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Advanced Stats Rundown, Football Edition | 2015 Bowl Previews, Part 4

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

Troy Taormina-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 3, which covers bowl games up through Monday’s Quick Lane 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 Wednesday, December 30th, 2015.

All statistics and spreads as of December 25th, 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).

Armed Forces Bowl
California Golden Bears vs. Air Force Falcons, Tuesday, December 29th
1:00 PM CST / 2:00 PM EST, ESPN

The Matchup
F/+ 8.2% (58) F/+ 15.1% (44) PUSH
FPI 1.7 (75) FPI 13.3 (28) CALIFORNIA
FEI 0.013 (64) FEI 0.068 (44) CALIFORNIA
S&P+ 7.1 (46) S&P+ 7.6 (41) PUSH
OS&P+ 34.6 (30) DS&P+ 31.3 (87) AIR FORCE
DS&P+ 27.5 (63) OS&P+ 38.9 (17) CALIFORNIA
Home Spread 7.0 CALIFORNIA

Here we have the first of what is likely several quarterback sendoffs in this batch of bowls in Cal’s Jared Goff. Goff is only a junior, but is considered among the most pro-ready triggermen in college football, and this may very well be his final game in a Cal uniform. It’s been a bit of a disappointing season in Berkeley as a 5-0 start and some conference championship hype ran headlong into Utah’s stout defense in October[1] — four more conference losses followed, and a potentially special season ended up at 7-5. Air Force didn’t play much of a schedule, but ran to 8-3 with a win over Boise State before dropping a late road game to New Mexico and falling to San Diego State in the MWC title game by just a field goal.

1 | A 30-24 Utes victory powered by a career day from Devontae Booker, but more specifically by a whopping five interceptions from Goff.

You can see immediately that the overall quality metrics favor Cal, but are split on how much better the Golden Bears are than the Falcons. The gulf is pretty wide in FPI, but only half a point separates the two squads in S&P+. That’s the largest differential of any matchup in the postseason, and it’s hard to say why given the frustrating lack of information as to how FPI is calculated. Regardless, it’s pretty clear this is going to be a shootout, as we have two high-powered offenses paired with defenses that are not very good. Each side specializes in one facet of the game — Air Force, with the service academy standard triple option rushing attack, and Cal with Sonny Dykes’ variant of the Air Raid — which lines up with the defensive weakness of the opposing side. I think the superior talent of Cal wins out, but this will be closer than Vegas thinks.

THE PICK: California Golden Bears straight up, but the Air Force Falcons cover.

Russell Athletic Bowl
North Carolina Tar Heels vs. Baylor Bears, Tuesday, December 29th
4:30 PM CST / 5:30 PM EST, ESPN

The Matchup
F/+ 35.0% (12) F/+ 29.9% (21) PUSH
FPI 22.1 (4) FPI 17.6 (15) BAYLOR
FEI 0.159 (15) FEI 0.179 (9) PUSH
S&P+ 15.8 (14) S&P+ 10.7 (30) BAYLOR
OS&P+ 43.0 (4) DS&P+ 27.5 (65) BAYLOR
DS&P+ 27.2 (60) OS&P+ 38.2 (22) NORTH CAROLINA
Home Spread 2.5 NORTH CAROLINA

The name of the game here is injuries, which have completely decimated the Baylor offense at this point. Quarterback Seth Russell was garnering Heisman hype before a neck injury ended his season in October. His backup, Jarrett Stidham, stepped in and played capably down the stretch before an ankle injury placed the onus on his backup, Chris Johnson, who is not nearly the talent of his predecessors. Even he was playing with the services of Corey Coleman and Shock Linwood; the former is dealing with an ankle injury of his own but is probable for the bowl game, but the latter is done for the year after hernia surgery. North Carolina, on the other hand, is only dealing with one significant injury to safety Sam Smiley, who tore his Achilles in the N.C. State game. They had a real chance to knock off Clemson in the ACC Championship Game before the vaunted ACC referees blew a call on a late onsides kick.[2] They still would have had to tie Clemson and beat them in overtime, but it’s a shame they were not afforded the opportunity to do so.

