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Processing the Numbers, Football Edition | The 2014 Season in Review

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Looking back at where the Tide ended up in 2014, and seeing whether or not I have any idea what I'm talking about.

Matthew Emmons-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 the last game go?

So. That. Well... hmm. Ron?

FIRST QUARTER SECOND QUARTER
HALFTIME
THIRD QUARTER FOURTH QUARTER
AFTER...

Can’t put it any better than that. Congrats to Ohio State University, I guess.

The Goods

Overall Quality
F/+ 37.6% (2)
FEI 0.303 (3)
S&P+ 272.8 (2)

Offensive Quality
OF/+ 19.5% (4)
OFEI 0.655 (5)
OS&P+ 134.9 (2)
Rush OS&P+ 131.4 (8)
Pass OS&P+ 151.9 (3)
SD OS&P+ 135 (3)
PD OS&P+ 143.1 (7)
OALY 122.7 (6)
OASR 196.8 (6)

Defensive Quality
DF/+ 19% (3)
DFEI -0.599 (8)
DS&P+ 138 (3)
Rush DS&P+ 154.7 (1)
Pass DS&P+ 122.3 (16)
SD DS&P+ 136.9 (3)
PD DS&P+ 125.7 (16)
DALY 144.6 (1)
DASR 85.2 (92)

Special Teams Quality
ST F/+ -0.9% (88)
FPA 0.493 (75)
FGE -0.287 (100)
KE -0.120 (75)
PE -0.350 (4)
PRE -0.255 (118)
KRE -0.219 (103)

(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, how’d we end up?

The F/+ rankings have the Tide pegged as the #2 team in the country, and while I’m sure there are several Ducks and Horned Frogs who take umbrage at that I can’t really argue with it. OSU took down the Tide in a classic that was perhaps a bit more one-sided than the score would lead you to believe, and then proceeded to annihilate an excellent Oregon team in the title game — the #1 spot is rightfully theirs. You could make an argument for TCU or Oregon at #2, but given the Tide’s body of work they are where they should be. You don’t get this high unless S&P+ and FEI agree on you, and that’s the case here.

This was one of the better Tide offenses of the Saban era, and as you can see they finished in the top-10 of the overall offensive metrics and the components thereof. The "low" marks belong to the rush game at #8 overall and on passing downs at #7 overall, ratings most programs would kill for, but also ones that underscore the issues that kept this team from achieving every goal this year.

While the seeming abandonment of the largely successful run game against Ohio State was a topic of great discussion after the game, at times this team really had to lean on Blake Sims’ abilities through the air more than was desired due to struggles on the ground. The line rounded into shape over the course of the year after some early hiccups, but something was missing from the backfield component of the equation for most of the year. The loss of Kenyan Drake against Ole Miss removed the only true speed threat the Tide had, and T.J. Yeldon’s neverending injury struggles and Derrick Henry’s limitations in a lead back role[1] prevented the 2012 SEC Championship Game approach[2] from being a viable option.

1 | Guy just can’t run in traffic, or up the middle early on. Every play can’t be a left sweep.

2 | EDDIE LACY WITH NO REGARD FOR GEORGIA’S DEFENSE, etc.

The Yeldon situation was truly unfortunate, as it added more fuel to the fire of discontent a large segment of the fanbase had with his play. I’ve been a staunch defender of Yeldon going back to well before I started contributing regularly here, and in my opinion he’s one of the finest backs we’ve ever had the pleasure of watching in crimson, if not THE finest. I think I speak for all of the sane RBRers when I say best of luck to you in the NFL, sir, and a sincere thank you for the last three years. Continued well-wishes to Kenyan Drake as well, as I hope he’s fully recovered and ready to terrorize the SEC next season.

As noted, the other bugaboo this year was passing downs, and we definitely saw that rear its ugly head against Ohio State. That doesn’t apply to the boneheaded playcalling on third and short[3], of course, but the Tide were hard-pressed to pick up any third downs against the Buckeyes. I felt a little better when it was apparent Oregon wasn’t going to do much better, but this was not an issue isolated to the Sugar Bowl by any stretch. After being a strength early on against a fairly weak out-of-conference slate, the Tide slowly lost their way on the later downs as they progressed through the SEC schedule, and it was finally too much to overcome. More on this in the final Charting the Tide, whenever I get around to actually doing that[4].

