College Football Misleading Box Scores: Deceiving Results in Mississippi State vs. Arkansas & More
Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images. Pictured: Bumper Pool (Arkansas)
The best college football team doesn't always win. Especially so this past week.
Once you examine the underlying metrics, you can better understand how the game actually played out beyond the simple box score.
This weekly column looks deeper than basic box score statistics to identify games from the previous week that didn’t end as expected. This information can help us become more informed sports bettors and develop a better idea about which teams have value in the marketplace.
This season, teams that ended up on the wrong side of an outcome in this column are now 10-6-1 ATS.
I’m not saying to bet all of these teams blindly for Week 7, but these misleading box scores can lead to opportunities in the market.
Mississippi State 40, Arkansas 17
Coming into this game without starting quarterback KJ Jefferson, one may have expected the Razorbacks to have gotten blown out. Mississippi State closed as 9.5-point favorites and with a 23-point win, this appears on first glance to be a one-sided affair.
However, even without their quarterback, Arkansas didn’t lose as badly as it appears here. The Razorbacks actually had better marks in two important departments: Success Rate and yards-per-play.
The culprit was turnovers. According to gameonpaper.com, Arkansas was hurt by -22.7 points of turnover luck. They had four turnovers but just 0.4 expected turnovers.
Three Arkansas drives in MSU territory were halted by a turnover-on-downs, including one at the 1-yard line and one at the 8-yard line. Arkansas also threw an interception in the Mississippi State end zone in the second half.
The Bulldogs were on the correct side of this variance. While Arkansas was 0-for-3 on third down, MSU was able to go 3-for-4 in the same situation.
By Bill Connelly’s expected margin, this played out more like a 12.1-point Mississippi State victory. Compare that to the 23-point margin that the final score shows.
If KJ Jefferson returns this week as expected, I would look to potentially back Arkansas on the road against BYU. As of right now, the best price on the market is Arkansas -1.5 at FanDuel.
NC State 19, Florida State 17
For the second time this season, North Carolina State escaped with a win in a game that they likely should have lost.
In this two-point victory for the Wolfpack, they had a -8.5-point adjusted margin and just a 14.5% post-game win expectancy.
The Seminoles outgained NC State 387 yards to 307. Florida State averaged 7.36 yards per play (82nd percentile) to a figure of just 5.03 for North Carolina State (24th percentile). Florida State was mostly hurt by a 59-yard drive that ended with a turnover-on-downs. An interception in the end zone on their last drive of the game was the nail in the coffin.
As 4.5-point underdogs at home against Clemson this week, I would look to jump on Florida State to win this game outright.
Kansas State 10, Iowa State 9
The right team was able to win this one, but the final score appears much closer than this game should have ended.
Kansas State dominated this game on paper. They had a 49th percentile Success Rate to Iowa State’s 25th percentile Success Rate on offense. The Wildcats also were better in terms of EPA per play (38th percentile to 12th) and yards per play (70th percentile to 8th). Iowa State was also out-gained overall 388 yards to 276.
Despite the one-point win, K-State had a 99% post-game win expectancy with an adjusted winning margin of 18.6 points.
There were various factors that led to this being a close game, but among those were special teams. Kansas State had -4.82 EPA on special teams and missed an easy 32-yard field goal.
There was also an insane fumble by Kansas State wide receiver Malik Knowles after a 68-yard pass that led to a massive swing in this game.
— Big 12 Conference (@Big12Conference) October 9, 2022
Kansas State is on a bye this weekend, but there is still a way to take advantage of this misleading result. I like Texas this week — currently as just 16.5 point favorites against the Cyclones this weekend — after coming off of a railroading of Oklahoma.
USC 30, Washington State 14
The USC Trojans covered another spread as 12-point favorites at the Coliseum on Saturday night with a 16 point victory. If you backed Washington State though, you were likely on the correct side analytically.
The adjusted margin for this game was a 5.9-point USC win, which would have left the Cougars covering the spread easily. While USC still should have won this game, things were closer than they appear.
For most of the game, Washington State was hanging in there with the Trojans. The Cougars were tailing by just three points until USC scored with 5:17 left in the third quarter. Wazzu muffed the ensuing kickoff and had to start that drive backed up to their own end-zone before punting. From that point on, they were never able to get it going again.
Washington State lost 8.92 EPA from special teams in this one. Overall they had a good amount of offensive success and were playing at a similar level to USC. While Southern Cal did outgain Washington State narrowly in yards per play (5.57 to 5.18), the Cougars actually posted a better Success Rate, seeing as they had a 78th percentile outcome compared to a 73rd percentile figure for USC.
This broke Washington State’s streak of covering the spread in each of their last four games. This week they travel to Oregon State and are 3-point underdogs to the Beavers.
I think that this Washington State team is still better than the bookmakers believe and that they will cover another one in Corvallis on Saturday night.