Earlier in the offseason, we calculated the scoring rate by yard line in college football and came away with observations like how the offensive team’s 40-yard line is roughly where scoring rate reaches 50 percent, teams only score roughly 35 percent of the time after a kickoff and that the opponent’s 24-yard line is oddly a dangerous place for a drive to start – at least among the teams and drives we examined.
Well, now we’re taking that same data and applying it to a micro level rather than the macro.
Which teams most often put points on the scoreboard after starting deep in their own territory?
Which schools most frequently took advantage of short field position?
We dug into the data to find out. However, we didn’t include the following types of possessions:
- Kick or punt returns for touchdowns
- Drives in which the receiving team lost a fumbled kickoff or punt return
- Drives that ended because time in the half expired
- Drives that ended with a turnover on downs on a team’s final offensive possession in a game in which there was a multiple-possession lead or deficit
The following data shows the relationship between the three phases of football – offense, defense and special teams – and how a strong kicker, punter or returner, plus a defense that forces a lot of turnovers, affect scoring probability based on field position.
Highest scoring rates on drives that started inside own 10
Among Power Five teams last season, three of the top four schools in terms of scoring rate on drives that started inside their own 10-yard line were teams that made the College Football Playoff: Oklahoma (60%), Clemson (58.3%) and Alabama (57.1%).
So while this stat is admittedly working with small sample sizes (on average, Power Five schools had 11.8 drives on the season that started inside their own 10-yard line, or slightly less than one per game), it doesn’t mean it should be disregarded.
Only eight of the 64 Power Five schools scored on at least half of their drives that started inside their own 10-yard line. The other five were Ole Miss, Texas A&M, North Carolina, NC State and West Virginia.
The bar chart below shows the complete breakdown below.
The average of the Power Five schools’ average scoring rate was 24.3 percent.
At the opposite end of the spectrum from the three College Football Playoff participants at the top, there were five Power Five schools that didn’t have a single scoring drive last season that started inside their own 10-yard line.
While it might be a bit of a surprise to see Pac-12 champion Washington among that group, the Huskies shared that dubious distinction with Rutgers (130th out of 130 FBS teams in points per game), Florida State (113th), Tennessee (108th) and Colorado (80th). The Huskies ranked 88th in scoring, for the record.
While three of those five schools only had eight or fewer drives last season that started inside their own 10-yard line, the Seminoles were a woeful o-for-19 on such drives.
Here are the top 10 Power Five schools in scoring rate on drives that started inside their own 10, along with the Power Five average and the bottom five schools.
|P5 Rank||School||Scoring Rate||Number of Drives|
|Power Five average||24.3%||11.8|
Here’s a look at which schools had the most scoring drives that started inside their own 10-yard line.
The Power Five average was 2.7 such scoring drives last season.
|Arizona, Missouri, Oklahoma, Texas A&M||6|
|Nebraska, North Carolina, NC State||5|
|Colorado, Florida State, Rutgers, Tennessee, Washington||0|
Highest scoring rates on drives starting inside own 20
When we look at drives that started inside the offensive team’s 20-yard line, the sample size more than triples (38.3 drives per Power Five team) compared to the number of drives that started inside the 10, and there are some familiar names at both ends of the spectrum.
Incredibly, Oklahoma scored on two-thirds of its drives that started inside its own 20-yard line – more than 7.5 times the rate of last-place Rutgers. It was a rate of which even Alabama could be jealous.
Here’s the complete breakdown.
The chart below shows the top 10 schools, along with the Power Five average and the bottom five schools, in terms of scoring rate on drives that start inside the offensive team’s 20-yard line.
|P5 Rank||School||Scoring Rate|
|Power Five average||29.9%|
Highest scoring rates on drives starting from own 30 or better
We found that the 30-yard line is roughly where scoring rate cracks 40 percent so having a kick returner who can consistently give his team better field position than what a fair catch yields (the 25-yard line) is crucial.
Among all the drives we examined from Power Five teams last season, which includes drives that followed a kickoff, punt, turnover, turnover on downs or overtime, the average starting point was 29.4 yards from the offensive team’s end zone. So this criteria of drives that started at the 30-yard line or better examines how efficient offenses were when they had average, or better, starting field position.
Once again, Oklahoma leads the way with an 82.4 percent scoring rate when it took over on offense at its own 30-yard line or better.
Some observations of note:
- UCLA ranked sixth among Power Five teams with a 68.2 percent scoring rate when starting a drive at its 30-yard line or better. The Bruins went 3-9 in Year One under Chip Kelly and they ranked 98th nationally at 24.6 points per game, so it’s not like they were a reincarnation of 2010 Oregon. Yet when their special teams unit or defense gave their offense at least average field position, the Bruins were able to score as frequently as almost anyone this side of Oklahoma, Alabama and Georgia.
- Michigan State ranked 61st among Power Five teams and that sound you just heard was the Spartans’ defensive players groaning. MSU’s defense finished tied for eighth nationally in points allowed per game and 10th in total yards allowed. It ranked second in Football Outsiders’ S&P+ ratings, one spot ahead of Clemson. So if Michigan State even had an average offense, you can probably pick out at least three more games on the Spartans’ 2018 schedule that they would’ve won. I mean, they lost games last season in which they only allowed seven, nine and 16 points.
- Big Ten West champion Northwestern ranked 55th among Power Five teams with a scoring rate of 43.3 percent on drives that started at its own 30-yard line or better. That’s only two places and two percentage points better than Rutgers for crying out loud. No one confused 2018 Northwestern with Alabama or Clemson but that’s still an indictment of the weaker of the Big Ten’s two divisions last season.
Here’s a chart showing the top 10 schools, along with the Power Five average and the bottom five schools, in terms of scoring rate on drives that started at the offensive team’s 30-yard line or better.
|P5 Rank||School||Scoring Rate|
|Power Five average||54.5%|
Highest scoring rates on drives starting from own 40 or better
We highlighted UCLA during the last section and the Bruins actually led the Power Five in scoring rate on drives that started at their own 40-yard line or better as they scored on 14 of 16 such drives. That success was at least in part due to a small sample size as UCLA’s 16 drives that started at their own 40-yard line or better were the fewest among Power Five schools.
Power Five schools had roughly 31 such drives last season, on average.
Illinois, which ranked 10th among Power Five schools, is another school that jumps out as a surprise given the Fighting Illini’s 4-8 record last season and 93rd national ranking in points per game, but it turned favorable field position into points better than most schools in the country.
|P5 Rank||School||Scoring Rate|
|Power Five average||62.5%|