It’s intuitively obvious to any college football fan that their team’s main rival is the dirtiest, most unsportsmanlike program in the game. But what are the actual facts of the matter? We used a database of play-by-play data generously provided by the MGoBlog Michigan site to answer the question, looking at the last 10 full seasons of games between FBS teams to find which programs had been charged with the least and most personal fouls and unsportsmanlike conduct penalties per game. (Personal fouls are given for unnecessary, dangerous plays like clocking a guy who’s already run out of bounds, while unsportsmanlike conduct penalties are for non-contact infractions like taunting and telling a ref you’re going to murder him. For simplicity’s sake we only counted plays marked “personal foul” or “unsportsmanlike conduct” in the NCAA’s play-by-play info. A few other specific aggressive acts, like roughing the passer, have their own separate designations.)
Check the complete info here or read on for the highlights.
• The four dirtiest teams in this sample were the University of Texas San Antonio, UMass, Idaho, and South Alabama, all of whom made the jump from lower-level football to the FBS at some point in the last decade. This result might make sense to anyone who’s found themselves physically outclassed in competition — sometimes your only recourse is to hack, shove, and elbow and hope the ref doesn’t see it — except that UTSA was actually not bad last year, its first at the FBS level, putting up an 8-4 record. UTSA’s coach, by the way? Larry Coker, late of the University of Miami.
• The most misbehaving team of the last decade in a single season: last year’s UCLA squad, which racked up a remarkable 45 personal fouls and eight unsportsmanlike conducts over the course of 14 games.
• The West Coast is definitely NOT mellow when it comes to football. Seven of these squads — UCLA, Utah, Oregon State, Oregon, Arizona State, USC, and Washington State — are members of the Pac-12. SoCal and the Portland area getting testy!
• In less surprising stereotype news, Texas is all ABOUT violent fouls and trash-talking. Texas Tech, Texas State, Texas, and the aforementioned UTSA all crack the top 20, with Baylor (22), UTEP (28), Texas A&M (29), and TCU (32) just outside the chart. Only 10% of FBS teams are from Texas, but a quarter of the dirtiest 32 teams play there. Meanwhile, only one Texas team (Rice) is on the cleanest-teams chart below.
• The service academies do, in fact, instill discipline. Navy, Army, and Air Force all make the list.
• Nick Saban also instills discipline. Alabama plays a lot cleaner than top-tier SEC rivals like LSU and Florida (though neither of those teams are particularly dirty themselves, falling near the middle of the pack).
• Sorry, Michigan chauvinists: Ohio State actually comes in as the 19th-cleanest team in the NCAA (well, clean on the field), ahead of Michigan. The Wolverines aren’t that much worse, though, finishing 27th, a difference of only 0.05 conduct penalties per game.
• Most-sportsmanlike teams in the sample: 2003 Buffalo and 2005 Arkansas State, with only three conduct penalties on the year each.
• The Midwest lives up to its reputation for politeness. Wisconsin’s the least nasty team of all. B1G fellows Minnesota, Northwestern, and OSU also make the Upstanding Top 20, with Michigan and Iowa in the top 30. The ACC also has four teams among the 20 cleanest.
• There’s a substantial difference between the dirtiest and cleanest programs. The cleanest averaged less than one conduct foul a game, while the dirtiest surpassed two per contest. Averaging an extra 15-yard penalty every game over an entire decade is a significant handicap. Although: