What scoring goals are appropriate for UK if it will be SEC competitive?

By RICHARD CHEEKS, Contributing Writer

Offensively, the Cats averaged 24.7 ppg in 2015. The average SEC offense in 2015 posted 28.2 ppp. UK’s offense ranked 9th with Florida (23.2 ppg), South Carolina (21.9 ppg), Vanderbilt (15.2 ppg), and Missouri (13.6 ppg) having less potent offense than the Cats. The most potent SEC offenses averaged over 30 ppg, led by Mississippi (40.9 ppg), Arkansas (35.9 ppg), Tennessee (35.2 ppg), Alabama (35.1 ppg), Mississippi State (34.4 ppg), and LSU (32.8 ppg).

This data provides two important targets for the UK offense. First, it must exceed 28 ppg to have an average to above average SEC offense, and second, it must exceed 33 ppg to have an offense worthy of the top tier of the SEC.

Defensively, the Cats averaged 27.4 ppg in 2015. The average SEC defense in 2015 allowed 22.2 ppp. UK’s defense ranked 13th with South Carolina nipping at their heels (27.5 ppg). The stingiest SEC defenses allowed less than 20 ppg, led by Alabama (15.1 ppg), Missouri (16.2 ppg), Georgia (16.9 ppg), Florida (18.3 ppg), and Tennessee (20.0 ppg).

This data provides two important targets for the UK defense. First, it must limit opponents to less than 22 ppg to have an average to above average SEC defense, and second, it must hold opponents to less than 20 ppg to have a defense worthy of the top tier of the SEC.

At present, and for most of recent history, the UK offense and defense have been under water, and in 2015, the average scoring margin for UK was -2.75 ppg. The average SEC margin in 2015 was 6.2 ppp. UK’s scoring margin in 2015 ranked 12th with Vanderbilt (-5.8 ppg), South Carolina (-5.6 ppg), and Missouri (-2.6 ppg) being the only other SEC teams below water in the SEC in 2015. The most powerful SEC teams posted an average scoring margin 10 ppg or more, led by Alabama (19.9 ppg), Mississippi (18.2 ppg), Tennessee (15.2 ppg), and Mississippi State (11.2 ppg).

This data provides two important targets for the UK. First, it must win by an average of more than 6 ppg to have an average to above average SEC football team, and second, it must defeat opponents by 10 ppg or more to have a football team worthy of the top tier of the SEC.


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  1. I appreciate the numerology but averages are just averages and do not tell you much until they can be related to some measure of efficiency like a standard deviation, standard error or correlation coefficient. Using the above averages, KY would have to hold the ball a full quarter more than its opponents just to get even. Not likely in this league. While it’s interesting to look at averages I think a more meaningful measure of potential success lies the scoring efficiency numbers. ie, what are the probabilities of a score every time you have the ball. Compare the teams on that level and you’ll be on to something.

  2. Interesting observation, and I agree that efficiency, which is scoring normalized for venue, opposition strength, and pace of play, because the normalization does provide a stronger basis for team to team comparisons. However, when the sample set is a conference like the SEC which sees its members play very similar schedule strengths year to year and within a single year, and play a similar ration of home to away games in a season and year to year, and all play at a pace of play that falls consistently in the 12 to 12 1/2 possession per game range, the absence of the normalization does not alter the analysis.

    I have written for years exclusively using efficiency numbers, as described above. But, my experience has been that most fans seem bewildered by an efficiency of 2.5 points per possession as compared to 2.0 points per possession, but can easily understand and relate to the difference between 30 points per game and 24 points per game.

    So, I am completely at ease with modifying all of the average scoring rates in this piece by dividing them by the pace of play to speak in points per possession instead of points per game, but doing so does not alter the message in any substantive manner.

    As for the suggestion that the solution for UK to become more competitive is to allow the Cats to play an extra quarter, that may be an effective manner to describe the deficit that UK now faces. However, the real solution is that UK must score more points in each 60 minute football game than it has been scoring, and must all fewer points in each 60 minute football game than it has been allowing.

    Yes, it is a simple way to look at this game, but it is the score on the board with the final horn sounds that matters. How teams manage to put up the points or prevent opponents from scoring requires the strategies and tactical decisions of the coaches and the execution by the players.

  3. Professor:

    Good work but I think you missed my point. My point was that averages CAN mislead fans into thinking, for example, that a six point improvement ( 2.5 points on offense and 2.5 points) per game can turn KY’s fortunes around. Not so. The Cats will have to show considerably more improvement than that to start winning.

    For example, a rather extreme comparison. Against Alabama I would SUSPECT that the Crimson Tide’s probability of a score each time it has the ball would be measured in the upper 60th percentile. While KY’s probability would, I’m sure, measure less than the 20th percentile. The absolute numbers in this comparison is easy enough for the fan who flunked algebra in high school to understand. He (she) can easily see the disparity between the two teams. In fact, if you look at the point spreads each Saturday morning, this is more or less how they are developed.

    Either way, the fan that looks at either set of values need to understand the underlying methodology of the study to fully appreciate its meaning and what is being said. That’s why I like coefficients. They are related something.

  4. I think the averages do speak to the end result, but the 5 point gain you mention will not be sufficient to go from under water by 2 1/2 points per game to +6. An improvement on the order of 8 to 9 points per game margin is needed from last year’s results.

  5. Why make it so scientific boys? Which ever team can get the most out of their game plan and scores the most points wins. I just like to keep it simple. I marvel at both of your analytical skills. Listen to you two and UK has no chance even being on the field.

    1. I agree Larry Pup, you can’t predict wins or loses using stats….you don’t know what is going to happen, who is going to get hurt, who shows up and who doesn’t….just watch the game and be prepared for what ever happens…

  6. Good point LP.

  7. Some one should pass the word to vegas

  8. It is a shame that Vegas decides the out comes of some games. Think about it, they do…they should get out of the college game predicting business.

  9. I learned all of my statistics skills from my wife & Yogi Berra.

    My wife taught me that when we argue she is usually right half of the time & that I am usually wrong the other half of the time. Not sure which half to believe.

    Yogi pointed out the baseball is 90% mental & the other half is physical.
    Also you had better cut the pizza into 4 slices when you are not hungry enough to eat 6 slices.

    However I did understand Professor’s points about the level of improvement needed to be a mid-level SEC team & top tier SEC team. Thanks professor – enjoyed the article.

    1. CU@Final4 I like that logic and can hear your wife telling you that

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