The Definition of Great Debate, College Football Edition – Statistical Prowess in Many Categories Prove Greatness

Read Bleacher Fan’s argument that professional success defines greatness and Loyal Homer’s argument that swagger defines greatness.



I realize this isn’t a forum for determining who exactly IS the greatest college football team of all time. That’s probably a good thing, or I would have spent all week devising a super-secret formula to analyze myriad variables and spit out a winner (I’m a geek… what do you want from me???). So, for the purposes of this debate it is logical to conclude that dominance in several key statistical categories proves a team’s greatness in the annals of college football history. The trick is understanding which statistics make the complete case of greatness.

The first and most obvious statistic is the win-loss record. For college football, no “L’s” allowed. Second, it’s length of season. For example, the 1945 Army Black Knights were an incredible team with fullback Doc Blanchard and running back Glenn Davis. They finished first and second in the Heisman Trophy voting that season and the team finished 9-0-0. They were incredible, with their first team defense allowing two scores ALL SEASON. But, just nine games is not enough of a sample size to prove dominance over an extended period. Length of season is important.

Next is a comparison between offensive production (points per game, yards per game) and defensive production (points allowed per game, yards allowed per game). The real sweet spot of comparing these stats is examining the gap between them to understand how complete a team’s dominance is – and how great they really are. Also, no one stat can be elevated in importance over another. They all must be present to create a full picture.

Let’s look at an example.

Andrea Adelson is on to something with the 2001 Miami Hurricanes. They did not lose a game, played a 12 game season (providing a good sample size), they scored a whopping 42.6 points per game while giving up only 9.75 points per game, and they gained 454.82 yards per game while yielding only 270.91. The variance between yards gained and yards given up is massive. The combination of each of these stats proves Adelson’s theory.

Notice, none of the stats are individual player stats. Players can have bad games or twisted knees that limit their production and throw off season averages – and professional careers. Great teams do not place any emphasis on individual players. Great teams must have a full team effort.

Balancing success across each of these statistical categories is nearly impossible, and precisely why mere mortal teams will not even come close to attaining greatness.

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