Clardy's Corner: Numbers Game

Stanford and Oregon meet this Saturday in a matchup that could make statisticians cuss and calculators smoke. But which numbers truly matter in football?



A couple weeks ago, Stanford center Graham Shuler and I were chatting after a practice. This was on the heels of the Cardinal rolling up an eye-popping 939 yards rushing over a three-game span. That total would make the 1985 Oklahoma Sooners proud.

I asked Shuler what that stat meant to him and the offensive line. His response? "Statistics can be very misleading."

He's right. Stats lie. And many times, they don't really matter. In baseball, I don't care what WAR, VORP, or XFIP are. I don't need to know what a guy's WHIP is when the moon is in Pisces. It's supposed to be baseball. I was told there would be no math.

In football, numbers tell horrible, horrible mistruths. It's why I don't do fantasy football. Never have. Never will. It's all about numbers, and it's not about football.

Worse, too many football fans seem way too eager to take those numbers and run with them -- many times without any context at all -- and use them to form their complete opinions on players and teams. And many times the numbers everyone take for gospel mean absolutely nothing.

But sometimes, some statistics pop up that you just can't deny. You just have to know which ones tell the truth. 939 yards rushing over three games, for example. That's a statistic that tells you everything you need to know.

Then there's the 777 yards of offense Oregon dropped on Cal last week. That's not a typo. Seven. Hundred. Seventy. Seven. Yards. I don't place a lot of value in yardage statistics, but that's mighty impressive no matter how you slice it.

But the overwhelming bulk of numbers out there mean very little. Total yardage stats can be very deceptive, on both sides of the ball. Sacks are overrated (quarterback pressures paint a much more accurate picture). Time of possession can be quite misleading, too.

But still, if you insist on using numbers to shape everything you know about football, if you insist on burying your head in the box scores (instead of, I don't know, actually watching games), there are some stats that are actually worth tracking.

Generally, the first sets of numbers I look at when I'm breaking down a team are turnover margin and third-down efficiency. It's tough for an offense to function if it can't hold on to the ball, and/or if it can't move the chains on third down. Also, it's tough for a defense to be running at peak power if it can't force turnovers or get off the field on third down. Meanwhile, show me a team that is getting it done in those categories, and I'll show you a team that is putting itself in position to win ballgames every week.

When I need numbers to tell me what a team is capable of and how well they tend to play, those are the two big statistics I tend to focus on. Everything else is just dressing.

But I just learned another stat that also seems to be a reliable indicator of how a team is really playing. I just learned about it. I don't know why I didn't start thinking about it before. It makes total sense. And it isn't readily available...but it should be.

Points per possession. That stat pops up all the time in basketball. Now, with so many teams playing fast-break football, it makes sense to bring it to the gridiron, too. I'm surprised it hasn't become bigger. Yet.

Just out of curiosity (and because I had nothing better to do), I looked at all of Stanford's possessions this year, and tried to figure out how many points they score every time they get the ball. For scoring, I did not include PATs, successful two-point conversions, or defensive and special teams touchdowns. I did not include drives in which Stanford knelt down to run out the clock at the end of a half.

The results? On 102 possessions this year, Stanford's offense has scored 285 points. That's 2.79 points per possession. That's a very good number. Conversely, on defense, Stanford has allowed 162 points on 105 possessions, good for 1.54 points per drive. Not too shabby.

How does Oregon stack up? No Pac-12 team has scored more points than the Ducks this season, so if Stanford's offensive numbers are good, then Oregon's must be off the charts, right? Well...their offense has had 122 possessions this year and scored 312 points. That comes out to 2.56 points per possession. Pretty good. But not as productively efficient as Stanford has been this year.

Defensively, it has been a struggle for the Ducks. On 125 drives, they've allowed 285 points, or 2.28 points per possession. Once again, Gang Green has become Green Light.

For some perspective, I also looked at Cal's numbers, since the Bears are seventh in the Pac-12 in both points scored and allowed per game, and are close to the conference average in both categories. The Bear offense is averaging 2.11 points per possession (249 points on 118 drives), and the defense is allowing 1.83 points per possession (216 points on 118 drives).

And just for the heck of it, I crunched the numbers on the FBS scoring leaders (Baylor is scoring 3.55 points per possession. Think about that.) and the FBS's stingiest scoring defense (Michigan is allowing 0.72 points per possession).

