College football in 2013: Kickoffs and kick returns

Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Spor

I'm attempting a little bit of synergy here. Kickoffs and kick returns have been a topic of conversation in both the comments to last week's College football in 2013 charting post and the Five Factors discussion. Kickoffs make up about one-quarter of the field position equation in college football, which is pretty significant. So let's take a look at what we're dealing with.

Like so much of special teams, kicks and returns have a good deal of randomness involved. To get a good feel for who's good at returning kicks (or preventing good returns), we need a much larger sample than we actually get. One great return can make an inefficient return man look great, while a guy who consistently breaks off 30-yard returns might not rank as high as he should because he never broke one all the way. Brian Fremeau's special teams rankings look at measures of efficiency for each aspect of special teams, so let's take a stab at doing the same thing here.

But first, let's take a look at what we're dealing with.

(Net yards are the distance of the kickoff minutes the distance of the return/touchback/out-of-bounds penalty. Onside kick attempts were filtered out of these results.)

About 35.9 percent of college football kickoffs resulted in a touchback in 2013. Obviously that skews the frequency chart a good amount, but we can also see here that two-thirds of kickoffs resulted in a net of between 35 and 45 yards, or field position between the 20 and 30.

Now, as your average field position creeps toward (or past) your 30, your win percentage pretty quickly begins to skip upward, so this is a pretty significant difference in the grand scheme of things. Still, if you generalize every kickoff you've ever seen, the difference between a return that is stopped at the 21 and the 28 probably blend together. We remember the great and terrible returns and generalize in the middle.

Stats kind of do the same to some degree. Touchback rate is an important measure for gauging kickoff success, but it's not necessarily well-used. If we're judging kickoffs, we're probably doing so with opponent kick returns, which, again, might only look at two of every three kickoffs on average.

So what happens if we create a quick-and-dirty efficiency measure? Since two-thirds of kickoffs net 40 or greater yards for the kicking team, and since 40 is an incredibly common number, what if we created a simple Kickoff Success Rate measure that says any kick with a net of 40 or greater is successful and all others aren't? What does that get us?

