Art's Best Team Ever...?
A couple weeks ago, I started to wonder about the claim I've heard quite a few times over the past few months: that this is Art Briles' best team yet. That's a claim that is hard to quantify exactly, but I wondered, if we could compare the performance of this year's team against the previous two (championship) years, would that at least give us a hint as to where the 2015 Bears stand? Now, obviously, the fact that Seth is done for the season changes things a bit, but part of the reason we have hope that Stidham will be able to carry the torch for this team is this claim that they are in fact the best we've ever seen, which means there's still probably value in figuring out if that's true.
So, that's what this post is all about... and you should definitely stick around, because the results might surprise you!
In order to try to make sure I was comparing apples to apples, I went about this in two different ways: first, I compared the various teams' performance in their first four conference games (game 1 vs. game 1, etc.); and second, I compared their performance against the same four opponents that Baylor has faced so far this year (2015 Baylor/Kansas vs. 2014 Baylor/Kansas, etc). I wasn't exactly sure which data would be most representative, so I stuck to the four major box score highlights: Points, Total Yards, 1st Downs, and Turnovers. Of course, I'm aware that we don't really like "total yards" as much of an indicator when we compare Big 12 teams to other conferences. However, I'm comparing Baylor against itself here, so I figure that actually levels it out as a benchmark.
The really interesting thing, however (and what makes me think this might have some value), is that, regardless of the way you compare them, the results were broadly the same.
Let's get into it, shall we?
First, let's look at how the Bears' first four conference games stack up against those of the previous two years:
Is that what you would have expected?
Because it sure as heck surprised me! I had expected to see that we were better, in every measure, than last year's team. But what I did not expect was that we have actually been worse so far this year, in every measure but one, than we were in 2013.
Of course, the most shocking part of that is that the difference is only really pronounced when we look at what our opponents' stats. In other words, the part of the comparison that actually seems to show decline between 2013 and 2015, is our defense.
That's right, the defense.
The defense that boasts possibly the best front four we've ever seen. The defense with Shawn Oakman, and Andrew Billings, and Xavien Howard and a Ryan Reid who actually turns his head -- that defense has allowed opponents to score more points, gain more yards, and win more first downs than Briles' first championship team had by this point in 2013.
"BUT," you may argue, "These are different opponents; you can't compare performance against different teams."
Well, let's see what it looks like when we compare our performance against the same four opponents:
In this comparison, the decline extends even to the offense. I know! It amazed me, too! But clearly, against the same four teams in 2013, Petty, Seastrunk and Wright accumulated far more yards than Russell, Linwood and Coleman have in 2015 -- and it's not even close! 3004 vs. 2522! That's almost a 500 yard margin.
They also scored more points (266 vs. 236), and won more first downs (133 vs. 120) -- against the same four conference opponents.
So, what are we to make of all of this?
The honest answer is: I'm not quite sure.
I get that, when folks say this is the best team that Art Briles has had at Baylor, they mean something more than points scored or 1st downs won. They are typically speaking in terms of raw talent and ability, or recruiting rankings, or the ability to wow you when you watch them -- and, on that score, I would definitely agree. There are more freakish athletes, more guys with higher baseline talent, and there certainly seem to be more folks with that "Wow!" factor, than any year before.
If we're talking about production, about what that talent actually does on the field, in a measurable, comparable way, it seems the picture looks a bit different -- at least so far. Maybe that picture is not too unlike the one we get from Shawn Oakman -- incredible potential that has not yet been fully lived up to in a consistent manner on the field.
One thing I do find interesting, though?
We sit, statistically speaking, right between the 2013 and 2014 seasons. Given that both ended in Big 12 championships, I guess I'm okay with that. ;)
What are your thoughts?
Do you think this doesn't quite tell the whole picture? Are there other data you would have used instead? Was this all just a colossal waste of time?
Let me know in the comments!