No single statistic tells the complete story of a college football game or season, but some metrics mean more than others. The ultimate judgment of a team's wins and losses comes down to the numbers on the scoreboard, and the best teams maximize scoring opportunities and limit those of their opponents.
Red zone efficiency has been a tried and true measure of success for many years, but we introduced an even better measure in ESPN The Magazine at the start of last season called "value drive." Instead of limiting our measure of drive-closing success to plays within a 20-yard section of the field, we expanded our view to include any drive that starts on a team's own side of the field and reaches at least the opponent's 30-yard line. Simply put, success on value drive opportunities means more than red zone success.
Value drive efficiency proved to have a stronger link to winning percentage than red zone success again in 2011. The top four teams in net points per value drive were Alabama, LSU, Oregon and Oklahoma State -- the teams that ranked in the top four of the season-ending AP poll. Of those teams, only Alabama and Oklahoma State ranked among the top 10 in net red zone efficiency, and only Alabama and LSU ranked among the top-10 in net red zone touchdown percentage.
Not only does value drive efficiency have a stronger correlation with winning percentage than red zone efficiency, it has a stronger correlation from year to year, too. We can't say that points per value drive will be the only factor that will have an impact on next year's championship race, but we can use this metric as a means of evaluating 2012's early preseason contenders.
Here are three teams that figure to have success next season at closing out drives and shutting down those of their opponents, and three that could be exposed in this metric -- and on the field.
Teams in good shape
Offensive points per value drive (PPVD) in 2011: No. 24
Defensive PPVD: No. 25
Net PPVD: No. 12
The Razorbacks ranked No. 1 in offensive PPVD in 2010, but the step back on offense was balanced out with a step forward on defense. With the recent announcement that Tyler Wilson will return to Arkansas and Knile Davis' return to the backfield as well, the offense has a chance to lead the way once again.
As we mentioned last week, the brutal SEC West may ultimately hold Arkansas back from a national championship run, but value drive efficiency can be a difference maker. It is especially critical for Arkansas to capitalize on every scoring opportunity since those chances can be scarce against the top SEC defenses. Arkansas' ability to avoid three-and-outs was rather mediocre last season, but when a drive does get going, the Razorbacks' ability to finish in the end zone comes in handy.