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Processing the Numbers, Football Edition | Bowl Mini-Previews, Round 1

Shining the crimson spotlight on those teams a bit less fortunate than the Tide this holiday season

Ron Chenoy-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.

What the heck is all this, and why should I care?

All these, dear reader, are mini-previews of each bowl game that will be played this postseason. These first few rounds will be all the lesser bowls, because why shouldn’t the UTEPs and Bowling Greens of the world get a little recognition? Later on this month we’ll get into the New Year's Six bowls — those will get the full PTN treatment. For now, we’ll just take a quick look at the overall quality metrics (F/+, FEI, S&P+) and the F/+ splits (OF/+, DF/+, ST F/+) to get a snapshot of where each team stands, with a brief summary of what that table indicates and a pick. You should care because you’re going to watch some football over the next couple of weeks, and this may help you suss out which games are worth watching.

Round 1 will get us through the bowls of Monday, December 22nd.

Why are there so many Pushes?

Oh, yes, that. I came up with a slightly more rigorous method of determining which team has the edge in each category. Previously I was kinda eyeballing the ratings and the ranks and making a call, which is pretty arbitrary. Now, I am converting those ratings into percentiles, and if the two teams are within 10 percentiles of each other it’s a Push.

You’re probably aware I’m not the only SBNation contributor out there that does stats previews like this, and we each have our own little take on it. For instance, pbpope over at Our Daily Bears splits it out based on ranks — anything within 20 ranks is a push, anything between 20 and 40 ranks is normal text, and anything over 40 ranks is in all-caps. It’s a good system, and certainly better than what I was doing previously, but I think what I’ve got now is the way to go. I have some justification for it I will share later, but for now we need to get movin’, so on to the previews!

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 this section of the PTN Football 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 this section of the PTN Football 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 this section of the PTN Football 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!

The Goods

R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl :
Nevada Wolf Pack (7-5) vs. Louisiana-Lafayette Ragin’ Cajuns (8-4)

The Matchup
UL-LAFAYETTE NEVADA THE EDGE
F/+ -9.8% (86) F/+ -1.8% (64) NEVADA
FEI -0.141 (100) FEI 0.046 (47) NEVADA
S&P+ 200.3 (63) S&P+ 193.2 (78) UL-LAFAYETTE
OF/+ 0.2% (57) DF/+ -4.9% (84) UL-LAFAYETTE
DF/+ -10.8% (111) OF/+ 1.8% (53) NEVADA
ST F/+ 0.8% (47) ST F/+ 1.4% (37) PUSH

One of the many Louisiana schools and the program that brought you the Pistol formation kick off bowl season down in Nawlins. The Wolf Pack1 have the Ragin’ Cajuns outclassed pretty significantly in F/+ and FEI, but Lafayette has the edge in S&P+, which tells me they have a drive-finishing problem. Each team has the other’s number on offense, so I’d expect a bit of a shootout in this one. It’s a likely home game for Lafayette given the locale, but I’m thinkin’ Cody Fajardo and the Wolf Pack take it.

1 | That space is important; this ain’t NC State.

THE PICK: Nevada Wolf Pack

Gildan New Mexico Bowl :
Utah State Aggies (9-4) vs. Texas-El Paso Miners (7-5)

The Matchup
UTEP UTAH STATE THE EDGE
F/+ -12.5% (94) F/+ 1.8% (59) UTAH STATE
FEI -0.162 (114) FEI 0.011 (61) UTAH STATE
S&P+ 189.7 (87) S&P+ 207.4 (53) UTAH STATE
OF/+ -6.8% (99) DF/+ 7.2% (33) UTAH STATE
DF/+ -3.7% (75) OF/+ -4.2% (81) PUSH
ST F/+ -2.1% (103) ST F/+ -1.2% (92) UTAH STATE

Utah State’s actually a fairly solid team, although their issues with quarterback health over the last couple of years have really prevented the Aggies from taking that next step – no Chuckie Keeton in this one. They’ve got the edge on UTEP across the board, which is not surprising as the Miners never got off the ground under Mike Price2 and still haven’t two years after his retirement. Skip this one, Utah State should run away with it.

2 | Yes, THAT Mike Price.

