2011 Season Preview: The Oregon State Beavers And The Quality To Respect Ratio

TUCSON, AZ - OCTOBER 09: Wide receiver James Rodgers #8 of the Oregon State Beavers runs with the ball after a reception past Robert Golden #1 of the Arizona Wildcats during the second quarter of the college football game at Arizona Stadium on October 9, 2010 in Tucson, Arizona. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

Oregon State typically earns plaudits for their fearless scheduling, but do the rewards exceed the risk? With one fewer Rodgers brother, problematic defensive depth and another tough slate, the Beavers might be looking at another year with a "Best (Insert Mediocre Record Here) Team In The Country" title.

NOTE: Confused? Don't miss the definitions and footnotes at the bottom.

One day, we will create a measure called the Quality To Respect Ratio (QTRR for short), and I have no doubt that Oregon State will rank at or near the top. The Beavers have been ranked for part of nine of the last 11 seasons, they have won at least eight games in six of the last eight years, and they have taken a fearless approach to scheduling everybody says they always want from major conference schools. In the past seven years, they have played at Boise State three times, at TCU (sort of -- it was at Jerry World), at Utah, at Penn State, at Cincinnati, at Louisville and at Fresno State. They take on comers of all size, and they take them on away from home, instead of aiming for a sure three non-conference wins.

Last year the Beavers faced three teams that finished in the nation's top four (TCU, Oregon, Stanford) and four of the top nine (three away from home). Their reward? They finished 5-7 despite while fielding a Top 35 team. Overall, they rank 25th nationally in terms of four-year F/+ ratings, right between Oklahoma State and Utah; but their overall record in that span (33-20) pales in comparison to the 'Pokes (36-16) and Utes (42-10).

So what exactly is the reward for playing the tough schedule we say we all desire? Oregon State got a pat on the back for taking on TCU and Boise instead of UTEP and Idaho (which would have netted them a 7-5 record and a bowl bid), but they also became a national afterthought, written off as mediocre and forgotten. With the power that human polls still carry in college football, and the general homogenous treatment of wins and losses -- if you win, you move up; if you lose, you move down; opponent matters little -- the respect you earn from building challenging schedules does not equally offset the risk of losing games against those schedules. What we desire and what we reward are very different. The money involved in scheduling home cupcakes and advancing to quality bowls is too good to pass up for most teams, and Oregon State's tale is as cautionary as it is respectable.

By the way, this year the Beavers' non-conference schedule lightens up. They only have to host BYU and visit Wisconsin. Slackers.

2010 Schedule & Results*

Record: 5-7 | Adj. Record: 7-5 | Final F/+ Rk**: 35
Date Opponent Score W-L Adj. Score Adj. W-L
4-Sep vs TCU 21-30 L 40.8 - 22.1 W
18-Sep Louisville 35-28 W 42.1 - 32.6 W
25-Sep at Boise State 24-37 L 29.8 - 24.7 W
2-Oct Arizona State 31-28 W 35.4 - 28.4 W
9-Oct at Arizona 29-27 W 42.8 - 37.9 W
16-Oct at Washington 34-35 L 25.8 - 34.4 L
30-Oct California 35-7 W 44.8 - 5.1 W
6-Nov at UCLA 14-17 L 21.7 - 30.2 L
13-Nov Washington State 14-31 L 18.3 - 34.5 L
20-Nov USC 36-7 W 24.7 - 3.7 W
27-Nov at Stanford 0-38 L 14.1 - 29.2 L
4-Dec Oregon 20-37 L 26.9 - 27.6 L
Category Offense Rk Defense Rk
Points Per Game 24.4 82 26.8 64
Adj. Points Per Game 30.6 38 25.9 47

If at any point in the last three years, you were asked which of the Rodgers brothers was most important, you'd have almost certainly picked Jacquizz over James in a heartbeat. And that would have been a good answer; Pocket Herculizz was an incredibly durable, strong, fun-to-watch running back, one who was crafty and elusive enough to prop up his line's run-blocking stats while receiving, at times, less-than-stellar blocking from his line.

