Varsity Numbers: Four Truths

Varsity Numbers: Four Truths

by Bill Connelly

We now reach the second part of the new Varsity Numbers format. The goal for the Friday column is to discuss an interesting and/or random topic or two, then move on to this week's games by looking at the week's official F/+ rankings (as a reminder, F/+ is the combination of FO's FEI and S&P+ rankings) and a handful of interesting matchups. But first, some truths. For those who are still in the "dipping in the toe" portion of understanding and enjoying our college data, here's a good place to start.

I'm always trying to find ways to synthesize or summarize data in ways that are both useful and easy to remember. One of my favorites uses of sports data is the Four Factors concept seen in basketball. I'm sure it is a bit of an over-generalization, but the Four Factors concept basically says that the four most important things in basketball, however you get to them, are Shooting (~40 percent), Turnovers (~25 percent), Rebounding (~20 percent) and Free Throws (~15 percent). A team can win these categories in a lot of different ways, but those are the concepts key to winning basketball games. One could easily come up with a similar macro list for football -- running, passing, turnovers, and special teams. But from an advanced statistics standpoint, there are not necessarily four magic bullet measures that cover everything you need to know about winning football games.

There are, however, truths. And as we begin to get into the true heart of the 2010 college football season, now seems like a good time to share some absolute conclusions I have drawn after a few years of swimming in data. Some of this is probably obvious, some is not. We will likely expand this list in the offseason.

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

If you run correlations between situational S&P+ statistics and win percentage, you see quite a few first- and second-quarter statistics near the top of the list. For instance, second-quarter Offensive S&P+ and first-quarter Defensive S&P+ had almost exactly the same correlation to winning as overall S&P+ did. From a statistical standpoint, the first half carries far more weight than the second, because, quite simply, with a bad first half, the second half might not matter much (unless you are Jacksonville State playing Ole Miss).

This is, of course, how sports mostly operate. We remember a given Game 7, but there would be no seventh game if you don't win three other games first. You probably don't pull off a dramatic, memorable overtime victory if you fall down by four touchdowns in the first half (unless your quarterback is Frank Reich). You don't notch the World Series-winning save in the ninth if you don't build a lead in the first eight (or eight and a half) innings. We remember the games that are decided late, but more often, the biggest impact on a game occurs in the first 30 minutes.

Truth No. 2: Big plays win games.

The OPS measure in baseball is a direct split between on-base percentage and slugging percentage. It is a wonderful measure, but it is not quite as accurate as it could be, as on-base percentage matters more to good offense than slugging. The opposite is true in college football -- the explosiveness measure (PPP, the "slugging percentage" of the S&P equation) is almost always tied more closely to winning games than success rates (the 'on-base percentage' piece). Both matter, but on offense and defense, PPP matters more.

Again, this is the way it should be. Nothing is more demoralizing than giving up a 20-play, 80-yard, nine-minute drive. But unless your team is Navy, that doesn't happen too often. Defensive coaches often teach their squads the concept of leverage -- prevent the ball-carrier from getting the outside lane, steer him to the middle, make the tackle, and live to play another down. It is the bend-don't-break style of defense, and it often works because if you give the offense enough opportunities, they might eventually make a drive-killing mistake, especially at the collegiate level. If you allow them 40 yards in one play, their likelihood of making a drive-killing mistake plummets.

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

This is probably a less obvious truth. Announcers and coaches talk endlessly about how games are won and lost on third downs, and it is absolutely true. But it is also without context. Some defenses, particularly young ones, give up far too many demoralizing third-and-8 conversions. But most of the time, a team that allows a high third-down conversion rate is doing so because they're giving up too many yards on first and second down, and their opponent is converting third-and-3 instead of third-and-8.

The difference in the level of success on standard downs and passing downs is staggering. If you have a significant talent advantage -- always possible in college football -- you might be able to get away with falling into passing downs. But the team that wins is the team that better avoids passing downs. That is why Leverage Rate is included atop the Varsity Numbers box scores I analyze (now on Tuesdays). If your Leverage Rate is too far below the national average of 68 percent, then your quarterback better be Colt McCoy (who was truly a magician at converting third-and-7 and, it appears, masked some serious, developing deficiencies for Texas on the offensive side of the ball) or you are probably going to struggle to win.

