The 30 ‘Almost Great’ College Teams of the Last 30 Years

If you grew up in southeast Alabama like me, you were accustomed to living among a rich diversity of winning college football fans.  Only one problem though—some of the fans I grew up with rooted for Georgia.  Nothing is technically wrong with Georgia, but every Georgia fan in world is way way way too proud about their “almost great” seasons.  I don’t blame them though.  If my football team came up short every year, I’d probably relish in the “almost great” as well.

So to celebrate the Georgias of the world and to kick off my 30th birthday blog-a-thon, here is my list of the 30 “almost great” college football teams of the last 30 years.  (Spoiler: Georgia is listed a lot.)

No. 30 – The 2007 #2 Georgia Bulldogs (11-2)

It’s fitting that we start off with Georgia.  This 2007 team was actually really good, but it hit a string of bad luck.  First, it finished second in the division to Tennessee who was nowhere near as good as Georgia.  And second, it finished second in the country to an LSU team that stumbled into the BCS National Championship Game with two-losses.  Georgia had all the ability in the world to have done better, but it just didn’t work out.

No. 29 – The 2012 #4 Notre Dame Fighting Irish (12-1)

Girlfriends weren’t the only thing fabricated by Notre Dame in the 2012 season.  Apparently, the 12 wins on their schedule were fabricated as well.  Unfortunately for the Fighting Irish, their one loss is still real.

No. 28 – The 1987 #2 Florida State Seminoles (11-1)

Florida State went through some brutal years in the 80s and 90s.  But does it get any worse than this season?  Florida State beat the brakes off everyone, but their one loss—a one-point loss at that—was to rival and eventual National Champion, Miami.

No. 27 – The 1993 #4 Auburn Tigers (11-0)

This won’t be Auburn’s last time on this list.  But like most Auburn fans, I won’t say much about this season.

No. 26 – The 2011 #5 Arkansas Razorbacks (11-2)

The Razorbacks’ only flaw is they had to play no. 1 Alabama and no. 2 LSU in this same season.  There is a chance they could’ve beaten every team in the country other than those two teams.

No. 25 – The 1999 #2 Virginia Tech Hokies (11-1)

Is there anything better than college-era Michael Vick?  Vick as a freshman was awarded an ESPY Award as the nation’s top college player, and he won the first-ever Archie Griffin Award as college football’s most valuable player.

No. 24 – The 2010 and 2014 Oregon Ducks

This team would be higher on the list if they ever really had a chance at greatness.

No. 22 – The 2004 #4 Utah Utes (12-0)

Same issue as the Oregon Ducks.  Lots of wins, but no real shots at getting rings.

No. 21 – The 2013 #2 Auburn Tigers (12-2)

Told you Auburn would be back.  I’ll talk more about this specific team later, but know this: Auburn had a chance to win the last-ever BCS National Championship, but it finally ran out of luck against an overrated Florida State Seminoles team.  Florida State’s coach, Coach Jimbo Fisher, even recently admitted his team wasn’t that good.

No. 20 – The 2005-07 West Virginia Mountaineers

These boys were absolute beasts, but they came up short way too often.  Shout out to Pat White.

No. 17 – The 1995-97 Tennessee Volunteers

Of all the Tennessee teams that could easily qualify, why this one with Peyton Manning at the helm? This is the only team that people always mistakenly think won a National Championship.  The Volunteers didn’t win a modern day National Championship until the 1998 season after Manning left for the NFL.

No. 14 – The 2013 #7 Alabama Crimson Tide (11-2)

My wife and I were in a crowded movie theater viewing of the Iron Bowl when the Kick Six happened.  Other than being in Jordan-Hare Stadium in-person, this theater located in Tuscaloosa was probably the next saddest place in the state for an Alabama fan.  But what makes matters worse is that this 2013 Alabama team still had a shot at a split National Championship, but it couldn’t show up to play in its BCS bowl game against Oklahoma.

No. 13 – The 2001 #8 Nebraska Cornhuskers (11-2)

While this team ended up losing its last two games of the season (including the National Championship Game), its existence helped fuel the end of the Bowl Championship Series system and usher in the College Football Playoff system.

No. 12 – The 2002 #2 Miami Hurricanes (12-1)

Some would argue that this is the greatest team to not win a ring.  I disagree.  This same team—more or less—won the National Championship the previous season.  For that, I can’t truthfully call them a second fiddle without putting several others ahead.

No. 11 – The 2012 #5 Georgia Bulldogs (12-2)

Would the 2012 Georgia Bulldogs have beaten the fabricated Notre Dame Fighting Irish in the BCS Championship Game?  It’s fairly likely, but the world will never know since Georgia fell a few yards short of beating Alabama in the SEC Championship Game.

No. 10 – The 2004 #2 Auburn Tigers (13-0)

The “People’s Champions” may not have been recognized in 2004, but they will be recognized here.  This team was full of future NFL players, including Cadillac Williams, Ronnie Brown, Jason Campbell, and Carlos Rogers.  Too bad the 2004 USC Trojans were a bunch of cheaters.

No. 09 – The 2003, 2004, 2008 Oklahoma Sooners

Oklahoma is not a bad team, but they haven’t won anything of any meaning in almost 20 years.  It’s not like they haven’t had a chance.  Other than Ohio State, no one has choked harder in National Championship games than Oklahoma.

No. 06 – The 2006-09 Boise State Broncos

Pick a year.  Any year.  Results are the same.

No. 02 – The 2005 #2 USC Trojans (12-1)

In what is arguably the greatest football game of all-time, the USC Trojans came tumbling down due to a one-man wrecking crew by the name of Vince Young (QB of the Texas Longhorns).  All season long, the Trojans were a lock to win a National Championship for the third year in a row.  Vince Young apparently didn’t like that fate very much and decided to do something about it.

No. 01 – The 2011 #2 LSU Tigers (13-1)

If this LSU team could figure out how to cross the 50-yard line, it might have had a chance at becoming the greatest college football team of all-time.  It beat everyone in 2011, including Oregon when Oregon was actually really good and Alabama in Tuscaloosa.  Unfortunately, LSU fell short against Alabama when it really mattered.

All of this should have just ended up as an interesting footnote in sports history, but LSU had the audacity to create National Championship rings that touted a number 2 end-of-season ranking.  The other teams on this list may have finished second fiddle, but LSU is the only one that commemorated it in gold.  For that, the 2011 LSU Tigers are the greatest “almost great” team of all-time.

Follow me on Twitter @Ben_Baxter or on AL.com here.

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Moving to ATL Won’t Solve All Life’s Problems

A good friend of mine, Robert, tipped me to a great tweet from this weekend that really spoke to me. From @akidnamedspiffy it reads “Why do black people think moving to Atlanta will solve all their problems?”

Can we get an “amen” up in the house tonight?! I’ve never understood the obsession with Atlanta.  The only reason Atlanta is of any worth is because millennials and X-geners, like myself, have obsessed about the city and the overgrown suburbs for nearly 20 years.  Life imitated hype.

Don’t get me wrong.  I don’t hate Atlanta.  I just think we should be realistic with ourselves and understand that cities like Birmingham, Augusta, Memphis, etc could be world-class if all of our best talented young people didn’t lustfully flock towards Atlanta.

