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Archive for August, 2010

The Top 20 College Football Programs of the Modern Era (Part II)

30th August 2010

Note: This post was originally published at the new College Football at Sports-Reference site, so when you're done reading, go over and check it out!

Today, it's time to finish our list of the top 20 college football programs of the modern era. As a quick refresher, I defined the "modern era" as 1946-present, because 1946 was the first true postwar season and the year before (1945) was the final time a service academy would win a National Championship. Also, the rankings are determined by the Simple Rating System (SRS), which measures team points per game differential relative to the NCAA average, adjusted for strength of schedule. Here's a recap of the rankings so far:

20. Georgia Tech (+7.70)
19. Michigan State (+8.69)
18. Arkansas (+8.95)
17. Auburn (+9.59)
16. Miami (+10.00)
15. UCLA (+10.04)
14. Georgia (+10.42)
13. LSU (+10.52
12. Florida State (+10.97)
11. Tennessee (+11.89)

With that in mind, let's move on to the Top 10, which (just as alert reader JW Lewis predicted) features "three teams from the current Big 10, two from the SEC, three from the current Big 12 (with one of those being from the old SWC and two from the old Big 8), one from the Pac-10, and one independent":

Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in General | 2 Comments »

Podcast: Rafael Septien and the 1983 Cowboys

28th August 2010

Back in March we hosted an NCAA basketball tournament contest here at this blog, promising the winner (1) honor, (2) glory, (3) a podcast on the player or team of his or her choosing. The winner was Matt Stephans, and the honor and glory were delivered immediately. The podcast took a bit longer, but here it is. Sorry for the wait, Matt.

Matt is a Cowboy fan and wanted to hear about the life and times of former Cowboy kicker Rafael Septien. We also created an all-international team in Septien's honor and did a team segment on the 1983 Cowboys.

Congratulations, Matt. We hope you enjoy it.

Listen here, subscribe here if you know how, and read this if you don’t. It’s free, of course.

Posted in History, Podcast | 11 Comments »

Checkdowns: Sports-Reference Named to TIME’s 50 Best Websites

25th August 2010

OK, I've gotta toot our own vuvuzela for a second here: I just found out that the Sports-Reference family of sites has been named to TIME Magazine's list of the 50 Best Websites for 2010! It's a great honor for us, and a thrill to know that our users get so much enjoyment & utility out of the sites. Here's to being your favorite sports stats destination for many years to come...

Posted in Announcements, Checkdowns | 6 Comments »

Trivia Blitz Podcast

24th August 2010

This one is more of a trivia marathon than a blitz. I think the format makes for a fun game. Please let us know if it also makes for good listening and playing along.

Listen here, subscribe here if you know how, and read this if you don’t. It’s free, of course.

Posted in Podcast, Trivia | 10 Comments »

Talent dispersal

24th August 2010

Last month, Doug wondered what the NFL equivalent of the Miami Heat would look like, and there were several great comments about how that team might perform. Today, I'm going to take a look at teams judged similar in career AV of the starters, but which had different distributions of career value. To do this, I looked at team average career AV of the 22 primary starters, and the standard deviation for the career AV of the 22 primary starters. I'll refer to these as "talent balanced" teams, and "talent dispersed" teams. Now, there is a correlation between overall team quality and standard deviation. Good teams tend to have superstars, and those superstars have career AV's that cause the standard deviation, or talent dispersal, to rise. Bad teams tend to lack star players, and have lower standard deviations because, well, very few players turn out to be very good.
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Posted in Statgeekery | 2 Comments »

Support, Sponsor a Page

23rd August 2010

Sponsoring a page is fun, fast, and easy way to support what we're doing here at Pro-Football-Reference. With a sponsorship, you can:

  • Show your support for your favorite player or team.
  • Drum up traffic for your own site & draw in fans with a common interest.
  • Get some well-deserved recognition for your support of PFR.
  • Make your voice heard by the tens of thousands of people who visit Pro-Football-Reference every day.

