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How FEI and S+P see the game: 2014 National Championship

Oregon faces the best team in the nation in the first ever college football playoff national championship. If Oregon's going to win, it's going to be because Marcus Mariota is a hero, the defense continues to create turnovers and somehow Cardale Jones comes down to earth. It's going to be tough, as these teams are about as close to each other as possible.

Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

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.

New! If you're curious what these numbers mean, here's a glossary, stolen happily from our friends at Roll Bama Roll.

  • FEI: The Fremeau Efficiency Index, an overall team quality metric that is drive-based and opponent-adjusted. For a more detailed discussion of FEI, check out the PTN primer.
  • OFEI: The offensive component of FEI.
  • DFEI: The defensive component of FEI.
  • FPA: FEI Field Position Advantage, a measure of how much field position value a team earned against its opponents.
  • STE: FEI Special Teams Efficiency, a composite measure of a team's efficiency in all facets of special teams (kicking, punting, and returning), based on points per game.
  • S&P+:S&P+ is primarily play-based and consists of three components: Success Rate, Equivalent Net Points per Play, and a drive efficiency component. The "+" refers to opponent adjustments. For a more detailed discussion of S&P+, check out the PTN primer.
  • OS&P+: The offensive component of S&P+.
  • DS&P+: The defensive component of S&P+.
  • Rush OS&P+: S&P+ calculated on rushing plays for the offense — a good measure of a team's effectiveness at running the ball.
  • Rush DS&P+: S&P+ calculated on rushing plays for the defense — a good measure of a team's effectiveness at stopping the run.
  • Pass OS&P+: S&P+ calculated on passing plays for the offense — a good measure of a team's effectiveness at throwing the ball.
  • Pass DS&P+: S&P+ calculated on passing plays for the defense — a good measure of a team's effectiveness at defending the pass.
  • PD: Passing Downs, defined as later downs with medium yardage or more to go (3rd, 4th downs in excess of 5 yards to go), as well as 2nd down with more than 8 yards to go.
  • SD: Standard Downs, defined as all downs that are not Passing Downs.
  • SD OS&P+: S&P+ calculated on standard downs for the offense — a good measure of a team's offensive effectiveness on earlier downs and short yardage.
  • SD DS&P+: S&P+ calculated on standard downs for the defense — a good measure of a team's defensive effectiveness on earlier downs and short yardage.
  • PD OS&P+: S&P+ calculated on passing downs for the offense — a good measure of a team's offensive effectiveness on later downs and long yardage.
  • PD DS&P+: S&P+ calculated on passing downs for the defense — a good measure of a team's defensive effectiveness on later downs and long yardage.
  • F/+: The F/+ combined ratings combine FEI and S&P+ into one metric that serves as Football Outsiders' official rankings for college football. For a more detailed discussion of F/+, check out the PTN primer.
  • Off. F/+: The offensive component of F/+.
  • Def. F/+: The defensive component of F/+.
  • ST F/+: The special teams component of F/+.
  • line yards are in general how many yards the line is responsible for compared to how many yards the running backs get by themselves.
  • Opportunity rate is how often a team gains at least 5 yards.
  • Power rate is how often a run play converts 2 or fewer yards on 3rd and 4thd own.
  • Stuff rate is how often a running play gets zero or less yards.
  • Sack rate is adjusted to opponent and is how often the team is sacked

How good are these, anyway?

I was curious how well S+P and FEI have done for the bowls this year. Is one better than the other? Oh yes, by a large margin.

How have the stats done?
System Correct Correct ATS
F+ 62.1 62.1
S+P 70.2 N/A
FEI 54.05 37.8

Wow. This was all hand done, so I may have made a mistake here and there, but it should be pretty close to correct. FEI barely picked the winners right and was horrible against the spread. (If you're curious, it is picking OSU against the spread currently). I don't know what the results would have been against the spread for S+P, but the actual picks straight up are significantly better than both FEI and, amusingly enough, F+. Basically this year S+P was actually better for predicting bowl results than combining the two systems, and FEI was pretty horrible for the bowls.