But in his absence last fall, older brother James very clearly established his own importance. He got hurt in the second quarter against Arizona, and the Beavers' offensive production absolutely plummeted.

Oregon State Offense, First Five Games: 38.2 Adj. PPG
Oregon State Offense, Last Seven Games: 25.2 Adj. PPG

Oregon State's offense was nearly two touchdowns worse in Old Rodgers' absence, and after reaching 3-2 despite the brutal non-conference slate (even Louisville turned out to be a tough matchup), the Beavers limped home, losing five of seven to end the season (including a shocking, 17-point home defeat to Washington State). Rodgers' injury exposed some frightening receiver depth (problematic for an offense that really wants to pass), and while the offense wasn't nearly as poor as its raw stats suggested (when you take on six of the top 22 defenses in the country according to Def. S&P+, your raw stats are not likely to be too impressive), it wasn't good enough to make up for a defense that was, for the second consecutive season, average at best.

Now, in 2011, the younger Rodgers brother is gone (Jacquizz declared early for the draft, which was probably a smart move considering how many hits his small frame has already taken; it's the same reason I was surprised when Oklahoma's Ryan Broyles didn't declare early), but the older one returns following a medical redshirt.

Offense***

Category S&P+ Rk Success
Rt. Rk
PPP+ Rk
OVERALL 19 25 12
RUSHING 23 35 16 Adj. Line Yards:
PASSING 15 13 19 27
Standard Downs 29 44 19 Adj. Sack Rate:
Passing Downs 14 7 22 73
Redzone 25 20 29
Q1 Rk 26 1st Down Rk 11
Q2 Rk 14 2nd Down Rk 18
Q3 Rk 5 3rd Down Rk 44
Q4 Rk 91

Stats Versus Generalizations, Part MMMXLVI: Oregon State averaged just 24.4 points per game last year, good for 82nd in the country. But in taking on an absolutely brutal series of defenses, they performed at a level that would have produced a much healthier number of points against a normal schedule. Obviously this is a sign for optimism moving forward. As mentioned, the Beavers do still take on two tough non-conference foes in Wisconsin and BYU, but in terms of defense that is still a step down from TCU-Boise-Louisville.

Stats Versus Eyeballs, Part MXVIII: Oregon State ranked 27th in Adj. Line Yards, while Jacquizz Rodgers' Adj. POE was a mediocre plus-1.7. The three-time all-conference back made something out of nothing many times, but he was not necessarily explosive enough (quick but not amazingly fast) to rack up the yards. This year, the Quizz Safety Net for the offensive line is gone; the line will have to help out the new starting back, be it senior Ryan McCants or sophomore Jovan Stevenson, quite a bit more than they helped Rodgers.

Even with Jacquizz and without James (1,034 yards, 11.4 per catch, 72% catch rate in 2009) last year, Oregon State really wanted to pass. Quarterback Ryan Katz (2,401 yards, 6.8 per pass, 60% completion rate, 18 TD, 11 INT; 233 pre-sack rushing yards) put together a nice stat line, especially on passing downs. He proved himself to be a strong creator, and with better pass protection (the Beavers ranked 73rd in Adj. Sack Rate, though some of those sacks could have been due to Katz's improvisation; as I always say, your best quality is also the source of your worst quality) and a healthy James Rodgers, the Beavers' offense could be one of the more surprisingly productive units in the country. Of course, they'll still potentially need more production from receivers not named Rodgers; Markus Wheaton (660 yards, 12.2 per catch, 59% catch rate) and tight end Joe Halahuni (390 yards, 13.0 per catch, 63% catch rate) are solid possession options, but only Jordan Bishop (353 yards, 16.0 per catch, 56% catch rate) appears to offer a good level of explosiveness and upside.