2 | Believe it or not, Penn Wagers was not refereeing the game.

It’s difficult to say how this is going to go, as most of the value for Baylor stems from their offensive performance on the year. They were decidedly below-average against TCU and Texas as a result of all the missing contributors, and while bowl season practices allowed the backups more reps, it’s hard to see how the big guns are easily replaced against a team the caliber of the Tar Heels. If Baylor was at full strength this wouldn’t be close, but they aren’t, and I think North Carolina’s just too good.

THE PICK: North Carolina Tar Heels, straight up and to cover.

Arizona Bowl
Nevada Wolf Pack vs. Colorado State Rams, Tuesday, December 29th
6:30 PM CST / 7:30 PM EST, ASN

The Matchup
F/+ -10.9% (86) F/+ -24.6% (99) COLORADO STATE
FPI -6.0 (92) FPI -8.8 (98) PUSH
FEI -0.057 (87) FEI -0.095 (97) PUSH
S&P+ -2.4 (83) S&P+ -10.5 (100) COLORADO STATE
OS&P+ 29.0 (64) DS&P+ 34.5 (104) COLORADO STATE
DS&P+ 31.4 (89) OS&P+ 23.9 (96) PUSH
Home Spread -3.0 COLORADO STATE

A note about this game — if you (like me) were wondering what the heck ASN is, it’s the “American Sports Network”, a channel just a year and a half old and only available in regional markets. You may find a list of local affiliates here.

Colorado State took a step back this season after being a mid-major darling the last couple of years, as a talent drain and the departure of Jim McElwain for Florida had real impacts on the Rams. Fortunately, they draw one of the worst teams in the postseason in Nevada, who’ve tumbled quite a ways since the heydays of Chris Ault and Colin Kaepernick, and only made the postseason with a win over FCS UC Davis to start the year. The Rams have significant advantages across the board on offense, and lag behind only slightly on defense. They have a significantly better special teams unit to boot, and it’s difficult to see how they lose this one.

THE PICK: Colorado State Rams, straight up and to cover.

Texas Bowl
LSU Tigers vs. Texas Tech Red Raiders, Tuesday, December 29th
8:00 PM CST / 9:00 PM EST, ESPN

The Matchup
F/+ 12.1% (47) F/+ 35.1% (11) LSU
FPI 10.4 (35) FPI 19.0 (13) LSU
FEI 0.058 (47) FEI 0.147 (18) LSU
S&P+ 6.0 (55) S&P+ 17.1 (10) LSU
OS&P+ 44.8 (1) DS&P+ 21.9 (27) TEXAS TECH
DS&P+ 38.8 (118) OS&P+ 38.9 (16) LSU
Home Spread 7.0 LSU

Leonard Fournette, meet one of the five worst run defenses in college football.[3]

3 | Down Travin Dural and potentially another fullback, but, uh, still. Not looking good for the Red Raiders.

THE PICK: LSU Tigers, straight up and to cover.

Birmingham Bowl
API Warplainseagletigers vs. Memphis Tigers, Wednesday, December 30th
11:00 AM CST / 12:00 PM EST, ESPN

The Matchup
F/+ 25.5% (27) F/+ 11.3% (49) MEMPHIS
FPI 9.0 (43) FPI 11.3 (32) API
FEI 0.144 (20) FEI 0.049 (50) MEMPHIS
S&P+ 9.7 (36) S&P+ 6.2 (51) MEMPHIS
OS&P+ 38.2 (21) DS&P+ 25.4 (50) MEMPHIS
DS&P+ 28.6 (72) OS&P+ 31.6 (47) API
Home Spread 2.5 API

This is one of the more interesting matchups of the postseason if you are of a certain persuasion, and if you’re reading this article you’re very likely of said persuasion. API having to play in Birmingham is delightful for a variety of reasons; the fact they’re officially the away team is frankly hilarious. The more critical question is which Memphis shows up — they will be led by an interim coach as former head man Justin Fuente has already departed for Blacksburg. You probably recall how API’s season ended; as for Memphis, they ran to 8-0 before crashing into the AAC’s heaviest hitters. The victory over Ole Miss remains one of the more shocking results of the season, but the sneaky truth there is the Rebels were simply outplayed on the road. Paxton Lynch is getting a tremendous amount of draft hype, and there’s no telling what impact that may have on his preparation, but there’s certainly an awful lot to like about a 6’7” guy with an arm who can move.