Here's all you have to do to get involved:

  1. Create a membership account.
  2. Find the page(s) you'd like to support, and click "sponsor" (available pages).
  3. If the page you want is already sponsored, click "Alert Me!" to be informed when the current sponsorship expires.
  4. Follow the instructions to create your message and make your payment.
  5. Your message and links will be visible on the page after we approve them (usually in less than 24 hours).

And who knows, if you're clever enough, your message might end up on lists like these.

Posted in Announcements, Site Features | Comments Off on Support, Sponsor a Page

Tony Romo’s career stats aren’t as misleading as I thought

23rd August 2010

If you go to PFR's leaderboard page, you can see that Tony Romo ranks 4th all time in yards per pass attempt, and all three quarterbacks ahead of him retired by 1960. Romo also ranks first in net yards per attempt (PFR has NY/A data beginning in 1969, which is the earliest year for which we have complete individual sack data) and first in adjusted net yards per attempt among all players. You can use PFR-'s play index to see a list of the top active quarterbacks in yards per attempt, and I've heard multiple sources cite Romo's incredible career average in that category.

My initial take when I heard such propaganda was that is was incredibly misleading. Why?

1) Romo obviously plays in a much more pass-friendly era than nearly every quarterback in league history.
2) Romo, because he was an undrafted free agent, didn't see the field during his early years. Young quarterbacks tend to play poorly, and sitting on the bench during your first couple of years will help boost your career averages, especially when you have only played for a few seasons. Which brings me to ...
3) Romo just turned 30 years old in April; he hasn't yet played during the final years of his career, when most quarterbacks tend to kill their career averages. For example, the Patriots Steve Grogan retired with a career yards per attempt average of 7.48, but from age 25 to 34, Grogan averaged 7.98 yards per attempt. Romo, unless he retires early, will sink his career averages at least a little bit by the end of his career.
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Posted in History, Play Index | 42 Comments »

A different look at 2009 running back performance

20th August 2010

Ronnie Brown rushed 20 times for 115 yards and 2 touchdowns against the Bills last October; that sounds like a great game, until you realize that there were five better rushing performances by individuals against Buffalo in 2009. Below are the stat lines for all running backs who had at least 10 carries against the Bills last year:

Thomas Jones 22 210 1 176 1
Pierre Thomas 14 126 2 118 2
Jamaal Charles 20 143 1 113 3
Ryan Moats 23 126 3 110 4
Chris Johnson 26 132 2 100 5
Ronnie Brown 20 115 2 95 6
Ricky Williams 27 115 1 71 7
Leon Washington 15 99 0 69 8
DeAngelo Williams 16 89 1 67 9
Thomas Jones 23 109 0 63 10
Ricky Williams 16 85 1 63 11
Jamal Lewis 31 117 0 55 12
Laurence Maroney 23 81 1 45 13
Jason Snelling 15 68 0 38 14
Reggie Bush 13 64 0 38 15
Shonn Greene 11 59 0 37 16
Jerious Norwood 13 52 0 26 18
Maurice Jones-Drew 25 66 1 26 19
Mike Hart 10 28 1 18 21
Laurence Maroney 10 32 0 12 27

Most of the chart is self-explanatory; allow me to explain the Grade column, by which the table is sorted. To rank running back performance against a team, I wanted to combine rushing yards, yards per carry and rushing touchdowns into one metric. The simple, back-of-the-envelope formula I used was rushing yards over two yards per carry plus ten yards for each touchdown. So 30 carries for 100 yards would get you a grade of 40; if you scored two touchdowns, that would bump the grade up to 60. Similarly, a grade of 60 could be earned by rushing 15 times for 80 yards and one score. I'm not arguing that this is a perfect measure of running back performance, but it was relatively simple and should provide reasonable results in most cases -- i.e., Jones had the best performance against the Bills last year.

Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in Running Backs, Statgeekery | 6 Comments »

Revis, Holdouts and Super Bowl Champs

19th August 2010

For the last 8 months, the New York Jets have been doing almost everything they can to position themselves for a Super Bowl run. The Jets reached the AFC Championship Game in 2009, thanks to seven key players all 26 years of age or younger; then, New York added a quartet of stars in the off-season. They brought in two veterans with a combined 11 Pro Bowls to their name in RB LaDainian Tomlinson and OLB Jason Taylor. They were joined by two young stars who have mixed great success on the gridiron with off the field troubles in WR Santonio Holmes and CB Antonio Cromartie. After having by far the league's #1 pass defense and overall defense in '09, the team looked to be even stronger on defense with NT Kris Jenkins back from injury, Taylor, Cromartie and rookie CB Kyle Wilson. Then, came the Revis hold out.

