Return to Glory

10/12/2009 § Leave a comment

So far this season, 45 teams have returned either a kickoff or punt for a touchdown.  Among these 45 teams are eight of the current AP Top 10, eleven of the Top 15, and thirteen of the Top 20.  Combined, the 45 teams have a record of 156-95 (62.2%).

When we take out teams that only have a single return touchdown, we are left with 13 teams.  These 13 teams are a combined 53-21 (71.6%) and include three of the Top 4, four of the top 10, and six of the Top 20.  Narrowing the field a little further to just teams that have at least one kick and one punt return touchdown, we get a group of 9 teams that are 37-13 (74%) and lose only #19 Georgia Tech from our group of ranked teams.

Looking back to last year, the overall numbers are not as high, but all teams with at least one return touchdown averaged winning 57% of their games, with number just slightly higher for teams with multiple return TDs and those with at least one of each.  More intriguing though is the fact that the group of 74 teams includes 20 of the final AP Top 25, and four of the absent five were #’s 22-25.  Of the Final AP Top 10, five had multiple return TDs, but only two of those were in the Top 5.

Not satisfied?  What if I told you that returning punts for TDs might be better than returning kickoffs?  So far this year, teams have returned a virtually even 34 punts and 33 kickoffs for TDs.  However, of the 13 ranked teams who have return TDs, only one (Ohio State) has more kickoff returns than punt returns (and that margin is 1-0).  Three (Florida, Cincinnati, and Oregon) have exactly one of each.  The remaining nine have more punt return TDs than kickoff return TDs.

In the entire group of 45 teams, those with more punt return TDs are a combined 87-35 (71.3%), while those with more kickoff return TDs are 54-54 (50%).  Last year, only three of the Top 10 teams had more kickoff return TDs than punt return TDs.  Of the 20 ranked teams with at least one return TD, 10 had more punt returns, 6 were even, and 4 had more kickoff returns.

So, the only question left is why?  While big plays always have a noticeable emotional impact on both the players and the crowd, return touchdowns are possibly the most exciting plays in football.  They often change the momentum of the game in a matter of seconds and it’s not surprising that teams that are able to score this way on multiple occasions tend to win a lot of games.

Personally, I think the reason that punt return TDs have a stronger correlation to winning than kickoff return TDs is because of why those two things happen.  There are two reasons for a kickoff: the beginning of a half or following a score.  If your team returns the opening kick for a TD, that momentum swing will fade long before the game is over.  Similarly, if your teams returns the second-half kick for a TD, it could be huge, but it’s just as possible that you’re already down too many points for it to matter.  If the kickoff TD follows a score by the other team, then its impact is already diminished, since it is at best a 4 point swing.

Punts, on the other hand, are a sign of failure on the part of your opponent.  They are punting because their drive stalled and are already disappointed.  Add a sudden score (always at least a 6-point scoring swing) on top of that and they are now deflated, especially if they were already behind or if the game was close.

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