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Advanced Stats Rundown, Football Edition | 2015 Bowl Previews, Part 5

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

Tim Heitman-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 4, which covers bowl games up through Wednesday’s Holiday Bowl, you can find it here.

In this installment, we’ll look at the last eight lesser bowl games of the 2015 postseason, which will take us up through the games of Saturday, January 2nd, 2016. The first two of our Processing the Numbers-style previews for the New Year’s Six bowls will be coming tomorrow.

All statistics and spreads as of December 26th, 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).

Outback Bowl
Northwestern Wildcats vs. The Viles, Friday, January 1st
11:00 AM CST / 12:00 PM EST, ESPN2

The Matchup
F/+ 30.3% (19) F/+ 15.4% (42) THE VILES
FPI 19.1 (11) FPI 6.3 (54) THE VILES
FEI 0.164 (12) FEI 0.076 (39) THE VILES
S&P+ 11.8 (24) S&P+ 7.1 (45) THE VILES
OS&P+ 33.1 (40) DS&P+ 14.8 (4) NORTHWESTERN
DS&P+ 21.3 (25) OS&P+ 21.9 (109) THE VILES
Home Spread -7.5 THE VILES

It’s happening, whether you want it to or not. The Viles are bouncing back from the depths of the Derek Dooley era, and assuming Joshua Dobbs returns for another year with Jalen Hurd and Alvin Kamara, they will be hell to deal with in 2016. Their schedule was front-loaded this year, and after going 3-4 against the meatier bits, the Viles closed the season with five straight wins — their third year of improvement under Butch Jones. Northwestern came out of nowhere to post only their fourth 10 win season in school history, two of which belong to current coach Pat Fitzgerald. They were undefeated, including a win over Stanford, before getting pasted in back-to-back weeks by Michigan and Iowa at the season’s mid-point.

The Wildcats built that success on the back of their defense, which finished the regular season at #4 in the DS&P+ rankings. The pass rush is middling, but they excel at every other aspect of defensive play, and they’ll need every bit of the rush defense against the Viles. The problem will be on the other side of the ball, where the Viles field a defense just as good as their offense — a poor matchup for the Wildcats’ horrendous offense. Don’t expect a lot of points out of either team, but do expect a Viles victory.

THE PICK: The Viles, straight up and to cover.

Citrus Bowl
Michigan Wolverines vs. Florida Gators, Friday, January 1st
12:00 PM CST / 1:00 PM EST, ESPN2

The Matchup
F/+ 30.0% (20) F/+ 37.3% (10) PUSH
FPI 14.6 (24) FPI 15.7 (18) PUSH
FEI 0.127 (29) FEI 0.138 (23) PUSH
S&P+ 14.6 (17) S&P+ 20.7 (6) MICHIGAN
OS&P+ 29.4 (61) DS&P+ 13.0 (2) MICHIGAN
DS&P+ 14.8 (5) OS&P+ 33.7 (34) FLORIDA
Home Spread 4.0 MICHIGAN

Here we have a battle between two coaches who had about as good a debut at their new schools as could be expected, with Jim McElwain notching 10 wins and a division title at Florida[1] and Jim Harbaugh winning nine games at Michigan. The Gators looked to be headed for bigger and better things before Will Grier got himself suspended; the former starting quarterback has now elected to transfer away from Gainesville, but would have been on the sidelines for most of 2016 regardless. Despite a rather anemic offense with Treon Harris at the helm, the Gator barely lost to LSU before getting thoroughly outclassed in their last two games by Florida State and Alabama. Michigan started out the year with a loss on the road to Utah, but proceeded to pound their next five opponents into a fine pulp before That Punt happened against Michigan State. Four more wins followed before they were blown off the field by a thoroughly pissed off Ohio State squad,[2] and now they’re here.

1 | Spurrier and Meyer managed just 9 wins in their debut years, although Spurrier’s crew would have won the SEC if the Gators hadn’t been sanctioned.

2 | The previous week they also lost to Michigan State on a last-second play.

