It Must Be Some Sort of Halloween Joke, I’m Sure

Since it’s a bye week in football, I must, at least temporarily, draw my attention to basketball season. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that there isn’t a single person in this universe who isn’t favoring the Tar Heels to to win it all.

The Heels, admittely, have been bitten by the injury bug in the past calenar year. Bobby Frasor, Ty Lawson, Danny Green, and Marcus Ginyard have all had injuries that has either kept them out or will keep them out of games. But since it’s Halloween, everyone needs something that will scare the crap out of them.

You’ll never guess who has shin splints. Go ahead, guess. I’ll wait here.

Have you figured it out?

Bingo.

Granted, it’s just shin splints, and he’ll have more than enough time to be back and 100% for the crux of the season. Still, on this day of spookiness I have been adequately…spookified.

FEI is My New Favorite Poll

Many thanks to Tomahawk Nation for tipping me off to this.

As someone who majored in a hard science in college, I should probably be more knowledgeable about advanced football statistics. Alas, I have been pretty faithful to the box score up until now. But then I was tipped off to Brian Fremeau’s Efficiency Rankings for college football (FEI for short). It’s a very interesting formula, which you can read about in detail at Brian’s website and in Football Outsiders articles such as this one.

In essence, the rankings are based on the principle that a team’s efficiency in each offensive and defensive drive is a better reflection of a team’s quality than simple statistics accumulated over 60 minutes of play. Like some human and computer polls, the quality of opponents and how well a team plays against good teams. Unlike most human polls, the system rewards teams that play well against good competition whether they win or lose.

Fremeau’s Game Efficiency formula is fairly simple, involving margin of victory (MOV) and competitive possessions (CP, meaning the number of possessions in the game before garbage time, or the opposing team has fewer remaining possessions than is required for a comeback). The formula is as follows:

Game eff. = (MOV / 7) / (CP / 2)

Based on this rubric, one can get a pretty clear idea of how games stack up against one another. Let’s use three examples. First, Florida’s frighteningly efficient 63-5 victory over Kentucky:

Game eff = (58 / 7) / (16 / 2) = 8.2857 / 8 = 1.0357

Pretty scary, right? Conversely, here’s Auburn’s infamous 3-2 victory over Mississippi State:

GE = (1 / 7) / (31 / 2) = 0.143 / 15.5 = 0.0092

Granted it would have been the same if the score was 49-48, but still. Finally, here’s UNC’s 45-24 win over Boston College:

GE = (21 / 7) / (24 /2) = 3 / 12 = 0.2500

Fremeau then takes the game efficiency data and adjusts and expands his stats, factoring in strength of schedule as well as adjusted offensive and defensive efficiency based on opponents. Most or all of Fremeau’s statistical explanations can be found in his articles on Football Outsiders.

With this rubric in mind, Let’s look at his FEI top 25. Keep in mind, he factors out all games against FCS opponents.

Rank Team W-L FEI
1 Texas 8-0 0.302
2 Penn State 8-0 0.284
3 North Carolina 5-2 0.277
4 USC 6-1 0.267
5 Florida 6-1 0.266
6 Alabama 8-0 0.245
7 Georgia 6-1 0.217
8 Virginia Tech 4-3 0.200
9 Georgia Tech 4-2 0.200
10 Oklahoma 6-1 0.200
11 Oklahoma State 6-1 0.197
12 Texas Tech 6-0 0.194
13 Florida State 4-1 0.192
14 Missouri 5-2 0.184
15 Ohio State 6-2 0.166
16 Connecticut 5-2 0.162
17 Mississippi 3-4 0.157
18 Vanderbilt 5-3 0.141
19 Boston College 4-2 0.138
20 Ball State 7-0 0.135
21 Miami 4-3 0.134
22 Pittsburgh 5-2 0.129
23 Iowa 4-3 0.128
24 Wake Forest 4-3 0.120
25 South Carolina 4-3 0.119

Wait a minute…am I reading this right? Is North Carolina…NUMBER 3!?!?

