Skip to main content

Tulsa GA Zak Bigelow provides another innovate way to study football

How have you spent your evenings the last two weeks? Whatever the answer is surely better than Tulsa GA Zak Bigelow. The football analystics whiz has analyzed all 119,300 plays from scrimmage for the 2012 FBS season, not once but twice, to study which offensive and defensive units were the most efficient in college football. 

Bigelow defined success as a first down play that gains 33.3 percent or more of the needed yardage (turning 1st and 10 into 2nd and 6), a second down play that gains 50 percent or more of the necessary yardage (turning 2nd and 6 into 3rd and 3) and a third down play that achieves a first down. 

This is a more reliable statistic than yards per play for the following because it is immune to outliers. A 70-yard touchdown followed by six straight plays for no gain creates a misleading 10-yards per play average. Like its baseball counterpart, on-base percentage, Bigelow's efficiency statistic examines each play inside of its own universe, so an abnormally successful (or unsuccessful) play has no influence on the snaps its precedes or follows.

Bigelow found that offenses won the play on 47.9 percent of snaps. A good offense was successful on 50-52.4 percent of its plays, an offense that converted 52.5 percent or more of its plays ranked among the top 25 nationally, and a truly elite offense won 55 percent or more of its plays. 

Top 10 Most Efficienct Offenses

1. Alabama 57.6%
2. Florida State 56.7%
3. Louisiana Tech 56.6%
4. Nevada 56.3%
5. Oklahoma 56.1%
6. Texas A&M 55.4%
7. Arkansas State 55.3%
8. Oregon 54.7%
8. Texas Tech 54.7%
10. Arizona State 54.6%

With defenses winning slightly more than half of all plays, the bar is a little higher to get in the defensive top 10.

Top 10 Most Efficient Defenses

1. Florida State 64.1%
2. Michigan State 63.2%
3. Virginia Tech 61.8%
4. BYU 61.3%
5. Connecticut 60.6%
6. Alabama 59.9%
6. Bowling Green 59.9%
8. Fresno State 59.8%
9. Florida 59.5%
10. Tulsa 59.1%

Combine those two metrics together, and you have the 10 teams that most consistently executed on both sides of the ball. 

Top 10 Most Efficient Teams

1. Florida State 60.4%
2. Alabama 58.7%
3. Arizona State 56.8%
4. Oklahoma 55.9%
5. Ohio State 55.6%
6. Nebraska 54.9%
7. Arkansas State 54.3%
7. BYU 54.3%
9. Oregon 54.2%
9. Texas A&M 54.2%

As with any analytical study, it's always best to check your findings against real-world data. In this case, the 10 most efficient teams on a play-by-play basis combined to go 106-26 (eight of the 10 reached double-digit wins, and no one went worse than 8-5) and finish atop the standings of five separate conferences. 

Conclusions: Bigelow reaches a number of conclusions: "I found that teams with running quarterbacks tended to have higher efficiencies. Over-efficient teams (meaning higher score than expected for their points per game), ran the ball more (very common with academies and Georgia Tech), were poor in the red zone and had a high amount of turnovers. Under-efficient teams (meaning lower score than expected for their points per game) were dependent on big plays, bad on third down and had an easy strength of schedule."

With all that said, how can coaches apply this study to their teams? Bigelow has a few ideas. 

"Going forward, I would encourage teams to use this data to evaluate all of their play concepts, run and pass to see how they are working for them. This helps quickly identify what teams do well and what teams need to get better at. 

"This data also helps evaluate an offense by its different situations. By studying a team’s efficiency on first down, second-and-short, coming out or in the red zone, a team can see what situations it needs to improve upon. Whether that be changing philosophies for those situations, working on them more in practices or game planning for them further.

"Finally, at the next level, you can combine those two studies and see which plays are having success in which situations and which plays are not. Hopefully, by doing this, you can get a true representation of the success or failure of your system and philosophy of when and how you run plays."

Questions, comments or complaints? Bieglow welcomes all through his email or on Twitter @CoachBiggs_TU.