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Just The Sports: 2011-01-02

Just The Sports

Saturday, January 08, 2011

Auburn Tigers Will Win BCS Title And Here Is Why

Most would agree that the Auburn Tigers and the Oregon Ducks are the two best college football teams in the nation. Yet, besides just knowing these two teams are the best, it is also worthwhile to take a truly comprehensive look at just how dominant these teams have been in their games and which team has been more dominant than the other. By dominant, what I mean is how well each team performed against their opponents in comparison to how well their opponents played in every other game besides the ones where they were facing Oregon or Auburn; in simpler terms, it is gauging how poorly a team makes its opponents play.

On the offensive side of the ball, Oregon completed 62.1 percent of their passes, gained 7.9 yards per pass attempt and 8.7 adjusted yards per attempt, averaged 6.1 yards per rush, accumulated 12.7 yards per completion, had an 8.2 touchdown percentage and a 2.0 interception percentage, and were sacked on 1.9 percent of their pass attempts.

In every game besides the ones in which they played Oregon, Oregon's opponents allowed their opponents to complete 59.5 percent of their passes, gain 7.2 yards per pass attempt and 6.8 adjusted yards per pass attempt, average 4.4 yards per rush, accumulate 12.0 yards per completion, post a 5.1 touchdown percentage and 3.0 interception percentage, score 49.3 points per game, and they sacked opposing quarterbacks on 6.7 percent of their pass attempts.

That means that when facing Oregon, due to the Ducks' high-powered offensive attack, teams allowed a 4.4 percent higher completion percentage, 9.7 percent more yards per pass attempt, 27.9 percent more adjusted yards per pass attempt, 38.6 percent more yards per rush, 5.8 percent more yards per completion, a 60.8 percent higher touchdown percentage, and 84.0 percent more points per game. Oregon's opponents were also 33.3 percent less likely to intercept a pass from an Oregon quarterback and 77.6 percent less likely to sack an Oregon quarterback than they were to intercept and sack a quarterback in other games.

There are a couple of things that should immediately jump out at you after looking at these statistics. The first is how much the Oregon offense relies upon their vaunted rushing attack led by LaMichael James. They depend on their ground game's domination much more than they do upon quarterback Darren Thomas' ability to throw the ball efficiently.

The second noteworthy conclusion to draw is that Thomas is not the kind of quarterback who should strike great fear in the hearts of any defense. In terms of passing accuracy and value of his passes as measured by yards per pass attempt and yards per completion, Thomas is really not that much better than any other quarterback Oregon's opponents have faced. Actually, Thomas has only completed 60.7 percent of his passes, which is not indicative of an elite quarterbacking talent.

Where Thomas is dangerous as a passer is in his knack for throwing a high number of touchdown passes relative to his pass attempts and barely throwing any interceptions. He is also virtually impossible to sack.

If Auburn wants to shut down Oregon's offense, the Tigers should do all they can to make Thomas beat them with his arm. It is unlikely he would be able to do so.

As dominant as Oregon has been on offense this season, what Auburn has put together on offense makes Oregon's look almost pedestrian in comparison. During games against Auburn, Auburn's opponents allowed a 18.5 percent higher completion percentage (66.7 percent to 56.3 percent), 50.0 percent more yards per attempt (10.5 to 7.0), 85.7 percent more adjusted yards per pass attempt (11.7 to 6.3), 67.6 percent more yards per rush (6.2 to 3.7), a 141.3 percent higher touchdown percentage (11.1 percent to 4.6 percent), 37.8 percent lower interception percentage (2.3 percent to 3.7 percent), and 85.7 percent more points per game (42.7 to 23.0) than in games where they faced anyone else. Auburn quarterbacks, however, were 1.4 percent more likely to be sacked than other quarterbacks.

Not only has the Auburn offense been more dominant than Oregon's offense in every category except interception percentage, but it is also a harder one to stop because the Tigers can run and pass at almost the same dominant level. Unlike Oregon where there is a pretty sizable drop-off between their proficiency in running the ball and passing, Auburn experiences no such difficulties.

