The Spread, Week Nine: Adjusted Margin of Victory

That’s right, this week I’m going to tackle college football’s biggest enemy: Margin of Victory. The stat was famously banned from the BCS formula’s computer component, effectively destroying the only unbiased portion of that calculation. The fear was that by allowing MOV to be included, the system would encourage teams to “run up the score” on lesser opponents, a theory that completely ignores the fact that the essential purpose of rankings is to determine which teams are “lesser.”

While I understand the reasoning behind disallowing MOV in a system that will determine who plays for the national championship, I don’t think it’s necessary to ignore it altogether. Sure, it can be misleading or manipulated to some degree, but it can also be a valuable piece of information in comparing teams.

The main flaw with MOV is that is heavily favors offensive teams in comparisons–a 28-0 win is the same as a 56-28 win. To combat that, I started looking at Percentage of Points instead, another neat stat that ultimately has the opposite problem: A 3-0 win is the same as a 70-0 win.

The answer is simple: combine the two. To calculate Adjusted Margin of Victory, I multiplied each team’s MOV by their overall percentage of points and the result is a number that values both offense and defense. The current number one team in Adjusted MOV is undefeated Marshall, averaging over 47 points a game and giving up less than 17. Ole Miss, Ohio State, Baylor and Alabama round out the top five. Michigan State and Nebraska also crack the top ten.

It’s worth noting that Western Kentucky, the #8 team in scoring offense, is ranked #71 in Adjusted MOV. Stanford, the #2 team in scoring defense, comes in at #27.

To be clear, this is not intended to be a complete ranking of teams. Some consideration for winning percentage and opponent strength would have to be added for that to work. But Adjusted MOV can be a useful way to consider scoring when comparing teams without over-rewarding anyone for piling on against weaker opponents.


  1. I like this way of think but I think there still a deficiency, one I think about every time I do the By The Numbers posts — defensive and special teams scores sometimes skew the numbers (both to the detriment of the offense and the defense, statistically). I know they both affect the outcome of the game and hence probably cancel each other out, statistically, but it’s a further refinement I’d like to see.

    It’d also be a pain in the keester to keep of track of, it’d require some labor intensive work on the stats side of things.

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