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[+] Team Summaries

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Mountain West Championship Preview

8-4 Utah State vs. 10-1 Fresno State
Saturday, 10:00, CBS

What they do well

Offensively, Utah State avoids turnovers, but most of the team's magic has been worked on defense.  Allowing just 1.18 points per possession, a starting field position 74 yards away from the end zone, 124 seconds per opponent possession, 13.1% of drives resulting in TDs, and just 3.71 points per red zone trip are all factors that have led USU to the MWC championship game despite the loss of their best offensive player early in the year.

What Fresno State does well is score.  They put together long (6.39 plays, 40.7 yards), productive (3.01 points per drive, 40.4% TD rate) drives.  FSU doesn't turn the ball over, with just 8.5% of drives ending in that fashion, and they finish off drives well, with high red zone scoring and TD rates.

What they don't do well

Utah State doesn't have any severe weaknesses on offense, but the offense has been rife with mediocrity since the injury to Chuckie Keeton.  If Keeton were in this game, we'd be in for a much more interesting affair.  Unfortunately, the USU offense probably isn't capable of keeping up if this turns into a shootout.

Fresno State's issues are on defense, where mediocrity abounds.  Specifically, FSU doesn't force turnovers, and they give up too many points in the red zone.

EPA+ Matchup

USU rush O (-.06) vs. FSU rush D (-.05)
USU pass O (.03) vs. FSU pass D (.03)
FSU rush O (.09) vs. USU rush D (.19)
FSU pass O (.12) vs. USU pass D (.10)

EPA+ favors Fresno State in two matchups, USU in one, and is dead even in another.  However, USU's one advantage, their rushing defense, is the biggest in the game.  All told, EPA+ recognizes USU's defense as the best unit on the field, and it considers the Bulldogs' offense slightly overrated thanks to a pretty easy schedule.   


While our EPA+ metric suggests USU might be primed for the upset, I still get the feeling that they'll miss Chuckie Keeton too much in a game against future NFL draft pick Derek Carr.  As good as the USU D has been, some good quarterbacks have gotten the best of them; Derek Carr should do the same, and Fresno State should win comfortably. 

That said, I've gone against EPA+ before and regretted it, so this one bears keeping an eye on.  I'm picking the Bulldogs, but nervously so.

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Big Ten Championship Preview

12-0 Ohio State vs. 11-1 Michigan State
Saturday, 8:17, FOX

What they do well

Nationally, the Buckeyes rank #2 in points per possession (3.67), #3 in Effective Points Per Possession (1.79), #5 in yards per possession (41.7), #5 in starting field position (66.3), #2 in drives that end in TDs (50%), and #2 in points per red zone trip (6.06).  The defensive numbers aren't quite so eye-popping, but they're still strong: #15 in points per possession (1.33), #4 in field position (74.9), and #20 in yards per drive (25.7).

Michigan State's offense isn't on par with Ohio State's, but they do have good field position (65.7) and the #10 time of possession (169 seconds per drive) keeps their defense fresh along with keeping OSU's offense off the field.  The Spartans rank #1 in the country in avoiding turnovers, with just 5.2% of drives ending in an INT or fumble.  Where MSU stands out is on defense: 
0.97 points per possession (#3)
1.20 Adjusted effective points per possession (#6)
5.00 plays per possession (#5)
18.9 yards per possession (#1)
74.4 starting field position (#5)
116 seconds per possession (#3)
11.2% of drives ending in TD (#5)
14.0% of drives reaching Red Zone (#1)
It's as good a resume as any defense in the country.  Getting to see them go against the Ohio State offense will be one of the treats of championship weekend.

What they don't do well

Ohio State's defense yields too many touchdowns in the red zone, but other than that, they're a team with few weaknesses.  That's hardly a surprise when you're 12-0.

Michigan State has a mediocre at best offense, ranking 55th in points per possession, 70th in EP3+, 61st in TD rate, 67th in RZ%, and 81st in RZ scoring.

EPA+ Matchup

OSU rush O (.36) vs. MSU rush D (.28)
OSU pass O (.27) vs. MSU pass D (.24)
MSU rush O (.04) vs. OSU rush D (.13)
MSU pass O (.06) vs. OSU pass D (.08)

It's a tale of two equally important matchups: On one hand, you have a dynamic Buckeye offense going against the best defense they've faced all season.  On the other, a generally boring MSU offense takes on a solid but unspectacular OSU defense.  Unfortunately for the Spartans, a chic upset pick all week long, the Buckeyes hold the EPA+ matchup edge in each facet of the game.  That suggests a Buckeye victory.


I've heard a lot of upset chatter surrounding this game, but the Buckeyes are the better all-around team and should win. 

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ACC Championship Preview

10-2 Duke vs. 12-0 Florida State
Saturday, 8:00, ABC

What they do well

Duke does a good job of turning red zone trips into touchdowns, with 71% of RZ trips netting 6 or more points.  Defensively, Duke surrendered 1.47 points per possession and got good starting position (73.2).  They're decent at forcing turnovers and getting off the field before teams get into the red zone.

I usually talk about statistics in which teams rank in the top 25, but doing so for Florida State would take too long.  Let's limit it to top 10:  Offensively, FSU is top 10 in points per possession (3.99, #1), EP3+ (2.23, #1), yards per possession (43.2, #2), starting field position (66.1), drives ending in TD (52%), drives reaching the red zone (44%), points per red zone trip (5.90, #3), and just to top it off, they're one of a handful of teams that has not turned the ball over on downs inside the 20.  The FSU offense is really, really good.  Defensively, they're top 10 in points per possession (0.83), EP3+ (1.25), yards allowed per possession (21.1), starting field position (73.7), drives ending in TD (10.1%), forcing turnovers (20% of drives), keeping teams out of the red zone (only 16%), and RZ turnovers on downs forced (13%).  Boy, that was exhausting.

What they don't do well

Duke doesn't put together many long, time-consuming drives, so don't expect them to keep Jameis Winston off the field.  They turn the ball over a little too much as well.  Conversely, opponents put together long drives that do consume time.

Florida State just doesn't have any weaknesses that are glaring.   I suppose their rush defense is only above average rather than the elite status I'd bestow on all other facets.  However, that is probably due more to FSU always having a lead and willingly giving up some rushing yards just to prevent big passes.   

EPA+ Matchup

Duke rush O (.13) vs. FSU rush D (.13)
Duke pass O (.08) vs. FSU pass D (.39)
FSU rush O (.30) vs. Duke rush D (-.01)
FSU pass O (.48) vs. Duke pass D (.06)

If EPA+ were sentient, it would laugh heartily at the suggestion that Duke could win this game.


Florida State.  If FSU doesn't win, it will be the worst loss in program history.  That's how much better they are.

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Pac-12 Championship Preview

10-2 Stanford vs. 10-2 Arizona State
Saturday, 7:45, ESPN

What they do well

Stanford ranks in the top 25 offensively in EP3+ (1.24), starting field position (66.4), and time of possession (163 seconds per possession).  Defensively, the Cardinal is top 25 in EP3+ (1.06), starting field position (74.4), fewest drives ending in TDs (17.3%), points surrendered per red zone trip (4.16), and red zone trips ended with turnover on downs (12.1%).

Arizona State is top 25 offensively in points per possession (2.84), EP3+ (1.57), field position (66.4), and getting to the red zone (41% of all drives).  Defensively, the Sun Devils are top 25 in EP3+ (0.96), plays per possession allowed (4.92), yards per possession (24.0), time of possession (125 seconds), and turnovers forced (15.7%).  

What they don't do well

Stanford isn't great at making the most of their red zone trips, averaging just 4.78 points per trip and scoring a TD in just 57% of trips into the red zone.  Stanford has topped 30 points only once in their last 7 games, and this is one reason why.  Defensively, Stanford is good as usual, but two weaknesses stand out: they aren't a turnover machine (84th), and while they limit big plays and scoring in general, they aren't quick to get off the field, ranking 114th in plays per possession (6.20) and 68th in TOP (139 seconds per drive).

Arizona State has no real discernible offensive weaknesses.  Defensively, they're strong except for the final 20 yards.  When defending the red zone, Arizona State ranks 86th in points per trip (5.05), and not once has Arizona State forced a turnover on downs in that area of the field.  Teams that cross ASU's 20 score, and they usually score touchdowns.

EPA+ Matchup

Stanford rush O (.14) vs. Arizona State rush D (.09)
Stanford pass O (.24) vs. Arizona State pass D (.17)
Arizona State rush O (.24) vs. Stanford rush D (.15)
Arizona State pass O (.24) vs. Stanford pass D (.19)

The first thing I always do is look for mismatches, but here there's not an obvious one.  It turns out the closest thing we have is Arizona State's rushing offense against Stanford's rushing defense.  That's pretty surprising, as Stanford in recent years has had elite rush defense, and they famously stifled Oregon's running attack earlier this year.  Utah was able to run on Stanford, but for the most part, teams have been unable to.  Specifically, Arizona State was stifled in their earlier season matchup, running 24 times for just 50 yards in Stanford's win.  That should be the key matchup of this game.  Taylor Kelly will get his passing yards, and Stanford's fine with that as long as they come on passing downs like last time.  Arizona State's rushing attack has improved throughout the season, and they get their chance to make up for the one big blemish on their season.  They should be better equipped to do so this time around, at home.


