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By RICHARD CHEEKS

In 2012 and 2013, the Kentucky football schedule’s first four game included Louisville, Western, a  MAC Opponent, and Florida.  In 2012, Louisville was the first game, on the road, the other two non-conference games were at Commonwealth, and the Cats opened the SEC season on the road at Florida.  In 2013, Western was the first game, on the road, the other two non-conference games were at Commonwealth, and the Cats opened the SEC season at home against Florida.  Both years, the Wildcats finished the 4-game opening sequence 1-3, posting big wins against their MAC opponent in week 2, while losing to Louisville, Western, and Florida.

There seems to be a consensus among members of the Big Blue Nation that this UK team is playing substantially better football than its 2012 predecessors played through the first four games.    However, an analysis of the numbers demonstrates that while there has been some improvement on the defensive side of the ball, the offense is languishing.  These factors combine to show a very nominal net improvement in the quality of play.  The illusion of a more significant level of improvement is created by a significant decline in schedule difficulty for the first four games of the current season as compared to the first four games of 2012.

On the one hand, some might conclude that playing Louisville and Western, one at home and the other on the road, one MAC opponent at Commonwealth, and opening the SEC against Florida each year would yield about the same schedule strengths.  However, two factors make first 4 games of 2013 weaker than the same 4 games in 2012.  The Cats played Florida at home instead of in Gainesville, and there is a huge strength difference between the two MAC opponents.  Kent State in 2012 was about 20 points stronger than Miami of Ohio is in 2013.  These factors combine to make the 2012 schedule significantly stronger through the first four games than the 2013 schedule has been.  Quantitatively, the 2012 schedule, through four games, was about 127% stronger than an average NCAA D1 schedule, but the 2013 schedule through four games has been about 117% stronger than the NCAA D1 average schedule strength.

The raw numbers, unadjusted for schedule strength support the conclusion of improvement.  The Cats have averaged 410 yards per game in 2013, up 34 yards per game on offense from 2012.  Furthermore, the Cats have held opponents to 374 yards per game, down 26 yards per game on defense from 2012.  In terms of scoring, the UK offense is producing only 21.8 ppg, down 1.2 ppg from 2012, but the UK defense is only allowing 23.3 ppg, down 5.7 ppg from 2012.  The pace of play for the Cats has been marginally slower in 2013, with 11.3 possessions per game, down from 12.0 in 2012.   The UK offense has been marginally more efficient at 1.933 points per possession in 2013, up from 1.917 ppp in 2012, but this increase is not a significant change in the unadjusted values.  The defense has been more efficient at 2.114 ppp in 2013, down from 2.636 ppp in 2012, and this is a significant improvement on the defensive side.  However, given the easier 2013 schedule in the first four games, the unadjusted data produce an inflated measure of the improvement.  When these efficiencies are adjusted for schedule strength, the offense has been less efficient by about -0.16 ppp, and the defensive improvement is reduced to only 0.28 ppp.  Therefore, the Adjusted Net Game Efficiency is slightly improved in 2013 from 2012 by about 0.12 points per possession.

While the trend is improving, the magnitude of the change is marginal and the adjusted NGE for UK is lagging far behind all of their SEC opponents, and the majority of their D1 non-conference opponents.  This is why the preseason 3-9 projection has now transformed into a 2-10 projection.  The elusive 3rd win should have been over WKU, but the Cats’ season opening loss to WKU (one of 3 games in which the Cats will be favored in 2013) dropped the projected win total from 3 to 2 games.

To put the current adjusted NGE into some perspective, consider that the closest SEC opponents (Arkansas, Auburn, and Tennessee) have adjusted NGE values so far in 2013 that are 0.6 ppp and 1.4 ppp higher than UK’s current value.  The average SEC team has an adjusted NGE that is 1.7 ppp higher than the Cats’ current value in 2013.  The top tier SEC teams (Alabama, LSU, and Georgia) have adjusted NGE values that are 2.3 ppp to 2.7 ppp higher than UK’s current value.  UK is currently not playing at a level on par with the bottom of the conference, and the magnitude of improvement that will be required remains at a substantial level.