Team Kickoffs Success
Rate
Rk Avg. Net of
Unsuccessful Kick
Avg. Net of
Successful Kick
Overall
Avg. Net
Rk
Utah State 86 89.5% 1 28.7 43.7 42.1 1
Rice 79 88.6% 2 30.7 41.2 40.0 21
LSU 86 88.4% 3 19.3 42.3 39.7 37
Missouri 100 88.0% 4 26.6 41.5 39.7 35
UCLA 91 87.9% 5 34.4 43.0 42.0 2
Boston College 74 87.8% 6 28.3 42.0 40.4 15
Auburn 98 87.8% 7 22.2 41.3 38.9 60
Tulane 62 87.1% 8 28.8 41.6 39.9 25
Indiana 77 87.0% 9 30.3 42.8 41.2 7
Florida 51 86.3% 10 28.7 43.7 41.7 3
Air Force 58 86.2% 11 31.9 41.2 39.9 24
Texas State 56 85.7% 12 32.6 41.3 40.1 19
Texas A&M 97 85.6% 13 29.9 43.1 41.2 6
Nebraska 78 84.6% 14 29.6 41.6 39.7 33
Tulsa 55 83.6% 15 27.3 41.6 39.3 50
UAB 62 82.3% 16 31.9 41.5 39.8 29
Ole Miss 78 82.1% 17 28.4 42.3 39.8 31
Miami-FL 83 81.9% 18 31.7 42.8 40.8 10
Stanford 88 81.8% 19 33.8 43.4 41.6 4
Virginia Tech 60 81.7% 20 23.8 43.3 39.7 34
Vanderbilt 74 81.1% 21 28.0 42.2 39.5 46
Washington State 79 81.0% 22 27.8 44.0 40.9 8
Illinois 66 80.3% 23 28.0 41.6 38.9 61
Marshall 101 80.2% 24 31.9 42.0 40.0 23
BYU 80 80.0% 25 20.1 42.7 38.2 82
UL-Monroe 53 79.2% 26 27.6 42.3 39.3 52
Arkansas 51 78.4% 27 29.5 41.6 39.0 57
Central Florida 86 77.9% 28 29.3 43.6 40.4 14
Arkansas State 76 77.6% 29 32.5 43.2 40.8 9
Arizona State 106 77.4% 30 24.9 43.1 39.0 58
Clemson 95 76.8% 31 29.2 43.1 39.8 28
Alabama 90 76.7% 32 30.2 43.9 40.7 11
Houston 84 76.2% 33 29.4 42.7 39.6 44
Cincinnati 75 76.0% 34 29.1 43.8 40.2 18
USC 79 75.9% 35 29.2 44.0 40.5 13
Mississippi State 70 75.7% 36 27.6 43.0 39.3 51
Boise State 90 75.6% 37 30.6 42.7 39.7 32
TCU 61 75.4% 38 23.8 42.0 37.5 89
Florida State 128 75.0% 39 29.9 43.4 40.0 22
Toledo 76 75.0% 39 31.5 42.3 39.6 40
UL-Lafayette 77 74.0% 41 23.7 43.7 38.5 72
UTEP 53 73.6% 42 29.4 42.5 39.1 56
North Texas 79 73.4% 43 33.1 41.9 39.6 41
San Jose State 75 73.3% 44 27.4 42.4 38.4 74
Iowa State 55 72.7% 45 29.3 43.3 39.5 47
Rutgers 66 72.7% 45 33.3 44.4 41.4 5
Oklahoma 84 72.6% 47 30.1 41.7 38.5 71
Maryland 69 72.5% 48 29.8 44.5 40.5 12
Georgia Tech 83 72.3% 49 30.0 42.7 39.2 54
Ohio State 107 72.0% 50 31.1 43.6 40.1 20
Nevada 67 71.6% 51 32.1 42.2 39.3 49
Duke 81 71.6% 52 31.7 43.1 39.9 27
North Carolina 81 71.6% 52 29.4 42.5 38.8 64
Texas Tech 88 71.6% 54 28.6 42.8 38.7 65
Arizona 83 71.1% 55 30.1 43.0 39.3 53
San Diego State 69 71.0% 56 27.8 42.5 38.2 80
Oklahoma State 92 70.7% 57 29.0 44.4 39.9 26
Memphis 51 70.6% 58 27.7 42.8 38.4 76
Florida Atlantic 64 70.3% 59 23.9 43.4 37.7 88
Michigan State 83 69.9% 60 32.6 42.7 39.7 38
Iowa 69 69.6% 61 28.8 41.6 37.7 87
Wisconsin 85 69.4% 62 33.5 43.4 40.4 16
Notre Dame 75 69.3% 63 26.3 42.0 37.2 95
