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Second Order Wins Definition

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Credt: David Purdy, Getty. Kirk Ferentz and Matt Campbell talk before the 2021 Cy-Hawk Trophy.

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Second Order Wins Definition

Second order wins is a metric that combines a number of advanced statistics to define the win probability of a given game and compare it against the actual outcome. If you add up each team’s win probability for each individual game you get its expected total wins. And then compare the expected wins to the actual number of wins, and you get the second order win total.

Second order wins help to outline how a team’s luck helped or hurt their success throughout a year.

For example, if a team wins 10 games out of 13 and its second order win total is 11.2, it underachieved on the season or was unlucky, as it won less than what its perceived win total indicated it should be.

On the contrary, if a team wins 8 games out of 13 and its second order win total is 6.3, the team outperformed on the season or was lucky, as it won more than what its perceived win total indicated it should be.


Here are the “most lucky” and “most unlucky” teams from the 2019 college football season, by measure of second order wins.

Team Win Total Second-Order Win Total
Miami of Ohio 8 5.6
Iowa 9 6.7
Boise State 12 9.7
Memphis 12 9.8
Marshall 8 5.9

As you can see, each of these teams performed better than their second order win total would have expected them to perform throughout the season.

Team Win Total Second-Order Win Total
Texas Tech 4 6.5
Fresno State 4 6.4
Iowa State 7 9.4
Tulsa 4 6
Miami Florida 6 7.9

The very opposite is evident from this table, as these teams were expected to win far more games than they did based on their second order win total.

Here is how every college football team fared with regards to second-order win totals in 2019, courtesy of The Action Network’s Collin Wilson.

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Can Second-Order Wins Help With Betting?

Yes and no. The answer to this question is complicated, as is the case with most statistics. Second-order wins provide insight into certain ideas but lose value without considering context or external factors.

For example, second-order wins do give you a good sense of if a team will fare better or worse than the year prior, but there are also a number of outside factors that will play a role in this.

If a team is returning a majority of its players and staff, then it is possible that it will have a similar second-order win total to the year prior, likely resulting in a real win total that is closer towards that number. But experience, chemistry and other factors will also play a role in that win total, as the team won’t be exactly the same as the year prior, and will rather be much different.

In season, however, if you care to evaluate second-order win totals, it could possibly serve as a useful tool for betting analysis. If a team is outperforming or underperforming against its second-order win total, it could give you a solid hint as to their future results within a given season. Second order win probabilities can be found here, referred to as “Post Game Win %.”

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