Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Virginia Tech, Not So Bad After All

Now that we've officially established what constitutes a "Hokie" and talked about the significance of Michigan's BCS bid, we can get into some serious football talk. Most Michigan fans, including myself, admittedly probably don't watch a lot of ACC football. When's there are dozens of games every week, including Michigan games, there probably isn't a lot of time to analyze random out of conference opponents such as Virginia Tech.

However, that doesn't mean one can't go back and analyze what Virginia Tech has accomplished this season. Let's start with some basics.

Virginia Tech

  • 11-2 record (ACC Coastal Champs - Lost in ACC Champ Game)
  • 55th in Scoring Offense (28.5 pts/g)
  • 38th in Total Offense (415.8 yds/g)
  • 14th in Total Defense (313.9 yds/g)
  • 7th in Points Allowed (17.2 pts/g)
  • 29th in Turnover Margin (+0.46)
  • 51st in Strength of Schedule

So from looking at those stats what do could one speculate? Well, defense seems to be their strong suit. Their offense is far from horrible, but when a defense only allows 17.2 points on average, the offense doesn't exactly have to do a lot to win the game. Virginia Tech held 8 opponents this season to less than 20 points, which is a significant accomplishment.  For instance, Michigan was only held to less than 20 points twice this year (Michigan State and Iowa).

Although the defense appears to be quite strong, 7th in points allowed, 14th in total yards, and 17th in rush defense, the team's stats have been criticized because of Virginia Tech's "weak" schedule.  When I first started writing this article, I was under the impression that Virginia Tech had not only played few quality opponents, but were also blown out in against those teams.  However, after I took a deep analysis of the stats and schedule, I can no longer believe this argument.

When looking at a schedule, tend to take a quick glance for the number of ranked and "big name" opponents on a team's schedule.  However, this method does not yield accurate results for a team's strength of schedule.  Just because a team isn't ranked doesn't mean they aren't a quality team.  For instance, Notre Dame is not ranked, but they received the most votes in the rankings of any team outside the top 25 (effectively making them ranked #26) and played an extremely difficult schedule this year.

Using this logic, I attempted to make a more accurate analysis of Virginia Tech's schedule.  I did this by judging the number of opponents receiving votes or ranked, the number of teams with at least 6 wins, and the margin of victory in those games.

Virginia Tech Schedule Performance

  • Number of Opponents Ranked or Receiving Votes - 5
  • Locations Against Ranked or Voted - 2 Home, 2 Away, 1 Neutral
  • Record Against Ranked or Voted - 3-2
  • Margin of Victory Against Ranked or Voted - 8 pts/g

  • Number of Opponents With At Least 6 Wins - 10
  • Locations Against 6 Win Opponents - 5 Home,4 Away, 1 Neutral
  • Record Against 6 Win Opponents - 8-2
  • Margin of Victory Against 6 Win Opponents - 12 pts/g

After analyzing the actual games played against decent and quality competition, it's hard to still believe in the argument that Virginia Tech has played "nobody" and beaten "nobody."  Sure, they were only 3-2 against opponents who were ranked or received votes in the AP poll, but they still ended up outscoring those teams by an average of 8 points per game.  Along with this, both losses were against the same team, Clemson.  Two  losses against quality competition in which Clemson outscored Virginia Tech by an average of 24 pts/g is hardly impressive or excusable, but one can't help but speculate.

Perhaps Clemson was just a bad match-up for Virginia Tech this season?  It is rare, but sometimes there just seems to be 1 or 2 teams that a certain team cannot beat just because of certain match-ups.  I'm not going to claim this was the case for Virginia Tech against Clemson, but the rest of their season and these two games just don't add up.  How does a team handle or blow out quality opponents at home and on the road (Arkansas State, Georgia Tech, Virginia) and then get blown out against #15 Clemson?  There are many reasons to explain this including a poor match-up, but I go with a different reasoning.

I think the reason Virginia Tech did so well against other quality opponents and so bad against Clemson is simply because they aren't an "elite" team.  Is Virginia Tech as bad as some of the pundits would make it seem?  Not even close.  Their performance this season against both decent and quality teams showcases their talent and ability, but their massive let-downs against Clemson also shows they are vulnerable.

Not only using my analysis, but using advanced stats provided by Football Outsiders, one can see Virginia Tech is at least a decent team.  FEI ranking, which is what Football Outsiders uses, analyzes not only wins and losses, but who and what causes each loss.  If a team loses to a bad opponent, they are punished in the FEI rankings much more than losing to a good team.  Basically, they do the type of break-downs I did above, except using a computer formula.  They have Virginia Tech ranked as #20 in the nation.  This is pretty far behind their #11 BCS ranking, but relatively near their #17 AP poll ranking.

After a long analysis, I think Virginia Tech falls in roughly this range.  They are a 15-20 ranked team that managed to make a BCS bowl due to some luck and flaws in the polls (Coaches had them at #11).  However, they are no push-over team.  They may not be "elite," but they will certainly pose a challenge for Michigan in the Sugar Bowl.  Just for a comparison, Notre Dame is ranked #21 in the FEI ranking.  So essentially, Michigan is going to be facing a team roughly as good as Notre Dame was this season and I think we all remember that game...

Photo Credit: Getty Images

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