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The best and worst college football games of 2016

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At the end of each college football season, I write about my 100 favorite games of the year. But let’s see which games the numbers liked.

Clemson v Florida State Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

This started, as so many good (and bad) things do, on Twitter.

This is in reference to the percentile performances — in essence, single-game S&P+ scores — found on each team’s statistical profile.

Ask, and you shall receive. Below is a list of what the stats say were the top 50 games of 2016. I added one slight tweak, though. Along with percentile performances, the stat profiles also include a postgame win expectancy figure that basically says “based on this game’s stats, you could have expected to win this game X percent of the time.” If your postgame win expectancy was 50 percent, that means it was a perfect tossup, per the key stats.

If we’re truly judging the most high-quality games of the year, then in my mind they should be games in which both teams not only played well (per percentiles) but also played almost perfectly even. So the closer each team’s win expectancy was to 50 percent, the better the game.

So here are the top 50 games based on what I’m so cleverly calling the Great Game Score — the teams’ combined percentile ratings minus a win expectancy factor. The win expectancy for Clemson-FSU, for instance, was 54-46 in FSU’s favor. 50% - 54% = minus-4%. Meanwhile, if a team’s win expectancy was 100%, that means 50% - 100% = minus-50%. Make sense? Sort of? Good enough. Let’s list.

Best Games of 2016

Date Game Score Combined Percentile Win Exp Factor Great Game Score
Date Game Score Combined Percentile Win Exp Factor Great Game Score
29-Oct-16 Clemson-Florida State 37-34 1.725 -0.04 1.689
10-Jan-17 Clemson-Alabama 35-31 1.68 -0.01 1.671
15-Oct-16 Ohio State-Wisconsin 30-23 1.686 -0.02 1.671
3-Jan-17 USC-Penn State 52-49 1.63 -0.04 1.592
22-Oct-16 Penn State-Ohio State 24-21 1.685 -0.14 1.545
17-Sep-16 Alabama-Ole Miss 48-43 1.639 -0.1 1.537
24-Sep-16 Auburn-LSU 18-13 1.658 -0.14 1.516
29-Oct-16 Ohio State-Northwestern 24-20 1.527 -0.04 1.488
1-Oct-16 North Carolina-Florida State 37-35 1.532 -0.06 1.472
8-Oct-16 Florida State-Miami-FL 20-19 1.588 -0.17 1.419
26-Nov-16 Ohio State-Michigan 30-27 1.719 -0.33 1.392
15-Oct-16 Stanford-Notre Dame 17-10 1.415 -0.02 1.391
1-Oct-16 Clemson-Louisville 42-36 1.633 -0.27 1.365
23-Sep-16 Utah-USC 31-27 1.412 -0.06 1.353
26-Nov-16 USC-Notre Dame 45-27 1.535 -0.18 1.353
10-Sep-16 Pittsburgh-Penn State 42-39 1.505 -0.15 1.351
29-Oct-16 Auburn-Ole Miss 40-29 1.474 -0.12 1.35
10-Sep-16 Boise State-Washington State 31-28 1.347 0 1.344
15-Oct-16 Boise State-Colorado State 28-23 1.35 -0.03 1.324
24-Sep-16 North Carolina-Pittsburgh 37-36 1.371 -0.05 1.323
12-Nov-16 Pittsburgh-Clemson 43-42 1.601 -0.28 1.321
12-Nov-16 Iowa-Michigan 14-13 1.491 -0.17 1.318
19-Nov-16 Virginia Tech-Notre Dame 34-31 1.376 -0.06 1.314
19-Nov-16 Florida-LSU 16-10 1.586 -0.3 1.287
26-Nov-16 Kentucky-Louisville 41-38 1.296 -0.01 1.284
3-Sep-16 Wisconsin-LSU 16-14 1.625 -0.34 1.282
5-Sep-16 Florida State-Ole Miss 45-34 1.549 -0.27 1.281
5-Nov-16 Florida State-NC State 24-20 1.576 -0.3 1.276
19-Nov-16 Michigan-Indiana 20-10 1.49 -0.23 1.262
3-Sep-16 Houston-Oklahoma 33-23 1.412 -0.15 1.26
29-Oct-16 Wyoming-Boise State 30-28 1.273 -0.02 1.251
17-Sep-16 Michigan-Colorado 45-28 1.584 -0.34 1.246
28-Dec-16 Kansas State-Texas A&M 33-28 1.272 -0.04 1.232
15-Oct-16 Clemson-NC State 24-17 1.605 -0.38 1.226
3-Sep-16 Clemson-Auburn 19-13 1.619 -0.4 1.219
12-Nov-16 Penn State-Indiana 45-31 1.412 -0.2 1.212
12-Nov-16 Georgia Tech-Virginia Tech 30-20 1.256 -0.05 1.209
12-Nov-16 Georgia-Auburn 13-7 1.296 -0.09 1.205
29-Oct-16 Wisconsin-Nebraska 23-17 1.412 -0.21 1.203
1-Sep-16 Tennessee-Appalachian State 20-13 1.269 -0.07 1.199
3-Dec-16 Penn State-Wisconsin 38-31 1.558 -0.37 1.189
27-Oct-16 Virginia Tech-Pittsburgh 39-36 1.361 -0.17 1.188
30-Dec-16 Stanford-North Carolina 25-23 1.365 -0.18 1.185
29-Oct-16 Texas-Baylor 35-34 1.18 -0.02 1.162
3-Jan-17 Wisconsin-Western Michigan 24-16 1.356 -0.2 1.156
8-Oct-16 USC-Colorado 21-17 1.503 -0.35 1.156
10-Sep-16 Clemson-Troy 30-24 1.408 -0.26 1.147
3-Dec-16 West Virginia-Baylor 24-21 1.213 -0.07 1.146
1-Oct-16 Oklahoma State-Texas 49-31 1.3 -0.16 1.138
12-Nov-16 West Virginia-Texas 24-20 1.316 -0.19 1.131