The overall quality metrics all tilt in the direction of Michigan, with the edge in S&P+ being significant. This will certainly be a defensive struggle, as this game matches up two of the five best defenses in college football per DS&P+. Florida’s getting nowhere on offense; Michigan’s defense this season was almost as good as Alabama’s, and you saw what happened in that game. On the other side Michigan sports a good passing attack with an offensive line that can stand up to the Gators pass rush. They won’t run the ball for much, but they’ll get enough through the air for a W.

THE PICK: Michigan Wolverines, straight up and to cover.

TaxSlayer Bowl
Penn State Nittany Lions vs. Georgia Bulldogs, Saturday, January 2nd
11:00 AM CST / 12:00 PM EST, ESPN

The Matchup
F/+ 19.0% (36) F/+ 13.9% (46) PUSH
FPI 15.6 (19) FPI 6.8 (51) GEORGIA
FEI 0.082 (37) FEI 0.027 (60) GEORGIA
S&P+ 9.6 (37) S&P+ 10.8 (29) PUSH
OS&P+ 28.3 (73) DS&P+ 19.5 (16) PENN STATE
DS&P+ 18.7 (11) OS&P+ 30.3 (56) GEORGIA
Home Spread -6.5 GEORGIA

This is another one of those games where the stats and season performance are not really the most important factor to consider, as Georgia’s coaching staff is in absolute shambles after the firing of Mark Richt. The future is bright with Kirby Smart, but his departure from Alabama opened up a spot now filled by former Georgia defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt, who will not coach in the bowl game. The interim coach will be former receivers coach[3] Bryan McClendon; he’s already been named co-offensive coordinator on Will Muschamp’s staff at South Carolina. All of this is a very sad end to what looked to be a promising year in Athens before Nick Chubb’s knee injury ruined the season. Penn State’s defense is every bit as good as Georgia’s was, and while Georgia’s rushing offense, even without Chubb, should have been good enough to make a difference here, I’m not thinking the focus is going to be there.[4]

3 | And recruiting coordinator. And passing game coordinator. And former assistant head coach. Lot of hats for Mr. McClendon.

4 | Also, Georgia’s dealing with several injuries and suspensions to key players, some of whom will definitely not play.

THE PICK: Penn State Nittany Lions, straight up and to cover.

Liberty Bowl
Kansas State Wildcats vs. Arkansas Razorbacks, Saturday, January 2nd
2:20 PM CST / 3:20 PM EST, ESPN

The Matchup
F/+ 34.1% (15) F/+ -4.3% (77) ARKANSAS
FPI 16.2 (16) FPI 6.3 (52) ARKANSAS
FEI 0.16 (14) FEI -0.01 (72) ARKANSAS
S&P+ 14.9 (16) S&P+ -1.4 (80) ARKANSAS
OS&P+ 43.5 (2) DS&P+ 29.3 (75) ARKANSAS
DS&P+ 28.6 (71) OS&P+ 27.9 (75) PUSH
Home Spread -12.5 ARKANSAS

Who made these SEC-Big 12 matchups? This one is even more laughable than LSU-Texas Tech. Avert your eyes, this will get ugly.

THE PICK: Arkansas Razorbacks, straight up and to cover.

Alamo Bowl
Oregon Ducks vs. TCU Horned Frogs, Saturday, January 2nd
5:45 PM CST / 6:45 PM EST, ESPN

The Matchup
F/+ 32.7% (16) F/+ 25.8% (26) PUSH
FPI 21.0 (7) FPI 14.4 (25) TCU
FEI 0.175 (10) FEI 0.135 (24) TCU
S&P+ 12.8 (23) S&P+ 10.5 (31) PUSH
OS&P+ 39.5 (13) DS&P+ 31.4 (88) TCU
DS&P+ 26.6 (56) OS&P+ 41.9 (8) OREGON
Home Spread -1.0 TCU

Much like Wisconsin, this will go down as a “what might have been” year for the Ducks, who lost several key contributors early to injuries and spent the first half of the season breaking in transfer QB Vernon Adams Jr., who had the unenviable task of replacing a Heisman Trophy winner in Marcus Mariota. Adams was also dealing with some nagging injuries during that time frame, causing him to miss significant time in the Utah and Washington State losses. When he returned after the latter, he rattled off six consecutive conference games with a passer rating in excess of 150; he broke 280 in back-to-back games at Stanford and against USC. Oregon won each of those games, but the early losses kept them out of the conference championship game and correspondingly out of the playoff hunt.

