It's time to put a bow on the 2013 season and provide some insight to what happened this year in college football. The Adjusted Efficiency Rankings have been broken up into five tiers:
- Teams ranked 1-25 are college football's upper class.
- Teams ranked 26-50 are college football's upper-middle class.
- Teams ranked 51-75 are college football's middle class.
- Teams ranked 76-100 are college football's lower-middle class.
- Teams ranked 101-125 are college football lower class.
Last season, I divided college football into four classes. There were also 124 teams, and dividing by four provided a logical solution. Georgia State joined the FBS this season, and dividing 125 into quintiles creates a more logical division.
The following table breaks down the number of teams in each group by conference affiliation:
These are the final conference standings for 2013:
Here were the twenty-five most improved offenses:
Here were the twenty-five most improved defenses:
Here were the twenty-five most improved teams:
Here are some observations pertaining to each league:
- The ACC improved significantly this season from where it had been in 2011 and 2012. Most of this improvement can be attributed to the ascension of Florida State and Clemson into the nation's elite.
- Florida State isn't the best team of the previous seven seasons. (2008 Florida and 2011 Alabama were better. Remember, the 2011 Crimson Tide allowed three touchdowns on statistically significant drives all season.) Purely in terms of net statistics, the Seminoles had the most dominant season over the aforementioned time frame. The Seminoles outscored opponents by an average of 30.6 points per ten drives. The following table lists the teams who have outscored their opponents by an average of at least 20 points per ten drives over the past seven seasons:
- The ACC likely will probably jump the Big Ten in the national conference pecking order because Rutgers and Maryland add recruiting territory and media markets. They don't add competitive football teams that enhance the caliber of play. Consistently fielding stronger programs than the SEC, Pac-12, and Big 12 poses a more difficult challenge. The Pac-12 possesses somewhat of a monopoly on talent in the nation's most populous state, the SEC has the best players and financially committed programs, and the Big 12 is essentially an expanded Big 12 South with TCU taking the place of Texas A&M. Of these three leagues, the ACC has the best chance of catching the Big 12 because the states of Oklahoma, Kansas, Iowa, and West Virginia produce very little talent due to a limited population. A&M's departure may have opened the recruiting floodgates in the Lone Star state for the SEC West.
- Jim Grobe coached thirteen years at Wake Forest. Most people fail to grasp how long this is in coaching years. Only four coaches currently affiliated with one of the power five conferences or Notre Dame have coached at their schools longer than Grobe did at Wake Forest. And FYI, those coaches are Frank Beamer (27 years), Bill Snyder (22 years with a three coaching sabbatical from 2006-08), Bob Stoops (15 years), and Kirk Ferentz (15 years). As a matter of fact, forty-three of the aforementioned 65 schools currently employ coaches with fewer than five years experience at their current job. (This includes Bobby Petrino's four years at Louisville from 2003-2006.) Coaching years make dog years seem like an eternity by comparison. Wake Forest hired an excellent coach in Dave Clawson. His Bowling Green team was the eighth most improved program in the country last season.
- Larry Fedora also seems to be gaining momentum in Chapel Hill behind a rapidly improving defense. UNC is an interesting program because they could very well be a sleeping giant largely due to their local talent. (The amount of talent this program produced in recent seasons never manifested itself on the field under Butch Davis despite having players like Robert Quinn, Giovani Bernard, and Hakeem Nicks.) Assuming they can overcome this academic scandal, there's reason to believe this sleeping giant may be awakening from its slumber.
- This also happened in the ACC this season:
- Critics of Louisville will point out that the Cardinals lost to the one team on their schedule capable of beating them, and that's a reasonable point. This program also exhibited immense growth under Charlie Strong after struggling under Steve Kragthorpe and dominated inferior competition. They finished in the top ten nationally in twelve of the thirteen listed net statistics.
- The Cardinals transition into the ACC's Atlantic division next season, and this means they'll have annual games against Florida State and Clemson. Hiring Bobby Petrino may partially be the product of having to face the Seminoles and Tigers yearly. Hiring a man with Petrino's personal history may seem crazy, but he's also a known quantity who won 82% of his games as head coach at Louisville.
- Texas made an outstanding choice in hiring Charlie Strong. While Longhorn fans won't like this comparison, it reminds me of Oklahoma's decision to hire Bob Stoops primarily because both coaches are former defensive coordinators at Florida with outstanding reputations. The primary difference is that Strong has experience as a head coach that Bob Stoops did not have in 1999. It took Strong four years to turn around Louisville's defense, but it won't take him nearly as long in Austin.
