August 3, 2015

Chris Cox: Big and Bold Realignment Ideas

usa-map-ncaa-teams

Editor’s Note: Chris Cox writes about Clemson recruiting on his site Tiger Talk.  You can follow Chris on Twitter at @TigerTalk_CU

80 teams, 4 super conferences, 4 pods per conference, and a revamped playoff system. Imagine a conference with Alabama, Florida State, Auburn, Clemson, Florida, South Carolina, Florida, Georgia, Miami, and Tennessee in it. That is my proposal for college football. Sure, this will probably never happen but we’re in the middle of the off-season and what else is a football nut like myself supposed to talk about?

There has been plenty talk about potentially moving to four 16-team conferences, presumably with two 8-team divisions. I wanted to go in a different direction and explore “Pod Play.” There are several ways the scheduling could play out, but playing each team in your pod would give you 4 games. Then there would be the requirement to play at least 1 team from each of the other pods, which would create 3 more games. If we keep the 12 game schedule format that is currently in place there would be 5 games left to fill. At least 3 of the remaining games would have to be filled with other “Power 4” teams, but the other 2 could be smaller schools from outside of the super conferences.

Here’s an example schedule for Clemson (Conferences Below):
FSU (Pod 2)
South Carolina (Pod 2)
UNC (Pod 2)
Duke (Pod 2)
Florida (Pod 1)
Kentucky (Pod 3)
North Carolina State (Pod 4)
Ole Miss (Central Pod 4)
Maryland (Northern Pod 4)
SMU (Central Pod 1)
Georgia Southern (Non Power 4)
Furman (Non Power 4)

Assuming the scheduling works out without mapping out a schedule for each team, the playoff scenario is the biggest plus for “Pod Play.” The winner of each pod would be determined from the 7-game conference schedule (insert crazy tiebreaker rules here). Each pod would present a #1 and #2 seed that would play the opposite pods (Pod 1 vs. Pod 2 and Pod 3 vs. Pod 4). The #1 seed would play the #2 seed from the rival pod and winners square off against each other for the conference title. This gives us a two game playoff to determine the overall winner for each conference. At the conclusion of the conference championships, the four conference champions would go on to play in semifinal games similar to what we have in place now with the CFB Playoff system.

What does this mean for bowl games? It means the fans and schools keep money in their pockets, rather than getting ripped off with travel costs. Locations of the conference playoff games could be hosted at neutral sites and take on brand affiliations, but I’d be tempted to have the higher seed host the first conference playoff game and then play the actual conference championship at a neutral site like we have now. Obviously the 2 semifinal games plus the national championship game would be played at designated locations such as the Rose Bowl, Orange Bowl, Sugar Bowl, etc.

Some considerations that would need ironing out would obviously be which teams that aren’t in Power 5 conferences now would get the invite to join the Power 4. I included UCF, Boise State, BYU, SMU, Houston, Cincy, UConn, Air Force, Marshall, Utah State, Hawaii, SDSU, Nevada, Colorado State, and Fresno State. Also, the Western Conference pods are much weaker than the other groups, but based on geography alone that’s the way football talent just happens to shake out. Also, the fate of bowl games (aka $$$) would be a concerning issue, and is probably the main obstacle that would keep this type of system from ever happening. Another fallacy with this idea is what to do with the teams that finish with winning records, but don’t qualify for the conference or CFB playoff system? Maybe a small number of bowl games are kept in place to allow for these teams to tack on an extra game, but the location and tie-ins are a conversation for another day.

We can all dream though. Feel free to add your 2 cents in over on the Seldom Used Reserve forums.