For individual stats, I generally don't place too much value on passing yardage per game, especially when considering some teams like Washington State. For the Cardinal, a 400-yard passing day would be big news. For the Cougars, a 400-yard passing day would be called "average." Meanwhile, all of these quick-throw, bubble-screen offenses have rendered the completion percentage statistic practically useless. It used to be a big deal when a quarterback completed 70% of his passes. Now, it's practically the norm.

So, as the game has evolved, passing yardage and completion percentage have lost their statistical value. The most telling stat for a quarterback's productivity now? Passing yards-per-attempt. That ratio has now become the only reliable way to tell if a passing game getting downfield and making big plays.

Luke Falk completed 11-of-16 passes in the fourth quarter last week, you probably wouldn't give it a second thought. But what if I told you those 16 passes went for 238 yards? That's almost 15 yards per pass. Impressive, no? I'd certainly take that over a quarterback who completes 14 of 16 passes, but for 120 yards.

Points per possession, turnover margin and third-down efficiency are reliable indicators of how well a team is playing, and how likely they are to win. Most of the other numbers? They're just noise. Watch a football telecast and you get blitzed with stats and numbers and ratios that reveal next to nothing (some networks are more guilty of this than others).

The trick is to find the numbers that matter. Only a select few statistics actually impact the most important numbers of all -- the ones on the scoreboard.

********** ********** **********

RANDOM PAC-12 THOUGHTS

I see the McCaffrey for Heisman push has officially begun. Not going to lie: got a smile on my face when I saw that email Tuesday morning...

Kevin Hogan's laser to Michael Rector for a 43-yard touchdown last week? That's probably my favorite throw of the year from Hogan. Sensational...

If you can give me a good, logical explanation for why Arizona went for it on fourth-and-two from the 50-yard line with a 20-17 lead in the third quarter, I'll give you a nickel...

I just took a look at the nominees for the Pac-12 football All-Century team. How in the world is Mike Hass not a nominee? That guy was dominant for years at Oregon State. Good to see Troy Walters, Ken Margerum, and James Lofton on the nominee list, though...

Not a Pac-12, thought... I think it boils down to this for the Big 12: no one is going to take it seriously until somebody -- anybody! -- starts playing defense on a regular basis in that league...

Not a Pac-12 thought, but... the NFL this year, by and large, has not been a compelling product. Good to see the Raiders and the Steelers buck that trend. Great game in Pittsburgh...

Not a Pac-12 thought, but... there is so much to say on the Missouri situation, and I have found many of the opinions that have sprung from this story to be, well, illuminating (but not surprising). I'll limit my thoughts to two items. (note: if you don't want to read them, feel free to skip ahead to the Pac-12 Picks. And don't ignore this disclaimer, read my thoughts anyway, then complain about me taking this space to share my observations after finding that they differ from your thoughts. Deal? Deal.)

One, I'd like to caution those who think that this whole thing happened because of "just" two racial incidents. As is usually the case with things like this, it's the accumulation of "just" an incident here and "just" an incident there that causes everything to eventually boil over. Some of these incidents get attention. Many, many, many others don't. I seriously doubt the situation at Missouri would have reached this point if things on that campus were completely healthy. I seriously doubt this would have caught fire like it did if it were "just" two incidents on that campus.

By the way, aren't "just" two incidents of racism still two too many?

Two, I don't think the biggest domino that had to fall here was the football players getting on board with the cause. It was Gary Pinkel. The Missouri head coach could very easily have dismissed this as something that was way, way outside the football bubble. He could very easily have said, "this has nothing to do with beating BYU this week. Meetings and practice on Tuesday. See you then." Pinkel could have squashed it all. He didn't.

When explaining why the football program was the engine that drove this story onto the national agenda, I've heard many use that old maxim: "follow the money." Okay. Wolfe's salary was reportedly $459,000. Pinkel's base salary? $4 million. That set of numbers fills in many of the blanks for me.

That's why it didn't matter how many protests the kids mounted, or how many faculty members lined up against Wolfe. But once Gary Pinkel sided with his players, Wolfe was toast.

