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Advanced Stats Rundown, Football Edition | 2015 Bowl Previews, Part I

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

Jeff Swinger-USA TODAY Sports

The Football Power Index (FPI) Ratings are courtesy of ESPN
All other 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.
All betting lines courtesy of BetOnline.ag via ESPN, because they’re first on the list and I’m lazy.

Yup, we’re previewing all the bowls again.

All 347 of them. It’s actually “only” 42, including the CFP Championship Game and the new Air Force Reserve Celebration Bowl, pitting the FCS MEAC and SWAC champions in what’s being unofficially called the HBCU national championship, which is awesome and should have been done years ago.[1] We won’t look at the latter as there are no advanced metrics to speak of for the FCS squads, and we’ll only be doing the former if Alabama is successful in the Cotton Bowl.[2]

1 | The more-celebrated SWAC has abstained from the I-AA/FCS playoffs since 1997; the MEAC will do so from now on.

2 | If they are not, I will be too busy weeping into my 3.2 beer to do a preview.

As for the other 40, the “New Year’s Six” bowls will receive their own separate Processing the Numbers style breakdowns, just like last year. Also like last year, we’ll be previewing the balance in shorter, Advanced Stats Rundown style previews in five installments over the next week or so. To start off, we’ll hit the first six bowl games of the 2015 postseason, which will take us up through the games of Monday, December 21st, 2015.

All statistics and spreads as of December 17th, 2015.

Wondering what all these terms are?

Overall Quality

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.

FPI: The Football Power Index, an overall team quality metric produced by ESPN. Presented as a scoring margin, FPI weights factors such as offensive, defensive, and special teams efficiencies, as well as turnovers and big plays, and also includes opponent adjustments.

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.

S&P+: Another overall quality metric constructed primarily from a play-by-play perspective, the S&P+ rating underwent big changes prior to the 2015 season. Check out the primer article for more details.

Offensive Metrics

Off. F/+: The offensive component of F/+.

OFEI: The offensive component of FEI.

OS&P+: The offensive 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.

Pass OS&P+: S&P+ calculated on passing plays for the offense — a good measure of a team's effectiveness at throwing the ball.

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.

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.

Defensive Metrics

Def. F/+: The defensive component of F/+.

DFEI: The defensive component of FEI.

DS&P+: The defensive component of S&P+.

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 DS&P+: S&P+ calculated on passing plays for the defense — a good measure of a team's effectiveness at defending the pass.

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 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.

Special Teams Metrics

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.

Line-Specific Metrics

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).

New Mexico Bowl
Arizona Wildcats vs. New Mexico Lobos, Saturday, December 19th
1:00 PM CST / 2:00 PM EST, ESPN

The Matchup
NEW MEXICO ARIZONA THE EDGE
F/+ -23.5% (98) F/+ -9.8% (85) ARIZONA
FPI -8.7 (97) FPI 5.7 (56) ARIZONA
FEI -0.084 (94) FEI -0.046 (84) PUSH
S&P+ -10.7 (101) S&P+ -2.6 (84) ARIZONA
OS&P+ 23.8 (97) DS&P+ 36.1 (109) NEW MEXICO
DS&P+ 34.5 (103) OS&P+ 33.5 (37) ARIZONA
Home Spread 7.5 ARIZONA

The New Mexico Bowl, as you might have surmised, is held in New Mexico; in fact, the game’s played at University Stadium on the campus of the University of New Mexico. You may have noticed that New Mexico is a participant in this year’s edition of the New Mexico Bowl; as such, only a strong showing from Arizona fans will keep this from being a decided home field advantage for the Lobos. This is actually the first time New Mexico’s played in this game since 2007, which is coincidentally the last time they were bowl eligible. Bob Davie — yes, that Bob Davie — has finally pulled the Lobos out of the embarrassment that was the Mike Locksley era in Albuquerque, and now they get to celebrate a winning season in front of the home crowd.

