July 25, 2016

Finding a Champion (Part 1): The National Champion is in this post

I’m confident your national champion resides somewhere on this page among the 9 teams listed.  There’s not going to be a Coastal Carolina type champion in college football, which may make things less fun, but still interesting and debatable.

In our search for national title contenders I’ll use the odds from VegasInsider.com and lay out the case for (or against) the teams, but first a couple of assumptions:

  1. Only 0 or 1 loss teams make the playoffs.
  2. Schedule matters. LSU may be better than Tennessee head to head, but they won’t necessarily end up with a better record, for example.
  3. I’m not saying the teams I eliminate won’t make the playoffs, they could. The object is to eliminate teams that won’t win the title one by one.

The contenders and odds:

Alabama – 7/1

Clemson – 8/1

Ohio State – 15/2

Michigan – 12/1

LSU – 12/1

Oklahoma – 12/1

Florida State – 16/1

Tennessee – 16/1

Notre Dame – 20/1

First Teams Eliminated

Phil Steele thinks LSU is a great value at 12/1, but I think he’s nuts.  Not because the Bengal Tigers won’t be good, they return 17 starters, but take a peek at the schedule: Wisconsin, at Auburn, at Florida,Ole Miss, Bama, at Arkansas and at Texas A&M.  The ESPN FPI has the Tigers LSUfavored in evePOD-SMALLry game and gives the Tigers a 5.2% chance of winning out.  I’m not buying it, not even 5.2% worth. Despite the presence of Leonard Fournette, a shaky quarterback and questionable coaching will doom LSUs hope for a title.

Clemson fans are getting a kick out of the love for Oklahoma after the last two years Sooner kickings.  Neither of those mean OU won’t be a good team in 2016, but are reasons for caution.  A bigger reason for caution is the schedule: If the Sooners make it through game 1 (Houston, neutral site in Houston), they still face Ohio State, at TCU, Texas (neutral), Baylor (who knows), a tricky trip to West Virginia and Oklahoma State. As with LSU, ESPN FPI favors the Sooners in every game and gives Stoops team a 16.9% chance of winning out, which is important because of no Big 12 Championship Game.  I’m betting the Sooners don’t run the table and if they make the playoff will again be defeated in the first game.

Michigan will likely be 7-0 when they visit East Lansing on October 22. Two weeks after that they travel to Iowa and two weeks after that they travel to Columbus.  The Wolverines won’t win their division and won’t make the playoff.

Tennessee is another team that ESPNs FPI says should win them all, but only gives a 4.5% chance of winning out.  Tennessee’s schedule is light up front, but then there’s a four week stretch of Florida, at Georgia, at TexaTennessees A&M and Alabama (no bye in those four weeks).  Perhaps if there was a bye week in there, but that’s a tough stretch and with an unproven team in the crunch it’s impossible to give the Vols the benefit of the doubt.  And, oh yeah, if they win the East that means they are likely to get a rematch with Bama or meet up with LSU and I’m betting that neither will work out well for Tennessee.

We’ve eliminated 4 teams that have 20/1 or better odds per Vegas.  In part 2, I’ll dig into the final 5 and make the case for a long shot.

Commitment Profile: Noah DeHond

Name: Noah DeHond
Location: Hightstown, NJ(The Peddie School)
Position: Offensive Tackle
Height: 6’7″
Weight: 317lbs

247:★★★ #44 OT, #370 Overall
Rivals:★★★ #45 OT
ESPN:★★★ #46 OT

Film Room
DeHond shows his ability to block in the run game, able to quickly get low and put the defender on his back. 


Example of DeHond in pass protection, using feet well to stay in position against the defender. Can see obvious strength as he tosses the defender aside. 


DeHond in pass pro and finishing his block on the defensive end. 


Prospect Outlook
Similar to Vinson who was profiled earlier this week, DeHond is rated as a 3-star offensive lineman but possesses the ceiling to become a force at Clemson. Regardless of recruiting rankings, he chose the Tigers over offers from top notch programs such as Ohio St., Alabama, and Notre Dame. Suffice to say that many saw DeHond’s potential at the next level. The thing that immediately sticks out with DeHond is his enormous size, standing at a massive 6’7″ and 317 pounds. You can’t coach size. Simply put, good luck to defenders once Coach Caldwell coaches him up. Generally when dealing with a lineman of that stature, they have difficulty with agility and have slow feet. As seen in above clips, DeHond displays better than expected footwork for a guy of his stature, as well as impressive flexibility to get low and shove a defender into the ground. He’ll be an enjoyable player to observe once he steps on campus and begins to put the tools together to be a dominant power on the line. As nearly all offensive linemen do, expect DeHond to redshirt his freshman year and then vie for one of the spots at tackle.

