March 1, 2015

Way Too Early 2015 Win & Cover Probabilities

Random Numbers

The win and cover probabilities below are based on data from the 2013 and 2014 seasons and will change as games are played in 2015. Think of it as a baseline number that will be adjusted when additional information becomes available.

Some will question these numbers, specifically Louisville and Florida State. That’s fair. I’ll reiterate that these are intended as a starting point and not a “final answer”.

These probabilities look at projected metrics, compare them to the last 2,841 games between Division 1-A teams and compute how often a team with those projected metrics win (and cover the spread).

But still, why is Louisville rated so highly? In a word – defense. The Cardinals led the nation in 2013 and weren’t far behind in 2014. Add to that a high turnover margin you have the makings of a victory.

Many, including me, thought Clemson would roll a Teddy Bridgewater-less Louisville at Death Valley last season, but the Tigers needed a fourth down stop to hang on.

I am surprised by the low odds for Clemson in the Louisville and in the FSU games, but that’s what the history has shown happens (2,841 games).WP v1.2

Another question is how did I factor Deshaun Watson into the Clemson numbers? The answer is that he figured just as much as he has contributed. It’s tempting to assume Watson will play 12 games and put up video game numbers, but history shows that’s not likely to happen. As the 2015 season unfolds and (if) Watson stays healthy he will have an increasing impact on projections like these.

It’s an imperfect science for sure and harder to decipher and put into projections such as these is how do you value someone like Grady Jarrett? What does Jarrett mean to the Clemson defense in terms of yards and points given up?

There are two other tendencies to mention, recency bias and the “my team is getting better and everyone else is staying the same or getting worse” bias.

Recency bias is typically a financial term, but used here it means remembering what happened most recently (crushing Oklahoma and romping vs. South Carolina), and forgetting the general struggles of the 2014 season.

The “my team is getting better” bias is a little more nebulous, but generally happens when a fan lists all the reasons why his or her team will be better, then mentions all the talent the opponent is losing without mentioning any of the talent (or coaching, etc.) improvements of their opponents.

Take these for what they are worth at this point – a work in progress and something to talk about during the offseason.

My projections bested the ESPN FPI numbers in a small sample size (ACC Bowl games) last season, so I’m fairly confident that, as a whole, these numbers (or more accurately the numbers I post next fall) aren’t way out of line.

Adding Some Context to the Number 1 Defensive Ranking

Venables

The numbers below are an attempt to add some context to the top defensive ranking achieved by the Clemson defense during the 2014 season.  In a nutshell the numbers show the average offensive (FBS teams only) Clemson faced in 2014 is the highest for a number 1 defense since TCU in 2008.

While the ACC is generally viewed as a weaker offensive conference the Tigers defensive resume was bolstered by games against Georgia and South Carolina of the SEC and Oklahoma of the Big 12.

2014 D Context 12014 D Context 2A

This isn’t a perfect analysis.  For example, one could argue the merits of weighting Michigan (78) and Western Kentucky (74) the same on Alabama’s 2012 schedule when one faces Big 10 defenses and the other Sun Belt defenses.

Ideally it would be better to use an algorithm that included the opponent’s opponents defensive rankings (to provide context for an opponent’s offense) and perhaps that’s something to look at in the future.

Tight Ends: Snaps Back and Gone

Leggett

Since Dwayne Allen’s departure the tight end has been an ever shrinking part of the offense.  Jordan Leggett has shown flashes, but has been wildly inconsistent and injury riddled.  Jay Jay McCollough has had his moments, too, but you don’t catch passes in the dog house.  Stanton Seckinger, coming off rehab, is solid and reliable and most games that’s enough with Clemson’s other offensive weapons.

A breakout season from Leggett with complimentary help from Seckinger and McCollough would be a valuable asset in Tony Elliott’s bag off offensive options.
2014 TE Snaps

Defensive Backs – Snaps Back and Gone

Mack A 2

The defensive backfield loses two significant starters (and 1,355 snaps) in Gary Peters and Robert Smith.  Peters topped the team in stopping opponents on third and fourth down, while Smith was a steady leader on the back end.

