Did the Florida State Seminoles improve in 2008?

A quick look around the media scene reveals many questioning the 2008 Seminoles.  After another 30+ point loss to the Florida gators, they wonder if this team made any progress at all.  I was curious as well so I took a look.  This is very long, so you might want to print it out.

First, I decided to take a look at the Noles performance before the UF game.  This is a good starting point, as it includes our body of work against an 11 game schedule, complete with the entire ACC schedule.  

So, how should we evaluate performance?  Wins are nice.

  • In 2007, the Noled entered the Florida game with a 7-4 record.  They were 4-4 in the ACC.  2 of the wins were against horrible teams (UAB and Duke).  The Noles were 2-3 against top 40 teams.  (they would lose their final two as well, to finish 2-5 against top 40 teams)
  • in 2008, the Noles entered the Florida game with an 8-3 record.  The Noles went 5-3 in the ACC.  2 of the 8 wins came against I-AA teams.  the Noles were 4-3 against top 40 teams.  

There is improvement in the record, but not a ton at first glance.  One telling sign is the strength of the schedule.  The Noles faced the 30th most difficult schedule in 2007.  This year they faced the 2nd toughest in America.  

Still, wins are a terrible way of truly evaluating a team.  It is entirely possible for a team to play well against good competition and yet still lose the game.

Instead, let's turn to a better evaluation of performance: FEI.  This is the most advanced method of performance evaluation available to the general public.  If you are new here, follow the links in the pasted text for a better explanation.

The Fremeau Efficiency Index principles and methodology can be found here. FEI rewards playing well against good teams, win or lose, and punishes losing to poor teams more harshly than it rewards defeating poor teams.  games against I-AA or DII competition are not included or graded.  It is drive-based, not play-by-play based, and it is specifically engineered to measure the college game.


FEI is the opponent-adjusted value of Game Efficiency, a measurement of the success rate of a team scoring and preventing opponent scoring throughout the non-garbage-time possessions of a game. Like DVOA, it represents a team's efficiency value over average. Strength of Schedule is calculated from a privileged perspective (explained here) and represents the likelihood that an Elite team (top 5) would post an undefeated record against the given team's opponents to date.

So, in keeping with the "before the UF game" theme, let's see where we ranked.

  • In 2007, the Noles entered the UF game ranked 24th, with an FEI of 0.139
  • In 2008, the Noles entered the UF game ranked 9th, with an FEI of .221

Since this metric is opponent adjusted and goes deeper than any other available, it's an excellent measure of a team's ability.  the Noles improved by almost 60% (58.99%)!  

Overall, the Noles are a much better team in 2008 than 2007.  Where did this improvement come from?  Again, we can turn to FEI.

Adjusted Offensive Efficiency and Adjusted Defensive Efficiency are the opponent-adjusted values of Offensive Efficiency and Defensive Efficiency, explained here. Like FEI, the multiple-order adjustments are weighted according to both the strength of the opponent and the relative significance of the result; efficiency against a team's best competition faced is given more relevance weight. AOE and ADE represent a team's value over/under average. Positive AOE and negative ADE are the most valuable.

 

Offense

  • In 2007, FSU entered the UF game with the 76th best Adjusted Offensive Efficiency (AOE)
  • In 2008, FSU entered the UF game with the 21st best Adjusted Offensive Efficiency (AOE)

That's a pretty incredible jump.  To go from 76th to 21st is very good.  It's even more impressive considering the offensive personnel.  These numbers indicate that the holdover players from the Nepotism era were pretty poor.  Consider that Florida State started the youngest offensive line in the country.  

NOTE: remember that FEI automatically adjusts for rules changes because it measures performance on drives, as opposed to only games.  It also doesn't count non-competitive drives (drives where the game is locked up, for instance a drive when a team leads by 40 in the 4th quarter).  This explains why FSU got little credit for crushing UAB and DUKE in the 2007 ratings.  FSU received zero credit for their wins against the I-AA competition in 2008.  

We can dig deeper still, but we need to consider a few things as well.  First, the following numbers are not opponent adjusted.  This is raw data.  Second, the 2007 data includes a game against Duke (goes hand in hand with the lack of opponent adjustment).  Third, the clock rules changed this year, giving offenses about 12 less plays per game (about 17% less opportunities).  