Try to bottle up Auburn's rushing game and Cam Newton and his receivers will just hurt you with big pass plays. Focus solely on stopping the big pass play and Auburn will just run the ball at will.

Despite the Herculean task stopping Auburn's offense is, Oregon's defense will be charged with just that task Monday night, and the defense should be able to keep Auburn from running and passing roughshod over it and completely embarrassing it. Although Oregon's offense is the one getting all the publicity, Oregon's defense has been equally dominant, if not more so.

Compared to how opposing offenses performed against Oregon as opposed to the other teams on their schedules, they experienced a 10.4 percent decrease in completion percentage (59.7 percent to 53.5 percent), 19.7 percent decrease in yards per pass attempt (7.1 to 5.4), 38.2 percent decrease in adjusted yards per pass attempt (6.8 to 4.2), 10.9 percent decrease in yards per completion (11.9 to 10.6), 21.4 percent decrease in yards per rush (4.2 to 3.3), 44.2 percent decrease in touchdown percentage (5.2 percent to 2.9 percent), 46.7 percent increase in interception percentage (3.0 percent to 4.4 percent), 4.5 percent decrease in sack percentage (6.7 percent to 6.4 percent), and 46.2 percent decrease in points scored per game (26.6 to 18.4).

As you can see, the Oregon defense is equally adept at stopping opponents' rushing and passing attacks as long as you do not expect them to sack the quarterback. However, even with their excellent defensive statistics, if they play in the same dominating fashion against Auburn, Auburn's offense is still potent enough to move the ball well enough to score points.

Auburn's defense, too, has seen its opponents struggle to move the ball against them although they have been not nearly so outstanding as the Oregon defense. Still, Auburn's opponents underwent a 12.7 percent decrease in yards per pass attempt (7.9 to 6.9), 9.2 percent decrease in adjusted yards per pass attempt (7.6 to 6.9), a 15.4 percent decrease in yards per reception (13.0 to 11.0), 16.9 percent decrease in touchdown percentage (5.9 percent to 4.9 percent), 12.1 percent increase in sack percentage (5.8 percent to 6.5 percent), and 20.7 percent decrease in points per game (30.9 to 24.5) compared to their statistics in all other games.

On the other hand, opposing quarterbacks have experienced a 2.8 increase in completion percentage (61.0 percent to 62.7 percent) and a 36.4 percent decrease in interception percentage (3.3 percent to 2.1 percent) relative to their performances in other games. If there is going to be an interception thrown in the game, it is much more likely to be thrown by Cam Newton than Darren Thomas.

Auburn's defense's greatest strength is in its ability to stop the run, which will come in handy since Oregon's offense's greatest strength is running the ball. Where Auburn is susceptible on defense is when the Tigers are called upon to defend the pass, which should surprise no one who has watched any of their games. Luckily for Auburn, where they are weaker is also where Oregon's offense is weaker.

The matchup between Auburn's defense and Oregon's offense will pit strength against strength and weakness against weakness and Auburn's defense is a lot more equipped to stop Oregon's offense than Oregon's defense is to stop Auburn's offense.

So far, Oregon and Auburn have been compared as if they both faced competition of equal ability, but that is not the case. With only two exceptions, Oregon's opponents' defenses were better at containing yards per completion (12.0 to 12.4) and Oregon's opponents' offenses were better at avoiding interceptions (3.0 interception percentage to 3.3 interception percentage), Auburn faced a better quality of opponent. Therefore, the two team's statistics have to be adjusted in order to determine how they compare to each other on an equal level.

After the adjustment, the advantage Auburn already has on offense becomes even more pronounced. They increase their already superior dominance over Oregon's offense in completion percentage, yards per attempt, adjusted yards per attempt, yards per completion, yards per rush, touchdown percentage, interception percentage, and points. There are not enough compliments that can be heaped upon the Auburn offense to describe how incredible their production has been this season.

Oregon's offense is still much better at avoiding sacks, but that one advantage is nothing compared to Auburn's multiple ones.

Defensively after making the adjustments, it is Oregon who has proven themselves more adept than Auburn at stopping opponents. Oregon's defense has been a lot better than Auburn's defense in yards per pass attempt allowed, adjusted yards per pass attempt allowed, completion percentage allowed, touchdown percentage allowed, interception percentage, and points allowed.

It is not all bad news for Auburn's defense, though. The Tigers' defense is better than Oregon's defense in yards per completion allowed and sack percentage and equal to Oregon in stopping the run.

The advantage Oregon holds on defense, however, does not mean as much as the advantage that Auburn holds on offense because Oregon is just proving themselves to be better than the weaker part of Auburn's team. Auburn is even better by a vast margin than the stronger part of Oregon's team.

Plus the Oregon defense will not be playing against the Auburn defense; it will be facing the Auburn offense that has shown itself to be nonpareil this season as they have put up amazing numbers against what were otherwise stingy defenses. As dominant as Oregon's defense has shown itself to be even after the adjustments for quality of opponent, Auburn's offense is more unstoppable. It will be asking too much to expect Oregon's defense to contain Auburn as much as it will need to for the Ducks to emerge victorious.

On the other hand, it will not be asking too much for Auburn's defense to contain Oregon's offense since Oregon's offense is fairly one-dimensional and will not be able to effectively attack Auburn's defense where it is weakest; namely, against the pass.

When the Auburn Tigers square off against the Oregon Ducks Monday night, because of their extremely dominant offense, they will have the best unit on the field on either side of the ball and that should be enough for the Tigers to win the game.

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Friday, January 07, 2011

Georgetown Hoyas' Offensive Efficiency Is Not Predicated Upon Tempo's Luke Winn is a great college basketball writer. He does copious amounts of research, has a great understanding of advanced basketball statistics, and comes up with interesting topics to discuss in his articles. Unfortunately, Winn has also been the recipient of misleading information.

In his December 16th college basketball power rankings, Winn quotes an assistant coach from an opposing team who scouted the Georgetown Hoyas and had this to say:

"I honestly think, because their guards [Chris Wright, Austin Freeman and Jason Clark] are so talented and skilled, that the faster they play, the better off they are. Because the more chances you give those three guys to make decisions on the fly and create shots, the better off they're going to be."

Immediately upon reading this, red flags went off for me because in my experience, the tempo at which a team plays has very little to do with just how efficient they are offensively. A team that plays at a slow pace has just as much chance of being a great offensive team as one who treats every possession like a fast break opportunity.

If it were actually the case that the Georgetown Hoyas would be a better team if they played at a faster tempo, then it would be reflected in their play this season. Luckily, finding out such is an easy task as all one has to do is run a correlation between Georgetown's possessions and their offensive efficiency, points per 100 possessions.

As it turns out, through their 15 games this season, the Hoyas have a .374 correlation between their number of possessions and their offensive efficiency, indicating there is some truth behind the assistant coach's proclamation. The correlation, which is fairly strong, does reveal that the faster the Hoyas have played, the more efficient their offense has become.

However, in the grand scheme of what comprises Georgetown's offensive efficiency, the speed at which they play is less important than a number of other categories.

The most important factor in determining how efficiently the Hoyas have played on offense should come as no surprise; it is how well they have shot the ball. No matter which shooting statistic you choose to look at, be it field goal percentage (.857 correlation), true shooting percentage (.832 correlation), or effective field goal percentage (.799 correlation), how well the Hoyas shoot is an incredibly more powerful and reliable indicator of their final offensive efficiency.

Additionally, the Hoyas' assist rate (.582 correlation), turnover rate (-.525 correlation), offensive rebounding percentage (.400 correlation), and turnovers per possession (-.430) all have more to do with their offensive efficiency than their tempo does.

Instead of advocating that the Georgetown Hoyas play at a faster pace to maximize their offensive potential, the opposing assistant coach should have advised the Hoyas to shoot better from the field, make sure all passes are leading to field goal makes for their teammates, limit their turnovers, and grab as many offensive rebounds as they can. All of those pieces of advice would benefit the Hoyas more in the future than simply playing faster so they can acquire more possessions.

