November 25, 2014

College Football By The Numbers

As much of college football fandom has noticed scoring is up in 2012, but not as much as you’d think and most likely not where you’d think.

Winning teams are averaging 2.7% more points per game over 2011, while losing teams have upped their total by an average of 7.2%. Combined, that’s an increase of about 4.3% per game.

Incredibly, the average losing team is averaging just over 20 points per game. It seems like not to long ago that 24 or so points seemed to be the point where you had a very good chance of winning. Score 20 now and you are typically just an “average” loser.

Yards per pass is the best indicator of success in 2012 and there is a huge difference between what winners average and what losers average – 8.18 to 6.40. Winning teams average 28% more yards per pass than losers.

The key to offense is efficiency, not the number of plays run. The difference between winners and losers is only 1.59 plays per team, but winners average 94.50 more yards per game and 6.24 yards per play compared to 5.04 for losers. Think about that for a minute. Winners average 1.59 more plays per game, but 94.50 yards more. Efficiency.


2012 Summary15

The winning percentage for home teams dipped to 57.03% in 2012 and my gut tells me it’s around 50% or less in conference games. Early in the season home teams win at a higher rate, not because of a home field advantage, but because in large part the matchups are mismatches. For every Alabama – Michigan matchup there are 10 Clemson/Ball State type clashes. In the coming weeks I’ll be doing more research on this topic.

If there was any doubt, one look at these numbers tells you Vegas knows what they are doing. The favored team wins outright almost 76% of the time and the winning team covered over 74% of the time.

Penalty yardage is one area where coaches and fans are simply wrong, at least in 2012. Almost 57% of the time the winning team is penalized more (in yardage) than losers (54.16 to 48.89 on average).

One other note on penalties, almost inexplicably teams with 100 or more yards of penalties are 54-32 in 2012, a winning percentage of 62.8%.

Finally, the biggest change this year was turnovers. After years of coach speak about the importance of turnovers in winning and losing with dubious data to back that up, this year over 75% of the time winners had less turnovers than the losers and the winning team averaged almost a full turnover less than losers.

The graph below compares these figures for 2011 and 2012 and for the most part the numbers are fairly close and sometimes almost identical. However, there are two close to the right edge – penalty yards and turnovers – that changed dramatically this season as noted above.


We still have 35 bowl games to go before we can wrap up the 2012 season. At that point we’ll have a little over 1,400 games in our database.

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