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How FEI and S+P See the Game: Oregon Ducks at California Golden Bears

California - more than any other school in the last 10 years - knows how to vex us. Whether it be DeSean Jackson blowing through our secondary in 2005 or 'giving the nation the blueprint' on how to beat Oregon's offense in 2010 or beating Dennis Dixon's team on a last second fumble, Oregon has some odd stuff going on. Especially down in Cal, where many years we've had Oregon's dreams die. The stats don't see it that way, though they do see something Oregon hasn't seen a whole lot this year - a stout defense against the run. That being said, I don't see Cal being able to slow down Oregon reasonably and more importantly a fairly impotent offense with its QB and star WR on the sidelines makes it likely that Oregon covers the monstrous spread on the road.

Robert Laberge

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 Cal has the ball...
Category Oregon


ORE Off Cal Def ORE Def Cal Off
F/+ Rk 2 65

S&P+ Rk 2 (273.9) 46(204.9) 1(141.9) 28(110.1) 9 (132.0) 70 (94.8)
Rushing S&P+ Rk

3 (148.8) 44(111.0)
19(120.1) 53(105.7)
Passing S&P+ Rk

5(145.6) 26(116.6) 7(149.1) 88 (93.3)
Std. Downs S&P+ Rk

6 (131.2) 32(110.8) 40 (107.6) 40 (110.6)
Pass. Downs S&P+ Rk

31 (123.2) 47 (109.3) 14 (136.2) 80 (96.3)
Raw S&P

1 (1.145) 53(.716) 12(.571) 92(.689)
Raw Success Rate

1 (58.7) 54(41.2) 17 (35.9) 80(39.7)

1 (.56) 49(.30) 10 (.21) 88(.29)

Previously on S+P: S+P loves Oregon, Oregon loves S+P. This week...well, S+P really, really loves Oregon's offense. It's fast, it's strong, it's great on passing now. Defense? Like is a nice word here.

After last week, Oregon stayed at #2 though it is much closer to the #3 teams. The defense dropped a full 18 points. The defense dropped equally between running and passing. It stayed close in standard downs but dropped 18 points in passing downs. Simply put, regardless of how USC did it we could not stop USC on longer down and distance.

However - Oregon's offense is now the best in the nation, narrowly edging Tennessee. As crazy as it sounds our rushing numbers went down a bit against USC (mostly because USC was and is not great at stopping the run, so we basically did what we were expected to) - but our passing offense went up hugely, going from 14th to 5th and raising almost the entire 9 points we increased. We also jumped 10 spots in passing downs. When Marcus Mariota goes for 20-23 with 4 TDs and 300 yards while only being sacked 3 times and having no ints, that's what you get. All of our raw numbers went up as well.

This isn't really a surprise on either side of it. Oregon's defense played a bad game against (what S+P thinks) a fairly okay offensive team. Stats can only go so far to explain things some times. It does mean that our defense is actually capable of playing a bad game, something that had not happened once this season.

Similarity scores for S+P: Even for statistical comparisons Cal remains vexing. For Oregon, Cal is actually not similar to anyone we've played. They're much worse than Washington (47th), much better than Washington State (91st), and absurdly worse than Arizona State(23rd), USC (7th - and wow, did they have an offensive jump from 20th) and Arizona (10th). On defense, Cal is similar but worse than Washington (21st) and significantly better than Arizona (41st) and USC (49th).

For Cal, Oregon is better than but similar to USC (7th) and Ohio State (12th) on offense. The difference between Oregon and USC is 13 points, as well - so it's not even that close. but they are 23 points away from Oregon. For defense, Stanford and Oregon are very close (10th) and Washington and OSU are not that far behind (21st and 26th).

Oregon's offense vs. Cal's defense

While Cal is a better defense than many Oregon has faced this sesaon, they're still not particularly elite. They're about equally bad at defending the pass and run vs. Oregon (about a 30 point differential). They are pretty good at passing downs compared to Oregon, so if Oregon falls behind in the count expect a couple stops here and there. But only a couple. And Oregon has continued to do a good job of staying ahead of the down and distance throughout the year; there's very little reason to believe they will falter. It will almost certainly not be like the USC game, but something close to what we had against Washington (a few good drives, a couple punts) is a reasonable expectation.

Oregon's Defense vs Cal's offense

This is where we have massive advantages. While the rushing advantage for Oregon is only 15 points, the passing advantage is a whopping 56 - and chances are this if anything undersells the injury situation Cal is in. Similarly, while Cal is okay on standard downs relative to Oregon (as most of Oregon's opponents have been) they are completely horrible at passing downs. If Oregon gets ahead of the count the game is likely up for Cal. Based on this, I would expect a lot of short fields for Oregon's offense and a lot of complete stops and turnovers when Cal has the ball.

