Football NCAA

College Football Conference Comparison Part 2: Penalties

It was important to include yards per penalty in this comparison because it speaks to "how bad" the penalty was.

In Part 1 of my multi-part series College Football Conference Comparison, I looked at turnovers. This post will look at another measure of mistakes: penalties.

The graphic below is showing the average penalties, penalty yards, and yards per penalty per game per season. The most recent season being the darkest green (2018-2019) and the earliest season being yellow (2000-2001). Additionally, I’ve added the average line across all seasons per conference; basically this is the average of the averages.

In Layman’s terms, every dot shows the average number of penalties, penalty yards, or yards per penalty per game for that given season.


In 2010-2011 the independent schools committed only 4.03 penalties whereas the Pac 10 committed 8.22 penalties in 2000-2001. The best conference on average since 2000-2001 was the independent universities with 5.48 penalties.

It does seem though that the more recent seasons have had less penalties per game than those in the early 2000s. Although, last season Florida State had 9.2 penalties a game, which probably speaks to why they went 5-7.

Penalty Yards:

Like penalties, the independent schools in 2010-2011 committed the least penalty yards. Navy (which was an independent school in the 2010-2011 season) had only 27.6 penalty yards. The Pac 10 had the most penalty yards, but this time it was the 2003-2004 season with 71.17 penalty yards a game. That year, Oregon State and Washington State led the NCAA with 110.2 and 94.6 penalty yards, respectively.

Again, on average the independent schools are the best with 47.02 penalty yards, followed closely by the Big Ten with 48.13 yards.

Yards Per Penalty:

I originally did not include yards per penalty in my analysis, but after some thought I decided it was important to include. It speaks to “how bad” the penalty was. By taking the penalty yards total and dividing it by the number of penalties we can get a measure which helps tell us the story of the penalties. For instance, if a team had an average of 10-12 yards per penalty, this team would be committing more major penalties, but if a team has a 5-8 yard per penalty average that team commits much less severe penalties.

What’s interesting here is the independent schools are not the winners this time even though they led in the other two categories, in fact they are not even in the top 3. On average the SEC was the best with 8.27 yards per penalty, followed by the Big East and the ACC.

The worst in a single season was the Big 10 last year (2018-2019) who had 9.49 yards per penalty. The single season best was the 2012-2013 independent schools and the 2004-2005 Big 12 who both only had 7.96 yards per penalty those seasons.


Penalties: Independent
Penalty Yards: Independent
Yards Per Penalty: SEC

Updated Average Ranking:
1) Big Ten
2) SEC
3) Independent


2 comments on “College Football Conference Comparison Part 2: Penalties

  1. Pingback: College Football Conference Comparison Part 3: Defense – The Commute Sports

  2. Pingback: College Football Conference Comparison Part 4: Offense – The Commute Sports

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