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Processing the Numbers, Football Edition |
The Big Orange Bowl Preview

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This is not going to be the drubbing of Georgia Tech you think it is.

Jeremy Brevard-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, what’s next?

This time we’re looking at the Capital One Orange Bowl, which will be contested by the SEC’s Mississippi St. Bulldogs and the ACC runner-up Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets. The game kicks off Wednesday, December 31st at 7 PM CST / 8 PM CST in Miami, and will be televised by ESPN. Mississippi State spent most of the season atop the polls before spiraling out of the title picture after two tough road losses. Georgia Tech put together one of the quietest 10 win seasons you’ll ever see, and pushed Florida State to the limit in the ACC’s title game. The RBR staff already put together a meaty roundtable for your consumption, so check that out if you missed it.

Before we get to The Goods, let’s take a look at how these two teams got here.

The Resume — Mississippi State

As a reminder, the schedule tables do not include games against FCS teams, primarily because the advanced metrics are not calculated for those teams. In the event of a schedule that does NOT include FCS schools, the lowest-rated FBS opponent by F/+ will be omitted from the table so everyone’s on a level playing field.

Team F/+ S&P+ FEI OF+ DF/+
MISSISSIPPI STATE 27.8% (6) 250.7 (5) 0.218 (10) 12.2% (14) 14.8% (9)
ALABAMA 38.4% (1) 270.7 (1) 0.315 (2) 19.8% (3) 19.7% (2)
OLE MISS 29.3% (4) 248.2 (7) 0.242 (7) 9.2% (21) 18.8% (3)
ALABAMA POLY 23.5% (12) 234.2 (16) 0.214 (11) 18.0% (5) 6.1% (38)
LSU 19.4% (18) 234.0 (17) 0.135 (27) 3.0% (48) 14.0% (11)
ARKANSAS 18.6% (20) 230.9 (19) 0.171 (17) 8.9% (23) 10.3% (19)
TEXAS A&M 3.8% (53) 209.2 (49) 0.027 (52) 7.5% (30) -5.4% (90)
UAB -3.1% (69) 194.2 (75) -0.057 (79) -4.3% (82) -4.3% (79)
KENTUCKY -8.9% (83) 197.0 (71) -0.053 (76) -2.1% (70) -4.6% (81)
SOUTH ALABAMA -12.3% (93) 192.2 (82) -0.147 (103) -14.3% (124) 1.9% (53)
VANDERBILT -18.4% (111) 175.9 (111) -0.190 (121) -13.5% (120) -4.7% (82)
SOUTHERN MISS -22.2% (121) 173.9 (117) -0.193 (122) -10.5% (110) -9.4% (106)
AVERAGE 6.2% 214.6 0.042 2.0% 3.9%

(Bold) numbers indicate national ranking.


  • Average F/+ Opponent: Air Force (F/+ #44)
  • Average S&P+ Opponent: Penn State (S&P+ #34)
  • Average FEI Opponent: East Carolina (FEI #48)
  • Average Offense: Missouri (OF/+ #52)
  • Average Defense: Iowa (DF/+ #47)
  • Best Win: Alabama Poly (F/+ #12)
  • Wins against F/+ Top-25: 3 (#12 Alabama Poly, #18 LSU, #20 Arkansas)

MSU had quite a season, without question the finest in school history. We’d all seen this story before, right? 2012: perennial SEC doormat CLANGA goes 7-0, starts up the whole "We Believe" stuff, gets processed by the eventual national champions1 and then spirals into a Gator Bowl loss to Northwestern. Well, this year’s edition was the real deal, and although the Tide ruined their dream season once again it was not the cakewalk 2012 was. If the Bulldogs had been able to squeeze one more road win out in Oxford they would have had a strong argument for the fourth playoff spot, and frankly I’m glad they didn’t get it. It’s tough to beat a good team twice2, and I’m not sure the Tide wins that one on a neutral field.

1 | That's what happens when you deface the Bear, CLANGA.

2 | Cut to the Arizona fans nodding grimly.

Much like their arch-nemeses to the north, MSU’s schedule got the SEC West bump in the advanced stats. Any team that goes into Death Valley at night against a decent LSU team and wins is not messing around. Dak Prescott was made mortal by the Tide and Rebel secondaries, but he was a legitimate Heisman contender for most of the year. This team is chock full of stud upperclassmen at critical positions, like seniors Preston Smith, Ben Beckwith, and Jameon Lewis, as well as some potential early-entrants in Prescott, Benardrick McKinney, and Josh Robinson. This may be the last time we see such a strong MSU team for quite a while.