This should be an excellent game, with excellent matchups.  Tune in to watch Arizona State's offense take on Stanford's defense, but another matchup also has my eye: Stanford's poor red zone offense against Arizona State's equally underwhelming red zone defense.  The best play will happen with those units on the bench, but the game could be decided in those key moments.

I think this game could play pretty evenly, but I'll take the Sun Devils at home.

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SEC Championship Preview

11-1 Missouri vs. 11-1 Auburn
Saturday, 4:00, CBS

What they do well

There's plenty that Missouri does well.  They rank in the top 25 offensively in points per possession (2.92), EP3 & EP3+ (1.31; 1.25), yards per possession (38.6), starting field position (67.7), turnover avoidance (7.1%), and points per red zone trip (5.47), among other things.  Their defense has quietly been great as well, ranking in the top 25 in points per possession (1.38), EP3+ (1.03), starting field position (72.9), turnover rate (17.4%), and avoiding TDs and points in the red zone (only 50% TDs, 4.28 points per trip).  This is a great all-around team with very few holes.

Auburn is solid across the board as well, though not quite as accomplished as Missouri.  Top 25 offensively in points per possession (2.91), EP3+ (1.28), yards per possession (39.3), and drives ending in touchdowns (38%).  Defensively, the War Damn Tigers rank in the top 25  in EP3+ (.70), starting field position (73.2), and limiting points in the red zone (3.99 per trip). 

What they don't do well

There's really not much in the manner of weaknesses for Missouri.  It's nitpicking, but I suppose I could point out that the Missouri D occasionally is susceptible to long drives (5.77 plays per possession, 133 seconds per possession), but even then, I'm not sure it's much of a weakness.

Auburn's issues are slightly more glaring.  Offensively, they tend to be boom or bust; despite their healthy offensive statistics, they don't average a lot of plays per drive, turn the ball over more than you'd like, and occasionally leave the red zone with nothing to show for it.  Defensively, they give up long drives, ranking 78th in both plays per possession and yards per possession.  Auburn ranks just 74th in defensive turnover rate.  

EPA+ Matchup

Missouri rush O (.22) vs. Auburn rush D (.07)
Missouri pass O (.23) vs. Auburn pass D (.15)
Auburn rush O (.21) vs. Missouri rush D (.16)
Auburn pass O (.16) vs. Missouri pass D (.20)

The mismatch of the day is Missouri's rushing offense against Auburn's rush defense, where Missouri holds a significant edge.  They also should do well throwing the ball.  Auburn's offense, especially lately, has been phenomenal, with the passing game coming along, but this Missouri defense is stout.  Just a week ago, they held Johnny Manziel to just 216 total yards of offense.  EPA+ suggests that Missouri has the edge.


When Missouri beat Texas A&M 28-21 last week, it joined the double overtime loss to South Carolina as only the second time any team stayed within a single score of Missouri this season.  Auburn, on the other hand, just hasn't been as consistently impressive.  They lost by two touchdowns to LSU.  Washington State, Mississippi State, Ole Miss, Texas A&M, Georgia, and Alabama all nearly beat them.  Whether by divine providence or a relentless avoidance of natural regression to the mean, it's clear that Auburn is a charmed team.  They'll need that luck to continue to beat Missouri.  Whether it will or not just adds to the appeal of this game.  

As for my pick, I'll go with the better team: Missouri. 

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Conference USA Championship Preview

9-3 Marshall vs. 9-3 Rice
Saturday, 12:00, ESPN2

What they do well

Offensively, Marshall excels at turning drives into points, averaging 3.14 points per possession.  They rank 22nd nationally in our effective points per possession metric even after an adjustment for competition.  The Herd gets good field position, moves the ball well, and most importantly makes their red zone trips count, averaging 5.74 points per RZ trip (Baylor averages only 5.36).  

Defensively, the Thundering Herd does a good job in limiting points per possession, at just 1.38.  They do an alright job of getting turnovers, doing so on 14% of defensive drives.  Combined with a knack for forcing turnovers on downs in the red zone, Marshall's defense manages decent enough results despite lackluster results on a per-play basis.

The Rice offense may not have much to write home about, but they have been remarkable at capitalizing on scoring opportunities.  Of the top 10 college offenses in points per red zone trip, Rice is the only one without a particularly good offense.  An otherwise pedestrian offense has been good in the RZ thanks to 6-5 WR Jordan Taylor and his 7 TDs.

Defensively, the Owls get off the field quickly, ranking in the top 25 in fewest plays allowed per drive and TOP allowed.

What they don't do well

Marshall's offense, by design, doesn't really play the clock control game.  Despite a very productive offense that moves the ball well, they rank just 112th with 119 seconds per possession.  The Herd is also a bit gunshy with kicking field goals, having attempted just 14 this season with only 64% success.  They've even missed 3 PATs this season.  If the game comes down to a single play, they'd rather it come down to the QB's arm than the kicker's leg. Defensively, they also lose the time of possession battle; their opponents average 148 seconds per possession.

For Rice, everything about the offense outside of the red zone scoring screams mediocrity.  Perhaps mediocrity is kind, with meager totals all across the board.  Defensively, it's more of the same.

EPA+ Matchup

Marshall run O (.06) vs. Rice run D (-.00)
Marshall pass O (.22) vs. Rice pass D (-.05)
Rice run O (.02) vs. Marshall run D (-.02)
Rice pass O (-.09) vs. Marshall pass D (-.06)

The biggest mismatch seems to be when Marshall passes the ball, which is terrible news for Rice, because Marshall is content to throw all day long.  Marshall's pass defense could be a liability, but Rice doesn't seem poised to take advantage of that.


To me, this one seems pretty obvious - I'm taking Marshall.  Rakeem Cato against the Rice pass defense alone is reason enough for the Herd to cruise to their first Conference USA title.  I don't expect a particularly close game.  Rice does some things nicely, but Marshall is the better team thanks to a superb offense.

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MAC Championship Preview

9-3 Bowling Green vs. 12-0 Northern Illinois
Friday, 8:00, ESPN2

What they do well

Bowling Green makes good use of its possessions, netting 2.96 points per drive (16th nationally).  They are slow and methodical, but in an efficient manner: 6.51 plays per possession, 41 yards per possession, and 184 seconds per possession - all 3 are top 7 nationally.  When they get the ball, they keep it (3rd nationally in TO per possession), and they turn it into points.  

The 2012 Falcons had a great defense.  2013's edition isn't quite up to that level, but it has still been pretty solid.  They limit points per possession (1.22, 11th nationally), and due to good offense and special teams, they enjoy an average starting field position 74 yards away from the goal line (7th in the country).  When opponents get into the red zone, BGSU maintains good scoring D despite a relatively high TD rate; this is due to the 3rd best turnover-on-downs rate in the country, with 16% of red zone drives ending in that manner.

Northern Illinois also turns drives into points, with 3.07 points per possession, 39.4 yards per possession, and generally good starting position.  They do it differently than Bowling Green, hurrying along at just 126 seconds per drive.  Similarly, NIU limits turnovers, 7th nationally in TO per possession.  The Huskies drive into the red zone on 41% of possessions.  This is a scoring machine led by a legitimate Heisman contender.

Defensively, the Huskies do a passable job preventing points (1.67 per possession; 39th), but passable is all you need when they score like they do.  Like BGSU, they start drives in good defensive field position (73.1 yards; 17th).  NIU is good at flipping the field, with 16.3% of defensive drives ending in turnovers.  Only 20% of opponents' drives reach the red zone.

What They Don't Do Well

Bowling Green doesn't give itself many chances to make up for mistakes.  At just 11.4 possessions per game, BGSU's style of play doesn't lend itself to ample opportunities for comebacks.  NIU can stare at the clock, down by 10 with 10 minutes to play, and not panic.  Bowling Green, in the same situation, might feel that fire.  They can't fall behind in this ballgame and reasonably expect a quick comeback in the 4th.

NIU is occasionally has issues getting off the field.  As mentioned earlier, only 20% of opponents reach the red zone, but 65% of those teams score TDs.  Bowling Green can put together long, methodical drives, and NIU could struggle to end them.

EPA+ Matchup

BGSU Rush O (.10) vs. NIU Rush D (-.10)
BGSU Pass O (.08) vs. NIU Pass D (.05)
NIU Rush O (.16) vs. BGSU Rush D (.00)
NIU Pass O (.13) vs. BGSU Pass D (.05)

EPA+ suggests that while the Huskies' offense shouldn't be slowed down too much by an above-average Falcon defense, the biggest mismatch in the game will be when Bowling Green runs the ball against a suspect NIU defense.  This bodes well for the upset chances, as BGSU will try to control the clock and keep the ball away from likely Heisman finalist Jordan Lynch.  EPA suggests they should be able to.


I generally consider momentum an overrated aspect of football, but in this game it really might play a major role, as the game could go in two drastically different directions.  

Bowling Green is good enough to pull off the upset, but it needs to happen from the opening whistle.  I think BGSU will have success keeping the ball away from Jordan Lynch and the potent Husky offense.  Hopefully they've made enough defensive strides since Indiana whipped them 42-10 in September to at least keep the game interesting.  If the game is within a score heading into the 4th, the Falcons have a great chance at the MAC title.  They'll need to be their efficient, controlling selves, but they've been that most of the season.