Southern Conference

Pod 1
1. Florida
2. Georgia
3. Miami
4. Georgia Tech
5. **Central Florida

Pod 2
1. Florida State
2. Clemson
3. South Carolina
4. North Carolina
5. Duke

Pod 3
1. Alabama
2. Auburn
3. Louisville
4. Kentucky
5. Wake Forest

Pod 4
1. Tennessee
2. Virginia Tech
3. North Carolina State
4. Virginia
5. Vanderbilt

Central Conference

Pod 1
1. Oklahoma
2. Oklahoma State
3. TCU
4. Nebraska
5. **SMU

Pod 2
1. Texas
2. Texas A&M
3. Kansas State
4. Kansas
5. **Houston

Pod 3
1. LSU
2. Arkansas
3. Baylor
4. Texas Tech
5. **Air Force

Pod 4
1. Ole Miss
2. Mississippi State
3. West Virginia
4. Missouri
5. **Marshall

Northern Conference

Pod 1
1. Ohio State
2. Michigan
3. Minnesota
4. Indiana
5. Purdue

Pod 2
1. Notre Dame
2. Michigan State
3. Illinois
4. Rutgers
5. **Cincy

Pod 3
1. Wisconsin
2. Iowa
3. Iowa State
4. Northwestern
5. **UConn

Pod 4
1. Penn State
2. Pittsburgh
3. Maryland
4. Boston College
5. Syracuse

Western Conference

Pod 1
1. Stanford
2. California
3. Utah
4. **Utah State
5. **Hawaii

Pod 2
1. Southern Cal
2. UCLA
3. **BYU
4. **San Diego State
5. **Nevada

Pod 3
1. Oregon
2. Oregon State
3. Washington
4. Washington State
5. **Boise State

Pod 4
1. Arizona
2. Arizona State
3. Colorado
4. **Colorado State
5. **Fresno State

Discuss this and other Clemson related topics on the FREE Seldom Used Reserve Message Boards

Geek Speak: Why Every Yard Matters, The Relationship Between Yards & Points

Random Numbers

One of the most important statistics in football is also one of the most basic – total yards. If you knew nothing else about two teams,  be it records, point spread, who was favored and who was the underdog or any other in game stat, but you knew who had the most total yards you would have a 75% chance of picking the winner.

Closer to home Clemson went 9-1 in games where they out gained opponents and 1-2 when being out gained.

It’s usually at this point that football savants remind me of the teams who gained more yards than their opponents and lost as proof that I’m “wrong”.  Maybe they feel like I’m taking the physicality and strategy out of football by assigning a value to each yard gained (more on this below), but really the point of this is to reinforce the importance of each and every yard gained or lost, emphasizing the importance of the physical nature and accompanying strategic moves that are part of the game.

Many prefer black and white, yes or no and disdain odds and/or probabilities.  The only metric they are interested in is points.  Getting more than the other team guarantees a win 100% of the time. Nothing else matters.

Yet if a team starts at its own 10, drives 40 yards, punts and their opponent is backed up inside the 10 the team gets 0 points for that drive – but those 40 yards have a value.  Field position has been changed, and so have the odds of winning because of those 40 yards that yielded 0 points.

Every yard is important, at least while the game is in doubt.

Clemson scored on offense, defense, and special teams in 2014.  However, the vast majority of touchdowns (and therefore points) came on offense (89.6% of Clemson touchdowns came on offense) and involved gaining some amount of yards.  Sometimes it takes a lot of yards, sometimes just a few, but by and large you score by gaining yards.

The graph below plots points and yards of every game over the last four years (between 2 FBS teams). The slope should tell you all you need to know.

Yards & PointsYes, there are outliers, but the picture tells a story in 3 words – yards equal points.

Better than that generic “yards equal points” phrase, we are able to determine exactly how many points a team can expect to score based on yards gained.  Even more intriguing than that is the close to perfect symmetry of the numbers below.  For almost every 11 yard increment one additional point can be expected.

Expected Points Per Total Offense

There are no exceptions, meaning there is no instance where gaining more yards means you should expect less points.  It sounds amazingly obvious, but you’d be surprised at how many football fans believe total yards is an irrelevant metric.

Of course, the yards you gain are only part of the game and are therefore relative.  You can expect to score 36 points if you gain 490 yards, but if your defense gives up 510 yards you will most likely lose.

