The Toolbox: Offensive Success Rates

There's nothing I enjoy less than wading through a stats piece that casually refers to numerous stats with which I am not familiar.  I feel like I'm out of the loop on an inside joke of sorts, and never mind the whole "I therefore don't really know what this post is about" thing.  So with this extra little corner of the Internet to my name, I felt it would be worthwhile to, in the coming weeks, expand upon tools and concepts we've discussed at Football Outsiders, ones you will be reading about quite often at Football Study Hall.  That's what The Toolbox series will be about.

First up are the primary concepts behind S&P and S&P+.  Success Rate is the S in S&P+.  It is the on-base percentage of football, a per-play efficiency measure that tells you how good your team is at avoiding wasted downs.  (To that end, Points Per Play would be the slugging percentage piece of your general OPS equation.)

Here is the official FO definition for Success Rate:

Success Rate: 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 idea behind Success Rate is simple: every play is deemed successful or unsuccessful based on down, distance and yardage gained.  Plays on first, second and third downs (and fourth, for that matter) all have as close to the same success rate as possible (between 40% and 45%).

To see what Success Rate tells us, exactly, let's have a look at it in action.  Two notes before moving forward:

1. Any reference to Success Rates as it pertains to rankings eliminates garbage time plays.  Rankings are derived from plays that took place while the game was "close": within 28 points in the first quarter, 24 in the second, 21 in the third, or 16 in the fourth.

2. As a frame of reference, the average success rate for FBS teams from 2005-10 was 41.6%.

We'll start with some anchor data.

Ten Best Single-Game Success Rates (versus Non-FCS teams), 2005-10
1. California vs Washington State (10/24/2009): 89.5%
2. Florida vs Western Kentucky (9/1/2007): 86.4%
3. USC vs Washington State (10/18/2008): 83.3%
4. BYU vs Wyoming (11/7/2009): 82.9%
5. Missouri vs Miami-OH (9/25/2010): 82.4%
6. Texas vs UL-Lafayette (9/3/2005): 81.8%
7. Stanford vs Washington (10/30/2010): 81.5%
8. Alabama vs North Texas (9/19/2009): 81.3%
9. Iowa vs Minnesota (11/19/2005): 80.0%
10. Clemson vs Temple (10/12/2006): 80.0%

When Cal destroyed Washington State in 2009, they only had to run 19 plays to knock the game out of "close" range.  Seventeen of those plays were "successful," 10 of 11 runs and seven of eight passes.  (That Washington State shows up twice atop -- or abottom -- this list says a lot about the Paul Wulff era, but we'll get to that tomorrow when talking about defensive success rates.)

In all, teams have racked up a "close" success rate of 80.0% or higher 19 times in six seasons of play-by-play data.  Eight came against FCS competition (the highest: Ball State's 90.5% versus Northeastern in 2008)

Ten Worst Single-Game Success Rates (versus Non-FCS teams), 2005-10
1. Florida International vs Florida (11/21/2009): 0.0%
2. Washington State vs Arizona (11/7/209): 0.0%
3. Boston College vs Virginia Tech (10/10/2009): 0.0%
4. Syracuse vs Penn State (9/13/2008): 0.0%
5. Syracuse vs Iowa (9/8/2007): 0.0%
6. Mississippi State vs Arkansas (11/19/2005): 0.0%
7. Akron vs Penn State (9/5/2009): 4.8%
8. Marshall vs Southern Miss (10/2/2010): 5.6%
9. Western Kentucky vs Tennessee (9/5/2009): 5.6%
10. Idaho vs Nevada (11/4/2006): 5.6%

Fourteen times in six seasons, a team has failed to register a "successful" play before the game was knocked out of "close" range.  Congrats to Syracuse for pulling it off twice.  (Congrats, too, to Wazzu, for finding a way to be victimized on both lists.)  For the most part, these 0-fers took place in games that weren't close very long.  Syracuse went 0-for-17 versus Penn State in 2008, which was the largest 0-fer on the list by an FBS team.  (Morgan State went 0-for-20 against Maryland in 2010 while "close," and Delaware State did the same against Michigan in 2009.)

What's the least-efficient full-game performance of the last six seasons?  For FBS teams, it was Northern Illinois' incredible 3-for-48 (6.3%) performance against TCU in 2006.  Runner-up: New Mexico State versus Ohio State in 2009 (4-for-45, 8.9%).  For non-FBS teams: West Virginia Tech's 2-for-47 (4.3%) against Western Kentucky in 2007.  Of course, WVT had an excuse that NIU doesn't: they're a friggin' NAIA team.

