Over the last 11 years, Arkansas Razorbacks Fans had front row seats to watch BCS Champions play as the Hogs have taken the field against 6 of the last 11 BCS Champions and three other BCS Champions in seasons adjacent to each opponent’s title run (Oklahoma, Texas, and USC). However, our experiences with them leave us little to draw any more specific conclusions about BCS Champions as a group. The Razorbacks lead Auburn last year in the fourth quarter, but the Hogs’ defense simply could not stop the Tiger Offense, and the Razorbacks’ Offense made mistakes but was also cold-cocked with some terrible officiating. Against Alabama in 2009 Hog Fans had a lot of hope that the game with Crimson Tide would be an upset, but realistically transitions on offense and the gaping holes on Arkansas’ defense did not lend themselves to a good result. In Bobby Petrino’s first year, Florida was in the middle of a murderer’s row schedule of Alabama, Texas, Florida, and Auburn back to back. The Gators did well on offense and on defense while the Razorbacks continued to learn Coach Petrino’s schemes. In 2007 Darren McFadden and company brought out the wood and handed unlikely BCS Champion LSU one of their two losses on the season in triple overtime, while in 2006, the Razorbacks started with another embarrassing loss from USC before reeling off 10 straight wins to face eventual BCS Champion Florida in the SEC Championship. The Razorbacks had their chances, but Florida scored 14 fourth quarter points to take the win. Going back further Arkansas had both close losses (against defending Champion Oklahoma 10-3 in 2002 Cotton Bowl, the season after the Sooners’ Championship, and a 22-20 loss to Texas in 2004, the season before they-who-must-not-be-named’s last championship) and were manhandled (against Champion LSU in 2003, 55-24, Defending Champion LSU in 2004, 43-14, and Defending Champion USC in 2005, 70-17) Looking back we could describe the great contrast between BCS Champions and the Razorbacks in some years, but in others the Champions didn’t look too differently from us. From most perspectives we would describe the keys to any particular game as the opponent’s great play in one or more facets of the game or in terms of some failure in Arkansas’ organization. Although they were great experience, but they left us with a jumbled mess of considerations now that the Arkansas Razorbacks are in the BCS National Championship discussion.
Predicting the BCS Champion at the beginning of the year based upon anticipated wins and losses is loads of fun. You know how all that works and why. Even without a close study of opponents and their matchups with the Razorbacks, it’s highly doubtful that the Hogs will go 8-4. On the other end, so few schools reach 14-0 that any good prediction of an undefeated season would need details which “call” how particular games would go down, and be correct about them, before we believe that the person didn’t just ride some of the same lucky waves that the undefeated team road. It’s not difficult to observe that Alabama and LSU are likely the best two teams on the Hogs’ schedule with South Carolina, Texas A&M, and Mississippi State, being in the next tier. At least this year Auburn and Tennessee are just a notch below them, and then there’s the rest.
We’d rather hear your predictions below with a short explanation as to WHY the Hogs may win or lose certain games rather than us going through the entire season, which isn’t the main point of this post. Some observations may add to the public discussion though.
There is no way around Alabama’s less-than-truly-impressive offense. It’s solid, typically based upon a running game, and doesn’t make mistakes. ‘Bama turned the ball over 19 times in 2008, 12 times in 2009, and 14 times in 2010. Trent Richardson remains from his tandem with Ingram last year if Richardson doesn’t become ineligible with his version of the Tide’s latest foray into doing whatever the hell they want to do. Arkansas’ offensive inconsistency (or maybe ‘Bama’s proficiency on defense) and mistakes lost the 2010 matchup because it was truly the first game in a while where the Razorbacks’ scheme on defense made the opposition work for every down and yard it made. With Florida on their schedule the following week, no matter how much we think otherwise, until the Hogs kick in Alabama’s teeth a few years in a row, they’ll pencil in the Arkansas game as a win and look forward to Florida. Too, without the boring competence of Greg McElroy and with a new quarterback who will be appearing in his first SEC game as the season leader of the Crimson Tide, Alabama is vulnerable to Arkansas’ headhunters. If it’s A.J. McCarron, his performance against Auburn was weak and this writer would take Tyler Wilson’s any day over the same opponent. Watch out for him in the T-Town Menswear events as well. Turnovers and the Arkansas Defense v. the Alabama offense will be the key to this game. Tuscaloosa or not, the Hogs take this game by 10 points.
