[Advanced Stats, especially with teams so different as Oregon and Wisconsin, will be key to predicting this matchup. Kalon does an excellent job compiling and explaining where the two teams fall, and what it means for the Rose Bowl -jtlight]
I'm sure Bill Connelly will do this eventually, but I was really curious about how Oregon matches up with Wisconsin. From the normal stats it looks like a dominating destruction as far as Oregon is concerned. Here's some flavor on that:
Total offense: Oregon #3, Wisconsin #9
Passing: Wisconsin 48, Oregon 58
Rushing: Oregon 2, Wisconsin 8 (by 800 yards!)
Defense: Oregon #3 in sacks, Wisconsin 59th
And it goes on and on like that. While they're somewhat close offensively, on defense Wisconsin looks horrible; more yards given up, more first downs, more points.
Except all of that is wrong. Turns out that Wisconsin and Oregon are about as closely matched as any BCS bowl teams can be, and certainly one of the closest matchups there is right now. More on all of that after the jump. And if you expected that Oregon is going to win the day because of great...special teams and defense? You get a shiny nickel.
First we'll go to S&P. I'm not going to get into a ton on what S&P is or the methodology; it's been done several times here and elsewhere. The most important things to note about S&P is that it is a stat that looks at every play, and it takes into account the opponent's strength. So running for 4 yards a carry is okay, but doing it against the best team in the nation on run defense is actually pretty awesome.
First off, the totals: Oregon is #4 in S&P, but Wisconsin is #5. And they're very close at that - only 2 points separate them. What might surprise you is why - Oregon is #4 in the nation in offense but Wisconsin is the #1 team in the nation. And that isn't close at all - Wisconsin is ahead by almost 22 full points. We're closer to Baylor (who is also ahead of us) than we are Wisconsin. The difference is made up for by our defense - Oregon is 10th in the nation in S&P, Wisconsin is 49th - and Oregon is ahead by almost 24 points there.
So that leads us to the first conclusion: the biggest battle is going to be Oregon's strength (defense) vs. Wisconsin's strength (offense), but the reverse is essentially exactly the same battle with the same difference in points. Both teams have a significant advantage over the other as far as offense vs. defense - about a 30 point differential.
How about the specifics? First on offense. Okay, here's another surprise. Wisconsin is #2 in the nation in rushing efficiency via S&P but #1 in passing efficiency. Even more interesting they're hugely ahead of the next team - 20 points more than LSU, 30 more than Baylor. Oregon breaks down as you might expect - 5th in rushing (and only 3 points away from Wisconsin) and 12th on passing. Wisconsin also is the best everywhere - on rushing downs (#1) and passing downs (#1) - Oregon is #3 in rushing downs but a woeful #50 in passing downs. That leads me to the second conclusion: the way that Oregon is going to win is by making sure they stay out of passing downs. This has been true for us over and over this year, but it's especially true here. Wisconsin doesn't care as far as that goes, which means it's very likely we'll not stop them all that often except through big negative plays - penalties, sacks, and causing them to make mistakes.
Next, onto defense. Oregon is significantly better on passing defense (6) than on rushing (18) with a difference of more than 20 points of ranking. Despite this, Oregon is fairly even as far as it goes - they're good at rushing downs (9th) and passing (11th). Again, Wisconsin's strengths and Oregon's strengths match up well here; Oregon doesn't have a glaring weakness at any part of their statistical defense any more than Wisconsin does on their offense.
But here's where it gets interesting. Wisconsin's bad defense (by comparison) is almost entirely due to how they perform on rushing downs. They are 71st against the run, 56th against the pass, but here's the big key - 19th on passing downs but 70th on rushing downs. Remember strengths vs. strengths? Well, that's a big weakness for Wisconsin that plays directly into an Oregon strength. If Oregon doesn't get cute and plays good football on first down Wisconsin is going to have a very very hard time getting them off the field.
Onto FEI: FEI, unlike S&P, is a drive-based stat. It doesn't care about things like running or passing or how much you gained on a specific down; it cares only about whether or not you were successful on a drive and how good your opponent was. That's a bit simplistic, but you get the idea. FEI also rates very highly turnovers compared to S&P; turnovers mean a drive end on the offense (a positive for a defense) and potentially more offense (a positive for the offense). This was one of the big reasons that S&P didn't like Oregon last year and FEI did, and FEI didn't like Oregon that much this year and S&P did: that LSU game and its horrible 4-1 turnover ratio. Bah.
