Introducing the Total Points System to College Football

The following is an excerpt from the 2020 SIS Football Rookie Handbook, your guide to this year’s NFL Draft prospects. In the book, we took the Total Points player valuation system we used to evaluate NFL players and put it to use to evaluate college football players, with an emphasis on this year’s draft class. The book is on sale for $15 at ACTASports.com.

By ALEX VIGDERMAN

Initially released at the start of the 2018 NFL season, the Total Points system is Sports Info Solutions’ answer to the conundrum of evaluating players at any position using a single framework. Total Points starts by apportioning the Expected Points Added of a play to the different players involved, but also uses the wealth of charting data collected by SIS to adjust as the events of the play dictate.

For example, take two incomplete passes, which for all intents and purposes are considered equal by most metrics, but would give very different Total Points values (for the quarterback in particular, but to some extent for many players).

Play 1: On 3rd-and-8, the quarterback drops back to pass and is forced out of the pocket because the left guard blows a block. He throws it to his tight end right at the sticks, but he drops the pass.

On this play, the left guard is penalized for having blown a block, and the quarterback and intended receiver recoup that value because their job is made more difficult. The throw is on-target and in the hands of the receiver, so the quarterback is credited as though it were completed. The receiver loses a whole bunch of value, especially because the play would have resulted in a third down conversion.

Play 2: On 1st-and-10, the quarterback drops back to pass and throws a slant eight yards downfield to the tight end, but the throw sails way over the head of the intended receiver.

Here not only does the down-and-distance affect the value available to the players (the incompletion isn’t as damaging in this case), but the effective blocking by the offensive line and the off-target throw cause the quarterback to take most of the blame for the play’s failure. The offensive line and intended receiver don’t lose any value because (as far as the charting data on the play is concerned) they did their jobs effectively.

All 22 players on the field are evaluated in this way using a breadth of charting data, and the set of data being used is expanding each year as SIS adds new data points.

The result of this calculation is a raw Points Above Average value that centers around zero for each season. From there, that value is transformed into Total Points by re-scaling it to center each team’s game-level total around the average points per game instead of around zero.

FBS Total Points Leaders

Following are the leaders in Total Points from the 2019 college football season. Unsurprisingly, quarterbacks dominate the list of the most valuable players. As a result, there are three leaderboards: the top quarterbacks, the top non-quarterback offensive players, and the top defensive players.

Top FBS Players by Total Points, 2019

Quarterbacks

Player School Total Points
Joe Burrow LSU 252
Anthony Gordon Washington State 180
Justin Fields Ohio State 170
Jalen Hurts Oklahoma 162
Sam Howell North Carolina 153

 

                                                 Non-Quarterback Offense
Player Pos School Total Points
Travis Etienne RB Clemson 84
Clyde Edwards-Helaire RB LSU 83
Zack Moss RB Utah 80
Jonathan Taylor RB Wisconsin 72
J.K. Dobbins RB Ohio State 71
Kennedy Brooks RB Oklahoma 65
Ja’Marr Chase WR LSU 62
Javian Hawkins RB Louisville 60
Najee Harris RB Alabama 60
Jaret Patterson RB Buffalo 58

 

                                                            Defense
Player Pos School Total Points
Isaiah Simmons LB Clemson 76
Chris Orr LB Wisconsin 74
Antoine Winfield Jr. S Minnesota 74
Nick Bolton LB Missouri 68
James Lynch DT Baylor 67
Xavier McKinney S Alabama 67
Derek Stingley Jr. CB LSU 66
Alijah Halliburton S Wyoming 65
Kyahya Tezino LB San Diego State 65
Joseph Ossai LB Texas 65
Akileis Leroy LB Florida Atlantic 65

Adjusting for Strength of Opponent

Much more than is the case in the NFL, the spread of talent across teams in college matters a lot in how we must evaluate a player’s performance. To address this concern within Total Points, a team quality estimate is calculated for both sides of the ball, and then each play is modified using a multiplier that is based on the quality of the unit on the other side of the field.

This adjustment (done the same way for offense or defense) is calculated over a rolling twelve-week window for each team by combining multiple calculations, all based on Expected Points Added per game (EPA/G):

  • EPAt: The team’s average EPA per game in the 12-week sample
  • EPAo: Their opponents’ performance in the other games in the sample (i.e. excluding games against the original team)
  • EPAoo: Their opponents’ opponents’ performance in the other games in the sample (i.e. excluding games against both the original team and their opponents)
  • EPAavg: The overall average EPA per game

Each team’s (offensive and defensive) quality rating is based on its EPA per game compared to average, adjusted for strength of schedule. It is calculated by comparing each team’s opponents’ performance (EPAo) to their opponents’ allowances in other games (EPAoo), and then using that to modify the team’s EPA per game (EPAt). Finally, the average EPA per game across all teams (EPAavg) is subtracted out.

Put mathematically,

Team Rating = EPAt – (EPAo – EPAoo) – EPAavg.

From there, the team rating is turned into a multiplier by converting the EPA difference calculated above into a percentage of the average EPA available in a game (i.e. the absolute value of all EPA accumulated in a game on average). The adjustment will range from about a 25% downgrade (e.g. a defensive player facing the Akron or UMass offense) to about a 25% upgrade (e.g. a defensive player facing the Ohio State offense).

Example Use Cases for Total Points at the College Level

Total Points is incredibly useful as a quick way to measure players against each other because it distills player value into a single number. This is especially true for defensive players, because it’s not clear how one should compare a tackle in the run game to a sack or a pass defensed, for example. Total Points allows us to discuss players with different roles and statistical profiles apples-to-apples.

With the strength-of-schedule adjustment added on top of the existing Total Points methodology we can quickly evaluate a player compared to the full swath of college football players, which can help point scouting staffs in the direction of players whose raw statistics don’t tell the full story (for better or for worse).

One such comparison could be drawn between running backs Zack Moss of Utah and Chuba Hubbard of Oklahoma State. Moss nearly leads the position in Total Points despite only ranking 11th in yards from scrimmage, buoyed by strong performances against above-average defenses. Hubbard, the leader in yards from scrimmage, doesn’t even crack the leaderboard above in part because of a weak set of opposing defenses and in part due to a handful of fumbles and pedestrian output after contact.

Exploring Total Points Further

This edition of The SIS Football Rookie Handbook represents the initial release of these Total Points numbers. You can find them in the Deep Dive section of the player pages as well as the leaderboards for each position.

The Football Rookie Handbook is on sale for $15 at ACTASports.com

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