Eight weeks ago, the Vikings were undefeated and ranked No. 1 in DVOA. Now they're 6-6 and probably done. What went wrong?
16 Oct 2009
by Bill Connelly
Last Saturday was not the most exciting day of college football. Sure, there were some tight games, but most of the big games were not tremendously pleasing to the eye. Florida, LSU, Ole Miss, and Alabama combined for all of two offensive touchdowns, Texas sleep-walked through two quarters against Colorado, and while games like Michigan-Iowa and Florida State-Georgia Tech were competitive in the fourth quarter, the endings were anti-climactic. This week has some promise. OU-Texas and USC-Notre Dame justifiably drew most of the week's headlines, but Virginia Tech-Georgia Tech could be an evening doozy, and other games like Iowa-Wisconsin, Texas Tech-Nebraska, and Missouri-Oklahoma State could be quite entertaining.
But before we move on to this weekend, let's take one more look back at what happened a week ago.
For the second week in a row, there were not too many scores that strayed far from their projected-by-VN Box Score outcomes. One in particular, however, caught the eye.
Ohio State scores one offensive touchdown, gets doubled up in total yardage, and gets destroyed in time of possession (42:47 to 17:13) ... and wins easily. Makes perfect sense, right? That's what happens when you get two pick sixes and a kick return touchdown. Big plays swung the game in Ohio State's favor, but can they be counted on all season? The offense actually has to produce at some point, right?
|Field Position %||48.3%||20.0%|
|Close Success Rate||37.9%||30.3%|
|Close Success Rate||47.1%||33.3%|
|Close Success Rate||28.1%||26.7%|
|SD/PD Sack Rate
||20.0% / 6.5%||11.1% / 16.7%|
|Turnover Pts Margin
|1st Down S&P||0.446||0.660|
|2nd Down S&P||0.610||0.130|
|3rd Down S&P||0.516||0.669|
|Projected Pt. Margin
|Actual Pt. Margin
This is one of those games where a glass-half-full Ohio State fan could say winning is the most important thing. Ohio State made the plays it needed to make, and the team is still undefeated in conference. Those points are absolutely correct. But it is pretty hard to paint a rosy picture when the Buckeyes managed just 184 total yards against a defense that gave up more than 450 yards against both Fresno State and Michigan State.
Ohio State is now 5-1 this year with Terrelle Pryor behind center, and there's nothing saying they cannot finish 11-1 and linger around for another BCS title game bid if Texas loses and all of the SEC teams kill each other. Pryor has a respectable 132.3 passer rating and averages 5.1 yards per carry. Why isn't Ohio State better? The whole does not seem to equal the sum of the parts. (Chris Brown certainly has some pretty well-enunciated ideas for why things aren't clicking.) Then again, this is Ohio State. They do not do flashy -- they just win. Maybe this is all according to plan.
While we work to get an updated S&P+ posted on FO from week to week, here's a quick glimpse at the top 25. Right now, preseason projections have been phased out very conservatively, and the figures below come from 30 percent projections and 70 percent 2009 data. Despite the grounding in projected data, there are some downright crazy results in this week's rankings.
|S&P+ Top 25 (After Six Weeks)|
|8||Penn State (5-1)||245.5||6||-2||89.7||94||155.8||1|
|9||Ohio State (5-1)||245.3||4||-5||117.7||15||127.6||19|
|12||Virginia Tech (5-1)||237.8||14||+2||105.1||39||132.7||13|
|21||Boise State (5-0)||229.6||20||-1||106.5||31||123.1||22|
|22||Fresno State (2-3)||227.2||29||+7||120.8||9||106.4||36|
It is pretty easy to see what is going on here. These rankings are dependent on teams having played a wide variety of other teams, bouncing their output off of opponents' averages and opponents' opponents' averages. Florida and Alabama are so far ahead of everybody else that teams who have played either the Gators or Crimson Tide have heavily inflated ratings. That goes a long way in explaining why Tennessee (competitive loss to Florida) is third and Arkansas (not-so-competitive loss to Alabama and a big win over Auburn) is fifth. This will absolutely work itself out as the season progresses, but now you see why projection data is still being used -- this data is highly volatile. Miami was second last week, and just by playing a low-tier FCS team, they fell to tenth. As October turns into November, output will start to matter far more than any one opponent.
(And no, there is no ready explanation for the WAC fixation -- three WAC teams ranked between 19 and 22, including two with tough schedules but losing records.)