What do you think?  Am I being too cruel?

Stay Away from ATL

 

Old Big vs New Big : Okafor or Towns?

I was searching for an angle to compare these two players. I wanted to compare their ability to mix it up in the post. I wanted to compare their situational rebounding. I wanted to compare size. The truth is, it is unfair to compare these players as if everything is equal. It is not. These two big men mark decidedly different philosophies in the NBA.

Okafor is the old school throwback. He compares favorably on offense to a Tim Duncan, a guy who can back down and dominate anyone, and also a guy who can hit cutters and open men at weird angles thanks to a great court vision for a big man. However, he is going to be planted in the paint and take up a lot of room. If you want to play modern NBA ball you can’t have a guy sitting in the paint taking up room for your drive and dish guys. On the flip side, this model can still work. The Memphis Grizzlies have two big men who can’t operate past mid range. It’s all about scheme and commitment.

Karl-Anthony Towns represents everything about this new NBA model. A big, fast, and rangy versatile defender. He can stay back in the paint and erase mistakes if that’s what you need him to. He can switch effortlessly on pick and rolls, blowing up plays and making the ball handler make split decisions that can lead to turnovers. You can ask him to step out on the perimeter, a great asset in a league with more and more perimeter big men. He can supposedly shoot 3’s, but everyone says that. He has shown he can stretch the floor out to at least the long 2 range. But, if he is going to make a living on offense with that style, he needs to hit at a Lamarcus Aldridge rate, and he is a long way from that.

Two different big men, two different philosophies. We simply can’t compare the two straight up. It doesn’t work. We can look at individual strengths and weaknesses and evaluate what situation they can thrive in. There are risks with this. If the guy isn’t up for being the focal point of your philosophy, you could be set back. So, lets take a look at each player and see what they bring to the table.

Karl-Anthony Towns

IMG_0568

Strengths

We can’t have a conversation about Towns without starting with defense. He is quite a monster on that end. During his lone season at Kentucky he had defensive rating of 82.4, which would have been good for 11th all time. Anthony Davis had a defensive rating of 80.3 (3rd all time best). So we can see his is in great company. Take a peek at his block percentage, and he blocks a solid 11% of 2 point shots attempted while he is on the floor. With his long arms and super quick feet, he can recover on swat shots from almost anywhere on the floor.

This video should make any scout very happy. It is a wonderful display of all of his defensive talents. We see him challenging one on one shots at the rim. We see him swarming a driving player. We see him coming over on help defense to swallow the man whole. We even see him step out to the perimeter to block a shot. Simply put, if you are taking Towns, this is the first strength you are pointing to. He is a monster on defense and should step into the league as a good defensive big on the first day, with potential for defensive player of the year status.

Another good part of Towns’ game is rebounding. Considering he shared the court with another big man at all times, his 18.5 total rebounding percentage is impressive. He relies too much on athleticism right now. If he can learn technique to go with his athleticism, we could see a 12-14 RPG player.

Probably my favorite part of Towns is his FT%. He shoots an incendiary 81.3% while getting to the line 10.2 times per 100 possessions. This is how he is going to get the majority of his offense on the pro level. He is going to catch balls out of the pick and roll and use his athleticism to attack the rim. He is either going to dunk it or he is going to get fouled. Imagine how DeAndre Jordan gets his, except Towns will punish those who foul him. Opposing big men will get frustrated with him very quickly. A comparison I don’t see made on the offensive end is Blake Griffin. Blake attacks the rim out of pick and rolls with ferociousness and can play the mid range game very well. This is an absolute best case scenario. This is why people will want to draft him. He has a potential to be a superstar defensive player with Blake Griffin offensive skills.

This is what we can expect to see a lot of from his offense.

Weaknesses

You know that Blake Griffin comparison I just made? Yeah, that is a scenario that most likely won’t happen. While Towns can hit midrange shots, it is not his bread and butter. It will require a lot of work on his end to become proficient at setting a screen, sagging off, catching, and releasing a perfect shot all within a 2 second span. I don’t know if he has that in him right now. His offensive game is too much athleticism. Most of his mid range shots were wide open in college. That ain’t happening at the NBA level.

His low post game worries me, as well. While I think it would be dumb to make him a low post player, he will have times where he needs to bang in the paint. He has one move, a baby hook. It worked against smaller players in the weak SEC, it will take first steps and counter moves for it to be effective in the NBA. If he wants room to operate a mid range game, he needs to prove he can punish you in the paint. Quite frankly, a low post game isn’t there and is mainly predicated on athleticism.

He doesn’t have quite the ball handling to take people off of the dribble, and I honestly never see him developing one. That’s a huge reason why the Blake Griffin comp may never come to fruition. Griffin can handle the ball full court and hit open men in full stride. You probably don’t want towns initiating your offense. Towns is actually a good passer for a big man. He is best a low post dump offs when his men is stuck in the air. These probably won’t be there in the NBA, but at least it is a skill he has. Passing around the rim is always welcomed.

I don’t view Towns as a go-to man. I may not even view him as a #2 option. I think his offense can be great, but a lot of things have to hit just right for all of it to fall into place. I know I keep mentioning Clippers players, but I see him more as a DeAndre Jordan with a decent jumper. Remember, the Griffin scenario is a best case. This isn’t a bad thing. If he is a stud at one end, but a slightly above average at the other end, you still have a damn good player. What if Towns winds up being just a good defensive player and an athletic but inefficient offensive player? Well, the #1 pick status starts to look a little fuzzy. Towns probably falls decidedly somewhere in between. I think his money is going to be made on the defensive end a lot more than the offensive.

Where Does He Fit Best

Simon Says, "Hands on Your Hips"...Rubio, you're out!

Giving the strengths and weaknesses, I think the Timberwolves would be idiots to pass on him. Okafor would require everyone to change styles, and the style the Timberwolves want to play is fast paced and uber athletic. This is the role Towns was born to play.

Having a great passing point guard is probably the most beneficial thing to Towns’ game and development. A Rubio/Towns pick and roll game will ensure he is getting his touches in the best possible places for him. He can learn the ins and outs of his offensive game perfectly with Rubio. Even better? Andrew Wiggins is by far the #1 option on this team. Towns wouldn’t be expected to come out of the gate and dominate. He can sit back and clean up on the offensive glass and get hustle points. Also potentially dangerous is a Wiggins/Towns pick and roll. Although limited in options, that play would be very hard to defend given the incredible amount of athleticism between the two.

This is also the biggest reason Towns makes sense. He is athletically and defensively ready. Him and Andrew Wiggins would immediately be a terror around the league. Length, size, athleticism, it is all there. Rubio is also one of the more solid on-ball defenders in the league. Expect many steals and fast break points. Towns would have meant opportunities to turn his defense into offense.

The Timberwolves makes too much sense for Towns. Perfect situation that is already catered to his style.

Jahlil Okafor

Wisconsin Badgers Men's Basketball Vs Duke Blue Devils

Strengths

Players like this don’t come along too often. Jahlil has massive hands, smooth hips, a huge frame, and silly touch at the basket. He reminds me of a cross between Olajuwon and Duncan on offense. That is not exaggeration. I see the Al Jefferson comparisons, and quite frankly it is insulting.

