11 of CFB’s most significant personnel changes during 2018
The numbers give us a glimpse into how much key injuries and QB changes have changed these college football teams. Like just about any system of computer ratings, S&P+ is a predictive tool designed to take in prior data and project the future. It encompasses all of a team’s work so far, and it does pretty well in projecting. There are personnel-based exceptions, however. Teams change, either because they improved or regressed or because someone got hurt. Someone using S&P+ as a tool to pick games would probably add asterisks for major personnel changes. Richard Johnson wrote about the difference that quarterback Trevor Lawrence has made since taking over at Clemson. That post referenced a Twitter exchange about what the Tigers’ S&P+ ratings would look like if we included only the Lawrence games. With only Lawrence games,1. Bama (+31.23)2. Clemson (+31.15)With only Ian Book games,5. UGA (+23.84)6. Notre Dame (+23.78) https://t.co/9xH2aEvgl8— Bill Connelly (@SBN_BillC) November 7, 2018 While acknowledging that this is an extremely small-sample exercise even for a small-sample sport — we’re taking an already minuscule sample of nine games and basically cutting it in half — it is still useful to look at things in this way. Clemson’s S&P+ rating if it had only played the first four games (i.e. the games in which Lawrence and Kelly Bryant were splitting time): plus-26.6 adjusted points per game. With just this sample, the Tigers rank fourth in Off. S&P+ and seventh on defense. They are still a very good team. Clemson’s S&P+ rating if it had only played the last four (i.e. the four in which Lawrence started and didn’t get hurt): plus-31.2, second to Alabama by hundredths of a point. However, Clemson ranks just ninth on offense with this sample but first on defense. That last sentence brings up an interesting point. Clemson has been awesome offensively, but a lot has come against sketchy defenses — Louisville entered Week 11 at 103rd in Def. S&P+, and Wake Forest at 93rd. Plus, the Tigers did average 41 points per game and 7.4 yards per play in the first four games. The defense, however, has raised its game since a glitchy performance against Texas A&M. And after allowing 16.8 points per game through five games, they have allowed 9 per game since. S&P+ seems to make the case that this is why Clemson has surged, though you could argue cohesion on offense has led to more confidence on defense. I asked Twitter for a few more examples of teams changing after an addition or subtraction in personnel. 2. Notre Dame This is probably the most important change of the season. Through three games, Notre Dame was 3-0 but underwhelming. The Fighting Irish had 24 points against Michigan, which is impressive, but they managed just 24 and 22 against Ball State and Vanderbilt. With Brandon Wimbush behind center, the Irish offense seemed to have a firm ceiling. So Brian Kelly promoted Ian Book. Notre Dame’s S&P+ rating if it had only played the first three games: plus-12.3, 20th overall. The Irish are third in Def. S&P+ in these games but a ghastly 88th on offense. Notre Dame’s S&P+ rating if it had only played the last six games: plus-23.8, sixth overall and hundredths of a point behind fifth-place Georgia. The defense remains third, but the offense is now 16th. Notre Dame’s Off. S&P+ rating with Book is 38.3 adjusted points per game; with Wimbush, it’s 26.4. Again, we’re dealing with perpetually small sample sizes here, but this could keep Saturday’s Florida State-ND game within a couple of touchdowns. The Irish are projected to win by 22.9, but that includes a half-season with Book. 3. Oklahoma Gotta do Oklahoma with/without mike stoops— blaise (@ThinkLikeBlaise) November 7, 2018 Oklahoma head coach Lincoln Riley fired defensive coordinator Stoops following the Sooners’ 48-45 loss to Texas, replacing him with Ruffin McNeill. The Sooners had a bye after that and have played three games since, winning by an average of 41-29. Oklahoma’s S&P+ rating if it had only played the first six games: plus-24.8, fourth overall. In the Stoops sample, they are first in Off. S&P+ (52.1 Adj. PPG) and 57th in Def. S&P+ (27.6). Oklahoma’s S&P+ rating if it had only played the last three games: plus-25.5, still fourth overall. In the McNeill sample, they are first in Off. S&P+ (51.5 Adj. PPG) and 48th in Def. S&P+ (26.2). So it’s theoretically improved the Sooners’ defense by about 1.6 points per game. Using the per-game defensive percentiles you can find at my college football stat profiles, their average percentile performance was 49.5 percent with Stoops and has been 59 percent with McNeill. Either a slight new-coach bump or natural progression to the mean. We’ll see. The first two games were excellent, but Texas Tech carved the Sooners up a bit before quarterback Alan Bowman left with injury. 