It’s like that, except replace “Michael Bay” with “the collective heads of everyone outside the ACC”.

Even more interesting than UNC’s #3 ranking here is their #1 ranking in adjusted defensive efficiency. What this means is that the Tar Heels do a better job of disrupting the efficiency of opposing offenses better than any other defense in the nation. And this is in spite of an apparent allergy to blitzes and the frustrating 2-minute defense. That, my friends, is impressive.

Mind you, FEI is not my new favorite poll because it’s very UNC-friendly. (But it helps.) It’s my new favorite poll because it is a lot less arbitrary than the coaches or media polls, and is a statistic-based ranking that better reveals who the good and bad teams really are.

Once again, this post could not have been possible without Tomahawk Nation.

Just Wanted to Give You a Polite Reminder…

…that the North Carolina Tar Heels are bowl-eligible…in October…with Cameron Sexton leading us at quarterback. And, by three hours, they were the first bowl-eligible team in the ACC. No matter what your expectations were in August, this had to exceed them.

(Photo: IC)

The bye week will give the Heels a chance to rest up, and chance for me to give full evaluation of the team to this point. Analysis begins tomorrow.

BlogPoll Week 9 Draft

Congratulations to Florida State, UNC, Maryland, and Virginia. You are this week’s block of ACC teams to round out the top 25.

Rank Team Delta
1 Texas
2 Alabama
3 Penn State
4 Oklahoma State 1
5 Florida 2
6 Texas Tech
7 Oklahoma 3
8 Georgia
9 Utah
10 Boise State 2
11 Southern Cal 1
12 TCU 2
13 Missouri 2
14 Minnesota 6
15 Ohio State 4
16 Tulsa 7
17 Florida State 9
18 North Carolina 8
19 Maryland 6
20 Brigham Young 2
21 Ball State 3
22 LSU 9
23 West Virginia 3
24 Virginia 2
25 Connecticut 1

Dropped Out: Pittsburgh (#16), South Florida (#17), Kansas (#18), Georgia Tech (#19), Boston College (#21).

LSU’s resume is looking weaker and weaker. They have no good OOC opponents, Auburn has turned out to be a disappointment, and the Tigers have given up 103 points to the only two good teams they’ve played. I considered dropping them out of the top 25 altogether, but could not defend anyone I put in their stead.

ACC Roundtable Roundup #2

Would you like to take a survey?

Welcome to the roundup of this week’s ACC Roundtable. Our esteemed panelists for this week are Myself, BC Interruption, Block C, College Game Balls, From Old Virginia, Gobbler Country, and The Legacy x4.

Okay, first things first: could someone please explain what the hell just happened this past Saturday?

The general consensus here is that the events of Saturday are less unexpected than at first glance. Sure, Wake, UNC, and Virginia Tech may have all been ahead in the standings. But, as From Old Virginia points out, those were all conference road games, which are never, ever easy.

BC Interruption sees the reason for the ACC’s “fluctuation” has less to do with the teams themselves and more to do with that the media “is easily distracted by shiny things” and constantly re-assesses the state of the conference from week to week.

College Game Balls, however, may have the best answer of anyone:

Heather Dinich used her Greek Goddess abilities to flip the league on top of its head, again.

Dinich bathes in the schadenfreude emanating from the ACC. Of course, CGB’s statement requires the suspension of disbelief that Ms. Dinich has abilities, is Greek, or is anything close to Godliness.

I happen to be of the belief that what happened last Saturday was less a product of superstition and more a product of the three offenses scoring nineteen combined points in regulation. An extra fourteen, of course, came courtesy of Chris Crane throwing to Hokies.

Block C takes his answer in another direction, answering what happened to Clemson against Georgia Tech. The saga of their beloved Tigers’ season is enough to fill a book. Hopefully, it has a happy ending with a new, smashingly successful coach. Wait, did I just use the word smashing?

