Varsity Numbers Puts a Bow on 2011

Varsity Numbers Puts a Bow on 2011
Varsity Numbers Puts a Bow on 2011
Photo: USA Today Sports Images

by Bill Connelly

The 2011 college football season came to a close last Monday night with a brutally impressive, if less than aesthetically pleasing, shutout win by Alabama. The team we projected as No. 1 about five months ago finished the season No. 1, even if the route from Point A to Point B was a bit confusing and controversial. It isn't every year that the best team is also the champion (sometimes pesky things like "unexpected losses" get in the way), but one way or another it played out in 2011.

This was one of most simultaneously entertaining and maddening seasons on record. Off-the-field controversies (primarily the Jerry Sandusky scandal at Penn State, obviously) cast a pall on the proceedings; so did ongoing playoff debates, "pay the players" arguments, injuries, and recruiting scandals. Honestly, that stuff is becoming part of the territory at this point. We managed to blame the BCS for everything, from the lack of a playoff (the BCS is an effect, not a cause) to poor BCS title game ratings (because as we all know, tournaments never lead to ugly finales), which is unsurprising as some will rail against the BCS at all costs. Really, though, there was plenty to enjoy if you looked for it. A truly exciting, likeable quarterback won the Heisman, there were enough exciting games to fill a top-100 list, and again, there is always something to be said for the best team winning the top prize.

(There's also something to be said for the likely Plus One arrangement on the horizon, even if it won't actually scuttle any of the current complaints. We'll all just throw our outrage toward Clearly Deserving Team No. 5 instead of Clearly Deserving Team No. 3 ... but I cynically digress. As FO readers probably know, I'm all for a playoff. I just don't totally hate the current system either. I am nothing if not a walking contradiction.)

Varsity Numbers Box Score: Alabama 21, LSU 0

Most box scores this season were posted at Football Study Hall, but since this is a special occasion (the end of the season), we'll take a look at Alabama-LSU II here.

Alabama LSU Alabama LSU
Close % 93.8% STANDARD DOWNS
Field Position % 52.2% 9.1% Success Rate 48.9% 26.9%
Leverage % 68.1% 59.1% PPP 0.27 0.10
S&P 0.757 0.373
EqPts 20.7 1.6 PASSING DOWNS
Close Success Rate 43.1% 22.0% Success Rate 27.3% 11.1%
Close PPP 0.31 0.04 PPP 0.37 -0.06
Close S&P 0.740 0.258 S&P 0.642 0.047
EqPts 10.6 2.7 Number 2 6
Close Success Rate 37.9% 21.7% Turnover Pts 10.2 26.6
Close PPP 0.35 0.12 Turnover Pts Margin +16.4 -16.4
Close S&P 0.725 0.334
Line Yards/carry 3.01 2.11 Q1 S&P 0.692 0.359
Q2 S&P 0.811 0.056
PASSING Q3 S&P 0.591 0.153
EqPts 10.1 -1.1 Q4 S&P 0.755 0.287
Close Success Rate 47.2% 22.2%
Close PPP 0.28 -0.06 1st Down S&P 0.753 0.385
Close S&P 0.753 0.161 2nd Down S&P 0.908 0.220
SD/PD Sack Rate 0.0% / 16.7% 0.0% / 30.8% 3rd Down S&P 0.278 0.190
Projected Pt. Margin: Alabama +35.5 | Actual Pt. Margin: Alabama +21

Some thoughts:

