StatTiger: Formulas For College Football Wins

Stuart Carter crunches the numbers to see parts of the game are most likely to result in wins for college football teams.

As a statistical football analyst, I'm always looking for the magical formula for success as it pertains to the current age of college football.

During the decades of the 1970's and 1980's, the formula for success was a strong running game and a strong defense because the majority of collegiate offenses were reliant upon their running attacks more so than their passing. With a more conservative approach to offense, special teams play was magnified, making the kicking game an essential portion of college football

The game has evolved over the past two decades, making the pass offense the key component for success as well as defending the pass.

Breaking Down The Top 25...

Scoring offense and scoring defense are obvious statistical necessities, but how significant are the other statistical categories?

Taking the Top 25 teams from the major statistical categories from 2000-2010, I totaled the winning percentage of the Top 25 teams to determine which category carries the greater value. The categories included in this study were run offense, run defense, pass offense and pass defense. It also included total offense, total defense, turnover margin and time of possession.

I included kick return offense, kick return defense, punt return offense, punt return defense and net punting. The categories were completed with touchdown-turnover ratio on offense, turnover-touchdown ratio on defense and tackles for loss.

Including scoring offense and scoring defense, the comparison involved 18 statistical categories and the Top 25 teams in the nation from each category from 2000-2010. Sorting the Top 25 teams from each category, I ranked each one based on the winning percentage from each category.

1. Scoring offense .744
2. Scoring defense .741
3. Turnover-touchdown ratio on defense .731
4. Touchdown-turnover ratio on offense .722
5. Run defense .721
6. Pass efficiency offense .714
7. Pass efficiency defense .707

Based on the combined winning percentages of the Top 25 teams from each statistical category, touchdown-turnover ratio on offense and on defense were the top categories following scoring offense and scoring defense. All the teams that finished in the nation's Top 25 in scoring offense combined for a winning percentage of 74.4 percent, the highest winning percentage of all 18 categories.

The final three categories were run defense along with pass efficiency on both offense and defense. I found it interesting that run defense finished much higher than run offense.

8. Total defense .696
9. Total offense .690
10. Turnover margin .684
11. Tackles for loss .636
12. Run offense .631
13. Punt return offense .618
14. Time of possession .600
15. Punt return defense .596
16. Net punting .593
17. Kick return offense .586
18. Kick return defense .567

If these trends remain the same, Auburn should be in great shape with Gus Malzahn on hand directing the offense and the Tiger defense showing serious signs of improvement from 2009 to 2010. Over the past 11 seasons, Auburn's offense made the Top 25 in scoring offense on three occasions. Two of those three times came with Malzahn the coach.

Gus Malzahn is in his third season at Auburn.

Auburn made the Top 25 in pass efficiency offense four of the past 11 seasons, including both years under Malzahn. Auburn made the Top 25 in total offense four of the last 11 seasons, including both seasons under Malzahn. Added to the offensive mix is Malzahn's running game, which also made the Top 25 during the past two seasons.

Running Game

Though there appears to be a major separation between the success of a strong running defense and a strong running offense, both categories remain important, especially when it comes to Malzahn's offense. During the 2010 season Auburn's defense allowed a pass rating of 148.2 during the first half of its 14 games and a rating of 115.3 during the second half of games.

The improvement on pass defense from half to half was the result of Auburn's high scoring offense and the fact opponents had to become more dependent on their passing offense during the second half. This made the opponent far more predictable to defend, which meant defensive coordinator Ted Roof could become more aggressive defending the pass during the second half.

Ted Roof

During the 2009 season Auburn's opponent increased its rushing attempts during the second half in nine of 13 games. In 2010 it only happened in five of 14 games, which meant the opponent was not as balanced during the second half of games during the 2010 season. Malzahn stresses the importance of remaining balanced, which makes the Auburn offense more intricate. For this reason alone, Auburn's running game is imperative in keeping the opponent honest as the Tiger offense will run to set up the pass and will pass to set up the run.

The statistical comparison revealed time of possession doesn't carry the same weight as scoring, which is why Malzahn has been focused on scoring points and not on controlling the clock.

Special Teams...

Based on the winning percentage from the Top 25 teams from each statistical category, special teams finished in five of the lowest six winning percentages. This isn't to say special teams are not important, but they are not as important as the categories involving offense and defense. This would make sense when you consider that special teams accounted for only 17.7 percent of Auburn's plays from 1999-2010.

The importance of special teams tends to increase in close games, which is why they must remain consistent for a team to be successful. From 1999-2010, 38 percent of Auburn's games have been decided by seven points or less, making special teams play a major factor in more than one-third of Auburn's games.

Of all the special team plays during an Auburn game from 1999-2010, more than 70 percent involve punts and kickoffs. During the past 11 seasons Auburn has finished in the nation's Top 25 in net punting on nine occasions. They have finished in the Top 25 of kick return offense four out of 11 times.

The area Auburn has struggled with is punt return offense and kick return defense. With fewer walk-ons covering kickoffs in 2010, Auburn improved from No. 97 nationally in kick return defense in 2009 to No. 16, but the Tigers still face the challenge of improving their punt return offense. With Auburn's personnel losses from 2010, the Tigers will likely be more reliant on the success of their special teams in 2011.

Auburn's national championship run in 2010 involved a statistical model of a team that is successful in run offense, pass efficiency offense, scoring offense and total offense. It also involved a defense that was successful against the run and making tackles behind the line of scrimmage. Except for punt return offense, Auburn possessed a Top 25 return game in kick coverage and returns as well punt coverage.

Wes Byrum provided the final security blanket on special teams as one of the top place-kickers in the country last season. The 2011 Auburn Tigers will be challenged to duplicate the success of 2010, but the statistical history during the past decade proves there are other models for success, which now becomes the challenge for a youthful Auburn team to find.

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