**Make sure you head over to the SUR Recruiting Forums for the latest up to date Clemson recruiting info and discussion**

Projected 2016 ACC Football Standings

Editor’s Note: Nic Mills is a senior PRTM major, student assistant with Clemson Athletic Communication, (formerly known as the Clemson Sports Information Department) and has a long family history of Clemson grads. Nic is also an intern with The Mickey Plyler Show and Out of Bounds on 105.5 The Roar each weekday morning. You can follow Nic on Twitter @mrnicmills.

SUR Podcast Rectangle Orange
It was really tough to choose between Clemson and Florida State and I know the game is in Tallahassee where Clemson hasn’t won since 2006.  However,  as long as Deshaun Watson is Clemson’s quarterback I can’t picture Clemson losing. I’ll be tough, but the Tigers come out with a perfect regular season 2 years in a row.2016 ACC Standings

newaccbrandThe Coastal Division is once again chaos, but a little bit prettier chaos this year. Miami loses to Virginia Tech, Virginia Tech loses to North Carolina and North Carolina loses to Miami.  The result will be a 3 way tie where Miami wins the tie breaker due to having a higher ranking in the polls.

In the end it doesn’t matter as Clemson cruises to a second straight ACC title and berth in the 3rd annual College Football Playoff.

Phil Steele, the Natty, Heisman & win totals

Phil Steele was on the “Behind The Bets” podcast with Chad Millman of ESPN last week and had some interesting things to say in regards to national title, Heisman odds and season win totals for several teams.

I regard Steele as a solid prognosticator and thoughtful analyst, resistant of the hyperbole that is rife in the industry. Because of this approach he’s one of the few guys I can still stand to listen to.

Yet, Steele had a few “interesting” leaps in his analysis on this day, as we’ll see below.

FSU LogoFirst up, Steele opined that Florida State at 12:1 and LSU at 15:1 were good “value” (one of the most overused words on the planet) picks for a possible national champion. While Steele blathered on about Brandon Harris (“all he has to do is be a little bit better”) of LSU, Millman interrupted him to say that “Clemson and Alabama are clearly the class of their respective conferences.” It was an awkward exchange that Steele largely ignored and plowed ahead with his praise of Harris.

Steele generally sticks to facts and uses a lot of numbers in his analysis (which I like), but with regards to Harris all that went out the window and he assumes improvement. Harris may improve, but enough to win the title? With that schedule (see below)? Seems like a reach to me (and Millman).

Other Steele “value” picks for the title are Iowa at 100:1 (good chance to go 12-0 again) and TCU at 50:1 (improved defense, Kenny Hill to have big season). Interesting.

The goal is not to pick a national champion necessarily, but to find the best “value”: The team with the longest odds that you think has a chance to win a championship.  Using that logic and a vivid imagination, Iowa and TCU are still stretches in my mind.DW Super

I believe FSU is a good value and the rest are a waste of money. I don’t think FSU wins the title, but playing Clemson at home improves their chances greatly. The other 3? Just filler and perhaps a way to toss your money away.

Iowa may well go 12-0, but will likely lose the Big 12 Championship Game again. Even if they win the Big Ten Championship Game the Hawkeyes aren’t going to beat a good playoff team and certainly not the two it takes to win the title.

tcu (1)LSU? Their schedule includes Wisconsin (neutral), at Auburn, at Florida, Ole Miss, Alabama, at Arkansas and at Texas A&M. Not going to win a title. Period.

TCU’s schedule sets up more favorably, playing Arkansas at home in week 2, but then you have Oklahoma, at West Virginia and at Baylor.  TCU finishes up with a final 3 games of Oklahoma State, at Texas and Kansas State. Not sure I see a lot of value at 50:1, but Steele likes what TCU is offering – a lot (see below).

What’s particularly baffling is Steele’s use of Trevon Boykin’s success last season as a reason the TCU offense will be really good this year.  Did I mention Boykin is now with the Seattle Seahawks (or the San Antonio PD, depending on the day).

Steele picked Deshaun Watson to win the Heisman (9:2), but also believes, because he thinks Florida State has a chance to contend for the national title, Dalvin Cook’s a good value at 10:1. Can’t argue either of those. He also believes Christian McCaffrey (5:1) will suffer in the Heisman race because the Stanford schedule means multiple losses.

