One of the best games this bowl season comes down to Oregon's historically excellent offense, Kansas State's historically great special teams, and which statistical methodology is more correct.
FEI is the Fremeau Efficiency Index, created by Brian Fremeau. Brian Fremeau is an author at Football Outsiders, ESPN and BCFToys. FEI is an advanced statistical measure for college football that tracks drive efficiency instead of per-play success.
S+P is created by Bill Connelly. Bill Connelly is an author at SBNation, RockMNation, Football Study Hall and Football Outsiders. S+P is an advanced statistical measure which combines success rate, explosiveness per play and opponent adjustments.
How S+P sees the game:
Has the Ball ...
|When Kansas State has the ball...|
||ORE Off||KSU Def||ORE Def||KSU Off|
|S&P+ Rk||2 (262.6)||25(225.0)||1(144.8)||30(111.6)||19 (117.8)||28 (113.4)|
|Rushing S&P+ Rk||2 (148.5)||
|Passing S&P+ Rk||2(150.5)||24(120.1)||13(133.9)||29 (119.3)|
|Std. Downs S&P+ Rk||1 (137.9)||22(113.9)||40 (106.7)||24 (116.6)|
|Pass. Downs S&P+ Rk||16 (130.7)||27(123.2)||7(149.7)||19 (130.1)|
|Raw S&P||1 (1.053)||46(.717)||19(.636)||10(.929)|
|Raw Success Rate||1 (54.2)||79(44.3)||36 (39.6)||11(49.4)|
|Raw PPP||1 (.51)||27(.27)||11 (.24)||14(.44)|
Oregon's offense is by far the best Oregon offense S+P has seen outside of the 2007 season prior to Dixon going down - and it's comparable to that. Oregon is much better than last year, especially in passing downs (40th vs 18th). It's better than 2010 (though that was the year that S+P hated Oregon). Oregon was #3 in 2007 overall - though the score is almost 20 points lower than we are this year. It is not as good as Wisconsin's last season, which as far as I can tell is the best S+P has ever seen.
Oregon's defense - once considered elite by S+P - is now just really good. I think this was mostly because of small sample size theater; Oregon crushed a team that looked amazing on offense (Arizona) and also was stellar against a very good offense at the time (arizona state). The defense is good - but not all world like we might have thought.
Kansas State is surprisingly disliked by S+P - but as you'll see in FEI, there's a very big reason for that. They're still a good team as far as S+P goes. They just aren't an elite team as far as S+P is concerned.
Similarity scores for Kansas State
Kansas State is similar to Arkansas State (25th), Oregon State (18th) and Fresno State (33rd) on offense. In particular they are almost exactly like Arkansas State; both teams run better than they pass with a similar ranking, both are good on passing downs (though Kansas State is better). Kansas State is much worse than Arizona (16th) and USC (8th) and much better than Stanford (49th) and Arizona State (50th).
On defense, Kansas State is similar to Arizona State (32nd), Washington (23rd), USC (38th) and Cal (36th). They are significantly worse than Stanford (4th) or Fresno State (9th). They are closest in style on defense to Washington; both Kansas State and Washington are not great against the run (38th for Washington, 42nd for KState), good against the pass (20th vs 24th), strong on standard downs and not quite as strong on passing downs, though KState is better there.
Similarity scores for Oregon
For Kansas State, Oregon is the best team in the nation on offense. While Kansas State has faced #9 (West Virginia) and #15 (Baylor), it isn't really that close; West Virginia is 18.8 points below Oregon. The equivalence would be between West Virginia (#9) and San Diego State (#42). They have faced many good offenses - Oklahoma (21st), OKST (26th) and Texas (24th) are all quite good. Of those, the closest statistically in terms of tendencies is probably Baylor. Baylor is equally good at running and passing, just like Oregon, and strong on both standard and passing downs. West Virginia is much more pass-balanced. Oklahoma is much better on passing downs than Oregon (but much worse at everything else). Texas is much, much worse passing the ball.
On defense, Oregon is similar to Oklahoma (17th), TCU (13th), Iowa State (26th) and Oklahoma State (29th). Oregon is significantly better than Texas (35th) and absurdly better than Baylor (81st). Of those, the closest from a statistics perspective is Texas; Texas is good at passing downs (17th) and passing (25th) but bad against the run (66th) and standard downs (52nd). The other close comparison is Oklahoma, though Oklahoma is much better against the pass (4th) and much worse against the run (57th) than Oregon is.