4. Ohio State Ohio State with and without Bosa - clearly he was the duct tape keeping that failing device apart— Ray Lockman (@lockmaaaan) November 8, 2018 Star defensive end Nick Bosa was injured in the third game, a 40-28 win over TCU. Instead of fighting to possibly return for the bowl, he announced he would shut things down and prepare for the 2019 NFL draft. The Buckeyes’ defense had shown a propensity for glitches, but to the eyeballs it doesn’t appear things have gotten better since Bosa’s injury. Do the numbers agree? Ohio State’s S&P+ rating if it had only played the first three games: plus-24.2 fifth overall. The Buckeyes are third offensively in this sample (45.8 adjusted PPG) and 29th defensively (21.7). Ohio State’s S&P+ rating if it had only played the last six games: plus-13.9, 14th overall. The Buckeyes are fifth offensively (41.5) and 61st defensively (27.8). Bosa’s absence (plus whatever other issues are going on) has been worth about six adjusted points per game. That’s impressive, considering Ohio State’s still got a lot of disruptive talent up front (and that big plays, with glitches far from the line of scrimmage, are still the biggest issue). 5. Iowa State Ooh now do Brock Purdy games!— Trayton Miller (@TraytonMiller) November 7, 2018 This one surprised me a bit. In Matt Campbell’s three seasons as Iowa State’s head coach, juggling QBs has been a constant. He bounced between Jacob Park and Joel Lanning in 2016, then started Park before going with Kyle Kempt in 2017. This fall, he started with Kempt, changed to Zeb Noland, and with his Cyclones at 1-3, handed the reins to freshman Brock Purdy. The difference has been night and day. Iowa State’s S&P+ rating if it had only played the first four games: plus-3.4, 58th overall. The Cyclones are 81st on offense (27.4 adjusted PPG) and 37th on defense (23.9). Iowa State’s S&P+ rating if it had only played the last four games: plus-15.0, 14th overall. They are 33rd on offense (33.2) and 17th on defense (18.1). The defense has rounded into form, improving by nearly six adjusted points per game. But the offense has improved by nearly six points per game as well. Purdy has completed 66 percent of his passes with a 195.7 passer rating. Opponents will probably adjust. But even if the offense regresses a bit, the defense’s improvement appears sustainable. 6. Purdue Only David Blough at Purdue?— Robert “Turkey Baby” Baker (@kerba1123) November 7, 2018 The Boilermakers began 0-3 with gut-wrenching losses to Northwestern, EMU, and Missouri. They have since won five of six, trouncing a good Boston College, destroying previously unbeaten Ohio State, and eking by Iowa. Their only loss since is at Michigan State in a post-Ohio State hangover game. Blough entered for the Missouri game. Elijah Sindelar had been inconsistent against Northwestern and EMU, and while Blough might not have Sindelar’s upside, he’s the steadier option. This one is tricky since Sindelar only started two games, but let’s see what the numbers say. Purdue’s S&P+ rating if it had only played the first two games: plus-3.4, 58th overall. The offense ranks 39th (32.5 Adj. PPG), and the defense ranks 71st (28.9). Purdue’s S&P+ rating if it had only played the last seven games: plus-12.6, 19th overall. The offense improves to 12th (39.9), and the defense improves to 53rd (27.2). Nick Holt’s defense has been part of this improvement, breaking in new pieces and tightening up a hair. But the offense’s 7.4-point improvement has been the source of Purdue’s rise. Blough was dreadful against Michigan State (three interceptions, 94.4 passer rating) but has produced a passer rating over 150 in five of seven starts, and the further emergence of freshman receiving sensation Rondale Moore hasn’t hurt. 7. Missouri Dang. I was hoping you'd do Mizzou with Emanuel Hall.