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Yellow Flag Wavin': Know Your Team's Penalty Attitude

Note: The names of these categories and the statistical data led to some teams being placed in LOLarious categories compared to their overall football reputations. "Nick $atan and Alabama ain't that clean, PAAWWWWLLLL!" is a perfectly acceptable response to these sorts of contradictions. Because stats are blind, descriptions of how these teams play are also a bit touch and go.

In a sports statistics world further and further geared towards the concept of efficiency, I've wondered for a while why no one really took the time to get into some hot 'yards per penalty' action. Like, one 15 yard penalty and three 5 yard penalties are are identical statistically (in terms of yardage), but are different functionally (some notable differences: three 5 yard penalties means more free plays or dead ball fouls, whereas a 15 yard penalty is usually much more violent and is usually a free 1st down no matter what the down and distance). And sort of like Yards Per Carry or Yards Per Attempt, the average yardage differences can be much less impressive sounding than the total yardage differences to the layperson's ear. Or, maybe no one gives a crap. But now you must suffer in a efficient-less penalty world no longer. Now in four easy categories, you too can find your team's place in this yellow flagged life. All teams are from the 2011-2012 season

The 'Innocents'

These teams hardly ever commit penalties, and when they do, they mostly stick to ticky tack, 5 or 10 yard stuff. Penalties give free yardage, and, in some cases, free plays (QBs can use a defensive off-sides to throw a deep ball without worrying about it getting picked off). These teams are much too polite to try too many of the game's unsporting tricks, and would much prefer to keep those yellow flags nice and clean in the ref's pocket.

Or, maybe they are just bribing referees.

Examples- North Carolina (4.6 penalties per game, 33.8 penalty yards per game, 7.3 yards per penalty), Alabama (3.8 penalties per game, 28.4 penalty yards per game, 7.5 yards per penalty), Kansas State (4.7 penalties per game, 35.8 penalty yards per game, 7.6 yards per penalty), Ball State (4.5 penalties per game, 35.5 penalty yards per game, 7.9 yards per penalty), Iowa (4.8 penalties per game, 35.6 penalty yards per game, 7.4 yards per penalty)

The other three categories, and the Big Ten team's placements, after the jump...

The 'Bad Boys'

These guys get whistled for a billion penalties and will commit a 15 yard penalty whenever they feel like it, because what are YOU gonna do about it? Penalty yardage will always stay the same, while their ability to frustrate and disrupt your normal offense more than makes up for the free yardage.The other team will have to earn every inch, and hey, the refs can't call EVERYTHING right?

Or, maybe they are just terribly undisciplined.

Examples- Arizona State (8 penalties per game, 79.8 penalty yards per game, 10 yards per penalty. Vontaze Burfict ladies and gentlemen!), Oregon, (7.2 penalties per game, 65 penalty yards, 9.0 yards per penalty), Cal (7.5 penalties per game, 72.4 penalty yards per game, 9.7 yards per penalty), Texas A&M (7 penalties per game, 65.8 penalty yards per game, 9.4 yards per penalty) Indiana (6.9 penalties per game, 64.7 penalty yards per game, 9.4 yards per penalty)

The 'Small Timers'

These guys will commit a ton of small fouls and test the refs willingness to enforce the rules, (off-sides, false start, holding) but stay away from bigger personal fouls or automatic first downs. This approach still adds up to a good amount of penalty yardage, but it's given out in smaller chunks across more plays. Committing so many small fouls can make refs eventually start missing or ignoring your penalties. After all, it's just a little false start.

Or, maybe their linemen just can't time the snap right on either side of the ball.

Examples: Florida (7.7 penalties per game, 59.5 penalty yards per game, 7.7 yards per penalty), Rutgers (6.8 penalties per game44.7 penalty yards per game, 6.6 yards per penalty), New Mexico (6.8 penalties per game, 48.5 penalty yards per game, 7.1 yards per penalty), Iowa State (6.8 penalties per game, 52.3 penalty yards per game, 7.7 yards per penalty) Michigan State (6.8 penalties per game, 55.4 penalty yards per game, 8.1 yards per penalty)

'The 'Professional Foulers'

In for a penny, in for a pound. Like a soccer defender hauling down a forward heading towards an open net, these teams are willing to commit a big penalty to stop a bigger play. Their linemen will hold you to keep you from blindsiding the QB, their defensive backs will interfere with receivers about to beat them over the top. They rarely will get assessed penalties, and will commit less of what they see as 'unnecessary' small fouls, preferring to save up their 'bad play allowance' for just a few plays, when they can hopefully negate a big gain for your team.

Or, maybe they just pick random times to act really stupid, just for funsies.

Examples- San Jose State (3.3 penalties per game, 31.5 penalty yards per game, 9.9 yards per penalty), Central Michigan (4.7 penalties per game, 46.7 penalty yards per game, 9.9 yards per penalty), Clemson (4.4 penalties per game, 40.1 penalty yards per game, 9.1 yards per penalty), Oklahoma (4.9 penalties per game, 44.8 penalty yards per game, 9.1 yards per penalty), Northwestern (4.3 penalties per game, 37.8 penalty yards per game, 8.8 yards per penalty)

Big Ten penalty numbers from 2011-2012:

Team Penalties per game Penalty yards per game Yards per penalty
Iowa 4.8 35.6 7.4
Nebraska 6.6 52.9 8.0
Wisconsin 4.8 38.9 8.1
Purdue 7.4 60.2 8.1
Michigan State 6.8 55.4 8.1
Ohio State 5.4 44 8.1
Michigan 4.1 35.2 8.6
Illinois 4.9 42.2 8.6
Minnesota 5.7 49.4 8.7
Penn State 5 43.5 8.7
Northwestern 4.3 37.8 8.8
Indiana 6.9 64.7 9.4

Innocents- Iowa, Wisconsin, Ohio State

Bad Boys- Indiana, Purdue

Small Timers- Michigan State, Minnesota, Nebraska

Professional Foulers- Northwestern, Michigan, Penn State, Illinois

That seems like a pretty good breakdown to me. I could understand arguments to swap Purdue and MSU, or leave Indiana by itself, or move OSU etc. The smaller set of teams you get, the less difference there is between them, and the smaller chance you have of seeing perfect fits into these categories. Maybe I need one more category for 'Average Joes' or something. Anyways, here's to giving your team's stupidest mistakes some time in the limelight!