Rex Ryan has invoked the names of Todd Bell and Al Harris when talking about Revis. What's the connection? In 1984, Todd Bell was in his fourth season with the Bears, and made his first Pro Bowl. The starting strong safety had an AV of 15 that season, and was named 1st-team All-NFL by the Sporting News and honored as a second-team All-Pro by the Associated Press. Al Harris was the 9th pick in the '79 draft for Chicago, and sat on the bench for the first two years of his career. In '81 and '82, he was Chicago's starting right defensive end. Then, to make room for Richard Dent, Dan Hampton and Steve McMichael on the defensive line, the Bears moved Harris to RLB, where he could replace Gary Campbell. In '83 and '84, Harris started 27 games for the Bears. But in 1985, both Bell and Harris were unhappy with their contracts. Both were starters on a Bears defense that finished 1st in the league in total defense and rushing defense and second in passing defense. They never caved, and sat out the entire season. As you know, the 1985 Bears weren't worse for the wear, as Wilber Marshall and Dave Duerson replaced Harris and Bell, and that unit went on to win the Super Bowl and go down as one of the greatest defenses of all-time. Ryan's father, Buddy, was the Bears defensive coordinator that season, and Rex had no problem bringing up that memory when discussing the Revis situation: "They were replaced and missed out on a Super Bowl, a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity," Ryan said.
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Posted in History | 3 Comments »

CFB Feature Watch: Years Section

18th August 2010

Note: This post was originally published at the new College Football at Sports-Reference site, so when you're done reading, go over and check it out!

When you want to know what happened in a given college football season, the Years Index is the place to look. We have every CFB season on the site going back to 1869, and from the years portal you can access all of them. Click any year to find:

Posted in Announcements, College, Site Features | 2 Comments »

YouTube Finds: Bill Walsh Quarterbacking Clinic

18th August 2010

Here's an NFL Films special with the late Bill Walsh, plus Joe Montana, Roger Craig, Jesse Sapolu, Brent Jones, and more:

Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in Checkdowns, YouTube Finds | 1 Comment »

Checkdowns: Actual NFL/College Team Playbooks, Free in PDF Form

17th August 2010

Yesterday, I was reading Brian Burke's great Advanced NFL Stats blog, and I found a post on Bill Walsh's randomizing strategy (for blitzing, run-pass mix, etc.). The post is interesting, but the link contained therein is solid gold -- Brian directs us to Fast & Furious Football, a site devoted to football playbooks. Although it looks like a pay site at first glance, it actually has an amazing archive of free playbooks from NFL, college, and high school teams (including many recent squads like the 2003 Patriots). I never played football beyond middle school, but I absolutely love this kind of thing... it really gives ordinary fans like me an inside look at the terminology and complexity of the game.

Posted in Checkdowns | 5 Comments »

Taking a delay of game penalty before a punt

17th August 2010

One of the most exciting plays in football is when a punter is standing at the opponent's 40 yard line, waiting patiently as the play clock ticks down slowly to zero. You need to get some more space for the punter to work his magic. For those that have played golf, this probably feels like a good strategy. I know that I would rather hit a full sand wedge into a green rather than be 40 yards closer. Then again, I don't have data for how accurate I really am from 115 versus 75 yards out (which is a good thing) to measure if my subjective feelings are actually correct, or whether I am remembering specific shots that are skewing my perception. In the NFL, we can measure the average starting position based on where a punt occurs. Is it actually a good play to take a delay of game to create more room? Let's look at the 2009 numbers.

First, I want to thank Brian Burke of Advanced NFL Stats for his play by play database that he has made publicly available. I'm working on cleaning up a punting database to do some further research, in line with what I talked about punts inside the 20, and so far I have only touched 2009 and have been testing it. I thought I would go ahead and post this, which may interest only me, since I know punters are H-O-T. These are numbers from the 2009 season with net yards by field position, from the team's own 40 yard line and closer to the end zone.