NIU needs to build an early, multiple score lead to take BGSU out of its comfort zone.  If they get that early momentum, BGSU could struggle to keep up and the game could potentially get ugly.  NIU's key to this game is their 1st half defense.  The Husky offense will get its points, but if it gets the Falcon clock-control offense off the field quickly for a few drives in the first half while they build their lead, NIU should emerge with an easy win.

Pick: One of my above scenarios drastically favors NIU.  The other basically suggests a coin flip game in the 4th quarter.  The pick here is Northern Illinois.  Root for the close game.  Since it's the MAC, I imagine we'll get it.

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Sunday, December 1, 2013

The NIU Oversight

In the Fall of 2012, most of us agreed that NIU was over-ranked.  As I wrote last year, we watched as the voters, seemingly intentionally, tried to bust the BCS.  However, it is perplexing that the NIU of 2012 and the NIU of 2013 are apparently viewed by the BCS system as equals.  This time last year, NIU was ranked 15.  Today they are ranked 14.

One quick and interesting visual we can use to determine if these two teams are comparable is a tree of NIU's wins from this year and last year.  For simplicity's sake, a team is included in the tree only once, and at the point where it has the fewest degrees of separation from NIU.

Here's this year (full size):

And here's last year (full size):

If you count it all up, NIU this year is connected by winning to 123 teams or every team in the FBS except two: Ohio State and Florida State.  Last year, however, they were connected to only 105.  However, we also see the Iowa loss (noted by the red X) from last year's tree.  How bad was that loss?  Well, we could now look at the tree of losses for last year to get a sense.

NIU's 2012 Loss Tree (full size):

Bad.  Through losses, originating in their one loss to Iowa, NIU in 2012 was connected to 116 teams (more than through wins).  Not good, and they shouldn't have gone to a BCS bowl.  But NIU this year is undefeated.  Not only are they undefeated but in their tree of wins they are connected to every team with at least one loss in the country: Alabama, Auburn, Oregon, Stanford, Missouri, Oklahoma State, etc.

So why not NIU?  Obviously last year they were ranked too high, but this year, evidence suggests they are ranked too low.  The voters and the more tautological ranking systems may not agree, but from an evidence based perspective, if Ohio State or Florida State were to lose, NIU has a case to make.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

New Feature: Pick All (Beta)

The new pick all feature lets you see the predicted score for every game this season between two FBS opponents, past and future. In each case, the pick is what the model would anticipate if the two teams played tomorrow.

For now, pick all is under Picks: Pick All. To see the picks for a specific team, type the team name in the green box. The typed name must match the listed name exactly, so if you're not sure how a team is listed, leave the green box empty and scroll down to find the team. You can also filter by date using the box labelled "date". Dates are formatted as single numbers, month and then day, so August 11 is 811 and November 7 if 1107.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Top offensive performances of the week

EP3 stands for Effective Points per Possession. It is a measure of how many points a team scores per possession while also allowing a point value for field position. The rankings here adjust EP3 for the strength of the opposing defense.

Sunday, November 17, 2013


The model likes Baylor by two TDs over Oklahoma State, LSU by 5 over Texas A&M, and Missouri by the same over Ole Miss. And it likes Florida State by 74.2 over Idaho; it could happen.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

The Big 12 quarterback famine

The SEC has four teams in the top 10 in opponent-adjusted offensive efficiency (EP3+), and five in the top 11 (Texas A&M, LSU, Alabama, and Georgia; South Carolina is 11th). Even in raw offensive efficiency (EP3), the SEC has three of the top 9.

The Big 12, on the other hand, has Baylor at #1 overall, but then the second best comes in at 25th nationally (Kansas State), followed by Oklahoma State, Texas Tech and Texas at 31, 33, and 34 respectively. Looking only at points per possession, there are 7 SEC teams ahead of the 2nd most prolific Big 12 offense, and three Big 12 defenses rank among the top 20 in defensive efficiency compared to four from the SEC.

What happened to Big 12 offenses? Half of the answer seems to be that Big 12 defenses have improved. The second part of the answer is behind center. After Bryce Petty, who's currently holding off Manziel for the top spot nationally in EPA+ (opponent-adjusted expected points added), we have a run of six SEC quarterbacks before we get to the next Big 12 quarterback. And that quarterback, Davis Webb, like Petty is a first year starter.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Best offensives performances of the week

EP3 stands for Effective Points per Possession. It is a measure of how many points a team scores per possession while also allowing a point value for field position. The rankings here adjust EP3 for the strength of the opposing defense. 

Sunday, October 13, 2013

The week's best and worst performances

EP3 (effective points per possession) measures performance points and impact on field position per possession. Perf-O and Perf-D adjust the EP3 for the quality of the opposition.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Could Baylor average 4 points/possession?

As of right now, Baylor is averaging 4.23 points/possession and Florida State 4.20, so I could have written about Florida State. But while Florida State has been good, Baylor has been better. Baylor leads the nation in EP3+, yards/possession, EPA/pass and EPA/rush, yards/pass and explosive plays/pass. Bryce Petty leads the world in EPA+ and EPA+/pass, and he is 8th among QBs in EPA+/rush. Seastrunk is 2nd in EPA+ among running backs and Linwood is 7th. So far this season, Baylor has been the best offense in the country and it isn't close. [And if anyone thinks I'm biased, I'll have you know that I can't read the above paragraph without wanting to vomit.]

But 4 points per possession is no easy task. Louisiana Tech led everyone last season with about 3.5. Remember when Sam Bradford was kicking butt at Oklahoma (before BYU broke him)? The 2008 team managed 3.66. The Oregon team that lost to Cam Newton? They averaged only 3.15. Andrew Luck and his Cardinal were the standard bearers that year, and they averaged only 3.50.

So why could Baylor do it? First, they are doing it. Not only do they have a track record of offensive proficiency, but they only need to average about 3.9 points/possession the rest of the way. Second, this offense is really, really good. The Manziels were historically good last year. They finished with an EP3+ of 2.15. Baylor so far this season (and, mind you, it is early) is a full point better. 

Third, perhaps the biggest challenge to reaching 4 is you have to keep scoring from beginning to end. Unlike the advanced metrics on this site, points/possession doesn't weight high-leverage possessions or drop junk time. The really good offenses take the foot off the pedal when they're up 35 points in the third quarter. This is one reason Alabama tends to score well in points/possession - they play slowly enough that it takes them longer than Oregon to get the huge lead. 

Their are three possible solutions: 
1) Play really bad defense (call this the A&M 2013 approach). Games stay close and you have to keep scoring. The problem with this approach is that most good offenses are like the "40 minutes of hell" Arkansas teams. The defense feeds into the offense. Regardless, Baylor has been playing good defense so far this season. 

2) Have a soulless **** for a coach. I have nothing against Art Briles personally, but he doesn't seem like the type of man to worry too much about appearances. But more relevant is . . . 

3) Score really, really fast. Manziel and the Aggies perfected this technique at the end of 2012. You can always go full speed in the first half, so score 42-56 points on 6-8 possessions, and then slow things down (but don't stop) in the second half.  Baylor is averaging about 50 points in the first half.

Baylor is projected to more than 4 points/possession in every game this year but TCU. They are projected to more than 4.8 points per possession against Iowa State, Kansas and Texas. But staying above 4 is like hitting .400 in baseball with the expectation that you give away some at bats when your team is up big. This team might be the best equipped of any in history to do it, but it's still a long shot.

Monday, October 7, 2013

The week's best defensive performances

Maryland had scored at least 32 points a game. They scored 37 against West Virginia, as many as Oklahoma and OSU combined. C.J. Brown was third among quarterbacks in terms of percent of passes completed for 25+ yards. And Florida State allowed 234 yards and 0 points against the Terps. 

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Best offensive performances of the week

LSU, Florida State, Boston College, and South Carolina outscored Baylor by EP3 - the Bears had some imperfections on their way to 56 points at half time and 73 points total - but they get extra credit for doing it against West Virginia, not Maryland, Army or Kentucky. That might sound odd, but West Virginia allowed 37 total points to Oklahoma and Oklahoma State. 

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

A closer look at the nation's top defense

By EP3+, the top eight offenses in the country so far have been (in order) Baylor, Illinois, Oregon, Texas A&M, Georgia, Florida State, Louisville, and Ohio State. Seven of the eight were locks to be among the nation's top defenses before the season started, and you can't deny Illinois' production.

Top eights defenses by EP3+? West Virginia, Florida, Washington, Virginia Tech, Louisville, Baylor, Alabama, Penn State. Yeah, that's weird.

West Virginia? The Mountaineer claim to fame is that they allowed 16 points to Oklahoma and 21 to Oklahoma State. They did allow 37 to Maryland, but the Terps are averaging 40. Saturday they play Baylor. I doubt they'll pass that test.

Baylor/Louisville? Numbers 1 and 2 in fewest points allowed per possession. Baylor has me convinced for now that they're a legitimate title contender. I'm less sold on Louisville, but they've definitely opened my eyes.

Washington? Seventh in points/possession allowed and they've played Boise State, Illinois and Arizona.

Monday, September 30, 2013

Week 5's best performances

EP3 is the effective points per possession, or how effective an offense is with each possession. I adjust the raw EP3s to account for the strength of the competition.

