College Football Misleading Box Scores: Veritable Victors, Dubious Dominators & Bona Fide Busts from Week 6

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Sean Gardner/Getty Images. Pictured: Mike Leach.

We’ve all had enough bad beats to understand that the final score does not always do the best job of reflecting each team’s performance. This weekly column highlights matchups where the advanced box score tells a different story than the game’s result. Sports bettors may want to keep this information in the back of their minds before placing next week’s college football wagers.


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Deceiving Blowouts

These teams may have cruised to victories over the weekend, but the box score indicates that the game may have been closer than it appeared.

South Carolina 41, Vanderbilt 7

South Carolina was a 13.5-point favorite and deserved to cover, but the final score of 41-7 is a little misleading. In total, South Carolina only posted a 40% success rate compared to Vanderbilt’s 39%.

After the Gamecocks took a 10-point lead into halftime, Vanderbilt turned it over on downs on its first possession of the second half at its own 31-yard line. South Carolina was able to turn this into a touchdown and then added two touchdown runs of 88 yards and 47 yards. South Carolina was able to break off a few big plays but was not very successful on a per-play basis.

Kentucky 24, Mississippi State 2

If you bring the ball past the opponent’s 40-yard line five times, you should expect a few offensive points, right? Mississippi State disagrees. It had five opportunities inside of Kentucky’s 40-yard line and came away with a grand total of zero points.

Despite the 22-point victory, Kentucky was only able to post a 28% offensive success rate. Mississippi State, with all of its two points, posted a 38% success rate. In yards per play, Kentucky was also outgained 3.5 to 2.9. However, the Wildcats managed to intercept six (not a typo) passes, which allowed them to cruise to a victory.

Marshall 38, Western Kentucky 14

Western Kentucky actually posted the superior success rate at 38%, compared to Marshall’s 34% success rate. Sometimes these can be skewed because of big leads late in the game, but in the first half, WKU posted a 36.5% success rate while Marshall came in at 34.5%.

Field position played a major role here, as Marshall’s average starting position was 59.3 yards from the end zone, compared to a dreadful 78.1 for WKU. Marshall did have the advantage in yards per play, but it was only 5.4 to 4.6. Not what you would expect in a 38-14 win.

In the end, the Hilltoppers turned the ball over three times while Marshall was able to take care of the ball. However, Western Kentucky only went 2 for 12 on third down and lost the turnover battle by three. The score can get away from you when that happens.

Puzzling Point Totals

Everyone knows the terrible feeling of holding an Over ticket, watching a team drive into the red zone and then witnessing that team fail to score a touchdown. Sometimes the total does not reflect the offensive efficiency that happened on the field.

Middle Tennessee 31, Florida International 28

Over bettors got some luck here, with both teams posting a success rate in the 30s. MTSU only had a 37% success rate, and FIU managed just 32%. FIU only managed to total five yards per play, despite touchdown runs of 63 and 65 yards. 128 of its 327 yards (39%, for those keeping track at home) came on two plays.

Middle Tennessee, on the other hand, only averaged 5.1 yards per play. These teams were unusually efficient in the red zone, as well, converting six of seven total red zone trips into touchdowns.

Oklahoma 53, Texas 45 (4 OT)

If you had the courage to take an under in this game, you deserve better. Success rates of 43% and 40% do not tend to lead to 98 total points, but overtime doesn’t really care about that. Oklahoma had a 31-17 lead heading into the third quarter, only to give up 14 straight points to force overtime. An additional 36 points came across the overtime periods.

Neither team was able to manage more than five yards per play, and the game didn’t have a single pass catcher go over 100 receiving yards. This high point total was par for the course in the Red River Rivalry, but the process it took to get there was much different than it had been in recent years.

Confounding Conclusions

This section features games with a lopsided box score that, for whatever reason, did not translate to the final score.

NC State 38, Virginia 21

Despite putting up 38 points, the Wolfpack only managed a 30% success rate. Virginia, on the other hand, had a success rate of 36%. NC State was plus-3 in the turnover margin and capitalized on that with a defensive touchdown. These turnovers led to NC State having an average starting field position that was 24 yards closer than Virginia’s.

Missouri 45, LSU 41

Despite being a two-touchdown favorite, LSU was lucky that the final score was this close. In terms of success rate, LSU was blown out of the water. Missouri posted a ridiculous 60% success rate on offense, compared to 43% for LSU, which had great success dialing up the “throw it to Terrace Marshall” play, but not much else.

Missouri also had a sizable advantage in yards per play: at 8.6 to 7.0. Mizzou also had over 100 more total yards than LSU. Ed Orgeron’s team was able to keep this close due to three Missouri fumbles.

Navy 31, Temple 29

Temple has to be frustrated after this one. The Owls left their first game of the season with a loss despite posting an incredible 58% success rate while holding Navy to 48%. It totaled over 100 yards more than Navy, as well as averaging 6.4 yards per play to Navy’s 4.8. First downs also were in Temple’s favor, 26-18. However, Temple allowed Navy to convert all four of its fourth-down conversion attempts and was unable to generate any turnovers. Quarterback Anthony Russo’s interception turned out to be the only turnover by either side.


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