- Oklahoma finished the season playing outstanding football. They won games at Kansas State, at Oklahoma, and against Alabama in the Sugar Bowl. The Adjusted Efficiency Rankings underrate the Sooners because of unimpressive performances earlier in the season. Yes, they beat Notre Dame in South Bend. They also struggled at times against West Virginia, TCU, and Kansas. The Sooners inexplicably scored more points per drive against Alabama than they did against Louisiana-Monroe (96th), Kansas (54th), Notre Dame (35th), Texas (29th), West Virginia (57th), or Baylor (28th). (They also scored fewer points per drive against Oklahoma State and TCU. The Cowboys' defense finished 4th in adjusted points per drive, and the Horned Frogs' defense finished 11th. That shouldn't be particularly surprising.) This illustrates Oklahoma's considerable offensive improvement over the course of the season. While Blake Bell did some nice things at quarterback for the Sooners, it's quite obvious that their fortunes next season will depend on the health of Trevor Knight.
- The first team that needs to be mentioned when discussing the Big Ten is Michigan State. The following graph illustrates their defensive annual points per drive during Mark Dantonio's time as head coach:
- Michigan State ran the table in the Big Ten because their defense finished first in yards per play (4.5), turnover percentage (15.8%), effective turnover percentage (22.1%), scoring percentage (18.9%), touchdown percentage (11.6%), and points per drive (1.03) in conference play. What the Spartans didn't get enough credit for was the improvement of their offense. The Spartans finished first in turnover percentage (6.4%) and effective turnover percentage (8.5%) in the Big Ten. They finished in the top four in all offensive yardage-based and scoring-based statistics. The Spartans ultimately finished in the top three of the following net statistics during conference play:
- Net starting field position (2nd)
- Net ending field position (2nd)
- Net yards per play (3rd)
- Net yards per drive (2nd)
- Net percentage of available yards gained (2nd)
- Net fumble percentage (3rd)
- Net interception percentage (3rd)
- Net turnover percentage (1st)
- Net effective turnover percentage (1st)
- Net scoring percentage (1st)
- Net touchdown percentage (2nd)
- Net points per drive (1st)
- Ohio State failed to win the Big Ten largely because their defense regressed from 2012. The Buckeye defense was half a standard deviation worse in 2013. This offset the gains made by the nation's seventh-most improved offense.
- Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, and Minnesota were each among the twenty-five most improved programs in the country. Aside from Iowa, the other four programs each experienced this improvement with coaches in their second or third seasons on the job. Purdue fans just need to give Darrell Hazell some more time to determine if this season was an aberration or an ominous indicator of football futility.
- Taylor Martinez only played four games for the Cornhuskers against FBS foes this season. Those games came against Wyoming, Southern Miss, UCLA, and Minnesota. The Cornhuskers only went 2-2 in those games, but the offense also dropped off without Martinez. Tommy Armstrong and Ron Kellogg took his place. And for those that they may have forgotten, Kellogg was the quarterback who completed this Hail Mary against Northwestern that perfectly encapsulated Northwestern's bad luck in 2013:
- Part of the production disparity may be attributable to the games against Wyoming and Southern Miss. The following table depicts the change in offensive production when Martinez was quarterback compared to when Tommy Armstrong and Ron Kellogg were under center:
- The second-most improved team this season was North Texas. Their head coach is Dan McCarney. And if that name sounds familiar, it's because McCarney coached at Iowa State from 1996 through 2006. Mentioning McCarney gives me the opportunity to show this run by Seneca Wallace that will remind many of a certain Johannes Football:
- Rice won Conference USA this year. They secured their second win against a Big 12 team. (Both wins came against Kansas. Feel free to apply an asterisk next to this accomplishment.) One of my favorite plays this season was an onside kick by Rice's all-world kicker, Chris Boswell. Here is the video of his onside kick against Houston:
- Bowling Green won the MAC this season. They could very well win it again next season. They made one of the best hires of the offseason when they hired Dino Babers from Eastern Illinois to replace Dave Clawson. Babers is a former assistant of Art Briles's at Baylor. He promptly turned around a struggling FCS program and got his team to reach the Elite Eight of the postseason playoff. Prior to Babers's arrival in 2011, the Panthers posted a 2-9 record and went 1-7 in conference play. Two years later, they went 12-2 and went undefeated in the Ohio Valley. Bowling Green already has a solid quarterback in Matt Johnson, and this program could very well be a threat to go undefeated next season. (Don't misinterpret that statement as a prediction that Bowling Green will wind up in the four-team playoff. Jimmy Hoffa's remains will be found before a team from the American, Conference USA, MAC, Mountain West, or Sun Belt will be allowed in the postseason playoff.) Do not expect Dino Babers to last long at Bowling Green because he will probably be coming to a town near you in the next season or two.
