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Processing the Numbers, Football Edition | Week 14: The Iron Bowl

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The end of the regular season gauntlet is upon us, and only these... individuals remain in the way.

John Reed-USA TODAY Sports

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?

What a nightmare. It’s funny to say that about a game where the Tide racked up 612 yards of offense on 88 plays1, collected a school-record 36 first downs, scored 48 points and held their opponent to a futile -8 yards rushing, but it’s true. Somehow this game was 17-14 at one point, and no less than five Tide players went out of the game with injury, six if you count Jalston Fowler’s cameo on the sideline. The officials frankly seemed determined to keep Western Carolina in the game in the first quarter, and they were rather successful at doing so.

1 | That’d be 7 yards a play, and I’m ok with that.

That being said, it seems that most of the injuries are of the minor variety, and the Tide should be close to full strength for the next game. That’s going to be critical, because I don’t need to tell you who stands in the way of the Tide and an SEC West title, an SEC title, a non-mythical National title — you get the idea.

It’s the same team that’s always standing in the way of everything right and proper in the world. It’s the same team that’s easily the dirtiest program in SEC history. It’s the same team that has taken meaningful, important rules, like how many players may be on the field at a time and how far down the field linemen are allowed to block on pass plays, and thoughtfully chucked them out the window. It’s the same team that did all of those unpleasant things last year that we will not recount in this space. It’s the same team that FINALLY lost a game they had no business winning three weeks ago. It’s the same team that was completely, gloriously obliterated by an armada of uppity household pets2 in Athens a week after that. It’s the same team that basically didn’t show up against Samford until halfway through the second quarter just last week. It’s that same team every Alabama fan loves to sportshate3, and maybe I should get to the table now, no?

2 | Startin’ the sabre-rattlin’ early. I see you, Arkansas.

3 | Required reading, if the distinction eludes you. Updyke.

The Goods

Overall Quality
F/+ 35.7% (1) F/+ 28.4% (8) ALABAMA
FEI 0.297 (2) FEI 0.231 (9) ALABAMA
S&P+ 266.7 (1) S&P+ 246.6 (9) ALABAMA
Spread -10 Spread +10 ALABAMA

The Matchup on Offense
OF/+ 18.1% (4) DF/+ 9.1% (26) ALABAMA
OFEI 0.605 (8) DFEI -0.278 (38) ALABAMA
OS&P+ 130.6 (3) DS&P+ 118.2 (16) ALABAMA
Rush OS&P+ 129.6 (12) Rush DS&P+ 124.7 (21) ALABAMA
Pass OS&P+ 147.7 (3) Pass DS&P+ 112.7 (38) ALABAMA
SD OS&P+ 135.5 (2) SD DS&P+ 111.2 (36) ALABAMA
PD OS&P+ 132.5 (19) PD DS&P+ 136.6 (10) OPPONENT

The Matchup on Defense
DF/+ 19% (2) OF/+ 20.4% (3) PUSH
DFEI -0.592 (7) OFEI 0.773 (2) OPPONENT
DS&P+ 136.1 (1) OS&P+ 128.4 (5) ALABAMA
Rush DS&P+ 158.6 (1) Rush OS&P+ 125.2 (20) ALABAMA
Pass DS&P+ 127 (12) Pass OS&P+ 159.6 (1) OPPONENT
SD DS&P+ 139.4 (1) SD OS&P+ 124.4 (16) ALABAMA
PD DS&P+ 133.2 (15) PD OS&P+ 169.9 (2) OPPONENT

Special Teams and Field Position
ST F/+ -1.4% (97) ST F/+ -1.1% (91) OPPONENT
FPA 0.481 (101) FPA 0.504 (51) OPPONENT

Bold numbers indicate national ranking.

”The Matchup on Offense” refers to when Alabama has the ball, 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!

So, what do we know?

Oh, how the mighty not-so-mighty have fallen. The Tide’s opponent was on top of the heap just a few weeks back, hobknobbing with the CLANGAs and FSUs of the world. Two comical fumbles and an old-fashioned, take-em-behind-the-woodshed beatdown changed all that, and the end result is a pretty healthy margin for the Tide in the overall quality numbers. That’s been a pretty good indicator this year of what the game’s going to look like, but this is the Iron Bowl, and that calls for a slightly deeper investigation.

Their defense is weird. Standard downs? Horrible. Pass defense? Horrible. Rush defense? Solid. On passing downs? Despite poor numbers against the pass, very good on passing downs. All that being said, Alabama has one of the nation’s finest offenses, and also happen to sport top-3 ratings in the two weakest aspects of their defense. If the Tide can avoid passing downs, stay on schedule and finish drives, it’s going to be a very long night for the opposing defense.

