Tuesday, October 10, 2006

NCAA College Football Statistics : Nebraska Clemson Texas A&M Boise State Louisiana Tech

Comparative scores and statistics are valuable for predicting football games and in ranking football teams, but they must be used with caution since many teams do not play consistently against all opponents. Nevertheless, as Jeff Sagarin writes at USA Today:

"In ELO-CHESS, only winning and losing matters; the score margin is of no consequence,
which makes it very "politically correct". However it is less accurate in its predictions for
upcoming games than is the PURE POINTS, in which the score margin is the only thing that matters. PURE POINTS is also known as PREDICTOR, BALLANTINE, RHEINGOLD, WHITE OWL and is the best single PREDICTOR of future games. The ELO-CHESS will be utilized by the Bowl Championship Series (BCS). "

[Note that the BCS uses the less accurate of the available systems. Why that??]

Let us take one example where the score margin worked as a good predictor (here we do not fuss with the 3.23 points granted to teams as a home advantage).

Early in the season, on September 2, 2006, Nebraska beat Louisiana Tech 49-10 and then followed that with a 56-7 win over Nicholls State on September 9, 2006. Hence the NU margin of victory over Louisiana Tech was 39 points and over Nicholls State 49 points. By comparative scores, Louisiana Tech was 10 points better than Nicholls State. As scheduling would have it, these two teams then played each other on the following weekend, September 16, 2006, and Louisiana Tech in fact won by 10 points.

Since these games all took part on consecutive weekends in the early part of the football season and arguably reflected the relative strengths of the teams at that time, unaffected by later improvement or weakening in the course of the season, we thought that Louisiana Tech might be one of those rare teams that plays to average form nearly every week and thus can be used as a benchmark for ranking the rest of the teams in Division IA football by comparative statistics (though not necessarily by comparative scores, which, when large margins of victory are involved, may be misleading).

In the interim weeks, the Louisiana Tech Bulldogs have been soundly beaten by three other teams in addition to the Huskers win by 39 points, these are Texas A&M 45-14 (31 point advantage), Clemson 51-0 (51 point advantage) and Boise State 55-14 (41 point advantage).

As written at Yahoo Sports by AP Writer Keith Ridler:

"It was Louisiana Tech's third road game against a ranked team, and it went about the same as the first two. They opened the season with a 49-10 loss to No. 22 Nebraska, and a week ago lost 51-0 to No. 15 Clemson. "(Boise State) is very similar, right up there," said Louisiana Tech coach Jack Bicknell. "I'm like an expert on Top-25 teams." "

By pure comparative scores, this makes Texas A&M 31 points better than the Bulldogs, Clemson 51 points better than the Bulldogs and Boise State 41 points better than the Bulldogs. If we went by straight scores, Clemson would be 12 points better the Huskers, Boise State would be 2 points better than the Huskers and Texas A&M would be 8-point underdogs to the Huskers. Interesting in terms of rankings on October 8, 2006, is that Clemson is ranked 12th by the AP and USA Today, Boise State 20th and 19th, and Nebraska 21st and 20th respectively by those two polls.

Are those rankings justified by a close examination of all the statistics?

To start out with, it is interesting to note that as of October 8, 2006, Clemson ranks 3rd in the nation in scoring, Nebraska ranks 4th, Boise State ranks 6th (tied with Texas), and Texas A&M ranks 13th. Louisiana Tech has thus really been up against offensive powerhouses. In terms of yards per game rushing and passing, NU is 7th, Clemson is 10th, Boise State is 18th and Texas A&M is 22nd. In our opinion, all of these teams are underrated in the rankings and may all finish higher ranked by the time the season ends.

To get a good idea of the "dominance" of a team, we look carefully at team statistics in the actual games, regardless of scores. In terms of Total Net Yards rushing and passing, the Nebraska margin over Louisiana Tech was 586 to 286, whereas the comparable figures for Texas A&M were 485 to 281, for Clemson 531 to 304, and for Boise State 492 to 338. There was also a significant difference in first down stats, with the Cornhuskers having a 33-13 margin, Texas A&M a 25-13 advantage, Clemson a 21-16 advantage, and Boise State a 24-20 advantage. The turnovers in each game were 2-3 in favor of the Huskers, 1-1 for Texas A&M, 3-5 for Clemson, and a 3-2 disadvantage for Boise State. A last parameter which we regard to be a measure of the relative strengths of teams is simply the number of punts for each team, the fewer the better: this was in favor of Nebraska 3-7, in favor of Texas A&M 5-10, in favor of Clemson 2-8 and in favor of Boise State 1-7.

