First, it was the Dutch tulip bulb frenzy. Then, it was
the South Sea Bubble. More recently, it was the
dot-coms. The lesson: don't believe the hype.
Wait until you can see something solid behind the hoopla before
you decide you've found The Next Great Thing.
I keep hearing that the Washington State Cougars are The Next Great Thing. They keep getting mentioned as one of the top teams in the conference. The various computer ratings have the Cougars in the top 15 in the nation. What's the basis for the rapid rise in the Cougars' reputation? Yes, they're 5-0 and yes, they have one of the nation's leading offenses. But how much does that really tell us? Are they for real, or are they a college football equivalent of a dot-com, due to come crashing down to earth any minute?
Here's a quick review of Washington State's season so far:
WSU 36, Idaho 7:Idaho is 0-5, ranked 124th by Sagarin. Idaho lost to Washington by 50. They gave up 70 points to Middle Tennessee State. Maybe the Vandals should go back to sacking Rome -- they're not having much luck sacking opposing quarterbacks.
WSU 41, Boise St. 20: Boise St. is 2-3, ranked 70th by Sagarin. Boise State got blown out by Rice last weekend, 45-13. Boise St.'s wins came against UTEP (2-3, ranked 132nd) and Idaho.
WSU 51, Cal 20: Cal is 0-4, ranked 99th. Cal may eventually turn out to be a decent team. But according to comments by their own fans on Cyberbears, Cal's players just gave up in the WSU game.
WSU 48, Arizona 21: Arizona is 3-2, ranked 74th. It's not clear how good Arizona is, in light of the fact that Oregon rang up 63 points on them last week on their own field. Arizona is the only WSU opponent with a winning record, with wins against San Diego State (2-3, ranked 94th), UNLV (1-4, ranked 87th), and Idaho.
WSU 34, Oregon St. 27: Oregon St. is 1-3, ranked 41st. Oregon State's win came against New Mexico State (2-4, ranked 86th). The Beavers didn't help themselves against WSU when they turned the ball over 6 times.
So, the Cougars have defeated five opponents who have a combined record of 6-17. Excluding their losses to WSU, the Cougars' opponents have a combined record of 6-12. I think it's fair to say the Cougars have played a weak schedule. That's not a criticism. It's just that a 5-0 record against that group of opponents does not really tell us how strong the Cougars are. There are a number of teams that would be expected to go 5-0 if they played WSU's schedule. Probably any of the top 40 teams in the nation could do it.
What about the Cougars' glittering offensive statistics? WSU is 5th nationally in total offense with 488 yards per game, and 8th nationally in scoring with 42 points per game. But it's important to consider the quality of the defenses they've faced -- or more accurately, the lack of quality. Idaho, for example, ranks dead last in the nation in both total defense and scoring defense. Here are the current defensive rankings of the Cougars' opponents (out of 115 Division 1A schools):
In other words, the Cougars have played against some bad defenses. Any team with a decent offense would be expected to put up good numbers against those teams. To quantify it, the Cougars' five opponents have allowed a combined average of 36.5 points per game to their other opponents, while allowing 42.0 points per game to WSU. So WSU has scored a lot of points against teams that allow a lot of points. You see the same thing when you look at total offense numbers. WSU's opponents are allowing an average of 445.1 yards per game in their other games, while allowing 488.0 yards per game to WSU. So, the Cougars have been exploiting some bad defenses, and have done somewhat better than the rest of the world has done against them.
Some of you will recognize that this comparative analysis is the same thing Steve Durrett does with his Relative Performance Ratio ("RPR") analysis. To state these data in terms of RPRs, WSU has a "scoring offense RPR" of 1.15; that is, WSU's average of 42.0 points per game is 1.15 times as much as the average of 36.5 points per game yielded by the Cougars' opponents in their other games. WSU's scoring offense RPR of 1.15 is 46th in the nation. Similarly, WSU has a "total offense RPR" of 1.10; that is, WSU's offense has gained 1.10 times as many yards as the average allowed by its opponents in other games. WSU's total offense RPR of 1.10 is 45th in the nation. Thus, viewed on a comparative basis, WSU's offense is somewhere in the middle of the pack nationally.
The point is this: WSU's offensive statistics look perhaps a bit less impressive when you consider the defenses the Cougars have faced.
The Cougars actually look stronger defensively than offensively. WSU's opponents are scoring an average of 25.6 points per game in their other games, while WSU's defense has held them 19.0 points per game. So WSU is holding its opponents considerably below their average. The Cougars' opponents are averaging total offense of 406.7 yards per game in their other games, but WSU is holding them to 289.8 yards per game. In RPR terms, WSU has a scoring defense RPR of .74 (having held opponents to 74% of their scoring average), which is 33rd in the nation. WSU has an outstanding total defense RPR of .71, which is 9th in the nation.
For purposes of comparison, here are the comparable statistics for Stanford: Stanford's opponents have a combined record of 8-6. Excluding their losses to Stanford, the Cardinal's opponents have a record of 8-3. All of Stanford's opponents are ranked in the top 40 by Sagarin -- Boston College is 34th, Arizona State is 29th, USC is 37th.
Defensively, Stanford's opponents have allowed 15.5 points per game in their other games, while allowing 36.7 points per game to Stanford. Similarly, Stanford's opponents have allowed total offense of 310.5 yards per game in their other games, while allowing 445.6 yards per game to Stanford. Comparatively, then, Stanford has done quite well against its opponents' defenses.
Putting this in terms of RPRs, Stanford has a "scoring offense RPR" of 2.36; that is, Stanford's average of 36.7 points per game is 2.36 times as much as the average of 15.5 points per game given up by Stanford's opponents in their other games. Stanford's scoring offense RPR of 2.36 is the best in the nation by a considerable margin. Also, Stanford