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Processing the Numbers, Football Edition | Ole Miss Rebels

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Revenge time, folks. Last year's spoilers get to experience the joy of a pissed off Bryant-Denny on Saturday, and it should be epic.

Nelson Chenault-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?

Pretty much as expected. Middle Tennessee came out fired up and ready to play, as the mid-majors are wont to do in their paycheck games against the SEC.[1] In the early going the Blue Raiders made life tough on the Alabama defense, leveraging their HUNH attack to pick up chunks of yardage at will,[2] held back only by a penchant for turnovers and mental error penalties. The Tide capitalized on those turnovers, and after what must have been one heck of a… motivational speech, completely shut down Middle Tennessee in the second half on their way to a 37-10 victory.

1 | I see you, Toledo.

2 | Although, oddly enough, that’s not actually what happened. Stats are great.

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

Right! The Alabama Crimson Tide look to avenge their lone regular-season loss from a year ago when they welcome the Ole Miss Rebels to Bryant-Denny Stadium. The game is on Saturday, September 19th, at 8:15 PM CDT / 9:15 PM EDT, and will be televised on ESPN and WatchESPN.com.

The Goods

The Matchup
ALABAMA OLE MISS THE EDGE
F/+ 68.3% (1) F/+ 47.8% (8) ALABAMA
FEI 0.293 (1) FEI 0.174 (14) ALABAMA
S&P+ 27.3 (2) S&P+ 23.2 (3) PUSH
FPI 23.2 (7) FPI 27.7 (1) PUSH
OS&P+ 40.5 (8) DS&P+ 20.9 (27) ALABAMA
DS&P+ 13.2 (7) OS&P+ 44.0 (5) PUSH
Spread -7.0 ALABAMA

(Bold) numbers indicate national ranking.
Statistics current as of September 16th, 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?

Right off the bat the ranks jump out at you. Aside from a curiously low S&P+ rating for an Ole Miss defense that may be even better than last year’s outstanding group, we’re looking at basically top-10s across the board. Yes it is early in the season, and yes Ole Miss has yet to play anybody,[4] but these are two outstanding teams matching up in Tuscaloosa on Saturday. That last bit may be the difference in the game, but we’ll get to that later.

4 | For that matter, what’s to say Alabama has? Who knows what Wisconsin ends up being.

The F/+ rankings are shaking out oddly to start the season, with Ohio State and Alabama in the upper 60s, and then a freefall to third place team Oregon down at around 55%. Only seven ranks separate the Tide and the Rebels in this weeks’ ratings, but yet the Tide is purportedly 20.5% better. Gotta love early season rankings wonkery.

The main reason for the huge disparity is the equally huge one in FEI, which has the Tide placed at #1 and Ole Miss at #14, with about a 40% difference in rating. I suspect Ole Miss’ weak schedule so far has a lot to do with that, which means once they get into the meat of the SEC slate that differential will be rectified. S&P+ and FPI (which has Ole Miss #1 overall) are both too close to call, at least by my methods, and oddly project the same neutral-site margin of victory, only inverted. S&P+ says the Tide win by 4 on a neutral field, whereas FPI has it at 4.5 for the Rebels.

Thus, we’re down to the S&P+ splits to figure something out about this game. As noted, Ole Miss’ defensive rating is pretty low, but I can’t see how that’s accurate, given what we know about their talent, scheme, and past performance. I mean, this is a defense that hasn’t been challenged, but also hasn’t given up any points outside of garbage time.[5] They haven’t played anybody, but they’ve absolutely crushed who they have played, which is what you are supposed to do in those sorts of games.

5 | They managed to be up by at least 28 every time Fresno scored.

So the chart says Alabama’s offense will have the edge in that matchup, but we’ll see. I’m not thinking those running lanes up the middle are going to be as open with the likes of Robert Nkemdiche and Woodrow Hamilton plugging up the works, and the edges haven’t really been there yet this season. Passing seems like a better option, but so far the Tide hasn’t been able to connect with its #1 receiver in ArDarius Stewart against less-talented defenses. Jake Coker followed up a solid debut with a shaky second act against Middle Tennessee, with a plethora of misplaced throws and questionable decisions, particularly on the deep balls. I don’t think the Tide are breaking 30 in this one, and will probably do well to break 20.

The key players here are Kenyan Drake and Robert Foster. I don’t think this is a Derrick Henry game, at least not before the fourth quarter, which means it’s on the senior to get the ground game moving. Drake is a matchup nightmare given his speed and versatility, and his continued success will go a long way toward the Tide pulling this one out. It’s entirely possible he may have been the difference in last year’s game if he hadn’t gotten hurt, but it’s probably best not to revisit that whole conversation a year down the line. The Tide desperately needs a go-to target, and something seems to be off between Coker and Stewart. He and Foster have been right on the money though, and I think he’s the best bet to ascend into the space vacated by Amari Cooper by the end of the season. If Calvin Ridley would like to become some some sort of preternatural, otherworldly beast, this weekend would be an awesome time to start.

