“Advanced” statistics from The Citadel’s 2017 SoCon campaign

Other recent stats-related posts:

Part 1 of Inside the Numbers (The Citadel’s 2017 run/pass tendencies and yards per play numbers)

Part 2 of Inside the Numbers (The Citadel’s 2017 fourth-down decision-making and plenty of other statistics)

League-only statistics for the SoCon in 2017 (all teams), plus assorted observations you can’t live without

This is a post primarily about the “Five Factors” of college football. For what it is worth, I made a similar post last season about The Citadel’s 2016 season.

I’m also going to mention three other not-so-advanced stats later in this post, but we’ll start with the Five Factors. As I did last year, let me quote Bill Connelly of SB Nation on what the Five Factors actually are:

…I’ve come to realize that the sport comes down to five basic things, four of which you can mostly control. You make more big plays than your opponent, you stay on schedule, you tilt the field, you finish drives, and you fall on the ball. Explosiveness, efficiency, field position, finishing drives, and turnovers are the five factors to winning football games.

  • If you win the explosiveness battle (using PPP), you win 86 percent of the time.

  • If you win the efficiency battle (using Success Rate), you win 83 percent of the time.

  • If you win the drive-finishing battle (using points per trip inside the 40), you win 75 percent of the time.

  • If you win the field position battle (using average starting field position), you win 72 percent of the time.

  • If you win the turnover battle (using turnover margin), you win 73 percent of the time.

Those percentages were based on 2013 FBS data. It’s now 2018, but there is no particular reason why they shouldn’t still be valid. Connelly made adjustments to some of the formulas that go into the five factors (especially the “explosiveness” category), but the basic principles are the same.

I’ve already gone over a bunch of statistics in my annual post on per-play numbers, conversion rates, etc., (see Part 1 and Part 2), but these are slightly different types of stats.

What follows is a package of advanced statistics for the Bulldogs’ 2017 season. It comes with its very own spreadsheet.

Keep in mind that these stats are for SoCon games only. Also, please remember that the stats were compiled by me, so they may not be absolutely perfect. You don’t get a refund if there are any mistakes, though.

I’ll be using some FBS numbers for comparison purposes, as there are no readily available equivalent stats online for FCS teams. Now, you may be wondering whether or not FCS stats would be similar to those for the FBS.

For the most part, they should be — with a couple of possible caveats. I asked Bill Connelly a question about FBS vs. FCS stats and potential differences, and he was nice enough to respond. Here is what he had to say about it on his podcast:

…The one thing you will notice is the further down you go, from pro to college, from FBS to FCS, Division II to high school and all that…the more big plays you’re going to have, and the more turnovers you’re going to have. That’s going to be the biggest difference, because you’re going to have more lopsided matchups, and you’re just going to have more mistakes. And so if you go down to the FCS level, it’s not going to be a dramatic difference with FBS — but that’s going to be the difference. You’re going to have more breakdowns, you’re going to have more lopsided matchups to take advantage of, you’re not going to have quite the same level of proficiency throughout a defense, and so there will be more mistakes on defense, and I think the reason North Dakota State has been so good is that they’re about as close as you can get to kind of being mistake-free in that regard.

As someone who has watched various levels of football for a long time, I tend to agree with that idea. I will add, though, that while there may be a slightly wider variance in terms of overall quality in FCS as opposed to FBS, it is probably less prominent in most intra-conference games, like those for the SoCon, where for the most part eight of the nine teams were very competitive last season.

Now that I’ve got all that out of the way, let’s look at the Five Factors.

Field position

The key thing to remember here is that you measure an offense’s effectiveness (in terms of field position) by the starting field position of its defense (and vice versa).

Special teams play is obviously critically important for field position as well. Net punting, kickoff coverage, the return game — it all counts.

The FBS national average for starting field position in 2017 was the 29.6 yard line.

-Average starting yard line of offensive drives-

The Citadel Opponent Margin
(Home) 32.6 26.1  6.5
(Road) 29.4 30.6 -1.2
Total 31.0 28.3  2.7

The Citadel won the field position battle in five of eight league contests. In a bit of an anomaly, in games played by the Bulldogs, the team with the edge in field position only won twice.

The Bulldogs had similar field position numbers at home in 2016, but were significantly better on the road that season.

A corollary stat to field position is “3-and-outs+”, which is forcing an offense off the field after a possession of three plays or less that does not result in a score. Last season, The Citadel’s offense had a “3-and-outs+” rate of 27.5%, while the Bulldogs’ opponents had a rate of 35.2%. That 7.7% differential was excellent.

In 2017, however, The Citadel had a negative differential in 3-and-outs+, with an offensive rate of 34.4% and a defensive rate of 31.9%. (For anyone interested, this year I have included a tab on the spreadsheet breaking down the game-by-game numbers in this category.)

The Citadel’s net punting average in SoCon play was 35.1; the league average was 36.4. The Bulldogs were slightly below league average in yards per punt return, and slightly above average in yards per kick return.

On kickoffs, The Citadel had a touchback rate of 46.7%, well above the conference average (28.8%) and second in the league, behind only East Tennessee State (which had a very impressive touchback rate of 72.7%).

Stanford (+9.1) and Alabama ranked 1-2 in field position margin for FBS. Kansas, with a FP margin of -9.2, was far and away the worst FBS team in the category.

Efficiency

With efficiency, we’re talking about a statistic called “Success Rate”. Here is its definition, via Football Outsiders:

A common Football Outsiders tool used to measure efficiency by determining whether every play of a given game was successful or not. The terms of success in college football: 50 percent of necessary yardage on first down, 70 percent on second down, and 100 percent on third and fourth down.

The FBS national average for Success Rate in 2017 was 40.3%; the median was 41.8%.

-Success Rate-

The Citadel Opponent Margin
(Home) 37.77% 38.62% -0.85%
(Road) 40.63% 50.00% -9.37%
Total 39.03% 43.27% -4.24%

The Citadel split the efficiency battle in league games, coming out ahead four times, but falling short by a big margin in two of the other four games.

