Monday, November 13, 2006

The Major National Title Contenders, Strictly by the Numbers

I decided to take a look at the yards per play numbers for the major national title contenders because yards per play is a nice, basic number to take into account the strength of an offense or defense and it normalizes for offensive and defensive tempo in the same way that yards per possession stats do in basketball. (The one difference is that yards per possession in basketball takes turnovers into account, whereas yards per play stats in football do not.) To do this analysis properly, I would need to index the numbers against the offensive and defensive averages of the teams' opponents, but for the time being, here are the results:

Ohio State - 6.19 ypp on offense, 4.4 ypp on defense, margin of 1.79

Michigan - 5.6 ypp on offense, 3.91 ypp on defense, margin of 1.69

USC - 5.89 ypp on offense, 4.58 ypp on defense, margin of 1.31

Arkansas - 6.67 ypp on offense, 4.51 ypp on defense, margin of 2.16

Florida - 6.25 ypp on offense, 4.59 ypp on defense, margin of 1.66

Notre Dame - 5.72 ypp on offense, 5.32 ypp on defense, margin of 0.4

Rutgers - 5.34 ypp on offense, 3.96 ypp on defense, margin of 1.38

A few thoughts on these numbers:

In addition to all the other factors that make this weekend's tilt exciting, Ohio State and Michigan look to be two very evenly-matched teams, especially when you take into account that Michigan puts the brakes on its own offense when leading more than your average college football power. (An unprovable assertion, I know, but I've watched a lot of football and I feel pretty comfortable in saying that no one employs the Milton Berle approach more than Michigan.) Michigan is a little better on defense, Ohio State is a little better on offense, and they both have wild card returners who can alter the balance of the game.

I might have been a little harsh on Rutgers in my dismissal of their merits after they beat Louisville, as their defensive numbers are outstanding. Admittedly, they haven't played a murderer's row of offenses, but they're the kind of team that is often unappreciated: a team reliant on a terrific defense. Then again, they're also a team from the NYC media market, which means that nothing they do will be unappreciated.

Notre Dame has no business being in the national title discussion. Against a relatively unimposing schedule (forgive me for not being tingly about a team whose biggest win was over Georgia Tech), their defensive numbers are signficantly worse than those of any other national title contender and their offensive numbers are not nearly enough to make up for the shortcoming. USC should bury Notre Dame, especially if the USC team of Saturday night that can run the ball and play defense is the USC team that shows up on November 25. Furthermore, if Notre Dame did make the title game, they would either be there against a team that beat them by 26 in South Bend or in place of that team with the same record.

Arkansas's numbers are very impressive, but I'll have to see what indexing for their quality of opponent will do to them.

Despite looking pretty pedestrian over the past two weeks, Florida's numbers match up nicely with those of Michigan and Ohio State and they've played a tougher schedule than either the Buckeyes or the Wolverines. If the Gators win out, they'd be a deserving participant in Glendale.


Kanu said...

Ohio State-Arkansas is your title game.

Sorry about Messi (and Saviola as well). Time for Gudjohnsen to start earning his paychekcs...

Anonymous said...

What good is yards per possession in basketball? Who needs yards?


Michael said...

I don't love Arkansas's chances against LSU's run defense. I also think that the game this weekend is a toss-up. Don't underestimate the fact that Michigan is more likely to run the ball well than Ohio State.

The silver lining to Messi's injury is that Ronaldinho played his best game of the season on Saturday. Barca can afford to be missing Messi if Ronaldinho is on-form. By the way, congrats on a great win against L'pool. You guys looked like you didn't want to give the ball up all game.

Anon, you have obviously not watched Big Ten basketball, a grinding borefest contested by the yard.

eyelessingaza said...

Michael, I guess that's why they play the game.

Go Wolverines, beat tosu.

mikes1160 said...

What a load of tripe: anti ND bias again, yawn. We turned the ball over FIVE times to UM - could they have affected the game? Their offense scored two field goals in the second half......and what is the weak schedule? Why is it our fault that solid teams like Purdue, MSU, and Penn State go into the tank. Do we have a Ball State on the schedule? Or an Eastern Michigan? Navy is bowl bound and Air Force lost by one to Tennessee. Sure Army is easy, but they're not 1-AA either. UCLA is supposed to be a solid Pac 10 team.

You beat up ND, yet you give a pass to a Florida team that has yet to prove it's worth this year.

Michael said...

Congrats, Mike, you totally missed the point of the post, which is that Notre Dame is statistically inferior to the other national title contenders by a significant margin. You gloss right over that point, possibly because numbers scare you and you know they show that Notre Dame is not a great team this year?

The schedule points you make are completely irrelevant, as you would need to show that ND played a much tougher schedule than the other six teams in order to justify the disparity. Instead, you make excuses for the fact that some teams on ND's schedule didn't turn out to be very good. The only teams for which you can legitimately make that argument are Penn State and UCLA; the remainder of the teams on ND's slate are typically average. If you expected Purdue, MSU, Stanford, or Georgia Tech to be great, you were barking up the wrong tree. And how are the service academies any better than Ball State or Central Michigan. Incidentally, you may want to employ a fact-checker, as UM played Central Michigan, the team currently leading the MAC, instead of Eastern Michigan.