And to me, that's further proof that the most influential figure on many campuses these days isn't the university president; it's the head football coach. Power means nothing without control. The students, the student-athletes, and the faculty who pushed for this result may be empowered now. But the control still lies elsewhere. On many campuses that control comes from the corner office at the school's football facility. And you know many of the reasons why.

Overall, I have very mixed feelings about all of this. I am thrilled for the kids for taking a stand. I am happy that they -- along with faculty members at Missouri -- shined a light on what was happening there, and continued a dialogue that this country needs to keep having if this problem is to be solved. But getting Wolfe to step down was the easy part. Now, can the kids, the faculty, the idiots responsible for the racial incidents (and we can all agree that those people are idiots, right?), and the new administration all listen to each other, come together, and make that campus a better place? That's the hard part. I just hope everyone there is ready for that part of the process and sincerely wants to see it through.

********** ********** **********

PAC-12 PICKS

USC (-16.5) @ Colorado (Friday). The Trojans have never lost to the Buffaloes. Ever. They're 9-0 all-time against Colorado. Can the Buffs make it 9-1? On Senior Night at Folsom Field? No. I like USC by 18.

Washington @ Arizona State (-2.5). I'll put it this way: I don't believe in the Husky offense enough right now to make me think it can keep the game close enough for the Sun Devils to find a way to blow it. I like Arizona State by 10.

Oregon State @ Cal (-20.5). This year, the best way to snap a losing streak in the Pac-12 is to play against the Beavers. I like Cal by 26.

Utah (-6) @ Arizona. Unless the Utes leave their defense in Salt Lake City, I like Utah by 13.

Washington State @ UCLA (-9.5). A big test for the Cougs, to be sure. If this game was in Pullman, I'd pick them. But since it's not, I like UCLA by 8.

Last week: 5-0 (straight-up), 3-2 (ATS).

This year: 21-9 (straight-up), 17-12 (ATS).

********** ********** **********

The 2015 season marks Troy Clardy’s 23rd year of following the Cardinal as a columnist, broadcaster, and announcer. Troy also calls baseball, softball, and soccer games for the Pac-12 Network. In its 14th season of Cardinal commentary, Clardy’s Corner appears Wednesdays during the college football regular season on TheBootleg.com. His “TreeCast with Troy Clardy” podcast is available for download via the Cardinal Sports Radio app from VSporto on Tuesdays and Fridays. You can also check him out online at TroyClardy.com, follow him on Twitter @TroyClardy, or Like him on Facebook.






Are you fully subscribed to The Bootleg? If not, then you are missing out on all the top Cardinal coverage we provide daily on our award-winning website. Sign up today for the biggest and best in Stanford sports coverage with TheBootleg.com(sign-up)!


The Bootleg Top Stories

Follow\r\n@TroyClardy\r\n\r\n

\r\n

A couple weeks ago, Stanford center Graham Shuler and I were chatting after a practice. This was on the heels of the Cardinal rolling up an eye-popping 939 yards rushing over a three-game span. That total would make the 1985 Oklahoma Sooners proud.

\r\n\r\n

I asked Shuler what that stat meant to him and the offensive line. His response? \"Statistics can be very misleading.\"

\r\n\r\n

He's right. Stats lie. And many times, they don't really matter. In baseball, I don't care what WAR, VORP, or XFIP are. I don't need to know what a guy's WHIP is when the moon is in Pisces. It's supposed to be baseball. I was told there would be no math.

\r\n\r\n

In football, numbers tell horrible, horrible mistruths. It's why I don't do fantasy football. Never have. Never will. It's all about numbers, and it's not about football.

\r\n\r\n

Worse, too many football fans seem way too eager to take those numbers and run with them -- many times without any context at all -- and use them to form their complete opinions on players and teams. And many times the numbers everyone take for gospel mean absolutely nothing.

\r\n\r\n

But sometimes, some statistics pop up that you just can't deny. You just have to know which ones tell the truth. 939 yards rushing over three games, for example. That's a statistic that tells you everything you need to know.

\r\n\r\n

Then there's the 777 yards of offense Oregon dropped on Cal last week. That's not a typo. Seven. Hundred. Seventy. Seven. Yards. I don't place a lot of value in yardage statistics, but that's mighty impressive no matter how you slice it.

\r\n\r\n

But the overwhelming bulk of numbers out there mean very little. Total yardage stats can be very deceptive, on both sides of the ball. Sacks are overrated (quarterback pressures paint a much more accurate picture). Time of possession can be quite misleading, too.