That doesn’t mitigate the overall point, which remains valid – yards are important because the more yards you gain the more points you are likely score – without exception, statistically speaking – and that means the more likely you are to win.

Total yards is certainly not the only metric I use when determining win probabilities, but its an important one that I give significant weight in my calculation.

 

Ranking The ACC Skill Players

ACC Skills

Editor’s Note: Chris Cox writes about Clemson recruiting on his site Tiger Talk.  You can follow Chris on Twitter at @TigerTalk_CU

Chris Cox gives his view on the top 5 ACC players at the skill positions for 2015.

Quarterback

DW SuperGone is the circus act in Jameis Winston, one of the most underrated players in the country in Anthony Boone, and a quarterback who’s career ended just as it started in Tyler Murphy. While those three are gone, every other team in the ACC returns their quarterback, which should make for a interesting conference season.

This may come as a surprise to some, but  a player with only 4 collegiate tops my list of ACC quarterbacks. In his appearances Deshaun Watson was easily the most talented player on the field and he will be equipped with a plethora of weapons at Clemson. If Watson can avoid the injury bug in his sophomore campaign, you can expect the Heisman talk to stir.

Behind Watson sits former Florida transfer Jacoby Brissett.  The Wolfpack senior showed flashes of greatness at points last year, but missed some action due to injury. When healthy Brissett can be a dynamic playmaker and features the size (6-4 230lbs) to impress scouts come draft time next year.

Justin Thomas, ranked #3 on my list, could easily be at the top based on how important he is to the Yellow Jacket offense.  Thomas is the most talented quarterback Paul Johnson has had in Atlanta, and he eclipsed the 100 yard rushing mark five times last season along with totaling 26 touchdowns. He doesn’t look too shabby throwing the ball either, but will need to find a reliable option with his top two targets in DeAndre Smelter and Darren Waller graduating.

Coming in at number 4 on the list is Al’s “Golden” ticket to staying at Miami for another season.  Brad Kayaa is the ACC’s returning leader in passing yards after compiling nearly 3,200 yards in 2014.  The rising sophomore settled in down the stretch as he posted a 13:3 touchdown to interception ratio over his last 7 games.  The offense will likely be centered around Kayaa this year as his All-American running back Duke Johnson bolted early for the NFL.

Rounding out my top 5 is rising senior Marquise Williams.  The numbers are impressive, but Williams needs help from his running backs to ease the pressure on his arm.  He reminds me a lot of former Clemson signal caller Tajh Boyd, but Williams lacks the quality of weapons that Boyd had at his disposal. Williams will get a shot to prove his worth right away in 2015 as the Tar Heels open up with the Gamecocks in Charlotte.

You may have noticed there is not a player listed for Bobby Petrino’s squad up in Louisville.  Whoever wins the spot between Bolin, Bonnafon, and Gardner will have the potential to vault themselves into the top tier based on the offense they play in. Greyson Lambert is also a player to keep an eye on in Charlottesville.  Lambert was a highly touted recruit and is built like an NFL quarterback at 6-5, 235lbs.

All in all these five playmakers listed are going to make watching ACC football a little more interesting this year.

  1. Deshaun Watson (SO)-Clemson

93-137 67.9% 1466 yards 14 TD 2 INT 188.6 RAT

200 rush yards, 5 TD

  1. Jacoby Brissett (SR)-NC State

221-370 59.7% 2606 yards 23 TD 5 INT 136.7 RAT

529 rush yards, 3 TD

  1. Justin Thomas (JR)-GT

96-187 51.3% 1719 yards 18 TD 6  INT 153.9 RAT

1086 rush yards, 8 TD

  1. Brad Kayaa (SO)-Miami

221-378 58.5% 3198 yards 26 TD 12 INT 145.9 RAT

  1. Marquise Williams (SR)-UNC

270-428 63.1% 3068 yards 21 TD 9 INT 135.3 RAT

788 rush yards 13 TD

Watch List: Michael Brewer (VT), Chad Voytik (Pitt), Sean McGuire (FSU), Greyson Lambert (UVA)

