Stat Session: Meyer and Tressel

By Chad Peltier on May 14, 2012 at 4:00p
O HAI, DO U LYK FOOSBALL?Not flashy, but certainly consistent. 

As I alluded to last week, this week's stat session compares Tressel and Meyer's offenses and defenses to see how each found consistent success between 2005-2010. I again build off of the S&P+ statistics work, though this week will feature 100% fewer regression tables compared to last week.

In case you missed last week's analysis, the S&P+ ranking system is comprised of three measures of individual play success: individual play success (progress at gaining a first down), explosiveness, and a measure designed to reward tougher schedules. 

Last week's analysis looked at the 2011 football season and found that better offenses were highly correlated with both final AP ranking and overall wins. Several of you mentioned that you'd like to see trends and comparisons over time, so this is definitely the post for you.

The common understanding is that Tressel's football success has always been due to the Silver Bullets rather than the Walrus/Tresselball offenses. Ohio State, save for the beautiful Troy and Ginn offenses, never really put points on the board like this. Meyer, on the other hand, has been known for his innovative, Tebow-led spread offenses.

I thought it might be helpful to understand how each patriarch managed to win so much and so consistently in order to maybe see what's in store for us next year.


A few notes before beginning: this table represents Tress's offensive and defensive S&P+ rankings from the beginning of Football Outsiders' records in 2005 until his premature departure from the university. The number in parentheses represents the offense's or defense's final ranking. The "SOS" column is not a measure of the number of cries for help, but the strength of schedule power score relative ranking. 

Year Offense Defense SoS Record
2005 122.9 (9) 141.9 (2) 8 10-2
2006 132.9 (5)  130.7 (7) 7 12-1
2007 109.6 (35)  147.1 (1) 9 11-2
2008 114.7 (22) 127.2 (7)  9 10-3
2009 111.2 (33) 138.4 (7) 24 11-2
2010 122.5 (12) 135.6 (4)  18 12-1

A couple of things stand out from this table. Fittingly for The Senator, everything about Tressel's tenure was remarkably consistent. During this time period, his strength of schedule hovered in the top ten until the '09 season, he won ten to twelve games every year, and his offenses were at least in the top 35.

As we might expect, Tressel's teams' real strength were their insane defenses. Even with a top-ten strength of schedule rating nearly every year, Tressel's defenses managed all top-seven finishes, with three top-four defenses. The standard deviation across the six years is only by ~7 points, meaning that all of Tress's defenses were largely close to the defense S&P+ ranking's mean of 136.8. 

In contrast, his offenses only cracked the top ten twice with Troy Smith at the helm, though Pryor's 2010 campaign wasn't too shabby at twelfth in the nation. Though not at the same level as his defenses, his offenses were similarly stable, with a standard deviation of ~9 points and mean of 119 for the offensive S&P+ ranking. 

Don't leave Tim hanging! We'll need Meyer and Brax to be like this

Looking at the means and standard deviations of Tressel's offenses and defenses paints a pretty clear picture. Tressel won ten game per year largely on the back of his stellar defenses. His defenses were more consistent, and limited both explosive and overall play success, even when controlling for strength of schedule. 


At first glance, it seems like Meyer's tenure at Florida is far more streaky than Tressel's rock of a program. The offense ranges from first in 2007 all the way to 53rd with Brantley in 2010, while the defense ranges from third (twice, in '06 and '09) to an ugly 62nd in 2007. His offenses average 126.9 on the S&P+ (about 8 points higher than Tressel's) while his defenses come in at 123.4 (about 13 points lower than Tressel's).

However, it's key that Meyer's offenses and defenses have significantly more S&P+ variation than Tressel's offenses and defenses. Meyer's offenses have a standard deviation of 18.9 (~9 for Tress) and his defenses a 15.6 (~7)! This is significant - Meyer's offenses and defenses are always pretty good, but sometimes they are incredible

Year Offense Defense Sos Record
2005 112.7 (28) 116.5 (20) 18 9-3
2006 120.9 (17)  136.3 (3)  2 13-1
2007 151.1 (1) 99.6 (62)  14 9-4
2008 146.4 (2) 131.3 (4) 2 13-1
2009 128 (4) 141.1 (3)  2 13-1
2010 102.5 (53)  115.5 (24)  27 8-5

The real takeaway here, however, is that Meyer's teams were at their best - 13-1 national champions kind of best - when Meyer's defenses are in the top-5. For instance, Meyer's offense was only 17th but his defense 3rd in the country in 2006.  I don't even want to mention Ohio State's contact with Meyer's defense that year, though I think Troy still has nightmares about it (paralipsis, amiright?). 