(cue ominous foreboding music here)

How S+P sees the game:

OVERALL When Oregon has the ball When Ohio State has the ball
Category Oregon

Ohio State

UO Off tOSU Def UO Def tOSU Off
F/+ Rk 2 (38.3%) 1 (38.7%) 2 (20.4%) 6 (16.5%) 9 (14.7%) 3 (20.1%)
S&P+ 3 (258.5) 2 (269.2) 3 (131.1) 4 (131.6) 7 (127.4) 1 (137.6)
Play Efficiency

3 (140.9) 20 (119.4) 34 (111.3) 1 (152.9)
Rushing S&P+

2 (142.1) 52 (106.4) 48 (107.6) 1 (153.0)
Passing S&P+

5 (142.6) 7 (132.9) 31 (113.3) 2 (156.0)
Std. Downs S&P+

5 (131.8) 20 (117.4) 27 (113.5) 1 (140.4)
Pass. Downs S&P+

3 (163.1) 29 (120.4) 54 (105.0) 1 (180.1)
Drive Efficiency

3 (150.9) 2 (189.7) 3 (189.6) 2 (163.3)

Welp, I guess that's what other fans feel like when they look at Oregon's stats. Oy.

Florida State was always disrespected by the stats due to their close games and inconsistent play from week to week. Ohio State, however, has been disrespected largely by the media - but the stats cared little about that VTech loss and instead have watched Ohio State flat out murder other teams. Even with the B1G being down, Ohio State behaved as a top team in the nation should. And when they had the chance to do so, they beat the good teams in pretty much the same way. That most of the B1G performed well on bowling season only improved these stats.

Sound familiar? Oregon and Ohio State are pretty similar in a lot of their ways.

Similarity scores for Ohio State

Just like in the prior comparison, Ohio State is closest to Michigan State (10th). Unlike the first article, Ohio State is way, way better than Michigan State - by 16 points. Ohio State is the best offense in the nation - better than Oregon, even - and just got done dismantling a great defense as well. They've earned this spot and are pretty much unlike anything Oregon has faced this year. If you're curious, the biggest difference really is that they can run so much better than any other team Oregon has faced; the next closest team was UCLA (6th).

Here's where the real differences come into play. Defensively Ohio State will also be the best team Oregon will have faced this year. The next closest are Stanford (6th) and Michigan State (9th). They're actually pretty close to both of those teams. The main difference - and as you'll see, the main reason for hope - is that Ohio State is great against the pass, but only average against the run. This pales in comparison to MSU and Stanford.

Similarity scores for Oregon

Before the playoff games the closest game that OSU would have faced would have been Michigan State as well - but now it's Alabama (2nd). Oregon is significantly better than Alabama at running the ball, but not as good at passing. Oregon also is not quite as good at protecting the ball, though all three offensive teams are very, very good at getting something out of drives.

Oregon's defense is the real story here. Prior to the Arizona championship game, Oregon was 22nd in defense. After the Rose Bowl, Oregon's defense is rated 7th - one step below Stanford, and above Ole Miss, Penn State and Virginia Tech. The closest thing that Ohio State has faced is Michigan State, of course (9th). Oregon is much worse at general success stats compared to Michigan State, but is great at drive stops. So was Alabama, though.

Oregon's offense vs Ohio State's defense

Ohio State's defense is quite strong this year. It's a unit that a lot of people don't talk a ton about, but it's very good - especially against the pass and especially getting sacks. This stands again in sharp contrast to FSU - Ohio State is one of the best in the nation at putting pressure on QBs, especially on passing downs.

The big weakness that Ohio State has is on running. Oregon has a decent advantage (10 points) passing the ball and a 15 point advantage on standard downs - but a 37 point advantage when running the ball. Unlike FSU, where Oregon threw the ball early and often, I'd expect a lot more Thomas Tyner and Royce Freeman. Oregon, if you  were curious, had a much bigger advantage passing the ball against FSU than running - but also, if you're curious, Ohio State is worse against the run than FSU was. Passing situations will be a lot closer to the likes of the Arizona game - a lot of pressure coming from everywhere. Ohio State is 7th in the nation in generating havoc (20.4% of the time they get negative plays) and are especially good in the front 7, where they're third in the nation with 13.5%. Ohio State doesn't tend to beat the pass by coverage - they beat the pass by sacks and pressure.

