College football teams better or worse than perception

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For a lot of sports bettors, the first three weeks of any college football season are very tough to gauge because of the great discrepancies in schedule strength that teams face. Most Group of 5 teams play tougher schedules against the Power 5 opponents and vice versa, with just some select premium nonconference and conference games sprinkled in. For instance, we know teams like Michigan and Minnesota have proven capable of dominating inferior opponents, as they’ve demonstrated this multiple times already. But how will they stack up now that their schedules are about to get tougher? Do the experts have their strength levels gauged properly? These are just some of the tough questions facing betters right now.

Fortunately, I have statistical measures to calculate the actual strength of teams against the level of opponents they have played. I call them EFFECTIVE STATS, and they are similar to the popular DVOA ratings or the RPI numbers in college basketball. I use these Effective Stats to help determine my Power Ratings and other key indicators.

In this article, I will share the teams whose current EFFECTIVE YARDS PER PLAY STATS signify that they might be significantly better or worse than the current perception of them. I believe this is a good way to find over- and underrated teams to take advantage of in the next few games.

I’ve taken my Effective Offensive/Defensive Yards Per Play figures and assigned them an equivalent power rating on the scale I currently use. I then took these EYPP Equivalent Ratings and compared them to the combined average of my current Power Ratings, which are based heavily on betting markets, and those of the ESPN FPI, a more mainstream indicator of team strength. Doing this strengthens my findings and eliminates chances for judgment errors by myself or the folks at ESPN.

The assumption is that if the Effective Yards Per Play Equivalent Rating is higher than the average SM/ESPN power rating, that team is playing better currently than its perceived strength and vice versa. Does this mean that the teams playing better should automatically be “play on” teams in the coming weeks, or those playing worse should be faded? Not necessarily, as there could be other factors affecting each team’s perceived ability. However, I’ll try to detail some of the key factors to consider as I analyze each team situation. For instance, I can think of five factors off the top of my head that would have a lesser impact on an oddsmaker’s, analyst’s or fan’s perception of a team’s strength when compared to analyzing records and/or scores. These include:

Turnovers: Nothing changes a score or perception of a game more quickly than turnovers. Teams on the positive end of the turnover battle in games may not be as good as advertised, and vice versa, as in many cases, turnovers can be a matter of fortune.

Sacks for/against a team: Sacks can be very influential plays in games that lead to uncomfortable down-and-distance settings. This naturally leads to atypical play calling, which can in turn lead to misrepresentations of a team’s tendencies and strengths.

Third-down success: There are very few other statistics where success, or lack thereof, runs parallel to a team’s than the third-down conversion indicator. On both sides of the ball, how a team fares on third down directly affects the scoreboard.

Strength of schedule: Teams can play well and get beat handily or play lousy and still survive a game, simply dependent on the team they played against. These types of results might not harm or help a team’s perceived strength level adequately for those simply looking at scores and records. They do show up in my Effective Stats, however.

Time of possession: How much a team possesses the ball in a game or over the course of a season can be an overrated statistic. With most teams operating pass-happy offenses and calling plays at the line of scrimmage rather than in a huddle, long drives can prove scarce. The ability to hit big plays on offense seems like the preferred result now when long drives used to be paramount. Defenses try to yield those big plays while causing turnovers and forcing teams into long down-and-distance situations.

Penalties: The amount of times/yards a team is penalized in a game, and perhaps more importantly, the timing of these penalties, can influence down and distance, play calling and, thus, results.

Seven teams with Effective Yards Per Play equivalent power ratings at least 10 points better than their perceived strength

1. MARYLAND (Differential: + 13.6)

SM PR/ESPN FPI Average: 51.6

Effective YPP Power Rating: 65.2

Next game: 17-point underdog at Michigan on Saturday

Steve's analysis: Maryland is off to a fantastic start, particularly offensively, as the Terps are averaging 40.3 PPG and are gaining 8.3 yards per play, good for third in the country. They are picking up right where they left off to close the 2021 season when they scored 94 points in their final two games. What’s more, coach Mike Locksley’s team isn’t getting a huge benefit from any of the extenuating factors I listed above that can cause variations. In fact, having been penalized 90.3 YPG (127th in the country), this team might actually have some luck going against them at this point. I expect Maryland to compete in Ann Arbor on Saturday.

2. KANSAS (Differential: + 12.55)

SM PR/ESPN FPI Average: 44.85

Effective YPP Power Rating: 57.4

Next game: 9-point favorite at home vs. Duke on Saturday

Steve's analysis: Kansas is perhaps the surprise team in all of college football, and it seems pollsters and oddsmakers alike are afraid to go all in on the bandwagon. My Effective YPP Power Rankings indicate that on a per-play basis, the Jayhawks are playing at a 57.4 Power Rating level, which would rank 13th in the country. There are a few reasons to be skittish at this point, as KU ranks No. 7 in the country in turnover differential, has yet to have its quarterback sacked, and is converting an unsustainable 66.7% of its third-down opportunities. They are also going to be in unfamiliar territory this week as a 9-point favorite. On top of that, Duke is also off to a great start.

