Eight weeks ago, the Vikings were undefeated and ranked No. 1 in DVOA. Now they're 6-6 and probably done. What went wrong?
06 Nov 2009
by Bill Connelly
Lots of interesting stuff to talk about this week, from a historic beat-down, to the retirement of one of the game's best assistant coaches, to more playoff talk, to the unveiling of an Estimated S&P+ tool. Instead of some fancy introduction, let's just get started!
Not to pile on after Fremeau explored this on Wednesday, but it is pretty clear whose was the most interesting VN box score from last week, simply for the sheer novelty.
As Brian Fremeau mentioned, USC's non-blowout streak was amazing Everybody gets blown out at one point or another, but Southern Cal seemed invincible for a while. Now, in USC's most blatant rebuilding/reloading year in the Pete Carroll era, even they couldn't avoid it.
|Field Position %||47.8%||66.3%|
|Close Success Rate||41.2%||61.0%|
|Close Success Rate||36.4%||62.9%|
|Close Success Rate||44.8%||58.3%|
|SD/PD Sack Rate
||9.1% / 0.0%||0.0% / 0.0%|
|Turnover Pts Margin
|1st Down S&P||0.671||1.265|
|2nd Down S&P||0.706||0.707|
|3rd Down S&P||0.600||1.024|
|Projected Pt. Margin
|Actual Pt. Margin
Most amazing stat: line yardage. You rarely see an average as high as 4.58 per carry. Think about what line yardage actually means -- it is an attempt to derive how much of a given rush was due to the offensive line. That means that, before LaMichael James or Jeremiah Masoli (or any of Oregon's other stout backs) had to do anything on their own, they had gained roughly five yards.
There have only been five games this season where a team gained as many as 4.58 line yards per carry against a BCS conference team:
Washington State, Duke, Kentucky, N.C. State ... and USC.
One more note: Oregon's success rate on Passing Downs was just 3 percent lower than USC's success rate on Standard Downs. USC was decent on offense, but far from great. Matt Barkley seemed to handle the surroundings just fine, but Oregon's defense played extremely well, especially in the second half. They got a lead, and they teed off.
Most people are assuming that USC will now take out all of their frustrations on Arizona State, and that is a possibility. Butwhat we need to realize is that, while Oregon's offense was amazing Saturday, the current USC defense is not the typical "USC Defense" to which we have grown accustomed. They rank 33rd in Defensive S&P+ and 65th in Defensive Rushing S&P+. Sixty-fifth! USC's recovery requires growth, not simply the flip of a switch. They are young enough that, for all we know, they could be right back at the top of the rankings next season, but the extent to which they recover in 2009 is far from certain.
With Florida State defensive coordinator Mickey Andrews' retirement this week, this seems like a good time to break out a tool we will be playing with quite a bit this offseason -- Estimated S&P+. In the absence of full play-by-play data, we will be setting up a hierarchy of data points to use for estimated S&P+. Yards and yards per play could be quite useful as far back as they can be gathered (which should be back into at least the late-1990s), but for now one resource is available all the way back to the turn of the century: points for and points against. Substituting points for S&P, we can set up the same type of formula to rank teams from all of last century.
Points are a relatively random measure when all is said and done. For example, if your defense returns an interception back for a touchdown, it counts for your offense. When gathered, yardage will be more useful. But for now, we've got points, and here's what points data (with the "+" adjustment) tells us about Florida State's defenses under Andrews.
In the three years preceding Andrews' arrival in Tallahassee, Florida State ranked 81st on defense in 1981, 36th in 1982, and 69th in 1983. To say the least, Andrews made them better, and it didn't take very long.
|Florida State Defensive S&P+ Rankings (Est.)
During the Mickey Andrews Era
In the 1990s (considered here to be 1991-2000), four FSU defenses ranked among the decade's Top 25. The 2000 defense ranked second; 1993, third; 1998, 12th; and 1996, 23rd. (The top 5: 1991 Miami, 2000 FSU, 1993 FSU, 1991 Washington, 1992 Arizona.) Perhaps even more impressive is the fact that nine of Florida State's 1990s defenses ranked among the decade's top 52 defenses. That's simply ridiculous. Consider this offseason project No. 2417: Figuring out if any defensive coordinator has had a more impressive decade than that.
The Seminoles' defense had seen their moving average falling for awhile now, and this might indeed have been a nice time for Andrews to step aside. But now that he is officially leaving, Florida State fans can begin to reminisce on just how impressive his 26 seasons in Tallahassee have been. There is still a flourishing "Will/should Bobby stay or leave?" debate, but Andrews' announced departure comes at a time where he can steal some deserved spotlight. He's earned it.