What about the ability of these teams to pass and rush against Louisiana Tech?

Here are the comparative stats:
Nebraska 252 yards rushing on 48 carries (5.3 avg) 334 yards passing on 24 completions of 36 passes (9.3 avg)
Texas A&M 163 yards rushing on 36 carries (4.5 avg) 322 yards passing on 19 completions of 33 passes (9.2 avg)
Clemson 398 yards rushing on 41 carries (9.7 avg) 133 yards passing on 10 completions of 17 passes (7.8 avg)
Boise State 268 yards rushing on 42 carries 224 yards passing on 15 completions of 23 passes

What about the defenses of these teams against the pass and rush of Louisiana Tech?

Here are the comparative stats:
Louisiana Tech against Nebraska 66 yards rushing on 21 carries (3.1 average) and 220 yards on 13 of 32 pass completions (6.5 avg)
Louisiana Tech against Texas A&M 79 yards on 24 carries (3.3 avg) and 202 yards on 13 of 33 pass completions (5.8 avg)
Louisiana Tech against Clemson 78 yards on 29 carries (2.7 avg) and 226 yards on 23 of 46 pass completions (4.5 avg)
Louisiana Tech against Boise State 175 yards on 35 carries (5.0 avg) and 163 yards on 17 of 35 completions (4.3 avg)

Now lets compare these stats for the Nebraska opponents this season:

Nebraska against Louisiana Tech 252 yards rushing on 48 carries (5.3 avg) 334 yards passing on 24 completions of 36 passes (9.3 avg)
Nebraska against Nicholls State 270 yards rushing on 47 carries (5.4 avg) 237 yards passing on 21 completions of 26 passes (8.8 avg)
Nebraska against USC 93 yards rushing on 36 carries (2.6 avg) 143 yards passing on 9 completions of 17 passes (7.9 avg)
Nebraska against Troy 319 yards rushing on 45 carries (7.1 avg) 282 yards passing on 16 completions of 23 passes (12.3 avg)
Nebraska against Kansas 136 yards rushing on 32 carries (4.3 avg) 395 yards passing on 15 completions of 33 passes (11.3 avg)
Nebraska against Iowa State 277 yards rushing on 45 carries (6.2 avg) 131 yards passing on 17 completions of 21 passes (5.7 avg)

The Nebraska passing stats are simply outstanding.

Louisiana Tech against Nebraska 66 yards rushing on 21 carries (3.1 average) and 220 yards on 13 of 32 pass completions (6.5 avg)
Nicholls State against Nebraska 211 yards rushing on 47 carries (4.5 average) and 0 yards on 0 of 3 pass completions (0.0 avg)
USC against Nebraska 152 yards rushing on 31 carries (4.9 average) and 257 yards on 25 of 37 pass completions (6.8 avg)
Troy against Nebraska 59 yards rushing on 25 carries (2.4 average) and 100 yards on 15 of 26 pass completions (4.0 avg)
Kansas against Nebraska 179 yards rushing on 40 carries (4.5 average) and 405 yards on 27 of 54 pass completions (7.5 avg)
Iowa State against Nebraska 76 yards rushing on 24 carries (3.2 avg) 262 yards passing on 18 completions of 39 passes (6.6 avg)

The USC performance against the Cornhuskers was nothing special when compared to other NU opponents. Indeed, Kansas performed about equally on the stats as did the Trojans. The Huskers lost the game against USC through poor coaching.

These statistics tell us a clear story about the strength of the Nebraska cornhuskers in 2006. USC did not fare much better rushing against the Huskers than the much lower ranked Nicholls State or Kansas. The two games in which Nebraska had the most trouble were USC and Kansas, where the opponent was successful in its passing game. Indeed, the NU pass defense is substantially weaker than that of Clemson or Boise State. Hence, the way to beat Nebraska is passing and the Cornhuskers will have substantial problems with good passing teams. Good rushing teams, on the other hand, will have problems with the Huskers, which have a similarly strong rushing defense to Clemson and Texas A&M.

Looking at the Nebraska offense, it is clear from the above statistics that the Huskers have a much weaker rushing offense than Clemson, and that is one reason why it was absolutely foolish for the Huskers to try to run the ball against USC. What is clear from the stats, however, is that the NU passing attack is even stronger than that of Texas A&M and that the Huskers will win games in the air (but not through rushing). Someone should tell that to the NU coaching staff.

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