Opponent Preview: Southern Utah Thunderbirds (0-1)

As UND prepares to begin its transition to D-I FCS (formerly I-AA) football in 2008, the Sioux have scheduled a road game against a D-I FCS opponent for the second straight year. On Sept. 9 the Sioux will travel to Cedar City, Utah, to face the Southern Utah Thunderbirds.

Though SUU may currently be unfamiliar to most UND fans, the matchup is likely the first of many. SUU has been been a charter member of the Great West Football Conference since 2004, while UND has accepted an invitation to join the GWFC beginning in 2008.

SUU achieved a 3-8 record in 2006 against a grueling schedule. The 2006 Thunderbirds handily defeated their lower-division opponents, crushing NAIA Montana Tech 34-0 and NCAA D-II Western State 55-3. SUU lost 2006 matchups against in-transition former D-II (and NCC) institutions NDSU 7-31 and SDSU 21-31.

The Thunderbirds face an equally difficult schedule in 2007, with all but one opponent having been ranked at the end of 2006. Despite hanging with Montana for the first three quarters of its season opener, SUU faltered in the fourth to lose 17-37. SUU will enter it’s match against UND hungry for a win against its lone lower-division opponent this season.

Fans who watched the matchup with Montana noted in the SiouxSports.com Forums that SUU runs quite a few option plays and confirmed that SUU’s talented quarterback throws pretty well and isn’t afraid to run. They also praised SUU’s defense as keeping them in the game against powerhouse Montana for three quarters, but also noted that they can be run on and gave up some long returns.

The Thunderbirds are returning seven offensive starters and eight defensive starters. Leading SUU on offense is signal caller Wes Marshall. Marshall’s 2006 performance earned him a few slots in the SUU record book with 16 passing TDs (#5), 1942 yds (#4), and 183 completed passes (#2). Also returning are 2nd team all-GWFC running back Jonnny Sanchez (589yds rushing, 15-129yds receiving in 2006) and running back Kyle Coop (378yds 3 TD, 12-116yds TD). The Thunderbirds lost both starting wide receivers from last year’s squad.

Turnovers were a weak point for SUU in 2006, giving up 8 fumbles and 15 interceptions. Head Coach Wes Meier notes, “if you take away a fourth quarter turnover in each of those games [an 18-14 loss at Cal Poly and a 30-27 loss at McNeese State] we start out 5-1 and who knows what would have happened?” SUU gave up three interceptions and lost one fumble in its 2007 opener against Montana.

Southern Utah 2007 Statistics
SiouxSports.com Forums pre-game discussion
Southern Utah Football Media Guide (1/2)
Southern Utah Football Media Guide (2/2)

Stats dump

Head-to-head history: Never met
Common opponents:
Though UND and SUU have not had any common opponents in the past few years, SUU has regularly played recent members of the NCC who had joined the Great West Football Conference.
2006 NDSU L 7-31
2006 SDSU L 21-31
2005 No. Colorado W 20-17 (OT)
2005 NDSU L 21-37
2005 @SDSU L 7-55
2004 @NDSU L 21-27
2004 @No. Colorado L 7-42
2004 SDSU W 23-17 (2OT)
2003 No. Colorado L 25-29

SUU 2006 Final Stats

           Southern Utah Overall Team Statistics (as of Nov 18, 2006)
                                 All games
TEAM STATISTICS                         SUU          OPP
--------------------------------------------------------
SCORING.......................          215          276
  Points Per Game.............         19.5         25.1
FIRST DOWNS...................          179          212
  Rushing.....................           81          107
  Passing.....................           86           81
  Penalty.....................           12           24
RUSHING YARDAGE...............         1560         1903
  Yards gained rushing........         1805         2172
  Yards lost rushing..........          245          269
  Rushing Attempts............          342          431
  Average Per Rush............          4.6          4.4
  Average Per Game............        141.8        173.0
  TDs Rushing.................           12           17
PASSING YARDAGE...............         1976         1988
  Att-Comp-Int................   333-187-15    278-159-7
  Average Per Pass............          5.9          7.2
  Average Per Catch...........         10.6         12.5
  Average Per Game............        179.6        180.7
  TDs Passing.................           16           18
TOTAL OFFENSE.................         3536         3891
  Total Plays.................          675          709
  Average Per Play............          5.2          5.5
  Average Per Game............        321.5        353.7
KICK RETURNS: #-YARDS.........       36-807       36-745
PUNT RETURNS: #-YARDS.........       23-274       22-225
INT RETURNS: #-YARDS..........         7-18       15-158
KICK RETURN AVERAGE...........         22.4         20.7
PUNT RETURN AVERAGE...........         11.9         10.2
INT RETURN AVERAGE............          2.6         10.5
FUMBLES-LOST..................         19-8        23-11
PENALTIES-YARDS...............       87-781       74-697
  Average Per Game............         71.0         63.4
PUNTS-YARDS...................      54-1917      43-1531
  Average Per Punt............         35.5         35.6
  Net punt average............         31.3         29.2
TIME OF POSSESSION/GAME.......        28:10        30:50
3RD-DOWN CONVERSIONS..........       53/139       65/143
  3rd-Down Pct................          38%          45%
4TH-DOWN CONVERSIONS..........         9/16         6/13
  4th-Down Pct................          56%          46%
SACKS BY-YARDS................       16-117       21-144
MISC YARDS....................           70           21
TOUCHDOWNS SCORED.............           30           35
FIELD GOALS-ATTEMPTS..........          2-8        11-16
PAT-ATTEMPTS..................        27-30        31-34
ATTENDANCE....................        26110        43836
  Games/Avg Per Game..........       5/5222       6/7306

Obstruction: The WCHA Parity “Chicken” Comes To Roost

Not that long ago in my responsibilities as a moderator on SiouxSports.com I read a post from a Gopher fan that captured a concern about the WCHA that I have had for a while. I’ve cleaned it up for re-publishing here.