Similarity — Georgia Tech

  • Offense — Rushing: Alabama (RUSH OS&P+ #8)
  • Offense — Passing: Alabama (PASS OS&P+ #3)
  • Defense — Rushing: Southern Miss (RUSH DS&P+ #89)
  • Defense — Passing: Vanderbilt (PASS DS&P+ #89)

That Georgia Tech offense is for real, if a bit predictable. That being said, anyone who has watched the Wreck this year knows that when they decide to pass it can be awfully effective, which is how they ended up with the #6 pass offense to go with the #4 rush offense according to S&P+. The closest comp among the Bulldogs’ opponents is Alabama, and although MSU lost that one it portends unfortunate things for Georgia Tech. The Tide put up only 335 yards in that one, relying on turnovers, field position, and strong defensive play to carry the day.

The Study Hall from that game is revealing, as the Tide were held below the national average from an efficiency standpoint and just above the national average for explosiveness, both of which were well under their typical rates. Blake Sims was his usual accurate self in that one, but an underrated Bulldog secondary mostly limited Amari Cooper and company from making things happen. The one exception was a 50 yard bomb to Cooper, and that ended up being the difference in the game. Everybody ends up looking stupid against Tech because of the rarity of their offensive scheme in today’s game, but I suspect the Bulldogs will be able to clamp down on the Yellow Jackets.

Aaaand this really does not bode well for Tech. Those are not the kinds of numbers you want to see associated with your defense, regardless of how potent an offensive team you can be. State rolled up 201 yards on Southern Miss at 4.6 yards a carry, with Robinson going for 6.1 a pop. Prescott only put up 193 yards on Vandy, but that came on only 21 attempts, good for 9.2 yards an attempt. He was efficient as well, completing 76% of his passes with no turnovers. That game was over a minute into the second quarter, and State went into run-out-the-clock mode from there on out. Tech isn’t going to stop this offense at all.

The Resume — Georgia Tech

Team F/+ S&P+ FEI OF+ DF/+
GEORGIA TECH 25.8% (10) 224.3 (23) 0.266 (3) 22.8% (1) 0.9% (58)
GEORGIA 27.6% (7) 234.6 (14) 0.256 (6) 14.4% (8) 10.0% (22)
FLORIDA STATE 27.5% (8) 234.3 (15) 0.262 (4) 16.3% (6) 10.2% (20)
CLEMSON 21.1% (14) 238.8 (11) 0.168 (18) -0.1% (58) 23.4% (1)
MIAMI 16.2% (24) 225.1 (21) 0.117 (33) 10.1% (17) 7.0% (34)
DUKE 13.7% (28) 198.8 (66) 0.140 (26) 3.1% (47) 4.5% (44)
VIRGINIA TECH 12.7% (32) 218.7 (30) 0.144 (25) -5.4% (91) 18.1% (4)
VIRGINIA 10.7% (37) 206.4 (55) 0.117 (31) -1.4% (66) 11.9% (15)
PITTSBURGH 9.8% (39) 213.9 (36) 0.103 (37) 12.9% (13) -3.4% (73)
N.C. STATE 5.2% (49) 208.6 (50) 0.016 (59) 5.8% (40) -2.2% (70)
GEORGIA SOUTHERN 0.4% (62) 210.7 (45) -0.029 (70) 4.5% (43) -3.6% (74)
NORTH CAROLINA -4.5% (74) 193.0 (79) 0.013 (60) 7.7% (29) -9.9% (108)
TULANE -17.0% (105) 183.9 (95) -0.101 (91) -10.7% (111) 1.4% (56)
AVERAGE 10.3% 213.9 0.101 4.8% 5.6%

(Bold) numbers indicate national ranking.


