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How FEI and S+P see a game that might be: Oregon vs. Alabama

We want Bama? Well, sure. Who doesn't want Bama? There's a blueprint to beating Bama, apparently. That blueprint is being absurdly lucky, playing at home, and not giving Nick Saban a month to prepare. Stats don't care about fluke plays; their cold, methodical hearts love Saban as a brother, and Alabama is still one of the best teams in the nation. If you like playing a team like Stanford but with a better offense, boy have I got a deal for you.

Mariota will need to run like the wind against Alabama.
Mariota will need to run like the wind against Alabama.
Scott Olmos-USA TODAY Sports

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 Alabama has the ball
Category Oregon


UO Off ALA Def UO Def ALA Off
F/+ Rk 6 (31.2%) 2 (44.2%) 7 (19.5%) 5 (21.4%) 26 (8.7%) 11 (16.4%)
S&P+ 11 (246.9) 2 (279.4) 7 (132.8) 4 (151.4) 38 (114.1) 9 (128.1)
Play Efficiency

4 (137.0) 7 (129.5) 43 (106.1) 11 (124.6)
Rushing S&P+

2 (140.0) 2 (141.3) 58 (104.5) 10 (127.1)
Passing S&P+

7 (137.6) 14 (123.4) 52 (103.6) 15 (125.8)
Std. Downs S&P+

6 (131.1) 8 (128.2) 42 (106.9) 10 (124.5)
Pass. Downs S&P+

5 (151.5) 4 (138.0) 50 (107.3) 11 (133.7)
Drive Efficiency

12 (128.5) 2 (173.3) 33 (122.1) 7 (131.5)
Difference in Net Points

6 (1.24) 5 (-1.79) 3 (-1.97) 3 (1.58)

In the comments tell me what other games you'd like to see a mini-preview on!

Oregon's offense took a very small hit from playing a slightly below average game against Oregon State.

Oregon's defense, however, dropped 10 places. It's pretty shocking to see the drop in value from the earlier season to now. Oregon's defense was a top 5 valued unit after the Washington game. They are now entirely average across the board, save in one area - drive efficiency. That's gone way down too, but it's still the case that Oregon forces teams into more 4 down failed conversions than they'd normally want to do, and as a result that team scores a lot less because they're not kicking field goals.

Similarity scores for Alabama

Alabama would be the best team Oregon's faced on offense all season. And it's not really close. The SEC, known for having great defenses, has the 4th, 6th, 9th and 11th best offenses in the nation this year. Oregon's offense is the best in the Pac-12, but would be the 3rd best in the SEC. Very weird, that. In any case, Oregon's not faced anything close to the buzzsaw that Alabama's relentlessly efficient offense is. The closest is Stanford (24th), but that's a 14 point differential. And in particular, Alabama is significantly better on standard downs and running the ball than Stanford is. (Gulp). They're also much better at finishing drives and scoring points; they're 3rd in the nation in difference in net points, meaning that they score a lot more TDs than FGs and FGs than nothing.

Obviously the closest on defense is Stanford (7th) - though Alabama has almost as big a gap on defense there (13 points) as they do on offense. They aren't quite as good on standard downs but are way, way better against the run and on killing drives dead.

Similarity scores for Oregon

The closest team to Oregon on offense that Alabama has faced is Texas A&M (4th). There's not a huge difference between A&M and Oregon; as would be expected, Oregon is a bit better running the ball and a bit worse passing. Oregon is much worse at finishing drives but better at getting more points out of drives (IE, they'll get nothing or TDs). Otherwise it's a very good comparison, as might be expected. Oregon's offense is significantly better than Auburn (15th) or LSU (11th).

The closest team on defense is...Auburn (34th) ! CLEARLY THIS MEANS WINNAR. One big difference, however, is that Auburn is much better on passing downs than Oregon - 12th vs. 50th. Oregon couldn't kill drives nearly as well as Auburn does. Tennessee (44th) is the other comparator; they're much closer to Oregon's overall numbers but much, much worse at stopping the run than Oregon is.