A poster called “happy” on March 6, 2007, posted (SiouxSports.com post: 236488):

The bottom 6 or 7 teams need obstruction, or else Minnesota, UND and SCSU would blow by them like a piece of pancake flat road kill. So, more than 50% of the WCHA teams never want obstruction called, ever. Shepherd is just doing what he’s told to do by the majority of coaches. It will not change, and the WCHA teams will have a problem with it come NCAA time. …

I agree. I don’t know how much more plainly I can say it. My eyes tell me this is happening. My ears, listening to Commissioner McLeod raving about the parity in the league, tell me it is not a myth.

And, yes, “the WCHA teams will have a problem with it come NCAA time”, and it has arrived. Don’t believe me? Think again.

This season the WCHA had 0.684 winning ratio (51-22-6) against non-WCHA teams. No league had a winning record against the WCHA. Clearly, the WCHA again dominated the face of college hockey.

But somehow, even in the face of this dominance (0.684!), the WCHA struggled to get just three teams into the season ending 16-team NCAA tournament.

And more surprisingly given the above data, this year the NCAA tournament brackets feature five, yes, count them, five Hockey East teams and four Central Collegiate Hockey Association (CCHA) teams.

These facts do not align, and I believe I can point to a reason for it, and the reason relates directly back to that post by that Gopher fan, and the problem of manufactured parity it alludes to.

Obstruction allows for lesser skilled teams to compete with highly skilled teams. Not calling this obstruction allows for a manufactured parity in the league. And this parity, based on his praising of it during interviews, is thought to be a good thing by Commissioner McLeod. But is it?

Denver, Colorado College, Wisconsin, and Michigan Tech were all a part of the WCHA non-conference dominance, yet, none made the NCAA tournament.

I say part of the reason is clear: They were “officiated” by the league into near 0.500 conference records to achieve league parity (and I’m working hard to avoid the malapropism of calling it “parody”). And this style of officiating is in direct conflict with the NCAA guidance of strict enforcement of rules regarding obstruction. Why is the WCHA “chicken” to call obstruction?

From third to eighth in the WCHA this year the winning ratio goes from a 0.554 to a 0.446. Put another way, half the league was, well, average (about 0.500) in the WCHA. Obviously only two WCHA teams exceeded a league 0.554 winning ratio.

But is being average (about 0.500) in the WCHA good enough when winning percentage (the majority of which comes from league play) is a key factor in the RPI (and accordingly PWR) calculation used by the NCAA bracket makers?

In the CCHA, four teams exceeded a conference winning percentage of 0.554 and, not surprisingly, those four were in the NCAA field (Notre Dame, Michigan, Michigan State, and Miami of Ohio).

Meanwhile in Hockey East, four teams exceeded a conference winning percentage of 0.554 (UNH, BC, BU, and UMass) and a fifth (Maine) missed it by the slimmest of margins (0.537).

Why is this important? Because “winning percentage” is 25% of a team’s RPI. Washing out a team’s winning percentage to “average” in league play is great at the league gates, and makes for the ability to praise the “competitiveness” and “parity” of the league, but it harms that team at selection time in March.

The last at-large team (Miami of Ohio) finished immediately above Wisconsin, Denver, Michigan Tech, and Colorado College (in a 0.003 bonus quality win PWR comparison).

And Miami beat each of them in the RPI category. (Note: North Dakota barely beat them in the RPI category.)

Let me repeat that: Miami of Ohio had a better conference winning percentage than even WCHA #3 North Dakota, but in a head-to-head far weaker conference (WCHA v. CCHA 16-6-5), and still got into the NCAA field.

Clearly, conference winning percentages matter come selection time.

Not calling obstruction, allowing for tactics to make for “exciting games”, facilitating league parity, may be great for the gate and for the teams that can’t win with skill play. But, unfortunately, it’s also great for Denver and Colorado College this year, if you’re only talking about their golf games in March and April.

The obstruction chicken is home, in Denver, Colorado Springs, Houghton, and Madison.

Welcome to the SiouxSports.com blog

Welcome to the SiouxSports.com blog.

While the world undoubtedly does not need a new blog, I view this as a repackaging of the information you already come to SiouxSports.com to find. It will complement the news listings and message boards by providing much of the same information, but in a different format that may be more accessible and useful to certain audiences.

Like the news listings, we will use it to point out interesting information on the Sioux discovered from media across the Internet and offline. However, like the message board, it will allow us to include some commentary, analysis, and personal experiences with that news. Because a limited group of bloggers can originate new articles, quality will be high and readers can catch up on the latest news even when they don’t have time to engage in the message boards. Categorization of posts will allow you to quickly locate just those posts that reference a topic in which you’re interested.

Finally, this increases your opportunity to participate. All registered SiouxSports.com members can post comments on any blog entry. No new accounts or passwords are required, yet the lack of anonymity should keep spam and trolling to a minimum (as SiouxSports.com members have come to expect).