Big Data In College Football

By Brad Hubbard | @bradhubbard | 9.10.2016


Rukkus, a ticket selling website, showed what you can do when you sit down and comb through the data. Some of this shouldn’t be surprising like the fact that Hawaii leads everyone in how far players have to travel to go to school there. Some of the other stats may surprise you though.

One of the things that made total sense is that Stanford was second. Stanford has to recruit a certain kind of ‘student-athlete’ and Stanford is that place where they truly are ‘student – athletes’. So the Cardinal has to go all over the country to find their players.

Navy, Army, and Air Force pretty much the same deal as Stanford. A certain type of person is going to go to these Academies. This is why all 3 are in the top 12.

Nor Cal

The one that did raise an eyebrow but it really shouldn’t when you think about it was the fact that the PAC-12 has 11 of the top 24 spots on the list. Surprising because you really never think of it but not surprising in that when you get out west, things are little more spread out than they are in the south.

Overall this was a really impressive use of data in sports. A lot of times people look at data within the context of the sport itself or they find another sport and transfer over that data. Other times data like this is glossed over and used a bumper on ESPN College Gameday into the ‘feature’ on a player or coach.

imageNow compare this to the ESPNFC article from the other day that pondered the question, if your NFL team was in the Premier League, what team would they be?

Really? This is what you are bringing to the table ESPN?

A ticket selling site gives us great use of big data and ESPN throws out this? Really disappointing.

Data like this can be used to draw so many other conclusions. Last 5 College Football National Championships have been won by Florida State, Alabama (3) and Ohio State. They are only a few spots from each other (59, 63 and 67) or have players who are 400 to 367 miles on average away from home. Oregon and Oklahoma are the only two schools in the top 48 who have made the College Football Playoff and neither won the National Title. Those players travel some 1,000 (Oregon) and 515 (Oklahoma) miles to go to school at these universities.

This is a great use of data. It’s intriguing, can help put things in a new perspective and help coaches, players and fans know their schools just a little bit better. Biggest shock, this wasn’t ESPN, CBS, NBC or FOX that came up with this.

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What To Watch Thurs. 11/26 – Sun. 11/29

All times are Pacific.


Thursday November 26th

Philadelphia Eagles at Detroit Lions – 9:30am FOX: Well, we’d like a better matchup but hey, it’s what we got.

Carolina Panthers at Dallas Cowboys – 1:30pm CBS: The Cowboys have Tony Romo and Dez Bryant back so this could actually be a good game.

Texas Tech at Texas – 4:30pm FS1: Texas has to win out to be bowl eligible and that’s a big deal for a young team. Texas Tech is good but beatable.

Chicago Bears at Green Bay Packers – 5:30pm NBC: Awaken from the food coma in time to see if they Packers can win back-to-back games or if the Bears will finally put it together.

 

Friday November 27th

NY Rangers at Boston Bruins – 10am NBC: Ice, skates, rivals. Not a bad way to start Black Friday.

Keenan ReynoldsNavy at Houston – 9am ABC: Winner gets to represent the West in the American Atheletic Conference championship. Also get a chance to see the NCAA all time leader in touchdowns in Navy’s Keenan Reynolds.

Marshall at Western Kentucky – 9am FS1: Last year the final score was 67-66. Just sayin.

Washington State at Washington -12:30pm FOX: The Apple Cup is the most underrated rivalry in college football. Always a solid game.

Armstrong JRIowa at Nebraska – 12:30pm ABC: Nebraska is a lot better than there 5-6 record indicates. Iowa is undefeated and looking for a spot in the College Football Playoff. This rivalry will get a lot more heated after this game.

Chicago Blackhawks at Anaheim Ducks – 2pm NBCSN: Both teams are better than their record indicates and still a whole bunch of talent on the ice.

Baylor at TCU – 4:30pm ESPN: It doesn’t really matter what quarterback plays for Baylor but it does for TCU. Points a plenty in this one.

Miami Heat at NY Knicks – 4:30pm NBA.TV: The Kicks aren’t bad this season but the Heat may be a little bit better.

 

Saturday November 28th

Ohio State at Michigan – 9am ABC: Our first taste of Meyer vs Harbaugh. Add in Ohio State having to put a tough loss behind them and this should be one heck of a ball game.

Louisville at Kentucky – 9am SECN: Kentucky is one win away from bowl eligibility and their cross state rivals would love nothing more than to keep that from happening.

