Gridiron Rhetoric: Week 8

[Cross-blogged for Leland Quarterly]

For as long as there have been sporting events, there have been statistics.  The two go hand in gloved hand: Roman gladiators were rendered legend by large win-to-being-dismembered ratios, Babe Ruth was promoted to the sultanate for his prodigious slugging percentage, and Las Vegas bookies are routinely rewarded by a complicated network of win/loss formulae that make sports betting more indecipherable than ancient Latin.

And time and again, sports are memorialized in film.  But now, we have a movie that is all about statistics, that beautiful intersection of math and sport: Moneyball, which centers on sabermetrics and the Oakland A’s.  Kind of like a combination of A League of Their Own and A Beautiful Mind, but with Brad Pitt.

Now I haven’t seen Moneyball.  Partly because it’s a baseball movie, and I’m writing a football column, so that seems a bit unfaithful.  And partly because I just can’t believe anyone takes mathematical advice from the man who introduced the phrase “in or around her mouth” to the teenage argot.

No, Jonah, I’M Seth. I am. Let’s do another one to ME.

But my point is this: statistics are now in vogue, big time.  And before you get on my case and tell me that I’m claiming to see a trend line when you just see the infamous Brad Pitt bump, let me tell you that I’m saying this with the absolute certainty and impunity that comes from writing for a blog.  On the internet.

R^2 = 1.

Since statistics are the new black, everybody seems to be wearing them this season.  But no one’s wearing them quite like the Cardinal.

In honor of that, I’m dedicating this week’s column to some of the best facts and statistics about Stanford football (many figured out using this amazing trove of data).  Timely, I know, because our opponent this weekend—the Washington Huskies—is central to the first one:

  • Washington is the one and only school in the Pac-12 North that Stanford does not have an overall winning record against.  Well, time to change that.
  • Stanford has yet to trail this season.  That means not once have our players looked up at that scoreboard to see the opponents pulling ahead.  Boom.
  • This one comes from a letter to Kevin Gemmell’s excellent Stanford football blog: As of this week, Stanford opponents are collectively two-for-ten on field goal attempts.  Because one of those misses was actually blocked and returned for a touchdown by our defense (and the extra point was good), we are currently outscoring our opponents 7-6 on their own field goal attempts.

Surprisingly, not our actual opponents.

  • For all the fuss about the SEC’s dominance, Stanford has a 0.70 win percentage against teams from the conference.  (In, admittedly, five meetings, but shhhhh.)
    • Percentage-wise, the only I-A conference we win against more is the WAC, which is more of a punching bag than a conference, anyway.
  • Stanford has played two high schools.  And we’ve beaten them both.  Barely.
  • Last season marked the most points the Cardinal had ever scored—524 over the season—just four years after the disastrous 1-11 2006 season, when we had the most point ever scored against us in a season (377).
    • I can’t prove it, but I’m willing to bet that’s, like, the best comeback ever.
  • The team Stanford has scored the most points against in one game is the UCLA Bruins.  Take a guess at that number.  Now go higher.  Higher.  Because we scored a massive 82 points against the Bruins in 1925.
    • UCLA scored 0 points.
  • The team Stanford has the most wins against is, of course, the California (Dirty) Golden Bears.
    • Stanford also leads the Big Game series, 51-43-10, and won the first ever Big Game in 1892 14-10.
    • So suck on that.

Finally, a look at some rhetoric from around the internet: