Varsity Numbers: Tigers, Vandals, and a Longing for the SWC

Varsity Numbers: Tigers, Vandals, and a Longing for the SWC
Varsity Numbers: Tigers, Vandals, and a Longing for the SWC
Photo: USA Today Sports Images

by Bill Connelly

With most of the initial Varsity Numbers concepts introduced and too much going on from week to week during the season to develop anything new, it's time to set up a week-to-week format to get us through the rest of the season. With the below format, you will find game analysis for last week's games, a look ahead to the weekend, movers and shakers in the world of S&P+, and as many random thoughts as you can stomach. So without further ado, let's get started.

Box Score of the Week

Each Friday, we will take a look at the previous week's most interesting game in the Varsity Numbers Box Score format. This week, there was a pretty obvious top candidate.

LSU 30, Mississippi State 26

So what happens when a team barely wins a game it had every reason and cause to lose? Is it a shot in the arm for future success? Is it a massive red flag that something bad is on the way? With LSU, the answer will reveal itself quickly, as they play Georgia and Florida in the next two weeks. Let's take a look at the VN Box Score for the Bayou Bengals' tight win over Mississippi State to see what it might say about the next two weeks.


Miss. St.

Close % 100.0%
Field Position % 27.1% 38.4%
Leverage % 71.2% 67.4%
EqPts 17.5 23.1
Close Success Rate 35.6% 38.4%
Close PPP 0.30 0.27
Close S&P 0.653 0.652
EqPts 3.3 9.6
Close Success Rate 24.1% 47.8%
Close PPP 0.11 0.21
Close S&P 0.356 0.687
Line Yards/carry
0.72 2.26
EqPts 14.2 13.5
Close Success Rate 46.7% 27.5%
Close PPP 0.47 0.34
Close S&P 0.940 0.611
SD/PD Sack Rate
10.5% / 0.0% 0.0% / 0.0%
Success Rate 45.2% 44.8%
PPP 0.40 0.30
S&P 0.852 0.744
Success Rate 11.8% 25.0%
PPP 0.16 0.46
S&P 0.160 0.462
Number 0 4
Turnover Pts 0.0 14.4
Turnover Pts Margin
+14.4 -14.4
Q1 S&P 0.682 0.882
Q2 S&P 0.574 0.399
Q3 S&P 1.311 0.768
Q4 S&P 0.335 0.596
1st Down S&P 0.864 0.625
2nd Down S&P 0.665 0.607
3rd Down S&P 0.377 0.935
Projected Pt. Margin
+8.8 -8.8
Actual Pt. Margin
+4 -4
  • Is there any wonder why college football is so fascinating? In terms of what was gained on offense and defense, Mississippi State justifiably should have won, and, taking turnovers (including an interception return for a touchdown), a punt return touchdown, and a goal-line stand into account, LSU should have won easily.
  • As badly as Chad Jones' magnificent 93-yard punt return hurt Mississippi State, special teams actually benefited Mississippi State the rest of the game, keeping LSU pinned in bad field position -- LSU's 27.1 field position percentage (which signifies that only 27.1 percent of LSU's offensive plays were run in Mississippi State field position) was about as bad as you will see in a conference battle.
  • The other reason LSU's field position was so poor? No rushing effectiveness whatsoever. Keiland Williams and Charles Scott combined for 40 yards on 15 carries, LSU managed just a 0.356 S&P, and the team's leading rusher was backup quarterback Russell Shepard with all of 26 yards. Unadjusted for strength of schedule, Mississippi State's rushing defense has been a bit more successful than Georgia's. Including the LSU game, they have allowed a 0.576 S&P this season, while Georgia, against better offenses, has allowed a 0.627 S&P. But even if LSU has more success running against Georgia, they will be hard-pressed finding success against Florida and their 0.439 rushing S&P allowed (third-best in the country).
  • Passing Downs absolutely killed LSU. They were almost completely incapable of making something good happen once leveraged out of Standard Downs. Once again, this is a terrible sign against Florida, as the Gators have allowed just a 0.295 S&P in Passing Downs, second best in the country behind Virginia (yes, Virginia).
  • In all, Georgia's defense might allow LSU a few more opportunities, but consider two things: First, the Georgia offense is infinitely more talented than that of Mississippi State; second, LSU has not proven they will be even remotely capable of moving the ball against Florida.

