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Kentucky Football: Year Two Under Mark Stoops and Neal Brown

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How did our current coaches fare in the second year of their previous jobs, and can it help to predict UK's upcoming season?

Mark Zerof-USA TODAY Sports

In 41 days the University of Kentucky's football team will be kicking-off against Tennessee-Martin to begin the 2014 season. There are several story lines to track, and lingering questions to ponder for the upcoming season. One that hasn't gotten a lot of attention that I'm aware is a historical look at the performances of Mark Stoops' and Neal Brown's former teams in their second year, and if that data provides anything useful for the upcoming season.

Last Season

As a reminder, here's a look at the changes UK underwent in the first year under Mark Stoops regime:

Kentucky

2012

2013

Overall F/+ Rank

112

98

Record

2-10

2-10

Overall F/+

-21.00%

-16.40%

F/+ Offense

-7.90%

-3.30%

Rank

104

76

F/+ Defense

-12.60%

-12.20%

Rank

113

108

F/+ Spec. Teams

-0.40%

-0.90%

Rank

77

89

Despite no change in the record, the adjusted stats (F/+ controls for strength of schedule, "garbage time" stats, and many other things) show an improvement, especially offensively. F/+ Offense improved from -7.9 to -3.3 meaning against a perfectly average defense (0 in F/+ parlance) UK's offense went from affecting UK's final point tally by minus 8 points to minus 3 points. Still nowhere good enough, but better when keeping in mind last season's roster limitations and SEC competition.

Offense

With Year One at UK in mind, let's take an historical look at Neal Brown's prior stops with a specific eye towards his previous second seasons at those stops. The bolded values are years Brown was present.

Neil Brown

2007

2008

2009

2009

2010

2011

2014

Points per game

34

32.8

33.7

37

33.1

33.8

-

Yards per play

5.55

5.54

6.49

6.19

5.68

5.7

-

F/+ Offense

-2.2

-2

1

10.4

2.6

6.4

-

Returning Starters

-

-

-

-

7

5

8

Brown was the offensive coordinator at Troy from 2008 and 2009. In those years you can see the adjusted stats reflect only a marginal change compared to 2007. Brown went on to be the coordinator at Texas Tech, and the adjusted stats show that in his first season (2010) the offense took a step back despite returning seven starters including its quarterback; however, by his second season (2011) the offense showed further improvement.

UK's offense was so bad in 2012 that 2013 was bound to see some improvement and it occurred.  Encouragingly, Brown's offenses have improved in the second season at both of his previous stops as coordinator though not radically. I expect this trend to continue this season as well, and the return of eight starters will contribute. An earth-shattering offense isn't likely, but an upward trend filled with more "explosive plays" is expected.

Defense

Defensively, the F/+ rankings portray very little improvement to the point of being static. Ideally at this point I would trot out defensive coordinator DJ Eliot's previous tenures as a coordinator to help predict this season's defense, but this will only be his second year as a coordinator.  In order to work around this I'm going to focus on Stoops' past instead. Despite his myriad head coaching responsibilities, Stoops reportedly retains a heavy influence on UK's defensive game-planning. Stoops and Eliot have also coached together eight of the last fifteen seasons. Arguably,  due to these factors, I don't think projecting UK's Year Two defense under Eliot should be categorized as "unknown", but rather rough comparisons can be made with Stoops' track record.

So, with that adjustment in mind, let's take a closer look at Stoops' previous tenure as coordinator at Florida State. Again bolded values are years Stoops was present at FSU.

Mark Stoops

2009

2010

2011

2014

Points per game

30

19.6

15.1

-

Yards per play

6.75

4.93

4.16

-

F/+

-7.6

4.4

18.4

-

Returning Starters

-

4

8

8

One can see the rapid improvement FSU's defense underwent with Stoops as the coordinator. This, of course, is FSU which is filled to the brim with elite athletes. The more elite your roster the higher its ceiling should be, but in two years going from a F/+ Defense of -7.6 to 18.4 remains impressive. Perhaps a way to try and control for higher than average roster abilities is to go further into Stoops' past when he got his first coordinator job at Arizona. Those rosters had their share of blue-chips (four and five stars) but the majority was three star recruits. I anticipate Stoops' rosters at UK will be similar.

Stoops @ Arizona

2005

2006

2007

2008

2009

F/+ Total

0.6

1.3

n/a

-

-

F/+ Defense

-

-

5.2

4.4

7.6

Record

3-8

6-6

5-7

8-5

8-5

Unfortunately, going this far back presents some data availability issues at CFB Stats and Football Outsiders, but bearing that in mind we can make some small assumptions and identify at least one important trend. First, the assumption would be Stoop's defenses equated themselves at least decently with the F/+ Total for his second year (2005) being positive, unless that offense was strong enough to cancel out a poor defense. Importantly, once Football Outsiders began tracking F/+ Defense in 2007 the numbers were positive. In his fourth season (2007) at Arizona Stoops' defense was 5.2 which would be comparable to LSU's defense last season of 5.6. That would be a reliably solid defense in the SEC.  Alas, the data for returning starters during his Arizona years has eluded my grasp.

TL;DR

The offense and defense should both be expected to improve this season if based on the previous Year Two's of UK's coordinators. Brown's offenses improved at both of his previous coordinator stints. Stoops' defense definitely did at FSU, and may have at Arizona too despite the lack of data. UK's offense likely makes a larger improvement than the defense in Year Two based off this data; however, in the long run a large disparity between the two units likely won't continue.