Monday, May 16, 2016

3 observations on the Big 12 S&P projections

My man Bill Connelly has released his S&P projections for 2016 which are fascinating as always. His projections have done quite well in the playoff era, nailing most of the 2014 field and then misfiring on some of the 2015 field but getting the champ right.

It's VERY hard to do stat projections on 128 teams that can account for all the varying factors and get it all right, it's even harder to do projections without a statistical formula and Bill's got the best one I know about.

He's got Alabama no. 1 again this year, which I frankly think is the really safe move at this point. I've been critical of just picking Alabama every year as the default and caused a bit of a stir in 2014 when I guaranteed they wouldn't win the championship. This year, I don't see any other way around it currently and wrote recently on how absurdly loaded they are along both lines. Do your thing, Bill, do your thing, Saban.

Here's how Billy's got the B12 projected currently:

1. Oklahoma (4th)
2. Baylor (13th)
3. Oklahoma State (23rd)
4. TCU (31st)
5. West Virginia (33rd)
6. Texas (34th)
7. Texas Tech (43rd)
8. Kansas State (67th)
9. Iowa State (71st)
10. Kansas (112th)

Observation 1: Not that strong at the top

The league doesn't really look all that tough at the top in 2016. First you have Oklahoma, who was very formidable on paper last year but also enjoyed a major stat boost from virtually never facing a healthy, no. 1 QB until they met Deshaun Watson in the playoffs and were summarily destroyed.

Then Baylor, who loses two NFL-level athletes from their defense (which isn't overflowing with spare NFL athletes) at two key positions (nose tackle, boundary corner) a year early. They also have the massive offseason distraction of the sexual assault scandals which doesn't seem likely to have a positive impact on their season.

I foresee a "rebuilding" year for Baylor in which they are competitive but a notch below being able to win the conference.

Then you have to go down to OSU and TCU, the former of whom is very good and experienced everywhere on their roster except at three of the four positions that can most easily control a B12 game. Those positions are QB, DE, CB, and OL. They have the QB, but I'm not sure they have a good edge-rusher, lockdown corner, or even a half-decent OL.

TCU is becoming my dark horse to win the league but they haven't settled on a starting QB yet and have some other issues to sort out as well.

Observation 2: A few S&P misfires?

I think S&P badly missed on West Virginia, Kansas State, and maybe TCU.

I'll write in greater detail before the season starts about each one but to go over just a few points:

TCU is bringing back a lot of really good young players on defense that were starting to fit together quite nicely and they also get Ranthony Texada back at corner, whom they badly missed last year. Everyone seems to be glossing over the fact that TCU was uncharacteristically not-great on defense last year and that's not likely to be the case in 2016. Projecting their 2016 season you should assume a rebound on defense to top 20 quality or better.

On offense, people seem to be expecting a precipitous collapse with the QB, top WR, LT, and RB all departing. On the the surface that seems more than reasonable.

However, TCU is bringing back a dozen good young WRs, several of whom might be ISO-caliber players. The Frogs also bring back a pair of solid, experienced OTs and some interior OL that were forced into duty in 2015 thanks to injury and were blooded against the likes of OU and Oregon.

Most importantly, they're bringing Kavontae Turpin back and he might be one of the very best offensive players in the entire league next season. They'll find a QB that can figure out how to get that guy the ball and they won't drop too far.

West Virginia is losing ERRBODY on defense. Their hopes for being even half-good in 2016 depend on their DL all making real leaps in terms of skill and consistency AND for several young DBs and LBs who have hardly played at all to end up being really good immediately.

There was a report from their spring game where DC Tony Gibson was concerned that they wouldn't be able to play man coverage in 2016 because they were getting roasted so badly.

Losing CB Daryl Worley to the NFL really hurt them. I think it's safe to assume they will take a big step back on that side of the ball.

As for their offense, well they might be very good depending on how much faith you have in Skyler Howard. But to get them to eight or nine wins you have to foresee the offense making enough of a jump to overcome a collapse on defense.

They do at least have a favorable schedule.

Kansas State is generally always going to be underrated by S&P because those projections rely on recruiting rankings to fill in holes and the Wildcats stunningly always fill at least one hole every year with a walk-on that no one had ever heard of before.

If your model can't account for a Jordy Nelson, Randall Evans, BJ Finney, Ryan Mueller, Jonathan Truman, Kody Cook, or Will Geary...well it's going to struggle.

Last year I figured LB Trent Tanking and NT Will Geary might have some surprises for the B12, I was only half-right. This year my money is on DE Davis Clark (two sacks in the spring game) and RB Justin Silmon. Sorry K-State fans, I'm just not buying Johnny Durham as a solution at cornerback.