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

So far in 2010, the winner of a given game typically runs 50.2 percent of their plays in their opponent's field position. For losing teams, it is 36.2 percent. That is why Field Position Percentage is above even Leverage Rate on the Varsity Numbers box score, and that is why Brian Fremeau's FPA statistic is so telling. Field position numbers fill in all of the gaps the other statistics miss. If you lose a game despite beating your opponent in both S&P (or total yardage) and turnovers, chances are that you badly lost the field position battle.

Winning the game of field position can be done in too many ways to count. Maybe you have an outstanding punter. Maybe you avoid three-and-outs and at least advance the ball a bit before punting. Maybe you have a good return man. Maybe you avoid turnovers. Whatever the cause, field position often matters as much or more than turnovers on the "What wins games" hierarchy. (Don't tell that to Arizona State, of course; they lost to Oregon last week because they lost the turnover points battle by 25.0 points.)

F/+ Rankings

The current F/+ rankings are the perfect mix of the volatility of the current S&P+ rankings and the reasonably stable approach of FEI. FEI can tamp down the over-exuberance of S&P+ toward teams like Arizona, UCLA, or Missouri (though Miami might still be a little too high), while S&P+ can knock projection-laden FEI stalwarts like Virginia Tech and Texas down a few notches. Here are your increasingly interesting and relevant F/+ rankings for Week 4.

F/+ Top 25 (After Four Weeks)
Rk Team F/+ Last
Change S&P+ Rk FEI Rk
1 Ohio State (4-0) +37.1% 2 +1 315.3 1 .210 4
2 Alabama (4-0) +31.2% 1 -1 279.7 3 .265 1
3 Miami (2-1) +27.4% 12 +9 281.8 2 .178 11
4 Florida (4-0) +25.2% 5 +1 259.6 6 .243 2
5 Stanford (4-0) +23.5% 6 +1 261.8 5 .198 7
6 Oregon (4-0) +20.5% 4 -2 242.6 13 .230 3
7 Arizona (4-0) +20.2% 11 +4 265.6 4 .114 27
8 Auburn (4-0) +18.9% 13 +5 246.7 11 .179 10
9 Boise State (3-0) +18.2% 19 +10 238.3 15 .206 5
10 Nebraska (4-0) +18.1% 3 -7 250.0 8 .148 16
Rk Team F/+ Last
Change S&P+ Rk FEI Rk
11 Iowa (3-1) +18.0% 14 +3 249.4 9 .148 16
12 USC (4-0) +17.8% 15 +3 239.4 14 .193 8
13 LSU (4-0) +17.5% 16 +3 238.0 17 .193 8
14 TCU (4-0) +17.3% 8 -6 246.0 12 .151 15
15 Virginia Tech (2-2) +16.4% 20 +5 231.6 24 .203 6
16 Missouri (4-0) +16.0% 31 +15 247.7 10 .117 24
17 South Carolina (3-1) +15.7% 7 -10 237.1 18 .161 13
18 Oklahoma (4-0) +15.0% 10 -8 231.2 26 .177 12
19 Clemson (2-1) +14.1% 18 -1 233.8 21 .146 18
20 UCLA (2-2) +13.5% 42 +22 251.7 7 .047 49
Rk Team F/+ Last
Change S&P+ Rk FEI Rk
21 Arkansas (3-1) +13.5% 24 +3 231.5 25 .144 19
22 California (2-2) +12.6% 34 +12 238.2 16 .094 32
23 Texas (3-1) +11.9% 9 -14 223.1 36 .153 14
24 West Virginia (3-1) +11.4% 26 +2 227.9 30 .121 23
25 Virginia (2-1) +11.4% 21 -4 235.2 20 .085 36

26. Michigan, 27. Wisconsin, 28. Oklahoma State, 29. Kentucky, 30. Michigan State, 31. Utah, 32. N.C. State, 33. Pittsburgh, 34. Nevada, 35. Notre Dame, 36. Penn State, 37. North Carolina, 38. Florida State, 39. Mississippi State, 40. Texas A&M, 41. Arizona State, 42. Texas Tech, 43. Oregon State, 44. Georgia Tech, 45. Ole Miss, 46. Georgia, 47. Boston College, 49. Kansas State, 50. Tennessee.

