Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Quarterback Productivity

Football fans are familiar with the "passer rating" (aka quarterback rating) that attempts to measure the efficiency of quarterbacks. Unfortunately, every component of the rating is normalized to pass attempts. Thus, while it does do well what it purports to do (measure per attempt "efficiency"), it is useless as a measure of what I'll call quarterback "productivity." If a quarterback rarely throws, he'll rarely face nickel and dime packages and consquently have an "efficiency" advantage. The real trick is a quarterback who throws a lot and still does it well.

For this reason, I was curious to find a simple modification to the quarterback rating that would measure just how heavily a team depends upon its quarterback for its offense and how well that quarterback delivers. Passing yards per game can be useful in this regard, but why not have a statistic that parallels the quarterback rating (i.e., considers TDs, INTs, etc.) but measures productivity.

My plan was to make it a simple variant of the quarterback rating as well as to try to keep it on roughly the same scale. Here is the result:

Quarterback Productivity (QP) =
Quarterback Rating (QR) * (Attempts Per Game / 30).

Basically, we've assumed a nice round number for typical attempts per game (30). If you revert to the original quarterback rating formula, you find that I'm basically converting all of its components (which are effectively per attempt) to a set of components that are instead "per game." Here are the recent leaders (no surprises):

2008 Graham Harrell (Texas Tech)
2007 Graham Harrell (Texas Tech)
2006 Colt Brennan (Hawaii)
2005 Colt Brennan (Hawaii)

A final note: While the average QP is on par with the average QR, the spread in the productivity is about double that of the rating, so numbers in excess of 200 are not uncommon. Thoughts? Suggestions?

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

"Favorable Schedules" and Such

I was watching ESPN recently when a retired coach who shall remain nameless reminded me of why I do Atomic Football. In referring to the FBS team he once coached, he stated that he believed that they would play for the national championship this year. While folks may or may not agree with his projections, it was his rationale that bothered me.

It wasn't because he believed the team was one of the two best in the nation. It was simply because he felt that they were playing a relatively easy schedule.

And thus I was reminded of how Atomic Football came to be. Over the past ten years, I have heard this kind of talk less and less... thankfully. And if you don't really ask what it means, you might even think it makes sense. But if you do ask what it means, and you put that meaning into words, you start to realize just how crazy it sounds. So, let's do that -- let's put it into words.

It actually goes like this... Let's assume that for undefeated teams there are two kinds of schedules. The first kind we shall call "good enough." If you play a "good enough" schedule and go undefeated, you MUST be ranked #1 or #2 (unless there are three or four undefeated teams that played "good enough" schedules, in which case, they will all be ranked in some order at the top). The second kind of schedule is "not good enough." Now here is where things get tricky. If we rank one of these undefeated teams #3 behind a team that played a "good enough" schedule but had a loss, then we create the kind of nightmare so many fear. So, we have imagined that all schedules fall into these two discrete categories -- "good enough" and "not good enough" -- so that this nightmare won't happen. We also imagine that there is a sufficiently wide chasm between the two kinds of schedules that a team that goes undefeated must either finish #1, #2, or no higher than, say, #6.

So, what the ball coach was saying is that your best strategy is to play a schedule that is just barely "good enough." In any case, just barely "good enough" is still "good enough" and a team that goes undefeated against such a schedule can squeak into the championship game even though they're not really one of the two best teams in the country. The problem lies in the fact that as fans, it's sometimes hard for us to deal with a continuum of possibilities. We naturally categorize teams as "upper tier" or "lower tier." Our rankings once flagged wins as "quality" or "not quality," and we still often think in those terms. Because conferences have been labeled "BCS" and "non-BCS," we tend to categorize the teams this way as if the two groups don't overlap. We hate gray areas, and when there is no clear #1 and #2 at season's end, it's somehow a failure of the system, as if, somehow, it should be impossible for the third best team in the country to be almost as good as the second best team.

The bottom line: Shouldn't the two best teams always get to play in the championship game. Call me crazy, but if a team happens to schedule twelve games against all top 20 opponents and goes 10-2, I think they should be a lock to play in the big game.

