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Stats Relevance Watch, Part Six: Into the Trees In the Big XII

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
Part Five: Big Ten Game-by-Game Results


Part Sixr: Big XII 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.

For each of the 49 games played among Big XII 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 49 games because of rare ties or virtual ties.

The one very distinctive feature of the Big XII was its staggering offensive prowess, or lack of defense, if you prefer, which easily outpaced every conference in the country. This was true when it came to scoring and yards, and especially true when it came to passing yards, where three conference offenses (Texas Tech, Nebraska and Missouri) finished in the top in passing yards and seven finished in the top 40; the only Big XII offense that ran for more yards than it passed was Texas A&M (Oklahoma State was dead even: 243.15 per game rushing, 243.15 per game passing). No other league threw it as often or as effectively.

So what actually won games in the Big XII? Why, ball control, naturally.

Category Win % Record
Turnover Margin .900 36-4
3rd Down % .864 38-6
Rush Yards .813 39-9
Yards/Rush .771 37-11
Yards/Pass .771 37-11
Total Yards .714 35-14
Yards/Play .714 35-14
First Downs .708 34-14
Time of Possession .667 32-16
First to Score .653 32-17
Home Team .630 29-17
Fewest Penalty Yards .541 20-17
Pass Yards .479 23-25

When everybody's busy throwing it around, the prolific passing games tend to cancel each other out, I guess. What counted according to the numbers was protecting the ball and moving the chains; in the passing game, efficiency trumped yardage by a mile.


Run it up or go home, that's what Mike Leach always says.
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Remember, though, correlation, not causation - a lot of that has to do with the league's unusually high penchant for lopsided games that led to one team running late while the other passed frantically trying to come from behind. A while back, I figured the average margin in Big XII games in 2007 was a whopping 19.6 points per game, more than five points higher than the average margin in any other BCS conference, and only twelve of 49 games ended with the loser within one score of the winner, again far worse than any other conference. These are just a few of the scores the Big XII gave us last fall (sorry, Nebraska fans):
Missouri 55, Colorado 10
Kansas State 47, Colorado 20
Missouri 41, Nebraska 6
Texas Tech 35, Texas A&M 7
Oklahoma State 45, Nebraska 14
Missouri 41, Texas Tech 10
Texas A&M 36, Nebraska 14
Kansas 76, Nebraska 39
Nebraska 73, Kansas State 31
Oklahoma 42, Texas A&M 14
Texas 59, Texas Tech 43
Colorado 65, Nebraska 51
Oklahoma 49, Oklahoma State 17
That doesn't even include lopsided losses suffered by Baylor and Iowa State, of which there were plenty. All of the above teams except Nebraska and Kansas State were in bowl games.

This is borne out as well in the OCD version, beyond the jump:

Total Yards .714 (35-14) Yards/Play .714 (35-14)
> + 300 4-0 > + 6.0 -
+ 250-299 3-0 + 5.0-5.9 -
+ 200-249 4-0 + 4.0-4.9 2-0
+ 150-199 6-0 + 3.0-3.9 6-0
+ 100-149 3-2 + 2.0-2.9 3-1
+ 50-99 11-5 + 1.0-1.9 12-6
< + 50 4-7 < + 1.0 12-7
Rush Yards .813 (39-9) Yards/Rush .771 (37-11)
> + 250 5-0 > + 3.0 8-0
+ 200-249 4-0 + 2.5-2.9 2-0
+ 150-199 7-0 + 2.0-2.4 6-0
+ 100-149 11-1 + 1.5-1.9 7-3
+ 50-99 7-3 + 1.0-1.4 5-3
< + 50 6-5 > + 1.0 9-5
Pass Yards .479 (23-25) Yards/Pass .771 (37-11)
> + 250 4-2 > + 3.0 15-1
+ 200-249 0-2 + 2.5-2.9 1-0
+ 150-199 4-3 + 2.0-2.4 5-1
+ 100-149 6-5 + 1.5-1.9 2-4
+ 50-99 4-6 + 1.0-1.4 5-1
< + 50 6-7 > + 1.0 9-4
3rd Down % .864 (38-6) Turnover Margin .900 (36-4)
> + 25 % 11-0 > + 4 7-0
+ 20-24 % 4-0 + 3 5-0
+ 15-19 % 9-0 + 2 10-2
+ 10-14 % 4-2 + 1 14-2
+ 5-9 % 7-3 0 9-9
> + 5 % 3-1
Categories Won
10 7-0 First Downs .708 (34-14)
9 9-0
8 6-1 Possession .667 (32-16)
7 6-0
6 8-1 Penalty Yards .541 (20-17)
5 7-6
4 4-8 Home Team .630 (29-17)
3 0-8
2 1-8 First to Score .653 (32-17)
1 0-8
0 0-9

You can see the evidence of lopsided games in the "Categories Won" measure, where teams that had better numbers than their opponent in six or more categories were 36-2; teams that were only better in four or fewer categories were terrible at 5-41. Also, a full third of the games saw one team beaten to the extent that it prevailed in only one category (sometimes this was time of possession) or was beaten in literally every single phase of the game. The nine "shutout" games were Texas A&M over Baylor, Kansas over Baylor, Texas over Baylor, Missouri over Colorado, Missouri over Kansas, Missouri over Nebraska, Missouri over Texas A&M, Oklahoma over Texas A&M and Oklahoma over Oklahoma State. Remember, there were only three such games in the Big Ten.

Outside of passing yards, we also see tremendous success above the bottom two or three rungs in every category. Teams in the top three subsets of total yards, yards per play, rush yards, yards per rush, yards per pass, third down percentage and turnover margin were collectively 121-5. There were no snipers here, pulling improbably wins out of the hat; it was a very all-or-nothing sort of league.

Next: The SEC.