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Stats Corner: The Advanced Stats of Conference Champions

Looking at Boise State and Fresno State’s advanced statistics.

Photo by Loren Orr/Getty Images

And then there were two. We have analyzed Bill Walsh’s advanced statistics as they apply to ten Mountain West football teams over the last four years. This week we are going to at the teams that competed for the Mountain West title last year and the year before: Boise State and Fresno State. Below are the links to the other articles in the series and all statistics come from either bcftoys.com or teamrankings.com.

Part 1: New Mexico and San Jose State

Part 2: Air Force Academy and Colorado State

Part 3: San Diego State and Hawaii

Part 4: Nevada and UNLV

Part 5: Utah State and Wyoming

Boise State

Boise State

Year NFP OFP Rank OLF Rank DFP Rank DLF Rank
Year NFP OFP Rank OLF Rank DFP Rank DLF Rank
2018 2.9 68.6 25 0.173 90 71.6 44 0.169 95
2017 3.5 68.6 22 0.229 45 72.1 28 0.199 82
2016 -2.1 74 120 0.324 4 72 32 0.213 73
2015 2.9 68.6 27 0.22 58 71.5 45 0.2 78
3rd Downs 3rd Downs 3rd Downs 3rd Downs 3rd Downs
Offense Per Game Rank Converted Conversions % Rank Defense Per Game Rank Converted
2018 15.5 26 8.2 52.48% 2 12.6 19 3.9
2017 14.6 50 6.6 45.59% 12 14.6 74 5.6
2016 12.8 120 6.1 47.59% 11 16.6 122 6.5
2015 16.1 19 6.4 39.90% 58 14.5 56 4.4
Red-zone Red-zone Red-zone Red-zone
Offense scoring % Rank attempts Rank Defense scoring % Rank attempts Rank
2018 85.37% 51 3.2 88 79.41% 37 2.6 14
2017 81.63% 77 3.5 59 90.00% 114 2.1 6
2016 84.62% 61 4 47 89.47% 99 2.9 25
2015 80.77% 85 4.3 23 76.00% 27 2.2 5

The Broncos have been standard of the Mountain West for years winning three straight Mountain Division titles and the year they did not, they took second. The only year since 1999 they have not gone to a bowl game was 2001. In 2018 their record was 10-3, 2017 saw 11-3, 2016 another double digit win season at 10-3, 2015 was a “down” year at 9-4.

One reason for their success is they are consistent across the board in the important statistics; the only two triple digit ranking in any stats category over four years. One was in 2016 when their offense started 74 yards from the end zone, every other year they started 68.6 yards (not sure consistent is the right word, maybe constant is a better choice). It was the only year that they have a negative NFP value or when the opposing offensive started closer to the end zone than the Broncos. The other years they were ranked 27th, 22nd, and 25th in the nation for starting position, starting 3 yards closer to the end zone that their opponents, and forcing them to go over 70 yards before they could score. The second triple digit ranking was in red-zone scoring during the 2017 season where they allowed the opposing team to score 90% of the time. However, they countered that win a 6th best 2.1 trips to the red-zone per game. Teams may have scored when they reached the red-zone, but they were only getting there once a half.

Another area where the Broncos are solid is 3rd down conversations. When they need to convert, don’t bet against them as they have been ranked in the top 12 the last three years. And their 3rd down defense hasn’t been sloppy either, with two top ten rankings in the last 4 years for preventing team from converting, both at less than 32%, meaning less than one out of three tries the opponent would keep the drive alive, the other two ended with bringing out the kicking team.

If there is one area of concern it is red-zone offense. The offense down score at a mid-80% rate which is average for the nation, however, the number of attempts has decreased each of the last four years, from 4.3 in 2015 down to 3.2 in 2018. So far, it has not affected the team, but if the tread continues it will make it more difficult to score points and therefore win games.

Fresno State

Fresno State

Year NFP OFP Rank OLF Rank DFP Rank DLF Rank
Year NFP OFP Rank OLF Rank DFP Rank DLF Rank
2018 7.4 67.6 11 0.127 127 75 1 0.273 6
2017 0.6 71.3 85 0.277 4 72 29 0.216 63
2016 -3.6 72.5 107 0.273 16 68.9 98 0.185 96
2015 3.9 67.9 20 0.229 47 71.8 38 0.215 63
3rd Downs 3rd Downs 3rd Downs 3rd Downs 3rd Downs
Offense Per Game Rank Converted Conversions % Rank Defense Per Game Rank Converted
2018 13.2 112 5.7 43.27% 26 15.5 108 5.4
2017 13.5 102 4.5 33.14% 110 14.2 54 5.2
2016 16.5 10 6.3 37.91% 79 13.5 28 5.9
2015 15.1 47 5.4 35.54% 92 14.9 67 7.2
Red-zone Red-zone Red-zone Red-zone
Offense scoring % rank attempts Rank Defense scoring % rank attempts Rank
2018 88.24% 25 3.9 41 69.57% 3 1.8 1
2017 90.48% 19 3.2 76 82.14% 57 2.2 7
2016 72.41% 119 2.6 115 84.00% 63 4.5 109
2015 66.67% 123 2.7 106 85.71% 84 3.8 83

If the Broncos are the standard for mid-major football teams, then the Bulldogs are poster-child of rags to riches. After a 3-9 campaign in 2015, the Bulldogs hit rock bottom in 2016 at 1-11. Then in 2017 it was 10-4 and a trip to the conference title game (really wish I could go back in time and bet money on Fresno that year), and then 2018 found them at 12-2 and another trip to the conference title game and this time a title.

One of the biggest reasons for the turnaround was the defense, across the board the defense has improved. Opponents were getting into the red-zone once a quarter and scoring at an 85% rate. In 2017 the number of attempts dropped to 2.2 then it dropped again to a nation best 1.8 attempts, or less than once per half. What is also impressive was the 3rd best 69% conversion, meaning that out of 10 attempts, 3 times the opposing offensive did not score a field goal, much less a touchdown. In 2015 the defense was allowing a staggering 7.2 3rd down conversions at a 48% rate. By 2018 it was down to 5.4 conversions at a 34% rate. The purpose of football is to score more points than your opponent, and while the defense was solid, they need help and the offense has stepped up. After averaging only 2.6 red-zone attempts in the losing seasons and scoring at a pitiful 66% rate, the offense has improved those numbers to 3.9 attempts and 90% conversion. The 3rd downs have improved from 35% conversion rate to over 43%.

The poor statistics did not cause the losing seasons nor did the losing seasons cause the poor statistics for Fresno or any other team. What happens is the two correlate each other, poor statistics mean you are not putting yourself is an easy position to win, which means you will lose more games. Teams who focus on improving the advanced statistics of Bill Walsh put themselves in a better place to win games because the more successful teams are in important areas of football, the more likely they are to win games.