College Football: Does penalty yardage really affect wins?

College football teams who accrue more penalties and rack up that negative yardage are thought to be on the losing side most of the time. Is this true?

We previously looked at the last five years of penalty yardage around the nation. This time, let’s see how much penalties actually matter in terms of winning. This article will compare average penalty yards per game to each team’s number of wins that season as a quick and dirty way to see if there’s a correlation between winning and committing less penalties.

One would think that if you minimize the yards you either give up or gift to the other team, you would greatly increase your odds of winning. Obviously there is an uncountable number of factors that decides whether or not a team wins, but shooting yourself in the foot less has to be a key indicator of success. Right?

Below is a graph displaying the past five years of each team’s penalty yards per game and season wins for a given season. Each season is represented by a different color and a rough trendline in that color was added to see if there’s a clear positive trend that less penalty yardage equals more wins. Well, that was the hope at least.

See for yourself:

There’s pretty much no correlation. Nada. For the stats people out the, the R-squared value for each trendline was essentially 0, meaning there is no statistical correlation between penalty yardage per game and wins.

If you look at the blue and red data points the straddle the very top of the graph, those are the last two national champions. The 2019 LSU Tigers, the blue point, is towards the upper end of penalty yardage while 2018 Clemson, the red dot, is towards the lower end. Two of the most successful teams in college football history, both 15-0, had very different seasons in terms of penalties.

So I guess the moral of the story is to just commit as many penalties as you want, nothing matters anyways.