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Your top 10 games involving Group of 5 teams, by the way:

  1. Boise State 31, Washington State 28 (Sept. 10)
  2. Boise State 28, Colorado State 23 (Oct. 15)
  3. Houston 33, Oklahoma 23 (Sept. 3)
  4. Wyoming 30, Boise State 28 (Oct. 29)
  5. Tennessee 20, Appalachian State 13 (Sept. 1)

And in case you’re curious, here are the 20 worst games of 2016.

Worst games of 2016

Date Game Score Combined Percentile Win Prob Factor Great Game Score
Date Game Score Combined Percentile Win Prob Factor Great Game Score
01-Oct-16 Texas State-Incarnate Word 48-17 0.322 -0.49 -0.170
03-Sep-16 UTSA-Alabama State 26-13 0.323 -0.46 -0.139
03-Sep-16 UL-Monroe-Southern 38-21 0.354 -0.49 -0.136
03-Sep-16 Old Dominion-Hampton 54-21 0.421 -0.50 -0.077
29-Oct-16 Massachusetts-Wagner 34-10 0.429 -0.50 -0.068
03-Sep-16 Air Force-Abilene Christian 37-21 0.402 -0.47 -0.064
08-Oct-16 Georgia State-Texas State 41-21 0.463 -0.49 -0.022
10-Sep-16 Arizona-Grambling 31-21 0.369 -0.38 -0.013
03-Sep-16 Akron-VMI 47-24 0.495 -0.50 -0.005
03-Dec-16 Arkansas State-Texas State 36-14 0.495 -0.50 -0.003
17-Sep-16 Nevada-Buffalo 38-14 0.502 -0.49 0.010
10-Sep-16 Charlotte-Elon 47-14 0.523 -0.49 0.028
24-Sep-16 South Alabama-Nicholls State 41-40 0.504 -0.47 0.032
12-Nov-16 Idaho-Texas State 47-14 0.537 -0.50 0.039
19-Nov-16 South Alabama-Presbyterian 31-7 0.542 -0.50 0.042
24-Sep-16 Ohio-Gardner-Webb 37-21 0.476 -0.42 0.057
03-Nov-16 Ohio-Buffalo 34-10 0.537 -0.48 0.058
22-Oct-16 UL-Lafayette-Texas State 27-3 0.568 -0.50 0.068
08-Oct-16 Kent State-Buffalo 44-20 0.557 -0.48 0.077
02-Sep-16 Eastern Michigan-MVSU 61-14 0.593 -0.50 0.094

The main surprise for me: no Georgia-Nicholls State! Too close, I guess.

Your 10 worst games involving power conference teams:

  1. Arizona 31, Grambling 21 (Sept. 10)
  2. Rutgers 52, Howard 14 (Sept. 10)
  3. Boston College 42, Wagner 10 (Sept. 24)
  4. Oregon 53, Cal-Davis 28 (Sept. 3)
  5. Kentucky 49, Austin Peay 13 (Nov. 19)
  6. Kansas 55, Rhode Island 6 (Sept. 3)
  7. Maryland 52, Howard 13 (Sept. 3)
  8. Georgia 26, Nicholls State 24 (Sept. 10) — there it is
  9. Purdue 24, Nevada 14 (Sept. 24)
  10. Michigan State 28, Furman 13 (Sept. 2)

Hmm. Okay, what about the 10 worst games involving only power conference teams?

  1. Maryland 31, Rutgers 13 (Nov. 26)
  2. Illinois 24, Rutgers 7 (Oct. 15)
  3. Texas Tech 55, Kansas 19 (Sept. 29)
  4. Arizona 56, Arizona State 35 (Nov. 25)
  5. Maryland 50, Purdue 7 (Oct. 1)
  6. Oregon 44, Virginia 26 (Sept. 10)
  7. Baylor 49, Kansas 7 (Oct. 15)
  8. Minnesota 40, Illinois 17 (Oct. 29)
  9. Michigan State 49, Rutgers 0 (Nov. 12)
  10. Northwestern 45, Purdue 17 (Nov. 12)

That’s a lot of Big Ten right there.