Oregon's offense vs Alabama's defense

Much like I said last week when checking out Alabama's defense vs. Auburn's offense, if Oregon would have a shot on this it'd be via passing. Oregon has no advantage on standard downs or on running the ball, but they have good advantages against a surprisingly weak Alabama pass defense. While it's not likely Oregon would have the same success running the ball that Auburn did, Alabama has struggled to contain running QBs and deal with spread offenses for the last 3 years now. Oregon does have some shots here. It's not quite as bleak as it would have been in, say, 2011. And while it's performed poorly in the last few weeks, Oregon's offense is still the clear star of the team. If Josh Huff and Bralon Addison could get going, this could be a long day for the Tide.

Still, as I've said, historically Oregon suffers significantly when going against teams that are good against the run. And there's very little good indication that Oregon would be able to run against this defense.

Oregon's defense vs Alabama's offense

This is where I see a beatdown. Oregon's defense has 20+ point differentials against it in every category, but especially on passing downs. Oregon has been trending abysmally in getting teams off the field. I can't see Alabama having less success. Anything that Alabama wants to do, they would likely be able to have some success. And they are excellent at finishing drives, so even the normally solid notion of Oregon getting turnovers is problematic - though that remains the best possible way that Oregon could thrive.

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 Alabama has the ball
Category Oregon


UO Off ALA Def UO Def ALA Off
F/+ Rk 6 (31.2%) 2 (44.2%) 7 (19.5%) 5 (21.4%) 26 (8.7%) 11 (16.4%)
FEI Rk .232 (9) .297 (2) 6 (.614) 7 (-.588) 20 (-.364) 11 (.510)
Field Position 18 (.540) 1 (.578)

Raw Efficiency 6 (.275) 2 (.317) 5 (.648) 10 (-.453) 18 (-.379) 9 (.578)
First Down rate

7 (.793) 19 (.606) 44 (.648) 13 (.765)
Available Yards rate

3 (.634) 13 (.355) 36 (.410) 12 (.596)
Explosive Drives

8 (.231) 13 (.067) 8 (.064) 4 (.284)
Methodical Drives

98 (.116) 1 (.067) 20 (.112) 37 (.167)
Value Drives

2 (.608) 10 (.265) 21 (.306) 7 (.563)
Special Team rank 19 (1.771) 1 (3.796)

Field Goal efficiency 102 (-.294) 69 (.064)

Punt Return efficiency 2 (.252) 8 (.155)

Kickoff return efficiency 10 (.060) 36 (-.069)

punt efficiency 101 (.036) 4 (-.344)

kickoff efficiency 45 (-.195) 3 (-.358)

Thanks to some clutch turnovers and 4th down stops, FEI didn't hate Oregon's performance that much against Oregon State and even moved them up a notch on defense. They get dinged later for other stuff by FEI.

Game Factors: the best and worst of the teams

As before, there is more explanation and examples over at Football Outsiders.

Oregon's highs and lows

high on offense: Washington (10th overall, 2.263)

low on offense: California (1109th, -.339) (Arizona is next at 581)

Standard deviation (throwing out the Cal game): 177

high on defense: California (67 overall, -.881)

low on defense: Arizona (828th overall, .522)

Standard deviation (throwing out the Cal game): 229

Very little changed this week in terms of weights and values. Oregon played as expected on their offense, largely, and Oregon played about as expected on their defense. Oregon has now 6 games that were 400th or worse on defense, 3 of which came in the last 4 games. It's more likely that the games against Washington, UCLA and Utah are less indications of what Oregon will do on a regular basis. It's possible that the team will have a huge success - but it isn't that likely.

Offense was not as good as it was in that 4-game stretch of UW, WSU, UCLA and Stanford, but it was decent. It was about as good as it was against Utah. There's a lot more evidence to point to the offense having one bad game against Arizona but otherwise being fine.

