After a month of college football, we get to play the fun game of signal versus noise in navigating the turbulent waters of small sample size. The strongest signal is most likely from success rate.
For an offense, play success is defined in terms of the necessary yards to the next first down. A successful play gets the following fraction of those yards:
- 50% on 1st down
- 70% on 2nd down
- 100% on 3rd, 4th down
At The Power Rank, I take this quantity and adjust for strength of schedule with my algorithm based on Markov chains. As much as I’d like to tout how much this Stanford PhD math matters, it isn’t the most important aspect for college football right now.
In my adjusted success rate calculations, I include games from all FBS and FCS teams. This expanded network lets me better evaluate a team like Texas A&M because it considers games against FCS teams like Sam Houston State.
Let’s dig into some insights from these adjusted success rate calculations.
In the first season of head coach Kalen DeBoer, the offense has grabbed the headlines in a 4-0 start. QB Michael Penix Jr., the transfer from Indiana, has led the 15th best pass offense. Overall, the offense ranks 20th.
However, the defense has been even better at 4th. Early data suggests that Washington should be the Pac-12 North favorite, not Oregon.
Offensive guru Lincoln Riley brought a few high powered transfers in QB Caleb Williams and WR Jordan Addison with him to USC. It’s not a surprise that USC’s offense ranks 14th, even with a bit of a hiccup against Oregon State last week.
However, it is a surprise that USC’s defense ranks 31st. This unit was awful last season, but DC Alex Grinch has gotten quality play out of a number of transfers.
After starting the season with three of the worst FBS teams, Michigan finally played a team with a pulse in Maryland. The offense fared better than the defense. For the season, Michigan’s offense ranks 10th and is powered by the run game (5th).
Maryland was able to move the ball on Michigan’s defense, and this unit ranks 52nd after four games. The defense gets another game off against Iowa (116th) before they need to show up at Indiana (40th).
North Carolina State
This team almost made my 3 overrated college football teams this preseason. QB Devin Leary threw for 35 touchdowns and 5 interceptions in 2021, but the underlying metrics didn’t like this offense (74th).
Through four games, the North Carolina State offense ranks a meager 72nd out of 131 teams. A 108th ranked pass offense is holding this team back.
The Fighting Irish did make my overrated list, and they lived up to it by dropping their first two games against Ohio State and Marshall. Things seemed dire as QB Tyler Buchner was lost for the season.
However, Notre Dame has won two straight, and the pass offense ranks 28th for the season. QB Drew Pyne has led the offense to a 50% passing success rate the past two games (40.7% college football average).
More insights from college football success rate
For patrons of The Football Analytics Show, I made an audio episode that digs into the adjusted success rates for three more teams.
One section will have an impact on an SEC game this weekend. The other two sections speculate about the impact of a coordinator change this off season.
To get this audio episode, one that I am extremely proud of, support The Football Analytics Show on Patreon.
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