I don’t bet on football games but I do pay close attention to who’s favored and by how much. Why? Because the guys that set these numbers know what they’re doing.
In researching almost 1,900 games since the beginning of the 2011 season I’ve found that the favored team (no matter the spread) has won 76.1 percent of the time.
Of course, not all spreads are equal and the bigger the spread the better the odds of the favored team winning as shown in the chart below.
Vegas odds and ends
The good news for Clemson fans is that 3 points is somewhat of an anomaly in the data, in that this spread appears in the 54 times and the underdog has won exactly half of those games.
On the field, the metrics that matter the most are gaining more yards than your opponent (77.1%) and averaging more yards per pass (78.7 percent).
It’s obvious why more yards are important – yards correlate more to points than any other metric. On the other hand, yards per pass could be skewed, in that teams that are behind tend to throw more (winning teams throw more passes only 35% of the time). When teams throw more often when behind the tendency is to complete a lower percentage of passes which leads to a decrease in yards gained per pass. For this reason, I believe it’s ver likely that yards per pass is “noise” and total yards is the “signal” that correlates more to winning than any other metric.
Factors in wins
I’m often asked about defensive stats. They are included in that the percentages above compare stats between teams, rather than setting a specific goal. For example, it doesn’t matter if you gain 450 yards or 250 yards as long as your defense allows less. Or alternatively, it doesn’t matter if you give up 250 or 450 as long as your offense gains more the odds are in your favor.
Two things that are over played in the media and among fans are “winning the turnover battle” and penalties.
The data shows that only 58.4% of the time does the winner have less turnovers than the loser, meaning turnovers are far less of a reliable predictor than the metrics above. The correct phrase should be, “Don’t lose the turnover battle”, because teams that have less or the same number of turnovers as their opponents win 79.8% of the time. Staying even in turnovers is O.K.
How many times have we heard penalties are a “killer”? The fact is only 48 percent of the time the winning team had less penalty yards than the loser. Think about that. More often than not the winning team has more penalty yards than the losing team. It flies in the face of everything we’ve ever heard at every level of football about the importance of not committing penalties.
Not only do winners have more penalty yards than losers but, in one of my all-time favorite stats, teams with 100 or more penalty yards have won 57 percent (109-82) of the time. Good teams are often penalized and penalized a lot.
As with most things, context and timing can be a factor. Win the turnover battle, but fumble the ball on your own 2 in a tie game with 40 seconds to go and you’re probably going to lose. Those are the ones that make the headlines, but for the vast majority of games that’s not what happens and turnovers and penalties play a smaller role while total yards tells the story for the majority of games.
Clemson was 1-1 when being outgained on the season and 9-1 when outgaining their opponents. Many Clemson fans feel as if it was a three game season and the Tigers were outgained in 2 of those games (both at home) and committed 6 turnovers in the other.
It’s really a simple recipe for me. Outgain your opponent and be at least even on turnovers. Teams with that combination win 89.1 percent of the time.
Check out more Clemson stats analysis from Coleman on SeldomUsedReserve.com