There are a number of ways in which a team can be “lucky” in football. It can have a good record despite being outgained on the season. It can have a positive turnover margin that is heavily influenced by recovering lots of fumbles, both its own fumbles and those of its opponents. It can score a lot of points relative to its yards. I have a sense that Georgia is much better than its record this year, but I’d like to prove it. Let’s go to the numbers!
|YPP Off.||YPP Def.||YPP Mar.||Sagarin||SRS|
(Note: the yards per play numbers are from games against BCS conferences only. Also, I am using the Sagarin Predictor, which takes scoring margin into account. Think about this chart as a way to look at three factors: yardage, scoring, and strength of schedule.)
There’s a pretty compelling case to be made that Georgia’s 5-5 record doesn’t reflect the team’s underlying quality. The Dawgs are in a cluster with LSU, Florida, and South Carolina, both in terms are yards per play margin and also Sagarin ranking. LSU and South Carolina have had good seasons (by their standards), but statistically speaking, they aren’t that different from Georgia and Florida, both of which have had very disappointing seasons.
Think of it this way: LSU is 8-1 and ranked #5 in the country. Georgia is 5-5 and unranked. Going into the season, both Les Miles and Mark Richt were on warm seats. Not “win this year or else” seats, but rather “win this year or else 2011 will be uncomfortable” seats. Miles has firmly pulled himself off of the warm seat, pending the final several games of the year. Richt has not. But if you look at the numbers, there isn’t much to separate the teams. LSU would be a 3.5 or four point favorite on a neutral field. (In Athens, the game would be a pick ‘em.) Georgia has been the superior team on a per-play basis. So what’s the line between national title contender and disappointment? LSU is 5-1 in games decided by one score; Georgia is 0-3 (and that doesn’t include the South Carolina and Mississippi State games, both of which were one-score games in the fourth quarter). Is that disparity because of Les Miles being a genius at the end of games and Mark Richt being a dolt in those situations? Hardly. Does anyone think that Richt has forgotten how to win a close game after he won those games repeatedly earlier in his career? Does anyone think that Georgia’s record in close games wouldn’t be better if: (1) opponents dropped winning touchdown passes on multiple occasions (LSU vs. UNC); (2) opponents committed too many men on the field penalties to bail the Dawgs out of final play debacles (LSU vs. Tennessee); or (3) Georgia got magical bounces to convert fake field goals that their opponents knew were coming (LSU vs. Florida)? In short, Georgia is a 7-3 team that has a 5-5 record; LSU is a 6-3 team that has an 8-1 record.
Other thoughts from the numbers:
- The Sagarin rankings match pretty closely to the yards per play margins. Alabama is a little better on a points and schedule basis than they are on yardage, while Georgia is a little worse. However, no team jumps out as one that has drastically over- or under-performed its underlying yardage. If you just looked at record, then there would be wide disparities, but that’s why it’s better to look at big sample sizes (yards and points) as opposed to smaller ones (games won and lost).
- Alabama is going to be favored in the Iron Bowl, mainstream media people are going to say “huh?,” and then Alabama is going to win.
- Look at LSU’s and Florida’s meager yards per play numbers. Both teams are a better offensive coordinator away from national title contention. If either team had Georgia’s offense, they would be Auburn.
- This Mississippi State team reminds me of the 2007 team that went 8-5, but was not nearly as good as its record suggested. That might cool the talk of Dan Mullen being a rising superstar coach, although in his defense, he’s only in year two. We are far from Mullen having a finished product. I’ll be interested to see how Mississippi State does in recruiting this year and next. Will they be able to leverage a good season into better talent?
- Arkansas looks very good by this measure. They are in a cluster with Alabama and Auburn atop the conference. Sure enough, they lost a tight game at home against Alabama and a tight game on the Plains. Yes, they lost by 22 at Auburn, but they led by six in the fourth quarter despite playing most of the game without Ryan Mallett. If Arkansas wins out, then they deserve consideration for a BCS bowl, depending on what happens to Alabama and Auburn. If Alabama loses one of its last two or say Auburn loses one of its last two and then loses the SEC Championship Game, then Arkansas ought to get a spot. You know those fans will travel.
- Florida and South Carolina look evenly matched this weekend. With Florida playing at home and South Carolina playing in November, one would have to give the edge to the Gators. That said, the game should be very close. All of the games in the LSU-Florida-South Carolina-Georgia cluster have been very close.
[Update: I added a column for SRS rankings to have a second computer ranking that accounts for scoring margin. SRS comes out with some more conventional results. Georgia doesn’t do as well in SRS, whereas LSU and Mississippi State do better.]