Writers of Pro Football Prospectus 2008

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» Catch Radius: The Bigger, the Better?

Our season finale of catch radius focuses on the growing size of Josh McCown's talented receiving duos, including breakout stud Alshon Jeffery. Also: Anquan Boldin's incredible year.

22 Oct 2010

VN: Truth and Disagreement

by Bill Connelly

Heading into last night's Oregon-UCLA game, I hoped that the Ducks would either lose to the Bruins or humiliate them. A loss would verify the Ducks' oddly low S&P+ ratings, and a blowout win would begin to rehabilitate the rankings. Obviously the latter took place, and I'm happy about that. As I mentioned last week, having odd S&P+ rankings at the end of October is not a rarity -- it typically portends future struggle/success, but that isn't always the case. Oregon's tough remaining schedule would tell us all we needed to know about the Ducks. All we need to know now is that they passed their first test.

Four Truths Revisited

With the first 2010 iteration of Brian Fremeau's Field Position Advantage getting released this week, I felt it was a good time to follow up on the "Four Truths" column I wrote a few weeks ago. One of my favorite aspects of basketball stats is that the Four Factors concept has begun to spread. It makes intuitive sense, and it is easy to follow. Obviously things like "leverage rate" have not made it into the typical college fan's lexicon, but while I look at the best way to weight each of these factors (and determine whether these are the four "truths" most worth following), let's take a look at how to rank teams according to each of the four truths.

Truth No. 1: "You can't win a game in the first quarter/half, but you can lose it."

I ran into some disagreement with this one when I discussed it, but when you look at run-pass splits on standard and passing downs, you quickly begin to get a grasp for how much a game is defined in the first half. As I mentioned in the original Four Truths column, we remember the games that are won in the fourth quarter; but your odds of pulling off a fantastic finish are drastically diminished if you lay an egg in the first half. That is, unless you are a good deal more talented than your opponent. You certainly can win a game in which you are terrible in the first half, but your overall odds decrease considerably.

The easiest way to measure first-half performance with our FO advanced stats would be to derive a 1st Half S&P+ figure.

Top Five Teams According to 1st Half S&P+
1. South Carolina
2. Ohio State
3. Oklahoma
4. Boise State
5. Miami

Truth No. 2: Big plays win games.

This one is much easier to accept. You can win games with a grind-it-out, three-plays, 10-yards attack but it is difficult.

An obvious measure for explosiveness is the opponent-adjusted version of Points Per Play (PPP). Add together a team's Offensive and Defensive PPP+, and voila!

Top Five Teams According to PPP+
1. Ohio State
2. Alabama
3. South Carolina
4. Auburn
5. Missouri

Truth No. 3: Leverage Rate gives us what we think we get from third-down conversion rate.

Last week in College Station, Missouri went 3-for-12 on third downs (25 percent). They held Texas A&M to just 6-for-19 (32 percent), but they still lost the third down battle. They also won by 21. Third downs didn't cost them because they didn't face many third downs. They were staying in standard downs, getting good yardage on first downs, and staying out of awkward down-and-distance situations. Their leverage rate was 73.6 percent, and A&M's was 61.7 percent, and they dominated. Obviously one can find anecdotal evidence to back up any claim they want to make, but leverage is so closely tied to wins and losses that it is hard to ignore.

The best way to rank teams according to leverage would be to subtract their defensive Leverage Rate allowed from their offensive Leverage Rate, creating a Leverage Margin.

Top Five Teams According to Leverage Margin
1. Wisconsin
2. TCU
3. Boise State
4. Army
5. Utah

Truth No. 4: Field position matters so very, very much.

As mentioned above, Fremeau's FPA is the best available tool for measuring the impact of field position on a game. It's one of my favorites.

Top Five Teams According to FPA
1. Alabama
2. Army
3. LSU
4. Oregon
5. USC

Army shows up in the top five of two of these lists, which potentially explains why the Cadets are 4-3 despite ranking 62nd in F/+. Are the overall ratings not giving them enough credit? Is their field position and leverage standing a temporary mirage? We shall see. They play three nice "barometer" teams in the coming weeks (Air Force on Nov. 6, Notre Dame on Nov. 13, and Navy on Dec. 11).