Ten Best Single-Season Success Rates, 2005-10
1. Hawaii (2006): 60.8%
2. Texas Tech (2008): 56.1%
3. Wisconsin (2010): 55.3%
4. Oklahoma (2008): 55.2%
5. Florida (2007): 55.0%
6. BYU (2008): 54.8%
7. Missouri (2008): 54.7%
8. USC (2005): 54.1%
9. Boise State (2010): 54.0%
10. Texas (2008): 54.0%

One of my favorite things about college football is how there are so many different ways to move the chains.  Seeing a team like Wisconsin or Navy on the list above would be no surprise -- they're the prototypical grind-it-out, three-yards-and-a-cloud-of-dust teams.  But while Wisconsin locked down the three-spot, a run-and-shoot offense took the top ranking, while spread teams filled out most of the Top 10.  Invention in college football derives from trying to find different ways to gain five yards, and in college football, there are many, many different ways.

(Speaking of invention ... it really is incredible to see just how far ahead of the curve the Big 12 was when it came to the spread.  Of the top ten teams above, four were from the 2008 Big 12 alone.  That was truly the perfect confluence of innovation and skill position experience.)

Ten Worst Single-Season Success Rates, 2005-10
1. Syracuse (2005): 26.8%
2. Temple (2006): 26.9%
3. Washington State (2009): 28.3%
4. Florida International (2006): 28.9%
5. Central Florida (2008): 29.8%
6. Ole Miss (2005): 31.4%
7. North Texas (2006): 31.7%
8. Notre Dame (2007): 32.2%
9. Kent State (2005): 32.2%
10. Duke (2005): 32.2%

None of these names should be too surprising.  There could almost be a book written about just how far Notre Dame's offense plummeted between 2006 and 2007 -- biggest tumble on record, I believe -- but otherwise, this is just a who's who of pretty bad offensive programs.

With this background, here are all 120 FBS teams with their 2010 success rate, schedule-adjusted success rate (SR+) and Leverage Rate (another efficiency measure, the ratio of standard downs to overall plays).