Biggest Movers of the Week

This is the first season for week-to-week S&P+ rankings. Let's examine which teams are rising and falling, and why.

Strongest Rises

Tennessee (28 spots, from 75th to 47th)

Florida is so far ahead of anybody else in the S&P+ rankings that anybody who has played Tennessee has seen a mighty bump in the S&P+ strength of schedule adjustments. Florida's completely dominant performance against Kentucky (the game was no longer "close" by the end of the first quarter, and only close-game plays are taken into account in the S&P+ rankings) actually gave Tennessee a significant boost. Lord knows that had more to do with Tennessee's rise than anything the Volunteers did on the field against Ohio last week.

Washington (18 spots, 64th to 46th)

The most likely cause of Washington's rise could be the slow phasing-out of the preseason S&P+ projections. The Huskies were projected to improve in 2009, but not as much as they have. Their 34-14 loss to Stanford was a predictable setback, but their body of work has been respectable.

Toledo (18 spots, 96th to 78th)

Beating a Florida International squad heavy on strength of schedule (FIU's other losses were to Alabama and Rutgers) gave Toledo a bit of a bump.

Ohio (18 spots, from 105th to 87th)

If Tennessee rose despite an iffy showing against Ohio, it would make sense that Ohio would rise for playing well against the Vols.

Marshall (17 spots, 79th to 62nd)

With wins over Bowling Green and Memphis, Marshall is establishing itself as a dark horse in a Conference USA East Division without a favorite, especially after UAB's upset of Southern Miss last night.

Purdue (11 spots, 62nd to 51st)

Purdue was a baffling coaching decision (Really? You're going to call timeout for Notre Dame with 30 seconds left?) away from potentially knocking off Notre Dame. This gives the Boilermakers three somewhat respectable outings on the year, along with a two-point road loss to Oregon (ask California about Autzen Stadium) and a sound beating of Toledo. The Northern Illinois loss still hangs over their heads, however.

Largest Drops

Baylor (20 spots, 49th to 69th)
Duke (18 spots, from 93rd to 111th)
Syracuse (17 spots, from 68th to 85th)

The lesson: No matter how handily you beat your FCS opponent, your rating is going to fall this early in the season.

Temple (15 spots, from 88th to 103rd)

This one seems to have more to do with Temple's previous losses (to FCS Tier 1 team Villanova and a Penn State team that was upset last week) than the Owls' own 37-13 crushing of defending MAC champion Buffalo.

Northwestern (14 spots, from 58th to 72nd)

As the 2009 projections fade away, Northwestern's lackluster performance in 2009 gets rid of whatever benefit of the doubt they may have had.

Pittsburgh (12 spots, 38th to 50th)

The Panthers lost to North Carolina State, while their previous opponents -- Buffalo, Navy, and a low-tier FCS team in Youngstown State* -- all looked lackluster.

* As a reminder, for S&P+ purposes FCS opponents are broken into six tiers, and their results are aggregated to count as one "opponent." For instance, instead of Baylor beating Northwestern State, the database says they beat "FCS Tier 4."

Random Golf Clap

A tip of the cap to Idaho. Three years ago, the Vandals thought they had found the man to bring them up the ladder in the WAC. That man: Dennis Erickson. Erickson's first head coaching job was at Idaho in the early 1980s, and after two failed stints in the NFL, he was looking for a rebound. He stayed less than a year in Moscow before leaving for Arizona State. Robb Akey replaced him, and Idaho was absolutely terrible in 2007 and 2008. They finished 119th (out of 120) in S&P+ in both years. But in Akey's third year, Idaho is 3-1 with wins over New Mexico State, San Diego State, and Purdue conqueror Northern Illinois. With remaining home games against Hawaii and Utah State, the Vandals are potentially one more upset win away from bowl eligibility. Even if they don't get it, they are playing competitive ball this year and deserve plaudits for that.

