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PAC 12 Advanced Metrics Overview- The South

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The PAC 12 South was perhaps the deepest, toughest division in football last year. With the lone exception of the improving Buffs, every team was ranked, and every team was dangerous. Major departures and the return of big-time talents will reshuffle the balance of power in the division. How will it shake out?

Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sports

This article will analyze two key concepts: advanced team metrics to get a sense of how good a team really was, and a percentage returning calculation in several key statistical areas on both offense and defense. Crunching these stats will let us know whether we expect a team to be a contender, a challenger, or a pretender in 2015, and whether we expect them to take a step forward, a step back, or to stand firm.

Arizona Wildcats

YARDS/P

OFF PPG

DEF PPG

3RD DWN

5.7

34.5

28.2

38.03%

F/+

FPI

CFP RNK

MASSEY

28

25

10

22

PASS YDS

RETURN

RUSH YDS

RETURN

3945

3793 (96%)

2546

1931(76%)

REC YDS

RETURN

TACKLES

RETURN

3945

3123 (79%)

1062

610 (59%)

TFL

RETURN

PBU

RETURN

98

70 (71%)

48

29 (61%)

Progress: Step Forward. The Wildcats promise to take a step forward this year. They return their starting quarterback and significant portions of their receiving corps and rushing attack. Pass break ups and tackles are only 60% or so, but Scooby Wright III leads a ferocious attacking front that returns 71% of their tackles for a loss. Look for the ‘Cats to improve this year, particularly on offense.

Status: Contender. The Wildcats won the south in 2014, and finished 28th or better in advanced team metrics and major polls. They were 3rd in the South in points scored per game and a close 4th in points allowed. Their 3rd down conversion rate was the lowest in the division, but the Wildcats found a way to win 10 of their 14 games. There’s no reason they can’t repeat and hang on to the South crown.

ASU Sun Devils

YARDS/P

OFF PPG

DEF PPG

3RD DWN

5.9

36.9

27.9

38.19%

F/+

FPI

CFP RNK

MASSEY

27

26

15

19

PASS YDS

RETURN

RUSH YDS

RETURN

3556

1442 (40%)

2194

1727(78%)

REC YDS

RETURN

TACKLES

RETURN

3556

2158 (60%)

907

719 (79%)

TFL

RETURN

PBU

RETURN

98

82.5 (84%)

36

25 (69%)

Progress: Stand Firm. The Sundevils lose too much to expect to make big gains, but they get enough back to hold steady. Taylor Kelly leaves and takes 60% of the passing yards with him, but ASU is in better shape than other teams that lost their starting QB because they welcome back experienced backup Mike Bercovici. His receivers and running backs are going to have to learn some on the job, particularly in the passing game. Meanwhile, the 'Devils signature blitzing style returns many of its brightest stars.

Status: Challenger. Arizona State was in it until the end of the season, but much of their success came from the inspired play of Taylor Kelly. Bercovici’s playing style is different, and the Devils may struggle to figure out the passing game early on. ASU was excellent last year, ranking 27th or better in advanced team metrics. The change at QB raises too many questions to call them contenders, but it wouldn’t take many breaks to put them at the top of the South at season’s end.

Colorado Buffaloes

YARDS/P

OFF PPG

DEF PPG

3RD DWN

5.29

28.5

39

40.10%

F/+

FPI

CFP RNK

MASSEY

83

74

N/A

93

PASS YDS

RETURN

RUSH YDS

RETURN

3415

100%

1855

1418 (76%)

REC YDS

RETURN

TACKLES

RETURN

3415

2546 (71%)

750

585(78%)

TFL

RETURN

PBU

RETURN

55

42.5(77%)

46

34(73%)

Progress: Step Forward. The Buffaloes’ 2014 season promised better things to come, and their return numbers show why. They return at least 71% of every statistical category, including the production of Sefo Liufau, their exciting young quarterback. With no area looking like a place to lose ground, there’s a chance the Buffs could surprise many observers.

Status: Pretender. Unfortunately for the improving Buffaloes, the gap between what they can be expected to achieve and what the other five South teams will manage is too big to be overcome in a single offseason, however promising the returns may be. The Buffs were the only team in the South not ranked in the CFP poll at season’s end, and the only team outside of the top 30 in advanced metrics. Even a massive step up is going to leave them at the bottom of the PAC 12 South.

