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Processing the Numbers, Football Edition | Wisconsin Badgers

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The Tide kick off the 2015 season against the Wisconsin Badgers — how do the advanced metrics see the weekend's marquee matchup?

Corey Clement celebrates after scoring in Wisconsin's thrilling 34-31 victory over API last December.
Corey Clement celebrates after scoring in Wisconsin's thrilling 34-31 victory over API last December.
Kim Klement-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.

The Particulars

The Alabama Crimson Tide roll into JerryWorld to kick off the 2015 season against everyone's favorite cheese-powered rushing attack, the Wisconsin Badgers. The game is on Saturday, September 5th, at 7 PM CDT / 8 PM EDT, and will be televised on ABC.

The Goods

Overall Quality
ALABAMA WISCONSIN THE EDGE
F/+ 59.8% (2) F/+ 30.1% (22) ALABAMA
FEI 0.265 (2) FEI 0.138 (21) ALABAMA
S&P+ 24.5 (2) S&P+ 11.5 (28) ALABAMA
FPI 21.3 (7) FPI 10.2 (36) ALABAMA
OS&P+ 39.3 (11) DS&P+ 22.8 (30) ALABAMA
DS&P+ 14.8 (5) OS&P+ 34.3 (33) ALABAMA
Spread -10.5 Spread +10.5 ALABAMA

(Bold) numbers indicate national ranking.
Statistics and line current as of September 1st, 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!

What the heck is going on with S&P+ and F/+? What is this "FPI"?

A post from Sunday has everything you need.

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.[1]

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.

1 | This last one’s not true.

So, what do we know?

As with last year’s West Virginia preview, the first edition of The Goods is a bit light on content. Starting soon we’ll get unadjusted[2] versions of a lot of the metrics that we can discuss, but for now, that’s all I’ve got. As noted in the disclaimer, everything we’re covering today is a projection based on a blend of factors, including past performance, recruiting rankings, returning starters, perceived schedule strength, etc. It’s the nature of the beast when working with something as volatile as college football.

2 | For opponents.

Despite that volatility, some things tend to remain the same, and the perceived quality of the Tide under Nick Saban definitely falls into that category. F/+, FEI, and S&P+ all peg the good guys as the #2 team in the country heading into the season, and it’s hard to argue with that given the finish in 2014 and the Tide’s annual recruiting excellence. The newcomer in FPI provides a somewhat dissenting opinion, however, as it has the Tide slotted in at 7th overall. Certainly not bad by any stretch, but slightly less lofty than we’re accustomed to seeing around this time of the year.

The main reason appears to be a frequent topic of conversation around these parts over the last several months — the Tide’s murderous 2015 schedule, which FPI has rated at #1 overall heading into the season. In fact, FPI is projecting an 8-4 finish for the Tide, which would be their worst record since Nick Saban arrived in 2007. Barring a spate of key injuries, that sort of outcome seems unlikely, but as discussed yesterday FPI’s[3] tendency to go left when others go right is the main reason it’s here.

3 | And its basketball counterpart, BPI, for that matter

On the other side, the Badgers arrive in 2015 as every Alabama fan’s second-favorite team, as the last time Wisconsin took the field they heroically tipped API 34-31 in overtime at the Outback Bowl. Aside from that, there’s a lot to like here for the football purists among the faithful, as Wisconsin has long been the standard bearer for old-school, smash-mouth, "I’m going to run giant people at you[4], so just try and stop me" football. We’ve seen first-hand what that looks like over the last couple of seasons, as former Badger head coach Bret "Bert" Bielema now patrols the sidelines in Fayetteville, where he has brought the Wisconsin style down to the SEC. Your mileage may vary, but I'm personally a big fan of this brand of football.

4 | If this depth chart holds, Wisconsin’s starting line runs 6’6", 312 on average.

At any rate, after rebounding from a disappointing showing in the B1G Championship, the Badgers rode high into the offseason with a gutsy 34-31 overtime win against API in the Outback Bowl, despite already starting what would be a period of great upheaval in Madison. Prior to the bowl game, coach Gary Andersen shockingly departed Wisconsin for what has to be considered a downgrade at Oregon State. The attrition bug has bit the Badgers as well, as perhaps the finest running back in a school history littered with fine running backs has left for the NFL — Melvin Gordon plays for the Chargers now. All-American offensive linemen Kyle Costigan and Rob Havenstein are no longer in Madison either, nor is solid left guard Dallas Lewallen.

