MEASURES OF PROGRESS: Margin of Victory

Matthew Holst

A look at just one of the ways, every day, Iowa State just keeps getting better.

Lose big. Lose small. Win small. Win big. It's a quote that's usually attributed to either Bobby Bowden or Rich Rodriguez, and it illustrates the four steps of building a football program.

A new coach is going to start off getting their ass handed to them on a weekly basis by more experienced, more talented teams. It takes time to install a new scheme and mentality. But eventually those losses are going to start getting closer, until a team starts eking out more victories than losses. Hopefully these wins become a trend, and the success becomes a self-perpetuating cycle, and teams can reload their roster with new players each year without missing a beat.

But this isn't a proven formula. This process can take a year, several years, or never occur; depending on the coach, the program and the players. Nick Saban has this down to a science; he could probably start a football program from scratch and win a National Championship in less than five years.

Where does Iowa State under Paul Rhoads fall into this continuum? With four years of data to work with, it's easy to see a fairly clear upward trajectory just by looking at the margin between the points Iowa State has scored versus the points opponents have scored.

Year Avg. Points For Avg. Points Against Margin SOS
2009 20.5 21.8 -1.3 71
2010 21.7 28.8 -7.1 24
2011 22.7 29.4 -6.7 2
2012 25.2 23.3 +1.9 9

In 2009, the Cyclones had the nation's 71st most difficult schedule, yet were still outscored by an average of 1.3 points per game. Given that Paul Rhoads inherited a program reeling from the ineptitude and sudden defection of Gene Chizik, the fact that Iowa State managed to win six games plus a victory in their bowl game is a minor miracle.

Iowa State's strength of schedule went up considerably in 2010, and so did Iowa State's margin of loss. In 2011, the schedule got even more difficult, but Iowa State managed to win one more game and make their margin of loss lower by .4 points per game.

That's three straight years of progressively tougher schedules, and three straight years of Iowa State scoring fewer points on average than their opponents. But in 2012, Iowa State finally got over the hump. With another top-ten schedule, the Cyclones scored almost two more points per game than the opposition. Most of this can be attributed to the defense, which held teams to 23.3 points per game; good for 3rd best in the Big 12 and 35th best in the nation.

But the offense, constantly maligned throughout the season, chipped in by upping their scoring average by 2.5 points per game from the previous year. Sure, that 25.2 PPG was only good for 9th place in the Big 12 and 86th in the nation, but hey; every little bit helps.

So what does this mean for Iowa State's football program? Even though Paul Rhoads' teams have continuously averaged 6 regular season wins in his first four years, Iowa State's quality of play has risen over that time period. And while Iowa State's offense seemed stagnant at times this year, it actually proved to be an improvement over other Rhoads' era offenses.

This trend should continue in 2013. While the losses of Durrell Givens, AJ Klein, Jake Knott, Jake McDonough and Jeremy Reeves means the defense will likely take a step back; the offense should be (fingers crossed) much improved. Brayden Burris and Carter Bykowski graduate at tackle, but the offensive line was nothing special this year, and there is plenty of depth behind both seniors. Meanwhile Aaron Horne, Josh Lenz and Chris Young will be gone at wide receiver, but again, plenty of young wide receivers are ready to step up in their place.

So while the defense will probably allow quite a few more points next year, the offense should be able to make up the difference and keep the average scoring margin in Iowa State's favor. An Iowa State team with a lot of offense and a shaky defense? Maybe this means the Cyclones will finally look like a true Big 12 team next year.

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