Finally, Steele gave these as his best picks on win totals:

Miami – 6.5 – Over

TCU – 8 – Over

Purdue – 4.5 – Under

FIU – 6.5 – Under

As I mPOD-SMALLentioned, I think Steele’s generally solid andit’s hard to argue the win total picks or choosing Watson to win the Heisman (and Cook as a “value”), but saying LSU is a value to win the title at 15:1? That’s out on a limb with a shaky quarterback and the toughest schedule around. I’m also mystified by his love of TCU, though they very well could win 10 games (doesn’t mean they’re a value at 50:1).

Next week I’ll have a two part series on the teams I think have a legitimate shot at the title.  Sneak preview: TCUs not there, another of Steele’s favorites is the first team eliminated and a team no one’s talking about is my long shot pick to contend.

Featured image courtesy gwinndavisphotos.com

Penalties are team and coach killers, right? Actually, they’re not

Coaches hate penalties.  Fans hate penalties.  They’re often drive killers (or drive sustainers if on defense) and are generally the subject of expletive laden post-game pressers or pre-game coach speak.

So, penalties are bad, right?  Not necessarily.  Much like our look at turnovers, context and timing matters.

As evidence I offer the chart below.  For four consecutive years winning teams averaged more penalty yards than losers.  That’s not a fluke.

Since 2011, teams with more penalty yards have won 51.1% of the time and lost 46.3% of the time (2.5% of the time the teams were equal in penalty yards).

A quick glance at the NCAA statistics from 2015 provides examples: 3-9 Georgia Tech had the second fewest penalty yards per game, 3-9 Ball State the 3rd, 2-10 Army was 13th and even 0-12 Central Florida game in 28th best.PF

On the other extreme 10-3 Baylor had the second most penalty yards per game, while 11-2 TCU was among the worst 10.

I haven’t researched in depth, but on the surface it looks like good offenses overcome penalties and bad offenses don’t.  That’s not splitting the atom, but something to keep in mind.  Clemson obviously has more room for error than Georgia Tech, for example.

Only 5.6% of the time does a team go over 100 yards in penalties and you may be thinking that no team could survive that, right? Wrong.  Teams that go over 100 yards in penalties actually win 57% of the time.  That throws all the coach speak on penalties killing a team on its head.  It’s the team not the penalty yards.

Context and timing obviously matter when it comes to penalties, but if your team is racking up the penalty yards it’s not necessarily a bad thing.

Craziest stat of Clemson’s run to National Championship Game

Of all the stats that I track and find interesting, one stands out from Clemson’s run to the national championship game last season: 6 times the Tigers won, sometimes by large margins, when minus 2 in turnovers.

After beginning the season -2 in a rout of Wofford, the Tigers were actually +3 in turnovers through 4 games after it rained on Notre Dame’s side of the field during the epic battle in Death Valley last October.

Beginning with Georgia Tech the next week Clemson had a remarkable run of 5 of 7 games in which they were -2 in turnovers yet won each game. Close games, blowouts and everywhere in between.

Its obvious context and timing matters with turnovers. Win/loss-wise turnovers don’t mean a lot when you’re up 49-10 against Wofford, but become a different issue when on the verge of blowing Syracuse out a fumble changes momentum.

Yet we know in the big picture teams with less turnovers win (58.7% of the time since 2011). We also know that if you are minus 2 in turnovers your odds of winning is right at 20%* (165-659) in that same time span. (*Includes FBS vs. FBS only, from 2011-2015)

In over 700 FBS vs. FBS games in the 2015 season only 33 times did teams minus 2 in turnovers win and 5 of those were by Clemson (for this calculation Wofford is a FCS team and is not counted). My shaky math says that works out to a 1 in 3,125 chance of a team winning 5 times while -2 in turnovers (if turnovers were the only variable), which translates to .00032%. Statisticians are welcome to correct my math, if necessary.

Last season Clemson committed 27 turnovers in 15 games (1.8 per) after committing 18 in 13 games (1.4) in 2014. Both of those averages are above the average for winning teams in each respective season.

Maybe the most important number is the number of turnovers the Tigers had when Florida State came into Death Valley: 0.

Aggregates can paint the big picture of college football: Turnovers matter. However, not all turnovers are equal and context and detail also matter and should be used to paint the smaller picture of a specific team.

Make no mistake though, if Clemson goes minus 2 in turnovers 6 times this season the Tigers are likely to lose at least once and probably more.

It’s a matter of time until the dice come up snake eyes.

Featured image courtesy gwinndavisphotos.com.

