March 31, 2015

Figure The Odds: CFP Championship Game Probabilities

Random Numbers

In a championship game that few envisioned back in September after Ohio State’s befuddling home loss to Virginia Tech, the Buckeyes have a real chance to win Monday night.

As a matter of fact, my model shows the Buckeyes outgaining the vaunted Oregon offense in total yards and yards per play, two metrics that are crucial to winning.  The margins are razor thin, but would be enough to favor the Buckeyes if the projected turnover numbers were equal (or favored Ohio State).

2015 Champ Game Stat Estimate

But the Ducks have only turned the ball over 10 times all season in 1,047 offensive plays.  Comparatively, the Buckeyes have played fast and loose with the ball at times, turning the ball over 22 times. That’s about 1.6 a game and while that’s not terrible, Oregon simply hasn’t turned the ball over and the probability is that Ohio State will have more turnovers than Oregon.

The model I use projects that each turnover lost decreases a team’s probability of winning by about 8.8% (assuming other metrics stay the same).  With a projected turnover advantage of 1, the Ducks probability of winning is 57.0%.

Champ Bowl Probs 2015

The Buckeyes recipe for success is simple: Don’t turn the ball over or force Oregon to do something the Ducks haven’t done all season – turn the ball over.  Just being even in turnovers would give the flip the odds to 51.9% in the Buckeye’s favor, but that’s easier said than done.

It’s not unique to suggest that turnovers will determine the outcome of a game, but the model allows us to put a value on each turnover and what they may mean in the context of winning and losing the initial College Football Playoff National Championship Game.


Random Numbers

The model I’ve developed and have been using for win probabilities didn’t have a great bowl season.  6-6 would probably earn a Poulan Weed-Eater Independence Bowl date (for the old timers out there).

It should be noted that when I talk about probabilities I’m not predicting a win (or loss).  I’m assigning a probability of a team winning.  Whether that team ultimately wins or not depends on whether they perform to expected levels.

Assigning a 61.9% win probability  also means that there’s a 38.1% probability that team will lose. Over the long term the results of a good model will fit those ranges – 61.9% (or close to that) will win and 38.1% will lose.

Still, it’s interesting to compare model results, to measure myself so to speak.  While my 6-6 record is less than sterling ESPNs FPI came in at 3-9 in the same 12 games.  In the three games that SUR and FPI disagreed on the winner SUR correctly picked all 3 (in green below).

It’s an infinitesimal sample size (the 12 games represent less than one half of 1% of the games the model is based on) that means nothing in the big scheme of things, other than I’ve had a decent start and believe I’m on the right trail, with a long way to go.

The biggest single game difference between my model and ESPNs FPI was our differing views on Georgia Tech vs. Mississippi State.  As anyone who reads this site knows, my model puts a lot of weight on yards and yards per play, two things that Tech is very good at and my model probably over rates Tech because of this.  However,  on this occasion my model was closer to being correct.

Bowls Results SUR FPI 2014

The Bowl season is chaotic and very unpredictable, in general.  After favorites won 75% of the time in the regular season underdogs have won 18 of 35 games (1 was a pick ‘em, so there was no “favorite”) and I’m sure the ESPN FPI number is more accurate during the season.  I believe mine will be, too because there are more clear cut winners in the regular season (and the sample size is much larger).

My goal is to expand the model to include more games in the 2015 season by automating the process and am working through ideas to make that happen.  One idea I’m looking at is to provide probabilities for Power 5 Conference teams when they play other Power 5 Conference teams.  This will provide a larger sample, while focusing my time on games that people care the most about.  Not many people come to this site to figure out if Western Kentucky is going to beat Florida Atlantic.

Tomorrow, I’ll post my probabilities on the Oregon/Ohio State Championship Game.

College Football Playoff Win Probabilities


These numbers are eerily similar to those produced by ESPN’s FPI.  That metric currently has Oregon at 65.7% and Alabama at 58.7.

CFB Semis 2014

Win Probabilities for ACC Bowl Teams Not Named Clemson (or FSU)

ACC Bowl Probs

The probabilities below are based on 2,802 college football games between 2011 and 2014 and expected metrics for each team.  These probabilities should not be read as predictions, but rather the probability of a given team winning.

That said, these probabilities conflict with the ESPN FPI probabilities in multiple instances (particularly Georgia Tech which ESPN gives a 35.2% probability of winning), so it’ll be interesting to track the outcomes in those games.

Win probability for Clemson will be released in an upcoming post can be found HERE on (will subsequently be posted here also) and CFB Playoff win probabilities will be released prior to those games.

ACC Bowl Probs

The Difference Between Winners and Losers

Random Numbers

Below are the metrics across the 686 games between FBS teams for the 2014 season to this point. Bowl games will be added once complete.

First, here’s a look at the averages for each metric.  A couple of things stand out – the plays are almost equal, with winners running a paltry two more plays per game.  It’s what they do with those plays (Yards/Play) that matters.  Secondly, many people say total yards don’t matter. They do.  More on this in a minute.

