TDs: The Runs Batted In of College Football Statistics (Part Two)

Okay, so last time around, I talked about Points Per Play (PPP) as the football version of Slugging %.  In baseball, OPS (On-Base + Slugging) is one of the most telling, easy, reliable stats around.  It's great because it's flexible.  There are two different ways to put together a strong OPS--either by getting on base a lot or by hitting for power--and the best hitters do both.  You find consistency and explosiveness in one measure.

So if PPP is equivalent to Slugging % (explosiveness), what's equivalent to On-Base % (consistency)?  Success Rate, that's what.

In its most basic form, Success Rate is simply the percentage of time in which a play is deemed `successful'.  It is a measure I culled from Football Outsiders and tweaked to fit my own purposes.  How is 'success' determined?

Here are the rules according to down:

1st Down: 50% of necessary yardage.  If it's 1st-and-10, you need 5 yards for 'success'.  

2nd Down: 70% of necessary yardage (rounded up to the nearest yard, of course).  If it's 2nd-and-10, you need 7 yards for 'success'.  2nd-and-15?  10 yards.

3rd and 4th Downs: 100% of necessary yardage.  I figure this requires no explanation.

In all, any given play has about a 43% chance of 'success.'  

Success Rate measures consistency the same way that On-Base % does for baseball.  It's a lot harder to score in baseball if you're not getting on-base.  Sure, you can still hit a homerun, but in general, less people on-base leads to less scoring opportunities, which leads to less runs.

In football, a low success rate limits your chances in the same way.  Sure, you can score on a 99-yard TD run, and sure, you can consistently gain 10 yards on 3rd-and-9 to sustain a drive (leading to something like a 33.3% success rate)...but you're playing with fire.  The odds of consistently moving the ball like that are minimal.

To illustrate the usefulness of Success Rates, let's look at the success rates for each of the Big 12 Offenses.

1.    Texas Tech 53.6%
2.    Missouri 51.0%
3.    Oklahoma State 50.2%
4.    Kansas 50.1%
5.    Nebraska 48.8%
6.    Oklahoma 48.9%
7.    Texas 47.4%
8.    Texas A&M 45.7%
9.    Kansas State 45.5%
10.    Colorado 39.6%
11.    Baylor 38.5%
12.    Iowa State 36.5%

Aside from a couple exceptions (Nebraska above Texas?), that's pretty much a rundown of the conference's top offenses, is it not?

Success Rate is a fantastic tool, and I used it more than just about anything else when I was previewing Mizzou games this year (example here).  It can be used to judge teams in every possible way--how they do in close games, how well they run (or defend the run), how well they play in the redzone, et cetera.

And it becomes an even better tool when teamed with the Points Per Play (PPP) measure we discussed in Part One.  Quick recap: based on the average number of points scored from any yardline on the field, I came up with a way to create a `point value' for each play of a game by comparing the beginning value of a play compared to where it ended up.  It is the "slugging %" to Success Rate's "on-base %" in the OPS equation.  So if On-Base Plus Slugging = OPS, then what is Success Rate plus Points Per Play?  S&P!

S&P, like Success Rate, is an extremely versatile tool.  You can compare offenses, defenses, running backs, just about anything.  To illustrate the usefulness of S&P, let's look at the four Heisman finalists.

Tim Tebow

PASSING: 52.5% success rate + 0.62 PPP = 1.15 S&P
RUSHING: 54.8% success rate + 0.54 PPP = 1.09 S&P
ALL PLAYS BEHIND CENTER: 54.6% success rate + 0.53 PPP = 1.08 S&P

Colt Brennan

PASSING: 53.7% success rate + 0.53 PPP = 1.07 S&P
RUSHING: 47.2% success rate + 0.38 PPP = 0.86 S&P
ALL PLAYS BEHIND CENTER: 52.9% success rate + 0.44 PPP = 0.97 S&P

Chase Daniel

PASSING: 51.4% success rate + 0.46 PPP = 0.97 S&P
RUSHING: 47.1% success rate + 0.38 PPP = 0.86 S&P
ALL PLAYS BEHIND CENTER: 50.4% success rate + 0.39 PPP = 0.90 S&P

For the three QB finalists, you can start to see how this single number--S&P--can take into account everything from Tebow's rushing TDs to Brennan's insane yardage totals to Daniel's nation-leading third down percentage.  They had similar numbers, though when schedule strength is taken into account (I've got ways to do this, but not until I have everybody's games entered), Tebow comes out far ahead.  It's why I'd have voted for him even though I wasn't remarkably impressed with the 20 mostly-short-yardage rushing TDs.

Okay, so I just came up with a complete different way to determine that Tim Tebow should have won the Heisman.  Woo.  I could have used yards and TDs to figure that out.  What use do these new-fangled stats have if they're just going to lead to the same conclusions as the, uhh, old-fangled stats?  That's where Darren McFadden comes in.

Darren McFadden

RUSHING: 46.8% success rate + 0.34 PPP = 0.81 S&P

And he was the QB in the WildHog Formation, so...

ALL PLAYS BEHIND CENTER: 48.3% success rate + 0.71 PPP = 1.19 S&P

As a point of comparison, McFadden's 0.81 S&P would have been #13 in the Big 12.  Jorvorskie Lane (ATM) had a 1.09, DeMarco Murray (OU) a 0.97, and Chris Brown (OU) had a 0.85.

McFadden is obviously very good, but the consensus "best RB in college football" wasn't as effective at running the ball in 2007 as he was at being a threat to run the ball...if that makes any sense.  With McFadden sharing the backfield, Felix Jones pulled off an insane 1.17 rushing S&P, and the WildHog was quite effective in giving McFadden the option of running, throwing, or handing to Jones and Peyton Hillis.  But for every highlight reel run McFadden ripped off this season, there were about 10 1-yard runs.  This is why a theoretically explosive offense like Arkansas' ground to a halt against good defenses like Auburn (lost 9-7) and Missouri (lost 38-7).  The offense was perceived as better than it actually was, and its low success rate (44.6% for the season) and S&P (0.81...the same as stagnant Texas A&M's) betrayed it throughout the season.

(And here's another interesting stat: McFadden accounted for 111.04 `points' running the ball in 2007.  Tebow accounted for 107.05.)

In other words, there's a reason why Darren McFadden didn't deserve the Heisman, no matter how good he looks in the open field.  It wasn't his fault that Arkansas' passing game sucked, and it wasn't his fault that defenses did whatever they could to force other players to beat them...but you have to be more than a threat to win the Heisman--you have to still produce as well.

Okay, time for another plea.  I really want to be able to test the limits of S&P, PPP, Success Rates, and lots of other stats I have yet to reveal, but I'm in need of some volunteers to help me plow through the remaining 2007 games.  As I mentioned last time, games take about 30 minutes to enter (once you figure out what you're doing), and you can feel free to enter games for whichever team you like (other than the ones I've already done, anyway--Big 12, Hawaii, Florida, Arkansas).  

If you want to help either shoot me a response on this thread with your e-mail address, or contact me at  Thanks again.

All comments on 'Sunday Morning Quarterback' are the views of the individual commenter and do not necessarily reflect the genius of SMQ, Sports Blog Nation, etc.

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