Jahlil shot .664% in his freshmen year at Duke. Holy. Shit. That mark places him in the top 25 ever. But what is even more impressive is how he does it. Okafor is not catch and shoot, he is not catching wide open passes, he is not getting easy dump offs. Okafor is parking his ass in the paint, backing you down, and finishing with what is probably the biggest array of low post moves since Kevin McHale.

If the Towns video was impressive, watch this. Okafors offensive game is simply unrivaled. I personally have never seen an 18 year old this polished. He has drop steps, he has counters, he has pump fakes, he has hooks, he has massive dunks, he has everything. Okafor is going to step into the NBA and very well may be the best low post player in the game from day one. Whatever team picks him is going to have to make him the focal point. That 66% shooting percentage makes that a very easy pill to swallow. Also, Okafor shoot a blistering 58.5% on low post touches. You honestly won’t be able to stop him.

Okafor is also a very gifted passer.

The most under rated skill of Okafor. He can spin out of double teams and find the open man with ease. His vision is impeccable and will only continue to get better. This is great because Okafor is going to spend his life being double teamed. A few open 3’s and and easy dunks for his team mates will make those defenders sag off a little bit. When that happens, he can punish you with his back to the basket game. Pick your poison.

Okafor also shines at rebounding. While he sometimes lags defensively, he is a beast on the offensive glass. This is a great thing since he will be parked down there. Averaging 4 offensive rebounds a game is outstanding. Couple that with his 58.5% low post shooting and it can really be a nightmare for whoever is guarding him. Guarding Okafor is going to be a team effort, and with his passing, even that may not even matter. a 17.1 total rebounding percentage is very solid. With some more effort on the defensive glass, you can be looking at 11-12 RPG.

Okafor’s best case scenario is an offensive juggernaut who is decent on the defensive end. He is a 6’11, 270 lb guy who can block a few shots for you. He is big and plays big at the rim, despite weaknesses. He gave up .455 FG% at the rim last year. A mark that would have been a full point better than Tim Duncan. To say he is a stiff on that end is false. Okafor can absolutely hit something like a 25/12/4. If he is hitting around 60% of his shots, that is an asset any team in the league would be envious of.

Weaknesses

Probably the most glaring issue is his free throw shooting. It sucks. He shot 51% on 5.1 FTs per game. Anyone watching the Hack-A-Whoever strategy knows this can be killer. If Okafor is sitting because he can’t shoot a FT, his monster offensive game isn’t very useful. There is not much to expound on. If Okafor wants to reach his full potential, he needs to bring it up to at least 65, if not 70. He can’t be an offensive liability, which is what 51% is.

The other weakness is his defense. This isn’t as much of a product of he sucks, but a product of effort. He is lazy on screens, he is lazy on rotation, and he doesn’t run the defensive floor as much as you would like from a guy who is going to be the defensive anchor. Okafor only seems to be engaged when he is on ball. While this is nice, he will be asked to do more than guard men straight up on the block.

As smooth as his feet are on the offensive end, they seem to be stuck in the mud on the defensive end. He is just slow, and part of that may be reaction skills. Something he absolutely has to improve.

If you are taking Okafor, these could be two killer weaknesses. If Okafor is getting torched on defense and can’t make FTs on offense, you are stuck with a real shitty situation. I don’t mind the effort questions as much as some, I think Okafor has a real drive for the game. The fact that when he is engaged, he is a monster calms my fears. We just need to see him display this all of the time.

Where Does He Fit Best?

Lakers 2009-10 championship ring

I am picking the Lakers because they pick 2nd. I actually think the Atlanta Hawks or OKC Thunder would be the most ideal fits, but they have zero shot at him.

The Lakers and greta big men are synonymous. Okafor would be that next great Laker big. The Lakers actually have talent and working pieces for one. Clarkson, Randle, and Okafor would make a very promising young trio. Kobe Bryant’s passing skill actually benefits Okafor a lot, and Okafor’s passing skill helps Kobe a lot. Much like the Pau Gasol/Kobe Hi-Lo game that dominated teams for a few years, this could be a new version. Okafor could set up in the mid range and facilitate passing from there. He has the skills. This allows Clarkson and Kobe room to drive. It even allows Okafor to hit Randle for some nice big to big passing.

Truth is, the Lakers have a lot of pieces that aren’t there but could be. Pair Okafor and Love and you could have a front court that scores 50 points a game and controls defenders with the best passing big men in the game. Pair Okafor with a defensive center who can hit mid range jumpers in Robin Lopez, and you can hide Okafor on defense better and give Okafor a nice mid range outlet for when the double team comes. There are a lot of working parts that could benefit everyone.

The main reason I think Lakers need Okafor? He loves the spot light. He will relish LA. I think that will push him to be great. I don’t know what the future holds for the Lakers, but it looks very bright when you start with Okafor.

Who Do I Take?

Again, this is an unfair question. What style are you wanting to play? What pieces do you have? What pieces are you going to have? It seems like a cop out answer but this is a very real answer. These are two different players who have the ability to dominate in different ways. Whatever team picks these guys need to recognize this and plan accordingly. If the Wolves get Okafor, they may clog the lane for Wiggins. If the Lakers get Towns, the may have him playing a low-mid game that he isn’t quite ready to shoulder. Both of these teams are in great positions, they just need to make sure they pick the player that is right for them and stick with it.

Paul Pierce – The Little Red Giant That Could

Player A – 25.4 PPG, 5.3 RPG, 4.8 APG, 1.5 STL, .451 FG%, .334 3PT%, 23.2 PER, 173.1 Win Shares. 17 All Star Teams, 2 time Finals MVP, 15 time All-NBA teams, 12 time All-NBA Defense Team

Player B – 20.7 PPG, 5 RPG, 3.7 APG, 1.4 STL, .478 FG%, .371 3PT%, 20.1 PER149.1, Win Shares. 10 All Star Teams, 1 time Finals MVP, 4 time All-NBA Teams

Player C – 27.3 PPG, 7.1 RPG, 6.9 APG, 1.7 STL, .496 FG%, .342 3PT%, 27.7 PER, 178.9 Win Shares. 11 All Star Teams, Rookie of the Year, 2 time Finals MVP, 10 All-NBA teams, 6 time All-NBA Defense Team

We can all make our own judgements about those 3 players based on the information given. It may not tell the whole story, but it gives us a nice rounded view as to what these players did in their careers. Two players stand above the other one. Keep these numbers in mind as we will revisit who these players are.

A Red Giant is the largest star in the star cycle. Our son is a Red Giant. A Red Giant is extremely visible and gives life to everything around it (or kills it, but follow me). The White Dwarf? It is a remnant of what the Red Giant used to be. It is on it’s last leg. Burned up all of the fuel it needs to continue on being a Red Giant. A White Dwarf is still visible, and can even be spotted as a major star in the night sky at times, but it will never be a Red Giant again.

Paul Pierce

In the weirdest way possible. I just described Paul Pierce. Pierce wasn’t the most massive of Red Giants, but he was a giant. You didn’t see him through all stages, but you definitely were aware of his heat and presence. This accurately describes Pierce’s career. He was always hovering around the top 10-15 players, but you never viewed him as top dog. And you know what? That’s OK. The role and career that Pierce had would make a few top 50 NBA players of all time jealous (Rick Barry agrees). See, Pierce didn’t need to be the greatest ever. He didn’t need to be the Red Giant, he just needed to be amongst the Red Giants and pick his moments to shine above the rest.

