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Cal Does NOT Deserve a Top-10 Ranking
The Top 10 teams in both major polls (AP and CNN/USA Today) at the end of the 2003 Bowl season are as follows:
That means eleven teams for ten slots, a small discrepancy when considering two different polls. The groupings are very nearly the same.
In the earliest pre-season rankings written by individual writers, Cal has been placed as high as 10th. The question before the CyberBears community is, does Cal deserve a Top 10 pre-season ranking? This CyberBear says no, and the reasoning is simple. If Cal deserves a Top 10 pre-season ranking, they will have earned it statistically the previous year. Basically, Cals defense fails to measure up. Heres why:
Statistically, one can derive measurements from those teams. Amongst those measurements are scoring, first downs, total yardage, total touchdowns, punts, kickoffs, interceptions and returns, field goal attempts and field goals made, etc., as well as the defensive equivalents of the same measures (as expressed through the opponents totals).
Cal is not a Top 10 team when based upon its previous years performance.
Lets start with scoring.
Cals offense scored 457 points in 2003, averaging 32.6 points per game. Thats solidly in the range of Top 10 teams and near the average of 33.4 points per game. But when it comes to Cals opponent scoring, Cal is deficient. Cal allowed an average of 24.4 points per game while the Top 10 average 16.4 points per game (ppg). The worst points allowed average in the Top 10 was Washington State at 19.8 ppg; the best was Louisiana State at 11.0). Cal gave up 4.6 ppg more than the worst team in the Top 10.
The problems, therefore, seems not to be on offense so much as they are on defense. Where on defense? Lets start with pass defense, an oft-noted weak spot in 2003. The average passing efficiency rating of a Top 10 opponent was 104.4 in 2003. Cals opponents showed a passing efficiency rating of 121.99. Breaking down the components of the passing efficiency rating (percentage, yards per attempt, TD percentage, interception percentage), Cal ranked no higher than 10th on every measure if included with the Top 10 schools:
Cal (11th) allowed 55.86% passes completed; the worst in the Top 10 was Ohio State, who allowed 57.86% passes completed. The Top 10 average was 52.73% and led by Louisiana State at 44.65%, Washington State allowed 48.08% and 7 of 11 schools in the Top 10 fell in the range of 50.91% - 55.03%.
Cal (12th) allowed an average of 7.5 yards per pass. The Top 10 average was 5.9 yards per pass and Miami (Ohio) allowed 6.7 yards per pass. 7 of the 11 schools in the Top 10 allowed less than 6 yards per pass.
Cal (12th) allowed 5.33% of opponents passes to be completed for touchdowns. The worst percentage in the Top 10 was Miami (Ohio) and they allowed 4.57% of all opponents passes completed for touchdowns. Eight of the 11 schools in the Top 10 allowed less than 3% completions for TDs.
Cals (10th) pass defense picked off 2.99% of opponents passes. Iowa was worst in the Top 10 at 2.81%. Ohio State picked off only 2.91% of opponents passes. 6 of the 11 schools in the Top 10 intercepted at least 4.13% of opponents passes and 3 more schools intercepted at least 3.34%.
Rushing defense wasnt all that great either. Cal allowed 1,872 yards rushing, an average of 3.7 yards per attempt in 2003. No Top 10 team allowed more than 1585 yards total (Oklahoma) and 3.5 yards per rush (Michigan). Clearly Cals front seven will have to become better to reduce defensive points allowed and take pressure off the defensive secondary.
Cal recorded 38 sacks for 296 yards in 2003. This is one defensive measure where Cal compares favorably to the Top 10. In 2003, only 4 of the 11 schools in the Top 10 recorded more sacks (Southern California, 55; Louisiana State, 44; Oklahoma, 45; Washington State, 50).
Another defensive measure is the total number of series with no points allowed by the opponent. Cal had 123 series where they stopped the opponent with no score (punts, interceptions, fumbles recovered, 4th Down stops, missed field goals). No school in the Top 10 had less than 128 stops (Michigan) and 6 of the 11 schools had between 134 to 139 defensive stops.