 

Running Back

In 2014 the ACC only featured three running backs who eclipsed the 1000 yard rushing mark, although two quarterbacks also reached the mark.  This year the group features two potential Heisman candidates in FSU’s Dalvin Cook and Pitt’s James Conner.Clemson Football - Wayne Gallman

Conner tops my list as he has been a freight train for the Panthers over the last two years.  Conner managed a whopping 26 touchdowns last year, which was 13 more than any other back in the conference. I worry about Conner’s durability due to the fact that he has carried the rock 444 times in his two seasons at Pittsburgh.  If he stays healthy he will squarely be in the mix for Heisman votes.

Behind Conner comes the one-time Clemson and Miami commitment in Dalvin Cook.  Cook emerged as FSU’s best option at running back as the season progressed, but struggled in the CFB semifinal game against Oregon.  With Winston gone, you can expect a lofty workload for the dynamic Cook this coming season.

Behind those two it’s a tossup between several players.  Shadrach Thorton, Jon Hilliman, and Brandon Radcliffe round out my top 5, but you can substitute any of those guys with players on the watch list.

Wayne Gallman of Clemson would easily make the list if he didn’t have to split carries with a loaded backfield and Deshaun Watson.  Miami’s Joseph Yearby will also get his chance to shine now that Duke Johnson is gone, and he could easily vault himself on to the national scene in a hurry.

No Georgia Tech Yellow Jacket on the list you say? Paul Johnson lost both Days and Laskey to graduation, but whoever steps into those shoes will likely put up big numbers based on Johnson’s system.  

  1. James Conner (JR)-Pitt

298 att, 1765 yards, 26 TD

5 rec, 70 yards

  1. Dalvin Cook (SO)-FSU

170 att, 1008 yards, 8 TD

22 rec, 203 yards

  1. Shadrach Thorton (SR)-NC State

164 att, 907 yards, 9 TD

15 rec, 133 yards, 1 TD

  1. Jon Hilliman (SO)-BC

210 att, 860 yards, 13 TD

1 rec, 5 yards

  1. Brandon Radcliffe (JR)-Louisville

144 att, 737 yards, 12 TD

6 rec, 84 yards

Watch List: Wayne Gallman (Clemson), Shaquille Powell (Duke), TJ Logan (UNC), Joseph Yearby (Miami)

 

Wide Receivers

Scott vs OUThe 2014 group of ACC wideouts was an impressive one. Future draft picks DeVante Parker, Rashad Greene, Phillip Dorsett, Jamison Crowder, and DeAndre Smelter are all gone.  While the returning group may not produce as much NFL talent, they will still be pretty stout.

Tyler Boyd has been lights out for the Pitt Panthers and has folks up there reminiscing of the Larry Fitzgerald days.  Boyd features a long frame and is virtually unstoppable when the ball is within his grasps. Over the last 6 games of the season, Boyd amassed five games with over 100 yards receiving including three games over 130 yards.

Following Boyd are a pair of uber talented Tigers.  Artavis Scott burst onto the scene as a true freshman last season, displaying sticky hands and an uncanny ability to navigate through secondaries.  Scott also proved to be a valuable weapon on the jet sweep and almost single handedly defeated in state rival South Carolina with that play.  You can bet that new offensive coordinators Jeff Scott and Tony Elliott will find numerous ways to put the ball in their playmaker’s hands.

Opposite of Scott is the big-bodied Mike Williams.  Once a skinny beanstalk, Williams has added the necessary size to go along with his dynamic skill set.  Williams averaged over 18 yards per catch as a sophomore and provides Deshaun Watson with a legitimate deep threat.MW NCS

There’s a drop off after those three, but UNC’s Ryan Switzer is likely the best slot receiver in the conference. He is also a factor in the return game and his elusiveness was displayed by averaging over 20 yards on punt returns.  Fedora loves to toss the pigskin around and Switzer was the number one target last season with 61 receptions in 2014.