Northwestern 65 69.2% 64 33.1 42.8 39.8 30
Minnesota 68 69.1% 65 33.3 43.4 40.3 17
Hawaii 64 68.8% 66 30.9 42.2 38.7 66
South Carolina 83 68.7% 67 28.2 41.6 37.4 92
UTSA 60 68.3% 68 29.6 42.6 38.5 70
Oregon State 82 68.3% 69 30.0 43.0 38.9 62
Georgia 88 68.2% 70 30.1 42.6 38.6 69
Wake Forest 47 68.1% 71 27.9 44.7 39.3 48
Northern Illinois 102 67.6% 72 28.1 43.0 38.2 81
Virginia 52 67.3% 73 29.5 43.1 38.6 68
Central Michigan 58 67.2% 74 31.8 43.5 39.7 39
NC State 58 67.2% 74 25.5 41.2 36.0 116
Michigan 76 67.1% 76 27.6 41.3 36.8 102
Navy 76 67.1% 76 33.8 42.6 39.7 36
Troy 76 67.1% 76 26.7 42.2 37.1 97
Colorado State 94 66.0% 79 28.5 41.9 37.3 93
Kansas 44 65.9% 80 27.1 41.6 36.7 105
Pittsburgh 67 65.7% 81 28.2 43.3 38.1 83
Wyoming 66 65.2% 82 30.7 41.0 37.4 91
Tennessee 60 65.0% 83 26.1 42.6 36.8 101
East Carolina 93 64.5% 84 29.7 42.9 38.2 79
Texas 76 64.5% 85 30.0 42.1 37.8 86
Southern Miss 47 63.8% 86 29.7 43.7 38.6 67
West Virginia 60 63.3% 87 33.1 42.5 39.1 55
Old Dominion 27 63.0% 88 24.0 41.2 34.9 118
Kentucky 51 62.7% 89 30.5 44.9 39.5 45
Colorado 61 62.3% 90 26.0 42.3 36.2 114
Middle Tennessee 71 62.0% 91 24.6 43.3 36.2 115
Baylor 118 61.9% 92 29.4 42.0 37.2 94
New Mexico 70 61.4% 93 32.3 42.0 38.3 77
Penn State 67 61.2% 94 27.3 42.3 36.5 108
Utah 69 60.9% 95 27.3 43.2 37.0 98
Ohio 74 60.8% 96 32.1 44.4 39.6 43
California 56 60.7% 97 28.9 42.1 36.9 100
Bowling Green 93 60.2% 98 33.6 42.2 38.8 63
Western Kentucky 70 60.0% 99 33.1 43.9 39.6 42
SMU 57 59.6% 100 32.2 42.0 38.1 84
Kansas State 83 59.0% 101 31.1 43.3 38.3 78
Temple 56 58.9% 102 25.3 44.3 36.5 106
Kent State 53 58.5% 103 27.8 43.0 36.7 104
Louisiana Tech 53 58.5% 103 30.4 44.0 38.4 75
Oregon 101 58.4% 105 33.0 42.3 38.4 73
South Florida 43 58.1% 106 29.7 42.2 36.9 99
UNLV 73 56.2% 107 27.7 42.8 36.2 112
Fresno State 97 55.7% 108 23.3 43.3 34.4 120
Syracuse 62 54.8% 109 34.0 43.1 39.0 59
Idaho 46 54.3% 110 23.6 41.3 33.2 122
Washington 92 52.2% 111 29.4 42.7 36.3 109
Buffalo 71 52.1% 112 26.5 43.1 35.2 117
Army 56 51.8% 113 28.9 43.0 36.2 113
Massachusetts 39 51.3% 114 28.7 43.4 36.2 111
Miami-OH 30 50.0% 115 31.4 43.5 37.4 90
Ball State 95 49.5% 116 29.9 44.5 37.1 96
Georgia State 44 47.7% 117 24.5 42.6 33.2 123
Purdue 38 47.4% 118 28.2 42.2 34.8 119
Louisville 90 46.7% 119 31.2 43.1 36.7 103
South Alabama 73 45.2% 120 33.0 44.2 38.0 85
Connecticut 54 44.4% 121 32.1 41.9 36.5 107
Akron 53 43.4% 122 31.7 42.3 36.3 110
New Mexico State 52 38.5% 123 24.0 40.9 30.5 126
Florida International 35 37.1% 124 23.6 44.2 31.3 124
Western Michigan 48 35.4% 125 27.4 44.5 33.5 121
Eastern Michigan 47 29.8% 126 25.2 43.1 30.6 125