UCLA Bruins

YARDS/P

OFF PPG

DEF PPG

3RD DWN

6.13

33.5

28.1

43.07%

F/+

FPI

CFP RNK

MASSEY

12

12

14

11

PASS YDS

RETURN

RUSH YDS

RETURN

3358

203 (6%)

2724

1843(67%)

REC YDS

RETURN

TACKLES

RETURN

3358

3272 (97%)

903

619 (69%)

TFL

RETURN

PBU

RETURN

80

54 (67%)

45

30 (66%)

Progress: Step Back. UCLA’s offense was gutted by the departure of Brett Hundley, who accounted for nearly all of their passing yards and a significant chunk of rushing yardage. The battle for starting QB is still uncertain, although what is certain is that they will have experienced receivers catching the ball. The defense isn’t losing everything, but it’s losing enough that combined with Hundley, there should be real doubts about whether this team can put together a title run.

Status: Contender. The Bruins lose a lot, but from an advanced stats perspective they were the best team in the South by a solid margin, ranking 12th in F/+ and FPI. Even if their passing game struggles and their defense gives up more yards, there’s enough talent on this team to keep them firmly in the race.

USC Trojans

YARDS/P

OFF PPG

DEF PPG

3RD DWN

6.04

35.8

25.2

46.63%

F/+

FPI

CFP RNK

MASSEY

16

13

24

18

PASS YDS

RETURN

RUSH YDS

RETURN

3856

100%

2092

598(28%)

REC YDS

RETURN

TACKLES

RETURN

3856

1888(48%)

898

587 (65%)

TFL

RETURN

PBU

RETURN

80

49 (61%)

65

48 (73%)

Progress: Stand Firm. The Trojans are seeing a lot of turnover from their running backs and receivers, and have taken substantial hits in key defensive statistics as well. However, USC has earned the benefit of the doubt with regard to putting skilled ball carriers on the field, and they bring back Cody Kessler, a Heisman contending QB with a remarkably complete toolset at his disposal. They should continue to put up big numbers and stymie opposing offenses.

Status: Contender. USC is the hot pick for the South crown this offseason, and it’s easy to see why. They were within a hair’s breadth of the South championship in 2014, and advanced statistics ranked them in the top 20. Kessler is the key that turns the ignition of the USC machine, and the Trojans will be favored in nearly every game they play this season.

Utah Utes

YARDS/P

OFF PPG

DEF PPG

3RD DWN

5.35

31.3

24.9

40.83%

F/+

FPI

CFP RNK

MASSEY

29

27

22

26

PASS YDS

RETURN

RUSH YDS

RETURN

2570

100%

2475

2465 (99%)

REC YDS

RETURN

TACKLES

RETURN

2570

1256(48%)

922

637(69%)

TFL

RETURN

PBU

RETURN

103

73.5 (71%)

53

24 (45%)

Progress: Step Forward. The Utes return a lot of valuable pieces, but lose key contributors at receiver and in the defensive backfield.  As I covered in detail (link other article) a few weeks ago, the Utes are reloading in most areas and bring in promising talent and significant experience to try and improve the pass defense. The Utes should continue to stay in the national conversation and represent the conference very well.

Status: Challenger. For the Utes to push themselves into the top end of the PAC 12 South race, they are going to need to add another 1500+ yards of offense. They can absolutely get there, but if they don't exceed expectations, they won't win the South. They can expect to rank in the 20s and be a threat to win any game, but that's not enough to get the 8 or 9 conference wins the South is likely to require from the eventual champion.

Overview-

Overall, the South looks to be taking a step forward. I project four teams to improve, one to stand firm, and one to take a step back, but still be a contender. The conference is chock full of teams that you could see winning the South title, and #PAC12AfterDark should continue to be a ton of fun for fans. The challenge is going to be the winning team getting to the title game with an intact roster that can defeat Oregon (or Cal?!), and with a record good enough to elbow their way into the playoff. Just like last year, this division is going to come down to a handful of fourth quarter drives and miracle plays. Which games they will take place in is anyone's guess.