There are plenty of fan bases across the country that need no reminders of the significance of special teams in college football. The Boise State Broncos have been bounced from the BCS title game chase in consecutive seasons due to excruciatingly makeable missed field goals, and the Oregon Ducks felt the same agony this past weekend in their loss to the USC Trojans. We've had several kickoff returns, punt returns, field goal blocks and game-winning kicks in season-hinging games over the course of the past few years as well. The offenses and defenses are on the field for most of the game, but it is frequently the special teams units that are called into action in crunch time.
In this weekend's marquee matchup, the No. 1 LSU Tigers versus the No. 3 Arkansas Razorbacks, the spotlight will shine even brighter on special teams. The Tigers and Razorbacks each boast one of the top special teams units in the country according to our Football Outsiders metrics. Special teams efficiency (STE) is our combined measure of the field goal, kickoff, punt, kickoff return and punt return units of each team, based on field position and expected success rates.
Teams that have won the STE battle have won 64.7 percent of FBS games played to date. In 55 games this season (9.1 percent of FBS games), the value generated on special teams exceeded the difference between victory and defeat. That includes two of Arkansas' victories (versus Texas A&M and Vanderbilt) and one of LSU's victories (versus Alabama). On the season, LSU ranks fifth nationally in STE, earning 3.2 more points per game on special teams plays than an average team. Arkansas ranks 10th nationally, 2.4 points per game better than average.
The strengths of LSU's and Arkansas' special teams are different, however. LSU generates most of its value in field goals and in the punting game. Arkansas generates most of its value on punt returns and kickoff returns. Here are the matchups to watch for on Friday: