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Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Ten+ Boring Predictions for 2010

Everyone that's writes about college football will have a "Bold Predictions" moment this season. They pick a few darkhorses to win their conferences, another one to win the Heisman, claim something new that has never happened before will happen, and do it all to generate a little discussion and get attention.

I want to make predictions that will endure the test of time. I want predictions that are rational, reasonable and, perhaps to some, just plain boring. I, too, will be completely wrong, but at least I actually try to be right. So hold on to your seats - here we go.

Prediction #1: Jake Locker will complete 61% of his passes, throw for 3,200 yards, rush for 600 and be dropped from the Heisman discussion before mid-October. How can you foresee anything but modest improvement for a guy heading into his final college campaign? Even if the kid is heroic, with their schedule he'd have to be Herculean to win 8 games, and he's not a Heisman candidate if his team is floating around .500. On the other had, if UW skates in with 9 or 10 wins, Mr. Locker will take home more hardware than Michael Phelps.

Prediction #2: Garrett Gilbert will be just as successful as Colt McCoy in his first (and second) go as a Longhorn. This means 9-3 regular season, 5-3 in conference, and a relatively prestiguous, non-BCS bowl game. I think the world underestimated the contributions of 3rd rounders Jordan Shipley and Jamaal Charles to Colt's success, and the Texas D took some heavy losses in 2009 as well.

Prediction #3: Have you guys seen the helmets Virginia Tech was wearing in the early 70s? Talk about hideous. I predict that no team in college football has helmets so ugly. And the Hokies will reign over the ACC again. Deep competition in the Coastal just gives Beamer room for error.

Prediction #4: One team from Alabama will be conference champions. That is, the Other Men of Troy. I was going to go with MTSU for the Sunbelt crown until Dasher ran into some troubles with Big Brother. I also predict that all of 10 people will watch a Sunbelt conference game this season, and they will all be next-of-kin.

Prediction #5: Someone will win the MAC, and nobody will care. The same goes for the Pac-10.

Prediction #6: Michigan loses another home opener. Like the other home openers (App State and Utah) Michigan loses this one because the Wolverines are not actually very good at football. And Rich Rod keeps his job because the state of Michigan is economically on par with Zimbabwe right now.

Prediction #7: Alabama's Greg McElroy will get more Heisman love than teammate Mark Ingram. But they'll both get left out in the cold because . . . (see Prediction #8). Kellen Moore will run away with the Heisman if Boise can beat Virginia Tech (See Prediction #9). Landry Jones would be able to turn a Big 12 championship into more hardware except he decides to sport the 'stache. In the end, the Heisman goes to . . .  (see Bonus Prediction).

Prediction #8: Florida wins the SEC. 'Bama will win Redneck Rumble III, but Florida will get revenge in the SEC championship game (RRIV). This will then cause the universe to implode (see Prediction #9).

Prediction #9: Boise State will . . . . not beat Virginia Tech. TCU will be the nation's only undefeated team, winning every game by 400 points. Both Florida and Alabama will claim a spot in the national championship game, and will have a legitimate argument. Oklahoma will be disqualified for the 'stache and the Pac-10 champion will be disqualified because they will officially become a professional franchise, trading places with the Raiders. The Big Ten champ will also have less claim to the title game than the SEC runner up (see Prediction #10).

Prediction #10: Ohio State will win the Big Ten. And Terrelle Pryor will again be quite pedestrian - because the guy has pedestrian talent. Sure he's fast, but he's not at all quick and he doesn't have good vision. Yes he can throw a spiral, but that's the only compliment I can bestow on his passing potential with a straight face. He seems like a good kid, but all hype. Ohio State loses two on its way to its last conference championship in Joe Pa's lifetime.