\r\n\r\n

But still, if you insist on using numbers to shape everything you know about football, if you insist on burying your head in the box scores (instead of, I don't know, actually watching games), there are some stats that are actually worth tracking.

\r\n\r\n

Generally, the first sets of numbers I look at when I'm breaking down a team are turnover margin and third-down efficiency. It's tough for an offense to function if it can't hold on to the ball, and/or if it can't move the chains on third down. Also, it's tough for a defense to be running at peak power if it can't force turnovers or get off the field on third down. Meanwhile, show me a team that is getting it done in those categories, and I'll show you a team that is putting itself in position to win ballgames every week.

\r\n\r\n

When I need numbers to tell me what a team is capable of and how well they tend to play, those are the two big statistics I tend to focus on. Everything else is just dressing.

\r\n\r\n

But I just learned another stat that also seems to be a reliable indicator of how a team is really playing. I just learned about it. I don't know why I didn't start thinking about it before. It makes total sense. And it isn't readily available...but it should be.

\r\n\r\n

Points per possession. That stat pops up all the time in basketball. Now, with so many teams playing fast-break football, it makes sense to bring it to the gridiron, too. I'm surprised it hasn't become bigger. Yet.

\r\n\r\n

Just out of curiosity (and because I had nothing better to do), I looked at all of Stanford's possessions this year, and tried to figure out how many points they score every time they get the ball. For scoring, I did not include PATs, successful two-point conversions, or defensive and special teams touchdowns. I did not include drives in which Stanford knelt down to run out the clock at the end of a half.

\r\n\r\n

The results? On 102 possessions this year, Stanford's offense has scored 285 points. That's 2.79 points per possession. That's a very good number. Conversely, on defense, Stanford has allowed 162 points on 105 possessions, good for 1.54 points per drive. Not too shabby.

\r\n\r\n

How does Oregon stack up? No Pac-12 team has scored more points than the Ducks this season, so if Stanford's offensive numbers are good, then Oregon's must be off the charts, right? Well...their offense has had 122 possessions this year and scored 312 points. That comes out to 2.56 points per possession. Pretty good. But not as productively efficient as Stanford has been this year.

\r\n\r\n

Defensively, it has been a struggle for the Ducks. On 125 drives, they've allowed 285 points, or 2.28 points per possession. Once again, Gang Green has become Green Light.

\r\n\r\n

For some perspective, I also looked at Cal's numbers, since the Bears are seventh in the Pac-12 in both points scored and allowed per game, and are close to the conference average in both categories. The Bear offense is averaging 2.11 points per possession (249 points on 118 drives), and the defense is allowing 1.83 points per possession (216 points on 118 drives).

\r\n\r\n

And just for the heck of it, I crunched the numbers on the FBS scoring leaders (Baylor is scoring 3.55 points per possession. Think about that.) and the FBS's stingiest scoring defense (Michigan is allowing 0.72 points per possession).

\r\n\r\n

For individual stats, I generally don't place too much value on passing yardage per game, especially when considering some teams like Washington State. For the Cardinal, a 400-yard passing day would be big news. For the Cougars, a 400-yard passing day would be called \"average.\" Meanwhile, all of these quick-throw, bubble-screen offenses have rendered the completion percentage statistic practically useless. It used to be a big deal when a quarterback completed 70% of his passes. Now, it's practically the norm.

\r\n\r\n

So, as the game has evolved, passing yardage and completion percentage have lost their statistical value. The most telling stat for a quarterback's productivity now? Passing yards-per-attempt. That ratio has now become the only reliable way to tell if a passing game getting downfield and making big plays.

\r\n\r\n

Luke Falk completed 11-of-16 passes in the fourth quarter last week, you probably wouldn't give it a second thought. But what if I told you those 16 passes went for 238 yards? That's almost 15 yards per pass. Impressive, no? I'd certainly take that over a quarterback who completes 14 of 16 passes, but for 120 yards.

\r\n\r\n

Points per possession, turnover margin and third-down efficiency are reliable indicators of how well a team is playing, and how likely they are to win. Most of the other numbers? They're just noise. Watch a football telecast and you get blitzed with stats and numbers and ratios that reveal next to nothing (some networks are more guilty of this than others).

