Scoring Margin vs. Percent of Points Scored

Scoring Margin is a generally accepted indicator of a team’s effectiveness, of its overall quality of play.  There is, however, another lesser-known measure of how good a team is; coforepr  simply calls it Percent of Points Scored.  Obviously, the better team scores a higher percentage of a game’s total points than the lesser team does.  In a shutout the winner is at 100%.  Get beat 7 to 3 and you’re at 30% because you scored only 3 of the 10 points.

Although there exists strong positive correlation between Scoring Margin and Percent of Points Scored (POPS), the two statistical measures are far from one and the same.  Teams can have similar or even identical Scoring Margins but widely divergent POPS.  For example, Team A outscores its opponents by an average of 30 to 10 while Team B outscores its opponents 60 to 40.  The Scoring Margin of both is +20, but Team A’s POPS is 75% while Team B’s is only 60%.

For teams above .500 Scoring Margin favors the better offensive team and POPS favors the better defensive team.  The situation is reversed for teams below .500!  This paradox can be suitably illustrated by looking to coforepr ‘s study of the best and worst FBS teams over the past three years.

We’ll take four teams…
Baylor.  27-9 record.  Highest scoring team in the country, suspect defense.
Michigan State.  29-9 record.  Coach Mark Dantonio was a defensive coordinator for three years at Ohio State before he became a head coach.  Second-best scoring defense in the country, inconsistent on offense.
Washington State.  9-25.  Can score under offensive guru Mike Leach, 12th-worst defense in the country.
Connecticut.  Also 9-25.  Sixth-worst offense in the country but respectable on defense considering they’re on the field a lot.

With the winning teams Baylor has the edge over Michigan State in Scoring Margin, 16.9 to 12.6, because the Bears are better on offense.  Michigan State shows better in POPS,  76.3 to 60.9,  because the Spartans are stout on defense.  (Notice that Baylor and Michigan State, who met in one of last year’s most competitive and entertaining bowls,  have each lost nine games over the past three years.  Goes to show there’s more than one way to get it done!)

For the sub-.500 teams UConn has a slight advantage in Scoring Margin, having been outscored by 8.9 points per game while Washington State is  -10.  This fits; the Huskies are tougher defensively.
But the better offensive team, Washington State, has a higher POPS at  42.0 to 40.1 for Connecticut.
The Cougars and Huskies possess identical records.

Both statistical measures have validity; we just need to know how to interpret them.  Again, for winning teams the higher-scoring offense will generally have the edge in Scoring Margin; the team that yields fewer points tends to fare better in POPS.  For teams with losing records it’s the other way around.  For teams at or near .500 there will be little to choose.

So, say you’re trying to pick winners of bowl games and some are too close to call.  Bowl teams usually are above .500.  Since we’re in an era of hurry-up offenses putting up big numbers in college football, perhaps you believe offense will carry the day.  Go with the team with the better Scoring Margin.  Conversely, if you’re old school and believe ‘defense wins championships’, select the team with the better POPS.  Both stats are easy to figure when you have the scores of all the games each team has played.

This summer coforepr  has published a series of posts called The Best and Worst of FBS, 2012-2014.
There have been four posts so far:  Record on June 30, Offense on July 6, Defense originally on
July 15 but redone on July 27 and Scoring Margin on August 4.  Next week will bring the fifth and final installment, The Best and Worst of FBS, 2012 – 2014:  Percent of Points Scored.
Check it out to see how your favorite teams stack up!

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