And while we're on the topic of Estimated S&P+, here are the Top 10 teams of the 1990s according to the measure, just for fun:
1. 1991 Miami (12-0, National Co-Champions)
2. 1993 Florida State (12-1, National Champions)
3. 2000 Florida State (11-2, No. 5 in final AP Poll)
4. 1991 Washington (12-0, National Co-Champions)
5. 1996 Ohio State (11-1, No. 2 in final AP Poll)
6. 1996 Nebraska (11-2, No. 6 in final AP Poll)
7. 1995 Nebraska (12-0, National Champions)
8. 2000 Oklahoma (13-0, National Champions)
9. 1997 Michigan (12-0, National Co-Champions)
10. 1998 Florida State (11-2, No. 3 in final AP Poll)
We won't spend much time on this one (especially after the subject caught fire in the 7th Day Adventure comments section), but it's impossible to look at the current BCS situation and not reflect on our lovely playoff debate from the summer. With seven unbeaten teams and a couple of charging one-loss teams (namely Oregon and Georgia Tech), the field of teams seemingly deserving a shot at the national title has never been larger. Using the "perfect playoff" structure I laid out this summer, here is how a 16-team playoff would take shape. (Conference champions are simply determined by current standings; in case of ties without relevant tie-breakers, we went with S&P+ rankings; in the MAC, Temple was selected over Central Michigan just because it's Temple.)
16 Temple at 1 Florida
9 Georgia Tech at 8 Oregon
12 USC at 5 Cincinnati
13 Houston at 4 Iowa
11 LSU at 6 TCU
14 Pittsburgh at 3 Texas
10 Penn State at 7 Boise State
15 Troy at 2 Alabama
Oregon-GT (who would potentially combine for 700 rushing yards), Cincy-USC (the Vidal Hazelton Bowl), and Boise-Penn State (on the blue field!) in the first round, and potential Florida-Oregon, Iowa-Cincy, Texas-TCU, and Alabama-Boise matchups in the second. Wow. That would be some intriguing football. As would the battle for the final couple of spots in a Plus-1 system.
Of course, there is intrigue with the current system as well. Without upsets, it is pretty clear that we are looking at a BCS Championship Game of Texas versus the Alabama/Florida winner; but this is November. Upsets happen. If one of the favorites falls, then there are quite a few teams positioning themselves to benefit, from Iowa and Cincinnati, to mid-major heroes Boise State and TCU, to the aforementioned hot 1-loss teams.
As with every week for the rest of the season, you can check out S&P+ rankings updated weekly on FO.
There was some major movement in the rankings, and not really because of any performance on the field. The preseason projections were finally completely phased out of the system, and we got a nice look at who the projections were propping up or holding down. For the rest of the season, the rises and falls should be quite minor compared to this.
Air Force (35 spots, from 67th to 32nd). The projections did not like them at all, but based on a pretty stout defense, the 5-4 Falcons might actually be a solid squad. Their losses have come at Minnesota, at Navy, at Utah, and at home to TCU, and it's safe to say that most teams ranked between 30th and 40th would do no better than about 1-3 in those games.
Mississippi State (30 spots, from 76th to 46th). They were supposed to be horrible, but the 4-5 Bulldogs have shown at least a little bit of bite, losing by 10 to Florida, four to LSU, 11 to Georgia Tech, and four to Houston. Those four teams have a combined 30-3 record. Once again, strength of schedule is clouding how decent Mississippi State may actually be.
Wake Forest (29 spots, from 74th to 45th). Wake is not amazing at anything in particular, but they probably weren't the 74th-best team in the country, so consider this a simple market adjustment.
Stanford (26 spots, from 91st to 65th). The Cardinal's offense actually hasn't quite lived up to expectations, but the defense has only been bad and not cataclysmic, as the numbers apparently projected.
Other notable rises: Baylor (79th to 55th), West Virginia (51st to 27th), North Carolina (83rd to 60th), Utah (46th to 23rd), Georgia Tech (43rd to 21st), Pittsburgh (61st to 39th), Temple (89th to 71st).
San Diego State (44 spots, from 58th to 102nd). I cannot explain how in the world they made it to 58, but let's just say that 102 is probably a little more accurate.
Tulsa (35 spots, from 37th to 72nd) and Nevada (35 spots, from 21st to 56th). These two teams were both beneficiaries of what we will call aggressive projections, and while Nevada has begun to look a lot more like the rock solid team they were supposed to be from the beginning, they do not belong in the Top 25. Meanwhile, Tulsa has lost three in a row, and while nobody will beat you down for losing to Boise State (right, Oregon?), they needed to have much better showings against UTEP and SMU.