\r\n\r\n

The trick is to find the numbers that matter. Only a select few statistics actually impact the most important numbers of all -- the ones on the scoreboard.

\r\n\r\n********** ********** **********\r\n\r\n

RANDOM PAC-12 THOUGHTS

\r\n\r\n

I see the McCaffrey for Heisman push has officially begun. Not going to lie: got a smile on my face when I saw that email Tuesday morning...

\r\n\r\n

Kevin Hogan's laser to Michael Rector for a 43-yard touchdown last week? That's probably my favorite throw of the year from Hogan. Sensational...

\r\n\r\n

If you can give me a good, logical explanation for why Arizona went for it on fourth-and-two from the 50-yard line with a 20-17 lead in the third quarter, I'll give you a nickel...

\r\n\r\n

I just took a look at the nominees for the Pac-12 football All-Century team. How in the world is Mike Hass not a nominee? That guy was dominant for years at Oregon State. Good to see Troy Walters, Ken Margerum, and James Lofton on the nominee list, though...

\r\n\r\n

Not a Pac-12, thought... I think it boils down to this for the Big 12: no one is going to take it seriously until somebody -- anybody! -- starts playing defense on a regular basis in that league...

\r\n\r\n

Not a Pac-12 thought, but... the NFL this year, by and large, has not been a compelling product. Good to see the Raiders and the Steelers buck that trend. Great game in Pittsburgh...

\r\n\r\n

Not a Pac-12 thought, but... there is so much to say on the Missouri situation, and I have found many of the opinions that have sprung from this story to be, well, illuminating (but not surprising). I'll limit my thoughts to two items. (note: if you don't want to read them, feel free to skip ahead to the Pac-12 Picks. And don't ignore this disclaimer, read my thoughts anyway, then complain about me taking this space to share my observations after finding that they differ from your thoughts. Deal? Deal.)

\r\n\r\n

One, I'd like to caution those who think that this whole thing happened because of \"just\" two racial incidents. As is usually the case with things like this, it's the accumulation of \"just\" an incident here and \"just\" an incident there that causes everything to eventually boil over. Some of these incidents get attention. Many, many, many others don't. I seriously doubt the situation at Missouri would have reached this point if things on that campus were completely healthy. I seriously doubt this would have caught fire like it did if it were \"just\" two incidents on that campus.

\r\n\r\n

By the way, aren't \"just\" two incidents of racism still two too many?

\r\n\r\n

Two, I don't think the biggest domino that had to fall here was the football players getting on board with the cause. It was Gary Pinkel. The Missouri head coach could very easily have dismissed this as something that was way, way outside the football bubble. He could very easily have said, \"this has nothing to do with beating BYU this week. Meetings and practice on Tuesday. See you then.\" Pinkel could have squashed it all. He didn't.

\r\n\r\n

When explaining why the football program was the engine that drove this story onto the national agenda, I've heard many use that old maxim: \"follow the money.\" Okay. Wolfe's salary was reportedly $459,000. Pinkel's base salary? $4 million. That set of numbers fills in many of the blanks for me.

\r\n\r\n

That's why it didn't matter how many protests the kids mounted, or how many faculty members lined up against Wolfe. But once Gary Pinkel sided with his players, Wolfe was toast.

\r\n\r\n

And to me, that's further proof that the most influential figure on many campuses these days isn't the university president; it's the head football coach. Power means nothing without control. The students, the student-athletes, and the faculty who pushed for this result may be empowered now. But the control still lies elsewhere. On many campuses that control comes from the corner office at the school's football facility. And you know many of the reasons why.

\r\n\r\n

Overall, I have very mixed feelings about all of this. I am thrilled for the kids for taking a stand. I am happy that they -- along with faculty members at Missouri -- shined a light on what was happening there, and continued a dialogue that this country needs to keep having if this problem is to be solved. But getting Wolfe to step down was the easy part. Now, can the kids, the faculty, the idiots responsible for the racial incidents (and we can all agree that those people are idiots, right?), and the new administration all listen to each other, come together, and make that campus a better place? That's the hard part. I just hope everyone there is ready for that part of the process and sincerely wants to see it through.