Bonus Prediction: The Heisman trophy goes to . . . .(Drumroll) . . .  Dion Lewis. Pitt wins 10 games and the Big East. Lewis puts up huge numbers - and he's a sophomore, which has been Heisman gold recently.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Distance Matters - Travel and HFA

In recent posts, I've shown that crowd size doesn't matter in home field advantage, and I've traveled around college football conferences to show that the teams with the large, historic stadiums are not the ones that enjoy the best home field advantage. In fact, the award for best home field advantage in the country probably goes to Texas Tech's Jones Stadium. Arizona St. got +10 points in the Pac-10 playing at home versus on the road, and Indiana got +9 in the Big Ten.

But if crowd size doesn't matter, why do home teams tend to play better? One answer is travel. Distance makes the heart grow fonder, the legs weaker, the body dehydrated, the sleep patterns disrupted, the equipment misplaced or forgotten, the preparation time cut short, the players distracted, and the visiting teams loser. And I can prove it.

Using game results from 2006 to 2009, we can measure the effect of travel on performance. The first model below uses basic linear regression. We use three variables - DOffense, DDefense and Distance. DOffense and DDefense measure how good the road team's offense and defense are compared to the home team's. Distance is the distance traveled in thousands of miles.

The "Coef." for DOffense and DDefense are about 1. This makes sense. A team that is 1 point better than its opponent on offense or defense will win, on average, by 1 point. If it is 14 points better on offense and 28 points better on defense it will win, on average, by 42 points (28+14=42).

For every 1,000 miles a team travels, it loses 1.68 points. So, when Georgia Tech travels 600 miles to play Miami, it loses a point, but gains a point when the U comes calling. That might not seem like much, but about one out of every 13 games, or almost one game a season for the average team, is decided by 2 points or less - the price in points a team pays for traveling 600 miles instead of receiving a team from 600 miles away.

We then add the "_cons", or the home field advantage not explained by distance, and consider the average distance traveled for a game is about 500 miles, to get a net average home field advantage just under 1/2 a touchdown.

The logistic regression measures the effect of these variables on the probability that the road team will win. An "Odds Ratio" greater than 1 means that, as that variable increases, the odds of winning increase. If the Odds Ratio is less than 1, as that variable increases, the odds of winning decrease. Therefore, being 1 point better increases a team's odds by 1.13 and 1.15 for offense and defense, respectively. Traveling 1,000 miles decreases a team's odds of winning by more than a quarter (.694). So, for example, if Duke and North Carolina were evenly matched when UNC traveled to Duke (odds of UNC win = 1 to 2), the odds of a UNC victory drop to .818 to 2 if they had to travel 1,000 miles for that same game. In this scenario, 1 out or every 5 games is determined by travel.

What does this amount to? About 1 game in every 11 games has a different outcome because of where the game was played. 38% of that influence is a product of the distance that teams travel to play their road games. That, to me, is a pretty big deal.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Toughest Places to Play: Big Ten

No conference in the country has bigger stadiums than the Big Ten and, if we exclude Northwestern's diminutive and sparsely population Ryan Field, the Big Ten tops all conferences in average attendance. (Otherwise, the SEC averages about 5,000 more in attendance per game.)

But even in the Big Ten, where average attendance ranges from over 100,000 to less than 30,000, more fans in the stands doesn't seem to help teams win. In conference games since 1994, home teams in the Big Ten have won 56.8% of conference games and have been about one touchdown better per game. Ohio St. has won 81% of their home games in this stretch, but this has little to do with a home field advantage - the Buckeyes also won 75% of road games. The Buckeyes were 6.25 points better at home than on the road, meaning the Buckeyes enjoyed less of a home field advantage than the conference average. Michigan, college football's attendance leader, got less of a boost at home - only 5.42 points per game.

The toughest place to play in the Big Ten has been Indiana's Memorial Stadium, capacity 52,000. The Hoosiers have been 9 points better and 2.5 times more likely to win at home. On the other hand, Illinois has seen no advantage to playing in their own Memorial Stadium (62,000 capacity). Illinois team's since 1994 have been 2.27 points better at home than on the road, but they actually have won more road games than home games in that period.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Boise St vs. Virginia Tech

More information will be available in the expected box score as the season progresses.
Click Here to see a complete expected box score
Click here for an explanation

America Wants a non-AQ Champion

Dear BCS ranking gods,

Brevity is the soul of wit, so I'll be brief. Americans want to see Boise St. or TCU in the national championship game this year. And I don't mean a few Americans. I mean all Americans. Every single resident of this country (except Colin Cowherd).

