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Friday, August 17, 2012

16 Stats that Matter

"Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way."
- Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karenina
How are all happy (that is, good) football teams alike? What do they have in common? They say defense wins championships, but that's absurd. Scoring more points than you let the other team score wins championships. Unlike families, football teams find many ways of doing that.

The 16 Stats that Matter offer a broad profile of college football teams. These sixteen numbers explain about 94% of the team's average margin of victory; in other words, they can tell us why a team, and its fan base, are happy.

These 16 stats focus on indicators of football fundmentals- red zone efficiency, turnovers, penalties, 3rd down conversions, etc. (I have a glossary at the end of this post.) I present them in a 16 Stats that Matter Team Profile Card which lists the 16 stats, the team's performance (and national rank) in that area (x), the national average (mu, looks like a u), the standard deviation* (z), and the point impact per game. At the bottom is the average margin that is left unexplained - A&M was somewhat exceptional last year in that the Aggies scored 6.4 points more per game (or allowed 6.4 fewer points per game) than the indicators would predict.

Looking at A&M's profile card, we see that the Aggies were very good at keeping other teams out of their backfield but very good at getting into other teams' backfields. On the other hand, they were less impressive at red zone defense, on first downs, and couldn't force a turnover to save their lives.

With the coaching change, we can expect Texas A&M's profile this year to look more like Houston's profile a season ago. If A&M averages 8.4 yards on 1st down they will be your 2012 national champions.
The Sixteen Stats
The "o" before the name of a statistic means "opponent", so, for example, opponent starting field position, opponent purple zone efficiency, etc. 

FieldPos, oFieldPos - Average starting field position, distance to the endzone. 

Negative, oNegative - Percent negative plays. This is the percent of plays the teams runs that end in the ball handler being tackled behind the line of scrimmage. 

Explosive, oExplosive - Explosive plays per 100 possessions. Explosive plays are run or pass plays that go for more than 25 yards, punt returns that are 25 yards or more and kick returns that exceed 45 yards. 

RedZone, oRedZone - Red Zone efficiency (points per possession). 

3rdDown, o3rdDown - Third down conversion rate minus expected conversion rate.

1stDown, o1stDown - Average yards on first down

Penalty - Penalty yards per 100 plays

Turnover, oTurnover - Turnover margin per 100 plays

FieldGoal - Field Goal POE (points over expected)

* The standard deviation is a standardized way of comparing a team's performance across indicators. For example, Texas A&M has a standard deviation of 1.46 for negative plays and .81 for 3rd down conversions. This means that while Texas A&M is better than average in both cases, it is more exceptional at making negative plays.

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