Number 5 on my list was tough, but I ultimately went with Isaiah Ford from Virginia Tech. Ford quietly put together an impressive freshmen campaign in Blacksburg and despite having only had one +100 yard receiving game proved to be Mr. Reliable in a stagnant Hokie offense.

As for the watch list, Travis Rudolph is one to keep an eye on down in Tallahassee and Quinshad Davis hopes to finally put together a complete year up in Chapel Hill.

  1. Tyler Boyd (JR)-Pitt

78 rec, 1261 yards, 8 TD

  1. Artavis Scott (SO)-Clemson

76 rec, 965 yards, 8 TD

  1. Mike Williams (JR)-Clemson

57 rec, 1030 yards, 6 TD

  1. Ryan Switzer (JR)-UNC

61 rec, 757 yards, 4 TD

  1. Isaiah Ford (SO)-VT

56 rec, 709 yards, 6 TD

Watch List: Quinshad Davis (UNC), Travis Rudolph (FSU), James Quick (Louisville), Canaan Severin (UVA)

Visit the SeldomUsedReserve.com message boards to discuss this & other topics with Clemson fans

Figure The Odds: CFP Championship Game Probabilities

Random Numbers

In a championship game that few envisioned back in September after Ohio State’s befuddling home loss to Virginia Tech, the Buckeyes have a real chance to win Monday night.

As a matter of fact, my model shows the Buckeyes outgaining the vaunted Oregon offense in total yards and yards per play, two metrics that are crucial to winning.  The margins are razor thin, but would be enough to favor the Buckeyes if the projected turnover numbers were equal (or favored Ohio State).

2015 Champ Game Stat Estimate

But the Ducks have only turned the ball over 10 times all season in 1,047 offensive plays.  Comparatively, the Buckeyes have played fast and loose with the ball at times, turning the ball over 22 times. That’s about 1.6 a game and while that’s not terrible, Oregon simply hasn’t turned the ball over and the probability is that Ohio State will have more turnovers than Oregon.

The model I use projects that each turnover lost decreases a team’s probability of winning by about 8.8% (assuming other metrics stay the same).  With a projected turnover advantage of 1, the Ducks probability of winning is 57.0%.

Champ Bowl Probs 2015

The Buckeyes recipe for success is simple: Don’t turn the ball over or force Oregon to do something the Ducks haven’t done all season – turn the ball over.  Just being even in turnovers would give the flip the odds to 51.9% in the Buckeye’s favor, but that’s easier said than done.

It’s not unique to suggest that turnovers will determine the outcome of a game, but the model allows us to put a value on each turnover and what they may mean in the context of winning and losing the initial College Football Playoff National Championship Game.

SUR vs. ESPN’s FPI

Random Numbers

The model I’ve developed and have been using for win probabilities didn’t have a great bowl season.  6-6 would probably earn a Poulan Weed-Eater Independence Bowl date (for the old timers out there).

It should be noted that when I talk about probabilities I’m not predicting a win (or loss).  I’m assigning a probability of a team winning.  Whether that team ultimately wins or not depends on whether they perform to expected levels.

Assigning a 61.9% win probability  also means that there’s a 38.1% probability that team will lose. Over the long term the results of a good model will fit those ranges – 61.9% (or close to that) will win and 38.1% will lose.

Still, it’s interesting to compare model results, to measure myself so to speak.  While my 6-6 record is less than sterling ESPNs FPI came in at 3-9 in the same 12 games.  In the three games that SUR and FPI disagreed on the winner SUR correctly picked all 3 (in green below).

It’s an infinitesimal sample size (the 12 games represent less than one half of 1% of the games the model is based on) that means nothing in the big scheme of things, other than I’ve had a decent start and believe I’m on the right trail, with a long way to go.