I’m sure all of this is confusing, but I will get to the point. I was always aware of Pierce. I am a Lakers fan, even if the Celtics suck I am watching them. I want to know my enemy. Pierce was a highly gifted scorer and basketball player. I never got the sense he was way more athletic than everyone else. However, he always seemed a step ahead. This is a trait that has followed Pierce into his current iteration. He is a damn smart basketball player. He doesn’t need to be Lebron with athleticism, he isn’t Curry when it comes to 3’s, and he isn’t Nash when it comes to finding the open man. Although, the thing that made Pierce, Pierce? He was somehow that when he needed to be.

When I am judging an NBA career, I don’t start with the lows. I want to see where a man was at his greatest. Viewing things this way is what made me love and hate Pierce. Instead of giving the whole history and dragging on more, I want to recount two very important pieces in Pierce’s career that made him the alpha Red Giant, even if it were only for a small time and he wasn’t the biggest Red Giant out there. Those two moments? Going head to head against Kobe and Lebron and actually winning.

Lebron James

In case you forgot about the initial stats to begin with, Lebron is Player C. Anyone who has ever watched basketball knows that Lebron’s place in the NBA hierarchy is bounds above where Pierce’s is. In 2008, Pierce showed this wasn’t the case.

Now, Pierce has had a history of going at Lebron since Lebron’s rookie year. There are multiple angles as to why, but lets just leave it at Pierce thinks Lebron is a bitch. He still does. He will probably die holding onto that thought. 2008 was around the time that everyone started crowning Lebron as an evolutionary Magic or some better version of MJ. We know this not to be true, but ESPN will do what ESPN does. Pierce hated this. He just fucking hated it. Pierce has an old man game (anything that doesn’t involve shooting 3’s or driving to the lane is apparently old now) and Lebron was the new generation of what a superstar should be. It was just great theatre at the time, even if you didn’t view Pierce as a Lebron equal.

Full disclosure: I am a stats guy. I love advanced stats. The advanced stats say Pierce wasn’t even the best guy on his team and that Kevin Garnett was more Lebron’s equal than Pierce was. I’m here to say throw that the fuck out of the window. Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Semi-Finals. Lebron threw up a 45/5/6. The supposedly 3rd best player in the series? 41/4/5. If you haven’t seen the game, you need to leave this column and go to YouTube.

Back? Great. Pierce went toe to toe with a legendary Lebron performance. We aren’t talk about just a great game, but a legendary performance that saw Lebron attacking the rim like he has lost his damn mind. A tactic that has always best suited Lebron. It was an amazing back and forth. It wasn’t a game 7 between the Celtics and the Cavs, it was a glorified street ball game between Pierce and Lebron. A fight where Pierce came out the winner. It was basketball magic and something we may never see again due to evolving play style. All I know is this: Pierce went up against a Lebron hitting his stride, and outstrided him. He was the Red Giant that game 7, even though he was nothing like Lebron’s shine throughout the season.

LeBron James

Fast forward to the 2010 Eastern Conference Finals. A clearly aging Pierce took it to Lebron on defense, who was probably the best player in the league at this point or damn close to it. Pierce only averaged 14.3 points for the series. However, he held Lebron to 21.3 points per game on 34% shooting. He was also 32. A geezer by NBA standards. A 32 year old essentially did his best lock-down impression on who is supposed to be one of the greatest players of all time. Watch the series. Pierce is huffing and puffing at almost every break. It was his final “My Red Giant is Shining Brighter Than Yours” moment. To be honest, it was my favorite. Pierce transformed into a defensive stopper specifically to counter Lebron.

Let the record state: Pierce once out-gunned Lebron in a series (no one besides Dirk has done that) and also put the defensive clamps on him (something only the entire Spurs team did). Pierce did both. To Lebron. A player clearly leagues better than him. Like I said, Red Giant, man.

Kobe Bryant

This one hits me in the feels. Kobe was the best player in the NBA. The Celtics had the big 3, but it seemed like Kobe was coming for the league after playing with piles of shit for years. Kobe had Pau, he had his Robin to his Batman. This is all fun and good, but there was that god damn The Little Red Giant That Could waiting in the wings. By the way, Kobe is Player A.

Kobe Bryant pointing at Rajon Rondo

To be fair, this was a team effort. However, Pierce being the insanely smart and old man basketball player he is, recognized one thing. This Lakers team wasn’t that talented. They had Kobe. They had Pau. That was about it. Pierce realized that if he took it to Kobe that there weren’t many other options. Pierce was on Kobe a ton. Kobe was even hid off of Pierce at time because Kobe just didn’t have the energy to be an All-NBA two way player on both ends like he needed to.

Pierce outplayed Kobe. Again, Kobe may have been the best player by all advanced comparisons, but Pierce was the guy in this series. He sealed this with an MVP. Pierce was just up to answer the Kobe challenge. Unlike Lebron (who he thinks is a bitch), Pierce really respected Kobe. Kobe respected him. It was old school Lakers and Celtics. It was a damn beautiful series.

 

Paul Pierce

I hope my analogy is clear now. Kobe and Lebron are two of the best 3 players of this generation. They were the Red Giants all of us saw. Pierce was the one Red Giant who shone every now and then on a Sportscenter clip. He was the greatest in great moments. Pierce is the only player I remember taking down two legends and standing toe to toe with them. He wanted it. He needed it. He loved it. I hate he stole a title from my Lakers, but god damnit was he treat to watch. We watched history in his battles with Kobe and Lebron. Sure, both of them went on to get the best of them. But Pierce got them first.

Boston Celtics 2008 NBA champions

And for that, Pierce’s star will forever shine. Even in it’s dying White Dwarf phase, his Red Giant beams will live on for a long time.

A Look at College Football’s First Quarter

We are now one-fourth of the way through the college football season. Ever so close to the eventual panic and hysteria that the college football playoff will assuredly bring. Before we start debating each other like we are on Hardball with Chris Matthews, lets look at some statistical norms and oddities from the season so far.

Statistics

As always, we are using everyone’s favorite advanced metrics source, Football Outsiders. The two formulas we are looking at are FEI and S&P. I will let FO describe the luscious little stats.

S&P – “The S&P+ Ratings are a college football ratings system derived from the play-by-play data of all 800+ of a season’s FBS college football games (and 140,000+ plays). There are three key components to the S&P+:

Success Rate: A common Football Outsiders tool used to measure efficiency by determining whether every play of a given game was successful or not. The terms of success in college football: 50 percent of necessary yardage on first down, 70 percent on second down, and 100 percent on third and fourth down.

IsoPPP: An explosiveness measure derived from determining the equivalent point value of every yard line (based on the expected number of points an offense could expect to score from that yard line) and, therefore, every play of a given game. NOTE: IsoPPP is in use for the first time in 2014. It looks at only the per-play value of a team’s successful plays (as defined by the Success Rate definition above); its goal is to separate altogether the efficiency component from the explosiveness component. This results in a new equation below. Success Rate now accounts for 80% of S&P below, while IsoPPP accounts for just 20%. For more information about IsoPPP, click here.