60 52 42.4
59 47 39.2
58 41 39.4
57 39 38.0
56 49 39.6
55 53 39.0
54 57 36.0
53 36 36.7
52 32 37.0
51 38 35.7
50 45 35.2
49 29 33.1
48 40 32.5
47 36 34.5
46 39 31.8
45 40 31.5
44 32 31.1
43 29 30.4
42 35 30.5
41 32 27.4
40 26 29.1
39 27 27.1
38 29 26.8
37 8 23.3
36 13 24.7
35 13 22.3
34 6 23.5
33 2 25.0

To smooth the data out, this next table has the same info, but uses the yard line, as well as the results from the 1 yard before and after it, to put a net yardage by field position. The "diff" column represents the difference in net yards at that yard mark, versus five yards further back. In order to justify a delay of game five yard penalty, we would need to gain at least five net yards from moving back.

60 99 40.9
59 140 40.4
58 127 38.9
57 129 39.1
56 141 38.9
55 159 38.1 -2.8
54 146 37.3 -3.2
53 125 36.5 -2.4
52 106 36.4 -2.6
51 115 35.9 -3.1
50 112 34.8 -3.3
49 114 33.7 -3.5
48 105 33.4 -3.1
47 115 32.9 -3.5
46 115 32.5 -3.3
45 111 31.5 -3.3
44 101 31.1 -2.7
43 96 30.7 -2.7
42 96 29.4 -3.5
41 93 29.0 -3.5
40 85 27.8 -3.7
39 82 27.6 -3.4
38 64 26.5 -4.2
37 50 25.7 -3.7
36 34 23.5 -5.6
35 32 23.5 -4.3
34 21 22.9 -4.7
33 8 23.9 -2.6

It looks like taking a five yard penalty to gain more punting room for the punter is not justified by these numbers. Sure, it helps the punter's stats, as net yards are lower the closer to the end zone you get. It is arguably a break even strategy at around the 36 yard line and in, but then again, you probably should be going for it anyway if you are inside the opponent 36. Beyond that, well, it is costing teams somewhere on the order of 1.5 to 2 yards on average by moving back. That doesn't consider other factors, such as moving back reduces the chances of a first down by a penalty such as running into the kicker or offsides.

No coach is going to lose his job or win a Super Bowl by foregoing a delay of game penalty on a punt. Honestly, it's not that big of a deal, and you can count on one hand the number of times most teams do it during a season. But coaches are a generally meticulous bunch, so it surprises me that they would willingly give up 1 to 2 yards of anything. Plus, it's really annoying to watch a guy wave his arms back and forth for twenty seconds waiting for a delay of game penalty.

Posted in Statgeekery | 7 Comments »

Podcast: all-80s defense

15th August 2010

Last July we did this podcast episode, where JKL and I tried to name our all-80s offense purely from memory and without consulting any recorded data at all. Chase, barely alive during the 80s, was on hand with lots of analysis of the relevant data to let us know how our at-the-time perceptions align with a more disinterested and objective accounting of things.

Almost exactly a year ago, we recorded the defense episode (as promised) and now here it is. [Why did it take a year to edit the thing? It's a long story, so don't even ask, but as with all podcast problems so far, it's my fault and not Chase's or JKL's.]

More podcasts coming soon...

Listen here, subscribe here if you know how, and read this if you don’t. It’s free, of course.

