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In case you missed it: KU and college football talk for those at work

OK, so you saw the latest Spodcasters episode with Bill Connelly of Football Outsiders on KUsports.com, but you never took the time to listen to it.

Now, you’re at work, and you can’t listen for fear that your boss might fire you if you put in headphones.

No problem. Below, I’ve summarized some of the most interesting things I took from the chat with Connelly earlier this week.

For those that don’t know, Connelly studies the advanced statistics in college football and writes for the college portion of the 2010 Football Outsiders Almanac, which was released last week.

Here are some of the topics we discussed.

Two of the best predictive factors for a college football team’s future success is past success (especially in the last three to five years) and recent recruiting rankings.

In the Football Outsiders Almanac, KU has a predicted mean win total of 7.4. The numbers project a 7-5 record for the Jayhawks and a 5-3 record in conference, which would put them at second place in the Big 12 North.

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Because the FO Almanac is based all on statistics, the projections don’t take into account coaching changes (like KU’s). Connelly believes a lot of times when a coaching change occurs, expectations lower in the first year. For the Almanac, KU’s program (recent history) rank was 39th, and its recruiting rank was 41st. Because those are two of the best predictive factors of future success, KU ranks relatively high (49th) in the preseason ranking.

• KU’s schedule ranking in the FO Almanac was 38th last year. This year, it’s 89th. Obviously, that makes for many more winnable games this season.

• Schedule often plays a bigger factor than we give it credit for. Connelly brought up the example of Tennessee. Though the Volunteers are ranked 20th in the FO Almanac, they play seven top-25 teams this year. Because of that, UT is only projected to go 7-5 (like KU) even though its projected ranking is much higher.

Another positive KU has going for it is recent offensive success. Though KU had a “down” year offensively last season, the Jayhawks still ranked 42nd in the FO Almanac’s offensive rating.

Though Todd Reesing, Kerry Meier, Dezmon Briscoe and Jake Sharp are all gone from last year’s team, the Almanac only takes into account lost starters. KU did lose big names, but the Jayhawks still return seven offensive starters and seven defensive starters.

A team like Texas may fall back a bit offensively because of extreme success on passing downs*. Last year, the Longhorns ranked 12th in the Almanac’s offensive rating, but second in passing downs. Passing downs success is usually not something that is sustainable from year to year.

* — Passing downs are second-and-8 or more, third-and-5 or more, fourth-and-5 or more.

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“Kansas, on the other hand, despite Meier and Briscoe, they weren’t too successful on passing downs,” Connelly said. “Their overall offensive success seemed a little maintainable, but obviously, that’s going to depend upon Johnathan Wilson, Toben Opurum and all the new skill position players to at least maintain a little bit of that.”

KU needs most improvement in rush defense. The Jayhawks ranked 112th in the Almanac’s rush defense rating, which was easily last in the Big 12.

“That’s a case where returning most of your defensive line, which Kansas does this year ... really might not be a good thing,” Connelly said. “They really need help on the defensive line and in the front seven overall.”

In comparison, KU’s pass defense ranked 53rd in the Almanac.

“(The Jayhawks) gave up a ton of yards on first down. They gave up a ton of yards on the ground. ... It just really handicapped Kansas overall,” Connelly said. “ ... When you struggle against the run so much, you have to overcompensate, and it makes you vulnerable in passing situations as well.”

Two other factors that are usually not easily repeatable year to year by teams are fumbles and interceptions. The percentage of fumbles recovered in a year is, for the most part, is out of a team’s control, but it can have a huge impact on the final record of a team.

The FO Almanac rankings are not kind to Kansas State, which is predicted to go 4-8 overall and 1-7 in conference. Part of that is KSU’s program hasn’t been successful in recent years (program rank of 72nd) and also hasn’t recruited at an extremely high level either (recruiting rank of 54th).

KSU’s underlying numbers last year weren’t great either, as the Almanac’s numbers ranked the Wildcats’ defense 93rd and their pass defense 104th, while KSU’s offense was ranked 95th.

“There’s no way they should have won six games last year,” Connelly said. “The numbers aren’t sympathetic to a coach being able to pull a magic act.”

How did KSU do it? The Wildcats had a great turnover margin (+7) and also played two FCS opponents.

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“They seemed to outperform what the statistics would have suggested,” Connelly said. “Part of that could be (KSU coach) Bill Snyder. Really good coaches, you can overachieve you projections because you know how to win close games.”

Another team that is being projected to fall back this year is Iowa State, which the Almanac projects at 3-9 overall and 1-7 in the Big 12.

The Cyclones haven’t had much recent success (81st in the Almanac’s program rank); they also forced more fumbles last year than any team in the nation.

“It’s just really hard to duplicate that as your main mode for success,” Connelly said.

Connelly’s research has shown that lost talent on the offensive line doesn’t have as much of an effect on a team as many people would think. That’s part of the reason that Texas Tech (No. 16) and Oklahoma State (No. 32) have such high rankings in the Almanac despite having inexperience up front.

Texas Tech’s high ranking has a lot to do with its recent success (Almanac’s program ranking of 16th) and a top-40 ranking in recruiting.

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Though many people do not believe recruiting rankings mean much, Connelly’s research shows that they actually are somewhat reliable when predicting a team’s future. OSU coach Mike Gundy has recruited extremely well in the last five years (24th in Almanac’s recruiting ranking), and the Cowboys’ defense was actually its strength last year, whether people realized it or not (19th in Almanac’s defensive ranking).

“If they can make something out of the offensive line, they have talent everywhere else,” Connelly said.

Connelly’s research has shown that college players make the most improvement between their freshman and sophomore seasons and also their sophomore and junior seasons.

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Comments

DallasHawk 4 years ago

Thanks Jesse. I always enjoy the spodcasters, but this is much more convenient.

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BillConnelly1 4 years ago

In case anybody is interested, here is the column I wrote last February in regard to how strong the correlations are between recruiting and success: http://www.footballoutsiders.com/varsity-numbers/2010/varsity-numbers-recruiting-spectacular

Thank as always, Jesse!

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actorman 4 years ago

This is great, Jesse. I don't have much of a chance to listen to the spodcasters like I used to, so I would love it if you could do this type of thing on a fairly regular basis.

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Mike Kendall 4 years ago

Thanks, Jesse, for great analysis! I have said this a million/zillion times---if the Jayhawks could come up with some decent defense, they will be in games and hopefully, be in position to win those games, especially, the close games. That game at Baylor---could be a close game. Defense might win the game. That happens to be KU's first Conference game. Just sayin', you know?

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LAJayhawk 4 years ago

Thanks, Jesse. Interesting info. Although...

"Schedule often plays a bigger factor than we give it credit for."

--I'm not quite sure who is actually UNDERVALUING strength of schedule. That's one of the most talked about aspects of a season and a team's success (strength of conference, etc, etc). We, as Kansas fans, know this all too well with the "weak schedule" crap we heard the entire Orange Bowl season.

"Connelly’s research has shown that college players make the most improvement between their freshman and sophomore seasons and also their sophomore and junior seasons."

--I don't mean to be flippant to an otherwise interesting topic, but all I could think when I read that is, "Thanks, captain obvious." Does he also have statistics showing that a tree tends to do better when not being hit by an axe?

Okay, I'm done being an argumentative d-bag. =) Good work as always, Jesse.

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