3. DUKE (Differential: + 11.55)

SM PR/ESPN FPI Average: 39.55

Effective YPP Power Rating: 51.1

Next game: 9-point underdog at Kansas on Saturday

Steve's analysis: I just mentioned that Kansas will be hosting Duke on Saturday in a surprise matchup of 3-0 teams. Well, as you can see from the Effective Stat calculations on the Blue Devils, they may be just as underrated as Kansas. If anything, Duke may have the bigger upside yet, as their third-down conversion percentage is 40% worse than the Jayhawks, at 26.3%, good for just 117th in the country. They are also getting penalized for 67.5 YPG, ranking 96th. Clearly, this team can be better if it can clean up those areas. I would consider the Blue Devils live dogs on Saturday.

4. MEMPHIS (Differential: + 11.45)

SM PR/ESPN FPI Average: 44.45

Effective YPP Power Rating: 55.9

Next game: 11.5-point favorite at home vs. North Texas on Saturday

Steve's analysis: With Cincinnati, Houston, SMU and UCF garnering most of the attention in the American Athletic Conference, Memphis could sneak through the cracks. The Tigers have been somewhat forgotten in the early going, especially after a 49-23 loss to Mississippi State to start the season. However, they have rebounded nicely in the last two games, particularly defensively, and have posted Effective Stats befitting a much more respected team. In fact, their Effective YPP PR of 55.9 would be worse than just three current Big Ten teams’ Power Ratings. One thing to be wary of at this point is Memphis’ + 1.7 turnover differential. However, their time of possession rank is 125th in the country, so they could improve there. The jury is out still, but the Tigers could be an underrated favorite this week against a North Texas team that has lost its last three games ATS while allowing 133 points.

5. BYU (Differential: + 10.7)

SM PR/ESPN FPI Average: 51.1

Effective YPP Power Rating: 61.8

Next game: 22-point home favorite vs. Wyoming on Saturday

Steve's analysis: BYU’s effort at Oregon was disappointing, although the Cougars have been battling some injury concerns. They were also facing a desperate Oregon team eager to prove itself. Coach Kalani Sitake’s team has challenged itself in the early going, and the win over Baylor was a nice feat. My Effective YPP PR for this team is 61.8, a figure that would rank sixth in the country in overall Power Ratings. What’s more is the Cougars don’t have any unusually high or low rankings in the extenuating factors I described above. In fact, they rank between 40th and 82nd in all six of the stats I have analyzed here. They just might be a very underrated team on a play-by-play basis.

6. BALL STATE (Differential: + 10.6)

SM PR/ESPN FPI Average: 27.1

Effective YPP Power Rating: 37.7

Next game: 8-point underdog at Georgia Southern on Saturday

Steve's analysis: Quite honestly, I was surprised to see 1-2 Ball State on this list, as this team failed to cover either of its two FBS games, and only a dominant effort against Murray State has gone in the win column. Still, when you closely analyze the box scores in the Cardinals’ losses to Western Michigan and Tennessee, you will find that they competed well in both games, outgaining WMU 447-437 and putting up 344 yards on Tennessee. They have yet to give up a sack. On defense, they rank 120th in the country in sacks and have been on the wrong side of the turnover battle, time of possession and penalty yardage. In other words, the luck hasn’t been there yet for coach Mike Neu’s team. Ball State could be a hidden gem, starting this week at Georgia Southern.

7. SOUTHERN MISS (Differential: + 10.05)

SM PR/ESPN FPI Average: 36.85

Effective YPP Power Rating: 46.9

Next game: 12.5-point underdog at Tulane on Saturday

Steve's analysis: Southern Miss is another team that might be better on a play-by-play basis than its record or other strength ratings indicate. The Golden Eagles are 1-2 SU at this point and there really isn’t a whole lot on their resume that would stand out as indicating they are better than that. However, they are 3-0 ATS despite a -2.0 turnover differential per game. They’ve also been on the short end of time of possession and penalty stats. Those are good signs of a team that might be undervalued, particularly with Tulane coming down off a massive win at Kansas State last week.

Seven Teams with Effective Yards Per Play equivalent power ratings at least 11.9 points worse than their perceived strength

1. BUFFALO (Differential: -19.05)

SM PR/ESPN FPI Average: 29.45

Effective YPP Power Rating: 10.4

Next game: 4.5-point underdog at Eastern Michigan on Saturday

Steve's analysis: Buffalo’s defense has played very poorly in 2022, albeit somewhat quietly. The 0-3 Bulls have yet to allow 40-plus points in any of their three losses, but somehow, they rank better than only Charlotte in yards per play allowed at 7.8. This team has had positive turnover luck, plus is sixth in the country in time of possession and 18th best in penalty yardage. As such, they continue to get undeserved respect from oddsmakers. On an Effective play-by-play basis, Buffalo is better than only FIU and Hawaii. Fade until proven otherwise.

