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Advanced Stats Rundown, Football Edition | 2015 Bowl Previews, Part 3

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

Tommy Gilligan-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 2, which covers bowl games up through tonight’s Hawai’I Bowl, you can find it here.

In this installment, we’ll look at the next eight bowl games of the 2015 postseason, which will take us up through the games of Monday, December 28th, 2015.

All statistics and spreads as of December 23rd, 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).

St. Petersburg Bowl
Connecticut Huskies vs. Marshall Thundering Herd, Saturday, December 26th
10:00 AM CST / 11:00 AM EST, ESPN

The Matchup
F/+ 7.4% (59) F/+ -7.0% (80) MARSHALL
FPI 2.6 (69) FPI -5.8 (91) MARSHALL
FEI 0.051 (49) FEI -0.003 (70) MARSHALL
S&P+ 2.9 (64) S&P+ -4.3 (89) MARSHALL
OS&P+ 26.4 (85) DS&P+ 23.9 (38) CONNECTICUT
DS&P+ 23.5 (36) OS&P+ 19.6 (114) MARSHALL
Home Spread -4.5 MARSHALL

You may recall that Marshall was the best hope for a mid-major entrant in the inaugural playoff last year, thanks to a productive veteran quarterback in Rakeem Cato and one of the nation’s most favorable schedules. Only a basketball-on-turf stumble[1] against Western Kentucky kept them from an undefeated run, although it’s difficult to imagine the committee putting them in over Ohio State even if they’d won that one. While it appears the majority of last year’s team returned this season, the departure of the most prolific passer in school history[2] resulted in a slightly less shiny record this season, despite one of the nation’s easier schedules. Their opponent is coached by former Broyles Award winner Bob Diaco, who’s slowly bringing the Huskies out of the abyss he found them in after the Paul Pasqualoni era. They have a long way to go to reach where they were under Randy Edsall, but 6-6 is an undeniable improvement and the corresponding bowl invite the first step in what’s likely a long rebuilding process.

1 | 67-66 after one overtime.

2 | Cato’s now plying his trade in Canada, and note that school history includes Chad Pennington, Byron Leftwich, and Randy Moss.

As you might imagine, the loss of Cato was most significantly felt on the offensive side of the ball, and as a result Marshall’s dipped almost 70 ranks in OS&P+ from a year ago. To make matters worse, Diaco was the defensive coordinator at Notre Dame when he won the Broyles Award, and it’s on that side of the ball where the Huskies are above-average. They have a significant advantage on the Herd in that regard, so do not expect Marshall to move the ball much. Unfortunately for UConn fans, they have one of the nation’s worst offenses, and Marshall’s defense is nearly as good as the Huskies’. This will be low scoring but Marshall takes it.

THE PICK: Marshall Thundering Herd, straight up and to cover.

Sun Bowl
Miami Hurricanes vs. Washington State Cougars, Saturday, December 26th
1:00 PM CST / 2:00 PM EST, CBS

The Matchup
F/+ 9.1% (56) F/+ 6.4% (61) PUSH
FPI 6.3 (53) FPI 7.4 (49) PUSH
FEI 0.072 (42) FEI 0.004 (67) WASHINGTON STATE
S&P+ 2.4 (67) S&P+ 6.3 (50) MIAMI
OS&P+ 32.5 (45) DS&P+ 26.9 (57) WASHINGTON STATE
DS&P+ 30.1 (81) OS&P+ 33.2 (39) MIAMI

Interesting matchup here, as the overall quality metrics are split down the middle on these two teams. In year four of his reign the Dread Pirate Leach has put together a decent squad in Pullman, largely on the strength of an offense that — stop me if you’ve heard this one before — moved on from a no-name record-setting quarterback to another no-name quarterback who’s perhaps better than his predecessor. The latter is Luke Falk, who’s been dealing with a concussion but is probable for the game. Despite the Air Raid’s reputation as a passing offense, Leach’s teams have long been more efficient on the ground than through the air, and that’s true of this year’s group as well. They pass more than anyone in the country,[3] however, which plays right into the strength of the 36th-ranked defense in Pass DS&P+. Miami’s a sieve against the run, but overall they match up well with Wazzu on that side of the ball.

3 | 128th in run rates on both standard and passing downs.

Miami doesn’t throw nearly as often as the Cougars, but they’re more likely to do so than not, and they’ve been very efficient through the air this season with the #12 offense in Pass OS&P+. In a ringing endorsement of “practice makes perfect,” the otherwise-suspect Cougars defense is solid against the pass with the #37 defense in Pass DS&P+, just one spot behind Miami. Something to watch out for here is the status of Danny Isidora and Sunny Odogwu, who are the two linemen that comprise the right side of Miami’s line. Both are questionable for the game, and if they are not able to go you can expect Miami’s 12th-ranked line in OASR to give up a little more pressure than usual. Wazzu’s essentially an average pass rushing team, but this is already a tough matchup for Brad Kaaya. At the end of the day I still think Miami gets it done — not sure what Vegas is seeing here, honestly — but you should tune in to find out.