So what if we ranked teams according to the sum of their rankings in these four categories? We get a list with a handful of peculiarities (Central Florida is quite high, though they did throw a major scare into Kansas State not very long ago) and some potential.

Top 25 Teams According to Four Truths Rankings
Rk Team 1st Half
S&P+
Rk PPP+ Rk Leverage
Margin
Rk FPA Rk Sum of
Ranks
1 Alabama (6-1) 280.2 6 291.8 2 +.102 10 .587 1 19
2 Auburn (7-0) 277.9 7 271.1 4 +.103 9 .540 14 34
2 Boise State (6-0) 285.9 4 269.2 6 +.138 3 .536 21 34
4 TCU (7-0) 267.4 12 244.2 18 +.148 2 .558 9 41
5 Ohio State (6-1) 317.2 2 333.7 1 +.066 20 .535 23 46
6 Oklahoma (6-0) 307.6 3 228.6 30 +.105 8 .531 24 65
7 Stanford (5-1) 276.5 9 263.5 9 +.052 32 .539 16 66
8 Virginia Tech (5-2) 249.9 29 243.8 19 +.118 6 .547 12 66
9 LSU (7-0) 262.1 17 237.5 24 +.051 33 .572 2 76
10 USC (5-2) 258.4 20 243.1 21 +.042 37 .567 5 83
Rk Team 1st Half
S&P+
Rk PPP+ Rk Leverage
Margin
Rk FPA Rk Sum of
Ranks
11 Arizona (5-1) 264.3 14 251.9 13 +.066 22 .515 45 94
12 Nebraska (5-1) 262.2 16 258.4 11 +.040 39 .529 29 95
13 Kentucky (4-3) 246.6 32 224.7 32 +.066 21 .546 13 98
13 Wisconsin (6-1) 252.3 24 239.5 22 +.156 1 .510 51 98
15 Georgia (3-4) 260.4 18 230.3 28 +.024 49 .560 6 101
15 Iowa (5-1) 267.6 11 250.4 14 +.081 17 .505 59 101
17 Missouri (6-0) 248.9 31 270.2 5 +.054 30 .519 41 107
18 Utah (6-0) 214.5 60 223.1 36 +.120 5 .559 8 109
19 California (3-3) 249.2 30 236.2 26 +.091 16 .520 38 110
20 Central Florida (4-2) 225.4 48 208.6 51 +.108 7 .560 6 112
Rk Team 1st Half
S&P+
Rk PPP+ Rk Leverage
Margin
Rk FPA Rk Sum of
Ranks
21 Mississippi State (5-2) 245.4 35 216.6 45 +.093 15 .537 19 114
22 Michigan (5-2) 259.1 19 236.4 25 +.071 18 .506 58 120
23 South Carolina (4-2) 324.2 1 278.4 3 +.027 48 .495 69 121
24 Michigan State (7-0) 254.3 22 257.9 12 +.058 25 .499 64 123
25 Florida State (6-1) 250.4 28 227.1 31 +.060 24 .515 45 128
28 Oregon (6-0) 224.5 49 220.5 40 +.040 40 .568 4 133
32 Oklahoma State (6-0) 252.4 23 222.9 37 +.043 36 .512 50 146

And no, Oregon doesn't fare well on this list either. Their low S&P+ rankings continue to baffle, especially in light of their extraordinary FEI rankings. Here's where I continue to tell myself it will all work out correctly in the end.

(One thing to note: If I expanded the definitions of what constitutes a "close" game, Oregon's S&P+ ratings would rise. As soon as I see what happens to overall ratings and win correlations if I do that for previous years, I might make a change to the overall formulas in that regard. But it has to make sense for all data, not just this odd year.)

In all, I love the idea of giving people a "four factors" way of looking at games, and though we might end up moving toward more obvious factors when all is said and done (turnover points, for one, will probably play a role), I look forward to exploring this more in the offseason.

F/+ Rankings

Now, to move to a list that continues to frustrate. This week's F/+ Top 25 is below, and we have quite the confounding top team. With the two systems -- S&P+ and FEI -- disagreeing on so many teams to date, one two-loss team both systems like moved to the top.

Included this week: teams' change in F/+ rating from last week.

