Cal Football Advanced Stats: Happytime Fun Charts!
Bill Connelly's Cal Day delivers the goods, reviewing the 2019 season and previewing the ***crosses fingers*** 2020 season
By now all of you must surely know ESPN-by-way-of-SBNation writer Bill Connelly. He’s in the middle of slowly previewing every team in college football, and Monday was Cal Day. What better way to start the week off than a celebration of Marshawn Lynch and the Bears:
Bill creates the same series of charts for every team on his list, and each is crammed with information. I know Twitter is a hell-site and all, but I’d recommend you get a twitter and just follow Bill (and, uh, I guess us too!) just for the incredible amount of information he puts out. Here’s Cal’s SP+ performance over the last six seasons:
Intellectually I know that I watched the incredible 180 that Cal did from all-offense to all defense between 2016 and 2018, but the numbers still look insane on a chart. And, in a note that unintentionally twists the knife for Cal fans, Bill notes the following:
The 2016 Cal O and 2018 Cal D would have been a top-5 team. The 2016 Cal D and 2018 Cal O would have been bottom-15.
With a collection of mostly 3 star recruits mostly recruited by his predecessor, Sonny Dykes built a top 20 offense. With a collection of mostly 3 star recruits mostly recruited by his predecessor, Justin Wilcox built a top 20 defense. To restate the blindingly obvious, coaching matters.
Moving on to the offense, Bill notes how it’s almost impossible to evaluate Cal heading into 2020. Character limits didn’t allow him to go into the WR and OL injuries that also contributed to some of Cal’s miserable offensive performances last year.
If you’re really sifting through the data, a few items stand out: improved big-play ability in the passing game. Solid yards/completion, solid success on passing downs, and solid general passing explosiveness - particularly when you adjust the stats for Garber’s multi-game injury absence. When Cal had Chase (and their WRs) healthy, they had an offense that could throw down the field. But the offense was hampered by an inconsistent running game, and (in my opinion) standard down conservatism. Watching in person and looking at the numbers, it seems like Cal waited until they HAD to throw the ball downfield to actually throw the ball downfield, at which point they did so pretty well. I’m really hoping that Bill Musgrave takes the chains off of the offense.
The story of the Cal 2019 defense? Still good, but not quite as good as 2018. Still great at preventing big plays, but a little weaker against the run, a little more vulnerable in the short passing game. You can see the strength, weakness, and strategy of Cal’s 2019 defense in two numbers: top 20 in yards/completion, but bottom 20 in completion rate allowed. When Cal’s defense was on they held teams to short gains and got off the field. When Cal’s defense wasn’t on they were killed by 1,000 paper cuts of short completions.
As Bill notes, injures mean that SP+ numbers perhaps aren’t as valuable as they would be for other teams. The advanced stats are rightly skeptical of an offense (despite an insane percentage of returning production) that has generally struggled for three straight seasons, but Cal fans are rightly optimistic about an offense that was better than average whenever they had enough healthy bodies on the field.
Perhaps what stands out most is a projected 7 tossup games. This is a consequence of having the relatively easier games on the road and the relatively tougher games at home. TCU, Utah, Wazzu, OSU, ASU, Stanford, and UCLA all fall into the toss up category, and Washington just barely misses. Even though it’s reasonable to believe that SP+ is underrating Cal, I think it’s fair to say that more than half of Cal’s schedule will likely fall into the toss up category. If we do indeed get a football season, make sure your heart medication is at the ready.
And now that you’re done reading this article, why not enjoy Bill’s Pac-12 South preview? Spoiler alert: this isn’t the right year to be playing ASU and Utah instead of Colorado and Arizona!