Thursday, July 26, 2007

The Jumbled 2nd Tier of the Pac 10

If you've picked up a single preseason preview magazine, it probably has USC as the #1 team in America. Why shouldn't they be? They return a senior QB, return 10 players from the best defense in the conference, with possibly 4 1st round picks on that side of the ball alone. They have a slew of running backs who are all capable of averaging at least 4 yards per carry. Oh, and they have the best coach in the country. USC's status as the top dog in the Pac 10 is not going to be challenged in 2007, if we're all correct in our assessments.

The really exciting thing about the Pac 10 in 2007 is going to be the absolute clusterdryhump from #2 through #6. California, Oregon, Arizona State, UCLA, and Oregon State will all jockey to finish as the #1 Loser so they can make the Rose Bowl. A lot of pundits peg Cal for that spot, but I'll get into why I disagree later (similar reasons to what the Genius has said). If you put those 5 teams into any order in the standings, I could understand why you would. Hell, you could convince me that Arizona's new offensive scheme could add them into the equation. I won't though, because Tuitama needs to show consistency while healthy.

Why isn't Cal the clear #2? Why don't I believe UCLA will challenge? Why am I falling in love with the Ducks and the Devils? Read on to find out. Beware, though, as I'm using a lot of statistical analysis up front, with some eyeball analysis at the badunkadunk. Before the table, I'd like to give you a key, if you will, of what the abbreviations stand for, and what kind of correlation they have to results the next season.

CGVR: Close Game Variance Ratio - Started by Phil Steele, and adjusted slightly by me, and given a name. Steele has done extensive research on close game outcomes. When teams are either very lucky or very unlucky, they have a good chance of different fortunes the next season. A close game, with my adjustment, is any final score within 8 points either direction. A team with a +4 in CGVR means they had 4 net close game victories. You can find the probabilities for this metric here. Basically, just remember +2 or more means a team's record will not improve, and -2 or more means it will improve the next season.

DDH: Draft Day Hangover - Straight from Phil Steele. His tool applies points to each round of the draft for which a player was taken. A 1st round pick is worth 7 points, a 2nd rounder is 5, 3rd round is 4, and so on. Anything higher than 12, per Steele, means a record decrease the next season.

RS: Returning Starters (not K/P) - From everyone and everywhere. 11,12, and 13 RS is neutral. Anything more is a good thing, any less could be a downward slide.

TO: Turnovers - Phil Steele has found a correlation with next season success or failure based on turnovers. If your team was +8 or more last season, you could expect that luck to even out and have a worse record the next season. The inverse is true of -8 or worse.

CAPP: Complete Adjusted Performance Percentage - My stat that bases ranking of a conference by the yardage stats in conference play in comparison to strength of opposition. The way to apply it is like Steele does with his ypg theory. If a team, say, Oregon, finishes 5th in the Pac 10, but was statistically 1st in the conference, you can expect them to improve their record the next season.

OVERALL: This is where I combine the 5 metrics from above, and see if the team is trending up or down. The more arrows the better.

CalE16 13 +6 4th
Oregon St+4 6 16 +8 5th
UCLAE 2 20 +4 7th
Oregon+1 4 14 -10 1st
Arizona StE 6 14 -1 3rd

That took me a long time to put together, so you better love it. From the table alone, it looks like Cal and Oregon State are going to take a step back, while the lower 3 all will move up. However, there has to be more to the story, right? For sure. The schedules of the 5 teams, as well as talent have to come into play. Let's take a took at it.

The Bears have the most raw talent of the 5 teams jockeying for position to place. With the WR corps of Jackson, Hawkins, and Jordan, combined with a competent quarterback, they can beat anybody on any given day. Their defense is a huge concern, especially up front. They have a good coach in Jeff Tedford, who could be better than Mike Belotti and Dennis Erickson right now, but he doesn't have the accomplishments to prove it. The biggest concern for them finishing #2 is that of the 4 games against their peers on the 2nd tier, only 1 is at home. Cal has been a damn good team in Berkeley, so it definitely matters for them. They get the Beavers in Memorial, but the other 3 are on the road and all of them can beat Cal.

