Stats Expert Says 2014 Sooner Football Team Was Better Than the 2013 Squad


Last season was one of the worst, based on wins and losses, in Bob Stoops’ 16 seasons as the Sooners’ head coach. Yet the 2015 college football preview publication produced by Athlon Sports has come out with the bold suggestion that the 2014 Sooner football team was superior to the 11-2 team that the year before stunned the college world by upsetting Alabama in the BCS Sugar Bowl.

When I first read the article “Luck of the Sooners” in Athlon’s 2015 football preview edition on the Big 12 Conference, I couldn’t believe that anyone could make a reasonable case suggesting that a team that was 8-5 on the year and was blown out by a combined 68 points in two of its final five games would even hold a candle to the team that the year before went 11-2 and knocked off two-time defending champion Alabama by two touchdowns in the 2014 Sugar Bowl.

Truth be told, though, football stats expert Bill Connelly makes a compelling argument that last season’s team was a better overall team and played with greater efficiency than the 2013 team and exhibited winning components that are more sustainable and controllable in the long term, despite what the season won-lost records showed.

Nov 22, 2014; Norman, OK, USA; Oklahoma Sooners running back Samaje Perine (32) runs for a touchdown past Kansas Jayhawks linebacker Courtney Arnick (28) during the first half at Gaylord Family – Oklahoma Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

Connelly, one of the founders of the football statistical analysis service Football Outsiders, used a ratings formula termed F/+, which evaluates and ranks teams based on per-play and per-drive efficiency.

Between 2006 and 2012, Oklahoma was one of the country’s top 10 teams based on F/+ criteria. The Sooners best season, according to F/+ rankings was in 2008 (when OU played Florida for the BCS national championship), when they placed No. 2 in the nation. The other years between 2006-12 Oklahoma vacillated between six and nine.

In 2013, OU’s F/+ ranking slipped all the way to No. 23. But last year’s team actually improved back to No. 19 in the country based on F/+ rating. But how could that be?

“Oklahoma capitalized on some good fortune at the end of the 2013 season before slumping last year due in large part to some bad luck,” Connelly says.

Connelly writes that despite their 11-2 overall record in 2013, the Sooners’ couldn’t stop their opponents’ running game. Meanwhile, he says, the OU offense that season couldn’t do anything at a particularly elite level. For example, OU yielded a total of 510 rushing yards in its two losses to Texas and Baylor and averaged just 3.9 yards per play.

The Sooners also gave up large per-carry rushing averages also against Notre Dame, West Virginia and Oklahoma State in the 2013 season, but managed to pull out victories in those contests.

In Oklahoma’s three upset wins in the final three games of the 2013 season, the Sooners were outgained in all three games on a yards-per-play basis. Just to underscore how lady luck was on OU’s side in those three dramatic late-season wins in 2013, the Sooners recovered nine 0f nine fumbles.

That same random luck turned against Stoops’ Sooners last season, Connelly writes. Discounting the blowout losses to Baylor and to Clemson in the Russell Athletic Bowl, OU lost three games (to TCU, Kansas State and Oklahoma State) by a combined eight points.

“Our perceptions and reactions are based off of wins and losses…But stats can remind us just how fickle football can be.” —Bill Connelly, Football Outsiders

The Sooners lost by three points at TCU but played the Horned Frogs fairly evenly on the basis of yards per play (6.01 for TCU to OU’s 5.91).

Two games later, at home against Kansas State, OU literally gave away a game it should have won. The Sooners outgained K-State by 148 yards and had eight scoring opportunities inside the Wildcats’ 40-yard line. OU’s usually highly reliable placekicker Michael Hunnicutt also missed two makeable field goals plus an extra point, seven points that would have easily been enough for an Oklahoma win. Instead, the Sooners lost by a single point.

Another telling stat that marked a difference in the 2014 Sooners and the 2013 OU team was in the fumble-recovery category. In 2013, OU recovered 68 percent of all fumbles. That number dropped to 39 percent last season.

“Our perceptions and reactions are based off of wins and losses,” Connelly writes. “Players get rings because of them. Coaches get promotions and pink slips because of them… We celebrate wins just as we vent after losses. But stats can remind us just how fickle football can be.”