Let me demonstrate.

1) Boise St. and TCU - true by definition

2) WAC and MWC - That which is good for one is good for all. Attention, exposure, revenue, and new opportunities. C-USA, MAC, Sunbelt have less to gain, but nothing to lose.

3) Alabama, Florida, Texas, OU, Ohio St. - The contenders want to see Boise St or TCU in the title game as well. Think about it. If you could choose the WAC champ or SEC champ, which would you want to see in January?

4) The rest of the BCS - If you're not going to be playing in January, don't you want Boise to get in, get stomped, and put the debate to rest? Get Orin Hatch off your back a little? Nothing was sweeter for the Cowherd's of the world than watching Georgia slam Hawaii in 2007.

5) Everyone else - Independents love Boise. The blue turf. Ian Johnson scoring on the Statue of Liberty and with the cheerleader. They mistakingly see Boise as the Pistol Pete of college football. And this isn't just my opinion. According to a recent ESPN poll, about half the country would prefer Boise St win the championship over any of the top-ranked traditional powers. Not just play for the championship, but actually win it all.

6) The media - Boise or TCU would draw huge ratings and interest. They don't have huge individual followings. They are more like the bearded lady - I'm not a fan in any sense, but you know I'm going to look.

Of course, TCU and Boise have to get the job done on the field. But one of the two will be undefeated 12 games from now, and when that happens, I hope you're ready to bestow your divine benevolence upon these lowly programs.


Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Sun Devil > Autzen? HFA in the Pac-10

Whenever I talk about home field advantage in the Pac-10, people love to bring up Oregon's Autzen Stadium.

And so the stories are told. How UCLA quarterback Pat Cowan lost his voice shouting audibles above the din in 2006 (Oregon 30, UCLA 20).
How Dennis Erickson, when he returned to the Pac-10 at Oregon State in 1999, didn't realize how Autzen had changed since his time at Washington State in the 1980s and neglected to create hand signals for audibles (Oregon 25, Oregon State 14).
And how USC sophomore Mark Sanchez, making only the third start of his career, threw two interceptions in 2007 (Oregon 24, USC 17). The Trojans are back, this time with an even younger quarterback, freshman Matt Barkley.

Oregon won that game 47-20.

Oregon performs better and wins more at home. Since 1994, they've won 74% of conference games at home and only 58% on the road. In fact, every team in the Pac-10 has a better win% at home than on the road in conference play, but the margin is relatively slim. Home teams have won 56% of games and outscored opponents by 5.5 points in the last 16 years, significantly less than the 7 point national average.

And Oregon does not stand out in its own conference. In fact, the only team in the Pac-10 to really differentiate itself with a strong home field advantage is Arizona St - they have been almost 10 points better and 50% more likely to win when playing at Sun Devil Stadium. Cal and UCLA also make a strong showing.

The easiest place to play in the Pac-10 is next door at Arizona Stadium. In fact, Arizona gets very little advantage whatsoever from playing at home.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Where's the 12th Man - HFA in the Big 12

October 10, 1998. I called in to work, put on my best sick voice, and explained to my boss I wouldn't be able to make it in. I was needed in Kyle Field.

#18 Texas A&M jumped out to a 21-7 lead against #2 Nebraska, but Nebraska made a 4th quarter run and cut the lead to 7. With time running out, the Huskers had the ball and the momentum, but the Aggies' Sedrick Curry cut in front of a receiver and picked off the Bobby Newcombe pass.

