How FEI and S&P see the game: Oregon Ducks vs. Washington State Cougars

Steve Dykes

Washington State has been a thorn in Oregon's side for the last 5 years. How will WSU be thorny this year? If they have any hope at all, it'll be in big passing plays, Oregon mistakes and never, ever punting the ball under any circumstances.

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:

There are some new stats from Bill Connelly this year.

Play Efficiency: the success per play based on the down and distance of the play.

Drive Efficiency: the success of scoring based on the field position created.

Difference in Net Points (DNP): the average of the points an offense scores on a given drive compared to the points it would be expected to score based on starting field position.

And the old ones:

Passing downs: second down and 8 or more, or 3rd/4th down and 5 or more.

OVERALL When Oregon
Has the Ball ...
When Washington State has the ball...
Category Oregon

Washington State

F/+ Rk 4 59

S&P+ 5 (263.6) 60(207.5) 4(138.4) 47(109.5) 19 (125.2) 70 (97.9)
Play Efficiency

2 (151.4) 60(102.2)
31(111.8) 64(101.8)
Rushing S&P+

3 (148.7) 57(106.7)
29(118.4) 70(101.8)
Passing S&P+ 5(162.5) 62(101.9) 58(102.8) 57(101.8)
Std. Downs S&P+

1 (160.4) 61(103.5) 49 (107.5) 67 (101.3)
Pass. Downs S&P+

11 (143.5) 42(110.0) 31(115.1) 43 (110.2)
Drive Efficiency

10 (125.4) 41(116.8)
15(138.7) 75(94.0)
Difference in Net Points

10 (2.01) 57(-1.83)
2(-2.81) 75(-.16)

So interesting factoid: I took this template from the Fiesta Bowl game to use as a baseline. What was interesting was how incredibly similar Oregon was to that team last year. Despite not having Lyerla or DAT for a good chunk of the season, despite not playing the same teams, our ranks and scores were almost identical. As an example, our rushing S+P from last season was 148.5. Our defensive Standard downs was 106.7. The rankings are a bit lower on offense because of the absurdity of what teams like Baylor is doing (they have a 237.3 passing down S+P, which is 80 points higher than we were last year - and we were #2 last year) and some odd lack of opponent adjustments and data. The numbers, however, are incredibly consistent for us. The quote about Oregon being "a faceless, thousand-armed death machine capable of replacing every killing part with an equally effective and deadly killing part" seems pretty apt right now.

Similarity scores for Washington State

Washington State is closest on offense to California (72nd); Cal is worse on standard downs and better on passing downs than WSU, but they're otherwise very close to each other. Not that the Cal game is a good indicator of anything other than what happens when Nature Attacks. WSU is significantly better than Virginia (94th) and Colorado (104th), and significantly worse than Tennessee (55th). On defense, Washington State is close to Tennessee (43rd); the primary difference between the two is that Tennessee is significantly better against the pass. Colorado (42nd) is also right there - and they're better in general on passing downs but much worse at drive efficiency. WSU is much worse than Virginia (20th) or Washington (17th) and much better than Cal (95th).

Similarity scores for Oregon

Not surprisingly, there's really nothing close to Oregon's offense that Washington State has faced. The closest is Oregon State (19th); the difference between Oregon State and Oregon is the same difference as Oregon State and Cincinnatti (85th). A cross of the best properties of Stanford and Oregon State's offense is likely the closest that they'll have seen. As for defense, currently WSU has faced something of a murderer's row of defensive powers, playing USC (10th), Stanford (8th), and now us (19th). Auburn (23rd) is the closest to us; they're better at dealing with passing downs and passing but worse dealing with rushing.

Oregon's offense vs. Washington State's defense

Washington State is surprisingly decent on defense - but only decent. Oregon has clear advantages across the board. As usual the biggest advantage is in standard downs and in rushing. Oregon is only really amazing at passing - but is rotating-wall-of-flaming-chainsaws amazing when running the ball or in down and distance where they can run or throw. There's little indication that WSU can do much to stop the Oregon attack here. Even in long down and distance situations there's still a 33 point advantage for Oregon.

Oregon's Defense vs Washington State's offense

This is a bit more of an interesting matchup. Despite what pundits are saying about Oregon S+P thinks that Oregon's pass defense is fairly meh, and the Cougars are essentially even with the Ducks when passing the ball. Where Oregon really sees success is in drive success; Oregon apparently does not allow a lot of yardage overall despite being somewhat mediocre at any given category. For whatever reason, Oregon shuts down drives. I've not done enough study of what drive efficiency means for Oregon (or their opponents), so this is a work in progress - but I would think that this goes well with the bend but don't break philosophy of Aliotti, where individual plays are not nearly as important as making three stops in a row. In any case, I would expect WSU to get yards but not necessarily points.

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.

Field Position Advantage (FPA): the share of the value of total starting field position earned by each team against their opponents.

