Summer Vacation: The Troy Trojans, Jim Croce and a Celebration

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

For obvious reasons, we tend to focus on the more outlandish, easy-to-debate pieces of college football.  Paying players, playoffs, etc.  Things about which people can argue.  That wears me out after a while.  As you see every Saturday morning with the "What I Love" series, I like to step back and admire as much as possible, remind myself why it's okay to love such a silly, often ridiculous sport.  And there are so many things to celebrate about college football.

Larry Blakeney, for instance.  He just celebrated 20 years as Troy's head coach.  When he took over the Trojans, they were a Division II independent.  He helped to transition them to the 1-AA level and won three Southland Conference titles, making the 1-AA playoffs seven times in their nine years at the level (and in the first year, they went 10-1 but weren't eligible for the playoffs).

After less than a decade at 1-AA, Blakeney helped to transition the Trojans to the 1-A level ... and he has won or shared five consecutive Sun Belt titles.  Despite all the transition, despite all the movement, Blakeney has won 161 games, including at least eight in each of the last five years.

To put it another way, Blakeney won the All-American Football Foundation's Johnny Vaught Lifetime Achievement Award in 2000 ... before he had even accomplished anything at the 1-A/FBS level.  Since then, he's one-upped himself.

Blakeney is a tireless recruiter and brilliant representative of this small school in southern Alabama.  (That he has one of the most beautiful Southern drawls imaginable is just a bonus.)  He has won games, he has produced 18 NFL draft picks in his 20 years (four in the first or second round), and now he has potentially his most talented offensive player lining up for him for another two to three seasons.  There is a lot to celebrate about Blakeney's career, one that has not even begun to approach the homestretch yet.

2010 Schedule & Results*

Record: 8-5 | Adj. Record: 6-7 | Final F/+ Rk**: 69
Date Opponent Score W-L Adj. Score Adj. W-L
4-Sep Bowling Green 30-27 W 23.3 - 31.5 L
11-Sep at Oklahoma State 38-41 L 32.1 - 26.0 W
18-Sep at UAB 33-34 L 35.5 - 36.3 L
25-Sep Arkansas State 35-28 W 28.5 - 26.1 W
5-Oct at Middle Tennessee 42-13 W 39.2 - 11.3 W
16-Oct UL-Lafayette 31-24 W 23.1 - 28.2 L
30-Oct at UL-Monroe 14-28 L 15.1 - 31.5 L
6-Nov at North Texas 41-35 W 30.3 - 35.4 L
13-Nov Florida International 35-52 L 27.7 - 40.2 L
20-Nov at South Carolina 24-69 L 21.3 - 36.5 L
27-Nov Western Kentucky 28-14 W 25.3 - 21.1 W
4-Dec at Florida Atlantic 44-7 W 36.1 - 22.6 W
18-Dec vs Ohio 48-21 W 51.0 - 25.8 W
Category Offense Rk Defense Rk
Points Per Game 34.1 20 30.2 84
Adj. Points Per Game 29.9 41 28.6 69

In 2010, Blakeney and the Trojans got to experience life with an ultra-talented, redshirt freshman quarterback.  Corey Robinson took the reins, and Troy demonstrated as much offensive upside as they ever had ... while experiencing some extreme ups and downs along the way.  Over their first five games, Troy averaged 31.7 Adj. Points per game, one of the highest mid-major totals in the country.  Then, over the next five games, 23.5.  The final three?  37.5.  The defense, meanwhile, seemed to surge and slump at the same times.  In that mid-season, five-game slump, they allowed 34.4 Adj. Points per contest; in the other eight games, they allowed just 25.1, an above-average total.  The defense returns a majority of its playmakers (and, to be fair, those who allowed quite a few big plays) in 2011, but Robinson will have to quickly get comfortable with a new set of receivers if they are to stabilize -- in a good way -- this fall.

