With Heinz Field rarely being this full, just how big of a home field advantage do the Panthers have on any given Saturday?
When you think of college football teams with a great home field advantage, you most likely gravitate towards the larger universities with sell-out crowds of over 80,000 fans on a weekly basis. Like myself, you would probably rank schools like Florida, Texas, Alabama, LSU, and USC over programs like Iowa State, Kansas, Cincinnati, and UConn. Unfortunately, the gentlemen in Las Vegas do not think like I do. When generating the point spreads for games, they use statistics and metrics most of us never would have even considered.
Remember that homefield advantage compares performance against expected scores at home AND on the road to quantify the value of playing at home. The advantage a team gains at home (relative to opponent) is applied in the opposite direction on the road (data independence is treated similarly for inputs).
So where does Pitt stand in the rankings compared to other BIG EAST and ACC teams? Let's take a look.
The tables above show the strength of each team's home field advantage, from receiving the most points for playing a game at home to the least points. Yes, you are reading that correctly, Cincinnati and UConn are considered to have a much larger home field advantage than Virginia Tech and Florida State. In fact, other odd notable rankings are Florida (96), Alabama (106), LSU (108), USC (71), and Texas (100). So what does this all mean?
The chart below ranks every FBS college football team in order of the strength of its homefield (as ranked by expected points homefield adds based on data). Fans, particularly of SEC and other elite teams will inevitably be disappointed at their apparent lack of impact (most will likely jump to the chart, react and never read this part). However, it's not necessarily a good thing to top this list. In fact, the best teams should be closer to the bottom than the top because they should be more consistent, dominate regularly and not be subject to the large swings in performance that is seen in other teams (making them more like professional teams - Alabama is 106th). While traditionally elite FBS teams should not fare well in this exercise, the same can be said (and noted in the chart) about teams that are traditionally really bad. Where homefield means most is with the next tier of teams behind the absolute elite - mostly BCS conference teams that can usually compete for conference titles, but who do not have four star recruits filling the two-deep and are not always legitimate BCS Championship contenders. That's when the raw value of homefield matters most; when the talent is strong but not elite and players are more susceptible to the impact of crowd noise, tradition and atmosphere.
Over the past decade, Pitt clearly falls into that category of "BCS teams competing for conference titles, but not National Championships." Unfortunately, that means a ranking of 85th is fairly close to what we expected of a half full 65,000 seat stadium. Cincinnati and UConn do a good job at filling their 35,000-40,000 seat stadiums to create their home environment. Cincinnati has only lost 10 games at home since joining the BIG EAST in 2004. UConn has lost 14 games during that same span, but they finished two season undefeated at home. This reasoning would also explain why 20 of the top 50 schools on the list are (teams formerly known as) Non-AQ schools.
So what does this say about the BCS schools topping the list?
Personally, as someone who grew up with season tickets to Camp Randall in Madison, Wisconsin, I'm proud of number two - yet I also understand that Wisconsin is not an elite team with an elite recruiting class every season and a team likely to contend for a national championship. Given my explanation, I wonder if Oklahoma fans would feel the same way.
Somehow, I don't think Sooner fans do. Welcome to the club, Oklahoma. Boomer Sooner.