Noted football prognosticator Phil Steele developed the yards per point stat (YPP) to, among other things, try to gauge a team's luck in a given season, thus helping him identify teams that were likely to vastly improve or regress if that luck evened out the next year. YPP is simply how many yards an offense had to move the ball for each point, and it is easy to calculate: simply divide a team's total yards by its points scored. A team's defensive YPP is how many yards its opponents had to move the ball for each point, and this can also be useful in examining how past good or bad luck might factor in a team's future.
Though his most current data is not yet available for free on his website, YPP analysis from 2007-2010 showed that highly efficient--or highly lucky--teams that had an offensive YPP of 11.6 or lower had a 73.6% likelihood of getting worse or staying the same in the next season in the W-L column. Teams with unlucky defenses (13.3 opponents' YPP or worse) improved or stayed the same in term of wins and losses 68.8% of the time. Teams that seemed to get lucky on defense (17.3 or higher opponents' YPP) got worse or stayed the same at a rate of 64.6%. The more a team is a YPP outlier, the more likely it is that the team will head in the opposite win-loss direction in the next season. For example, Miami of Ohio was dead last in offensive YPP (22) in 2009 and finished 1-11. The next year the U of Oh went 10-4. Put your money on New Mexico in 2012; the Lobos needed a ghastly 30.6 yards for every point en route to a 1-11 2011. If they rebound to a still slightly below average 15 YPP this season, the Lobos should double their scoring output.
So, what does any of this have to do with N. C. State and Tennessee?
(Patience, grasshopper; you'll see after the jump.)
Getting down with YPP does not bode well for the Wolfpack in 2012. About half of all FBS teams posted a YPP between 13 and 16, including State, but the Pack were on the luckier end of that group, scoring a point for every 13.1 yards gained in 2011 again FBS opponents, the 30th best (or 30th most unsustainable) mark in the country. One could posit that State's offense was highly efficient, but the truth is that State benefited from defensive scores and short fields from its turnover-generating defense. Those quick sixes and that positive turnover margin are not guaranteed in 2012, so State is likely to regress closer to the 2011 average of a 14.6 YPP, and that could mean as much as a 5 point-per-game decrease in scoring.
Defensively, State's FBS opponents needed an average of 13.7 yards to score a point. The Pack were a bit unlucky in this regard, finishing 78th and 0.4 YPP under the national average of 14.1. But even if State is lucky or a bit better than average in 2012 opponents' YPP, it may still see a rise in its points allowed if it cannot replicate 2011's gaudy turnover numbers.
The bottom line: given its offensive YPP and freakishly-unlikely-to-be-repeated interception totals, N. C. State may have to get a lot better just to repeat last season's 8-5 campaign, and that does not bode well when matching up with an SEC school, even if that SEC school served as the league's doormat a year ago.
UT posted a horrendously inefficient offensive 17.7 YPP against FBS opponents last season, 109th worst in all the land and nearly 8 yards more per point than LSU's national-best 9.9 mark. Steel's look at history shows that the Vols are very likely to improve on their 5-7 season because, even without improving their yards per game output, they should still significantly improve their points per game output.
While the unlucky Vols' offense needed an average of 3.1 yards more than the FBS mean offense to put up a point, their defense was a bit lucky, surrendering a point for every 14.6 yards an opponent gained, 52nd in the nation and 0.5 points better than the mean. Tennessee's defense should surrender more points in 2012, but the expected gain of the offense, especially with healthy, full seasons from Tyler Bray and Justin Hunter, will more than cover for any backsliding from the defense.
While it is statistically more likely than not, there is no guarantee that a team will regress to the mean. There could be a proven strength (like Virginia Tech's yearly turnover margin dominance) or extreme deficiency (State and Tennessee's epic fail in the running game) that possibly account for YPP abnormalities, but if State was a little lucky and Tennessee was a lot unlucky on offense last year and both do start their regression to the mean on August 31st, things might get ugly for the guys in red.
Statistics show with 100% accuracy that beer + football = good and that #ncstateshit - liquor = inevitable self-mutilation. So, prepare your livers.