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Advanced stats say Missouri has improved in 2016, record be damned. So there’s that.

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NCAA Football: Missouri at Tennessee Randy Sartin-USA TODAY Sports

I’ve been open for a while about how I’ve been viewing the second half of the 2016 season. Talking about wins is better than talking about losses, and it was certainly fun to breathe in the win over Vandy last week. But for the most part, for everything that has happened in recent games, I’ve tried to view it through the prism of 2017 and beyond.

With just one game remaining in 2016, I thought I would take stock and see what we know about both how 2016 has played out and how 2017 might play out.

2016 has been ... interesting. Yes, the record is bad, but from the perspective of advanced stats, Mizzou is a definitively better team than it was a year ago. As much as the defense has regressed, the offense has progressed slightly more.

Still, Mizzou will finish either one or two wins behind where last year’s Tigers finished. If you look at the Tigers’ stat profiles from the last two years — 2015, 2016 — you’ll see that the difference in record comes mostly from tossup games.

From the 2016 profile:

Record: 3-8 | Second-order wins (diff.): 4.7 (1.7) | S&P+ Rk: 64
Date Opponent Opp. S&P+ Rk Score W-L Win
Expectancy
Adj. Scoring
Margin
Percentile
Performance
Off.
Percentile
Def.
Percentile
3-Sep at West Virginia 37 11-26 L 7% -11.9 70% 21% 59%
10-Sep Eastern Michigan 76 61-21 W 100% 30.6 99% 96% 88%
17-Sep Georgia 62 27-28 L 63% 2.7 87% 66% 48%
24-Sep Delaware State N/A 79-0 W 100% 80.2 80% 91% 91%
1-Oct at LSU 7 7-42 L 0% -31.6 37% 17% 17%
15-Oct at Florida 17 14-40 L 6% -12.2 19% 63% 32%
22-Oct Middle Tennessee 67 45-51 L 48% -0.4 34% 80% 32%
29-Oct Kentucky 74 21-35 L 18% -7.3 18% 47% 34%
5-Nov at South Carolina 88 21-31 L 33% -3.5 16% 67% 16%
12-Nov Vanderbilt 77 26-17 W 90% 10.1 39% 79% 45%
19-Nov at Tennessee 29 37-63 L 6% -12.2 12% 82% 14%
Date Opponent Opp. S&P+ Rk Win
Probability
Proj.
W-L
Proj.
Margin
Proj.
Score
Cumulative
Proj. Wins
25-Nov Arkansas 54 47% L -1.2 31.8 - 33.0 3.47

The Win Expectancy calculation above basically takes all of the key stats from a given game (efficiency, big plays, field position, finishing drives, turnover factors) and says “you could have expected to win this game X% of the time.” Mizzou has played more winnable games than it did a year ago; that matters a lot more when you actually win them, of course.

  • Games in which Mizzou had a win expectancy of under 33%: 0-7 in 2015, 0-5 in 2016
  • Games in which Mizzou had a win expectancy between 33-67%: 1-0 in 2015, 0-3 in 2016
  • Games in which Mizzou had a win expectancy of greater than 67%: 4-0 in 2015, 3-0 in 2016.

Of Mizzou's five wins in 2015, four came in games with at least an 81% win expectancy. (BYU was the exception, at 64%.) Meanwhile, in all seven losses, Mizzou's win expectancy was 11% or worse. There was very, very little left to chance.

This year has been a little bit blurrier.

Mizzou has been at 11% and under in only four games and at 81% or higher in three. The Tigers' win expectancy against Georgia was 63% and was 48% against MTSU, 33% against South Carolina, and even 18% against Kentucky.

That's an indirect sign of progress, I guess, but Mizzou went 0-4 in those games. That results in us having to search for reason for optimism; it’s a lot more fun when such reasons are blatant and obvious.

Let’s put it this way: If I take the win expectancies from each game and simulate the season to date 10,000 times, Mizzou is 6-5 or better at this point 21% of the time and 3-8 or worse only 12% of the time. 2015 produced only an 11% chance of finishing with six or more wins and an 18% chance of finishing 3-9.

Most of the time, 2016 produces a better record than 2015; it hasn’t. That stinks.

Category Offense Rk Defense Rk
S&P+ 33.2 41 32.2 87
Points Per Game 31.7 51 32.2 95

Ugh, those defensive numbers.

A team with Mizzou’s 2016 offense and 2015 defense would rank in the S&P+ top 20.

A team with Mizzou’s 2015 offense and 2016 defense would rank in the S&P+ bottom 10.

If you’d have told me in August that Mizzou’s offense would improve this much — and even through fits and starts, surges and slumps, the improvement is obvious (and if you don’t agree, go back and watch last year’s Tennessee game) — I’d have assumed the Tigers would be an SEC East contender. Instead, defensive regression has given back a lot of the offensive gains.

This, of course, makes looking into the future difficult. Mizzou’s offense is young as hell — sophomore QB, stud freshman RB, eight of 10 WRs/TEs and all five starting offensive linemen scheduled to return in 2017 — and has already improved quite a bit. Plus, Josh Heupel’s offense employs a style that is completely unique to the SEC East. These are all very good things.

Meanwhile, the defense is experienced and half-miserable. Granted, the loss of Michael Scherer to injury gave the Tigers a leg up on figuring out some younger answers for 2017, but those answers haven’t been incredibly satisfactory.

I realize that the typical fan answer to this is “FIRE THE DEFENSIVE COORDINATOR RIGHT NOW,” and for all we know, maybe Barry Odom decides that he and Demontie Cross aren’t nearly the team he thought they’d be and chooses to move on.

Regardless, part of being in a Year Zero situation is simply finding that your personnel and your intentions don’t match up very well. The goal for year two, with coaching staff changes or not, will be creating that match.

It happens quite a bit. (It also doesn’t ever happen sometimes.)

Five Factors
Offense Defense
Category Avg. Rk Avg. Rk Nat'l Avg.
EXPLOSIVENESS IsoPPP 1.25 73 1.31 100 1.27
EFFICIENCY Success Rate 43.4% 50 43.6% 83 40.9%
FIELD POSITION Avg. FP 29.3 76 26.5 13 29.6
FINISHING DRIVES Pts. Per Trip in 40 4.56 65 4.54 76 4.44
TURNOVER MARGIN EXPECTED -5.81 120 Turnover Luck (PPG):
+0.82
ACTUAL -4 98

Four thoughts about this Five Factor data:

  • Mizzou’s sudden inability to finish drives has been incredibly costly in recent weeks; as jarring as that always is to see, it’s been more jarring this year for the simple fact that, for a few weeks earlier in the year, Mizzou was one of the best in the country at turning scoring chances into points.
  • Also jarring: Mizzou has been awful at big-play prevention. It was one of the tenets of the Gary Pinkel era to bend but rarely break.
  • All hail Corey Fatony, creator of terrible opposing field position.
  • Mizzou is actually lucky to sit at only minus-4 in turnover margin. The raw data -- passes defensed, fumbles, etc. — suggests that the Tigers should be closer to minus-6. That’s both an indictment of the offense (Mizzou’s 24 fumbles are sixth-worst in the country) and defense (sacks and forced fumbles are insufficient).

We’ll dive further into pieces of the statistical profile in the coming days.


Recaps
Crockett good
Offensive line ... good?!