I was wondering what 37 points actually looks like - what kind of success rate does that mean? Here's a quicky table for that based on our opponents and what the games looked somewhat like.

team S+P difference success rate yards per carry
Michigan State 13 N/A 4.33
UCLA 36 60.0 6.29
Washington 34 N/A 4.36
Stanford 2 52.9 5.80
Utah 34 52.4 5.38
Arizona 25 50.0 5.57
Florida State 36 70.5 6.69

The yards per carry are all over the place, but the success rate is fairly consistent with playing harder teams. Note that the teams most similar to Ohio State's rushing defense - UCLA and Florida State - had a 60% and 70% success rate against the run. The national average is 43.2%, in case you were curious.

Now, let's look at the line play as it suggests a similar deal.

Oregon's OLine vs. Ohio State's DLine
Adj LY Std Downs LY Pass Downs LY Opp Rate Power Rate Stuff Rate Sack Rate Std downs sack rate Pass downs sack rate
Oregon 1(138.5) 1(3.80) 2(4.32) 12(46.2%) 54 (68.8) 6(13.8) 45(115.1) 47(4.0%) 99(9.6%)
Ohio State 59(100.5) 71(2.96) 79(3.50) 76(39.5%) 89(71.1) 67(19.2) 10(144.2) 30(6.5) 5(12.4)

While Ohio State's sack rate is very good, what's interesting is that they give up a ton of yards when teams run the ball on passing downs. Between broken plays, draws and the like, Oregon should have some success making something out of those longer drives. Oregon is one of the best in the nation on converting passing downs as well. What I think this means is that if Oregon is going to have a chance, it's going to be because Marcus Mariota is very, very hard to bring down - and his escapability is going to be on full display.

This is like going against Arizona on steroids, basically, though with a much better chance of running the ball.

Oregon's defense vs Ohio State's offense


Just yikes.

Oregon's disadvantages here are just huge. Everywhere, 30-40 point disadvantages. Ohio State has an incredible offense, and despite losing two starting quarterbacks this has not appeared to be abated at all. OSU slightly favors the run on both running and passing downs, but they're deadly efficient passing the ball or running the ball. Even if you assume what we saw against Arizona (the second time) was representative of Oregon's defense they're still heavily outmatched. The one place that is a bit of a light is that Oregon is one of the best in the nation at getting stops on drives...somehow. The downer there is that the team that is #2 was Alabama, and Ohio State didn't seem to be stopped a whole lot of times.

Oregon is 7th best at stopping explosive plays. Their defense is decent at generating havoc, particularly via their secondary. That's a good thing - but it isn't stopping the run, as we'll see.

Oregon's DLine vs. Ohio State's OLine
Adj LY Std Downs LY Pass Downs LY Opp Rate Power Rate Stuff Rate Sack Rate Std downs sack rate Pass downs sack rate
Oregon 69(98.5) 68(2.94) 116(3.83) 68(39.11) 4 (51.1) 76(18.7) 71(98.2) 1043.0%) 28(9.4%)
Ohio State 2(136.5) 11(3.42) 33(3.65) 1(50.5) 44(69.5) 16(15.3) 78(99.2) 109(7.3%) 44(6.3)

Much like Oregon's offense vs. Ohio State's defense, the lines are dominated by the running ability of the offenses. Ohio State's opportunity rate is higher than Oregon's, but is otherwise pretty much right there. Once again, Oregon's ability to stop a power run may come into play as Ohio State is only good on power runs, but otherwise Oregon looks very outmatched. Another small shining light is that Ohio State is very bad at giving up sacks, particularly on standard downs. Oregon isn't particularly good at getting sacks, though, so I don't see this being super different than what we're used to seeing.