F/+ vs AP

A month into the season, I thought it would be interesting to take a look at which teams are the source of the biggest disagreement between the AP poll and the F/+ rankings. Below are the teams who seem to be the most over-appreciated or underestimated by AP voters.


Utah (AP Rank: 13th, F/+ Rank: 31st). Utah has almost reached the Top 10 on the basis of an overtime, home win against Pittsburgh and the decimation of three unworthy foes (UNLV, New Mexico and San Jose State, all of whom rank 108th or lower in this week's F/+ rankings). After Miami crushed Pittsburgh, people's perceptions of the Panthers fell. So should Utah still be significantly rewarded for barely beating Dave Wannstedt and company in overtime?

Wisconsin (AP Rank: 11th, F/+ Rank: 27th). As I mentioned on Tuesday, Wisconsin finally put more than two quarters of great play together, but they wasted the effort on Austin Peay. They face No. 30 Michigan State in East Lansing this week, so if they are truly the 11th-best team in the country (according to AP voters), they will win and advance their F/+ ratings this week.

Penn State (AP Rank: 22nd, F/+ Rank: 36th). Penn State is another Big Ten team who can prove its worthiness this week, in Iowa City. F/+ ratings do not care much whether you win or lose. If they put together a strong effort in a losing cause against Iowa, their rating might still rise (if they do indeed lose a close game, their F/+ ranking might actually exceed their AP votes this time next week, since you are semi-arbitrarily punished for even respectable losses in the AP poll).

Oklahoma (AP Rank: 8th, F/+ Rank: 18th). They started in the Top 10, and they are 4-0, so of course they are going to stay in the Top 10. But they have been as unimpressive as possible in the process. They remain in the F/+ Top 20 because of both preseason projections and their home massacre of Florida State. Needless to say, though, the ratings are unimpressed with their seven-point win over Utah State (F/+ ranking: 101st), three-point win over Air Force (57th) and two-point win over Cincinnati (58th).


Miami (AP Rank: 16th, F/+ Rank: 3rd). If you believe that Ohio State is truly one of the two best teams in the country, then the fact that Miami's only loss came to the Buckeyes in Columbus should not punish them much. The Hurricanes are propped up as much by Ohio State's success (and its impact on their strength of schedule) as anything they have accomplished this year, though they certainly looked sound in defeating Pittsburgh. Simply by playing teams not currently ranked No. 1 in the F/+ rankings, Miami's strength of schedule will suffer in coming weeks.

Clemson (AP 'Rank': 32nd, F/+ Rank: 19th). After disappointments in past years, voters are clearly taking a wait-and-see approach with Dabo Swinney's Tigers. The F/+ rankings like them, however, both because of positive preseason projections and a fine performance on the road against F/+ No. 8 Auburn. The fact that they almost beat a Top 10 team on the road should mean something, even if they ended up losing (partially by their own doing ... or undoing).

UCLA (AP 'Rank': 33rd, F/+ Rank: 20th). They lost to F/+ No. 5 Stanford and killed No. 23 Texas on the road. We will see how long the Bruins can maintain their current level of play (is it a surge or a new baseline?), but through four games, their schizophrenic body of work sneaks them into the Top 25.

Missouri (AP 'Rank': 28th, F/+ Rank: 16th). Missouri has benefited from two near-perfect performances against bad teams (Miami-Ohio and McNeese State, or "FCS Tier 2" as they are known in the database -- you can still move up in the rankings by playing these teams if you completely and totally annihilate them), along with surprisingly decent F/+ rankings from their two other opponents, Illinois (No. 52) and San Diego State (No. 70 and rising). They are a team that has proven very little, but hasn't done anything too wrong just yet.