OVERALL When Oregon
Has the Ball ...
When WashingtonState has the ball...
Category Oregon

Washington State

F/+ Rk 4 59

FEI Rk 1 (.303) 69 (-.013) 11(.532) 46(-.189) 11(-.569) 83(-.162)
Field Position 4(.575) 97(.463)


7 (.734) 45(-.165) 2(-.795) 94(-.287)
First Down rate

13 (.786) 115(.775) 7(.525) 75(.639)
Available Yards rate

5(.684) 61 (.452) 11(.321) 91(.402)
Explosive Drives

11(.089) 86(.155) 35(.085) 73(.111)
Methodical Drives

100 (.089) 71(.155) 3 (.051) 29 (.194)
Value Drives

3(.667) 56(.373) 6 (.236) 79(.364)
Special Team rank 10(3.622) 58(.184)

Field Goal efficiency 69(-.027) 51(.239)

Punt Return efficiency 1(.674) 39(.003)

Kickoff return efficiency 12(.053) 63(-.183)

punt efficiency 92(.049) 109(.108)

kickoff efficiency 89 (-.110) 35(-.245)

Every season we get into this odd mess where one system loves us and the other hates us. Last season - mostly due to the complete mess of our field goal units and our reliance on turnovers - FEI did not like us much, especially compared to S+P. This season? FEI looooves us, and S+P is fond but not thrilled. Why is that? As I say a lot, the big differences in S+P compared to FEI are FEI's heavier reliance on special teams, field position, and opponent adjustment. And as you'll see, special teams are so much better than last year.

Of course I could have said the opposite last week, when S+P thought Oregon was ranked 4th (we dropped two spots after Washington) and FEI ranked us 6th. Things are simply really volatile; when you only have 6 games to go by (and one is thrown out due to being FCS) every new bit of data is a massive gulf. Prediction wise: unless we absolutely dismantle WSU from start to finish, next week we'll have S+P liking us even less while FEI loses their love affair with us. For now, FEI sees a team that is great at defense, great at offense, and great at special teams. These are teams that typically FEI does like quite a bit; Kansas State was a great example of this last year.

One other bit of data here: the methodical drives. We're 100th in the country in doing them. That sounds bad until you realize why: it's because very few of our drives last more than 10 plays, period. Against Washington we had two drives that had 10 plays or more - and they were 11 play drives. 2 against Colorado. None against Cal. None against Tennessee. One against Virginia. Our tendencies are either to get good field position and not need long drives or to simply get big plays and march down the field in absurdly fast chunks. We've not needed a long drive this season; our field position has been largely excellent.

Similarity scores for Washington State

As far as FEI is concerned WSU is a hot mess. FEI doesn't care about why a team didn't score on a drive, only that they didn't - and WSU does that an awful lot. The closest team to WSU on offense is Cal (87th), which is very similar in tendencies. WSU tends to have a bit more explosive plays, but otherwise they're quite close. Tennessee (79th) is also right there on offense, though they're mostly up because of who they've played. Defensively Washington State is closest to Virginia (54th), though Washington is significantly worse at giving up methodical drives and first downs.

Similarity scores for Oregon

Oregon State (14th) is closest to Oregon; they're fairly comparable as far as FEI is concerned. OSU isn't as efficient but has played harder teams. They're also much better at methodical drives - but as I said earlier that's not really an indication of anything other than Oregon is fast and our opponents have been outmatched. On defense Oregon is not quite as good as Stanford (4th) but better than USC (17th). Of the two, Oregon is most closely related in tendency to USC - both teams tend to stop teams early, not allow long drives and finish hard, and both teams allow big plays.

Oregon's offense vs Washington State's defense

Oregon's advantage in field position should continue handily; even when WSU gets stops it should be after Oregon gets at least 10 yards or more. Washington State is also particularly vulnerable to explosive plays. I'd expect a similar game to Virginia with potentially even more big plays on the horizon. Oregon is one of the best in the country in getting past the 50 yard line as well, and I don't see that changing.

Oregon's defense vs. Washington State's offense

The major weakness, as mentioned above, is Oregon's giving up of explosive plays; this also happens to be a WSU 'strength'. It's not a great value for them; they're still poor across the board. But that's one of their best stats. If WSU moves the ball it'll likely not be in long drives. It'll come in spurts. They do tend to have a lot of methodical drives but those drives aren't all that successful.

Special Teams

Bralon Addison, take a bow. Oregon is first in the nation in punt return efficiency. Also, Bralon Addison, do some stretches - because WSU is 109th in the nation at punting. If you don't get a couple good returns that make the highlight real I'll be shocked. Oregon is also excellent at kickoff returns, but unless DAT is back I don't expect huge returns this week. Oregon's kicking game is surprisingly bad this season so far, but the Cougars don't have anything to exploit that. I mention it because it hopefully improves fast before we go to Stanford. Otherwise we're entirely average at field goal kicks - which is such a huge improvement from last season that it deserves a cheer. Way to go, Woganaldo! Our two headed beast of a kicker has been decent this season.

So what does this all mean?

There's not a lot of drama here; Oregon's going to kick serious ass. This week is mostly interesting to see how the advanced stats describe Oregon, not how Oregon is going to win. It's great to see how good special teams are playing and how great the shorter fields are for Oregon. It's great to see us essentially neck and neck with where we were last year on offense. It's great to see that the defense is almost as good as the offense and that we have a truly balanced team with very similar tendencies to last year.

Oregon is a 39 point favorite at home. There's nothing here that would indicate Oregon wouldn't cover. WSU has been oddly vexing for the Ducks in the last few years and has been a big reason why certain years Oregon's rating looked so hideous as far as advanced stats go. I just don't see that happening this year. Last year, Mariota was playing in his first road game and made some uncharacteristic mistakes. I don't see that happening this year, at home. I see Oregon winning big and covering the absurd spread.

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