clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

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

A critical injury has made the Rose Bowl almost too close to call.

Cary Edmondson-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 Rose Bowl Game presented by Northwestern Mutual, which will be contested by the PAC-12 Champion Oregon Ducks and the ACC Champion Florida State Seminoles. The game kicks off January 1st at 4 PM CST / 5 PM EST in Pasadena, and will be televised by ESPN. Oregon blitzkrieged their way through the PAC-12 once again, save for a midseason stumble at home to Arizona. Florida State is the defending national champion, and managed to go undefeated despite being seriously tested numerous times during the season.

Addicted to Quack’s kalon put together a detailed take on this one as well, go give that a read!

But first, a mea culpa.

You may recall I did a pretty nice playoff preview a few weeks back that featured similar content to the New Year’s Six previews that have run this week on RBR. All of the F/+ ratings, etc. for all the teams mentioned were correct, but somehow I managed to screw up averaging the numbers for Oregon, Florida State, and Ohio State, clearly more evidence of pervasive SEC bias. I’m not sure what I did wrong before, but I made a more robust spreadsheet to do the calculations this time around and the numbers came out differently. The relationships between these teams’ resumes and that of Alabama’s still apply, but the numbers are not the same as they were before. That’s on me, I should be more careful in checking my work — I assure you I am thoroughly embarrassed about this.

Now that I’ve harpooned my already-nonexistent credibility, let’s take an updated look at how these two teams got here!

The Resume — Oregon

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/+
OREGON 35.6% (3) 253.4 (3) 0.317 (1) 19.9% (2) 12.6% (13)
MICHIGAN STATE 23.6% (11) 248.9 (6) 0.165 (19) 11.1% (15) 9.7% (24)
UCLA 18.8% (19) 221.6 (24) 0.208 (12) 15.0% (7) 3.0% (49)
STANFORD 16.9% (23) 229.6 (20) 0.161 (20) 2.7% (50) 15.0% (8)
ARIZONA 12.7% (33) 210.9 (44) 0.183 (14) 6.9% (33) 6.2% (37)
UTAH 10.2% (38) 200.3 (62) 0.156 (21) -3.4% (76) 8.8% (27)
WASHINGTON 5.0% (51) 197.4 (70) 0.089 (40) -5.4% (92) 7.7% (30)
CALIFORNIA 0.8% (61) 199.8 (65) 0.024 (55) 6.7% (34) -5.6% (91)
OREGON STATE -3.8% (71) 191.7 (83) -0.015 (66) 1.4% (55) -5.0% (87)
COLORADO -7.8% (81) 188.3 (89) -0.046 (75) -0.1% (59) -6.9% (97)
WASHINGTON STATE -11.5% (89) 194.2 (76) -0.024 (68) 3.7% (45) -6.8% (96)
WYOMING -20.7% (119) 178.6 (108) -0.174 (117) -4.6% (83) -8.8% (104)
AVERAGE 4.7% 206.0 0.076 3.4% 2.0%

(Bold) numbers indicate national ranking.


  • Average F/+ Opponent: Washington (F/+ #51)
  • Average S&P+ Opponent: Michigan (S&P+ #56)
  • Average FEI Opponent: Notre Dame (FEI #44)
  • Average Offense: Western Michigan (OF/+ #46)
  • Average Defense: Western Michigan (DF/+ #52)
  • Best Win: Michigan State (F/+ #11)
  • Wins against F/+ Top-25: 3 (#11 Michigan State, #19 UCLA, #23 Stanford)

We’re now in Year 2 of the post-Kelly era at Oregon, and the machine keeps rolling right along under Mark Helfrich. Having the Heisman trophy winner at the helm doesn’t hurt of course, as Marcus Mariota is perhaps the ideal triggerman for this offense. The fun thing about discussing advanced stats and Oregon is their defensive performance, which has frequently been among the better units in the country. Funny what happens when you adjust for pace and opponent offensive strength1when evaluating a defense, isn’t it?

1 | They had the toughest offensive slate per average OF/+, just a shade ahead of Alabama’s.

