Discussion

Top 10 units in college football

Baylor's offense, Stanford's special teams among nation's most effective units

Updated: October 25, 2013, 10:11 AM ET
By Dean Oliver | ESPN Insider

The Alabama Crimson Tide are No. 1 in the first BCS standings, and they are impressive for the balance of contributions from offense to defense to special teams. In ESPN Stats & Information's adjusted expected points added metric (EPA), the Tide rank 15th nationally in offense, fourth in defense and second in special teams. This accounts for all phases of the game, including when they put up yards and who they do it against. When you talk about a team that wins with all three phases of the game, Alabama is a great example.

However, not all successful teams boast that kind of balance. A lot of teams rely on just one end of the field for their success. The Texas A&M Aggies, which rank fourth nationally in offensive EPA, 106th in defense and 34th in special teams, are a good example of this.

So whether a team is balanced or imbalanced, which are the most effective units in all of college football? We were able to produce a top-10 ranking using the adjusted EPA numbers. As hinted at above, EPA is an example of one of the basic benefits of applying analytics to football: All of the different stats -- points, rushing yards, fumbles, interceptions, blocked punts, return yards, etc. -- can be combined into a single number, allowing unlike things (offense and special teams, for example) to be compared for the sake of understanding value.

In this case, we are going to look at the units that contribute the most to their teams above the college football norms for the unit. Specifically, the best offenses are usually quite a bit better than the best defenses, which are, in turn, a lot better than the best special-teams units. Normalizing by the range of each unit puts some defenses and special teams in there with offenses, giving us a better representation of which units have performed the best across all three phases of the game.

Here is our ranking of the 10 most effective units in college football so far this season.


1. Baylor Bears: Offense, adding 32.0 points per game to scoring margin

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