- The Miami (OH) was the single worst offense in the past seven years purely in terms of unadjusted points per drive. They scored six touchdowns on 107 statistically significant offensive drives. This offense's production was so anemic that I now feel bad for criticizing Zac Dysert's lack of production one season ago because the team around him was probably a disaster. (The exception to this was former Redhawk and current Jayhawk, Nick Harwell. Bill Connelly's numbers at Football Study Hall indicate that he's actually pretty good. I just hope he can throw himself the ball.)
- The most interesting thing about the Mountain West was Boise State's mediocrity. Their offense scored at a similar rate as the team in 2012. The real issue for the Broncos was their defense was no longer as reliably effective as it had been over the previous five seasons. The graph below depicts this issue for Boise State:
- The Pac-12 just barely finished ahead of the SEC for the nation's top conference. The Pac-12 will probably challenge the SEC for conference supremacy again next season with the returns of Brett Hundley to UCLA and Marcus Mariota to Oregon.
- Washington's hiring of Chris Petersen makes the conference even tougher. Boise State had its weakest season under Petersen, but this should not discourage feelings of optimism in Seattle.
- The issue Pac-12 programs are going to run into is that not everyone can win. This explains why Utah struggled to win last season despite fielding a competitive team that knocked off Stanford in Salt Lake City. The Pac-12 plays fifty-five conference games. In a zero-sum game, this leaves fifty-five winners and losers. Some quality program will inevitably struggled in conference play with a combination of high-quality coaches and talent. Utah was the victim of this last season. (TCU experienced a similar issue in the Big 12.) They probably will have better luck next season because the Utes lost three games by a margin of one possession or less.
- Colorado has never fully recovered from the recruiting scandal occurring under Gary Barnett's tenure. (UPI) The Buffaloes have been irrelevant for a decade. Mike McIntyre looks like he may be the guy to get things moving in the right direction because the Buffs were the fourteenth most improved team in the country. Keep in mind, the Buffalos have a national championship and a Heisman Trophy Winner in their history. Attracting players to Boulder should be a fairly easy sell because it's one of the coolest college towns anywhere.
- Stanford won the Pac-12 because their offense scored seven more points per ten drives than it had in 2012. The Cardinal actually improved from 2012 despite losing the Rose Bowl. They lost the Rose Bowl because the Big Ten produced a much stronger champion than it did in 2012.
- Auburn hasn't received nearly enough attention on this blog. Yes, the Tigers got ridiculously lucky against Georgia and Alabama. They also played the single toughest schedule in college football this season. And despite what the Adjusted Efficiency Rankings say, no sane person can dispute the Tigers deserved to play for the national title. As a matter of fact, this season's Auburn team had the largest single-season improvement since 2008. They improved more than two standard deviations from 2012. (2012 Ole Miss is the only other team in the past six seasons to improve more than two standard deviations.) The job Gus Malzahn did at Auburn set an unrealistic standard for other SEC coaches in their first year.
- Auburn obviously wrestled away this title from 2012 Ole Miss, and the Rebels dethroned Vanderbilt to become the most improved team since 2008. The fourth-most improved team was the very talented 2008 Ole Miss team. Each of these four SEC teams made dramatic improvement with first-year coaches. Arkansas, Tennessee, and Kentucky are the most logical candidates to improve drastically if this trend continues through next season.
- Florida had a disastrous year (for their preposterously high standards) and suffered a humiliating loss to Georgia Southern, but they didn't fall far enough to improve next season like the previously referenced SEC teams. The stunning fall of the Florida Gators may have been the most surprising thing about this season. Over the past twenty years, the Gators have been the strongest team in the nation's deepest and most talented league. During the 12-team era, the Gators won nearly eighty percent of their conference games and unquestionably established themselves as the SEC's premier program by a comfortable margin. The chart below from Chris Stassen's website provides the SEC standings during the conference's 12-team era:
- Florida consistently proved they were the SEC's preeminent program over a twenty-year period, and no other program came particularly close. (Remember, the Crimson Tide had a relative dry spell between Gene Stallings and Nick Saban.) The Gators won twelve division titles, seven conference titles, three national titles, and made a bowl game in each of those twenty seasons.
- The perception is that Florida's offense is largely to blame for their record. That perception is unquestionably accurate. It also needs to be remembered that the Gator offense struggled prior to Will Muschamp in 2010 when Urban Meyer was still head coach. Much like Texas, Florida has still not replaced the legendary quarterback that graduated following the 2009 season. Even with Tebow in 2009, the Florida offense began to slow down as shown in the graph below: