Tennessee Football 2023: The Five Factor Tracker

Nearly a decade ago, Bill Connelly (@ESPN_BillC) wrote an article that identified "The five factors: College football's most important stats" on the since-abandoned blog Football Study Hall. The article identifies, as it says on the tin, five factors that the winning team will almost always control. Quoting from the article: 

I've come to realize that the sport comes down to five basic things, four of which you can mostly control. You make more big plays than your opponent, you stay on schedule, you tilt the field, you finish drives, and you fall on the ball. Explosiveness, efficiency, field position, finishing drives, and turnovers are the five factors to winning football games.

  • If you win the explosiveness battle (using PPP), you win 86 percent of the time.
  • If you win the efficency battle (using Success Rate), you win 83 percent of the time.
  • If you win the drive-finishing battle (using points per trip inside the 40), you win 75 percent of the time.
  • If you win the field position battle (using average starting field position), you win 72 percent of the time.
  • If you win the turnover battle (using turnover margin), you win 73 percent of the time.

This is from 2013 college football game data. It's very, very similar from year to year.

Those are some enormous predictive numbers--86% win rate for explosiveness? 83% for efficiency? Those seem like stats worth tracking. And so we are. Here's the 5 Factor Tracker, using 2022 stats for now until the season ramps up enough for 2023 stats to be relevant. 

Tennessee Offense vs. 2023 Opponents' Defense (stats from 2022)

If that's hard to read, you can click on it to get a larger version. There will also be a version focusing just on that week's opponent in the game preview each week:

And those are just focusing on the Vols' offense. There will be a defensive version too:

BTW I'm trying real hard not to call this the Rick James Index (what did five factors say to the face?!). Also, you might look at that and think but that's six stats, and you'd be right, but we're looking at Scoring Opportunities (driving the ball inside the opponents 40) and Points Per Opportunity together as "drive-finishing." Also, rather than turnover margin, we're using Havoc (turnovers, pass break ups, sacks, and tackles for loss) because it represents turnovers--but also the kinds of plays that lead to turnovers. It also gives me the opportunity to misquote Shakespeare: Cry 'Havoc!' and let slip the Vols of war!

I'll also admit that there are better ways of doing this. Bill Connelly created ESPN's SP+ rankings using the five factors (UT starts 2023 #8 in that ranking [ESPN+ paywall]). Brian Fremeau's FEI ratings use the five factors, as does the F+ ranking that combines SP+ and FEI. Obviously the 5 Factor Tracker is nowhere near as sophisticated as those systems. Nevertheless, it should be fun to see how Tennessee stacks up against the rest of their schedule in each of these categories as the season progresses. 


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