How FEI sees the game:

OVERALL When Oregon has the ball When Ohio State has the ball
Category Oregon

Ohio State

UO Off tOSU Def UO Def tOSU Off
F/+ Rk 2 (38.3%) 1 (38.7%) 2 (20.4%) 6 (16.5%) 9 (14.7%) 3 (20.1%)
FEI Rk 1 (.348) 4 (.280) 3 (.753) 11 (-.533) 13 (-.492) 8 (.627)
Field Position 7 (.554) 4 (.565)

Raw Efficiency .040 (1) .042 (2) 1 (.945) 17 (-.335) 55 (-.110) 5 (.605)
First Down rate

1 (.830) 9 (.563) 95 (.714) 11 (.760)
Available Yards rate

1 (.688) 4 (.330) 78 (.474) 3 (.622)
Explosive Drives

3 (.274) 34 (.106) 55 (.121) 6 (.247)
Methodical Drives

32 (.163) 8 (.075) 114 (.186) 103 (.107)
Value Drives

1 (.670) 3 (.238) 74 (.396) 3 (.575)

I mentioned this briefly in a quack fix, but FEI's love affair with Oregon has reached historic levels. To whit - the FEI rating for Oregon is the second highest FEI score ever. Only the 2008 Florida Team scored higher. FEI loves that Oregon forces turnovers, gets stops, and is ruthlessly efficient at getting scores even if the success rate isn't as high. Unfortunately FEI appears to be less accurate than S+P is, and FEI predicted a much closer game against Florida State.

Game Factors: The best and worst of the teams

Oregon hasn't been insanely consistent, but does appear to be playing at a high level all year - and possibly most importantly, is playing their best football right now. Ohio State's best game was against Wisconsin but their second best was against Alabama (previous to that, it was against Michigan State). They're a bit more volatile compared to Oregon, but have just as high highs. Their lows are the more interesting bits.

We see the Oregon heartbeat, with a nice tick up from the FSU game. Even as good as that offensive game was it wasn't even our third best game of the season on offense. Ohio State's defense has been kind of meh all season save for big games - Michigan State, Wisconsin, and FSU. Much like Arizona OSU plays up to the level of their competition, at least on defense.

OSU's offense is all over the board. Again, their best games are against their best competition, but they've had some real clunkers in there. Still, they're looking like they're trending up. What is also true is that Oregon's defense - which had hovered around dead even - is also looking up. That's two straight games where Oregon's defense has shined through.

Similarity scores for Ohio State

Ohio State, by FEI standards, is the 3rd best offense that we've faced - behind UCLA (6th) and Florida State (7th). They're right there too - very little separates them. Of the three, Ohio State is the least battle-tested compared to the others and the closest to their raw scores.

Ohio State is right there with Stanford (10th) and Utah (12th).  As you might expect, Ohio State hasn't had a super hard set of offenses go against them. They're worst at defending explosive drives, but very good at doing things like getting three and outs.

Similarity scores for Oregon

Now, here's another bit of good news. The only offense close to Oregon's is Alabama (5th) but it's not nearly as good as Oregon's offense - a difference of over 100 points. Oregon is far better at getting some of the yards on the drive but is otherwise fairly the same - high explosiveness, somewhat high methodicalness.

Oregon's defense by FEI is in a weird no man's land. Penn State (8th) is better than Oregon - but by 70 points only. Alabama(7th) is much better than Oregon - 100 points. The next best team is Wisconsin (23rd), but that's more than 150 points away. Oregon and Penn State are similar in that both emphasize stopping big plays over methodical drives.

Oregon's offense vs Ohio State's defense

Oregon has an even smaller advantage over OSU than they did against FSU - only 200 points. That's good but not great. If Oregon is going to do well against Ohio State it's going to likely be via getting big plays - Ohio State is only good against big plays, and Oregon is routinely excellent at getting the big play. I can see the game being a series of good runs by Oregon punctuated by a big pass or two, and occasionally broken up by a long Mariota run. Oregon is certain to get some yards on drives regardless - but not necessarily scores. Ohio State's defense is likely to get a stop or two.

Oregon's defense vs. Ohio State's offense

Because Ohio State's schedule is weaker than FSU's, FEi thinks OSU isn't that great on offense. They have a 100 point advantage here, but that usually just means a good game - again, think about how UCLA moved the ball to give an idea. Another interesting point is that Oregon does give up a lot of basically everything, but they're best at limiting explosive plays. If Oregon can force OSU to march down the field in somewhat manageable chunks it's very good for Oregon. My suspicion is that the strategy will be similar to FSU, where Oregon dares OSU and Cardale Jones to make mistakes and mental errors.

