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Recruiting Scenarios (12/1/12)

By Paul Bessire

Monday, December 3 at 12:00 PM ET 

This week’s blog focuses on some hypothetical scenarios in college football related to recruiting – that ultimately shed light on whether teams have over or underachieved this season and the true value of an individual player.

Simulating College Football:

For the analysis below, we had the Predictalator  simulate every matchup 50,000 times on a play-by-play basis  using up-to-date rosters, depth charts and strength-of-schedule adjusted statistical inputs for every team and player. In each case we looked at a high profile team that, to most, did not fully live up to expectations to first analyze whether or not the team had a record commensurate with its talent and play on the field. Then, we look at some notable current players from other rosters that, at the very least, publicly expressed interest in committing to that school. And, lastly, we explore the actual value of specific players by placing them on a totally average FBS team and playing that team against a totally average 12 game schedule (consider this Wins Above Average Player – comparing to replacement players is not as relevant to college sports or to football as it is to baseball or other sports where WAR has become popular).

Recruiting Hypotheticals:

To come up with the examples below, we consulted with CBS Sports football recruiting analyst Tom Lemming and his team. After the bowls, the Lemming Report on the CBS Sports Network will feature stories on many of these findings.

In the examples below, the preseason projection comes from our original 2012 College Football Preview simulations conducted in August. Teams can be favored in a different number of games than we project them to win because of the probability in the simulations (a 51% and 99% favorite are both favorites, but those mean different things).

For the initial re-simulating section (without the new player), we look at each team as it stands right now (at the end of the regular season) and simulate each game that they have played. This gives us a sense of how many games the team should have won given how they actually played (and who was healthy). This helps us account for the good or bad luck/fortune that played a role in their records.

The re-simulating section with the new player undergoes the same process with the player added to the roster in as similar a role to what he did with his actual team as possible. The difference between the two re-simulations is what the player truly would have added to the team.

And, finally, as noted above, we took a completely average FBS team and played it against itself 12 times on a neutral field, with the exception that we added that player to one of the rosters to gauge some semblance of the player’s true value over an average player at that position.

De’Anthony Thomas to USC

USC Preseason Projected to be Favored in: 11 of 12 games

USC Preseason Projected Record: 11.1-0.9

Actually Favored: 10 of 12 games

Actual Record: 7-5

Re-simulating 2012 USC projection without De’Anthony Thomas:

Favored in: 10 of 12 games

Projected Record: 8.0-4.0

Re-simulating 2012 USC with De’Anthony Thomas:

Favored in: 10 of 12 games

Projected Record: 8.5-3.5

Results:

Actual USC Win Differential from Projection: -4.1 wins

Over or underachieved by: Underachieved by 1.0 win during the season

De’Anthony Thomas’ USC Win Differential: +0.5 wins

De’Anthony Thomas’ Wins Above Average: +2.2 wins

Note:  Falling from a presumed national championship contender to a 7-5 team (though they were technically unlucky to be there and should have been at least 8-4 based on their actual game stats) is the biggest headline from the analysis as it relates to USC, but that had little to do with deficiencies related to the skill positions. With stellar seasons from Marqise Lee and Robert Woods as skilled playmakers, home run hitters and returners as well as efficient play from running backs Silas Redd and Curtis McNeal, hometown standout De’Anthony Thomas would be something of a luxury, if not a redundant player for the Trojans. In fact, his best asset is his speed and ability in space, which directly conflicts with the issues that USC had with depth and talent on the offensive line this season. Furthermore, USC’s most glaring issues came on the defensive side of the ball where they finished with our 47th ranked defense (of 124 in FBS). While De’Anthony Thomas was a star defensive back at Crenshaw High School in Los Angeles, given his size and electric playmaking ability, my guess is that he would have stayed on offense in USC as well.

Overall though, Thomas is one of the more individually valuable players on this list. That may sound odd for a player who barely averaged double-digit touches a game this season and at a position that, in the NFL, is essentially irrelevant. He takes an average 6-6 team and makes it 8-4 or better with his skill set. This is also known as the Dri Archer factor.