Random Mini-Rant

Tim Tebow traveled separately from the rest of his team because of a respiratory illness, and his team was up 31-0 after one quarter against Kentucky in Lexington. There were about five minutes left in the third quarter when he was sacked by Taylor Wyndham, hitting his head on a lineman's knee on the way down and ending up with a concussion. Nevermind whether he should have been in the game that late in the third quarter; why was he even in the game in the second quarter?

Random Top 10

On the back of yesterday's 7th Day Adventure theme, here are the only ten songs from the '80s (more or less) that are still any good:

1. About a Girl (Nirvana)
2. Dead Man, Dead Man (Bob Dylan)
3. Everybody Wants to Rule the World (Tears for Fears)
4. Express Yourself (N.W.A.)
5. I Know What I Know (Paul Simon)
6. It's Tricky (Run-DMC)
7. Louder Than a Bomb (Public Enemy)
8. Never Talking to You Again (Hüsker Dü)
9. Rockin' in the Free World (Neil Young)
10. When Doves Cry (Prince)

Upset Watch

According to S&P+ projections, here are some potential upsets to look out for this weekend.

Boston College over Florida State (S&P+ Projection: BC by 3.3). Making any prediction of a Florida State game is a bad idea right now, but then again the same goes for Boston College. The schizophrenic Seminoles are taking on a BC offense that could gain anywhere between 50 and 500 yards without really surprising anybody. The projections say BC, but don't bet too much money on this one either way.

Virginia over UNC (S&P+ Projection: UVa by 0.3). Thanks to solid defensive play, Virginia has managed a respectable S&P+ rating. That does not explain or excuse why they are projected to win outright in Chapel Hill. If it happens, remember that it was predicted here. If it doesn't, pretend you didn't read this at all.

Washington over Notre Dame (S&P+ Projection: ND by 1.6). Notre Dame has used some late luck and clutch play to beat Big Ten mediocrities Michigan State and Purdue. Meanwhile, Washington has beaten a USC team ranked 2nd in S&P+. Can they hop two time zones and take out the Irish? The projections say no, but it could come down to the wire.

Idaho over Colorado State (S&P+ Projection: CSU by 2.6). Can the Vandals keep the positivity going?

Closing Thoughts

Watching Saturday night's ridiculously fun Houston-Texas Tech game, it was hard not to reminisce about the Southwest Conference and realize that today's iteration of SWC teams would be pretty fun to watch on the late game every Saturday night. Texas Tech, Houston, and SMU run unabashed, unashamed, fifth-gear spread offenses. Baylor and Rice are not far behind. Texas A&M is opening things up, while Texas is talented and athletic enough to be offensively strong no matter what they run. That would leave TCU as the only defense against all-out assault of over-sized Texas offenses. Who wouldn't be entertained by weekly late-night battles of Tech-Houston, SMU-Rice, Baylor-A&M? Nobody. We all remember the reasons for the SWC's collapse: the scandals of the 1980s, the departure of Arkansas to the SEC, the rise of super-conferences, et cetra. But that doesn't mean we can't play the "What If" game.


13 comments, Last at 05 Oct 2009, 12:20am

#1 by usedbread (not verified) // Oct 02, 2009 - 3:10pm

Nirvana is from the 80's?

Points: 0

#3 by navin // Oct 02, 2009 - 4:45pm

Aneurysm is another 80s Nirvana song that is pretty bad ass.

Points: 0

#4 by Todd S. // Oct 02, 2009 - 4:57pm

Actually, the time out called by Purdue coach Danny Hope is defensible-assuming you discount the quote from Weis that he was going to spike the ball if the clock kept running. He's been interviewed about it a lot this week, and he is saying that teams that get inside the 10 with four downs to go will score 92% of the time. The play preceding the time out brought the ball to the four yard-line, making it 2nd down. With 0:36 left and still one time out remaining, Hope felt he had a chance to get into field goal range even if Notre Dame scored a TD. (And Purdue's field goal kicker has good range, sportinig the longest FG made by Purdue at its home stadium earlier this year.) So Hope figured he had two ways to win by calling a time out (either on defense or a FG to tie the game on offense) versus only one way to win by letting the clock run down further.

Of course, if Weis really were going to spike the ball, wasting a down and making it fourth down, then it's really hard to justify the time out. But how can you game plan for the opposing coach using poor strategy?

