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Advanced Stats Rundown, Football Edition | 2015 Bowl Previews, Part 2

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

Raj Mehta-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 via ESPN, because they’re first on the list and I’m lazy.

If you missed Part I, covering the bowls up through tonight’s Miami Beach Bowl, you can find it here.

In this installment, we’ll look at the next six bowl games of the 2015 postseason, which will take us up through the games of Thursday, December 24th, 2015.

All statistics and spreads as of December 20th, 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).

Famous Idaho Potato Bowl
Akron Zips vs. Utah State Aggies, Tuesday, December 22nd
2:30 PM CST / 3:30 PM EST, ESPN

The Matchup
F/+ 9.5% (55) F/+ -9.5% (84) UTAH STATE
FPI 1.5 (76) FPI -6.8 (94) UTAH STATE
FEI 0.027 (59) FEI -0.058 (88) UTAH STATE
S&P+ 6.8 (47) S&P+ -1.3 (79) UTAH STATE
OS&P+ 29.2 (63) DS&P+ 24.1 (40) AKRON
DS&P+ 22.4 (31) OS&P+ 22.8 (107) UTAH STATE
Home Spread -6.5 UTAH STATE

In case you’d banished it from your mind, old… acquaintance Terry Bowden is still waddling the sidelines in Ohio at the helm of the Zips. He’s built something of a one-trick pony in this year’s group — you can see there the only edge they have over the Aggies is on defense, and that’s almost entirely on the strength of an outstanding rush defense, ranked 9th in the country according to DS&P+. They sport a correspondingly high rank in Adjusted Line Yards as well, which suggests running on this defense is probably not a great idea.

That’s not good for the Aggies, who don’t rank very highly in rushing offense — 101st in Rush OS&P+ — but run a lot, almost 70% of the time on the season. They don’t do much better when they decide to pass either, which suggests difficulty moving the ball at all in this one. Fortunately for them, they have an astonishing advantage on the defensive side of the ball, and probably something akin to a home atmosphere as well.[1] If you like to see offensive ineptitude and mediocrity, or just want to see ol’ Terry lose, feel free to tune in, but I’d skip it.

1 | Logan, UT is a mere four hours east of Boise.

THE PICK: Utah State Aggies, straight up and to cover.

Boca Raton Bowl
Temple Owls vs. Toledo Rockets, Tuesday, December 22nd
6:00 PM CST / 7:00 PM EST, ESPN

The Matchup
F/+ 28.3% (24) F/+ 19.5% (35) PUSH
FPI 8.0 (46) FPI 7.4 (48) PUSH
FEI 0.144 (21) FEI 0.094 (35) TOLEDO
S&P+ 11.7 (25) S&P+ 8.9 (39) TOLEDO
OS&P+ 32.6 (44) DS&P+ 18.9 (14) TEMPLE
DS&P+ 20.8 (24) OS&P+ 27.7 (76) TOLEDO
Home Spread 2.0 TEMPLE

This is not a matchup that screams “must watch!” to your traditionalists, but this is not your typical Temple or Toledo squads. The Rockets own transitive conference championships in the Big 12,[2] Big 10,[3] and SEC,[4] which means absolutely nothing but is a wonderful anecdote possible through three of the wackier games this season. Toledo did lose its head coach in the latest spin of the coaching carousel, as Matt Campbell will be the new head man at Iowa State. He’s already left for Ames and will not be coaching in the bowl game. Temple beat Penn State for the first time in 74 years, a span covering 40 games in their series, and also made it to the AAC championship game. They pushed Notre Dame to the limit, and might have nabbed the Group of Five spot in the New Year’s Six bowls if they’d been able to knock off Houston.

2 | Via Iowa State, who beat Texas, who beat Oklahoma.

3 | Via Bowling Green, who beat Purdue, who beat Nebraska, who beat Michigan State.

4 | Via Arkansas, who beat Ole Miss, who [REDACTED].

