'Staturdays': Brothers analyze data behind college football in weekly podcast

Jessica Hallman
October 16, 2020

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — With the return of Penn State football this weekend, two brothers are poised and ready to help fans learn more about the science behind the game.

Drew Bennison, a senior in data sciences in the College of Information Sciences and Technology; and his brother Kyle, who earned a bachelor’s degree in marketing through the Smeal College of Business in 2018, co-founded and co-host Staturdays, a weekly podcast focused on the data behind college football. The podcast blends the siblings’ passion for data analysis, writing and sports through a unique weekly family reunion.

“During my freshman year, we decided that we should do a podcast and talk about college football stats and the analytics side of things,” said Drew. “If nothing else, it would be a way for us to talk every week about something we would talk about anyway.”

Every Tuesday, the brothers connect via Skype – Drew from University Park and Kyle from Hopewell, New Jersey — to record their weekly podcast, which airs the following day. They discuss everything related to statistics in college football, from the best and worst teams at achieving first downs, win probabilities, predictions for playoff rankings and whether data says it’s better to pass or run the ball. Simply put, they aim to visualize college football data in a user-friendly way.

"...You can learn something new about Penn State football, and college football in general, that will have you watching and thinking about the games differently on Saturdays."

— Kyle Bennison, 2018 marketing alumnus, Smeal College of Business

“(Through the podcast) you can learn something new about Penn State football, and college football in general, that will have you watching and thinking about the games differently on Saturdays,” said Kyle.

Building a brand

With a growing interest in sports analytics, the brothers attended several conferences on the topic over the past few years, where they heard from many influential speakers including John Urschel — a former Penn State football player who taught integral vector calculus, trigonometry and analytic geometry and introduction to econometrics while a undergraduate student at Penn State. Urschel is now pursuing a doctorate in mathematics from Massachusetts Institute of Technology after playing in the NFL for three years, and serves as an advanced stats columnist for The Player's Tribune.

These experiences piqued the Bennison’s interest in sports analytics even more.

“There wasn’t a huge niche for college football stats at the time, compared to the NFL or other pro sports leagues, so it seemed like the perfect place to make our start,” said Kyle. “Plus, we thought of the perfect name and had to use it.”

Drew had registered the domain name Staturdays.com while still in high school, a WordPress site on which he wrote sporadic articles about stats and analytics. A sports enthusiast, he had previously launched a similar website, thesingleseater.com, to analyze the statistics of Indy Car racing.

“I didn’t have any programming experience,” Drew recalled. “So all the questions I was answering were pretty small data problems, things that I could do in Excel. And I was just blown away with the feedback I got from people in the IndyCar community on Twitter.”

So Drew kept it going and, after getting a few college classes under his belt where he learned Python and other programming basics, he was able to analyze and write about an increasing number of topics. That experience, he said, naturally led into Staturdays.

It was then Kyle’s idea to turn Staturdays into a podcast, which launched in October 2018.

“I think the idea came from me nearing graduation and still wanting to talk college football with Drew at school every week,” said Kyle. “So early on into the 2018 Penn State season, we figured out the podcasting thing and started recording our conversations.”

They’ve since built a social media presence, invited guest co-hosts, and have kept Staturdays going on a weekly basis — even in the offseason.

“The show has grown so much into a fully-produced and engaging show available on more platforms,” said Kyle.

The Penn State connection

Each brother draws on his own Penn State education to deliver the podcast each week. Kyle co-hosts and produces the weekly podcast and Facebook Live show, as well as writes articles for Staturdays.com and manages the Twitter account. Drew serves as the other co-host while focusing on the stats and analysis. He also takes on much of the coding, although he notes that Kyle has self-teaching himself the programming language R and has picked up many skills.

“I feel like we wouldn’t be able to do a lot of what we do without what I’ve learned at IST,” said Drew. “All of the work we do for Staturdays is mostly written in R. Without the base understanding (I had), we would have been behind from the start.”

Kyle has been witness to Drew’s growth in programming over the years, which has only served to strengthen the podcast.

“I remember when Drew was in high school he would call me in to his room to have me type my age into his computer, and it would return ‘You are three years older than Drew,’” said Kyle. “And I remember how excited he was about accomplishing that small feat.”

He added, “And to think that now he can give me the probability of Penn State going undefeated and build a web app to update that probability weekly is amazing.”

Problem-based learning emphasized at the College of IST has helped Drew in his role with Staturdays.

“In a lot of my classes we are taught to plan out where you want to go with a project and what you need to get, whether it’s data or other resources, to start solving a problem,” he said. “And that comes up a lot when we have new challenges or problems that we want to solve on the podcast or website. We need a roadmap of where to start before we get there.”

Across campus, Kyle gained knowledge on content marketing in a digital communications class in Smeal while he was a student.

“We learned how you can build an entire brand on creating great and compelling content, and by building a site that engages users and shows them exactly what they’re searching for,” he said. “That’s what we try to do with our podcasts and articles: we want to make them interesting and build a community of college football fans who want to learn more about the stats behind the game.”

Data-driven discussions

The brothers work hard to ensure that each podcast delivers the most compelling content to the average listener.

“Our tagline is ‘college football stats for the common fan’ because it can be very confusing to read what most people are writing about analytics,” said Drew. “But if you’re coming at it from more of a fan perspective, you might be very overwhelmed with all the numbers and all the research that’s out there and feel like you can’t catch up.”

"We created this fairly short podcast that introduces the stats, and hopefully it enhances the fan viewing experience. Because for us, that’s exactly what it did.”

— Drew Bennison, senior, data sciences, College of Information Sciences and Technology

He added, “So we created this fairly short podcast that introduces the stats, and hopefully it enhances the fan viewing experience. Because for us, that’s exactly what it did.”

Kyle and Drew draw inspiration from sports teams that employ analytics experts on their staffs, who help the teams make the best possible decisions.

“One thing traditional sports analytics (question) is going for it on fourth down,” said Drew. “Twenty years ago, teams rarely went for fourth down conversions. And now they’re doing the math a little bit more and saying ‘hey, it’s actually going to result in more points for us if we do go for it.’ ”

While the brothers have fun digging deep into the statistics and making predictions, their larger goal is to share that knowledge with anyone with an interest in college football to give them a different perspective on the game.

“What we’re really trying to do is not be the people that are just overbearing with the stats, but rather we want to make it accessible to everyone,” said Drew. “We think it really enhances the fan experience if you can know these things and track them for yourself.”

Last Updated October 22, 2020