THE PICK: Miami Hurricanes, straight up and to cover.

Heart of Dallas Bowl
Washington Huskies vs. Southern Miss Golden Eagles, Saturday, December 26th
1:20 PM CST / 2:20 PM EST, ESPN

The Matchup
F/+ 9.6% (54) F/+ 29.7% (22) WASHINGTON
FPI 3.6 (64) FPI 12.5 (30) WASHINGTON
FEI 0.041 (55) FEI 0.128 (27) WASHINGTON
S&P+ 5.5 (56) S&P+ 14.2 (20) WASHINGTON
OS&P+ 32.9 (41) DS&P+ 17.6 (10) WASHINGTON
DS&P+ 27.4 (62) OS&P+ 31.8 (46) WASHINGTON
Home Spread 8.5 WASHINGTON

Two years into his post-Boise existence, and Chris Petersen has taken the foundation Steve Sarkisian built and… gone nowhere, with two consecutive six-loss seasons to start his time in Seattle. That’s what ol’ Seven Win Sark was famous for of course,[4] and likely not what the fanbase was expecting with a coach who won 92 games in just eight years at Boise. A peek at the schedule reveals some room for optimism, however, as the Huskies beat the teams they were supposed to, were competitive in the games they lost, and were only really outclassed by Stanford, whom you might recall was a mere field goal short of the playoffs. That’s reflected in the advanced stats, where their reputation is considerably better than their win-loss record.

4 | Operative word there being “was,” unfortunately…

Todd Monken has done wonders for Southern Miss, as they actually play real, competitive football now after three years wandering in the wilderness. They had the privilege of being Western Kentucky’s punching bag in the C-USA title game, but the important aspect of the loss is that they were there at all. Pretty impressive rise from a squad that failed to win a game three years ago. Unfortunately for them, the Huskies are a significantly better team, and a ten-win season will have to wait another year.

THE PICK: Washington Huskies, straight up and to cover.

Pinstripe Bowl
Indiana Hoosiers vs. Duke Blue Devils, Saturday, December 26th
2:30 PM CST / 3:30 PM EST, ABC

The Matchup
F/+ -3.7% (75) F/+ 6.1% (62) PUSH
FPI 5.7 (58) FPI 1.8 (74) DUKE
FEI -0.023 (76) FEI 0.029 (58) INDIANA
S&P+ 0.4 (74) S&P+ 3.7 (62) INDIANA
OS&P+ 25.2 (91) DS&P+ 34.8 (106) DUKE
DS&P+ 24.8 (45) OS&P+ 38.5 (20) INDIANA
Home Spread 2.0 INDIANA

Yes, we now live in a world where Indiana, at least for the time being, plays something akin to actual football, and as such they are bowl-eligible for only the second time this century. We also live in a world wherein Duke is not an automatic win for their opponents, and David Cutcliffe has the Blue Devils going to their fourth straight bowl game, which represents a third of the total bowl invites in the history of their football program. Indiana appears to have the slightest of edges in the overall quality metrics, with the offenses of both teams having the advantage as well. The difference is Duke’s offense is horrid, whereas Indiana wins a key matchup with their passing offense, rated almost 100 ranks higher than Duke’s pass defense. Duke might be able to keep it close with how awful Indiana’s defense is, but the Hoosiers should take this one in the end.

THE PICK: Indiana Hoosiers, straight up and to cover.

Independence Bowl
Tulsa Golden Hurricane vs. Virginia Tech Hokies, Saturday, December 26th
4:45 PM CST / 5:45 PM EST, ESPN

The Matchup
F/+ 9.7% (53) F/+ -19.2% (93) VIRGINIA TECH
FPI 10.6 (34) FPI -6.0 (93) VIRGINIA TECH
FEI 0.043 (53) FEI -0.089 (95) VIRGINIA TECH
S&P+ 5.4 (57) S&P+ -6.4 (95) VIRGINIA TECH
OS&P+ 27.4 (81) DS&P+ 37.4 (115) VIRGINIA TECH
DS&P+ 22.0 (28) OS&P+ 31.0 (51) VIRGINIA TECH
Home Spread -13.5 VIRGINIA TECH

This will be Frank Beamer’s last game in charge of the Hokies, and ESPN the Independence Bowl did him a solid by lining up one of the most lopsided matchups of the bowl season. Virginia Tech has the advantage on everything but punt returns, and it’s unlikely that swings the game for the Golden Hurricane.

THE PICK: Virginia Tech, straight up and to cover.