Another crucial part of the S&P projections is "returning production" which will have a tendency to miss on teams that lost their best players to injury the prior year but then bring them back. This model would seem to have no way to account for Jesse Ertz or Alex Delton starting at QB instead of Joe Hubener or for Dante Barnett coming back from injury. Either of those could have a major impact on the Wildcats' ceiling.

Looking at the Wildcats I see a team that is going to be very good in run defense, has several pieces on offense that could conceivably come together to form a versatile and difficult to defend unit, and just needs better luck with injuries and one half-decent corner.

Observation 3: 4th best league?

Connelly has the conferences ranked as:

1. SEC
2. ACC
3. Pac-12
4. Big-12
5. Big-10
6. AAC
7. MWC
8. MAC
9. Sun Belt
10. Conference USA

That feels about right to me, although I think the cream of the Big 10 will end up being better than the top Big 12 teams. Michigan and Ohio State both have the potential to be better than Oklahoma and certainly any other Big 12 team.

The ACC is definitely on the rise and the league made several big coaching hires this offseason like Dino Babers, Bronco Mendenhall, and Justin Fuente that could raise the profile of the league. Plus Florida State and Clemson are both looking like national contenders.

I'm not sure if the Pac-12 will have a heavyweight team but I suspect Stanford will over-perform to expectations, Oregon might rebound, and you never know with USC.

There's a reason the Big 12 is the target of expansion or disintegration talks every offseason. The league totally lacks the population base to compete with these other conferences, the possible expansion options, and one of their two top dogs (Texas) has been languishing in mediocrity for six years.

The Big 10 might be down this year (though 5th seems really down) but long-term they are in great shape as a conference. The ACC is on the rise, the SEC is set, the Pac-12 is in good shape and on the up and up, but the Big 12 has been left behind.


  1. Having only 10 teams - as opposed to 14 - means that the Big12 must make up the difference in numbers with quality. And I think the Pac12 with only 12 schools is a good starting point for the Big12 to look at.

    The Pac12 may lack a clear playoff contender this year, but half the conference will likely finish in the top-30. All because everyone in the Pac12 is held together by California talent - schools there physically or readily able to tap into it from out of state. No one has dominated the channels yet, which leads to great parity but no clear favorite.

    And the B12 is similarly buoyed by Texas talent. So I think the movement to expand or alter the Big12 stems from the fact that you've got 3-4/10 schools that can't tap the Texas talent stream, which kills the quality at every level required to keep a 10-team Big12 viable. If they started making changes like swapping Houston for Kansas, then a 10-team Big12 would have no problem competing with the other conferences. But without the increased quality, 10-team conferences cannot compete with 14-team ones over the long-term.

  2. "All because everyone in the Pac12 is held together by California talent"

    California talent + domination of pacific time TV markets.

    The Big 12 has Texas talent (which is more numerous) and doesn't dominate the TV markets anywhere save perhaps for DFW and maybe SAS.

    Also, the Pac-12 has greater access to Islanders, which probably gives them a fair-sized edge in total talent over the B12's own recruiting pool.

    "So I think the movement to expand or alter the Big12 stems from the fact that you've got 3-4/10 schools that can't tap the Texas talent stream"

    Every school in the B12 has solid access to Texas talent.

    "If they started making changes like swapping Houston for Kansas, then a 10-team Big12 would have no problem competing with the other conferences."

    That would not be helpful. Houston doesn't add any new recruiting turf to the league OR any new TV markets. You'd just be hoping they're consistently good enough to raise the profile of the league which isn't a great bet.

    There is no increased quality available to the Big 12 to boost the league. The best options were schools like Nebraska, Colorado, Missouri, and Texas A&M who all left for better leagues.

    1. I think this is a far too pessimistic attitude, and one that stems in part from the theory that a conference must only add or swap schools that bring in a new TV market by physical proximity. But the future of FBS TV money looks instead towards having an increasing number of games that viewers will pay for and have access to regardless of geographic market. There was a survey, and apparently more people on the West Coast are willing to shell out $30/month for the other four conferences' games than $20/month for ESPN's channels. So I think if the Big12 improves its quality, then the TV money will follow.

    2. The Big 12 already puts out arguably the most entertaining football in the country and still can't command as much TV money.

      I think the number of alumni is key and the west coast has tons of alumni from around the country.

      TV money is everything and commanding TV markets is essential for leagues that want to stay in the show. All it takes is for Texas to determine there's a better opportunity elsewhere and the B12 will fold like a cheap tent.

  3. Agree about TCU, Ian.
    They are #2 in the conference for me. Along with OU, they are a top 15 team.
    Then in top 15 - 30 are Ok St, Baylor (rumors are taxing), UT.
    Tech and K St (Wizard exception could bump them to up 20 places) are 50 to 70. Either WV or ISU will join the prior group, and the other will be in the 90's with KU.