Gary Doran

The Newest Football Analytics: Mascot Metrics


College football fans love their team mascots, which can be a source of pride, enjoyment and even inspiration for them; however, mascots are an under-appreciated and misunderstood commodity in college sports.  Sure, everybody knows you can see one here or there on an ESPN commercial as a prop, but did you know that mascots can provide useful information in as little as 15 minutes?  That’s right; those crazy characters with funny names just might be the next big thing in football analytics: Mascot Metrics.

We at The Devils Den feel the possibilities that Mascot Metrics offer is just too big to ignore, and the area needs to be thoroughly researched.  Think about it: do you know if ASU does better against a team with a mascot that represents an animal or one that represents a warrior long past?  How about a team whose mascot dwells on land compared to one that is associated with the water, or a team with a dangerous animal mascot vs. a not-so-dangerous animal mascot team?  This is the type of information that just might come in handy when taking a betting line seriously, or even for the athletic administrations in deciding to schedule a future game with a new school.

With an eye to Mascot Metrics, the Devils Den staff went back and looked up all the ASU football games played thus far in the 21st century through last year to see how well the Sun Devils have matched up against different kinds of team mascots.  The results might be something ASU’s Athletic Director Ray Anderson, would want to have on his desk when he places a call to that other school to negotiate a future game.  Who knows, he may even want to have Sparky in his office with him during the call for consultation.

The Many Mascots

In the 14 years of college football contests so far this century, ASU has played a total of 175 games, winning 54.3% of them.  In that time, the Sun Devils have faced flying mascots (Owls and Jayhawks), animal mascots (Bears and Wildcats), mascots representing warriors from long ago (Trojans and Aztecs), water-related mascots, (Beavers and Vikings) and even a color (the Cardinal).   Some of those mascots’ teams have been easier to beat than others.  Here is our look at how the Sun Devils have fared against different types of school mascots so far this century as we present: the study of Mascot Metrics.

Animal-Related vs. Human-Related

Over half of the games the Sun Devils have played so far this century have been against teams represented by an animal mascot, such as a wildcat or a bulldog (53.7 percent).  Our analysis shows that ASU does slightly better against human-related mascots, such as a ragin’ Cajun’ or a lumberjack compared to an animal-related mascot by winning 59.6 percent of the games against human-related mascot teams, and 57.4 percent against the animal-related mascots.  Additionally, the Devils did extremely well playing against teams whose mascots represented a human endeavor, lifestyle or tribe, such as a Boilermaker or an Aggie.   ASU won a whopping 76.5 percent of the games against these types of mascot teams, winning 13 out of 17 games.

With such good results, it is too bad that only about ten percent of the games have been against teams with these types of mascots.  This probably means ASU should, if possible, schedule more teams whose mascots fall into this category. Is there a school out there with mascots known as the “grumpy bankers”, or maybe the “experienced welders”?  If so, history (and Mascot Metrics) tells us that we have a good chance to dominate those games.

One if by Land and two if by Sea, (Water)

Since ASU is located in the middle of a desert, where water is somewhat scarce, it seemed only natural to take a closer look at how well the Sun Devils did against water-related mascot teams, such as ducks or Vikings.  During the 21st Century, the Devils only played about one-out-of-seven of their games against water-related mascot teams, but it was a good thing they played so few games, because ASU didn’t do very well against teams whose mascots exist in and around the water in only winning 38.5 percent of the games with this group.  The water-related mascot teams were the third toughest mascot team group against the Devils.

With such poor historical results, ASU should be careful in scheduling teams with this type of mascot.  Since this was before Mascot Metrics, it is probable that most ASU fans didn’t truly realize the greater risks the Devils faced when they played the Midshipmen in the 2012 Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl.  ASU was not only fighting against a decent Navy team, but its own history, where the odds were stacked against them.  Add to that, the game was played in the Bay area surrounded by water.  It’s a wonder that the Devils came out on top.