Manti Te’o to USC

USC Preseason Projected to be Favored in: 11 of 12 games

USC Preseason Projected Record: 11.1-0.9

Actually Favored: 10 of 12 games

Actual Record: 7-5

Re-simulating 2012 USC projection without Manti Te’o:

Favored in: 10 of 12 games

Projected Record: 8.0-4.0

Re-simulating 2012 USC with Manti Te’o:

Favored in: 10 of 12 games

Projected Record: 9.6-2.4

Results:

Actual USC Win Differential from Projection: -4.1 wins

Over or underachieved by: Underachieved by 1.0 win during the season

Manti Te’o USC Win Differential: +1.6 wins

Manti Te’o Wins Above Average: +0.4 wins

Note: USC’s struggles were highlighted above so we will not belabor that point…

This may actually be the best argument for Te’o to win the Heisman Trophy. If nothing changed but the middle linebacker, USC would have been a favorite to win over Notre Dame even with Max Wittek at quarterback. It is extremely rare to see a defensive player mean so much to his team both against the run and in pass coverage. Obviously, the rest of Notre Dame’s defense has been very good and is littered with future pros and former high school standouts, but so is USC’s and we see how much that team struggled without an anchor like Te’o for what over the past decade (until this season) has become the true “Linebacker U.” Based on the way that they played this season, USC would not have been a slam dunk national champion with Te’o on the roster, yet had he stayed on the West Coast rather than travel all the way to South Bend, Indiana for his college career, he would have put this team in a better position overall and a better position than the example with De’Anthony Thomas above.

That all being said, Te’o could have helped a good team become great and a talented defense less likely to give up big plays. As Luke Kuechly knows as well as anyone, one well above average player on the defense does not translate into too many wins.

Johnny Manziel to Texas

Texas Preseason Projected to be Favored in: 10 of 12 games

Texas Preseason Projected Record: 9.0-3.0

Actually Favored: 10 of 12 games

Actual Record: 8-4

Re-simulating 2012 Texas projection without Johnny Manziel:

Favored in: 10 of 12 games

Projected Record: 7.7-4.3

Re-simulating 2012 Texas with Johnny Manziel:

Favored in: 11 of 12 games

Projected Record: 9.2-2.8 Results:

Actual Texas Win Differential from Projection: -1.0 wins

Over or underachieved by: Overachieved by 0.3 wins during the season

Johnny Manziel Texas Win Differential: +1.5 wins

Johnny Manziel Wins Above Average: +3.5 wins

Note: This Texas team essentially came right within expectations by winning two-thirds of its games and a top four finish in the Big 12. I think it is fair to consider this an underachieving season, though, as late 2011 improvements looked like they may yield a top ten team that was in Big 12 and BCS bowl contention throughout the year. The defense initially let the team down and the Longhorns were essentially out of the mix after giving up 63 points to Oklahoma (a second straight loss for the season). In actuality, the quarterback play was not too bad for Texas (before the TCU game). They would still not have likely been a BCS bowl participant with Johnny Manziel at quarterback (for what it’s worth, Texas A&M would have almost assuredly gone to a BCS bowl had the Aggies still been in the Big 12).

Texas’ quarterbacks in 2012: 2,866 yards passing on 285 attempts (8.7 yards-per-pass, 67% completions), 21 TDs and 8 interceptions to go with 52 rushes for 126 yards (2.4 yards-per-attempt) and one TD against the 20th ranked FBS schedule.

Johnny Manziel in 2012: 3,419 yards on 400 attempts (8.6 yards-per-pass, 68% completions), 24 TDs, 8 interceptions to go with 1,181 yards rushing on 184 carries and 19 touchdowns against the 25th ranked FBS schedule.

Passing wise, these are similar numbers. Manziel dominates the Texas quarterbacks on the ground, which accounts for the uptick in wins. Consider though, that the best offensive tackle in the country, Luke Joeckel, plays for Texas A&M and that the Aggies will likely have two players drafted in the top ten in the 2013 NFL Draft and may have five players taken in the first three rounds after this season. Also, with two former top ranked high school running backs on the roster (plus, Joe Bergeron who looked great in 2011), Texas’ quarterbacks were not presumed to be needed as much for their abilities to run.

For an average FBS team, Manziel would take a 6-6 squad and make it a 9-3 or 10-2 team against an average schedule (Jordan Lynch of Northern Illinois is a great, current example of this).

Teddy Bridgewater to LSU

LSU Preseason Projected to be Favored in: 11 of 12 games

LSU Preseason Projected Record: 10.1-1.9

Actually Favored: 11 of 12 games

Actual Record: 10-2

Re-simulating 2012 LSU projection without Teddy Bridgewater:

Favored in: 10 of 12 games

Projected Record: 9.5-2.5

Re-simulating 2012 LSU with Teddy Bridgewater:

Favored in: 11 of 12 games

Projected Record: 10.9-1.1

Results:

Actual LSU Win Differential from Projection: -0.6 wins

Over or underachieved by: Overachieved by 0.5 wins during the season

Teddy Bridgewater LSU Win Differential: +1.4 wins

Teddy Bridgewater Wins Above Average: +3.1 wins

Note: Bridgewater, who is from Miami, flirted with going to either Miami or LSU as well. Ultimately, when LSU brought in Zach Mettenberger, Bridgewater headed to Louisville where he knew he would be able to play quarterback and play early.