It’s through the air that Memphis picks up most of their yards, and they have a significant advantage on the API defense in that regard. It’s astonishing how poor API’s pass rush is given the fleet of four and five star guys they have along the defensive line,[4] and that’s before considering an offensive line that’s been solid in pass protection all season. Plenty of time for Lynch to throw is bad news for API fans, and that’s before considering a depleted rushing offense which lines right up with the strength of the Memphis defense. It’s tempting to pick API based on the departure of Fuente, but another thing to keep in mind here is health, which heavily favors Memphis. Just not seeing it working out for little brother.

4 | The departure of Will Muschamp and the uncertain DC situation is a lovely distraction as well.

THE PICK: Memphis Tigers, straight up and to cover.

Belk Bowl
N.C. State Wolfpack vs. Mississippi St. Bulldogs, Wednesday, December 30th
2:30 PM CST / 3:30 PM EST, ESPN

The Matchup
F/+ 28.6% (23) F/+ 16.5% (41) MISSISSIPPI STATE
FPI 15.1 (22) FPI 10.0 (36) MISSISSIPPI STATE
FEI 0.128 (26) FEI 0.044 (52) MISSISSIPPI STATE
S&P+ 13.2 (21) S&P+ 11.3 (27) PUSH
OS&P+ 37.6 (24) DS&P+ 23.4 (34) PUSH
DS&P+ 24.4 (41) OS&P+ 34.7 (28) NC STATE

And now we arrive at the swan song for Dak Prescott, who departs Starkvegas as undoubtedly the finest player to ever suit up for Mississippi State. The decision to come back for his senior year seemed a bit puzzling as he graduated prior to this season, but it’s possible the additional year has helped his draft stock somewhat. The team likely fell a bit short of their goals for the season, however, as the talent drain from last year’s group dropped the Bulldogs to 8-4. Still an excellent season when viewed through the lens of program history, but perhaps not what was expected heading into 2015. N.C. State managed to hold steady from last year’s St. Petersburg Bowl-winning squad, finishing with the same record but placing a spot higher in the ACC’s Atlantic thanks to a cratering Boston College.[5]

5 | 4-4 in the ACC last year, 0-8 this year despite one of the country’s nastiest defenses.

That’s not to say the Wolfpack will be an easy out for Dak and company, however, because this team is a little better than you think they are. They largely performed to expectations, dropping games to Clemson, Louisville, Florida State, and North Carolina, with a road loss to Virginia Tech the only result that is somewhat questionable. They got there largely on the strength of a pretty solid offense, which placed in the top-10 of the S&P+ offensive rankings for rushing and on standard downs, both of which are soft spots in the Mississippi State defense. There’s a path to victory here based on that, but it may require the Wolfpack running the ball a bit more often than they’re used to, and that’s before accounting for some favorable matchups on the other side of the ball for Prescott. I suspect he finds a way to cap his college career with a victory, but it’ll be a bit closer than the experts think — probably worth tuning in for this one.

THE PICK: Mississippi State Bulldogs straight up, but the N.C. State Wolpack cover.

Music City Bowl
Texas A&M Aggies vs. Louisville Cardinals, Wednesday, December 30th
6:00 PM CST / 7:00 PM EST, ESPN

The Matchup
F/+ 15.2% (43) F/+ 18.4% (37) PUSH
FPI 9.6 (39) FPI 14.7 (23) TEXAS A&M
FEI 0.041 (56) FEI 0.103 (31) TEXAS A&M
S&P+ 10.4 (32) S&P+ 7.3 (44) LOUISVILLE
OS&P+ 31.2 (50) DS&P+ 22.4 (30) TEXAS A&M
DS&P+ 20.8 (22) OS&P+ 29.7 (58) LOUISVILLE
Home Spread -4.0 LOUISVILLE