F/+ Top 25 (After Seven Weeks)
Rk Team F/+ Chg. S&P+ Rk FEI Rk
1 South Carolina (4-2) +28.7% +1.4% 274.2 3 .253 5
2 Ohio State (6-1) +28.6% -7.5% 288.5 1 .181 19
3 Boise State (6-0) +28.2% +1.1% 270.9 4 .258 4
4 Alabama (6-1) +27.2% -1.1% 278.0 2 .204 16
5 Auburn (7-0) +26.4% +2.9% 257.5 8 .286 2
6 Missouri (6-0) +26.0% +6.7% 268.9 5 .223 12
7 Stanford (5-1) +24.1% +2.4% 251.1 13 .272 3
8 TCU (7-0) +23.9% +1.6% 260.3 7 .224 11
9 Michigan State (7-0) +23.7% +4.8% 255.4 9 .242 7
10 Oklahoma (6-0) +23.0% +3.2% 252.9 11 .241 8
F/+ Top 25 (After Seven Weeks)
Rk Team F/+ Chg. S&P+ Rk FEI Rk
11 Nebraska (5-1) +22.7% -2.5% 254.5 10 .228 10
12 Virginia Tech (5-2) +22.1% +1.6% 251.1 14 .232 9
13 LSU (7-0) +20.6% -1.4% 242.7 20 .242 6
14 Miami (4-2) +20.4% -3.5% 262.0 6 .146 24
15 Oregon (6-0) +19.9% +1.3% 227.8 38 .300 1
16 Oregon State (3-3) +19.8% -0.9% 245.6 17 .212 14
17 Wisconsin (6-1) +19.5% +8.8% 245.8 16 .205 15
18 Arizona (5-1) +19.2% -2.8% 252.8 12 .166 21
19 Iowa (5-1) +18.7% +1.6% 249.1 15 .174 20
20 USC (5-2) +18.4% +5.2% 241.5 22 .203 17
F/+ Top 25 (After Seven Weeks)
Rk Team F/+ Chg. S&P+ Rk FEI Rk
21 North Carolina (4-2) +14.4% +3.3% 236.0 29 .151 23
22 Oklahoma State (6-0) +14.0% +2.3% 232.6 31 .158 22
23 N.C. State (5-2) +13.4% +0.1% 223.5 42 .191 18
24 Arizona State (3-3) +13.3% +4.5% 217.3 48 .219 13
25 Texas (4-2) +13.1% +7.5% 241.6 21 .097 36

26. Notre Dame (4-3), 27. Pittsburgh (3-3), 28. Florida State (6-1), 29. Michigan (5-2), 30. Illinois (3-3), 31. Arkansas (4-2), 32. Florida (4-3), 33. Hawaii (5-2), 34. Kentucky (4-3), 35. West Virginia (5-1), 36. Clemson (3-3), 37. Utah (6-0), 38. Mississippi State (5-2), 39. Georgia (3-4), 40. Central Florida (4-2), 41. San Diego State (4-2), 42. Washington (3-3), 43. Ole Miss (3-3), 44. Texas A&M (3-3), 45. East Carolina (4-2), 46. California (3-3), 47. Air Force (5-2), 48. Nevada (6-1), 49. Cincinnati (3-3), 50. Kansas State (5-1).

Biggest Positive Change From Last Week: San Diego State (+8.0%), East Carolina (+7.9%), Texas (+7.5%), Missouri (+6.7%), Louisiana Tech (+6.4%).

Biggest Negative Change From Last Week: California (-12.8%), Kansas (-10.0%), Ohio State (-7.5%), Vanderbilt (-7.2%), UNLV (-7.2%).

Ratings Differences Between FEI and S&P+:

  • Teams ranking five spots apart or fewer: 32
  • Teams ranking six to 10 spots apart: 20
  • Teams ranking 11 to 15 spots apart: 23
  • Teams ranking 16 to 20 spots apart: 13
  • Teams ranking 21 to 30 spots apart: 23
  • Teams ranking 31 or more spots apart: 9

In some seasons, everything plays out according to plan. The top teams are the top teams, and there is little debate. In other seasons, like 2007 and 2010, there is chaos. S&P+ and FEI disagree by 10 spots or more for six of 15 teams in the F/+ top 15. It has possibly never been more difficult to figure out who the best team in the country truly is.