\r\n\r\n********** ********** **********\r\n\r\n

PAC-12 PICKS

\r\n\r\n

USC (-16.5) @ Colorado (Friday). The Trojans have never lost to the Buffaloes. Ever. They're 9-0 all-time against Colorado. Can the Buffs make it 9-1? On Senior Night at Folsom Field? No. I like USC by 18.

\r\n\r\n

Washington @ Arizona State (-2.5). I'll put it this way: I don't believe in the Husky offense enough right now to make me think it can keep the game close enough for the Sun Devils to find a way to blow it. I like Arizona State by 10.

\r\n\r\n

Oregon State @ Cal (-20.5). This year, the best way to snap a losing streak in the Pac-12 is to play against the Beavers. I like Cal by 26.

\r\n\r\n

Utah (-6) @ Arizona. Unless the Utes leave their defense in Salt Lake City, I like Utah by 13.

\r\n\r\n

Washington State @ UCLA (-9.5). A big test for the Cougs, to be sure. If this game was in Pullman, I'd pick them. But since it's not, I like UCLA by 8.

\r\n\r\n

Last week: 5-0 (straight-up), 3-2 (ATS).

\r\n

This year: 21-9 (straight-up), 17-12 (ATS).

\r\n\r\n********** ********** **********\r\n\r\n

The 2015 season marks Troy Clardy’s 23rd year of following the Cardinal as a columnist, broadcaster, and announcer. Troy also calls baseball, softball, and soccer games for the Pac-12 Network. In its 14th season of Cardinal commentary, Clardy’s Corner appears Wednesdays during the college football regular season on TheBootleg.com. His “TreeCast with Troy Clardy” podcast is available for download via the Cardinal Sports Radio app from VSporto on Tuesdays and Fridays. You can also check him out online at TroyClardy.com, follow him on Twitter @TroyClardy, or Like him on Facebook.

\r\n

\r\n




\r\n

Are you fully subscribed to The Bootleg? If not, then you are missing out on all the top Cardinal coverage we provide daily on our award-winning website. Sign up today for the biggest and best in Stanford sports coverage with TheBootleg.com(sign-up)!

","mobileBody":" Follow @TroyClardy

A couple weeks ago, Stanford center Graham Shuler and I were chatting after a practice. This was on the heels of the Cardinal rolling up an eye-popping 939 yards rushing over a three-game span. That total would make the 1985 Oklahoma Sooners proud.

I asked Shuler what that stat meant to him and the offensive line. His response? \"Statistics can be very misleading.\"

He's right. Stats lie. And many times, they don't really matter. In baseball, I don't care what WAR, VORP, or XFIP are. I don't need to know what a guy's WHIP is when the moon is in Pisces. It's supposed to be baseball. I was told there would be no math.

In football, numbers tell horrible, horrible mistruths. It's why I don't do fantasy football. Never have. Never will. It's all about numbers, and it's not about football.

Worse, too many football fans seem way too eager to take those numbers and run with them -- many times without any context at all -- and use them to form their complete opinions on players and teams. And many times the numbers everyone take for gospel mean absolutely nothing.

But sometimes, some statistics pop up that you just can't deny. You just have to know which ones tell the truth. 939 yards rushing over three games, for example. That's a statistic that tells you everything you need to know.

Then there's the 777 yards of offense Oregon dropped on Cal last week. That's not a typo. Seven. Hundred. Seventy. Seven. Yards. I don't place a lot of value in yardage statistics, but that's mighty impressive no matter how you slice it.

But the overwhelming bulk of numbers out there mean very little. Total yardage stats can be very deceptive, on both sides of the ball. Sacks are overrated (quarterback pressures paint a much more accurate picture). Time of possession can be quite misleading, too.

But still, if you insist on using numbers to shape everything you know about football, if you insist on burying your head in the box scores (instead of, I don't know, actually watching games), there are some stats that are actually worth tracking.

Generally, the first sets of numbers I look at when I'm breaking down a team are turnover margin and third-down efficiency. It's tough for an offense to function if it can't hold on to the ball, and/or if it can't move the chains on third down. Also, it's tough for a defense to be running at peak power if it can't force turnovers or get off the field on third down. Meanwhile, show me a team that is getting it done in those categories, and I'll show you a team that is putting itself in position to win ballgames every week.

When I need numbers to tell me what a team is capable of and how well they tend to play, those are the two big statistics I tend to focus on. Everything else is just dressing.