At any rate, as previously noted Oregon had the weakest schedule among playoff participants, but still pretty decent for the New Year’s Six. Outside of a period of time earlier in the season with a lot of upheaval along the offensive line, Oregon handled everybody on their schedule without too much trouble. One of the games during that aforementioned period of time was Arizona, where the Wildcat defensive front played well above their heads, getting to Mariota 5 times and adding 7 TFLs for good measure. Mariota still got his in that game2, but he was somewhat outplayed by Anu Solomon — backs Royce Freeman and Thomas Tyner were fairly limited as well. It’s tough to go undefeated in a major conference these days, so these hiccups are to be expected. Oregon avenged that loss in the PAC-12 Championship, and were rewarded with the #2 seed for their troubles.

2 | 276 yards at 8.6 YPA and a couple TDs. With everyone in his face. There’s a reason he won the Heisman.

Similarity — Florida State

  • Offense — Rushing: Michigan State (RUSH OS&P+ #17)
  • Offense — Passing: Michigan State (PASS OS&P+ #4)
  • Defense — Rushing: Washington (RUSH DS&P+ #47)
  • Defense — Passing: Washington (PASS DS&P+ #55)

None of this has changed, so I'll just lift the stuff I already wrote:

Well that’s certainly neat and clean. Michigan State played Oregon closer than you remember, but 2 turnovers and an inability to finish drives resulted in a somewhat surprising early-season beatdown. The good news for Oregon is Jameis Winston is all about throwing picks this season, leading the Power-5 conferences with 17. The bad news is FSU is considerably better at finishing drives than Michigan State. If the Jameis from last week shows up, FSU is going to put up a lot of points. If the Jameis from the Florida game shows up though it could get ugly. One wildcard is the ever-improving Dalvin Cook, who looked otherworldly against Georgia Tech and could have a huge day against a porous Duck rush defense.

Washington did not put up much of a fight, giving up 554 yards of offense and 29 first downs in a 35 point drubbing at Autzen Stadium. Oregon was 14/22 on third and fourth down conversions in that game, and if FSU puts up a similar effort it’s going to be a long game. This duel of the last two Heisman Trophy winners is undoubtedly the most interesting bowl matchup this year (pending the national championship, of course), and I fully expect a high-scoring, back-and-forth sort of affair.

The Resume — Florida State

Team F/+ S&P+ FEI OF+ DF/+
FLORIDA STATE 27.5% (8) 234.3 (15) 0.262 (4) 16.3% (6) 10.2% (20)
GEORGIA TECH 25.8% (10) 224.3 (23) 0.266 (3) 22.8% (1) 0.9% (58)
CLEMSON 21.1% (14) 238.8 (11) 0.168 (18) -0.1% (58) 23.4% (1)
LOUISVILLE 19.9% (16) 232.5 (18) 0.176 (15) 4.8% (42) 16.1% (5)
MIAMI 16.2% (24) 225.1 (21) 0.117 (33) 10.1% (17) 7.0% (34)
BOSTON COLLEGE 13.7% (29) 219.0 (29) 0.133 (28) 9.2% (22) 4.4% (45)
NOTRE DAME 11.0% (36) 213.8 (37) 0.079 (44) 7.2% (32) 2.9% (50)
VIRGINIA 10.7% (37) 206.4 (55) 0.117 (31) -1.4% (66) 11.9% (15)
FLORIDA 9.3% (41) 211.5 (42) 0.093 (39) -5.9% (97) 12.9% (12)
N.C. STATE 5.2% (49) 208.6 (50) 0.016 (59) 5.8% (40) -2.2% (70)
OKLAHOMA STATE -2.8% (68) 195.5 (73) -0.058 (80) -3.4% (77) -2.8% (71)
SYRACUSE -8.2% (82) 187.7 (90) -0.029 (72) -9.4% (108) 3.4% (48)
WAKE FOREST -10.4% (87) 174.3 (116) -0.080 (86) -14.3% (123) 1.5% (55)
AVERAGE 9.3% 211.5 0.083 2.1% 6.6%

(Bold) numbers indicate national ranking.