Oregon's offense vs. Kansas State's defense
As I've said many times against various defenses, the key will be to run the ball well. And like most of the teams Oregon has faced, Kansas State is only decent against stopping the run. Oregon has a 41 point advantage in running offense vs. KSU's running defense by S+P. This is bigger than the advantage Oregon had over Fresno State (25 points), Washington (39 points), Oregon State (39 points), and just a bit smaller than Arizona State (45 points) and USC (45 points). They are not remotely similar to Stanford in that regard, in case you were worried or were going to panic. In the games against WSU, Oregon State, ASU and USC Oregon focused heavily on successful runs with early passing to keep the offenses honest. In games against tougher opponents (Cal, Stanford) Oregon focused on passing more often and running less overall. I would expect a lot of running and a lot of successful runs.
Kansas State is okay against the pass by comparison. They may get some stops - but only some. Oregon still has a 30-point advantage there - which is almost exactly the same as Oregon's advantage against Oregon State and Arizona State, and not as good as it was against California (over 40 points). So, much like Oregon State the plan and the successful outcome will likely be run early, set up play action, and do some planned QB draws. Kansas State is essentially even on standard and passing downs, meaning that Oregon's weakness (passing downs) will likely not be as big a deal. In this regard they are very similar to Arizona State. Based on this, I would say that Marcus Mariota will have a very good day running the ball, Kenjon Barner will have a good but not insane day running the ball and there will not be a ton of passing overall, doing shorter passes to Colt Lyerla and Josh Huff as the rule.
In terms of raw numbers, Kansas State is not good at stopping successful plays, but is good at stopping explosive ones. This (as we'll see in the FEI numbers) will likely mean lots of long drives. Which goes well with the running success that Oregon is likely to have.
Oregon's Defense vs Kansas State's offense
The primary advantage that Kansas State has is on running the ball and being in standard downs - it is about a 10 point advantage in both. On the flip side, Oregon has nearly a 15 point advantage in pass defense and a 10 point advantage in passing downs. If Oregon can get a long down and distance or force passing situations, Kansas State will likely end their drive. I said something similar about the Oregon State game, and it was fairly true; as soon as we got them into longer distance downs they had problems - like 4 interceptions. Furthermore, KSU's advantage on running is very similar to Oregon State's or USC's. While that's good, it doesn't mean dominant running; it means success a good amount of the time only. I wouldn't expect a lot of turnovers on passing downs, as KSU is very good at limiting turnovers. I would expect some sacks and thrown away balls.
Kansas State's passing offense is similar to Fresno State and Arkansas State's - which means that they're not that great passing the ball. I know this sounds odd given how good Collin Klein was, but recall that he did well against the West Virginia defense and badly against the Baylor defense. There's a reason that we're not talking so much about his Heisman hopes any more.
How FEI sees the game:
Some definitions from the FEI site. For offense, these are the drives that the offense does. For defense, these are the drives that the defense has allowed. Also note that these are not weighted by defensive strength or anything like that, so they correspond best to raw overall numbers.
First down rate: the % of drives that result in at least one first down.
Available Yards: the ratio of yards gained by total yards to go
Explosive drives: the % of drives that average at least 10 yards per play.
Methodical drives: the % of drives that take 10 or more plays
Value Drives: the % of drives that start on their side of the field and make it to the opposing 30 yard line or better.
Has the Ball ...
