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» Catch Radius: The Bigger, the Better?

Our season finale of catch radius focuses on the growing size of Josh McCown's talented receiving duos, including breakout stud Alshon Jeffery. Also: Anquan Boldin's incredible year.

10 Jan 2013

Varsity Numbers: Farewell, 2012

by Bill Connelly

Alabama is your national champion, and all of the FO college measures (F/+, S&P+, Offensive and Defensive S&P+, FEI, Offensive and Defensive FEI) have been finalized. Here are 10 thoughts about the 2012 season before we officially flip the football calendar to 2013.

1. Yes, Louisville was only No. 37 this year. The Cardinals played a perfect "beating the bully" game in the Sugar Bowl. Florida thought it could just punch Louisville around a couple of times and watch Charlie Strong's Cardinals fold. When that didn't happen, the Gators quickly stopped looking interested. Louisville earned its Sugar Bowl title, and an 11-2 record is something that Strong and his pretty young team can build around. But let's just say that Louisville is the prime candidate for 2013's West Virginia Effect, where we overreact dramatically to a bowl performance. (And it hurts me to say that considering how amazing, and amazingly accurate, quarterback Teddy Bridgewater is when healthy.)

2. Yes, Ohio State was only No. 13 this year. Urban Meyer is a hell of a coach, and between his (and his staff's) abilities and solid recruiting, there really won't be much standing in the way of Ohio State once again becoming an elite program in the coming years. But the Buckeyes were not elite this season, despite the 12-0 record, and it might lead to them being rather overrated in 2013. They were 6-0 in one-possession games and barely crept past California, Purdue, and Indiana. That they came through and won all 12 games was damn impressive. But that's not the same thing as elite.

3. Buy, buy, buy: Oklahoma State and Michigan State. These teams were the anti-Ohio State in 2012. Oklahoma State went 1-3 in one-possession games, and while Michigan State won four such games, the Spartans also lost five. It is difficult for me to justify the Spartans ranking ninth in the final S&P+ rankings, but top 25? I can absolutely justify that. Oklahoma State was able to still put a quality product on the field despite close losses, rather dramatic turnover from 2011 to 2012, and multiple quarterback injuries. That says a lot about the overall path of that program.

4. Michigan State: all of one, nothing of another. The Spartans had a top-5 defense (third in Def. F/+) but ranked just 67th in Off. F/+. Even a top-40 offense could have made them a 10-win, top-10 team. They weren't the only all-or-nothing squad -- Florida was 38th in Off. F/+ and first in Def. F/+, LSU was 41st and fifth, Stanford was 43rd and fourth, and BYU was 58th and 11th. On the flipside, Clemson was seventh and 60th, while Baylor was second and 83rd -- but aside from bowl opponent TCU (75th on offense, 10th on defense), they were potentially the most dramatic case.

5. Seriously, Baylor was second on offense and 83rd on defense. They are just so damn ridiculous and fun, aren't they? That defense puts a ceiling on the program as a whole, but I'll say this much: if running back Lache Seastrunk can stay healthy over 12 games, the Bears might finish 2013 with their second Heisman winner in three years. But that's a pretty big "if."

6. 2012's rankings are more extreme. Alabama's 2012 squad graded out more highly than its 2011 squad; the Tide ranked first in F/+ at plus-45.4 percent this year after rating just plus-35.8 percent last year. But the eyeballs would say that last year's squad was better. Here are two theories for why Bama rated higher in 2012: first, Bama's 2012 offense was outstanding. Perfectly solid at plus-13.7 percent (and seventh in Off. F/+) in 2011, the Tide were at plus-18.0 percent and fourth in 2012. The defense indeed regressed, but the offense and special teams improved enough to account for much of it. Second, four more teams joined the FBS ranks this year, and they were all pretty poor. Texas State (No. 94 in F/+), UTSA (No. 117), South Alabama (No. 121), and UMass (No. 122) joined the FBS party, and their lack of quality, I think, made for a more extreme spread between good and bad in 2012. Saying Alabama was 45 percent better than the average team in 2012 means something different than it would have in 2011 because the "average team" got slightly worse.

7. Special teams made quite the impact, didn't they? Here's your reminder that the 'new' F/+ ratings isolate special teams in a way that might confuse you at first. Take Nebraska, for instance. The Huskers ranked 10th in S&P+ and 19th in FEI, so one would assume a combination of the two rankings would place them somewhere between those. Instead, they ranked 20th overall because their special teams, long a strength, ranked just 103rd this year. Special Teams F/+ is derived directly from Brian Fremeau's Special Teams Efficiency measure, and it had an enormous impact on the overall rankings. Just ask teams like Texas A&M (89th in Special Teams F/+), Georgia (53rd), Notre Dame (90th), Ohio State (82nd), South Carolina (86th), and Nebraska. Or, on the other hand, Florida (third), Kansas State (first), and Northwestern (fourth). On average, special teams accounts for about 14-to-15 percent of an outcome. It had a decent impact on the rankings as well.

