Friday, September 29, 2017

Heart and Quit: The Maryland Game Prediction

Advanced stats in football seem to have exploded over the last couple of years and, to be honest, I don’t really get them. It seems like the people who put them together are pretty smart and stuff, but I’m not sure the dynamics of football are as conducive to statistical prediction as, say, baseball. Yes, things like efficiency and explosiveness are important and I can understand the desire to measure how many yards a running back gets on his own versus assistance from the line; but the sample sizes seem remarkably small given the need to categorize things like down and distance, field position, personnel groupings, when in the game a play takes place and the score. Yes, one can control for these things, but you’re left with some pretty thin data sets on which to make predictions.
In my estimation, there are two statistics that matter in college football: Heart Factor and Quit %. And that’s what we’re going to judge our opponents on every week at SGH this season. At least until we quit again, which will probably be next week, if we’re being honest with each other, and I think we can.

Heart Factor is all about the team’s spirit. What’s inside of them. Their guts. Do they believe in themselves? When their backs are against the wall do you see a player on the sideline pumping his teammates up? Heart it up. A coach sprinting down the field with his team at the end of a quarter to rally them? Exploding hearts. A walk-on linebacker getting his first run on the field making a big play in a critical situation? That, friends, is a myocardial thermonuke. Heart is the essence of college football – not efficiency, sack rates or field position. The team with the most heart almost always wins and now, finally, we’re here to track it.

The second statistic, Quit %, is like the inverse of Heart Factor, but something more. Look for hanging heads, players on the bench with towels wrapped over their faces, a coach throwing his headset, a quarterback throwing his fourth second-half interception against Wisconsin costing his team the game and no one on the rest of the team ever talking to him again. That’s quit. This is the likelihood a few players or the whole team will just fold up shop when faced with serious adversity. For example, Jerry Kill’s teams had a very low Quit % - they were tenacious and held on to second half leads like a goddamned covalent bond. No quit in those dudes. Conversely, Claeys’ teams had a Quit % that often needed to be stated in scientific notation. Yeah, they held on against Purdue and Butt last season; but the 2015 Michigan game and Penn State, Nebraska and Wisconsin last year were all emblematic of straight up quitsies.

As to the game this week, the delicious Terps have shown a precipitous decline in Heart Factor and an explosive increase in Quit % over their first three games of the season. They played Texas in Austin very tough, earning a Heart Factor of 8.2 and a Quit % of 14%. Many, myself included, thought they were on track to a resurgent season and what seemed like an easy win prior to the season, suddenly looked tenuous as the Gophers recorded a Heart Factor of 4.1 and Quit % of 21% in their season opener against Buffalo.

But the last three weeks have been unkind to Maryland. We’re discounting their win over Towson, because what is a Towson anyway? They got piss hammered against a directional Florida school last week, at home, 38-10. Their quarterbacks are going down like a porn star, which doesn’t help matters much; but that’s no excuse when it comes to heart and quit. Following the UCF game, Maryland’s Heart Factor stands at 2.9 and their Quit % at a record 77%. Compare this with the Gophers, who crushed MTSU’s spirits for three generations prior to the bye week and have spent time in practice learning how to celebrate – our team has Heart Factor of 11.3 and a Quit % of 9%.

Folks, this has all the makings of a blowout.

Heart Factor: Gophers 11.3 v. Maryland 2.9
Quit %: Gophers 9% v. Maryland 77%

Predicted Score: Gophers 42 v Maryland 10

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