Arizona entered the season with high expectations, but injuries have decimated the Wildcats at various points this season. The big one was to all-everything linebacker Scooby Wright III, who missed virtually the entire season with a foot injury, but will play Saturday in the bowl game. This version of the Desert Swarm dropped over 60 spots in the DS&P+ rankings without Wright, which likely nullifies the only advantage the Lobos have in the chart above. The Wildcats will also get Anu Solomon back, but will be without underrated back Nick Wilson, who is out with an “unspecified issue.”[3] Backup Jared Baker has provided equivalent production on a per-carry basis, so don’t expect a big dropoff there. Also, unless you’re a fan of the triple option, you can probably skip this one as Arizona should win in a walk.

3 | My money’s on academic problems.

THE PICK: Arizona Wildcats, straight up and to cover.

Las Vegas Bowl
BYU Cougars vs. Utah Utes, Saturday, December 19th
2:30 PM CST / 3:30 PM EST, ABC

The Matchup
UTAH BYU THE EDGE
F/+ 25.0% (28) F/+ 19.5% (34) PUSH
FPI 13.2 (29) FPI 8.9 (44) UTAH
FEI 0.133 (25) FEI 0.089 (36) UTAH
S&P+ 10.0 (33) S&P+ 9.3 (38) PUSH
OS&P+ 30.4 (54) DS&P+ 23.5 (35) BYU
DS&P+ 20.4 (20) OS&P+ 32.8 (42) UTAH
Home Spread -2.5 UTAH

This game has dominated college football news this week, for a variety of reasons. For one, the Holy War rivalry between these two schools goes back to 1896, and had been played every year since 1922[4] until Utah’s move to the PAC-12 in 2011 derailed the series. They’ll pick it back up for a few years starting in 2016, but there are no games scheduled past 2020 and there’s division in the fanbases on whether or not they want to continue the series.

4 | The World War II years excepted, of course.

BYU also lost their head coach recently, as the successful Bronco Mendenhall has left for the Virginia Cavaliers but will coach BYU in the bowl game. The Cougars’ high-profile pursuit of Navy head coach Ken Niumatalolo struck out as the former Hawai’i quarterback elected to stay in Annapolis, and all signs point to Oregon State defensive coordinator Kalani Sitake as the next head man in Provo. It’s good of Mendenhall to stick around for one last game, of course — given he’s taking practically the entire staff with him made it a necessity, honestly — but this is undoubtedly a distraction.

Finally, at a pre-bowl event this week Utah defensive tackle Viliseni Fauonuku got on the mic and proceeded to inform BYU that they were dirty and not to try starting anything. There have been several incidents involving BYU players on the field in the past year, stretching back to the brawl that took place in last year’s Miami Beach Bowl with Memphis. Given the long and contentious history of this rivalry, all of this may be a recipe for fireworks.

As far as the game is concerned, the real question is what Utah’s offense will be able to do against the Cougars defense. The engine on that side of the ball all season has been Devontae Booker; he just had knee surgery and won’t be playing on Saturday. Junior Joe Williams has done a fine job stepping in for Booker the last few weeks, but it will likely be on Travis Wilson to carry the day. I don’t think he does, but you should definitely tune in to find out.

THE PICK: BYU Cougars, straight up and to cover.

Camellia Bowl
Ohio University Bobcats vs. Appalachian St. Mountaineers, Saturday, December 19th
4:30 PM CST / 5:30 PM EST, ESPN

The Matchup
APPALACHIAN STATE OHIO THE EDGE
F/+ 15.1% (45) F/+ -4.2% (76) APPALACHIAN STATE
FPI 5.7 (57) FPI -4.4 (88) APPALACHIAN STATE
FEI 0.069 (43) FEI -0.034 (78) APPALACHIAN STATE
S&P+ 7.4 (42) S&P+ 1.0 (71) APPALACHIAN STATE
OS&P+ 32.7 (43) DS&P+ 27.6 (66) APPALACHIAN STATE
DS&P+ 25.2 (48) OS&P+ 28.6 (69) APPALACHIAN STATE
Home Spread -7.0 APPALACHIAN STATE

Appalachian State moved up from FCS two seasons ago, and in their first season of bowl eligibility won ten games, finished second in the Sun Belt, and received an invite to the Camellia Bowl as a result. They have a significant edge on the Bobcats all the way down the line, even in most of the S&P+ components that are not normally discussed here. Skip this one.

