# Varsity Numbers Runs Up the Score

Varsity Numbers Runs Up the Score
Photo: USA Today Sports Images

by Bill Connelly

It comes up a lot. Up 50 in the fourth quarter, Superior Team A goes long on Inferior Team B. A fan of Team B accuses Team A of being classless, while a fan of Team A says they were just running their offense.

Your opinion regarding the definition of "running up the score" usually varies based on whether you are the victor or the victim. Thanks to Wisconsin's recent exploits (they scored 70 points three times this season, including twice in the last three weeks), I've been thinking about the concept recently, so I thought it would be interesting to take a look at it from a numbers perspective. What does it look like, and who does it? Which teams take their foot off the gas, and which give you a middle finger and say "It's your job to stop us?"

## The Style Points Quotient

Sometimes running up the score cannot be avoided. If the other team cannot get out of its own way and stop making mistakes, the points will continue to flow. In 1993, Texas A&M tried its hardest not to score any more points on Missouri, but the Tigers continued to implode, and the final score was 73-0. Ten years later, the shoe was on the other foot when A&M lost to Oklahoma, 77-0, despite the Sooners throwing only three passes in the second half and downing the ball inside the A&M 5-yard line in the fourth quarter. Other times, however, there is intent. The idea here is to find out who appears to have the highest level of disregard for decorum. We'll call it the Style Points Quotient, but if we were to take a page out of the Bill Simmons handbook, we could just as easily call it the Eff You Quotient.

Here are the components of the Style Points Quotient:

S&P Differential: This is the difference between a team's S&P under "close" circumstances and its S&P when a game is no longer close. Michigan State slows down significantly -- their 0.892 close-game S&P falls to 0.641 when the game has been, for all intents and purposes, put away. Meanwhile, if you are looking for stat-padders, head to Baton Rouge and DeKalb. LSU improves from 0.742 S&P to 1.046 when the game is out of reach, and Northern Illinois goes from 0.922 to 1.135.

Run% Differential: This is the difference in a team's run-pass splits when the game is close and when it isn't. Oklahoma runs only 42.1 percent of the time under close circumstances, but when the game is no longer close, they run 67.4 percent of the time, a 60-percent increase.

Passing PPP Differential: This is the difference between a team's Passing PPP rating when games are close and when they are not. It's one thing to pass when you're up big; it's another to pass aggressively. To no one's surprise, Wisconsin goes for the throat and squeezes in this category. They don't pass much, but when they do, it's a home-run ball. Meanwhile, Michigan State doesn't really throw with any lower frequency when up big, but they are extremely conservative in doing so.

Below we will use these three measures to determine which team shows the most aggressive tendencies when up big. The Style Points Quotient figure below is a sum of each team's rankings in the three categories. (And no, a sum of rankings is not really a "quotient"; the name was too fun to pass up.)

For the purposes of this list, we are only looking at the nation's top one-third of teams in terms of overall percentage of points scored. These are the teams most likely to have had multiple opportunities to prove themselves in run-it-up situations.

We are leaving defense completely out of this. A result of running up the score is expanding on your lead. There is less objection to leaving your first-string defense on the field to make sure the lead doesn't shrink.