"What The ...?" Team of the Week

Arizona State managed to improve by 4.5 percent and get into the F/+ Top 25 without playing a game last weekend. It was the perfect confluence of events, really. Two recent opponents (Washington and Oregon State) played each other, but while Oregon State's F/+ ratings regressed by 0.9 percent by losing, Washington's went up by 2.5 percent. That helped the Sun Devils' rating a bit, and Wisconsin's upset of Ohio State helped out a lot. Plus, it appears that the official phasing out of preseason projections helped them as well. They should not count on getting this much help in the future, but it was a nice regulation of their overall numbers.

AP + F/+ = BCS?

Again, just for fun, here is what the BCS standings would look like if derived from a combination of 60 percent AP poll rankings, 40 percent F/+ rankings. Neither are part of the BCS formulas, so it is a perfect fit.

1. Boise State (Real BCS Rank: 3)
2. Auburn (4)
3. TCU (5)
4. Alabama (8)
5. Oklahoma (1)
6. Oregon (2)
7. Ohio State (10)
8. Michigan State (7)
9. LSU (6)
10. Stanford (12)
11. South Carolina (21)
12. Nebraska (16)
13. Wisconsin (13)
14. Missouri (11)
15. Iowa (15)

Upset Watch

Kentucky over Georgia. Spread: Georgia -3.5 | F/+ Projection: Kentucky by 4.8. I have begun tinkering with the best way to incorporate momentum into the picks formulas, and if I were to figure out a good way to do so, it would likely help Georgia. The Bulldogs have beaten two SEC East opponents (Tennessee and Vanderbilt) by a combined score of 84-14 and have emerged, somehow, as a potential East favorite despite that inconvenient 3-4 record. But by judging both of these teams on their entire bodies of work, the home Wildcats get the nod. With a win, Kentucky would be, at worst, a game out of the East lead themselves.

Missouri over Oklahoma. Spread: Oklahoma -3 | F/+ Projection: Missouri by 6.5. The S&P+ rankings love Missouri (I swear that was not intentional); that will be put to the test when the Tigers host the Sooners Saturday night. You never bet against a streak, and Oklahoma has quite an impressive one going against Mizzou at the moment (last Mizzou win: 1998), but the numbers know none of that.

Arizona State over California. Spread: California -3.5 | F/+ Projection: Arizona State by 3.9. The "What the ...?" team of the week faces on last week's "What the hell was that?" team. California has had trouble with bad momentum turning into an avalanche. If they are reeling too much from their destruction at the hands of USC last weekend, they could easily fall to the Sun Devils.

Colorado over Texas Tech. Spread: Texas Tech -2.5 | F/+ Projection: Colorado by 5.8. This pick has more to do with how far Texas Tech has fallen than anything Colorado has accomplished lately.

Ask the Expert

As expected, Miami fell back to the pack a bit this week following a win over Duke that was never in doubt, but never really impressive. They fell from sixth to 14th in this week's F/+ rankings, and their rating might be in the process of regulating a bit after seeming artificially high the last couple of weeks.

I asked our friend Josh Darrow, pre-game host and sideline reporter for the University of Miami, a few Hurricane-related questions this week.

Bill Connelly: Miami fell to 14th in our F/+ rankings this week after their defeat of Duke. You've seen them up close and personal -- does 14th sound about right, or do you think they still have more to prove? Because of the defense, Miami's S&P+ ranking has been higher than it seems they deserve, but is this still one of the 15-20 best teams in the country?

Josh Darrow: I think they are closer to a top 25 team than a top 15 team so far this season. But, with the opportunity that lies ahead, they certainly can move up with games left against UNC, Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech, and a possible ACC Championship game as well. Run the table, and Miami looks more like a top 15 team.

I think Miami is doing a lot of things well this year, especially on defense. They have 18 takeaways to go along with 20 sacks, and UM leads the country in tackles for loss. They are getting great play from linebacker Sean Spence, conerback Brandon Harris and safety Vaughn Telemaque, and they have depth along the defensive line.

The offense has been inconsistent, and clearly was plagued by turnovers early in the season. Also hurting them were dropped passes and penalties, especially pre-snap yellow flags that put the offense in some compromised down-and-distance situations. On the other hand, a young and inexperienced offensive line has held up pretty well, and Miami is getting great play from Leonard Hankerson and Damien Berry. What's missing is the home-run threat from the running back spot. Craig Cooper is just getting back on the field after a devastating knee injury in the Champs Bowl and Lamar Miller has missed the last two games with an injury.