As for LSU, Jordan Jefferson, if he is still the quarterback by late November, wins games when his passing efficiency score is high and loses them when it’s not. (Remember passing efficiency when you get to the conclusion.) A coin toss would be as accurate in determining which Jordan Jefferson will show up although a good defense doesn’t hurt to keep him off his game. Over the last 6 years, LSU and Arkansas are 3-3 against one another with four of the games being decided by less than a field goal. Even more razor-thin are the total points scored by each team in those games, Arkansas 185 and LSU 184. The closeness of the matchup will not likely be any different this year. Being at the LSU game two seasons ago in Baton Rouge, the Hogs had less experience then than they do now. The 2009 Razorbacks team was all business, and Arkansas’ 2011 team will be again. If you pick against the Hogs in this game, find some other reason than the home field advantage.
The Razorbacks have owned South Carolina here, and there and everywhere for the last few years. It’s as if it is some tricked out version of Fox in Socks. Not the television station running shoeless, but the book by Dr. Seuss. “Would you play them in your pen, would you play them in their den? Would you play them if they played like hens?”…which is usually what’s happened recently. As for Auburn, who knows exactly how many starters they’ll have by the beginning of the season returning from last year? I lost track at them losing 37 players. This game will look much more like Arkansas – Auburn of 2009 rather than Arkansas-Auburn 2010. The biggest thing to keep between the Razorbacks’ players ears is never to be complacent. A Gus Malzahn offense is capable of a 25 point quarter even in an off year. As for Mississippi State, the Razorbacks should be better able to handle Chris Relf and Vick Ballard this year. By the time Arkansas played Mississippi State last year, the Hogs were in full running mode. Mallet did throw for 305 yards, but he had a pass efficiency rating of a whopping 194.3. By that point in the season, Wilson and the receivers should be hitting stride while Bulldog linebacking corps remains weak. This game shouldn’t be as close.
Lastly, a few observations about season records remain from Bobby Petrino’s tenure at Louisville where his results had an almost sine wave consistency, 2003 (9-4), 2004 (11-1), 2005 (9-3), 2006 (12-1). Stefan LeFors quarterbacked the Cardinals in 2003 and 2004 while Brian Brohm waited in the wings in 2004. In 2005 Brohm had more completions, more yards, and only one fewer touchdown than did LeFors in 2004, but he also had a lower completion percentage (73.5 v. 68.8) and a lower passer rating (181.7 v. 166.7). Coach Petrino’s Louisville teams had 9-win seasons in the first year that he had a new quarterback on the field, but only 3 points each fall separated Louisville from undefeated seasons in each quarterback’s second year. Arkansas had Ryan Mallett for two years and now begins with Tyler Wilson. Tyler has more experience at the helm than Brian Brohm did when he ran Louisville’s 2005 offense, and hopefully that makes a difference. Nonetheless, the tendency of good coaches and programs to “bounce” (borrowing a thoroughbred handicapping term) isn’t uncommon. As was pointed out here last season, Nick Saban’s 13-1 BCS Championship Team at LSU in 2003 returned with Saban coaching in 2004 and managed only a 9-3 record. We thought history might repeat itself for Nick Saban last year as Alabama was defending BCS Champion, and it did as the Tide went 10-3 in 2010. However, neither Coach Petrino’s teams nor the 2009 Crimson Tide are hardly alone when looking at subsequent seasons. 4 of the last 5 BCS Champions have lost at least 3 games in their subsequent seasons.
The Championship “Bounce”
|Year After Championship||BCS Champion||Year After Record|
But that’s the question, isn’t it? Do the Razorbacks have what it takes to break what seems to be at least an anecdotal trend appearing in Coach Petrino’s records at Louisville and those of most of the BCS Champions since 2005?
What qualities do the Razorbacks need to have in 2011 to be in contention for the BCS Championship?