The breakdown here is pretty interesting. We begin to see all-or-nothing teams in the same way we see offenses or defenses. Look at LSU, for instance. The Tigers' average net of 39.7 yards was solid but unspectacular, 37th in the country. But that's because they were going for knockouts. On eight of nine kicks, LSU was netting more than 42 yards per kick; that's an average start of the 23 or so for opponents. On the ninth kick, the Tigers were giving up a pretty large return (or kicking out of bounds) and delivering a net of just 19.3 yards, meaning a start near midfield for opponents. This was basically the special teams equivalent of the Michigan State defense, willing to sacrifice a rare big play for otherwise consistnet dominance. No bend-don't-break here.

The overall net average ranges between 42.1 yards (Utah State) and 30.5 (NMSU), which is significant. But the range of kickoff success rates varies between 89.5 percent (Utah State again) and 29.8 percent (EMU). Combining this with the net average gives us a much more detailed, interesting look at the range of potential outcomes from team to team.

Okay, so what about returns?

And since someone asked in the comments to last week's post...

If a kicking team gives up a return of 24 yards or more, its Kickoff Success Rate drops below 50 percent. This is relatively arbitrary, but let's set the bar there. Let's say that any return 24 yards or greater is a successful return. What does that do for us?

Team Returns KR Success
Rate
Rk Avg of Unsuccessful
Return
Avg of Successful
Return
Overall Avg
Return
Rk
Florida State 31 48.4% 1 13.9 43.4 28.2 1
UCLA 46 47.8% 2 15.7 36.0 25.4 5
Memphis 46 47.8% 2 15.8 32.2 23.7 25
North Texas 36 47.2% 4 15.8 32.8 23.8 19
Tulsa 41 46.3% 5 16.0 30.9 22.9 38
Miami-FL 60 43.3% 6 17.8 34.6 25.1 8
Missouri 30 43.3% 6 16.5 31.6 23.1 33
BYU 44 43.2% 8 17.2 34.6 24.7 11
Notre Dame 42 42.9% 9 17.4 32.3 23.8 23
Boise State 47 42.6% 10 15.5 36.0 24.2 15
TCU 38 42.1% 11 16.9 38.0 25.8 3
Stanford 43 41.9% 12 15.9 43.3 27.4 2
Central Michigan 43 41.9% 12 16.5 32.6 23.2 31
LSU 36 41.7% 14 17.6 36.5 25.5 4
Baylor 48 41.7% 14 13.9 33.4 22.0 54
Ohio State 29 41.4% 16 16.5 32.1 22.9 37
Florida 34 41.2% 17 16.2 37.1 24.8 9
Kansas 44 40.9% 18 14.8 30.2 21.1 69
Navy 32 40.6% 19 13.4 34.2 21.9 58
Louisiana Tech 35 40.0% 20 16.4 30.1 21.9 57
Oklahoma 33 39.4% 21 15.2 35.2 23.1 34
East Carolina 28 39.3% 22 19.2 34.2 25.1 7
Air Force 28 39.3% 22 19.8 29.8 23.7 24
Maryland 51 39.2% 24 15.5 34.3 22.8 41
UTEP 46 39.1% 25 16.0 38.3 24.7 10
Nebraska 41 39.0% 26 14.9 35.1 22.8 42
Central Florida 41 39.0% 26 16.4 32.0 22.5 45
Marshall 47 38.3% 28 16.8 35.2 23.9 18
Buffalo 47 38.3% 28 14.8 33.7 22.0 52
Kansas State 37 37.8% 30 14.4 38.1 23.4 27
Arkansas State 40 37.5% 31 14.9 38.9 23.9 17
Western Kentucky 40 37.5% 31 14.2 27.8 19.3 100
UNLV 51 37.3% 33 16.3 33.9 22.9 39
Michigan 51 37.3% 33 17.1 30.6 22.1 50
South Alabama 27 37.0% 35 15.3 36.1 23.0 35
Colorado State 41 36.6% 36 17.4 34.9 23.8 20
Northern Illinois 44 36.4% 37 16.0 34.9 22.9 40
San Diego State 55 36.4% 37 15.5 30.7 21.0 71
Houston 47 36.2% 39 16.6 40.6 25.3 6
Bowling Green 25 36.0% 40 16.7 37.6 24.2 14
Florida Atlantic 25 36.0% 40 16.5 30.3 21.5 65
Washington State 50 36.0% 40 15.9 29.8 20.9 75
Washington 39 35.9% 43 13.8 40.1 23.3 30
Louisville 28 35.7% 44 15.3 36.1 22.7 43
Kentucky 37 35.1% 45 16.4 30.0 21.2 67
Georgia Tech 40 35.0% 46 16.3 32.6 22.0 53
North Carolina 49 34.7% 47 15.9 38.6 23.8 21
Oregon 49 34.7% 47 14.6 35.1 21.7 60
Pittsburgh 49 34.7% 47 17.2 31.1 22.0 55
Ohio 55 34.5% 50 14.9 29.9 20.1 87
Rice 32 34.4% 51 13.2 31.0 19.3 101
Ball State 44 34.1% 52 12.7 35.9 20.6 77
South Florida 47 34.0% 53 14.5 30.1 19.8 90
Alabama 30 33.3% 54 16.3 41.0 24.5 12
Duke 36 33.3% 54 16.2 40.8 24.4 13
Iowa 39 33.3% 54 14.5 37.0 22.0 56
Colorado 48 33.3% 54 18.3 31.1 22.6 44
Northwestern 30 33.3% 54 17.7 29.8 21.7 59
Arizona 33 33.3% 54 17.1 27.2 20.5 78
