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?
13 Sep 2012
by Bill Connelly
This week, I released the first iteration of the 2012 S&P+ rankings, which means that most of Football Outsiders' college data pages are up-to-date through two weeks of action.
It is clearly too early to draw any substantive conclusions from this data thus far, for any number of reasons. The preseason projections still make up a large percentage of the ratings. Some teams have only played one game. Teams' schedules have varied wildly thus far (even more than an immediate opponent adjustment can account for to any degree). Et cetera. However, the data we see thus far (especially the raw data that resides in the Off. S&P+ and Def. S&P+ pages) can start to give us hints about certain teams. Let's look at of the rankings and what it might tell us.
Major Conference Teams That Have Slipped The Furthest Compared To Preseason Projections: Washington (projected 45th, currently 63rd), California (projected 27th, currently 43rd), Texas A&M (projected 14th, currently 29th), Penn State (projected 30th, currently 42nd), Auburn (projected 25th, currently 36th).
The Huskies got some top 25 press in the preseason, but they have underachieved mightily thus far, not only in getting drubbed by LSU worse than we might have expected, but also in barely creeping by San Diego State in the opener. This week at SB Nation, I attempted to dive into charting data to see what we could learn about Washington's struggles. The short version: the offensive line is banged up and terrible, and if Keith Price can't step into a pass, it might end up in the stands.
Major Conference Teams That Have Improved The Most Compared To Preseason Projections: Iowa State (projected 85th, currently 58th), Connecticut (projected 86th, currently 59th), Kansas State (projected 61st, currently 35th), Wake Forest (projected 93rd, currently 72nd), N.C. State (projected 69th, currently 50th).
Paul Rhoads' Cyclones have looked mostly strong thus far, withstanding some early uppercuts from Tulsa before winning easily, then heading to Iowa City to knock off Iowa, 9-6. They don't look like a top 25 team by any means, but they look much, much better than 85th.
Biggest Difference Between Offensive Success Rate Ranking And PPP Ranking (SR > PPP): Navy (16th in Success Rate, 122nd in PPP), Central Michigan (14th in Success Rate, 79th in PPP), Pittsburgh (47th in Success rate, 102nd in PPP), Northwestern (46th in Success Rate, 93rd in PPP), Middle Tennessee (18th in Success Rate, 60th in PPP).
Northwestern is 2-0 (with wins at Syracuse and at home versus Vanderbilt) thanks to opportunistic play on defense and special teams and a semi-efficient offense led by running back (and punt returner) Venric Mark. The Wildcats lack severely in offensive explosiveness, and that should cost them to some degree in the coming weeks, but they are getting the job done so far.
Biggest Difference Between Offensive Success Rate Ranking And PPP Ranking (PPP > SR): Cincinnati (ninth in PPP, 95th in Success Rate, UTSA (38th in PPP, 16th in Success Rate), UL-Lafayette (20th in Success Rate, 87th in PPP), Temple (51st in PPP, 112th in Success Rate), New Mexico State (24th in PPP, 84th in Success Rate).
Cincinnati was wholly reliant on the big play in a 34-10 win over Pittsburgh in their season debut last Thursday night. George Winn scored on a 58-yard run on the first offensive play of the season, while quarterback Munchie Legaux ripped off runs of 26, 22 and 77 yards and completed passes of 25, 27 and 42 yards. That's seven plays for 277 yards. The other 52 plays gained 187 yards. That works just fine as long as you continue making the big plays, I guess.
BIggest Difference Between Standard Downs And Passing Downs Rankings, Offense (SD > PD): Georgia Tech (20th on standard downs, 105th on passing downs), UL-Lafayette (32nd on standard downs, 112th on passing downs), Middle Tennessee (24th on standard downs, 98th on passing downs), Nebraska (seventh on standard downs, 78th on passing downs), Duke (55th on standard downs, 119th on passing downs).