For a few more details, see the tab on the spreadsheet.

Last season, The Citadel’s offense had a success rate in league play of 45.4%, while the defense was also better in the category (39.9%).

The nature of the Bulldogs’ offense is such that Success Rate is particularly important. The Citadel has to remain “on schedule”, and consistently staying in good down-and-distance situations is paramount.

In FBS, Oklahoma led all teams in offensive Success Rate, at 53.2%. Army ranked second, followed by Ohio State, UCF, and Washington. Navy was 10th, Clemson 16th, Alabama 17th, and South Carolina 65th.

As for the remaining triple option teams, Air Force was 27th, Georgia Tech was 45th, New Mexico was 98th, and Georgia Southern was 119th. UTEP was last nationally, with an offensive Success Rate of only 32.7%.

Michigan had the top defensive Success Rate in FBS, at 30.6%. The top 5 also included Clemson, Wisconsin, Northern Illinois, and Auburn. Others of note: Alabama was 7th, Georgia 11th, Notre Dame 18th, South Carolina 59th, and East Carolina last (with a defensive Success Rate of 50.6%).

Explosiveness

As was the case last year, I think an explanation of “IsoPPP” is necessary. Again, from SB Nation’s Bill Connelly:

IsoPPP is the Equivalent Points Per Play (PPP) average on only successful plays. This allows us to look at offense in two steps: How consistently successful were you, and when you were successful, how potent were you?

The Citadel will never be a national leader in “Explosiveness”, due to the nature of its offense. That isn’t to say big plays aren’t a key feature of a successful triple option attack, as they certainly are. However, the (hopefully large) number of relatively modest-but-successful plays tends to cancel out those long gainers when the statistic is calculated.

The Bulldogs only came out ahead in this category in one of eight league games. That was also the case last season, so I wouldn’t be overly concerned about it, at least on offense. Defensively, the Bulldogs allowed too many big plays on the road, and that is reflected in the numbers.

-Explosiveness (IsoPPP)-

The Citadel Opponent Margin
(Home) 1.04 1.05 -0.02
(Road) 1.06 1.44 -0.38
Total 1.05 1.24 -0.19

The FBS national average for Explosiveness was 1.17. Memphis led the division in offensive IsoPPP, at 1.48, just ahead of Oklahoma and Oklahoma State. Mississippi was 4th, and UCF 5th.

This is just the umpteenth example of how amazing Oklahoma’s offense was last season. Finishing 1st in Success Rate and 2nd in Explosiveness is just an incredible statistical combination.

The triple option teams were all below average in IsoPPP, with the exception of New Mexico (53rd overall). Georgia Southern ranked last (0.93), just behind Army. Given that the Black Knights won 10 games last season, I don’t think Jeff Monken is too worried about his squad’s offensive IsoPPP numbers.

Washington was the national FBS standard-bearer for defensive IsoPPP (0.93). The rest of the top 5: Fresno State, Clemson, Michigan State, and Wyoming. Alabama was 8th and South Carolina was 19th (a key factor in the Gamecocks’ improved record last year).

The bottom two teams in defensive IsoPPP were Georgia Southern and Air Force, with the Falcons trailing the field (1.46).

Georgia Southern was last in offensive IsoPPP, and next-to-last in defensive IsoPPP. In related news, it was a tough year in Statesboro.

Finishing Drives

This category calculates points per trip inside the opponent’s 40-yard line. It’s a supersized version of the “Red Zone”, with the theory being that the true scoring territory on the field begins at the +40.

The FBS national average for points per trip inside the opponent’s 40-yard line in 2017 was 4.42.

-Finishing Drives-

The Citadel Opponent Margin
(Home) 2.36 5.33 -2.97
(Road) 3.63 5.76 -2.13
Total 2.95 5.59 -2.64

This is beyond ugly. The Citadel’s opponents had the edge in this category in seven of eight games, with the exception being Wofford.

Yes, even VMI, which scored just three points against the Bulldogs, did better in finishing drives. Of course, one reason for that was the Keydets had only one such drive during the game, scoring those three points on it.

The Citadel, meanwhile, averaged 1.4 points per drive inside the 40 against VMI.

The Bulldogs’ offense actually had one more opportunity inside the 40 in conference play last season than it did in 2016. However, it averaged 4.53 points per such drive in 2016, as opposed to a measly 2.95 points in 2017, a difference of 1.58 points per drive.

That’s an enormous differential. If you extrapolate those numbers, The Citadel’s offense scored eight more points per game in “inside the 40” situations in 2016 than it did last year. That is a huge difference.

The defense also did not fare as well last year in preventing opponents from finishing drives with points. The point differential from 2016 to 2017 for the Bulldogs’ D was about four points per contest inside the 40.

In 2016, The Citadel had a scoring margin per game in conference play of 11.1. In 2017, that number was -6.6, for a differential of 17.7 points.

The difference in the “finishing drives” category alone amounted to 12 points per league contest.

The trouble the Bulldogs had in plus territory, both offensively and defensively, wasn’t the only thing (in terms of quality of play) that separated The Citadel’s last two seasons. It was a major factor, however.

Florida Atlantic led the nation in finishing drives (offense) in 2017, with a stellar 5.5 points per trip inside the 40-yard-line. Lane Kiffin leaned on running back Devin Singletary to carry the freight in scoring territory, and the sophomore delivered, leading FBS in rushing touchdowns with 32 while rushing for 1,920 yards.

The team with the best defense inside the 40 was Troy, which allowed only 3.13 points per drive in those situations.

Ohio State ranked first in finishing drives margin (combining offense and defensive numbers), at +1.8 points per drive inside the 40. Wisconsin was 2nd, followed by Washington and Alabama.

