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Processing the Numbers, Week 12 | CLANGA

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Round 2 of the gauntlet is upon us. Stakes are small potatoes though - just the SEC title and a spot in the playoff, no big deal.

Stacy Revere

All statistics are courtesy of Football Outsiders, home of the F/+ Combined Ratings for college football.
The Fremeau Efficiency Index (FEI) was created by Brian Fremeau; check out his website BCFToys for other goodies.
The S&P+ rating was created by Bill Connelly; check out his college football analytics blog, Football Study Hall.
Hat tips to Addicted to Quack's kalon and FO's 7th Day Adventure column for the inspiration.

So, how’d last week go?

There’s a saying you’re probably all familiar with that goes a little something like "a broken clock is right twice a day". This old saw has a wide range of applications, one of which is to describe how blustery, two-bit hacks like myself manage to nail a prediction every now and again. You might recall I said the LSU game was going to essentially be a tossup, and hopefully not one that hinged on a field goal. Well, the game went to overtime because Adam Griffith shanked a chip shot1, so I’m going to go ahead and take my victory lap now. Maybe more of a victory trot, I’m kind of like this guy when it comes to running2:

1 | He later redeemed himself by doing his job and hitting a field goal of reasonable length to send it to OT. Yes, I know he’s injured.

2 | This whole paragraph was just an excuse to use this gif, which is phenomenal.

In and amongst all of that was a comeback for the ages, arguably greater than the 1998 and eerily similar 2012 version3 in this series. 1998 was your typical 3 minute TD-onside-TD cycle that was capped with a game sealing interception to steal one away in Baton Rouge. 2012, of course, saw AJ McCarron break out of the doldrums to lead a listless Tide on a 6 play, 72 yard drive, no timeouts, minute-and-a-half remaining, and the LSU secondary still smarting from a sobering dose of Norwood.

3 | I’m sure there are others, but my knowledge of LSU history doesn’t go back too far.

This one, though? Crazy. 50 seconds left, no timeouts, off a totally backbreaking series of events stemming from T.J. Yeldon’s unfortunate fumble. Not only did the Tide knot it up, but they knocked off LSU at night in Baton Rouge (something that’s pretty rare in itself) in overtime. I don’t know about yall, but I certainly enjoyed it.

Lastly — it’s going to be rather intriguing to see what happens with this series after Miles and Saban move along in a few years. Tennessee keeps wanting to be resurgent, but the dirty secret is they’ve been largely irrelevant for a good 15 years now, and not because the NCAA made them irrelevant. The vitriol will always be there, but the competition just hasn’t been as of late, and I’m wondering if they’ll ever reach where they were in the 90s again. College football is cyclical and all, but it seems to me that LSU has supplanted them as the Tide’s other rival. No disrespect to Joshua Dobbs, but Peyton’s not walking through that door anytime soon, and as much as I’d like for it to be otherwise, the Hat is firmly entrenched in Louisiana.

The Goods

Overall Quality
F/+ 35.2% (1) F/+ 32.5% (6) ALABAMA
FEI 0.282 (2) FEI 0.231 (8) ALABAMA
S&P+ 268.7 (1) S&P+ 254.9 (3) ALABAMA
Spread -8 Spread +8 ALABAMA

The Matchup on Offense
OF/+ 17.2% (6) DF/+ 17.9% (6) PUSH
OFEI 0.547 (12) DFEI -0.640 (7) CLANGA
OS&P+ 130 (4) DS&P+ 127.2 (6) ALABAMA
Rush OS&P+ 124.6 (22) Rush DS&P+ 133.7 (9) CLANGA
Pass OS&P+ 157.1 (3) Pass DS&P+ 123.9 (20) ALABAMA
SD OS&P+ 135 (3) SD DS&P+ 121.6 (12) ALABAMA
PD OS&P+ 138.6 (14) PD DS&P+ 136 (14) PUSH

The Matchup on Defense
DF/+ 19.4% (2) OF/+ 13.6% (13) ALABAMA
DFEI -0.559 (10) OFEI 0.376 (23) ALABAMA
DS&P+ 138.6 (1) OS&P+ 127.8 (6) ALABAMA
Rush DS&P+ 159.7 (1) Rush OS&P+ 133.3 (9) ALABAMA
Pass DS&P+ 133.2 (10) Pass OS&P+ 134.5 (12) PUSH
SD DS&P+ 150.6 (1) SD OS&P+ 126.5 (13) ALABAMA
PD DS&P+ 129.3 (22) PD OS&P+ 145 (10) CLANGA

Special Teams and Field Position
ST F/+ -1.5% (96) ST F/+ 1% (42) CLANGA
FPA 0.474 (108) FPA 0.524 (25) CLANGA

(Bold) numbers indicate national ranking.