Illinois comes out on top after scoring a 2.88 EP3. Overall in 2013, the Illini are 13th in EP3. Arizona State got Lane Kiffin fired, so you can guess that was a pretty good performance. Oregon had a very odd game. They got a big lead early on short fields and then cruised. The result is an unimpressive EP3, but still a fairly good Perf-O. The model got a little confused with Oklahoma State's -0.89. It decided that OSU might have been a little off their game but West Virginia was also playing world beater defense.

Florida, Washington, Virginia Tech and Alabama were also credited with playing good defense. Air Force was swiss cheese. The model gave little credit to Nevada and New Mexico for big offensive performances, instead placing the blame on the defense.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Week 5 Saturday Preview: The 3:30-6:30 games

An EPA-centric preview of every game this weekend.  To find out more about Expected Points Added, click here.

#6 LSU (4-0) at #9 Georgia (2-1), 3:30, CBS

LSU rush O (.17) vs. UGA rush D (-.006)
LSU pass O (.59) vs. UGA pass D (.185)
UGA rush O (.08) vs. LSU rush D (-.011)
UGA pass O (.61) vs. LSU pass D (-.081)
Zach Mettenberger indeed has been much better this season, and it seems that's the national story of the week.  As good as he's been, Aaron Murray has been better, with slightly better per-play stats against considerably better competition.  Murray always seems to thrive out of the spotlight, and despite his elite level of play so far, that's exactly where he finds himself in the days leading up to this game.  LSU's defense has hardly proven to be elite, registering as slightly above average against underwhelming competition so far.  While EPA suggests LSU will have a clear mismatch when throwing the ball, adjusting for opponent suggests it might not be as much of an advantage as it seems.  Georgia has already faced two teams that could very well be better than LSU this year.  LSU hasn't faced anything comparable to Georgia, and they're on the road.  Am I predicting a Georgia win?  I'm not predicting anything either way.  I've simply noticed a disproportionate number of analysts taking the Tigers in what should be a close, exciting game.   
Player to watch: Georgia QB Aaron Murray (53.5 EPA) ranks 2nd in the country in opponent-adjusted EPA.

UTEP (1-2) at Colorado State (1-3) - I like the Rams in this one, mostly due to UTEP being bad at defense this year.

#14 Oklahoma (3-0) at #22 Notre Dame (3-1), 3:30, NBC

OU rush O (.17) vs. ND rush D (-.029)
OU pass O (.07) vs. ND pass D (-.010)
ND rush O (-.10) vs. OU rush D (-.136)
ND pass O (.14) vs. OU pass D (-.211)
The Oklahoma defense has been very effective this year, and coupled with a somewhat balanced offense, the Sooners should have the advantage in this game.  It's a premier matchup between two storied programs.  This is what all non-conference games should be.
Player to watch: Oklahoma QB Blake Bell (31.3 EPA) ranks 9th nationally in opponent-adjusted EPA per pass.

#8 Florida State (3-0) at Boston College (2-1), 3:30, ABC/ESPN2

FSU rush O (.39) vs. BC rush D (.033)
FSU pass O (.59) vs. BC pass D (-.006)
BC rush O (-.08) vs. FSU rush D (-.041)
BC pass O (.01) vs. FSU pass D (-.354)
I'm surprised this game gets a national billing, as FSU seems poised for a blowout victory.  There's not a facet of the game where I expect the Eagles to get the upper hand.
Player to watch: Florida State QB Jameis Winston (51.5 EPA) ranks 7th in opponent-adjusted passing EPA.

Iowa (3-1) at Minnesota (4-0), 3:30, ABC/ESPN2

Iowa rush O (.05) vs. Minn rush D (-.173)
Iowa pass O (.06) vs. Minn pass D (.125)
Minn rush O (.28) vs. Iowa rush D (-.217)
Minn pass O (.00) vs. Iowa pass D (-.172)
Last week, I promised that I'd be a Gopher believer if they handled San Jose State.  They did, and now I am.  Unfortunately, I'm going to pick Iowa to win.  The Hawkeyes are more battle tested and their defense is pretty superior to Minnesota's.  However, the Gophers are improved yet again under Jerry Kill, and if they took home Floyd of Rosedale for the second straight year, it would be only a mild surprise.
Player to watch: Minnesota RB David Cobb (14.9 EPA) is 23rd in rushing EPA.

Central Michigan (1-3) at NC State (2-1) - NC State will win, but they haven't been quite right on offense since Brandon Mitchell's injury.

Week 5 Saturday Preview: The Early Games (12-3)

An EPA-centric preview of every game this weekend.  To find out more about Expected Points Added, click here.

#15 Miami (3-0) at South Florida (0-3), 12:00, ESPNU

Miami rush O (.25 EPA per play) vs. USF rush D (-.026)
Miami pass O (.27) vs. USF pass D (.045)
USF rush O (-.24) vs. Miami rush D (-.008)
USF pass O (-.49) vs. Miami pass D (-.473)
There's a good argument that South Florida is the nation's most disappointing team so far.  Willie Taggart seemed like a perfect fit.  He had legitimate success at Western Kentucky, and he hails from the greater Tampa area.  The thing is, he might be the perfect fit, but if the perfect fit inherits no talent in the passing or rushing attacks, the perfect fit won't look like the perfect fit.  USF ranks 123rd in EPA per pass, costing the team a point every 2 times they throw the ball.  The defense wasn't great in the 53-21 loss to McNeese State, but even that final score doesn't tell the full story.  9 points were scored when the D was off the field, one TD came on a drive that only required 7 yards, one FG was allowed on a 3-and-out that started in Bulls territory, and another TD capped a 16 yard drive.  That's 26 points either directly from or helped greatly by the problems of the offense or special teams.  Since that game, the defense has managed to keep things manageable, which is a very tall order with complete offensive ineptness, which is what the Bulls have seen this year.  Saturday at noon, you can catch that ineptness on display.  It's unlikely to change against a decent Miami defense.
Player to watch: Miami RB Duke Johnson (8.6 EPA) is 19th in opponent-adjusted rushing EPA.

#11 Oklahoma State (3-0) at West Virginia (2-2), 12:00, ESPN

OSU rush O (.16) vs. WVU rush D (-.095)
OSU pass O (.39) vs. WVU pass D (-.103)
WVU rush O (.06) vs. OSU rush D (-.101)
WVU pass O (-.13) vs. OSU pass D (-.067)
The Cowboys have been somewhat quiet for a top 15 team.  They slowly squeezed the life out of Mississippi State on opening weekend but were overshadowed by bigger matchups.  This game will also likely be overshadowed, but that has more to do with their opponent - West Virginia has been not at all as expected in pretty much all facets.  They've been better than average on defense.  They've been bad passing the ball.  It's a weird time to observe Mountaineer football.  If last week's game against Maryland is any indication, it's also going to be a long year for fans of Mountaineer football. 
Player to watch: Oklahoma State QB JW Walsh (42.6 EPA) is 18th in opponent-adjusted passing EPA.

Miami (OH) (0-3) vs. Illinois (2-1) - The Illini should eclipse last year's win total with this game.  After this, the schedule starts to toughen up: Nebraska, Wisconsin, Michigan State, and Penn State are the next 4 opponents.  After this win, for Illinois to go bowling, it's going to take wins at Indiana and at Purdue, plus an upset of a considerably better team along the way.  Still, 3-5 wins is an improvement.  Miami continues to regress in Don Treadwell's 3rd and likely final year.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

How good is Baylor?

In three games, Baylor has scored 69, 70 and 70 points for the highest points per game in the country. On the other end, they have allowed only 23 points and the second fewest points per game. Both of these numbers are a little biased by tempo: Baylor plays fast, so they have more opportunities to score in a game than most. Baylor is only 4th in points score per possession (4.11), but no one has allowed fewer points per possession than the Bears (.49).

But to say Baylor is 4th in points per possession is again misleading. Against Wofford, Baylor was up 28-0 at the end of the first quarter. Against Buffalo they had scored 56 points at the half. And in their last game against ULM Baylor was up 42-0 two minutes into the second quarter. It's hard to say a team is calling off the dogs when they are scoring 69.7 points per game, but Baylor is averaging more than 47 points in the first half.

The chart below shows points per possession, but breaks it down by drive number - points per possession in the first drive of each game, through the first two drives, etc - for the country's top scoring offenses. Essentially, early in games, through the first 10 possessions, Baylor is scoring more often than any team in the country. Combine that with the .49 points per possession and -1.63 effective points per possession allowed, and Baylor has been, hands down, the most dominant team in the country. Meanwhile, Texas allowed 550 rushing yards to a team that has lost their two other games, West Virginia lost 37-0 to Maryland and Oklahoma beat WVU 16-7. This could be Baylor's year.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Quick observation about Oregon (the state)

Oregon leads the nation in yards per rush. That's not uber surprising. Oregon State, on the other hand, is averaging 2.57 yards per carry. Only FIU is worse, and just barely.

Oregon State's Sean Mannion is leading all passers (and all players) with 80.6 expected points added. Teammate Brandin Cooks is leading all receivers with 54.5 expected points added.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Week 5 picks

We're getting closer to reliable picks from the model, but not quite there yet. 

The model likes Oklahoma by 8 over Notre Dame, Ohio State by less than 3 and Georgia by 5.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Week 4's top performances

I'm going to wait another week before posting opponent-adjusted EP3s. 

