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Processing the Numbers, Football Edition | Middle Tennessee State Blue Raiders

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After yet another successful neutral-site opener, the Tide play their first home game against the feisty Blue Raiders

Jim Brown-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.
Hat tips to Addicted to Quack's kalon and FO's 7th Day Adventure column for the inspiration.

So how’d last week go?

Heading into the game, it would be fair to say that everyone, from the die-hard gumps to the objective-by-design advanced metrics, was a bit cautious about the Tide. Something on the order of two-thirds of the offensive production from 2014 had left the Capstone, not to mention several key departures on the defensive side as well. Just like in 2014, the Tide would also be looking to a first-time starter at quarterback, and expectations were a bit reserved after an offseason full of storylines suggesting none of the five quarterbacks on the roster could quite grab the proverbial brass ring. About the only known quantities coming into 2015 were an outstanding defensive front seven and the best punter alive.[1]

1 | Oh, and Nick Saban. He’s kind of a big deal.

Turns out there’s some truth to all of that “reloading, not rebuilding” talk that’s surrounded the Tide program since 2011 or so. The early[2] returns suggest that all those #1 classes the Tide has pulled in over the last few years are bearing fruit, as an overhauled Crimson Tide absolutely demolished a fine Wisconsin Badgers squad by the misleading score of 35-17. The B1G’s lone tolerable outfit made things interesting in the second quarter, but a steady diet of Derrick Henry and Kenyan Drake in the second half — alongside solid-if-unspectacular passing from Jake Coker — allowed the Tide to blow this one wide open.

2 | Way, way early — lots of SEC football left to go.

A’Shawn Robinson, Reggie Ragland, and the rest of the front seven absolutely shut down the vaunted Badger run game, allowing just 40 yards on 21 carries. Perhaps the most reassuring result from last Saturday was the play of a revamped secondary, which limited Wisconsin’s suddenly-not-mediocre Joel Stave to the little stuff underneath, yielding but two completions on throws 20 or more yards from the line of scrimmage. The special teams is still a work in progress, but all in all this was a great debut for the Tide.

Wait, aren’t you supposed to be previewing something, nerd?

Right! The Alabama Crimson Tide start off the 2015 home slate at Bryant-Denny Stadium against the Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders. The game is on Saturday, September 12th, at 3 PM CDT / 4 PM EDT, and will be televised on SEC Network and WatchESPN.com.

The Goods

The Matchup
ALABAMA MIDDLE TENNESSEE THE EDGE
F/+ 67.2% (2) F/+ -12.3% (80) ALABAMA
FEI 0.279 (1) FEI -0.046 (78) ALABAMA
S&P+ 28.0 (2) S&P+ -4.4 (81) ALABAMA
FPI 23.0 (9) FPI 0.1 (67) ALABAMA
OS&P+ 44.9 (11) DS&P+ 40.7 (107) ALABAMA
DS&P+ 16.9 (26) OS&P+ 36.2 (33) ALABAMA
Spread -35.5 Spread 35.5 ALABAMA

(Bold) numbers indicate national ranking.
Statistics current as of September 9th, 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).

The Swanson Giddiness Index

Easily the most accurate predictor of success in college football, the Swanson Giddiness Index is a qualitative, completely unsupportable metric that is presented via the tone of that week's image/animated gif of Ron Swanson — beloved Parks and Recreation character and official spirit animal of Processing the Numbers.

Wondering what all of this means? Check out the PTN Primer!

The Disclaimer

For the first seven weeks or so of the season, these metrics are based partially on a few projection factors, namely recent program performance, the effects of roster attrition, recruiting rankings, and sweet, sweet voodoo.[3]

As the season progresses, data from games played will be factored in, with a progressively lighter emphasis on the projection factors. Starting about midseason, these metrics will be based purely on games played this season. At that time, we’ll also get splits for offense, defense, and special teams, as well as insights on how teams handle passing and short-yardage situations and how they manage field position.

3 | This last one’s not true.

So, what do we know?

Well, unlike last week there’s not much to talk about here. Middle Tennessee is not a college football power by any stretch of the imagination. They field decent teams every so often[4]. They are generally competitive within Conference USA, finishing second in the East Division behind Marshall last season. They obliterated Jackson State 70-14 in their season opener last weekend, which is exactly what you’re supposed to do against FCS competition.

4 | The 2009 squad went 10-3 with a win over Southern Miss in the New Orleans Bowl, for instance.

As far as their prospects this Saturday are concerned, however… well, it’s not looking too good. Considered well below average by F/+, FEI[5], and S&P+, the Tide have a significant edge over the Blue Raiders in all four overall quality metrics. One ray of hope for Blue Raider fans is their quality offense, currently rated 33rd overall per OS&P+ — pretty good for a mid-major. Unfortunately, they are not facing just any old defense in the Tide[6]. Considering what the Tide did to the previous #33 offense last weekend, points may be hard to come by for the Blue Raiders.

5 | Which currently considers the Tide #1, at least until some PAC-12 team gets an impressive win.

6 | Yes, going from #5 to #26 seems pretty absurd. Opponent adjustments are important, and they aren’t quite here yet.

The other side is even more disheartening for Middle Tennessee, as the Tide has a nearly 100 rank advantage on offense. Going to go out on a limb here and predict that Cooper Bateman, Calvin Ridley, and Damien Harris will be getting a lot of work in the second half of this one. Vegas has the line at 35.5, which honestly seems a bit conservative, but is probably right on the money.

Any intangibles to consider?

The Tide came out of a physical contest against the Badgers devoid of injuries, which is always a plus. The weather appears to be nearly ideal football weather, partly cloudy with temperatures in the mid-70s — although perhaps a touch on the windy side. These two teams have met twice before: a 39-34 Tide victory to open the frustrating 2002 season[7], and a 26-7 Tide victory to open the 2005 season — one of ten wins that season which are now vacated. Hrmm...

7 | Won the SEC West, but ineligible due to the Albert Means stuff, and then Franchione bolted. Appreciate it, Phil!

Swanson Giddiness Index

Do the Blue Raiders have a chance in this one, Ron?

The Swanson hath spoken.

The Picks

The winner of this game is a foregone conclusion, so the question is whether or not the Tide cover the spread. 36 points is a lot, but I was thoroughly impressed by what I saw last Saturday, so I’m taking the Tide to cover as well. Hopefully this doesn't portend another lost season like the last two MTSU games!

STRAIGHT UP: Alabama Crimson Tide, handily.
AGAINST SPREAD: Alabama Crimson Tide, barely.

ROLL TIDE