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

The biggest oddity in this week's F/+ rankings still has to be the presence of Virginia at No. 25. Their resume consists of two wins over FCS teams and a loss to USC, but the way they have gone about things still keeps them in the rankings for another week. One FCS victim was a "Tier 1" team in Richmond. FCS Tier 1 teams have claimed victims and provided multiple scares so far this season, and the fact that Virginia was able to eventually win rather easily against the Spiders did them favors. Plus, as mentioned last week, holding USC to just 17 points and 329 total yards looks more impressive with each passing week. Their ratings fell this past week just by playing an "FCS Tier 5" team in VMI, but we will not have to wait long to find out if Virginia's early ratings are a 50-percent mirage or 100-percent. They play Florida State, Georgia Tech, and North Carolina in the next three weeks. Go 2-1 in these games, and they will officially be a dark horse ACC contender. Go 1-2 or 0-3, and it will be clear that they will be scraping to make a bowl.

Upset Watch

Virginia over Florida State. Spread: Virginia +7 | F/+ Projection: Virginia by 7.8. Obviously if the F/+ ratings have the Hoos at No. 25 and Florida State at No. 38, and if the game is in Charlottesville, then Virginia will be the predicted victor. As I said, we will find out if Virginia is even semi-legitimate soon enough.

Kentucky over Ole Miss. Spread: Kentucky +3 | F/+ Projection: Kentucky by 1.2. The Rebels certainly looked better this past weekend than they did all year, but they still showed plenty of defensive deficiencies that Randall Cobb and the Wildcats might be able to exploit. (Side note: I cannot possibly be the only person who continuously wants to call Randall Cobb, "Tex," right? It is almost too easy and/or obvious.)

Michigan State over Wisconsin. Spread: Michigan State +2 | F/+ Projection: Michigan State by 2.5. Again, if Wisconsin is truly a dark horse Big Ten contender, they will find a way to beat a salty Spartans club. Michigan State will likely have plenty of early adrenaline pumping with the return of coach Mark Dantonio to the sidelines just two weeks after suffering a mild heart attack. (And on another side note, a wag of the finger to Coach Dantonio for setting the "returning to work" bar a little too high. I realize that installing a stent is almost a routine procedure at this point, but still. You were back at work in about nine days or so? Come on, coach.)

Miami (Ohio) over Kent State. Spread: Miami (OH) +3 | F/+ Projection: Miami (OH) by 5.6. I just wanted to mention this one so I could say that I have absolutely no idea how 1-2 Kent could be favored by three on the road against 2-2 Miami. I don't want to say that Miami is some juggernaut -- though they deserve congratulations for needing only three weeks to surpass last year's win total -- but how in the world are the Golden Flashes favored here?

The Playlist

Since we're in sharing some truths ...

"Gimme Some Truth," by John Lennon
"Let the Truth Sting," by David Gray
"True Love" and "True Love Pt. 2" by X
"True Love Tends To Forget," by Bob Dylan
"True Magic," by Mos Def
"True Reflections," by Dave Matthews Band
"True Urban Grit (T.U.G.)" by D.J. Nu-Mark
"The Truth," by Handsome Boy Modeling School
"Truth Is," by Brother Ali
"Truth No. 2," by the Dixie Chicks.

That makes two David Gray songs in two weeks. I am not sure what to think about that.

Ask the Expert

With Stanford's surge to near the top of the F/+ rankings, I contacted the San Francisco Chronicle's Tom FitzGerald for a Stanford-related Q&A.

Bill Connelly: In college football, the best predictor of future program success is past success. Because of that, Football Outsiders had Stanford projected just 37th -- their four-year track record has been far from excellent. How has Jim Harbaugh managed to build what seems like a rather stout program, at a non-traditional power, in what really is a short amount of time?

