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2011 Pre-Season Football Forecast
Prior to each football season, I project the entire season's results based solely upon Kentucky's and each of Kentucky's upcoming opponents' body of work during the prior season, in this case 2010. As the new season  unfolds over the first 4 games for each team, I update and modify the season projections based upon initially a weighting between the per game averages for the prior and current season, with complete reliance upon the current season statistics after a team has completed its 4 th game of the year. This transformative analysis is based upon observations that teams tend to reveal their current identity by the time it has played four games in a season and that most teams do not deviate from their prior season level of performance moving forward.
The following analysis is the pre-season examination of Kentucky's 2011 schedule based solely upon the 2010 performance levels for Kentucky and each of its 2011 regular season opponents.
COMPARISON OF 2010 PERFORMANCE MEASURES:
A review of performance standards for SEC teams over recent years reveals that teams that rise to the top of the SEC score well. The top-flight SEC offenses average over 30 points per game. Last season, the Cats averaged OVER 31 ppg. Among this season's opponents, ten of them averaged fewer points per game than the Cats and two 2011 opponents (Jacksonville State – 32.2 ppg and Georgia – 32.1 ppg) had more potent offenses than UK. Two other 2011 opponents had offenses that produced more than 30 ppg in 2010, South Carolina [30.9 ppg] and Mississippi [30.6 ppg].
While the 2010 UK offense was among the most potent in the SEC, its defense was too porous, allowing well over 28 ppg on the year. A review of performance standards for SEC teams over recent years reveals that teams that rise to the top of the SEC also defend well, and top-flight SEC defenses allow fewer than 20 ppg. Last season, the Cats allowed its opponents to score an average of 28.4 ppg, up substantially from its decent 22.7 ppg in 2009. Among this season's opponents, three of them allowed their opponents to score more points per game than the Cats and nine 2011 opponents had stingier defenses than UK. The three 2011 opponents that had weaker defensive production were Western Kentucky [32.3 ppg], Mississippi [35.2 ppg], and Vanderbilt [31.2 ppg]. All other 2011 opponents had stronger defenses than the 2010 Cats, and among them, three of them allowed fewer than 20 ppg: Louisville [19.4 ppg], LSU [18.2 ppg], and Mississippi State [19.8 ppg].
Overall, the Cats posted an average margin against all 2010 opponents of +2.8 ppg, down from 2009's 3.4 ppg. Five of the Cats' 2011 opponents had lower average margins and seven 2011 opponents had higher average margins in 2010. Among the teams with lower average margins, one team had margins between the Cats' 2.8 ppg and 0 ppg, Tennessee [+1.9 ppg]. The teams with better margins are LSU [+11.5 ppg], Georgia [+10.0 ppg], Mississippi State [+9.2 ppg], Florida [+8.5 ppg], South Carolina [+7.8 ppg], Jacksonville State [+7.2 ppg], and Louisville [+7.0 ppg]. Of these, the margins posted by LSU and Georgia were top tier SEC levels.
Yards Gained and Allowed
Largely, football teams that score more also gain more yards, and teams that allow fewer points are teams that allow fewer yards. However, another component of scoring is the number of possessions that a team can manage to get on average in a game. The Cats averaged 427.8 yards per game and allowed 354.2 yards per game in 2010. With respect to yardage, none of UK's 2011 opponents averaged more yards per game than the 2010 Cats, and five 2011 opponents allowed fewer yards per game than the Cats. None of the 2011 opponents had a higher per game Net Yardage than the Cats' +73.7 ypg average in 2010, but only two of them had negative Net Yardage, WKU [-62.0 ypg] and Vanderbilt [-121.0 ypg].
With respect to possessions, Kentucky averaged 11.6 possessions per game in 2010, just as it did in 2009. The highest number of possessions was 13.5 [Mississippi] and the lowest was 11.4 [Georgia], and the average was 12.2 possessions per game. Eight of the twelve 2011 opponents averaged more possessions per game than the Cats, and only Louisville [11.5], South Carolina [11.6], Mississippi State [11.6], and Georgia [11.4] averaged the same or fewer possessions.
