What does it take to win?

I got this idea from something said on the radio the other day, and so I wanted to run some numbers and see what I got.  The basic premise is, do you really need to run the football effectively to win a game?  The old idea is ground control, clock control, less turnovers, manageable third downs and all the other great things that come from a successful run game.


But is that idea out of date?  What does it really take to win games now, today (or in this case, last year) in the Big 12?




The one advantage the NFL has over college is the relative parity in the league.  Sure, some teams are better than others, but all are populated by extremely talented players, and genuinely capable coaches.  The disparity in college ball is far larger.


So for this review, I took Texas, OU, Tech, Ok State, Mizzou, KU, and Nebraska as my representatives.   The games I looked at were all the intermatches between these teams.  For more data points, I also tossed in any out of conference games against quality opponents, including bowl games.


Here is what I found.  The team that wins...


Gets the most first downs 80% of the time.

Has a higher 3rd down conversion rate 88% of the time.

Outgains the other team 88% of the time.

Out passes the other team 56% of the time.

Out runs the other team 72% of the time.

Has less penalties called against them 72% of the time.

Has less penalty yards 72% of the time.

Gets more turnovers 56% of the time.

Wins the time of possession battle 68% of the time.


Obviously there is some correlation here.  Those teams that get the most yards will usually have the most first downs and therefore time of possession.  Less penalties also goes toward that end as they can kill drives.  In what was certainly a pass happy league, the passing yards were just about a wash.  This is most likely due to teams that are behind resulting to the pass to try and catch up, skewing the losing teams stats closer to the middle.


Other items of note:

  • Only one team won without getting either more first downs or a better 3rd down conversion rate, that was Missouri against Northwestern.  (Winner had a special teams TD)
  • In conference play, the only winner (out of 15 games) to not have a better 3rd down conversion rate was Texas against OU.  (Winner had a special teams TD)
  • Of the nine categories I listed, the typical winner wins 6.48 of them.
  • The two teams out of 25 games that won all 9 were Texas against Mizzou, and OU against KU.
  • One team won while winning only 3 categories (Mizzou against Northwestern), two teams won while only winning 4 (UF over OU, and Texas over OkSU).
  • 4/25 winners won the TOP battle without also rushing for more yards, 5/25 winners had more rushing yards, but less TOP, and 3/25 didnt win either.

So In general the adage still holds, although it would be more accurate to say, the team that can convert the third down, and thus get more first downs, wins.  Though it would appear the running game has a large effect on these two numbers, as expected.


Any thoughts?  I'll keep my crude spreadsheet around for a while if anyone has any other combinations they want looked at.

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