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Guest post: How Will The Cats Fare In 2016 With Their Football Season?

Mark Stoops (Alex Otte Photo)

Mark Stoops (Alex Otte Photo)

By RICHARD CHEEKS

For two seasons in a row, the Kentucky football team started the season well enough to elevate the August Expectations of SEC East competitiveness and a bowl trip to thoughts about winning the SEC East. However, in each season, the UK team stumbled its way to finish the season with complete disappointment. In 2014, the Cats opened the season 5-1, but were not able to find that necessary sixth win for bowl eligibility over their last six games. In 2015, the Cats opened 4-2, but again could only manage five wins for the season, one win shy of bowl eligibility for the second season in a row. Many members of the UK fan base experienced delusions of grandeur that would have made Walter Mitty’s appear reasonable as they spoke about and dreamed of SEC East Championships. However, these back to back 5-7 seasons (10-14 in the aggregate) that included only 1-11 record combined over the back half of these seasons only serve to intensify the idea that Coach Mark Stoops may not be able to elevate this program to SEC competitiveness.

While the progress that Coach Stoops accomplished in his first two seasons was undeniable, the program clearly took a step back during the 2015 season. In the wake of the 2015 season, player defections and coaching staff changes filled the space between the Louisville loss and the 2016 Spring practice. Make no mistake, Coach Stoops and his staff continued to make progress on the recruiting trail, and the incoming 2016-freshman class is highly regarded. However, the 2016 class’ impact on the program will not be clear for 2 or 3 years, and the 2016 season could be the make or break year for Coach Stoops with the UK football program.

The 2014 Adjusted Offensive Efficiency was only the 12th best in the SEC. Prior to the 2015 season, I noted that if Coach Stoops could cause an offensive improvement for the 2015 season that is on par with the offensive improvements he provided for each of the two prior seasons, he could lift the UK offense to about #8 in the SEC. However, rather than continue the rising trend, the Kentucky offense declined in 2015 to 2.52 ppp, which was still sufficient to hold the #12 position in the conference.

The Cats’ 2016 offense must improve, not just from its 2015 efficiency, but also from its 2014 recent high water mark for offensive efficiency. Otherwise, Coach Stoops’ ability to make good on his promise of SEC competitiveness will be very doubtful. Last year at this time, I suggested that a 2015 offensive efficiency of at least 3.2 ppp was a reasonable goal. At that time, I hoped discussions now about the 2016 offense could focus on levels of 3.5 ppp or higher. However, based on the 2015 retreat, I believe that the Cats must still learn to walk with the SEC offenses before it can run with them. Therefore, I suggest a more reasonable 2016 goal remains 3.2 ppp or higher.

SEASON

ADJ. OFF. EFF.

ADJ. DEF. EFF.

ADJ. NET EFF.

2012 (Joker)

1.95

2.21

-0.26

2013 (Stoops’ 1st)

2.41

2.12

0.29

2014 (Stoops’ 2nd)

2.79

1.81

0.98

2015 (Stoops’ 3rd)

2.52

1.75

0.77

2016 (Stoops’ 4th) Required For Bowl Eligibility.

3.2

1.5

1.7

Defensively, the Cats showed improvement again in 2015, but the improvement was modest, and insufficient to lift the Cats up from the 13th stingiest defense in the 14 team SEC for the 2015 season. The SEC median defense in 2015 was about 1.32 ppp, down from 1.40 points per possession in 2014. The Cats’ defensive improvement was less than the SEC average defensive improvement and much less than the goal I established for the UK defense prior to the 2015 season (1.50 ppp). The defensive improvement required to reach SEC median levels is very substantial. I do not hear or see any basis for optimism that the defense can make that kind of improvement in 2016. Nevertheless, I believe that Coach Stoops must begin to put his defensive pedigree stamp onto the UK defense in 2016 if Coach Stoops wants to extend his stay in Lexington beyond the 2017 season. I believe that the 2015 goal was achievable then, and I believe it should be achievable in 2016.

While achievable, these are very ambitious efficiency goals coming off the disappointment of 2015. However, this level of improvement would be sufficient to put the Cats on par with an average SEC team over the previous five seasons. As such, these goals could produce an overall 8-4, 5-3 record in 2016.

The table and graph show the average SEC ANE between 2010 and 2015, with the trend projected out to 2016:

2010: 1.61 ppp
2011: 1.56 ppp
2012: 1.48 ppp
2013: 1.79 ppp
2014: 1.92 ppp
2015: 1.78 ppp

2016: 1.94 ppp

If the UK team plays the 2016 schedule at the same efficiency as 2015, the 2016 Cats will probably limp home with a record of 4-8, 1-7 when all the dust settles next Thanksgiving. Such an outcome will be unacceptable to the Big Blue Nation, and should be unacceptable to Coach Stoops and Mitch Barnhart. At a very minimum, Coach Stoops must deliver a 6th win and a bowl appearance in 2016. This will require improvement from the 2014 and 2015 results, with an ANE of 1.2 ppp or higher. To achieve a desirable seventh win (perhaps over Georgia), the team ANE must increase to at least 1.5 ppp based on SEC past performances.