THE PICK: Appalachian State Mountaineers, straight up and to cover.

Cure Bowl
San Jose State Spartans vs. Georgia State Panthers, Saturday, December 19th
6:00 PM CST / 7:00 PM EST, CBS Sports Network

The Matchup
GEORGIA STATE SAN JOSE STATE THE EDGE
F/+ -10.9% (87) F/+ -19.5% (96) PUSH
FPI -10.1 (100) FPI -5.1 (90) PUSH
FEI -0.035 (79) FEI -0.097 (98) GEORGIA STATE
S&P+ -4.5 (90) S&P+ -6.0 (92) PUSH
OS&P+ 28.6 (68) DS&P+ 33.2 (97) GEORGIA STATE
DS&P+ 33.1 (96) OS&P+ 27.2 (83) SAN JOSE STATE
Home Spread 2.0 SAN JOSE STATE

San Jose State is one of three bowl-bound teams who failed to win a sixth game this season, and yet they are favored over the Panthers. The advanced metrics tilt ever so slightly in favor of Georgia State, and both offenses have the edge on their counterparts. There really isn’t a clear edge for either team here, so it might be worth watching for that alone.

THE PICK: Georgia State Panthers, straight up and to cover.

New Orleans Bowl
Arkansas State Red Wolves vs. Louisiana Tech Bulldogs, Saturday, December 19th
8:00 PM CST / 9:00 PM EST, ESPN

The Matchup
LOUISIANA TECH ARKANSAS STATE THE EDGE
F/+ 3.7% (64) F/+ -1.1% (71) PUSH
FPI 3.8 (63) FPI 2.3 (71) PUSH
FEI 0.002 (68) FEI 0.017 (62) PUSH
S&P+ 4.2 (60) S&P+ -1.1 (78) LOUISIANA TECH
OS&P+ 34.0 (32) DS&P+ 29.6 (77) LOUISIANA TECH
DS&P+ 29.8 (78) OS&P+ 28.5 (70) PUSH
Home Spread -2.5 LOUISIANA TECH

Louisiana Tech has a slight edge in the overall metrics and a big one on offense, but a look at the components reveals a possible path to success for the Red Wolves. They have a significant advantage on passing downs, where their defense ranks 18th, over 50 ranks higher than the Bulldogs offense. If they’re able to knock Tech off schedule and get into those passing situations, they have a chance to keep this close. I don’t think they are successful.

THE PICK: Louisiana Tech Bulldogs, straight up and to cover.

Miami Beach Bowl
Western Kentucky Hilltoppers vs. South Florida Bulls, Monday, December 21st
1:30 PM CST / 2:30 PM EST, ESPN

The Matchup
SOUTH FLORIDA WESTERN KENTUCKY THE EDGE
F/+ 16.8% (40) F/+ 34.2% (14) WESTERN KENTUCKY
FPI 5.8 (55) FPI 11.9 (31) WESTERN KENTUCKY
FEI 0.097 (32) FEI 0.14 (22) PUSH
S&P+ 6.5 (49) S&P+ 17.0 (11) WESTERN KENTUCKY
OS&P+ 30.6 (53) DS&P+ 25.8 (53) PUSH
DS&P+ 24.1 (39) OS&P+ 42.8 (5) WESTERN KENTUCKY
Home Spread 2.5 WESTERN KENTUCKY

Western Kentucky was one of the better mid-major teams this season, as evidenced by their high placement in all of the overall quality metrics. They got there on the strength of one the nation’s finest offenses, including a #1 ranking in FEI’s offensive efficiency metric. The defense isn’t great and South Florida has advantages there, particularly with the #19 rushing offense per S&P+. This one has high scoring written all over it, so if that’s your thing it’s definitely worth a watch. Not sure why the spread’s this tight though, because the Hilltoppers should take this one by a touchdown or more.

THE PICK: Western Kentucky Hilltoppers, straight up and to cover.

ROLL TIDE