3 | RUN THE DAMN BALL LANE. MAKE THEIR ASSES QUIT, LANE.

4 | It’s coming! Soon!

The third chart is the tale of two defenses. Even after the Ohio State offensive line dominated the Tide, even after Cardale Jones refused to be tackled on scrambles, even after Ezekiel Elliott ran for over 200 yards on a Crimson Tide defense, they still finished as the nation’s best rushing defense and a sparkling third on standard downs. The problem, of course, was in the passing game, where an inexcusable lack of pressure (92nd in adjusted sack rate) and spotty coverage from individuals not named Cyrus Jones resulted in #16 finishes in overall pass defense and defense on passing downs.

As with the offensive woes, this was painfully apparent against Ohio State, with Jones converting third and long after third and long with his legs and his arm. If that sounds familiar, it’s because it was the entirety of Missouri’s offense in the SEC Championship, and a frequent sight throughout the season. I’m personally growing weary of stocking the front seven with four and five stars who aren’t able to get to the quarterback when it’s needed, and something absolutely has to change on that front. Part of the reason the secondary’s had so many issues is they are being asked to cover far longer than they ought to, and that’s on the pass rush. This wasn’t the fabled "mush rush" at work either — I’ve watched every play this season at least twice, and outside of Xzavier Dickson nobody in the front seven was able to consistently pressure the quarterback when asked to do so[5]. If that’s a schematic thing, it needs to change, because they weren’t real successful at stopping quarterbacks from taking off up the middle either. All of that being said, this was still an excellent defense, among the best in the SEC and thus the country. They weren’t able to stop the Buckeyes at the end, but frankly nobody was able to stop this version, so that’s not really anything to be too ashamed of — more on this in Charting the Tide.

5 | Rashaan Evans and Tim Williams looked promising in limited snaps, and I expect this to change when they are playing regularly.

Special teams were hot garbage this year, plain and simple. The return game was awful, rating out amongst the bottom-25 of FBS teams by the end. It will be interesting to see who takes the reins from Christion Jones, and if they have more success than the senior had this season. Whoever it is, just remember to down the ball in the endzone[6] before you leave it lying on the ground.

6 | I’m looking at you, Bobby.

The field goal and kickoff numbers are terrible as well, but given the fact Adam Griffith apparently has an untreatable back injury it’s hard to really complain about it. Poor guy is probably doing the best he can, and was pilloried in this space and many others for his efforts. My apologies sir — you just keep doing what you need to do.

And that brings us to your 2016 Heisman Trophy Winner, J.K. Scott, who put on an absolute clinic in the Sugar Bowl, boosting the punt team’s performance on the year to #4 overall. If the Tide had pulled the semifinal out, I would have been absolutely furious if anyone else had received the MVP. The only reason ‘Bama had a chance at the end was Scott’s field-flipping efforts, most notably the 73 yard punt that was the longest in the Sugar Bowl since 1943. I thought coming in to the year Cody Mandell was going to be missed more than folks realized, but lo and behold the Tide just happened to recruit the best punter alive to replace him. Marveling at his skill set over the next two years will be a delight.

And that’s all. At the end it’s clear the 2014 Crimson Tide were a good team with a few fatal flaws that prevented it from the consistent greatness of its earlier cousins, and honestly I’m totally ok with that. This was supposed to be a rebuilding year, after all, and the team ended up thisclose to the national title game. If nothing else, this is a team that played like a team, enjoying the game as much as they seemed to enjoy playing alongside each other. While I came across fairly critical up above, I assure you I have not had this much fun watching and following the Crimson Tide since I was a wee lad plotting the now-laughable chaos scenario required for the ’99 edition to win the national title. That was probably never truly realistic for this team, and I don’t really care. This was my favorite Tide team, and it’s not particularly close.

So, how’d YOU end up?