Good Maryland, Bad Maryland, we’ve seen a fair share of both in 2008. Good Maryland may be the best team in the ACC, while Bad Maryland could probably lose by 20 to anyone left on their schedule. Which Maryland do we see for the rest of the season and where do you expect the Terps to finish?

No one on the panel is particularly optimistic about the Terps for the rest of the season. Currently at 5-2, No one except me expects them to do any better than 8-4, and everyone expects the Bad Terps to show up at least once. Most panelists, like From Old Virginia and The Legacy x4, point out their now-backloaded schedule will keep them from winning more than 3 games. Both Virginia Tech panelists mentioned that the Bad Terps usually show up on the road, while the Good Terps come out of the shell at home. (Hooray for more bad puns!) Most interestingly, Gobbler country discusses Maryland big weakness:

The key for the Terps this year has been their rush defense. If you can run on Maryland, you can beat them handily. But if they stop you from running the ball, things aren’t going to go well for you.

Whatever the case may be, the Roundtable is unanimously bursting Maryland’s Atlantic bubble.

Injuries are a part of college football, but they seem to have ravaged ACC offenses this year. Wake Forest has been without Sam Swank, Clemson is without C.J. Spiller, UNC is without T.J. Yates and Brandon Tate, Virginia Tech is without Kenny Lewis Jr., and NC State is without just about everybody. Which team misses their fallen star(s) most and why?

There seem to be two distinct camps here. Both BC Interruption and College Game Balls say that the conference’s most costly offensive injury is the one to Wake’s Sam Swank, the closest thing to an automatic kicker in college football and a big difference in close games. Which makes sense, until you consider that is reasonable to expect the Wake Forest offense, with all its talent, to score more than one TD in three conference game. Then there’s the factor that Wake’s defense usually keeps them in every game and–

You get the idea.

From old Virginia goes a different direction and points to the gradual loss of staff in Virginia Tech’s offense that has led, in part, to their 110th ranked offense. (And UNC gave up a 14 point lead to it? Yeesh.)  On defense, FoV references the injury to BC linebacker Brian Toal.

With four votes, however, the player whom the panel thinks is missed the most is UNC quarterback T.J. Yates. This completely florred me, not because it isn’t a good answer but because I never expected my conference brethren to have any sympathy toward the injuries of my beloved Tar Heels. Then again, I probably probably shouldn’t confuse sympathy with acknowledgement.

The primary reason seems to be, despite the admirable job that Cam Sexton has done in his stead, that the Heels just plain don’t lose that game of Virginia Tech if Yates had remained healthy. And that’s probably true. But that throws into question all of the other games that followed. Of course, if we have the same 5-2 record but with losses to Miami and Notre Dame instead of those teams from the Commonwealth, we’re probably in much better shape in the conference race.

Last one: the pretty much unanimous division champs were Virginia Tech and Wake Forest last week. Given all the craziness that just happened, give us your updated ACC Championship scenario.

But enough about my team. With two losses to teams ahead of them in the division, it would take a miracle for UNC to win the Costal at this point.

Many panelists (CGB, Gobbler Country, BC Interruption, and The Legacy x4) are opting for homerism and picking their own teams to go to Tampa. Fortunately for them Virginia Tech, Boston College and Georgia Tech are three of the teams in better position to win. Both BC and GT have daunting schedules, though, and the Jackets would lose any tiebreakers with the Hokies. Despite the Terps’ lights-out performance this past Saturday, no one has the guts to put Maryland in the Championship game as of yet (see Question 2). Of all the CG predictions, my own FSU-Miami pick was probably the most ambitious, and while I had reason to defense the pick, it ultimately boiled down to “this conference is crazy”.

In the final tallies, though, it’s 2.5 votes for Georgia Tech, 3.5 vote for Virginia Tech, 1 vote for Miami, 3 votes for Boston College, 2 votes for Florida State, and 2 votes for Wake Forest.

No team won a majority, but the plurality points to a rematch of last year’s championship game between Virginia Tech and Boston College.

You can almost feel the cynicism oozing out of your screen right now.