 Team S&PDiff Rk Run%Diff. Rk Pass.PPPDiff. Rk STYLEPOINTSQUOTIENT Navy +0.202 4 -2.0% 2 +0.32 2 8 Wisconsin +0.165 5 +13.2% 10 +0.47 1 16 Central Florida +0.022 20 +7.4% 8 +0.26 3 31 Arizona +0.110 9 +15.7% 13 +0.13 11 33 Texas A&M +0.150 6 +20.3% 22 +0.19 6 34 Nebraska +0.016 22 +7.4% 7 +0.19 5 34 Nevada +0.116 7 +18.9% 19 +0.15 9 35 Oklahoma State +0.078 12 +22.6% 23 +0.23 4 39 Florida +0.069 14 +6.2% 5 +0.04 21 40 Maryland +0.210 3 +36.2% 32 +0.19 8 43 Team S&PDiff Rk Run%Diff. Rk Pass.PPPDiff. Rk STYLEPOINTSQUOTIENT Georgia -0.011 25 +14.5% 11 +0.19 7 43 Florida State +0.048 16 +14.7% 12 +0.08 16 44 Air Force -0.002 23 +9.6% 9 +0.11 14 46 Illinois -0.013 26 -2.2% 1 +0.05 19 46 Northern Illinois +0.213 2 +33.2% 29 +0.06 17 48 N.C. State +0.107 10 +17.0% 16 +0.03 22 48 Auburn +0.098 11 +6.0% 4 -0.15 36 51 LSU +0.304 1 +18.8% 18 -0.12 35 54 Miami +0.116 8 +31.0% 27 -0.02 27 62 Missouri +0.019 21 +24.6% 24 +0.06 18 63 Team S&PDiff Rk Run%Diff. Rk Pass.PPPDiff. Rk STYLEPOINTSQUOTIENT Western Michigan +0.038 17 +45.7% 35 +0.12 12 64 Virginia Tech -0.049 29 +6.7% 6 -0.04 29 64 Oregon +0.026 19 +28.7% 25 +0.02 23 67 Ohio State -0.022 27 +17.8% 17 +0.00 24 68 TCU -0.003 24 +34.9% 30 +0.11 15 69 West Virginia +0.070 13 +37.2% 33 -0.01 25 71 Utah +0.062 15 +31.7% 28 -0.08 33 76 Arkansas +0.028 18 +29.9% 26 -0.06 32 76 Louisville -0.080 33 +16.9% 15 -0.02 28 76 Iowa -0.032 28 +49.5% 37 +0.12 13 78 Team S&PDiff Rk Run%Diff. Rk Pass.PPPDiff. Rk STYLEPOINTSQUOTIENT Oklahoma -0.055 30 +60.1% 40 +0.13 10 80 Michigan State -0.251 40 +0.9% 3 -0.17 37 80 Connecticut -0.060 32 +16.5% 14 -0.21 40 86 Boise State -0.129 36 +34.9% 31 +0.05 20 87 Clemson -0.107 35 +19.1% 20 -0.10 34 89 Alabama -0.057 31 +50.9% 38 -0.02 26 95 South Carolina -0.247 39 +19.7% 21 -0.19 38 98 Hawaii -0.100 34 +46.7% 36 -0.06 31 101 San Diego State -0.153 38 +58.0% 39 -0.04 30 107 Stanford -0.148 37 +37.5% 34 -0.20 39 110

Last season against USC, Stanford scored to go up 48-21 midway through the fourth quarter; they went for two to try to hit 50 points. They failed (though they would later score to make the final 55-21), but in the postgame handshake, USC coach Pete Carroll famously asked Stanford coach Jim Harbaugh, "What's your deal?" Either that moment belied Harbaugh's true tendencies, or it turned them around, as no team goes out of its way not to run up the score more than Harbaugh's Cardinal. Their offense grinds to a halt, they almost completely run the ball, and when they do throw, it is safe and conservative. They have been so effective, however, that this conservatism has not prevented them from winning four of their last five contests by at least 25 points and scoring fewer than 31 points just once all season.

At the opposite end of the spectrum, it should come as no surprise that Wisconsin ranks the highest among major-conference teams. Though they do run the ball more frequently when up big, their overall S&P improves considerably and their few passes are downfield. Central Florida and Navy have not had many opportunities to show their tendencies in blowout situations (Navy has won only one game by more than 18 points, though UCF has won four by more than 20), but they stayed aggressive in those situations. Among BCS conference teams, Arizona, Texas A&M, and Nebraska have all kept their foot on the gas a while, but teams like Alabama and South Carolina have not.

Do teams' tendencies in blowout situations show hints of a mindset that is, overall, more or less likely to succeed? Not at all. Both the Top 10 and bottom 10 teams on the above list had a combined win percentage of 0.7627. Once you are up big, your play-calling does nothing but hint at your own personality. Either way, you are winning in a blowout.

What about a White Flag Index? Which teams most completely give up when down big? Ball State might take home this prize -- its S&P stays mostly the same when down big, but they run the ball 70 percent of the time (and increase from 54 percent while the game was close), and their Passing PPP drops from 0.33 to 0.29. Among major-conference teams, Wake Forest waves the biggest white flag. The Deacons' S&P suffers slightly, their run percentage stays at 57 percent, and their Passing PPP falls from 0.27 to 0.20.