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Wednesday, January 05, 2011

Kellen Moore Is Latest Excellent Boise State Quarterback; Chance To Be The Best

Few may think of Boise State as such, but it has quietly turned into a factory that consistently manufactures excellent college quarterbacks. For all the exploits of Kellen Moore over the past three seasons, he is simply the latest above-average Boise State quarterback to play for Chris Petersen, who first arrived in Boise State in 2001 as offensive coordinator before taking over the head coaching reins in 2006.

The Boise State quarterbacking tradition began with Ryan Dinwiddie, who was Boise State's primary quarterback, either attempting the most passes or throwing for the most yards, in 33 games spanning 2001-03. Dinwiddie's 62.8 completion percentage during that time frame is not overly impressive, but passing accuracy is not the reason why he is rightly considered by most to be the best quarterback to ever play for Boise State.

Why Dinwiddie's collegiate career should be remembered as an historically great one begins and ends with the fact that he gained 10.1 yards per pass attempt and 10.8 adjusted yards per pass attempt. Those ridiculously superb statistics mean that every time Dinwiddie dropped back to pass, Boise State was virtually guaranteed a first down.

Dinwiddie was also very proficient in throwing touchdowns while avoiding interceptions as his 8.2 touchdown percentage and 2.0 interception percentage indicate, meaning his pass attempts were a little more than four times as likely to end up being a touchdown as an interception.

Even though he is not talked about as such, Dinwiddie should be regarded as one of the best college quarterbacks ever.

The next in line to take over the Boise State quarterback mantle was Jared Zabransky, who put up elite numbers in two of his three seasons at Boise State although he could not quite match Dinwiddie's career. Zabranksy played in 38 games as Boise State's primary quarterback from 2004-06. Over his Boise State career, Zabransky completed 62.6 percent of his passes and gained 8.4 yards per pass attempt and 8.0 yards per pass attempt.

While Zabransky's numbers were impressive, they could have been much better had he not regressed so mightily in 2005, his second season as the Boise State starting quarterback. That season, Zabransky posted his lowest completion percentage (59.1 percentage), yards per pass attempt (7.5), and adjusted yards per pass attempt (6.6) of his Boise State career; in addition, Zabransky's 2005 season was the worst season a Boise State quarterback has had under Chris Petersen.

In his other two seasons, Zabransky was one of the best college quarterbacks of his era. His combined numbers for the 2004 and 2006 seasons were a 64.6 completion percentage, 9.0 yards per pass attempt, and 8.8 adjusted yards per pass attempt. Those two seasons were indicative of the kind of outstanding quarterback Zabransky could be when he was at his best.

However, Zabransky did have one major flaw that makes him stick out like a sore thumb among the four Chris Petersen-coached quarterbacks; he threw far too many interceptions in relation to how many touchdowns he threw. Zabransky's career 6.0 touchdown percentage is the lowest for a Chris Petersen-coached Boise State quarterback and his 3.7 interception percentage is the highest.

After Zabransky graduated, Taylor Tharp was given the keys to the Boise State passing offense for the 2007 season. Although Taylor Tharp is probably not a name even the most ardent college football fan remembers now, he played extremely well in that one season, completing 68.3 percent of his passes, gaining 7.9 yards per pass attempt, and gaining 8.1 adjusted yards per pass attempt.

His 68.3 completion percentage ranked him eighth among the 115 FBS quarterbacks who had at least 14 pass attempts per their team's games and his 7.9 yards per pass attempt, despite not being as valuable as Dinwiddie's or even Zabransky's marks in that category, was still good enough to place him 19th among the aforementioned 115 FBS quarterbacks.

Tharp was also quite adept at taking care of the ball with a 7.1 interception percentage and 2.6 interception percentage so he was 2.7 times more likely to throw a touchdown than an interception.

Then came current Boise State quarterback Kellen Moore. If Kellen Moore never throws another pass for Boise State, only Ryan Dinwiddie can claim a more valuable career, and if he repeats his 2010 season in 2011, then there will be an equally correct answer to who is the best Boise State quarterback ever.

