Misleading College Football Scores: Who Played Better, Worse than We Thought?

Misleading College Football Scores: Who Played Better, Worse than We Thought? article feature image

Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports. Pictured: Aca’Cedric Ware

  • College football final scores can often be misleading because of turnovers, bad luck and more.
  • We're diving deep into boxscores to figure out which teams played better or worse than the final scores indicate.

We’ve all done it. You’re watching a game, and the score from another one scrolls on the bottom line, or you see it on the scoreboard of your favorite app, or you get a push notification that tells you a team won by 50.

So you form an opinion.

“WOW that must have been a HUGE blowout!”

“Wow only a 1-point game, that must have been between two really evenly matched teams.”

In a lot of ways, the final score isn’t particularly relevant to a handicapper. Sure, who won and lost in college football means a great deal in terms of playoff and conference-title races.

But sometimes, because of a variety of factors, games don’t really end in a way that represents how they were played for a large portion.

Here are some things that stood out about final scores, and how the game wasn’t really a reflection of the two numbers you see.

UCF 56, UConn 17

If you had UConn plus the points, you got a pretty bad version of this game. We always knew UCF could score, both because of Connecticut’s defense and its returning production on that side.

But Connecticut, despite losing by almost 40, finished with almost 500(!) total yards. The Huskies had five possessions that ended with either a turnover in the conventional sense, or with a turnover on downs. But nearly all of their drives produced reasonable progress before meeting a tragic ending.

I thought QB David Pindell was actually quite good for parts of this game, and even his final numbers bear that out: 27 of 41, 266 passing yards, 1 TD, 1 INT and a very-productive 22 rushes for 157 yards.

These teams went back and forth down the field. It’s just that UCF’s drives ended in points while Connecticut’s did not.

That doesn’t mean UCF isn’t really good, it just means that considering all stats involved, this final score should have been closer than it was.

Duke 34, Army 14

I wanted to include this one for a very specific reason: Army might actually pass the ball this season.

It’s easy to look at 34-14 Duke and think Army’s offense played in a grind-it-out, one pass-attempt kind of game, but you’d be quite mistaken. First-time starter Kelvin Hopkins Jr. was 10 of 21 — 21 passes! He threw more passes in the first half Friday than Army did in seven full games last season.

Army is trying to replace four starting offensive linemen, and considering Hopkins’ skill set, this might be part of the solution. I think, at a minimum, you can’t just dismiss Army in certain spots as an “under” team that plays only one way, because the Black Knights’ possible offensive styles appear to be quite unpredictable in the short term.

North Texas 46, SMU 23

Another game that’s even worse than the final score would indicate. SMU played legitimately like one of the worst teams in the country on Saturday.

Facing a North Texas defense that was ranked 100th in S&P+ last year, the Mustangs were shut out through three quarters! They scored 16 points on two drives in the final three minutes as part of an odd scoring barrage to close the game for both teams.

Kentucky 35, Central Michigan 20

Even if it looks close, this doesn’t nearly tell you how bad Kentucky was. When you can go -4 in turnover margin in a game and still win by double digits, that’s quite a talent mismatch.

Kentucky threw two interceptions, lost two fumbles, and basically couldn’t pass the ball for almost the entire game. It was just 21-20 Kentucky at halftime.

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Maybe Gunner Hoak (who entered late) can be the answer at QB for Kentucky (I’m not so sure about that), but against a Chippewas team that was close to dead last in the country in returning production, this was an auspicious start for Mark Stoops and company.

Baylor 55, Abilene Christian 27

That Baylor defense…yikes. The Abilene Christian Wildcats put up 466 yards of total offense, and a large percentage of that was in the first half.  They averaged 8.1 yards per carry for the game!

Matt Rhule and his staff still have a lot to figure out if they want to improve on last year’s dreadful record.

USC 43, UNLV 21

A typical USC opening-week blowout, am I right? Not so fast.

UNLV fumbled on its first play of the season, leading to a USC field goal. Then UNLV missed a field goal after a long drive in the second quarter. Eliminate those two mistakes, and UNLV is winning a game at USC entering the fourth quarter.

UNLV is not known for its defensive prowess whatsoever, so this was a rather weak opening game for JT Daniels and company. Their final touchdown was essentially scored by handing the ball off straight ahead several times in a row to run out the clock.

Alabama 51, Louisville 14

This probably seems like a weird one to include, but Alabama was actually much better than the final score even indicates. The main reason for that is that Tua Tagovailoa didn’t play on several drives where he normally would have, and Jalen Hurts was quite unproductive in his time in the game.

If Tua plays three full quarters, or anything close, the Tide probably score 70. Tua left the game originally at 21-0 in the first half, and the following two drives with Hurts: 19 yards and a punt, 33 yards and a punt.

I know that 51-14 indicates a mismatch in talent, but somehow the contrast was even starker than the final score would have you believe, especially considering half of Louisville’s 14 points were scored on a touchdown drive with a couple minutes left in the game.

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