I wanted to break down my 2015 Big Ten Football Preview in a little bit more detail than what I was able to provide last week when I originally posted it.
To begin, I want explain the reasoning behind my KPI system. Every year we read several different takes from Guru’s around the country explain different stats and how they have an effect on perceived outcomes. What I did here was not any different. I did not do anything groundbreaking or revolutionary. My goal as a former player, current fan and “want to be guru” was to break down the Big Ten conference.
I will start this post by getting to the point. The below spreadsheet details the final results of my exercise as well as the categories I analyzed. I utilized a point system of 1, 3, 7 points for a category where a team ranked above Avg. in the Big Ten. Ohio State ranks the highest overall with a KPI Score of 363, followed by Michigan State at 319 and not really to my surprise is Michigan, who ranks third in the conference at 280 points. The West is led by Nebraska at 244, Minnesota at 229 and Iowa who scored a “fraudulent” 222. The big Surprise is Wisconsin at 204. They scored lower than Northwestern and Illinois.
So as an example of how to analyze why Wisconsin scored lower than Illinois, or Northwestern take a look at the numbers. Wisconsin scored a 7 in returning production defense while Northwestern scored a 21. Illinois Scored a 21 as well. If you also look at coaching, I have Northwestern scored as a 14 and Wisconsin at 0.
As we dive into each category, I am going to write about the good, the bad and the ugly. When I began this exercise, I thought one of the key components to winning a championship of any kind relied heavily on experience. So I chose to analyze the returning starters.
The good: Purdue returns 16 starters in 2015. 2015 will be extremely important for Boilers head man Darrell Hazel, who knows that now is the time in West Lafayette to prove he deserves to stay. Purdue also returns a high % of returning JR, SR players on their projected two-deep roster. Michigan State leads this category overall with 13 returning starters who are all either a JR or Sr.
The bad: Iowa returns ten starters, and only 60% of those returning are JR or SR.
Third Down Offense
The Big Ten has some serious returning QB’s that could rival any in the country. The problem is that three of the Big Ten Best quarterbacks all play for Ohio State. Ohio State also returns all world running back and pre-season hype monster Ezekiel Elliot. Ok enough about the Buckeyes at least in this paragraph.
The good: Ohio State stands out big time. They Dominated 3rd down QBR in 2014 and return three quarterbacks that could start anywhere in the country. JT Barrett was the most efficient QB in the Big Ten in 2014 and may be a second stringer to start 2015.
The Bad: Northwestern and Rutgers need to replace last year’s starters. Rutgers has the benefit of a solid receiving core coming back including consensus all big WR Leonte Care. The bad would be Michigan if I did not add Jake Ruddock to the equation as well as Maryland with incoming transfer Dax Garmon.
Next up is third down defense. The crowd is roaring in the background, and you have to make a stop in third and a yard, oh know, it's play action over the top for a touchdown.
The Good: Michigan State dominated the Big Ten in 2014 with a defensive pass rating of 81. It will be interesting to see if they can hold firm after losing Trey Wayne's to the NFL. Michigan State returns 63% of their defensive production in 2015.
The Bad: Minnesota allowed a horrendous 147 pass defense rating in 2014, but they return 66% of their defensive production in 2015.
Special Teams, Returning Starters and Production
The conference returns 33 starters from 2014, and the conference will also return 12 kickers who started last year, or contributed to overall FG percentage.
The Good: Maryland returns projected all big Ten kicker Ben Craddock and the speedy Will Likely, who returns both kicks and punts.
The Ugly: Michigan has to answer questions at all of the key special team’s positions. But I see this stat as an illusion and believe that Michigan will improve because they now have a dedicated special team’s coach John Baxter. The one element I expect to see improvement immediately in will be blocking on kick returns. Michigan will need to win field position battles, and I believe this will be an area we see an instant impact and some explosive returns.
The Trenches Offense
Big Ten equals big Ugly lineman, who will tear the face off of a lion over a steak lying in the middle of a safari.
The Good: Michigan State and Ohio State are the obvious leaders, but Michigan shows up surprisingly at the top as well.
The Ugly: Penn State, who if they reached the red zone could not move the rock if their lives depended on it. With Hackenberg back and some experience out of the backfield from a year ago. The Nittany Lions have nowhere to go but up.
The Trenches Defense
Hail to the Victors!
The Good: Michigan, and there have been some rumblings from the inside that the defensive line will be the strength of this team. I completed this projected more than two weeks ago and have been working to get it posted correctly. When I finished this project, I had known for a fact before fall camp started that this was the key position. My question is how good can the linebackers be? Michigan will have great success against power running teams who go north and south, but we will need strong, disciplined linebacker play in 2015 to beat a team Like Ohio State who goes east, west, north, and south with speed. Michigan will dominate a Minnesota, and have a great shot at beating Michigan State at home this year because of their pro-style attack.
The Bad: Illinois needs to find a way to stop the big play. The Illini gave up over a 150 plays of 10-20 yards and allowed 22 red zone TD’s. If this does not change, Beckman will be out at Illinois.
Returning Offensive Production
One of the key elements I loved to analyze and could have taken so much further if it were not for having a family is returning production.
The Good: Ohio State and Penn State who return 88% of their 2014 offensive production.
The Bad: Iowa, Indiana, and Maryland all return just over 40% of their 2014 production.
Returning Defensive Production
The Big Ten as a whole returns 65% of its defensive production from 2014.
The Good: Indiana and Illinois, who desperately need to improve their pass defense both lead the conference in returning production. I believe this will not be enough for either team because of talent and depth. I do feel that Indiana and Kevin Wilson will make it through 2015. I don’t feel the same way for Beckman at Illinois.
The Bad: No one jumps out, which bodes well for the conference. I do see Wisconsin taking a few steps back this year, as in they will not be in the title game.
I did not do any earth shattering analysis for this category, but what I did find out is just how badly Darrell Hazell needs to win, and that Beckman may not make it the entire season.
The good: Urban, Dantonio, Kill, And Harbaugh.
The Bad: I ragged on Beckman enough.
Just like the coaches, I could have done more here. Did I mention I have a full-time job, and a family that I cook for after I work my full-time job and then find time to blog?
The Good: Michigan will be sold out every week at home.
The Bad: No way 41,000 people watch Illinois at home every week.
How my KPI's predict the big ten schedule to play itself out.
The Good: The East will be competitive amongst its top three teams. I performed this exercise so that I could find out what the gap is between Ohio State and everyone else. I found out that the gap is wide, but if a team like Michigan can answer its special teams questions, and Ruddock can prove to be as efficient as his numbers show, or Michigan can be more than just a run stopping defense and prove to be consistent at the second and third level of its defense, they could beat the Buckeyes, and the gap between Michigan State and Ohio state is not that wide at all. I think the top of the conference will be between these three teams at the end of it all.
The Bad: The West is in trouble when playing any team from the east other than Maryland. My KPI's say Maryland will go winless in Big Ten Play. I Believe that they win a few and finish 2-6 in conference and miss a bowl all together.
The final standings based on the exercise.