Offense***

Category S&P+ Rk Success
Rt. Rk
PPP+ Rk
OVERALL 52 41 63
RUSHING 69 49 84 Adj. Line Yards:
PASSING 53 36 61 83
Standard Downs 56 42 72 Adj. Sack Rate:
Passing Downs 57 58 59 31
Redzone 32 38 32
Q1 Rk 12 1st Down Rk 66
Q2 Rk 80 2nd Down Rk 50
Q3 Rk 64 3rd Down Rk 42
Q4 Rk 87

Ah, life with a redshirt freshman behind center.  Corey Robinson was nearly perfect in a near-upset of Oklahoma State (28-for-38, 272 yards, 3 TD, 0 INT, 159.9 QB rating), and he was dreadful against Louisiana-Monroe (16-for-38, 167 yards, 1 TD, 2 INT, 77.2 QB rating)  He was hit-or-miss against Arkansas State (18-for-38, 316 yards, 2 TD, 1 INT, 129.3) and hit-only against Ohio in the New Orleans Bowl (32-for-42, 387, 4 TD, 0 INT, 185.0).  For the season, his numbers were rather ridiculous for a first-year guy: 3,726 yards, 64% completion rate, 7.4 yards per pass, 28 TD, 15 INT, 137.9 QB rating.

The trick for Robinson in 2011 will be figuring out who he can trust in a brand new receiving corps.  Gone are his top three targets: Jerrell Jernigan (822 yards, 9.8/catch, 7.2/target, 73% catch rate, 6 TD; 322 rushing yards, first-team all-conference), Jason Bruce (613 yards, 13.0/catch, 8.4/target, 64% catch rate, 6 TD) and Tebiarus Gill (578 yards, 11.1/catch, 8.1/target, 6 TD).  The three combined for over 50% of Robinson's targets on the season.  Also gone: running back DuJuan Harris (603 yards, +11.9 Adj. POE) and three offensive line starters, including all-conference center Tyler Clark.

Luckily for Robinson, Troy passed a lot, meaning he still had time to get familiar with other targets while throwing 255 passes in the direction of Jernigan, Bruce and Gill.  Chip Reeves (515 yards, 17.2/catch, 11.7/target) now gets to understand life as the focus of opponents' No. 1 cornerbacks now, but he showed incredible potential last season.  Plus, Jamel Johnson (254 yards, 6.5/target), Corey Johnson and B.J. Chitty have all taken turns in the spotlight this spring.  There is still a lot to like here, but replacing Jernigan in particular -- I swear that guy was at Troy for 13 years -- still makes you worry a bit.

Other tidbits:

  • Troy seems to employ some of the same quick-strike principles that we discussed with Southern Miss a couple of days ago.  Low Adj. Sack Rate + High Success Rate + Low PPP+ = quick strike.
  • To say the least, Shawn Southward is rather appropriately named.  While DuJuan Harris was more explosive overall, the small-for-an-efficient-back Southward (5'8, 184) seemed more able -- from a statistical standpoint, anyway -- of staying north-south and remaining efficient.  He managed a +6.6 Adj. POE to go with his 623 rushing yards (5.4/carry).
  • Perhaps as important as finding replacements at receiver is the fight to rebuild the left side of the offensive line.  Returnees Kyle Wilborn and second-team all-conference performer James Brown give them a decent foundation, but it's never a guarantee that a mid-major school -- even this one -- will be able to quickly rebuild in the trenches.

Defense

Category S&P+ Rk Success
Rt. Rk
PPP+ Rk
OVERALL 83 51 105
RUSHING 100 60 114 Adj. Line Yards:
PASSING 75 46 88 105
Standard Downs 100 63 109 Adj. Sack Rate:
Passing Downs 48 20 75 25
Redzone 88 59 100
Q1 Rk 110 1st Down Rk 95
Q2 Rk 63 2nd Down Rk 70
Q3 Rk 59 3rd Down Rk 62
Q4 Rk 67

It doesn't take long to spot Troy's defensive weakness, does it?  The Trojans piled up the tackles for loss last season and attacked with great efficiency on passing downs ... but as with many mid-major defenses, they gave up far too many big plays.  The school that produced DeMarcus Ware and Osi Umenyiora could still get after the quarterback and make plays behind the line of scrimmage, but they wasted a good portion of the opportunities they created for themselves.

Honestly, it seems a lot of Troy's issues started in the middle.  Poor PPP+ ratings suggest problems with overall team speed, and that's probably relatively accurate, but with a line that had poor Adj. Line Yardage totals, the problems seemed to go beyond simply speed.  For all the TFL's this team rang up, the six tackles on last year's three-deep combined for just 9.0.  Almost every tackle returns this season, including medical redshirt recipient Emmanuel Dudley (23.5 tackles, 2.5 TFL/sacks). Maybe experience will do them some good there.