This combination of factors has cooled the advanced metrics on the Badgers, as they top out at 21st in FEI but just 36th in FPI; as such, the Tide have a comfortable edge in all four metrics. The limited information we have on unit matchups is a little less clear, but the Tide sport yet another top-5 defense and an offense just shy of the top-10 against units in the 30s for the Badgers. The matchup to watch, of course, is when the Badgers have the ball. On paper and in our minds, this is a mismatch — a team that depends on running the ball against arguably the fiercest front seven in college football, and last year’s rushing defense kings[5] to boot.

5 | Outside of two plays against the Buckeyes, anyway.

To that, you might say "But this is Wisconsin!", and you would have a valid point. However, those three offensive linemen I mentioned earlier? Three replacements will take the field in Arlington, but they may not be the three the coaching staff would like in those spots. Redshirt freshman Michael Deiter appears to have locked down the left guard job, but the current starters for the right side of the line, Walker Williams and Hayden Biegel, were questionable for the opener as of a few days ago. The backups are redshirt freshmen Micah Kapoi and Jacob Maxwell, as well as another questionable lineman in senior Ray Ball. These are not the sorts of issues you desire within a week of facing any team, let alone Alabama.

But this is Wisconsin, which means yet another talented running back is in the pipeline. This year it’s New Jerseyite Corey Clement, last seen putting up 105 yards on 7 YPC in the Badgers’ inspiring 34-31 overtime victory against API in the Outback Bowl. Clement has patiently backed up Gordon the last two years, and after compiling 949 yards in 2014, he’s apparently of the mind that 2000 yards isn’t out of the question for 2015. I’ll defer to Curtis Hogg’s exquisite piece on Clement over at Bucky’s 5th Quarter for further details on the new Badger starter, but suffice it to say this is a guy you need to be concerned about. The Tide will get the better of this matchup on Saturday, but Wisconsin will get theirs, just like they always do.

The other side of the ball is more interesting, and the reason for that is Dave Aranda. Convincing the celebrated defensive coordinator to stick around in Madison was a huge coup for new head coach / returning hero Paul Chryst, as Aranda is the same guy who turned the Badgers defense into a top-10 unit in 2013. After some early struggles in 2014 this group gelled nicely down the stretch, and were tough to deal with outside of an unfortunate meeting with a buzzsaw in the B1G Championship. There’s been attrition on this side of the ball for the Badgers as well, and that’s the main reason S&P+ is a little low on them right now.

The Tide has its own uncertainties heading in — who’s playing quarterback being the main one — but there’s enough talent in Tuscaloosa to overcome that obstacle. Wisconsin’s a heck of a lot better than last year’s opening opponent in West Virginia — this is the team that valiantly knocked off API 34-31 in overtime in the Outback Bowl[6], after all. However, I think the fruit of multiple top recruiting classes will be too much for the Badgers to handle, and the outcome will end up looking a lot like last year’s opener.

6 | "Any opportunity to troll API is an opportunity worth taking" — SaxonRBR

The line at the time of writing was 10.5 points in favor of the Tide, which feels right to me. The S&P+ margin is 13 points in favor of the Tide, which is right around the 14 point differential I expect to see on the scoreboard at the end of the game.

Any intangibles to consider?

JerryWorld is one of those fancy domed stadiums, so weather won’t be an issue. It's effectively a neutral field — not sure how Wisconsin is doing on ticket sales, but I’m assuming they’ve sold most or all of theirs — so that’s not a consideration either. These two teams have played each other once before, a 15-0 thrashing in favor of the Badgers way back in 1928. Wisconsin does pretty well in season openers, but lost their most recent one to LSU last season. The Tide are 5-0 in neutral-site regular season games under Saban, and haven’t dropped an opener since 2001. You remember that game — UCLA cheerfully strolled into Bryant-Denny Stadium for the immortal Dennis Franchione's first game at the Capstone and rode 15 Tide penalties and 2 Tide turnovers (against 0 and 0 for the Bruins) to a 20-17 squeaker victory. Don’t yall miss the old days?

Swanson Giddiness Index

Ron could care less who the opponent is. It’s the first game of the season, so Ron’s just excited for that. That being said, he smells victory. Victory smells a lot like bacon.[7]

7 | No, not that kind.

The Picks

Going to do something a bit different this year. Instead of just picking straight up, I’m going to attempt to pick against the spread, so we can all have a laugh at how utterly terrible I am at it after all is said and done. Usual disclaimers apply — bet money on these picks at your own peril. After all, I’m really just a guy with an internet connection and some time.

STRAIGHT UP: Alabama Crimson Tide, handily.
AGAINST SPREAD: Alabama Crimson Tide, though not by much.

ROLL TIDE