  • More than 40 percent of LSU's snaps took place on passing downs, and nine percent of their snaps took place on Alabama's side of the 50. Honestly, you can pretty much stop the analysis there. (Not that we will.)
  • This entire game was seen as another example of offensive ineptitude by some, but that was really only the case when LSU had the ball. Yes, Alabama only scored one touchdown, and yes, they were quite timid with the ball once they dipped inside LSU's 30, but a) they still turned bad field position into points multiple times, and b) they would have probably been more aggressive if their defense wasn't so insanely effective. When you've got perhaps the best defense of the last 20 years, you can afford to play it safe and settle for field goals. Alabama's offense was very impressive when it needed to be, and the Tide's ability to throw on standard downs was both unexpected and a sign of solid proficiency.
  • Alabama's first-down success (and LSU's lack thereof) completely and totally set the tone for the game. The Tide were able to avoid passing downs until they got into LSU territory. LSU fell into passing downs immediately. Alabama was not able to produce big play after big play by any means (LSU's defense, after all, was still mighty impressive), but they were able to stay on schedule for longer periods of time.
  • No, LSU's backup quarterback Jarrett Lee wouldn't have done any better than Jordan Jefferson; but yes, Les Miles should have probably given Lee a shot anyway. Jefferson's head was not where it needed to be after a series of mistakes (and an embarrassing interception), and even though he is certainly more mobile than Lee in the face of a pass rush (as Miles stated after the game), avoiding a pass rush doesn't matter if you aren't going to be able to pass effectively after you have dodged it. Then again, there was no right answer here, so I cannot crush Miles too much for his decision making.

Recently on SB Nation

It was a hectic and rather rewarding bowl season at SBN. Catch up on everything here if you like, but here are some highlights.

F/+ Rankings

F/+ Rk Team Record F/+ Off
Rk Def
Rk Spec.
1 Alabama 12-1 35.8% 13.7% 7 22.4% 1 -0.4% 72
2 LSU 13-1 34.1% 13.7% 6 17.8% 2 2.5% 6
3 Oklahoma State 12-1 27.4% 13.8% 5 11.6% 3 2.0% 7
4 Boise State 12-1 26.9% 13.1% 9 10.5% 5 3.3% 1
5 Oregon 12-2 23.8% 13.9% 4 9.1% 10 0.8% 39
6 Wisconsin 11-3 22.3% 19.1% 1 2.3% 43 0.8% 40
7 Oklahoma 10-3 21.9% 11.2% 11 10.0% 7 0.8% 43
8 Florida State 9-4 18.4% 4.9% 32 10.3% 6 3.1% 2
9 Stanford 11-2 17.7% 14.1% 3 3.6% 32 -0.1% 63
10 Michigan State 11-3 16.8% 7.4% 21 8.0% 12 1.4% 19
11 USC 10-2 16.2% 12.7% 10 2.2% 45 1.2% 23
12 Michigan 11-2 16.0% 10.6% 14 4.9% 24 0.4% 50
13 Notre Dame 8-5 15.5% 7.3% 22 7.8% 14 0.4% 53
14 Arkansas 11-2 15.0% 10.9% 12 2.3% 44 1.8% 9
15 Georgia 10-4 14.9% 8.4% 18 6.9% 17 -0.4% 76
F/+ Rk Team Record F/+ Off
Rk Def
Rk Spec.
16 Texas A&M 7-6 14.5% 8.6% 17 5.4% 21 0.5% 48
17 TCU 11-2 14.2% 9.1% 16 3.9% 31 1.2% 22
18 Houston 13-1 12.4% 13.5% 8 -0.6% 60 -0.5% 78
19 Texas 8-5 12.1% -0.5% 62 11.0% 4 1.6% 15
20 Southern Miss 12-2 11.4% 3.1% 42 6.9% 16 1.4% 20
21 South Carolina 11-2 11.1% 5.9% 24 8.0% 13 -2.8% 112
22 Virginia Tech 11-3 11.1% 5.8% 26 5.5% 20 -0.2% 68
23 West Virginia 10-3 10.6% 10.9% 13 0.6% 53 -1.0% 83
24 Temple 9-4 10.3% 3.1% 43 4.6% 26 2.6% 5
25 Missouri 8-5 10.2% 8.1% 19 1.9% 47 0.3% 56

"What The...?" Team of the Year

Florida State. They were just young enough and just injured enough to slip up when they shouldn't have, but on a play-for-play, drive-for-drive basis, they were almost as good as they were projected to be. That usually results in wins galore, but not always. Still, that is typically a sign of good things to come (hence the strong ranking here).