Drive Efficiency: As of February 2013, S&P+ also includes a drive-based aspect based on the field position a team creates and its average success at scoring the points expected based on that field position. It is factored in after seven weeks.
Opponent adjustments: Success Rate and PPP combine to form S&P, an OPS-like measure for football. Then each team’s S&P output for a given category (Rushing/Passing on either Standard Downs or Passing Downs) is compared to the expected output based upon their opponents and their opponents’ opponents. This is a schedule-based adjustment designed to reward tougher schedules and punish weaker ones.”

Hope you got all of that! Now lets see what FEI is.

FEI – “The Fremeau Efficiency Index (FEI) is a college football rating system based on opponent-adjusted drive efficiency. Nearly 20,000 possessions are contested annually in FBS vs. FBS games. First-half clock-kills and end-of-game garbage drives and scores are filtered out. Game Efficiency (GE) is a function of the starting field position and outcome of non-garbage possessions. Opponent adjustments are calculated with special emphasis placed on quality performances against good teams, win or lose.”

To make it a little more simple, S&P will be used for determine how good a team is at certain aspects of the game, while FEI is more suited to tell us the overall story of how good a team is. Fantastic. Onto what they say about this season.

Offense

According to S&P:

Top 5 Overall Offenses

  1. Oregon
  2. Mississippi State
  3. Michigan State
  4. West Virginia
  5. FSU

It really should shock absolutely no one that Oregon is first in overall offense. But, did you know that Mississippi State was ranked 2nd? Crazy, right? Well, two juggernauts on the same war path as last year are FSU and Alabama. FSU, despite having a game with a lousy backup, ranks in at 5th overall while Bama is right behind them at 6. A very impressive statistic also tells us that 7 of the overall top 12 offenses in the country are from the SEC, including Auburn at 11. Not bad.

Top 5 Rushing Offenses

  1. TCU
  2. NC State
  3. Arkansas
  4. Texas A&M
  5. Marshall

Now I know this isn’t the sexiest list, but this is the list. How about Texas A&M? They seem to have recovered from the Johnny Football loss quite nicely. A weird stat is (again) FSU and Bama. FSU ranks 35 while Bama ranks 20. This is weird because both were top 5 rushing offenses last year. Long season, but that is pretty far out for most teams to recover. Another oddity? Ole Miss ranks 89 in rushing offense despite ranking 12 overall in total offense.

Top 5 Passing Offense

  1. Baylor
  2. Michigan State
  3. Oregon
  4. Georgia Southern
  5. California

Again, it seems like we have had some names rise that won’t be here towards the end, but this is not a season review…yet. One VERY surprising stat is that Bama is 6th overall. Surprising because just a few weeks ago fans were all but calling for Sim’s head. Jacob Coker sucks. Lets all just move on. FYI, Florida ranks 91. Just wanted everyone to enjoy that.

Defense

According to S&P

Top 5 Overall Defense

  1. Stanford
  2. Ole Miss
  3. Baylor
  4. Louisville
  5. Oklahoma

The Ole Miss ranking is especially intriguing. They have a big matchup with Bama (ranked 6th) and may actually give their offense fits. Clemson is a surprising 9th overall ranking. Probably boosted from playing a highly ranked FSU team. On the opposite end of the ACC, Georgia Tech is ranked 101. In SEC news, Florida is ranked 63. Florida sucks. We can confirm unbiasedly.

Top 5 Rushing Defense

  1. Baylor
  2. Mississippi State
  3. Louisville
  4. Stanford
  5. Boise State

Louisville looking strong! And according to the stats, Mississippi State is going to win the SEC! Lets move on before my head explodes.

Top 5 Passing Defense

  1. Ole Miss (watch out Bama!)
  2. Baylor
  3. Stanford
  4. TCU
  5. Temple

Ole Miss apparently is tough on defense in all phases. Alabama ranks a surprising 21, given their recent history of pass rush mixed with killer safety play. FSU, who was the best defense by far last year, is ranked 81 overall. Yeah, FSU may be in some trouble. Even the stout Auburn defense from last year is ranking 52 in the pass defense department.

Top 25 According to FEI

Remember that cool stat I told you about? This is how they would rank the top 25 if it were based on stats alone.

  1. Oregon
  2. FSU
  3. Auburn
  4. Alabama
  5. Texas A&M
  6. Stanford
  7. Oklahoma
  8. USC
  9. UCLA
  10. Missouri
  11. Ole Miss
  12. Mississippi State
  13. LSU
  14. Georgia
  15. Notre Dame
  16. Baylor
  17. Ohio State
  18. BYU
  19. Clemson
  20. TCU
  21. Oklahoma State
  22. Wisconsin
  23. Michigan State
  24. Utah
  25. Nebraska

Top 5 Heisman List (My Opinion)

  1. Todd Gurley – Georgia
  2. Ameer Abdullah – Nebraska
  3. Marcus Mariota – Orgeon
  4. Amari Cooper – Bama
  5. Rashad Greene – FSU

Playoff

(1) FSU vs (4) Stanford

(2) Bama vs (3) Oklahoma

FSU vs BAMA

 

 

The Next Great QB Debate

For what seems like 20 years now, the QB debate has been between Brady and Manning. Sure, Aaron Rodgers and Drew Brees have snuck into conversations when looking at an individual season, but Manning and Brady in some form or another been at the top of mountain when discussing great QBs. The debate has always centered around Manning’s video game numbers against Brady’s lack of supporting offense and Super Bowl rings.

The Picture of Tom Brady...

A stud on and off the field.

Interestingly enough, there are two young stud QBs who are starting to shape the next great debate. Hell, one of them even plays for the team Manning did! Already, the debate is taking a very similar narrative to that of the Brady vs Manning debate. We are going to look at these two QBs and see if the debate is warranted.

By the way, if you didn’t know it was Andrew Luck vs Russell Wilson, you do now.

Andrew Luck

He’s happy to be here.

Rookie Year

Lets start off by looking at the respective signal caller’s rookie campaigns. As always, I love the stats used from Football Outsiders. DYAR (defense adjusted yards above replacement) offers a look at total value, while DVOA (defense adjusted value over average player) gives us a glimpse at value on a per play basis. Both of these ranks above an average play.

Andrew Luck for BodyArmor Superdrink photo by Monte Isom #monteisom

Already a damn good QB.

Andrew Luck posted a 54.1% completion percentage while throwing 23 TDs to 18 INTs, his rookie year. Pretty good numbers for a rookie thrown into an immediate head of the offense role. Luck also had a nice number of 5 rushing TDs. While these are nice numbers on their own, we need more context, and this is where the DYAR and DVOA come into play.

Luck ranked 19th with 194 DYAR and 19 with a -5.1% DVOA. Not so hot. While Luck did put up some nice numbers and lead his team to the playoffs, he was pretty much an overall league average QB for his rookie year. This isn’t a bad thing because he was a rookie against 10 year veterans at the hardest position in sports.

Now, onto Wilson. Wilson had a 64.1% completion percentage while throwing 26 TDs against 10 INTs. That is pretty impressive. Although, we must point out Luck had over 200 more attempts than Wilson. Wilson also added in 4 rushing TDs. This looks very impressive, but alas, we need to look at advanced metrics.