The answer is one of fact, more than it is one of opinion. BCS Champions perform consistently great as a group at some things and easily middle-of-the-pack in others, but let someone else’s readers or let ill-informed commentators have an OPINION about what is important. We’re going to do better than that. We’re going to KNOW how well the last 11 BCS Champions’ performed. If Hog Fans want the Razorbacks to contend for a BCS Championship, then we must step it up too!!
The Razorbacks have precious little time to improve performance in critical areas. Building on work done previously in Performance Standards of BCS Champions the chart below adds 20 more categories to the 17 previously considered and updates the numbers to include the anomalous Auburn Tigers’ 2010 championship run. All of the BCS Champions’ national ranks and actual values by category since 2000 are averaged with no exclusions for outliers. The values High and Low represent the best and the worst. Each category is labeled as an Offensive, Defensive, Kicking, or team (O/D/K/-) category and for dyslexics like me, it’s noted whether the high value or the low value is usually better (H/L). Between and around the numbers are our projections for the Razorbacks’ performance in each category in 2011.
Performance Standards of BCS Champions since 2000
(expand to 50 to see all)
|BCS Avg. Rank||Category||Projected Outlier||BCS High Value||Projected Higher than Avg.||BCS Avg. Value||Projected Lower than Avg.||BCS Low Value||O/D/K/-||H/L|
|09||First Downs -- Total by Season ^^||344||307||285||285||O||H|
|11||First Downs -- Rushing by Season ^^||202||155||125||117||O||H|
|13||Pass Efficiency Def.||133.7||115||94.9||75.6||D||L|
|17||Passes Defended by Season^^||82||59.7||45||35||D||H|
|18||Interceptions by Season ^^||26||19.9||14||11||D||H|
|18||Sacks by Season ^^||48||40||36||32||D||H|
|22||3rd Down Percentage Offense **||53.1||47||42.9||39.2||O||H|
|25||3rd Down Conversions Offense **||104||85||75||74||O||H|
|29||4th Down Percentage Offense **||81||64||50||50||O||H|
|35||Sacks Allowed **||2.5||2.1||1.5||1.1||O||L|
|41||4th Down Conversions Offense **||13||10||10||5||O||H|
|41||First Downs -- Passing by Season ^^||160||152||134||117||O||H|
|47||Tackles for Loss **||7.5||7.2||6.3||5.1||D||H|
|50||3rd Down Attempts Offense **||223||180||175||161||O||L|
|62||4th Down Attempts Offense **||20||20||16||8||O||L|
|66||Fewest Penalty Yards||85.8||56||52||40.8||-||L|
|99*||3rd Down Attempts Defense **||202||193||190||183||D||H|
|99*||3rd Down Conversions Defense **||71||64||60||58||D||L|
|99*||3rd Down Percentage Defense **||37||33||31.6||30||D||L|
|99*||4th Down Attempts Defense **||26||24||22||18||D||H|
|99*||4th Down Conversions Defense **||13||12||9||6||D||L|
|99*||4th Down Percentage Defense **||50||50||38||29||D||L|
Sort as you like.
Sources: NCAA.org and ESPN.com from Elias Sports
** Source: NCAA.org The NCAA began publishing national rankings and numbers for this category in 2005, so the table only considers from 2005-2010.
^^ Source: ESPN.com Numbers were available only back to 2004 so only those are included. The national ranking for some categories was derived by loading the entire ESPN table to a spreadsheet and sorting the category appropriately.
99* No national table existed to derive a ranking.
The left column is the average rank of all BCS Champions for the last 11 years for each category. The lower the number is, the better the BCS Champions have done in that area of the game. With the addition of categories, a more balanced perspective of the relative importance of offense and defense comes into view.
