College Football Misleading Box Scores: Veritable Victors, Dubious Dominators & Bona Fide Busts from Week 15
Gus Stark/Collegiate Images/Getty Images. Pictured: Jacoby Stevens.
We’ve all lived through 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 in which the advanced box score tells a different story than the game’s result, as well as interesting data points that stick out from certain games.
Sports bettors may want to keep this information in the back of their minds before placing next week’s college football wagers.
LSU 37, Florida 34
What a lot of people don’t know is that winning the “shoes thrown” battle can sometimes be even more important than the turnover battle. If you somehow didn’t see Marco Wilson throwing an opponent’s shoe after what should have been a drive-ending stop, here you go:
Marco Wilson just threw an opponent’s cleat and drew an unsportsmanlike penalty.
May cost UF a chance at the playoffs. pic.twitter.com/YxVxybHs7p
— Chris Hummer (@chris_hummer) December 13, 2020
This extended the drive for LSU and allowed the Tigers to kick a game-winning 57-yard field goal.
If you just look at the way Florida moved the ball, it should have won this game by double digits. The Gators outgained LSU, 616-418, and averaged 8.4 yards per play to LSU’s 4.9.
Florida also had 10 drives past the LSU 40-yard line but only averaged 2.87 points on those drives. LSU drove it past the Florida 40-yard line seven times and averaged 3.86 points on those drives.
In terms of Success Rate, Florida also had a significant edge. The Gators’ offense had a 51% Success Rate on the day, compared to just 37% for LSU. When Florida was throwing footballs instead of shoes, it averaged 9.9 yards per attempt. LSU, meanwhile, averaged only 6.6.
Florida also shot itself in the foot plenty of times outside of the shoe flinging. The Gators turned the ball over three times, including a pick-six. They just could not get out of their own way all night long.
Florida had a chance to control its own destiny going forward regarding the College Football Playoff, but that is no longer the case after losing outright as 24-point favorites.
Ball State 30, Western Michigan 27
Unfortunately for Western Michigan, this is its second straight appearance in this story. WMU’s 54% Success Rate was the sixth-highest of anyone in Week 15, while Ball State was at 45%.
In total yards, WMU also held a significant advantage. The Broncos totaled 491 yards to Ball State’s 352. WMU also had three more scoring opportunities — eight to the Cardinals’ five.
However, Western Michigan was bad where it really counted. It had a -2 turnover differential and could not take advantage in opponent territory. It scored only two touchdowns on its six red-zone trips.
Additionally, it gifted Ball State with an average starting field position that was 10 yards closer to the end zone than Western Michigan’s average.
USC 43, UCLA 38
The regression came fast for UCLA, as it was on the right side of a deceiving box score a week ago. The Bruins were really efficient on offense, totaling 549 yards on 6.9 yards per play. USC, on the other hand, was out-gained by 105 yards and averaged only 5.6 yards per play.
Usually, when a team loses like this, it is because of a bad performance in opponent territory. For the Bruins, though, that wasn’t the case.
They averaged 5.17 points on drives past the USC 40-yard line and scored touchdowns on both of its red-zone trips. UCLA did lose the turnover battle, but not by much. The Bruins threw two picks and added a lost fumble, but USC added two picks, as well.
What can sometimes be the difference between winning and losing a game is field position. In that regard, USC was put in much easier situations than UCLA. USC’s average starting field position was its own 40-yard line, while UCLA’s was its own 28-yard line.
Why was the gap so wide? Every UCLA turnover came in its own territory. If that wasn’t bad enough, UCLA was 0 for 3 on fourth downs with one of the stops coming in its own territory. USC backers (me included) got lucky in this one.
Puzzling Point Totals
BYU 28, San Diego State 14
San Diego State moved the ball just fine but was horrendous when it counted. The Aztecs drove it past the BYU 40-yard line seven times and averaged only two points per opportunity on those drives. When they got down into the red zone, they put up only seven total points on four tries.
The Aztecs actually slightly outgained BYU, 399-385. Seven hundred and eighty-four yards of offense should be more than enough to get to the over of 47.5, but terrible red-zone efficiency killed it.
San Jose 30, Nevada 20
Another game that should have flown over the total but came short.
When two teams gain 904 yards of total offense (you read that correctly), that should be enough to get to this over the total of 62.
Unfortunately, that’s how sports betting works sometimes.
In total, there were 14 scoring opportunities in this game (drives past the opponent 40-yard line). The national average in points per opportunity is about 3.6, and both teams fell quite short of that. San Jose State averaged just 2.83 points on six attempts, and Nevada was even worse with 2.5 on eight attempts.
In the red zone, the teams combined for only three touchdowns on eight trips inside the 20-yard line. Nevada also had drives of 79 yards and 64 yards that ended in zero points.