That said, a core group returns in freshman All-American Mackenzie Alexander, Jayron Kearse and Jadar Johnson.
2014 DB Snaps

Wide Receivers – Snaps Back and Gone

MW NCS

Much like with the running backs, Clemson loses one senior and returns a whole bunch of talent.  Unlike with the running back group, more talent will be signing next Tuesday to become the latest members of “Wide Receiver U”.

Wide receiver is a position in which true freshmen can, and have, flourish at Clemson. Nuk Hopkins, Sammy Watkins and Artavis Scott are three that come immediately to mind.

The lone 2014 senior of note, Adam Humphries, was steady and reliable but not a big play threat.  With the additions coming next fall Clemson will have talent at this position spread throughout each class: Senior – Charone Peake;Juniors – Mike Williams and Germone Hopper; Sophomore – Artavis Scott.

Though one could hazard a guess that at least one underclassman will leave after the 2015 season, this position appears to be in good hands for the foreseeable future.  After all, how difficult could it be to sell the opportunity to catch passes from Deshaun Watson.2014 WR Snaps

Running Backs – Snaps Back and Gone

Wayne Gallman runs for a 30-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter at Wake Forest

Finally we hit a position were Clemson has a vast majority of 2014 snaps returning along with Zac Brooks coming off a redshirt season.

While the running game improved as the season went on, there is still plenty of work to be done in the areas of blocking and blitz pick up.

Assuming Choice and Brooks remain healthy Gallman won’t have to shoulder a high percentage of the load as he did in the latter portion of the 2014 season.2014 RB Snaps

Linebackers – Snaps Back and Lost

BB2 2014

Clemson loses 1,206 2014 snaps and two extremely athletic linebackers in Stephone Anthony and Tony Steward. There’s some talent returning and Dabo Swinney is high on players in the pipeline, but the experience lost makes this a position to keep an eye on in 2015.
2014 LB Snaps

Looks at other positions: Offensive Line Defensive Line, Quarterback

From Morris to Elliott: Here’s An Area for Improvement

TE Bowl

Below is a look at Clemson’s 2014 average points per drive by starting field position in 10 yard increments.  The Morris offense was great in open space with lots of room in front and not so great in short yardage situations or, as the graph below shows, when starting in opponents territory.

The Tigers averaged only 0.1 points less when starting between their 21 and 30 than when starting 30-40 yards further down field between the opponents 49 and 40 and only 2.3 points per drive when starting between the opponents 39 and 30.

2014 Pts Per Starting Field Position Clemson

Elliott’s only called plays in one game so the sample size is tiny, but the Tigers fared no better than the other 12 games of 2014.  Two drives started in Oklahoma territory and resulted in a missed field goal (started at OU 20, 4 plays -5 yards) and a punt (started at OU 45, 3 plays -3 yards). Two drives, 7 plays, -8 yards, 0 points.

There’s definitely room for improvement.

Quarterback – Snaps Lost and Returning

Clemson vs South Carolina State during the fourth quarter at Memorial Stadium in Clemson, S.C.

Who’s #2? We all know who will begin 2015 as the starting quarterback.  The bigger question is after suffering three injuries that caused him to miss time (including the spring game) in 2014 will Deshaun Watson make it through 2015 from start to finish (whenever that may be).  For that reason the biggest question for me heading into the spring is who will back up Watson.

As we saw last season with Clemson (and Ohio State for that matter) the answer to that question can have huge ramifications for your season and program.

QB Snaps 2014

Whoever is #2 will have minimal or 0 snaps under their belt and certainly 0 meaningful snaps.

Vote in the poll to the right for who you think will be the #2 quarterback in 2015.

Looks at other positions: Offensive Line & Defensive Line

Defensive Line – Snaps Lost and Coming Back

Shaq Lawson

Defensive lines like the one Clemson sported in 2014 stem from talent, recruiting, “want to”, coaching and perhaps some patience as raw freshmen turn into seasoned vets. It’s a never ending cycle in college football and while the Tigers have pieces returning along the defensive line the losses are significant.

Many wonder who will replace Vic Beasley.  I wonder who will replace Grady Jarrett.  Undersized, undervalued and underrated, Jarrett was the heart and soul in the middle of the top rated Clemson defense.  One piece of evidence of Jarrett’s domination can be found in the number of times he was responsible for stopping an opponent on 3rd and 4th downs. DL Snaps 2014