Wilson posted an 872 DYAR for an impressive 8th ranking and absurd 19.7% DVOA, which is good for 6th…in the entire league! Not to mention, Wilson also went to the playoffs. While Wilson was not the main guy for his offense, he was already on par for league elite efficiency.

Rookie Year Edge – Wilson, by a fair margin.

Sophomore Compaign

Andrew Luck saw his completion percentage jump to the elite company level of 60.2%. He also cut way down on his interceptions from 18 to 9, while throwing for 23 TDs again. Luck ran for about 80 more yards and added in 4 more rushing TDs. Again, pretty impressive numbers that seem to mark improvement. So onto the advanced metrics.

Andrew Luck saw some improvement in his advanced stats, as he saw in his normal ones. He now ranked 14th in DYAR with 650. His DVOA also rose to 16 with a DVOA of 4.6%. Again, Luck has shown improvement, but the league overall showed some improvement as well at the QB position. However, he is getting better and turning the ball over less. It must also be noted Luck throws the ball a ridiculous amount and is saddled with Trent fucking Richardson as a running back. Needless to say, he doesn’t have the talent Wilson has. Still, you have to be efficient. But his progress is what you look for in the 2nd year.

Lets just get this out of the way, Wilson won a Super Bowl and was pretty good in the game. This automatically gives him the edge. But, lets look at the stats to see if he improved upon his already top 10-QB-in-the-league performance.

RUSSELL WILSON

Wilson telling Manning to have a seat.

Wilson had a 63.1% completion percentage while throwing 26 TDs to 9 INTs. Basically, he had the same exact year throwing the ball. He did rush for more yards but only added 1 rushing TD.

Wilson saw his DYAR of of 770 for a ranking 0f 12th in the league. His DVOA was 25.4% for a ranking of 8th. While he had the same season, the league got better around him. This isn’t really the worst thing, as he is still performing as a top 10 QB. Oh yeah, who also happened to win the Super Bowl.

Sophmore year winner – Wilson, by a fair margin, again.

RUSSELL WILSON

Yeah, he is pretty good at reading a defense.

This Year

Through 3 games, Luck is completing a ridiculous 68.3% completion percentage while throwing 9 TDs and 3 INTs. He also added in a rushing TD for good measure.

His advanced stats are still climbing, and he is poised to be in top 10 territory. His DYAR is 225 for a rank of 6. His DVOA is 13.4 for a ranking of 11. Again, Luck has improved every year while unquestionably being the only reliable option on offense. This is what you look for in a superstar. It took him 3 years, but he is now in the top 10 and has shown signs of getting better and better.

Wilson is also passing for a ridiculous 69% completion percentage. Throwing for 6 TDs and 1 INT while not yet running for a TD.

Russell Wilson

Great, Wilson is catching passes now.

His DYAR is 103, falling to 16th. And his DVOA 5.2% falling him all the way to 18th. While he has been good at face value, his advanced metrics say he has falling to the middle of the pack so far.

This year leader: Luck.

Colts QB Andrew Luck avoids LB Perry Riley and looks to throw.

So, Who is the Winner?

As of right now, Wilson owns this debate. He has had the better numbers and has won a Super Bowl. However, Luck is showing a pattern of getting better and better every year. I have a striking feeling Luck may even the playing field by years end or by next year. This is going to be awesome going forward. One thing is for sure, we are all winners being able to watch the next 2 Great Quarterbacks.

Expectations and Realities: Week 4 AP Top 25 College Football Teams

Welcome to the 4th week of breaking down the top 25 teams’ performance compared to their expectations as predicted by vegasinsiders.com. Results from previous weeks can be found at the bottom.

This week Louisville and Virginia Tech fell out of the top 25 and will not be included in this week’s results. Instead they will be replaced with Nebraska and Oklahoma State.

Week 4 Results

In the Table 1 and Figure 1 below you will find the 25 teams ranked in the AP preseason poll, the predicted spread, the actual result, and the percent error. The teams are sorted based on how well the team performed based on the spread for that game. Teams with a positive percent error performed better than expected, or covered the spread, while teams with a negative percent error underperformed, or did not cover the spread. Note: this is not a measure if a team won or lost a game, rather a measure of how well the team won or lost the game.

Rank Team Opponent Spread Actual %Error
1 Florida State Clemson -9.5 -8 -16%
2 Oregon Washington State -23.5 -7 -70%
3 Alabama Florida -14 -21 50%
4 Oklahoma West Virginia -8 -12 50%
5 Auburn Kansas State -7.5 -6 -20%
6 Texas A&M Southern Methodist -34.5 -52 51%
8 LSU Mississippi State -7 5 -171%
11 Michigan State Eastern Michigan -43.5 -59 36%
13 Georgia Trojans -41.5 -66 59%
14 South Carolina Vanderbilt -22 -14 -36%
18 Missouri Indiana -15 4 -127%
19 Wisconsin Bowling Green -26.5 -51 92%
20 Kansas State Auburn 7.5 6 20%
21 Brigham Young Virginia -15 -8 -47%
22 Clemson Florida State 9.5 8 16%
24 Nebraska Miami-Florida -8 -10 25%

Baylor, Notre Dame, Ole Miss, UCLA, Arizona State, Stanford, USC, and Ohio State each had bye weeks. They are not included in the Table 1 or Figure 1. Wisconsin beat the spread by the largest margin at 92%. LSU did not beat the spread with the worst margin at -171% after being upset by Mississippi State. Week 4 was important for the SEC rivalry between Alabama and Auburn. Week 4 was the first week that Alabama beat the spread at a 50% error and the first week that Auburn did not beat the spread at -20% error.

Weekly Summary

Now that we are past the 3rd week of college football we have enough data for some statistics. Every team has played at least three games, which is the minimum amount of data required for statistics. A single factor analysis of variance (ANOVA) reveals that there is no statistical difference in mean percent error across the first four weeks of play (p=0.829). The results of head to head Tukey multiple comparison statistical matchups can be found here. This means that, on average, all teams have performed in a similar manner relative to their expectations. This isn’t unexpected due to the variable nature of the data.

While there may not be any differences now, there might be some practical information to be taken from the data. Below are five boxplots to aid in understanding the data. Each boxplot contains five of the top 25 teams in order to reduce crowding.

Figure 2 reports the percent error for the first five teams. As stated earlier, this is the first week that Alabama has beaten the spread. Will they continue or revert back to their previous three weeks? Will Auburn continue to beat the spread after failing to do so for the first time this season? Baylor had a bye week but expect them to continue their trend of beating the spread this week vs Iowa State. Arizona State and Brigham Young are not consistently beating the spread.

Figure 2 – Boxplots of Percent Error for Alabama, Arizona State, Auburn, Baylor, and Brigham Young.

There are three important details in Figure 3. Firstly, Florida State has yet to beat the spread this season. However it should be noted there percent error for Florida State has increased over their three games indicating they might beat the spread in the near future. The performance of Clemson, Georgia, and Kansas State has been too variable. This is the first week that LSU did not beat the spread.

Figure 3 – Boxplots of Percent Error for Clemson, Florida State, Georgia, Kansas State, and LSU.

The data in Figure 4 is more straightforward. This group of teams has a variable percent error. Michigan State is scoring close to the spread each week. Missouri and Notre Dame are mostly beating the spread. Ohio State beat the spread in two of their three games, but the week they didn’t beat the spread was by a large margin (-240%) skewing their plot.