For a good finish to this ramble, check out my post on having a "standard."

Postscript (11/29/09): The coach's team finished 6-6.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Atomic Football Update

A few notes:

#1 We're officially up and running on Check us out at Thank you to the folks there (Brian McAlister et al.) for making it happen.

#2 We've made some tweaks to our team pages so that the background graphics are actually all "in the background." What this means is that if you print the page, you can turn off the background in your print dialog box and get a nice, neat printout of your team's schedule and stats. If you've never checked out our team pages, here's an example.

#3 For those not familiar with our site, we generally update our numbers on Sunday afternoon.

#4 If you are a fan of the FCS, D2, D3, or NAIA, we could use your help. We are seeking good sources of data on returning starters on these divisions/associations. We have leads on a few preseason magazines, but we would like to confirm that they have the numbers we need. If you have info on this, please comment on this post or contact us through the Atomic Football web site.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

2009 Most Competitive Schedules

Here are Atomic Football's estimates of who plays the most competitive schedules in the country across all divisions. Not the toughest schedules, but the schedules where the opponents are most well-matched (i.e., the most parity). Another way to look at it is... which teams have the most unpredictable, and perhaps most exciting, games on their schedules?

Not surprisingly, 12 of the 13 most competitive schedules in the FBS come out of the MAC and ACC. Here are the top 6...

#1 Bowling Green
#2 Virginia
#3 Wake Forest
#4 Georgia Tech
#5 Toledo
#6 Ohio U.

The most competitive schedule outside the MAC and ACC? Purdue at #9 on the list.

Here's what we have on the other divisions. You'll note that the teams tend to cluster into one or two conferences. After all, within a conference, parity for one tends to mean parity for all...

#1 Princeton
#2 Brown
#3 Columbia
#4 Tennessee State
#5 Cornell NY
#6 Austin Peay

#1 Ferris State
#2 Fairmont State
#3 West Virginia State
#4 Lane
#5 Charleston WV
#6 SE Oklahoma State

#1 Randolph Macon
#2 Lycoming
#3 Wilkes
#4 Bridgewater VA
#5 Gustavus Adolphus
#6 Franklin & Marshall

#1 Eastern Oregon
#2 Montana St-Northern
#3 Montana-Western
#4 Montana Tech
#5 Rocky Mountain
#6 Valley City State

If I get a chance, I'll try to add "least competitive schedules" to this post.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

2009 Undefeated Regular Season Predictions

Something else a little different... Who is good enough, and whose schedule is favorable enough, to go undefeated during the 2009 regular season? Here goes...

FBS: Expect one undefeated. Florida has about a 48% chance. Oklahoma about a 13% chance. USC, Texas, Penn State, and Boise each have between a 5 and 7% chance. TCU, Ole Miss, Ohio State, Iowa, Alabama, Cal, and Pitt fall in the range of 1 to 4% chance.

FCS: Odds are that no one in the FCS will go undefeated. The best chance goes to Montana (6%) followed by Dayton (3%), Richmond (3%), and James Madison (3%). App State and Harvard each have a 2% chance. A host of others are at 1%.

D2: Expect two undefeated teams. Chances are as follows: Minn-Duluth (43%), UNA (22%), Abilene Christian (20%), NW Missouri State (16%), Grand Valley (15%), Indiana PA (10%). About 20 others fall between 1 and 5%.

D3: Expect at least three undefeated teams... Mount Union (73%), UW-Whitewater (38%), Mary Hardin-Baylor (27%), Monmouth IL (23%), Wash & Jeff (19%), Millsaps (17%), Wabash (13%), Case Western (11%), and several others between 5 and 8% (Wheaton, Franklin, Wesley, Redlands, Muhlenberg, Willamette, and Wartburg).

NAIA: Expect one and possibly two undefeated teams... Saint Francis IN (31%), Morningside (21%), Carroll MT (14%), Lindenwood (14%), Friends (14%). The rest are all less than 8%.

