Possibly the closest Super Bowl matchup in history also poses the question: how much does it mean when certain aspects of an NFL team improve dramatically in the second half of the season?
12 Nov 2010
by Bill Connelly
Thanks to Football Outsiders Almanac 2010 getting discounted 33 percent this week and my revisiting teams' five-year histories for yesterday's ESPN Insider piece, I think it's time to revisit the F/+ preseason projections. Which teams did we nail completely? On which teams did we completely whiff, and why? With plenty of both the regular season and postseason remaining, we cannot yet revisit FO's win projections, but we can look at which teams have varied significantly in terms of their F/+ rankings.
As FOA owners know, we expanded the reach of the projections this year to include not only FEI and S&P+ data, but also data about recruiting, coaching changes, and other change factors (returning starters/lettermen, late-season momentum, turnover margin, fumble recovery percentage, etc.). In all, the projections have not been too bad. Forty-seven of 120 FBS teams are within 10 spots of their projected rankings, and many which aren't are mid-major teams still reaping the benefits of a tough non-conference schedule without completely paying for their weak conference schedules (No. 71 Florida International, I'm looking in your general direction).
Primarily because of the five-year history factor described in yesterday's Insider article, we certainly missed on some of our top picks. Here was the projected F/+ Top Ten:
1. Florida (Current F/+ Rank: 23rd | Record: 6-3).
2. Alabama (Current F/+ Rank: fifth | Record: 7-2).
3. Texas (Current F/+ Rank: 54th | Record: 4-5).
4. Ohio State (Current F/+ rank: fourth | Record: 8-1).
5. Virginia Tech (Current F/+ rank: 13th | Record: 7-2).
6. Oklahoma (Current F/+ rank: 17th | Record: 7-2).
7. TCU (Current F/+ rank: second | Record: 10-0).
8. Penn State (Current F/+ rank: 47th | Record: 6-3).
9. Oregon (Current F/+ rank: 10th | Record: 9-0).
10. LSU (Current F/+ rank: 12th | Record: 8-1).
Really, that list includes three whiffs (Florida, Texas, and Penn State) and seven solid picks. Boise State should have been in the mix as well, instead of lingering at 15th, but in all, this isn't a terrible showing. (Nobody else had Florida and Texas tumbling to a great degree either.)
Recent history seemed to have less impact this season than it has in other recent years, and in the offseason, we will have to determine whether it will play as large a role in next year's projections. My guess is that it will. The 2007 season was a crazy one as well, and projections based around recent history wouldn't have done very well that season either, but 2008 would have been just fine in that regard. You don't tweak formulas due to outlier seasons, but again, those are decisions we will make this offseason.
I wanted to revisit some of the other "misses" this week to see if there are themes among them, or if they were just random surprises. I won't discuss the teams from yesterday's ESPN piece -- Stanford, Illinois, Mississippi State, Texas, BYU, Boston College -- in much detail because, well, to the extent that our projections were off on those teams, it was pretty clearly because of five-year history and its (lack of) impact. Below are some teams we missed, and not just because of recent history.
N.C. State. FOA 2010 Projection: 63rd | Current F/+ Rank: 22nd | Record: 6-3. The Wolfpack rank 12th in Defensive F/+ ... just slightly off from our projection of 78th. They have been efficient against the run and have done a wonderful job of preventing big plays in the air. Star linebacker Nate Irving has returned to the lineup this year after a car accident sidelined him in 2009, and he has made a world of difference. He leads the team in tackles (65), tackles for loss (10.5, an excellent total for a linebacker), and quarterback hurries (eight), plus he's broken up four passes. He has combined with Audie Cole and Brandan Bishop to form one of the better, most underrated linebacker corps in the country.
Hawaii. FOA 2010 Projection: 89th | Current F/+ Rank: 38th | Record: 7-3. Hawaii's projections were weighed down by both a poor defensive outlook (105th in projected Defensive F/+) and strength of schedule (90th). They have already exceeded their projected 6.6 wins, and they have done so by vastly exceeding expectations on both sides of the ball. Quarterback Bryant Moniz has thrived in his second season in charge of the offense, and the skill position players around him -- running back Alex Green and especially receiver Greg Salas -- have been outstanding. Clearly the
Rainbow Warriors weren't up for the task at Boise State last weekend, but who is?
Kansas State. FOA 2010 Projection: 72nd | Current F/+ Rank: 41st | Record: 6-3. Chalk this one up to recent history and the Bill Snyder effect. It appears that FO missed on teams with first- and second-year coaches more than anything else, and obviously a five-year history number (which include three seasons of Ron Prince and one from the first Snyder era) wasn't going to tell us an inordinate amount about how the 2010 Wildcats would play. It is still unclear to me what the Wildcats' ceiling might be under Snyder -- even with the Brown brothers coming to town, I don't see another conference-title run in their future -- but it is obvious that the ceiling is higher with Snyder than with Prince.
