Win-loss records can be deceptive

Things can’t look much better for the Bear River football team, particularly when you compare it to the train wreck at Nevada Union.

The Bruins are undefeated through four games, and have outscored the opposition 148-40. Impressive numbers, until you factor in the quality of the teams BR has played.

One statistical measure–mine–shows the Bruins have played the weakest schedule to date of any school in the Pioneer Valley League, and is probably the fourth-best team in the league entering today’s games.

Statistics are notoriously unreliable at the high school level, making it next to impossible to perform an advanced statistical analysis and hang a meaningful power number on each team.

But there is one statistic that is accurate–the score–and that’s the basis of the ratings you see below. Point differential correlates well to the performance of a team, particularly when you adjust for the strength of the opponents.

The point differential for Bear River is impressive; the Bruins are winning by an average of 27 points a game. But they have played four teams with a cumulative record of 3-16 that have lost their games by an average of 22.5 points. (I add 100 to the adjusted differential to make the numbers easier to work with.)

Here are numbers for all six teams in the league for games through Sept. 27:

Lincoln: 135.0
Center: 122.0
Colfax: 118.8
Bear River: 104.5
Placer: 101.8
Foothill: 72.7

Are these ratings the Holy Grail? Of course not. Point differential is just the start of a thorough analysis and there will be plenty of upsets–after all, these are high school kids. But these ratings have more validity than the subjective judgment of sports writers who can go all season without seeing every team in the league.

I’ll be updating these numbers every week through the end of the season, and use them to predict the winners of league games. I’ve never tested this at the high school level, so I’m interested in seeing how accurate the numbers are.

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