UCLA at USC – 12:30pm ABC/ESPN2: Battle of LA and for the Pac-12 South.

Penn State at Michigan State -12:30pm ESPN: Michigan State controls it’s own destiny when it comes to winning the Big 10 Eastern division.

Wisconsin at Minnesota – 12:30pm BTN: Dude, it’s the battle for Paul Bunyan’s Axe! It also gives us a chance to show this video from 2003.

Ole Miss at Mississippi State – 4:15pm ESPN2: The Egg Bowl and if Alabama loses, a chance for Ole Miss to grab the SEC West crown.

Notre Dame at Stanford -4:30pm FOX: Huge game for the Irish against a very, very good Stanford team.

Oklahoma at Oklahoma State – 5pm ABC: Bedlam is here. Winner probably has a legit shot at the College Football Playoff.

 

Sunday November 29th

NY Giants at Washington Redskins – 10am FOX: The winner controls first place in the NFC East.

Pittsburgh Steelers at Seattle Seahawks – 1:25pm CBS: Steelers have been able to keep it together and succeed despite a rash of injuries. The Seahawks looked like the Seahawks for once this season last week. Good luck hearing the play call Pittsburgh.

FC Dallas vs Portland Timbers – 2pm ESPN: 2nd leg and Dallas got an all important road goal in leg one. They did lose 3-1 however which should put the Timbers in the drivers seat.

103rd Grey Cup – 3pm ESPN2: Live from Winnipeg with Fall Out Boy as the halftime entertainment. Oh its the Edmonton Eskimos vs Ottawa RedBlacks.

NY Red Bulls vs Columbus Crew – 4:30pm FS1: The Crew won first the first leg 2-0. NYRB has it’s work cut out for them if they want to advance to MLS Cup.

New England Patriots at Denver Broncos – 5:30pm NBC: The best offense in football goes against the best defense. More or less. Broncos start Brock Osweiler for a second straight week.

What To Watch Fri. 11/6 – Sun. 11/8

All times are Pacific.

 

Friday November 6th

Tyler ErvinBYU at San Jose State – 8:30pm CBSSN: SJSU running back Tyler Ervin is a stud. He has almost 1200 yards rushing already this season and 12 TD’s. BYU are some tough dudes though. Last thing they want is for this guy to run wild on ’em.

 

Saturday November 7th

Penn State at Northwestern – 9am ESPNU: Big Ten match up with poll position for a decent bowl game on the line.

Duke at North Carolina – 9am ESPN2: UNC is getting no love this year and Duke is coming off of that bad referring loss to Miami. Is there a hangover for Duke?

Notre Dame at Pittsburgh – 9am ABC: All Pitt is doing is winning. Yes they are coming off of a tough loss to UNC but they are hard nosed football team. Notre Dame is going to get all it wants from the Panthers.

Florida State at Clemson – 12:30pm ABC: Clemson is the number 1 team in the land. Florida State doesn’t care.

TCU at Oklahoma State – 12:30pm FOX: TCU is getting no love…even with the number 2 offense in the country. The over/under is 78. We vote to take the over.

Cincinnati at Houston – 1:30m ESPN2: These two teams rank 5th and 7th in total offense at the FBS level. That alone is a reason to watch.

Navy at Memphis – 4pm ESPN2: Navy is 6-1 with the NCAA All Time touchdown king in quarterback Keenan Reynolds. Memphis is shooting for a big time bowl bid. Should be whoever has the ball last wins.

Boston Bruins at Montreal Canadiens – 4pm NHLN: Original 6 matchup.

LSU at Alabama – 5pm CBS: Two teams that are currently in the College Football Playoff.

 

 

Sunday November 8th

Arsenal vs Tottenham – 7:55am NBCSN: A North London Derby for your Sunday morning.

Oakland Raiders at Pittsburgh Steelers – 10am CBS: Man, can’t believe the Raiders are a must watch team. This could be the best game of the day.

Green Bay Packers at Carolina Panthers – 10am FOX: Packers got exposed last week in Denver. Now they have to rebound on the road against another undefeated team.

DC United vs NY Red Bulls – Noon ESPN: Red Bulls got the always valuable road goal so they look to be in good shape in this one.

Seattle Sounders vs FC Dallas – 4:30pm FS1: First game was a 1-1 draw which gives Dallas the advantage heading into the second leg.