Rarely has a college football stadium been louder. Aggies take pride in a tradition that hearkens back to E King Gill and Centre College. Where King was prepared to be the 11th man on the field, Aggie fans today are supposed to be a 12th Man, influencing the outcome of the game from the sidelines. Sedrick Curry was the beneficiary of a miscommunication between Newcombe and an inexperienced receiver - the 12th Man had done its job. Or so I thought.

It turns out that crowd size, and with that, crowd noise, do not affect the outcome of games on average. Of course, a game here or there might have ended differently in a vacuum, but home fans are as hurtful as helpful. For every interception "caused" by crowd noise, there is an interception thrown because the quarterback tries to impress the home fans. Crowds may encourage the home team, but silencing a hostile stadium can be just as inspiring for some athletes. Every 1,000 fans in your stadium is worth .02 points, or 18 inches of field position.

This means that the stadiums that get the most attention for being big and rowdy are not necessarily the most helpful to their teams. And we can test this. Using only conference games, we can look at the average difference between how teams did on the road versus at home. Because their home and road opponents are equal on average, most of the difference between teams performance at home and on the road should be driven by home field advantage.

We begin with the Big 12. Since it was formed in 1994, 1,453 Big 12 conference games have been played in non-neutral sites. (Most significantly, this excludes Texas/OU games, but that will not affect the final results). In those games, home teams have won 58% of the time, outscoring their opponents by almost 9 points per game. Few conferences exceed a home/road difference of 7, so home field is a very big deal in the Big 12.

The team with the largest differential is Texas Tech. When looking at this subject a couple of years ago, I then concluded that Jones Stadium is the toughest place in the country to play. Tech is, on average, two touchdowns better at home than on the road. They've won 73.3% of their 60 home games, but only 41.7% of 60 road games when playing Big 12 opponents.

And the easiest place to play? That would be Darrell K Royal - Texas Memorial Stadium. Apparently, giving your stadium a very long name does not help you win football games. The Longhorns are less than 5 points better at home than on the road. In terms of win/loss record, Missouri and Oklahoma St. are at the bottom of the barrel. By playing at home, these two schools only improve their odds of winning by 1.7 (or odds of winning on road*1.7 = odds of winning at home). The conference as a whole averages an odds ratio of about 2. Baylor and Texas Tech top the list with odds ratios over 3.5.

Ranking the teams from top to bottom in home field advantage based on point differential and winning odds ratio, we come up with the following list. Going back to an earlier argument that home field advantage is primarily about travel, we see that the teams with the biggest HFA are not the power programs with large stadiums, but the programs in isolated locations. Because the Big 12 has more isolated destinations than the other major conferences, home field is more important.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Rankings High: Scientific Proof that Preseason Polls Matter

This is a re-posting. Given today's AP poll, it seemed appropriate.

This post will be a bit technical, but bare with me. I have argued before (rather convincingly, I think) that preseason polls are somewhat effective at predicting the eventual national champ.1 This then begs the question--do preseason polls just predict or do they actually influence the final rankings?

Those who argue that preseason and postseason polls are independent say that any correlation between the two shows that pollsters made some good guesses about which teams will be good and which won't. Florida might not finish #1 in 2009, but I can guarantee that they'll finish in the top 10. It's also possible that the relationship is spurious-voters put Notre Dame too high and Utah too low at all times, be it pre-, post-, or mid-season.

There is another camp that argues that preseason polls influence final rankings. They point to the stepwise fashion in which teams move in the polls. It is usually controversial for a team to jump another team unless the second team lost that week, and therefore those teams that start on top have an advantage over those that need to jump them. It can also be hard to get noticed if you start outside of the top 25. Consequently, preseason polling gives some teams a head start.

I also think we should not underestimate the importance of the pernicious disease I call Neuheiselitus. Much like Eli Manning or Mall Cop, people can't seem to figure out that Rick Neuheisel isn't actually any good at what he does. It often takes a while for pundits to realize that some talented teams with high expectations aren't any good. On the other end of the spectrum is Applewhiteocious-just because they couldn't find a helmet that didn't cover his eyes didn't mean Major Applewhite wasn't twice the quarterback that Chris Simms could ever hope to be, and yet he had a hard time staying on the field. This is disease is alternatively called Flutiecoccus and is now plaguing Hyundai and Canadian bacon.