On the opposite end of the spectrum was Kent State, which had the worst finishing drives margin in FBS (-1.88). Also in the bottom five: San Jose State, UTEP, Tennessee, and Oregon State.

Turnovers

First, a table of the actual turnovers:

The Citadel Opponent Margin
(Home) 10 6 -4
(Road) 2 6 4
Total 12 6 0

Those home turnovers were decidedly unpleasant. More than a few of them happened when it looked like the Bulldogs were about to score.

This next table is the “adjusted” or “expected” turnovers:

The Citadel Opponent Margin
(Home) 9.74 6.04 -3.7
(Road) 3.54 4.24  0.7
Total 13.28 10.28 -3.0

The expected turnovers statistic is based on A) the idea that recovering fumbles is a 50-50 proposition, and B) a little over 1/5 of passes that are “defensed” are intercepted. In other words, if a defensive back breaks up four passes, the fifth one he get his hands on would likely be a pick.

The “passes defensed” interception rate is calculated at 22%.

Basically, the Bulldogs committed too many turnovers, and were a little lucky to finish with a break-even mark in turnover margin.

Some teams in FBS were a lot luckier, however. Stanford had a -3.8 expected turnover margin, but actually finished with a turnover margin of +16. Other squads that had good fortune in this area: Purdue, Iowa State, Wyoming, Alabama, and Louisiana Tech.

On the other hand, Marshall won eight times last season (including a bowl game) despite a -8 turnover margin, when the expected turnover margin for the Thundering Herd was actually +1.9.

How did The Citadel fare in the “Five Factors” head-to-head with each opponent in league play?

  • at East Tennessee State: 1-4, with Bulldogs dominating TOP but not taking the lead (thanks to miscues) until the fourth quarter
  • at Samford: 2-3, but never in the game; SU’s combined offensive Success Rate/Explosiveness was quite decisive
  • Mercer: 1-4, but the advanced stats were all close except for Finishing Drives
  • Wofford: 2-2-1, and the game could have gone either way
  • at Chattanooga: 1-4, with some very close numbers; three UTC turnovers outweighed a sizable field position edge for the Mocs
  • VMI: 4-1, a frustrating game for the Bulldogs in some ways, but still never really in doubt after the first quarter
  • Western Carolina: 1-4, a contest defined by multiple turnovers by the Bulldogs in the Red Zone
  • at Furman: 0-4-1, the sole highlight being that The Citadel committed no turnovers

There are three other statistical categories that I’m going to mention in this space. All of them are included in tabs on the linked spreadsheet (and all reference SoCon games only).

-First down yardage gained per play-

The Citadel Opponent Margin
(Home) 5.95 4.75 1.20
(Road) 5.70 7.40 -1.70
Total 5.83 6.06 -0.23

Not on the spreadsheet, but worth mentioning:

  • The Citadel’s offense averaged 6.49 yards on first down in 2015, including 5.94 yards per rush on first down and 11.04 yards per pass attempt on first down
  • The Citadel’s offense averaged 6.21 yards on first down in 2016, including 6.14 yards per rush on first down and 6.65 yards per pass attempt on first down
  • The Citadel’s offense averaged 5.83 yards on first down in 2017, including 5.39 yards per rush on first down and 7.76 yards per pass attempt on first down

The Bulldogs were better on first down pass attempts in 2017 than the year before, but not really good enough. In a “standard down” situation, a triple option team needs to be considerably better. I would hazard a guess that averaging at least nine yards per pass attempt on first down should be the goal.

The decline in rushing yardage per first down play is also something that has to be reversed for the 2018 campaign.

-3rd down distance to gain (in yards)-

The Citadel Opponent Margin
(Home) 5.48 9.10 3.62
(Road) 6.48 7.19 0.71
Total 5.98 7.62 1.64

That isn’t bad, but not quite as good as last season, when the margin was 2.49.

In FBS, the top three offensive teams in this category were all triple option outfits — Army, Navy, and Georgia Tech. The Citadel would have slotted in nicely behind them in this category, as the 3rd-ranked Yellow Jackets had a need-to-gain average on 3rd down of 5.97.

Definition of “passing downs”: 2nd down and 8 yards or more to go for a first down, 3rd/4th down and 5 yards or more to go for a first down

-Passing down success rate: offense-

Rushes Pass Attempts Success rate
(Home) 47 23 25.71%
(Road) 58 32 33.33%
Total 105 55 30.00%

In 2016, The Citadel ran the ball 75.6% of the time on “passing downs”. Last season, that number declined to 65.6%, a full ten percentage points. The success rate also declined, perhaps not surprisingly.

The Bulldogs were only successful 18.2% of the time when throwing (or attempting to throw) on passing downs. More than fourth-fifths of the time, a pass play in that situation either resulted in an incomplete pass, a sack, or a completion that did not gain The Citadel a first down (or set up 3rd-and-short after a 2nd down play).

-Passing down success rate: defense-

Rushes Pass Attempts Success rate
(Home) 36 55 26.37%
(Road) 18 45 31.75%
Total 54 100 28.57%

The Citadel’s opponents were a little more successful throwing the ball on passing downs, but not by a huge margin. Only 26 of 100 pass attempts (which include sacks) against the Bulldogs’ D on passing downs resulted in successful plays.

No matter how you slice it (and when it comes to football statistics, there are a lot of different ways to use a knife), The Citadel had a somewhat disappointing gridiron campaign in 2017. Some of the improvements necessary to ensure a more successful 2018 are fairly obvious. Others are perhaps a bit more obscure.

Regardless, we’re all ready to see how the team fares this year — as we are every year, stats or no stats.

A brief look at “advanced” statistics from The Citadel’s 2016 SoCon campaign

This is a post primarily about the “Five Factors” of college football.

What are the Five Factors? I’ll let Bill Connelly of SB Nation explain:

…I’ve come to realize that the sport comes down to five basic things, four of which you can mostly control. You make more big plays than your opponent, you stay on schedule, you tilt the field, you finish drives, and you fall on the ball. Explosiveness, efficiency, field position, finishing drives, and turnovers are the five factors to winning football games.

