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speaking of CFB metrics

by Jay ⌂, San Diego, Thursday, February 26, 2009, 11:46

Irishoutsider cited a lot of important play-level metrics below. One thing I started getting hooked on last year was looking at drive metrics. Dave (El Capitan) set up a neat aggregator that goes out and collects all the higher-level drive metrics available on the NCAA stats website. I also collected Notre Dame drive stats as the year went on and sliced them in different ways. Brian Fremeau (an ND grad who does a lot of excellent drive-related stuff for the stats-heavy website Football Outsiders) was also in on the discssion at various times last year, and has some excellent stuff to share, including a metric he developed called the Fremeau Efficiency Index (FEI). Link here:

I like thinking about games in terms of individual drives because they really sharpen the game for you, and they raise the stakes. You only get about 10-12 drives per game. That's 10-12 bites at the apple to put points on the board. Suddenly, field position, special teams, and probabilities of scoring from various territories jump to the forefront of your mind. Turnovers (both minimizing your own and forcing them from the other team) take on increased importance (especially in terms of the resulting field position). While watching games last year, I would find myself mentally keeping tabs on the # of drives per team, where they started, and what the outcomes were. It changed how I watch the game.

I can post some more stuff on this topic (including some spreadsheets) if people are interested. Brian and El Capitan are here as well - they might be interested in batting things around.

drives, stats


Drive Efficiency

by LaFortune Teller ⌂ @, South Bend, Friday, February 27, 2009, 15:30 @ Jay

Thanks for the plug, Jay. And yes, I agree that the drive's the thing.

Football Outsiders does tremendous NFL research on play-by-play data, and are just scratching the surface with college PBP. But one of the most fundamental data points in a football game is very much drive-specific: starting field position. In pro football, the difference between a good, productive offense and a bad, unproductive offense is equivalent to only five yards of starting field position per drive.

In college, the elite offenses distance themselves even more from the pack, but the point remains. Part of the reason 2007 was so cataclysmic was because ND was giving up nearly 10 yards of starting field position per drive in many games. As hapless as the Irish looked that season offensively, they weren't appreciably worse than their opponents in long field drives. Against ND, their opponents only scored nine more points on the season than did the Irish in drives begun inside the offense's own 30-yard line.

In 2008, Notre Dame was better in terms of field position efficiency, but there is still a ton of room to improve. For a visual of the value of field position offensively and defensively consider these charts from a piece I wrote for FO after USC's loss to Oregon State last season (

Figure 1: Offensive Efficiency by Team Field Position

Figure 2: Opponent's Next Possession Efficiency by Team Field Position

"On average, teams score on fewer than 20 percent of their drives begun inside their own 15-yard line, as illustrated in Figure 1. The difference in score expectation between a drive beginning from a team's own 5-yard line and its own 20-yard line is nearly ten percent. And that's just the effect on the offense. Figure 2 represents the score expectations of the opponent's next possession after a team's own drive, by field position start. Starting a drive deep in one's own territory is the only area of the field that significantly impacts the average success of the opponent's next possession. A punt downed inside the opponent's 5-yard line is as valuable offensively as it is defensively, if not more so."

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