Special Teams





F/+ Special Teams
10 (3.2%)
23 (2.1%)
Special Teams Efficiency
10 (1.793)
23 (1.178)
Field Goal Efficiency
56 (.075)
72 (-.066)
Punt returns vs. punt efficiency
11 (.105)
9 (-.297)
Kickoff returns vs. kickoff efficiency
77 (-.161)
26 (-.227)
Punting vs. punt return efficiency
32 (-.183)
63 (-.062)
Kickoff vs. Kickoff return efficiency
23 (-.233)
90 (-.186)
Opponent Field Goal Efficiency
71 (.069)
43 (-.115)
Ohio State

Another crazy even matchup here. Oregon actually is slightly better at kicking field goals! Oregon should get a bit of a field position advantage against Ohio State, but just a little bit. That might mean the difference in the game, actually. Oregon pinning OSU back when they do kickoffs and getting a little bit of an advantage on punts (the few that we have) could very easily end up being the deciding factor, especially if OSU's explosive plays can be limited some.

So what does this all mean?

This is what I said last week:

Where this game will come down to is how well Oregon's defense can stop FSU's attack. And make no mistake - this is going to be hard. When Florida State is playing well they're as good as essentially anyone in the country, as they showed against Louisville. With Oregon's star cornerback going down to injury chances are pretty good that they'll do well.

The key, I think, is that Oregon has been very good at takeaways - and Florida State has been very bad at takeaways. These aren't all Jameis Winston's fault, but ultimately it doesn't matter; what matters is that Oregon should be able to force or capitalize on errors that will stop drives and give Oregon another possession. I could see the game being similar to the FSU-GT game, where neither defense stopped the other for quite a bit of time. I don't see Oregon being unable to stop FSU like GT did, and I don't see FSU being able to get lucky on stopping Oregon nearly as much as they did GT.

I also think Oregon's ability to stuff a team on power plays will come into play here at some point, essentially counting for one turnover.

I think Oregon wins. The point spread is currently 7; with Ifo out, I think Oregon doesn't cover. (That being said, I could see this easily going like the MSU game did - where Oregon gets a big explosion late)

I didn't predict the spread at all - I thought Oregon would win but not cover - but the above sounds pretty decent, doesn't it? Especially the 'stuff a team on power plays' part? Interesting, that.

This time, however, it doesn't look nearly that nice.

Oregon has some advantages, including some intangibles. They're facing a quarterback on their third start in the biggest game in the history of college football. Oregon's offense is incredibly good, and Ohio State really hasn't faced anything nearly as good. Ohio State does turn the ball over (22 turnovers on the season) - which isn't nearly as many as FSU, but it's still up there. Oregon has played a harder schedule and dominated that schedule.

But boy, Ohio State's offense is incredible.

if Oregon wins, it's going to be because they will be able to limit the big plays by Ohio State. Oregon will have contained, somewhat, Devin Smith. Oregon will have not let Ezekiel Elliott make some backbreaking giant runs, though he is awfully good at them. Oregon will not have done a lot of mistakes of their own, and Oregon might even have a defensive turnover score or some low-percentage play, and will definitely have won the turnover battle - possibly needing to win that decisively. And somehow, Marcus Mariota will escape sack after sack after sack and get positive yardage. It likely has Cardale Jones somehow get stopped a bit or look like a guy in his third start. Erick Dargan will have another crazy day where he's around the ball and gets a turnover or two. That's what an Oregon win looks like.

That's also not the most likely scenario. Ohio State's offense, on paper, is an incredibly consistent, efficient killing machine that is better than anything Urban Meyer has ever wielded. Oregon's defense is at best opportunistic, but that only goes so far. Ohio State's defense - particularly their front 7 - is disciplined, fast, and very good at causing havoc and disruption, and will likely pressure Mariota all day. While I expect Oregon to be able to run quite a bit, Oregon will likely have enough failures in the passing game to not score points - and against OSU, I don't see that going well.

The numbers don't see Oregon winning, much less covering. They see a fairly close Ohio State win, with a ton of points by both sides. If you like, you can say that FEI is way better than S+P and will predict an Oregon win. That's possible, but chances are not great for that.

Let's hope, just like Stanford, that I was wrong and FEI is more right once again.