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How FEI and S+P see the game: Oregon vs. Stanford 2014

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The last chance for Marcus Mariota to beat his PAC-12 nemesis and virtually clinch the PAC-12 North will largely come down to how well his team can play on defense and how many breaks Oregon can get.

Devon Allen and special teams play is going to play a big part.
Devon Allen and special teams play is going to play a big part.
William Mancebo

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, RockMNationFootball 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 Stanford has the ball
Category Oregon

Stanford

UO Off STAN Def UO Def STAN Off
F/+ Rk 5 (31.5%) 43 (8.1%) 2 (20.4%) 3 (22.9%) 28 (9.3%) 64 (-1.0%)
S&P+ 12 (245.2) 10 (245.7) 5 (128.9) 2(143.2) 25 (116.3) 55 (102.5)
Play Efficiency

7 (137.6) 1 (164.7) 30 (116.7) 76(99.5)
Rushing S&P+

9 (136.1) 1 (163.2) 47 (108.3) 94 (90.3)
Passing S&P+

8 (143.3) 3 (159.9) 23 (121.2) 48 (108.4)
Std. Downs S&P+

15(125.0) 1 (154.6) 17 (121.5) 72 (101.2)
Pass. Downs S&P+

4 (173.6) 5 (178.9) 62 (104.9) 82 (96.0)
Drive Efficiency

9 (126.2) 28 (115.7) 10 (130.0) 41 (108.3)


Because Oregon didn't dominate a meh Cal team, S+P docks them a bit - particularly on defense, where Cal seemed to click a bit. Offense went down too, as Cal's defense wasn't anything to shake a stick at. Meanwhile...Stanford looks like a truly scary team, especially after the whooping they put on OSU. They jumped 30 points in offense just from that game alone. And their defense is tied for the best in the country, right behind Ole Miss.

Similarity scores for Stanford

As I said above, Stanford's offense jumped 30 ranks from last week after their win against Oregon State. That takes them out of comparison to teams like Washington (78th) and Wyoming (107th) and puts them a lot closer to better teams we've faced - Washington State (39th) and  Arizona (37th). They're kind of in a no-mans land in terms of offensive power there, mind you. And they're not nearly as good as passing or rushing as either of those teams.

Stanford's defense is the best we've faced this year - but oddly, it's not that much different than Michigan State (5th). Stanford is better across the board in all but two categories - passing downs and drive rating. Drive rating means Michigan State, for whatever reason, stops drives more while Stanford often does not - turnovers, penalties, whatever. Michigan State is best in the nation at stopping passing downs, while Stanford is merely 5th. That might end up being one of the big differences in this game.

Similarity scores for Oregon

While Oregon's offense is much better than anything Stanford has faced, they've actually faced a fair amount of good offensive teams: USC (21st), Notre Dame (22nd), and Arizona State (29th). Coincidentally they've lost to all of those teams. I say that that's a coincidence because it's not likely that those games were lost because of offensive struggles.

Keeping up the trend on defense, Oregon is again the best team Stanford has faced so far this year. Hooray for opponent adjustments! Oregon's gauntlet of Arizona, UCLA, Cal, Michigan State and Washington State has meant that we've given a lot of points and yards to really good offenses. The closest defense to Oregon that Stanford has seen is Notre Dame (28th). Notre Dame is better against the run, much worse against the pass, better on passing downs and much worse on standard downs. And Oregon is a top ten team in drives - meaning we get a lot of turnovers.

Oregon's offense vs Stanford's defense

Stanford's rankings on defense are absolutely absurd. Just scary. Despite Oregon's great offense this year Stanford has 20-30 point advantages almost everywhere against Oregon - running, passing, standard downs, play efficiency. The one place that they don't have clear advantages is on passing downs, where Oregon only has a 5-point deficit.

Now, here's an interpretation: S+P gets a bit wacky sometimes when they see a great team play against a bad one. Case in point is Baylor. Baylor had crazy offensive numbers due to how efficiently they were playing against poor competition. When we did stats comparisons Baylor looked like they would obliterate anything and were the team of the century. Turns out that they were simply super efficient against bad teams but not great against good ones. When I see numbers this high for S+P, I tend to think that this is once again the case - that S+P is rewarding the domination Stanford has had over weak competition too much.

So: if you think that S+P is more right, Stanford's defense should have an absolute field day against Oregon. Oregon will at best get a few long conversions and shouldn't turn the ball over, but otherwise Oregon will have a hard time even staying on the field. If you think that the comparison to Michigan State is apt, Oregon should have some ability to pass the ball and get long conversions here and there. Running the ball will be difficult no matter what interpretation you favor.