The task that lies ahead of Coach Stoops is daunting, to say the least.

14 Responses to Guest Post: Here’s Why Coach Stoops Faces A Monumental Rebuilding Program

  • ukscat says:

    Have yet to see an “NGE” make a tackle, a block, or a catch.
    Recruiting has been appreciably better – that’s the key.
    Again, stay positive, fill the seats, cheer.

  • Jim harris says:

    So some days it rains.

    We’ll improve more than most will as the season goes along. And the back end of our schedule is much lighter than the front–up thru Alabama. We will not end up 2-10 this year. Most of the internet BBN expected 4 or 5 wins this season and we’ll end up with 4 wins. When CWS has 10,000 empty seats against a team like Florida, it’s obvious that many fans don’t expect much this year. And we’ll struggle again next season. I’ve spent most of the last 65 years waiting and can wait another year or two.

  • Bill says:

    I would respectfully suggest that the perception of UK playing better football this season comes from effort on the field. The guys are playing harder even though there are noticeable mistakes learning a new system. Two sacks of Maxwell come to mind when the defensive player was untouched. While the NGE doesn’t provide much support for optimism at this point, the data is somewhat limited. Regardless, I appreciate you taking the time to break it down.

  • RJ says:

    I disagree with the contention that this year’s schedule is easier than last year’s through the first four games. Western whipped us last year and again this year – that’s a push. Louisville whipped Fla (#20) in bowl game last year and whipped us last year as well as this season and will probably go undefeated this year- that’s a push. OK Miami is not Kent State so this is the only gimmie we’ve had this year. As far has “should have beaten Western”, shoulda woulda coulda – we got whacked twice in a row. By every account I’ve ready KY has one of the toughest schedules in the nation for 2013.

    I agree with Bill, the fact that our guys have not “quit” in a game is significant improvement over last year.

  • Little Baron says:

    Factual stats are simply too sound to ignore. As thrilled as I am that our team showed they would not “quit” against UL & FL, the numbers just don’t lie. We have a ton of returning players and they have a ceiling on their ability, regardless what plan is implemented. The newcomers have a great attitude and are definitely skilled, but the composite team made up of limited ability returnees and still in the learning curve 1st year UK players, is unfortunately batting about the same as last year

    This does not mean the coaches are not getting it done, but it does point out we have limited resources this year.

    The Professor masterfully analyzed the first 4 games and the result simply confirms we have not performed as well as out blue-tinted eyes have surmized. It’s a tough pill to swallow, but “it is what it is”.

    I’m hoping we survive the next two games without serious injuries and without damage to confidence from a possible blow-out.

    Thanks, Professor, for simply presenting the facts, though disappointing. There is only one remaining game we can feel confident about. Hopefully we can pull off an upset along the way later in the season.

  • LexJim says:

    This is sound proof that one should never forget the old maxim that there are lies, damn lies, and statistics. I’m sorry but I watched those first four games last year and anyone who believes that this is not a vastly improved football team… well, let’s just say you probably believe that every kid should receive a trophy for his/her participation. That doesn’t change the fact that this is not a good football and has fatal flaws but the quality of football is vastly superior to last year’s. And, as a side note, although the record shows Kent State was much greater than Miami they certainly weren’t the night we played them. They were horrendous. And that’s being generous. Maybe THEY should have received a participation trophy that night..

  • Larry Pup says:

    No question about it, Stoops has a daunting task. I won’t debate the good Professor’s analysis. Unless UK gets the QB position stable and productive, they are in big trouble IMO. The offense, and defense have struggled against three of its first four opponents, and the next two are killers. The coaches have got to get more out of the talent they do have at UK, and players have got to play above their ability. UK beats itself by way to many missed opportunities and mistakes. I’m Big Blue all the way, but UK does not look like a good football team right now, I’m sorry. A big upset would go a long long way in boosting this team’s credibility and future success this season. It is hard for me to see more than 2 wins with the remaining schedule. I hope I’m wrong, but this UK team has not shown it is capable of beating good football teams, and especially ranked teams. While I knew going in they would be hard pressed to win games this year, I expected a better product than I have see thus far. I am still pulling and rooting for the CATS, There is still time to turn it around.

