Jun 24 2014

Did Florida State Win National Championship By Using Big Data?

Categories: Rants Dave Rathbun @ 9:53 am

Florida State University won the 2014 college football national championship game this past January in a thrilling come-back victory over upstart Auburn. Did big data help?

It turns out that a few years ago FSU started using GPS devices on their players during practice. Each device collects around 1,000 data points every second. The devices are downloaded and analyzed by a special group of coaches and analysts who report back to the head coach. Right now the team is not allowed to tag players during games, so they only use them during practice. Did they help?

One of the things that always amuses me is how often reports — based on big data or otherwise — reveal something we should already know. Two years ago the FSU coaching staff was getting frustrated with the lack of game-day performance from one of their star receivers. It turns out that because he was so good, the coaches were constantly asking him to run extra routes during practice to demonstrate to the other less experienced receivers on the team. By the time the game day on Saturday arrived, he had run much farther than anyone else, so of course he was tired!

Greene was Florida State’s most refined receiver, so when Fisher would grow agitated with poor routes or dropped balls by other players, he would ask Greene to illustrate the proper form. Again and again, Greene would run a route or catch a pass, and his workload mounted. The GPS device offered clear-cut data that showed Greene was simply doing too much.

After tagging the players with the data collection devices the coaching staff was able to recognize this (duh) and make sure he got the proper rest during the week. The player responded with a career best year last year during the FSU championship run.

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