Compare that to the raw number of opponents touchdowns and field goals and a ratio of stops to scoring drives results. Cal allowed 55 scoring drives (44 touchdowns and 11 field goals) versus 123 defensive stops, for a ratio of 2.4 stops for every score. This does not compare favorably to the Top 10. No school was worse than Miami (Ohio) with 134 defensive stops versus 45 scoring drives for a ratio of 2.98 stops for every score. Eight schools fell between 3.23 (Florida State) and 3.91 (Miami (FL)). Oklahoma had a ratio of 4.25 and Louisiana State was a whopping 5.96 stops to scoring drives.
Finally, Cals opponents gained 5,388 yards on offensive 969 plays for an average of 5.6 yards per play in 2003. The Top 10 schools averaged 3,982 yards on 907 plays for an average of 4.4 yards per play. The worst school in the Top 10 at any of these total offense measures was Miami (Ohio) with 4,776 yards allowed, 937 total plays for a 5.1 yard average. No other school allowed more than 4373 yards total (Southern California) more than 992 plays (again, Southern California) nor an average more than 4.7 yards per play (Florida State). 8 of the 11 schools in the Top 10 allowed between 3348 (Miami (FL)) and 4141 yards total offense (Washington State). The average per play ranged between 4.0 (Louisiana State) and 4.4 yards per play (Southern California and Georgia).
Bottom line: if any school is to deserve a pre-season ranking in the Top 10, theyve got to earn it by the performance of the previous year. Hype is not enough. The intangibles of a great coaching staff and player leadership is not enough (they still have to prove themselves as well). If your school is to earn a pre-season Top 10 ranking youve got to earn it on the field. But remember, those pre-season Top 10 rankings are only so much fluff. What matters is where you finish in the Final polls.
Rebuttal to Con Argument by YogiBear
Looking only at last years statistics, few people would place California in the Top 10 teams in the country. Not surprisingly, California wasnt in the Top 10 teams in the country last year. They finished 8-6, which is about the best youd expect from a team that was weak on one side of the ball, especially when the weakness is on the defensive side of the ball. However, the 2003 season is in the books and as Cal fans, were more interested in the prospects for the 2004 season.
Looking at statistics from a year ago doesnt necessarily tell us anything useful about whats going to happen in the current year. There is no question that the weakness of last years team was on the defensive side of the ball and there is no disputing that nearly every statistical measure shows that last years team doesnt match up well with last years Top 10 teams. If Cals defense has similar statistical rankings in 2004, they wont be in the Top 10 by the end of the year. But are there reasons to think the defense will be better one year later? Absolutely. How much better will determine how good a year Cal will have, but there are some positive signs that suggest the defense may be ready to take the step up in performance necessary to be a Top 10 team.
Its not surprising that the defense was poor last year with nine new defensive starters. Combined with the number of good offenses that Cal played against last year, the defense took their lumps early but improved as the season progressed. Some of that was due to a much easier second half of the schedule in terms of the quality of teams Cal faced in the second half, but some was also due to improved performance, particularly in the defensive secondary. And what is encouraging about continued improvement in the defensive secondary is that they were all very young last year. McCleskey was a sophomore and Hughes and Mixon were true freshmen. They may not be ready to dominate, but they definitely should be better than in 2003.
Even if you assume that a fair amount of the poor performance of the defense was due to talent deficiency, the defense is still likely to be better this year for the sole reason that they are all going to have an additional year of experience this year. Every position on Cals defense is returning a player who started some or all of the games last year. They cant help but be improved with an extra year of experience under their belts. As the strength of the defense, the pass defense that was often the Achilles heel of the team last year should be significantly improved. Furthermore, the expecting starting front seven are all seniors and have the necessary experience to avoid the breakdowns that led to Cals defensive breakdowns in 2003. That doesnt mean that there wont be breakdowns in 2004, but there should be fewer of them than there were in 2003.
Cals defense will definitely have to improve in 2004 for the Bears to be in the Top 10. Being the 54th ranked team in points allowed, as they were in 2003, wont be good enough as most of the Top 10 teams of the last two years are solidly in the Top 25 in this category. But they dont need to have a great defense with their offense. They just need to be on the periphery of the Top 25 defensive teams and let the offense be the difference between winning and losing.
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