Not only did Oregon State come out with 4 net close victories, they also were on the positive side of variance for turnovers. Those 2 are the biggest trends in the table, in my opinion. They also weren't as good as 3rd statistically. On the other side of things, they return their starting running back and all of their sack monsters. Like Cal, they only get 1 home game against the 4 possible bridesmaids. I think the Beavers suffer the greatest fall in the Pac 10.

I find the Bruins to be the toughest to project in this group. They have an insane amount of returning starts, didn't lose much to the draft, and weren't on either side of variance at all. They weren't statistically the 4th best team in the conference. In fact, they were 7th! Stats aren't everything, but they are something. They also have the worst head coach of the 5 Susan Lucci's. Preseason rags are pimping UCLA to be #2 or #3 in the conference, with an outside shot at the title. But Dorrell has been anything but impressive, saved only by a miracle against USC. They do get 3 of the 4 games at home, where the Dorrell Bruins are 20-5.

The team with the most green, up arrows is only getting love from Phil Steele, for the same reasons I'm giving them love. They were on the bad side of variance for turnovers, have returning starters, and were the BEST statistical team in the Pac 10 last year. If I did guarantees, one would be Oregon finishing #2 in the conference this year. But watch out, Dennis Dixon is spending the summer missing splitfingers, which is a summer without football preparation. This alone could screw them out of #2. The biggest reason Oregon underachieved last year was Dixon's ability to put it between the numbers of a receiver ... from the defense. If he comes around, Oregon will walk away with the Mark Martin Award. Oh, and they get 3 of 4 in Eugene, the toughest place to play in the Pac 10.

As you can see in the table above, Arizona State has 3 pretty green arrows, signifying a major move up the ladder in the Pac 10. This is without considering they signed a National Championship head coach. Erickson, while as shady as the earth under a 400 year oak, wins games. He'll take Arizona State to a new level, and it could be sooner than people expect. They had no variance, positive or negative. They return 14 starts, including a very promising offense. If the defense can hold serve, they might take that #2 spot. They split the games with the other 4 Kevin Federlines, 2 in Tempe, 2 on the road.

How will they all end up? Who will be the beneficiary of a Rose Bowl trip, while not truly earning it? You'll find out in my Pac 10 Predictions in a week or two or three. (This truly wasn't a tease, but yeah, watch for it.)

EDIT: Yes, I realize there's a huge gap before the table. I have no idea why, and I'm waiting on help from blogger. If anyone knows why, e-mail me at thepowert at gmail dot com)


Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Doug Coffin said...

No spamming here, please.

Brian McCormack said...

While you seem to have fixed your table problem, I think I can explain the problem. Blogger records any hard return as a double space tag and if you write the table nicely with and enter at the end of each row it puts in spaces.


Doug Coffin said...

Thanks Brian!

matt said...

Like yourself and Phil Steele, I too believe the Ducks are pretty much destined to finish no worse than 2nd in the Pac 10. Despite having the 28th best pass efficiency defense last year, they finished 89th in scoring defense. The primary culprit? Special teams. The Ducks were 90th in net punting last season averaging only a shade over 33 net yards per kick. Opponents averaged over 11 yards per punt return. This consistently put the defense in bad field position and despite their solid performance, the numbers in the most important category--points allowed, were poor. Their special teams cannot possibly be as bad, they will not be -10 in turnovers, and the quarterback play will surely improve as well.

seth said...

very good analysis--USC being a cut above and the #2-6 teams being roughly equal.

Right now I think the team with the most variance is UO. The were flat out horrible at the end of last season--and I think there will be a hangover and they have a new offensive system. They also have a very tough non con schedule---on paper they should be 2-1 but it could be 1-2 (or even 0-3).

I like OSU to make some noise assuming their new QB doesn't hurt them. They will have "chemistry".

UCLA seems to be the most overrated--they will be in most games but won't be dominant on either side of the ball and hence will be "upset prone".

Cal is somewhat like UCLA--raw talent for sure--but the least returning starters in the conference and their defense will be vulnerable up front to ball control. As good as Forsett is he won't make anybody forget Lynch.

ASU has the most favorable schedule and if the receivers step up their offense should be formidable--marginal improvement on D should make them hard to beat.