BC: The Hurricanes' maintain a strong ranking because of their defense -- second in overall Defensive S&P+, fourth against the run, sixth against the pass, first on standard downs. Last year, they ranked 24th. What do you think has been the major cause for the defense's improvement?

JD: First, you have to start with continuity in the coaching staff. Until this year, Miami has had a different coordinator in each of Randy Shannon's first three years. Now, Miami is in Year No. 2 under defensive coordinator John Lovett. Second, Miami has quite a few players who have been in the program two to three years as well.

With Miami leading the country in tackles for loss, it would seem that Miami's opponents are facing more third and long type situations, and the Canes secondary has responded with 12 interceptions, which is tied for third behind Alabama, Florida and Bowling Green. Last year, Miami had a total of nine picks for the entire season.

BC: Once again, passing downs performance appears to be dragging down Miami's offensive ranking. The Hurricanes rank 28th in Passing S&P+ and 29th on standard downs, so the play-calling and early execution still seem decent. But they rank 69th on passing downs. What tends to trip up Jacory Harris and company on the second- and third-and-long situations?

JD: I think a few things have contributed to this. One is the penalties -- Miami is putting themselves in too many third-and-long-type scenarios. I also think Miami seeks out the big play, but as we all know, those are high reward but not high percentage plays. Miami can be impatient at times, and I think that throws off the consistency in execution. In addition, they have been plagued by drops from receivers, tight ends, and running backs. The number is somewhere in the 30s through six games. That is a high number that has negatively impacted Miami's performance.

The Playlist

In honor of the Four Truths, of course ...

"Four Corners," by The Sea and Cake
"Four Day Worry Blues," by Leadbelly
"Four Days," by Counting Crows
"Four Horsemen," by The Clash
"Four in One," by Thelonious Monk
"Four Night Rider," by The Rural Alberta Advantage
"Four Sticks," by Led Zeppelin
"Four Winds," by Bright Eyes
"Four Women," by Nina Simone
"Fourth Time Around," by Bob Dylan

And, of course, all of Blues Traveler's Four and everything the Gang of Four ever wrote.

Closing Thoughts

As much as we tend to complain about certain aspects of the sport we love, it is important to also recognize when somebody gets something just right. And the Pac-10 (soon to be Pac-12) got its six-team divisions just right. They didn't overthink the issue with the complicated "zipper" method (Washington in one division, Washington State in the other; USC in one, UCLA in the other), they just broke things into North and South. Plus they got creative: the conference title game will take place on the home field of the "No. 1 seed" in the title game. No rotating host sites, no Stanford-versus-USC matchups in Seattle (or Oregon-versus-Colorado matchups in Los Angeles) -- no fuss no muss.

It appeared the conference was going to go this way for a while, of course. The only question mark was what to do with the four "central" teams -- Cal/Stanford and Utah/Colorado. In the end, they sent Utah and Colorado to the south, and that was that.

I thought I would look at what potential title game matchups would have looked like in previous years had this conference setup existed. These matchups were in no way derived by numbers or projections -- they are just rough guesses. Maybe Colorado makes the title game in 2002, maybe Oregon makes it over Oregon State in 2008. The point was not to nail these.

2002: No. 6 Washington State at No. 4 USC
2003: No. 15 Washington State at No. 3 USC
2004: No. 4 California at No. 1 USC
2005: No. 6 Oregon at No. 1 USC
2006: No. 18 California at No. 5 USC
2007: Oregon State at No. 7 USC
2008: Oregon State at No. 6 Utah
2009: Arizona at No. 7 Oregon

USC would have had a monopoly on the conference from 2002 to 2007 or 2008 regardless of the alignment, but it will be interesting to see how these title games take shape in upcoming years, where Oregon is the power program instead of USC. Regardless, I love these divisions, and I love their title-game choice. As Yahoo!'s Dan Wetzel put it on Twitter yesterday, Pac-10 commissioner Larry Scott has had the best freshman year since Carmelo Anthony.

