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Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Is LSU good?

Will the real LSU please stand up? / AP
The model likes Florida by 6. Vegas likes LSU by 2.5 (to open and as of Monday). Rarely do the model and Vegas disagree by this much 6 weeks into the season.

LSU destroyed Washington. I could quote stats from the game to prove that point, but you should really just go watch the film. LSU destroyed Washington, and then Washington turns around and beats Stanford. Then LSU beats a bad Auburn team by 2 after trailing most of the game and beats Towson by two scores. Towson. Rarely does a team's performance vary so wildly from week to week.

So I think it is fair to ask: Is LSU good?

LSU is scoring 39 points per game (versus 35 points in 2011), but these numbers have been inflated to some degree by the opposition. LSU has the 24th rated opponent adjusted scoring offense this season compared to the 15th rated offense in 2011. On the whole, LSU has been about 2.5 points per game worse this season than last. Surprisingly, this is largely because the passing game is half a yard less effective per play (while the rushing game is slightly more effective) than a year ago. This regression is consistent with, but less severe than my preseason projection based on roster changes, projections which suggested LSU would be 8.4 points worse than in 2011 and 4th nationally (just behind USC and Oklahoma and ahead of Michigan and Wisconsin. Hmmm).

Looking at the defense, LSU is 4th nationally in yards per game allowed and 9th in points allowed. But, adjusting for the competition, LSU is only 41st in scoring defense. In 2011, LSU was 2nd by that metric and was 13 points better than this year. LSU is 12th and 19th in yards per pass and yards per rush allowed versus 2nd and 3rd in 2011, which explains part of the step backwards, but they are also forcing fewer turnovers and creating fewer points through special teams. Turnovers and non-offensive touchdowns are usually less predictive, but LSU from 2011 to 2012 might be a special case.

Not as impressive as we originally thought / AP
So, through five games, almost half a season, LSU has been more than two touchdowns worse than they were a year ago, and we can pin that down to yards per play, turnovers and special team play. That is enough to drop them from great to kind of good. But LSU's performance against Washington seemed stellar. If they can do that against Washington, whose to say they can't do it for the next seven games?

Short story, Washington just isn't that good, transitive outcomes notwithstanding. In three other games this year, Washington has averaged less than 4 yards per carry. They completed 51% of their passes in those games for just over 5 yards per attempt. Keith Price is not in the nation's top 50 by EPA. We were left with an impression of a dynamic Washington offense after their showdown with Baylor in the Alamo Bowl, but I would look dynamic against Baylor. Washington won't win more than seven games (with three already under their belt), and they aren't projected to score more than 21 points against an FBS opponent (Colorado doesn't count as an FBS opponent).

So, is LSU good? Of course they are, but they are far from elite. Florida already has two wins that are significantly more impressive than LSU's, and the Florida defense has played at a much higher level. Add in the fact that Florida has a strong running game and a quarterback they trust to throw passes, and favoring LSU over Florida is a joke. Could LSU beat Florida? Of course (I give them a one in three chance), but Florida is clearly the better team.

Just ask Arkansas and Wisconsin - one year can make a big difference.

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