Tom FitzGerald: First, he's a terrific recruiter. You've got to have talented players to build a program this good, and he has done that. The last two recruiting classes were top-25 groups, and the 2011 group is supposed to be even better than the last two. Second, he is a gifted motivator. Some of his slogans may sound corny to hardened media people like myself, but the kids buy into it. He preaches a kind of blue-collar, tough guy mentality; this isn't at all the typical Stanford team, which had a fine quarterback, a few good skill people and not much defense. Harbaugh wants to run the ball down your throat. Third, he is a very good offensive coordinator. He calls the plays, which frequently include double-tight ends but run out of a wide variety of formations. Fourth, he has Andrew Luck, the best quarterback in the country.

BC: Despite their reputation as a bullying, power offense, Stanford ranks much higher in passing (8th in our Passing S&P+ measure) than rushing (88th). The rankings are volatile this early in the season, so everything might balance out later on, but how successful do you feel the running game has been so far? Is the run important to the success of the pass, or is Andrew Luck already reaching "he could do it all himself" status?

TF: The running game obviously isn't as strong as it was last year with Toby Gerhart, but it is very important to the passing game in helping sell the play-action. So far I'd say the running backs are just average in the Pac-10. That might change as Stepfan Taylor or Tyler Gaffney get more experience. Thanks to Luck, Stanford can win with an average ground game, but, no, he can't do it all.

BC: So far this season, the Cardinal have put together one of the better rushing defenses in the country (10th in Rushing S&P+). Is this sustainable? How will they match up against Oregon's speed this weekend?

TF: They don't have the speed that Oregon has. Few teams do, for that matter. Under new coodinator Vic Fangio, the defense has been very sound and has been good at switching things from snap to snap to keep offenses guessing. The outside LBs -- Chase Thomas and Thomas Keiser -- are good, and so is inside LB Shayne Skov. The other inside backer, Owen Marecic, is still learning. The secondary is much improved over last year, when it wasn't very good at all. So I expect James to gash them once or twice, and otherwise the rushing defense will be sound. For the season, the defense should be excellent if the first four games are any indication.

BC: Again, the rankings are volatile and can shift greatly from week to week, but the Pac-10 currently has the No. 4, No. 5, No. 7, No. 13, No. 15 and No. 16 teams in the country. UCLA killed Texas, Stanford killed Notre Dame, Oregon killed Tennessee, California killed Colorado ... the conference has always had star power, but is the depth truly that strong at this point? Are there 5-6 legitimate Top 15-20 teams?

TF: The Pac-10 has looked very good so far. I guess I'm still a little skeptical, though. In Stanford's case, Wake Forest and Notre Dame weren't very good. Tennessee isn't very good either, and Colorado is awful. So far the big wins were UCLA beating Houston and Texas and Arizona beating Iowa. Those were terrific. I don't think there will be more than four teams in the Top 20 because some of the good Pac-10 teams will have two losses in short order, so they'll be bounced out. I wish Pac-10 teams would schedule more aggressively (hello, Ducks).

Closing Thoughts

Since F/+ picks are bombing so badly this year against the spread (at least compared to last year), I am going to pound my chest for just one second. In SDA yesterday, I suggested that the Texas A&M-Oklahoma State game could come down to the yards-versus-turnovers battle when A&M has the ball. Indeed, the Aggies gained 535 yards but turned the ball over an incredible five times and lost by three. In the last two ballgames, against Florida International and Oklahoma State, Jerrod Johnson has personally lost two fumbles and thrown eight interceptions. When he is rolling, he is so fun to watch; I have mentioned before that in some ways, he is what people think Jake Locker is. But when he is off, it gets very painful, very quickly ... which, unfortunately, is also comparable to Jake Locker.


26 comments, Last at 03 Oct 2010, 2:31pm

1 Re: Varsity Numbers: Four Truths

TF: The Pac-10 has looked very good so far. I guess I'm still a little skeptical, though. In Stanford's case, Wake Forest and Notre Dame weren't very good. Tennessee isn't very good either, and Colorado is awful. So far the big wins were UCLA beating Houston and Texas and Arizona beating Iowa. Those were terrific. I don't think there will be more than four teams in the Top 20 because some of the good Pac-10 teams will have two losses in short order, so they'll be bounced out. I wish Pac-10 teams would schedule more aggressively (hello, Ducks).