At first glance, the stats would seem to favor the Rockets somewhat heavily. They are undoubtedly the better-regarded team in the overall quality metrics, with significant edges in FEI and S&P+. They’ve got the edge on defense as well, with a unit that’s among the stingiest on the ground at #2 in DALY and #11 in Rush DS&P+. The problem is their offense,[5] which is solid but drew a tough out with one of the nation’s elite defenses in the Owls. Temple’s not much for rushing the passer — and definitely won’t be in this game, against the nation’s finest pass protection per OASR — but they do everything else well. Toledo’s rushing offense gets a somewhat favorable matchup on the ground, but this looks to be a defensive struggle in the making. I think the interim coach business proves to be enough of a distraction to send this one Temple’s way, but you should watch to find out.

5 | Led by none other than former Crimson Tide player Philip Ely.

THE PICK: Temple Owls, straight up and to cover.

Poinsettia Bowl
Boise State Broncos vs. Northern Illinois Huskies, Wednesday, December 23rd
3:30 PM CST / 4:30 PM EST, ESPN

The Matchup
F/+ 6.6% (60) F/+ 10.4% (51) PUSH
FPI 1.1 (80) FPI 9.7 (38) BOISE STATE
FEI 0.041 (54) FEI 0.06 (46) PUSH
S&P+ 3.0 (63) S&P+ 4.6 (59) PUSH
OS&P+ 27.7 (77) DS&P+ 25.5 (51) BOISE STATE
DS&P+ 24.7 (42) OS&P+ 30.1 (57) NORTHERN ILLINOIS
Home Spread 8.0 BOISE STATE

Oh how the mighty have fallen. Long the standard bearers for mid-major participation in the national title discussion, the departure of Chris Petersen for Seattle a couple of seasons ago has had a very real and demonstrable effect on this program. They grabbed the coveted Group of Five slot in last year’s Fiesta Bowl — a 38-30 win over Arizona — but this year find themselves supplanted by several AAC squads in that regard, and a Poinsettia Bowl trip it is for the Broncos. Their opponent was a mid-major darling for the brief time Jordan Lynch was plying his trade in Dekalb, but they’ve firmly settled back into good-but-not-great territory since his graduation.

As for the matchup, the initial read is a tight one, as these teams are ranked relatively close to one another in the overall quality metrics, with the curious and notable exception of FPI, which heavily, heavily favors Boise State. A peek at the FPI statistics reveals that the Huskies lag well behind Boise in most areas, with a notable 25 rank deficit in Game Control, which “reflects chance that an average Top 25 team would control games from start to end the way this team did, given the schedule.“ That takes a bit of the shine off of NIU, and when you in some key injuries, their mild advantage on defense just isn’t going to be enough — I’d skip this one.

THE PICK: Boise State Broncos, straight up and to cover.

GoDaddy Bowl
Georgia Southern Eagles vs. Bowling Green Falcons, Wednesday, December 23rd
7:00 PM CST / 8:00 PM EST, ESPN

The Matchup
F/+ 31.4% (18) F/+ 5.1% (63) BOWLING GREEN
FPI 9.3 (41) FPI 3.2 (68) BOWLING GREEN
FEI 0.127 (28) FEI -0.004 (71) BOWLING GREEN
S&P+ 15.8 (13) S&P+ 6.1 (53) BOWLING GREEN
OS&P+ 41.5 (9) DS&P+ 25.2 (47) BOWLING GREEN
DS&P+ 25.6 (52) OS&P+ 31.2 (49) PUSH
Home Spread -7.5 BOWLING GREEN

This is another one of those where the coaching situation might play a factor, as the ascendant Dino Babers has taken the Syracuse job and will not coach in the bowl game. The Falcons are among the cream of the mid-major crop according to S&P+ and F/+ with top-15 rankings in each, largely due to one of the nation’s elite offenses at #9 overall in OS&P+. They’re diversified to boot, possessing top-25 rankings in the four S&P+ components and the nation’s #2 rushing offense per the same. That lines up well with the Eagles’ strengths on defense, but unfortunately that’s at the expense of a middling pass defense that will get lit up by the Falcons.

Thus it is on the other end of the field where the interest lies, and unfortunately for Bowling Green they’ve drawn an opponent tailor-made to exploit their defensive weaknesses. Southern’s no longer a triple option team, but Willie Fritz’s spread option attack produces a tremendous number of runs,[6] and they have significant edges in the ground-based metrics over the Falcons as a result. The best way to attack a high-flying offense is to limit their possessions, and successfully running the heck out of the ball is the absolute best way to implement that strategy. Oddly enough, Southern will also be working with an interim coach, as Fritz has accepted the job at Tulane and will not coach the bowl game. I think Bowling Green wins, but this is probably worth a watch for the offensive fireworks alone.

