It’s about time we got smarter about high school football.
When it comes to football stats, there’s a lot that can be deceiving about a box score. Most fans will first look towards total yardage to indicate a team’s performance, aside from the final score of course.
But there are a number of problems with just looking at total yardage to indicate performance. For instance, if Team A gains 430 yards and Team B gains 380 yards — the pedestrian football fan reads Team A was better. However, if Team A ran 70 plays and Team B ran 55 plays to achieve their results —Team A averaged 6.1 yards per play and Team B averaged 6.9 yards per play.
Or take third downs for example. Third down conversions are often used as an indicator of how well a team finishes drives. While this can be effective to an extent, there’s still a lot about third-down percentage that can be deceiving. If Team A runs the option, there’s a good chance they’ll find themselves in a lot of third down situations — which is okay because Team A probably prefers to gain yardage in smaller three yard chunks.
But if Team B runs a pass-heavy spread, being in third down constantly is a problem because the point of passing the ball in high volumes is to eat up big chunks of yardage at a time. Since “style of offense” isn’t listed on a box score, there’s no way to know what the number or percentage of converted third downs means.
What about red zone scoring percentage? Team A may have an RZP of 90 percent, while Team B has an RZP of 70 percent. But if RZP has only been in the RZ 12 times and Team B has been there 24 times, does RZP actually say anything about the quality of these teams? It’s highly misleading.
It’s small details like these that have been overlooked by fans for years. Advanced stat groups like Pro Football Focus and Football Outsiders have put years of research into making college football and pro football stats smarter for the fans. So, why not bring the same line of thinking to high school football in southeast Georgia?
This season, high school football coverage will be getting smarter in Bulloch County. Throughout the season, we’ll slowly dive into what makes statistics “smart” and how they’ll be used this season to better explain what happened in a game.
By the way, those of you thinking “Who hired a scientist to do the sports section?” need to know two things. A) I’m far from a scientist (my degree is in journalism, the least scientific thing ever) and B) please keep an open mind while reading these next couple of months. It may just change the way you think about football forever.
THE FIVE FACORS: The five factors are the five most determining factors in who wins a football game. They are as follows: explosiveness, efficiency, drive finishing, field position and turnovers. Each are measured by their own simple statistic, and if the time and money were available we could get very fancy and complicated with these stats —but for now let’s stick to the basics because it’s still effective.
The logic on the five factors is as follows: if you win three of these five factors, you win the football game 100 percent of the time. It never fails — plug them into any box score and it holds up. This season the five factors will be tallied for Statesboro at least — the best efforts will be made on my part to record them for SEB, Portal and BA. But I make no promises.
Every game I cover I’ll have a tally of each of the five factors for both teams to give a better illustration of what happened on the field. We’ll compare them to see how wide the margins were between the two stats to give a real indication on how close a game was. Margins will always tell a big story.
For example, at halftime of Screven County’s game with Bluffton the score was 25-10 in favor of the Gamecocks. The yards per play margin (the stat for explosiveness, but more on that next week) between the two sides was 6.0 to 4.8 — giving Screven a +1.2 advantage.
However the game ended with Bluffton on top 32-25. Guess what happened to the YPP margin? It swung 1.4 yards in favor of Bluffton, as they would finish with a YPP margin of +0.2. Bluffton finished with a YPP of 5.2, Screven with just 5. A massive swing in explosiveness for Screven may have just cost them the game.
But enough about the nitty gritty of the metrics, because every week this season we’ll do a deep dive on each of the five factors plus some other juicy nuggets to better explain the approach I’ll be taking to high school football this season. This could be a crazy idea, and I may get run out of Bulloch County for trying — but I’ll go down with the ship if it means making Statesboro a smarter football city.
Chris Stanley can be contacted at email@example.com