Is it going to be Kentucky Fried: The Colonels?
With the regular season over and one playoff game under their belts, what can we expect from the Nicholls Colonels? They are out of the Southland Conference which usually puts one team in the playoffs (Sam Houston State), but last year and this they have placed three teams (Nicholls, Central Arkansas & S E LA this year and Lamar, Nicholls & Incarnate Word last year). The Southland is known for its offense, not its defense. In looking at this year’s stats again this holds true. Only one team was in the top 50 of defenses in total defense (TD), rushing D and scoring D (Sam Houston).
They had six teams rank in the top 50 in rushing defense. How can that be? The conference also has 6 teams that rushed for 139 YPG and under including two of the current playoff teams (Cent. ARK & SELA). They are a pass first league and good run defense stats come by mistake.
Enough about their conference, how does Nicholls play ball?
By this time in the playoffs every team has exhibited something of merit and has to be taken seriously. I don’t worry about the Herd hitting the cruise button and just showing up. This team is experiencing a lot of players being in their first significant playing time in a playoff game. Having said this, there still are 28 key contributors on this team that are in their 4th & 5th years in the program. So every year they have been in the program, they have prepped for playoff games, so they know the routine. We also have another 23 starter/rotation players that are in their second and third seasons in the program. After a twelve game season, they aren’t rookies anymore.
Even though Nicholls is the Southland’s Automatic Qualifying (AQ) team, they really are a bubble playoff team in many ways. First, to clinch this AQ spot, the last game of the season, their opponent, SELA, was inside their 5 yard line with less than a minute to play and one point down (28-27). The backup QB tried to score and fumbled. All they needed was a chip shot FG to win and then stupid took over. A loss here might have knocked them out of playoffs. They only had one quality win without beating SELA.
Even a bigger factor in me calling them a bubble team is their stats for the year. Overall they gained 421.3 YPG in offense and gave up 403.9 YPG on defense. They scored 29.1 PPG and gave up 26.3. A 2.8 point margin of victory with an 8-4 season win/loss record means you’re probably getting blown out by the good teams and a lot moderate victories over the rest of your schedule. KSU blew them out 49-14 and ran the ball down their throats for 361 yards, Texas St. (a bad FBS team) won by 21 points and Sam Houston shut them out 17-0, while holding them to 55 yards rushing and 271 total yards. I think we have a better run game than KSU and a better defense than SHSU.
The blemishes of the Colonels’ portfolio are also seen in the next level of analysis. How did they fare against the good teams on their schedule? They faced two FBS schools and 4 FCS teams that were ranked 149 or lower by Sagarin or a playoff squad (UND). They scored 17.2 PPG on offense and gave up 22.8. Factoring out UND, these points dropped to 15.8 scored to 26.2 given up. They were 2-3 in those games and should have been 1-4 except for SELA’s fatal lapse of understanding down and distance.
The total offensive stats in these games are unimpressive as well. Nicholls gained 365.5 YPG, 154.3 YPG rushing and the 17.2 PPG. The defenses they played averaged giving up 388.6 YPG, 148.9 YPG rushing and 26.3 PPG. Throwing out the 316 yards UND gave up in rushing; Nicholls only averaged 122 YPG against the other five good teams (that would rank 96th in FCS). So the Colonels actually gained less yardage and less points than the average these teams surrendered.
NDSU has played seven top 25 FCS teams using my Sagarin/playoff metrics. These teams’ defenses held their non-Bison opponents to 357.4 YPG, 137.5 YPG in rushing and 23 PPG. Trey and company blew the doors off these top team defenses to the tune of 463.1 YPG total offense, 300.1 YPG rushing and 34.4 PPG
On the defensive side of the equation, Nicholls didn’t really standout. They faced these six good teams who averaged 397.8 YPG TO, 126.2 YPG RO and 29.5 PPG and only reduced them to 387.7 YPG TD, increased rushing yards to 144.8 YPG. The scoring is one of the statistical anomalies’s that happen every year with certain teams. They dropped scoring by opponents from 29.5 PPG to 22.8. The rest of their stats don’t bear this out. They are -4 in turnover margins and -1 in sacks, getting 27 and giving up 28. That’s why I called Nicholls more of a bubble team. A bad bounce here or there could have left them at 7-5 win/loss (think Sam Houston State) and at home watching the playoffs. Why do you think as the AQ they weren’t a seeded team?
Code Green has held the seven top teams we have faced to 291.7 YPG, 137.3 YPG rushing and 11 PPG. These team’s offenses against everyone else generated 395.6 YPG TO, 170.2 YPG rushing and 28.9 PPG in scoring. Our turnover margin is +13 (5 to 18) and our sack margin is +27 (36 to 9).
I can go to how we perform versus good offenses to how they do, but it would be superfluous. Why do you think Vegas have the Bison a 28 point favorite? Can we take Nicholls lightly? NO! But they played on Thanksgiving weekend because their portfolio merited it. If the Herd doesn’t score 40+, they took a nap. If Code Green doesn’t shut their run game down and hold them to 14 points or less, they took the day off.
Go Bison. There are bigger fish to fry in the coming weeks.