This year, in his sophomore season, Bridgewater led the Cardinals to a 10-2 record and a BCS bowl berth while putting up these numbers: 3,452 yards on 387 attempts (8.9 yards-per-attempt, 69% completions), 25 TDs and 7 INTs (including 263 yards, 2 TDs and 1 INT with a broken left wrist in the Big East clinching win over Rutgers). Mettenberger’s team also went 10-2, though more so in spite of him as opposed to because of him. Mettenberger completed 58.7% of his 329 passes for 2,489 yards (7.6 yards-per-attempt), 11 TDs and 6 INTs. Neither quarterback is adept at running, but Bridgewater did a better job of avoiding sacks despite a weaker offensive line.

While Johnny Manziel does not make Texas into a national championship team, since quarterback was the biggest weakness of the LSU Tigers this season, having someone with Bridgewater’s abilities and intelligence (on and off the field) certainly could have turned LSU into even more of a legitimate national championship threat. Mettenberger did play well against Alabama in a loss, but Bridgewater consistently puts up similar performances (obviously, the SEC defenses are better than the Big East defenses, but the Big East is actually a pretty strong conference on defense and Bridgewater profiles as a much better quarterback regardless). Had Bridgewater gone to LSU and started this season, we could be talking about LSU in the BCS Championship Game and about Bridgewater as a Heisman Trophy finalist.

On an average team, with his lack of rushing prowess, Bridgewater does not quite mean as much as Manziel.

Stephon Tuitt to Georgia Tech

Georgia Tech Preseason Projected to be Favored in: 6 of 12 games

Georgia Tech Preseason Projected Record: 6.7-5.3

Actually Favored: 7 of 12 games

Actual Record: 6-6

Re-simulating 2012 Georgia Tech projection without Stephon Tuitt:

Favored in: 6 of 12 games

Projected Record: 6.9-5.1

Re-simulating 2012 Georgia Tech with Stephon Tuitt:

Favored in: 7 of 12 games

Projected Record: 7.4-4.6

Actual Georgia Tech Win Differential from Projection: -0.7 wins

Over or underachieved by: Underachieved by 0.9 wins during the season

Stephon Tuitt Georgia Tech Win Differential: +0.5 wins

Stephon Tuitt Wins Above Average: +0.4 wins

Note: Offense was rarely an issue for a Georgia Tech team that leveraged 36.2 points-per-game (and NCAA sanctions to others in the division) en route to an ACC Championship Game performance (our analysis suggests the team should have won at least one more game). In the team’s losses, though, the Yellow Jackets allowed 40.2 points-per-game. Needless to say, defensive upgrades mean more to a team like Georgia Tech than to average FBS teams. As a 6’6”, 303 lbs. defensive end (out of Monroe, Georgia) who tallied 11 sacks and 40 tackles in 11 games for Notre Dame on the season, Tuitt would be a much needed  improvement at the position for Georgia Tech. One defensive end who makes 2-3 significant plays (sacks, hurries, tackles for loss) per game still does not even add a full half of a win to a team with a defense this porous.

Kenjon Barner to UCLA

UCLA Preseason Projected to be Favored in: 7 of 12 games

UCLA Preseason Projected Record: 6.7-5.3

Actually Favored: 8 of 12 games

Actual Record: 9-3

Re-simulating 2012 UCLA projection without Kenjon Barner:

Favored in: 9 of 12 games

Projected Record: 8.2-3.8

Re-simulating 2012 UCLA with Kenjon Barner:

Favored in: 9 of 12 games

Projected Record: 8.3-3.7

Actual UCLA Win Differential from Projection: +2.3 wins

Over or underachieved by: Overachieved by 0.8 wins during the season

Kenjon Barner UCLA Win Differential: +0.1 wins

Kenjon Barner Wins Above Average: +0.8 wins

Note:

Barner is a great talent at running back, but he is a redundant player to another great talent at the position that UCLA had in Jonathan Franklin. Franklin, a senior, is listed at 5’11”, 195 lbs. and averaged 155 total yards a game on 6.3 yards-per-carry against the 33rd ranked FBS schedule for the Bruins. Barner, also a senior who was recruited out of Riverside, CA to Oregon as a defensive back, is listed at 5’11”, 195 lbs. and totaled 155 yards a game 6.5 yards-per-carry against the 31st ranked FBS schedule for the Ducks. That’s ridiculously similar. Unless he had been playing as an all-conference level (or better) defensive back, Barner would not bring anything new to UCLA that Franklin did not already give the team.

Though it is a position that is more valuable in college football than the NFL right now, the value of the running back is still heavily reliant on the strength of the offensive line, the scheme of the team and the team’s ability to take pressure off the running game with the passing game. In other words, as good as Barner was this season and can be, he still means less than a full win improvement to an average team. 

 

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