Moore's 68.2 completion percentage to this point continues an accurate passing trend started by Zabransky in his senior season in 2006 (66.3 completion percentage) and continued by Tharp in 2007 (68.3 completion percentage), and his 8.9 yards per pass attempt and 9.9 adjusted yards per pass attempt give his passes value only surpassed by Dinwiddie.

In terms of touchdown and interception percentages, Moore's 8.1 touchdown percentage trails Dinwiddie only slightly and his 1.6 interception percentage is the best of the four quarterbacks, giving him the best touchdown to interception ratio since Chris Petersen arrived at Boise State.

Assisting Moore in his quest to equal Dinwiddie's Boise State's career is the 2010 season he just finished cobbling together. In his 13 games, Moore completed a spectacular 71.3 percent of his passes, gained 10.0 yards per pass attempt and 11.2 adjusted yards per pass attempt, and posted a 9.1 touchdown percentage and a 1.6 interception percentage.

It is the only season since Dinwiddie left Boise State that has been able to equal Dinwiddie's career production despite the fact they arrived at that equal production via different avenues. Moore got to his 10.0 yards per pass attempt through pinpoint accuracy; meanwhile, Dinwiddie got to his career mark of 10.1 yards per pass attempt through stretching the field vertically with 16.0 yards per completion. Two different ways, but equally effective.

With the exception of Jared Zabransky's 2005 season, no matter the name of the Boise State quarterback, he has given Chris Petersen excellent production out of the quarterback position. This run of unprecedented above-average play from Petersen's quarterbacks is the main reason why Boise State continues to be one of the nation's winningest college football programs.

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Tuesday, January 04, 2011

Garrett Gilbert and John Brantley Demonstrate How Not To Follow A Legend

Following a legend is no easy feat as University of Texas quarterback Garrett Gilbert and University of Florida quarterback John Brantley can now attest to after equally disastrous seasons. Gilbert and Brantley were tasked with replacing Colt McCoy and Tim Tebow, respectively, who were two of the most prolific and efficient passing quarterbacks in recent history and failed miserably at doing so. In fact, Gilbert and Brantley played so poorly that not only does it solidify McCoy's and Tebow's greatness as college quarterbacks, but it also calls into question whether or not Gilbert and Brantley should be allowed to continue in their roles as starting quarterback.

After Colt McCoy was injured in the first quarter of the 2009 BCS National Championship game, Garrett Gilbert received his first opportunity to be the Longhorns' primary quarterback and he completely squandered it. Gilbert only completed 37.5 percent of his 40 pass attempts (15 of 40), gained a measly 4.7 yards per pass attempt, and threw twice as many interceptions (four) as touchdowns (two), but he had built-in excuses of having only thrown 26 collegiate passes before that game, being a true freshman quarterback who had not planned on playing in the game, and going against the best defense in college football.

There was prevalent thinking that under more favorable quarterback conditions where Gilbert was the unquestioned number one quarterback and would be able to prepare fully to play that he would be a very good college quarterback. However, Gilbert's play over the course of the season disabused people of that notion, as he completed just 59.0 percent of his passes, gained a paltry 6.2 yards per attempt and 4.9 yards per attempt, and threw 17 interceptions (3.9 interception percentage) to 10 touchdowns (2.3 touchdown percentage). Compared to Colt McCoy's time at Texas, Gilbert's already abysmal statistics look even worse.

Former University of Texas quarterback Colt McCoy completely spoiled Longhorn fans during his four years as the starting quarterback. In games where he either attempted the most passes or threw for the most passing yards, McCoy completed an otherworldly 70.2 percent of his passes, gained 8.0 yards per attempt and 8.2 adjusted yards per pass attempt, and posted a 6.8 touchdown percentage and a 2.7 interception percentage, establishing himself as the best quarterback to ever play for former Texas offensive coordinator Greg Davis.