If you are an enterprising ACC blogger and are interested in joining the roundtable, just send an email with a link to your site. The more panelists, the merrier.

ACC Roundtable #2: I Couldn’t Come Up With a Clever Title

Hello and welcome to the second edition of the ACC Roundtable. I will be your gracious host this week. The roundup of everyone’s answers will be posted later today.

Okay, first things first: could someone please explain what the hell just happened this past Saturday?

I’ts not very often that three on one conference’s “top” teams lose on the same day. Conversely, the ACC has been a league completely devoid of frontrunners in 2008. Most experts kind of had a hunch that would be the case coming in to the season, but certainly not to the extent that the unanimous preseason favorite might not go bowling (which very well may be the case with 3-4 Clemson, who only has one FBS win).

There were some overriding factors, though. Maryland is especially tough at home, where they’ve had their more impressive performances this season. UNC hasn’t won in Charlottesville in the Welsh/Groh era. But the biggest factor that led to the three favorites losing is that they scored 19 points on offense in regulation. Combined. You can’t win ball games with offenses that are so…well, offensive.

Ha ha! Bad puns!

Still, we are the designated bizarro conference, and nothing should come as a surprise to us anymore.

Good Maryland, bad Maryland. We’ve seen a fair share of both in 2008. Good Maryland may be the best team in the ACC, while bad Maryland could probably lose by 20 to anyone left on their schedule. Which Maryland do we see for the rest of the season and where do you expect the Terps to finish?

it all comes down to consistency and circumstance. The Terrapins clearly have the offensive tools to compete with anyone left on their schedule: Chris Turner, Darius Heyward-Bey, and a solid rushing attack led by Da’Rel Scott. And having a good offense can be the difference in teh ACC, where everyone has a passable defense.

After hosting NC State, thee Terps have four games against some of the better teams in the conference (@VT, UNC, FSU, @BC). You can pretty much guarantee that they are going to drop at least one of those games (UNC please!). In my opinion, the Terps can finish as well as 6-2 in the ACC and 9-3 overall. Is that good enough to win the Atlantic? who knows.

Injuries are a part of college football, but they seem to have ravaged ACC offenses this year. Wake Forest has been without Sam Swank, Clemson is without C.J. Spiller, UNC is without T.J. Yates and Brandon Tate, Virginia Tech is without Kenny Lewis Jr., and NC State is without just about everybody. Which team misses their fallen star(s) most and why?

Losing Sam Swank hurts, especially because the offense goes from “guaranteed to score if you get inside the 35″ to “he might shank the extra point”. However, I should be able to expect the likes of Riley Skinner, Josh Adams, D.J. Boldin and offensive coordinator Steed Lobotzke to score more than one touchdown in three conference games.

Photo: W-S Journal

I am very, very tempted to say Yates or Tate here, since I have bore witness to every minute of their absence, and both are vitally important to the Heels’ offense. UVa game aside, Cam Sexton has stepped in admirably for the injured Yates, going 3-1 as a starter and exceeding all expectations that anyone had of him coming into the season. However, one has to consider the circumstances of UNC’s two losses. If Yates is healthy, UNC wins these two games against Virginia Tech and Virginia. (Of course, they may have lost those close games against Miami and Notre Dame and we’d be sitting at 5-2 anyway. Such are the murky waters of the “what ifs”.)

Last one: the pretty much unanimous (predicted) division champs were Virginia Tech and Wake Forest last week. Given all the craziness that just happened, give us your updated ACC Championship scenario.

Well, this is a Bizarro conference, so how about a Bizarro answer: Florida State-Miami.

Miami is still only a two loss team, and they may have found their offensive solution in Jacory Harris. The Hurricanes certainly have as talented a team as anyone in the ACC. Most importantly, however, they have circumstance on their side. Three of their remaining games in November are against current Coastal frontrunners Virginia Tech, Georgia Tech, and Virginia. If they win out, the Canes hold all the tiebreakers against those teams. They would only need the Tar Heels to lose a third conference game, and that shouldn’t be too difficult.