  • Average F/+ Opponent: Memphis (F/+ #40)
  • Average S&P+ Opponent: Florida (S&P+ #42)
  • Average FEI Opponent: Orange Team (FEI #42)
  • Average Offense: Missouri (OF/+ #52)
  • Average Defense: UCF (DF/+ #35)
  • Best Win: Georgia Tech (F/+ #10)
  • Wins against F/+ Top-25: 4 (#10 Georgia Tech, #14 Clemson, #16 Louisville, #24 Miami)

So one of the few major issues with my error in the playoff preview article was the assessment of FSU’s schedule strength then versus what it looks like now. Previously, the averages were quite a bit higher, which in conjunction with top-heavy nature of the schedule and FSU’s undefeated record lead me to declare it the toughest road of any playoff participant. I can’t say that anymore, as Alabama’s schedule now looks as good or better despite teams like Southern Miss and Florida Atlantic dragging things downs. That being said, this is still a marvelously difficult schedule, and the fact FSU managed to go undefeated against it is really outstanding. It was pointed out in the comments of the playoff preview article that 8 of FSU’s 12 opponents had some extra time to prepare, whether via a bye, cupcake, or some extra days due to a Thursday night game — as Tide fans are acutely aware that’s how the schedule shakes out sometimes, but it’s something to consider when evaluating this team’s performance.

However, what I said last time still stands. Statistically, this is the weakest team in the field, although not by much. There does seem to be something intangible going on with this team — I really don’t know how they won some of the games that they have. You don’t win 29 straight in this era without something extra working for you, and while FSU will out-talent just about any team they could face these days3, that’s not always enough. I’m not going to comment about the off-the-field stuff surrounding this program, except to note I think it’s had the unintended effect of galvanizing this team to play like they have something to prove. That, in conjunction with the talent level and the perceived snub of a #3 seed in the playoffs, makes this a remarkably dangerous team.

3 | With one notable exception.

Similarity — Oregon

  • Offense — Rushing: Georgia Tech (RUSH OS&P+ #4)
  • Offense — Passing: Miami (PASS OS&P+ #19), but not really.
  • Defense — Rushing: Oklahoma State (RUSH DS&P+ #41)
  • Defense — Passing: N.C. State (PASS DS&P+ #62)

Oregon’s offense is going to severely test the ‘Noles defense, which in my opinion plays well below their talent level. The Georgia Tech game was rather illuminating from this standpoint as Tech tore them apart on the ground. The Wreck runs a fairly novel scheme of course, but the Flexbone works on execution and misdirection, which are two things Oregon specializes in on offense. FSU gave up 331 yards on the ground in that one, at a clip of 5.6 yards a carry. That’s not winning football, and the only reason FSU came out at top is Tech’s extraordinarily porous defense. Miami lit them up through the air as well, with Brad Kaaya putting up 316 yards at 9.3 yards per attempt. The completion percentage was actually a shade under 50%, which isn’t what you want to see, but the high YPA in spite of that means a lot of explosive plays — definitely not what you want to see before playing Oregon. This wasn’t an isolated incident either, as FSU ranked 62nd in FEI Explosive Drive Rate, which is average. A defense with this much talent should not be average at anything. What I said last time still applies —this defense is not stopping the Ducks.

In better news for ‘Noles fans, the defensive matchup with Oregon more favorable. This is what I had to say about that last time we took a look at this:

The defensive matchup is a little more favorable, but the results are a little quirky. The ‘Noles averaged barely over 3 yards a carry against OSU but put up much better numbers against a decent Syracuse unit (4.6 YPC) and a stout Florida one (4.4 YPC). I’d expect the latter sort of performance given Cook’s improvement over the year. Winston and Co. eviscerated the Wolfpack D through the air (albeit with two picks), so I’d expect FSU to be able to move the ball on the Ducks.

