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Sunday Morning Quarterback

Sunday Morning Quarterback

Friday, December 09, 2005

STAT RELEVANCE WATCH, PART ONE
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There are, as they say, lies, damn lies, and statistics. The numbers mean something, yet often we know not what. Here SMQ will look at the final regular season statistics in seven major categories, who succeeded in what, and how those statistics correlated to overall success in terms of final record. SMQ does have a full-time job and does not have a high-powered supercomputer - or even, at the moment, "basic" spreadsheet technology - but his analysis will be driven as deep as his egghead, tinfoil cap curiosity and cell phone calculator will take it. That is to say, quasi-scientific at best.

PART ONE: Which stat most correlates to success?

There are many ways to define "success;" SMQ has done so for simplication purposes by stating simply: level of success=record. This is not strictly true, of course, as a 7-4 team from the Big Ten, because of the higher level of competition it must overcome to achieve that record, has had more success than a 7-4 Sun Belt team, if such a thing existed.

The method: Look up seven major statistical categories (rush offense, pass offense, total offense, rush defense, pass efficiency defense, total defense and turnover margin) and pull out the top 15 teams and bottom 15 teams in each category. Average the records of those teams. Rank categories by number of wins of the top 15; the "most important" category, it would follow, would be the one with the best records at the top and the worst records at the bottom.

Does this make sense? Let's see:

Rushing Offense
Record of Top 15 Teams: 108-60
Record of Bottom 15 Teams: 61-107

Passing Offense
Record of Top 15 Teams: 109-58
Record of Bottom 15 Teams: 60-105

Total Offense
Record of Top 15 Teams: 113-55
Record of Bottom 15 Teams: 43-122

Rushing Defense
Record of Top 15 Teams: 122-46
Record of Bottom 15 Teams: 50-116

Pass Efficiency Defense
Record of Top 15 Teams: 122-48
Record of Bottom 15 Teams: 42-125

Total Defense
Record of Top 15 Teams: 127-43
Record of Bottom 15 Teams: 60-96

Turnover Margin
Record of Top 16 (there was a tie) Teams: 132-49
Record of Bottom 15 Teams: 54-113

No shockers there: teams at the top of each category were almost exculsively big winners, teams at the bottom almost exclusively hopeless losers. Almost exclusively, but not quite.

Northwestern managed to have the worst total defense in the nation, yet finished 7-4. UCLA had the worst rush defense and 111th-ranked total defense and only lost twice. Tennessee was 5-6 despite the nation's second-best rush defense and 12th-ranked total defense. LSU, 10-2, gave far, far more in turnovers than it received. Michigan State and Washington State each finished in the top ten in total offense and combined to go 9-13, though neither was at the bottom of any defensive category or turnover margin. South Carolina's 7-4 record belies the 'Cocks' hideous, 104th-ranked total offense.

But those exceptions. Let's look at the rankings by category to see if we can suss out a rule or two.

Record of Top 15 Teams
1. Total Defense: 127-43
2. Turnover Margin : 132-49
3. Rush Defense: 122-46
4. Pass Efficiency Defense: 122-48
5. Total Offense: 113-55
6. Passing Offense: 109-58
7. Rushing Offense: 108-60

So: for this season, at least, playing defense and holding on to the ball payed the biggest dividends overall in terms of wins and losses. Also notice that the top defensive teams combined to play a couple more games than the top offenses, a result of five of the top 15 total defensive teams playing in championship games last weekend compared to only one of the top offenses (Texas). The purists take it in a landslide, right?

On the whole, maybe, but then there's the matter of USC and Texas, who both appeared in the top 15 of only two categories: rush offense and total offense, two of the categories with the lowest correlations to winning overall. So, uh, yeah. Moving on...

Record of Bottom 15 Teams
1. Rushing Offense: 61-107
2. Passing Offense: 60-105
3. Total Defense: 60-106
4. Turnover Margin: 54-113
5. Rushing Defense: 50-116
6. Total Offense: 43-122
7. Pass Efficiency Defense: 42-125

So: teams that can't stop the pass are the absolute worst. We also have a slight corrollary here with the above numbers for the top teams in each category: the top teams in the rushing offense and passing offense categories won fewer games than the top teams in the other categories; conversely, the worst teams in rushing offense and passing offense won more games than the worst teams in the other categories. So there's not really any overwhelming need to run the ball...or...to..uh...throw it. Except the especially terrible performance of the worst teams in the total offense category means... Okaaaaaay...

So our extensive breakdown of the numbers has taught us that, while good for giving a general picture (the good teams in each cateogry won way, way more than the bad teams on the whole), they are very bad for drawing very specific conclusions.

At least in this case. In Part Two, SMQ will look at which teams finished best across the spectrum of all seven statistical categories, and how effectively those good individual parts add up to make a successful whole.
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WANNA DO SOME RESEARCH? NERD! HERE'S SOME QUICK REFERENCES:

College Football Data Warehouse
College Football Research Center
College Football News
cfbstats.com
Football Commentary
THE STANDINGS
THE POLLS

INDIVIDUAL STATISTICS
Rushing
Passing
Receiving
All-Purpose
Scoring
Tackles
Sacks
Interceptions
Tackles For Loss
Field Goals
Punting
Kickoff Returns
Punt Returns
TEAM STATISTICS
Rushing Offense
Passing Offense
Total Offense
Scoring Offense
Rushing Defense
Passing Defense
Total Defense
Scoring Defense
Turnover Margin

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Past Seasons
2005
Thursday Morning Quarterback
Sept. 29/Oct. 6/Oct. 20/Oct. 27/Nov. 3/Nov. 10/Nov. 17/Nov. 24/Dec. 1
Sunday Morning Quarterback
Oct. 2/Oct. 23/Oct. 30/Nov. 6/Nov. 13/Nov. 27
Stat Relevance Watch
Part One/Part Two/Part Three
SMQ Bowl Blitz
New Orleans/GMAC/Las Vegas/Poinsettia/Motor City

SMQ's [Hurricane-Abbreviated] 2005 Preview
Top 25 Countdown/Methodology
All-America Team
ACC
BIG EAST
BIG TEN
BIG XII