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.
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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:
- Alabama vs. Notre Dame: Who's gonna do the scoring?
- Boise State vs. Washington, Vegas Bowl recap: How long can Broncos keep this up?
- December 28 college football bowl recaps: Fun Texas Tech win, Ohio catharsis, and antique football
- December 29 college football bowl recaps: Comebacks are fun, and so is near-perfection
- New Year's college football bowl recap: Streaks, turnovers and the best hit you'll ever see
- 2013 Sugar Bowl reaction: Teddy Bridgewater's Louisville stands up to SEC bully
- 2013 Fiesta Bowl reaction: The Oregon surge and that fleeting feeling
- 2013 Cotton Bowl reaction: Johnny Manziel's Texas A&M just too much
- 2013 BBVA Compass Bowl recap: Ole Miss' future is very, very bright
- 2013 BCS National Championship reaction: Alabama, say hello to dynasty