There are a lot of statistics in football. Some of them matter (turnover margin) more than others (time of possession). Identifying the relevant from the irrelevant and then building a team to pursue those statistical advantages will lead to a lot of happy locker rooms. This much is simple.
SB Nation stats guru Bill Connelly has identified five statistics that most simply correlate with an advantage on the scoreboard when the clock hits quadruple zeroes.
1. Have more explosive plays than your opponent, and you'll win 86 percent of the time.
Connelly analyzed yard per play numbers from every regular-season college football game in 2013 (nearly one million plays in all) and found that teams with a per-play advantage as small as 0.5-to-1 yard win 72 percent of the time, by an average of 7.7 points. Hold an edge of 1-to-1.5 yards per play, and you'll win 86 percent of games, with an average margin of victory by 13.2 points. The numbers get more slanted from there, up to a 5-yard per play advantage leading to a 100 percent victory rate by an average of 51 points.
2. Stay ahead of the chains better than your opponent, and you'll win 83 percent of the time.
In the stats community, a successful play is defined as 50 percent of the necessary yardage on first down (1st and 10 to 2nd and 5), 70 percent of necessary yardage on second down (2nd and 7 to 3rd and 2), and 100 percent of necessary yardage on third and fourth down.
According to Connelly's data, teams that held an advantage as small as 0.5 to 5 percent (that is, 5 more of their plays were more successful than their opponent's) won nearly 60 percent of the time. Hold a 5-10 percent edge? You'll win three out of every four games, by an average of 10.6 points per game. Move the needle up to a full 10 percent, and you'll win 91.5 percent of the time, by an average of 17.3 points per game.
3. Win the field position battle, and you'll win 72 percent of the time.
Teams that held a field position advantage as small as 3-to-6 yards were able to crawl a 59.8 percent chance of victory this season. Even a 0-to-3-yard advantage produced a 54.1 percent chance. The number you really want to shoot for is six yards; teams that held a 6-to-10-yard edge won 78.3 percent of the time, by an average of 15.7 points.
4. Finish drives better than your opponent, and you'll win 75 percent of the time.
Not every drive will be successful, but those that are need to be cashed in. Connelly charted every drive that proceeded past the opponent's 40-yard line and found that teams that magic line was four points per trip. Achieve an average of greater than four points for every trip past your opponent's 40, and you'll probably win. Don't, and you'll lose.
Teams that held an advantage of 1-to-2 points per 40-yard line penetration (that is, score 1-to-2 points more than your opponent on every trip) and you'll win 74.7 percent of the time, by an average of 11.4 points. Achieve a 3-to-4 point advantage, and you'll win 96 times out of 100, and usually by five touchdowns.
5. Win the turnover battle, and you'll win 73 percent of the time.
This one is the simplest. Hold a +1 in the turnover margin, and you'll have a .645 winning percentage. Want a sure-fire way to win eighty percent of your games? Win the turnover margin by two or more. Incedentially, the difference between a +2 and a +3 turnover margin was ultimately microscopic. Teams with a +2 edge held a .786 winning percentage, while teams with a +3 advantage finished at .789.