clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Stats Relevance Watch, Part Five: Into the Trees In the Big Ten

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.
- - -

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


Part Five: Big Ten 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.


Some things never change.
- - -
For each of the 44 games played among Big Ten 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. Not every category adds up to 44 games because of rare ties or virtual ties.

What immediately stands out about the Big Ten, despite its obvious shift to a 21st Century passing mindset, is how thoroughly the old conservative categories dominated at the top:

Category Win % Record
3rd Down % .773 34-10
Time of Possession .767 33-10
Rush Yards .750 33-11
First Downs .744 31-11
Yards/Play .727 32-12
First to Score .727 32-12
Total Yards .721 31-12
Turnover Margin .694 25-11
Yards/Pass .690 29-13
Yards/Rush .643 27-15
Home Team .614 27-17
Fewest Penalty Yards .571 16-12
Pass Yards .442 19-24

I've been doing this in fairly excruciating detail for a couple years now, and the only other instance of "Time of Possession" having anywhere near the significance it has here was in last year's look at the Big Ten; clearly, coupled with the unusually high relevance of third down percentage, rushing yards, first downs and simply scoring first, there is still a significant ball control mindset in this conference. See the top five teams: Ohio State, Illinois, Michigan, Wisconsin and Penn State, all avowedly run-first operations (occasionally to a fault, if you ask their fans), and except for spread option-based Illinois, all bastions of the straight-ahead power running game that's rapidly losing traction even in its old strongholds (Michigan, of course, is spreading it next year, and Penn State is rumored to be looking in the same direction). It's no wonder passing was so closely associated with losing: the best teams in the conference were still very adept at running (it works that way when you've got Chris Wells, Mike Hart, Rashard Mendenhall and P.J. Hill) and at operating with the lead. For all the increased passing, the name of the game was still holding on to the ball as long as possible.

The OCD version follows the jump...

Each section is divided into record by margin. There's a new category here, at the suggestion of a reader: "Categories Won," which tracks the record of teams based on how many of the ten big number-based categories (all but "Home Team," "First to Score" and "Fewest Penalty Yards") they prevailed in in any given game. For example, teams that won eight or more categories were undefeated: 19-0. Teams that won at least seven categories were 22-1; teams that won only two or fewer categories were, predictably, 1-22. Results along those line fell into a pretty perfect bell curve.

Total Yards .721 (31-12) Yards/Play .727 (32-12)
> + 300 3-0 > + 6.0 -
+ 250-299 1-0 + 5.0-5.9 1-0
+ 200-249 1-0 + 4.0-4.9 2-0
+ 150-199 8-2 + 3.0-3.9 -
+ 100-149 6-0 + 2.0-2.9 6-1
+ 50-99 9-4 + 1.0-1.9 6-1
< + 50 3-6 < + 1.0 17-10
Rush Yards .750 (33-11) Yards/Rush .643 (27-15)
> + 250 4-0 > + 3.0 9-2
+ 200-249 4-0 + 2.5-2.9 8-0
+ 150-199 10-1 + 2.0-2.4 4-0
+ 100-149 7-1 + 1.5-1.9 2-2
+ 50-99 7-2 + 1.0-1.4 3-5
< + 50 2-7 > + 1.0 1-5
Pass Yards .442 (19-24) Yards/Pass .690 (29-13)
> + 250 1-2 > + 3.0 12-3
+ 200-249 0-1 + 2.5-2.9 -
+ 150-199 1-2 + 2.0-2.4 5-0
+ 100-149 4-3 + 1.5-1.9 5-3
+ 50-99 7-5 + 1.0-1.4 3-1
< + 50 6-11 > + 1.0 4-6
3rd Down % .773 (34-10) Turnover Margin .694 (25-11)
> + 25 % 10-0 > + 4 2-0
+ 20-24 % 6-1 + 3 4-3
+ 15-19 % 2-1 + 2 9-1
+ 10-14 % 6-2 + 1 10-7
+ 5-9 % 6-4 0 8-8
> + 5 % 4-2
Categories Won
10 2-0 First Downs .744 (32-11)
9 7-0
8 11-0 Possession .767 (33-10)
7 3-1
6 6-3 Penalty Yards .571 (16-12)
5 7-9
4 4-5 Home Team .614 (27-17)
3 5-6
2 1-9 First to Score .727 (32-12)
1 0-10
0 0-3

Elsewhere, again we see the very predictable correlation of wider margins to better winning percentages. In "Rushing Yards," the team that produced more on the ground won a respectable 75 percent of the time, but almost all of the losses came in games where the margin was small; teams that outrushed opponents by 50 yards or less were only 2-7. At 50 yards or more, though, the number jumps to 31-4. The same pattern holds for total yards, third down percentage, yards per play, yards per rush and, of course, turnover margin. The only category that shows a really "random" pattern, wherein the size of the margin demonstrates no correlation to winning percentage, is passing yards. Teams that out-passed their opponents lost most of the time overall (the bigger yardage, as usual, is likely the result of passing from behind in order to catch up), and this was the case no matter how wide the disparity. Almost everywhere else, the line on the hypothetical graph would be on a steady upward incline as the margin increased.

The three blanks, for the record, teams that played a game in which they failed to win a single stat category: Indiana (vs. Wisconsin), Purdue (vs. Michigan) and Iowa (vs. Purdue).

Next: The pass-happy, high-scoring Big XII.