(If we were mean, we would name this the Bob Stoops Index for his exploits in Columbia this year, but we aren't mean. Stoops elected to punt late in the game with Oklahoma down nine points to Missouri. He explained that he did this to make sure Oklahoma didn't get further stomped and lose ground in the polls and BCS standings. Guess what: It ended up being the smart move, as Oklahoma's BCS ranking got them into the Big 12 title game in a tie-breaker with Oklahoma State and Texas A&M. But that doesn't mean it was a brave and noble act, safe from mocking.)

## F/+ Rankings

Full rankings here.

 F/+ Top 25 (After 13 Weeks) RK TEAM RECORD F/+ LAST WK CHG S&P+ RK FEI RK OFF.F/+ RK DEF.F/+ RK 1 Boise State 10-1 +31.2% 1 +0 280.6 1 0.221 12 +15.2% 6 +16.0% 2 2 Auburn 12-0 +30.0% 2 +0 255.0 4 0.324 1 +25.7% 1 +4.3% 40 3 Ohio State 11-1 +26.8% 4 +1 260.9 2 0.232 7 +11.8% 14 +15.0% 4 4 Alabama 9-3 +26.8% 3 -1 254.5 5 0.263 2 +17.3% 3 +9.5% 20 5 Stanford 11-1 +23.9% 6 +1 243.3 7 0.262 3 +16.2% 5 +7.7% 24 6 TCU 12-0 +23.8% 5 -1 255.5 3 0.198 15 +8.2% 24 +15.6% 3 7 Arkansas 10-2 +23.5% 8 +1 242.0 8 0.261 4 +16.3% 4 +7.3% 25 8 South Carolina 9-3 +23.5% 7 -1 249.2 6 0.224 10 +12.5% 11 +11.0% 13 9 Virginia Tech 10-2 +21.5% 9 +0 234.4 13 0.258 5 +11.9% 13 +9.6% 19 10 Oklahoma 10-2 +21.3% 11 +1 240.6 9 0.223 11 +9.9% 16 +11.4% 11 F/+ Top 25 (After 13 Weeks) RK TEAM RECORD F/+ LAST WK CHG S&P+ RK FEI RK OFF.F/+ RK DEF.F/+ RK 11 Wisconsin 11-1 +19.9% 10 -1 234.5 12 0.225 9 +13.5% 7 +6.3% 27 12 Oregon 11-0 +19.5% 15 +3 227.4 20 0.253 6 +10.5% 15 +9.0% 22 13 LSU 10-2 +18.1% 16 +3 226.7 24 0.229 8 +5.8% 32 +12.3% 8 14 Miami-FL 7-5 +18.1% 12 -2 236.9 10 0.178 19 +4.7% 35 +13.4% 7 15 Missouri 10-2 +17.9% 13 -2 232.4 17 0.197 16 +7.4% 28 +10.6% 15 16 Nebraska 10-2 +17.8% 17 +1 230.4 19 0.204 13 +6.6% 29 +11.2% 12 17 Florida State 9-3 +17.6% 21 +4 233.0 15 0.188 17 +13.3% 8 +4.3% 39 18 West Virginia 8-3 +17.6% 24 +6 230.5 18 0.199 14 -1.0% 70 +18.6% 1 19 Oklahoma State 10-2 +17.1% 18 -1 234.0 14 0.172 20 +12.6% 10 +4.5% 35 20 Texas A&M 9-3 +15.6% 19 -1 232.8 16 0.147 23 +2.0% 50 +13.5% 5 F/+ Top 25 (After 13 Weeks) RK TEAM RECORD F/+ LAST WK CHG S&P+ RK FEI RK OFF.F/+ RK DEF.F/+ RK 21 Iowa 7-5 +15.0% 14 -7 227.2 21 0.164 21 +4.6% 36 +10.4% 16 22 Michigan State 11-1 +14.4% 22 +0 226.6 25 0.155 22 +8.3% 23 +6.1% 29 23 Notre Dame 7-5 +14.4% 27 +4 236.5 11 0.105 31 +3.0% 43 +11.4% 10 24 Pittsburgh 6-5 +13.8% 20 -4 227.0 23 0.141 24 +9.4% 18 +4.4% 37 25 Clemson 6-6 +12.9% 30 +5 224.1 27 0.137 25 -0.5% 64 +13.4% 6

Thanks to the S&P+'s obsession with Boise State, the Broncos remained No. 1 on this list for now. Auburn is within striking distance if it puts together a good performance against South Carolina.