While we're only looking at seven data points here, there are absolutely the beginnings of a correlation between strong defense and success. Meyer's offenses are almost always top notch - but when he has a lights-out defense it seems like he's destined to go 13-1. 

If I had to guess, there is more variation Meyer's offensive S&P+ scores because of the sheer difference between Meyer's Tebow, Brantley, and Leak offenses. You can argue that there's a talent difference, an offensive system mismatch, or that Meyer was just looking to return to Ohio in 2010, but there's no doubting that Meyer's offense really thrives when he has his quarterback. The good news for Buckeye fans is that Braxton Miller is his quarterback. 

This analysis is important for our expectations as Buckeye fans. Under Tressel we were blessed with consistently good, often great teams. Under Meyer, if trends continue, we might expect the odd off year (9-4, 8-5), in between years of 13-1, 14-0, national championship type seasons. Though we certainly don't have enough data to generalize, set your expectations for the Meyer regime accordingly. 

While it is too early to say whether Meyer will indeed have the same trends continue like he had at UF (and to the extent we can create these two as different archetypes), do you prefer Tresselian consistency or Meyer's sometimes unrivaled greatness? 

Hopefully we won't have to choose. 



Comments Show All Comments

hodge's picture

I'll take 2 national championships over 5 years at the expense of 5 straight Big Ten titles and BCS wins, any day of the week.

GABuckeye's picture

Couldn't agree more Hodge.

cal3713's picture

Personally, I'm partial to blaming part of that consistency vs. variability on staff stability.  Didn't Meyer have multiple OC and DCs during that timespan?

Buckeyefan52's picture

The 3 years meyer had the second hardest schedule, they went 13-1? But they didn't do as well when the schedule was was easier? Odd

Maestro's picture

An SEC Championship Game will do wonders for your SOS.

vacuuming sucks

yrro's picture

I'm really not a fan of the general way SOS is calculated at the top end. The year with our weakest SOS, we beat five teams with 10 wins. To me, that is harder than beating up on 8 win teams and playing one top 5 team. 

OSUBias's picture

Only Notre Dame fans wouldn't choose 2 NC in 5 years; cuz they honestly think they're going to win one EVERY year. And every year when they suck it's an absolute shock.

7 yards and a cloud of dust is a beautiful thing

Maestro's picture

Consistency is nice.  I loved OSU going to BCS Game after BCS Game like it was a bodily function.  Time to go all the way though.

vacuuming sucks

Irricoir's picture

I agree that being inconsistent in staffing probably contributed to the irregularity in the offensive proficiency. I think the bigger issue is that when Meyer was building his program for the long run that he recruited the right cogs for his system. The problem is that the cog had a problem with cheating and stealing laptops. I can already see where he is trying to eliminate that problem with this class, especially if he take Tribisky (sp?) along with Barret. I don't know what the lapse in defense was all about in 07. Didn't they lose a metric sh!t ton of players in the draft?

I don't always take names when I kick ass but when I do, they most often belong to a Wolverine.

skycake's picture

They lost pretty much everyone important from the 2006 defense, and the 2007 defense was entirely either freshman or role players.
However, the freshmen on the awful 2007 defense turned into the sophomores and juniors of the amazing 2008 and 2009 defenses.

William's picture

They lost everyone from the 2005 defense. The guys on the 2006 defense then helped make the 2007 defense (#1 Overall) amazing, as well as the 2008, and 2009 defenses.

SPreston2001's picture

Meyer played in the SEC and used to curb stomp teams. Tres won consistently but it wasnt always pretty and when we played other big time out of conference teams we generally lost. Give me the coach with two NC's and knows how to handle the SEC... Not a knock to Tres because I love what he did for us, but its like we had become content with just beating scUM and winning the bigten...

yrro's picture

Given the reaction to the rose bowl and sugar bowl, I'm not sure that's an accurate characterization. 

qaid's picture

Consistently beating TSUN and winning 10+ games? It really was hard to complain. (Actually, it was really easy to complain about Tresselball after losses to out of conference teams or during one of many nerve-racking close games)
Then again, what's the point if you can't quiet the haters?

poop's picture

I'll take Myers unrivaled greatness, it's just more entertaining and exciting. Crushing the B1G and especially Michigan was great and would never get old but losing to top teams (in embarrassing fashion) sort of tarnished the accomplishment. If Myer can consistently beat the top teams in the country (especially the SEC teams) then I'll be a very happy fan.

