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Monday, July 15, 2013

Statistical Review: Wisconsin #37

After the first three games against UNI, Oregon State and Utah State, Wisconsin had outscored those opponents by 4 total points. FCS UNI played five games in September, and except for the game against HBCU Central State, their trip to Camp Randall was the closest they came to a win. Ten games later Wisconsin scored 70 points in the Big 10 championship game. Odd, no?

In reality, picking up the split against Oregon State and Utah State was a success for the Badgers, and UNI has averaged one win against an FBS opponent every three years for the last three decades. But Wisconsin also got better after those first three games. In part, this was because Danny O'Brien and his negative EPA+ (schedule-adjusted expected points added) was replaced by Stave and then Phillips. Phillips was particularly productive, assisted greatly by his legs, but they were both about a quarter of a point better per pass attempt than O'Brien. That quarter of a point adds up quickly.

But Wisconsin was not going to get very far with the passing game,especially when all three quarterbacks were sacked on 8% or more of pass plays. But the ground game was the nation's 8th most effective and was clearly in the second tier significantly behind only Texas A&M and Alabama. Badger backs were prone to getting caught behind the line of scrimmage, much like the quarterbacks, especially James White. But he made up for his 21.6% TFL rate with 6.4% explosive plays. Montee Ball was 3rd in yards nationally but 21st in EPA+ mainly because he converted only 58% of the time in short yardage situations. On the whole, Wisconsin was fairly terrible on 3rd downs.

The defense was good, between top 15 and 25 nationally. Between good average starting field position and allowing only 25 yards per possession, the Badgers were among the nation's best at keeping opponents out of the red zone. This was important, because they were not good over those last 20 yards.

The QB situation stills seems to be up in the air, but it shouldn't hurt to have O'Brien out of Madison (I would say that it won't hurt, but I'm sure Maryland would have loved to have Danny O'Brien and his negative EPA back in College Park). The coaching change is worth keeping an eye on, but Gary Andersen was a very solid choice. Montee Ball is gone along with some key folks on defense.

But these are all secondary issues; two other issues reign supreme. 1) Ohio State is back in the race. Wisconsin won't be able to back its way into a Big 10 championship in 2013. 2) No team hurt themselves less with turnovers in 2012 than Wisconsin. Expected points from turnovers should regress towards the mean in 2013. That could cost them a couple of games in a season when they don't have many wins to spare.
The Statistical Review breaks down teams along a number of performance categories, everything from red zone scoring to field goal percentage, and compares that performance against the rest of the FBS. All 124 teams will be reviewed from 124 to 1 by the hybrid rankings. You can find short descriptions of the stats used in the table below.

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