  • TheProfessor says:

    http://bigbluefans4uk.com/UK_Football/2013_Season/2013_Data_Tracking_Images/Possession Chart-Florida Game.jpg

    The above link will open the UK -Florida Possession Chart for Saturday’s game. An average college football game has 11 to 13 possessions. Look at what happened Saturday night.

    For the game, UK had a total of 7 possessions, 4 in the first half, and 3 in the second half. Florida had 6 possessions, 4 in the first, and only 2 in the second. For the record, Florida possessed the ball at the end of each half, taking a knee to run out the clock, possessions that do not count in the efficiency calculation, and adding 4:42 to their total time of possession.

    Time of possession for Florida on its 6 possessions was 33:29, and Kentucky had the ball a total of 21:51 on its 7 possessions. On the 6 possessions, Florida scored a TD 3 times, made a field goal, missed a field goal, and threw an interception. They scored 24 points on 6 possessions. That is 4 points per possession. For those that argue the UK defense played well, please explain to me how a defense that does not stop an opponent and force a single punt in an entire game showed improvement against an offense that had been less that Florida-like over their first 3 games. It is a mystery to me.

    As for the Kentucky offense on 7 possessions, 1-8 on third down converstions. The possessions ended with punts three times, on downs twice (worse than a punt), one interception, and a touchdown on a fake field goal attempt. The offense ran a total of 47 plays from scrimmage. I am pleased that Coach Stoops saw the Florida tendency to over commit from the right side on field goal attempts, and design a trick play to take advantage of that, and I am pleased it worked to perfection. But, the fact remains that the offense was only able to put the team in position to score one field goal.

    If this had been a more typical 12 possession game, does any one believe the defense would have gotten a significant number of stops when they could not get one in 6 tries? If this had been a 12 possession game, does anyone believe the offense would have scored more frequently than it did in the first 7 tries?

  • Little Baron says:

    Well Professor, a little simple math supports your concern that more possessions would have been bad news for UK’s defense and nothing to write about for our offense. I was pleased FL seemed content not to run up the score in the 2nd half, and belive if Spurrier had been there, he would have done all he could to put up 45 or so points.

    HERE’S SOME GOOD NEWS FROM THE FL GAME!!!

    UK made #6 in the Top 10 plays of the day on ESPN!!!

    The fake punt for a TD was highlighted as #6!

  • RJ says:

    The great thing about statistics is they are culmination of what has happened in the PAST. While statistics may suggest what should happen in the future they say nothing about what WILL happen in the future. Every roll of the dice can be predicted with a certain statistical probability what the next roll will be but no one can predict with 100% certainty what the next roll will be.

    In a game like football where players emotions and motivations have as much to do about the outcome of the next game as what a particular team has done in the past make predicting outcomes problematic. That’s what makes college football so great. While you wouldn’t want to bet on a long shot win against say South Carolina, one would equally be guarded against betting against such an event. It takes 30 or so players on each team to win a game. Any one of those players can cause his team to lose. Calculating the permutations of all possible outcomes is a fools errand because you are talking about what has not happened yet and you can be accurate about the future only within a band of probability.

    It’s sort of like betting against the house. You will lose in the long run but in the short run, you will win more than you think.

  • TheProfessor says:

    Yes, the stats tell the story of what has happened. Yes, the stats do suggest what should happen moving forward, and yes, there will be variances in future events from the projection forward of what should happen. The next event may exceed the projection or fall short of the projection, but over the long haul, the sum of variances will approach zero if the projection is produced without introducing bias into the process. We can even measure the bias that any person making these projections introduces into the process, because over a period of time, if the sum of variances are trending away from zero, there has been bias either for or against the situation under consideration. I monitor my bias continuously. I strive to eliminate it from my projections. This is not easy because it requires eternal diligence.

