The website PredictionMachine.com recently took a stab at quantifying the home field advantage for each Division I-A college football program. When you think of programs with strong home field advantage, your first thought probably isn't the Boston College Eagles playing in 44,500-seat Alumni Stadium now is it?
When generating the point spreads for games, linemakers use statistics and metrics with the location and recent history as inputs.
Remember that homefield advantage compares past performance against expected scores at home AND on the road to quantify the value of playing at home. The advantage a team gains at home (relative to opponent) is applied in the opposite direction on the road (data independence is treated similarly for inputs).
Typically, three points is the point spread advantage given to the home team (the average is actually closer to 3.8 at the moment). That means if two teams are identical, neither team would be favored on a neutral field, while the home team would be favored by about three if the game was played at one of the team's stadium. The total swing is roughly six points, but there is a high degree of variability in the actual advantage given the home team.
Here's how Boston College stacked up against the rest of the ACC in terms of the relative strength of its home field (as ranked by expected points home field adds based on data).
11 - Clemson Tigers
28 - Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets
29 - North Carolina Tar Heels
49 - N.C. State Wolfpack
57 - Maryland Terrapins
64 - Virginia Cavaliers
81 - Syracuse Orange
83 - Miami Hurricanes
85 - Pittsburgh Panthers
91 - Wake Forest Demon Deacons
94 - Boston College Eagles
107 - Virginia Tech Hokies
116 - Duke Blue Devils
119 - Florida St. Seminoles
It probably doesn't come as much of a shock to see Boston College ranked towards the bottom of this list. But the fact that Virginia Tech and Florida State fall so low on this list should. Confused yet? Here's the explanation:
However, it's not necessarily a good thing to top this list. In fact, the best teams should be closer to the bottom than the top because they should be more consistent, dominate regularly and not be subject to the large swings in performance that is seen in other teams (making them more like professional teams - Alabama is 106th). While traditionally elite FBS teams should not fare well in this exercise, the same can be said (and noted in the chart) about teams that are traditionally really bad. Where homefield means most is with the next tier of teams behind the absolute elite - mostly BCS conference teams that can usually compete for conference titles, but who do not have four star recruits filling the two-deep and are not always legitimate BCS Championship contenders. That's when the raw value of home field matters most; when the talent is strong but not elite and players are more susceptible to the impact of crowd noise, tradition and atmosphere.
This explanation seems to explain why Virginia Tech, Florida State and Duke rank low on this list; the former two are typically dominant home or away while the latter is traditionally really bad. I think Boston College falls somewhere in the middle on that spectrum of Duke to Virginia Tech.
I do think BC enjoys a significant home field advantage playing in Alumni Stadium (when fans show up). Given the unique playing surface (one of the few ACC programs that play on turf), the weather during the second half of the year (especially when hosting southern-based ACC programs) and the stadium configuration (and aluminum benches) which helps to keep sound in, there seems to be some advantage to playing at Alumni. However, last season aside, BC has been one of the most consistent programs in the Big East and now the ACC going back to 2000 (the starting point for the analysis). So while not a traditionally elite program, I can see where the Eagles home field advantage would be ranked lower than other programs in the conference given the consistency angle.