College football statistical regression candidates


More than half of the college football regular season is in the books and there are some major statistical outliers that should be discussed. We are well past the point where these types of things can be considered a fluke or a random occurrence. There is something to them, but the thing about extremes is they generally regress to the mean, at least a little bit.

Over a 12- or 13-game sample size, you won’t always see full-scale regression, but things that don’t make sense or things that seem unsustainable are worth being part of your handicap for a team and its games.


Red Zone Success

The area inside the 20-yard-line dictates a lot of games, especially in college football. Settling for three with a field goal instead of getting seven for a touchdown and the point after makes a huge difference at all levels, but especially in the college ranks. Great offenses like Ohio State (36-for-36, 34 TDs) and Tennessee (38-for-39, 32 TDs) have had tremendous success, but what about some teams that don’t really seem likely to have that kind of success?

Charlotte: The 49ers just fired head coach Will Healy, but their red-zone success hasn’t been the problem. They’ve scored on 20 of 23 trips, including the third-best TD% at 82.61% with 19 touchdowns in their attempts. They are 75th in yards per play offensively with 5.73, so that seems to say a lot about the defense. This high rate of touchdowns is unlikely to continue, though.

Eastern Michigan: The Eagles have scored on 28 of 29 red-zone trips, including 23 touchdowns. They have the ninth-highest TD% entering this week’s game, despite having an offense that ranks 89th in yards per play nationally at just 5.45. Even against MAC defenses, this looks like a regression candidate.

Red Zone Failures

Not cashing in those golden opportunities in the scoring area can have a really negative effect on a team’s results. There are some teams that have been weighed down by their red-zone performance that might be on the upswing soon.

Georgia Tech: The Yellow Jackets look to be without QB Jeff Sims this week against Florida State, but they’ve still deserved a better fate inside the 20. Georgia Tech has scored on 15 of 24 possessions, but only seven of those scores were touchdowns. Only Colorado State, Iowa, San Diego State and UMass have fewer TDs in that metric.

Houston: The Cougars have been a big disappointment this season, but it hasn’t been from lack of opportunity. Their 37 red-zone attempts are tied for 17th, but their 59.46% touchdown rate ranks 84th in the nation. Houston has 22 touchdowns and 10 field goals this season. Ohio is the only other team with at least 35 red-zone visits and a TD% under 60%.

Third-Down Conversion Rates

“The Money Down” is huge in all forms of football, as success on third down either prolongs a drive or gets the defense off the field. Constantly failing on third down can make success very hard to achieve, and some teams have found that out the hard way. Let’s look at some teams that are doing well on third down and some that are not.

Minnesota: The Golden Gophers have been beaten soundly in their last two games, but got off to a hot start by being good on third down both offensively and defensively. Minnesota’s offense was north of 70% before the last two games but still leads the nation on third down at 58.33% (49/84).

The Gophers are also third defensively, allowing opponents to convert just 25% of their chances (21 of 84). Interestingly, in four conference games, Minnesota is just below 41% on offense and 34% on defense, so the regression is already happening.

Marshall: The Thundering Herd hold the top spot on defense at 21.36% (22-for-103), but it is worth noting that James Madison was 0-for-17 on third down against Marshall in Week 8. In Marshall’s four wins, opponents are just 7-for-56 on third down. Coastal Carolina is 20th in third-down conversion rate, so let’s see if some regression happens this week.

Temple: Temple is bad enough without the threat of defensive regression, but the Owls rank tied for 12th (with Georgia) in third-down defense at 29.47% (28/95). Given that they rank 59th in yards per play allowed on defense, it stands to reason that they’re in line for a fall.

Fumble Luck

Forcing turnovers is a skill, but sometimes the oblong ball just happens to bounce your way. Some teams absolutely do a better job of going for the ball and punching it out on tackles or getting strip-sacks, but some teams are also just huge outliers that are getting lucky or unlucky.

Duke: The Blue Devils recovered five Miami fumbles last week and now lead the nation with 15 fumble recoveries on 18 fumbles. Their 83.33% recovery rate ranks ninth in the country, and Duke is second in turnover margin overall at %plussign% 14. They’ve gotten some great bounces this season.

Coastal Carolina: The Chanticleers are one of nine teams with at least nine fumble recoveries as they’ve scooped up all but one of their opponents’ 10 fumbles. Their 17 takeaways are tied for the fourth most in the country. Only Duke, Bowling Green and Western Kentucky have more fumble recoveries.

Arizona State: The Sun Devils are at the opposite end of the spectrum. They’ve forced 10 fumbles this season and haven’t recovered one of them. They are the only team in the country without a recovery, but they are only -1 in TO margin.

Michigan: Michigan has lost only one of eight fumbles this season. The Wolverines are tied with Washington, UMass, Northern Illinois, Georgia Southern, Cal, Texas and San Jose State but have the most fumbles out of that group. Oregon and USC are the only teams that have not lost a fumble this season.

Central Michigan: The Chippewas have not had any of that luck blow in from Ann Arbor. Central Michigan has lost 13 of 16 fumbles this season and is -11 in turnover margin as a result. The Chippewas do have one of the better defenses in the MAC by yards per play allowed, so maybe they’re a team to watch moving forward.

Northwestern and Virginia: Both the Wildcats and Cavaliers have lost 10 of their 12 fumbles this season. Central Michigan is the only other team in double digits. Miami (Fla.) has lost all nine fumbles, but its luck wasn’t that bad before losing all five last week against Duke.