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# 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.)

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%.

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