Friday, December 29, 2006

A couple of months ago, Michigan State set an NCAA Division I-A football record for the greatest deficit overcome (35 points), in a game against Northwestern.

Tonight, Texas Tech reeled off an amazing comeback of its own, overcoming a 31-point deficit (38-7) to stun Minnesota 44-41 in overtime in the Tempe, Arizona-based Insight Bowl. The Red Raiders' rally set a bowl record for comebacks.

Interestingly, Michigan State and Texas Tech started their respective comebacks with similar amounts of time remaining. Northwestern scored on MSU to take a 38-3 lead with 9:54 left in the third quarter, whereas Minnesota went up 38-7 over TTU with 7:47 remaining in the third. It really looked like the Gophers had burrowed too deep a hole for the Red Raiders to climb out of.

One possible way to approach the Texas Tech comeback statistically is via the runs test. If we looked at the temporal sequence of the teams' scoring drives (whether for a touchdown or field goal) in regulation, it would look like this (M = Minnesota, T = Texas Tech):


As can be seen from the color scheme, there were four "runs" in the sequence (a run being a stretch of one team scoring points without interruption by the other team). The fewer the runs, the more streakiness is present. I tested the Minnesota-Texas Tech sequence using an online runs-test calculator, typing in 1's instead of M's for Minnesota and 0's instead of T's for Texas Tech.

As explained in this document from North Carolina State University, the runs test determines how many runs would be expected by chance (which can then be compared to the actual number obtained), "given the proportion of the population in each of the two categories and given the sample size..."

In the Minnesota-Texas Tech analysis, there were significantly fewer runs than would be expected by chance (p < .05). One probably does not need a statistical test to be convinced that Texas Tech ended regulation play on a hot streak and Minnesota, on a cold one. Still, if you had never heard of the runs test before tonight, then the saying that, "You learn something every day," holds true, at least for tonight.

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