What are the difference-making statistics of the best FCS teams

Win the turnover battle and win the game.

It’s an adage in football that’s so true – and an important part of coaching language – but perhaps it’s too simplistic because football isn’t exactly a simple sport.

Turnover margin has proven to be an excellent barometer for determining wins and losses, but many other metrics reflect a team’s success.

As teams continue their offseason preparation for the 2024 college football season, we look at the winning traits of some of last year’s top FCS teams.

To do this, we analyzed the top-10 teams in the latest 2023 Stats Perform FCS Top 25 Poll – No. 1 national champion South Dakota State, followed by national runner-up Montana (2), North Dakota State (3) , South Dakota (4), UAlbany (5), Villanova (6), Furman (7), Idaho (8), Montana State (9) and Delaware (10) – to see what they had in common.

We looked at 44 statistical categories on both the offensive and defensive sides of the ball to see how often the 10 teams (out of 128 total) ranked in the top 25 (the top 20%) of the FCS statistical rankings the NCAA have ended.

To emphasize the original point, five of the ten teams finished in the top 25 in turnover margin – a good percentage, but not necessarily incredible. Villanova and Idaho actually had negative turnover margins despite being among the top FCS teams.

So yes, there were many other ways for each top-10 team to have its successful season.


Of the 89 metrics, including turnover margin – considered separately because it is a mix of offense and defense – at least five of the 10 teams finished in the top 25 37 times.

Some of the statistical category results were the result of teams playing more games via deep playoff runs. The top eight teams in the final Top 25 poll advanced to at least the FCS football quarterfinals, while Montana State and Delaware lost in the round of 16 to a semifinalist (North Dakota State) and a finalist (Montana), respectively ).


Stats where at least five of the top 10 teams in the 2023 Stats Perform FCS Top 25 Poll finals finished in the top 25 nationally:

9 teams – Rushes, first downs

8 teams – Rushing TDs, Scrimmage Yards, Scrimmage TDs, Total TDs, Points

7 teams – Rushing yards, offensive touches, total return touchdowns, third-down conversions

6 teams – Passing Yards, Passing Yards per attempt (see chart for importance), Quarterback Rating, Passing TD percentage, Scrimmage Yards per touch, Scrimmage Yards per game, Third down attempts, Third down conversion rate, Points per game

5 teams – TD pass-to-interception ratio, long rushing, rushing yards per play, time of possession


Stats where at least five of the top 10 teams in the 2023 Stats Perform FCS Top 25 Poll finals finished in the top 25 nationally:

8 teams – Interceptions Gained (see chart for importance), Scrimmage Yards Per Game

7 teams – Points per game, sacks

6 teams – Sack yards, third-down conversion rate, turnovers gained, rushing yards per play

5 teams – Passing yards per play, passing TD percentage, rushing touchdowns, yards per touch


Quite simply, the defense still wins championships – yes, proverbs are usually correct – and is certainly indicative of how opponents struggled to move the ball (eight times in the top 25 scrimmage yards allowed per game) and score (eight times in the top 25 scrimmage yards allowed per game) seven in the top 25 in points allowed). per match) against the top 10 teams.

Offensively, converting third downs and keeping the offense on the field stand out with six top-25 finishes. South Dakota State, which posted the second-best record in an FCS season, ranked No. 1 with a 53.5% third down percentage and went on to win a second consecutive national title. By comparison, Georgia also won its second consecutive national title while leading the FBS with the third-lowest conversion rate.

Of the 37 common statistics between the top-10 best FCS teams, SDSU had a top-25 national ranking in all but two teams. North Dakota State was close behind with 34 top-25 finishes, and Montana was third with 27.

(For more information, find the FCS’ returning national individual statistical leaders here)

Josiah Sukumaran of Stats Perform’s US Data Insights conducted research for this story.

Do you like FCS football coverage? follow us on XFacebook and Instagram for more.