— Jack Hanney (@HanneyJack) November 7, 2018 It’s been quite the what-if season in Columbia. Against what S&P+ deems one of the five hardest schedules in the country, Barry Odom’s Tigers are 5-4, suffering last-second losses to Kentucky and South Carolina, beating Purdue in West Lafayette, and destroying Florida in Gainesville. In part because of opponent adjustments, they are 20th overall. They’re probably an Emanuel Hall from 7-2. The game-breaking senior receiver had 18 catches for a massive 430 yards in the first three games but got hurt against Purdue and served mostly as a decoy against Georgia. He missed the next four games. He returned against Florida and caught four balls for 77 yards as the Tiger offense erupted. His absence was, shall we say, noticeable. Missouri’s S&P+ rating in just the four games without Hall: plus-8.7, 34th overall. The Tigers are 53rd on offense (30.4 Adj. PPG) and 29th on defense (21.8). Missouri’s S&P+ rating in the five games Hall: plus-15.5, 12th overall. The Tigers are fifth on offense (42.4) and 49th on defense (26.9). The defense has improved, but the offense’s ceiling is drastically higher with him. That was immediately noticeable in the Florida game. He is the best deep threat in the country, and it’s hard to imagine the Tigers not making one more big play and tipping the balance of the South Carolina and Kentucky games if he’s on the field. 8. Colorado Colorado on offense with and without LaViska Shenault— SnowBuffCU (@SnowBuffCU) November 7, 2018 Colorado began 5-0 but have lost four in a row. If you’re wondering why, just remember two words: Laviska Shenault. The sophomore receiver was one of the breakout stars of 2018, catching 60 balls for 780 yards and six touchdowns in the first six games. (Projected over 13 games, that’s 130 catches and 1,690 yards.) He has missed the last three games with a toe injury. Without him, CU lost 27-13 to Washington, blew a huge lead in a 41-34 loss to Oregon State, and lost 42-34 to Arizona. He could have made a difference in at least two of those losses. Colorado’s S&P+ rating if it had only played the first six games: plus-5.7, 46th overall. The offense is 40th (32.4 Adj. PPG), and the defense is 50th (26.6). Colorado’s S&P+ rating if it had only played the last three games: minus-12.7, 107th overall. The offense is 114th (21.8), and the defense is 100th (33.7). There’s more going on here than just Shenault’s injury (for one thing, there have been lots of other injuries), but you have to figure he had quite the role in Colorado’s 10.6-point regression on offense. The defense has also regressed by a touchdown. Shenault is listed as day-to-day for Saturday’s home game against Washington State. 9. Appalachian State App State’s ranking with and without Jalin Moore— Thad McKinnon (@ThadMcKinnon12) November 7, 2018 I’d love to confirm my bias with some numbers on Appalachian State with and without Zac Thomas— TSB (@thatsloanboy) November 8, 2018 The Mountaineers lost in overtime to Penn State, then ripped off four wins by an average score of 51-8. But injuries put a damper on the campaign. First, star senior running back Moore was lost with an ankle injury five games in. Then Thomas went down with a concussion one pass into the Georgia Southern game. The offense ground to a halt against GS in a 20-point loss. They rebounded, but the offense is still not the same. Thomas is probable to play this week, but let’s see how much App’s ceiling tamped down: App State’s S&P+ rating if it had only played the first five games: plus-19.1, eighth (!) overall. The offense is 16th (38.5 Adj. PPG), and the defense is 21st (19.7). App State’s S&P+ rating if it had only played the last three games: plus-3.6, 56th overall. The offense is 120th (18.1), though the defense is up to fourth (14.8). The defense has picked up some of the slack, but the offense has left a lot of slack to pick up. Production has been cut by more than half. Thomas’ absence does appear to be the bigger issue, and he should be back soon. But the loss to GS has made App’s path to the Sun Belt title game trickier. 10. Houston Houston D with/without Ed Oliver— Black Panthro (@AndrewVoodoo) November 7, 2018 Defensive tackle Oliver is one of the best players in the country and a surefire early pick in next year’s NFL draft. He’s missed the last two games with knee issues. Houston’s defense, already shaky, has grown perilously so in his absence. Including the Navy game, which he left early, the Cougars have allowed 39 points per game and 6.1 yards per play over the last three games after allowing 28 and 5.3 in the first six. Of course, Oliver still played most of the Navy game, so we can’t count his absence there. Houston’s S&P+ rating if it had only played the first seven games: plus-11.3, 23rd overall. The offense is 11th (40.2 Adj. PPG), and the defense is 72nd (29.0). Houston’s S&P+ rating if it had only played the last two games: minus-2.6, 85th overall. The offense is still 11th (39.8), but the defense is now a ghastly 124th (42.4). That, uh, is quite the difference. There have been other injuries on the line, and depth is a massive issue. But losing a talent the magnitude of Oliver’s has obviously had an impact. 11. Rutgers Can you do one where you take out the games where Rutgers played with Rutgers players?— My Son is Also Named Bort (@epicbret) November 7, 2018 Okay, math can only do so much.