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Stat Relevance Watch: Part Ten - Bowl Games

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There are, as they say, lies, damn lies, and statistics. The numbers mean something, yet often we're not sure what. Here SMQ will look at the final regular season statistics in more than a dozen major categories to suss out who succeeded in what and how that statistical success correlated to overall success in terms of final record. SMQ does not have the luxury of a high-powered supercomputer or degree-type qualification in mathematics or statistics, but his analysis will be driven as deep as his egghead, tinfoil cap curiosity and cell phone calculator will take it. That is to say, quasi-scientific at best

Part One: Which stats most closely correlate with success?
Part Two: What do the best teams do best?
Part Three: ACC Game-by-Game Results
Part Four: Big East Game-by-Game Results
Part Five: Big Ten Game-by-Game Results
Part Six: Big XII Game-by-Game Results
Part Seven: Pac-Ten Game-by-Game Results
Part Eight: SEC Game-by-Game Results
Part Nine: Non-Conference Game-by-Game Results


Part Ten: Bowl Game-by-Game Results

The Method: SMQ used ESPN box scores to pull out specific numbers from all 32 bowl games played last postseason, and developed a winning percentage for each of eleven major statistical categories. That is, if the winning team outgained its opponent running the ball, that game was marked as a "victory" for the rush offense category; if the loser had a higher conversion rate on third down, the game was marked as a "defeat" for the third down efficiency category (the stats below are listed in offensive form, but the records are identical as from a defense-centric point of view). And so on for each of the categories in each game until the supply of competitive examples was dry. After which each category's "record" was added up to determine its correlation to victory among the group as a whole.

Another note on the process: the last two editions of "Stats Relevance Watch" have been compiled while watching old episodes of "Freaks and Geeks" on YouTube, which has essentially the entire series in four or five parts per episode, all uploaded in easily-indexed form during the last month or so. So blame anything you find wrong on the distracting genius of Bill Haverchuck, then check it out before NBC or whoever tries to get the clips blocked.

The quick and dirty, portable results:

Rank Category Win %
1. Turnover Margin .870 (20-3)
2. Yards Per Pass .839 (26-5)
3. First to Score .688 (22-11)
4. Time of Possession .645 (20-11)
Yards Per Carry .645 (20-11)
6. Rush Offense .625 (20-12)
7. Total Offense .613 (19-12)
Pass Offense .613 (19-12)
3rd Down Efficiency .613 (19-12)
10. Penalty Yards .385 (10-16)

OCD version and analysis:

Stat Category Win % Stat Category Win %
Total Offense .613 (19-12) Yards Per Carry .645 (20-11)
> 500 .714 (5-2) > 6.0 .600 (3-2)
450-499 .714 (5-2) 5.5 - 5.9 .400 (2-3)
400-449 .636 (7-4) 5.0 - 5.4 .500 (2-2)
350-399 .417 (5-7) 4.5 - 4.9 .714 (5-2)
300-349 .444 (4-5) 4.0 - 4.4 .429 (3-4)
250-299 .333 (3-6) 3.5 - 3.9 .625 (5-3)
< 250 .333 (3-6) 3.0 - 3.4 .600 (3-2)
Pass Offense .613 (19-12) < 3.0 .286 (6-15)
> 400 1.000 (2-0) Yards Per Pass .839 (26-5)
350-399 .600 (3-2) > 12.0 1.000 (2-0)
300-349 .667 (6-3) 10.0 - 11.9 .429 (3-4)
250-299 .385 (5-8) 8.0 - 9.9 .800 (12-3)
200-249 .643 (9-5) 6.0 - 7.9 .542 (13-11)
150-199 .333 (3-6) 4.0 - 5.9 .133 (2-13)
< 150 .333 (4-8) < 4.0 .000 (0-1)
Rush Offense .625 (20-12) Third Down Efficiency .613 (19-12)
> 300 .500 (1-1) > 70% 1.000 (1-0)
250-299 - 60 - 69% 1.000 (1-0)
200-249 .625 (5-3) 50 - 59% .692 (9-4)
150-199 .583 (7-5) 40 - 49% .467 (7-8)
100-149 .579 (11-8) 30 - 39% .500 (10-10)
50-99 .417 (5-7) < 30% .400 (4-10)
< 50 .300 (3-7) Turnover Margin .870 (20-3)
> +3 1.000 (5-0)
Fewest Penalty Yards .385 (10-16) + 2 .857 (6-1)
+ 1 .818 (9-2)
Time of Possession .645 (20-11) 0 .500 (9-9)
-1 .182 (2-9)
First to Score .688 (22-10) -2 .143 (1-6)
< -3 .000 (0-5)

Discrepancies in some totals are due to ties or virtual ties in a couple games per category. Sometimes inconsistent time of possession results were listed for every bowl game. No home team in the postseason, so that category is eliminated here.

Two notcieable trends continue: the strong results of teams that finish with higher averages per pass attempt (a measure of both completion percentage and big play ability) and the awful record of less-penalized teams. As was the case in non-conference games, the theory that penalties have a stronger relationship with offense, and therefore time of possession, gains a little ground because of the similarity of those numbers (in inverted form, of course). Now, it shouldn't be a surprise that a lot of the other numbers are closer to the middle than in conference play at large, bowl games being played among better teams on the whole playing generally closer games, or that it's turnover margin much more than any other factor that makes the difference in such close games. Virtually everywhere else, we see weaker correlations than in regular season games we've already covered, except in one area: first to score. Taking an early lead meant just that little bit more in bowl games than  converting third downs or racking up any but the most outrageousyardage. Of course, there were also at least four fairly wild comebacks (Texas Tech against Minnesota, Oregon State against Missouri, Georgia against Virginia Tech and West Virginia against Georgia Tech), so take that for what it's worth. Of that group, Georgia actually led Virginia Tech early, 3-0.

Part Eleven: Series wrap-up.