And if you don't believe from those rankings that this is still a volatile ranking system (one that has still managed quite a bit of success against the spread), take a gander at some of the week's biggest ups and downs.
Here, we'll focus primarily on BCS conference teams and notable non-BCS teams.
Cincinnati (25 spots, from 50th to 25th). With Oregon State and Fresno State looking good, Cincy's schedule strength was bolstered. That, and apparently they looked really good against Bye Week last week.
Texas A&M (16 spots, from 56th to 40th). With a respectable showing against Oklahoma State and highly-rated Arkansas on the schedule, A&M had a pretty good week despite losing their second straight game.
Nebraska (15 spots, from 19th to 4th). Missouri's offense was putting up massive numbers, and thanks to heavy rains, Blaine Gabbert's ankle sprain, and Ndamukong "Donkey Kong" Suh's utter dominance, the Huskers put major clamps on the Tigers' offense. It showed in the ratings.
Ole Miss (13 spots, from 44th to 31st). A solid defensive effort against Alabama and a bolstered strength of schedule was enough to give the 2-2 Rebels a bump.
Other major rises: North Texas (106th to 73rd), Florida Atlantic (80th to 48th), Idaho (105th to 75th), Colorado State (76th to 49th), Louisiana-Monroe (92nd to 68th), Arkansas State (109th to 88th).
Rutgers (51 spots, from 67th to 118th). This is what happens when you play your second FCS opponent. Schedule strength plummets. They will rebound once they start playing real teams again.
Vanderbilt (39 spots, from 71st to 110th). Meanwhile, this is what happens when you lose to Army.
Northwestern (31 spots, from 84th to 115th). And this is what happens when you look iffy against a terrible Miami (Ohio) team.
Georgia Tech (24 spots, from 34th to 58th). The Yellow Jackets' defense needs to improve pretty quickly.
Other major drops: Stanford (69th to 92nd), East Carolina (70th to 93rd), West Virginia (41st to 61st), Wake Forest (40th to 60th).
To Tennessee, for putting some things together. In the Volunteers' 45-19 win over Georgia, they just plain looked good. It is the first time you could say they looked really good against a good team since a November 2007 win over Arkansas. We knew they would have a good defense this season; it is hard to imagine Monte Kiffin and Eric Berry not making beautiful music together. But the offense is slowly rounding into shape, even if you can pin a lot of last week's success on Georgia's listless defense. Clearly they are not the third-best team in the country, and their S&P+ ranking will almost certainly fall soon, but Lane Kiffin and his mix-and-match staff full of ego and talent have started to show some promise. Then again, they are only 1-3 against BCS conference teams -- maybe we should keep this at a soft clap for now.
Another golf clap to a handful of mid-major teams. SMU has had one winning season since returning from the death penalty in 1989, and they had gone just 2-22 in their previous two seasons. Temple was such a beaten-down program that the Big East showed them the door, and they found themselves relegated to the MAC. Wyoming has been to just one bowl game in 15 years. Idaho has won three or fewer games in seven of the last eight seasons. Louisiana-Monroe has never been to a bowl game and has not finished with a winning record since returning to FBS play in 1994.
And all of these teams are undefeated in conference play. It is very early in the conference season, but the fan bases for these long-dormant programs all have something to cheer about in mid-October, and that is always a reason to celebrate.
This is almost too sad to be a rant, but the Bobby Bowden situation has taken a turn for the worse, and there is now no chance for a happy ending. When a legend gets older, you hope he either continues to win or knows when to call it quits. However, most of the time becoming a coaching legend takes a healthy ego, and that ego ends up getting in the way when the writing is on the wall. Bowden wants to be able to retire on his terms, but the decision becomes less and less his to make with every mediocre showing this season.
There is one thing to keep in mind throughout this Bowden saga, though. In the early part of this decade, things looked more bleak for Joe Paterno than it does for Bowden now. Penn State won just five games in 2000 and 2001, and after a rebound season in 2002, the Nittany Lions managed just seven combined wins in 2003 and 2004. His best days were behind him, he was too proud to see that he needed to step down, the critics said. But in 2005, with an influx of talent and athleticism, Paterno turned things around. Penn State has averaged 10 wins a season in the last four years, while Florida State has only managed 10 wins once in a season (2003) since losing the 2000 BCS Championship game. Can Bowden engineer a similar turnaround? Does he have the same stout assistant coaching staff to help him through these rough patches like Paterno did? Can recruiting, which has always ranked high for FSU, actually take a step up, or is the problem more with development of the talent on hand? Florida State hasn't had the same down swing that Penn State did, and the Seminoles still have plenty of time to make something out of this season (well, make a minor bowl game anyway), but momentum has turned in the wrong direction.