Oregon's defense vs Stanford's offense

Oregon has almost as much of an advantage against Stanford's offense as Stanford does against Oregon's offense. The weak points of Oregon's defense (largely against the run) are balanced by being the weakest part of Stanford's offense (a 28 point margin). Stanford only has a 10 point deficit on passing, so they may be able to get some yards that way - especially given how they've opened up the game recently for Kevin Hogan. At the same time, Oregon is very good at creating turnovers. I would expect Erick Dargan to have another great game.

How FEI sees the game:

FEI is somewhat out of the honeymoon stage with Oregon, but a love of the PAC-12 keeps us together.


OVERALL When Oregon has the ball When Stanford has the ball
Category Oregon

Stanford

UO Off STAN Def UO Def STAN Off
F/+ Rk 5 (31.5%) 21 (21.0%) 2 (20.8%) 3(22.9%) 28 (9.3%) 64 (-1.0%)
FEI Rk 1 (.294) 25 (.169) 2 (.762) 6 (-.705) 32 (-.327) 68 (-.071)
Field Position 22 (.536) 28 (.525)



Raw Efficiency 14 (.193) 29 (.106) 1 (.845) 4 (-.613) 74 (.113) 86 (-.164)
First Down rate

5 (.795) 44 (.618) 112 (.766) 61 (.675)
Available Yards rate

4 (.624) 6 (.316) 86 (.510) 64 (.452)
Explosive Drives

5 (.247) 9 (.053) 51 (.117) 91 (.104)
Methodical Drives

37 (.164) 70 (.145) 110 (.195) 100 (.104)
Value Drives

3 (.578) 2 (.188) 81 (.431) 47 (.406)
Special Team rank 26 (1.334) 84 (-.570)



Field Goal efficiency 109 (-.475) 113 (-.557)



Punt Return efficiency 20 (.075) 59 (-.070)



Kickoff return efficiency 73 (-.165) 27 (.067)



punt efficiency 26 (-.229) 107 (.067)



kickoff efficiency 12 (-.302) 25 (-.244)



In the last two years FEI has been the more predictive system when it comes to the Oregon-Stanford matchup. In both 2013 and 2012, FEI rightly thought Oregon was going to have a hard time on offense and the game would be fairly close, with Stanford having slight edges here and there. Part of that is that Oregon did not face a particularly hard schedule early in the season (or really at all) in either of those years, whereas this year they faced what FEI considers a very hard schedule. And part of it is that FEI just thinks that the PAC-12 part that has faced Oregon is very good.

And as you can see from the table, this year it is FEI's turn to give Oregon fans hope.

Game Factors: the best and worst of the teams

Game Factors Oregon Stanford

I've put the two teams together so that the scale of values is the same for both graphs. The color coding should also be a bit less insane this week :)

Right away the thing that sticks out is how volatile the Stanford offense and the Oregon defense has been - but especially the offense. The Stanford offense is trending better while the Oregon defense is trending kind of towards their regular average. Oregon's offense, meanwhile, had one of the worst games last week but is still quite consistent from week to week. Stanford's defense remains great every week as well.

Those horrible games for Stanford don't coincide with really good teams, by the way. Notre Dame was one of their better games all year, and Arizona State wasn't too bad either. The worst games were against Army and Washington State. Even so, they're not particularly good no matter how you look at it - at least on offense.

From a game split perspective, Oregon has scored a fair amount of points via turnovers this year (55.6) while only losing 17.3. Oregon has relied on the turnover to dominate games. If Oregon is going to have a chance, it's likely in causing turnovers. Oregon has not been as lucky on field position, which is good for their chances. Special teams is interesting - they scored 9.1 points against Cal last week, but that was more than they had done for the rest of their games combined. Special teams isn't normally a factor in Oregon wins (or hasn't been this season). Hopefully it will this week.

Stanford, meanwhile, has been fairly bad at special teams and has been abysmal in turnovers. Chances are good that if they limit turnovers they'll win. This is something they've only done in two games, however - Army and Notre Dame. And they're very poor at causing turnovers.

Similarity scores for Stanford

Stanford is another special snowflake like Cal was - much better than  Washington (101st) (heh) and much worse than Cal (36th). They actually compare most closely to Wyoming (79th), with about a 100 point differential. They're even similar in temperament, though Stanford tends to get more first downs on a drive.

Not particularly surprising, Stanford will be the hardest defense we've faced this year. The next closest is Michigan State (17th), though they differ by more than 200 points. Washington is also close in comparison (23rd), though even bigger of a gulf there (300 points).