The Bowl Season's Big Movers

Notable Rises

BYU (10 spots, from 47th to 37th). They ended up moving the ball relatively well against a good Tulsa defense, and they are young enough to dream on in 2012.

Florida (nine spots, from 39th to 30th). Though still certainly lacking on offense, the Gators were strong enough on defense and (especially) special teams to keep Ohio State at bay in the Urban Meyer Gator Bowl in Jacksonville.

Missouri (eight spots, from 33rd to 25th). The Tigers crept into the top 25 by physically dominating a North Carolina squad that went from explosive in the opening minutes to demoralized by the second quarter.

Auburn (eight spots, from 60th to 52nd). For 60 minutes, the Tigers looked more creative and explosive than they had since Cam Newton left. It was a trying year for the defending champions, but it ended on a high note.

Others: SMU (65th to 55th), Marshall (97th to 87th), Baylor (36th to 29th), Louisiana Tech (46th to 39th), Mississippi State (50th to 43rd).

Notable Tumbles

Pittsburgh (12 spots, from 35th to 47th). For all intents and purposes, their head coach broke up with them via text message in the weeks leading up to the BBVA Compass Bowl. They played like it in the opening minutes, quickly falling behind SMU by three touchdowns and never recovering.

Clemson (12 spots, from 24th to 36th). Oh, that defense. If Dabo Swinney can find a nice replacement for deposed coordinator Kevin Steele, the Tigers could be good in 2012. That is far from a given.

Nebraska (nine spots, from 17th to 26th). Torched by South Carolina receiver Alshon Jeffery, the Huskers' offense (never one for playing from behind) couldn't gain enough to keep the Huskers afloat.

Virginia (eight spots, from 57th to 65th). They traded haymakers with Auburn for a quarter-and-a-half, were floored by a series of momentum plays (long run, end-around, surprise onside kick), and that was that.

Others: North Carolina (41st to 49th), Florida International (53rd to 60th), Georgia Tech (42nd to 48th), Ohio State (32nd to 38th).

Favorite Moment of the Bowl Season

Honestly, there were quite a few, but my favorite might have come on the first day of bowls. Nothing screams "This is college football!" more than the ending to the R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl between UL-Lafayette and San Diego State. In a minor bowl with an odd sponsor, ULL kicker Brett Baer, who had already missed two extra points on the day, bombed in a 50-yard field goal at the buzzer to give the Ragin' Cajuns their first-ever bowl victory. With the celebration that followed, you'd have thought that the Cajuns had just won the national title.


12 comments, Last at 18 Jan 2012, 8:34am

1 Re: Varsity Numbers Puts a Bow on 2011

The team we projected as No. 1 about five months ago finished the season No. 1, even if the route from Point A to Point B was a bit confusing and controversial. It isn't every year that the best team is also the champion (sometimes pesky things like "unexpected losses" get in the way), but one way or another it played out in 2011.

Really? Every computer analysis I've seen has suggested that the best team was some combination of Alabama, LSU, and Oklahoma State, with Boise leaking in for some analyses. Alabama and LSU split a season series, and Oklahoma State seemed to beat 1/3 of the top-15. I don't know how 2011 has shown any of those teams to be better than any other of those teams.

7 Re: Varsity Numbers Puts a Bow on 2011

The Final BCS poll had Alabama 3rd in 5 computers and 2nd in 2. OK State was 2nd in 5 computers and 3rd in 2. LSU was #1 across the board. Bama made the NC game based on human polls.

I've seen four post-season computer polls. F+ has Alabama as a wash against LSU, with a home loss and neutral-site win head-to-head, with OK State and Boise clustered below. It's constituent parts, FEI (Fremeau's) and S&P (yours) don't agree. FEI has LSU-OK State-Alabama, all within 0.012 of each other. S&P really loves Alabama, with Alabama 24 points ahead of LSU, who is 16 points ahead of a Boise-OK State-Wisconsin-Oregon-Oklahoma cluster. Notably, F+ and its parts explicitly disregard FCS opponents, even though that was Alabama's worst game on the season.