8. For a while, I thought Texas A&M was destined to be overrated heading into 2013. Now, I'm not sure they won't be completely properly rated. Quarterback Johnny Manziel's return alone all but guaranteed that A&M would be a preseason top-10 team in 2013. But I was fearing the losses of Outland winner Luke Joeckel, two other awesome starting offensive linemen (A&M either had the best or second-best line in the country this year depending on your view of Alabama), defensive end Damontre Moore (a surefire top-10 pick), and offensive safety valves like receiver Ryan Swope and running back Christine Michael. But it appears that tackle Jake Matthews is returning for his senior season, meaning the drop-off up front won't be as dramatic as I thought; second, A&M looked so good over the course of the final four or five games that I'm pretty sure they really might be one of the country's top 5-to-10 teams next year. Remember: we shouldn't overreact to a bowl performance, but a team that gets hot over a longer period of time could sustain said heat heading into the next fall as long as they return a good portion of their difference-makers. A&M was one of the country's two or three best teams in the final weeks of the season and in their bowl game; that probably means something.

9. Stanford lost Andrew Luck ... and improved from ninth in F/+ in 2011 to eighth in 2012. Damn.

10. There are changes heading your way. Each year as the season ends, I begin to come up with ways to potentially make adjustments to S&P+ and, therefore, F/+. Honestly, that's the way it should be; it's still a young measure (I began playing with the idea just five years ago), and it is far from a finished product. In the coming weeks, then, I will be finalizing some rather dramatic changes, both in how measures like S&P+ and equivalent points are calculated and in what defines a standard or passing down. And I hope to get quite a bit more data overall posted at FO in the coming months. Hope you enjoy it. Hope you enjoyed the 2012 season, while we're at it. I know I did.

Bowl Season at SB Nation

Here are some of my favorite SBN pieces from the bowl season:

Comments

1
by cfn_ms :: Thu, 01/10/2013 - 5:31pm

to put strength of schedule estimates on at least your S&P overall ratings? I'd be curious to see what the numbers look like in general (and I suspect that part of the outlier rating for Michigan St is that there's an outlier estimate of their schedule strength, though that's a guess unsupported by anything other than my gut).

Also, I plan to put together some post-season analytics and one thing I may try to do again is compare schedule strength rankings from multiple sources, and would definitely be interested in seeing S&P's as well as the already posted FEI.

2
by Duck in MA (not verified) :: Thu, 01/10/2013 - 5:52pm

I really had Stanford as a 8-9 win team going into this season. Instead they were in 10 (!!) 1-possession games and went 8-2 in them, with a 2-1 record in OT games. I mean, sure this is some sour grapes over the Oregon game, but how sustainable do people think that is? Isn't this just Ohio State's case? Or do the schedule adjustments here make that big of a change?

3
by cfn_ms :: Thu, 01/10/2013 - 6:03pm

My own $0.02: 8-2 in 1-possession games is more sustainable than 6-0 since it at least suggests that SOME of the luck went the other way.

I'd also say that the schedule strengths between the two just weren't comparable. Not that I always agree with him, but as an independent source, it's worth noting that Sagarin ( http://usatoday30.usatoday.com/sports/sagarin/fbt12.htm ) showed a huge schedule difference between the two (22nd vs 60th).

FEI, the other FO system ( http://www.footballoutsiders.com/stats/fei2012 ) showed an even bigger difference (8th vs 61st).

My own #'s ( http://cfn.scout.com/2/1252505.html - pre-bowl at this point, since I haven't run final #'s yet) also showed a really big difference (11th vs 57th).

If there are other non-bogus public SOS #'s (i.e. the NCAA's doesn't count) I'd cite them, but I can't think of any off the top of my head. Overall, though, that's a fairly consistent story of schedule strengths being hugely different.

That said, I also suspect that at least some of Stanford's success isn't fully sustainable. My guess is that they'll end up being a bit overrated in the preseason (somewhere around 5th when probably they ought to be more like 8-10th).

4
by Kal :: Thu, 01/10/2013 - 6:25pm

Right- the deal is not that Stanford did well as a record, it's how they performed against good teams, period. They didn't do badly against bad teams, either; the worst of the lot was probably Washington, and Washington wasn't a bad team, just not a stellar one.