I'm not sure that scheduling Tennessee at Knoxville 5 years ago should be viewed as a slight against the Ducks. Is that better or worse than scheduling Notre Dame when they were coached by Ty Willingham? Or scheduling Wake Forest?

Oregon is playing LSU next season in Texas. Oregon regularly schedules at least one fairly competitive OoC game against a BCS team and one against a non-OoC team. Oregon's played Michigan, Boise State, Utah, Oklahoma, Fresno State, Purdue, Mississippi State (in Mississippi)'s not like they have control about how good those teams are when they play them. And the Portland State game was supposed to be against a more competitive team as well. They had scheduled Georgia for 2015, but Georgia backed out of it.

So I'm not sure how much more aggressively the Ducks can schedule. Most of the time you can't just change things in one year.

4 Scheduling isn't always the problem

They had the same problem with Purdue that they did with Tennessee: they scheduled a home-and-home with the Boilers back when Purdue was regularly making bowl appearances. By the time the games came up, the bottom had fallen out in West Lafayette, and even though both were close, hard-fought games, in neither case would Oregon get a boost to their SOS (Purdue finished 4-8 and 5-7 those years).

Besides, there's still no real upside to a difficult schedule, and the risks are obvious, especially for teams with fewer non-conference games.

6 Re: Scheduling isn't always the problem

There's some upside. From a schedule perspective there's very little upside; ranking doesn't help, games are harder, etc. From a revenue perspective every 'big' game against a BCS team or a good team makes it more likely you'll have a national TV game, and that's a very large part of revenue.

I kinda hope that this is the sort of thing going forward schools look at. They can't do that without a playoff-like mechanism, but if that exists they can make a lot of money scheduling nonconf games with big TV payoffs that don't wreck their team if they lose.

Oregon's also got some MASSIVE recruiting wins because of games like this. The win at Michigan in 2007 and the win at Tennessee both helped recruiting quite a bit. The game against USC last year had about 20 recruits at the game watching, and most signed with the Ducks. Big games can have a big influence on the media and recruiting too.

14 Re: Scheduling isn't always the problem

Besides, there's still no real upside to a difficult schedule,

Money. And it's not just the "national TV game" revenue suggested above. Having a big game on the schedule means there's more demand for your tickets, which means there's more donations into the alumni association.

That should also suggest why teams don't have multiple top-level opponents in a year. Not because of the risk, but because there's not nearly as much benefit with two versus one as compared with one versus zero.

and the risks are obvious,

I would be absolutely amazed if ADs gave a crap about the 'risks' of playing a good team. Scheduling is already ridiculously difficult. Trying to estimate how good a team might or might not be 5 or 6 years in the future is just a total waste of time.

2 Re: Varsity Numbers: Four Truths

I wrote on the SDA thread so I will comment again. You realize that if you do not post the BTBS picks that they will go like 40-10 right?

5 Re: Varsity Numbers: Four Truths

Really like this format BC. Feel like I learn more in this kind of article than from a week of wire service style stuff at the mainstream sites.

Isn't the pick performance of F+ this year pretty much in line with what a composite of what FEI and SP did last year? Are you comparing F+ to SP? Or, the composite?

I expressed concerns over the summer that merging the two might water down what was working for SP last year (forgive me if I'm abbreviating it wrong, going from memory and I'm on my way out the door). Is there any way to check that? Is there a version of SP that's still separate in one of your desk drawers somewhere that can be compared to the new composite? Something that seems like an improvement doesn't always work out that way.

Plus...don't let a month get you down anyway. The sample size needed to draw real conclusions is huge. A poster at gambling sites named Kimlee once said something like...if you see an impressive won-lost record on picks...add 400 to each side and see if it still impresses you. When THAT happens, you've got something.

