If you had to list only two things I regularly posted about during football season in my first year here at GABA, you could easily choose (1) advanced statistics; and (2) special teams. They make sense: the first is because it's something that really interests me, the second because it's a hidden area of the game where the Gamecocks have underachieved for years, and which has likely cost them trips to the SEC Championship Game in both 2011 and 2013.
I'll go back and update this post about our special teams struggles under Spurrier at some point this offseason, but it became newly relevant today when Brian Fremeau of the excellent Football Outsiders website posted his final FEI numbers for the year. South Carolina came in an excellent sixth place to finish the season, not far away from its fourth-place finish in the AP and Coaches' Poll.
But what happens when you strip out special teams from the formula, and weigh only offensive and defensive FEI? Well, what happens is this:
|OFEI + DFEI||Rk||Team||FEI||Rk||OFEI||Rk||DFEI||Rk||STE||Rk|
It's tough to see it reflected this way, though obviously a huge reason for optimism. While this is only one rating system - and while special teams plays a critical role in any football team - it goes to show that the Gamecocks have played at an elite level recently, and particularly in 2013.
Where were the issues? Recall, our rating consists of five components (opponent FG success is not included, since we don't control that unless we block kicks):
(1) FGE - Field goal efficiency
(2) PRE - Punt return efficiency
(3) KRE - Kick return efficiency
(4) PE - Punt efficiency
(5) KE - Kickoff efficiency
|Gamecocks||ST Coordinator||FEI Rank||FGE||PRE||KRE||PE||KE|
As we all suspected, Elliot Freis-man had a solid season kicking the football for Carolina (though this doesn't include XPs, and while that wasn't our favorite freshman's fault, it should - but does not here - count against the unit as a whole). But the Gamecocks were woeful in the return game, posting bottom 20 results in each, and adding a third bottom 20 effort in kickoffs.
Fascinatingly, for all the grief and questions he got, Tyler Hull and the punt return unit look just fine in this analysis. While his 37.8 average doesn't look great on a gross basis, the team gave up less than 100 yards in punt returns the entire season - only 12 of Hull's 46 kicks were returned, for 99 yards (8.2 avg.) - which means his net punting was 35.6 yards/kick. While that's only 77th in the nation, it's certainly better than the bottom 20 ranking the team earned on gross yards per kick.
I don't think our coaches will show it to recruits this way, but it only goes to show that South Carolina is one of the best football teams in the nation, and may be closer than we think at taking that next step towards a championship. While replacing Shaw, Clowney, Quarles, Ellington, and the others will be a challenge next year, with a wealth of experience returning (especially on the offensive line), South Carolina could be one fixed problem away from a championship in 2014.
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