Over the last few years, there has been an explosion of advanced metrics in sports. It started with Sabremetrics in baseball but now there are advanced stats all across the board through all major North American sports. One overlooked stat in college football seems to be yards per play and if you look at last year’s numbers, you’ll see that the top teams in that category were profitable on the college football betting lines.
Who Were The Leaders In Yards Per Play Last Season?
Offensive yards per play averages out how much yardage a team picks up per play. Clearly, teams with a higher number are the ones that are more prolific on offense. In 2014, these were your top five teams:
Georgia Southern: 6.9
Western Kentucky: 6.9
Ohio State: 6.8
What This Stat Tells Us
In short, yards per play gives us a stat that covers a lot of things in one and tells us who excels on offense.
How’d These Teams Do Against The Spread?
Georgia Southern: 8-4
Western Kentucky: 6-6
Ohio State: 8-5
When crunching the numbers, it does look like there is a positive correlation between teams that led the league in yards per play and how they fared against the spread. Each of the teams that finished in the top five in yards per play were at least .500 or better against the spread. Only Western Kentucky was .500 and the other four teams were each at least three games over .500.
Why This Stat Is Flawed
It doesn’t speak anything about the defense. College football might mostly be a game about offense but defense tends to be quite vital as the weather gets cold.
Also, this stat is too general in the sense that a team could be excellent at passing and abysmal at running the football, yet the yards per play could still look good. It doesn’t help us handicap college football betting lines because in some cases you might have a team that is great at passing and is going up against a solid secondary. For example: last season, Western Kentucky finished fourth in yards per play but they were just 69th in the country in rushing. However, they were the second-best passing team in the country in terms of passing yards per game. If you solely relied on yards per play, then you could be misled if Western Kentucky faced a team that had a very strong secondary.
Lastly, we don’t know much about strength of schedule, which could be a big factor. Entering last season, the strength of schedule of the five aforementioned teams was:
35. Ohio State – 87-66, 56.86%
49. Oregon – 84-69, 54.90%
88. Western Kentucky – 73-77, 48.67%
122. Marshall – 59-89, 39.86%
128. Georgia Southern – 51-95, 34.93%
We see here that Georgia Southern and Marshall had two of the easiest schedules in the country. Was that a big factor in them covering lines against the college football odds or was it the yards per play?
While this is a good stat and it does look like there is some correlation, it looks like it’s just one piece of the puzzle and not something we can bank on by itself while placing college football picks.