Friday, October 12, 2007

The Unbeaten – Should We Be Impressed?

As of now there are 11 unbeaten Division I-A teams. One of them is a consensus number one (LSU). One of them isn’t even ranked (Connecticut).

When you look at the NCAA statistics, it is not surprising to find teams like LSU (number 1 in defense) near the top. What is surprising is finding teams like Connecticut also highly ranked defensively (4th). But who have they really played to get those generous statistics?

Before taking a look at some measures of the difficulty unbeaten teams have faced schedule wise, first take a look at where they rank in terms of total offense and defense (national rank per NCAA on offense, defense) –

Arizona State – 41st, 20th
Boston College – 21st, 39th
California – 38th, 70th
Cincinnati – 27th, 38th
Connecticut – 60th, 4th
Hawaii – 7th, 27th
Kansas – 5th, 3rd
LSU – 34th, 1st
Missouri – 4th, 79th
Ohio State – 47th, 2nd
South Florida – 76th, 24th

As we will see, some of these stats are an illusion.

Opponent’s Strength

We are going to look at two items, Sagarin’s assessment of the unbeaten team’s past opponents using the average ranking of those opponents (This is different from his schedule strength number), and the NCAA’s Strength of Schedule which uses opponents win-loss records. The reason we are using the average of past opponents rankings per Sagarin rather than his schedule strength is Sagarin figures future opponents in schedule strength, and we just want to see what these unbeaten records are comprised of thus far.

Average Sagarin Ranking of Opponent

1. LSU – 57.2
2. Arizona State – 62.2
3. South Florida – 64.2
4. Ohio State – 65.5
5. Cal – 65.6
6. Boston College – 73.8
7. Missouri – 81.4
8. Cincinnati – 99.3
9. Connecticut – 109.4
10. Kansas – 113.8
11. Hawaii – 150.5

Two things jump out at me here – first, Arizona State has played tougher competition than anyone gives them credit for. Second, the final 3 – U Conn, Kansas and Hawaii have played a pathetic slate. Sure this might be obvious, but did anyone think it this bad? Since Sagarin rates all teams (not just division I-A), Hawaii’s average team played is actually worse than the 119 teams available in Division I-A.

Past NCAA Strength of Schedule (team, ranking, opponent record – note, opponent record excludes team itself)

1. South Florida 10th (13-6)
2. LSU 20th (16-9)
3. Missouri 25th (11-7)
4. Ohio State 43rd (12-10)
5. Arizona State 52nd (13-12)
6. Boston College 54th (10-10)
7. Cincinnati 79th (8-10)
8. Cal 89th (8-11)
9. Kansas 100th (6-10)
10. Connecticut 111th (6-12)
11. Hawaii 119th (2-15)

Again, we have Kansas, Connecticut and Hawaii all with Strength of Schedule ratings 100 or worse, with Hawaii actually having the worst schedule in all Division I-A football. Hawaii’s opponents have won a total of 2 games at this point, which virtually defies belief.

In other words, it is impossible to be impressed with Kansas’ 5th ranked offense and 3rd ranked defense when they play the 100th hardest schedule in football.

One of the places these stats show up is in the Net Average Points per Game statistics. Some, as we have seen, are misleading based on opponent’s quality (or lack thereof). One way to assess these stats is to create a ratio based on schedule difficulty. First, let’s look at the Net Average Points per Game of the unbeaten teams.

Net Points per Game-

1. Kansas 39.4
2. Hawaii 32.03
3. Cincinnati 30.63
4. LSU 28.53
5. Ohio St. 26.47
6. Connecticut 25.6
7. Arizona St. 22.47
8. Missouri 20.6
9. Boston College 17.53
10. California 15
11. South Fla. 13

Kansas again blowing away the opposition, with South Florida the closest per game (though not that close).

But we know Kansas has been playing patsies. If we make a ratio out of the points by dividing the Sagarin based past opponent rankings above, we get a better idea of how these teams stack up.

NPPG / Avg. Sagarin Opponent Rank –

1 LSU .4988
2 Ohio State .4041
3 Arizona State .3613
4 Kansas .3462
5 Cincinnati .3085
6 Missouri .2531
7 Boston College .2376
8 Connecticut .2340
9 Cal .2287
10 Hawaii .2128
11 South Florida .2025

What we see here is a ratio that shows how many net points per game these teams have scored based on their Sagarin average opponent. LSU scores about a net ½ a point for each team average rating point played.

This list shows a couple of things, including LSU’s domination relative to the challenging slate of teams they have played. It also shows that, even though Kansas has not played very challenging teams, they are – relative to those teams below them – putting those less challenging teams away. It shows that Hawaii, despite their lofty scoring, isn’t doing it relatively well as other “questionables” like U Conn and Kansas.

The list also shows how narrowly Cal and South Florida are getting by.

When I do my rakings after this weekend, I’m going to revisit all of this when I think about the relative challenges the teams have faced.


dethwing said...

I think a better way to analyze the situtation, is to consider the average points allowed by the teams you face, and then compare that to how many you actually scored agaisnt them. This ratio should give a better idea of offensive ability than raw points per game themselves. Then, doing the reverse for defense of course.

jamie a. said...

i feel compelled to defend the jayhawks a bit. consider, all they have done is whoop their opponents. no sane AD in lawrence is going to schedule southern cal and ohio state for non-conference. for one, they would never agree to a home and home. therefore, a middling team like kansas must either act like a sun belt team, or schedule patsies of its own. it chose the latter, and i, for one, wish them success in the upcoming big 12 slate. they beat a kansas state team that is on the rise. let 'em have their fun. rank 'em high until they falter. who knows? maybe they're the wake forest of 2007?