So you want to build a winning football program. Great. You'll probably want to put in one of those high octane air it out offenses. The kids love that stuff. Maybe you can translate all your passing acumen into wins. Hopefully.
Statistically we know that wining, while involving a number of variables, comes down to controlling the line of scrimmage and by doing so, the ability to run the football and stop the run. Control the ground and you have increased your chances of winning.
We can measure overall run success by looking at two statistics, yards per rush offensively and yards allowed per rush defensively. If we take the national average (4.29) and look at who rushes for more yards than that national average and conversely, who limits opponents to less than the national average (4.52) defensively, the results are revealing. Add those two numbers and we get a net positive or negative in terms rushing success or overall run success.
Teams that are a net positive when compared to the national average in rushing football and stopping the rush win 67% of their games. If a team is a net negative in those combined categories their win percentage drops to 39%.
If you take the top 10 teams in overall rush success, they've average 7.2 wins so far in 2016 vs. 1.6 losses. See if these names sound familiar, Alabama, Louisville, Michigan, Ohio State, and Washington - they're all in the top 10. 8-1 San Diego State ranks in the top 10 at number 5, as is 7-3 Louisiana Tech and 5-4 TCU. Wait, 5-4 TCU's in the top 10. Yep. Statistics are funny things. If anything TCU's overall run success is a pretty good prognosticator or their remaining three games.
Let's look at the rest of the Texas FBS.
TCU, Texas A&M, Baylor, Houston and Texas are all in the positive in terms of overall run success. They also have a combined 30-14 record or 68% win percentage. A&M's dedication to the run game will be tested with the loss of Trevor Knight. The Aggies are really good at running the ball, almost a yard and a half better than the national average, which makes up for a negative rush yards allowed of -0.13. If the Aggies yards per rush goes down, these last three games, could be an adventure.
Texas has the best running back in college football and rush defense that's just good enough to have a net positive in defending the run. They've taken off because of their ability to control the line of scrimmage. A hallmark of Tom Herman's tenure at Houston has been their ability to stop the run, 2016 has been another success. Houston is second in the NCAA in yards allowed per rush right behind Alabama. Meanwhile Baylor's yards allowed per rush is just barely over the positive threshold but their yards per rush offensively is almost a full yard beyond national average.
On the negative end of things are UTSA, SMU, UTEP, North Texas, Rice, Texas Tech, and Texas State. UTSA's overall rush success is a bit misleading and certainly trending up, the Roadrunners had a net negative rushing game against Colorado State in week two, since then, they've been above average in four of six games. SMU's defense has been above national average in yards per rush, a bit of a surprise and below in yards allowed. SMU's offensive yards per rush would be better if dual threat Matt Davis had stayed healthy.
UTEP is an interesting study, they're a physical, net positive yards per rush offense but on defense the Miners allow almost a full yard more than national average. North Texas is Jeckyl and Hyde offensively running the ball, it's the biggest determining factor in their ability to win. The Mean Green average 5.4 yards in wins and 2.16 yards in losses.
Rice and Texas State have been bad at stopping the run all year. The Owls best run output in terms of average was actually against Baylor in week two. Better than they were able to produce against FCS squad Prairie View. Texas State has struggled on both sides of the ball when it comes to the run. The Bobcats average 2.21 yards less than national average rushing the ball.
Texas Tech is a bit surprising in terms of rushing futility. The Red Raiders give up a yard and a half more than national average and have almost the deficit in terms of yards per rush. Kingsbury has been on record saying that he isn't concerned about the run game, maybe he should be.
All told Texas FBS teams that are a net negative in overall rush success are 23-39 or a 37% winning percentage.
College football will always be a line of scrimmage league and in spite of all the spread proliferation across the landscape, rushing the football and stopping the rush is still the key to winning football.