    Where we differ is the emotions factor because the statistics as they exist include the contributions, positive and negative, that emotions have made in past events, and for that reason, the impact of emotions are also a factor in the projections into the future. The same thing applies to the “playing hard” factor. What matters is what a team gets done during their time on the field of play.

    Playing hard and emotion are subjective. How do either of us know how hard or with what level of emotion these players are playing relative to the opponent, or relative to their counterparts from a year ago? How can you measure these factors, other than empirically through their impact on the statistics as I have noted?

    How well a team is playing, considering all of the factors including the empirical ones, can be measured with objective parameters that can be compared team to team, and year to year. This year’s team is not playing at a significantly higher level of play than last year’s team, and this year’s team is playing at a level that lags well behind the next weakest SEC team.

    • RJ says:

      You made an excellent point in your last paragraph which I think is more indicitive of the level of talent that the coaching staff inherited than the level of play. I stated, going into the season, that I would be satisfied if the team showed some grit and would not quit even though they had little if any hope of winning. And they are doing that. So from that perspective, they are playing better than last year and are meeting expectations.

      Not quitting is step one in building team character. Add some talent, a lot of hard work and the first thing you know, you have a winner. Not because of past performance, but because of talent and a desire to win.

      Otherwise, what’s the point? Get rid of college athletics and level all the stadiums and arenas turn them back into corn fields or dorms. Larry Vaught won’t have a job and we will have nothing to talk about except politics. What a dreary thought.

    • LexJim says:

      I believe your argument, although logical, has specific flaws. In fact it seems to me you have assumed you are the only rational person here making a cogent argument. While you may be Mr. Spock it does not increase the accuracy of your projections. You have presumed that there is only one data set while there are definitely at least 3: the teams played (your data set), the coaching staffs, and the players. I won’t argue with your conclusions regarding the strength of schedules. They seem to be accurate on the face. However, you have basically ignored the other two. Why? Because they are subjective judgments and cannot be analyzed statistically. (I refer you to Malcolm Gladwell’s excellent chapter on this in What the Dog Saw.) But if you speak with people who watch and/or coach football for a living you would find a heavy consensus that 2013′s Kentucky team is much improved over last season’s. Fundamentals are much better and the talent level of this year’s incoming class is vastly superior to prior classes. Those two things may not improve the record but unless, as academics are wont to do (subtle dig), you believe the common man is a fool I think we can somewhat rely on the fact that 60,000 people are showing up to watch the games rather than 30,000 and who, though disappointed with the results and the youthful mistakes made, come away encouraged for what the future holds. To steal the analogy of Alan Greenspan (I believe), turning around a moribund football program is like turning a battleship. It happens gradually not quickly.

      But the real question is what does your post have to do with its title? The entire premise is “If you think last year’s team sucked wait until you take a gander at this year’s!” not the struggle confronting Coach Stoops

  • Larry Pup says:

    SC will be a daunting task, you can believe that. I say Jalen should get the start this week against South Carolina. Clowney is going to be coming off the edge hard like he does, and based on What Florida did to UK all night last Sat. Jalen can avoid the rush better IMO. If they start Max, he is going to get hurt if UK can’t slow down the SC rush. I say Jalen can be effective in the passing game too if he is allowed to remain in the game long enough to get rid of the jitters and settle down. I hope the coaches give him a little more rope this week instead of yanking him out of the game and running in Max. The defense knows UK will more then likely be throwing the football when Max comes in. If they start Max, leave him in the game long enough too to establish a rhythm. This coming in and out of the game has to be a bummer, for both our QB’s. Short slant passes and screens. Get the ball out quickly. Jo Jo getting his carries, work him hard, Raymond too. UK must run the football to beat SC. Occasionally hit a Kentucky TE would be great to see too if it’s there. Hit Montgomery or Blue deep if open, at least try to keep SC honest. Give Mobley some work too. Spread the ball around, and if one is getting it done, give the football to the hot hand. Defense, force some punts. The Pup’s game plan. What is your’s

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