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Hoegher's 2012 Previews: Penn State Nittany Lions

[shakes fist at Charter Cable and Internet]

I've been without internet for the past three days, and finally Charter fixed it yesterday. Fortunately, I had downloaded A Song of Ice and Fire prior to the outage, so I was able to spend my free time reading those. For 18 straight hours. I have an addiction and I need help.

But now the Interwebs are restored and I can start writing this preview. For those of you who are wondering why I didn't just go to a library: be quiet. We all have our way of doing things, and sitting at home with a beer in my hand is my process. They don't let you bring beer into the library... actually I've never tried. This is Madison, so maybe I'll give that a shot sometime. Thanks for the idea!

Player stats and stuff acquired from CFBStats. I think I'm supposed to credit people when I use their resources, so I'm going to try and start doing that.

NOTE: This probably goes without saying, but this post is about football and quasi-meaningful numbers. No Sandusky stuff is going to be talked about or even alluded to, beyond the impact of replacing Joe Paterno.

EDIT: Forgot to mention. 1994 Penn State was better than 1994 Nebraska. The Nittany Lions got jobbed.

Perennially Decent (Penn State Performance 2005-2011)

Figure 1: Penn State Yearly FBS Rank (2005-2011)

Figure 2: Penn State Yearly Adj Off, Def Rank (2005-2011)

Figure 3: Penn State Yearly Win % and Luck (2005-2011)

2005 and 2008 were pretty nice years, weren't they? It's a shame the offense can't be more stable than it is, because those years would likely occur more often if that was the case. Aside from an uncharacteristically poor performance in 2010, the defense has been humming along just fine.

I was actually surprised to see the fluctuations the offense has gone through over the past seven years. Last year was bad, to be sure, but the only strong memory I had of Penn State was 2008 when they massacred my beloved Badgers in Camp Randall. I know Penn State is Linebacker U, but for a school with a legendary program and coach, and with years such as 2008, 2005, 2002 (I guess), and um... 1994 in its past, it's strange to see how bad the offense can get at times. Hopefully, Bill O'Brien can change that culture a bit.

Other than that quirk, it's easy to see what Penn State is. A perennial Top-25 school with occasional bouts of elitism - wait, that's the right word - high success. Followed immediately by a plummet of performance the following year (seriously, it's like clockwork). Good in 1999, shitty in 2000. Good in 2002, shitty in 2003. Good in 2005, well not shitty in 2006, but definitely a marked drop. 2008-2009 is an exception, the sharp drop waited until 2010 to pop up. If we're looking at trends then, 2012 should be a crap-tacular year for y'all (the offense may have been very "meh" in 2011, but the defense was quite good). That or a continued climb upward followed by flatulence in 2013. I'm a fan, not an oracle.

Missing Daryll Clark (Penn State 2011 Season)

Lost Ticket City Bowl vs Houston (14-30)

First things first: the offense wasn't good, but it probably wasn't as bad as we thought. Actually, no fvck that. It stank. Numbers lie sometimes. That Adj Off rating is boosted by three performances:

vs. Northwestern (34 pts scored)

vs. Eastern Michigan (34 pts scored)

vs. Alabama (11 pts scored)

If you're measuring your offense by Northwestern or Eastern Michigan, you're doing it wrong. And Alabama is just an outlier, besides that it's still just 11 pts (aided by a touchdown on a drive in garbage time, if I recall). Granted that's still 11 more pts than LSU scored in January (HEY-O!), but I'm not going to attach too much credit to that. Everything else was mediocre to bad. I'm just going to put the entire blame on Rob Bolden (39.3 %, 5.1 YPA, 2/7 TD/INT) and wash my hands of it.

The defense was good, everyone knows that. Even the "bad" performances to end the season against Wisconsin and Houston aren't all that bad when you consider what those offenses can do normally. The trick will be replacing all the players from attrition. Devin Still is gone, obviously, but 7 out of last years 10 leading tacklers were seniors last year as well. That's a poor omen for next year, but we'll see what magic the coaches can work. It's still Penn State, after all.

B.O.B. Offensive Resurrection... Hopefully (Penn State 2012 Preview and Projections)

Avg Opp Rank: 53.8 (Avg Non-Con: 66.5, Avg Conf: 47.5)

Final Record: 10-2 (6-2), Avg MOV: 9.0 pts, Bowl Prediction: Capitol One Bowl

As I've said before, last year's performance weighs heavily on these projections, but outliers won't hurt you too much if you have a good history behind you. That's why the offense looks... well not good, but not bad. However, one thing that these numbers don't take into account is momentum from previous years. I don't know how much that matters, but Penn State's offense has been on a pretty steady decline since that wonderful year of 2008.

Things that will help it though? Having an actual (and competent-ish) starting QB in Matt McGloin (54.1 %, 6.8 YPA, 8/5 TD/INT). He wasn't great, or even really good, and he did kind of fall apart down the stretch, but he's not Rob Bolden. And that's a good thing. He's also got Silas Redd returning (1241 yds, 5.1 YPC). No Curtis Drakes though, sad... my bad I misread the stat sheet there. I'll leave this here to let you all laugh at my mistake. Curtis Dukes is returning (5.78 YPC on 41 carries in 2011), whereas Curtis Drake is a receiver who has left the team. Justin Brown and Devin Smith will have to pick up the slack. I'm of the opinion that the QB makes the receivers, though (Peyton Manning says hello!), so that'll be on McGloin to make the most of his weapons.