The biggest single game difference between my model and ESPNs FPI was our differing views on Georgia Tech vs. Mississippi State.  As anyone who reads this site knows, my model puts a lot of weight on yards and yards per play, two things that Tech is very good at and my model probably over rates Tech because of this.  However,  on this occasion my model was closer to being correct.

Bowls Results SUR FPI 2014

The Bowl season is chaotic and very unpredictable, in general.  After favorites won 75% of the time in the regular season underdogs have won 18 of 35 games (1 was a pick ’em, so there was no “favorite”) and I’m sure the ESPN FPI number is more accurate during the season.  I believe mine will be, too because there are more clear cut winners in the regular season (and the sample size is much larger).

My goal is to expand the model to include more games in the 2015 season by automating the process and am working through ideas to make that happen.  One idea I’m looking at is to provide probabilities for Power 5 Conference teams when they play other Power 5 Conference teams.  This will provide a larger sample, while focusing my time on games that people care the most about.  Not many people come to this site to figure out if Western Kentucky is going to beat Florida Atlantic.

Tomorrow, I’ll post my probabilities on the Oregon/Ohio State Championship Game.

College Football Playoff Win Probabilities

trophy

These numbers are eerily similar to those produced by ESPN’s FPI.  That metric currently has Oregon at 65.7% and Alabama at 58.7.

CFB Semis 2014

Win Probabilities for ACC Bowl Teams Not Named Clemson (or FSU)

ACC Bowl Probs

The probabilities below are based on 2,802 college football games between 2011 and 2014 and expected metrics for each team.  These probabilities should not be read as predictions, but rather the probability of a given team winning.

That said, these probabilities conflict with the ESPN FPI probabilities in multiple instances (particularly Georgia Tech which ESPN gives a 35.2% probability of winning), so it’ll be interesting to track the outcomes in those games.

Win probability for Clemson will be released in an upcoming post can be found HERE on orangeandwhite.com (will subsequently be posted here also) and CFB Playoff win probabilities will be released prior to those games.

ACC Bowl Probs

The Difference Between Winners and Losers

Random Numbers

Below are the metrics across the 686 games between FBS teams for the 2014 season to this point. Bowl games will be added once complete.

First, here’s a look at the averages for each metric.  A couple of things stand out – the plays are almost equal, with winners running a paltry two more plays per game.  It’s what they do with those plays (Yards/Play) that matters.  Secondly, many people say total yards don’t matter. They do.  More on this in a minute.

By Category 2014

Here’s a look at home vs. away and favorites vs. underdogs.  56% seems a bit low given that most Power 5 teams have 1 or 2 “gimmee” games on their schedule.  When you look at conference games this number is traditionally much closer to 50%.  More important than playing at home  is being the favorite.  The old adage “the best team usually wins” is in large part true, assuming the best team is favored.

HomeAway 2014

These numbers show the % of teams that have the better number for each category.  For instance, the winning team has more plays in 54.8% of the games, more total yards in 77.7% of the games (told you yards were important) and higher yards per play in 79.6% of the games.  Yards per play and total yards are the two most important stats in my book.  Secondly, we often hear about “winning” the turnover battle.  Since 22.9% of the time the turnover battle is even it’s more important to not lose the turnover battle (win or be even) – 82.3% of winning teams are at least even on turnovers.PCT 2014

It Had To End Sometime

Clemson Upsets LSU


The Tigers streak of not losing as a favorite ended on Saturday.  From November of 24, 2012 until Saturday 111 teams not named Clemson lost 297 times as a favorite.

Here’s the list and number of losses as a favorite in that time frame.

Losses as Favorite Final 2

12 favorites lose, the number is now 283

Upsets

Virginia Tech’s loss as a 3 point favorite vs Boston College on Saturday has the Hokies alone in “first” place, now having lost 7 times as a favorite since November 24, 2012.

Not to be outdone, Georgia and Pittsburgh picked up their 6th losses as favorites since that day.

No new teams were added to the list of 109, but they now share 283 losses as a favorite since Clemson last lost as a favorite.
Lossess as Favorites 2014 10