Points: 0

#5 by Bill Connelly // Oct 02, 2009 - 5:16pm

I think I remember seeing Clausen doing the "SPIKE IT!" motion after the 2nd-down play ended. As far as we know, he was going to pull the Marino Fake Spike, but it did at least look like they were going to spike it...which, honestly, would have been even dumber than Purdue calling timeout, considering there were over 30 seconds left...plenty of time. And as far as we know, they'd have gone to the tight end for the winning score on fourth down even after spiking...they might not have needed the help of the timeout, but they got it.

Points: 0

#7 by Eddo // Oct 03, 2009 - 11:49am

Todd S explains it, though not explicitly. There are three following scenarios:

A. Don't call a timeout.
Ways to win:
1. Defense stops Notre Dame. If they don't, Purdue loses.

B. Call a timeout.
Ways to win:
1. Defense stops Notre Dame. Notre Dame had plenty of time to run four plays, so the timeout doesn't really help them all that much.
2. Purdue's offense scores if their defense is unable to stop Notre Dame.

C. Let Notre Dame score immediately.
Ways to win:
1. Purdue's offense scores. If they don't Purdue loses.

Throwing some arbitrary numbers in here, let's assume Purdue has a 50% chance of stopping Notre Dame, and a 20% chance of scoring if they get the ball back.

Choice A would result in a 50% chance of winning.

Choice B would result in a 60% (50% + (20% * 50%) chance of winning.

Choice C would result in a 20% of winning.

Points: 0

#8 by TV_Pete (not verified) // Oct 03, 2009 - 12:08pm

"Florida is so far ahead of anybody else in the S&P+ rankings"

Where are the S&P rankings? I think Florida is still very vulnerable in a couple areas. There lack of pass protection, combined with lack of consistent, down-field receptions could be a hindrance. They also do not seem to have a great pass rush from their front 4, IMO.

If they play their backup QB (or maybe Tebow if not 100%) then their QB running on the option is significantly less threatening.

Points: 0

#11 by Fourth // Oct 04, 2009 - 12:23am

The lack of pass protection is a concern. Florida is breaking in three (I think? maybe it's two?) new starters on the o-line. I hear the play Tebow was concussed wasn't actually the fault of the line though, rather the design of the play.

Downfield receptions go hand-in-hand with pass protection. Also Florida has had some injuries (and the flu) at the WR position.

Pass rush with the front 4 has been hard to judge so far (with the brave Kiffykins calling about 10 pass plays, and Kentucky not showing much of anything). Florida doesn't exactly run much Tampa-2 so getting pressure with the front 4 isn't life or death for this defense.

Points: 0

#10 by Admorish (not verified) // Oct 03, 2009 - 6:44pm

I truly miss the SWC, and let me take another opportunity to curse Arkansas. How's the SEC thing working out for you, Piggies? Really dominating over there, aren't you? So glad Arkansas is almost a complete afterthought in the SEC. Thanks again, though, for ruining a viable and interesting conference.

(No bitter Pony or Cougar here, I'm a Longhorn. We're doing fine, thanks.)

Also, even though SWC schools might not all of been powerhouses at football, most were really good at some sport (basketball, track, baseball, etc) or other, so the conference was competitive overall. And besides, Big 12 North, currently not really an argument for football balance in the conference, and is certainly no better than the old SWC.

The move to the Big 12 by the "big" Texas schools (its not as though UH isn't big) really hurt the smaller schools recruiting and doesn't show the true picture of the recruiting balance that existed pre-Big 12. The main beneficiary of the Big 12 in terms of recruiting is probably Oklahoma.

Points: 0

#12 by Eddie B (not verified) // Oct 04, 2009 - 8:45am

I would love to see next week's box score be Purdue/Northwestern. that was just one weird game.

Points: 0

#13 by Todd S. // Oct 05, 2009 - 12:20am

Yeah, that was a nice gut-puncher for us Purdue fans. The amazing thing is, even losing the turnover battle 6-1, Purdue still had a pass in the air on the last play to an open receiver that would have tied the game (with an XP chance to win it). Some really dumb mistakes by the Boilers, though...becoming a theme this year.

Points: 0

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