For what it's worth, the offensive line returns mostly intact and should take a nice step forward overall. Three-year starting center Alex Linnenkahl is gone, but just about everybody else returns, including three two-year (at least) starters: tackles Michael Phillip and Mike Remmers and guard-turned-center Grant Johnson all have at least 22 career starts. The line as a whole has now compiled 91 total starts, which makes them one of the more experienced units in the country. Now they just need to be experienced and good.

Other tidbits:

Defense

Category S&P+ Rk Success
Rt. Rk
PPP+ Rk
OVERALL 34 36 37
RUSHING 29 49 28 Adj. Line Yards:
PASSING 37 29 47 68
Standard Downs 35 33 34 Adj. Sack Rate:
Passing Downs 42 53 40 9
Redzone 29 26 39
Q1 Rk 49 1st Down Rk 35
Q2 Rk 27 2nd Down Rk 32
Q3 Rk 38 3rd Down Rk 57
Q4 Rk 27

One thing was certain in facing Oregon State in 2010: they were coming after you. They weren't always going to get you, but they were going to try. They attacked, attacked and attacked, especially on passing downs, which resulted in both tremendous sack rates and a copious number of oft-successful draw plays. Opponents ran quite a bit more frequently than normal on passing downs, and the reason was quite obvious.

If the Beavers didn't get to the quarterback, their defense was only solid, not great. And as we see with the Adj. Pts. table above, they basically used two near-perfect defensive performances (against California and USC) to skew their overall averages a bit lower than they probably should have been.

While it was capable of getting pushed around at times, the Oregon State defensive line was solid, thanks mostly to tackle Stephen Paea (32.5 tackles, 10.0 TFL/sacks, 4 FF, 2 PBU) and ends Gabe Miller and Dominic Glover (combined: 63.0 tackles, 15.5 TFL/sacks). Of that troika, only Glover returns; they lose some serious meat in Paea and Olander, and while Kevin Frahm (22.0 tackles, 4.5 TFL/sacks) is a decent tackle, he and Glover are going to need some help.

The linebacking corps seemed to cover for the line well enough against the run, and without Paea, they will have to do so even more. Unfortunately, they must replace Dwight Roberson (70.0 tackles, 8.0 TFL/sacks, 1 INT, 8 PBU) and Keith Pankey (43.5 tackles, 5.0 TFL/sacks), easily the two most productive linebackers on the team last year. Four LBs return who managed between 24.0 and 29.0 tackles -- Cameron Collins, Rueben Robinson, Tony Wilson and Feti Unga -- but it will be hard to avoid at least a temporary step backwards in both this unit and in the front seven as a whole.

Other tidbits:

  • That Oregon State ranked 53rd in Passing Downs Success Rate+ despite strong sack rates suggests that they gave gigantic cushions to receivers on passing downs; that's not a sign of trust in your secondary. While four of the top six DBs return, perhaps the two best must be replaced. Safety Suaesi Tuimaunei (69.0 tackles, 5.0 TFL/sacks, 1 INT, 2 FF) and cornerback James Dockery (48.5 tackles, 4 INT, 5 PBU) both had strong stat lines, but there is hope in safeties like Lance Mitchell and Anthony Watkins and corners Brandon Hardin and Jordan Poyer.
  • After three years fielding a Top 35 (according to Def. F/+) defense -- including a fourth-place finish in 2007 -- the Beavers have regressed to 59th and 48th the last two years. Where has Mark Banker's D slumped the most? Primarily in success rates.

    Def. Success Rate+: second in 2007, ninth in 2008, 68th in 2009, 36th in 2010
    Def. Rushing Success Rate+: fourth, 28th, 71st, 49th
    Def. Passing Success Rate+: sixth, ninth, 68th, 29th
    Def. Standard Downs Success Rate+: first, fifth, 59th, 33rd

    Good success rates are typically a sign of aggression -- "bend-don't-break" defenses typically have poor success rates and solid PPP+ ratings -- but it appears that, perhaps because of personnel, a good portion of Oregon State's aggression has been misplaced the last two years. If there's a sign for optimism, it's that the plummet really occurred in 2009 with a slight rebound last fall. Of course, with what they're losing on defense, I can't really imagine they improve too much in this regard in 2011.