By Category 2014

Here’s a look at home vs. away and favorites vs. underdogs.  56% seems a bit low given that most Power 5 teams have 1 or 2 “gimmee” games on their schedule.  When you look at conference games this number is traditionally much closer to 50%.  More important than playing at home  is being the favorite.  The old adage “the best team usually wins” is in large part true, assuming the best team is favored.

HomeAway 2014

These numbers show the % of teams that have the better number for each category.  For instance, the winning team has more plays in 54.8% of the games, more total yards in 77.7% of the games (told you yards were important) and higher yards per play in 79.6% of the games.  Yards per play and total yards are the two most important stats in my book.  Secondly, we often hear about “winning” the turnover battle.  Since 22.9% of the time the turnover battle is even it’s more important to not lose the turnover battle (win or be even) – 82.3% of winning teams are at least even on turnovers.PCT 2014

It Had To End Sometime

Clemson Upsets LSU

The Tigers streak of not losing as a favorite ended on Saturday.  From November of 24, 2012 until Saturday 111 teams not named Clemson lost 297 times as a favorite.

Here’s the list and number of losses as a favorite in that time frame.

Losses as Favorite Final 2

12 favorites lose, the number is now 283


Virginia Tech’s loss as a 3 point favorite vs Boston College on Saturday has the Hokies alone in “first” place, now having lost 7 times as a favorite since November 24, 2012.

Not to be outdone, Georgia and Pittsburgh picked up their 6th losses as favorites since that day.

No new teams were added to the list of 109, but they now share 283 losses as a favorite since Clemson last lost as a favorite.
Lossess as Favorites 2014 10

271 Losses for Favorites Since Clemson’s Last

Clemson Upsets LSU

It could happen next week. If not then, surely there’s a chance it happens in Atlanta on November 15, or maybe in Clemson two weeks after that.

At some point Clemson is going to lose a football game in which it’s favored. It’s something that hasn’t happened since November 24, 2012. Since that day the Tigers have taken the field as a favorite against FBS teams 12 times and won each time.

Big spreads, small spreads, medium spreads, the Tigers have won them all. They haven’t all been pretty, covered the point spread or been blowouts, but they’ve all been wins.

During that time 109 teams have combined to lose 271 times as favorites. Big names and nobodies, SEC teams and AAC teams. Upsets, upsets, upsets. Bluebloods, also-rans and “who is that’s” have all been “upset”.

But not Clemson.
Losses as Fav 2014 9Virginia Tech’s demise has been well-documented and often televised. The once vaunted Hokies have lost 6 times as a favorite in this time range. They are not alone.

The PAC 12 – the conference that has become the darling of the media as the second best conference in the country – has two teams that have also lost 6 games each when favored during this time – Southern Cal and Stanford.

Stanford, the team often praised by college football media as a model of consistency has lost 3 times as a favorite THIS SEASON. Southern Cal has also lost 3 times in 2014 as a favorite – 6 times in 9 weeks these teams have been upset in 2014 (including a Southern Cal upset of Stanford).

Alabama, the gold standard for college football teams, has lost 3 times as a favorite in that time.

So, it’ll happen, Clemson fans. The Tigers will lose as a favorite, perhaps this season. When they do the college football world will chuckle, point their fingers and say, “Clemson being Clemson”.

As my buddy Todd Snider says, “Remember, when you’re pointing at someone, there’s 3 fingers pointing back at you.”

Or, in the case of Virginia Tech, Southern Cal and Stanford, 6 fingers.

Editor’s Note: Florida State and Duke are other ACC teams without a loss as a favorite in this time frame.

Tigers Protecting the Ball


The fumble at Florida State was extremely costly, like division championship costly, but the Tigers have done a good job of protecting the ball, turning it over once every 101.3 plays and 613.5 yards gained, ranking 6th nationally (of 125 teams) in both categories.

Below are the numbers and rankings for 30 or so teams (alpha order).

The Tigers seem to have an advantage over Louisville in this area as the Cardinals rank 100th in Turnovers/Play and 104th in Yards/Turnover.

You can find the complete list by clicking right here.
TO Analysis 2014 6

Fun with Point Spreads

Random Numbers

Below are the straight up winning % and % against the spread for favored teams from 2011-2013, FBS vs. FBS only, including Bowl Games.

The straight up column contains 2,105 games – 11 “Pick ‘em” games were excluded because there was no “favorite”.  The games that ended as a “Push” are not included in the “Cover % by Spread” table.

Going by spread, the biggest upset of the last 3 years was Lousiana-Monroe’s upset of Arkansas in week 2 of the 2012 season when the Warhawks were 30 point underdogs.

Biggest cover? Florida State beat Idaho 80-14 last season to cover a 59 point spread.

The most frequent spread over the last 3 years? No surprise – 3 points – as it showed up in 133 games (6.3%).

There are some strange anomalies in the data, such as 11 point favorites win 64.5% of the time and cover only 48.4% of the time, but 11.5 point favorites are 18-0 and cover two-thirds of the time.

There’s also a weird little thing between 31.5 and 32.5 spreads where the teams are 23-0 straight up (expected) and 18-5 ATS (not so expected) which is very dissimilar to the spreads immediately preceding (3-7 ATS) and after (0-3).


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