Aubserver Mailbag 88: Numbers Are Our Friends
This week: Advanced stats, EPA, more QB talk, defensive scheme, the WRs, single-season records, Week 0, neutral-site games, music picks and Australian culture
TE Luke Deal and TE Tyler Fromm (Todd Van Emst/Auburn Athletics)
As I’ve said before in this space, The Auburn Observer is, at its core, a publication all about numbers. And we’re going to talk quite a bit about them in this mailbag.
Here’s one number I want to talk about, before we begin: 45. As in, 45 dollars for a full year of a subscription to The Observer. We’ve had a lot of people join here during fall camp on this 25% off deal, which ends later this weekend.
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This week’s mailbag is about advanced numbers, the quarterback situation, Jeff Schmedding’s defense, single-season records, expectations, Week Zero and the nation of Australia. Let’s go.
What advanced stats should I pay more attention to for football?
Please explain expected points added using Auburn football plays from last season as examples.
I love it when two questions combine perfectly in a mailbag. Before I dig into Expected Points Added (EPA) — the top advanced stat that I think college football fans should pay more attention to this season — I’ve got a few other stat-things to offer up:
SP+ or similar ratings systems: I cite these a lot for a reason. Measuring teams by play-by-play efficiency and adjusting them for opponent strength is a much better way to see how they stack up than something as simple as a human poll. They’re not perfect, but they serve an important purpose. Polls are a reflection of a team’s résumé. Ratings systems are a reflection of a team’s play. Plus, they’ll also help you if you like to bet on college football.
Success Rate: This feeds into SP+ and other analytics things, and it’s easier to digest than EPA. A play in football is considered “successful” if it gains at least 50% of the yards needed on first down, 70% on second down, or 100% on third or fourth down. Teams with higher success rates on offense and, by contrast, lower allowed success rates on defense are usually the best ones.
Points per Drive, or Points per Scoring Opportunity: These are exactly like they sound. Take a team’s score and divide it by how many drives they had — or, for a better measurement, how many times they got inside the opponent’s 40-yard line. Teams can get a lot of empty yards on the box score, but actually finishing drives is the real difference-maker.
Field Position: It’s not really an advanced stat, but I don’t think the field position battle is talked about enough in the normal discourse. The difference between two teams in average starting field position correlates greatly to how the final score shakes out. Special teams are important!
Yards per Play: Again, not an advanced stat, but this is my biggest soapbox issue when it comes to college football stats. Yards per game is a terrible stat, because it doesn’t take an offense’s tempo — or the pace of the game provided by the other team at all — into account. Yards per play is a far better measurement of how an offense or a defense is doing. Total offense and total defense are bad numbers, but broadcasts continue to cite them.
Now, let’s talk EPA, which you probably remember me referencing during the Nerd Stats portions of the postgame Observations last season.
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