Oregon State's 2010 Season Set to Music

"A Hard Day's Night," by The Beatles
"Hard Hitters," by Dilated Peoples
"Hard Knock Life," by Jay-Z
"Hard Livin', by Martha Redbone
"Hard Times," by Ray Charles (or John Legend & The Roots)
"Mr. Tough," by Yo La Tengo
"Time Tough," by Toots & The Maytals
"Tough Guy," by The Beastie Boys
"Tough Mama," by Bob Dylan
"Tougher Than It Is," by Cake

Fun Stat Nerd Tidbit

Here.

Summary and Projection Factors

Below is a small handful of projection and change factors most pertinent to the Football Outsiders' preseason projections you will find in this summer's Football Outsiders Almanac 2011.

Four-Year F/+ Rk 25
Five-Year Recruiting Rk 55
TO Margin/Adj. TO Margin**** +4 / +3.5
Approx. Ret. Starters (Off. / Def.) 11 (7, 4)
Yds/Pt Margin***** -1.8

I respect the hell out of the job Mike Riley has done in his second stint at Oregon State -- the Beavers' eight winning seasons in the 2000s easily constituted their best decade since at least the 1960s, and Riley was responsible for either of those seasons -- and I'm going to assume he will once again put a Top 40-quality team on the field. But it's impossible to see them as a serious factor in the Pac-12 North with loaded Stanford and Oregon teams, and a complete lack of defensive depth, standing in their way.

The schedule eases up, if only a tad (it still includes trips to Wisconsin, Oregon, Utah, Arizona State and California), but the team's potential is strong enough that bowl eligibility should certainly be back in the cards. I expect the offense to improve enough to offset defensive regression, but the combination of schedule and depth still probably only places their ceiling around eight wins or so.

 

 

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* For more on the 'Adj. Score' and 'Adj. Record' measures below, feel free to read this Football Outsiders column. Adj. Score is a look at how a team would have performed in a given week if playing a perfectly average team, with a somewhat average number of breaks and turnovers. The idea for the measure is simple: what if everybody in the country played exactly the same opponent every single week? Who would have done the best? It is an attempt to look at offensive and defensive consistency without getting sidetracked by easy or difficult schedules. And yes, with adjusted score you can allow a negative number of points, which is strangely satisfying.

** F/+ rankings are the official rankings for the college portion of Football Outsiders. They combine my own S&P+ rankings (based on play-by-play data) with Brian Fremeau's drives-based FEI rankings.

*** What is S&P+? Think of it as an OPS (the "On-Base Plus Slugging" baseball measure) for football. The 'S' stands for success rates, a common Football Outsiders efficiency measure that basically serves as on-base percentage. The 'P' stands for PPP+, an explosiveness measure that stands for EqPts Per Play. The "+" means it has been adjusted for the level of opponent, obviously a key to any good measure in college football. S&P+ is measured for all non-garbage time plays in a given college football game. Plays are counted within the following criteria: when the score is within 28 points in the first quarter, within 24 points in the second quarter, within 21 points in the third quarter, and within 16 points (i.e. two possession) in the fourth quarter. For more about this measure, visit the main S&P+ page at Football Outsiders.

**** Adj. TO Margin is what a team's turnover margin would have been if they had recovered exactly 50 percent of all the fumbles that occurred in their games. If there is a huge difference between TO Margin and Adj. TO Margin (in other words, if fumbles and unlucky bounces were the main source of a good/bad TO margin), that suggests that a team's luck was particularly good or bad and might even out the next season.

*****Phil Steele has long tracked Yards Per Point as a means of looking at teams that were a little too efficient or inefficient the previous season. A positive Yds/Pt Margin means a team's offense was less efficient than opponents' offenses, and to the extent that luck was involved, their luck might even out the next year.

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