Poison nuts's picture

Like you said - hopefully we don't have to choose. I have a feeling UFM will be more consistent in this conference.

"Do not pass me, just slow down - I can move right through you" Superchunk - Precision Auto.

buckeye76BHop's picture

I will always love what J.T. did in Columbus for over ten years (a great run and especially against TTUN my favorite part of his legacy).  I just have to say back when OSU got it's own curb stomping in 2006 as one here above put it...since then I've always wanted Urban as OSU's head coach when J.T. retired/fired and unfortunately it happened sooner than I wanted or anticipated.  There may be some slight down years with Urban and this year could be one of them (Look out B1G and FBS in general 2013 and on).  The seniors are unfortunately getting screwed and I hope hype being placed on going 12-0 and beating the shit out of the last two teams comes to fruition...however...I'm one big believer that it could...but a huge doubter that it actually will based on the offense being in it's first year under a BIG transformation (But it's doing better than I thought so far).  If the spring game is any preview to what's to come...and if the SR's stay the course and motivate everyone all season...hey...who knows what could happen in Urban's first year at the helm????  Too bad the one's who should have sat out a bowl game didn't last year...I'm still waiting to see how the "U" gets nothing from the NCAA as far as bowl sanctions for 2012.  

"There's nothing that cleanses your soul like getting the hell kicked out of you."

"I love football. I think it is most wonderful game in world and I despise to lose."

Woody Hayes 1913 - 1987 

millertime2011's picture

seeing that "1" in the loss column for 2006 sill hurts...

CowCat's picture

JT consistently fielded some of the best defenses and special teams that I will ever see at TOSU.
However, in big games where the defense was on its heels, we didn't have an offense to respond. A few clutch plays were overshadowed by a scheme that upper-tier defenses were well-prepared for.
In contrast you have teams like Oregon that can score 21+ points at any time and win games from behind even with a mediocre defense.
Next year we will have an offense that keeps opponents on their heels and our defense will not be mediocre. Hopefully UFM3 will bring just enough smash-mouth to keep our defense rested.

"We get paid to score touchdowns, not kick field goals"
-- Urban Meyer

joethejester's picture

"In contrast you have teams like Oregon that can score 21+ points at any time and win games from behind even with a mediocre defense."

By 21+ you must mean the 17 they scored against the Tress lead Bucks in Pasadena just 3 years ago.

gwalther's picture

Yeah, they looked real high powered during that OSU Rose Bowl win.

Class of 2008

CowCat's picture

True enough, and I enjoyed that win -- I live in Seattle so I heard enough Oregon smack talk :)
My point was more about the NC losses, the first USC loss, etc.
When Tresselball was behind significantly to a top team, there was seemingly nothing left in the cupboard on offense. 
Oregon has a mediocre defense at best -- definitely it wasn't enough to stop Terrelle Pryor and us controlling the clock -- but their offense is relentless and can run up points at any time in a hurry.
If we can combine a typical dominant Ohio State defense with an offense that can adjust quickly, we're going to be in great shape.  I just hope we don't go so "no huddle" that our defense isn't rested.  UFM3 understands smash-mouth running, so I'm optimistic.

"We get paid to score touchdowns, not kick field goals"
-- Urban Meyer

Tommy's picture

Chad, can I ask what your statistical background is?  Are you a self-taught, do-this-as-a-hobby type guy, or is this your educational background/career?  Forgive me if this was discussed in your intro to the site and I just missed it somewhere.

Chad Peltier's picture

Tommy, I'm actually a political science graduate student and my subfield is in methods. I still have most of the fun stuff - Bayesian stats, intense time series, Monte Carlo models, etc. - left to go. 

Tommy's picture

Regardless of the O v. D question, I think it's interesting how the numbers and records would seem to reflect each coach's overarching philosophy.
Tressel is all about mitigating risk.  Meyer is about going for the knockout (even if it means leaving yourself more vulnerable to the counter, or the upset).
I would never draw any definitive conclusions from this since there is so much noise involved in each measurement (such is football) and the sample size is so small.  But these conversations sure do provoke intelligent thought.  Thanks Chad.