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Statistical Resumes for CFP Teams

Josh Hancher

I throw a lot of numbers around, and I love dissecting this sport through the stats.  But I am very reluctant use them as predictive... past results do not guarantee future results.  That said, we can look at the statistical footprint of CFP teams and see what they look like and maybe see teams who might have the trajectory of a playoff contender.

Net Yards Per Play (offensive yards per play  minus defensive yards per play) is a pretty solid indicator of a team’s overall efficiency, and it shows who are the elite teams are and who aren’t.  It’s a little thin when it comes to the teams that follow the elite teams who post Net Yards of greater than 2.0.  in CFP Era, 465 teams gave finished with 6 to 9 wins (42%), 214 teams have 10+ wins (19%), and only 57 have 12+ wins (5%).  Now when we look at the Net Yards per play and wins, there is a clear upward trend.  What other data points can we look to see who might make jumps from the pack to 10 or more wins?

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Well, a lot of folks like betting and a lot of sportsbooks like folks betting.  But, Vegas Odds are another valuable data point. Obviously, the higher the odds (+$9000) Vegas has put on a team to do something (win natty, upset win, etc) the lower the chances of that happening. But there is a simple formula to convert American Odds (shown in +/- USD) to implied odds. 

For + money odds the formula is (which is the case for all Championship Futures)
Example this year is current odds have UGA at +$230
There have been 18 teams whose preseason odds have been <5% implied odds who made the playoff. (+$2000<).  Two of them won it all. 2019 LSU (2.9% +$3300) and 2014 Ohio State (2.4% +$4000)

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The resumes for these long shots are kinda all over the place, with just 7 of the 18 having a Net YPP of 2.0+. While some did it with elite 50%+ offensive success rates, just 3 teams allowed 40%+ success rates on defense.  

And when we look at those long shots and their improvements from previous season, 8 of the 19 long shots saw less than a yard improvement in Net YPP with only two decreasing Net YPP from the previous season. 9 of the teams who had a lower Net YPP in their CFP season still had a Net YPP of 1.8+.

2019 LSU made massive jumps in both Net YPP (+2.1) and offensive success rate (+13%).  2016 Washington made a 7% offensive success rate improvement and 1.1 Net YPP gain as well.  Michigan State is just a fluke making one wonder if the 2014 11-2 team was actually better than the one which made the playoff.  

2%-3% jumps in offensive and defensive efficiency isn’t unheard of, but most playoff teams are going to likely come from teams who can build on already sound efficiency.

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What are the recent histories of CFP teams in terms of Net YPP, Offensive Success Rate, and Defensive Success Rate? While we know what a CFP Team looks like at the end of the season (2.0 Net YPP, 50% Off Success Rate, and 38% Defensive Success Rate), what did they look like season prior.
14 of the 36 teams had 2.0 Net YPP the season before they made it to the CFP.  Some even regressed from previous season.  And a few made significant jumps.  6 teams made improvements of 1.5 Net YPP or better. 

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Only 10 of the 36 CFP teams saw a decrease in offensive success rates from the prior season. 3 of those teams still ended their CFP season with an offensive success rate of 49% or higher. Also, there is clear trend line of improving the offensive success rates into the high 40% range.  Look for improving offenses that are in high 40% range for possible CFP dark horses.

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If there is metric that is more sticky than most when looking at the recent history of CFP teams, if might be defensive success rate.

Just over a third of the teams who made the CFP saw their defensive success rate improve or decline by more than 3%.  

Only 8 teams who made the playoff allowed a success rate higher than 40% the previous season and 5 of those teams allowed a success below 40% two season before their playoff year. 

Only 2 teams who made the playoff had a success rate higher 43% the previous season.
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These stats and graphs have been updated in my Power 5 Preview which is available with a discount for Dawgs Central members, and new members who join the community this month will receive it as part of their new membership.  There is so much going on in the forum with practice notes, breakdowns, and up to the minute recruiting info.  

Let's look at the 2023 CFP Futures and 3 year metrics:


Edited by Josh Hancher

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