At Football Study Hall on Thursday, I used fancy stats to rank all of 2016’s college football games.
Below is a list of what the stats say were the top 50 games of 2016. I added one slight tweak, though. Along with percentile performances, the stat profiles also include a postgame win expectancy figure that basically says “based on this game’s stats, you could have expected to win this game X percent of the time.” If your postgame win expectancy was 50 percent, that means it was a perfect tossup, per the key stats.
If we’re truly judging the most high-quality games of the year, then in my mind they should be games in which both teams not only played well (per percentiles) but also played almost perfectly even. So the closer each team’s win expectancy was to 50 percent, the better the game.
So here are the top 50 games based on what I’m so cleverly calling the Great Game Score — the teams’ combined percentile ratings minus a win expectancy factor. The win expectancy for Clemson-FSU, for instance, was 54-46 in FSU’s favor. 50% - 54% = minus-4%. Meanwhile, if a team’s win expectancy was 100%, that means 50% - 100% = minus-50%. Make sense? Sort of? Good enough. Let’s list.
No Mizzou game made the top 50 list, but one came pretty close: the Tigers’ season-ending comeback win over Arkansas, which featured a combined 110 percent percentile rating (53rd for Missouri, 57th for Arkansas) and a perfect 50 percent win expectancy for both teams. This was a virtual tossup game.
For grins, here’s where each Missouri game ranked. The other wins were, um, a lot closer to the bottom than the top.
57. Missouri 28, Arkansas 24 (Nov. 25)
185. Georgia 28, Missouri 27 (Sept. 17)
212. MTSU 51, Missouri 45 (Oct. 22)
246. South Carolina 31, Missouri 21 (Nov. 4)
278. Florida 40, Missouri 14 (Oct. 15)
299. Tennessee 63, Missouri 37 (Nov. 19)
304. West Virginia 26, Missouri 11 (Sept. 3)
330. Kentucky 35, Missouri 21 (Oct. 28)
336. LSU 42, Missouri 7 (Oct. 1)
411. Missouri 26, Vanderbilt 17 (Nov. 12)
597. Missouri 61, EMU 21 (Sept. 10)
642. Missouri 79, Delaware State 0 (Sept. 24)
Based on the win expectancy figure I described in this post and posted in Mizzou’s Study Hall stat profile, Mizzou should have ended up with closer to five or six wins than four in 2016.
The Tigers won the Arkansas tossup but also had a 64 percent win expectancy against Georgia and a 49 percent expectancy against MTSU and lost. S&P+ saw a 5.2-win team, not a four-win team. Combined with lovely returning production totals, then, you're looking at a decent potential bounce back in 2017.
Longtime stat blogger Matt Melton’s numbers agree. Based on net yards per play in conference, the Tigers played like a team with a 0.432 SEC win percentage (3.5 wins) instead of one with a 0.250 win percentage (2-6).
Obviously “We were better on paper!” doesn’t matter if the Tigers don’t fix some clear issues. But it is at least a reminder that they are closer to success than the 4-8 record would suggest. So they’ve got that going for them.
Which is nice.
By the way, here's how Mizzou graded out in terms of percentile performances, by the way (percentile performances are basically single-game S&P+ scores):
- 93% vs. EMU
- 92% vs. Delaware State
- 68% vs. Vanderbilt
- 56% vs. Georgia
- 53% vs. Arkansas
- 47% vs. MTSU
- 34% vs. Tennessee
- 34% vs. Florida
- 33% vs. Kentucky
- 33% vs. WVU
- 32% vs. South Carolina
- 20% vs. LSU
So basically, Mizzou played like a top-10 team against two lesser opponents, a top-65 team against four opponents, a top-85 team against five foes, and ... like a barely-top-100 team in Baton Rouge.