How Different is College Football in Canada?

A snapshot of the 2019 season of the York Lions


The last college football season in Canada was back in 2019. However, that does not mean we can’t learn from the outcomes of the season and prepare for the next one once things go back to normal. As a York University student, I attempted to do a case study on trends in our conference’s performance and try to see what things could be done differently to improve on our team’s 1–7 record.

What Are the Top Teams Doing?

More than half of the teams in our division had a positive record, with the Western Mustangs scoring a perfect 8–0. So what are they doing that we aren’t? I tried to see if there was any correlation between a team’s Win% as well as their Points Per Game(PPG) and their actions on the field. This graph shows a any relevant correlations (above 60%) in the data gathered from U Sports Central.

Some of these are blatantly obvious like the high correlation between touchdowns and Win%. However, some of the other aspects of the game caught my attention. There seemed to be trend regarding rushing in the league. Teams who either scored or gained a down via rushing seemed to achieve a higher win percentage in the league. To a football fan this might not be surprising: teams who are usually in the lead tend to rush more to run down the clock. While this might explain their correlation, it was the high correlation with Rush Efficiency what surprised me because there are many different reports like this one that state that in the NFL and NCAA, rushing hardly matters. However, our findings were completely the opposite. There is a clear trend showing that teams with a high rush efficiency (Rush yards gained per game on offense minus yards allowed per game on defense) tend to win more, while pass efficiency was not as important and more all over the place. This same ideas applied when finding correlation to a team’s PPG.

So what does this mean? It means that rushing in the league plays a more dominant role than some people think. For teams to find a higher rate of success, they should try to improve their rushing efficiency and make sure that they are at the top of their game both in offense and defense when it comes to rushing.

York Lions

The 2019 season was not our best. However, the 1–7 record might be misleading and if we take our findings into consideration, we can new areas worth exploring next season.

WIN% vs Rush Efficiency

First, we can have a clear picture of the relationships explained above. The team was some of the least efficient rushing teams alongside Windsor and U of T. However, having a negative rush efficiency does not mean you will also every game, as shown by Ottawa. It is clear that improving our rushing efficiency is something to explore. York had the least rushing yards and rushing yards per game in the whole conference (200 yards less than the next team) as well as the 2nd least rushing attempts (159 attempts vs Laurier’s 301). However, York was just in the average when it came to rushing yards against per game. This means that while our rushing defense is one of the better ones in the league, the team could benefit from running the ball more, specially when it comes to 3rd downs and in the Red Zone, which were also highly correlated to more PPG.

Here is also the same graph with pass efficiency where we can see more randomness in the data. Also notice that our passing game is already some of the better ones in the conference!

How Much More Do We Need to Improve Our Rushing?

Tricky question to explore. A team could rush 50 times in a game, but it does not matter if all those attempts only give you 80 yards, which is why we need to see York’s yards per attempt when it comes to passing and rushing. This could help us see how they compare to other teams and try to find by how much we should try to improve.

This is a really interesting graph that shows how teams how average a higher amount of rushing yards per attempt tend to score more more points per game (Just look at how Saskatchewan with Adam Machart was one of the top scoring teams in the country). While York averages the least rushing yards per attempt and PPG in the country, this graph shows us 2 important things: 1.- York only needs to improve their efficiency by barely a yard to be close to the average and 2.- If we were to improve by, let’s say 1 yard per attempt, we could expect to score 1 more touchdown per game (In theory of course).

At the end, we should try to explore building upon our great defense and bringing weapons to stop opponent rushers as well as giving rushing a more dominant role in our playbook

So, Why Does All of This Matter?

It really doesn’t. At least note like this. Sure, we have been able to identify some clear trends in the league and areas of opportunity for the Lions to improve like trying to improve upon our rushing offense. However, we need to find a way to take these general ideas and try to apply them to specific cases in order for the data to work. Which is why I created this radar plot with all the important attributes we discussed. The plot has the 9 different metrics we have found to be correlated to win percentage and points per game. Each circle in the plot corresponds to a different percentile, with the outer most circle corresponding to 1 and decreasing by 10 percentiles with each circle going down (ex. teams in the 2nd outer most circle are in the top 10% in the league). I followed this great article on how to create the radar plot in Tableau (Thank you!). Here is my Tweet with a quick demo of how the dashboard looks and works!

York Lions vs Toronto Varsity Blues: Analysis

Let’s do a quick example with our rivals, and only win, the Toronto Varsity Blues. The PPG against dimensions shows us that while the Lions tend to receive more points per game, something like a field goal could make a difference. Similarly, these teams both tend to allow a lot of points, which is why we should expect a high-scoring and close game ( In reality it wasn’t as close but definitely high scoring!). However, the key might be in the rushing since Toronto allowed the most rushing yards per game in the country! This is an area of opportunity that York should explore during the game, which they did and ended up with 2 rushing touchdowns and 137 rushing yards (60% higher than our usual 86 yards per game!). It is also worth mentioning that York’s defense played spectacularly against a team that averaged some of the highest yards per attempt in both the passing and rushing game as well being top 10% passing efficiency team.

Hopefully this was a fun and interesting read for you and feel free to comment or reach out on my LinkedIn!

Business Student at Canada || Sports and Esports enthusiast || Writer for The Strangers Almanac

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