Whose right? To answer that question, I used regression to estimate the importance of different factors-win/loss record, strength of schedule, national prestige, and, of course, preseason ranking. Basically, by taking into account other factors that can influence a team's final ranking, I can isolate the unique influence of preseason polls on postseason results.

I've used data from 1994 to 2008 from AP Poll Archive. I first used regression to predict the final rankings using only the win/loss records and the strength of schedule. In the blue box, you see the R-squared is .78-this means that just using these four factors we can very accurately predict the final rankings. The green box shows the strength of the effects. Each win moves a team up the polls (closer to number 1) by 1.6 on average and a loss moves you down 3.4. That should seem about right. A tougher schedule also moves a team up in the polls-no surprise there.
Next, I add prestige factors-total wins for the program, national champions and whether or not they are in a BCS conference. Of these, only being in a BCS conference really matters (if the number below P>|t| is above .05 the factor is not significant). On average, a team in a BCS conference will finish about 5 spots higher than another team not in a BCS conference with the same record and strength of schedule. Figures.
Next, I add general measures of the team's performance. the PerfRating is based on margin of victory and EloRating just on win/loss record (like those used for the BCS computer rankings). The EloRating is not significant because it measures the same thing as the win/loss record and strength of schedule, but the PerfRating is important. Finally, I add the preseason rankings. You will notice that the P>|t| value is below .05, which means that preseason polls have a real influence on postseason polls. In other words, the results in the final rankings would be different if we didn't do preseason polling. But before we get too excited, it is important to also look at the coefficient (=.0539). One spot in the preseason poll moves a team up .05 spots in the final poll. Or, being ranked 5th instead of 25th will move a team up one spot in the final rankings. So, while preseason polls do inappropriately influence final rankings, the effect is not large. It is marginal at best compared to conference affiliation, for example, which can be worth 4 spots in the final rankings.
One group does benefit more than others. The table below lists the biggest benefactors of preseason polling. The Pred. is where the team should have finished, but they all finished between 2 and 5 spots too high even after accounting for performance, wins and losses, SOS, conference affiliation, etc. They also have some other commonalities. They are major programs from BCS conferences. They were ranked between 2 and 5 before the season started and finished between 9 and 28 - in other words, they were thought to be national title contenders, but were, in fact, major duds. Classic cases of Neuheiselitus
In summary, preseason polls do influence final results in a way they are not supposed to, but not enough to really worry about. And teams in BCS conferences can lose one more game than an otherwise equal non-BCS team and still finish higher in the polls. Non-BCS conspiracy theorists have been right all along.

A Few Notes on Kickers

FBS kickers convert 72.8% of field goal attempts. They make 74% at home and a little less than 71.5% on the road. This means that about 9% of field goals missed on the road would have been good at home. Or, 1 in 40 field goal attempts is affected by home field advantage. I wouldn't call that a difference maker.

In 2009, Missouri connected on 26 of 27 attempts for a nation's best 96.3%. Akron made only 7 of 17, for a nation's worst 41.2%. Missed field goals cost Indiana more than 2.5 points per game. In 2009, 38 games were lost on missed field goals. New Mexico, Oklahoma and Connecticut lost 2 games each on missed field goals.

About 1 in 7.8 points in 2009 were scored on field goals. Kai Forbath of UCLA scored 30% of his team's points on field goals, while Nevada got less  than 4% of its 483 points on field goals.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Conference Contributors, WAC and MWC

With all this realignment talk, I've been thinking a lot about how much a team is really worth to a conference. Conference alignments are, first and foremost, about money - they are, in fact, nothing more than a cartel that would be illegal outside of sport. (90% of what happens in sports would be illegal elsewhere.)

