Monday, December 7, 2009

Guess What Gator Nation, Cincinnati is Better than Texas!

So, we (the Mighty Gators) are playing Cincy in New Orleans, instead of Texas in Pasadena. Well, my claim is that Cincy is a little better than Texas this year. Let's look at the tape.

(All of the stats below except passer ratings do not include Cincy's game against SE Missouri St. since they are not an FBS team. If included, the stats would obviously favor Cincy even more since the Bearcats won 70-3.)

Schedule: It's controversial, but I believe the Bearcats played a tougher schedule (even when we include the Big 12 Championship Game). I'm going to use year-end rankings because I believe they better tell the story (instead of what a team is ranked when you play them), and its easier. Texas beat BCS #22 (AP 20) Nebraska and #19 (21 AP) OK State. Cincy beat #16 (18 AP) West Virginia, #17 (17 AP) Pitt, and #18 (16 AP) Oregon St. Cincy also beat one more winning team (7 total, all FBS), but Texas beat one more bowl team (8 total). Texas' opponents winning pct. is a little better than the Bearcats', at 0.529 compared to Cincy's 0.511, when counting the teams' opponents winning pct. against FBS teams (i.e. a team that plays one FBS team and loses is counted as 0-1). The first two bowls (Dec 19) may tell us more on this. They are Wyoming (Texas beat) vs Fresno (Cincy beat), and Rutgers (Cincy beat) vs UCF (Texas beat).

Offense: Cincy is a better offense. Both teams averaged close to 40 points, but yards-per-play has more predictive and explanatory power. Cincy averaged 7.3 yards per play, Texas averaged 5.7. That's a 1.6 yard difference per play (almost one more first down for every 6 plays).

Cincy averages approx. 8.71 per pass attempt (Pass yds divided by attempts and sacks). Texas averages approx. 6.87 yards per pass attempt. That's a 1.84 yards per pass att. difference. That means that every time Cincy and Texas call pass play, the Bearcats will average almost 2 yards more than the Longhorns. Bearcats have a 166.20 passer rating, whereas the Longhorns have a 143.68 rating.

Rushing? Even counting McCoy? Cincy is still better! The Bearcats average 5.1 per carry while Horns average 4.1 per carry, a yard difference. If Cincy calls two runs, they probably have a first down. If Texas calls two runs, they probably are still nearly 2 yards short.

Defense: Texas is better, but by a lower margin than Cincy's offensive superiority. The Horns give up 3.8 yards per play, and the Bearcats give up 5 yards per play. That 1.2 yard difference is not as large as the 1.6 yard margin between the two teams on offense. Texas gives up 2 yards per carry, while the Cats give up 3.6 per play on the ground, a 1.6 yard difference in favor of Texas, meaning the Bearcats give up 0.6 yards to the Longhorns if we subtract each team's defensive rushing from their offensive rushing. The passer rating of Longhorn opponents is 101.23. The opponent passer rating of Cincy is 119.23. This margin of difference is similar to the offensive margin, but still in favor of Cincy overall (by almost 5 points). Counting sacks, Texas surrenders 5.06 yards per pass attempt. Cincy is a little worse, at 5.71 yards per pass attempt, but the difference (0.65 yds-per-att) is not as large as the difference between the two passing offenses, which was a 1.84 yard difference per attempt (nearly triple the defensive margin difference). So Cincy is approx. 1.19 yard per pass better than Texas when we subtract each team's pass defense from their pass offense.

Third Downs: Texas has a 46% conversion rate on third downs, while Cincy has a 42% rate. Negligible difference, and, since Texas has a weaker offense, it's actually a bad sign that Texas would have slightly better success on third downs, indicating they are even more inferior on first and second downs (first and second down success is more indicative of future success than third down conversion %).

Red Zone Scoring: Texas has scored 93% of the time when reaching the opponent's 20. Cincy has scored 90% in this category. Cincy scores a TD in the red-zone 71% of the time, while Texas scores a TD 70% of the time. Pretty close.

Field Goals: Texas was 88% on FGs (22 for 25) overall and Cincy was 67% (12 for 18). Texas has been better on FGs, but Cincy isn't a bust in this area and needs fewer FGs for their overall offensive success.

Returns: Kickoffs are basically a wash. Cincy holds their opponents to 2 fewer yards per kickoff return but both teams average the same on returns. Texas is better on punt returns, averaging 3.2 yards more per return. Cincy is a hair better at defending returns.

Turnovers: Texas averages a fumble about every 89 plays. Cincy averages a fumble about every 344 plays. That's not a typo! Texas recovers a fumble on defense once every 78 plays on average, whereas the Bearcats recover a fumble once every 403 plays on average. The Horns throw an interception every 42 pass attempts on average. The Bearcats average an interception toss about every 50 pass plays. The Texas defense intercepts a pass about every 19 pass attempts while the Bearcat defense averages an interception every 30 attempts (I did not count sacks in these pass attempt inputs). These numbers mostly cancel out. Texas gives up and recovers and fumble nearly every game, on average. Cincy rarely fumbles and rarely recovers fumbles. Cincy throws fewer ints but catches few ints. All things about equal, I'd rather be the team that fumbles less and throws fewer ints (Cincy), its more in your control I would guess. However, on a per game basis, Texas looks better on turnover margin, with a +0.9/game margin compared to +0.5/game for Cincy.

Penalties: Cincy is better in this area. Texas is penalized about 0.40 yards per play. They are penalized, on average, once for every 21 total plays. Cincy is penalized once every 26 plays, with a 0.34 penalty-yards-per-play average.

Computers: The computer averages say Cincy is a touch better. They are ranked #2 by the computer average, while Texas is ranked 3. It's close, though. But Florida is as close to Texas in the computer rankings as Texas is to Cincy: 0.01 point difference between each.

I encourage anyone to improve on these statistics, even if they contradict my initial conclusions. For instance, I realize there are more ways to analyze schedule strength. A few strength of schedule rankings have Texas with a little tougher schedule than Cincy. Cincy played a non-FBS team (like a Charleston Southern), and they had one fewer game overall since they didn't have a championship game. This means they beat 11 FBS teams while Texas beat 13. This fact hurts the computer strength of schedule calculations for Cincy, but I tried to subtract the non-FBS stats from Cincy where I could (their stats against SE Missouri St.) I also don't know out-of-conference records for their respective conferences.

On a possibly irrelevant note, I would add that Cincy only has a home crowd capacity of 35,000. While potentially loud, this number might mean that Cincy has less of a disadvantage in a bowl game because they gain less home advantage overall during the year compared to a Fla and Alabama and Texas.

While it's not so obvious that Cincy is the better team, I hope this at least muddies the waters and throws some doubt onto Texas' superiority over Cincy.

I may do a similar comparison as this for Fla vs. Cincy, and maybe Alabama vs. Texas and Boise/TCU. My initial impression, especially considering these numbers, is that Cincy will be a tough opponent for the Gators and the Tide will beat Texas.