Why Havoc Is a Key College Football Handicapping Metric, And Coaches Who Do It Best
Turnover Chain via Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports
- A Bruce Feldman story about defensive coaches stealing signals prompts research on the gambling aspect of Havoc.
- Havoc is defined by total tackles for loss, passes defensed and forced fumbles divided by total plays.
- There’s some luck, but certain coaches consistently have defenses with high Havoc rates.
It’s 2018 and college football handicapping has changed. In the past, people relied on trends, injury reports and recency bias before placing a wager. While plenty of that fuels public perception of point spreads still, there are advanced metrics we can utilize to beat oddsmakers.
Above all, my weekly capping begins with a few advanced statistics, including Efficiency, Explosiveness, and Havoc. The definitions for those categories can be found at Football Outsiders. Havoc is a “team’s total tackles for loss, passes defensed and forced fumbles, divided by total plays.” If someone needs a visual of Havoc, look no further than Iowa against Ohio State in 2017.
Havoc is not always a random event. Defenses can read formations, hear quarterback cadence and get alerts from defensive staffers who are stealing signals. Highly respected college football reporter Bruce Feldman wrote a terrific story in The Athletic about the cat-and-mouse game teams go through to steal and mask play calling. My immediate reaction to this story? There’s an important gambling aspect to it.
Havoc as a Handicapping Tool
Feldman’s story is all about the birth of the Havoc stat. The ability to predict which defensive coordinators/head coaches can fill up the Havoc stat box can be a great tool for handicapping. An element of luck exists, but some coaching staffs are definitely better than others.
Dating back to 2014, certain coaches consistently rank in top 25 in Havoc. That list includes Dave Aranda (LSU), Brent Venables (Clemson), Manny Diaz (Miami), and Bud Foster (Virginia Tech). But some have switched jobs. Here’s a breakdown of the top Havoc mainstays and where they are now.
Notes on the top Havoc coaches
- Todd Grantham’s move to Florida was in lockstep with Dan Mullen. The defensive talent already exists in Gainesville, and Grantham’s Havoc tendencies should get the Gators rolling.
- The rich keep getting richer, as Pete Golding and Craig Kuligowski join the Alabama staff. Golding helped UTSA rank 17th in overall Havoc, while Kuligowski does nothing but coach the most ferocious defensive lines in college football. ‘Coach Kool‘ has had led Havoc stats recently at Miami and Missouri.
- Tony Pecoraro’s Southern Miss ranked 8th and 18th the past two years. He now joins Lane Kiffin at Florida Atlantic. Pecoraro has almost every single defensive player return in 2018.
- No surprise seeing Randy Shannon on this list. He has been a part of Florida Gator staffs, but suprisingly helped Arkansas cause Havoc in 2014. Shannon takes over a UCF defense without its star playmaker, Shaquem Griffin.
- Tracy Claeys wins the award for the most glorious exit interview in college football history after departing Minnesota. The Gophers consistently put up top 25 overall Havoc numbers. He joins Mike Leach to run the defense at Washington State.
These coaches may not be stealing offensive play calling, but they are the best in their respective area at creating Havoc. Keep a close eye on these teams before putting down a wager. Have fun deciphering offensive play calling this fall!