Because the rewards of cartel membership are shared, you want to be sure that each team pulls its own weight, or in other words, represents a positive marginal value to the conference. Some teams represent a positive marginal value because they bring the conference to 12 members, or because the legal ramifications and negative PR of kicking the team out would be too costly. Iowa State and Baylor got an unfair share of Big XII dollars before this summer because they had 12-member, legal, and PR leverage. When they lost that, they were glad to take a smaller share of new Big XII money to keep the conference alive. And this is the reason the WAC/MWC showdown has been so bloody - the only leverage these teams have is there own capacity to generate revenue.

So what do these teams have to offer? Yesterday, I posted that BYU and Utah represented 43% of ticket sales in the MWC. Ironically, Boise St, Nevada, and Fresno St represented 43% of sales in the WAC in 2009. To the left is a listing of the ticket sale value of each team in the two conferences. Basically, this value represents the demand each team creates at home and on the road. While this is only ticket sales, you can assume there is a strong correlation between this value and television viewership, merchandise sales, etc. Every team below Air Force contributed less than 1/9th of ticket sales in their conference.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

College Football's Millionaire Club

Eleven teams exceeded one million in total attendance (home and road games) in 2009.

1)  Ohio St      1,225,379
2)  Penn St      1,196,655
3)  Alabama      1,168,636
4)  Texas        1,163,755
5)  Michigan     1,161,337
6)  Florida      1,160,386
7)  Tennessee    1,109,069
8)  Auburn       1,087,194
9)  LSU          1,079,728
10) Georgia      1,014,963
11) Nebraska     1,010,137

Why the MWC needs the state of Utah

When the University of Texas comes calling, opposing stadiums fill up. The same is true for Notre Dame. In 2009, host stadiums attracted an additional 9,000 ticket holders above the season average for the Irish and Longhorns. Utah and BYU have the same effect in the MWC. In 2009, these two programs added 8,100 and 5,600 in attendance, respectively, when they came to town.

BYU and Utah are also the two biggest draws for home games in the MWC. BYU averages 64,000 and Utah 45,000, compared to a league average below 35,000. 

Last season, there were 1,142,146 total in attendance for conference games in the MWC. Almost a 1/4th of those came to BYU's Lavell Edwards Stadium, and another 180,008 gathered in Utah's Rice-Eccles Stadium. If we adjust these figures for the fan appeal of visiting teams, and then add in the fans attracted by BYU and Utah when they traveled, BYU and Utah accounted for 492,121 stadium-goers for conference games in 2009. That represents 43% of all attendees.

Let me say that again. Two conference teams, or 22% of the conference, are responsible for 43% of ticket sales

Boise St. is a major draw and should help other teams recover some lost revenue, but Boise St, Fresno St, and Nevada cannot replace the revenue generated by the conference's Utah members.

Today is BYU's Independence Day (?)

A few facts:

1) BCS automatic qualifier status will not affect BYU's decision. The MWC is not getting BCS AQ status. Yes, the MWC did pick up Boise St, but their pre-MWC accomplishments will not count towards BCS qualification. Without Utah, the MWC doesn't stand a chance. As it stands, BYU needs to be undefeated to be considered for an at-large invitation to a BCS bowl. If they stay in the MWC, BYU will need to be undefeated to be considered for an at-large invitation. As an independent, BYU will need to be undefeated to be considered for an at-large invitation.

2) BYU averaged 64,000 at home games and has a relatively large national fan base compared to most schools of its size. The MWC average a little more than half that. Fresno St and Nevada, together, would only bring that average down. And the MWC tv deal is terrible. Without Utah, what incentive, financial or otherwise, does BYU have to stay in the MWC?

3) Why does BYU want to leave? Exposure. BYU has a slight divide between those who support the football team for the sake of the football and those who think that the football team should only exist to serve the broader mission of the university and the Church that owns it. Exposure brings both sides into the same camp. That is why independence will happen.

4) Why else does BYU want to leave? The MWC is now tainted with the stench of the conference that Utah left behind. To retain standing in the rivalry, BYU had to make a move. BYU is trying to regain pride by becoming the Notre Dame of the West.