5
by Duck in MA (not verified) :: Thu, 01/10/2013 - 6:35pm

My point on the schedule adjustments is that do we expect the ~#8 ranked team to be in 10 1-possession games to begin with given their strength of schedule. Losing to Washington and needing a pick-6 to be Wazzu should be some big red flags, right? Clearly Ohio State and Stanford played very different schedules, and looking at Cal & Wisconsin (their two common opponents) Stanford did (marginally) better in both games. But I'm not sure it's by enough for me to say "Stanford is properly rated" while "Ohio State is overrated" given where those two wound in the final rankings. It feels to me like it's either both are somewhat overrated or both are somewhere near their true rankings, but I can't see how one would be correct but the other not.

6
by cfn_ms :: Thu, 01/10/2013 - 8:03pm

A couple things:

1) AP #3 is MUCH higher than #7; when you get near the top there's more frequently a big difference between the power rating underlying each spot than you see closer to the middle, so a four-slot difference actually means a lot.

2) There's a general tendency for voters to basically over-emphasize W/L and de-emphasize everything else. So if you're looking for an overrated team, you might specifically look for:
- schedule strength (basically never given its full due by voters)
- luck (turnovers, fumbles, close game record, perhaps injuries if you want to go that far)

In this case schedule strength alone makes Ohio St look wildly overrated; throw in their close game record and there's a fairly obvious case that they're a fraud not just as top 5 but even as top 10.

I can see the case that Stanford could be overrated at 7th, but I struggle to see a case that they're much worse than the 7 spot. It's hard to see them outside the top 10 of a rating system (and yes I do know that S&P has them 13th but S&P is clearly an outlier on this one, with FEI at 7th, F+ 8th, Massey consensus 6th http://masseyratings.com/cf/compare.htm etc.)

PS I'm not sure I'd go quite so far as to say they "needed a pick-6 to beat Wazzu" given that they were up basically the whole game... but it certainly wasn't a good showing.

7
by mshray (not verified) :: Thu, 01/10/2013 - 10:48pm

Might I point out that Stanford changed QBs in mid-season? With the redshirt freshman Hogan they merely went 5-0, with 4 straight games against ranked conference opponents (incl. the #2 Ducks in Eugene in his second start) and then the Rose Bowl? Seriously, has any Freshman ever done that? Hindsight is what it is...but just think about the possibilities if the Cardinal offense played had just a little bit better at UW & ND.

Looking ahead to next year...the Cardinal only had 10 Srs, and 1 of them, Shane Skov, has got a medical redhsirt & will return. Admittedly that's offset by both TEs being 4th yr Jrs & leaving after they complete their degrees. But I sure as heck don't think they'll be overrated next season.

8
by cfn_ms :: Fri, 01/11/2013 - 12:39pm

There tends to be a bit of a bias towards teams who finish hot and who have really high profile wins (in this case, at Oregon and Rose Bowl); those two factors were a HUGE part of why so many people voted USC #1 preseason this year. In that context... yeah, I think it's likely that Stanford becomes a bit overrated. In fact, I wouldn't be stunned at all to see a couple sources reach and put them #2 or maybe even #1 preseason. And while they should be quite good, top 5 feels like a reach to me.

Now that Chip Kelly is coming back, Oregon still feels like the #1 team in the Pac-12 (especially since the Ducks miss USC, who's PROBABLY still the best team in the South, while Stanford has to go to them; that's at least a comparable edge to HFA in the Oregon-Stanford game). And if I'm projecting a power rank for Stanford, off the cuff I'm thinking 8-10 instead of top 5 (though I haven't run any projection numbers yet and probably won't until at least signing day). They lose some key players, their 2013 recruiting class looks like a VERY down year barring a major late push (though strong classes in 2011-2012 help), etc.

10
by Aaron Brooks Go... :: Fri, 01/11/2013 - 6:30pm

ND changed QBs mid-season, too...

9
by Torque (construction noise) Lewith (not verified) :: Fri, 01/11/2013 - 1:29pm

A&M's offensive drop off is being overrated by commentators. While it's certainly a nice luxury for a freshman learning on the fly, QBs as mobile as Manziel don't really NEED a top-flight line. And with Joeckel leaving but Matthews staying, I'm guessing the line will still be comfortably in the upper echelon. Evans, Kennedy, and the incredibly stacked 2013 WR class will keep A&M's offense humming.

If A&M slips next season, it will be because of the defense. They're not just losing Moore, they're losing EVERYONE. 5 of their top 6 tacklers, everyone with more than one sack. Moore got all the press, but as a unit, it was pretty underrated, finishing top 20 in most adjusted measures and passing their final exam with flying colors by putting the screws to OU in the Cotton Bowl.

The pressure is not on Sumlin to continue scoring, but on Snyder to keep A&M from becoming the WVU of the SEC.