Timber vs Whitecaps

Portland Timbers vs Vancouver Whitecaps – 7pm FS1: Like the Seattle vs FC Dallas game, the first game was a draw and that should give the Whitecaps the advantage here.

 

 

Will The Games Go On?

By Brad Hubbard @bradhubbard

It’s turning into a busy week on several sports fronts. The latest is how the government budget impasse and subsequent shutdown has left the very realistic possibility of college football games being cancelled or at a minimum rescheduled.

Air Force is scheduled to play Navy in Annapolis, MD this Saturday on National TV. This may very well not happen due to the current government shutdown. Army’s game at Boston College is also on the ropes for the same reason. Although it may seem like a financial issue it apparently isn’t because if it was the Air Force Academy football team would be on a flight courtesy of United and BC would pick up Army’s travel tab.

All intercollegiate athletics have been shut down by the Department of Defense. The question of what funds are available and what funds are not is also brought into question. While Navy funds their athletics through ticket sales and TV rights Air Force and Army do not. This appears to be the sticking point….and that of public perception.

But public perception shouldn’t mean much here. Congress is still collecting a paycheck and the Academy’s played games during the last government shutdown in 1995.

And let’s face facts. While all college football fans, especially those who bought tickets to the sold out Air Force at Navy game, would love to see these games being played, if it was Army vs Alabama or Navy vs Texas or some other big school, the government would have passed a budget a month ago. The fans of a school the size of Bama or Notre Dame or Texas would not have let government, especially the federal government, stand in the way of a football game in the fall.

A decision on these games will be made by noon Thursday despite what Twitter says. Let’s hope that these teams get to play these games and that Congress can finally get its act together. A betting man would probably lay heavy on the games being played and Congress doing what Congress does best….nothing.

Early Season No No

Most College Football programs schedule their out of conference games early in the year and generally during the first few weeks. While some schedule the proverbial cupcake and others try to take on another big name program most try to go with the safe route. The safe route includes programs from the mid-major conferences like the MAC or Conference USA. On paper it looks like a solid strategy but in reality it can end up costing you a major bowl game at the end of the year.

Three programs that would be considered a mid-major even though two of them are not in a conference are the Academy schools, Air Force (Mountain West Conference), Army and Navy (both Independents). All three of these programs run the triple option offense which is based on misdirection, angle blocking and more importantly execution.

Image

You’ll see a lot of times these Academy schools scheduled at places like Michigan, Penn State, Tennessee, South Carolina, and Oklahoma. Even more often then not you see these Academy schools giving these big time College Football programs all they want in week two or three. For example in 2011 Navy lost at South Carolina by 3 points. In 2006 Tennessee squeaked by Air Force with a 1 point victory in Knoxville and Army lost by 4 points at Texas A&M in 2008.

The reason these games and others are so close is that it is so hard to prepare for these offenses and the sheer grit of the the players. If you’re a major program you have a very limited window to prepare your defense for an offense that you see only every couple of years. The defense has to be disciplined, stick with their assignments and tackle very well. The minute they don’t, this offense can break off a big play.

Former Notre Dame and current New Mexico coach Bob Davie said multiple times while a commenter for ESPN that the triple option was the hardest offense to defend in all of College Football.

You have to remember, you’re asking 18-23 year olds in College to buckle down, be disciplined and stay on their assignments. You’re also asking them to do this the week after their first game where they may have blown out some cupcake or been throttled by another big program.

The offense isn’t the only thing these Academy schools have going for them. They are training the military leaders of tomorrow and that is something that an opponent cannot prepare for. These Academy schools are not going to quit. You saw this no quit attitude this past Saturday in Ann Arbor, Michigan where Air Force was on the verge of upsetting a top 25 program in Michigan. Michigan ended up winning 31-25 but Air Force had an opportunity to take the lead at the end of the game.

Some programs do better at defending this offense than others because they see it more often or have more time to prepare for it. Georgia Tech runs the triple option with much better players than the Academy schools but they play the same teams in the ACC year after year so those programs see the offense on an annual basis.

College Football is always changing with very few constants. One of those constants is the triple option at the Academy schools. Why big time programs continue to schedule them in weeks two and three I’ll never know. If you are going to play them, take them in week one or after a bye week so that you have more time to prepare or else live the possibility of either a loss or an extremely close game that could end up costing the program millions of dollars in bowl money at the end of the year.