  • In 2007, the Noles averaged 5.2 yards per play in ACC play (including Duke).  Excluding Duke (because Duke was a major outlier last year, playing far below conference standards), the Noles averaged 5.02 yards per play.  
  • In 2008, the Noles averaged 5.12 yards per play in ACC competition.  There are no horrible teams to exclude from this data.  
  • In 2007, the Noles averaged at least 4.85 yards per play 57% of the time, in ACC competition.  In 2008, the Noles averaged at least 4.85 yards per play 88% of the time (7 of 8 games).

Hmm, that doesn't seem like much of an improvement, but it is some improvement.  The advanced data says we got better.   What could be at work here?  First, tougher competition, much tougher.  Second, the Noles often threw underneath on 3rd and long in 2007, picking up yards, but failing to convert.  Those 7 yard completions look good in the scorer's book but don't offer much to help the team.  In 2008, the Noles picked up 1st downs much better, because they took risks, but they also failed on occasion and those failures hurt the total.  

What about offensive points per play?  Remember that First, these are not opponent adjusted.  This is raw data.  Second, the 2007 data includes a game against Duke (goes hand in hand with the lack of opponent adjustment).

  • In 2007, the Noles scored .29 offensive points per play in ACC competition.  remove Duke and that number doesn't fall much.
  • In 2008, The Noles scored .39 offensive points per play in ACC competition.

The Noles offense scored 39% more offensive points per play in 2008 than they did in 2007!!  This is even more remarkable considering the step-up in competition the Noles faced in 2008.  This is a big reason why the Noles offense was much better in 2008.  They were much more efficient.  The Noles actually attempted to get 1st downs in 2008, and they did not settle for field goals.  

Additional Note: The Nole offense scored 33% more points per ACC game in 2008 than they did in 2007 (26 ppACCg in 2008 and 20 in 2007)

 

DEFENSE

  • In 2007, the Noles entered the UF game ranked 18th in Adjusted Defensive Effieicncy (ADE), posting a 0.218 score.  
  • In 2008, the Noles entered the UF game ranked 19th in Adjusted Defensive Efficiency (ADE), posting a 0.021 score

Hmm, not much improvement, but still a good score.  What might account for this?  Why then, are we still disappointed in the defense?  This defense needed to be elite (top 5).  It showed no improvement, sliding a spot from 2007 to 2008.  Unlike the offense, who went with a clear youth movement, the defense was very talented and loaded with returning starters.  The defense returned 7 of 11 starters from the 2007 team, and did not feature a sophomore of freshman!  Additionally, the 2007 unit was constantly injured-- a fate the 2008 unit did not suffer.  After the 2008 season, the Noles defense will suffer massive causalities.  A minimum of 8 starters (out of a possible 11) will leave.  All told, it is entirely possible that 13 of the top 22 defensive players (22 encompass the 1st and 2nd string) will not be with the Noles in 2009.  This was an experienced, talented unit that stayed remarkably healthy and did not produce dominant results under the direction of Mickey Andrews, Chuck Amato, and Jodey Allen.  The defensive staff has no excuse.  They did not inherit a huge mess as Jimbo Fisher did.  

NOTE: remember that FEI automatically adjusts for rules changes because it measures performance on drives, as opposed to only games.  It also doesn't count non-competitive drives (drives where the game is locked up, for instance a drive when a team leads by 40 in the 4th quarter).  This explains why FSU got little credit for crushing UAB and DUKE in the 2007 ratings.  FSU received zero credit for their wins against the I-AA competition in 2008.  

We can dig deeper still, but we need to consider a few things as well.  First, the following numbers are not opponent adjusted.  This is raw data.  Second, the 2007 data includes a game against Duke (goes hand in hand with the lack of opponent adjustment).  Third, the clock rules changed this year, giving offenses about 12 less plays per game (about 17% less opportunities).  

  • in 2007, the Noles allowed 4.99 yards per play in ACC competition.  Removing Duke, the Noles allowed 5.05 yards per play.  
  • In 2008, the Noles allowed 4.86 yards per play in ACC competition. 