Posted by: Bill Connelly on 22 Oct 2010

18 comments, Last at 25 Oct 2010, 1:10pm by Jeff Fogle

Comments

1
by Kal :: Fri, 10/22/2010 - 4:30pm

Something that might be interesting to do this year and for prior ones is to find the biggest differences between S&P and FEI on a normalized basis and see what those teams are. I'd imagine Oregon shows up high on that list now, but I'd love to see what other teams are loved by one but hated by others and how they actually performed down the road.

2
by Brian Fremeau :: Fri, 10/22/2010 - 4:34pm

We did a quick look at the 2009 FEI and S&P+ differences just before the start of the season: http://footballoutsiders.com/fei-ratings/2010/fo-basics-our-college-stat...

What we haven't done yet is take a look at mid-season differences between the systems and how those numbers converge or not from that point forward.

3
by Kal :: Fri, 10/22/2010 - 5:00pm

Midseasons would be good. Another thing I think would be good is not doing rankings but doing normalized values; rankings can have weird localized spreads, but normalizations should factor that much better. That would (for example) show the larger gulf of Oregon this season, but wouldn't show (for example) a difference between 38 and 76 being the same value. In last year's, for instance, I'm willing to bet that the difference between Georgia Tech's ranking (5th vs 24th) was higher than the difference between Nevada's. Or at least on the same level.

But yeah, midseason divergence would also be interesting.

4
by Jeff Fogle :: Fri, 10/22/2010 - 5:44pm

If you can't win a game in the first half, but you can lose it...why would looking at the best first half teams express that point?

Did South Carolina, Ohio State, Boise State, Oklahoma and Miami all run into a zillion teams who lost games in the first half? Or, isn't that list evidence that you CAN win games in the first half...or at least put them so far out of reach that they're virtually won?

Don't powers crush cupcakes in the first half quite often? Is the assessment that the powers aren't winning those games in the first half with big plays, leverage, and field position...but that cupcakes are losing them?

Change the "truth" to "a lot of games are defined in the first half" or something, and it would make more sense. It doesn't make sense to use successful first half teams to explain why you can't win a game in the first half.

Anyway, of the truths:
1) Debatable to an extreme degree in its current form, particularly when the best teams play the worst teams. Don't see how it has any place at the top of a list of "truths" about college football.

2)Big Play DIFFERENTIAL wins games...meaning making more big plays than your opponents do. Defenses have to avoid allowing them. And, big plays don't win games if you lost one of those run-and-shoot marathons 52-45.

Plus...the truth seems much more like a combination of moving the chains AND making big plays. If an offense focuses too much on trying to make a big play (the downfall of the Bowden fadeout), the game blows up in its face. Trying to move the chains with plays that have the potential to break through for big yardage seems to be the modus operendi in the sport right now (and the NFL too). Teams aren't striving just for big plays. They're striving for the combination that moves the chains while keeping big play potential. And, defensive schematics are trying to prevent a big play. Gotta include differential in the truth if it's a truth.

3)Leverage isn't in the boxscore, isn't a term that's used by coaches, players, or pretty much anyone in the sport in the way it's being used here. Oliver's four factors are shooting, turnovers, rebounding, and free throws. His huge contribution to the field was emphasizing the need to adjust for possessions, and to use effective field goal percentage that counted 3's more than 2's. Asking for an obscure term (in this usage) to be part of a set of truths is a longshot. Plus, third down conversions are going to get you most of the way there anyway. The teams listed all have nice differentials in third downs too. Since most people aren't figuring this stuff out with a spreadsheet and play-by-play breakdowns, using listed third downs in official boxscores would seem to be the more efficient approach. It's debatable that leverage add significant knowledge to what third down rates are already teaching.

4)Does field position matter so very much when cupcakes play powers? Or is it a byproduct of the edges that the powers have anyway. If Ohio State had to start every drive from its own 20, but Eastern Michigan got to start from their own 40, would it change the game result in a meaningful way? Can see that field position matters a lot in games matching relatively even teams. Do those edges result from coin flip luck in the evenly matched games, or measurable meaningful differences?

