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How FEI and S+P See the Game: Oregon Ducks at USC Trojans

USC! Matt Barkley, Marqise Lee, Robert Woods, Silas Redd, Lane Kiffin! With Halloween looming these should be scary names. These are the names of the only Pac-10/12 team members to have beaten Oregon in 2 years.

Jonathan Ferrey

This is the game that everyone's been looking forward to since the beginning of the season - and according to the stats, it's not even the 3rd best opponent Oregon's faced this season. This may be a game where stat analysis is least useful simply because USC is so schizophrenic in their performances this season and so much of their bad performance is due to non-athletic things. Their turnover rate, their penalty rate, their absurd 3rd down rate - all of these things aren't necessarily because of bad players or bad schemes. And all of them are not something easily predictable. Still, you want stats and you'll get them - and in this case, the stats predict a dominant Oregon victory.

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:

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


F/+ Rk 2 21

S&P+ Rk 2 (287.4) 32(221.7) 2(136.8) 46(102.5) 2 (150.6) 20 (119.2)
Rushing S&P+ Rk

2 (150.1) 60(101.8)
5(139.5) 33 (115.0)
Passing S&P+ Rk

14( 133.9) 36(111.9) 2(168.2) 15 (133.7)
Std. Downs S&P+ Rk

9 (126.1) 36(109.5) 28 (112.3) 27 (114.5)
Pass. Downs S&P+ Rk

42 (119.2) 79 (94.7) 9 (154.7) 22 (131.2)
Raw S&P

1 (1.109) 29(.658) 2(.473) 18(.901)
Raw Success Rate

1 (56.9%) 38(39.4%) 7 (32.7) 5(45.5%)

1 (.54) 25(.26) 2 (.15) 10(.45)

S+P loves Oregon this season. Just absolutely loves us. It's making up for all that 2010 shenanigans where Oregon was like 20th despite being awesome.

Part of it is that Oregon has taken care of business so well this season. While we haven't had hard opponents we've rarely let them hang around for more than a half. Oregon has yet to have a full 60 minutes with all of their starters staying in the game the entire time. Most games have been basically decided by the first half. And S+P loves this. Oregon is very rare in that currently they are #1 in raw success rate and raw explosiveness. In other words, S+P thinks they've looked like the best offense in the country, even if the defenses they've played make them a bit less than that. (if you're curious, the best offense by S+P standards is...Tennessee - and that's almost entirely because of how well they did against Alabama. Oregon is now joined by Alabama as teams with both a top 5 offense and defense. Oregon is of course the only team that is #2 in both.

So why is USC so disliked? We'll get into this with FEI in a bit, but one giant reason is their abysmal 3rd down rate. They simply haven't been able to get methodical drives going. Their offense has failed and fumbled and turned the ball over against fairly meh defenses. Their defense has given up quite a bit as well. Giving up 39 to Arizona isn't so horrible; giving up 21 to Stanford is. Their defense is really what's dragging them down, and S+P looks at USC's luck at turnovers and thinks that that really can't last as far as continued success at stopping a team.

Similarity scores for S+P: For Oregon, USC is similar to Arizona State (18th) and Fresno State (26th) and significantly worse than Arizona(4th) on offense. On defense, USC is similar in ranking to Arizona State (51st) and worse than Arizona (34th), and significantly worse than Washington (20th) or Fresno (13th),

For USC, Oregon is better than but similar to Arizona on offense (4th). No one else really comes close. And on defense, it's not really a contest. The closest a team gets is Stanford (11th), but they are 23 points away from Oregon. Washington (20th) is 35 points away from Oregon. Oregon's D, as far as S+P is concerned, is monstrously good.

Oregon's offense vs. USC's defense

Similar to the Arizona State game Oregon should be drooling over one gigantic bit of data: USC's being 60th against the run. We saw that last week where they gave up over 200 yards to a spread run attack in Arizona. They gave up a ton of rushing yards to Washington and Stanford as well. I don't see that this is going to change any time soon. While there is a good advantage in passing for Oregon, the advantage for running is so insanely huge (almost 50 points) that I would expect a lot of success running all day. And similar to ASU, this means Mariota will not likely be forced to make a lot of passing plays; running the ball will be just fine. Oregon's weakness (passing downs) is also not a big weakness against USC, as USC is 79th in passing downs; in fact, Oregon has a larger advantage in passing downs over USC than they do standard downs. This may mean a couple things - early stops but long methodical drives (something Oregon's been very good at this season) and a few big explosive plays on 2nd and 3rd down plays. The other teams that Oregon has played that have had this kind of disadvantage have been...well, Arizona State, Colorado and Washington State. This should be a good sign of positive outcomes.

Oregon's Defense vs USC's offense

Oregon's D statistically has massive advantages as well. 25 points in rushing, 33 in passing. The one place that USC and Oregon are somewhat equal is on standard downs; USC actually has a slight advantage. I would expect USC has some success at play action pass and at running the ball on early downs. However, I would also expect Oregon to shut the lid on that quite quickly.

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.