5) Independence will not be a financial move. The raison d'etre of BYU-TV is to be seen, not to make money - that is why it has state of the art equipment to broadcast devotionals. BYU would have to jack up the price on BYU-TV to make money from televising football games. BYU does not want to jack up the price. They want to retain 100 million subscribers and potential viewers (exposure!).

In sum, BYU's BCS status will not change. BYU will not make more money as an independent (but they will not make less), but they will gain exposure. Everyone is happy, for now, in Provo, and BYU can claim some kinship with Notre dame, Army and Navy when Utah clamors on about the Pac 10.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

It Could Happen in 2010

1) A non-AQ plays for (40%) and wins (15%) a national championship. No one will emerge undefeated from the Pac 10, Big 10, Big XII, ACC, or Big East, so TCU or Boise St just need to win out to get a spot in football's big dance.

2) Two conference foes play for the national championship (<5%). I repeat, no one will emerge untainted from the other five BCS conferences. Alabama and Florida will go toe to toe during the season and then again for the conference championship. If they split, and the rest of the country has at least one loss - Boise St loses to Va Tech and TCU loses to someone - why not turn it into a best of three?

3) Heisman Repeat (45%). It's happened before, and it will probably happen again, and it just might happen again this season. Ingram is the best known commodity of the Heisman candidates. His toughest challenge will be overcoming his own teammates. He will lose carries to Trent Richardson. And QB Greg McElroy will put up big numbers of his own this season.

4) A team from South Bend is underrated (50%). And I don't mean Holy Cross. There is some talent on campus at Notre Dame. I believe Brian Kelly will make something of that talent, win 9 games, and finish the season in the top 25.

5) Rich Rodriguez will start looking more like Dan Hawkins and your '79 Pinto (80%). Dan Hawkins is 16-33 at Colorado. Colorado, remember, won the North 4 of the 5 years before Hawkins arrived. Rich Rod is 8-16 with the all-time winningest program in college football. Your beat up Pinto needs more in car repair every month than it would cost to buy a new car. But you, like Colorado and Michigan, can't afford to ditch the old and bring in the new.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Most Accurate Returning QBs from 2009

The Adjusted+ is a complete measure of quarterback accuracy. It starts with a quarterbacks completion% and adjusts that percentage based on the strength of schedule and the yards per catch. For example, in 2009 Ryan Mallet of Arkansas only completed 55.8% of his passes, ranking him 130th of qualified passers (48+ passes). But he averaged 16 yards per catch and faced the 8th toughest pass defense, so his Adjusted+ comes out at 68.6%, ranking him 9th of qualified passers.

Today, we are looking at the most accurate passers from 2009 that are returning in 2010. All five were on the bench at the start of 2009, and two will be on the bench at the start of 2010.

1) Zach Collaros, Cincinnati (81.8) - No Brian Kelly and no Mardy Gilyard, and no Tony Pike. The Big East Championship swings on whether Collaros was a system quarterback surrounded by great talent, or a real talent himself.

2) Steven Sheffield, Texas Tech (77.6) - I can't help but think of the Chris Simms/Major Applewhite debate at Texas in 2001. If that's the case, expect Sheffield to eventually take over the starting spot from Taylor Potts. Like Collaros, it will be interesting to see how much was Sheffield and how much was the system.

3) Brian Reader, Idaho (72.3) - Reader stepped into a tough situation last season and showed no fear. He averaged 17 yards per catch (4th among qualified passers). He completed 65% of his passes if you count those caught by the other team, too. He should clean up his act when needed this season and provide solid support to Enderle.

4) John Brantley, Florida (71.3) - The Brantley era begins, and I think it will be a rougher go. Brantley is unique on this list because he is not more mobile than the quarterback he subbed in for, and when defenses aren't preparing for Tebow, Brantley will be less effective.

5) Kyle Padron, SMU (69.7) - Padron stepped in half way through the season and not only won the starting job, but chased the loser out of town. He'll get tested in 2010 - SMU gets a Tuberville-coached Texas Tech and TCU in September. How did the rest of Texas let June Jones bring in a Southlake qb?