One caveat... beyond the FBS, I cannot account for returning starters for the other divisions. So, for these divisions, the above is basically projecting last year's teams into this year's schedules. The numbers I post to the team pages ( from which these projections come will be updated as the season progresses. Expect the biggest changes after week one when this year's performance first begins to get factored in.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

2009 Projected FBS Conference Winners

I don't do these kinds of predictions very often, and, when I do, they're a little rougher than my game predictions. However, I thought it would be fun to project out to the end of the season, accounting for schedules and home field advantage, to make an educated "computer guess" as to who are likely winners of their conferences. Keep in mind that computer predictions are less prone to "speculate" on big year-to-year swings, so don't be surprised if things are not substantially different from last year. One key factor to note: Home field advantage makes its biggest difference against a well-matched opponent. It has little affect on mismatches. So, teams contending for their conference championship tend to be favored if they face their toughest challengers at home. With that, here goes...

ACC: There is little doubt that the ACC is among the most consistent of the BCS conferences. Maybe not a lot of top 10 teams, but LOTS of top 40 quality teams. In the Atlantic, Florida State should edge out an improved Clemson team by a win. Wake and BC are also contenders. In the Coastal, Virginia Tech should have an even bigger advantage over North Carolina. Georgia Tech could also challenge.

Big 12: In the North, the edge goes to Missouri, but not by much. Kansas will give them a run. I'll have to "wait and see" on Nebraska. In the much stronger South, the schedules seem to favor Oklahoma over Texas. Oklahoma State and Texas Tech will need to outperform to be in the running.

Big East: Pittsburgh looks to be the front-runner, with several teams on their heels: West Virginia, Rutgers, USF, a fading Cincinnati, and Connecticut. Not much I can add to this.

Big Ten: It looks like a dead heat between Penn State and Ohio State. It seems unlikely that both those teams would stumble and give an improving Iowa team an opening.

C-USA: In the East, the Pirates of East Carolina should be favored to repeat, but Southern Miss will make it tough on them. Look for the rest of the East to finish at or below 0.500 in the conference. In the West, I'd also give Tulsa a similar edge over Houston. Rice and UTEP will round out the top four.

MAC: Overall, the MAC could host the most exciting conference race in the country, with pretty consistent performers top to bottom. The East will be very tight with Temple, Buffalo, and Bowling Green leading the pack and Akron and Ohio U. on their tails. In the West, Central Michigan is favored to knock off reigning champ Ball State. Closely-matched Western Michigan, Northern Illinois, and an improved Toledo will fill the next three slots behind the Chippewas and Cards.

MWC: TCU's Horned Frogs should win at least 6 conference games to take the title, but only if Utah and BYU let them. The rest of the group will watch from the sidelines.

Pac-10: USC is almost a lock -- almost. Cal or Oregon will need to overachieve to knock them off. Oregon State, Arizona, and Stanford should still finish at or above 0.500 in the conference. It doesn't look good for the rest of the "Pac."

SEC: In the East, Florida should coast to victory over a fading Georgia. The rest will do well to finish 0.500 in the conference. In the West, the scheduling favors a surging Ole Miss team slightly over Alabama. If not for Florida busting the curve, the West would easily be the stronger half of the conference.

Sun Belt: The Troy Trojans should have little trouble claiming the crown, trailed in the distance by a tight pack consisting of Arkansas State, an experienced MTSU team, Floridas Int'l and Atlantic, and a sliding La-Lafayette.

WAC: Boise. Period. OK, not really. Nevada could make a run at the Broncos.

One last thing... I would love to do the other divisions, but #1, this is a hobby, it doesn't pay the bills, and my time is limited. #2, finding easily accessible info on returning starters, etc. is next to impossible for all but the FBS and FCS. If you're interested, I can send you the data I have and tell you how to crunch the numbers yourself. If you're savvy with Excel, it's not hard. That's the best I can do.

Monday, July 27, 2009, Atomic Football, and more...

We're very much looking forward to having host our college football rankings and predictions this year. In case you don't know, is the online home of The Huntsville Times, The Birmingham News, and the Mobile Press-Register). We would like to say thank you to the IT and news folks there for making the process of getting integrated into their web site an easy one.