  • If you win the explosiveness battle (using PPP), you win 86 percent of the time.

  • If you win the efficiency battle (using Success Rate), you win 83 percent of the time.

  • If you win the drive-finishing battle (using points per trip inside the 40), you win 75 percent of the time.

  • If you win the field position battle (using average starting field position), you win 72 percent of the time.

  • If you win the turnover battle (using turnover margin), you win 73 percent of the time.

Those percentages were based on 2013 FBS data. It’s now 2017, but they probably still apply. Connelly has made adjustments to some of the formulas that go into the five factors, but the basic principles remain the same.

What I wanted to do was see how The Citadel’s 2016 SoCon season looked when the Five Factors were taken into account. I’ve already gone over a bunch of stats in my annual post on per-play numbers, conversion rates, etc., but this is something I haven’t tried to calculate before.

It wasn’t easy, either. FCS statistics for the categories mentioned above basically don’t exist online (at least, I certainly didn’t find any of consequence). The fact the Southern Conference does not have league-only online stats didn’t help.

However, I put together a small package for The Citadel’s season. It is far from perfect, and may not mean much to some people (perhaps for good reason).

There are still almost two months before the opening kickoff, though. So at the very least, it’s better than not talking about football at all.

I’m going to go over the Five Factors now. Afterwards, there are three other statistical categories of note I wanted to briefly discuss. One of them in particular struck me as worth mentioning.

First things first: a spreadsheet! The spreadsheet includes individual game statistics for all of these categories.

Again, a reminder — these stats are for SoCon games only. Also, overtime statistics are not included.

Also, I’m going to use FBS numbers for comparison purposes throughout this post, mainly because there are no FCS equivalent stats online. I’m guessing that if FCS stats were available, they would be similar to those from FBS. At least, I hope so…

Field position

I think field position is possibly the easiest of the Five Factors to understand. The one thing to think about with field position is this: you measure an offense’s effectiveness (in terms of field position) by the starting field position of its defense (and vice versa).

Also, special teams play is obviously important. Net punting, kickoff coverage, the return game — all of that matters.

The FBS national average for starting field position in 2016 was the 29.7 yard line.

-Average starting yard line of offensive drives-

The Citadel Opponent Margin
(Home) 32 26.5 5.5
(Road) 32.25 29 3.25
Total 32.125 27.75 4.375

The Citadel won the field position battle in five of eight games. One of the things that helped the Bulldogs the most in this aspect of the game was the “three-and-out” differential.

Simply put, The Citadel’s defense did a good job of forcing the other team off the field in three plays or less (the “less” occurring when the Bulldogs’ D created a turnover). The offense tended to have longer drives than its opponents, and that usually tilted the playing field in The Citadel’s favor.

The Citadel’s offense had a “3-and-out+” rate of 27.5%, while Bulldogs opponents had a rate of 35.2%. That 7.7% differential was substantial. It would have ranked in the top 35 in FBS, for example.

The top 3 defenses in FBS in 3-and-out+ differential in 2016 were Temple, Clemson, and Ohio State; each had a differential of more than 17%. Those three teams had a combined record of 35-7, with two league titles and two CFP bids (including the playoff winner).

The Bulldogs also benefited from good special teams, particularly kickoffs.

The net punting does not show up quite as well; I find that frankly puzzling, because The Citadel had a generally solid performance from its punt team all season (with the exception of a blocked punt against Wofford).

My guess is that because there wasn’t as much field to work with a lot of the time (as the Bulldogs often had a territorial advantage in individual contests), that there were only so many net punting yards to be had.

Also of note, The Citadel had significantly better net punt/kickoff numbers at home.

Efficiency

With efficiency, we’re talking about a statistic called “Success Rate”. Here is its definition, via Football Outsiders:

A common Football Outsiders tool used to measure efficiency by determining whether every play of a given game was successful or not. The terms of success in college football: 50 percent of necessary yardage on first down, 70 percent on second down, and 100 percent on third and fourth down.

The FBS national average for Success Rate in 2016 was 40.9%.

-Success Rate-

The Citadel Opponent Margin
(Home) 48.20% 43.60% 4.60%
(Road) 42.10% 36.20% 5.90%
Total 45.40% 39.90% 5.50%

As was the case with field position, The Citadel won the efficiency “contest” five out of eight times in 2016 league play.

Incidentally, for the Western Carolina and ETSU games, only first-half statistics were calculated for Efficiency and the next category (Explosiveness). That is because both games were essentially over at halftime.

Bill Connelly, in his book Study Hall, expounds on this line of reasoning:

…The goal of the game for one team has changed from winning to making the game end as quickly as possible…the game is, in effect, over, and what happens after ‘garbage time’ begins is no longer truly evaluative of the teams at hand.

Defining when a game is no longer competitive can be tricky. After all, we’ve all seen big comebacks (The Citadel’s 2011 victory over Chattanooga comes to mind). Still, I think it is fair to consider the WCU and ETSU contests as no longer being in doubt after the first half.

The most efficient opposing offense against The Citadel in 2016 was Samford, which ran a successful play 50% of the time against the Bulldogs’ D. Then there was the game at Wofford, where The Citadel’s offense was only successful on 25% of its plays, by far the lowest percentage for the team all season in league action.

Explosiveness

How is this category defined? Well, with something called “IsoPPP”, and believe me, I had no idea what that was myself until I started researching this topic.

IsoPPP is the Equivalent Points Per Play (PPP) average on only successful plays. This allows us to look at offense in two steps: How consistently successful were you, and when you were successful, how potent were you?

This definition doesn’t really benefit The Citadel, because a lot of the Bulldogs’ successful plays last season were of the “move the chains” variety — five yards on first down, two yards on 3rd-and-1, etc. Every now and then, someone would bust a big play, but that was counterbalanced by all the “smaller” good plays The Citadel had.