Missouri. FOA 2010 Projection: 41st | Current F/+ Rank: 14th | Record: 7-2. The Tigers are 3-1 against F/+ Top 40 teams, and that has helped them hold onto a Top 15 spot despite the upset loss to Texas Tech. As with N.C. State, the Tigers have exceeded projections on the defensive side of the ball (Projected Def. F/+ rank: 45th), where an experienced secondary and improved pass rush have improved the Tigers from 78th in Def. Passing S&P+ to fourth. Injuries are taking their toll on the Tigers -- they have slipped to 67th against the run, due in part to injuries to defensive tackle Dominique Hamilton and linebacker Luke Lambert. We will see if a defense that wore down against Baron Batch and Texas Tech can hold their form against Daniel Thomas and Kansas State in this weekend's F/+ Overachiever Bowl.
Others: Central Florida, Army, Florida International, Arkansas State, San Diego State, Nevada, SMU.
When the projections were finalized, three teams stood out to me as worrisome picks. All three teams -- Kansas, Tennessee, and Texas Tech -- were breaking in new coaches and trying to replace a solid amount of talent, and it was going to be very difficult for them to live up to these expectations. None of the three have, and only Texas Tech (at 5-4) has managed a winning record to date. Coaching changes -- and the high variability and unpredictability they bring along -- are most likely always going to be a bugaboo for projections.
Kansas. FOA 2010 Projection: 51st | Current F/+ Rank: 115th | Record: 3-6. Among other things, Kansas is proof of the limitations of the "returning starters" figure. The Jayhawks returned six offensive starters from last year's squad, but three of the players they lost -- quarterback Todd Reesing and receivers Dez Briscoe and Kerry Meier -- were potentially more valuable than the other eight starters combined. When you combine misleading returning starter data with a first-year coach (affable, religious, "no cursing" Turner Gill seems to be the exact opposite of Mark Mangino in every way, for better or worse), this was a solid recipe for disaster. It is impressive that Kansas has managed three wins despite an overall F/+ rank of 115th and the fact that they lost to North Dakota State to start the season. They have pulled off one inexplicable upset (albeit to another team on this portion of the list, Georgia Tech), one inexplicable comeback (they were down 28 points to Colorado in the fourth quarter last Saturday and won; it was the final straw for Dan Hawkins' tenure in Boulder), and one win over the worst-ranked team in FBS (New Mexico State). With remaining games against Nebraska, Oklahoma State, and Missouri, let's just say their odds of getting to 4-8 are not high. Of course, I said the same about their odds of getting to three wins halfway through the Colorado game.
Tennessee. FOA 2010 Projection: 20th | Current F/+ Rank: 73rd | Record: 3-6. A first-year coach and misleading recruiting rankings -- quite a few high-ranked members of recent recruiting classes enrolled initially at Tennessee but are no longer with the team -- resulted in the FO bar getting set far too high for the Volunteers. Despite one of the stronger strengths of schedule around, the Vols have still slipped to 73rd, in part because they have no definitive strengths. They were projected in the Top 25 both offensively and defensively, but they currently rank 74th in Offensive F/+ (47th in Passing S&P+ but 78th in Passing Downs S&P+) and 65th in Defensive F/+ (67th in Passing Downs S&P+). They are young and thin, and with their schedule, they just haven't had much of a chance.
Purdue. FOA 2010 Projection: 46th | Current F/+ Rank: 96th | Record: 4-5. The Boilers were projected to take a step forward in Danny Hope's second season (coaches' second seasons are almost as variable as first seasons), but injuries have wrecked an offense that currently ranks 109th in Defensive F/+. Starting quarterback Robert Marve was lost for the season in his fourth game, receiver Keith Smith caught 18 passes in seven quarters, then tore up his knee. Star running back Ralph Bolden tore his ACL in the spring. The young Boilermakers have had to learn on the fly, and it hasn't been pretty. If everybody comes back healthy next season, Purdue could be in store for a solid bounce-back year. But with a slumping recent history, we probably won't be in position to get that one right either.
Georgia Tech. FOA 2010 Projection: 23rd | Current F/+ Rank: 57th | Record: 5-4. The Yellow Jackets have underachieved equally on both sides of the ball. An offense that was projected sixth in Off. F/+ ranks 38th, primarily because they miss Demaryius Thomas more than anybody could have imagined. The absence of the first receiver taken in last year's NFL Draft has been the catalyst behind Tech falling from 16th in Passing S&P+ to 108th. Thomas masked quarterback Josh Nesbitt's inaccuracy as much as anyone could, it seems. With no threat of the pass, the running game has found fewer open lanes. Meanwhile, Paul Johnson welcomed defensive coordinator Al Groh and his 3-4 system into the mix in 2010, and there has been more of a breaking-in period than expected. Georgia Tech ranked 64th in Defensive F/+ last season and were projected 46th. Instead, they have fallen to 82nd. They are equally bad against the run (90th in Def. Rushing S&P+) and the pass (84th in Def. Passing S&P+). Blitzing has been a strength, but clearly the personnel hasn't meshed well just yet, and they likely miss defensive end Derrick Morgan as well.
