With most college football teams having played five or six games this season, we can make some judgments about them and their prospects. One exercise I like to do at this point each season is to analyze all teams’ play-by-play data against what the power ratings — in essence, the betting markets — think about them. I believe this is a good way to find overrated and underrated teams of which to take advantage in the next few weeks.
So we’ll look at the top and bottom five teams whose effective-yards-per-play statistics don’t match up with their perceived strength. I assigned my Effective Offensive/Defensive Yards Per Play figures an equivalent power rating on the scale I use. I then took these EYPP equivalent ratings and compared them with the combined average of my power ratings, which are based heavily on betting markets, and those of the ESPN FPI, a more mainstream indicator of team strength. By doing this, it strengthens my findings and reduces chances for judgment errors by me or ESPN.
The assumption is that if the Effective Yards Per Play Equivalent Rating is higher than the average power rating, that team is playing better than its perceived strength, with the inverse also true. Does this mean teams playing better should automatically be play-on teams in the coming weeks or those playing worse should be faded? Not necessarily, as other factors might affect each team’s perceived ability. I can think of several factors that could impact an oddsmaker’s, analyst’s or fan’s perception of a team’s strength when compared with analyzing records and scores. These include:
— Turnovers. Nothing changes a score or perception of a game more quickly than turnovers. Teams on the positive end of the turnover battle might not be as good as advertised, and vice versa, as turnovers often can be a matter of fortune.
— Sacks for and against. Sacks can be very influential plays that lead to uncomfortable down-and-distance settings. This leads to atypical play-calling, which can in turn lead to misrepresentations of teams’ tendencies and strengths.
— Third-down success. Few statistics correlate more closely with success or lack thereof than third-down conversions. On both sides of the ball, how a team fares on third down directly impacts the scoreboard.
— Strength of schedule. Teams can play well and get beat handily or play poorly and still survive, simply depending on whom they played. These results might not help or harm a team’s perceived strength level for those simply looking at scores and records. They do show up in my effective stats, however.
— Time of possession. How much a team possesses the ball in a game or a season can be an overrated statistic. With most teams running pass-happy offenses and calling plays at the line of scrimmage rather than in a huddle, long drives can be scarce. The ability to hit big plays seems like the preferred result nowadays, whereas long drives used to be paramount. Defenses try to suppress those big plays while causing turnovers and forcing teams into long down-and-distance situations.
— Penalties. The number of times and yards a team is penalized — and perhaps more importantly, the timing of those penalties — can influence down and distance and play-calling, and thus results.