Bowling Green had the most dominant offensive performance of the week. They scored touchdowns on 7 of 10 possessions, including drives of 99 and 97 yards. Savannah State is maintaining a streak of horrific performances against FBS schools. Mississippi State's offensive explosion against Troy was unsuspected (by me, at least).

Miami scored a -2.33 against Cincinnati. That is almost impossible. The typical possession is worth about 2.1 points, so in most cases a team can do better than -2.33 by just punting the ball away on first down. But Miami gained positive yards on only 8 of 14 possessions, so they were almost better punting on first down. Seven yards on 29 rushes is amazing. West Virginia's -2.28 is little better, but they got there mostly through turnovers.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Week 4 updates

What is NOT updated:
Picks - I will have unofficial picks on Tuesday
Conference stats - Unless someone convinces me otherwise, this will be relegated to the dustbin of history
Team Summaries - Technical issue. Hope to have some this week to fix it
Teams: Team, Team: Summary - see Team Summaries
Teams: Special Teams - I don't actually have anything to update yet

Also, keep in mind that any opponent-adjusted state ("+") is suspect at this point. Not until week 4 or 5 do I put any confidence in these numbers.

And Georgia State is excluded for now. It's not because I don't love them, but I don't love them enough to make the necessary adjustments just yet for a team that is completely irrelevantly.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Week 4 Saturday Preview: The Night Games (7:00-)

#23 Arizona State (2-0) at #5 Stanford (2-0), 7:00, FOX

ASU rush O (.04) vs. Stanford rush D (-.091)
ASU pass O (.28) vs. Stanford pass D (.030)
Stanford rush O (.16) vs. ASU rush D (-.178)
Stanford pass O (.28) vs. ASU pass D (-.128)
ASU might have a better shot than people really think.  Taylor Kelly is a good QB, and the Sun Devil D has been pretty solid so far, and it's not as if they've only played vastly inferior opponents - Wisconsin isn't bad at all.  I think the Stanford offense is good enough to match the Sun Devils, but if this winds up an upset, it won't be a stunning one.  EPA star to watch: Arizona State QB Taylor Kelly (27.1).

Morgan State (0-3) at Western Kentucky (1-2) - Hilltoppers will win big.

SMU (1-1) at #10 Texas A&M (2-1), 7:00, ESPNU

SMU rush O (.21) vs. aTm rush D (.186)
SMU pass O (-.01) vs. aTm pass D (.273)
aTm rush O (.29) vs. SMU rush D (.016)
aTm pass O (.47) vs. SMU pass d (.259)
Texas A&M's defense has been pretty bad at football so far this year, but it won't come back to bit them in this one.  Johnny Manziel won't have any problems with the Mustang defense.  EPA star to watch: Texas A&M QB Johnny Manziel (53.1).

Colorado State (1-2) at #1 Alabama (2-0) - This one is on ESPN2, but it's not because anyone expects it to be close.  Do you really need a preview?

Week 4 Saturday Preview: The Mid-Afternoon Games (3:30-6:30)

Utah State (2-1) at USC (2-1), 3:30, ABC/ESPN2

USU rush O (.07) vs. USC rush D (-.230)
USU pass O (.58) vs. USC pass D (-.349)
USC rush O (.09) vs. USU rush D (-.171)
USC pass O (-.18) vs. USU pass D (-.002)
In backyard football growing up, we used to occasionally have 'full time QB', one kid who played QB for both teams.  This game would be much better if Chuckie Keeton were full time QB.  Unfortunately, USC has to provide their own QB.  Fortunately for us, we get to see Keeton go up against a stifling Trojan defense.  EPA star to watch: Utah State QB Chuckie Keeton (71.2, #1 in the country) is the nation's most productive player so far, and with the right performance Saturday, he could move into the Heisman discussion.

Tennessee (2-1) at #19 Florida (1-1), 3:30, CBS

Tenn rush O (.16) vs. Florida rush D (-.342)
Tenn pass O (.14) vs. Florida pass D (-.202)
Florida rush O (.01) vs. Tenn rush D (.055)
Florida pass O (-.06) vs. Tenn pass D (.025)
It's hard to know what to make of Tennessee, as they really haven't played any normal competition yet.  This is yet another tough matchup, but not in the same way as Oregon.  Florida is not likely to score over 60 points.  Florida's tendency to be bumbling on offense could keep this game too close for comfort for the Gators, but I think they'll still win.  The Florida defense is still one to behold, and while they may only have one great unit, that's one more than Tennessee.  EPA star to watch: Tennessee QB Justin Worley (10.7).

Maine (3-0) at #18 Northwestern (3-0) - Maine is no pushover, but Northwestern is well-coached and not the kind of team to be unprepared for cupcake matchups.

Week 4 - Saturday Preview: The Early Games (12-3)

Apologies if you were looking forward to a weekday games preview.  I'm sure I would have predicted Clemson to struggle and Fresno to edge Boise by a point.  Take my word for it.  This week's preview is again divided into three posts: one detailing the games starting 12-3, one for games 3:30-6:30, and one for games 7:00 and later.  It worked well last week, and it will probably be the norm.  Let's delve right in, with EPA details for the nationally televised matchups.

North Carolina (1-1) at Georgia Tech (2-0), 12:00, ESPN

UNC rush O (.02) vs. Tech rush D (-.129)
UNC pass O (.11) vs. Tech pass D (-.437)
Tech rush O (.33) vs. UNC rush D (.020)
Tech pass O (.97) vs. UNC pass D (.037)
Georgia Tech ranks 1st in EPA per pass, for two big reasons - they only throw 19.1% of the time (122th in the country), and they've played bad teams so far.  UNC's defensive numbers don't look great, but they played one really good team (South Carolina).  The feeling I get here is that Tech isn't nearly as good as the EPA stats suggest, and North Carolina probably isn't quite as bad.  Evening the teams out means this should still be a good game, a potentially key one in the ACC Coastal race.  The two teams combined for 118 points in regulation last year.  EPA star to watch:  Georgia Tech QB Vad "The Impaler" Lee (27.9).

FIU (0-3) at #7 Louisville (3-0) - Every FIU preview for this entire season shall mention Mario Cristobal.  So, Mario Cristobal.

Vanderbilt (1-2) at Massachusetts (0-3) - Is ESPNews a national broadcast?  Technically, yes, but let's pretend it's not just so we don't have to analyze this.  All we should think about going into this one is that no matter how much James Franklin talks up Vanderbilt and how much their fans think they're moving into the upper echelon of the SEC, they're still taking road trips to Massachusetts.

San Jose State (1-1) at Minnesota (3-0), 12:00, ESPN2

SJSU rush O (.08) vs. Minn. rush D (-.141)
SJSU pass O (-.02) vs. Minn pass D (.051)
Minn rush O (.26) vs. SJSU rush D (-.030)
Minn pass O (.03) vs. SJSU pass D (.073)

Friday, September 20, 2013

Johnny Manziel is also really good at football

Two days ago I did some analysis on Mike Evans' performance against Alabama. It was good (Evans, not the analysis . . . though the analysis was pretty good, too). I promised a follow up on Manziel, and I deliver:

Manziel threw for 464 yards on 39 attempts and rushed for another 98 on 14 carries (a sack cost him 5 yards, so Manziel exceeded 100 "rushing" yards). Given the opposition, this marks the best offensive performance in the history of college football . . . if it weren't for two interceptions.

Manziel totaled 562 yards on Saturday; that's the 19th most yards by a player in a game since 2005. In those 8 1/4 seasons, the 550 mark has been eclipsed 25 times. Manziel has done it three times, Colt Brennan did it twice, and 20 others did it once.

But we should also account for the quality of the opposition. Geno Smith, for example, totaled 687 yards against Baylor, but Baylor allowed over 500 yards per game in 2012. To account for this, next to the yards I've listed the average yards per game allowed by each opponent. In Manziel's case, I used Alabama's 2012 average yards per game, but I substituted A&M's 628 yard game Saturday for their 418 yard game against Alabama last year; Alabama's average yards allowed increased from 250 to 265 as a result. In the final column, I divided the two: Yards/Average yards allowed.

When we do this, Manziel's game against Alabama comes out on top. After his 2.12, Colt Brennan is a distant second with 1.75 followed by Cody Hodges in 2005 with a 1.68. In fact, Manziel's 2.12 is the biggest number not just on this list but on any list. When we look at all players in all games, the second highest yards/average yards allowed ratio is 1.82 from Chase Holbrook against Boise State in 2005 followed by Geno Smith's 1.79 against LSU in 2011. Manziel more than doubled the average yards allowed per game of his opponent; no one else has come close . . . at least recently . In short, Manziel's 562 yards was the most impressive yardage total of the last 9 years, and not by a little.

The best stat for measuring an individual players' production (which, I admit, is different than performance, but we'll get back to that) is the EPA, or expected points added. Essentially, it looks at where a team was before a play, in terms of score and field position, and after a play and assigns a point value to the play. That point value is based on how the score and field position changed. Field position, down and distance are converted to an expected point value based on what teams do on average over the course of the possession from that situation. 

If that doesn't make any sense, remember this: the higher the EPA the more a player did to help his team score more points and make it harder for the other team to score points.