The defensive matchup is much more troublesome, as it always is with this crew. The opponent also features on of the nation’s best offenses, even when they are not breaking the rules to pull it off. Fortunately, the Tide features the nation’s best defense, regardless of what FEI says. The Tide are a little soft in pass coverage and on passing downs, which unfortunately are the two things the opponent excels at. That being said, running is a big part of this offense, and that’s something the Tide are unequaled at stopping this season. The two keys in this one are keeping Nick Marshall behind the line of scrimmage and limiting big plays in the passing game. Those two factors are why the opponent leads the country in offensive performance on passing downs, and if the opponent is able to find success in doing one or the other, it’s going to be a tight one.

I am so tired of these special teams ratings. They did not budge this week, as Fremeau does not include games against FCS schools when calculating his metrics. Fortunately, the opponent’s special teams unit is also pretty terrible, so maybe this won’t end up being a big deal. In particular, their strength is on punt returns, which is not something J.K. Scott is interested in you doing. He punted that perfectly good football 50 yards down the field for a reason, sir, and you need to respect that. Violators will be afforded the opportunity to meet face-to-face with Mr. Landon Collins at the yard line of his choice. I’m still at the point where I’m hoping this doesn’t come down to a field goal, even though the FG efficiencies are in favor of the Tide. Too many misses in recent years for me to feel otherwise.

On the one hand, the opponent appears to be spiraling out of control, with room on the previously-empty end of the karmic balance scale rapidly dwindling4. On the other hand, this is the Iron Bowl, and with a bowl game bid locked up, the only thing they can potentially accomplish is ruining another national title opportunity for the Tide. Incidentally enough, that’s the only thing little brother has every truly cared about, which is why the numbers 14 and 3 are rather conspicuous on this chart. At the end of the day, this team is mortal, their deal with devil appears to have run out, and violent payback for last year’s chicanery is coming hard and fast. This game will end up closer than it should because of course it will, but frankly I’m going to be disappointed if anything more than a greasy stain is left on the field after the Tide’s done.

4 | Perhaps so rapidly it will heave little brother into the SEC East where they belong.

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

The advanced metrics are pretty dialed in by this point in the season, and they’re all lining up with the Tide as the best team in the country. Oregon still has a decent lead in FEI, but otherwise it’s a clean sweep for Alabama. The margins are pretty thin, though — this team is not of the 2011/2012 vintage. If everything lines up over the next few weeks, it’ll be interesting to see what the Tide will do with an Oregon/TCU/Baylor/FSU5.

5 | But not Ohio State, because we know what happens when they attempt to play SEC teams in football.

Any intangibles to consider?

Iron Bowl, perhaps?

The weather looks perfect, with temperatures in the 50s by kickoff and little expectation of rain. That would be in Tuscaloosa, as this one will be contested at Bryant-Denny Stadium, where the Tide have gone full Death Star this year.

Injuries are a big deal in this one. I would be very surprised to see Brian Vogler or ArDarius Stewart getting much work this week, as both were seen at practice in non-contact jerseys with heavy knee braces. The Robinsons were both at practice, although A’Shawn appeared limited and Cam was working with the second team. Amari Cooper was also participating in drills, but was not running routes as of Tuesday. T.J. Yeldon was back and a full practice participant.

On the other side of things, Duke Williams will apparently play despite suffering a sprained MCL against Texas A&M, and his degree of limitation will be critical to the outcome of this game. He is easily the most talented receiver on the roster, and his absence has severely affected the efficacy of that offense. Defensive end DaVonte Lambert is done for the year after undergoing knee surgery on Tuesday. Jeffery Whitaker, a defensive tackle, will continue to miss time with a back injury.

Of most importance in this one is what happened in last year’s edition of college football’s best and fiercest rivalry. Tide players are saying all the right things — we could care less about last year, last year doesn’t matter, sometimes teams get lucky, etc. — but you have to believe that last year’s finish is still a bad taste in the mouth of the returning players. I expect BDS to be rockin’, and for the Tide to come out vicious and vengeful. I don’t think it’s going to be pretty.

Lastly, you may be familiar with the University of Georgia, and their even longer-standing issues with this opponent. Early Cuyler is a Georgia fan6, and he would like to let you know what he thinks of this team:

6 | This is a required note, because a certain barbecue enthusiast I know spouts this fact like it’s important, and frankly I’m tired of hearing about it.

Swanson Giddiness Index

Bad, unspeakable things are about to happen to little brother.

THE PICK: Alabama Crimson Tide 7, because duh.

7 | Managed to get through the whole article without saying “Auburn!” 8