If the 2016 Adjusted Net Efficiency Is:

The Team Will Win:

0.9

5

1.2

6

1.5

7

1.8

8

What does 2016 hold for the Cats? We will not know until the games begin. However, given the strong opponent scheduled for the season opener, the Big Blue Nation will learn very quickly whether their August Expectations for the 2016 football season are justified. Southern Mississippi, this year’s first opponent, is no patsy. The Cats will have to play at the elevated levels discussed above to get a win on opening day. That is why I believe the Cats will reveal their true prospects for their 2016 season in week 1 of the season. If the Cats beat Southern Mississippi, I will look forward to a season that will yield six or more wins. If the Cats lose to Southern Mississippi, I doubt that this team will find the six wins necessary for a bowl in 2016 over the remaining 11 games. For these reasons, it is imperative that the 2016 team avoid that lackluster attitude that produced the loss to WKU in game 1 of Stoops’ Era. Rather, the coaching staff must light a fire marked by enthusiasm and energy that will sustain the players throughout every game. Only then can the Big Blue Nation’s August Expectations be justified. Only then can Coach Stoops right the ship from the recent path that allowed the last two seasons to flounder in late October and November.

6 comments

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  1. C U @ Final 4

    Thanks Richard for this analysis. I look forward to this article each year.

    Like a lot of fans I try to dissect the schedule and predict the outcome of each game. Most years, right or wrong, I have a some confidence with my projections. There are some days that I look at this years schedule and can only find 4 wins. While other days I think we might win as many as eight.. Who knows?

    I do agree that it is a critical year for Coach Stoops. Bowl eligibility is a minimum.

    Can’t wait till Football season. Summer could to be tough. Certainly not much excitement in watching the Reds. Of course I could move to Chicago for the summer & watch the Cubs! (Or even the White Sox) Just hoping for a Triple Crown again this year to get me through another month otherwise its Vaughtsviews.com all summer.

  2. Persimmon Knob

    I’m really at a loss when trying to interpret your numbers. If, as an example, the “defensive efficiency” is 1.78 ppp(?) what are the variables used in formulating this number ? Where is the coaching input mentioned. Make no mistake the Gran method of influencing young men will have an impact on the upcoming season ! This coaching change was one made with pure genius. Both coach Gran and coach Hinshaw will have an impact on this program that will turn heads throughout the college football universe. Neither is known as a coach that accepts “no” or “can’t” as a part of the lexicon.
    Human interactions in interscholastic programs are critical to your programs success. As someone who has played at a lesser but still high level when compared to SEC football I can state fairly confidently that much depends on the teammate alongside of you and the man sending you out to execute his game plan. UK will be better…..much better this season.
    C U, you don’t want to move to Chicago 🙂 We moved out of that hell hole some 15 years ago. Aside from the Bears, Blackhawks, and the Cubs (no one watches or roots for the White Sux) there is very little to get excited about up there, High prices, higher taxes, corruption on all levels, and on and on. My Dad took me to see the very last world series game played at Wrigley. That was 1945. Followed them ever since. You think following UK football is gut wrenching??.

  3. TheProfessor

    The numbers require little interpretation. It is a simple measure, the number of points scored and allowed per possession over the course of a season. The higher the net, the better the team. If the coaching changes have the positive affect on the team’s performance, the numbers will reflect that. If the quality of the roster has improved, the numbers will reflect that as well. However, if a UK football team wants to be competitive in the SEC, it must improve the numbers from #12 in offensive efficiency and #13 defensive efficiency.

  4. Larry Pup

    To be competitive is the SEC UK has to sign as good or better athletes than the other guys are, it’s that simple. Calipari type recruiting. That would take care of a lot of UK offensive and defensive woes. Finishing towards the bottom of the SEC in recruiting every year will not get you there, generally speaking. Stoops needs more 4* and 5* athletes to commit for several years in a row than the Alabama’s , Georgia’s, LSU’s, Tennessee’s etc. sign. Then he has to coach them up. That is a chore since UK is not a football school per se, but function and struggle in a football conference. Stoops has made progress, but he has to make more..

  5. TheProfessor

    #12 offense out of 14 and #13 defense out of 14 puts UK at #14 out of 14 overall in football. Progress is all relative. Stoops promised SEC competitiveness. Many read that promise to mean competing for championships. However, ever a more modest reading, competitive against SEC average teams has not been achieved, and still requires considerable improvement in a range for improvement that is much more difficult than the improvement that has already occurred.

    Add to the poor on the field ranking relative to all other SEC football programs the fact that UK has played the weakest schedule among all SEC football teams according to Sagarin, the improvements have not been adequate, and to some extent illusory.

    I read fans now predicting 5-3 in the SEC this season, with wins on the road over Florida and Louisville. I certainly hope that this team can do just that, but I seriously doubt that this team will be able to get road wins this year at Florida AND Louisville.

  6. TheProfessor

    “If the Cats lose to Southern Mississippi, I doubt that this team will find the six wins necessary for a bowl in 2016 over the remaining 11 games. For these reasons, it is imperative that the 2016 team avoid that lackluster attitude that produced the loss to WKU in game 1 of Stoops’ Era. Rather, the coaching staff must light a fire marked by enthusiasm and energy that will sustain the players throughout every game. Only then can the Big Blue Nation’s August Expectations be justified. Only then can Coach Stoops right the ship from the recent path that allowed the last two seasons to flounder in late October and November.”

    This closing passage is proving prescient isn’t it? Calls for Stoops head began as the week 1 loss became obvious in that disastrous second half, and now that the Cats mailed it in for the Florida game in Week 2, the BBN is in crisis mode. Given the start that we have all witnessed, this team may not win more than 2 games, and will not exceed 4 wins under any scenario now likely for 2016.

    Can Coach Stoops survive this? I do not know, but I will reiterate my warnings the week UK hired him. He is yet another good football man to wade into the UK football waters only to drown. As I pointed out then, and restate now, this failure has little to do with Coach Stoops, and much to do with those at UK who set policy and run the athletic programs.

    I start with Mitch Barnhart, but strongly suspect that the cancer affecting UK football extends into the UKAA.

    I would like to see UK beat Florida again before I die.

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