|When Kansas State has the ball...|
||ORE Off||KSU Def||ORE Def||KSU Off|
|FEI Rk||2 (.299)||1 (.305)||10(.501)||5(-.598)||7 (-.587)||20(.335)|
|Field Position||13 (.542)||1(.591)|
|Raw OE/DE||5 (.630)||34(-.230)||10(-.514)||20(.373)|
|First Down rate||22 (.752)||55(.670)||33(.635)||38(.724)|
|Available Yards rate||5(.590)||41 (.424)||22(.389)||7(.581)|
|Methodical Drives||18 (.202)||111(.193)||70 (.151)||72 (.133)|
|Value Drives||6(.538)||50(.368)||34 (.327)||9(.524)|
|Special Team rank||41(.807)||1(4.529)|
|Field Goal efficiency||121(-.852)||47(.110)|
|Punt Return efficiency||34(.007)||11(.116)|
|Kickoff return efficiency||34(-.038)||2(.319)|
|kickoff efficiency||28 (-.208)||76(-.123)|
Here's the reason KState is #1: their special teams is absurdly high. Just insanely good as far as FEI is concerned. I think this is actually a bug in FEI and will report it when I can, because I think it's being unfairly weighed against strength of schedule when the results don't indicate that. There are other reasons that FEI loves Kansas State and S+P doesn't: FEI loves hard schedules and KState has played a very hard in-conference schedule. FEI hates turnovers and loves it when teams cause turnovers, and KState has the one of the lowest turnover rates (10 turnovers all season) and a very good margin (+22). They do have some nice fumble luck; they've had a total of 32 fumble plays (10 theirs, 22 others) and recovered 21 of them. But they don't fumble often at all.
The special teams part interests me; I'll be looking into that in a separate piece to see if FEI is really accurate or is somehow wrong.
Oregon, meanwhile, is just really good but not insane at everything according to FEI. They're better at defense than what S+P says due to the turnovers that they cause (+19) but worse on offense due to the turnovers they have (19 on the season). The special teams is only mediocre - which as you'll see is pretty striking given how bad our field goal kicking continues to be.
Similarity scores for Kansas State
On offense, Kansas State is most similar to Oregon State (13th) ,USC (27th) and Arkansas State (30th). They are much worse than Arizona (7th) and much better than Stanford (39th). Of those, they're probably closest to USC in terms of feel; they're very good at explosive drives (6th, USC is 5th) and fairly poor at methodical drives (72nd, USC is 87th). They have also faced only a mediocre overall set of defenses this season (51st overall).
Kansas State is, by FEI standards, pretty awesome on defense. They are just one spot below Stanford; this is the only team remotely close to them in defensive prowess. That being said, they're almost entirely unlike Stanford in tendencies and mostly have massive opponent adjustments due to their hard schedule (they have faced the second hardest schedule for their defense this season). They are much worse at giving up first downs, available yards and methodical drives than Stanford. They are about the same at stopping explosive plays as Stanford.
Similarity scores for Oregon
On offense, Oregon is right in the mix of the various teams that Kansas State has faced; Oklahoma State (8), Oklahoma (5), West Virginia (11), Texas (18). Baylor is significantly better than anyone else (and is #1). Of those teams, the closest is probably Oklahoma as far as tendencies; Oklahoma has good success in getting some yards (8th vs 5th for Oregon) and grinding out methodicial drives (17th vs 18th for Oregon). Oregon is much better at explosive drives, however (comparable to Baylor and West Virginia) and worse at first down rates (22nd, close to West Virginia). Oregon has faced the 19th hardest defensive strength of schedule.
On defense, Oregon is the hardest team Kansas State has faced this season. The next closest is TCU, followed by Oklahoma. TCU is actually pretty comparable; TCU allows more explosive drives but fewer methodical drives than Oregon, but they're otherwise similar. Oregon has faced only okay offenses all season; their schedule is the 34th hardest.
Oregon's offense vs Kansas State's defense
Oregon has something of a hard time here, as far as FEI is concerned. It's not a horrible matchup - it's the 10th best offense vs the 5th best defense. But that 5th best belies a very high actual value and gives an advantage (by FEI) to Kansas State. If you're curious, this was the value that FEI had for Oregon vs. Oregon State's offense. From the raw stats we can see that this is not because of how they've performed on the field, but because of how the opponents the teams have faced have gone. Kansas State, as I mentioned above, has played an absurdly hard schedule as far as offensive teams go.
As far as tendencies go we see something we saw echoes of in the S+P analysis: Kansas State sucks at stopping methodical drives, and Oregon's really good at them. Again, expect long scoring drives from Oregon if we do score. KSU is best defensively at stopping explosive plays; I would expect fewer long runs and passes than normal from Oregon.
