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|
|San Diego State||0.459||30||99.5||67||0.701||33|
|San Jose State||0.399||84||93.8||90||0.679||64|
|New Mexico State||0.333||120||73.4||120||0.633||117|