STAT CLASS 101
3rd-down Efficiency Comparisons
By Dave Hersh
NationalChamps.net Managing Editor
..
Ranking/Team 3rd-down efficiency (offensive rank) 3rd-down efficiency (defensive rank) NC.net's
S.O.S. Rank
Time of Possession Differential

1. Southern Cal (4-0)
2. Oklahoma (4-0)
3. Georgia (4-0)
4. Miami (Fla.) (4-0)
5. Texas (4-0)
6. Auburn (5-0)
7. California (3-0)
8. Florida State (3-1)
9. Purdue (4-0)
10. Virginia (4-0)
11. Utah (5-0)
12. Florida (3-1)
13. Minnesota (5-0)
14. Michigan (4-1)
15. Wisconsin (5-0)
16. West Virginia (4-1)
17. Tennessee (3-1)
18. Ohio State (3-1)
19. Arizona State (5-0)
20. Louisville (4-0)
21. Boise State (5-0)
22. Oklahoma State (4-0)
23. Maryland (3-1)
24. LSU (3-2)
25. South Carolina (4-1)
26. Southern Miss (3-0)
27. N. Carolina St. (3-1)
28. Missouri (3-1)
29. Fresno State (3-1)
30. Virginia Tech (3-2)
31. Stanford (3-1)
32. Navy (5-0)

32/58 - 55% (13)
42/64 - 66% (11)
19/52 - 37% (39)
17/57 - 30% (76)
23/54 - 43% (3)
30/61 - 49% (23)
16/28 - 57% (2)
20/64 - 31% (64)
34/55 - 62% (1)
21/45 - 47% (7)
33/67 - 49% (12)
33/60 - 55% (19)
35/72 - 49% (5)
36/80 - 45% (83)
23/79 - 41% (95)
20/50 - 40% (32)
21/46 - 46% (18)
17/57 - 30% (84)
35/79 - 44% (46)
28/52 - 54% (6)
30/70 - 43% (8)
27/60 - 45% (38)
35/59 - 59% (17)
28/67 - 42% (41)
30/74 - 41% (62)
22/50 - 44% (78)
18/54 - 33% (82)
31/62 - 50% (20)
22/58 - 38% (67)
30/75 - 40% (72)
31/65 - 48% (36)
28/63 - 44% (53)
21/58 - 36% (20)
24/60 - 40% (38)
15/53 - 28% (18)
16/62 - 26% (3)
15/61 - 24% (17)
23/69 - 33% (6)
21/52 - 40% (11)
10/54 - 18.5% (9)
23/62 - 37% (46)
12/53 - 23% (8)
30/84 - 36% (48)
25/64 - 39% (37)
33/80 - 41% (65)
18/69 - 26% (13)
18/71 - 25% (2)
20/60 - 33% (30)
23/54 - 43% (67)
25/68 - 37% (31)
20/76 - 26% (27)
17/57 - 30% (10)
20/68 - 29% (51)
27/61 - 44% (33)
19/56 - 34% (29)
22/73 - 30% (19)
16/60 - 27% (7)
13/40 - 32% (34)
15/64 - 23% (1)
16/54 - 30% (21)
23/67 - 34% (28)
17/71 - 24% (12)
25/66 - 38% (40)
31/78 - 40% (36)
64
41
19
29
57
32
47
14
35
22
104
10
48
42
52
81
33
27
24
69
116
46
25
38
13
67
6
61
93
3
28
117
+3:48
+5:24
+1:56
-1:08
+4:46
+2:30
-1:36
+5:08
+0:40
+2:00
+0:16
-0:40
+4:52
+3:18
+9:10
-0:16
NA
+1:56
+3:46
+6:48
+8:12
+9:12
+5:44
+0:44
+8:40
+4:14
+0:06
-1:30
+2:08
+2:52
-0:56
+0:40

* - all games as of 10/3/04 included

 

STAT CLASS 101

You have probably noticed how very few statistics, when held to the light alone, genuinely expose a team's strengths/weaknesses. We will try to make sense of much of what has happened so far in 2004 by breaking down third-down situations and circumstances. When you poignantly align the right numbers and use simple logic, much is revealed as to why a team is performing a certain way. Trends definitely exist in some areas. Of course, decipher what you will. But we think we have a few cleaver, multi-faceted insider angles for how to break this information down. We compare/contrast certain basic vital statistics that, when focused together, can give a better understanding as to why a team does/doesn't do well.

Most important is this - what one set of stats means to one team, when mimicked, often leads to a totally different statistical and final outcome for another. In other words, there is no statistical prototype for success. What does hold water is analysis when deciphering third-down rates, offensively and defensively, of one team compared to itself. Ostensibly, a team has to limit their foes from achieving third-downs at as high of a rate (or higher) as they do. But, just as important as these rates is breaking down the total number of third-down tries, their offensive/defensive rankings, and how tough each schedule proves to be. We also provide, if applicable, other unlisted stats that reveal more truth for our analysis.

