Advanced Stats in Rose Bowl

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The Rose Bowl is approaching faster than De’Anthony Thomas, and it is sure to be a tightly contested game that will have me breaking something in my living room at some point. The Oregon Ducks and Wisconsin Badgers will face off, as the best team in the Pac-12 will take on the best team in the Big Ten on Monday in Disneyland.

Both teams have terrific ground attacks led by LaMichael James and Montee Ball, and there really is no doubting either player’s talent; they can take over games. The Ducks also have Kenjon Barner as their number two back to spell James, and Barner averages 6.3 yards per carry for 909 total yards and 11 touchdowns. The Ducks are the 5th best rushing team in the nation, while the Badgers come into this game as the 11th best team on the ground.

The No. 10 Badgers aren’t really underdogs coming into this game, because there really isn’t a clear favorite. The BCS may have Oregon at No. 5, but the advanced statistics shed some life on the relative lack of difference in overall ability between these two well-coached teams. I would obviously take Chip Kelly over whoever’s coaching on the other sideline, but Bret Bielema is a solid football coach in his own right.

Football Outsiders is one of my favorite sites out there, and it’s a must-browse for any stat geek out there who has some interest in football. Their official ranking statistic is both complex and ingenious, and it’s simply- in length only- called F/+.

This statistic measures how good and efficient each college football team is by looking at the Fremeau Efficiency Index (FEI) and the S&P+ Ratings. FEI looks at every play in every game and takes into account situation as well as the quality of opponent, and it intelligently wipes out all plays in “garbage time” (possessions with the sole purpose of running out the clock). S&P+ looks at success rate, EqPts Per Play, and strength of schedule. Success rate basically figures out which plays were successful or not, and half of the needed yards on first down to get another first down, 70 percent of the necessary yardage on second, and a conversion on third or forth down are all considered successful plays. EqPts Per Play (PPP) is like the stat EPA, in that it figures out how many points an offense is expected to score from a certain yard line and does this on a per play basis.

Both of these statistics are extremely complex, and they give us a great deal of information and can definitively show us who the best teams are and effectively rank them. According to F/+, Wisconsin was the 5th best team in college football this season, while Oregon was 6th. The difference between these two teams is almost negligible, because just 0.6% separates these two teams.

If we take a look at the rankings in the three categories offense, defense, and special teams; we get an even better understanding of where these teams are at in the advanced metrics’ eyes. Advanced statistics back up what we see on TV, so it’s no surprise to see that the Badgers are the best offensive team and that Oregon is ranked 8th on offense. Things get a little more bearable for a Ducks fan, as Oregon is well ahead of their opponent on defense in F/+. The Ducks are ranked as the 6th best defensive team, while Bielema’s bunch are a mere 32nd. That’s a pretty big gap, and the Ducks are 30th in special teams; Wisconsin checks in at 46.

The difference between these two teams on special teams is as negligible as their overall difference, because the Ducks are about 0.6% better than the Badgers in this regard. However, the Ducks dominance on defense is relative, because the Badgers are easily the best offensive team in terms of F/+. Their 19.8% mark is a full 4.8% better than the next best teams; Baylor and LSU.

This advanced stat has ably given us evidence supporting the notion that this game will come down to Oregon’s top-flight defense’s ability to stop a high-powered offense that is the best in the nation. Wisconsin seems less apt at stopping another star-studded offense, such as Oregon’s, and it’s really up to Ball and Russell Wilson to score enough points to give them a victory. With that said, the Ducks have the intangibles and are better coached, but a final prediction is extremely difficult when looking at two evenly matched teams. Either way, this is going to be one to watch, but I have to pick the Ducks in this one. Their defense will come up with the necessary stops, and I trust Chip Kelly to be the X-Factor on the sidelines for either team. This is an early prediction, and a full preview will be written out on Sunday. However, these early thoughts are always key and a plunge into the nerdy world has yielded some answers and hard data.

You can follow me on Twitter @SorianoJoe and Autzen Zoo @Autzen_Zoo.