Against Alabama, Manziel scored a 22.6. That's good. It is the 15th highest single-game EPA by a player this season (AJ McCarron scored a 23 in that same game). But it could have been much better. Sunseri grabbed the tipped pass and took it back for a touchdown. On that one play Manziel scored a -7.2. Remove that play and Manziel scores a 29.8 and the 4th highest single-game EPA of the season (2 points behind Mariota vs. Tennessee). If Manziel had managed to bring down Sunseri after the interception he finishes with a 26.4 (8th best).

We can't just remove bad plays and highlight good plays, but we also shouldn't compare apples and oranges. The three highest EPA performances this season came from Mariota (vs. Tennessee), Blake Bell (vs. Tulsa) and Keeton (vs. Air Force). Each performance is impressive in its own right, but racking up stats against Tennessee, Tulsa and Air Force, or even McCarron's 23 against A&M, is not the same as doing it against Alabama.

Fortunately, we can adjust a player's performance for the strength of the competition. Basically, we look at what other players have done against that defense and against all other defenses, throw it in a fancy algorithm, and come up with a value that reflects how hard it is to run, throw and catch against each team.

When we adjust for the competition, Manziel's 22.6 becomes a 50.5, the highest-single game EPA+ ("+"=adjusted) of the season (Mariota's 40.8 against Tennessee is tied for second). But we shouldn't put too much stock in these results. Manziel has only played one half against another FBS opponent and Alabama had only played Virginia Tech. The 50.5 is the computer's way of saying, "Holy smokes, this Manziel guy is a lot better than Logan Thomas." That's not news.

So instead, I threw this game in the 2012 season - what if 2012 Johnny Manziel had done this against 2012 Alabama? How would the computer interpret that? When we do that, and adjust for competition, Manziel against Alabama comes in 22nd since 2005. Great, but not historical. Sam Bradford had three better games, RGIII, Colt Brennan, and Vince Young had two. Even Manziel himself scored higher against Missouri last season. Geno Smith against Baylor, the leader of the pack, was 5.7 points better (Smith's raw EPA from that game was a 51.3, almost 30 points higher than Manziel's). This is not an insignificant gap, but if that tipped ball had somehow fallen through Sunseri's hands, Manziel would have had the single-most productive game for an individual player in the last nine years . . . and probably of all time. Throw out the second interception and this performance would be a full touchdown better than any we've ever seen before. Unfortunately, football doesn't work like that.

Subjectively, given the moment, I've said that I think this was the most impressive offensive performance in the last decade and maybe of all time (though I'm admittedly too young to speak of such things). The accumulated stats with the (insufficient) 4th quarter comeback are awe worthy. If the A&M defense had come up with a couple more stops, the rest of the college football world might see it the same way.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

A few quick thoughts on 550

You might have heard that Texas gave up 550 rushing yards to BYU. While I'm almost two weeks late, I wanted to take a little time and put that game in historical perspective.

First, 550 rushing yards in a game is a lot. It's the most so far this season and the 8th most since 2005. But BYU needed significantly more carries than the other teams on the list. On the other hand, this list puts Texas in the company of Kansas (and not 2008 Kansas), New Mexico State, North Texas and Eastern Michigan.

But perhaps more important than the total number of yards is the total number of carries. If BYU had averaged 7.6 yards over 30 carries Manny Diaz would still be employed . . . even though his defense was no more successful at doing its job. In fact, BYU's 72 rush attempts against Texas is 20th most by a team in a game since 2005. Texas also allowed more yards per carry in a game in which the opponent attempted more than 65 carries in that period, so that's not good. The 72 attempts were the result of 1) BYU averaging 7.6 yards per carry, but also 2) BYU's passing game was in the bottom quintile in terms of efficiency this season.

And that brings us to efficiency. BYU's EPA (expected points added) on running plays was 25.1, the sixth most this season. In other words, while the Texas defense was bad against the run, 5 teams have been worst. More accurately, 4 teams because Nicholls State made the list twice, with Colgate, Elon and Indiana rounding things out. And from whom did we get these dynamic rushing performances? Exactly who you'd expect: Oregon, Georgia Tech, Air Force, Navy and Louisiana-Lafayette. And now BYU.

Taysom Hill's performance, though, was particularly impressive. He contributed 259 rushing yards and 15.2 per attempt. His rushing EPA of 23.3 for the game is the most this season, the only to top 20 and one of only two to top 15 points. It is more than all but four other players have totaled for the entire season. In other words it is, hands down, the best rushing performance of 2013.

Deconstructing the myth of Jadeveon Clowney

After The Hit, the Jadeveon Clowney hype went out of control, creating unrealistic expectations. As you would learn in any intro sociology or psychology class, unmet expectations lead to frustration and conflict. Clowney is frustrated with the coaches, the coaches are frustrated with each other, the fans are frustrated with the universe, and ESPN has a new explanation every week for why their low-watt star has been, to this point, all smoke.

The newest explanation is my favorite - bone spurs. Apparently, a condition that he has dealt with since high school and didn't merit attention during the offseason is an explanation for his struggles. I played football and baseball with bone spurs in my foot. I developed a stress fracture as a result. It's not ideal, but it has nothing to do with Clowney's lack of production.

The real explanation for Clowney's lack of production is that there is no lack of production. We confused myth with reality (and by "we" I mean you, not me; I've seen through this from the beginning). The fact of the matter is that Clowney 2013 looks very much like Clowney 2012.

In the chart below I've laid out Clowney's statistical production through 2 games, 3 games and for the entire season, and then below that I calculated the production per game. Like 2013, he got off to a slow start in 2012; in fact, his 2013 numbers are better. Only in his third game of 2012 did Clowney make his presence felt (statistically).

Using his production per game so far, in the second to last column I project his production through 13 games. He is on pace to significantly lower totals in 2013, but the gap is not as large as we might believe. In the final column I calculate what Clowney would need to do in game 4 to put him back on his 2012 pace. Seven tackles, 4.5 TFLs and 2 sacks - less than what he did against Clemson last year - and Clowney would be ahead of schedule.

The bigger issue is that the USC defense has struggled, and this is ultimately where we have been misled. On offense, the quarterback is the offense. Other players make contributions, but a great quarterback can make any offense good, and a bad quarterback can make any offense dysfunctional. There is no equivalent on defense. At the end of the day, Clowney is one player, one very good player, on a defense with serious question marks. He alone can't overcome that.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Mike Evans is really good at football

I start with the obligatory disclaimer: Alabama won the football game. They have the best team in the country and will probably win another national championship. AJ McCarron did exactly what he was supposed to in this game. The offensive line either made the necessary adjustments after Virginia Tech or the A&M front seven is an embarrassment to the SEC (probably a bit of both). T.J. Yeldon is a man, except for his annual tradition of fumbling against A&M at the worst possible moment. Nick Saban is a defensive genius; he needs only 10 months of preparation to take the nation's most talented defense and hold a 6'1" - 200 lb quarterback to under 100 yards rushing and 500 yards passing. Bow before the rolling Tide.

But as a football fan, that's not interesting. What is interesting is that Mike Evans had 279 receiving yards on 9 targets and Manziel had the second most yards by an SEC player in the history of the conference, and they did  it against the two-time defending best defense in the country. I hope to break down Manziel's performance in a part two, but here I focus on Mike Evans:

Since 2005 (where my play-by-play data begins), players have gained 200 yards receiving 170 times and and 250 yards 24 times. Evans' 279 yards ranks 12th over that period. Looking over the list of the top 20 games by receiving yards, a few things stand out. First, most of these were against bad defenses. That's not to say the accomplishment is unimpressive, but we should keep the strength of the competition in mind. Some receivers amassed their numbers against solid defenses: Marqise Lee and Austin Hill both topped 250 in the same game; Cobi Hamilton gained over 300 yards against a good Rutgers defense; Dezmon Briscoe's 269 against Oklahoma is notable. But Mike Evans had 279 yards receiving against the best defense in college football.

Second, Mike Evans is the only player on this list in single digits in targets. His 31 yards per target is 7.5 more than any other on the list. Manziel could have targetted Evans more often, but Kevin Sumlin also noted that much of what they were able to do on the ground was based on Alabama's approach to containing Evans defensively. Unfortunately, this is the kind of contribution I have no way of measuring (for now).

While this post is about Evans, Jheranie Boyd against LSU deserves a little attention
No player has gained more receiving yards on 9 or fewer targets in a single game (see above), but there is a better way of handling this. I calculated yardage totals for any 9 consecutive targets to a player in the same game. For example, if a player was targeted 12 times in a game, I would look at targets 1-9, targets 2-10, 3-11, and 4-12 independently. Still, Mike Evans' 279 yards in the most since 2005. In fact, the gap between Evans and the second best (27 yards) is as big as the gap between the second best and the 20th best series of 9 consecutive targets. And, as I've said before in this post, Mike Evans did it against Alabama. Quod erat demonstratum, Mike Evans is good at football.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Week 4 unofficial picks

I won't start posting the official picks for at least another week - you need at least four weeks of data for the model to really work - but I promised week 4 picks so here they are. 

Louisiana Tech. Last year they took Texas A&M to the wire. This year, Vegas likes Kansas by 9 and the model likes Kansas by more than a dozen. The model likes Stanford by less than a field goal; that is to say, the model likes Stanford by less than Joel Stave deciding to lay the ball on the ground so it could get dogpiled and the ref failing to get the ball set in time so the clock expires. It gives Georgia Tech a massive 18 point advantage against UNC, and the model likes UCLA by 50, which is its way of saying UCLA can pick the score. 