FEI paints a very similar tale, at least at the top: FEI says Wisconsin is 5th, Oregon 6th. And it's within 1% point. By comparison, Alabama/LSU are separated by 6 points. The big thing is game efficiency here - Wisconsin is #1. That means that when they drive they often score or stop the other team from scoring. It's not opponent adjusted though, but it does mean they dominate often.Similar to S&P, Oregon's offense isn't as highly ranked as Wisconsin's (14th vs #2, with a very large difference between the two) and Oregon's defense is much higher than Wisconsin (8th vs 24th). Here's another bit of info: special teams. Oregon has a huge advantage in special teams - 25th vs 61st here. Oregon and Wisconsin have similar field position advantage, which tends to be how well the defense gives short fields, they get good returns and turnovers.
On offense, FEI sees Wisconsin as dominant, only behind Baylor (who is absurdly dominant; hope you're having fun, Nick Holt). Wisconsin is strong everywhere here - first down rate, adjusted yard rate (getting a lot of yards per drive) except one big place - methodical drives. That means that Wisconsin does not run a lot of methodical drives (10 or more plays). Don't get too excited though; this can be because they go three and out a lot, or because they tend to get a ton of yards and don't need 10 or more plays to get scores. About 11% of their drives are methodical, which is very low (91st in the nation). What this tends to lend itself towards is the notion that Wisconsin won't want to grind the ball out and might not do well if forced to; limiting explosive plays may work okay in stopping them. If you thought that was some mystical disadvantage Wisconsin had, think again - Oregon is even worse at that, having methodical drives only 10.7% of the time.That goes well with what a lot of fans see - that Oregon tends to explode or they tend to stop, but they don't tend to march down the field slowly but surely. In that respect Wisconsin and Oregon are very, very similar teams. Wisconsin just appears to be better in all of these things.
On defense Oregon is kind of how you'd expect them to be. They've played a hard schedule of offenses and done fairly well.Their biggest strength is against explosive drives, limiting other teams to a drive like that 6.2% of the time. The biggest weakness, if you like, is methodical drives - Oregon allows 12.6% of all drives to be 10 or more plays, which is 46th best in the nation. Now, here's another interesting thing - Oregon has faced the 16th hardest strength of schedule against their defense; Wisconsin 99th! That media note about how Wisconsin hasn't faced Oregon speed is very true, but it's more accurate to say that Wisconsin hasn't consistently faced anything as good as the Oregon offense, whereas Oregon has at least tangled with some great offenses along the way. Wisconsin is also not nearly as good as Oregon at stopping explosive drives, with a 10% chance per drive. They are better for methodical drives, causing them about 13% of the time and 36th. What this means is that Oregon has a good chance to do more damage in big chunks than little ones, I suspect.
How about special teams? Oregon is bad at field goals (ya think) ranking 73rd. Punt returns are only 44th and punts against them are 50th. Where they are good - not great, but good - is on kicks - 26th on kick returns and 28th on kick defense. Also, oddly, teams are good against them efficiency-wise for field goals. Wisconsin is excellent at punt returns (ranking 6th) but absolutely horrible at stopping punt returns - 95th! Sadly that's not something that Oregon can exploit all that well. Where they can exploit it is on Kick returns - Wisconsin is very bad at kick return defense (81st), so I would expect DAT and Huff to get some good yardage.
So how can Oregon win the day here? Feeding the horse that brung us, mostly. Oregon has a very good chance to dominate on rushing downs against a bad Wisconsin defense in that regard. If Oregon can keep out of passing downs by getting good yardage on first, chances are Oregon will be able to drive the ball easily and often. However, if we stall expect a big stall and not a lot of DT heroics. This game is going to be won by how well we do on first down I think. On defense, it's going to be very, very hard; they do everything well. Getting them into passing downs won't help that much as Oregon often gives up big conversions; it's almost better to dare them to get those 3rd and 4s instead of 3rd and 9 and risk a big explosive play. Another big factor in winning is in getting good field position via special teams. Both teams are likely to be kicking off a lot; holding them to long fields while getting short fields of our own will be a big factor.
So who is going to win this game for us? Unlike the last two BCS games where teams could shut down our running game I'm going to say that this is all about LMJ and to a lesser extent Barner and DAT. DT can help, but chances are if we're in long 3rd downs we're already hosed. The other factor as to who can win this is who can get turnovers. Kaddu, Jordan, Boyett, and most of all Pleasant, I'm looking at you. They'll get their yards and their points, but we need to get stops. We need ball hawking and stripping.
Thanks for reading, and thanks especially to Brian Fremeau and Bill Connelly for their superlative work over the years. I admire the hell out of you guys; please keep up the good work :)