Auburn 40 32.5% 60 15.0 40.9 23.4 28
Rutgers 47 31.9% 61 13.6 41.4 22.5 46
Texas 41 31.7% 62 15.6 30.9 20.5 79
Idaho 48 31.3% 63 16.4 30.0 20.6 76
Clemson 29 31.0% 64 14.7 28.0 18.8 108
Iowa State 49 30.6% 65 13.6 41.5 22.1 49
UTSA 36 30.6% 66 17.9 27.9 21.0 74
Virginia Tech 33 30.3% 67 14.3 34.6 20.4 81
Cincinnati 33 30.3% 67 18.1 27.7 21.0 72
Minnesota 40 30.0% 69 14.5 39.8 22.1 51
Massachusetts 60 30.0% 69 15.3 32.4 20.5 80
Indiana 50 30.0% 69 16.7 31.1 21.0 70
New Mexico 67 29.9% 72 14.8 46.2 24.2 16
Texas A&M 47 29.8% 73 15.8 35.1 21.5 64
Texas Tech 37 29.7% 74 15.5 42.8 23.6 26
Tennessee 37 29.7% 74 18.7 35.8 23.8 22
Arizona State 45 28.9% 76 18.4 29.3 21.6 63
California 70 28.6% 77 16.0 30.5 20.1 86
UAB 53 28.3% 78 14.6 35.1 20.4 82
Texas State 39 28.2% 79 15.5 42.2 23.0 35
Western Michigan 43 27.9% 80 15.4 31.9 20.0 88
Michigan State 18 27.8% 81 15.4 29.0 19.2 103
Georgia State 58 27.6% 82 15.1 32.8 20.0 88
Florida International 33 27.3% 83 16.3 33.6 21.0 73
Utah 37 27.0% 84 15.7 26.4 18.6 114
Wisconsin 31 25.8% 85 16.8 41.3 23.1 32
Oregon State 66 25.8% 86 16.4 31.8 20.4 83
Mississippi State 28 25.0% 87 13.6 45.9 21.7 61
Oklahoma State 36 25.0% 87 17.6 40.4 23.3 29
Utah State 24 25.0% 87 18.7 33.8 22.5 47
NC State 44 25.0% 87 15.5 29.5 19.0 105
Penn State 36 25.0% 87 15.8 29.2 19.1 104
Southern Miss 57 24.6% 92 16.2 30.5 19.7 91
West Virginia 53 24.5% 93 14.4 30.2 18.3 118
Purdue 49 24.5% 94 16.0 42.0 22.4 48
Virginia 54 24.1% 95 15.0 29.8 18.6 115
Georgia 25 24.0% 96 14.3 32.2 18.6 113
Middle Tennessee 38 23.7% 97 17.0 36.4 21.6 62
Fresno State 55 23.6% 98 15.7 31.0 19.3 102
Boston College 47 23.4% 99 13.9 40.4 20.1 85
Tulane 30 23.3% 100 17.0 30.6 20.2 84
UL-Lafayette 43 23.3% 101 13.0 40.6 19.4 96
Arkansas 35 22.9% 102 16.0 38.5 21.1 68
San Jose State 44 22.7% 103 15.8 27.7 18.5 116
Vanderbilt 45 22.2% 104 14.5 36.5 19.4 98
Old Dominion 28 21.4% 105 15.9 29.7 18.8 107
Toledo 47 21.3% 106 13.6 37.3 18.6 112
Temple 47 21.3% 106 15.9 32.3 19.4 97
Illinois 52 21.2% 108 15.6 34.0 19.5 93
Akron 43 20.9% 109 15.1 30.4 18.3 117
Miami-OH 48 20.8% 110 16.4 27.2 18.6 111
Kent State 53 20.8% 111 13.1 33.8 17.4 122
Ole Miss 34 20.6% 112 16.1 32.1 19.4 95
South Carolina 35 20.0% 113 16.3 31.7 19.4 99
SMU 46 19.6% 114 15.3 37.9 19.7 92
Wyoming 31 19.4% 115 14.3 27.5 16.9 123
Hawaii 52 19.2% 116 15.5 45.8 21.4 66
Syracuse 37 18.9% 117 16.6 31.9 19.5 94
Nevada 37 18.9% 117 15.2 29.4 17.9 119
UL-Monroe 34 17.6% 119 14.5 39.5 18.9 106
Eastern Michigan 68 17.6% 119 15.5 33.6 18.7 109
New Mexico State 47 17.0% 121 15.8 27.5 17.8 120
USC 33 15.2% 122 11.7 29.8 14.4 126
Troy 44 13.6% 123 12.9 34.8 15.9 124
Connecticut 40 12.5% 124 17.1 30.0 18.7 110
Wake Forest 21 9.5% 125 15.7 33.5 17.4 121
Army 40 5.0% 126 14.8 25.0 15.3 125

I guess Florida State is the LSU in this example. About half of the Seminoles' returns garnered an average of 14 yards or so; the other half averaged more than 43 yards (here's one pretty memorable example). Meanwhile, the range for other pretty good return teams (Notre Dame and Ohio State were each at about 17 and 32 yards, respectively) was much smaller. And as a Missouri fan, I found it difficult to gauge the effectiveness of Marcus Murphy in 2013. He had a kick return touchdown in 2012 (and a couple of punt return TDs) and averaged more than 24 yards per return, but in 2013, he had no scores and an average of only 22.2 yards. This tells us he was still pretty efficient -- more efficient, actually, than Ty Montgomery, who broke off two return touchdowns but got stuffed behind the 25 pretty frequently.

Efficiency is the name of the game in college football, and judging kicks and returns through the lens of efficiency instead of the go-to averages gives us a slightly more accurate look at who was consistently strong outside of the outliers. We'll take a similar look at punts and returns soon.

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