So I found myself on FootballOutsiders.com this afternoon, musing about the stats as I often do. I've tried to use their stuff every week to keep people familiar with the concepts, since I believe strongly in what they do and the approach of looking at things beyond the simple, absolute numbers repeated ad nauseam by the media. Yes, Mr. Announcerman, the SEC's defenses do allow fewer yards/points than the rest of the country. But doesn't that say something about their offenses, as well?
We need a more complete look, and that's exactly what FEI and its cohort S&P+ try to do. By adjusting for pace, situation, and competition, these metrics aim for a more holistic measure than you get from simple averages. And over time, as information begins to collect, I think you get a much better picture, if also one that is much more complicated, than you do from traditional measures. This is still a relatively nascent field because we don't have thousands of discrete events like in baseball. Or, we have them, but we don't really know how to identify all the moving parts.
I'll freely admit that at this point in the season we don't have a lot of data, but the data we do have tells an interesting story, however limited that story might be. And now that we're through 25% of the season and nearly all of the conference has played their final non-conference game (TCU, Kansas, Oklahoma, and Kansas State all have one remaining), we can probably draw some inferences from what we see.
Before going any further, who do you think are the best four teams in the country? Probably some order of Alabama, Florida State, Oregon, and LSU, right? FEI largely agrees, putting FSU first in overall efficiency, Alabama second, and Oregon eighth. It doesn't seem to like LSU all that much because it doesn't buy their offense. That mirrors my own thought, as well. They only scored 12 points against Auburn, after all.
What about the Big XII? Did you say KSU, WVU, Texas, and Oklahoma? FEI thinks you should have, as it has them ranked 4th, 6th, 5th, and 10th, respectively. But I bet you didn't say Texas Tech, who it has ranked 9th. Nothing's perfect. Here are the complete rankings for the conference:
You probably noticed that if these ranks hold, and they almost certainly won't, that's an extremely good conference with 8 teams in the top 26. No other conference, not even mighty SEC, comes close to that number. There's probably two things going on here: 1) the Big XII played a weak non-conference schedule that this doesn't fully adjust for, though it does somewhat (and it doesn't count games against FCS schools, before you say it), and 2) the Big XII is legitimately good this season. These numbers don't definitively prove the latter, but I think they help the argument along. No, we probably don't have the powerhouse school that is top 20 in all categories. We don't here, either. But we do have several schools that are extremely strong in one respect and decent in another. Our strength as an offense is predictably, and stereotypically, offense. The fact that the conference as a whole is so strong helps each team within it in terms of strength of schedule and projected numbers. As long as we're looking like a Murderer's Row, our teams will get more credit for the damage we do to each other.
As for Baylor, I'm not really surprised by anything I see here except FPA (Field Position Advantage). The number itself doesn't surprise me since I've commented recently about how good we've been on special teams and two our our four turnovers have actually occurred in the endzone, it's surprise because of how good we've been. Baylor fans have long lamented our hideously awful special teams, and they as a unit are much improved.
In the rest of the Big XII, I'm extremely skeptical of Tech's rankings across the board since they've played 3 of the 7 Sisters this season. I don't think their offense under Seth Doege is second in the country material. UT's high OE is probably over-reliant on their showing against Ole Miss, since that was, based on everything we know, an extreme outlier. David Ash isn't going to throw for 4 bills every time out.
If you're wondering how a team like Oklahoma is ranked above other, possibly better teams with better rankings, remember what I told you about preseason projections. Once we get to week 7 they'll be gone completely, but until then, we have to deal with their effects. OU and OSU are probably both above us for that reason.
Anyway, I thought it was interesting to look at these stats at the 1/4 pole. Hopefully the conference as a whole continues to look so strong.