Texas A&M has absolutely imploded since the season ended. First Kyle Allen requested and received a transfer, eliminating the ongoing competition between Kyler Murray and himself for the starting quarterback job. A few days later, Murray also requested to be released from his scholarship, only to wind up heading to Oklahoma, ostensibly to take the reins in 2017 after Baker Mayfield has moved along.[6] Thus it falls to third string QB Jake Hubenak to lead the Aggies in the bowl game, and he’s been less than spectacular in the limited reps he’s had this season — just 12 of 27 for 92 yards and a touchdown. In addition to the distraction, it’s a troublesome development for a team that’s among the most aerially prolific in the nation on standard downs, but not particularly effective on passing downs.

6 | All of this has perpetuated rumbling about Kevin Sumlin’s job status, as losing three five star QBs in about a year is nothing to brag about.

Another unfortunate aspect to this matchup for the Aggies is that pass defense is the weak point on an otherwise quite effective Cardinals defense, which specializes in stopping the run but is a tad weak through the air. In fact, the only edge the Aggies have on that side of the ball is in Adjusted Line Yards, which is certainly interesting but not particularly important for this one.

The other side of the ball is going to get ugly in a hurry. Bobby Petrino’s offense is just as pass-centric as Texas A&M’s is, but the Aggies have one of the best pass rushing groups in the country, chiefly due to the presence of Myles Garrett. Sacks have been an issue all season for the Cardinals; they are tied for 126th in the country in sacks allowed. On top of that, when they do get a throw off it will head directly into the teeth of the #2 pass defense in the country per S&P+. Given the reputations of the coaching staffs involved you’d expect an offensive shootout, but it looks more like a defensive slog — in that situation, go with the team that’s not dealing with all the distractions.

THE PICK: Louisville Cardinals, straight up and to cover.

Holiday Bowl
USC Trojans vs. Wisconsin Badgers, Wednesday, December 30th
9:30 PM CST/ 10:30 PM EST, ESPN

The Matchup
F/+ 20.0% (33) F/+ 32.6% (17) USC
FPI 13.4 (26) FPI 19.1 (12) USC
FEI 0.074 (40) FEI 0.154 (17) USC
S&P+ 11.1 (28) S&P+ 14.2 (19) PUSH
OS&P+ 26.2 (86) DS&P+ 25.4 (49) USC
DS&P+ 15.1 (7) OS&P+ 39.6 (12) PUSH
Home Spread 3.5 USC

Wisconsin’s 2015 season will go down as a “what might have been” year, as a rash of injuries spoiled Paul Chryst’s debut as the head coach. Chief among those were the various maladies that afflicted Corey Clement, the heir apparent to Melvin Gordon who carried just 29 times on the season. His absence and several injuries to the offensive line devastated the vaunted Badgers running attack; they finished 80th in the country in Rush OS&P+ just a year after finishing 10th in the same. 9-3 is still a good mark, however, and two of those losses were by just 7 points. It’s entirely possible some better injury luck might have made the difference in those two games, and it could very well have been the Badgers representing the Big 10 in the playoff this year. Their opponent has had an even more tumultuous year; unless you’ve been living under a rock all the time you’re acutely aware of what’s gone on with former head coach Steve Sarkisian. Clay Helton did an admirable job picking up the pieces and salvaging USC’s season, winning the PAC-12 South and making it competitive with Stanford for a few quarters before fading in the fourth.

USC’s a remarkably balanced team; they don’t do anything particularly well, but they don’t do anything particularly poorly either. Wisconsin, on the other hand, has a largely abysmal offense paired with an elite defense that will make moving the ball a real challenge for the Trojans. The key guy in this game is Joel Stave, playing in his final game for the Badgers. Passing is the one edge the Badgers offense may have on the USC defense, and that all rests on Stave. If he can replicate the sort of game he had against Alabama to open the year things could get interesting, but Wisconsin football relies on effectively running the ball, and it’s unlikely they’ll be able to do that in this one.

THE PICK: USC Trojans, straight up and to cover.