6 | 3rd and 2nd in standard and passing down run rates, respectively.

THE PICK: Bowling Green Falcons straight up, but the Georgia Southern Eagles cover.

Bahamas Bowl
Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders vs. Western Michigan Broncos, Thursday, December 24th
11:00 AM CST / 12:00 PM EST, ESPN

The Matchup
F/+ 12.0% (48) F/+ -8.0% (81) WESTERN MICHIGAN
FPI 4.8 (60) FPI 1.3 (78) WESTERN MICHIGAN
FEI 0.057 (48) FEI -0.033 (77) WESTERN MICHIGAN
S&P+ 6.0 (54) S&P+ -2.2 (81) WESTERN MICHIGAN
OS&P+ 37.1 (25) DS&P+ 30.4 (82) WESTERN MICHIGAN
DS&P+ 31.1 (85) OS&P+ 28.2 (74) MIDDLE TENNESSEE

Before any aspect of this matchup is discussed, any and all conversation regarding the Western Michigan football team requires a mention of Coach P.J. Fleck and the following exhibit from the college football GIF Hall of Fame:

Row your boat, P.J.

Now that that’s out of the way, wow has Middle Tennessee tapered off. What looked like a team ready to spoil seasons in September ended up turning in a well below-average season, and as a result they lag far behind a solid Broncos squad in the overall metrics. They have a significant edge on the offensive side of the ball by the slightest of margins, however, and peeking at the S&P+ components for both teams reveals a shootout in the making. Middle Tennessee and Western Michigan are 21st and 22nd in Pass OS&P+ respectively; they are also 120th and 85th in Pass DS&P+. Expect to see both teams chuck the ball all over the field, but also expect the strong running game of the Broncos — as well as a significantly better special teams unit than that of the Blue Raiders — to carry the day.

THE PICK: Western Michigan Broncos, straight up and to cover.

Hawai'i Bowl
San Diego State Aztecs vs. Cincinnati Bearcats, Thursday, December 24th
7:00 PM CST / 8:00 PM EST, ESPN

The Matchup
F/+ 2.4% (65) F/+ 11.1% (50) PUSH
FPI 3.5 (65) FPI 4.3 (61) PUSH
FEI 0.036 (57) FEI 0.048 (51) PUSH
S&P+ 0.1 (76) S&P+ 6.1 (52) SAN DIEGO STATE
OS&P+ 34.0 (33) DS&P+ 22.2 (29) PUSH
DS&P+ 33.9 (98) OS&P+ 28.3 (72) SAN DIEGO STATE
Home Spread 1.5 SAN DIEGO STATE

Not real sure how you’re supposed to tell the difference between these two, as they have virtually identical red and black color schemes. Also not real sure what Vegas is thinking here, because while the margins are tight the Aztecs appear to have the edge all over the field, particularly when you consider Bearcats QB Gunner Kiel — yes, he of the deficient chest — is missing the bowl game due to a “personal matter,” which sure sounds ominous doesn’t it? He was the engine for a potent Cincinnati pass offense that was their one major edge over the Aztecs on that side of the ball. San Diego State is another one of these mid-majors with a sneaky-great rush defense, so it’s difficult to see where Cincinnati gets offense from in this one.

The other side is a bit murkier to project. On the one hand, the Bearcats are one of the worst defenses in FBS, particularly against the run, where they ranked 120th in Rush DS&P+. That defense has the pleasure of attempting to contain one of the more productive running backs in the country in Donnel Pumphrey, who comes in 10th nationally in rushing yardage after finishing fourth a year ago. On the other hand, it’s unclear whether or not Maxwell Smith will be able to quarterback the Aztecs, and his backup is a freshman with very little game experience. Expect them to lean on Pumphrey regardless, and when you factor in SDSU’s huge field position and special teams advantages[7] the pick becomes obvious.

7 | 1st and 6th in FVE and STE vs. 125th and 74th for the Bearcats.

THE PICK: San Diego State Aztecs, straight up and to cover.