Others: Wake Forest, Connecticut, Minnesota, Penn State, Texas Tech.
Full rankings here.
|F/+ Top 25 (After Ten Weeks)|
|F/+ Top 25 (After Ten Weeks)|
|F/+ Top 25 (After Ten Weeks)|
Boise State and TCU may currently be on the outside looking in when it comes to the BCS standings, but the two mid-majors have surged to the top of the F/+ rankings. Our rankings are designed not to automatically punish a team for playing a weak schedule -- you can maintain high rankings if you decimate your schedule as well as BCS conference powers would. With Boise State's consistency and TCU's incredible performance against Utah, I think it is safe to say that these teams have performed as well as Auburn, Oregon or anybody else would have with the schedule they were given. And unlike Oregon, they haven't waited until the 50-play mark to get rolling.
(The Ducks, by the way, face an interesting landmine game this weekend in Berkeley. California has been the most high-variability team in the country this year, and they have hinted at an upside solid enough to knock Oregon out. Unfortunately for the Golden Bears, it seems like it has been a while since they played at a high level against a good team.)
Arkansas. Aside from TCU-Utah, the Razorbacks put together the most impressive performance of the week, pummeling a good South Carolina team on the road. Others don't think quite as highly of South Carolina as our numbers do, but this was a great performance no matter how you slice it. The Hogs have now held a fourth-quarter lead in every single game of the season. With a remaining schedule of UTEP, Mississippi State, and LSU, they will have an outside chance at a 10-2 year.
Here's your weekly look at how the BCS rankings would look if determined from a 60-40 split of AP Poll and F/+ rankings. It really is impressive that none of the top four teams hold the same spot in both this list and the actual BCS standings. In some years, the "Who should play in the BCS title game?" answer is obvious. In other years, it isn't even close.
1. Auburn (10-0)
2. TCU (10-0)
3. Boise State (8-0)
4. Oregon (9-0)
5. Ohio State (8-1)
6. Stanford (8-1)
7. LSU (8-1)
8. Nebraska (8-1)
9. Alabama (7-2)
10. Wisconsin (8-1)
Ole Miss over Tennessee. Spread: Ole Miss +2.5 | F/+ Projection: Ole Miss by 4.0. For all the numbers know, Jeremiah Masoli is healthy and playing. If he's not either of those things (he suffered a concussion last week and is questionable), then Tennessee should be able to stop the Rebels enough to counteract their own offensive issues.
South Carolina over Florida. Spread: South Carolina +6.5 | F/+ Projection: South Carolina by 0.4. Considering the game is in Gainesville, this pick surprised me a bit. The numbers are not giving any extra credit to Florida for picking up the pace offensively in recent weeks, so that might account for some of the surprise. Florida has one of the best standard downs offenses in the country, and the Gamecocks will have to figure out how to create more success for running back Marcus Lattimore than his 11-carry, 30-yard performance of a week ago.
Notre Dame over Utah. Spread: Utah -5.5 | F/+ Projection: Utah by 2.0. The numbers say one thing here, but none of it really matters. For very different reasons, these two teams have had a tough couple of weeks between the ears. The Notre Dame family is still dealing with the grief involved with Declan Sullivan's death (their initial on-field response was a blown lead and a loss to Tulsa), and nobody would really blame them if they struggled the rest of the season. Meanwhile, Utah got their doors blown off by TCU, and they are all but certainly dealing with disappointment and a bit of embarrassment. There is no way of knowing how either team will respond.
Duke over Boston College. Spread: Boston College -3.5 | F/+ Projection: Boston College by 1.9. Like Florida, BC has performed better in recent weeks. But with an offense that is still mostly dead (they scored only 23 against Wake Forest despite five Wake turnovers), the Eagles might let Duke and their decent passing game hang around a while.
In honor of some of the FOA 2010 projections ...
"Am I Right or Wrong," by Son House
"Am I Wrong," by Keb' Mo'
"The Cow's Wrong," by The Beta Band
"Everybody's Wrong," by Buffalo Springfield
"I Might Be Wrong," by Radiohead
"I Was Wrong," by Social Distortion
"Something's Always Wrong," by Toad The Wet Sprocket
"What Am I Doing Wrong?" by David Gray
"Wrong 'Em Boyo," by The Clash
"The Wrong Way," by TV On The Radio
Not sure which is the more enjoyable segway there -- Social Distortion to Toad The Wet Sprocket, or David Gray to The Clash.
I like the WAC's addition of Texas State and UT-San Antonio to their future roster quite a bit. The schools come from football-fertile areas, and given a few years to grow, they should be able to compete in the weakened WAC. It was a solid move on their part. Still, it had to sting when Montana considered a possible WAC invitation and said, "Nah, I think we'll stick to the Big Sky instead." It might have made business sense for Montana to do so, but it certainly did nothing for the WAC's image in the process.
17 comments, Last at 13 Nov 2010, 10:58am by Dennis