Over the course of the regular season and the postseason I offered 51 game picks for your consideration, consisting of all 12 regular season 'Bama games, the SEC Championship, and 38 of the 39 bowl games. I did not write a preview for the national championship, but I had Oregon in a tight game, which obviously didn’t quite pan out. At any rate, I thought it might be interesting to look back at the end of the season and see how everything shook out. Most importantly, my complete inability to pick bowl games is another fine opportunity for self-deprecation, and who doesn’t love that?

This season I only offered a straight-up pick, with some vague indication of final margin, and those are the two things I’ll be running down today. I figure it would be instructive to separate out the 14 ‘Bama games from the others, as I’m maybe a touch more familiar with the Tide than, say, Arkansas State.

You’ll note at the bottom there’s a poll which will allow YOU, cherished reader, to dictate what kind of content you may see on this wonderful blog next season — I highly encourage you to vote! With that, onward!

Alabama Games, Straight-Up: 12-2 (85.7%)

One of the benefits of following a successful team and picking them to win every game is that you tend to look pretty good straight-up at the end of the year, and that’s definitely the case here. Part of the reason Vegas does bets against the spread is it would be too easy to win if they did it straight-up for a team like Alabama — this program has won 88% of its games since 2008, after all. Probably don’t need to elaborate on the two losses either — yall know who they were.

Alabama Games, Final Margin: 10-4 (71.4%)

Again, this is somewhat influenced by the team in question, but I’m fairly proud of this. All four misses were in the first half of the season, when I was operating with preseason projections that greatly devalued teams like West Virginia and overvalued teams like Florida. The Arkansas game, which I had pegged as an easy win for the Tide, makes a whole lot more sense at the end of the season with how the Razorbacks finished down the stretch. Really, the only game I totally blew was Texas A&M, and let’s face it — only the gumpiest of gumps was expecting 59-0 in that one.

I nailed every game after Arkansas with respect to margin, and in particular conveyed the appropriate level of trepidation before both losses and the OT game with LSU, so all in all I’m pretty pleased. I’m going to do this a bit more formally next season so I don’t have to rely on my assessment of what I think I was thinking when I wrote something 4 months ago, etc.

Bowl Games, Straight-Up: 22-16 (57.9%)

Yikes. If that were against the spread I’d be ok, but man did my bowl picks stink — they’d look even worse if not for a fortuitous string of good picks from the week of Christmas. There’s a number of factors going on there, of course. As alluded to earlier, I don’t pay nearly as much attention to other teams as I do to the Tide, and that background knowledge is important when making fine adjustments to what the numbers tell you. Bowl season is notoriously wonky to begin with[7], as that extra rest and preparation time can have a profound impact on a team’s overall quality. Sometimes when a team falls just short of a season goal they don’t take the game seriously[8] ; other times, they feel disrespected and are out to prove they were overlooked[9]. None of that is truly quantifiable in the context of advanced stats, which would probably have done a better job picking the bowls if they had all been played a week after Championship Saturday. But hey, at least I was better than flipping a coin!

7 | The main reason the SEC West fell flat, in my opinion. Play those games at the end of the regular season and it’s more like 5-2 or 6-1.

8 | Hi, Ole Miss!

9 | Hi, TCU!

Bowl Games, Final Margin: 18-20 (47.4%)

Aaaand that’s even worse. I was all over the map with this, ranging from comically wrong to right on the money. To be fair, most of the correct picks were squarely in "a broken clock is right twice a day" territory — if you say a bunch of games are going to be tight, odds are a few will end up being tight.

At any rate, some of the good:

  • Called the shootout between Central Michigan and Western Kentucky in the Bahamas.
  • Nailed the Sun Bowl, right down to Duke’s special teams playing a major role.
  • Also nailed the Holiday Bowl as one to watch, with USC just barely hanging on.
  • More or less hit the Fiesta Bowl none of you watched.

And, some of the bad:

  • Ole Miss. Sheesh.
  • I live in Utah, heard about Utah all year, and still picked a Colorado State team missing a coach.
  • I just assumed Clemson would Clemson. Clemson didn’t Clemson.
  • Really, really overestimated Oregon. Or underestimated Ohio State — take your pick.

This was a lot of fun! I am already looking forward to next season. In the meantime, listen to Roger and RTR Support Bama Basketball! And don’t forget to vote!

ROLL TIDE