KU coaches made right call by keeping Briscoe at kick returner


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.

Interesting, huh?

From FPV, the guys took it a step further to create Field Position Advantage (FPA)*.

* — For a full explanation of how to come up with FPA, click here.

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.

  1. 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).

  2. 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.


Warren 8 years, 8 months ago

It would be interesting to know how often the kick returner actually gets injured.

number1jayhawker 8 years, 8 months ago

Does this take into consideration, the opposing team's kicker? As in does he kick it into the endzone fequently or at about the 20 yard line every time.

patton6 8 years, 8 months ago

Great stuff, Jesse. After some initial hesitance, I came around as well. And this helps me quantify why.

Jesse Newell 8 years, 8 months ago

number1 — From what I understand it, yes. If you have a good kicker that kicks it in the end zone every time, the opposing team will start from its own 20 more often, which will decrease that team's FPA.

Eric Sorrentino 8 years, 8 months ago

Totally agree on Briscoe being the right call to return kicks. Obviously, Mizzou had their best receiver, Jeremy Maclin, returning kicks and punts last year, which would explain why they were at the top of that FPA list.

Other teams are doing it with their best players, too. KU, Texas (Jordan Shipley returning kicks and punts), K-State (Brandon Banks returning kicks), Oklahoma State (Dez Bryant returning punts; Perrish Cox, their best corner, returning kicks). I know DeMarco Murray and Juaquin Iglesias returned kicks for OU last year.

Teams across the conference are putting their best players out there on special teams. Field position = absolutely vital.

bg_duck1 8 years, 8 months ago

Murray f@#$ed up his leg on the opening kickoff of the big12 championship game and missed the NC game vs. Florida and that definitely hurt them

AllenTXJhawk 8 years, 8 months ago

OK, I'm sold. KU should have their best KR/PR returning kicks. Now we should probably keep an open mind about who the best KR/PR is. Briscoe, Patterson, Beshears, Patterson, Pendleton, Sharp or Stuckey?

mdfraz 8 years, 8 months ago

This is fantastic stuff. I love the in depth analysis you have provided Jesse (even if it's using other people's number crunching). Obviously there is no silver bullet to winning or losing football games, but field position is an often overlooked aspect that makes it easier to score points with your offense and deny the opposition easy shots at scoring. I worry about Dezmon getting hurt like everyone else does, but I think you hit it on the head; it's worth the risk. I also love the fact that we have so many guys to try out and/or choose from AllenTX. More talent and depth all over the field leading to questions of who is the "best" to have out there is a fantastic quandary to be in.

ebizzle 8 years, 8 months ago

This is a great example of how important it is to have a kicker that can boot it into the endzone. IF I remember correctly Scott Webb seemed to kick a ton of balls through the endzone. A small but important luxury that is taken for granted.

nwkshawk 8 years, 8 months ago

Webb definitely had the longer leg, but I still love Branstetter. Don't get me wrong, I'd rather have Branstetter boot it out of the back of the endzone and not have to worry about a return, however, you still have to admire him running down there and getting right into the thick of things. You don't see too many kickers trying to hit people. He saved more than one touchdown last year. Besides that, he smoked Maclin. Never gets old.

gardenjay 8 years, 8 months ago

This is the kind of article we need around here. You scored a touchdown again, Jesse! Some of us cannot attend the game, and need to get lost in these sorts of things...

psychoanalyst 8 years, 8 months ago

great job, Jesse. Very interesting data!

Michael Leiker 8 years, 8 months ago

Agreed Jesse. If this team gets the ball at an average of the 35 every posession look out. It will be very hard to outscore them, and if the D is any better than last year...YEEHAWW here we go!!!

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