2. NEVADA (Differential: -16)

SM PR/ESPN FPI Average: 29.7

Effective YPP Power Rating: 13.7

Next game: 25-point underdog at Air Force on Friday

Steve's analysis: I noted on several occasions how unstable the Nevada program was going into 2022. In fact, it was the first program ever to get a ZERO in my Stability Scores. Well, according to these numbers, the Wolf Pack have lived down to that billing. Although after a 2-0 start, I’m not sure bettors and analysts are really giving enough credit for just how bad they are on each scrimmage play. In last week’s loss at Iowa, coach Ken Wilson’s team gained just 151 yards, while allowing 27 points to a team that had mustered just 14 in its first two outings. For this week, Nevada travels to Air Force to face a Falcons team that is second in the country in yards per rush and gaining nearly 500 YPG overall. It could be ugly.

3. FLORIDA INTERNATIONAL (Differential: -14.55)

SM PR/ESPN FPI Average: 16.95

Effective YPP Power Rating: 2.4

Next game: 28-point dog at Western Kentucky on Saturday

Steve's Analysis: Florida International’s Effective YPP equivalent power rating is 2.4. To put that in perspective, if that were the Panthers’ actual power rating, they would be better than only 24 FCS teams. In other words, they would be the 237th-ranked team out of 261 in all of D1 football. They simply are a different level of bad than any other FBS team. With Conference USA play starting this week at Western Kentucky, it’s not going to get better, as there are no extenuating factors that stand out for why this team is struggling so much. They are just overmatched on both sides of the ball.

4. WESTERN MICHIGAN (Differential: -13.3)

SM PR/ESPN FPI Average: 33.1

Effective YPP Power Rating: 19.8

Next game: 6-point dog at San Jose State on Saturday

Steve's analysis: Western Michigan was one of my top season-win total Under bets for 2022, as I saw an inexperienced and downward-trending team taking the field for the season. Having won the game it was supposed to, and lost the other two in which it was an underdog, the jury is still out on this team. That’s good for bettors because my Effective YPP stats show that this team is being overmatched on both sides of the ball, and there’s still time to take advantage of fading the Broncos, starting as a relatively small underdog at San Jose State on Saturday. If you need any more evidence as to why this team is even worse than perceived right now, consider that the only extenuating stat in which WMU ranks worse than 100th in the country is in defensive sacks. The Broncos don’t have the “horses” to be competitive over the long haul upfront.

5. MIAMI, FLA. (Differential: -13.1)

SM PR/ESPN FPI Average: 55.8

Effective YPP Power Rating: 42.7

Next game: 26-point home favorite vs. Middle Tennessee State on Saturday

Steve's analysis: There is reason for concern at Miami. Despite being highly regarded coming into 2022 for new coach Mario Cristobal, the team has somewhat underachieved. The Hurricanes’ current Effective YPP equivalent PR of 42.7 ranks behind eight other ACC teams. In the media, experts are questioning the regression of QB Tyler Van Dyke after the disappointing and rather listless loss at Texas A&M. Making matters worse, Miami has been on the positive side of turnover luck so far, ranks in the top 15 in defensive sacks, is eighth in time of possession and has converted 43.3% of its third downs. This team should be better. It just isn’t right now. Don’t overpay for the ’Canes against MTSU on Saturday, I’m not sure they are good enough to blow anyone out at this point.

6. OKLAHOMA STATE (Differential: -12.65)

SM PR/ESPN FPI Average: 54.95

Effective YPP Power Rating: 42.3

Next game: Saturday, Oct. 1 at Baylor

Steve's analysis: A lot of experts are hopeful for Oklahoma State after a 3-0 start. However, none of the wins could be described as high quality. The Cowboys allowed 44 points and 546 yards to Central Michigan, beat a downtrodden Arizona State team and blew out one of the worst teams in FCS. Their current Effective YPP equivalent PR is just 42.3. My Power Rating combined with ESPN have OSU at about a 55. That is a large variation in perception to reality. With teams averaging 33:31 of time of possession on OSU, this defense is having trouble getting off the field. It could hurt big time with the rugged Big 12 schedule starting next week at Baylor.

7. HAWAII (Differential: -11.9)

SM PR/ESPN FPI Average: 19.5

Effective YPP Power Rating: 7.6

Next game: 5-point underdog at New Mexico State on Saturday

Steve's analysis: Hawaii is another team that most prognosticators were skeptical of heading into the season. I was among them, based strictly on a Stability Score of 3. The Warriors have been bad, perhaps even worse than expected. In fact, at this point, the Effective YPP equivalent PR of 7.6 is only better than Florida International in the FBS ranks. Before beating FCS Duquesne last weekend, coach Timmy Chang’s team was allowing 56 PPG and 533.7 YPG. Just how bad have things gotten for this team? Well, for Saturday, they are a 5-point dog at lowly New Mexico State, and according to my effective stats, the line should be much higher, more like 18.

 

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