Nebraska's Taylor Martinez looked fantastic throwing the ball in the season opener against Southern Miss. But as has always been the case with Martinez, you need to be able to stay on schedule and out of standard downs. Defenses are wary of his legs, and he can find some easy throws to make, but when the Huskers fall into second-and-9 or third-and-7, Nebraska's drive is probably about to end.
BIggest Difference Between Standard Downs And Passing Downs Rankings, Offense (PD > SD): Temple (eighth on passing downs, 120th on standard downs), Oregon State (32nd on passing downs, 123rd on standard downs), UTSA (18th on passing downs, 108th on standard downs), Wyoming (10th on passing downs, 94th on standard downs), South Florida (second on passing downs, 82nd on standard downs).
Either USF quarterback B.J. Daniels has turned into the second coming of Colt McCoy, or USF is about to find life a lot tougher when better defenses don't grant him open receivers on passing downs. He has thrived thus far, but USF has played only Chattanooga and Nevada.
Biggest Difference Between Defensive Success Rate Ranking And PPP Ranking (SR > PPP): New Mexico (30th in Success Rate, 92nd in PPP), Florida International (53rd in Success Rate, 106th in PPP), Troy (36th in Success Rate, 89th in PPP), Temple (23rd in Success Rate, 71st in PPP), Pittsburgh (69th in Success Rate, 116th in PPP).
A wonderfully experienced defense just has not gotten the job done for FIU thus far. The Golden Panthers gave up 30 points in a quarter to Duke in the season opener, then allowed 38 points and over 400 yards to Akron last weekend. Next up: UCF and Louisville, each of whom have better offenses than Duke or Akron.
Biggest Difference Between Defensive Success Rate Ranking And PPP Ranking (PPP > SR): SMU (56th in PPP, 112th in Success Rate), Central Florida (64th in PPP, 120th in Success Rate), Baylor (15th in PPP, 66th in Success Rate), San Jose State (38th in PPP, 86th in Success Rate), Middle Tennessee (66th in PPP, 110th in Success Rate).
UCF did a solid job of preventing Ohio State's offense from getting deep last weekend in Columbus, but despite Ohio State's injury issues at running back, the Knights simply couldn't stop Braxton Miller's running and short passing. Their matchup with Missouri in a couple of weeks could be interesting, as the Tigers' offense has thus far been all-explosiveness, no-efficiency.
BIggest Difference Between Standard Downs And Passing Downs Rankings, Defense (SD > PD): Penn State (30th on standard downs, 118th on passing downs), Wisconsin (19th on standard downs, 104th on passing downs), UTSA (52nd on standard downs, 120th on passing downs), Boise State (25th on standard downs, 91st on passing downs), West Virginia (39th on standard downs, 100th on passing downs).
Penn State is ridiculously close to 2-0 right now, but passing downs issues against Ohio (along with some iffy bounces) and horrible place-kicking against Virginia have made them 0-2. The passing downs issues might be fixable; the kicking game might not.
BIggest Difference Between Standard Downs And Passing Downs Rankings, Defense (PD > SD): Florida Atlantic (12th on passing downs, 107th on standard downs), UAB (29th on passing downs, 117th on standard downs), UL-Monroe (37th on passing downs, 112th on standard downs), Nebraska (25th on passing downs, 98th on standard downs), Kansas (fifth on passing downs, 76th on standard downs).
In Charlie Weis' first two games as Kansas' head coach, his passing game has been iffy at best, but he seems to have two things around which to build: a strong running game led by sophomore Tony Pierson and a secondary that has been aggressive and successful on passing downs. Unfortunately, a) the two most successful defensive backs thus far (safety Bradley McDougald and corner Greg Brown) are seniors, and b) they can't force passing downs, so this is only so much of a strength.
Preseason projections indeed still account for a large portion of the F/+ rankings to date, but on the S&P+ side, the tiny introduction of opponent adjustments made for some serious shifts. You're welcome, Michigan and Western Kentucky.