But I just learned another stat that also seems to be a reliable indicator of how a team is really playing. I just learned about it. I don't know why I didn't start thinking about it before. It makes total sense. And it isn't readily available...but it should be.

Points per possession. That stat pops up all the time in basketball. Now, with so many teams playing fast-break football, it makes sense to bring it to the gridiron, too. I'm surprised it hasn't become bigger. Yet.

Just out of curiosity (and because I had nothing better to do), I looked at all of Stanford's possessions this year, and tried to figure out how many points they score every time they get the ball. For scoring, I did not include PATs, successful two-point conversions, or defensive and special teams touchdowns. I did not include drives in which Stanford knelt down to run out the clock at the end of a half.

The results? On 102 possessions this year, Stanford's offense has scored 285 points. That's 2.79 points per possession. That's a very good number. Conversely, on defense, Stanford has allowed 162 points on 105 possessions, good for 1.54 points per drive. Not too shabby.

How does Oregon stack up? No Pac-12 team has scored more points than the Ducks this season, so if Stanford's offensive numbers are good, then Oregon's must be off the charts, right? Well...their offense has had 122 possessions this year and scored 312 points. That comes out to 2.56 points per possession. Pretty good. But not as productively efficient as Stanford has been this year.

Defensively, it has been a struggle for the Ducks. On 125 drives, they've allowed 285 points, or 2.28 points per possession. Once again, Gang Green has become Green Light.

For some perspective, I also looked at Cal's numbers, since the Bears are seventh in the Pac-12 in both points scored and allowed per game, and are close to the conference average in both categories. The Bear offense is averaging 2.11 points per possession (249 points on 118 drives), and the defense is allowing 1.83 points per possession (216 points on 118 drives).

And just for the heck of it, I crunched the numbers on the FBS scoring leaders (Baylor is scoring 3.55 points per possession. Think about that.) and the FBS's stingiest scoring defense (Michigan is allowing 0.72 points per possession).

For individual stats, I generally don't place too much value on passing yardage per game, especially when considering some teams like Washington State. For the Cardinal, a 400-yard passing day would be big news. For the Cougars, a 400-yard passing day would be called \"average.\" Meanwhile, all of these quick-throw, bubble-screen offenses have rendered the completion percentage statistic practically useless. It used to be a big deal when a quarterback completed 70% of his passes. Now, it's practically the norm.

So, as the game has evolved, passing yardage and completion percentage have lost their statistical value. The most telling stat for a quarterback's productivity now? Passing yards-per-attempt. That ratio has now become the only reliable way to tell if a passing game getting downfield and making big plays.

Luke Falk completed 11-of-16 passes in the fourth quarter last week, you probably wouldn't give it a second thought. But what if I told you those 16 passes went for 238 yards? That's almost 15 yards per pass. Impressive, no? I'd certainly take that over a quarterback who completes 14 of 16 passes, but for 120 yards.

Points per possession, turnover margin and third-down efficiency are reliable indicators of how well a team is playing, and how likely they are to win. Most of the other numbers? They're just noise. Watch a football telecast and you get blitzed with stats and numbers and ratios that reveal next to nothing (some networks are more guilty of this than others).

The trick is to find the numbers that matter. Only a select few statistics actually impact the most important numbers of all -- the ones on the scoreboard.

********** ********** **********

RANDOM PAC-12 THOUGHTS

I see the McCaffrey for Heisman push has officially begun. Not going to lie: got a smile on my face when I saw that email Tuesday morning...

Kevin Hogan's laser to Michael Rector for a 43-yard touchdown last week? That's probably my favorite throw of the year from Hogan. Sensational...

If you can give me a good, logical explanation for why Arizona went for it on fourth-and-two from the 50-yard line with a 20-17 lead in the third quarter, I'll give you a nickel...

I just took a look at the nominees for the Pac-12 football All-Century team. How in the world is Mike Hass not a nominee? That guy was dominant for years at Oregon State. Good to see Troy Walters, Ken Margerum, and James Lofton on the nominee list, though...

Not a Pac-12, thought... I think it boils down to this for the Big 12: no one is going to take it seriously until somebody -- anybody! -- starts playing defense on a regular basis in that league...