Similarity scores for Oregon

Stanford's best offensive opponent by FEI was Washington State (9th), followed closely by Arizona State (10th) and USC (13th). There is a 150 point difference between Oregon and WSU by FEI standards, so it's quite a gulf.

Oregon is right next to Arizona State (31st), though Oregon has faced a much harder schedule than ASU has. Oregon is worse than Washington (23rd) and better than USC (36th).

Oregon's offense vs Stanford's defense

This was one of the bigger surprises for me. Stanford is great at everything as expected - save one bit - giving up methodical drives. Normally that's not a big win for Oregon, but this year Oregon is surprisingly good at getting long methodical drives, at least by their standards. It may be that Oregon doesn't get a lot of explosive plays this game but does get a lot of long play drives with many conversions. Oregon also has a slight overall advantage on offense, meaning that Oregon is expected to win those matchups more than they lose.

Oregon's defense vs. Stanford's offense

This is where Oregon should have a massive advantage, at least according to FEI. A 300 point differential usually means consistent domination. Stanford should get a couple of first downs on every drive but should stall early and often, and is fairly bad at getting long drives either by big plays or by methodical plays.

Special Teams

Special teams is usually a big weakness for Oregon, but after the special teams romp against Cal Oregon shot massively up the ranks from around 70th to 26th. Charles Nelson grew up in a hurry, and Devon Allen returning kickoffs was a massive improvement from prior weeks. Stanford, meanwhile, dropped fairly low. Note also that Cal had been one of the best in the nation before Oregon, but now is 80th - so the special teams rankings are fairly volatile. Keep that in mind.

However.

Oregon has a massive advantage in punt returns. Just huge. Oregon has good advantages in kicking off, punting, and amusingly enough field goals. Oregon should get better field position throughout the game because of these things. One of Stanford's normal strengths - methodical field position - has not been particularly valuable this year.

So what does this all mean?

This is what I said last week:

If Cal executes perfectly, avoids turnovers, gets some turnovers and big special teams play they can probably hang around with Oregon for a while. But only for a while. Oregon has massive advantages on offense and a defense that should be able to slow down Cal enough. Cal is not multidimensional on offense enough to scare Oregon, nor are their receivers so amazing that they can handily win one on one matchups. There's really nothing that should concern here, statistically. The point spread is currently Oregon -18.5; based on the numbers Oregon should win and cover.

Got this one wrong by .5 points. One thing that Oregon did not do well was limit Cal's rushing attack; Cal ran well and often, even with stupid plays where their QB could not pass and we still could not stop him. Otherwise it went about as predicted - Cal got a turnover, hung around for a bit, and then got crushed later.

Missing Arik Armstead in a surprise hurt too.

This one's tough for me. I typically trust S+P more than I trust FEI - and FEI this season has been especially weird. And S+P says Stanford wins. It's possible Oregon could win given big special teams play or turnovers or weird luck or whatever - but stat wise, S+P says Oregon should get beat, and beat fairly convincingly. In particular, Oregon has consistently had a hard time with teams that can stop the run reliably - either because Oregon was hurt (as was the case against Arizona) or because that team's defense was tremendously good against the run (Stanford the last two years, LSU).

FEI, however, sees a Stanford team as one that hasn't been tested all that much, an Oregon team that has played a very hard schedule and done well, and most importantly as a team that is better on offense, better on defense, and better on special teams than Stanford. That it's also at home helps quite a bit too.

Neither stat system can predict what happens when Arik Armstead and Matt Wogan are out, or what the status of Royce Freeman's odd injury at the end of the game is going to be like. Neither stat system can easily see whether or not Stanford's new look offensive system is going to roll over Oregon either. That's the part that's usually left to me.

And this time, I think that those are big enough things to hurt Oregon. While I think Oregon is going to get turnovers, I don't think it'll be enough (similar to 2012). I think Stanford remains a horrible matchup problem for Oregon and their defense is as good as it's been in 2012 or 2013. The big problem is that I think Oregon's defense is not nearly as good as they've been in prior years, and while Stanford's offense isn't great that doesn't matter.

I think Oregon loses. If Oregon wins it will likely be because of a high turnover ratio, a big play on special teams and an offense getting a couple of explosive plays and a couple of 10+ play drives. If Oregon loses, it'll look a lot like 2012 did - with Kevin Hogan scrambling to get first downs, crappy penalties on Oregon, poor execution and Marcus Mariota running for his life.

What I want is for Mariota to have a true Heisman moment in this game - some absurdly long scramble, an amazing pass play or two, and taking over this game. I want this with all my cold, calculating heart. But the stats don't think it's going to happen.