Lindy's Five Essential Websites (Non-Major Media) for 2013
[+] 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.

 Follow Brent on Twitter by mashing the pretty button below.

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. 

Follow Brent on Twitter by mashing the pretty button below.

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.

Follow Brent on Twitter by mashing the pretty button below.

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.

Follow Brent on Twitter by mashing the pretty button below.

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. 

Follow Brent on Twitter by mashing the pretty button below.

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.

Follow Brent on Twitter by mashing the pretty button below.

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.

Follow Brent on Twitter by mashing the pretty button below.

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.