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Metrics measure how Utah, BYU, USU might fare in football

Published May 31, 2014 6:40 pm

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2014, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Baseball success has long been predicated and determined by advanced statistics measuring metrics on a micro level to be applied on a larger scale. Football is still far behind in terms of advanced metrics, but statistics are plenty applicable to at least make an informed guess how a team might fare in the upcoming season based on successes and failures from a previous season.

Bill Barnwell, Grantland.com's resident NFL expert, uses several metrics to predict NFL team trends from season-to-season, which can be extrapolated at a college level to guess how Utah, BYU and Utah State might fare next year in football.

Here's a few of those metrics and how they might affect the Utes, Cougars and Aggies in 2014:

Expected wins versus actual wins

As Barnwell explains, point differential is a better indicator of future success or failure than basing predictions on winning percentage from the previous season. Using the Pythagorean projection of pro football seen here, it can be determined if Utah, BYU and USU outperformed or underperformed expectations.

Utah

• Expected wins: 6.3

• Actual wins: 5

BYU

• Expected wins: 8.8

• Actual wins: 8

USU

• Expected wins: 11.4

• Actual wins: 9

Analysis: Each team underperformed based on score differential, USU suffering the most with a -2.4 gap between expected and actual wins. Interestingly, both Utah and Utah State underperformed by at least one expected win, potentially influenced by the losses of Chuckie Keeton and Travis Wilson at different points in the season. Although not a perfect comparison because Barnwell's chart is based on NFL records, both Utah and Utah State could win one or two more games in 2014, while BYU will likely remain in the eight win range.

Record in close games

This one is more simple, charting what a team's record was in games decided by seven points or less. Here are Utah, BYU and USU's records in close games from last season:

Utah: 4-3 (Wins against USU, BYU, Stanford and Colorado. Losses against Oregon State, UCLA and Arizona State)

BYU: 2-2 (Wins against Houston and Nevada. Losses against Virginia and Utah)

USU: 2-3 (Wins against UNLV and Northern Illinois. Losses against Utah, USC and Fresno State)

Analysis: In 2012, Utah was 1-2 in close games, BYU 1-4 and USU 1-2. There's not much to be gathered from 2013 because all three teams finished with close to a .500 record in these games or .500 on the nose like BYU. All three could flip one way or the other in 2014 to more wins or losses.

Turnover margin

Turnovers can swing games one way or the other more often than not and a large disparity of low or high forced turnovers can be signs of a potential sharp increase or fall. Here are Utah, BYU and USU's turnover margins from 2013:

Utah: Minus-9 total margin with 13 fumbles and three interceptions gained, 21 interceptions and four fumbles lost.

BYU: Minus-1 total margin with 17 fumbles and 13 interceptions gained, 14 interceptions and 17 fumbles lost.

USU: Plus-11 total margin with 25 fumbles and 17 interceptions gained, 10 interceptions and 21 fumbles lost.

Analysis: Utah and USU will likely be on opposite sides of this spectrum in 2014. It's hard to imagine Utah will drum up only three interceptions and that Utah State will have such a large plus-minus gap. Both will probably regress closer to the middle, where BYU sits at an almost even turnover margin.

Prediction

Football is a particularly volatile sport and it's difficult to predict records from season-to-season, but these metrics at least suggest that Utah and Utah State could be in for slightly increased records next season. With the potential of a healthy Keeton and healthy Wilson all season, both teams could grab one or two more wins. BYU will likely remain in the middle going by these figures, winning eight or nine games. It's also unlikely that Utah will have such a negative turnover margin and that Utah State will have such a positive turnover margin.

-Brennan Smith

bsmith@sltrib.com

Twitter: @BrennanJSmith