If the tackles can alleviate a bit of the pressure placed on Xavier Lamb (68.0 tackles, 7.5 TFL/sacks, 2 FR, 4 PBU), the overall engine might run a little more smoothly.  Lord knows they've got the pass rush thing figured out.  Defensive end Jonathan Massaquoi was just disgusting in 2010 -- 62.5 tackles, 20.5 TFL/sacks, 3 FR, no-brainer first-team all-conference.  He loses partner-in-crime Mario Addison (41.0 tackles, 15.5 TFL/sacks, second-team all-conference), but he's still a beast.  How Blakeney continues to churn out ends of this caliber is mind-bloggling.

Other tidbits:

  • I shouldn't place too much blame on the tackles here -- that Troy had a great pass rush and still ranked just 88th in Passing PPP+ shows that the secondary itself shared plenty of blame.  Just about everybody returns, for better or worse, including three cornerbacks (Chris Pickett, Bryan Willis, Jimmie Anderson) who combined for five interceptions and 17 PBU's.
  • I probably shouldn't stop at Lamb when it comes to giving love to linebackers -- strongside man Kanorris Davis (37.5 tackles, 9.0 TFL/sacks, 3 FF, 4 PBU) also put together a nice stat line.  As you can see, I'm guessing most of Troy's issues were at tackle and defensive back.  End and linebacker seem well-stocked.

Troy's 2010 Season Set to Music

This has almost nothing to do with Troy, but since we're in a celebratory mood, I'm seizing the opportunity to celebrate Jim Croce as well.  How?  In honor of Troy's fifth consecutive solo or shared conference title, I give you Croce's "Five Short Minutes," easily the best early-1970s song about under-aged groupies, plaster casters and consequences.  (A bold statement, I know.)

Fun Stat Nerd Tidbit

That Blakeney not only broke through for a couple of conference titles with Troy, but built them into a consistent winner, is amazing, even for the Sun Belt Conference.  Dealing with a budget less than half of those of other mid-major powers, Blakeney and Troy have produced results.  Below are the top ten mid-major programs over the last four years, according to F/+; in parentheses are a team's four-year F/+ average, national rank and, if available from this database, their total operating expenses for the 2009-10 academic year.  (No private school data.)

Top 10 Mid-Major Programs According to 4-Year F/+ Rank (2007-10)
1. TCU (+21.1% F/+, fifth overall; N/A)
2. Boise State (+18.9%, ninth; $36.7 million)
3. Utah (+10.9%, 26th; $31.7 million)
4. BYU (+8.5%, 35th; N/A)
5. Air Force (+2.7%, 49th; $39.1 million)
6. Navy (+1.5%, 53rd; N/A)
7. East Carolina (+0.8%, 55th; $30.5 million)
8. Central Florida (+0.4%, 57th; $39.2 million)
9. Tulsa (-0.4%, 60th; N/A)
10. Troy (-0.5%, 61st; $15.7 million)

Other teams surrounding Troy:
* Texas A&M (+0.5%, $75.9 million)
* UCLA (+0.3%, $61.9 million)
* Virginia (+0.1%, $70.9 million)
* Kansas (-0.6%, $69.2 million)
* Purdue (-0.9%, $58.4 million)
* Louisville (-0.9%, $61.3 million).

Another Fun Stat Nerd Tidbit

This game sucked.

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 61
Five-Year Recruiting Rk 79
TO Margin/Adj. TO Margin**** -1 / -4
Approx. Ret. Starters (Off. / Def.) 12 (4, 8)
Yds/Pt Margin***** -0.3

With potential steps backward in the receiving corps and on the offensive line, I'm not sure this will be Blakeney's best team in Troy.  But I also don't bet on streaks; if a team wins or shares five straight conference titles, it's probably smart to bet on them to continue until they give you a reason not to.  (See also: Kansas Basketball.)  In Robinson, Reeves, Southward and others, there is still infinite potential on the offensive side of the ball, and experience should at least make a dent in last year's poorer-than-average defensive showing.

This is a fun, dangerous and entertaining team.  While they might not have enough to take down Clemson or Arkansas in the opening weeks of the season, here's to betting they at least come close against one or the other.  And it's a pretty good bet that the October 25 Troy-FIU game on ESPN2 will be for the Sun Belt title.

 

 

---

* 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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