  • Average F/+ Opponent: Utah (F/+ #38)
  • Average S&P+ Opponent: Pittsburgh (S&P+ #36)
  • Average FEI Opponent: Pittsburgh (FEI #37)
  • Average Offense: Louisville (OF/+ #42)
  • Average Defense: Memphis (DF/+ #40)
  • Best Win: Georgia (F/+ #7)
  • Wins against F/+ Top-25: 3 (#7 Georgia, #14 Clemson, #24 Miami)

If you’re anything like me3, you were probably a little stunned to learn GT was going to be Florida State’s opponent in the ACC title game. As noted in the intro, Tech was the stealthiest good team of the year, undoubtedly due to their affiliation with the underrated ACC. They ended up with one of the country’s stronger schedules, thanks to a standing out-of-conference rivalry with a strong Georgia team and drawing three of the better squads from the ACC’s Atlantic division. After starting 5-0 they stumbled at home to Duke thanks to two killer turnovers in the second half by Zach Laskey and Justin Thomas. The next week they ran into North Carolina during an up week, and lost a shootout on the road. That was it. Every other game they won, including back-to-back games against F/+ Top-15 teams in Georgia and Clemson4 to finish the season. The Yellow Jackets were thisclose to knocking off FSU, but they couldn’t stop budding star Dalvin Cook, couldn’t cover next-great-TE Nick O’Leary, and couldn’t limit you-know-who. Add it all up and, much like another great three-loss team in Ole Miss, you have a schedule including nine teams among the F/+ Top-50.

3 | For your sake, I hope you aren’t!

4 | Who lost phenom Deshaun Watson in the first quarter, switching to turnover machine Cole Stoudt in time for him to throw a pick-six. Clemson!

Similarity — Mississippi State

  • Offense — Rushing: Pittsburgh (RUSH OS&P+ #6)
  • Offense — Passing: Florida State (PASS OS&P+ #7)
  • Defense — Rushing: Miami (RUSH DS&P+ #34)
  • Defense — Passing: Virginia (PASS DS&P+ #25)

The Pittsburgh game is a rough comp, because the Panthers ended their first five drives of the game with a fumble5. GT put up 28 off of those fumbles, and that was basically it. As a result, the usually run-heavy Pitt took to the air to try to catch up, and we didn’t see much out of James Conner and company. That being said, what we did see was not encouraging, as the Yellow Jackets allowing 198 yards on 6.4 yards per rush, including 75 and 50 yard runs that somehow were not touchdowns. As noted, Florida State abused Tech through the air, including a 94.1 QBR performance from Winston. Like I said in the previous section, this defense will be hard-pressed to stop CLANGA.


More bad news for Tech fans here. GT piled up 318 yards on the ground against Miami, which sounds like a lot until you note it came on 65 attempts. That’s good for 4.9 yards per attempt, which sounds pretty good until you note that was their second-lowest effort of the year, behind the 4.3 produced against Virginia. State has an athletic, experienced front seven led by the aforementioned McKinney and Smith, as well as highly-regarded sophomore Chris Jones. Usually teams look kind of stupid trying to stop the Flexbone, but State has had a month to prepare for it. Senior sledgehammers Synjyn Days and Laskey are going to have a hard time on the dives in this one. The Virginia comparison is encouraging, as that was one of Thomas’ more efficient outings. He threw it only 13 times, but converted 7 of those for 141 yards, good for 10.8 yards an attempt. A rough day running the ball kept his QBR down, but the old-school NCAA rating for the game was 205.7, which is Really High. Tech will have to find ways to get those explosive downfield completions if they are going to keep up with State.

The Goods

Overall Quality
F/+ 27.8% (6) F/+ 25.8% (10) PUSH
FEI 0.218 (10) FEI 0.266 (3) PUSH
S&P+ 250.7 (5) S&P+ 224.3 (23) MISSISSIPPI STATE
Spread -7 Spread +7 MISSISSIPPI STATE

When Mississippi State Has The Ball
OF/+ 12.2% (14) DF/+ 0.9% (58) MISSISSIPPI STATE
OFEI 0.333 (21) DFEI -0.08 (57) MISSISSIPPI STATE
OS&P+ 125.9 (4) DS&P+ 99.9 (58) MISSISSIPPI STATE
Rush OS&P+ 135.8 (5) Rush DS&P+ 91.3 (96) MISSISSIPPI STATE
Pass OS&P+ 134.2 (8) Pass DS&P+ 95.7 (81) MISSISSIPPI STATE
SD OS&P+ 130.0 (6) SD DS&P+ 97.5 (79) MISSISSIPPI STATE
PD OS&P+ 138.0 (11) PD DS&P+ 86.7 (107) MISSISSIPPI STATE
OALY 119.7 (11) DALY 95.7 (86) MISSISSIPPI STATE
OASR 106.2 (59) DASR 77.2 (103) MISSISSIPPI STATE