Posted in History, Podcast | 17 Comments »

2009 Yardage Differential SRS

13th August 2010

Just for kicks, I plugged last year's results (regular-season + playoffs) into the SRS formula -- except instead of using point differential as the inputs, I used per-game yardage differential, a quick-n-dirty favorite of oddsmakers when determining if a team has played above or below what its W-L record would indicate. Broadly speaking, the outcome of a game can be retrodicted reasonably well using some combination of yardage differential and turnover differential, and we know that turnover differential is somewhat unreliable from year to year, so this SOS-adjusted ypg differential could provide insight into which teams will play better or worse than expected in 2010:

Rank Team Rating
1 Dallas Cowboys 88.2
2 New England Patriots 77.8
3 Minnesota Vikings 74.0
4 Green Bay Packers 69.4
5 New York Jets 62.5
6 New York Giants 55.8
7 Pittsburgh Steelers 51.0
8 Baltimore Ravens 50.6
9 Houston Texans 44.1
10 Philadelphia Eagles 43.0
11 Carolina Panthers 34.6
12 Indianapolis Colts 32.1
13 San Diego Chargers 31.3
14 New Orleans Saints 30.7
15 Denver Broncos 26.8
16 Miami Dolphins 7.3
17 Atlanta Falcons 5.5
18 Cincinnati Bengals 3.3
19 Washington Redskins -1.4
20 Tennessee Titans -11.3
21 Arizona Cardinals -12.6
22 Jacksonville Jaguars -29.0
23 Chicago Bears -33.2
24 Tampa Bay Buccaneers -49.5
25 San Francisco 49ers -50.5
26 Seattle Seahawks -54.6
27 Buffalo Bills -57.8
28 Oakland Raiders -82.1
29 Kansas City Chiefs -83.2
30 Detroit Lions -92.7
31 St. Louis Rams -103.0
32 Cleveland Browns -127.0
Home-Field Advantage 24.3

What this basically says is that to produce a prediction for a game's yardage differential last season, you subtract one team's rating from the other's and add the HFA term to the home team. Doing this for every game last season, this set of ratings produced the smallest squared error.

What jumps out? The Super Bowl participants (Indy & New Orleans) rank surprisingly low; the Cowboys could very well validate Chase's gut feeling about a big year in 2010; the Jets were probably better than their record would indicate (as evidenced by their playoff run); the Patriots might not be finished quite yet; and trendy hopes for a 49ers resurgence (beyond winning the weak West) could be misguided.

Of course, none of this takes into account offseason player movement or the million other factors at play here. But it is interesting as an additional piece of info about which teams played better or worse than you might have thought last season.

Posted in Insane ideas, Statgeekery | 12 Comments »

CFB Feature Watch: Schools Section

13th August 2010

Note: This post was originally published at the new College Football at Sports-Reference site, so when you're done reading, go over and check it out!

The Schools Index is your one-stop destination for info about any "major" school in the last 141 years. On the main portal you'll find a table with 289 major schools, and:

  • Their range of seasons played
  • Their all-time overall W-L-T record and W%
  • Their all-time bowl record & W%
  • Their all-time Simple Rating System score and its Strength of Schedule component
  • Their AP poll appearances
  • Their conference championship totals

On the individual school pages, we also have year-by-year records and SRS scores, along with conference affiliations, AP poll rankings, bowl appearances, and (nearly complete) coaching histories.

Click on any of the seasons in the school's yearly results table, and you'll go to their team that year. For seasons from 2000-09, these pages will include complete passing, rushing, receiving, scoring, special teams, and defensive stats; for the team's game scores, click "Schedule and Results".

At the moment, clicking on years prior to 2000 will send you directly to the schedule/results page, but we plan on adding a great deal of historical individual stats to the pages of older teams in the near future. Also, once the 2010 season begins, check back with us because we will be generating current-season school pages, updated weekly with in-season stats and scores.

Thanks for checking out the new College Football @ S-R, and as always, let us know if you have corrections, questions, or comments via our feedback form.

Posted in Announcements, College, Site Features | Comments Off on CFB Feature Watch: Schools Section

The Top 20 College Football Programs of the Modern Era (Part I)

12th August 2010

Note: This post was originally published at the new College Football at Sports-Reference site, so when you're done reading, go over and check it out!

To kick off our College Football Blog coverage at, I thought I'd jump right in with a countdown of the twenty best programs of the modern era. Of course, in order to do that, I first need to define "best" and "modern era".

For "best", I'm going to go with the tried-and-true Simple Rating System (SRS), a staple of the Sports-Reference sites ever since Doug posted about it on May 8, 2006. It's certainly not the final word in team ratings, but it does a good job of balancing simplicity with predictive accuracy -- and when all you have going back to the 1940s is game scores, it's hard to find a better way to rank schools.

