Writers of Pro Football Prospectus 2008

18 Oct 2013

Varsity Numbers: Projections and Reality

by Bill Connelly

Week 8 is a big one for the college football rankings at FO. We have phased out the preseason projections, Brian has unveiled complete offense, defense, and special teams numbers, and I've begun working in my drive data (an offseason addition to the formulas). As a result, there were quite a few changes this week that may or may not have had to do with what happened on the field last week.

The seven-week mark is pretty much a perfect time to look back at preseason projections. Obviously things will still change as we go through the second half of the regular season -- some teams will suffer major injuries or get injured players back, and others will simply improve or regress, sometimes dramatically. Still, we have a decent idea of how most teams look. So which teams did we nail, and which ones did we miss entirely?

Overachieving as suspected

UCLA. The Bruins and second-year coach Jim Mora, Jr., surged quite a bit last season, and the numbers typically see some built-in regression coming the next season. But the defense, led by All-American candidate Anthony Barr, is dominating (fourth in Def. F/+), and recruiting has been strong enough to not only sustain last year's rise, but enhance it. UCLA was projected 44th; the Bruins are currently eighth. I figured they would exceed the projections, though not by this much.

Washington. Washington, 7-6 for three straight years, was projected a conservative 41st this season; but the Huskies were so incredibly laden with freshmen and sophomores last season that it wasn't a reach to expect them to approach top-25 caliber. They are currently 13th. Again, the magnitude of their overachievement is a bit of a surprise.

Baylor. The Bears are no longer No. 1 in F/+ after this past week's adjustments, but No. 6 is is still a lot better than 32nd. I thought the offense could be explosive enough to drive BU into the top 15-20, but I didn't quite expect this. And that defense? A healthy 34th in Def. F/+.

Surprise!

Utah. A lot of Pac-12 teams are overachieving at the moment, but this one was a bit out of the blue. Utah was projected 50th after a steady recent decline, but with sophomore quarterback Travis Wilson and new offensive co-coordinator Dennis Erickson, the offense has rebounded dramatically. The Utes are currently seventh in Off. F/+ and 12th overall. I did not see this coming at all. Wilson is interception prone and unstable, but he reined himself in in last Saturday's upset of Stanford.

Memphis. In my summer preview of Memphis, I mentioned that I have long been fond of defensive coordinator Barry Odom. But I was not so fond of him that I expected the Tigers to ranks 16th in Def. F/+ midway through the season. The offense is still a disaster as expected (projected 120th in Off. F/+, currently sitting at 111th), but Memphis' defense is keeping the Tigers in games and has UM ranked 65th overall instead of the projected 112th.

Illinois. The Illini still have work to do, having reached just 57th in F/+. But they're not 99th as projected.

Missouri. My Tigers were projected pretty aggressively -- 30th overall -- thanks to a healthy five-year history and quite a few returning starters. But I did not see 14th coming. We'll see how much of an impact quarterback James Franklin's absence (shoulder injury) has, especially with two enormous home games coming up (Florida on Saturday, South Carolina next week).

Wha ... What happened?

Cincinnati. Tommy Tuberville loves exceeding expectations, one way or another. In 2013, that means staring a top-30 projection (27th) in the face and proceeding to come in 85th. The Bearcats have been romped by Illinois and figured out a way to lose to a USF team that has no offense. This is not what I expected to happen. (And as I've been joking for a couple of weeks now, it all but clinches that UC will figure out a way to beat an 11-0 Louisville team in a few weeks.)

Texas. Projected eighth, the Longhorns currently rank 46th. A lot of people predicted something similar to this, but I honestly thought the defense would bounce back a little and the offense would continue to improve. The offense got derailed a bit by an injury to quarterback David Ash, but the defense was just atrocious to start the season. That it has rebounded pretty significantly (up to 70th in Def. F/+!) under Greg Robinson tells you how far it fell.

Boise State. Chris Petersen's Broncos lost almost everybody of consequence after the 2011 season but managed to look okay during a rebuild in 2012. With infinitely more experience this time around, Boise State was projected 16th but got romped by Washington in the season opener, lost a tight one to Fresno State (a team that is undefeated but still only above average) and currently ranks just 43rd overall. The offense is good again (15th in Off. F/+), but the defense (85th in Def. F/+) is a total disappointment.

Probably should have seen that coming

Purdue. Again, the magnitude is surprising, but this certainly had the look of a complete and total rebuild season in West Lafayette. New coach Darrell Hazell doesn't have much to work with, and he's done nothing with it. Projected 74th, the Boilermakers have still managed to come in 36 spots below expectations, at 110th. The offense takes most of the blame, but the defense is only marginally better.

West Virginia. Dana Holgorsen has never really been at the helm of a bad offense, so it was excusable to assume the Mountaineers would keep right on moving the ball after losing quarterback Geno Smith and receivers Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey. But every coach has his limits, apparently, and the replacements have all sorts of limitations. WVU is currently 103rd in Off. F/+ and 79th overall, completely negating some pretty dramatic defensive improvement (43rd in Def. F/+). Projected 43rd, WVU is nowhere close at 79th.

TCU. When you lose your quarterback unexpectedly, expectations go out the window. TCU was projected 14th, expected to dominate defensively and rally on offense with the return of Casey Pachall. Instead, Pachall quickly got hurt, and while the defense is good (21st in Def. F/+), the offense is once again mediocre, and TCU ranks 42nd overall.

This week at SB Nation

I talked about F/+ a lot this week at SBN. Have a look.

Monday
What if we'd had a College Football Playoff selection committee from 1998 to 2012?

Tuesday
The Numerical, Week 7: Biggest surprises from college football's half-season
Missouri 41, Georgia 26: Beyond the box score

Wednesday
The Florida State-Clemson elimination game: Rattling Jameis Winston is the key
College football advanced box scores, Week 7

Thursday
SEC football potluck, Week 8: Big questions for all 6 conference games
College football F/+ picks: Week 8

Friday
Is the Pac-12 the best conference in college football right now?
Florida at Missouri preview: If Mauk avoids fatal mistakes, Tigers will survive

Posted by: Bill Connelly on 18 Oct 2013

2 comments, Last at 20 Oct 2013, 11:26pm by Kalasana

Comments

1
by JasonE (not verified) :: Sun, 10/20/2013 - 7:57pm

Wha ... What happened?

Cincinnati has a new coach and lost a pretty dynamic starting QB for the season in game 2. And they are 5-2, which isn't exactly a total trainwreck. All things considered, any surprise here is that they are doing as well as they are.

2
by Kalasana (not verified) :: Sun, 10/20/2013 - 11:26pm