As for Florida State, they only have only loss (to Wake). Much like Miami, the Seminoles have the fortune of circumstance. They can take out two of their opponents, Maryland and BC, to end their conference schedule. They just have to make it through the Techs unscathed first.

So why not Miami-Florida State? It makes about as much sense as anything else that’s happened so far.

Reckless Is Good.

As you are all painfully aware, few teams have lived and died by turnovers more than North Carolina has this season. The Heels’ turnover margin is +13 in five wins and -5 in two losses. In our four wins against FBS opponents, were have forced fourteen turnovers while giving the ball away only once, when Cam Sexton was hit as he threw in the red zone against UConn. The advantage to this is that our defense, an by proxy our team, is very adept to taking advantage of a offense’s mistakes. The downside is that if the opposing offense doesn’t give up the ball, or if Cam Sexton has a particularly bad day, the Heels are in trouble.

So, does Boston College’s turnover situation play into the hands of UNC?  Apparently, it does.  Chris Crane has thrown ten interceptions to six touchdown passes in six games, and often he threw his picks in bunches. Excellent BC blogger Eagle in Atlanta compared him to other BC quarterbacks of the recent past in their first seven games as a starter. The data shows unequivocally that Crane is “the most reckless (or error prone) QB to see the field [for BC] in nearly a decade.”

What does this mean for us? Mmmmmm, yummy delicious interceptions. Trimane Goddard eagerly awaits the game on Saturday.

(Photo from a very masochistic Hurricanes website, apparently.)

OMG We’re 5-2 the Season Is Ruined AHHHHHH

In the last 48 hours, UNC fans have, er, what’s a delicate way to put this…LOST THEIR FREAKING MINDS over UNC’s loss to Virginia on Saturday. Most on the message have been asking a lot of questions, all circling around the same theme: WHO’S TO BLAME?!?

Most of the blame has been put on the coaches. Everett Withers for the prevent defense that allowed the tying touchdown, John Shoop for not putting the game away when he had the chance and Butch Davis for kneeling with 47 seconds to play in a tie game.

Some of this criticism is justified. The type of offense that teams tend to run in a 2-minute drill has usually been the type that UNC’s defense has been weakest in defending, dating all the way back to the Rutgers game. It strikes me as odd, to say the least, that our top wide receiver Hakeem Nicks only touched the ball once in the first half. And it’s particularly baffling to kneel when UNC did given that, just last week, UNC was able to gain 46 yards in 30 seconds against Notre Dame in a very similar situation to end the first half. Adding to the unrest is that the fans, myself included, so desperately wanted to win THIS game, to shed the demons of Charlottesville in the George Welsh era. (Let it be known that before Welsh, UVa football was flat-out bad. One winning season in the previous 29 years bad. Since 1983, when the streak started, the Cavs have had 22 winning seasons out of 25. This, more than anything else, is why we haven’t won at UVa in 14 tries.)

But what’s so frustrating about this game is also one of the biggest positives that fans should take away from it: the Heels played, to put it kindly, average football yet were still in control of this game for 58 minutes. We now have a true running game with the combination of Shaun Draughn and Ryan Houston. The goal for the defense coming into this game was to contain the running game, and they did just that. And on Saturday we were able to maintain control for most of the game, even though we never led by more that 7 points.

I still doubt that our receiving corps is an issue. We still have two great, experienced receivers in Hakeem Nicks and Brooks Foster. The most obvious difference on offense without Brandon Tate is that, coupled with the injury to T.J. Yates, the Heels no longer have the deep passing threat they had earlier in the year. However, our new found running game should give the ability to run playfakes and get receivers more open downfield, so the margin for error is greater if John Shoop were inclined to make Cam throw deep.

One type of offensive play that was strangely absent was the one-step drop throw to Nicks that has been so effective for the last season and a half. I understand if the Heels tried to give the ball to Nicks in those situations, and VIrginia were to anticipate and stop the play. However, thaty never seemed to try the play with Nicks. The few times they ran the play, it would often be to Cooter Arnold or Greg Little, neither of whom are very experienced at the WR position.

