No Sleep Till Football

Like Brooklyn Except It's Football

Identifying A Champion

If you have noticed, my college blogs have changed slightly because I added a blog I recently found called Clashmore Mike. It’s a Notre Dame specific blog, but the guys there are in the process of doing a statistical analysis on what it takes to be a champion. Essentially they are going to look at statistical metrics and see which ones are useful in identifying BCS Championship teams. The first installment is entitled Introduction & Approach which outlines the study the bloggers hope to employ.

I find studies like this interesting. It’s not uncommon though in other realms of sports analysis. I cut my teeth on baseball sabermetrics for the last decade and I did tons of these studies on my own trying to determine which baseball teams were more prone to win championships or make the playoffs by looking at common statistical markers among playoff teams. I did this too recently with the NCAA Basketball tournament using Ken Pomeroy’s advanced metrics which showed that either Kansas or Duke was the most likely team to win the NCAA tournament. Kansas got beat early, but Duke ended up winning the tournament.

Advanced metrics in basketball & football are a bit harder because they are less binary than your typical baseball situation which involves only a batter and pitcher. Still, there are some metrics that are useful and Clashmore Mike is going to study these. It’s something definitely worth following along that is for certain. So far the following metrics are the ones they’ve identified as being most important:

Turnover Margin
Third Down Efficiency
Yards Per Play
Yards Per Game
Points Per Game
Rushing Attempts (Only for offense)
Rushing Yards Per Carry
Rushing Yards Per Game
Rushing TD
Yards Per Passing Attempt
Passing Completion Percentage
Pass Efficiency

Some of this is fairly intuitive. You don’t want to turn the ball over. You want to have a good defense & good offense. You have to have a good rushing attack. You also want a smart QB who isn’t going to make bad decisions and complete a high percentage of his passes. Intuitively a QB that throws a lot of incompletions doesn’t keep his offense on the field very long, but also remember that incomplete passes stop the clock which in turn gives the opponents more time to have their offense on the field.

What might be even more interesting is what Clashmore Mike DID NOT find to be very important. They are the following:

Time of Possession
Red Zone Efficiency
Red Zone TD Efficiency
Passing Yards Per Completion
Passing Yards Per Game
Sacks Allowed
Attempts per Sack Allowed (Offense)
Attempts per Sack Allowed (Defense)

Again. Some of this intuitive. Red Zone efficiency won’t seem to matter as long as you are in the red zone often and your opponent isn’t. Having a prolific statistical QB doesn’t matter either. Remember, oftentimes a QB will have huge numbers because of how many attempts he has. Most of the time a QB has a ton of attempts is because he’s behind forcing him to take a lot of chances which of course minimizes his completion percentage. You’d much rather have a QB that went 22 for 27 with 224 yards & 2TD & 0INT than a QB that was 35-69 for 514 yards & 4TD & 3INT. The QB rating for the former is 129.2. The QB rating for the latter is 76.6.

What is interesting is sacks not being statistically important, but I’d be willing to bet those metrics might change if Clashmore Mike had the opportunity to look at QB pressures, QB hits & QB sacks as one total number rather than isolating QB sacks alone. Remember, that “Pass Rush” is different that “Sacks”. Alas, historical football data isn’t as easy to come by as it is for baseball.

The conclusion will be the most interesting as Clashmore Mike will apply his study specifically to Notre Dame. The reason it’s worth reading for everyone is that you can apply the same benchmark metrics to your favorite teams. The only problem with the study in my opinion is this:

Here, the statistical metrics of the last 10 BCS national champions (2000-2009) have been used. These 10 teams were selected for two reasons. One, finding data prior to 2000 is very challenging, if not impossible. Value and ranking data wasn’t even available for all investigated metrics over the last 10 years. Second, 10 years of championship team data in the BCS era is considered a large enough sample to evaluate the common characteristics of a modern college football champion. In some cases, however, all 20 teams were used to corroborate the importance of a particular metric and/or to distinguish between characteristics of the BCS title game winners and losers.

I’m reminded of what Joe Sheehan, of Baseball Prospectus, wrote once in that he didn’t think 162 games were nearly enough to get a real feel for how good or bad a team really is. Clashmore Mike is using essentially 10 teams. You can argue that those 10 teams could have played 130-140 games, but if 162 games for one specific team isn’t nearly enough to draw conclusions from, then 130-140 isn’t either. Still, you have to work with the data you are given. Is it a small sample size? Yeah you’d have to say it is, but you also have to work with what you are given and I think the conclusions will be significant even if we are only looking at 10 years of data.

This is a very exciting study. I hope you guys read it too and I’ll give updates and my take on each installment when it is posted.


July 28, 2010 - Posted by | Clashmore Mike, Notre Dame, Statistics

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