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


F/+ Rk 2 21

FEI Rk 4 (.274) 13 (.181) 25(.259) 23(-.375) 3 (-.704) 34(.184)
Field Position 15 (.545) 28(.532)


7 (.613) 19(-430) 2(-.705) 41 (.156)
First Down rate

13 (.785) 32(.624) 21(.595) 40(.714)
Available Yards rate

11 (.580) 27 (.383) 14 (.338) 41 (.503)
Explosive Drives

7(.241) 24(.075) 17(.063) 2(.264)
Methodical Drives

15 (.203) 26(.108) 64 (.139) 96 (.110)
Value Drives

12(.516) 23(.288) 16 (.273) 31 (.462)
Special Team rank 14(2.425) 26(1.480)

Field Goal efficiency 90(-.265) 92(-.280)

Punt Return efficiency 16(.116) 9(.168)

Kickoff return efficiency 42(-.098) 19(0)

punt efficiency 22(-.246) 47(-.114)

kickoff efficiency 5 (-.339) 76(-.126)

Amusingly USC has the second hardest future strength of schedule against their offense. Who has the first hardest strength of schedule? Oregon. Oregon also apparently hasn't faced anything as far as a hard defense so far. On the defensive side, Oregon's SOS isn't getting much harder (43rd before, 35th now). USC goes from 35th to 15th. Nothing that special.

And like almost every other week, Oregon's opponent looks better in FEI and worse in S+P - and Oregon looks worse in FEI and better in S+P. This week is actually very similar to a writeup I did with Arizona State; Oregon is going on the road against a team S+P doesn't like all that much (especially against the run) but FEI likes quite a bit. Oregon is liked more than they were when they played ASU - but then again, USC is liked a bit more than ASU anyway (13th overall). What's very interesting to me is that FEI and S+P disagree not only on how good USC is but why they're good/bad. S+P thinks USC's D is fairly meh and their offense is pretty good (20th vs 46th) - FEI thinks that USC's defense is pretty nice but the offense is meh (34th vs 23th). And has been the case all season, Oregon's offense doesn't look that strong via FEI (23rd). Oregon's D, however, is great via FEI.

Also, Oregon remains one of two teams in the nation that has had a positive value in offense and defense in every game according to FEI. The other school is Alabama.

Similarity scores for FEI: for Oregon, USC is most similar to Arizona State (31st) on offense and significantly worse than Arizona (2nd). On defense, USC is actually the best defense Oregon has faced; the next best team is Fresno State, though that's a pretty big gulf. Washington is 45th, Arizona State is 55th.

For USC, Oregon is most similar to Syracuse (27th) and much worse than Arizona. On defense, Oregon is better than anyone USC has faced, though they are similar to Stanford (7th) and both are fairly close.

Oregon's offense vs USC's defense

Just like the ASU game, Oregon is seen here as being in a dead heat with USC. USC's ability to generate turnovers is the real issue here; FEI appreciates that quite a bit. USC isn't bad at any one thing as far as their averages, but they're not particularly good at anything either. Meanwhile Oregon is still doing great at getting explosive drives. Expect some big breaks here and there from Oregon.

Oregon's defense vs. USC's offense

This is where big advantages lie for Oregon (again, similar to the ASU game). The biggest scary thing as far as Oregon is concerned is USC's ability to have explosive plays - they are #2 in the country in having drives with explosive plays in them. They're 96th, however, at methodical drives. If Oregon can stop big plays (something that killed us in 2011 as well) Oregon will likely be well on their way to winning. If Oregon can't, all the work on stopping plays early in the downs won't matter at all.

Special Teams

Oregon actually has a reasonable advantage in special teams. Both USC and Oregon are particularly horrible at field goal kicking this year. USC is very good at returning (both punt and kicks) but this is offset by Oregon's excellent punt and kick coverage. USC's big weakness is on kickoff returns; Oregon is only meh on kickoff returns, but do expect a bit of DAT and Lowe getting yards if not big breaks.

So what does this all mean?

It's another tale of 'what statistical model is more right!'. So far S+P has been absolutely beating FEI; it was very much more correct about Arizona State and Washington and has in general been more right about Oregon than FEI has - at least so far. But it only really takes one game to expose an issue with the advanced stats. At this point of the season we're seeing a lot more connectivity and a lot better average values, but anomalies can still pop up.

What worries me from looking at the stat perspective are things like penalties and turnovers. USC turned it over 5 times against Arizona and barely lost on the road. That isn't a sustainable bit of unluck for them; we can't expect Oregon to get that level of performance. Similarly, you can't expect USC to have 14 penalties. They might - and they certainly trend to getting a lot of penalties - but that's just not something that's likely to happen again. Similarly, Oregon has been somewhat lucky on fumbles; they've had 21 but only lost 9. USC's had 16 but lost 10. That's a bit of unluckiness that is likely to improve. It doesn't take much for USC to improve here and get 'lucky' in one game.

Still, I'm pretty optimistic. Oregon has been very, very consistent this season. On the road, at home, against good teams, against bad teams - Oregon has basically played the same. The one way I can see Oregon losing is if Oregon has a game like they did against Fresno State - where they turned it over repeatedly and the defense didn't come through every time. As good as Oregon has been they've still not played a complete game all season where offense, defense and special teams were all nearly perfect. The defense is still Oregon's massive strength, the running game has a huge advantage and USC is not nearly as good as their preseason hype would attest to.

I expect Oregon to run well, to limit explosive plays from Marquise Lee and get some pressure on USC. And I expect this to happen early enough to put USC on their heels. I'm predicting an Oregon win and a cover.