The DataHero Blog

College Football Analysis

September 26th, 2013

In a previous DataHero post, we outlined what the professional sports leagues were doing with data analysis to start learning more about the game and to help players make better decisions. Since we’re in the midst of college football season, we thought we’d take a look at some of the available data for the Pac 12 (because we have some Stanford and University of Colorado fans in our DataHero team. You can find your team’s stats here). The Pac 12 is a recently formed division, and only became 12 in 2011 when Utah and Colorado joined its ranks. Because of that disparity, the eleventh and twelfth ranks are only from 2012.

We all know rushing and passing yards are integral to offensive team success, but we looked at rank in the league by rushing and passing yards to see just how integral they are. We considered max and min  for rushing and passing yards, to see if the top ranking teams were more consistent than their lower ranking counterparts. What is interesting to note here, is that you would expect the first ranked team to be first in almost all aspects of the game. However, teams who ranked third overall in the league have the highest average passing yards per game between 2004 and 2013. However, teams who ranked first in the Pac 12 division had the highest average number of rushing yards, which is more what we would expect in this instance.

DataHero Pac 12 Offensive Yards Per Game 2004-2012 (2)

Another interesting trend is in the average points per game by rank. First and second ranked teams seem fairly evenly matched, but then there’s a rather sharp drop to the third ranked team. Then there is an understandable downward trend in average points per game as the rank decreases until the eleventh and twelfth teams. What would cause such a disparity? Without conducting further analysis, we think it could be a few factors, the main one being mismatched teams. There have been some blowouts recently in college football that indicate that these high average points per game statistics may be due to these blowouts.

 DataHero Average Points Per Game by Rank

From a defensive perspective, what three variables contribute to a top-ranking team? We can look at sacks, passes defended and interceptions to determine overall effectiveness of a defensive team. Of these three, sacks has the strongest correlation to rank, while passes defended and interceptions have a more sporadic trend. This could draw an interesting piece of correlation to those with the top running games performing the best offensively. If a player shuts down the run, he may have a better chance of being successful against top offenses with a good defense.This data seems to suggest that if coaches want to replicate what the winners are doing right, they should focus on stopping the run while also putting pressure on the quarterbacks in passing situations.

DataHero Average Sacks, Passes Defended and Passes Intercepted by Rank (3)

Just for curiosity’s sake, we looked at Colorado vs. Stanford in average points scored per game. Colorado had a rather sad showing compared to Stanford, especially in 2011 which was Andrew Luck’s senior year (who is the current starting quarterback for the Colts). Remember that Colorado only joined the Pac 12 in 2011, which is why they are not featured before then.

DataHero Colorado vs. Stanford Average Points Per Game

Because we only focused on the Pac 12 division, this data is just a small representation of the data that is available on college football. To get a better idea on how sacks or passing yards affect the outcome of a game and thus the division rankings, we’d have to look at many more divisions, but the Pac 12 is certainly a start. Think you’ve got what it takes to bring Moneyball-level analysis to football? Use DataHero to dig deeper into the data and we’ll highlight your  findings on our blog. Sign up for DataHero and reach out to us with your best analysis.

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By Kelli Simpson

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