Comparing SUR Win Probabilities with the big leagues

Last week I posted the win probabilities derived from the algorithm I’ve developed over the last 5 seasons. After some back and forth on the free Seldom Used Reserve message boards a poster (shouts to RunningDownTheHill25) came back with the comparison chart below that compares my win probabilities, ESPNs FPI and Bill Connelly from SBNation.  After reviewing the chart, I had several observations.WP Comps
First, my numbers are almost always “conservative” and lower than the others.  Secondly, for the most part, my numbers are closer to Bill’s than to the FPI, which makes me feel better for some reason.

However, there are several instances that I feel an explanation may be necessary, so here they are:

  1. My algorithm actually came out as 100% for S.C. State, but I manually changed it to “>99%” because there’s always a chance, right?  Bill says no, and I defer to him.
  2. Georgia Tech.  My algorithm relies heavily on total yards gained and yards per play.  Tech may roll up 500 or they may get 300.  I’m betting they’ll get some yards on Clemson this season.
  3. Louisville.  A team that has lost by 2 and 3 points to Clemson the last 2 seasons and returns 18 starters.  Not sure how the others got to 81 and 78% respectively.
  4. N.C. State. This team scored 41 on the Tigers last season, though they did lose their quarterback, so I would defer to the other projections and yet feel 92 and 88% are too high.
  5. Florida Sate.  36.5%? What the heck is ESPN thinking?
  6. Pittsburgh is a great unknown for me and my number is probably too low.
  7. South Carolina.  Got some push back on this one, but lets remember that it was a one score game going into the 4th quarter last season.  I’m not talking about the touchdown with 1 second to go, I’m talking about 28-25 early in the 4th before Deshaun Watson hit Trevion Thompson on a critical pass.  The point is, it wasn’t a blowout that would lead me to a 90+% win probability.

Here are my results for last season:WP Results 2015 2

In the end the others have more resources and are infinitely smarter than I and are generally a better resource for this type of thing. Yet, as the numbers above reflect, there is some value to what I’m doing.  How much depends on your point of view.

We’re actively discussing this and other topics on the FREE Seldom Used Reserve message boards. Join us for this and other conversations around our beloved Clemson Tigers.

Featured image courtesy gwinndavisphotos.com

Geek Speak: Simple formula for winning 97% of the time

Last week I posted some numbers on how important total yards is as a metric, specifically the importance of gaining more than your opponent. There is one metric that is more important (but it’s close) than total yards: Yards per play. Most coaches track “explosive” plays or “chunk” plays (nod to Dabo) because they are not only momentum changers, they actually often make the difference between winning and losing.

There’s no arguing that since (at least) 2011 there’s a very simple 3 pronged formula for winning (and it’s not “score more points”):

  1. Gain more yards than you allow, and the more the better.  Teams that do this win 78% of the time;
  2. Average more yards per play than your opponent.  Teams that do both 1 and 2 win 86% of the time;
  3. Turn the ball over less than your opponent.  Teams that have done 1, 2 and 3 in the same game have won 97% of the time.

Obviously, winning all three categories is easier said than done, but having a prolific offense gives Clemson a better shot than most at winning and if the Tigers avoid the turnovers that plagued the 2015 squad they will be extremely difficult to beat.

Geek Speak: Total Yards and Points Scored and Pearson Correlation

In a post on Wednesday I put forward the case for why total yards are important and referenced a chart from last year.  I wanted to include 2015 data, so here it all is.

The graph below contains 7,160 data points (though it’s difficult to tell) covering every college football game between 2 FBS teams since 2011 (3,580 games x 2 data points for each game).  As you can see, the slope remains up and to the right.

Yards gained is on the y axis (left) and points scored is on the x (across bottom) axis.

Yards and Points 2016

The Pearson Correlation for this data is .78.  Anything over .70 is considered a strong uphill linear relationship, mathematically confirming my hypothesis – total yards matters, especially in the context of points a team is likely to score.

College Football: Total yards is one of the most important metrics in football

Gaining more yards than your opponent is one of the most reliable predictors of which team is going to win. You can argue over which is more important: gaining yards on offense or giving up less yards on defense, but the fact is that if you outgain your opponent your odds of winning have been 78% since 2011 regardless of any other metric(s).

While both the yards gained by winners (+5.3%) and losers (+3.6%) have increased since 2011, what has really grown is the difference between the two.  In 2011 the average difference was 100 yards.  In 2015 it had grown to 121 yards, a 21% increase in 5 years.

It’s about this time where someone says points are what matters, yards are irrelevant. Guess what? Points scored correlates closely to yards gained as this post shows.

More yards equals more points on offense and the inverse is true on defense. Sure, there are outliers and some teams perform better in the red zone. Statistically speaking though, the odds of winning increase the bigger the positive total yardage difference between you and your opponent.

Featured image courtesy gwinndavisphotos.com