Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Winning the SEC West: Inside the Numbers

Let's get the obvious out of the way first: The hype leading up to the 2009 football season is something that Oxford hasn't seen in decades. For the first time in years, the Rebels will field an explosive offense with a stout defense and experienced special teams. There's legitimate talk of the Rebels making the program's first appearance in the SEC Championship game.

But what will it take to make it to Atlanta? Besides just winning more games than divisional opponents and a little bit of luck along the way, what do the Rebels need to do on the field to put themselves in that position?

Using the always awesome cfbstats.com, I took a look at the SEC Western Division winners from the last 5 years and some key metrics. See below for how the quintet compares in Offensive Yards Per Play, Defensive Yards Per Play, Run/Pass Ration, Turnover Margin, Offensive Third Down Conversion Rate, Defensive Third Down Conversion Rate, Offensive Points per Game, and Defensive Points Per Game.
So what do the numbers say? For one, turnover margin is not necessarily as important as many think it is... just look at LSU from 2007 (+20) and 2005 (-9). It also points to a reliance on a strong running game as each team had at least a 1.38/1 run/pass ratio. The 2004 Auburn Tigers had a 1.8/1 ratio. Not surprisingly, they also point to a strong defense that can get off the field in 3rd down situations. None of the last 5 winners has allowed 20ppg or more than 4.7 ypp.

Another interesting note is how comparable last year's Rebel team was to the previous winners. And, just for some sadistic fun, I threw up the numbers from the 0-8 team.
Yep, last year's team was much better. The question is, of course, can this year's Rebels maintain that explosiveness on both sides of the ball with the losses of Peria Jerry, Michael Oher, and Mike Wallace? Peria will certainly be missed, but with the depth the Rebels have stockpiled along the defensive front, that unit will be okay. Patching up the holes on the offensive line certainly present some issues, but talent is there and Mike Markuson is one of the best in the business. If a legitimate deep threat steps up to replace Mike Wallace, there's no reason to think that this year's offense won't be as good if not better than last year's.

Perhaps most telling in this comparison is the difference in the number of plays we ran on offense, and under a much healthier run/pass ratio. As bad as our QB situation was in Orgeron's entire tenure, we still threw the ball more times than we ran it in 2007, mostly because we were behind so big so early.

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