When Georgia Tech Has The Ball
DF/+ 14.8% (9) OF/+ 22.8% (1) PUSH
DFEI -0.518 (10) OFEI 0.968 (1) PUSH
DS&P+ 124.9 (9) OS&P+ 124.3 (5) PUSH
Rush DS&P+ 118.8 (21) Rush OS&P+ 137.8 (4) GEORGIA TECH
Pass DS&P+ 122.3 (16) Pass OS&P+ 144.3 (6) GEORGIA TECH
SD DS&P+ 111.9 (29) SD OS&P+ 133.3 (3) GEORGIA TECH
PD DS&P+ 137.3 (11) PD OS&P+ 149.2 (4) PUSH
DALY 106.4 (39) OALY 130.9 (3) GEORGIA TECH
DASR 113.6 (38) OASR 130.9 (30) PUSH

The Matchup on Special Teams
ST F/+ 0.8% (48) ST F/+ 2.2% (23) GEORGIA TECH
FPA 0.526 (24) FPA 0.541 (15) GEORGIA TECH
FGE -0.208 (89) FGE -0.25 (94) PUSH
KE -0.319 (8) KRE -0.151 (68) MISSISSIPPI STATE
PE -0.127 (50) PRE 0.156 (6) GEORGIA TECH
PRE -0.234 (109) PE -0.154 (40) GEORGIA TECH
KRE -0.056 (22) KE -0.188 (47) MISSISSIPPI STATE

(Bold) numbers indicate national ranking.

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.
  • Fremeau Special Teams Efficiency Components - The special teams component of F/+ is based on Brian Fremeau’s Special Teams Efficiency, which is made up of the following five components of special teams play (per FootballOutsiders):
    FGEField Goal Efficiency, the scoring value per field goal attempt earned by the field goal unit as measured against national success rates.
    PREPunt Return Efficiency, the scoring value per opponent punt earned by the receiving team as measured against national return rates.
    KREKickoff Return Efficiency, the scoring value per opponent kickoff earned by the receiving team as measured against national return rates.
    PEPunt Efficiency, the scoring value per punt earned by the opponent's receiving team as measured against national return rates.
    KEKickoff Efficiency, the scoring value per kickoff earned by the opponent's receiving team as measured against national return rates.
  • ASRAdjusted Sack Rate, which is a version of sack rate (defined as sacks / [sacks + passing attempts] ) that has been opponent-adjusted. The metric is scaled based on an average rate of 100; the higher the rate the better. ASR is calculated for both the offense (OASR) and defense (DASR).
  • ALYAdjusted Line Yards, which is a measure of success in the running game specific to the line. This is accomplished by taking each carry by running backs only and weighting the yardage as follows:
    • Runs for a loss are weighted 120%.
    • Runs for 0-4 yards are unweighted.
    • Runs for 5-10 yards are weighted 50%.
    • Runs for 11 or more yards are not included.
    After the weighting process, the runs are further adjusted for game situation and opponent, and then averaged out per carry, resulting in adjusted line yards — a more detailed explanation of the entire process is available here. ALY is calculated for both the offensive line (OASR) and the defensive front seven (DASR).
  • 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 sectin 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!

So, what do we know?

Interestingly enough, FEI loves Tech, pegging them as the #3 team in the country. That’s a product of FEI’s regard for their offense, which is #1 in OFEI and #4 in FEI Value Drive Rate. Value Drives are drives starting on a team’s side of the field that reach at least their opponent’s 30 yard line, so it’s effectively a measure of how often a team creates scoring opportunities through offensive play6. Tech creates a lot of scoring opportunities, and as evidenced by the #5 ranking in FEI Offensive Efficiency they make good on those opportunities quite often. Still, State’s a rather efficient team themselves, and the difference is slim enough that it’s a push. MSU does have the edge in S&P+, however, and the end result is an insignificant edge in F/+ for the Bulldogs. Vegas has CLANGA as a touchdown favorite, which feels about right to me.

6 | Usually if you start a drive in plus territory, it’s created by a turnover or a great return, neither of which should be credited to the offense.