THE PICK: Utah State Aggies

Royal Purple Las Vegas Bowl :
Utah Utes (8-4) vs. Colorado State Rams (10-2)

The Matchup
COLORADO STATE UTAH THE EDGE
F/+ 13.5% (30) F/+ 10.2% (38) PUSH
FEI 0.117 (32) FEI 0.156 (21) PUSH
S&P+ 219.4 (28) S&P+ 200.3 (62) COLORADO STATE
OF/+ 9.9% (19) DF/+ 8.8% (27) PUSH
DF/+ 1.3% (57) OF/+ -3.4% (76) COLORADO STATE
ST F/+ 2.2% (22) ST F/+ 4.8% (5) UTAH

Unfortunately you won’t get to see Coach Mac patrolling the sidelines, as he’s returned to the SEC as the new head coach at Florida3. You will get to see a whole lot of former ‘Bama player Dee Hart and Biletnikoff Award also-ran Rashard Higgins, however. Utah’s nasty defense got them off to a great start, but they succumbed to an anemic offense down the stretch — I’m thinking the same happens here, as the Rams defense is up to the task and I think the Utes defense is in for a long afternoon. Tune in for this one though, should be a good game.

3 | Enjoy that lovely weather in August coach!

I should mention that Joseph Silverzweig does some nifty stats stuff over at Block U, SBNation’s Utah site. Go give him a read!

THE PICK: Colorado State Rams

Famous Idaho Potato Bowl :
Western Michigan Broncos (8-4) vs. Air Force Falcons (9-3)

The Matchup
WESTERN MICHIGAN AIR FORCE THE EDGE
F/+ 5.5% (47) F/+ 6.4% (44) PUSH
FEI 0.037 (49) FEI 0.036 (50) PUSH
S&P+ 211.1 (43) S&P+ 207.5 (52) PUSH
OF/+ 3.4% (46) DF/+ 7.4% (32) AIR FORCE
DF/+ 2.0% (52) OF/+ -3.8% (79) WESTERN MICHIGAN
ST F/+ 0.2% (64) ST F/+ 2.8% (13) AIR FORCE

This will not be for fans lacking in… visual constitution? as the Potato Bowl is played on Boise State’s notorious4 blue field. This is an interesting matchup however, as these two teams are rather close to each other in the overall quality metrics. Air Force pairs a mediocre offense with a decent defense, whereas the Broncos come in with solid units on both sides of the ball. I think that offense does the Falcons in and Western Michigan pulls out a squeaker. SHOW US HOW TO ROW THAT BOAT COACH FLECK:

4 | Anytime Boise State is mentioned anywhere around my dad you can strap in for the 5 minute rant about the field. It’s still amusing.

THE PICK: Western Michigan Broncos

Raycom Media Camellia Bowl :
South Alabama Jaguars (6-6) vs. Bowling Green Falcons (7-6)

The Matchup
BOWLING GREEN SOUTH ALABAMA THE EDGE
F/+ -16.7% (104) F/+ -12.3% (93) PUSH
FEI -0.154 (110) FEI -0.147 (103) PUSH
S&P+ 179.4 (105) S&P+ 192.2 (82) SOUTH ALABAMA
OF/+ -7.2% (102) DF/+ 1.9% (53) SOUTH ALABAMA
DF/+ -10.1% (110) OF/+ -14.3% (124) PUSH
ST F/+ 0.6% (55) ST F/+ 0.2% (62) PUSH

Neither of these teams should be in the postseason, as Bowling Green is in the bottom 25 of the F/+ rankings and South Alabama is not far behind them. The difference is South Alabama’s only been playing football since 2009, and is just now a full-fledged FBS member that can participate in a bowl game — I suspect with the shuttering of UAB’s football program this team will get stronger in coming years. The Falcons will have trouble moving the ball in this one, so it will come down to whether or not the Jaguars offense can get it done. I think USA gets their first bowl victory in program history.

THE PICK: South Alabama Jaguars

Miami Beach Bowl :
BYU Cougars (8-4) vs. Memphis Tigers (9-3)

The Matchup
MEMPHIS BRIGHAM YOUNG THE EDGE
F/+ 9.3% (40) F/+ 8.3% (42) PUSH
FEI 0.085 (41) FEI 0.06 (46) PUSH
S&P+ 213. (38) S&P+ 210.7 (46) PUSH
OF/+ -2.2% (71) DF/+ 0.6% (59) BRIGHAM YOUNG
DF/+ 5.6% (40) OF/+ 6.5% (36) PUSH
ST F/+ 5.9% (2) ST F/+ 1.1% (42) MEMPHIS

The bowls wanted to get all of the Utah schools out of the way early I guess, as BYU gets Memphis in the lone bowl on Monday. BYU was well on their way to an undefeated season5 before the terrible broken leg suffered by preseason Heisman candidate Taysom Hill. Memphis is improving and has the edge in overall quality, but mostly because of the #2 special teams unit in the country. BYU has the edge on defense, so their ability to move the ball is key. I don’t think they’re going to get it done, and a strong Tigers return game will carry the day.

5 | Remember when everyone was worried they were going to crash the playoff? They remain the last mid-major to win a national title, after all.

THE PICK: Memphis Tigers

ROLL TIDE