I've heard a lot of concern lately about the KU coaching staff's decision to leave Dezmon Briscoe as the kickoff returner.
By putting Briscoe on special teams, the Jayhawks are exposing him to more hits and perhaps increasing his chances of getting injured.
After looking at some statistics, though, this looks to be a risk that the Jayhawks have to take for the best chance of success in 2009.
Thanks to our friends at Football Outsiders, we can tell just how much the Jayhawks' field position hurt them in 2008.
We're going to be dealing with the advanced stats Field Position Value and Field Position Advantage in this blog.
Field Position Value (FPV) gives a point value to each yard-line that a team starts its drive from. This is based on the expected points scored by an average offense against an average defense from that yard-line. The point total is determined by running data from tens of thousands of college football drives that start from each yard line.
For example, teams score an average of 1.4 points per possession when starting drives from their own 15-yard line. They score 2.3 points per possession when starting from their own 40-yard line.
From FPV, the guys took it a step further to create Field Position Advantage (FPA)*.
In layman's terms, FPA represents each given team’s share of the total field position in a game. Two teams that face equal field position over the course of a game will each have an FPA of .500.
Why is this statistic important? Well, according to Football Outsiders, college football teams that play with an FPA over .500 win two-thirds of the time, and teams that play with an FPA over .600 win 90 percent of the time.
Obviously, field position matters quite a bit.
Here's a look at the total FPA for all the Big 12 teams last season. For reference, I put the team's final record in parentheses on the right.
Big 12 FPA
Missouri .548 (10-4)
Oklahoma .532 (12-2)
Texas .529 (12-1)
Oklahoma State .526 (9-4)
Kansas State .510 (5-7)
Nebraska .500 (9-4)
Texas Tech .494 (11-2)
Kansas .493 (8-5)
Colorado .492 (5-7)
Baylor .491 (4-8)
Iowa State .490 (2-10)
Texas A&M .461 (4-8)
So, on average last season, KU had worse field position than its opponents. And as we can see from the chart, having worse field position and consistently winning is the exception (Texas Tech, Kansas), but not the rule (Missouri, Oklahoma and Texas were the top three in FPA and combined to go 34-7).
Here's a question I had, though: What was KU's FPA when Dezmon Briscoe was returning kickoffs last year? Remember, Briscoe returned kicks for the final two games of the season.
Thanks to Brian Fremeau of Football Outsiders, we can take a look.
Fremeau was nice enough to pull out KU's game-by-game FPA totals from last season for us. This doesn't include the game against I-AA opponent Sam Houston State.
Here's how it looks.
Kansas 2008 FPA Game Splits
0.521 ... 8/30/08 vs. Florida International
0.582 ... 9/06/08 vs. Louisiana Tech
0.440 ... 9/12/08 vs. South Florida
0.462 ... 10/04/08 vs. Iowa State
0.411 ... 10/11/08 vs. Colorado
0.507 ... 10/18/08 vs. Oklahoma
0.372 ... 10/25/08 vs. Texas Tech
0.597 ... 11/01/08 vs. Kansas State
0.503 ... 11/08/08 vs. Nebraska
0.450 ... 11/15/08 vs. Texas
0.548 ... 11/29/08 vs. Missouri
0.522 ... 12/31/08 vs. Minnesota
KU's average FPA in 10 games without Briscoe returning kicks — .485
KU's average FPA in final two games with Briscoe returning kicks — .535
Two things stand out right away.
The FPA numbers seemed to be good indicators of whether KU won or not. The Jayhawks were 5-2 with an FPA above .500 (.714 winning percentage) and 2-3 with an FPA below .500 (.400 winning percentage).
Though Briscoe doesn't have complete control over FPA (turnovers, special teams and coaching all affect the number quite a bit), it sure looks like KU benefited immensely from him returning kicks. In fact, the Jayhawks' FPA on average increased by .05 (from .485 to .535) in games that he returned kickoffs. Not only that, KU had an impressive FPA (.548) against Missouri when Briscoe returned kicks, when MU was far and away the best Big 12 team in FPA in 2008 (.548).
Yes, it might be a risk to put Briscoe back on kickoffs.
But, after looking into the field-position numbers, Briscoe is too valuable for the Jayhawks to not take that risk.