"The Matchup on Offense" refers to the Alabama offense against the opponent defense, and vice versa.

Wondering what all these terms are?

  • FEI: The Fremeau Efficiency Index, an overall team quality metric that is drive-based and opponent-adjusted. For a more detailed discussion of FEI, check out the PTN primer.
  • OFEI: The offensive component of FEI.
  • DFEI: The defensive component of FEI.
  • FPA: FEI Field Position Advantage, a measure of how much field position value a team earned against its opponents.
  • STE: FEI Special Teams Efficiency, a composite measure of a team's efficiency in all facets of special teams (kicking, punting, and returning), based on points per game.
  • S&P+: Another overall team quality metric, S&P+ is primarily play-based and consists of three components: Success Rate, Equivalent Net Points per Play, and a drive efficiency component. The "+" refers to opponent adjustments. For a more detailed discussion of S&P+, check out the PTN primer.
  • OS&P+: The offensive component of S&P+.
  • DS&P+: The defensive component of S&P+.
  • Rush OS&P+: S&P+ calculated on rushing plays for the offense — a good measure of a team's effectiveness at running the ball.
  • Rush DS&P+: S&P+ calculated on rushing plays for the defense — a good measure of a team's effectiveness at stopping the run.
  • Pass OS&P+: S&P+ calculated on passing plays for the offense — a good measure of a team's effectiveness at throwing the ball.
  • Pass DS&P+: S&P+ calculated on passing plays for the defense — a good measure of a team's effectiveness at defending the pass.
  • PD: Passing Downs, defined as later downs with medium yardage or more to go (3rd, 4th downs in excess of 5 yards to go), as well as 2nd down with more than 8 yards to go.
  • SD: Standard Downs, defined as all downs that are not Passing Downs.
  • SD OS&P+: S&P+ calculated on standard downs for the offense — a good measure of a team's offensive effectiveness on earlier downs and short yardage.
  • SD DS&P+: S&P+ calculated on standard downs for the defense — a good measure of a team's defensive effectiveness on earlier downs and short yardage.
  • PD OS&P+: S&P+ calculated on passing downs for the offense — a good measure of a team's offensive effectiveness on later downs and long yardage.
  • PD DS&P+: S&P+ calculated on passing downs for the defense — a good measure of a team's defensive effectiveness on later downs and long yardage.
  • F/+: The F/+ combined ratings combine FEI and S&P+ into one metric that serves as Football Outsiders' official rankings for college football. For a more detailed discussion of F/+, check out the PTN primer.
  • Off. F/+: The offensive component of F/+.
  • Def. F/+: The defensive component of F/+.
  • ST F/+: The special teams component of F/+.
  • Swanson Giddiness Index: Easily the most accurate predictor of success in college football, the Swanson Giddiness Index is a qualitative, completely unsupportable metric that is presented via the tone of that week's image/animated gif of Ron Swanson — beloved Parks and Recreation character and official spirit animal of Processing the Numbers.

Wondering what all of this means? Check out the PTN primer!

Note: I wrote a FanPost regarding the huge disconnect between CLANGA's pass defense according to S&P+ (20th) and their rating according to passing yards per game (120th); you may read that here.

So, what do we know?

Mainly that the MSU defense everyone wants to think is so awful is really not that bad at all. I know it’s difficult to wrap your head around, but there’s good reason for the rather lofty perch CLANGA inhabits at the moment. This team is solid across the board, and the Tide’s fortunate to get them in Tuscaloosa. In terms of overall quality metrics the Tide’s comfortably ahead, but this is a legit top-10 opponent that should not be taken lightly.

The offensive matchup is going to be the one to watch. The overall metrics are basically a tossup, which means the S&P+ splits are going to tell the story. The Tide’s third in the country in passing S&P+ and standard downs S&P+, which dovetails rather nicely with CLANGA’s relative susceptibility in these areas. It will depend on which Blake Sims suits up4, but if the Tide passing attack gets going, watch out.

4 | There's some evidence suggesting the existence of Home Blake and Away Blake.

Running the ball is a different story, however. With T.J. Yeldon’s status uncertain at best, Preston Smith, Benardrick McKinney and the MSU defense probably aren’t giving up too many yards on the ground to the Tide. This game will be won through the air, or not at all.

The defensive matchup more clearly favors the Tide, with one frustrating little exception. CLANGA has a pretty clear edge in passing downs S&P+, which indicates they are strong at picking up third downs. In what’s becoming a theme, the Tide had trouble containing Anthony Jennings on scrambles against LSU, and that gentleman is not exactly known for his running prowess. Dak Prescott, on the other hand, is renowned for the very same, and is built like a battering ram to boot. The guy’s arm isn’t too bad either, which means every third and long this team is forced into will be an adventure.