The national focus is currently on how well Tyler Wilson can replace Ryan Mallett and how good the receiving corps is. However, not far behind in the discussion is whether Knile Davis is disrespected by SEC media which collectively believe he’s the third best tailback in the SEC. In terms of whether Arkansas can make a championship run, those things are beside the point. From the new additions, it makes ample sense that BCS Champions move the football on offense as quantified by total first downs for the season. Not only is it one of the most important characteristics of a BCS Champion, but looking down the list, it’s not simply total first downs which are important, rushing first downs are the third most consistent trait. Of all the categories, first downs by season has the tightest grouping of rankings with only 13 ranks separating the highest (3rd by Auburn last year) and the lowest (16th by Alabama). In other words, since 2004, no team ranked 17 – 120 in total first downs has won the BCS Championship. Even with the Razorbacks’ 291 first downs in 2010, it was still 16 first downs short of the BCS Champion average, but the rushing first down numbers are ridiculously different. Projecting some 20 more rushing first downs over the season than last year, 125 rushing first downs is 30 short of the BCS average. Knile Davis, Dennis Johnson and Ronnie Wingo, Jr. need stellar seasons for Arkansas to make a go of it and the offensive line needs to come together in a hurry. What about passing first downs, you say? Drop all the way to an average rank of 41st to find passing first downs. Drop all the way to 49th to find the average Passing Offense rank of BCS Champions; however, passing efficiency is highly important as BCS Champions have an average rank of 13th. We project Arkansas to exceed the BCS Champion average in passing efficiency.
On the other side of the ball, scoring defense, total defense and pass efficiency defense make up three of the top five categories. Even with the tremendous strides that Arkansas made between 2009 and 2010, the Razorbacks have similar ground to cover for 2011 because at this level of play, additional improvement in performance tends to be harder to obtain. The Hogs’ 23.4 points allowed per game is almost 10 points more than the average BCS Champion has allowed. In the SEC alone Arkansas’ Defense allowed 28 points per game. If the 65 points that Auburn scored is excluded as so rare that it fouls up a good evaluation of the defense, even doing so leaves the Hogs allowing 23 points per game in SEC play. As a rule of thumb, scoring 24 points per game in SEC Conference, regular-season play is consistent with approximately a 75% win percentage in the SEC because teams scoring 24 points or more account for approximately 25% of the losing teams. The 75-25 split is also consistent with a 6-2 minimum record in the SEC West which is the bare minimum needed to be in the hunt for the SEC West Championship in recent years. The Hogs lost 2 of the 5 games where they allowed opponents 24 points or more last year and had really close calls against Georgia and Mississippi St. While the games broke Arkansas’ way last year, history says that the Hogs will not always be as fortunate.
From another direction and drawing upon This Rocks! SEC Scoring Database Early Version, since 2000, SEC West Division teams which have won 7 or 8 games in regular-season conference play are listed below.
|Year||PF per GM. Season Av.||PA per Game Season Av.||Team||Conf. Wins||Conf. Losses|
Sort as you like.
Only Auburn’s 2010 team has allowed as many points per game in SEC regular-season play at 28 as did the Hogs in 2010. But the average points allowed for all of these teams above is 15 points per game while scoring around 29 points per game. You might see the game shaping up where the 7-0 team struggles offensively and the opponent gets a score off of a turnover. 7 points fewer for the 7-0 offensive squad leaves them at 22 points while 7 points more brings the challenger to an equal 22 points with the difference being a field goal or some other play. The price of admission to an SEC victory is 24 points with a win almost assured at 28. Although if both teams are at 28 points or above, then it’s usually anyone’s game.
As between an offense scoring to win a close game and a defense limiting the opponent, the latter is much more frequently the way SEC teams win. Looking back at previous work on 10 years of SEC regular-season conference games, i.e. 2000-2009 consisting of 240 games, in exactly half of them the loser scores 15 points or fewer. Losers scoring 28 points or more make up only 13.3% (32) of the 240. Where both teams score 28 points or more, the percentage of games decided by 7 points or fewer in this data set is 59% while games decided by 3 points or fewer are at 31%. Where the loser is at 15 points or fewer, only 11% of those games will be decided by 3 points or fewer and games decided by only 7 points or fewer are 28%.
Maybe now the contrast is plain. A shootout is 3 times more likely to produce a game decided by 3 points or fewer and twice as likely to produce a game decided by 7 points or fewer than is a game where one team is held to the 15 points per game, i.e. the average points allowed for 7 or 8 win SEC West teams. Closer games produce more uncertain outcomes.
