Week 1 has come and gone and so now it's time begin our new research project.
Throughout the season we'll track how the following five statistics correlate with winning:
1. Rushing yards
2. Passing yards
3. Scoring first
4. Leading at halftime
Why these five?
The first two have fallen out of favor with the analytics experts and self-proclaimed experts lurking around every corner of the Football Internet, brandished with the pejorative term "counting stats." I like them for two reasons.
First, they're "whole team" stats. They measure not only your ability to run the ball, but also to stop the run. To make your quarterback comfortable and your opponent's uncomfortable. I didn't want to do total snaps, or total first downs, or time of possession, because we'd all rather have a 70-yard touchdown run than a 14-play, 89-yard drive that ends in a goal line stand, but the latter looks better on a box score.
Second, there were 88 games involving FBS teams in Weeks 0 and 1. You try scanning 88 box scores in a timely manner without microwaving your brain into oatmeal.
The next two stats, scoring first and leading at halftime, are partly here for my own curiosity. How much does taking a 3-0 or 7-0 lead really matter in a 60-minute game? Is it worth going for broke in the final two minutes of the first half?
And the final stat, in my mind, is the most obvious. The fastest shortcut to winning any sport is to have more shots on goal than your opponent, and takeaways in football are a double-whammy in that you can also score on defense. My hunch here is that this statistic will have the best winning percentage over the course of the entire season, but we'll have to wait the entire season to prove or disprove that hypothesis, won't we?
The Five, Weeks 0 and 1
1. Rushing yards: 73-15 (.830)
2. Passing yards: 52-36 (.590)
3. Scoring first: 69-19 (.784)
4. Leading at halftime: 71-14 (.807)
5. Takeaways: 51-16 (.662)
A few notes:
-- Just so we're clear on the methodology moving toward, teams that ran the ball for more yards than their opponent won 73 times and lost 15.
-- It surprised me to learn only three of 88 games were tied at halftime. Tulsa and UC Davis were knotted at 10 (Davis won 19-17); Ball State and Western Illinois were deadlocked at seven (Ball State won 31-21); and Penn State and Wisconsin were scoreless (Penn State won 16-10).
-- I expect we'll see No. 3 and 4 come down a bit over the season. With so many FBS vs. FCS and Power 5 vs. Group of 5 games, so many teams simply ran away and hid from the opening kickoff on.
-- Twelve teams won all five metrics. The average score of those games: 48-9. Nine of those 12 came against FCS opponents. The remaining three: NC State 45, South Florida 0; Ole Miss 43, Louisville 24.... and No. 1 Alabama 44, No. 14 Miami 13.