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Statistically Speaking: Fluck

Saturday, June 09, 2007

Fluck


When I blog about teams, I talk to a great extent about how luck and random chance are a significant determinant to which team wins a college football game. A lot of those factors that equate to luck are random chance are not easily measured, a guard missing a block that leads to a stuff on fourth and goal, a hold that wasn't called, a gunner out of position on a kickoff that leads to a great return to name a few, but there is one facet of luck that can easily be measured--fluck or fumble luck.

When a team fumbles the football, one team recovers it and one team does not. The result of the fumble has a zero-sum outcome. One team is very happy (or relieved if they were also the team that fumbled) and the other is disappointed. On average, a team will recover half of the combined fumbles it causes and its opponents cause. Of course, fumble recoveries are not evenly divided amongst teams. Some teams recover a high percentage and others recover a low percentage. It stands to reason that fumble recoveries can play a crucial role in who wins and who loses. Well, let's find out. Using the great website, CFBstats.com, I took each college football teams fumble recovery percentage and compared it with their winning percentage to see if fumble recovery percentage was a good predictor of winning percentage. CFBstats has data from 2004-2006, so there are 353 team seasons, in my opinion, a significant sample size. The r squared value, for an explanation of r squared click here, for fumble recovery percentage and winning percentage is almost nonexistent. The value is .002. This means that less than one percent of the variation in a team's winning percentage is explained by that team's fumble recovery percentage.

Well that settles it then. Fumble recoveries have almost no correlation whatsoever to winning percentage. Hence they are not important. That doesn't make much sense does it? Of course fumble recoveries play a role in winning and losing. How else can we examine and prove this phenomenon is true? Let's look at the 'best' and 'worst' fumble recoverers (top 10 and bottom 10) in 2004 and 2005 and see how they performed the next season, both in recovering fumbles and in winning percentage. I use quotation marks because recovering fumbles is not a skill, so luckiest and unluckiest are probably more apropos terms.

2004 Best Fumble Recoverers
Team/Fumble Recovery %/2004 Record

Buffalo/78%/2-9
Iowa/69.2%/10-2
Oklahoma/65.8%/12-1
Utah/63.4%/12-0
Texas Tech/63.3%/8-4
Air Force/63.2%/5-6
Stanford/63%/4-7
Oklahoma State/61.8%/7-5
Northwestern/61.5%/6-6
Florida/61.3%/7-5

Combined, these 10 teams recovered 65.4% of fumbles and had a record of 73-45 (.619 winning percentage). Here's what happened in 2005.

Team/Fumble Recovery %/2005 Record

Buffalo/48.8%/1-10
Iowa/41.4%/7-5
Oklahoma/51.9%/8-4
Utah/46.3%/7-5
Texas Tech/64.4%/9-3
Air Force/51.2%/4-7
Stanford/47.1%/5-6
Oklahoma State/49.1%/4-7
Northwestern/45.5%/7-5
Florida/70.7%/9-3

I lack any HTML skills to create tables in blogger, so the values have been color coded. Values in red indicate a decline from the previous season and values in black indicate an improvement. In 2005, the top 10 fumble recoverers from 2004 combined to recover 52% of fumbles (down from 65.4% in 2004) and saw their record decline from 73-45 (.619) to 61-55 (.526). Only two of the teams recovered a higher percentage of fumbles in 2005 than they did in 2004 (Texas Tech and Florida) and while four teams did improve their record in 2005 (Texas Tech, Stanford, Northwestern, and Florida), three of them improved by only one game. Conversely three teams declined by at least three games (and one by two and a half).

Now the other side of the coin, the worst fumble recoverers from 2004.

2004 Worst Fumble Recoverers
Team/Fumble Recovery %/2004 Record

Illinois/32.1%/3-8
Tulane/32.4%/5-6
UNLV/34.1%/2-9
Ohio State/34.3%/8-4
NC State/35.1%/5-6
Cal/35.3%/10-2
UCLA/35.3%/6-6
Kansas/35.5%/4-7
Georgia Tech/35.7%/7-5
Baylor/36.7%/3-8

Combined, these 10 teams recovered 34.7% of fumbles and had a record of 53-61 (.465 winning percentage). Here's what happened in 2005.

Team/Fumble Recovery %/2005 Record

Illinois/51.7%/2-9
Tulane/36.7%/2-9
UNLV/45.2%/2-9
Ohio State/44.4%/10-2
NC State/55.6%/7-5
Cal/52.8%/8-4
UCLA/55.1%/10-2
Kansas/46.7%/7-5
Georgia Tech/55.2%/7-5
Baylor/37.8%/5-6

Once again the values are color coded. Green means the value stayed the same. The bottom 10 fumble recoverers from 2004 saw their fumble recovery rate improve to 47.9% in 2005 (from 34.7%) and their cumulative record improved from 53-61 (.465) to 60-56 (.517). Every team saw their fumble recovery rate improve and half the teams saw their record improve. Four of the five teams that improved (Ohio State, UCLA, Kansas, and Baylor) saw their record jump by at least two games and the other team (NC State) improved by a game and a half. UNLV and Georgia Tech had the same record both seasons.

Now onto 2005.

2005 Best Fumble Recoverers
Team/Fumble Recovery %/2005 Record

Florida/70.7%/9-3
Southern Miss/70.3%/7-5
Wisconsin/70%/10-3
Texas/67.7%/13-0
Texas Tech/64.4%/9-3
Mississippi/64.1%/3-8
Virginia Tech/62.8%/11-2
Colorado State/62.8%/6-6
Louisiana Tech/62.8%/7-4
TCU/61.9%/11-1

Combined, these 10 teams recovered 65.6% of fumbles and had a record of 86-35 (.711 winning percentage). Here's what happened in 2006.

