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» Varsity Numbers: Honing in

Bill Connelly again looks at which college football teams the F/+ ratings are sure about, and which teams remain a mystery (led by Appalachian State).

28 May 2009

Varsity Numbers: 2008 Offensive Buffet

by Bill Connelly

In the last Varsity Numbers column, we took a look at overall "+" rankings. Today we will focus both on 2008 offenses and what may lie ahead in 2009.

As always, we'll start today with a "+" definition:

[T]he "+" concept [is] a primitive attempt at a college-level look at DVOA-type comparisons discussed here. The formulas behind the "+" concept have been strengthened since the writing of that column (instead of looking at game totals and comparing them to opponents' per-game averages, it actually looks at per-play totals, eliminating the general per-game problem of small sample sizes), but the idea remains the same: Figure out a way to factor a team's strength of schedule into statistics to truly find the best offense, defense, and possibly overall team. You read "+" ratings the same way you would read OPS+ or something similar in baseball: 100 is exactly average, under 100 is bad, and over 100 is good.

(If you want to look at this as a DVOA figure of sorts, just subtract 100 and view it as a percentage. So a "+" figure of 122 could also be viewed as +22 percent. A "+" figure of 90 would be -10 percent. The Overall "+" figure below is the same way, only the base is 200 instead of 100.)

First, we look at the overall offensive rankings for 2008.

2008 Offensive "+" Rankings
Rank Team Offense S&P+ Rushing (Rank) Passing (Rank) Standard Downs (Rank) Passing Downs (Rank)
1 Florida 152.1 152.7 (1) 157.1 (3) 156.8 (1) 147.5 (5)
2 Oklahoma 151.7 133.4 (6) 170.5 (1) 128.6 (6) 151.3 (3)
3 USC 146.3 132.5 (7) 161.3 (2) 137.4 (2) 151.1 (4)
4 Penn State 145.7 152.0 (2) 139.6 (6) 131.5 (5) 159.5 (1)
5 Georgia 135.4 117.5 (26) 153.3 (4) 136.5 (3) 140.6 (9)
6 BYU 130.3 118.6 (23) 136.2 (8) 121.6 (10) 135.7 (11)
7 Texas Tech 128.0 138.9 (4) 121.7 (15) 121.4 (11) 135.7 (7)
8 Oregon 127.9 142.5 (3) 109.7 (32) 131.9 (4) 128.0 (15)
9 Alabama 126.6 136.0 (5) 117.0 (22) 127.4 (7) 116.4 (27)
10 Texas 124.6 115.4 (29) 133.3 (9) 114.4 (24) 152.8 (2)
11 Missouri 124.4 116.8 (27) 127.4 (12) 123.8 (8) 124.11 (21)
12 Stanford 124.3 125.1 (10) 124.8 (13) 123.7 (9) 135.1 (13)
13 Oklahoma State 123.5 123.2 (13) 129.4 (11) 118.5 (14) 136.9 (10)
14 Mississippi 122.8 108.9 (45) 140.6 (5) 114.3 (25) 141.9 (8)
15 Boise State 120.5 100.2 (69) 139.5 (7) 111.5 (30) 126.2 (20)

The most interesting name on the list is Stanford, who finished 67th in the standard Total Offense measure. The best explanation for this is that A) they faced two of the top three defenses in the country (TCU and USC) and six of the top 30, and actually put up decent yardage and point totals, and B) while they were not tremendously explosive, they had fantastic success rates, particularly rushing and on passing downs. Efficiency is clearly half of the S&P equation. This says good things about the Cardinal in 2009, as they return eight offensive starters, including quarterback Tavita Pritchard, leading rusher Toby Gerhart, and three senior starting offensive linemen. Now, if only they could figure out how to play a little defense.

Success Rates

Of the two measure that make up S&P, Success Rates are as a whole slightly less correlated to win percentages than Points Per Play -- suggesting that at the college level, explosiveness is slightly more important than efficiency -- but looking at the top 10 for Success Rates+ shows that for most teams, being explosive comes with being efficient. All of the teams on this list were also in the overall top 15, and all but two (Missouri and Stanford) were also in the top 15 for PPP.