Anonymous said...

I agree with the guy in the EDSBS thread who calls yards per play a "garbage stat." The point of the game is to score points, and to keep the other guys from scoring. That's why points per possession is such a great stat for basketball. It captures things like fouls and turnovers, but in a simple stat.

If you wanted to offer some quick-and-fairly-easy statistical analysis, it would necessarily focus on scoring. Otherwise, special teams don't ender the picture (there are three phases of the game, after all). Nor do penalties, or turnovers, both of which are of paramount importance in how games result (and how good a team is), and are tied up into scoring.

For instance, Florida has a garbage kicking game, terrible kick return squads, actually has a negative turnover margin, and is heavily penalized (103rd in the country). But sure, if you only look at YPP, they are as good as Michigan. Nevermind that UM is eighth in the nation in turnover margin, and has a kicker than can make a field goal. Or, as you say, Florida is miles ahead of ND (or more accurately, ND is miles behind everyone). Nevermind that ND turns the ball over less than anyone in the sport, is tenth in net punting (in fairness, UF is 12th), decent in return games, and while oft-penalized, is at least better than Florida in that department.

YPP is interesting, and tells you something about a team, but to take a fairly garbage stat and turn it--standing alone--into a qualifier for who does or doesn't belong in the title discussion is just not all that insightful. Not when it ignores so many important and outcome-determinative facets of the game.


PS: after writing, but before posting, i saw your response to Mike's post. You are correct in that his comment fails to address your post. But as another Irish fan, I would say that no, the numbers do not scare me. They are ugly, but I am perfectly willing to address them. And I like ND's chances against any team in the country, including Michigan in a rematch. (Michigan may be the better team, but that game was not an accurate indication of the two team's relative worth. I only wish ND had a chance to prove it.)

Lies, damn lies, and statistics. Penn State had 170 garbage yards in the 4th quarter. Purdue had 130. Air Force had 130. Have the other teams also given up garbage yards? Maybe, I don't know. I doubt if they have given up nearly as many, though. ND's defense, while still susceptible to the big play, is not as bad as people think (and that includes most ND fans), or as the statistics say. It is okay, not bad.

Meanwhile, the offense is a ball control offense. I am hardly surprised that the highly effective squad that SMQ has termed "death by paper cuts" does not wow anyone with its YPP. It is a low-volatility system--ND rarely goes for big plays because it can (and does) move the chains. In return, they score on a higher percentage of their drives than the vast majority of teams, even those in the title hunt. It is not a better or worse way of running an offense, just a different philosophy.

Much of ND's weakness in YPP is illusory, some of it is by design, and the whole point of my reply is that YPP doesn't really tell us much about the quality of a team, overall. The other teams might be better at breaking a big play with a Manningham or McFadden, or their defenses might be better at preventing the big play. I frankly don't care, as long as ND continues to outscore its opponents week-in and week-out. And I honestly believe they will the rest of the way (although they match up poorly with a couple bowl opponents). We'll see, and that's why they play the games, I guess!

Anonymous said...

Very Simply:

the Defenses in the SEC aren't that good - it's that the Offenses are miserable

No Playoff Wanted said...

Did a little analysis of the relative Strength of Schedules for the top BCS teams. Using the 5 computer polls in the BCS that publish their SOS rankings, here are the results, as of today, averaging the 5:

Cal 14
USC 16
Fla 19
ND 20
MI 25
Lou 29
LSU 32
Tex 39
Ark 48
OSU 49
Wis 50
Rut 51
WV 56
WF 74
BSt 100

So when someone says 'they've played a weak schedule' get the facts!

All conferences have bad teams, avg teams & good teams. When non-conf opponents turn out to be worse than anticipated that hurts SOS. ND is unique as all their games are non-conf, but the run into the same thing as any conference team - some of their opponents are bad, avg & good.

These results were certainly surprising to me. I think the traditional conference power teams benefit from the thought that their conference schedule is tougher than it actually is. We are used to hearing names like Texas A&M, South Carolina, Florida State, Purdue. Reality & unbiased computer results indicate Arkansas & tOSU haven't had it so tough YET. It'll be interesting to see how the undefeated & 1 loss teams rank on Dec 3rd.

Until then - above are the facts!

eyelessingaza said...

Wow - how the hell did you get so many Notre Dame fans on this blog? I swear to you I had nothing to do with this.

I was going to say something about the Yards Per Play thing last night, but then swallowed it - and now I've been beaten to the punch. I agree wholeheartedly that Notre Dame's defense is inferior to the rest of the NC contenders, and you can use a host of statistics to prove that. But how useful is the offensive ypp when Notre Dame is average 5.7 and 32.4 points per game and Florida is averaging 6.2 ypp and 24.4 ppg? All that tells me is that Florida has more big-play capability but is less able to sustain scoring drives over a 60 minute period (remember, strength of schedule is not being used in either case)- not exactly an indication of Gator superiority...