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

Clemson. How does a team lose by 22 to its primary rival and rise five spots? Primarily by playing closer than the score indicated (EqPts: South Carolina 18.6, Clemson 9.8) and by playing some killer run defense. Against Marcus Lattimore and the strong South Carolina running game, Clemson allowed just a 0.276 Rushing S&P and a 0.591 Overall S&P. That allowed the Tigers to rise to sixth in the Defensive F/+ rankings. Meanwhile, Clemson's offense was terrible ... but Clemson's offense is half-terrible, and its offensive rankings did not fall much by being limited severely by a good South Carolina defense.

Clemson, Miami, Pittsburgh, and Iowa are good examples of teams that would have changed perceptions and reputations if they played a 30-game schedule (like college basketball) instead of 12. The biggest enemy for college football statistics is the sample size, and Clemson's 6-6 record -- complete with a 1-4 record in games decided by a touchdown or less -- does not give the best indication of how good the Tigers might be if they turned around and started the 2010 season all over again. They have only four senior starters, and even with the certain departure of sophomore quarterback Kyle Parker to professional baseball and the potential departure of junior defensive end Da'Quan Bowers to the NFL, they will have a lot going for them in next year's F/+ projections.

### AP + F/+ = BCS?

Once again, here is a look at how the BCS standings might play out with a system based 60 percent on the AP poll and 40 percent on F/+ rankings.

1. Auburn (12-0)
2. TCU (12-0)
3. Ohio State (11-1)
4. Stanford (11-1)
5. Oregon (11-0)
6. Boise State (10-1)
7. Wisconsin (10-1)
8. Arkansas (10-2)
9. Oklahoma (10-2)
10. Virginia Tech (10-2)

Something tells me there would be a bit of an uproar with Oregon being fifth, huh?

### Upset Watch

Only two of 19 games this week are projected within four points, and one of them (Arizona-Arizona State) played last night, so the upset pickings are a little slim this week.

Pittsburgh over Cincinnati. Spread: Pittsburgh +2 | F/+ Projection: Pittsburgh by 10.1. Both of FO's computers still like Pittsburgh a reasonable amount -- S&P+ ranks them 20th, FEI 23rd. It is a bit baffling because of their blowout losses to Miami and West Virginia, but c'est la vie. The Bearcats are no great shakes either, of course. But if these two teams wanted to stage a rematch half as thrilling as last year's battle, I won't complain.

## The Playlist

To the end of the regular season ...

"The Beginning of the End," by Guster
"Bitter End," by Dixie Chicks
"The End," by The Beatles
"End of the Day," by Beck
"End of the Line," by Traveling Wilburys
"The End Theme," by Isaac Hayes
"In the End," by Green Day
"It's All Over," by David Gray
"This Is Where It Ends," by Barenaked Ladies
"Why Does It End"? by The Flaming Lips

## Closing Thoughts

If last night's Arizona-Arizona State game is any indication, we could be in for a crazy Championship Weekend. After an all-but-unwatchable first half in which Arizona State took a 6-0 lead, play began to open up in the second half. Arizona seized control with two third-quarter touchdowns, but Arizona State took control with two field goals and a touchdown (with a two-point conversion) in the fourth quarter. The Sun Devils held a 20-14 lead, but Nick Foles' third touchdown pass of the second half tied the game with 27 seconds remaining ... and Arizona State blocked the extra point attempt to send it to overtime. In the second overtime, Arizona's David Douglas scored a touchdown to cut Arizona State's lead to 30-29 ... and then Arizona State blocked another PAT attempt to win the game. I'm sure that probably happened more often in the 1930s or something, but winning a chief rivalry game and potentially becoming bowl eligible (they will need a waiver, since they have two wins over FCS teams) by blocking two late-game PATs? That's a new one for me. With so much on the line this weekend, if that is the level of craziness we can expect, don't leave your television for even one second on Saturday.

12 comments, Last at 06 Dec 2010, 7:31am

### #1 by zlionsfan // Dec 03, 2010 - 1:27pm

I might not be understanding PPP correctly - and I'm definitely not sure I want to be defending Bret Bielema - but isn't PPP looking more at results rather than intent? Throwing the ball when the game is out of reach is sometimes extremely effective simply because the opponent is selling out against the run, expecting that you're just going to run out the clock if you can ... without game-charting information, you can't be sure whether the pass was intended to be a home-run ball or if it was thrown past a nine-man run blitz with no one left to pursue. (And this is why I don't call run blitzes when I'm faced with an insurmountable deficit in Madden: if my opponent is considerate enough to call off the dogs, I shouldn't also expect him to just keep giving me the ball for the rest of the game.)