Monday, September 16, 2013

Best and Worst Performances, Week 3

The EP3 (effective points per possession) measures a team's offensive performance by considering both the points scored per possession and the impact of each possession on field position. For example, Cincinnati scored a 3.69 against Northwestern State. This means that Cincinnati was 3.69 points per possession more effective on offense than the average team, both in terms of scoring points based on their starting field position and leaving the opponent with relatively bad field position. In later weeks I will adjust the weekly EP3s for the strength of the competition, but for now I am just reporting the raw values.

Cincinnati against Northwestern State was the second most effective offensive performance of the season. Brendon Kay averaged 18.3 yards and 1.56 expected points added per pass attempt, the highest figure of the season. Zach Mettenberger wasn't much worse as he averaged 14.7 yards and 1.17 points added per pass. 

Against Wagner, Syracuse allowed 0 points, 87 yards and forced 3 turnovers. Wagner scored a -1.9 against the Orange; the average possession is with just over 2 points, so Wagner would have been little worse off if they had just started every possession with a punt. And never would have guessed that both TCU and Texas Tech would make the best defenses list when they were playing each other.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Week 3 updates

What is NOT updated:
Picks - coming soon
Conference stats - Unless someone convinces me otherwise, this will be relegated to the dustbin of history
Team Summaries - Technical issue. Hope to have some this week to fix it
Teams: Team, Team: Summary - see Team Summaries
Teams: Special Teams - I don't actually have anything to update yet

Also, keep in mind that any opponent-adjusted state ("+") is suspect at this point. Not until week 4 or 5 do I put any confidence in these numbers.

And Georgia State is excluded for now. It's not because I don't love them, but I don't love them enough to make the necessary adjustments just yet for a team that is completely irrelevantly.

What we learned, week 3

1) Alabama has a better football team than Texas A&M. Either the 'Bama o-line got a lot better in two weeks or the Aggie front 7 seven is atrocious. My guess is something between those two.

2) But Manziel and Evans were hands the best players on the field and are the best players in the country at their respective positions (yeah, Marqise Lee, I'm talking to you).

3) Blake Bell can run an offense against Tulsa and, more surprising, we're supposed to be impressed by that. For those that didn't get the memo, Tulsa's defense is not good. Consider this, Bowling Green scored 34 on Tulsa and 10 on Indiana. A little transitive property, and OUs 51-20 win becomes a 27-20 win if Tulsa borrowed Indiana's D. I'm not impressed.

4) Eastern Washington might have been a fluke. After an amazing offensive performance in week 1 against Oregon St, they put up 21 on Toledo. Elsewhere, Oregon St allowed 12 yards against Utah in the 1st quarter and 528 in the game.

5) Nebraska. What I didn't learn is why we don't spend more time ragging on the Huskers and instead focus our attention on . . .

6) Texas. We didn't learn anything here. They lost to a superior opponent. It happens.

7) Devin Gardner really let me down. I set him up as the anti-Braxton Miller, but yesterday he laid an egg. Speaking of . . .

8) Miller, Guiton steps in and puts up 368 yards and no INTs. He didn't set the world on fire (you should probably take anything anyone does against Cal and divide it by 2), but it's no worse than Miller would have done.

9) FSUs Winston is good, but Nevada is even better at being bad. Winston is particularly good at completing passes, something Teddy Bridgewater used to do better than the rest.

10) I'd be getting nervous if I were a Stanford fan. They knew exactly what Army was going to do, Stanford countered with what is supposed to be an elite run defense, and Army still rolled up 284 yards on 61 tries. That's not terrible, it's not 550, but it won't beat Oregon.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Week 3 Saturday Preview - The Night Games

A preview of games starting 7:00 or later.

Mississippi State (1-1) at Auburn (2-0), 7:00, ESPN2

MSU rush O (.02) vs. Auburn rush D (-.022)
MSU pass O (.09) vs. Auburn pass D (-.074)
Auburn rush O (.13) vs. MSU rush D (-.084)
Auburn pass O (.15) vs. MSU pass D (-.212)
So far this year Auburn has the better offense, and MSU has the better defense.  Obviously that's the matchup to watch.  EPA star to watch: Auburn RB Corey Grant (15.0), who ranks 14th nationally in rushing EPA.

#4 Ohio State (2-0) at California (1-1), 7:00, FOX

OSU rush O (.30) vs. Cal rush D (.131)
OSU pass O (.11) vs. Cal pass D (.171)
Cal rush O (-.12) vs. OSU rush D (-.192)
Cal pass O (.14) vs. OSU pass D (-.123)
The Bears don't have the defense to really contain the Buckeyes, so I'm not expecting an upset.  However, as the Cal players get more experience in Sonny Dykes' Bear Raid (which is a name I unabashedly love), they're only going to improve.  That alone should make this game worth watching.  EPA star to watch: Cal WR duo Chris Harper (19.6) and Bryce Treggs (19.5), who rank 12th and 13th respectively in receiving EPA.

Florida Atlantic (0-2) at South Florida (0-2) - If we had some kind of pillowfight of the week designation, this would probably win.  The highlights for these two teams this year include losing to McNeese State by 30+ and spiking the ball on 4th down.

Kent State (1-1) at #8 LSU (2-0), 7:00, ESPNU

KSU rush O (-.10) vs. LSU rush D (.018)
KSU pass O (.25) vs. LSU pass D (-.095)
LSU rush O (.09) vs. KSU rush D (.010)
LSU pass O (.54) vs. KSU pass D (.353)
The LSU from the opening weeks isn't the LSU we're used to, playing sub-par rush defense and doing most of their offensive damage through the air.  The Kent State we've seen has also been unexpected, mostly because Dri Archer, the country's most productive RB in 2012, has played only one series.  Archer is expected back in this game.  He's hoping that LSU's trademark rush D isn't.  EPA star to watch:  LSU QB Zach Mettenberger (32.2).

Nicholls State (1-1) at UL-Lafayette (0-2) - The Ragin' Cajuns should get win number one tonight.
Northwestern State (2-0) at Cincinnati (1-1) - With Munchie Legaux out for the year, the Bearcats get an FCS opponent to break in the new starter.
Massachusetts (0-2) at Kansas State (1-1) - Bill Snyder either beats opposing QBs or writes lovely, complimentary notes to them.  And Bill Snyder's all out of stationary.
Memphis (0-1) at Middle Tennessee State (1-1) - That moment you realize Memphis is in the AAC, an automatic BCS qualifying conference - that's a weird moment.

Vanderbilt (1-1) at #13 South Carolina (1-1), 7:00, ESPN

Vandy rush O (.20) vs. SC rush D (.002)
Vandy pass O (.24) vs. SC pass D (.346)
SC rush O (.13) vs. Vandy rush D (.169)
SC pass O (.30) vs. Vandy pass D (-.152)
Both offenses have looked very good so far.  Vandy's pass defense has been impressive.  South Carolina's pass defense looks awful, but they've faced UNC (who they did pretty well against) and UGA (who they didn't), two much better passing teams than Vandy has faced.  Likewise, SC's rush defense numbers look pretty good considering they've faced Todd Gurley.  The numbers here like Vanderbilt in the upset, but I think this is why we have to beware the numbers to an extent this early in the year.  This is potentially SC's easiest game of the year so far, and the Gamecocks should win.  EPA star to watch: Vandy QB Austyn Carta-Samuels (26.1).

Eastern Washington (2-0) at Toledo (0-2) - EWU upset Oregon State, and Toledo takes a break from its grueling SEC East schedule to face them.  The game should be fairly high scoring.
Western Kentucky (1-1) at South Alabama (1-1) - Western Kentucky leads Toledo by one game in the SEC East standings.
Maryland (2-0) at Connecticut (0-1) - Randy Edsall returns to Connecticut, and he'll hear boos.  Whether they're for him or Paul Pasqualoni, we can't be sure.  Note: We can be sure they're for both.
Lamar (1-1) at #12 Oklahoma State (2-0) - A lot of attention has been given to the Oklahoma State scandal, but little seems to be focused on OSU playing against a man named Lamar in week 3.  That hardly seems fair.
Kansas (1-0) at Rice (0-1) - Technically this is nationally telecast on CBS Sports Network, but I'm not sure they want that advertised.  Also, because I may not get the chance to do so much longer, allow me to type the words "undefeated, Charlie Weis-coached".  Thanks.
UTEP (0-1) at New Mexico State (0-2) - Someone has to win, and that someone will probably be UTEP.
Marshall (2-0) at Ohio (1-1) - Rakeem Cato has just 75 plays in 2 games.  Is he injured?
#25 Ole Miss (2-0) at Texas (1-1) - Manny Diaz got scapegoated last week, but its doubtful much will change.  That being said, last week was just one week, and Texas is still probably a pretty decent team, so a win today would not be out of the question or even particularly surprising.  This one is on the Longhorn Network if you get it.
Weber State (1-1) at Utah State (1-1) - Chuckie Keeton could put up some monster stats against this FCS team.

#21 Notre Dame (1-1) at Purdue (1-1), 8:00, ABC

ND rush O (.05) vs. Purdue rush D (.092)
ND pass O (.14) vs. Pudue pass D (.017)
Purdue rush O (-.10) vs. ND rush D (.041)
Purdue pass O (-.30) vs. ND pass D (.012)
Notre Dame's strongest asset is their passing offense.  In fact, the Notre Dame offense is the only unit in this game that has graded as above average so far this year.  I feel weird.  EPA star to watch:  Notre Dame WR TJ Jones (18.6).