Team/Fumble Recovery %/2006 Record

Florida/50%/13-1
Southern Miss/43.2%/9-5
Wisconsin/46%/12-1
Texas/55.6%/10-3
Texas Tech/43.1%/8-5
Mississippi/61.8%/4-8
Virginia Tech/46.7%/10-3
Colorado State/41.7%/4-8
Louisiana Tech/50.9%/3-10
TCU/43.8%/11-2

In their follow up campaigns, these 10 teams combined to recover 48.2% of fumbles (down from 65.6%) and saw their record decline from 86-35 (.711) to 84-46 (.646). Every team saw their fumble rate decline. Four teams did improve their record (Florida, Southern Miss, Wisconsin, and Mississippi), and of those four, all but Mississippi improved significantly (at least one game). Five teams declined by at least one game with three declining by at least two games (Texas, Colorado State, and Louisiana Tech).

The Worst Fumble Recovers

2005 Worst Fumble Recovers
Team/Fumble Recovery %/2005 Record

Wyoming/19%/4-7
LSU/26.8%/11-2
ECU/31.6%/5-6
Auburn/35.9%/9-3
Arizona/36.4%/3-8
Tulane/36.7%/2-9
Baylor/37.8%/5-6
New Mexico State/38.2%/0-12
UTEP/38.6%/8-4
UAB/39.4%/5-6

Combined, these 10 teams recovered 33.8% of fumbles and had a record of 52-63 (.452 winning percentage). Here's what happened in 2006.

Team/Fumble Recovery %/2006 Record

Wyoming/51.2%/6-6
LSU/34.9%/11-2
ECU/47.8%/7-6
Auburn/53.5%/11-2
Arizona/63.6%/6-6
Tulane/38.6%/4-8
Baylor/43.9%/4-8
New Mexico State/39.1%/4-8
UTEP/56.4%/5-7
UAB/68.9%/3-9

The bottom 10 fumble recoverers from 2005 saw their fumble recovery rate improve to 49.8% in 2006 (from 33.8%) and their cumulative record improved from 52-63 (.452) to 61-62 (.496). Every team saw their fumble recovery rate improve and six teams saw their record improve. Every team that improved (Wyoming, ECU, Auburn, Arizona, Tulane, and New Mexico State) improved by at least one game. LSU had the same record both seasons.

Conclusions:

While fumble recovery rate in itself does not determine a team's fortunes, a good rate can help mediocre teams have good seasons (Louisiana Tech in 2005) and very good teams have great seasons (Utah and Oklahoma in 2004 and Texas in 2005). Conversely, a poor rate can cause mediocre teams to have poor seasons (Wyoming in 2005) and bad teams to go winless (New Mexico State in 2005). It is an important fact to know about a team, but needs to be used in conjunction with many other factors when attempting to predict a team's future success. With that in mind, here are the best and worst fumble recoverers from this past season.

2006 Best Fumble Recoverers
Team/Fumble Recovery %/2006 Record

Michigan/71.9%/11-2
UCLA/68.9%/7-6
UAB/68.9%/3-9
Colorado/68.2%/2-10
San Diego State/65%/3-9
Louisiana-Monroe/64%/4-8
Arizona/63.6%/6-6
Mississippi/61.8%/4-8
Northern Illinois/61.8%/7-6
Rice/61.2%/7-6

If the past two seasons are any indicator between five and six of teams should see their record decline in 2007. My guesses are Michigan (hard to top 11-2 even if they are the best team in the Big 10), UAB (new coach and killer road schedule--Michigan State, Florida State, Tulsa, Mississippi State, and ECU are the highlights), Mississippi (play in the SEC West), Northern Illinois (lose Garrett Wolfe and return one quarterback with experience, Dan Nicholson, who didn't exactly set the world aflame when he had a mega-threat in the backfield with him), and Rice (new coach, 5-1 record in close games in 2006, perennial loser).

2006 Worst Fumble Recoverers
Team/Fumble Recovery %/2006 Record

Ohio State/32.4%/12-1
Stanford/32.5%/1-11
Arkansas/33.3%/10-4
UNLV/34.1%/2-10
Nebraska/36.8%/9-5
South Florida/37.5%/9-4
Tulane/38.6%/4-8
UCF/38.7%/4-8
Louisville/38.8%/12-1
New Mexico State/39.1%/4-8
Wake Forest/39.1%/11-3

That's actually 11 teams (New Mexico State and Wake Forest tied for 10th worst). If the past two seasons are any indicator, about five or six of these teams should improve in 2007. My guesses are Stanford (hard to get any worse), UNLV (1-3 in close games in 2006), Nebraska (Sam Keller coming in to run Bill Callahan's system), South Florida (two words--Matt Grothe), UCF (George O'Leary hasn't forgotten how to coach and a 2-3 record in close games in 2006), and New Mexico State (0-4 in close games in 2006 and Chase Holbrook returns to run Mumme's system).

Interesting Stat (for me at least):

When Texas won the national championship in 2005, they dominated almost every team they played, save two--Ohio State in Columbus and Southern Cal in the Rose Bowl. They won those games by three points apiece. In both games, the Longhorns combined to fumble eight times, yet only lost two. The Buckeyes and Trojans combined to lay the ball on the ground four times, losing two of them. All told, there were 12 fumbles in those two games. The Longhorns recovered eight of them (66.7%). The Longhorns were one of the best teams in the nation in 2005 even without the football gods on their side. The difference between immortality and a fading memory is a few lucky bounces.

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