Figure 4 – Boxplots of Percent Error for Michigan State, Missouri, Nebraska, Notre Dame, and Ohio State

Figure 5 has two groups. Oklahoma, Ole Miss and Oregon have performed consistently each week. Meanwhile, Oklahoma State and South Carolina have performed inconsistently. Oklahoma has beaten the spread the past three weeks while only not beating the spread during week one with a -4% error. Ole Miss has beaten the spread by 52% or more this season.

Figure 5 – Boxplots of Percent Error for Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Ole Miss, Oregon and South Carolina.

Figure 6 is an interesting group. Firstly, Stanford beat the spread in weeks one and three but fell short of the spread in week two by 200%. Texas A&M has beaten the spread by 51% or more in every week but week three. UCLA has not beaten the spread this season. Furthermore, UCLA hasn’t surpassed the -58% mark. USC beat the spread by more than 100% in weeks one and two but failed to beat the spread by more than 200% in week three. Wisconsin failed to beat the spread by -14% and -17% in weeks one and two, but after coming off a bye in week three smashed the spread by 92% in week 4.

Figure 6 – Boxplots of Percent Error for Stanford, Texas A&M, UCLA, USC, and Wisconsin.

This week’s takeaways: If Baylor, Oklahoma, and Ole Miss keep the same pace, expect them to beat the spread. UCLA won’t cover the spread if they continue the same pattern. Auburn and Alabama have broken their streak. The rest of the top 25 teams are not demonstrating any patterns after four weeks.

 

Important notes:

  1. Spreads can be found at vegasinsider.com.
  2. Percent error is calculated as (Spread-Actual)/Abs(Spread)
  3. I understand that spreads are typically used for gambling purposes and that the lines move. However, it is important for the spreads to reasonably accurate in order for the house or bookie to make money. Lines are a consistent source of weekly predictions.

 

Previous results – week 1 week 2 week 3

Expectations and Realities: Week 3 AP Top 25 College Football Teams

Welcome to the 3rd week of breaking down the top 25 teams’ performance compared to their expectations. Here are the results of week 1 and week 2 if want to see previous performance comparisons. In that article, you will find comparisons of vegasinsider.com’s lines for the AP top 25 teams to the actual scores for that week’s games. Here are the results of week 3.

This week Nebraska and North Carolina fell out of the top 25 and will not be included in this week’s results.

In the Table 1 and Figure 1 below you will find the 25 teams ranked in the AP preseason poll, the predicted spread, the actual result, and the percent error. The teams are sorted based on how well the team performed based on the spread for that game. Teams with a positive percent error performed better than expected, or covered the spread, while teams with a negative percent error underperformed, or did not cover the spread. Note: this is not a measure if a team won or lost a game, rather a measure of how well the team won or lost the game. For example, Oklahoma was expected to beat Tennessee by 21 but outscored them by 24 points. Oklahoma performed 14% better than predicted.

Rank Team Opponent Spread Actual %Error
24 South Carolina Georgia 6.5 -9.5 246%
20 Missouri Central Florida -10.5 -28 167%
22 Ohio State Kent State -31 -66 113%
14 Ole Miss LA-Lafayette -27 -41 52%
8 Baylor Buffalo -33.5 -42 25%
15 Stanford Army -30 -35 17%
4 Oklahoma Tennessee -21 -24 14%
10 LSU Louisiana Monroe -31 -31 0%
3 Alabama Southern Miss -46 -40 -13%
7 Texas A&M Rice -32.5 -28 -14%
16 Arizona State Colorado -16.5 -14 -15%
2 Oregon Wyoming -43.5 -34 -22%
21 Louisville East Carolina -14.5 -10 -31%
11 Notre Dame Purdue -30 -16 -47%
25 Brigham Young Houston -17 -8 -53%
12 UCLA Texas -8.5 -3 -65%
9 USC Boston College -17 23 -235%
6 Georgia South Carolina -6.5 9.5 -246%
17 Virginia Tech East Carolina -10 17 -270%

Spreads come from vegasinsider.com.

Florida State, Auburn, Michigan State, Wisconsin, Clemson, and Kansas State each had bye weeks. They are not included in the table. LSU is the first team in 3 weeks to push the spread. South Carolina exceeded predictions by the largest margin with the upset over Georgia. Virginia Tech had the worst performance after being upset by East Carolina.

Now that we are in the 3rd week of college football we have enough data for some statistics. Teams with byes this week will not be included in this analysis due to insufficient data. Georgia is also excluded since they had a bye week last week. A single factor analysis of variance (ANOVA) reveals that there is no statistical difference in percent error across the first three weeks of play (p=0.556). The results of head to head Tukey multiple comparison statistical matchups can be found here. This means that, on average, all teams have performed in a similar manner relative to their expectations.

While there may not be any differences now, there might be some practical information to be taken from the data. Below are four boxplots to aid in understanding the data. Figure 2 shows the percent error for top 25 teams that have played at least three games. Typically, I would not show this sort of figure. The graph is crowded. However, notice how BYU’s average percent error dwarfs the other teams. This is skewed due to their week two game vs Texas. They were expected to lose by one point but ended up winning by a convincing 34 points. For now, this is considered an outlier and BYU is removed from the analysis. The remaining 17 teams are portrayed in Figures 3 through 5.

Figure 2 – Boxplots of Percent Error for AP Top 25 Teams that Have Played 3 or More Games

There are three important details in Figure 3. Firstly, that the percent error is relatively variable, except for Baylor. Baylor has a median error rate of 36% and has exceeded expectations for all three weeks. Next notice that, so far, Alabama has been underperforming without a single positive error rate in the first three weeks. Finally, LSU has been meeting or exceeding expectations in all of three weeks.

Figure 3 – Boxplots of Percent Error for Alabama, Arizona State, Baylor, Louisville and LSU

The data in Figure 4 is more straightforward. Of the six teams pictured, only Ole Miss is consistently winning against the spread with percent errors of 120%, 105%, and 52% for weeks one, two and three respectively. The percent errors for the other teams in Figure 4 are too variable for any discernible patterns.

Figure 4 – Boxplots of Percent Error for Missouri, Notre Dame, Ohio State, Oklahoma, Ole Miss, and Oregon

With the exception of UCLA, the percent error for teams in Figure 5 is too great. Each team has had weeks were they beat the spread and others where they did not. However, UCLA has consistently not beaten the spread with a median percent error of -65%.

Figure 5 – Boxplots of Percent Error for South Carolina, Stanford, Texas A&M, UCLA, USC, and Virginia Tech

This week’s takeaways: If Baylor, LSU, and Ole Miss keep the same pace, bet against the spread. Bet that Alabama or UCLA won’t cover the spread if they continue the same pattern.

 

Important notes:

  1. Spreads can be found at vegasinsider.com.
  2. Percent error is calculated as (Spread-Actual)/Abs(Spread)
  3. I understand that spreads are typically used for gambling purposes and that the lines move. However, it is important for the spreads to reasonably accurate in order for the house or bookie to make money. Lines are a consistent source of weekly predictions.