Western Michigan (0-2) at #17 Northwestern (2-0) - The phrase "young energetic coach" will get a lot of mileage tonight.

Oregon State (1-1) at Utah (2-0), 10:00, Fox Sports 1

OSU rush O (.03) vs. Utah rush D (-.070)
OSU pass O (.36) vs. Utah pass D (.003)
Utah rush O (.24) vs. OSU rush D (.053)
Utah pass O (.48) vs. OSU pass D (.302)
When the two largest numbers in either column are on the same line, that's a mismatch, and tonight Utah's passing game represents a mismatch for Oregon State's pass defense.  It's taken two years, but Kyle Whittingham's Utes are finally starting to look like a Pac-12 team rather than a MW team playing a Pac-12 schedule.  The Beavers' passing game should be able to keep them competitive in what should be an exciting late night game.  EPA star to watch: Both QBs, Oregon State's Sean Mannion (40.1, #4 nationally) and Utah's Travis Wilson (39.3, #6 nationally).

Central Michigan (1-1) at UNLV (0-2) - UNLV is one of the worst passing teams in the country and has a whopping 31% of runs go for negative yardage.  CMU isn't good, but against UNLV, I'm not sure you have to be.

#20 Wisconsin (2-0) at Arizona State (1-0), 10:30, ESPN

Wisconsin rush O (.36) vs. ASU rush D (-.565)
Wisconsin pass O (.49) vs. ASU pass D (-.484)
ASU rush O (.04) vs. Wisconsin rush D (-.432)
ASU pass O (.60) vs. Wisconsin pass D (-.234)
Fun fact: Neither team has allowed a point this season.  Why that's meaningless: the best opponent either has faced is Massachusetts.  So, basically, we get to see both teams for the first real time.  EPA star to watch: Arizona State QB Taylor Kelly (24.3).

UTSA (1-1) at Arizona (2-0) - Arizona RB KaDeem Carey has 13.2 EPA on just 16 plays.  

Brent Blackwell compiles the NEPA rankings for  Follow Brent on Twitter by mashing the pretty button below.

Week 3 Saturday Preview - 3:30-6:30 Games

I went back and forth between calling these games the "mid-afternoon games" and "early evening games", and settled on the exact parameters instead.  It's boring, but it lets you find a specific matchup.

Cal Poly (1-1) at Colorado State (0-2) - The Rams had bowl hopes for this year, and if they expect that to come to fruition, they need to get a win in this one.

Nevada (1-1) at #10 Florida State (1-0), 3:30, ESPN

Nevada rush O (.01) vs. FSU rush D (.073)
Nevada pass O (.27) vs. FSU pass D (-.203)
FSU rush O (.08) vs. Nevada rush D (.273)
FSU pass O (.81) vs. Nevada pass D (.198)
FSU matches up well with Nevada.  FSU could have some weakness against the run down the road, but Nevada hasn't indicated yet that they will be the team to take advantage of that.  FSU should neutralize the Pack's passing offense, which has been decent so far.  Little of that will matter, though, because FSU will probably score so many points that even some defensive slips will be irrelevant.  EPA star to watch:  FSU QB Jameis Winston (26.3).

Georgia Tech (1-0) at Duke (2-0), 3:30, ESPNU

GT rush O (.55) vs. Duke rush D (-.290)
GT pass O (1.29) vs. Duke pass D (-.309)
Duke rush O (.19) vs. GT rush D (-.333)
Duke pass O (.18) vs. GT pass D (-.544)
The two ACC teams we really know the least about so far.  67% of their games have come against FCS competition and the other 33% was Memphis.  These teams could be good, but there's no way to know now.  If anything, that might be the reason to watch this game.  By virtue of whipping Elon and then taking a week off, Tech has video game type rate stats.  Seriously, averaging 1.29 points every time they throw the ball?  I would expect Tech to win this game, as I think Duke's offense may be the weak link of the four, but considering this is the first real game for either team, it's hard to really make any kind of educated guess.  EPA star to watch:  Georgia Tech QB Vad Lee (16.7).

#1 Alabama (1-0) at #6 Texas A&M (2-0), 3:30, CBS

Bama rush O (-.15) vs. aTm rush D (.157)
Bama pass O (-.17) vs. aTm pass D (.004)
aTm rush O (.35) vs. Bama rush D (-.112)
aTm pass O (.47) vs. Bama pass D (-.722)
Bama looked bad on offense against what looks like a very good Hokie defense.  Fortunately for Bama, A&M does not have a very good Hokie defense.  Bama looked great on defense against Logan Thomas.  Unfortunately for Bama, A&M doesn't have Logan Thomas.  There's really not a lot we've learned about these teams since the preseason, unless you're one of those people who thought Johnny Manziel would be distracted by off the field issues, in which case you've learned that such assumptions are not particularly intelligent.  Whichever team you thought would win this game in July, there's no reason to change your thoughts now.  All I'm really sure of is that it should be a fun one to watch.  EPA star to watch: Johnny Manziel (30.5).

Stony Brook (1-0) at Buffalo (0-2) - The Bulls just spent two weeks facing Ohio State and Baylor.  By comparison, Stony Brook will be like a high school scrimmage.
Delaware (2-0) at Navy (1-0) - This one is on CBS Sports Network if you want.  I see no reason an unaffiliated fan would.

Tennessee (2-0) at #2 Oregon (2-0), 3:30, ABC

Tenn rush O (.22) vs. Oregon rush D (-.118)
Tenn pass O (.32) vs. Oregon pass D (-.345)
Oregon rush O (.62) vs. Tenn rush D (-.137)
Oregon pass O (.34) vs. Tenn pass D (-.375)
Tennessee has been quietly decent over the first two weeks.  Sure, a win over Austin Peay isn't one to really hang your hat on, but one over Western Kentucky win is, to an extent.  Consider that Tennessee blew out Bobby Petrino's Hilltoppers.  Then consider that those same Hilltoppers were one week removed from handily beating one of Tennessee's conference rivals, Kentucky.  It was a game that slipped through the cracks in terms of national attention, but I think an important one for Butch Jones' tenure in Knoxville.  This was precisely the kind of team the Derek Dooley Vols would struggle with, as a 55-48 affair with 5-7 Troy last season will attest to.  That has little to do with this game other than me wanting to get out a few nice words about Tennessee before I predict them to lose by 30+ points.  Because they're going to lose by 30+ points.  EPA star to watch: Oregon QB Marcus Mariota (36.4).

Wagner (1-1) at Syracuse (0-2) - Everyone knows Georgia had the toughest opening two games of the season, and I'd put Buffalo as a close second.  Third might be Syracuse, 0-2 after dealing with Penn State and Northwestern.  Syracuse should be 2-2 when they hit their bye week to prepare for Clemson.
Ball State (2-0) at North Texas (1-1) - Ball State is top 25 in points per possession, and should continue to roll offensively to their 3rd win.
North Colorado (1-1) at Wyoming (1-1) - Wyoming nearly beat Nebraska and whipped Idaho, so they should win this one pretty easily.
Northern Illinois (1-0) at Idaho (0-2) - NIU escaped Iowa with a win.  Now Jordan Lynch gets to return to video game stat land with a pretty bad Idaho defense.

Iowa (1-1) at Iowa State (0-1), 6:00, Fox Sports 1

Iowa rush O (.16) vs. ISU rush D (.153)
Iowa pass O (-.17) vs. ISU pass D (.290)
ISU rush O (.10) vs. Iowa rush D (-.171)
ISU pass O (-.02) vs. Iowa pass D (-.070
Early season rivalries are usually great because there's so much optimism still alive for the season.  Unfortunately, the first two weeks have already been pretty crushing to the entire state of Iowa.  The teams are collectively 1-1 against FCS competition and 0-1 against the MAC.  Yikes.  Iowa State's defense has been porous, so I think the Hawkeyes have the edge here, but as watchable as I find rivalry games, this one could potentially test my limits.  EPA star to watch:  Iowa WR Kevonte Martin-Manley (8.2).

UCF (2-0) at Penn State (2-0) - This game should be televised on something other than the Big Ten Network.  UCF has outscored their two (admittedly bad) opponents 76-7, so they could give the Nittany Lions a good game.
Howard (1-1) at Old Dominion (0-2) - Howard's defensive seven is really, really impressive, so ODU should be on upset alert!  *Note - I made all of that up, because I don't care about this game, and neither do you.
#19 Washington (1-0) at Illinois (2-0) - The Huskies whipped Boise State, and I suppose they'll get a lot of mileage from that win.  Illinois nearly collapsed against Southern Illinois, an outcome that thrilled the hell out of the Illini's football Twitter account.  Washington should win at this "neutral site" game.  The neutral site is Chicago, which isn't particularly neutral.
Bethune-Cookman (2-0) at FIU (0-2) - The ghost of Mario Cristobal has proven quite effective over the first two weeks, and if FIU drops this one, we'll know the Cristobal-Turner effect is a real one.
Southern Utah (2-0) at Washington State (1-1) - WSU is flying high after beating USC, and they should win again.

Brent Blackwell compiles the NEPA rankings for  Follow Brent on Twitter by mashing the pretty button below.