This is reflected in the numbers, as the Bulldogs only came out ahead in this category in one of eight league games. Even ETSU had slightly higher “explosiveness” despite being out of the game at halftime.

That doesn’t mean this statistic doesn’t matter as far as The Citadel is concerned. Of course it does.

The Bulldogs need more big plays on offense. They can win without them (as they did in the Chattanooga game, when The Citadel’s longest play from scrimmage was Dominique Allen’s 15-yard gain on the offense’s first play of the game), but it’s much easier to move down the field in large chunks.

The FBS national average for Explosiveness was 1.27.

-Explosiveness (IsoPPP)-

The Citadel Opponent Margin
(Home) 0.924 1.109 -0.185
(Road) 1.068 1.132 -0.064
Total 0.985 1.119 -0.134

Finishing Drives

This category calculates points per trip inside the opponent’s 40-yard line. It’s more or less an elongated version of the “Red Zone” concept.

The FBS national average for points per trip inside the opponent’s 40-yard line in 2016 was 4.47.

-Finishing Drives-

The Citadel Opponent Margin
(Home) 4.5 4.1 0.4
(Road) 4.5 4.7 -0.2
Total 4.525 4.407 0.118

The Citadel had the edge in this category in six of its eight SoCon games. Of course, the Bulldogs also had many more opportunities to add to their “finishing drives” totals than their opponents; The Citadel had 40 such drives in league play, while their opposition had 27.

Turnovers

First, a table of the actual turnovers:

The Citadel Opponent Margin
(Home) 3 5 2
(Road) 4 9 5
Total 7 14 7

A net margin of 1.0 turnover per league contest is a good way to win a lot of games. In FBS, Washington and Western Michigan tied for the national best in turnover margin per game, at 1.29. Only six FBS squads had a net of 1.0 turnover per game or higher.

This next table is the “adjusted” or “expected” turnovers:

The Citadel Opponent Margin
(Home) 5.82 6.9 1.08
(Road) 3.58 6.7 3.12
Total 9.4 13.6 4.2

The difference is that The Citadel had a bit more “turnover luck” than its opponents. The expected turnovers stat is based on A) the idea that recovering fumbles is a 50-50 proposition, and B) that a little over 1/5 of passes that are “defensed” are intercepted. In other words, if a defensive back breaks up four passes, the fifth one he get his hands on probably should be a pick.

In case anyone is interested, I calculated the “passes defensed” interception rate at 22%.

Just because the Bulldogs may have had a bit of good fortune in the turnover department last season, that doesn’t mean a regression is imminent. They start on the same playing field as everyone else this year.

Now, let’s see how The Citadel did in the Five Factors on a game-by-game basis in league play:

  • at Mercer: The Citadel won 3 of the 5
  • Furman: The Citadel won 4 of the 5
  • at Western Carolina: The Citadel won all 5
  • Chattanooga: The Citadel won 2, UTC won 2, and there were no turnovers
  • at Wofford: The Citadel won 2 out of 5
  • ETSU: The Citadel won 3 out of 5, but 4 of 5 in the decisive first half
  • Samford: The Citadel won 0, Samford won 4, and there were no turnovers
  • at VMI: The Citadel won 2, VMI won 2, and each team had one turnover

As for the “what happened?” results, a few explanations:

– Chattanooga: a close game, obviously, that The Citadel won at home

– Wofford: went to OT; field position doesn’t account for the “Pitch 6”

– at VMI: the Keydets’ turnover resulted in a defensive TD; also, The Citadel crushed the “Efficiency” category

– Samford: went to OT, and, uh…

Two of the four categories that favored Samford were very close (Efficiency and Explosiveness). I think one takeaway from that game might be that when one team runs a lot more plays from scrimmage (86-64), it could have a “hidden” edge in efficiency no matter the numbers.

As it was, Samford was up 10 points with six minutes to play in the game. Then the tide suddenly turned on a Cam Jackson run on third-and-long. One TD later, one three-and-out later, one quick field goal drive later, and the game was headed to OT.

We move on from the “Five Factors” (well, at least I’m moving on) and wrap this up with three other statistical categories that I think could be of some interest.

-First down yardage gained per play-

The Citadel Opponent Margin
(Home) 6.69 6.06 0.63
(Road) 5.68 5.11 0.57
Total 6.21 5.59 0.62

To be honest, I was inspired to look these numbers up while perusing Athlon’s 2016 college football annual, which included statistical tidbits for all 128 FBS teams. Some highlights:

  • Western Kentucky’s offense led FBS in average yards gained on first down, with 8.9. That was well ahead of second-place South Florida (8.1).
  • The worst FBS squad in this category was Fresno State (just 4.4 yards gained on first down on average).
  • Minnesota’s defense topped FBS in allowing first down yardage, with its opponents averaging 4.3 yards.
  • I don’t know which team was worst in FBS, but FIU’s defense was 126th out of 128, allowing 7.5 yards per opponent first down. Butch Davis needs to bring in some players.

I also went back and took a look at The Citadel’s 2015 conference numbers in this area, for comparison.

  • The Citadel’s defense allowed an average of 6.09 yards on first down in 2015, including 5.47 yards per rush on first down and 6.80 yards per pass attempt on first down
  • The Citadel’s defense allowed an average of 5.59 yards on first down in 2016, including 3.29 yards per rush on first down and 7.98 yards per pass attempt on first down

The Bulldogs’ D just shut down the running game on first down in 2016. It allowed a bit more per pass attempt, but not enough to prevent an improvement from the year before of a full half-yard.

Okay, we’re leading up to something that is not on the spreadsheet, but which is important.