2010 FBS Offenses, Ranked by Success Rate+
Team Success Rt. Rk SR+ Rk Leverage Rt. Rk
Auburn 0.523 6 138.3 1 0.750 4
Boise State 0.540 2 127.1 2 0.736 9
Oklahoma State 0.499 9 126.9 3 0.729 13
Stanford 0.531 4 126.3 4 0.746 5
Alabama 0.520 7 125.8 5 0.736 10
Wisconsin 0.553 1 125.5 6 0.767 1
Michigan 0.497 10 120.6 7 0.728 15
Nevada 0.528 5 120.1 8 0.761 3
Florida State 0.437 43 119.1 9 0.683 55
Missouri 0.472 17 118.4 10 0.690 48
Oklahoma 0.463 24 118.2 11 0.716 19
South Carolina 0.466 21 118.1 12 0.700 34
Baylor 0.466 20 117.4 13 0.696 35
Pittsburgh 0.437 44 117.2 14 0.683 58
Virginia Tech 0.462 25 115.2 15 0.714 21
TCU 0.535 3 115.1 16 0.746 6
USC 0.469 19 114.3 17 0.703 31
Arkansas 0.443 40 113.6 18 0.670 76
Cincinnati 0.427 57 113.6 19 0.677 67
East Carolina 0.461 26 113.4 20 0.703 32
Ohio State 0.464 22 113.3 21 0.708 26
Hawaii 0.506 8 112.0 22 0.716 18
Kentucky 0.460 27 112.0 23 0.713 22
Texas A&M 0.435 45 111.1 24 0.682 60
Oregon State 0.414 73 110.7 25 0.672 75
Miami-FL 0.421 65 110.5 26 0.658 98
Central Florida 0.486 11 110.3 27 0.735 11
LSU 0.419 66 109.6 28 0.694 38
Northern Illinois 0.485 12 109.6 29 0.707 28
Georgia 0.457 31 109.4 30 0.695 36
Washington 0.417 70 108.0 31 0.667 81
Northwestern 0.477 14 107.7 32 0.723 16
Oregon 0.476 15 107.5 33 0.692 41
Michigan State 0.448 39 106.7 34 0.681 61
Iowa 0.460 28 106.4 35 0.719 17
NC State 0.409 78 106.0 36 0.679 63
Arizona 0.459 29 105.9 37 0.689 49
Georgia Tech 0.433 51 105.8 38 0.728 14
Navy 0.473 16 105.7 39 0.762 2
Notre Dame 0.427 56 105.5 40 0.661 90
Troy 0.457 32 105.3 41 0.690 47
North Carolina 0.427 55 105.3 42 0.686 52
Virginia 0.451 36 105.0 43 0.673 74
Air Force 0.471 18 104.7 44 0.743 7
Louisville 0.426 60 104.5 45 0.674 70
SMU 0.463 23 104.2 46 0.670 77
Houston 0.456 34 103.8 47 0.695 37
Texas Tech 0.453 35 103.7 48 0.705 29
West Virginia 0.428 54 103.6 49 0.674 71
Mississippi State 0.434 47 102.8 50 0.712 23
Southern Miss 0.456 33 102.8 51 0.708 27
Indiana 0.450 37 102.8 52 0.665 83
Florida 0.399 86 102.6 53 0.659 95
UCLA 0.432 52 102.6 54 0.662 87
Tulsa 0.478 13 102.3 55 0.714 20
Iowa State 0.391 92 102.1 56 0.661 88
Arkansas State 0.442 41 102.1 57 0.687 51
Penn State 0.413 75 101.5 58 0.683 59
Utah 0.435 46 101.5 59 0.690 46
Kansas State 0.424 62 101.2 60 0.731 12
Florida International 0.426 59 101.1 61 0.683 57
Duke 0.414 74 100.7 62 0.674 72
Army 0.448 38 100.3 63 0.742 8
Arizona State 0.440 42 100.1 64 0.684 54
UAB 0.430 53 99.9 65 0.683 56
Illinois 0.423 64 99.9 66 0.691 44
San Diego State 0.459 30 99.5 67 0.701 33
Louisiana Tech 0.418 69 99.4 68 0.691 45
Minnesota 0.411 76 99.0 69 0.660 91
Clemson 0.388 95 98.6 70 0.646 111
Ohio 0.426 58 98.4 71 0.705 30
Colorado 0.415 71 98.3 72 0.657 99
BYU 0.433 49 97.9 73 0.709 25
Maryland 0.384 97 97.8 74 0.657 100
Nebraska 0.418 68 97.6 75 0.692 43
South Florida 0.376 102 97.5 76 0.693 40
Miami-OH 0.419 67 97.2 77 0.669 79
Central Michigan 0.433 48 96.8 78 0.688 50
Fresno State 0.410 77 96.6 79 0.681 62
Eastern Michigan 0.394 88 96.5 80 0.658 96
Connecticut 0.371 104 96.3 81 0.660 92
Western Michigan 0.433 50 95.4 82 0.709 24
Syracuse 0.394 89 95.2 83 0.677 66
Temple 0.407 79 94.8 84 0.692 42
Ole Miss 0.392 91 94.8 85 0.658 97
Tennessee 0.379 101 94.4 86 0.643 115
Washington State 0.399 85 94.4 87 0.661 89
California 0.405 80 94.0 88 0.669 78
Colorado State 0.394 87 93.8 89 0.675 69
San Jose State 0.399 84 93.8 90 0.679 64
Utah State 0.390 93 93.7 91 0.666 82
North Texas 0.403 83 93.6 92 0.665 84
Middle Tennessee 0.424 62 93.6 93 0.685 53
Toledo 0.387 96 93.5 94 0.677 68
Texas 0.382 98 92.2 95 0.678 65
Tulane 0.415 72 91.9 96 0.669 80
UTEP 0.424 61 91.8 97 0.660 93
Rice 0.404 82 90.5 98 0.693 39
Florida Atlantic 0.368 106 90.5 99 0.646 110
Idaho 0.404 81 90.2 100 0.655 102
Wake Forest 0.375 103 90.0 101 0.650 106
Wyoming 0.379 100 89.9 102 0.649 109
UNLV 0.359 108 89.6 103 0.650 107
Western Kentucky 0.365 107 89.2 104 0.660 94
UL-Monroe 0.389 94 89.0 105 0.653 103
Boston College 0.339 117 88.0 106 0.643 114
Rutgers 0.345 114 86.9 107 0.617 119
Bowling Green 0.352 110 86.3 108 0.664 85
Kent State 0.380 99 86.0 109 0.662 86
Ball State 0.393 90 85.5 110 0.673 73
Purdue 0.369 105 85.1 111 0.651 105
Marshall 0.356 109 84.6 112 0.640 116
UL-Lafayette 0.348 112 84.2 113 0.653 104
Memphis 0.342 116 82.0 114 0.649 108
Akron 0.337 118 81.2 115 0.644 112
Vanderbilt 0.342 115 81.0 116 0.615 120
New Mexico 0.350 111 79.8 117 0.643 113
Kansas 0.336 119 78.9 118 0.656 101
Buffalo 0.348 113 76.9 119 0.624 118
New Mexico State 0.333 120 73.4 120 0.633 117

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