Of course, Bill O'Brien is here now, so who knows what will happen. The Penn State offense fluctuates enough year-to-year as it is (they're the Illinois of offenses!) without throwing a new coach/OC in the mix.

The schedule sets up easily enough with the toughest tests (Navy and Temple) coming at home. After acquiring a little bit of college football historical knowledge over the past few years, calling Temple anywhere close to a toss-up for Penn State is mind-blowing. Between them and Rutgers, the Big East doesn't have to look very far for teams with recent all-time crappiness. (Seriously, Rutgers of the late 90's early 00's was awful. They got blown out 80-7 by a 3-8 West Virginia team in 2001). Anyways, sorry about the tangent...

The conference schedule isn't too bad, either (actually it's one of the easier ones, all considering. WOO GO BIG TEN EAST.) In the Nittany Lions first six weeks of conference play, they face one contender (Ohio State), give or take an Iowa. Illinois, Northwestern, Purdue... none are bad schools, but none will be mistaken for conference powers. Of course, that means the last few weeks conference play is tougher, with Nebraska (in Lincoln) and Wisconsin (home) to face, both of them possible Big Ten Championship players. Also, Indiana. Frankly, if Penn State doesn't get to 9-3 with this schedule, they should take a long cold shower, sit in a corner, and think about what they've done.

Best case for Penn State: 4-0 to start the season, 5-0 against the "mehs" and dregs of the conference, and they go 2-1 in their trio of contenders (Ohio State, Nebraska, Wisconsin). Ohio State and Wisconsin are both at home, and Nebraska may still have their own issues. If I had to guess, I'd say Ohio State and Nebraska, but that's probably the homer in me talking. Either way, depending on the shake out of the rest of the Big Ten East, that's an 11-1 (7-1) record and a date in the Big Ten Championship game. Also, Bill O'Brien would win Big Ten Coach of the Year. Everybody wins!

Worst case for Penn State: I still say 4-0 in conference play. No historically elite school has any business losing to a service academy today (unless you're Notre Dame - HA!), and while Temple is light years ahead of where they used to be, they are still Temple, and Penn State is still Penn State. In conference play, however, I can see them losing to Iowa, Ohio State, Nebraska, and Wisconsin. Heck, I'll throw Purdue in there as well since it's on the road. That would be good for a 7-5 (3-5) record, but this is really only the case if Bill O'Brien has some harsh growing pains. I really think they shouldn't go worse than 9-3, but that's just me.

Glossary and Explanation of Terms!

For a more in-depth explanation of everything see my primer here. I've also included a direct link to my 2011 Rankings [LINKY] for those that really want to see the nitty gritty details. Otherwise, the below should serve as a quick reference.

For the purposes of this section, I will refer to Average State University (ASU). ASU scores 25 pts/game on offense, gives up 25 pts/game on defense, and has an Adj Off, Def of 1.00 and 1.00, respectively.

Adj Off - a measure of a team's scoring offense, adjusted for schedule. A team with an Adj Off of 2.00 would be expected to score 50 pts on ASU. A team with an Adj Off of 0.50 would be expected to score 12-13 pts on ASU.

Adj Def - a measure of a team's scoring defense, adjusted for schedule. A team with an Adj Def of 2.00 would be expected to give up 50 pts to ASU. A team with and Adj Def of 0.50 would be expected to hold ASU to 12-13 pts.

Adj Eff - a measure of a team's overall strength, AdjEff = AdjOff/(AdjOff + AdjDef). A perfect rating would be 1.00, a perfectly bad rating would be 0.00, a perfectly average rating would be 0.50. This rating tends to reward teams with good defenses more than good offenses.

Adj Marg - a measure of a team's overall strength, AdjMarg = AdjOff - AdjDef. A good rating would be > 0.00, a bad rating would be < 0.00, a perfectly average rating would be 0.00. This rating tends to reward teams with good offenses more than good defenses.

(NOTE: While I list both Adj Eff and Adj Marg as measures of overall team strength, the "official" rankings are Adj Marg, as I find it tends (usually) to be a slightly better predictor of game results than Adj Eff.)

Opp Rat - the average rating of a team's opponents, as determined by Adj Marg. A relatively difficult schedule will have OppRat > 0.00, a relatively easy schedule will have OppRat < 0.00, a perfectly average schedule will have OppRat = 0.00.

Luck - the difference between a team's expected winning percentage (based on schedule and expected scores) and their actual winning percentage. Luck > 0.00 indicates that a team won more games than they were expected, Luck < 0.00 means that a team won less games than they were expected.

Projected Scores - these are based on a team's Adj Off, Def and their opponent's Adj Off, Def. I won't bore you with the math or reasoning, but suffice to say that expected scores align uniformly with the Adj Marg rankings. The expected score differential is proportional to the Adj Marg differential.

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