  • The Citadel’s offense averaged 6.49 yards on first down in 2015, including 5.94 yards per rush on first down and 11.04 yards per pass attempt on first down
  • The Citadel’s offense averaged 6.21 yards on first down in 2016, including 6.14 yards per rush on first down and 6.65 yards per pass attempt on first down

This is something that needs to change in 2017. The Citadel doesn’t throw often, but when it does, it has to make it count. That is especially true on a “standard down”, i.e. a down in which the opponent would not normally expect the Bulldogs to pass. First-and-10 is definitely one of those downs.

Averaging 11 yards per attempt is outstanding, but it is also something that you would almost expect to see in a well-oiled triple option offense. In a typical game, the Bulldogs may throw the ball on first down 2 or 3 times. With the element of surprise, at least one of those passes needs to go for long yardage.

-3rd down distance to gain (in yards)-

The Citadel Opponent Margin
(Home) 5.54 6.32 0.78
(Road) 5.85 10.33 4.48
Total 5.68 8.17 2.49

Air Force’s offense led FBS in yards to go on 3rd down, needing on average 5.5 yards to move the chains. I don’t have the complete list (or even a partial list), but I would suspect that 5.68 would put a team somewhere in the top 15 range, maybe the top 10.

Massachusetts had the worst offensive numbers in this category, needing on average 8.4 yards to make a first down.

Definition of passing downs: 2nd down and 8 yards or more to go for a first down, 3rd/4th down and 5 yards or more to go for a first down

-Passing down success rate: offense-

Rushes Pass Attempts Success rate
(Home) 64 17 40.74%
(Road) 57 22 36.71%
Total 121 39 38.75%

I think it is safe to say that not many teams in D-1 ran the ball 76% of the time on “passing downs”. That success rate may not look good, but it combines fairly well with the Bulldogs’ effort on defense.

-Passing down success rate: defense-

Rushes Pass Attempts Success rate
(Home) 17 60 35.06%
(Road) 42 45 25.29%
Total 59 105 29.88%

The Citadel’s defense was very good at stopping a receiver from picking up the first down after the catch, assuming he was still short of the sticks when he received the ball. This explains why opponents only had a success rate of 45% even on completed passes.

I’m not going to pretend to be an expert on any of what I just posted. This is the first time I’ve tried to perform some of these calculations; it’s possible I may not be 100% correct on everything.

However, if I thought it was all a bunch of garbage, I wouldn’t have posted it. I do have some standards, mediocre as they may be.

Any comments, suggestions, or corrections are appreciated. Also, if someone could hit the fast-forward button to football season, that would be nice.

Revisiting college football of the 1970s (and early 1980s) with 21st-century statistics

Just a quick, somewhat nerdy post to pass the time before the opening kickoff…

One great thing about college football is its long and often well-documented history. There are a lot of stories, and a lot of ways to tell those stories — including using statistics to drive the narrative.

I’ve enjoyed reading Bill Connelly’s series of posts at SBNation that look back at college football over the past 40+ years, including his ranking of teams based on their estimated S&P ratings in each given season (dating back to 1970). I know a fair bit about the history of the sport, but I’ve learned more than a few new things perusing these articles.

If you want to get up to speed on what major college football was like in the latter part of the 20th century, you could do a lot worse than to read these yearly summaries. That includes The Citadel’s history in I-A.

Because the Southern Conference did not move to I-AA until 1982, The Citadel is included in the ratings from 1970 (the earliest year Connelly has written about so far) until 1981. So are the other SoCon teams of that era, along with the Ivy League squads and several other schools that are currently members of what is now known as the FCS. There is also a smattering of schools that no longer play football (Cal State-Los Angeles, Wichita State, and Tampa, just to name three of them).

Comparing the smaller schools to major-conference squads is not an easy exercise, and I’m not saying any ratings system can capture the similarities (or the differences). I think it’s worthwhile to take a look at the numbers, though.

Below is a summary of each year from 1970 to 1981, including the rankings (not ratings) for The Citadel and a selection of other schools for each season.

– 1970 (123 Division I schools)

  • The Citadel (ranking of 106)
  • Dartmouth 5
  • Toledo 12
  • Air Force 21
  • South Carolina 37
  • Army 85
  • Clemson 86
  • Navy 96
  • Maryland 105
  • Furman 109
  • Rutgers 114
  • Davidson 116
  • VMI 122
  • Holy Cross 123

Yes, Dartmouth is fifth in the estimated S&P+ rankings for 1970. That is almost certainly too high (as Connelly notes, schedule connectivity is an issue when it comes to these types of ratings), but the Big Green did finish the regular season ranked 14th in the AP poll (and also won the Lambert Trophy).

Nebraska (AP) and Texas (UPI) split the mythical national championship. It was also a great year for Toledo (12-0). For VMI (1-10) and Holy Cross (0-10-1), not so much.

– 1971 (128 Division I schools)

  • The Citadel (ranking of 100)
  • Villanova 25
  • Cornell 26
  • South Carolina 49
  • Clemson 80
  • Navy 95
  • Army 98
  • SMU 99
  • Maryland 101
  • East Carolina 106
  • North Carolina State 116
  • Furman 118
  • VMI 122
  • Baylor 123
  • Davidson 125

It is a bit jarring to see Baylor rated below VMI and just ahead of Davidson, but the Bears (1-9) were at rock-bottom in 1971. (At least, rock-bottom in terms of on-the-field results.)

Nebraska, with one of the all-time great teams, finished #1 in both major polls. Colorado finished third in the Big 8…and third in the AP poll.

– 1972 (127 Division I schools)

  • The Citadel (ranking of 105)
  • Dartmouth 20
  • Yale 25
  • Tampa 26
  • Baylor 35
  • South Carolina 84
  • Clemson 87
  • Wisconsin 103
  • Northwestern 106
  • VMI 115
  • Wake Forest 116
  • Davidson 120
  • Cincinnati 122
  • Furman 125
  • Appalachian State 127

It was another banner year for Dartmouth and Yale. Were they top-25 good? Probably not, but they were very solid programs.