Two things I’d like to add here. One, I was reminded that in addition to Cook’s improvement the ‘Noles made a lineup change4along the offensive line midseason, and the rushing production was considerably better from that point. Secondly, while some of those numbers look low, it’s important to remember FSU faced one of the toughest defensive slates in the country. In fact, Fremeau had it tabbed as the toughest strength of schedule for any offense, just a smidge ahead of Alabama’s. It’s hard to put up eye-popping traditional stats on great defenses, and that’s why advanced stats bring so much value to assessing performance. FSU fields an elite offense, there is absolutely no question about that.

4 | Namely, moving 6’6", 308 lb. tackle Cam Erving to center. That’s a big center.

The Goods

Overall Quality
F/+ 35.6% (3) F/+ 27.5% (8) PUSH
FEI 0.317 (1) FEI 0.262 (4) PUSH
S&P+ 253.4 (3) S&P+ 234.3 (15) PUSH
Spread -9 Spread +9 Oregon

When Oregon Has The Ball
OF/+ 19.9% (2) DF/+ 10.2% (20) OREGON
OFEI 0.718 (3) DFEI -0.419 (17) OREGON
OS&P+ 129.9 (3) DS&P+ 113.7 (26) OREGON
Rush OS&P+ 139.0 (3) Rush DS&P+ 105.9 (50) OREGON
Pass OS&P+ 145.4 (5) Pass DS&P+ 103.6 (58) OREGON
SD OS&P+ 131.6 (4) SD DS&P+ 106.0 (48) OREGON
PD OS&P+ 162.7 (3) PD DS&P+ 106.9 (54) OREGON
OALY 135.9 (1) DALY 103.4 (46) OREGON
OASR 108.9 (54) DASR 72.6 (108) OREGON

When Florida State Has The Ball
DF/+ 12.6% (13) OF/+ 16.3% (6) PUSH
DFEI -0.415 (18) OFEI 0.649 (7) PUSH
DS&P+ 123.5 (12) OS&P+ 120.6 (10) PUSH
Rush DS&P+ 109.0 (42) Rush OS&P+ 121.6 (22) FLORIDA STATE
Pass DS&P+ 112.7 (33) Pass OS&P+ 141.5 (7) FLORIDA STATE
SD DS&P+ 115.6 (24) SD OS&P+ 129.9 (8) FLORIDA STATE
PD DS&P+ 101.3 (64) PD OS&P+ 136.3 (12) FLORIDA STATE
DALY 99.8 (65) OALY 106.1 (46) FLORIDA STATE
DASR 97.0 (74) OASR 177.0 (7) FLORIDA STATE

The Matchup on Special Teams
ST F/+ 3.1% (12) ST F/+ 1.0% (43) OREGON
FPA 0.549 (8) FPA 0.487 (85) OREGON
FGE 0.049 (57) FGE 0.715 (2) FLORIDA STATE
KE -0.225 (26) KRE -0.272 (119) OREGON
PE -0.192 (29) PRE -0.18 (96) OREGON
PRE 0.094 (11) PE -0.129 (48) OREGON
KRE -0.149 (66) KE -0.207 (35) FLORIDA 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?

The overall quality numbers are a push, but just barely. S&P+ is a bit low on the ‘Noles, which is the main difference between these two teams. It’s worth mentioning that a good chunk of the 8% margin in F/+ is due to Oregon’s excellent special teams unit, but we’ll get around to that in a bit. Vegas has Oregon as a 9 point favorite, which seems a tad high to me. That smacks of "East Coast teams don’t play well on the West Coast", but it’s not like the ‘Noles are flying in the day before the game or something. We’ll get to all of that in a minute, though.

There’s not a whole lot to be encouraged about here if you’re an FSU fan. Oregon does one thing poorly on offense, and that’s pass protection. As noted, they’ve had numerous issues over the course of the year with injuries along the line; currently, it’s senior center Hroniss Grasu5. As mentioned before, their one loss to Arizona featured five sacks of Mariota. Unfortunately for the ‘Noles, they are even less effective rushing the passer than Alabama is, so Oregon has the edge there. As for the rest of it — yeesh. Oregon’s offense is universally lauded by pundits and metrics alike, and there’s a good reason for that — it works, astonishingly well. This is not the Stanford of recent years they are playing either. I will be completely shocked if they do anything less than eviscerate the ‘Noles on that side of the ball.