How To Read - For our analysis, the table presented above takes the Top 32 teams (via the latest Associated Press poll) into consideration. The first column next to each gives that teams' offensive ability in third-down situations, with both the actual amount of tries/successes and the corresponding percentage rate. In parenthesis is their total offensive rank (out of all 117 I-A teams). The next column to the right does the same, but it does it for when that team is on defense. The next column is NationalChamps.net's Strength Of Schedule (SOS) ranking for each. The last column merely gives the average time-of-possession differential so far for each squad. This number almost always gives us the answer when the other stats yield inconclusive results.

One noticeable trend, for this analysis, is how a team's defensive ranking becomes more important than its offensive ranking. Vital is how only six of the 32 are ranked defensively in the bottom two-thirds (lower than 40th). Even more so, 12 of the 32 (twice as many) are ranked offensively in the bottom two-thirds. This indirectly proves what we all know, that a good defense, more than a good offense, gets you where you want to go.

Of those six defensively lacking teams, only #31 Stanford fails to rank 18th or higher offensively. Out of these six squads, only Stanford again fails to rank a QB in the top 25 for individual pass efficiency. Evidently, strong-enough (passing) offenses offset marginal defenses. Undefeated Minnesota and Boise State add a selfish nature - they are good ball control offenses that keep the pigskin for substantially more time than opponents, which in turn helps to offset their fledging defenses. Unbeaten Boise State's disparagingly strong time-of-possession, added to their weak schedule, allows the Bronco 'D' to bend but not break in holding foes to a 29% third-down rate. Minnesota allows teams 41% success on third-downs, so their 49% offensive third-down rate is needed for them to stay unscathed. If you didn't know, the Golden Gophers 3rd-ranked rushing offense is the balancing factor for why they keep the ball more than opponents and a bagel in the loss column. A team's weak defense can be buoyed by its strong offense game by game, but staying undefeated the entire campaign usually eludes those who cannot consistently stop the other side at these most critical times. Accordingly, the Auburn-loss revealed how Tennessee won't go far if their 67th-rated defense continues to allow foes a 43% third-down success rate.

Now take those twelve who fail to rank in the top third (40th or higher) offensively. Navy has the worst defense of the bunch, coming in ranked 36th. Seven of the other squads have top 20 defenses. Of these, Navy, Southern Miss, and Ohio State are the only ones that allow foes higher than a 30% third-down success rate. The main point of this table is proven by the Buckeyes - Ohio State owes their loss to being the only team here that allows a higher third-down rate than they earn. Consistent foes eventually broke through. Navy's success, though allowing a 40% third-down rate, is evidently due to I-A's weakest schedule. Southern Miss has a blah slate, so when their 8th-ranked pass defense stymies foes on 68% of their third-down tries, the Golden Eagles' positive time-of-possession ratio grows and they remain undefeated. Southern Miss also has the best Turnover-ratio in the land, and that never hurts.

The rest of these weaker offensive teams have stellar defenses. With a negative time-of-possession stat, Miami stands out. But the Canes use arguably the nation's best pass defense and the third best total 'D', along with great special teams, to dominate their opponents. Florida State holds foes to this chart's lowest success rate on third-downs (18.5%), while also holding the ball for five more minutes. Miami beat them, but few others will if these 'seminal' (get it?) numbers keep flowing.

Here is an easy fact to extract - out of the eight that succeed half the time or more when in third-down situations, the lowest offensive rank is Missouri at 20th. Still, three of them - Florida, Maryland, and Mizzu - have one loss. And of these, the Tigers and Gators both noticeably have negative time-of-possession ratios. Offense is important, but a strong one can't keep losses from occurring, especially when you have the ball less than your opponents.

Six teams allow opponents a 40% or higher third-down success rate. Oklahoma, though ranked 38th defensively, offsets this by having a chart-best 66% success rate themselves. California, the only other top ten team in this category, is an anomaly. The Golden Bears allow foes a 40% success rate on third-downs, yet boast the 11th-ranked defense. Cal also has the nation's second best total offense and this charts' third-best offensive third-down conversion rate, yet a negative time-of-possession ratio. When you consider how Cal forces an average of 17-plus third-downs per game for foes while offensively finding themselves in only 28 third-downs over their three games, you can see why they win - they score fast and often enough (top scoring offense in the country) while bending but rarely breaking (7th in scoring defense). Oklahoma State has the lowest total offensive ranking (38th) of this bunch, and they barely offset opponent's 44% success rate on third-downs with their 45% rate. But the Cowboys win every time by using the nation's 4th-rated rushing game to control the ball a chart-best average of 9:12 more per tilt. Again, keeping the ball out of the enemy's hands can offset other weaknesses.

Interesting will be watching Texas and their 17th-ranked defense against the 66% third-down success rate of Oklahoma. The numbers favor the Longhorn's third-ranked offense against the Sooner's 38th-ranked 'D', but Rice, North Texas and Baylor do not prove that these Lone Stars can shine at a 44% third-down conversion rate against the nation's #2. This third-down dimension should tell all, as it will in the USC-Cal match-up. Since these PAC-TENners' stats are so comparable, it's likely that (similarly to the USC-Stanford game) whoever can force more third-downs will have the edge. The same goes for the SEC come November 13th. Analyze the third-down stats of Georgia and Auburn beforehand to see which juggernaut should do better, and then, accordingly, see what actually happens.