Dogs vs. Cats

Even though far more ASU games have been described as a dog fight, as compared to being called a cat fight, the Devils have played almost three times as many games against cat-related mascot teams, such as the cougars or the wildcats, compared to games vs. teams with mascots representing the dog family, such as the huskies or the bulldogs (34 to 13 games).  Even with the disparity of games, ASU wins at pretty much the same rate whether it’s a cat or a dog-type mascot, 67.6 percent to 69.2 percent, with the Devils coming out on top a little bit more often against those dog-related mascot teams.

In either case, it appears to be a good idea to continue scheduling one or both of these types of animal mascot teams, since ASU is winning at almost a 70% clip with both groups.  For all the die-hard Devil fans, yes, this does include those so-called felines from down in Tucson in the cat-related group.   They’re in one of the groups getting dominated!

Dangerous vs. Not-so-Dangerous Mascots:

ASU played 83 games against life–threatening mascot teams, such as the cougars and the tigers, and 92 games against non-dangerous mascot teams, such as the hornets and the beavers, although those hornet stings can be pretty scary! Based on the results, it appears that ASU has more trouble with the more dangerous mascots, winning just barely over half the games at 50.6 percent with this group, and 57.6 percent of the games with the not-so-dangerous mascot teams.

The results are totally understandable since it is logical to believe that more caution needs to be extended when dealing with a tiger-related team compared to a team represented by a hornet.  Think about it, how much time and effort would be expended in planning for a possible hornet’s sting compared to the strategy involved in planning for an encounter with a tiger on the prowl. Probably there would be even more planning for a night game against the likes of a tiger.

For the Birds

ASU has only played about ten percent of its games this century against bird-related mascot teams with very poor results.  This mascot-related group has been the toughest on the Devils, where ASU loses roughly two-out-of-every-three games to the teams represented by bird-related mascots.   What is so surprising about this is the fact that ASU averaged more than 30 points per game against this group of teams.  The problem has been that at the same time it scored all those points, it also gave up the most average points per game to this bird family group compared to any of the other categorized groups, 31.5 points.

The scoring results seem to be understandable though since ASU should do much better against bird-related teams on the ground, but would probably really struggle with them defensively through the air.  The thought is that the Devils just can’t compete with the experience these teams seem to have in the air.  Additionally, the bird-related teams seem to come into their games soaring a little bit higher than their opponents.

An Uninspiring Color

ASU did indeed play 13 games this century against a team represented by a mascot that was a color, with very lackluster results, winning only 38.5 percent of the games.  It’s hard to determine why the results have been so poor against a team willing to let its mascot be a color.  The poor results could be because the color itself fails to stir any emotion in ASU on game day. Face it, we’ve all felt the blahs with certain colors, right?

Maybe trying a new color may help the results.  The Devils just might do better against a team with the mascot of the color teal or taupe.  Both of those are cooler colors and a contrast from the all-too-familiar reds that can be associated with the deserts of Arizona.  Of course, there is always a hope that Stanford will pick a better or more tangible mascot image to represent its team (contrary to popular belief, the Stanford Tree is not the official mascot, but a representative of the Stanford band).  In the meantime, ASU will continue to struggle with a team whose color mascot just plain fails to inspire them.

Mascot Metrics in a Nutshell

There you have it, Mascot Metrics: a team’s mascot seems to make a difference in the final outcome of the games ASU has played so far this century, or so it would seem.  The Devils appear to play better against certain types of mascot teams than they do others, and understanding this could be a big help in predicting how well ASU would do against an opponent.  It could also be a consideration that an Athletic Director takes into account when scheduling a new opponent.  Who knew that Sparky possessed so much football power?


Mascot Metric Tip of the Day:  If ASU is playing a team whose mascot lives near the water, take the points!

About Gary Doran

Gary Doran

Gary graduated from ASU many years ago. After careers working in banking, finance and the financial administration of academic research funding, he is now interested in utilizing his passion for numbers towards two things he thoroughly loves; Arizona State University and college football. He is looking forward to finding the “stories” buried within the numbers on a football stat sheet. He has gone to ASU football games all the way back to the days of Frank Kush and the WAC. He has been married to an amazing ASU graduate for almost forty years, and they currently live in Ventura, CA. Although this may disqualify him from talking football, he and his wife enjoy the practice of yoga and dancing the Argentine Tango. Ole!

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