Unfortunately it takes a big horizon to determine if the merging was an improvement for picks or not. At least we can get a sense of how the numerical differences may be "writing the scripts" of the upcoming games differently.

Took Edison a zillion adjustments before he had a light bulb. He probably thought he was as close at tweak 17 as he was at tweak 70. Eventually, something lights up...

16 Re: Varsity Numbers: Four Truths

Technically the S&P+ is the same as it was last year -- I've just been using F/+ for picks. It's correlated more closely to season-long success, but it is apparently less accurate in terms of making ATS picks. Lots of slightly different iterations of the formulas to try...never enough time. And yes, I was comparing this year's F/+ picks performance to last year's S&P+ performance. Like comparing apples and...pears, I realize.

22 Re: Varsity Numbers: Four Truths

Thanks...and thanks for the link to the lengthier report for all the games. Hope you'll be more specific in the future with the apples and pears stuff. Confusing I think to talk about how well apples did last year when bananas struggled and oranges were historically out of synch with reality...then the computer portion of this year's fruit salad is a mix of apples and bananas merged into the shape of a pear.

Just say the pears haven't yet lived up to what the apples did...and be careful in overstating what the apples did (55-60% was stretching it based on the archives showing 54% for apples...and WAY below that for the whole FO fruit salad).

See how clear that was? (lol)

The horizon for evaluation of a record really is about 1,000 picks. Don't sweat the ebb and flow of the experimental tweaking. Plus, the market can factor in non-computer model elements like injuries, travel, letdowns, returns from injury, etc. And, the F+ composite may not have enough influence from the non FBS games too. The sharps that shape the line have a lot in their arsenal, and the flexibility to react to news.

7 Re: Varsity Numbers: Four Truths

Your elucidation of the "four truths" was one of the clearest and most interesting things I've read about football in some time. Thank you.

8 Virginia

is an interesting case. My own system is also basically shouting "Take them! They don't suck!" too. We'll see whether it's a function of just not having much data or if it really means something.

As for Wisc-MSU, honestly I don't either one of them is particularly good. @ East Lansing I'm thinking that Wisc laying any points is a bit too much, but we'll see.

10 Re: Virginia

In reply to by cfn_ms

cfnms, can you ask BC to clarify what he's talking about with the picks? Either he has me on "ignore" or I made him mad with a comment somewhere along the line (lol). Two weeks now I've asked about that.

Regarding why Kent State is -3 at Miami of Ohio in the article query...those aren't teams I follow, but Dr. Bob (featured on ESPN's E:60 show or whatever it's called, and in some major publications) has a decent write-up that puts the game near the number.

Basic theory seems to be that Kent State has been good against the run vs. Penn State and BC...meaning Miami of Ohio will be forced to rely on their INT-prone QB to move the ball.

Tough to know how much credit to give Miami for good stats in the Florida game. Wins have been over horrible Eastern Michigan and Colorado State. Losses to good Florida and Missouri teams. Kent's win was over Murray State, losses came on the road to Penn State and BC. Looks like a combo of where the market started them out at heading into the the defensive stuff about Kent...

18 Re: Virginia

In reply to by Jeff Fogle


To be honest, I struggle to see how that line makes sense either. After clicking on the link, the interception logic makes a certain amount of sense. However, doesn't that cut both ways? Kent's running game has been AWFUL, and they've got an INT-prone QB of their own.

I'd also point out that the only game where Dysert looked particularly INT-prone this year was @ Florida (4 picks)... and I really wouldn't read much of anything into that one (huge underdog, down all game, brutal heat, etc.). QB was respectable in other games, including @ Mizzou.

Also, the only halfway-decent performances by either team have been by Miami, bludgeoning CSU (bottom 30, sure, but aren't necessarily bottom 10 in 1-A) and giving Florida at least something of a game.

FWIW, I'm pretty damn sure Florida is top 15 at the very least (not really sure about Mizzou). At the end of the day, Kent's ugly losses @ Penn St and BC may have come to two non-top 25 teams. However, Kent is off a bye, which is a good edge to have. That said... the line looks way off to me as well. I'm inclined to think Miami(OH) should be laying a point or two (or maybe even more), not getting three.