Possible ideals to shoot for:
Yards-per-Play (differential)
Turnover Rate (differential, as good defenses force TO's)
Any mechanism for production in the scoring zone (differential)
Third Down conversions for extra seasoning (differential)
Ability to protect leads by running clock
Strength of schedule adjustments across the board

If you've got THOSE six things, aren't the "truths" overshadowed and borderline irrelevant. You CAN win games in the first half if you're strong in the six keys (and I'm sure could be added by the braintrust reading and writing these pieces). Big plays are already factored in to YPP differential and scoring zone production (and a third down conversion can be the biggest play of the game). Leverage is just a fancy-schmancy word for components that are largely accounted for anyway. Field position is a by-product of YPP and turnovers.

And, ultimately, any methodology is going to have to account for the fact that teams aren't in position to play their average game every week. Injuries, letdowns, lookaheads, fatigue, rest, all influenced PAST action,and will influence future action. The legal betting markets in particular seem to be way ahead of the FO pick process in this regard. Once you get past first principals for evaluating teams...these have to be factored in as well. That was the case with Oliver's first principals. Fatigue hurts your rebounding rate and increases your turnover rate. It often increases your opponents effective field goal percentage because teams lose the will to guard the basket with intensity. Kenpom's stat projections are still worse than the market in college hoops for example.

Wanted to join the debate before this "four truth" thing was put in cement. Disagree with the premises and any suggestion that these are THE FOUR TRUTHS of college football. The truths are still the stuff coaches say to Erin Andrews at half time. "We've got to move the ball, make some big plays, and avoid turnovers." THE FOUR TRUTHS include you can't win a game in the first half, leverage tells you what you thought third downs were telling you, and don't forget about field position? Moses isn't reaching for his chisel and clean tablets. Let's REALLY pin down the truths...

5
by Anonymous Jones :: Fri, 10/22/2010 - 6:12pm

Well, you can label the Pac-12 divisions North and South all you want, but I can assure you that despite the bizarre map Larry Scott showed at his press conference (with Utah and Colorado at the southernmost points of their respective states), this will never change the fact that the latitudes of the Universities of both Utah and Colorado are most certainly north of those of the Universities of both Stanford and Cal. Thankfully, the league came to its senses and assured that the California schools play each other every year. Anyway, I understand it must have been a financial decision, but I certainly don't "love" the divisions.

7
by CuseFanInSoCal :: Fri, 10/22/2010 - 9:00pm

Auburn, Alabama is east of Nashville, Tennessee too. It's not a big deal.

8
by Anonymous Jones :: Fri, 10/22/2010 - 9:50pm

I'm sure it's not a big deal to many, many people. Probably the vast majority of the billions of people in the world couldn't care one way or another. The fans of the California schools, however, probably do care. That was the point, not latitudes but rivalries. It's one thing to lack geographic purity; it's another thing to lack it and also disregard longstanding, important rivalries.

6
by JPS (not verified) :: Fri, 10/22/2010 - 6:45pm

Addition to the playlist: "Husband Number Four" from the Bob & Tom show. :-)

9
by rwperu34 (not verified) :: Fri, 10/22/2010 - 11:15pm

Tone down that "competitive game" feature a bunch. I'm not a fan of ignoring information. Maybe you give different possessions a different weight based on score/time/etc, but no way can you ignore what teams do in the 2nd and 3rd quarter just because they're up 28-0. In fact, it's hard for me to not weight everything through three quarters at 100%, or close to it. Even though a team with a 28 point third quarter lead is going to lose the game close to 0% of the time, they and their opponents are playing their starters and trying to score every posseesion. There's also a big difference between being up two scores with 12 minutes left in the game vs three. The important distinction is when do the coaches change their playcalling and/or empty the bench.

10
by Will :: Sat, 10/23/2010 - 1:25am

"The important distinction is when do the coaches change their playcalling and/or empty the bench."

How can you do this without watching every game? Not just every big game, but literally every game? At best, you'll need to approximate when this happens. I'm sure Mr. Connelly will tweak the numbers if there is reason to believe it will bear out, but that will take a little bit of trial and error.

Will

16
by Kal :: Sun, 10/24/2010 - 2:18am

It's pretty easy; look at switches of quarterbacks in the play-by-play. I could tell you immediately exactly at what point a team swapped their strategy around.

11
by Will :: Sat, 10/23/2010 - 1:27am

Losing games early and on the road happened in a significant number of "upsets" this year. I put upsets in quotes because all of these underdogs were just very slight underdogs (or slight favorites), but all beat a team that was probably more talented by getting up big, hanging on for a while, and then answering the final challenge at the end when it appeared that it would slip away.

