I think most of us agree that the Cougs are looking better this year using the eye test. I wondered if it could possibly show up in statistics as well. So I headed over to cfbstats.com to look at the various conference statistics up to this point in the season, and I thought I'd share some interesting information about where the Cougs rank compared to last year. First, obvious caveats.
- All games are included, not just our limited conference schedule. This is done for two reasons. First, there is too small of a sample size to just look at conference games. Second, and more importantly, the statistics are already sorted this way.
- Given 1 above, some statistical conclusions must be taken with a grain of salt. For example, OSU played a very tough OOC schedule, so any statistic where we rank higher than OSU must be examined cautiously.
- WSU has so far played teams currently rated by Sagarin (chronologically) as 19th, 102nd, 70th, 22nd and 39th - good for the 12th (!) rated schedule in the country.
- By the way, OSU has the 1st rated, UW has the 7th, UCLA 10th, WSU 12th, Cal 13th, Stanford 24th, ASU 28th, Arizona 51st, Oregon 57th, and USC 58th. I would say that overall we should be able to look at WSU's statistics in comparison to the rest of the conference fairly accurately. Perhaps we could even argue that our "true" stats would be relatively better compared to an average conference schedule.
Now I'd like to look at the statistics. Feel free to play around on cfbstats.com yourself, but I'm going to point out categories where we finished last in 2009 but have made strides this year. cfbstats.com shows that compared to the other Pac-10 teams we are:
- 4th in Passing Offense
- Tied for 5th in Turnover Margin (at zero, or even)
- 6th in Time of Possession
- Essentially tied for 8th in 3rd Down Conversion Rate
- 9th in Red Zone Conversions (scoring), 8th at TD % in Red Zone and 7th in FG%
- 4th in Passes Defended per game (tied for last in 2009)
- 5th in Opponent Punt Return Average (actually only 9th last year)
- 1st (!) in Opponent Kickoff Return Average
- 5th in Kickoff Return Average
- 7th in Punt Return Average
To me, the obvious improvements are in passing offense and special teams coverage. Having a better passing offense is likely tied to fewer turnovers and better time of possession. We are still bad at special situations like 3rd down, 4th down, and Red Zone offense, but not as horrible as last year and not worst in the conference. We'd be higher than 9th total Red Zone Offense if we could convert some of those 4th downs and limit turnovers. We're still good at punting (that goes without saying) but this year our coverage has improved - we're not getting gashed on returns as much. For reasons unknown we are good at preventing opponents from returning kickoffs. This may have something to do with small sample size, I'm not sure. Maybe it speaks to the depth of young talent we have, who are traditionally stuck on special teams the first couple years. I'd lean towards the latter explanation because we also have improved our punt return defense and our offensive special team play.
Overall, I'm happy that our offense is doing so much better, and our special teams play (other than FGs) gives hope for the future. Other than the curiously improved Passes Defended statistic (especially when teams have been running on us so much lately), we are 9th or 10th in pretty much every defensive category. I think we're close to winning a few conference games if we can just shore up the defense even a little bit. Our best remaining chances look to be @ASU and hosting UW in the Apple Cup. We have a very real chance of beating these teams (and maybe even Cal) and we seem to be improving weekly. I'm excited for the future. Go Cougs!