You knew this was coming. Mississippi State has a significant edge on Georgia Tech when they have the ball, regardless of which why you slice it. State’s one weakness is in pass protection, as they rank a mediocre 59th in OASR, but Tech is not equipped to exploit that weakness this season7. If Tech had fielded an above-average defense I’m pretty sure they’d be in the playoff instead of FSU, because as we’re about to see that offense is just dirty. Not to pile on, but if Tech manages to stop State at all in this one it will be a major surprise.

7 | Jeremiah Attaochu is not someone easily replaced at a school like Tech.

The other side of the ball is more interesting. There’s no maroon here, which isn’t too shocking given that the Wreck excels at everything on offense. Overall there is not a significant difference between the two sides, but I expect Tech to be able to move the ball on State. Based on the similarity analysis and what I’ve observed about State’s front seven I would have expected a little better showing in ALY, but that big of a difference tells me even the dives will be effective. The key for Tech is to stay on schedule in the earlier downs and avoid those third and long situations. The Bulldogs excel on passing downs, and like State pass protection is the one soft spot for this offense. Keep those 4 and 5 yard runs working early on and Tech will have a real shot, as the resultant methodical drives will drain clock and keep Prescott on the sideline. Ryan Rodwell doesn’t get a lot of opportunities to punt, and if that trend continues this could get entertaining in a hurry.

Speaking of punting, Tech has a significant advantage there being the #6 unit on returns and a solid 40th on coverage, both well ahead of the corresponding numbers for State. Kickoffs are in favor of CLANGA, who boasts the #22 return unit and the #8 coverage unit. There’s little difference between the field goal kickers, although we know Harrison Butker is capable of launching a picture-perfect attempt that will go exactly 50.5 yards8. Taken as a whole, the Wreck has a slight edge overall in special teams.

8 | Cut to Georgia fans crying into their Cheerwine.

I expect this to be a fantastic game. I’ll admit I have not watched much Tech football this year, but I was thoroughly impressed in the ACC title game, and watching a Wishbone-derivative offense will tug at the heartstrings of any informed Tide fan. Thomas made some interesting decisions down the stretch in that game9, but overall Tech was not cowed by the superior talent of a fine FSU team, and they pushed them to the absolute limit in that game. That being said, they couldn’t stop FSU, and I don’t think they can stop MSU either. They’ll pile up yards on the ground and drain clock, but MSU can and will score in a hurry. Tech’s best chance as noted is to keep the Bulldogs defense on the field and grind them into submission.

9 | There was some curious officiating as well, including a blatant targeting non-call that really ticked me off.

Any intangibles to consider?

Miami sucks, because it never, ever gets cold and there’s almost always a nice breeze coming in off the ocean. This is important, as the Orange Bowl is an outdoor game played at the Dolphins’ house. Temperatures should be in the low 70s at kickoff, with the possibility of some showers. Showers, not roof-crippling snow storms. I hate Miami.

This should be a true neutral site game, unlike some of the home cooking present in other bowls10. The fun part about Florida is that it’s an incredibly long drive to get to the southern tip, although Tech folks in the ATL just have to hop on I-75 and chill for the next 9 hours.

10 | Looking at you, Foster Farms Bowl! Looking at you, Fiesta Bowl!

Historical records don’t tend to mean a whole lot, but these two teams used to be in the SEC before Tech left in the 60s. Bobby Dodd was a visionary, as evidenced by his distaste for oversigning and dirty, concussion-filled play like 40 years before anyone else. His issues with the approach of Bear Bryant, among others, led to Tech becoming an independent in 1963. Somehow they only played State once in 42 years of occupying the same conference, which underscores the curious scheduling decisions common in that era. Tech is 4-0 against the Bulldogs all-time, thanks to wins in a home-and-home series during the Croom regime in Starkvegas and in a 1908 tilt before the Southern Conference was formed.

Injuries are a concern for Georgia Tech. Leading receiver DeAndre Smelter tore his ACL against Georgia and obviously will miss the bowl game — he was sorely missed against FSU and is a big loss for this team. They are also without some running back depth as a result of leg injuries to Tony Zenon and Broderick Snoddy11. I was not able to find any significant injuries for State.

11 | Tech is like LSU East with some of these names man. Synjyn? Snoddy? Zenon?

THE PICK: The Mississippi State Bulldogs are the better team and should win, but Tech is going to make it a hell of a game.