McCoy also set an almost impossible standard for his successor, but one would have expected Gilbert to come closer to matching McCoy than he did. Instead, he forced Longhorn fans to witness a passing game that decreased dramatically, and statistically significantly, in production. The transition from McCoy to Gilbert saw the Texas passing game decrease by 16.0 percent in completion percentage, 22.5 percent in yards per attempt, 40.2 percent in adjusted yards per attempt, and 66.2 percent in touchdown percentage; in terms of interception percentage, Gilbert was 30.8 percent better at throwing interceptions than McCoy. In every positive category, Gilbert was incredibly less proficient than McCoy and in the one negative category, he showed himself to be much more proficient, which is the opposite of what you want to see from a quarterback successor.

Gilbert could not even match Colt McCoy's worst season, his sophomore campaign, as a starting quarterback for the Longhorns. During that season, McCoy completed 65.1 percent of his passes, gained 7.8 yards per attempt and 6.9 adjusted yards per attempt, and threw 22 touchdowns (5.2 touchdown percentage) and 18 interceptions (4.2 interception percentage). McCoy's completion percentage and yards per attempt were still impressive, but his high number of interceptions kept the season from being as valuable as it could have been.

Even so, Gilbert's season represented a decrease of 9.4 percent in completion percentage, 20.5 percent in yards per attempt, 29.0 percent in adjusted yards per pass attempt, 55.8 percent in touchdown percentage, and 7.1 percent in interception percentage. Gilbert was better than McCoy at avoiding interceptions, but does not even come close to making up the advantage McCoy had over him in touchdown percentage.

The decrease in production from McCoy's career to Gilbert's season was so drastic Greg Davis no longer has a job as an offensive coordinator. That is the danger when your team transitions from the best quarterback to ever play for you to one where if he were to continue the trend he set this past season would be the worst quarterback you ever coached.

The nightmare Texas football experienced as Gilbert took over for Colt McCoy was mirrored at another football powerhouse university, the University of Florida, as John Brantley replaced Florida's favorite son, Tim Tebow. As much as Tim Tebow was revered for the value he provided to the Florida offense, Brantley might be equally reviled for the value he did not provide for the Florida Gators.

John Brantley had a reputation as an effective pocket passer, an attribute never bestowed upon Tebow, and even I was guilty of thinking Brantley would put up even better passing numbers than Tebow. Instead, Brantley posted paltry numbers across the board, completing 60.8 percent of his passing, gaining 6.3 yards per attempt and 5.4 adjusted yards per attempt, and throwing nine touchdowns (2.7 touchdown percentage) to 10 interceptions (3.0 interception percentage).

Contrast that to what Tim Tebow did over his tenure at the University of Florida in games when he either attempted the most passes or threw for the most passing yards for his team as he completed 66.6 percent of his passes, gained 9.4 yards per attempt and 10.4 yards per pass attempt, and posted a 8.7 touchdown percentage and a 1.5 interception percentage.

The statistically significant difference between the years Florida fans enjoyed with Tebow as the primary quarterback and what the Brantley-led passing offense just subjected them to was a decrease of 8.7 percent in completion percentage, 33.0 percent in yards per attempt, 48.1 percent in adjusted yards per pass attempt, and 69.0 percent in touchdown percentage; Brantley was 50.0 percent better than Tebow in interception percentage, not a feat of which any quarterback should be proud.

As Tebow was remarkably consistent over his time as Florida's primary quarterback, there was no season where he was definitively at his worst so Brantley cannot even gain a reprieve by claiming he was at least better than Tebow at Tebow's worst since he was not.

With Charlie Weis arriving as the new offensive coordinator for the University of Florida with what Brantley should hope is an offense more suited to his strengths, there is a good chance that he could see an improvement in his production. It would certainly be difficult for him to play any worse.

Even if Garrett Gilbert and John Brantley had arrived on their respective campuses at different times, times where two great college quarterbacks had not just finished wrapping up their careers, their seasons would still have been disappointments due to their meager yards per attempt averages, but they might not have been viewed as the unmitigated disasters they are in light of what we have come to expect from the Texas and Florida football programs over the past few seasons.

That is what happens when you attempt to follow a legend and their inability to do so led to coaching changes at each university.

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