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 Cal has the ball...
Category Oregon


ORE Off Cal Def ORE Def Cal Off
F/+ Rk 2 65

FEI Rk 5 (.272) 68 (-.017) 14(.418) 54(-.086) 11 (-.546) 94(-.217)
Field Position 16 (.542) 85(.478)


3 (.745) 65(.026) 12(-.537) 99 (-.360)
First Down rate

10 (.791) 82(.710) 31(.626) 87(.634)
Available Yards rate

6(.620) 75 (.492) 28(.384) 94 (.391)
Explosive Drives

5(.242) 46(.112) 26(.088) 43(.161)
Methodical Drives

10 (.220) 84(.159) 77 (.154) 119 (.071)
Value Drives

6(.576) 81(.435) 40 (.338) 91 (.323)
Special Team rank 27(1.493) 66(-.146)

Field Goal efficiency 112(-.517) 77(-.171)

Punt Return efficiency 15(.105) 54(-.057)

Kickoff return efficiency 44(-.095) 56(-137)

punt efficiency 20(-.236) 63(-.077)

kickoff efficiency 23 (-.243) 71(-.142)

That's right - for the first time we face an opponent that FEI doesn't actually like as much as S+P. FEI thinks Cal is actually worse. And looking at the numbers, it's not hard to see why.

Before we get into that, let's look at what happened to Oregon's numbers this week. Oregon didn't change a whole lot in FEI relative to S+P; we dropped .002 points and went to #5. What we lost in defensive value (about .150) we gained almost precisely in offensive value. Remember, FEI thought USC was a good defensive team and a meh offensive team while also thinking Oregon was only good at offense but amazing at defense. Those things ended up balancing themselves out. So instead of FEI thinking Oregon is a great defense and a good offense, FEI thinks Oregon is a balanced very good offensive and defensive team.

Similarity scores for FEI: for Oregon, Cal is most similar to Fresno State (88th) on offense and better than Washington State (108th) and much much worse than Washington (66th). And seriously - Fresno State has that bad of an offense? Whoa. That seems weird. On defense, Cal is similar to Arizona State (52nd), USC (50th), worse than washington (35th) and Fresno State (33rd) and better than Arizona (71st) and WSU (72nd).

For Cal, Oregon is most similar to Ohio State (10th) and Nevada (16th) and better than USC (23rd). On defense, Oregon is similar to Stanford (7th), UCLA (14th) and Ohio State (18th).

Oregon's offense vs Cal's defense

Because FEI sees Cal as so inferior, this ends up being a pretty big win for Oregon. Pretty close to the run differential against USC last week, actually. In particular Cal is bad at stopping methodical drives. Much like in 2010 expect Oregon to grind a couple long drives against Cal and wear things down. This might not be running, mind you - just lots of screens and bubble screens and quick ins. Don't expect a ton of explosiveness; Cal is good at stopping explosive plays (at least, relative to the rest of their defense). This is still the bigger mismatch of the day as far as FEI is concerned.

Oregon's defense vs. Cal's offense

This isn't as big an advantage as offense, but there are some interesting things. Cal lives and dies with big plays. Against Ohio State, against Washington, against USC - they either got big plays or nothing. This shows up well in FEI - this is literally the only major advantage Cal has compared to Oregon. And it's not even that much of one. Basically, much like what S+P says - Cal is going to either have big plays or 3 and outs. They are one of the worst in the NCAA in methodical drives. And given Zack Maynard and Keenan Allen are both out, even this is going to be reduced.

Special Teams

Shocking no one, Oregon is one of the worst teams in the NCAA at field goal kicking. At this point I simply say don't try. Just don't bother. Unless it's something like 4th and 17 or some oddness there. Just...I loved you in 2010, Rob Beard, but you're not back. Aside from that, Oregon has good advantages - and one of the bigger ones is in Oregon's Punt Return efficiency (15th) vs. Cal's punt efficiency (63rd). I would expect a few long returns this game.

So what does this all mean?

While Cal is a decent defense (at least by S+P) they are a big shambles at offense, and even if Oregon isn't the bestest defense in the land they are much better than whatever Cal can put forward. There are some questions about them starting a new QB and not having much in the way of game film - but that's a minor question. Oregon's D still has problems dealing with marquee (or Marqise) receivers. However, Cal is without Keenan Allen, and without him Oregon's D should be more than fine. On offense Oregon will be more tested than in the last few weeks, but only slightly - and defensive stops, turnovers and good punt coverage should give short fields and easier scores. There's nothing here to indicate that ATQSouth is going to turn things around against one of the best teams in the country. I predict an Oregon win and a cover (-27.5 at the time of writing).