21 Re: Virginia

In reply to by cfn_ms

Did a little digging. Looks like it might be a market response to the projected return of star Kent RB Eugene Jarvis. He pulled a groin in the opener and missed the BC and Penn State games. His return isn't certain though. I think the line opened Miami as a small favorite and moved toward Kent. So, this may have been a news-related move. Or, the combo of some math models making it Kent by 2-3 (Dr. Bob had it there, and Phil Steele had it in that range too with his process) plus the possible return.

24 Re: Virginia

In reply to by Jeff Fogle

Looks like Jarvis didn't come back. Miami gets a blocked punt return for a TD on the way to a 27-21 win. YPP: Kent 4.7, Miami 4.6, with the 21-20 edge in points scored offense vs. defense for the visitors. Tight.

Dr. Bob was right about Kent shutting down the run (1.8 ypc allowed on 29 rushes). Cfnms was on the money about the Kent QB being just as pick-prone. He had two. Dysert of Miami had none in 47 attempts. BC nails an upset call. Congrats to Redhawk rooters...

9 Re: Varsity Numbers: Four Truths

"The old adage of "You can't win a game in the first quarter/half, but you can lose it," rings true."

Personally, I always hated that adage and thought it was nonsense. Football is a zero sum game. When one team loses, the other team wins. If it's possible to lose a game in the first half, then it is equally possible to win it in the first half.

12 Re: Varsity Numbers: Four Truths

A home/ away statistical breakdown of that first half adage would interest me. The point regarding what we remember (the excitement of comeback wins) is well taken, but momentum is a simply gargantuan factor in CFB, and retaining it on the road against roughly equal or superior competition is the mark of a truly outstanding team (see Bama last week). Recently we've seen Clemson and A&M severely outplay Auburn and OSU respectively in the first half, and come away with nothing to show for their trouble. Jerrod Johnson is the simple answer for what happened to A&M (his mechanics were making me cringe all night, even when they had the lead), but I'm still scratching my head trying to figure out what happened to Clemson. I'm very curious if the numbers referenced still hold up when narrowed down to games between conference opponents, or between two teams with a top sixty power ranking, or in facilities known to be death traps to the visiting team. After all, where the talent disparity is massive, of course the first half will dictate how the game ends, and the CFB season is frontloaded with scads of games where this is the case.

Coaches love to say "it's not how you start, it's how you finish". I've seen too many wacky CFB second halves to think this is purely coach-speak hyperbole.

26 Re: Varsity Numbers: Four Truths

Clemson lost to Auburn because of horrible, Tressel-like offensive play-calling. After Clemson went up 17-0 late in the first half, they gave up a bunch of yards to the QB up the middle (prevent defense), letting Auburn kick three in a two-minute drive. After that, no passes on second down in the second half until after Auburn had scored 24 unanswered points. Then, they throw two second down passes, Auburn scores a TD to tie. And then back to running. And only a couple of first down passes in the second half. Any high school fan knows what comes after rush, rush, pass - punt!

I figure Auburn would have scored 10-17 points in the second half if they'd recycled the game plan from the first half.

Against Miami, three interceptions and three fumbles, and Clemson still only lost by 9.

20 Re: Varsity Numbers: Four Truths

Blowhio St looking all the part of an elite team just dominating Illinois in the 1st half...


Men are more ready to repay an injury than a benefit because gratitude is a burden and revenge a pleasure.

23 Re: Varsity Numbers: Four Truths

FIX IS IN!!!!!!!!!!11

refs give BLOWHIO st the magic 1st down when obviously short on 4th and 1.

I hope Capt'n SweaterVest gets Stuart Scott'd.

Men are more ready to repay an injury than a benefit because gratitude is a burden and revenge a pleasure.

25 Re: Varsity Numbers: Four Truths

Needless to say, the verdict on Virginia is probably in. Survey says ... likely statistical mirage.