As for the defense, understand the the soft zone coverage has been Everett Withers’ defense of choice all season, regardless of circumstance. That is why, through seven games of the season, the Heels haven’t put that much pressure on opposing QBs and given up more passing yardage than most fans are comfortable with. That is also the reason why UNC had the most interceptions and the highest turnover margin in the nation through six games. It has been effective for us in 93% of game situations. However, for the two minute drill this type of defense plays right into the offense’s hands. (It almost makes you wonder why teams don’t play the 2-minute offense against us for the entire game.) The Heels were bailed out by well-timed turnovers that ended the chances for Miami and Notre Dame to score in the final seconds. Not so in this game. While it is true that the Heels need to change their 2-minute defense, for the rest of the game it’s been working justfinethankyouverymuch.

Finally, the issue of turnovers. Give credit where credit is due: the Cavaliers made sure to take caare of the ball, never really put themselves at risk, and really took away one of the strengths of our defense. in a way, our offense has looked good partly because defense and special teams can usually account for at least one touchdoen per game the first half of the season. The Cavs took care of the ball, we didn’t. The -5 turnover margin in the two losses are what cost this team more than anything else, and the +13 margin in five victories tended to hide flaws that have been present all season, but are only truly discussed in the past 72 hours.

(photo from IC)

I think it’s important to keep things in perspective. Let me make this clear: I am disappointed in this loss, as I am in any loss. I am disappointed in the playcalling, especially in the last two minutes and overtime. And I am especially disappointed that this game extended a road losing streak and pretty much put UNC out of the Coastal division race.

However, this team has been a success this season, and will be a success no matter what. UNC is 5-2 through seven games, and the first time in 11 years that we could say that. The Heels were ranked for consecutive weeks in the regular season for the first time since 1997. With the possible exception of 2001, this is by far our best team since the Mack Brown era. In August anything 7-5 or better would have been considered a rousing success, and the Heels are going to accomplish that barring a total collapse.

The team is not going to fret over this game. They are going to take the lessons from this game and work this week with extra motivation. Most importantly, they are going to move on and look forward to BC this Saturday. I strongly that we, the fans, do the same.

BlogPoll Week 8

Submitted for your approval.

Rank Team Delta
1 Texas
2 Alabama
3 Penn State
4 Oklahoma
5 Oklahoma State
6 Texas Tech 4
7 Florida 1
8 Georgia 1
9 Utah 7
10 Southern Cal 3
11 Ohio State 3
12 Boise State 4
13 LSU 1
14 TCU 12
15 Missouri 4
16 Pittsburgh 4
17 South Florida 9
18 Kansas 3
19 Georgia Tech 7
20 Minnesota 4
21 Boston College 5
22 Brigham Young 15
23 Tulsa 3
24 Ball State 3
25 Maryland 1
Dropped Out: Virginia Tech (#17), North Carolina (#18), Wake Forest (#19), California (#22), Michigan State (#23), Vanderbilt (#25).

Unfortunately, UNC is #26 right now after the loss to Virginia. Why put Maryland (who lost to UVa by a far greater margin) ahead of the Heels, then? Because I am slightly more scared of Maryland at their best. That, and they stand a far greater chance of winning their division.

As for the rest of the poll, it looks pretty ordinary, although I’ve made a point to keep teams ahead of oppnents they’ve beaten no matter what. That why you see Pitt-USF-Kansas at 16-17-18. Now that I think about, I may want to put the Jayhawks a bit lower, though they were impressive in defeat.

UNC vs. Virginia Live Blog

Program pic via Tar Heel Times

UNC has yet to win in Charlottesville during the Welsh/Groh era. Will that change today? Will Brooks Foster/Cooter Arnold/Greg Little/Kenton Thornton/some other player step nup in the absence of Brandon Tate? Can UNC stop Virginia’s running game? Why am I still asking these questions? Let’s just watch and enjoy. Click on the blue letters below for the live blog. starting at 3:30.

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