The other side of the ball is where this game will be won or lost,[6] and S&P+ appropriately enough has it as a toss-up. Regardless of all of the excuses explanations provided for Dr. Bo’s uneven play in his three years at the helm in Oxford, Chad Kelly appears to be a tremendous upgrade through two games. The Tide will need to get to Kelly early and often, and their ability to do so may be the key to victory. The pass rush looks better so far, buoyed by the Tide’s ridiculous talent along the line, and may be further assisted if Ole Miss decides to sit Laremy Tunsil. They won’t, because he’ll be mysteriously cleared of all alleged wrongdoing Saturday morning, as that’s how it works in college football. All due respect to Cam Robinson and probably some guy in the B1G I’ve never heard of, but Tunsil is the best tackle in college football, and his presence will go a long way toward keeping the Ole Miss machine running smoothly.

6 | Unless it’s field goals, and good lord I don’t even want to think about that.

Which means we need to talk about receivers. As noted during Erik’s chat with RCR’s Zach Berry, the Rebels’ two-deep at the receiver spots is full of guys 6’2” or taller, which is going to put a heck of a strain on the Tide’s faster but smaller secondary. The big name, of course, is Laquon Treadwell, who appears to be fully recovered from his gruesome leg injury suffered in last year’s game against API. Cyrus Jones will be firmly attached to Treadwell’s hip the entire game, and I expect Jones will limit him somewhat, but the country’s finest receiver will get his. Nobody stopped Cooper last year, and Treadwell is absolutely that class of talent. At the same time, don’t sleep on Cody Core and Quincy Adeboyejo, who are both big and very, very fast. Minkah Fitzpatrick and Marlon Humphrey have played well given their level of experience, but big, fast veteran receivers against talented but green cornerbacks is a terrifying proposition.

The Rebels’ all-everything tight end Evan Engram has been suspiciously silent this season, and it says right here that was an intentional bit of gamesmanship from Hugh Freeze and Co., with this game in mind. Dealing with Engram will probably be Reggie Ragland’s job, and like Jones’ task against Treadwell, I think he’ll have an impact but Engram will have success regardless. The middle of the field has been open for business through two games, and I don’t see any reason that changes Saturday.

Finally, don’t bother listening to anybody drone on about Jaylen Walton and Jordan Wilkins and Akeem Judd and oh Ole Miss can run now and etc. They’re about to have their lunch eaten in that regard, because the Tide’s front seven is just that good. As far as rush defense is concerned this is 2011 redux, so if Ole Miss is going to win this game, they’re going to have to do it through the air. This will be Kelly’s first true test as a starting QB, and whether or not he’s up to the challenge will be the difference. I think he plays well, but not quite well enough.

Any intangibles to consider?

It should be nice and cool Saturday night in Tuscaloosa, although there is a slight chance of rain. I’m not going to bother talking about historical records here, as this is not your dad’s/uncle’s/older sibling’s Ole Miss. The Tide have a bit extra to play for after last year’s loss, and Saban-coached teams have done awfully well in so-called revenge games. On the player side, neither team has any significant injuries that I’m aware of, so the big question is going to be whether Tunsil plays. I think even if he hasn’t been “cleared”[7] Ole Miss will roll the dice, because this game may decide the SEC West when all is said and done.

7 | Apparently it’s serious, so maybe he won’t play. Cut to all the shocked Georgia SEC fans.

Finally, this one is in Tuscaloosa, and don’t discount 100K rowdy Tide fans at night. We certainly aren’t LSU in that regard, but I fully expect an atmosphere like last season’s Mississippi State game, which was absolutely nuts, trust me.

Swanson Giddiness Index

This is not the brash, smug, confident Swanson of a week ago. This Swanson has a deep respect for the talent of Ole Miss; this Swanson is hoping for the best. But he’s worried, and you should be too.

The Picks

This is the tipping point for the season, if you ask me. Alabama either cements its place as the favorite in the West, or we’re getting 2010 all over again.[8] I don’t think there’s an inbetween this year. Let’s hope it doesn’t come down to field goals.

8 | The absurdity of fandom — many, many teams would celebrate 10-3, and we’d be disappointed by it.

STRAIGHT UP: Alabama Crimson Tide
AGAINST SPREAD: Ole Miss Rebels

ROLL TIDE