Alabama's highs and lows

high on offense: LSU(12th, 2.228)

low on offense: Colorado State(733, .256)

standard deviation: 256

high on defense: Mississippi(16, -1.243)

low on defense: Texas A&M(682, .312)

standard deviation: 188

This kind of surprised me. I expected Alabama to be the model of consistency, but they aren't. They're very variable on offense, though in general their offense does best against good teams (A&M, LSU, Auburn, VTech) and worst against bad ones (Colorado State, Kentucky, Miss St, Georgia State). Their defense is also fairly variable, though, and that was really surprising. And on defense it's not nearly as cut and dried as 'good teams == better performance' - their worst was against A&M, and then Georgia State.

Similarity scores for Alabama

Alabama is closest to Washington (12th) on offense. Again - wow. Really? Huh. That's that hard Washington schedule showing up again. Alabama is significantly better in two places: explosive drives and methodical drives. They're one of the most explosive teams in the nation. That seem odd to you? It does to me, but on 28.4% of all their drives this season they've averaged over 10 yards a play on that drive.

Stanford (2nd) is the closest to Alabama; UCLA is a distant 16th. Stanford has faced the 2nd hardest schedule on offense according to FEI. Alabama has faced the 42nd. The big difference is that Stanford is bad at stopping methodical drives, Alabama is best in the country. If you don't score fast, you're not scoring.

Similarity scores for Oregon

Oregon is closest to LSU (7th) and is worse than A&M (1st). Oregon tends to have more explosive drives than LSU (fewer than A&M though) and gets  more yards per drive than LSU or A&M. All three of those teams have faced about the same strength of schedule.

On defense, Oregon is right next to Mississippi (23rd) and a bit further away from Auburn (13th). Oregon is much better at stopping explosive plays than either of them, but has faced a much weaker schedule than either of them.

Oregon's offense vs Alabama's defense

Oregon has a slight advantage from FEI's perspective over Alabama. That kind of surprised me, but in general FEI is down on Alabama for not getting the big turnovers and dominating fairly meh competition this season. Oregon is almost certain to get no long drives, but that's not surprising; Oregon never does this year. Beyond that, Oregon should be able to get some yards every drive as well as the occasional big play. And like I said above, it's not like Oregon hasn't seen a defense as good as Alabama's. They just didn't do that great against it in actually sealing the deal. If you thought FEI did a good job of predicting Stanford's dominance against Oregon, you should think that Alabama would have a harder time.

Oregon's defense vs. Alabama's offense

S+P and FEI agree here: Oregon has clear disadvantages across the board. Oregon is good at stopping explosive drives and methodical drives, but horrible at stopping first downs and available yards. This tends to mean that Oregon would lose a battle of field position - something Alabama is exceedingly good at. There's very little positive here; Oregon is simply outmatched on defense in basically every place according to FEI.

Special Teams

Speaking of field despite the Kick Six, Alabama is still the #1 team at special teams. They are especially good at punt and kick coverage - so there is not a lot of likelihood that anyone would break anything. They're bad at field goals (SHOCKING) but Oregon is worse. The especially bad matchup is Oregon's punting (101st) vs. Alabama's returns (8th). Chances are good Oregon punts a lot this game - and chances are good Alabama makes them pay with good field position.

So what does this all mean?

It means Oregon's gonna lose.

No, seriously. There would be about an 80% chance of an Oregon loss if the game was played, like, tomorrow. At Oregon. If the game was played in a month on a supposedly neutral field, it'd be closer to 85%. Oregon's offense and Alabama's defense are at best even. Alabama's offense should run Oregon off the field. Now, that doesn't mean it WILL happen. Auburn and Oregon were pretty close in a lot of ways. One way they were not is on special teams; Auburn was one of the best in the country, and as I said in the mini-capsule I would expect some special teams returns. That's not the case with Oregon, however. While Oregon's offense is much better in certain areas - passing notably - they are still boom or bust, and Alabama doesn't do 'boom' all that often.

If Oregon would win, the game would look similar to the A&M game - where Oregon gets pass-happy, is able to throw around the field and improvise, and score a lot. The difference would be that Marcus Mariota is much more accurate and a better decision maker than Johnny Manziel, and would not throw a pick-6. That, right there, would be the ballgame. Oregon could win a game where neither defense could stop the other. But I don't see Alabama doing that most of the time. The spread would probably be about 10-11 points for Alabama, and I'd figure on Alabama covering that.