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Football Data And Analytics - How Much Is It Worth?

If you don't listen to the Solid Verbal podcast with Ty Hildenbrandt and Dan Rubenstein, now is a good time to start. Last week they had Mike Nobler on. Nobler is the video director for Nebraska football, and (surprise surprise) he talked about what his job entails. It's a lot more interesting than that sounds, especially if you're a little geeky. 

Nobler talked about how Nebraska is ahead of most schools in using HD technology, which is interesting only if you want to tell your buddies about what next big thing Nebraska is ahead in. Of further interest is how Nebraska uses HUDL to allow coaches to review video regardless of where they're at - probably not that big a deal given how widespread streaming video has become, hell, even high schools are using it (at least the ones that want to get an edge in football). HUDL was started a while back by some UNL grad students - kudos to them for seeing an opportunity in the marketplace and providing the solution to take advantage of it. 

However, those aren't what I found interesting. What I found interesting was Nobler talking about how data is collected on the videos that comprise the system. Each play is broken up into an individual clip or track, then data is entered about each one of those plays. Data includes down and distance, line of scrimmage location, hash mark (which side of the field the play started), game time, the offensive formation, personnel groupings, defensive coverage, and defensive front. Nobler states that an extra 25 fields are added to each specific play. 

The concept isn't that difficult to understand. The data allows a coach to study tendencies of their opponent at a much deeper level than they had before. The data could tell you, for example, what Michigan might have a tendency to run if they have a third-and-two at their own 35-yard line in the third quarter, or (as Nobler points out) what an offense will do the next play after they have a big play. Do they go conservative on the next play call, or do they have a tendency to go for another big play? 

This is a step further than simply using statistics. is one of the nicest sites around for making guys writing about football sound like geniuses. The split stats views will give you all kinds of statistics that allow you to say things like "Most of Nebraska's explosive plays came on first down last season, nearly doubling those that occurred on second down" and people will eat it up and think you're really smart when really you're just quoting a bunch of statistics. It's not that difficult and honestly, it can be pretty entertaining, especially when your team is better in one specific area than everybody else. 

The statistics offered by don't tell you about tendencies, however, and that's what coaches are looking for. Or... at least they should be looking for. Baseball fans can tell you what Sabermetrics have done to change the game of baseball (whether good or bad, honestly, I don't really care, I'm not a baseball guy). Will it be too long before every coaching staff has a "data analytics guy" on staff? Probably not as long as you might think because data is always valuable (as long as it's good data). 

I've been toying with idea of looking at analytics comparable to what Bill Connelly is doing over at Football Study Hall. I think it's interesting. It's pretty geeky, and probably not as marketable as writing another snarky article about how Nebraska will beat up the Big Ten because their defenses are much slower than Nebraska's

I have to ask, what's it worth? Are any of you interested in this kind of stuff for next football season? It is something I should spend some time on, or is all this a bunch of hooey and everything will come down to execution more than analyzing an opponent's tendencies?