Advanced Football Stats: Field Position

In a June series for WKUInsider, we're exploring the world of advanced football statistics. Part three looks at field position.

Part One: Explosiveness

Part Two: Efficiency

Part Four: Finishing Drives

Part Five: Turnovers


In a June series for WKUInsider, we're exploring the world of advanced football statistics.

Similar to tempo-free stats for basketball, these numbers are more complicated than the average metrics used, but tell the story of a team (or player,) much more accurately.

SBNation's Bill Connelly, an expert on advanced football stats, says there are five factors that makeup college football's most important measurements.

In part three of our series, we look at field position.


When watching a football game on television, fans always hear commentators talk about field position.

"Great starting field position for the Toppers on this drive, beginning at their own 45-yard line."

But how relevant really is this stat? Is there actually a big difference between starting at your own 40-yard line, and own 34?

According to the numbers, it's much more important than most realize.

Below is the game-by-game breakdown for WKU from 2013. Average starting field position is listed in parenthesis next to team name, followed by field position margin, estimated win probability, and the actual game result.


WKU (WKU 32), Kentucky (UK 29) :

Margin = +3

Estimated win probability = ~60 percent.

Actual result = Win


WKU (WKU 27), Tennessee (UT 41) :

Margin = -14

Estimated win probability = ~13 percent.

Actual result = Loss


WKU (WKU 29), South Alabama (USA 34) :

Margin = -5

Estimated win probability = ~40 percent.

Actual result = Loss


WKU (WKU 35), Morgan State (MSU 24) :

Margin = +9

Estimated win probability = ~78 percent.

Actual result = Win


WKU (WKU 28), Navy (Navy 26) :

Margin = +2

Estimated win probability = ~54 percent.

Actual result = Win


WKU (WKU 35), Louisiana-Monroe (ULM 20) :

Margin = +15

Estimated win probability = ~87 percent.

Actual result = Win


WKU (WKU 27), Louisiana-Lafayette (ULL 35) :

Margin = -8

Estimated win probability = ~22 percent.

Actual result = Loss


WKU (WKU 24), Troy (Troy 32) :

Margin = -8

Estimated win probability = ~22 percent.

Actual result = Loss


WKU (WKU 35), Georgia State (GSU 26) :

Margin = +9

Estimated win probability = ~78 percent.

Actual result = Win


WKU (WKU 32), Army (Army 29) :

Margin = +3

Estimated win probability = ~60 percent.

Actual result = Win


WKU (WKU 42), Texas State (TXST 28) :

Margin = +14

Estimated win probability = ~87 percent.

Actual result = Win


WKU (WKU 29), Arkansas State (ASU 32) :

Margin = -3

Estimated win probability = ~40 percent.

Actual result = Win


This is incredible. The winner of the average starting field position stat won 11-of-12 games that WKU played in last year.

The only game against the trend--the season finale vs. Arkansas State--was a little more than a coin flip.

In games where WKU started drives with an average field position of their own 30-yard line or better, the Toppers finished 5-0.

Conversely, an average starting position of their own 29-yard line or worse resulted in a 2-4 record, with the two wins coming from average starts at their own 29 (Arkansas State) and own 28 (Navy).


Why was field position such an important factor for the Toppers last year? According to Connelly, WKU finished No. 12 overall in 2013 for FBS (raw) efficiency, but only No. 77 overall in explosiveness.

So it only makes sense that in games where the Toppers faced lengthier drives, they didn't have the needed explosiveness to overcome longer fields.

But give an efficient team like the 2013 Toppers shorter fields? Hard to stop them from getting points.

It's also important to remember, WKU's high efficiency (success rate) helps win the field position battle on drives that don't score. Efficient teams often avoid three-and-outs, picking up at least one or two first downs on many drives--Then, at least even if your team has to punt, the other team has worse starting position.

That lowers the chance the opponent will score, and increases the chance WKU gets the ball back on their next drive with another short field.


Field position makes up 15 percent of Connelly's "Five Factors" formula, joining explosiveness (35 percent) and efficiency (25 percent).

Part four of our series will look at a factor former head coach Bobby Petrino was very high on--Finishing drives.

For more from Connelly, check out his book "Study Hall", available for order on Amazon.com.

Talk about the June football series with other Topper fans over at WKUInsider's free "Topper Club" forum.


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