UGASports - ToP: Rather relative, or Overrated?
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ToP: Rather relative, or Overrated?

The 2016 Georgia team is currently averaging more time of possession per game (35:09) than the Bulldogs' top three in that category entering this season (L to R): 1981 (32:24), 2011 (33:39), and 1986 (32:01).
The 2016 Georgia team is currently averaging more time of possession per game (35:09) than the Bulldogs' top three in that category entering this season (L to R): 1981 (32:24), 2011 (33:39), and 1986 (32:01). (top)

By @PGarbinDT

Pat’s Weekly Stat (you won’t see anywhere else): Time of possession, or “ToP”—it’s often referred to as the most overrated statistic in football yet, as I mentioned following the season opener, it’s been said, “If you control the clock, you usually control the game.”

Last week, Dave McMahon indicated after doing so just four times in 13 games a season ago, the Bulldogs have won the time of possession battle in six of seven games this year; however, they’re just 3-3 in those cases. Still, including victories in 2016 over North Carolina (38:07 ToP) and Missouri (37:18 ToP), the Bulldogs are a perfect 15-0 (beginning in 1989) when they have held possession in a game for at least 37 minutes.

More so, I noticed this morning that of the 25 major FBS team statistical categories, Georgia currently ranks above 20th in just three of them, and amongst the nation’s top eight in only one category: you guessed it—Time of Possession, with an average of 35:09 per game, which ranks fifth of the FBS’ 127 teams. Therefore, I suddenly became somewhat intrigued and attempted to figure where the Bulldogs’ 35:09 ToP mark would rank for a season average since the school began releasing yearly ToP statistics beginning in 1979. Entering this season, the top and bottom five Georgia teams in regards to time of possession:

Top/Bottom 5 Georgia Teams in Time of Possession (1979-2015)
Rank (of 37) Season Avg. ToP per game Record*

1st

2011

33:39

10-4

2nd

1981

32:24

10-1

3rd

1986

32:01

8-3

4th

1999

31:13

7-4

5th

1982

31:08

11-0

37th

1994

26:16

6-4-1

36th

1996

27:29

5-6

35th

1992

27:55

9-2

34th

1989

28:01

6-5

33rd

2001

28:03

8-3

* Prior to 2002, postseason appearances are not considered in statistics/records.

Although seemingly an overrated statistic, the Bulldogs’ 35:09 ToP this season is on pace to break—in fact, shatter—the school record of 33:39 established five years ago. Still, in observing Georgia’s time-of-possession averages over the last 37 seasons, there seemed to be some sort of relationship, although maybe just the slightest, in ToP and the team’s record: the higher the ToP, normally, the better the record—which, makes sense if you agree with the “you control the clock, you usually control the game” viewpoint.

I’ve mentioned the correlation coefficient here before. But, since many of you might have immediately clicked off when I previously attempted to associate the measured quantity with the sport of football (and, I wouldn’t blame you), in a nutshell, it’s the degree—if any—two variables’ movements (in this case, Georgia’s annual ToP and record from 1979 through 2015) are associated, or related. A correlation of -1.0 indicates a perfect negative correlation, while a correlation of +1.0 indicates a perfect positive correlation.

The correlation coefficient between Georgia’s time-of-possession averages and records the previous 37 seasons is +0.295, which is considered a moderate relationship.

In looking over the 127 FBS teams’ current records and their time-of-possession averages, there also seemed to be some sort of relationship at first glance. For instance, the top 15 teams in ToP includes undefeated Michigan, Nebraska, and Western Michigan, and one-loss Ohio State and Utah. No. 5 Georgia’s 4-3 record is actually the worst of the top 15 (tied with three others). I found that the correlation coefficient between the FBS’ current time-of-possession averages and records is +0.360, which is also considered a moderate relationship, but borders on being relatively strong.

So, time of possession may very well be recognized as an “overrated” statistic yet, when it comes to FBS teams this season, there is nearly a relatively strong relationship between holding possession and winning. As for Georgia in previous seasons, when the Bulldogs controlled the clock, they usually controlled the game—with “usually” being the key word. However, for this season, “sometimes” is probably better to use for the inconsistent, up-and-down campaign.

More than anything, and as Dave also indicated, having time on one’s side is great and all, but it means little if it doesn’t produce results.