Monday, August 16, 2010

Crowd Size Doesn't Matter

It is a truism of sports that spectators influence the outcome of the game. Fans encourage the home team and disrupt/distract the road team. They are the 12th Man. Right?

Wrong. At least as it applies to college football, the effect of the crowd seems to be massively overstated.

First, larger crowds do not disrupt road teams. In conference games*, road teams are slightly more likely to be penalized than home teams (1 extra penalty every four games, 2.5 extra penalty yards per game), but crowd size has no effect on the number of penalties or penalty yards for road teams. Using multiple regression, we find that increasing the number of fans in a stadium by 1,000 increases the average penalty yards for the road team by -.187 to .033 . In other words, it is just as likely that larger crowds lead to fewer penalty yards as more penalty yards for road teams. 

But fans also encourage the home team to play harder, right? If this were the case, we would expect home teams to average more yards than road teams - and they do, about 19 extra yards per games - and we would expect the size of this difference to be influenced by crowd size. Unfortunately, not true. After controlling for the number of yards that a team gains on the road, every 1,000 fans at a home game increases a team's offensive output by 1/20 of a yard - a whopping 1.8 inches. Because every yard, on average, is worth about .1 points, 1,000 fans in your stadium is worth 1 point every 35 years or so. The 12th Man isn't pulling his weight.

And, finally, do butts in the bleachers help a team win. Whether or not they influence penalty or yard totals really doesn't matter if they can help the home team get over the hump when it matters, right? In 2009, home teams facing conference opponents won 57.7% of the time (and, consequently, road teams won 1-.577=42.3%). But this does not mean that crowd size is the cause. To test the contribution of crowd size on winning and losing, we use logistic regression to predict the probability that the home team will win given its winning% on the road, the opponent's winning% and the number of fans in attendance. Remarkably, this simple model predicts the winner 80% of the time, but crowd size is, again, not a factor. Even in close games decided by less than 7 points, when crowd noise should be most important, the size of the crowd has no effect in choosing winners from losers.

Bigger crowds do help a program in other ways. They generate revenue and lead to greater media exposure. Atmosphere is important for recruiting, even if it isn't important for performance. And crowd size may be missing the point - what really matters is crowd noise, not just size. It may be true that Oregon's 55,000 are louder than Michigan's 110,000. But crowd size and noise are correlated - as one increases, the other tends to increase as well. 

But home teams win 57% of the time, right? There has to be some explanation. My theory is this - home field advantage is principally of product of travel. The the longer the road trip, the better. Living in the boonies helps, too. Crossing times zones is especially important. Travel causes tight, tired muscles, dehydration, interrupts normal eating patterns and preparation ceremonies, and the new surroundings can be distracting to less-experienced athletes. The crowd is just another piece of that new environment.  

*All calculations are based on non-neutral conference games in 2009 - 466 games in all. Using only conference games is a simple and reliable way of controlling for the relative strength of home and road teams.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

CFBTN on twitter

Texas travels 1,987 miles this season for road games. Longhorn opponents will travel 4,785 to play Texas. This advantage in travel is worth 27.6 points over the course of a season, or 2.30 points per games.

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    2010 Mecca of CFB? Louisiana Tech. Team's will travel 6,936 miles to play the LaTech this season, the most after excluding Hawaii travel

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    Hawaii will go 5,500 miles to play Army. Only 7 teams will travel more in the entire season combined, and 5 of those go to Hawaii

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    Purdue and Western Michigan will not travel more than 300 miles for any one game this season

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    3 teams have 7 "plane trips" (300+ miles) on the schedule this season: Florida Atlantic, Idaho, and Arkansas St.

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    Hawaii, on the other hand, will tavel 21,632

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    In a 12 game schedule, Western Michigan will only travel 712 miles this season.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

2010 Win Distribution, Selected CFB Teams

Send requests for other teams to