A nerd's look at predicting the SEC, Part VI: The conclusions
Nerds are great people. Without them, our society couldn’t function.
Sometimes the stereotypes ring true, though. Nerds don’t always understand how to communicate their knowledge to others. It’s as if they (we) forget that not everyone holds the same interests, curiosities and knowledge base about a particular subject.
Hence this post. I spent the last week examining the SEC with a detailed, thorough analysis of some numbers that have proven to be good indicators of future performance. You can check out all the in-depth installments here:
For a bottom-line, Cliff’s notes version, keep reading. This post is for those who want to skip the lengthy explanation of the Pythagorean formula and just find out which teams the numbers like and don’t like for the 2015 season.
I’ll break it down by category below, and I’ve added some extras that I didn’t cover last week.
Overall, the numbers suggest there’s a very strong chance Arkansas improves on its 7-6 record in ’14, while Missouri is due to fall off from its 11-3 record.
CLOSE GAMES/POINT DIFFERENTIAL
Why it matters: Almost every team wins about 50 percent of its one-possession games in the long haul, so short-term variations can help predict corrections. If a team wins or loses a high percentage of close games, it is likely to regress to the mean the following year.
Good for: Arkansas/Florida/Kentucky
Bad for: Auburn/Mississippi State/Missouri
Arkansas has performed terribly in one-possession games, losing all seven under coach Bret Bielema. We took a close look at why the Razorbacks’ offense has bogged down late in tight SEC games.
Auburn (9-3 the last two years), Mississippi State (6-2 the last two years) and Missouri (4-1 last year) all got a little lucky in recent seasons. Chances are those teams won’t sustain that close-game winning percentage in 2015.
Why it matters: Point differential is a better indicator of a team’s true level of play than its win-loss record. If a team’s expected record is significantly better or worse than its actual record, expect a correction the next year.
Good for: Arkansas/LSU/Florida
Bad for: Missouri/Vanderbilt
This is one of the strongest metrics predicting improvement in 2015, suggesting Arkansas (7-6 last year) performed like a 10-win program last fall. That indicates the Razorbacks were unlucky a year ago and should see the win total rise.
Analytics do not like Mizzou this year. The Tigers (11-3 last year) outperformed their true level by about 1.1 wins in 2014, suggesting the team is due for a correction and should lose four or more games.
TURNOVER MARGIN/FUMBLE RECOVERY RATE
Why it matters: Turnovers are somewhat random. Good and bad outliers in terms of turnover margin almost always experience a correction toward the middle the following year. And fumble recovery rate is very close to 50 percent for every team historically, so those who got lucky or unlucky in ’14 are due for a correction.
Good for: Alabama/Vanderbilt/Auburn
Bad for: Georgia/LSU/Missouri
Georgia enjoyed the best turnover margin in the SEC last season at +16 thanks to Hutson Mason (277 passes, 4 INTs) and a lucky fumble recovery rate (58.7 percent). It’s unlikely the Bulldogs will enjoy so many extra possessions in 2015.
The state of Alabama is due for some better turnover luck, however. The Tide intercepted just 11 passes and recovered just 39.5 percent of fumbles, both of which should improve this fall. Auburn, meanwhile, got extremely unlucky last year (25 percent fumble recovery rate). With average luck in ’15, the dangerous Tigers offense will enjoy an extra 10 possessions.
DEFENSIVE TDs ALLOWED
Why it matters: There’s almost zero correlation in this statistic from one year to the next. In other words, offenses that gave up a lot of points via safeties, fumble returns or interception returns can expect improvement, and vice versa.
Good for: Vanderbilt
Bad for: Auburn/Georgia/LSU/Missouri
Vanderbilt’s offense gave up 42 points last season (in just 12 games) due to a combination of poor play, a high turnover rate, bad luck and indecision by the coaching staff at quarterback. Vandy’s offense could turn the ball over a lot again, but the Commodores should improve in at least a few of those attributes.
The other four teams ran the ball at a high frequency, which mitigates the chances of accumulating pick-sixes to an extent. But it’s unlikely that those four teams avoid giving up a single point to opposing defenses throughout the 2014 schedule.
STRENGTH OF SCHEDULE
Why it matters: There are a lot of moving parts here, including order of games, bye week, health at kickoff time and the number of stock up/stock down teams on the schedule. But ask any professional gambler: the difficulty level of a team’s schedule is a real factor in its winning percentage and odds.
Good for: Missouri/LSU
Bad for: Arkansas/Alabama
Finally Mizzou catches a break. Even if BYU quarterback Taysom Hill when the teams meet in mid-November — unlikely, based on Hill’s history — the Tigers should overwhelm the Cougars at the line of scrimmage. The rest of the team’s non-conference slate is easy. Missouri gets most of its toughest games at home and avoids Alabama, Auburn, LSU and Ole Miss in the SEC West.
The Razorbacks and Tide face 10 teams that participated in bowls in 2014, making for a long grind of a season.
Why it matters: Some teams stay unusually healthy, while others seem cursed by the football gods in a particular season. A slew of injuries, injuries to key players or both can affect a team in a big way.
Good for: Ole Miss
Bad for: Missouri
Ole Miss gets back a ton of superstar talent that finished last season nursing major injuries: LT Laremy Tunsil, WR Laquon Treadwell and LB Robert Nkemdiche, in addition to a few others. The Rebels were a much different team prior to suffering a string of key injuries, and may be due for some better health this fall.
You didn’t think Missouri could stay on the good side of the ledger for long, did you? DT Harold Brantley, an All-SEC candidate, suffered some major injuries in a June car accident, and any timetable for his return to football is unclear at this point. RB Trevon Walters and S Tavon Ross tore ACLs this spring. RB Morgan Steward (hip) remains an uncertainty after being out for almost a year. WR Nate Brown (knee), TE Sean Culkin (shoulder) and OL Connor McGovern (knee) all missed valuable time during spring practice.
Why it matters: Talent trumps experience, especially in college athletics. But when all else is equal, continuity and the opportunity to establish a baseline level and improve from there is a strong separator. Plus, if a team loses a lot of starters in a given season, there’s likely to be a talent drop-off, either in the starting lineup or the ever-important two-deep.
Good for: Tennessee/Vanderbilt
Bad for: Mississippi State/Florida
The Vols and Commodores each return 18 starters, according to Phil Steele. Both teams are hoping for major progress with relatively new head coaches, and that’s a positive attribute.
Mississippi State (9 returning starters) and Florida (10 returning starters) got hammered by departures. In the hardscrabble SEC West, even with Dak Prescott, that’s a major issue for a Bulldogs team that doesn’t typically rank near the top in recruiting.