BCS Champions’ defenses are unlucky for opposing offenses. Just remember Number 13 as the Defense Number. It’s how many points on average that BCS Champions allow per game. It’s the composite rank of BCS Champions since 2000 in Rushing Defense and Pass Efficiency Defense. When the composite ranks of Scoring Defense, Total Defense, Rushing Defense, Passing Efficiency Defense, and Passes Defended by Season for the BCS Champions are averaged (10, 12, 13, 13, 17) are averaged, they come out to 13. Compared to Arkansas’ 2010 defense, BCS Champions had the same number of sacks as Arkansas did and in tackles for a loss, the Hogs exceeded (made more) tackles for a loss than the highest of BCS Champions. That all sounds well and good until passes defended and interceptions are considered. Last year Arkansas actually logged 39 passes defended and 11 interceptions whereas BCS averages are 60 passes defended and 20 interceptions per season.
Given the performance of Arkansas’ defense over the last three years, is it reasonable to expect that an offensive-mined Bobby Petrino will ever have a defense which performs at BCS Champion Standards?
Falling back upon the main 17 categories for Louisville’s 2003 through 2006 teams, the answer is…yes!
Louisville Cardinal Football Statistics, Seasons 2003-2006
Rankings and Values
|Category||2003 Rank||2003 Value||2004 Rank||2004 Value||2005 Rank||2005 Value||2006 Rank||2006 Value||O/D/K/-|
|Pass Efficiency Defense||52||123||23||108.8||52||121.4||23||110.9||D|
|Tackles For Loss||0||0||6||8.7||18||7||D|
Sort as you like.
*NCAA rankings for sacks and tackles for a loss started in 2005.
It’s here that this story wraps up. The easiest way to consider the chart is to leave the categories grouped by O/D/K/- as they are. However, before we consider the defense, we need to bring back the troubling quarterback trend where the first season with a new quarterback at Louisville revealed 3 or 4 loss seasons when Arkansas is moving to Tyler Wilson as a quarterback. The problem with placing much stock in the change of quarterback is that Louisville’s offensive numbers did not change drastically from 2004 to 2005 to 2006. While there is some drop- off in 2005 offensively, it’s hardly outside of the BCS Champion standards outlined above. Louisville had a Top 10 offense in Total Offense and ranked 3rd in both Scoring Offense and Passing Efficiency. The fortunes of a Bobby Petrino team must lie elsewhere because Offensive prowess is a given.
All we need now is to see if something in a Defensive category tracks this trend…2003 (9-4), 2004 (11-1), 2005 (9-3), 2006 (12-1); decent, great, decent, great.
Of the original 17 categories, what were the most important 3? [I should really leave you to finish tying this knot, but I’ll finish it out. :)]
They were Scoring Defense, Total Defense and Pass Efficiency Defense.
Louisville’s ranks for Total Defense trended like this: 93 (’03), 15 (’04), 23 (‘o5), 40 (’06). It’s close to the trend we’re looking for and could be as good of an answer as there is. The 320 yards allowed per game is within the BCS range and happens to be what we’ve predicted for Arkansas this year. Total Defense doesn’t quite answer our question.
But here are Louisville’s ranks for Scoring Defense 72 (’03), 24 (’04), 47 (’05), and 17 (’06).
Here are Lousiville’s ranks for Passing Efficiency Defense 52 (’03), 23 (’04), 52 (’05), and 23 (’06).
Decent, BCS Standard, Decent, BCS Standard.
Louisville’s fortunes rose and fell with their ability to defend the pass at critical times and to limit opponent’s scoring more than any changes occurring on offense.
Just know that while you love talking about all aspects of Razorback Football, like how Knile Davis is going to run over some defenses this year, and how Tyler Wilson will be different but just as good, or how defensive line is big and experienced, that the key to this season is Arkansas’ secondary and their ability to shut down those third down pass plays and to defend against balls thrown to the end zone, because fellow Hog Fans, that is the key to Arkansas’ chances for a BCS Championship for 2011-2012.
With a BCS class effort from Arkansas’ secondary, the Hogs will be going to the Louisiana Superdome, but it will be on Monday, January 9, 2012 instead of Tuesday, January 3, 2012.