Measuring scoring in college football is tricky. Only recently has the sport moved away from points per game as the go-to metric. But where does that leave it?
Evaluating a team’s ability to score is central to handicapping, particularly in betting over/unders. Below, we’ll look at multiple ways to examine scoring in college football and how to use the many numbers out there.
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The Many Metrics Of College Football Scoring
Points per drive. Expected points added. Certainly you’ve had some exposure to at least half a dozen different numbers that measure a team’s ability to score. None of them paint a complete picture, so the first lesson: use multiple numbers and know what each one means.
Points Per Drive
This more focused number can remove the skew of teams that run higher-tempo offenses. For example, Pittsburgh finished sixth in points per game in 2021 (38.7) while Georgia finished finished eighth (37.4). Looks like these two offenses performed pretty comparably at first glance.
Not exactly. While Pitt ran the ninth-most plays per game in 2021 (78.2), Georgia ran the 119th-most (63.9), leading to the Dawgs ranking fourth in points per drive (3.39) and Pitt 22nd (2.82). This means on any given drive, Georgia was scoring half a point more each time they had the football than Pitt. A pretty decent edge to Georgia.
Conversely, Pitt ranked 46th in points allowed per game (24.9), meaning their defense appears marginally above the median. Again, tempo skews things. Because of their rate of play, the Panthers actually finished 24th in points allowed per drive, a decent jump over their surface number.
The downside to just using points per drive is that it doesn’t contextualize strength of opponent or account for how teams scored. Did the defense recover a fumble at the two yard line? That counts the same as a 19-play, 99-yard touchdown drive on the scoreboard.
Expected Points Added
EPA is one of the most popular metrics in sports handicapping. It’s an advanced metric that’s become extremely relevant in the NFL in the past few years. It’s thrown around a lot but not always correctly. So, what does it measure?
It’s an even more focused metric than points per drive because it measures how many points any given play adds to the scoreboard. This is useful when looking at explosiveness of an offense rather than consistency. For example, Wisconsin recorded the nation’s 18th-most rush yards per game. Was their rushing attack better than Ohio State’s that finished 44th?
Rush EPA will show you the Buckeyes were much more effective at running the ball on a per-play basis. They finished 14th versus Wisconsin at 59th. Wisconsin ran the ball with the fifth-most frequency last season, resulting in inflated numbers.
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Often wrongly used interchangeably with EPA, success rate measures the consistency of an offense. As the name suggests, what percent of the time was the offense successful at moving the ball? Per Football Outsiders, a successful play is defined as: 50% of necessary yardage on first down, 70% on second down, and 100% on third and fourth down.
If you just looked at EPA for TCU, you’d assume the Frogs had one of the top offenses in the nation. So why did they finish 65th in scoring? Or 59th in points per drive? Consider the following instances:
- TCU was No. 5 in EPA per play but No. 45 in success rate (No. 59 in PPD)
- Fresno State was No. 73 in EPA but No. 20 in success rate (No. 48 in PPD)
A team that ranks highly in both EPA and success rate will likely have a higher points per drive metric. They were consistently good at generating explosive plays. Ohio State ranked first in EPA, success rate and PPD.
Measuring Player Success
A lot of this can be directly applied to player performance as well. While a player like Stetson Bennett may not have jumped off the page with his total yardage (2,862 yards, 44th), he finished eighth in EPA per pass, indicating a select but effective usage.
This is effective in evaluating players like Mississippi State’s Will Rogers, who finished third in passing yards but 54th in EPA per pass (indicating a high usage but at controlled distance).
Important passing metrics to take into consideration:
- Air yards per attempt/yards per attempt
- Completion percentage
- Touchdown rate