Saturday, August 26, 2006

Football's Cherished Myths


I was browsing today's Wall Street Journal "Pursuits" section and came across a story by Allen Barra on "Pro Football's Cherished Myths." His premise was that compared to baseball, pro football analysis is still in the Stone Age, and revealed some truths to pro football's top 10 cherished myths. I thought I'd take a few moments to look at these myths through Centennial football eyes and see what we find.

1. "Offense sells tickets, but defense wins championships."
McDaniel led the CC in points (210) last season and finished 5-5. Dickinson, F&M and Gettysburg each averaged over 300 yards per game but failed to finish above .500. Muhlenberg led the Conference in total defense (253.6) and was second in scoring defense (14.2), but posted a 3-7 mark.

2. "You need a strong running game."
In 2002, 2003 and 2005, Gettysburg led the Centennial in rushing yardage, but has not reached the .500 mark in any of the three seasons. In 2004, McDaniel topped the CC by nearly 87 yards per game and finished 6-4. That said, none of the teams that finished last in the Conference in rushing over the last four years reached .500 either.

3. "A turnover is a turnover."
The article mentions that bad teams don't really fumble any more often than good teams and, on the whole, the odds of recovering any fumble are about 50-50 (as teams that excel in either fewest fumbles lost or most fumbles recovered in one season generally revert to the norm the next). Interceptions are always indicators of strength (on defense) and weakness (on offense). Last season's CC numbers don't reveal much, but a 14-year history of turnover margin indicates that the CC annual leader in the category has won 10 or more games seven times (50%) and finished with a winning season on 12 occasions (80%).

4. "Great teams are built around the kicking game."
Last season, Johns Hopkins led the CC in punting yardage (37.3) and net yardage (34.6) on its way to the Conference championship. Franklin & Marshall, who finished second to JHU in the standings, led the Centennial with 14 field goals, while the Blue Jays were second (13). The previous year, F&M, Johns Hopkins and Muhlenberg were 1-2-3 in punting and field goals and combined for a 25-8 overall record. (Ben Scott, Johns Hopkins, pictured)

5. "The draft creates parity."
Obviously, not applicable here.

6. "You have to control the ball."
A sacred belief of coaches, according to the article, is that controlling the ball is the key to victory. Yes, Hopkins (8-3) led the CC last season with 30:58 but Muhlenberg (3-7) was close behind at 30:21. In 2004, the Mules (8-3) led by a wide margin at 34:05, but F&M (9-2) was sixth at 28:15. In 2003, Dickinson led in time of possession (32:05) on its way to a 4-6 mark and Ursinus topped the category in 2002 (31:43) but finished 2-8.

7. "Dome teams have the advantage."
Once again, not applicable.

8. "The pass sets up the run."
Last fall, Ursinus was second in yards per pass (6.1) and sixth in yards per rush (2.5). Muhlenberg was third in passing (5.8) and last in rushing (2.3). Dickinson topped the passing category (6.2) but was just fourth in rushing (3.2).

9. "Pass completion percentage is a key stat."
In 2005, Hopkins' Zach DiIonno led the Conference by completing 56.5 percent of his passes in leading the Jays to an 8-3 record. In 2004, Doug Hiltner (56.4) helped lead F&M to a 9-2 mark, while in 2003, JHU's George Merrell's 54.5 accuracy guided Hopkins to a 10-1 slate. So, the last three CC completion percentage leaders combined for a 27-6 record.

10. "This is the age of the running quarterback."
Yes, a running quarterback can pose problems for defensive coordinators, but the last four leaders in QB rushing yards have just one winning season among them (McDaniel's Brad Baer in 2004). The quartet combined for a 20-21 record.

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