At end of the first qtr, Boise State was up 17-0 on VT.*
10 seconds into the 2nd qtr, Arizona was up 21-7 on Iowa.
50 seconds into the 2nd qrt, Sout Carolina was up 21-3 on Alabama.
2 minutes into the 2nd qrt, Wisconsin was up 21-0 on Ohio State.

To me, this is the surest way to pull an upset against a more talented team. Put me down as a firm believer of Truth Number One.

* - Technically this game was a neutral field, but on TV it appeared the crowd was somewhat surprisingly close to 50/50 in support. Given the location, I would have expected a glorified home game for VT.
Will

12
by cfn_ms :: Sat, 10/23/2010 - 2:56am

Except that truth 1 says you CAN'T win a game in the first half, so it contradicts what you're arguing.

Of course, truth 1 is self-contradictory (or at least appears to be), sort of like misquoting Lombardi as having said "winning isn't everything, it's the only thing".

There may be something reasonable buried in the argument, something like "if you cough up the ball six times, or suffer massive defensive breakdowns, then you're going to lose the game, regardless of opponent strength; but if you're playing a quality opponent who isn't screwing up, no matter how well you play in the first half it's almost impossible to put it away that early". If I had to guess, something like that is what Bill really means, but I could be wrong.

13
by Travis :: Sat, 10/23/2010 - 9:35am

Technically this game was a neutral field, but on TV it appeared the crowd was somewhat surprisingly close to 50/50 in support. Given the location, I would have expected a glorified home game for VT.

That's because all the Boise fans (except for a few pockets in the corners and upper deck) were in the lower bowl on the side facing the camera. I'd estimate that the crowd was somewhere between 85/15 and 90/10 for Virginia Tech.

In addition, Virginia Tech controlled the public announcements (encouraging the crowd to do the Hokey Pokey, etc.) and had a full band and cheerleaders, while Boise did not.

14
by Travis :: Sat, 10/23/2010 - 9:41am

[double post]

15
by JJohnson (not verified) :: Sat, 10/23/2010 - 10:03am

Central Florida's (we prefer UCF) only other lost was to NC State in which the Knights lost the game by 7 points but lost the turnover battle 5-0. UCF trailed 21-0 at one point in the first half, and their rally fell short with a 28-21 defeat. So maybe they shouldn't be a shock in the top 20.

17
by Bill Connelly :: Sun, 10/24/2010 - 3:12pm

I don't want people overthinking the first half "truth". I was quoting a cliche. Here's another way to put it: "Truth No. 1: The first half matters so very, very much." The end.

18
by Jeff Fogle :: Mon, 10/25/2010 - 1:10pm

Then how about something like:

"Games go faster than you think, so value your possessions."

That gets the importance of early influences involved...plus the impact of turnovers...plus the importance of moving the chains...all in one fell swoop.

An emphasis on being ready in the first half when many games are either decided or force the path the trailing team has to take...while throwing in the turnover element that was left out of the first "draft" of four potential truths...and arguably incorporating the "leverage" third down stuff from a later truth as well.

This could get chiseled in stone (though new stones should always be kept handy as the game evolves)...repeated in a meaningful way by coaches and announcers, and doesn't have "very" stuck back to back (lol).

Maybe:
*Games go faster than you think, so value your possessions.

*Big plays win games, but trying to force big plays loses them.

*Special Teams don't just kick field goals, they determine field position.

*Proper time management earns you extra points, bad time management prevents you from getting them.

Those four capture what happens in blowouts...and what happens when the game isn't a blowout...capture the importance of the first half, and the importance of the end game...and capture production adjusted for the impact of turnovers (assuming production for teams who are valuing their possessions by making them accomplish something). Offense/Defense/Special Teams

And, to me, they're also getting at your points...first halves are important, big plays are huge (as is preventing them), whatever the stat goop that's in leverage is important, and field position matters.

Plus...they sound more like TRUTHS rather than just some list of points a guy wants to make. Hope readers/posters feel free to re-word any of these, or add more they think should be included.

"The end?" Everything being done right now at FO is still much closer to the beginning than the end of the analytical process. True for stats or the discussion of possible truths...

Edit...PS...congrats on the big Missouri win over OU!