeing him this high, especially given the loss to Louisiana-Monroe last season. It’s difficult to blame him too much for the negative goings on last season though given that his predecessor was Mike Shula, a guy who never should have been given a head coaching position.

Despite that fact, all six of the losses were by eight points or less so the Tide was competitive in every one of them. He had a blowout win over the SEC East champ Tennessee. Let’s also not forget the BCS championship he won at LSU and the incredible amount of talent he left there when he bolted to the Dolphins.

5. Les Miles

I decided that the first five guys on the ballot had to be guys who have won the national title in this decade, or at least have done enough to win one in a normal year. Since Miles won his national title with two losses while Meyer’s and Saban’s came with one loss (and Tuber ville had an undefeated season and Richt had a 13-1 year), he ended up fifth.

Yes it’s true that he walked into a treasure trove of talent at LSU. It’s also true that he has gone 11-2 each of the past three seasons with two blowout wins in BCS bowls and a Peach Bowl win that ended Miami football as we knew it. He also doesn’t get nearly enough credit for keeping the LSU team together after the Hurricane Katrina disaster just days before the start of his first season in Baton Rouge. He’s colorful, but he can coach.

6. Bobby Petrino

I’m going to throw out his time with the Falcons, which was spent under conditions that pretty much no one could succeed under. Instead, I’m looking more at his time at Louisville where he turned it into one of the country’s best teams, nearly made the national title game, and helped save the Big East.

The immediate drop off after his departure should highlight how good of a coach he was. He still did win his BCS game as the Big East champ though, which unfortunately doesn’t mean a whole lot, and it was over surprise ACC champ Wake Forest, which makes it matter even less. He’s still got a bright offensive mind and knows how to build a winner, so he goes here.

7. Phil Fulmer

You could make a case for him being higher or lower on the list, but he’s listed here thanks to being the final guy who has won a division championship at his current school. His East Division title last season helped some, but the fact remains that he has not won a conference title since 1998 and none of his teams has truly been elite without David Cutcliffe.

He gets some points for hiring Dave Clawson but nothing big until we find out if the Clawfense can succeed long term in the conference. Fulmer didn’t really manage his staff as well as he could/should have in the time between the Cutcliffe stints, but maybe this is a step forward. He will have to win the conference again to move higher on my list though.

8. Steve Spurrier

It pains me a little to put him this low, but there’s not a lot he’s done at South Carolina to support putting him higher. The Orange Bowl win in his final year at Florida was this decade so it does count some, but not being able to break past seven wins at South Carolina hurts his ability to go higher on my list.

Now, he did go to two bowls in a row in 2005-06, which ties the longest bowl appearance streak in school history. Lou Holtz also left the school on probation and in questionable shape. However, I can’t ignore the epic collapse last season after climbing to #6 in the country. His upward mobility will be determined in large part by whether he can win the division.

9. Houston Nutt

This could be a little low, but we’re talking about ability to perform the duties of head coach with this list. He won the SEC West twice this decade, but with Matt Jones and Darren McFadden on those teams, you’d expect that to happen.

In recent years, his ability to be a head coach has appeared to decline. His regime at Arkansas had increasingly been marked by scandal, and last season there was precious little offensive talent behind the McFadden-Felix Jones combination. The cupboards at Ole Miss appear to be relatively full, so he’s going to need to produce quickly in Oxford.

10. Sylvester Croom

Mississippi State was a toxic waste dump of a program when he arrived, and he got it to eight wins and a bowl just four years later despite having no dominant offensive players. Even in Croom’s rebuilding years, he scored upsets over Florida in ’04 and Alabama in ’06 despite them being in better shape.

He has not been perfect; he initially wanted to run a West Coast scheme despite not having nearly the talent or practice time to pull it off. However he’s built a winner, and he built it the right way. If he can sustain it, he can move up.

11. Rich Brooks

Brooks has taken Kentucky to two consecutive bowls, and that should win him some sort of award. I mean, this is a school that used its newly-hired basketball coach to sell football tickets last fall despite having gone to a bowl the previous season.