These results bode well for those arguing to keep Mickey Andrews.  In his favor they did show improvement against much tougher competition.  Still, this is not enough improvement for a unit with this sort of talent and athletic ability.  

What about offensive points allowed per play?  Remember that First, these are not opponent adjusted.  This is raw data.  Second, the 2007 data includes a game against Duke (goes hand in hand with the lack of opponent adjustment).

  • In 2007, the Noles allowed 0.29 offensive points per play in ACC competition (0.32 if you edit out Duke).
  • In 2008, the Noles allowed 0.33 offensive points per play in ACC competition.  

While I do feel that Mickey's defenses have consistently underachieved over the past few years relative to their talent level, and have stated many times that I want him to lose his job, I should note that the 2007 defense's numbers are slightly suppressed because opponents missed 8 field goals in 2007.  Again, these numbers show that the 2008 defense did not improve or reach an elite level, despite being deeper, more talented, more experienced, and much healthier than the 2007 edition.  

 

Conclusion

According to the best available measures, the offense and the defense were about equal (21st and 19th).  Both units cost the Noles a game this year.  The offense was horrible in the Wake game.  The defense was horrible in the Georgia Tech game (31 points, 400 yards and over 8 yards per play before GT's QB went down due to injury).  Both units played poorly against Boston College and Florida.  

As I explained above, there is no way that the defense should have been equal to the offense this year.  The offense wildly exceeded the expectation of even the most optimistic reasonable observer.  On the other hand, the defense massively underwhelmed the expected performance of most knowledgeable observers.  

In short, the offense improved this year despite many obstacles.  they appear to be well coached and should return 9 of 11 starters in 2009.  I expect this unit to again improve, as players gain a further understanding of the scheme, and develop physically and mentally.

Given all the factors, I believe the defense regressed.  It this defense performs at this same level next year, stand up and celebrate.  The losses in the offseason will be substantial and Andrews has not shown the ability to adapt to changes in the game, be it strategic (the new clock rules, placing more emphasis on the running game or schematic (the spread, and most disturbingly the reemergence of the zone read).  He clearly has lost the ability to convey information and relate to young people, as his own players repeatedly expressed their confusion in his scheme in throwing the defensive coaching staff under the proverbial bus.  Andrews and company have done a horrible job developing the younger players who will be counted on to produce next year.  If the administration lets Andrews stay, he will have plenty of rope to hang himself.  Undoubtedly we will hear the excuse of youth, followed quickly by his increasingly contentious answers blaming the players and refusing to accept any responsibility for his staff's inability to teach football to college kids at an advanced level.

The administration will be forced to make some tough decisions this off-season.  I have little double that if given the go-ahead, Jimbo Fisher will immediately dismiss the defensive staff.  Regardless of who we bring in (if anyone) for 2009, the defense will be far from their decent but not spectacular 2008 level.  The players simply are not there.  Whoever is in charge of the 2009 defense needs to take a serious look at a youth movement, similar to one Florida experienced in 2007.  

 

Speaking of Florida, I plan to review some more numbers on Wednesday, once they are made available, but check this out. 

  • In 2007, the Florida defense ranked 73rd and the Nole offense 76th.  The Noles scored 12 points, while the Noles 18th ranked defense surrendered 49 points to the top offense in tha nation.  The Noles lost 49-12
  • In 2008, the 21st ranked Nole offense scored 15 points against the 4th ranked Gator defense.  Think about that.  The Gator's defense went from 73rd to 4th!  Mickey Andrews should be ashamed at the coaching job he did this year.  The 5th ranked Gator offense scored 45 points on the 19th ranked Seminole defense.

The Gator's defense and the Noles offense both made huge leaps this year.  The Gator offense (elite) and the Nole defense (good) maintained their 2007 levels.  

We're going to be in a ton of shoot-outs next year.  Bobby's record against UF now sits at 17-17-1, 2-6 since he forced the Jeff decision down the throats of reasonable objectors.  Him and Mickey deserve to have 80 dropped on them in the Swamp to end their careers as a fitting finish to their lazy and selfish actions of this decade.  

If you enjoyed this article or learned something from it, please share it with your friends in Seminole Nation.

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