More than 120 FBS-level college football teams take the field in 2013. Top teams from the SEC, Pac-12, Big 12, Big Ten and ACC will go out on Saturdays and play until there is a winner on the scoreboard. And, at the end of the year, two teams will proceed to the BCS Championship Game. In 2014, it will be four teams that proceed to the College Football Playoff.
Whereas the scoreboard decides who wins a game on Saturday, what goes into deciding who should compete for the season championship is a combination of subjective and objective analysis. In the Moneyball-era that we're in now, objective analysis has advanced to what is now called sports analytics – numbers that incorporate context and provide insight into not only who is good, but why and how.
We are introducing a series of storytelling metrics for college football, ones that start with the question of who should compete for a national title, but offer a lot of insight into the offense, the defense, the special teams and the quarterbacks that add to the success (and failure) of teams. As a quick summary, these are:
• Championship Drive Ratings. This is a number from 0 to 100 that answers this question: Which teams, based on what they did during the season, deserve to go to the College Football Playoff? Why do they deserve to be there? Every FBS team will get a rating between 0 and 100, including a rating for every game played.
• Football Power Index (FPI). This is a number that ranges roughly between -30 and +30 that answers this question: How good are teams relative to each other in terms of scoreboard points if they were to meet on a neutral field? Note that this is different from "Who deserves to be in a playoff?" The easy example is Alabama and Notre Dame in 2012. In the Championship Drive Ratings, Notre Dame deserved to be in a playoff because it played a good schedule and won every game. But in the FPI, Notre Dame fell behind Alabama and a few other teams in the SEC, Big 12 and Pac-12.
• Team efficiency ratings. These are numbers, usually in terms of points per game, that reflect how many points a team's offense, defense and special teams contribute to its scoring margin, while adjusting for quality of opposition. If a team wins by an average of 15 points per game, maybe +10 of that is offense, +7 of that is defense and -2 is special teams. These are just expected points, as they've been called elsewhere, and are usually adjusted for opponents in college football, where schedules can vary so much.
• Total QBR. This is a number for a quarterback between 0 and 100 that captures efficiency associated with throwing the ball, running the ball, drawing penalties, and avoiding sacks and turnovers. It uses the same concept as the NFL total QBR, dividing the credit on every play between the quarterback and his teammates according to how much the quarterback did. For college football, these are adjusted for the defense faced, though the unadjusted version also exists and will be included in box scores alongside the unadjusted traditional statistics.
• Win probability. At any point in a college game, what is the chance that a team will win, given the score, clock and game situation? This also can be adjusted for the pregame quality of teams.
All of these metrics are meant to allow a more complete explanation for winning in college football. And all of them can account for the quality of opponents in a game. By doing this, they answer these questions: Who should be in a title game? What teams are good? Are those teams good because of their offense, defense or special teams? Is it because they're good at running the ball or throwing the ball? Is their quarterback contributing significantly to winning? How? What is the chance of winning and losing within a game?
With so many college football teams and such a broad range of quality across those teams, these metrics will help provide fans, analysts and coaches better insight on how and why games are won, including the big ones that get played in January.
More detailed summaries and descriptions will follow about a month into the season as the metrics debut on ESPN.com.