Not a Pac-12 thought, but... the NFL this year, by and large, has not been a compelling product. Good to see the Raiders and the Steelers buck that trend. Great game in Pittsburgh...

Not a Pac-12 thought, but... there is so much to say on the Missouri situation, and I have found many of the opinions that have sprung from this story to be, well, illuminating (but not surprising). I'll limit my thoughts to two items. (note: if you don't want to read them, feel free to skip ahead to the Pac-12 Picks. And don't ignore this disclaimer, read my thoughts anyway, then complain about me taking this space to share my observations after finding that they differ from your thoughts. Deal? Deal.)

One, I'd like to caution those who think that this whole thing happened because of \"just\" two racial incidents. As is usually the case with things like this, it's the accumulation of \"just\" an incident here and \"just\" an incident there that causes everything to eventually boil over. Some of these incidents get attention. Many, many, many others don't. I seriously doubt the situation at Missouri would have reached this point if things on that campus were completely healthy. I seriously doubt this would have caught fire like it did if it were \"just\" two incidents on that campus.

By the way, aren't \"just\" two incidents of racism still two too many?

Two, I don't think the biggest domino that had to fall here was the football players getting on board with the cause. It was Gary Pinkel. The Missouri head coach could very easily have dismissed this as something that was way, way outside the football bubble. He could very easily have said, \"this has nothing to do with beating BYU this week. Meetings and practice on Tuesday. See you then.\" Pinkel could have squashed it all. He didn't.

When explaining why the football program was the engine that drove this story onto the national agenda, I've heard many use that old maxim: \"follow the money.\" Okay. Wolfe's salary was reportedly $459,000. Pinkel's base salary? $4 million. That set of numbers fills in many of the blanks for me.

That's why it didn't matter how many protests the kids mounted, or how many faculty members lined up against Wolfe. But once Gary Pinkel sided with his players, Wolfe was toast.

And to me, that's further proof that the most influential figure on many campuses these days isn't the university president; it's the head football coach. Power means nothing without control. The students, the student-athletes, and the faculty who pushed for this result may be empowered now. But the control still lies elsewhere. On many campuses that control comes from the corner office at the school's football facility. And you know many of the reasons why.

Overall, I have very mixed feelings about all of this. I am thrilled for the kids for taking a stand. I am happy that they -- along with faculty members at Missouri -- shined a light on what was happening there, and continued a dialogue that this country needs to keep having if this problem is to be solved. But getting Wolfe to step down was the easy part. Now, can the kids, the faculty, the idiots responsible for the racial incidents (and we can all agree that those people are idiots, right?), and the new administration all listen to each other, come together, and make that campus a better place? That's the hard part. I just hope everyone there is ready for that part of the process and sincerely wants to see it through.

********** ********** **********

PAC-12 PICKS

USC (-16.5) @ Colorado (Friday). The Trojans have never lost to the Buffaloes. Ever. They're 9-0 all-time against Colorado. Can the Buffs make it 9-1? On Senior Night at Folsom Field? No. I like USC by 18.

Washington @ Arizona State (-2.5). I'll put it this way: I don't believe in the Husky offense enough right now to make me think it can keep the game close enough for the Sun Devils to find a way to blow it. I like Arizona State by 10.

Oregon State @ Cal (-20.5). This year, the best way to snap a losing streak in the Pac-12 is to play against the Beavers. I like Cal by 26.

Utah (-6) @ Arizona. Unless the Utes leave their defense in Salt Lake City, I like Utah by 13.

Washington State @ UCLA (-9.5). A big test for the Cougs, to be sure. If this game was in Pullman, I'd pick them. But since it's not, I like UCLA by 8.

Last week: 5-0 (straight-up), 3-2 (ATS).

This year: 21-9 (straight-up), 17-12 (ATS).

********** ********** **********

The 2015 season marks Troy Clardy’s 23rd year of following the Cardinal as a columnist, broadcaster, and announcer. Troy also calls baseball, softball, and soccer games for the Pac-12 Network. In its 14th season of Cardinal commentary, Clardy’s Corner appears Wednesdays during the college football regular season on TheBootleg.com. His “TreeCast with Troy Clardy” podcast is available for download via the Cardinal Sports Radio app from VSporto on Tuesdays and Fridays. You can also check him out online at TroyClardy.com, follow him on Twitter @TroyClardy, or Like him on Facebook.






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