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Sun Belt Analytics: What advanced stat each program must keep up in 2017

Using S&P+, we’ll tell you what each team did particularly well last season.

NCAA Football: Miami at Appalachian State
Per S&P+, App State graded out as the best team in the Sun Belt last fall.
Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

Advanced statistics have made a big impact in basketball and baseball, but are still considered somewhat taboo in the game of college football. I know people reading this have probably never really dived into advanced stats so I wanted to do a piece here kind of describing how this system works and why they are important stats to keep an eye on. Just recently, Tulane head coach Willie Fritz mentioned that he is depending on numbers and these advanced stats, so these are becoming more relevant in our current college football world. Thanks to our good friends at Football Outsiders and the good work of SB Nation’s own Bill Connelly, this will be the first of a two part series that will give a specific stat of what each Fun Belt team must keep up and improve going into 2017 (Coastal Carolina will not be included due to this being their first season in FBS).

Appalachian State: Success Rate

The official advanced stats glossary is here, but success rate essentially determines what percentage of plays were productive. So for a typical first and ten it means gaining at least five yards. On second down you need to gain 70% of the yards needed and then all the way up to 100% on third and fourth down. The Mountaineers ranked highly in all versions of success rate on both sides of the football. The offense ranked 38th in rushing success rate and 15th in passing. Meanwhile, their defense ranked 13th against the run and 11th versus the pass. Therefore, App State wasn’t falling behind the chains on both sides of the football and that allowed their coaches to use everything available in their playbook. While they’re not the most talented team in the country, App State stays on schedule and that is a reason why they are one of the most consistent teams in all of college football. The explosion needed for splash plays is not necessarily there for the Apps, so it’s essential that they stay efficient.

Arkansas State: IsoPPP

PPP means points per play and this is an essential metric that grades what percent of successful plays went for scores. Therefore it measures how dynamic you are in an isolated situation. The Red Wolves had their struggles on offense, but when they did something well it was usually in a big way. Their offense ranked 22nd in the country in explosiveness and it was certainly needed with the struggles of their offensive line last year. Meanwhile, their defense was in the top 50. If the Red Wolves can improve their efficiency, this offense could be something to see this fall.

Georgia Southern: Defensive Stuff Rate

Stuff rate is defined as the percentage of plays where a rusher was stopped at the line of scrimmage or tackled for a loss. This is one place where this defense excelled last season and will need to keep up in 2017. This is specifically a rushing stat, but the Eagles stopped 33% of opposing runs at the line. Stopping the run is the most important factor to most defenses and this will allow Georgia Southern to consistently be in defensive friendly situations. If the Eagles can just get some pressure on the quarterback then the defense will be in great shape.

Georgia State: IsoPPP

South Alabama v Georgia Southern
Jerome Smith is one of the best cover corners in the country.
Photo by Todd Bennett/Getty Images

Much like the boys in Jonesboro, the Panthers were very dynamic on both sides of the football and this will be something for the new staff to build off of. GSU was first in this category on defense and 31st on offense. The offense was really dynamic through the air while the defense just did not give up big plays. Those passing numbers should only get better with the return of WR Penny Hart and the pass-defending ability of corner tandem of Jerome Smith and Chandon Sullivan will give the staff some nice building blocks.

Idaho: Passing Success Rate

The Vandals were very efficient when going to the air and that probably had a lot to do with experience at quarterback and wide receiver. Most of the pass catchers are gone, so senior passer Matt Linehan could have his work cut out for him. The Vandals were 12th in passing success rate while putting up a solid 39th finish in passing downs success rate. Passing downs are essentially when you fall behind the chains. Therefore, second and eight plus yards or third and five plus. The Vandals were very efficient in this regard as they were able to move the chains even when they fell a little bit behind schedule. Can Linehan produce these numbers again?

UL-Lafayette: Opportunity Rate

Here is a measure that is used to grade “if an offensive line does its job”. Essentially, opportunity rate grades on how many runs went for at least five yards and that credit goes to the big uglies up front. As a young offensive line last year, the Cajuns had 40.9% of their runs go for at least five yards and that was good for a top 60 finish. Meanwhile, the defensive front was even better as they finished 13th best in this category. With most of the offensive and defensive lines returning, it could be a big and dominant year on the line of scrimmage in Lafayette.

New Mexico State: Rushing Opportunity Rate

Larry Rose III

New Mexico State v Texas A&M
Larry Rose III owes a lot of credit to his offensive line.
Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images

gets all the credit, but the NMSU offensive line may have been underrated last season. They struggled to protect the passer, but when called upon to run block they did an excellent job. Nearly 50% of carries went at least five yards and the Aggies would come in at 6th in the country at this specific category. And with a superstar like Rose, this allows you to have a rushing attack that can be very dangerous. Oh, and play-action pass could be filthy running off of this.

South Alabama: Power Success Rate

Essentially the same as success rate, this metric was created by the Football Outsiders brainiacs to measure the amount of successful runs that happen in short yardage situations on third and fourth down. The Jags excelled with this on both sides of the football as they were able to grind out yards when needed and stop opposing offenses in short yardage situations. With the defensive line perhaps being the strength of this team, it will be important for USA to post another top 15 number. Meanwhile, the offense could be hurting in the passing game, so it will be essential to stay successful in the running game.

Texas State: Defensive Rushing Opportunity Rate

Results wise it was ugly in San Marcos and numbers say it may have even been worse. The Bobcats were stuck in the triple-digits in most categories, but there was one area where their defense flashed. Texas State was 49th in opportunity rate as they held opponents to less than five yards on the ground 39.7% of the time. This number should only improve as the defensive line will have more experience and talent. Oh, and linebackers Bryan London II and Gabe Loyd are studs.

Troy: Havoc Rate

The Troy offense gets a lot of the credit, but the defense might have been the biggest reason the Trojans posted double-digit wins last season. The biggest strength of this unit was the havoc rate which is a measure that records the percentage of plays where the defense recorded a negative offensive play (tackle for loss, sack, interception, forced fumble, pass breakups). The awesome Troy secondary, led by safeties Cedarius Rookard and Kris Weatherspoon, was a big reason for this as they ranked 16th in all defensive back groups in this category. Meanwhile, the defensive front was no slouch either as they were slotted at 23rd. Troy had a tendency to give up big yards through the air, but they made the big plays when needed. Can they do it again in 2017?

ULM: Offensive Power Success & Stuff Rate

The Warhawks weren’t necessarily good at many things in Matt Viator’s first season, but they were able to run the football. ULM was able to limit negative plays in the run game and when faced with short yardage situations, they capitalized. The offensive line led by guard Frank Sutton, Jr. blazed trails in these situations. Although not explosive, the ULM backs were able to limit negative plays. I’m expecting for this rushing attack to take a big step forward this season.