Going for broke

Does Chris Brown ever write a post that doesn’t have something of interest in it?

Here’s a good one about why in college football especially it pays for underdogs to take risks and why it makes sense for teams with talent advantages to play more conservatively.  He starts with the suggestion that some NFL teams may have thrown too few interceptions and winds up here:

… So in the NFL, where teams are almost all competitive (save, maybe the Detroit Lions), it’s likely the best strategy to simply maximize expected points and to go from there. But in other levels, with talent disparities of all sorts, it is trickier, as we have seen.

In the 1990s, Steve Spurrier’s Florida Gators were undoubtedly some of the most talented teams of the decade. They were also some of the most aggressive. As a result, they absolutely destroyed some teams. Of course there were the seventy-point blowouts of Kentucky, but what about when they scored more than sixty against Phil Fulmer’s Tennessee Volunteers? Yet, Spurrier never once went undefeated with the Gators: his teams always seemed to drop a game or two that maybe they shouldn’t have. And those losses almost always had the same profile — too many interceptions, couldn’t run the ball at all, and too many big plays given up on defense. I can’t believe I’m inclined to say this, but maybe Spurrier should have been more conservative? He might not have won as many games by sixty or seventy, but maybe they would have gone undefeated and won more than one title?

You may not agree with him, but it’s definitely thought provoking.  Good read.

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3 Comments

Filed under Strategery And Mechanics, The Blogosphere

3 responses to “Going for broke

  1. Aligator

    I think this is true, you kinda reap what you sew.

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  2. Daniel

    For those who like math:

    The point is that any given strategy induces a probability distribution of expected scores. The distribution is going to be normal/gaussian (i.e. a Bell Curve), but the exact shape is heavily dependent on how conservative or aggressive the strategy is. See the chart at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Normal_distribution
    to see potential variability in shape.

    If a coach simply wants to maximize expected score, they want the strategy whose distribution is centered furthest to the right on the x-axis (where x-axis = score). However, in doing so they might choose a distribution that, although *centered* to right, is short and fat – and so the likelihood of a terrible score is much higher than it might be otherwise. In other words, Short and Fat bell curves mean lots of volatility – and are the hallmark of risky “all or nothing” offenses and defenses.

    Someone like Richt usually seems to go for a “tall thin” distribution that isn’t centered as far to the right as one might like, but the chances of things going all to hell are comparatively slim.

    Volatility, as noted, is useful to talent-poor teams no matter what. Even if your expected score isn’t too high, you stand a decent chance of getting lucky and knocking off a giant. The vandy’s of the world are well-served to shoot the 3 in hoops and go for it on 4th in football.

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  3. Daniel

    Hm, looks like I should have read the article before I posted. He does a good job summarizing the normal distribution.

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