Chris Fowler pretty much had it right on College Gameday last week. The last thing anybody wants to see is another Eddie Robinson situation, where the man who built the program and took it to unimaginable heights sticks around too long and half-destroys what he worked so hard to build. Whatever happens with Bowden, hopefully it isn't that. But that means he has to know when to leave on his own, and he has remained steadfast in his desire to coach through at least next year. With rumored dissension in the coaching staff and an academic scandal following the program around like a black cloud, Bowden's departure might not be on his terms. That's a damn shame for college football.
Dumb Luck. Vanderbilt banks in a field goal to force overtime over Army, then Army hits almost the exact same spot on the goalpost in banking home the game-winner.
Fried Foods at the Texas State Fair. Just in case the OU-Texas game wasn't enough of a draw. Hey, speaking of which ...
In honor of this weekend's biggest game, here's a Red River Rivalry-themed Random 10:
"Checkin' Out the Rivalry" by Del Tha Funkee Homosapien
"Luckenbach, Texas" by Waylon Jennings
"My Oklahoma Home" by Pete Seeger
"The Red" by J Dilla and Madlib
"Red Dirt Girl" by Emmylou Harris
"Red Eyed & Blue" by Wilco
"Red Oyster Cult" by Guster
"Red River Shore" by Bob Dylan
"Red Red Red" by Fiona Apple
"Rival" by Pearl Jam
Once again, three of four games listed in last week's upset watch came to fruition. That's six of eight in two weeks ... let's see if we can keep the momentum going.
Middle Tennessee over Mississippi State. Spread: MTSU +4.5 | S&P+ Projection: MTSU by 9.2.
The numbers like the 3-2 Blue Raiders to not only throw a scare into Mississippi State at home in what has to be considered their Super Bowl (how often does an SEC team visit Murfreesboro?), but to beat them outright. Mississippi State has shown glimpses of competence in competitive losses to LSU, Georgia Tech and Houston, but this is a tricky road trip, one you do not want to make on a three-game losing streak.
UCLA over California. Spread: UCLA +3.5 | S&P+ Projection: UCLA by 9.5.
Washington over Arizona State. Spread: Washington +6.5 | S&P+ Projection: Washington by 0.8.
Once again, the "+" numbers disagree quite a bit with how Vegas views the Pac-10. UCLA and California both enter Saturday afternoon's affair on two-game losing streaks, but the Bruins have shown a little more life. Cal has to put an offense together after managing just six points combined against Oregon and USC. Meanwhile, Washington is starting to grow very confident after wins over USC and Arizona and an overtime loss to Notre Dame. Arizona State is 3-2 but has only managed one win over a BCS team, a meager 13-point win over listless Washington State. They could be ripe for an upset, though they do have home-field advantage.
Colorado over Kansas. Spread: CU +9.5 | S&P+ Projection: CU by 2.1.
Consider the projections for this one more an indictment of Kansas than approval of anything Colorado has done. Sure, the Buffaloes managed to stay competitive with Texas last week, but they are apparently breaking in a new starting quarterback, Tyler "Don't Call Me Taylor" Hansen, and they are still severely lacking in offensive weapons. But the Kansas defense has been a sieve in recent weeks, giving up a combined 1,303 yards in wins over Duke, Southern Miss and Iowa State. And if you can give up 512 yards to Iowa State, you can give up at least 300 yards against Colorado. If the Jayhawks aren't careful, they'll have almost completely conceded the North to Nebraska even before their brutal South schedule kicks in.
Did Boise State kill its BCS Title Game chances by not killing Tulsa? The good-looking win over Oregon has only begun to look better as Oregon has turned things around, but they still have little margin for error. As SEC teams beat up on each other and 1-loss teams like USC linger high in the rankings, the Broncos must kill every remaining opponent (and hope Texas loses) if they want to have a chance at the title game. It's not looking good. Tulsa is a rather competent team, and Boise-to-Tulsa is never going to be an easy, direct piece of travel, but the nation's only perceptions of Tulsa came from their 45-0 defeat at the hands of Oklahoma, and Boise lost a bit while winning Wednesday night.
12 comments, Last at 18 Oct 2009, 12:27pm by Will