Points: 0

### #5 by Bill Connelly // Dec 03, 2010 - 2:50pm

You're absolutely right: without complete charting data to figure out how far passes actually traveled, PPP is the closest thing to an aggressiveness measure. A bubble screen taken 99 yards will look like a 99-yard bomb, but it's what we have to work with right now. It's flawed, but it's decent.

Points: 0

### #2 by cfn_ms // Dec 03, 2010 - 2:35pm

ended up winning teh BCS tiebreaker by a fairly comfortable margin. I doubt that whether they lost by 9 or 16 had much to do with it. I can comfortably say, however, that if they had aggressively tried to win and somehow pulled it off, that they'd be ranked VERY highly right now, and if a couple other national games had gone differently, that they'd have been in solid position to get a BCS at-large berth even with a CCG loss.

In other words, I think it was actually a bad decision, except for one thing: by blaming the BCS for his decision to punt, Stoops magically turned the conversation away from the Sooners suffering the upset into one about what's wrong the with the BCS. In terms of helping his team, it was dumb, but in terms of blame-shifting, it was the call of the year.

Points: 0

### #11 by mm (not verified) // Dec 03, 2010 - 11:13pm

The most ridiculous thing is that people grabbed the quote as evidence that a playoff system would be 'better'.

Even if there was a 16 team playoff system, some of the 5 division co-champs from the Big 12 would get left out, and there would almost certainly be humans involved via polls or a panel. If his punting actually helped his BCS cause, it would also help his cause in a playoff system.

Points: 0

### #3 by andrew // Dec 03, 2010 - 2:41pm

No "The End" by the Doors?

That song has become permanently bonded to Apocalypse now for me. I somehow see this scenario where a jaded veteran player is given orders by the BCS to terminate the coaching tenure of coach who has gone insane way up the missouri valley somewhere...

Points: 0

### #4 by Bill Connelly // Dec 03, 2010 - 2:47pm

I went out of my way to assure that there is no Doors music on my iPod.

"Jim Morrison? He's a drunken buffoon posing as a poet. Give me The Guess Who. They got the courage to be drunken buffoons, which makes them poetic."

Points: 0

### #6 by andrew // Dec 03, 2010 - 2:57pm

Yeah, but in the context of the movie....

Cue Spurrier in a hotel room.

Columbia. Shit, I'm still only in Columbia (SC).

Every time, I think I'm gonna wake up back in the swamp. When I was in washington after my first NFL stint it was worse. I'd wake up and there'd be nothing. I hardly said a word to the owner until I said 'yes' to a buyout. When I was here, I wanted to be there. When I was there, all I could think about was being in the swamp. I'm here a week, now. Waiting for an offer. Getting softer. Every minute I stay in this room I get weaker, and every minute Charlie coaches in Louisville he is Strong.

Everyone gets everything he wants. I wanted an SEC title game shot, and for my sins they gave me one. Brought it up to me like room service.

and then he gets a mission to go to the George Dome and take out a Coach who has gone insane in Camnewtonbodia...

Kudos on the Flaming Lips, though. Awesome band (Dell commercials aside)

Points: 0

### #7 by Will Allen // Dec 03, 2010 - 3:53pm

This would work all fine and good, if Auburn had hired Mangino, and he had shaved his head.

Points: 0

### #8 by Will Allen // Dec 03, 2010 - 3:59pm

Also, we need somebody for the Dennis Hopper part....Lee Corso?

Points: 0

### #9 by zlionsfan // Dec 03, 2010 - 4:43pm

not unless Hopper plays a buffoon. (I don't remember the movie well.) Les Miles?

Points: 0

### #10 by Will Allen // Dec 03, 2010 - 4:48pm

Hopper is sort of a chemically induced court jester in the movie. What's not to like? If Peter King did college football, and Brett Favre ballooned to 400 pounds, and then became Auburn's coach, it would then be perfect.

Points: 0

### #12 by Kevin from Philly // Dec 06, 2010 - 7:31am

Miles might be Chef - scared to death of the tiger.

Points: 0

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