I have a feeling though that any of the other guys on the list could have done that with the personnel Brooks had. I also suspect that many of them would have done it faster than he did. For that reason, he’s behind the rest.

12. Bobby Johnson

I actually like Bobby Johnson, so I don’t like ranking him last. He has made Vanderbilt a competitive team week in and week out, and he has defeated Tennessee and Georgia in recent years. That’s really good for a school that doesn’t even have an athletics director.

At the same time, he’s not yet made a bowl so I can’t put him ahead of guys who have. His 2005 team with Jay Cutler was his best chance to get eligible, but they lost late in the season to 3-8 Kentucky. As far as I know, Vanderbilt is happy with him so he’s not going anywhere, but I’d like to see him get a shot at a school with more resources.


Coach Contracts: Nick Saban

April 9, 2008

This is the first in a series on coach contracts. You can find them thanks to the USA Today. Today’s subject is Nick Saban’s contract with Alabama.

Image CC by Flickr user jimmyjosh.

Either the University of Alabama is particularly paranoid (entirely possible), doesn’t really trust Nick L. Saban (also possible), or both (most likely candidate). Saban was required to initial every page of his contract, including the final page where he signed it, something only Les Miles at LSU was also required to do. In addition, there are constant references throughout that he should not do things to embarrass the university, which is probably a result of the Mike Price fiasco.

In fact, after the standard introductory legalese the contract begins with expectations regarding his behavior and a statement requiring him to be “a loyal employee of the University.” Every other contract goes immediately into financial terms, but not Alabama’s. It starts right off requiring him to be a good citizen and a loyal employee.

And that’s another thing. In these contracts, the person being hired is generally referred to as “Coach” throughout rather than using the guy’s name. This is probably so it’s easier to recycle the contract with minimal editing after they kick the lout to the curb for not winning championships every year. There are three exceptions to this in the conference: Mark Richt is “Richt,” Phil Fulmer is “Coach Fulmer,” and Nick Saban is “Employee.” I suppose it’s because Alabama has a bylaw somewhere restricting the use of the word “Coach” to the Bear and only the Bear.

The only capital “C” Coach the University of Alabama has ever had. Image CC by Flickr user jimmywayne22.

Saban gets a number of perks, though it’s interesting where the university draws the line. It will pay for him to have a country club membership, but not any food he buys while there. It must give him two cars to use, but it is not required to give him athletic shoes or clothing. He gets up to 25 hours flight time on a private jet (something no other coach I’ve seen gets), but those hours don’t roll over from year to year.

Overall it’s 32 pages long, tied for longest in the conference (not counting addenda to other coaches’ contracts) with Urban Meyer’s deal at Florida. The majority of it seems standard in comparison to other contracts, though the sections on what allows the university to terminate the contract and the ensuing damages are longer than in most other agreements.

Selected Quotes:

“Employee accepts the employment and agrees to act at all times in a manner consistent with good sportsmanship and with the high moral, ethical, and academic standards of the University. Employee shall exercise due care that all personnel and students under Employee’s supervision or subject to Employee’s control or authority shall comport themselves in like manner.

It must not be difficult to meet these requirements at the University of Alabama, with its rich tradition of bending and breaking NCAA rules. I wonder if all of the player arrests this off season mean he’s in breach of his contract?

“Employee agrees to be a loyal employee of the University.”

Again, this is the first thing the contract says after going through the legal definitions. Got trust issues, do we?

“If Employee is awarded the Paul ‘Bear’ Bryant Coach of the Year Award by the National Sportswriters and Sportscasters Association… $50,000.”

This is from the details of his bonus for winning coach of the year from any one of 4 organizations. Meyer and Steve Spurrier also have various national coach of the year award-related bonuses, but only Saban gets dough specifically for winning the Bear Bryant award. Huge shocker there.

The Hat before Les Miles was the Hat. It will forever loom large over the Alabama program, and perhaps its commemoration will earn its current coach a cool $50,000. Image CC by Flickr user diamondduste.