Expectations and Realities: Week 2 AP Top 25 College Football Teams

Last week I reported how top 25 teams performed relative to their expectations. In that article I compared vegasinsider.com’s lines for the AP top 25 teams to the actual scores for that week’s games. Here is week 2’s comparison.

During the first week of college football, Washington was the only team to drop from the top 25. Louisville replaced them for the 25th spot. Because of this, Washington was not included this week.

In the table below you will find the 25 teams ranked in the AP preseason poll, the predicted spread, the actual result, and the percent error. The teams are sorted based on how well the team performed based on the spread for that game. Teams with a positive percent error performed better than expected while teams with a negative percent error underperformed. Note: this is not a measure if a team won or lost a game, rather a measure of how well the team won or lost the game. For example, Texas A&M was predicted to beat Lamar by 46.5 points but outscored them by 70 points. Texas A&M performed 50% better than predicted.

Relative Performance of Week 2 AP Top 25 College Football Teams

Rank Team Opponent Spread Actual %Error
16 Notre Dame Michigan -4 -31 675%
24 Missouri Toledo -3.5 -25 614%
14 USC Stanford 3 -3 200%
15 Ole MIss Vanderbilt -18.5 -38 105%
23 Clemson South Carolina State -34 -66 94%
4 Oklahoma Tulsa -24.5 -45 84%
12 LSU Sam Houston State -32 -56 75%
9 Texas A&M Lamar -46.5 -70 51%
17 Arizona State New Mexico -24.5 -35 43%
3 Oregon Michigan State -13.5 -19 41%
10 Baylor Northwestern State -46.5 -64 38%
5 Auburn San Jose State -34 -46 35%
25 Louisville Murray State -35.5 -45 27%
6 Georgia Bye 0 0 0%
2 Alabama Florida Atlantic -42 -41 -2%
18 Wisconsin Western Illinois -41 -34 -17%
21 South Carolina East Carolina -14.5 -10 -31%
7 Michigan State Oregon 13.5 19 -41%
1 Florida State Citadel -56.5 -25 -56%
20 Kansas State Iowa State -12 -4 -67%
11 UCLA Memphis -22.5 -7 -69%
22 North Carolina San Diego State -14.5 -4 -72%
19 Nebraska McNeese State -35.5 -7 -80%
13 Stanford USC -3 3 -200%
8 Ohio State Virginia Tech -10 14 -240%

Use the following chart to help visualize the data in the table.

Many teams played easy opponents during week 2 as you can tell by the number of 30+ point spreads. However, there were some games that were predicted to be close. The most surprising win this week, for a top 25 team, comes from Notre Dame’s 31-0 shutout over Michigan. Notre Dame was favored by 4 points. This indicates that it was expected to be a close game that instead resulted in a blowout.

The first 14 teams in the table exceeded expectations while the bottom 11 underperformed.The top 3 overachievers this week were Notre Dame (675%), Missouri (614%), and USC (200%). The top 3 underperformers this week were Ohio State (-240%), Stanford (-200%), and Nebraska (-80%).

 

Important notes:

1. Spreads can be found at vegasinsider.com.

2. Percent error is calculated as

3. I understand that spreads are typically used for gambling purposes and that the lines move. However, it is important for the spreads to reasonably accurate in order for the house or bookie to make money. Lines are a consistent source of weekly predictions

How Good is Cam Newton?

Cam Newton is an overall number 1 pick, and he now can add quarterback of a playoff team to his resume’. Newton is already being credited for the Panthers’ 2013 success where they finished 12-4.  In this same season, Newton is credited for his increase in productivity compared to the year before. This is how it goes in football. QBs get all the chicks but also lose the chicks when the team play suffers.

When the Panthers were disappointing the previous years, all you heard were stories about his immaturity and how he doesn’t take the game seriously. Fast forward one incredible defensive season later, Cam is now the next Tom Brady and about to ring off a series of Super Bowl wins. The narrative changes with team very quickly.

Cam Newton training with Chris Weinke at IMG Academy

Superstar? The numbers say average.

I personally found that the turnaround had more to do with the Panther’s incredible defense. Per Football Outsiders, the Panthers defense ranked 3rd in DVOA. DVOA, in this instance, measures just how good a defense is on a per play basis. The Panthers ranked 3rd allowing -18.0% less value per play than the average team. The Seahawks were number one with a legendary DVOA of -30.0%. While the Panthers weren’t the Seahawks, they were pretty damn good. The Panthers were the number 1 overall pass defense on DVOA, even better than the vaunted Seahawks. When we are talking about a clear top 3 defense, you are going to win games.

Carolina Panthers defense tackles RB Alfred Morris (46).

Here are the real superstars of the Panthers.

Back to Cam Newton. How much of a help was he in obtaining this 12-4 turnaround? And how does he stack up against others? Lets have a look shall we.

Defense-Adjusted Yards Above Replacement

DYAR tells us exactly that. How many yards, adjusted for defense, is a QB worth over a league average replacement. Newton places a very pedestrian 17th with a DYAR of 421. It definitely speaks well that he is an above average player, but at a 17 ranking, he seems to be only that, slightly above average. Andy Dalton and Carson Palmer are just ahead of Newton in these rankings. Hardly superstar status (although Cincy feels the need to pay Dalton like he is one).

Andy Dalton

To say Dalton didn’t deserve his contract is an understatement.

Defense-Adjusted Value Over Average

DVOA represents a per play measurement of how good a QB is over an average QB in the same situation. Newton actually falls back a little bit to a 19 ranking with a small 1.7% more value than an average player. Again, above average but ever so slightly. These rankings put Newton behind Josh McCown and in a league with Dalton, Palmer, and Ryan Fitzpatrick. If we are giving Cam credit, the credit seems to be vastly overstated.

Cam Newton

Cam needs to hone his passing skills.

Cam’s Passing

Cam Newton training with Chris Weinke at IMG Academy

Having seen Cam’s passing numbers, he honestly looks like a very league average QB. However, he does do some extras to bump up his passing value and overall value (which we will get to). He had a very strong 24TDs to only 13 INTs. That’s a positive ratio that is more indicative of a top 10 QB. He needs to throw more TDs, but as long as his INTs are down, it’s a major plus.

At this point, Newton probably sits as the 15th best passer in the league. I would place Andy Dalton ahead of him, but Palmer and Fitzpatrick don’t quite bring his low INT rate skill. C+ passing grade.

Cam’s Running

Now here is where Cam shines a little bit more. Cam has a DYAR of 102 for a rank of 5th. No matter how you slice it, picking up extra yards on the ground is a valuable skill and he excels at it. His DVOA falls to 24th, however, that is a case of him taking off too much. He can get the yards, but he needs to reel it back in from time to time and make sure each play is getting maximum value. Newton had 6 TDs running it, which is a huge plus. He also had 2 fumbles, but that is to be expected. Still a nice ratio of scoring to turnovers.

Newton is a good runner. I would give his rushing a B+.

Cam Newton Jersey

So Where Does He Sit?

Cam Newton is no superstar, and he had minimal to do with the Panthers turnaround. He shouldn’t receive the praise and credit, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t bring value. Overall, I would say Cam Newton is somewhere between the 12th and 16th best QB in the league. He is good but only slightly good. You see a lot of positives in his game and you hope that he continues to grow.

But please, hold the superstar praise for when he actually deserves it.