So, why are we excited? Well, we certainly look forward to increasing our visibility to college football fans. That, of course, has its ups and downs. Over the years, we have received a lot of very positive feedback from folks all over the country. Once in a while though, college football fans being a "passionate" lot, we do get the occasional nastygram.

I make it a standing principle to try to reply to all of our email and to do so respectfully. This is not always easy, particularly when you just can't see eye-to-eye with someone, but I have found that if I try to respond kindly, make an effort to see the other person's perspective, and don't get sucked into name-calling, I have (so far) been able to smooth things over and conclude every exchange on a positive note -- agreeing politely to disagree, resolving misunderstandings, making reasonable concessions.

While it is "just" football (that phrase might earn me an email all by itself), it is also a microcosm of life. And strangely, folks who might not be very transparent in life are rarely so opaque when they're talking football. You can be pretty sure they're telling you exactly what they think and feel. So, while we may regard conversation on "news, sports, and the weather" as light fair, perhaps sports (or at least football) doesn't belong in that category. Sometimes it's the only time someone will give you a glimpse of who they really are.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

More on "Simple Head-to-Head"

OK, you have two top-ranked teams - the Cartersville Chipmunks and the Portstown Possums. During the regular season, the two teams met head-to-head once in additional to eleven other common opponents. The Possums won the head-to-head matchup. Both finished 11-1. Which one deserves to play the undefeated Artersburg Aardvarks for the national championship?

Easy problem, right? The Possums won the head-to-head matchup. Therefore, they're the better team. Therefore, they should play in the championship. 'Nuff said.

Hmmm. You know, as long as we don't look any closer, the problem appears to be solved. Portstown and Artersburg play for the trophy. Everybody's happy.

But is "simple head-to-head" really so simple? Let's dig deeper...

Portstown won the head-to-head matchup but lost to someone else, in this case, the Forcester Fleas. Since Cartersville and Portstown played identical schedules and 11-1 Cartersville's only loss was to Portstown, then Cartersville must have beaten Forcester.

So, that means Portstown lost to Forcester who lost to Cartersville who lost to Portstown. Therefore, if "head-to-head" means that Portstown is better than Cartersville, then Cartersville must be better that Forcester and Forcester is better than Portstown. But if Cartersville is better than Forcester and Forcester is better than Portstown, then either Cartersville is better than Portstown or... since A better than B and B better than C doesn't mean A is better than C, we must have no clue what "better" means. So, what does all this complicated stuff mean?

It means many things?

#1 Ranking teams isn't as easy as ranking all winners ahead of losers. Sooner or later you will arrive at a contradition.

#2 If we had to define "head-to-head," it is simply that we hate to see teams ranked slightly behind teams they beat. If they're way behind in the rankings, we comfortably ignore it, but if they're close, we seem to come unglued. This is a very inconsistent position -- "big upsets" are tolerated while "little upsets" drive us crazy.

#3 In the above case, if we favor the winner of the head-to-head, then while we arguably have two teams whose "average" performance is identical, we're basically favoring the MORE INCONSISTENT of the two teams -- the team whose highs are higher but whose lows are lower.
But don't worry, it gets worse...

Let's assume that we somehow omniciently know that both teams are, on average, identical. Therefore, they played equally difficult schedules (since the only difference in their schedules is their head-to-head matchup) and they finished with identical records against those schedules. If we don't ask exactly which games were wins and which were losses, we would tend to say that they are equally good. Now, let's assume that, instead, we omniciently know that Portstown is the better team. Therefore, Cartersville played the tougher schedule since the only schedule difference is the head-to-head matchup and Cartersville's opponent (Portstown) is tougher than Portstown's opponent (Cartersville). Therefore, Cartersville had the same record against a tougher schedule. But a better record against a tougher schedule would imply that Cartersville is the better team. But we have this conclusion as a direct result of our assumption that Portstown is the better team...

Bottom line: There's no such thing as SIMPLE head-to-head.