Sports-reference has Alabama with a SRS/SOS of 24.44/5.38, LSU at 24.27/7.45, and OK State at 24.13/8.85 (higher values are better). SRSs are within margin of error, and OK State had the higher strength of schedule.

So the computers are undecided as to which team is best, and generally agree it's some sort of mishmash of Alabama/LSU/OK State, and if we wave our hands fast enough, we can pretend we weren't robbed by not letting OK State play heads-up against one of those two.

But if we can do that, we can also pretend there's absolutely no bias in letting the owner of the only absolutely pro-Alabama algorithm write the article stating that according to the analyses, Alabama was best team (even if his partner disagrees).

8 Not that it isn't fun

to pile on Bill (it is), but this is probably not a really fair criticism. F+ has Bama #1 by a decent cushion (not huge, but not a virtual tie either). Sports-reference (who you cited) had Bama #1, though it seems like they're close. If you go to Massey's site ( ), the systems are split on Bama vs LSU but have both substantially over Oklahoma St.

So implying that "the computers" are totally (or even close to totally) undecided between the three teams is unfair. There's a solid consensus at this point that Oklahoma St ranks below the other two. Now, you can certainly argue that many of the ranking systems are flawed, but if we're arguing from a factual basis, you need to acknowledge that your implied assessment of where the computer models stand is incorrect.

That said, it IS fair to note that S&P's placement of Alabama WAY ahead of LSU is a major outlier, and it's certainly fair to question whether that's really an accurate assessment.

9 Re: Not that it isn't fun

To be fair, I'm neither arguing that Alabama is undeserving or Oklahoma State is a clear #1. My point is that Oklahoma State was robbed. The tidy statement that Alabama was the best team is hopelessly flawed, especially in a year where Alabama got a second crack at LSU, and Oklahoma State was voted out of having any chance at all. Most of the computer numbers had OSU ranked above Alabama going into bowl season, where Alabama benefited from the opportunity for a better win than OSU was given, which is how their computer numbers caught up. (LSU still leads most of the computer polls)

My argument is primarily that a season analysis merely shows that either Alabama, LSU, or OSU was the best, and who that is was not proven by this travesty of a season. (Even factoring in probability versus actual outcome, this year was like a boolean throw that resulted in a "2".)

I'm sure Alabama is grateful that LSU forgot how to handle a snap in bowl season instead of in the regular season, or we'd be having this exact conversation, except with LSU suddenly as the clear best team. (I suspect 1-loss LSU would have finished #2 over OSU as well, as LSU had a better remaining profile than Alabama did)

11 Re: Not that it isn't fun

Yeah, Alabama beat LSU because of a few bad snaps. Beyond that the game was nip and tuck. I'm actually shocked so many people think Alabama is the best team in the nation after receiving such a gift.


As for OSU being robbed of a chance as a one loss club...welcome to college football. It's been this way for a long, long time.

I might feel a bit worse for OSU had they not be given a gift from Stanford in their bowl game. Had they came out and dominated (or at least won with some type of conviction), I'd understand the argument quite a bit better.

12 Re: Not that it isn't fun

You're mistaking my point.

Alabama is lucky that LSU's offense imploded in the bowl game, not in the regular season game. Had LSU lost 21-0 in the first game and won 9-6 in the bowl, we'd be having this same conversation, with "LSU" substituting for "Alabama", which also points out how ridiculous these arguments are about Alabama's supremacy. They split with LSU, and ended up with the same record across a far easier schedule.

I realize college football's championships are a scam. I was fine with it when it was just AP/UPI making a vote, because then the game was out in the open. Now it feels like the matchup is whomever ESPN wants it to be, and ESPN already has way too much influence over sports, and far too little integrity.

6 Re: Varsity Numbers Puts a Bow on 2011

It's good to see a detailed analysis of the amazing job the Bama defense did. Truly will go down as a generationally great one, and I got tired of reading about how bad the LSU offense played as if it was only an accident.