5 | What a name!

The problem is that FSU is going to turn around and do the exact same thing. The margins are not quite as wide as they are on the other side of the ball, but FSU has a significant edge in all the individual matchups. Of particular concern to Ducks fans is the passing matchup, which favored the ‘Noles before bowl practices began, and really favors them now as a result of an injury I’ll talk about later on. Oregon ends up better off in the overall metrics than the components because they play in the PAC-12 (FEI) and they finish drives defensively (S&P+, which factors in the drive rating for the overall defensive metric). Don’t let those pushes fool you, however — FSU has a significant talent edge here, and will be able to do whatever they want on offense.

I think the special teams comparison is more important for this game than in any other that I’ve previewed this year. Usually you don’t see an above-average unit propped up by a single component, but that’s exactly what’s happened here with FSU. Roberto Aguayo is a phenomenal field goal kicker. Brad Craddock had a slightly better year for Maryland and earned the Groza award as a result, but you could not have gone wrong giving it to Aguayo again. If this game comes down to field goals — and it very well may — the ‘Noles have a tremendous advantage in that department. Aguayo also handles kickoffs for FSU and does a fine job there as well — Oregon’s kick return game is just ok, so FSU has an advantage there. The problem is that Oregon is significantly better at everything else, which is why there is such a disparity in the FPA numbers. FSU is return game is terrible, and barring a bunch of crazy turnovers Oregon will almost certainly win field position as a result.

This game is pretty clearly going to be a shootout. I try to avoid using obvious clichés6, but I feel like whoever has the ball last is going to win. I don’t see either one of these defenses stopping the opposing offense, so it’s something that’s going to come down to special teams, field position, and intangibles. The former two favor Oregon pretty heavily, but the latter may paint a different picture.

6 | And usually fail miserably. It’s the thought that counts!

Any intangibles to consider?

Pasadena7 is in Southern California, of course, where the weather is always nice. Except for today, where they are getting temperatures in the low-40s and rain, which is probably the best weather condition there is for existing. As best I can tell everything should be cleared out by game time, and we’ll be at the low to mid-50s and a slight wind, more commonly known as "football weather."

7 | Apparently, there’s a Pasadena in Canada as well. It’s slightly colder there.

I don’t see how this isn’t a home atmosphere for Oregon. I read earlier in the week Florida State was having issues filling its ticket allotment, and I don’t believe FSU has become one of those national fanbases where they’re just all over the place a la Ohio State. That’s an awful lot of money to plunk down on a bowl game, particularly when weighed against the possibility of a national championship game a week and a half later in a considerably closer location. I’m treating this is as a home game for the Ducks.

The big injury news since the end of the season was the loss of all-everything cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu of the Ducks, who injured his knee during bowl practice and is out for the Rose Bowl and a potential NCG berth. Ekpre-Olomu is an extremely talented guy, and the impact of this loss cannot be understated. Oregon was going to have issues defending FSU anyway, and now they’re going to have to do it without their top cover guy. As noted earlier, Grasu has been dealing with a leg injury and missed the last three games, and is still questionable for the Rose Bowl. Receiver Dwayne Stanford has an "undisclosed injury," but is probable for the game. Tyner recently indicated he’s healthy and ready to play, but may still be limited as he’s been for most of the season.

’Noles RB Karlos Williams missed the ACC championship game with a concussion, but was out of the non-contact jersey by December 16th and presumably will be available in this game. Cornerback Ronald Darby and defensive lineman Eddie Goldman are both listed as probable with arm and ankle injuries respectively.

THE PICK: When this matchup was set right after Championship Saturday, I was comfortable picking Oregon. After looking over all the metrics and considering the impact of Ekpre-Olomu’s injury, it’s much less certain. I’m still taking the Oregon Ducks, but as far as I’m concerned it’s a toss-up. Tune in, it should be a great one.