When you boil it down, there are three reasons I can think of that people look at college football stats. If you’re a casual fan, you’ll look at box scores and seasonal stats to get a general feel for how a game played out and why somebody’s name might be in the mix for the Heisman. If you’re someone like a Georgia Tech fan, you do what Tech fans do with stats when reality comes up short.
But if you’re obsessed with this sport – and I’d say that blogging about college football and commenting about a college football blogger’s posts qualifies – then you’re looking at stats in the hope that they can shine some bright light on why and how teams win and lose. (That doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll get it right.)
Which brings me to Bill Connelly, who’s written a thoroughly enjoyable book that’s in part an expansion of much that he’s written at two stats-oriented blogs, Football Outsiders and Football Study Hall. The book is entitled Study Hall: College Football, Its Stats and Its Stories, and it’s well worth your time to read.
If you’re a regular reader here, then you already know I’m a big fan of Bill’s work. Compared to, say, the level of information to be gleaned from the current state of baseball stats, college football statistics are still a work in progress for several reasons. But it’s been both informative and rewarding for me to read what people like Bill and Matt Hinton have done over the past few years to bring some meaning to what really matters in evaluating a program’s performance on the field. (Given the way college football goes about making its selections for the national title game, that matters a helluva lot more, or, perhaps more accurately, should matter, than it does for other sports.)
But that’s not why I enjoyed Bill’s book so much. After all, you’ll be a third of the way into the book before Bill starts getting into the statistical weeds, so to speak. The book begins with an explanation of why he and we obsess about this wonderful sport – the first chapter is entitled “It’s Personal” – and then spends the last significant part exploring one of my favorite topics, the diverse strategies that coaches use to win. If you believe this sport is special, Bill does a great job of getting to some of the reasons for that.
And if I can mention a couple of other quick points that I may find more interesting than perhaps you may… one, I’m not sure this book could have been written in the way Bill has ten or fifteen years ago. Not because of the progress that’s been made with the research, but because the book has such a new media flavor to it. There are plenty of quotes and observations from bloggers and from journalists who have adapted to the blogosphere, all given the same level of respect. I recognized every name there, and indeed know several of them purely through electronic correspondence. Bill’s higher profile makes for greater familiarity and it’s pretty cool to see how naturally it all comes off in the book.
Second… well, Jesus, I’m getting old. As you know, Bill interviewed me to get a list of games that have had the greatest impact on my fandom and the fact is that I’m a generation ahead (behind?) every other party who furnished such a list. (Bill was six when he watched the iconic Flutie pass that beat Miami in 1984.) It’s not just that, though. There’s a description of the early period when Sabermetrics took off, led by Bill James’ groundbreaking work. Bill kinda looks back at James. Me? I remember buying the Baseball Abstract in its infancy. Sigh. Anyway, if there are any college football bloggers out there who are older than fifty-seven, feel free to drop in here and cheer me up.
In the meantime, the rest of you should go get Bill’s book.