Top Success Rates+
Rank Team SR+
1 Florida 138.53
2 USC 135.22
3 Penn State 134.54
4 Oklahoma 130.59
5 BYU 129.45
6 Texas Tech 128.67
7 Missouri 123.62
8 Alabama 123.44
9 Stanford 123.13
10 Georgia 119.39

Points Per Play (PPP)

Here's where Oklahoma and Florida differentiated themselves. Oklahoma (first) and Ohio State (10th) were separated in PPP+ by about 47 points -- the same as the gap between Ohio State and Marshall (99th). While a handful of teams slipped over the 150 mark, the two national title game competitors were clearly head and shoulders above everybody else in the country.

Top Offenses in PPP+
Rank Team PPP+
1 Oklahoma 180.60
2 Florida 170.27
3 Penn State 163.08
4 USC 162.47
5 Georgia 158.33
6 Oregon 155.86
7 Ole Miss 138.93
8 Oklahoma State 135.51
9 Texas 134.10
10 Ohio State 133.89

Rushing and passing

Now let's move to rushing and passing. One thing to keep in mind here is that this is a per-play measure. That's why you see Texas Tech at fourth in the rushing list or Ohio State at 18th on the passing list. The way Texas Tech, for example, uses the run within their offense is extremely effective -- defenders are still going to be playing the pass at all times, even possibly on third-and-one -- but if they were to lean more heavily on the run, the numbers would probably suffer. Regardless, this list is only intended to look at who was most effective when they actually chose to run the ball. We will explore running games more in-depth with a measure called Points Over Expected (POE) later in the summer.

Best Rushing S&P+
Rank Team S&P+
1 Florida 152.71
2 Penn State 151.95
3 Oregon 142.47
4 Texas Tech 138.91
5 Alabama 136.03
6 Oklahoma 133.39
7 USC 132.48
8 Nevada 127.59
9 Wisconsin 126.24
10 Stanford 125.09

Clearly Florida's running game will be outstanding again in 2009 with Tim Tebow, Chris Rainey, and Jeffrey Demps, but do not underestimate the loss of Percy Harvin. He was by far the most effective rushing receiver in college football last year, and while Florida is not hurting for overall weapons, he was their most explosive.

Best Passing S&P+
Rank Team S&P+
1 Oklahoma 170.52
2 USC 161.28
3 Florida 157.05
4 Georgia 153.29
5 Mississippi 140.57
6 Penn State 139.63
7 Boise State 139.45
8 BYU 136.18
9 Texas 133.29
10 Nebraska 131.29

Simply because they did not compete for the national title, Georgia's season was considered a bit disappointing. The blame for that, however, cannot be pinned on Matthew Stafford, A.J. Green, and the Bulldog passing attack. Meanwhile, you would expect teams like Oklahoma, BYU, Texas, Missouri (11th), Tulsa (14th), and Texas Tech (15th) to be on the list, but the S&P+ measure rewards teams for using the pass effectively instead of just putting up big totals. Therefore you see teams like USC (22nd in overall passing yardage) and Penn State (37th) making their way into the Top 10. If you are a Jets (and therefore Mark Sanchez) fan, this should be pretty encouraging.

3rdPV

The concept of 3rdPV was discussed back in December. It takes the EqPts and PPP ideas and applies them to downs and distances. It is a much more static number than just PPP, with higher highs and lower lows. Therefore this will tell you who made more timely plays and leveraged opposing defenses well.

Best 3rd PV teams
Rank Team 3rdPV+
1 Oklahoma 164.69
2 Texas Tech 131.03
3 Florida 130.49
4 Texas 130.10
5 Oregon 127.81
6 Georgia 127.50
7 West Virginia 123.79
8 Penn State 123.68
9 Baylor 122.91
10 USC 122.83

Texas Tech made the list by staying out of uncomfortable Passing Down situations, while Texas made the list by overachieving on Passing Downs. Baylor is an interesting addition to the list -- they most likely made it due to young quarterback Robert Griffin's ability to scramble for first downs.