The final statistical comparison is schedule strength. For this comparison, I have adopted the Sagarin rating schedule strength. In 2010, the Average Sagarin Schedule Strength was 60.42, and the Cats' 2010 Schedule strength was 70.31. All of the Cats' 2011 opponents played a schedule that was tougher than the NCAA D1 average except one, Jacksonville State. Eight of the Cats' 2011 opponents played a more difficult schedule in 2010 than the Cats, and four that played weaker schedules were WKU [62.23], Central Michigan [63.63], Louisville [68.43], and Jacksonville State [51.44].
The following Table presents the comparison of 2011 opponents' 2010 statistical results.
The following Table provides further detail for UK and each 2011 opponent regarding how each team utilized its available possessions during the 2010 season.
PROJECTIONS FOR 2011 SEASON:
I use three different methods to project the 2011 season results: Sagarin, Direct Statistical Comparison, and my NGE method. For Sagarin, the predicted margin is based on the algebraic difference between the teams' respective rankings with a home field adjustment provided by Sagarin applied, and the score is based upon the average total points scored and allowed by both teams, with the Sagarin Margin applied. The direct statistical approach and the NGE methods are my proprietary methods currently under development. In addition, I also track the effectiveness during the season of the Vegas line, which should be self-explanatory, and I project results using a Comparative Yardage procedure. However, I cannot apply the Vegas and Comparative Yardage methods at this time for pre-season projections because the data required for them does not become available until the season play begins.
During the 2009 and 2010 seasons, the standard deviation for the 26 UK games between predicted and actual margin by these methods were:
NGE Method: 9 pts
Clearly, the NGE Method has been the more reliable method the past two seasons. Sagarin was second most reliable, followed by the Statistical Analysis and Vegas.
Overview of 2011 Opponents/Schedule:
The 2011 Season includes seven games at Commonwealth, one game at a Neutral site, and four games on the road. In my opinion, there are three clear wins [WKU, Central Michigan, Jacksonville State] and three clear losses [@LSU, @USC, and @UGA] on the 2011 schedule. The outcomes of the remaining six games will largely determine the success of the 2011 season for the Cats: Louisville, Florida, Mississippi State, Mississippi, and Tennessee at Commonwealth and at Vanderbilt.
Projected Season Records
If the Cats win four of those six key games, then the Cats will finish the 2011 season 7-5 and 3-5 in the SEC. This is the projected outcome using the NGE and Statistical Analysis methods, but Sagarin projects different outcomes for 2 of these 6 games, indicating a 5-7, 2-6 record for 2011. Last season's analysis had the Sagarin method, based on year ending 2010 values, projects a 6-6 season with the Cats losing all five of the critical swing games and finishing the season 2-6 in the SEC, which was the final outcome for 2010.
Projected Scoring and Margins
The pre-season scoring projections suggest a slight decline from the 2010 scoring and margin, with the Cats averaging 28 1/2 points per game and allowing 28 points per game. The NGE Methods projects average scoring of 29 to 27 with an average margin of two ppg. As a reminder, all of these projections are based solely upon the 2010 results, and these projections will not become meaningful for 2011 until UK and its opponents have played at least 4 games of their respective 2011 schedules.
The following Table provides the pre-season projections based on the three methods identified discussed previously.
GOALS FOR 2011:
The primary goal for 2011 for the Kentucky Football team should be to win at least eight games and to win at least as many SEC games as they lose. To achieve that goal, the Cats will need to improve offensive and defensively in terms of scoring and yardage.
In 2011, the Cats need to increase their average per game scoring from the 28 ½ ppg currently projected to something close to if not greater than the 31+ ppg it posted in 2010. In 2011, the Cats need to improve their average defense against scoring from last season's 28.4 ppg allowed to something much closer to the 22.7 ppg the Cats allowed in 2009.
In 2011, the Cats need to maintain the offensive gains it posted in 2010, when the team averaged about 428 yards per game. In 2011, the Cats need to decrease their average defensive output from 354.2 yards per game in 2010 to no more than 315 yds/gm to be competitive in the SEC.
2011 Season Projections Based Solely on 2010 Season Statistics for All Teams
Submitted by Richard Cheeks