So, a little more from Phil Steele, mostly on the numerous metrics he uses to determine who is going up and who is going down.
First, on the experience front. I do this first, because I do think is a cautionary note for Falcon fans. BG is 31st in the country in experience this year (Steele uses a complicated formula which you can check out in the magazine if you want the particulars). However, I think it is important for the Falcon Nation to remember that this is still not a very experienced team. We went from very inexperienced to just inexperienced. And, that really matters because the MAC is a conference with a lot of experienced teams this year....5 of the top 11 FBS teams in terms of experience are MAC teams. Of course, that is all about the fact that players rarely leave early to go pro in the MAC...but it just means that there are more senior-dominated teams this year than BG.
Phil Steele (and the Wall Street Journal) have made a big deal about offensive line starts. In other words, you might have seniors on your o-line, but have they been starting? BG is also 8th in the MAC in this stat with 78...and if I recall correctly, someone has identified 75 as the magic number. Anyway, as much as it is better, it is still not all the way there.
One of the Steele theories is that teams with bad turnover margin tend to do better the next season. In fact, teams with a double-digit negative turnover margin have a better record the next year 80% of the time. This is because while there is or can be an element in turnovers that is luck....the tipped pass, the helmet causing a fumble, a ball bouncing a certain way, etc. So if you lose a lot of turnovers, that will have a disproportionate effect on your ability to win, and is partly luck based. (This is similar to the BABIP stat in baseball, for anyone who follows that). BG falls in that category at -13.
BG has the 109th toughest schedule in FBS, and that includes games at Florida and Va Tech. Which gives you an idea where the MAC is...
Which, in fact, is projected to be the #10 conference out of 12. In the past, the MAC was 11th (ahead of only the Sun Belt, but the WAC has now regressed below both and is the worst conference in the FBS.
Another leading indicator is close games. BG had one win in a close game last year and four losses. Teams with a net 3 close losses had a better record 80% of the time next year.
Finally, BG is #6 in the power rankings in the MAC that Steele uses.
Ultimately, all this explains why the Falcons are picked to be the 4th most improved team in the country. Close losses with lots of turnovers and a favorable schedule all point to a more productive year at the Doyt for the Falcons this year. We all look forward to seeing it happen.