Tampa was no joke, either, winning ten games and the Tangerine Bowl, beating Kent State. Among the players in that bowl game, by the way: John Matuszak, Freddie Solomon, and Paul (Mr. Wonderful) Orndorff, who all suited up for the Spartans; and Jack Lambert, Gerald Tinker, Gary Pinkel, and Nick Saban, all of whom played for the Golden Flashes.

That group includes three extremely notable NFL players with a combined eight Super Bowl titles between them; a well-known professional wrestler; an Olympic gold medalist; the all-time winningest coach at two different D-1 schools; and a former head coach of the Miami Dolphins.

You may have noticed Baylor leaped in the rankings from 123rd to 35th in one season. The 1972 campaign was Grant Teaff’s first season on the Brazos; in 1974, Baylor would win the Southwest Conference for the first time in 50 years. Not a bad coach, that fellow.

In 1972, Southern California went wire-to-wire to claim the top spot in the AP poll (and every other poll that mattered that year).

– 1973 (129 Division I schools)

  • The Citadel (ranking of 115)
  • Kent State 9
  • North Carolina State 15
  • Miami (OH) 17
  • East Carolina 20
  • Richmond 25
  • South Carolina 42
  • Navy 58
  • Furman 80
  • Clemson 87
  • Washington 114
  • Fresno State 116
  • Wake Forest 117
  • VMI 119
  • Army 124

A very weird year, 1973. Notre Dame wound up winning the AP title; Alabama won the UPI crown, but this was the last year UPI voted before the bowls — and Notre Dame beat Alabama in the Sugar Bowl following the regular season. Oklahoma is ranked first in the estimated S&P ratings, but the Sooners were on probation.

Then you had the Michigan-Ohio State tie and the infamous Big 10 vote that sent the Buckeyes to the Rose Bowl…

Miami of Ohio was unbeaten in 1973, while Kent State was a very impressive 9-2. It was a nice year for the MAC.

– 1974 (129 Division I schools)

  • The Citadel (ranking of 104)
  • Miami (OH) 4
  • Yale 29
  • Vanderbilt 32
  • Clemson 42
  • Navy 78
  • Florida State 85
  • VMI 86
  • South Carolina 94
  • Army 109
  • Furman 113
  • TCU 118
  • Northwestern 120
  • Oregon 123
  • Utah 127

Miami of Ohio was 10-0-1, tying Purdue in its second game of the season, then reeling off nine straight wins, including a Tangerine Bowl victory over Georgia.

Vanderbilt was 7-3-2, with wins over Florida and Mississippi. The second of its two ties came in the Peach Bowl against Texas Tech. Vandy’s coach was Steve Sloan, who left after the season to take the head coaching position at…Texas Tech.

Sloan took several of his assistants with him, one of whom was Bill Parcells. The coach Sloan succeeded at Texas Tech? Jim Carlen, who took the South Carolina job.

Oklahoma, despite being bowl-ineligible, won the AP national title. The UPI poll, which did not include teams on probation, gave the nod to 10-1-1 Southern California.

– 1975 (137 Division I schools)

  • The Citadel (rank of 116)
  • Arkansas State 7
  • Miami of Ohio 19
  • Arizona State 20
  • Rutgers 38
  • Brown 43
  • Navy 48
  • South Carolina 60
  • Air Force 102
  • Furman 105
  • Clemson 114
  • Cornell 117
  • VMI 130
  • Army 131
  • Louisville 136

This was Arkansas State’s first season as a member of Division I, and it basically destroyed the Southland Conference (and a few independents) en route to an 11-0 season. I don’t think it was a top-10 outfit, but Arkansas State did all it could do on the field.

Arizona State finished 12-0 with a Fiesta Bowl win over Nebraska, and #2 in both polls (Oklahoma grabbing the top spot in each). At the time, ASU was in the WAC, not the Pac-10; the modern-day equivalent would probably be a team like Houston finishing second. Would the Sun Devils had made a hypothetical four-team playoff?

Cornell finished 117th in the S&P+ rankings, one spot ahead of The Citadel. In 1976, the Big Red would finish 91st in the rankings. Cornell’s overall record during that two-year stretch was just 3-15, and as a result the school’s AD (future NCAA chief Dick Schultz) fired its head coach, George Seifert.

Seifert’s next head coaching gig was slightly more successful.

Just ahead of The Citadel in the ’75 rankings was Indiana, helmed by Lee Corso. So from 115 to 117 you had a grouping of Corso, Bobby Ross, and Seifert.

– 1976 (137 Division I schools)

  • The Citadel (rank of 68)
  • East Carolina 14
  • Iowa State 19
  • Yale 23
  • William & Mary 26
  • Furman 36
  • South Carolina 38
  • Navy 62
  • Clemson 77
  • Florida State 85
  • Cornell 91
  • VMI 93
  • Army 114
  • Air Force 115
  • Northern Illinois 137

Pittsburgh (12-0) finished second in the estimated S&P+ ratings but #1 in both polls, and the Tony Dorsett-led Panthers deserved the national honors.

1976 was a fine year for the Southern Conference. Among other things, this was one of two years in the 12-year period I’m reviewing that both The Citadel and VMI finished in the top 100 of the S&P+ ratings, with the Bulldogs’ season featuring a victory over Air Force.

In its final year in the league, William & Mary had a solid campaign. The Tribe finished 7-4, including a road sweep of Virginia and Virginia Tech.

East Carolina won the SoCon and ranked 14th in these ratings. The Pirates were 9-2, losing to North Carolina and a resurgent Furman.

