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ACC football in one-score games: NC State, UNC, Clemson, and beyond

Sports are mean, but there’s solace in, well, meaning.

Numbers is bullshit. As a third-year PhD student in statistics at State (my undergrad was also at State so I’m on year 7), this particular BTP saying has always held a special place in my heart. In many instances, it is completely accurate. Many of the numbers and statistics cited today are, quite frankly, bullshit. However, I think that being able to utilize and visualize data to inform our decisions (and our anger) is something that we should strive to do.

I hope to be able to write articles (whenever I can) that form compelling narratives around numbers related to NC State sports. I recognize that some of you will hate this. I recognize that many of you will disagree with some of the numbers I present. Sometimes I will disagree in some way with the numbers I present! I welcome this disagreement.

The divide between those interested in sports analytics and those who are not is growing because most analysts are not willing to accept criticism and use it to help improve their analyses and their writing. My true goal is to write articles that the readers of BTP find interesting and fun. Ok enough intro, let’s go.

With football season slightly less than one month away from being one month away, I wanted to cover a topic near and dear to our hearts as NC State fans: painful losses. More specifically, I wanted to look at teams’ records in college football when the final score was within one touchdown (8 points). NC State did not fair wonderfully in these games last year (2-4 with 2 losses to top 10 teams), and each loss had a particularly painful playcall or misplay that can be pointed to in assigning blame. These bad calls and bad plays are not irrelevant! They happened. They can’t be explained away with numbers.

There is reason for hope, however. Across many sports, it can be shown that records in close games are essentially random. In general, great teams are great because they win games decisively. I wanted to look at this phenomena in college football. Obviously, there are not that many one-score games for a given team each year in college football, so it is hard to make strong conclusions about the data.

That being said, I collected every team’s win percentage in one-score games for each year since 2000. With this information, I looked to see whether or not knowing a team’s record in one-score games for one year could help predict the record for the following year. I found that, like many other sports, it is pretty random who wins in a one-score game.

There are almost always outliers in this type of data, so I wanted to look within the ACC and see if any coaches close to home are particularly adept at winning close games. I thought this would be easier to present with a few graphs:


Throughout the Amato and O’Brien years, the Wolfpack remained pretty consistently around .500 in close games. When Coach Doeren took over (as indicated by the black line) things began to fluctuate a lot. Some of this is due to a low number of one-score games (2015, for instance, had only one), but I would argue that a lot of it is because Ol’ Dave is pretty freaking random in his playcalling at the end of games.


Carolina also seems to hover around .500 in close games, although they may be slightly better in the Fedora era (*sigh*).


This is the dream! Dabo took over in 2008 and had 3 mediocre seasons in close games, but by the time he established a full crop of his own seniors he started to win close games very consistently.

Hopefully, Dave is able to make a leap similar to Dabo this year. If there is a year to feel optimistic, this is the one. The team will have experienced talent starting at every position. Also, we have Jaylen Samuels and other teams do not have Jaylen Samuels. Perhaps we will simply win all of their games decisively and this won’t matter at all. Let’s do that one.