Foster Farms Bowl
UCLA Bruins vs. Nebraska Cornhuskers, Saturday, December 26th
8:15 PM CST / 9:15 PM EST, ESPN

The Matchup
F/+ 17.9% (38) F/+ 24.3% (30) PUSH
FPI 8.7 (45) FPI 15.4 (20) UCLA
FEI 0.096 (33) FEI 0.094 (34) PUSH
S&P+ 7.4 (43) S&P+ 12.9 (22) UCLA
OS&P+ 33.7 (36) DS&P+ 25.0 (46) PUSH
DS&P+ 26.3 (55) OS&P+ 37.9 (23) UCLA
Home Spread 6.5 UCLA

Nebraska tired of 9 and 10 win seasons under Bo Pelini,[5] and looked for a change by moving to super nice guy Mike Riley in the offseason. Well, they got a change, as Nebraska concluded the regular season with less than a winning record for only the third time since 1961, which indicates how good Nebraska’s been at this whole football thing for the past 50 years.

5 | All the other antics attributed to him didn’t help, either.

The poor record this year is a bit misleading, however, as six of the Huskers' seven losses were in one-possession games. The most infamous of those was the season-opening loss to BYU, in which Tanner Mangum stepped in for the injured Taysom Hill and won his first of two straight games via last-second Hail Mary. That was the first turn in a rollercoaster ride that included a road loss to 2-10 Purdue[6] and a home win over Michigan State, the only blemish on the latter’s record. UCLA had a very UCLA season, with plenty of pre-season hype giving way to also-ran status as they stumbled against the meatier portions of their schedule. A good part of that was early knee injuries to Myles Jack and Eddie Vanderdoes that really took the teeth out of this defense — the first two of what would be seven season-ending injuries to Bruins in 2015.

6 | The only loss that wasn’t of the one-possession variety — Nebraska spotted them 5 turnovers in a 55-45 final. Sound familiar?

As far as the game is concerned, though? Fairly easy call. The chart and the spread tilt heavily in favor of the Bruins, and a brief review of the S&P+ components don’t highlight any problematic matchups in favor of the Huskers. They do have the superior special teams unit, which may come into play if the game ends up being tight, but I don’t think it will be.

THE PICK: UCLA Bruins, straight up and to cover.

Military Bowl
Pittsburgh Panthers vs. Navy Midshipmen, Monday, December 28th
1:30 PM CST / 2:30 PM EST, ESPN2

The Matchup
34.8% (13) F/+ 17.0% (39)
7.4 (47) FPI 9.8 (37) PUSH
0.161 (13) FEI 0.074 (41)
15.4 (15) S&P+ 8.6 (40)
39.2 (15) DS&P+ 24.8 (44)
23.8 (37) OS&P+ 33.4 (38) PUSH

Pitt’s season appeared to be sunk when 2014 ACC Player of the Year James Conner went down in the first game of the season with a season-ending knee injury, but they bounced back with sophomore Qadree Ollison leading the way to an above-average 8-4 finish. None of that is relevant, however, because this game is all about Keenan Reynolds, who will finish his career in Annapolis as the most accomplished Midshipmen player since Roger Staubach. Reynolds was the NCAA’s career touchdowns leader for a couple of weeks before being supplanted by Louisiana Tech’s Kenneth Dixon, but he needs just three touchdowns in this game to retake the record. This game should have an old-school feel to it, as both squads specialize in running the ball. The difference is that Navy’s just a whole lot better at it.

THE PICK: Navy Midshipmen, straight up and to cover.

Quick Lane Bowl
Central Michigan Chippewas vs. Minnesota Golden Gophers, Monday, December 28th
4:00 PM CST/ 5:00 PM EST, ESPN

The Matchup
F/+ 8.4% (57) F/+ 1.2% (68) PUSH
FPI 3.3 (66) FPI -1.5 (85) MINNESOTA
FEI -0.012 (73) FEI 0.022 (61) CENTRAL MICHIGAN
S&P+ 9.9 (35) S&P+ 0.4 (75) MINNESOTA
OS&P+ 30.3 (55) DS&P+ 27.1 (59) PUSH
DS&P+ 20.4 (21) OS&P+ 27.4 (80) MINNESOTA
Home Spread -6.0 MINNESOTA

And we arrive at our last 5-7 bowl team in the Golden Gophers, who had a very predictable season outside of the sudden retirement of former head coach Jerry Kill. They beat the teams they were supposed to, lost to the teams they weren’t supposed to beat, and backed into a bowl game on the strength of one of the country’s better APRs.[7] Central Michigan was one of the odd men out in the MAC’s West division — a four-way tie that ended in favor of Northern Illinois — with perhaps their best performance coming in a season-opening eight-point home loss to Oklahoma State. This is another example of too many bowls, as there’s very little of interest in this matchup between two mediocre teams. I’ll side with Vegas, but avert your eyes.

7 | Academic Progress Rate, the NCAA’s preferred measure of eligibility and retention for athletes.

THE PICK: Minnesota Golden Gophers, straight up and to cover.