– 1977 (145 Division I schools)

  • The Citadel (ranking of 105)
  • Tennessee State 7
  • Grambling State 19
  • Clemson 20
  • Yale 35
  • Navy 45
  • South Carolina 56
  • Army 66
  • VMI 78
  • Tulane 106
  • Virginia 118
  • Air Force 126
  • Furman 129
  • Wake Forest 132
  • Oregon 133

1977 was the first (and only) year the highest-level HBCU programs competed as Division I members in football; the following season, those schools moved to the newly created I-AA level. The lack of schedule connectivity between the HBCUs and the other D-1 schools was even more pronounced than for the Ivy League teams, which tends to be reflected in the ratings.

Having said that, Tennessee State and Grambling State were both tough Tigers to tame. Grambling was led by quarterback Doug Williams, who finished 4th in the Heisman Trophy voting that season (and who would later be a #1 NFL draft pick and Super Bowl MVP). GSU only lost one game in 1977 — to Tennessee State, 26-8. The following spring, TSU had seven players chosen in the first six rounds of the NFL draft.

Notre Dame won the national title, led by a quarterback named Joe Montana. He was something of a clutch performer.

– 1978 (138 Division I schools)

  • The Citadel (ranking of 109)
  • Clemson 14
  • South Carolina 48
  • Navy 52
  • Furman 78
  • Iowa 115
  • Minnesota 117
  • West Virginia 118
  • Illinois 121
  • VMI 124
  • Army 125
  • Boston College 132
  • Vanderbilt 135
  • Air Force 137
  • Northwestern 138

Alabama and Southern California split the title, despite the Trojans beating the Crimson Tide early in the season (at Legion Field!) and finishing with the same number of losses (one).

There were a lot of terrible major-conference teams in 1978, so many that 1-10 Wake Forest didn’t even make my “selected others” listing. The bottom of the Big 10 was particularly bad.

– 1979 (140 Division I schools)

  • The Citadel (ranking of 116)
  • Temple 5
  • Clemson 17
  • North Carolina State 18
  • South Carolina 23
  • McNeese State 34
  • Wake Forest 35
  • Virginia 41
  • Navy 88
  • Furman 107
  • VMI 122
  • Army 126
  • Vanderbilt 128
  • Northwestern 133
  • Air Force 140

The Citadel beat an SEC team in 1979 by two touchdowns but still didn’t get an upward bump in the ratings, because the victim in question was 1-10 Vanderbilt. While Vandy was struggling, though, some other long-suffering programs had some fun this season, led by an ACC school.

Wake Forest won eight games and played in the Tangerine Bowl. Eight of the Demon Deacons’ eleven regular season matchups came against teams that finished with at least seven victories; Wake Forest won five of those eight contests, and also beat 6-5 Georgia in Athens.

Temple went 10-2, losing only to Pittsburgh and Penn State, and won the Garden State Bowl. The Owls weren’t the fifth-best team in the country, but they were a tough out.

Alabama finished #1 in both polls in 1979 with a 12-0 record. The Crimson Tide allowed just 67 points in 12 games, including five shutouts.

– 1980 (138 Division I schools)

  • The Citadel (ranking of 48)
  • McNeese State 31
  • Furman 34
  • Navy 37
  • Clemson 49
  • Villanova 52
  • Yale 57
  • Army 93
  • Georgia Tech 101
  • Air Force 110
  • VMI 111
  • Colorado 123
  • Cincinnati 125
  • Oregon State 132
  • Northwestern 134

Georgia won the national title in 1980, thanks in large part to the phenomenon that was Herschel Walker, freshman running back.

This was The Citadel’s top ranking in the S&P+ ratings during the 1970-1981 time frame. The Bulldogs were 7-4 in 1980, going undefeated at home, with two of the four losses coming to Wake Forest and South Carolina.

It was a good year in general for a lot of smaller programs, including McNeese State. During the 1979 and 1980 seasons, the Cowboys had a combined record of 21-3, losing twice in bowl games…and once to a I-AA school. That second loss (to Northwestern State) doesn’t count against McNeese State in the ratings system (which only accounts for I-A opponents).

– 1981 (137 Division I schools)

  • The Citadel 83
  • Clemson 3
  • Yale 30
  • Navy 36
  • South Carolina 39
  • Furman 90
  • Army 95
  • VMI 97
  • Colorado 101
  • Air Force 107
  • Virginia 111
  • Oregon 114
  • Indiana 122
  • Oregon State 134
  • Northwestern 136

I didn’t realize until recently that Joe Avezzano was the head coach of Oregon State during the early 1980s. Avezzano later became a well-respected special teams coach for the Dallas Cowboys, but his career record in Corvallis was 6-47-2. His 1981 team lost ten straight games after beating Fresno State in the season opener.

Northwestern’s head coach in 1981 was future NFL boss Dennis Green; it was his first year in Evanston. The Wildcats finished 0-11. The next season, Northwestern won three games, and Green was named Big 10 coach of the year.

Oregon State and Northwestern were not easy places to coach in this era.

Clemson won the national title in 1981. While the Tigers were third in the estimated S&P+ ratings, the two teams ahead of it were Penn State (which lost two games) and Pittsburgh (which lost at home to Penn State by 34 points). Clemson beat Nebraska in the Orange Bowl to cement its spot at the top of the AP and UPI polls.

That wraps up this abbreviated review of the 1970-1981 seasons. However, just for fun, here are the final estimated S&P rankings for the seven I-A/FBS schools that The Citadel has beaten since 1982.

  • 1988 Navy: 79th out of 105 I-A schools
  • 1989 Navy: 83rd out of 106 I-A schools
  • 1990 South Carolina: 20th out of 107 I-A schools
  • 1991 Army: 96th out of 107 I-A schools
  • 1992 Army: 95th out of 107 I-A schools
  • 1992 Arkansas: 35th out of 107 I-A schools
  • 2015 South Carolina: 88th out of 128 FBS schools

I was surprised at the ratings for 1990 South Carolina (which finished 6-5) and 1992 Arkansas (3-7-1). That Razorbacks squad did beat Tennessee (which was ranked #4 at the time) in Knoxville later in the season.

Football season is not just getting closer…it’s almost here!