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Stats Relevance Watch, Part Four: Into the Trees In the Big East

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Wherein SMQ examines 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. I do not have the luxury of a high-powered supercomputer or degree-type qualification in mathematics or statistics, but analysis here will be driven as deep as my egghead, tinfoil cap curiosity and cell phone calculator will take it. That is to say, quasi-scientific at best. If you've ever said "the only number that matters is the one on the scoreboard" or anything to such effect, click here and don't be such a philistine.
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Part One: Which stats correlate most closely with winning?
Part Two: What do the best teams do the best?
Part Three: ACC Game-by-Game Results


Part Four: Big East Game-by-Game Results

Here I'm looking for what I've referred to previously as "the forest," the big-picture, macro look at the correlation of statistics to winning on a game-by-game basis. To do that, I'm looking hard at game-by-game data (using very useful box scores from ESPN) in each BCS conference to put into a catch-all chart covering hundreds of games. Here are the results from the 2006 season, with each conference's results linked therein; they're also linked on the left sidebar.


Why even bother, Pat?
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For each of the 28 games played among Big East teams last year, I developed a winning percentage for each of eleven major statistical categories (the stats below are listed in offensive form, but merely flip the records for a defense-centric point of view) as well as a pair of "control" categories, "home team" and "first to score." For example, 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. And so on for each of the categories in each game until the supply of examples was dry. At that point, each category's "record" was added up to determine its correlation to victory among the group as a whole.

Like the ACC, the Big East results might not be particularly representative of the national norm because it, too, was a very run-heavy conference: UConn, Rutgers, South Florida and West Virginia were all particularly ground-oriented offenses, and only WVU and Rutgers in the group were very prolific overall. And in the Scarlet Knights' case, that success didn't often carry over from the non-conference creampuffs to Big East teams. But aside from Brian Brohm at Louisville, the passing situation here was generally pretty mediocre, to say the least, and big passing stats meant virtually nothing at all:

Category Win % Record
Rush Yards .852 23-4
Turnover Margin .840 21-4
3rd Down % .741 20-7
Yards/Rush .731 19-7
Yards/Pass .731 19-7
Yards/Play .679 19-9
Total Yards .643 18-10
Time of Possession .607 17-11
First to Score .607 17-11
First Downs .536 15-13
Home Team .536 15-13
Pass Yards .321 9-19
Fewest Penalty Yards .227 5-17

Again, a good rule of thumb is, if it's less relevant than "First to Score," it's basically random. As you'd expect, every yardage-based category except passing offense had a strong correlation to victory here, and teams with better total rushing numbers (remember: a result of the defense stopping the run as much as the offense running well) were completely dominant, winning at better than 80 percent clip. In the same vein, games were competitive enough that turnovers were a nearly immutable indicator of wins and losses.

The OCD version follows the jump...

This year, I categorized the specific numbers in each section according to margins rather than raw production. Where you see + 200-249 under rushing yards, for example, the number is the record of teams that outrushed opponents by somewhere between 200 and 249 yards.

Total Yards .643 (18-10) Yards/Play .679 (19-9)
> + 300 - > + 6.0 -
+ 250-299 3-0 + 5.0-5.9 -
+ 200-249 2-0 + 4.0-4.9 1-0
+ 150-199 0-2 + 3.0-3.9 -
+ 100-149 2-1 + 2.0-2.9 4-0
+ 50-99 5-3 + 1.0-1.9 6-1
< + 50 5-5 < + 1.0 8-8
Rush Yards .852 (23-4) Yards/Rush .731 (19-7)
> + 250 2-0 > + 3.0 4-0
+ 200-249 1-0 + 2.5-2.9 1-0
+ 150-199 2-0 + 2.0-2.4 3-1
+ 100-149 6-0 + 1.5-1.9 4-1
+ 50-99 9-1 + 1.0-1.4 4-1
< + 50 3-3 > + 1.0 3-4
Pass Yards .321 (9-19) Yards/Pass .731 (19-7)
> + 250 - > + 3.0 7-0
+ 200-249 0-1 + 2.5-2.9 2-0
+ 150-199 1-3 + 2.0-2.4 0-1
+ 100-149 1-4 + 1.5-1.9 4-2
+ 50-99 3-6 + 1.0-1.4 2-2
< + 50 4-5 > + 1.0 3-3
3rd Down % .741 (20-7) Turnover Margin .840 (21-4)
> + 25 % 3-0 > +4 5-0
+ 20-24 % 2-1 + 3 3-0
+ 15-19 % 7-0 + 2 4-2
+ 10-14 % 5-3 + 1 9-2
+ 5-9 % 2-1 0 3-3
> + 5 % 1-2
Possession .607 (17-11) Home Team .536 (15-13)
Penalty Yards .227 (5-17) First to Score .607 (17-11)
First Downs .536 (15-13)

When the margin between opposing offenses in the running game hit 50 yards, it was lights out: teams achieving that margin were 20-1. In passing yards, on the other hand, unlike every other category, the margin was meaningless: the "better" passing team in terms of sheer yardage lost a substantial majority of the time, regardless the size of its margin in that category, and in almost every case would appear to be the result of losing (offenses junking the running game to keep pace) rather than the other way around. Yards per pass follows the same non-pattern, until the margin reaches 2.5 yards per pass, a pretty high bar. It was only in the running game that winning the battle showed a strong relationship with winning the war even when the ground victory was negligible.

And again: penalty yards are utterly, hopelessly meaningless, to the greatest degree here that we’ve seen in two years of this exercise. Just don’t hold on third down.

Next: The Big Ten.