That Josh Robinson guy is also pretty good, as he’s part of the best rushing attack the Tide is likely to face during the regular season5. At this point in the season, however, it’s pretty safe to say the only type of running the Tide struggles to contain are the aforementioned QB scrambles, which frankly everyone has trouble containing from time to time. More conventional running tends to fail miserably against this team, as evidenced by the Arkansas game and limiting LSU’s backs to well below their typical levels of success — as a result, this team still paces the country in rushing S&P+ and on standard downs. This is a defense that’s fresh off rendering the Next Great Back merely ordinary6, so Josh Robinson can try to ping pong his way down the field all he likes — it’s not going to matter.

5 | West Georgia Agricultural College is currently 11th.

6 | Fournette was held to 3.8 yards per carry — he was averaging over 5 coming in.

And back around to my favorite subject this year, special teams. Those early season woes are still weighing down the Tide, as an overall solid performance against LSU moved the needle not a bit. CLANGA’s strength is on kickoffs7, ranking 4th in the country in return coverage efficiency and 12th in returning efficiency, which is bad news for the oft-maligned Tide kickoff coverage unit. Punting should still favor the Tide, as J.K. Scott’s mediocre game is better than most punters’ good ones, and MSU is horrendous on punt returns. Oddly enough, the Tide also wins on field goals, as Griffith is a full 20 spots higher on FG efficiency versus the rotating cast of characters MSU trots out for placements.

7 | Likely the main reason for their pretty stellar field position advantage at 25th in the country.

It seems like MSU may be one of the least-respected #1 teams, at least this late in the season, in recent memory8. I haven’t come across anyone that wasn’t a blatant Bulldog homer that gives them much of a chance in this one, and the public certainly feels that way — the line’s moved two points in favor of the Tide since the open. Frankly, I don’t see any reason to think differently, as there’s a whole lot of crimson up in those tables. I’m feeling pretty bullish9 about this one.

8 | 2012 Notre Dame comes to mind.

9 | See what I did there? I’m here all week.

How do the Tide stack up with the rest of the country?

FEI’s apparently gone to rehab, because the Tide’s now up at the top of charts where they’ve belonged all year. Only Oregon stands between the Tide and a clean sweep of the overall quality metrics, and the only reason why is the Tide’s infatuation with turnovers. A win over CLANGA may just vault the Tide to the top of this chart too, with a top-4 CFP ranking surely to follow. Everything’s falling into place folks.

Any intangibles to consider?

The weather’s slated to be absolutely perfect10, likely in the mid-50s at kickoff with sunny skies and a slight wind. It seems like the one nasty weather game came against Arkansas, and the Tide can perhaps expect smooth sailing from here on out.

10 | I know for a fact that at least two RBR contributors will be in attendance, which is probably too much intangible for MSU to handle.

Normally this is where I might mention something about all-time records and the like, but this isn’t your grandpa’s MSU. Yes, they are the Tide’s most common opponent, and yes the Tide has a six game win streak going, and yes MSU loses 80% of the time. No, absolutely none of that matters in this one.

Injuries, however, will be quite important, namely what sort of capability T.J. Yeldon will have Saturday, or if he even plays at all. The media’s been told it’s a mild ankle sprain, but I’ve mildly sprained my ankle before and didn’t drop the very important cargo I was carrying at the time11. I suspect Yeldon’s injury is something more severe; on the other hand, he’s going through drills at mid-week, so who knows. Even if he does go, expect to see a lot of Derrick Henry.

11 | Pie.

Cam Robinson continues to gut it out in practice with a high ankle sprain, which I can’t imagine is fun to deal with at 300+ pounds. Given he started last week and should only get healthier from now on, barring a setback he’ll be out there Saturday. Reggie Ragland apparently broke his hand at some point, but he’s getting his Patrick Willis12 on and sporting a rather impressive amount of tape on the hand. The last thing this terror needs is a weapon, and that’s probably what he’ll be wielding on Saturday.

12 | You remember.

The only injury news out of Starkvegas I’m aware of is some sort of mystery quasi-injury-but-not-really-but-maybe to Dak Prescott. Something tells me he’ll be just fine in this one. The only other thing of note is there’s a pretty decent chance you’ll see some super secret threads on Saturday, because uniforms are now the most important thing about college football. Word on the street is Alabama’s response will be to wear the same style of uniform that’s worked out OK for them over the past 15 national titles.

Swanson Giddiness Index

I’ve been saving this one for MSU. Ron doesn’t really care much for puppies. Ron thinks Alabama should squash the puppies.

THE PICK: As much as I’d like to be unbiased and reasonable here, I just can’t fathom the Tide losing this game at this point. The numbers say it will be close, but the Alabama Crimson Tide will bring yet another MSU dream season to a screeching halt.