Be on the lookout for Griffin in 2009, by the way. He still needs more weapons around him, but he is as exciting to watch as anybody in the country.

Disproportionality

Back in November, we looked at the ratio between success on Standard Downs and Passing Downs and wondered if a ratio that favored Passing Downs success too much would lead to failure down the line. At the time, Texas' offense had actually performed better on Passing Downs than Standard Downs, and in their lone loss of 2008 (at Texas Tech), they got murdered on Passing Downs. It just didn't seem like the kind of success a team could rely on much. (The concept of disproportionality allowed me to raise a large red flag about the Penn State-Iowa game as well, which was nice.)

(In previous VN columns, Standard Downs have been referred to as "Non-Passing Downs," but we're changing the terminology to something a little more, well, standard.)

Now that all of the "+" numbers have been calculated, let's look at the SD-PD ratio in a different way. Let's look at the teams with the biggest difference between their Passing Downs S&P+ and Standard Downs S&P+.

Teams With Disproportionately High PD S&P+
Rank Team PD S&P+ SD S&P+ Ratio Overall S&P+ Rank
1 Texas 152.81 114.36 1.336 10
2 Syracuse 114.66 86.84 1.320 77
3 Florida International 102.21 81.82 1.249 105
4 Oregon State 143.87 115.22 1.249 26
5 Texas A&M 117.13 93.97 1.246 85
6 Mississippi 141.85 114.28 1.241 14
7 Louisiana-Monroe 100.58 81.28 1.237 107
8 New Mexico State 98.42 80.92 1.216 98
9 Penn State 159.52 131.49 1.213 4
10 N.C. State 124.05 102.33 1.212 41
11 South Florida 130.96 108.73 1.204 21
12 East Carolina 102.77 86.55 1.187 87
13 Texas Tech 143.53 121.36 1.183 7
14 Oklahoma 151.34 128.56 1.177 2
15 South Carolina 113.87 97.34 1.170 62
16 Tulsa 135.57 116.04 1.168 20
17 Kansas 127.95 110.03 1.163 19
18 Houston 127.85 110.15 1.161 36
19 Oklahoma State 136.88 118.50 1.155 13
20 West Virginia 126.35 109.66 1.152 27

Some teams were disproportionate simply because their performance on Standard Downs was so bad. But some -- like Texas, Mississippi, Oregon State and Penn State -- were good on Standard Downs and very good on Passing Downs. Teams like that could be in for a fall.

To see how legitimate this category is as a predictor, let's look at teams with the most disproportional 2007 performance and how their disproportionality translated to 2008 success. The "% Change" column below reflects the change in their overall Close-Game S&P+ from 2007 to 2008.

Teams With Disproportionately High PD S&P+, 2007
Rank Team Ratio % Change
1 Minnesota 1.343 +0.3%
2 Nevada 1.290 +10.4%
3 Washington State 1.285 -38.0%
4 Nebraska 1.275 -4.7%
5 Washington 1.267 -33.2%
6 Georgia 1.206 +22.3%
7 UL-Monroe 1.200 -0.3%
8 Kentucky 1.183 -20.6%
9 Indiana 1.179 +1.1%
10 Oklahoma 1.178 +25.7%
11 Wisconsin 1.168 -3.5%
12 Central Michigan 1.155 -12.5%
13 Missouri 1.155 -0.9%
14 Texas Tech 1.154 +6.8%
15 Northwestern 1.151 +1.1%

The conclusions here are mixed. Teams that returned star quarterbacks and major receiving threats from 2007 to 2008 (teams like Georgia, Oklahoma, and Texas Tech) improved in 2008. Meanwhile, teams with offensive deficiencies (Washington State and Washington, for example) or teams having to replace key offensive cogs (Kentucky, Wisconsin) regressed, some significantly.

Looking again at the 2008 list, Texas might be OK. They return Colt McCoy and his top weapon, Jordan Shipley, plus major big-play weapons in Malcolm Williams, Dan Buckner, and others. They still don't have a go-to running back, and while they could regress a bit, the damage might not be too bad. Meanwhile, Ole Miss returns Jevan Snead but loses big-play threat Mike Wallace, and Penn State has to replace almost their entire receiving corps. Look for a potential drop from the Rebels and a potential large drop from the Nittany Lions.

Posted by: Bill Connelly on 28 May 2009

7 comments, Last at 03 Jun 2009, 4:58pm by bird jam

Comments

1
by bird jam :: Thu, 05/28/2009 - 3:36pm

Could we see some bottom 10 lists? (I'm a Tennessee fan.)

2
by Bill Connelly :: Thu, 05/28/2009 - 4:50pm

Overall S&P+

111. Miami-OH (82.6)
112. Tulane (82.6)
113. Colorado (82.0)
114. Washington (80.5)
115. Idaho (78.5)
116. Western Kentucky (73.4)
117. San Jose State (70.5)
118. Washington State (69.9)
119. Army (67.0)
120. Central Florida (64.1)

Tennessee: #80

Rushing S&P+

111. Miami-OH (79.8)
112. Idaho (79.4)
113. Washington State (77.9)
114. Middle Tennessee (77.1)
115. Army (77.0)
116. Arizona State (75.1)
117. Temple (73.6)
118. Central Florida (71.8)
119. San Jose State (68.1)
120. New Mexico State (63.6)

Tennessee: #48

Passing S&P+

111. Northern Illinois (78.1)
112. Michigan (77.6)
113. New Mexico (74.8)
114. Kent State (74.6)
115. San Jose State (73.7)
116. Washington (73.5)
117. Washington State (62.8)
118. Central Florida (57.8)
119. Western Kentucky (56.5)
120. Army (49.5)

Tennessee: #100

Standard Downs S&P+

111. Temple (83.3)
112. Tulane (82.8)
113. Florida International (81.8)
114. Louisiana-Monroe (81.3)
115. Washington State (81.2)
116. Western Kentucky (81.2)
117. New Mexico State (80.9)
118. Army (78.4)
119. Central Florida (78.3)
120. San Jose State (73.6)

Tennessee: #54

Passing Downs S&P+

111. Colorado (79.9)
112. SMU (79.8)
113. Air Force (79.5)
114. Western Kentucky (75.1)
115. San Diego State (74.7)
116. San Jose State (67.5)
117. Wyoming (63.5)
118. Washington State (58.8)
119. Army (50.9)
120. Central Florida (47.5)

Tennessee: #106

7
by bird jam :: Wed, 06/03/2009 - 4:58pm

Wow, my comment was a half-tongue-in-cheek statement about how terrible the Vols were last year, but thank you for replying and taking the time to answer it. I can't believe we didn't make any of the Bottom 10 lists, although we were close on a few...

3
by Pat (filler) (not verified) :: Thu, 05/28/2009 - 5:47pm

"Look for a potential drop from the Rebels and a potential large drop from the Nittany Lions."

Meh. Penn State lost Norwood, Williams, and Butler, but kept Clark, Royster, and Green. While the Rebels have some carryover in receiving threats, they don't have a running threat nearly as good as Royster was (heck, barely as good as Green was), so I can't really see that as anything other than a wash. The offensive line is a much bigger concern; if the Nittany Lions stumble bad this year, it'll probably because the offensive line is struggling rather than the receivers not living up.

4
by War Eagle (not verified) :: Fri, 05/29/2009 - 2:56pm

There's good reason to think that Ole Miss and PSU will regress offensively, aside from personnel losses anyway. They both introduced new offenses and caught people off guard. Next year, there will be more film on them, and teams will be better prepared to face them.

Ole Miss and PSU falling back is a safe prediction to make.

5
by Pat (filler) (not verified) :: Fri, 05/29/2009 - 5:51pm

"Ole Miss and PSU falling back is a safe prediction to make."

It's also much harder to go "up" from being ranked 3rd than "down".

6
by www.TomahawkNation.com (not verified) :: Sat, 05/30/2009 - 9:21pm

Bill,

excellent work, as always. This is an odd favor, but can you give me FSU's passing down #'s '06'-'08? I have a casual theory that Weatherford became scared in 2007 and never went for 1st down (thus having the lowest interception % in football).