Oregon's defense vs. Kansas State's offense
This is where Oregon's advantage comes in; as big an advantage as KSU has defensively over Oregon, Oregon has twice as much over KSU. This is again primarily because of opponent adjustments for KSU, only the other way - because KSU has faced such atrociously bad defenses and only done decently FEI sees KSU as just good. From a raw perspective Oregon matches up well here. Oregon's weakness is also methodical drives, but that is KSU's weakness. While KSU often gets some yards on a drive what they don't do is get a lot of long drives with a lot of plays. They are, however, almost as explosive as USC - so do expect a couple of big bangs from KSU in scoring.
Kansas State is phenomenal at all aspects of special teams play. Oregon is very good at many and completely atrocious at one - field goal kicking. I was wrong last time, by the way - Oregon was actually only the 3rd worst team in the nation at FG kicking before the OSU game. Of course, they missed another kick and went to 121st in the nation - the second worst. The only team that is worse is New Mexico State, which has kicked all of 6 FGs and only made 2.
That makes me so sad.
It also means that if this is a close game, Oregon has a distinct disadvantage. Kansas State is fine being held to field goals, but they do a good job holding the other team to field goals. They eek out field position in small bits, gaining 10 yards on a punt here, 10 yards on a kick here. If that is the style of game this ends up being Oregon is going to lose. Oregon will simply not get the points that KSU gets, and that's problematic to say the least. KSU is only okay at field goal kicking, but it doesn't take much to have an advantage there.
The other flaw KSU has is on kickoff coverage. Oregon can somewhat exploit this - Oregon's kick returns are good but not great. Everything else is great though - especially kickoff returns and punt coverage. Oregon is good but not great at dealing with everything that doesn't involve a placekicker, so I don't expect massive field advantage, but I do expect them to start with the ball at the 35-40 an awful lot of the time, and eventually that advantage does add up.
So what does this all mean?
Make no mistake - Kansas State is a great team. S+P doesn't like them mostly because S+P doesn't measure special teams, but factor that in and they're a very balanced team without any particular major weakness.
Save, perhaps, defending against running the ball. In their only loss Baylor ran for 342 yards against them with a 7.0 ypc average. Baylor is good running the ball, but they're not great running the ball - not like Oregon is. Baylor (8th in S+P rushing) did well. Texas (10th in S+P) didn't do as well. Oregon is massively better than both of those teams.
A better question is what Oregon will do, defensively, against Kansas State. Some times the offense looked incredible (as it did against West Virginia, scoring on its first 9 possessions). Other times it looked just okay (against North Texas) and still other times it was phenomenally bad (like it was against Baylor). The Baylor game had Klein throw 3 interceptions, making that a big anomaly (he threw 4 the rest of the season) - but Oregon's defense thrives on getting interceptions. That being said, Kansas State doesn't throw the ball regularly. Their bread and butter is running the ball, and while they don't do a flashy job they get yards, field position, and eventually win that way. It's a very old-school attack.
While FEI says I should be scared about this game, I am very skeptical. Not because FEI has been wrong in the past (FEI was more right than S+P was about Stanford; FEI was more wrong than S+P was about Oregon State), but because I don't think FEI captures certain parts of matchups particularly well. It's good that FEI gets special teams; it's not good because FEI doesn't care if you run or pass. And in that regard, S+P has been very, very good about dealing with matchups and probabilities this season, at least as far as Oregon goes. I also don't think that Kansas State's defense has been phenomenal this season; they've been good, but they look like worldbeaters because of who they've faced. The opponent adjustment part worries me as far as success goes.
The special teams part is another one I'm not as concerned with either. Letting opponents get the ball at the 30 or 40 isn't that special for Oregon. Having great field position isn't a killer on Oregon's side given how good Oregon has been in defending the red zone. It will be bothersome, but this isn't a game where punting is going to be more important than scoring. This is going to be a game where whoever doesn't score on their drives first is going to have a big disadvantage, and stops are likely to be few and far between.
Quite frankly, it's the incredible quality of Oregon's offense combined with the lack of ability to stop that part of the offense - much like Baylor's offense - that makes me not that worried. Baylor ran for almost 400 yards against them. Can't Oregon do better? I think KState will score and will keep pace for a time, but only a time. I think Oregon will likely come out a smidgen slow as well and be down a bit in the game. But I think Oregon will come back, overtake KSU, and win and cover.