Virginia (30 spots, from 27th to 57th). We thought the numbers knew something nobody else knew when they projected a Virginia win over North Carolina, but ever since that game, the numbers have been significantly overestimating the Hoos.
Other notable falls: Washington (25th to 54th), Missouri (22nd to 48th), Wyoming (59th to 82nd), Michigan (36th to 59th), Oregon State (28th to 49th), Memphis (85th to 104th), Colorado (57th to 76th).
To Brandon Spikes, who got caught doing something stupid (eye-gouging a Georgia player), probably didn't get suspended nearly long enough (Urban Meyer suspended him for a half), and decided to suspend himself further and sit out the entire game against Vanderbilt. Granted, it's just Vanderbilt (he might not have voluntarily sat out the Georgia or LSU game), and this was still perpetrated by a player who went out of his way to call another team dirty earlier this year, but it was at least a bit of a stand-up move for somebody caught doing something pretty dirty.
Another mini clap goes to ESPN, for making sure I have college football to watch virtually every night of the week now.
After a whopping three rants last week, we'll take it easy this week. It's tempting to take off on something the esteemed Senator Blutarsky at Get the Picture mentioned earlier this week and ask once again why the instant replay system was created in the most convoluted, least effective way possible, but no. It's all rainbows and moonbeams this week for Varsity Numbers.
In further honor of the unprecedented beating Oregon put on USC last week:
"Born Killer" by Scarface
"Destroy & Rebuild" by NaS
"Destroyer" by The Kinks
"Killing Floor" by Howlin' Wolf
"The Killer, Starlight Mints
Search and Destroy, The Stooges
They Will Kill Us All (Without Mercy)" by The Bronx
"Whipping" by Pearl Jam
"Whipping Post" by Allman Brothers Band
"You're Nobody (Til Somebody Kills You)" by Notorious B.I.G.
A fantastic 3-1 Week 9 brought us back to .500 at 10-10. Can we keep the momentum going?
Tulsa over Houston. Spread: Tulsa +2 | S&P+ Projection: Tulsa by 3.9.
Tulsa has played pretty poor football for most of the last month, but they have a pretty big home-road split (meaning, they generally play much, much better at home, last week's SMU game aside), and that gives them the edge over a Houston team that has certainly been good since their loss to UTEP, but not quite as good as they were at the beginning of the season.
Nebraska over Oklahoma. Spread: Oklahoma +5 | S&P+ Projection: Nebraska by 6.1.
Iowa State over Oklahoma State. Spread: Iowa State +7.5 | S&P+ Projection: Iowa State by 3.0.
A couple of interesting Big 12 projections, both made possible by the home-field adjustment. The projections still appear to be overdoing the Nebraska love (it hasn't gotten many NU games right recently), but the Huskers will at least have a chance against the Sooners in a night game at home, with their biggest strength (defensive line) matching up well against OU's biggest weakness (offensive line). OU has improved a bit on the offensive line, but it is still a thin unit, and it is still potentially the weakest unit on the team.
Meanwhile, Iowa State hopes to catch Oklahoma State in a funk after the Cowboys' blowout loss to Texas last week. They have a defense that ranks poorly but capitalizes on mistakes, and if OSU is not playing at a high level, this tricky trip to Ames could catch them off-guard.
San Jose State over Nevada. Spread: SJSU + 14 | S&P+ Projection: SJSU by 2.7.
Consider this an effect of Nevada's major drop in the preseason-projection free S&P+ rankings. San Jose State once again has a solid (for a WAC team) defense and nothing whatsoever on offense, but if Nevada experiences the turnover woes that killed them earlier in the season, the Spartans could strike.
I've got to say, I almost hate talking about playoffs at this point (ironic, since I went out of my way to bring it up today), simply because the debate is so old at this point. InWar As They Knew It (a book a lot better than its Amazon reviews suggest -- methinks Ohio State fans took exception at the fact that the book was written by a Detroit Free Press writer; take it from a neutral observer -- this was a pretty solid book), Michael Rosenberg casually points out that football higher-ups were exploring the idea of a playoff in the 1970s before Michigan's athletic director, among others, shot the idea down. The playoff debate has been around for 30-plus years! If there were a way to spin the wheel of destiny and agree that all parties involved -- playoff supporters and detractors alike -- would stop complaining no matter which verdict the wheel settled upon, I would very much encourage it.
(That said, I'm sure I'll reopen the topic unprompted another time soon, simply because I cannot help myself.)
21 comments, Last at 09 Nov 2009, 8:28am by Will Allen