By the way, a few notes about the SRS you see here... Because college football features teams of widely varying skill levels and schedule strengths, we had to find a way to avoid rewarding teams for running up the score on an overmatched opponent, which is why wins of more than twenty-four points count as +24. Also, we needed to make sure wins (even close ones) were properly weighted relative to losses, which is why wins of fewer than seven points still count as +7.

Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in General | 3 Comments »

Finishing Strong, part deux

12th August 2010

Two years ago, I looked at teams that were 8-8 or worse, but finished stronger than their record based on a simple weighting system of wins at the end of the season. Here was the upshot:

It would appear that, for those teams generally out of the playoff picture at the end of the season, the way they finished does have some bearing on the next season. The strong finishers out of the 4-win group were better than the average and weak finishers for the entire group. And starting with the 5-win group, the strong finishers have been better than teams that finished with better win totals, but did not finish strong. However, finishing poorly doesn't seem to be a worse indicator than simply playing about the same as you had all year.

Our strong finishers also outperformed the league average, even though they averaged only 6.3 wins the previous season. A league average team would have made the playoffs about 39% of the time for this period, and reached a conference championship game about 14% of the time.

That said, that post did not adjust for *how* the teams won, counting a 1 point win the same as a blowout. Now, using the team game finder, we can set up a quick query to identify strong finishing teams. I ran a sort for all teams since 1978 with a non-winning record, who had a point differential of +36 or better over the final 6 games of the regular season. You can view the complete list here.

Thirty teams appear on that list, including two from 2009. For the previous 28, 16 of them would go on to make the playoffs (57%), 8 would reach a conference championship game (29%), 4 played in a Super Bowl, and 2 won it all. For comparison, that is about the same number of teams that have played in a Super Bowl since 1990 and returned to the playoffs.

Over the last fifteen years, 12 teams have met this criteria, and it is a virtual who's who of surprise teams, with 10 of them making the playoffs. The 1998 "Dirty Bird" Falcons knocked off the San Francisco dynasty and went 14-2 and all the way to the Super Bowl. The 1999 Buccaneers came within a few plays of knocking off the Rams in the Super Bowl. The 2000 Raiders and 2000 Ravens met in the conference championship game, with the Ravens going on to win the Super Bowl. The 2003 Chiefs got off to a 10-0 start en route to 13-3. The 2005 Panthers bounced back and went on an impressive playoff run with road victories at New York and Chicago. The 2009 Chargers went 13-3 and won the division by five games. Last, but certainly not least, the 2009 Saints rode a six game stretch from the end of the previous year where they scored 32.8 per game, and won the only Super Bowl in franchise history.

So who are the strong finishers from last year? One is everybody's trendy pick for sleeper team, the San Francisco 49ers. The other I don't hear too much buzz about, but it is a team that got horrible quarterback play for the first two months, but where the quarterback who will be starting this year came off the bench to go 4-1 over the last month with a 7.6 yards per attempt, and played five teams that finished 8-8 or better over the last six weeks, including blowout wins over Minnesota and the New York Giants. That team is the Carolina Panthers. I think one of those two teams (if not both) has a chance to have a special year in 2010.

Posted in General | 2 Comments »

Introducing College Football at

11th August 2010

I am pleased to announce the launch of College Football at, the latest addition to the Sports Reference family of web sites. We have had plans to launch a college football site for quite some time, but for one reason or another we always ran into roadblocks, most of them data-related. However, we now have a college football database that we believe to be second-to-none. Let me tell you a little bit about what the site does (and does not) have:

Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in Announcements, College | Comments Off on Introducing College Football at

Checkdowns: History of Madden

10th August 2010

Happy "Madden Gras," everybody! (At least, that's what it said on the ridiculous paper football helmet my cashier was wearing when I picked up Madden 11 at midnight.) In honor of Madden Day, here's Patrick Hruby's not-so-brief history of John Madden's eponymous video game series, the greatest dynasty in cyber-sports over the past 21 years (and counting). Enjoy!

Posted in Checkdowns | 20 Comments »