Countdown to Study Hall: Follow the eyes

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My first book, Study Hall: College Football, Its Stats and Its Stories, will be released in just under two weeks. To celebrate the occasion, I wanted to start some conversations about the topics included in the book itself.

I asked every interviewee for Study Hall the following question, and I'll do the same to you. The results were included as part of a chapter called The New Box Score.

You're busy attending, watching, or covering another game, and you miss the big game between Team A and Team B. Team A wins, 31-24, and later that evening (or Sunday morning), you get a chance to look at the box score to figure out what happened. Where do your eyes first? Yards? Turnovers? Third downs? Other?

Here are some of my favorite responses:

Stewart Mandel, Sports Illustrated: “I’ve come around to yards per play recently. Tempo-adjusted stats are important, and they haven’t really caught on yet. On offense, I’m more concerned with yards and efficiency. On defense, I’m more concerned with yards, third-down conversions and explosive plays. For example, Virginia Tech’s defensive numbers were solid in 2012, but they allowed a ton of explosive plays, and it had an impact.”

Paul Myerberg, USA Today: “Go back and look at the win percentage for teams winning turnovers, third downs and total yardage. It has to be close to 100 percent, doesn’t it?”

Matt Hinton, Football Outsiders & Sunday Morning QB: “Pass efficiency is reflective of the entire offense. It isn’t perfect, but it’s one of the better tools we have available.”

Holly Anderson, Grantland: My eyes go toward the weird stuff. Unusual scores in the scoring summary, turnovers … how close were we to something completely different?”

Steven Godfrey, SB Nation: “Older reporters will swear by total offense, by time of possession. That’s what they’ve done their entire lives. My eyes go to places that I know are deceptive. The box score to me is a metaphor for being a reporter in 2012. I’m 31, and in journalism school they still taught us the freaking ‘width of type’ deals you had when you used printing presses. I had to use all this outdated crap, then teach myself how to do the new stuff.”

Smart Football's Chris Brown wrote a post about a similar topic recently as well. It's about building a better box score.

Sack Yards: This is an easy one, and is unique only to college rather than the NFL, but there’s no reason that sacks should count against rushing yards. It makes quarterback rushing yards extremely difficult to decipher, especially in the age of the dual-threat quarterback, and often makes passing look more productive than it is in reality. (It also penalizes quarterbacks who do the smart thing, and throw the ball away instead of taking sacks.)

Tackles for Loss: Sack yards should come out of passing but all box scores should also have a simple table of negative plays as its own stand alone category. You can tell a lot about offensive and defensive styles based on the number of negative plays.

Give me your list, and I'll share the consensus in a bit.

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