TCU looked playoff-bound for most of the season, beating up on the weak end of a back-loaded schedule before injuries and improved competition took their toll. The loss at Oklahoma State was a bad one, but they were very close to knocking off Oklahoma in Norman, and may have snuck past Ohio State for the #4 seed if they had managed to win that game. They enter without Josh Doctson, whose wrist injury will keep him out of the bowl game, and may also be without starting center Joey Hunt, who is questionable with an unspecified issue. All signs indicate that Trevone Boykin will play with his ankle injury, however, and since he’s basically the offense at this point that’s very good news for the Horned Frogs.

This will be quite the shootout as neither of these defenses are particularly well-regarded, but both offenses are explosive. TCU is very pass-centric and their offensive ratings are tilted in that direction as well, with a rushing offense ranked 65th per S&P+ but the #14 Pass OS&P+ rating. Oregon is far more balanced, with top-20 marks in both Rush and Pass OS&P+,[5] and you can expect to see a heavy dose of Royce Freeman against TCU’s somewhat weak rush defense. The Horned Frogs’ passing attack cratered while Boykin and Doctson were dealing with injuries in the final third of the season, but expect a return to the early part of the season with a healthier Boykin and a poor opponent defense. I think TCU’s slightly better defense makes the difference here, but this is a definitely a game you should not miss.

5 | Unlike TCU they also actually run the ball, with top-40 marks in run rate on both standard and passing downs.

THE PICK: TCU Horned Frogs, straight up and to cover.

Cactus Bowl
West Virginia Mountaineers vs. Arizona State Sun Devils, Saturday, January 2nd
9:15 PM CST / 10:15 PM EST, ESPN

The Matchup
F/+ 10.0% (52) F/+ 23.8% (31) WEST VIRGINIA
FPI 9.2 (42) FPI 15.2 (21) WEST VIRGINIA
FEI 0.064 (45) FEI 0.079 (38) PUSH
S&P+ 3.8 (61) S&P+ 14.4 (18) WEST VIRGINIA
OS&P+ 33.7 (35) DS&P+ 20.3 (18) WEST VIRGINIA
DS&P+ 29.9 (79) OS&P+ 34.7 (29) WEST VIRGINIA
Home Spread 1.0 WEST VIRGINIA

It’s hard to see how West Virginia ended up at 7-5 with these ratings, as an elite defense[6] and a solid defense against a weak schedule should have produced a better result than this. Looking at that schedule, however, they lost to the teams they probably should have, with the only curious result being the final game of the season, on the road at Kansas State. They significantly outgained the Wildcats despite a huge deficit in time of possession, had one less turnover and an equivalent penalty situation to KSU, but still lost 23-24. The reason was drive efficiency, as the Wildcats generated one more point per scoring opportunity than the Mountaineers did, and that made the difference in the game.[7] Arizona State’s year was relatively uneventful — the outcome of 10 of their 12 games was relatively obvious before kickoff, and they split the two toss-ups with UCLA and Oregon.

6 | Not shown: Third against the run and 14th against the pass per S&P+.

7 | Finishing drives is important, and this was a problem for the Mountaineers, as they finished 63rd nationally in points per scoring opportunity.

As far as their matchup is concerned, it’s hard to see what Vegas is seeing for this one. The Mountaineers have a significant advantage on the defensive side of the ball, and they have advantages on offense as well, most importantly in the passing phase of the game. Their field position and special teams numbers are largely equivalent, so West Virginia should win comfortably.

THE PICK: West Virginia Mountaineers, straight up and to cover.