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How FEI and S+P see the game: Oregon vs USC 2015

For the 5th week in a row Oregon is not favored to win by the numbers. Let's see how they pull it off this time.

Ezra Shaw/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 the Five Factors: efficiency, explosiveness, finishing drives, field position, and turnovers (measured largely by sack rate). This is then adjusted for opponent strength.
  • Second Order Wins: Defined here, this is how many wins a team would have expected to have won if you just take how well they actually did in a game.
  • S&P+: The overall S+P rating, given as both a percentage and as a margin above the average points scored. IE, a team with a +10.0 S+P would likely score 10 points more than a team with a 0 S+P.
  • OS&P+: The offensive component of S&P+.
  • DS&P+: The defensive component of S&P+.
  • Weighted S+P: This weights more recent games more heavily, giving a bit more value to teams that do better as the season goes on (or teams that get devastated by early injuries after looking great).
  • 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

Better to be lucky than good

If you checked out that link I sent yesterday about the mega breakdown of Oregon and Stanford's stats - and I'm sure you did - you might have noticed that Stanford was predicted to win the game given the actual stats of the game.

But I'm pretty sure they didn't win. They didn't win, right? The refs didn't retroactively reward Stanford the victory. So why do the stats show that? Because Oregon was more lucky. Oregon recovered 2 of the 3 fumbles in the game, two that were absolutely critical to the overall outcome and are typically recovered by the offense - the two Kevin Hogan center-QB exchanges. Usually that kind of play results in basically a loss of a down, as there are far more offensive players around the ball than defensive players. But it didn't this time.

That doesn't take away from Oregon's play. Oregon went to a supposedly hostile environment (though seriously, it sounded like a home game from the telecast) and played a tough team very hard. Oregon made a lot of big plays. But the actual result  could have gone either way, if we were being honest with ourselfs. Which, ya know, is okay - that's how it worked out for Stanford in 2012 too.

This week we're going to need just as much of that luck if the stats are right. Fortunately, this season the stats are almost never right when it comes to Oregon.

How S+P sees the game:

OVERALL When Oregon has the ball When USC has the ball
Category Oregon
UO Off USC Def UO Def USC Off
F/+ Rk 33 (20.2%) 9(38.8%)

S&P Percentile 69.1% 89.3%

2nd Order Wins 6,4 (-0.6) 6.7(-0.3)

S&P+ 43(6.8) 11(15.0) 11 (38.9) 39 (23.9) 95(32.1) 12(38.9)
Rushing S&P+

4(128.1) 23(116.7) 108(88.8) 29(112.7)
Passing S&P+

31(116.6) 39(109.1) 62(100.8) 22(119.3)
Std Down S&P+

10(122.1) 29(111.8) 66(99.8) 29(111.9)
Pass Down S&P+

26(120.9) 31(114.5) 102(88.8) 22(122.8)
Success Rate+

26(114.1) 23(113.6) 65(100.3) 19(116.1)

11(127.7) 29(113.9) 83(95.1) 23(117.8)

12(1.39) 25(1.17) 60(1.23) 21(1.37)

20(47.2) 71(41.7) 103(45.6) 29(45.2)
Field Position

30(31.7) 50(28.9) 100(31.1) 91(29.1)
Finishing Drives

49(4.98) 21(3.91) 99(5.01) 22(5.28)
Turnover Margin 27(+5) 10(+10)

Turnover Luck +0.81 PPG +2.26PPG

While the stats have been wrong as far as the actual outcome of games, the stats have been pretty awesome at figuring out what the gameflow would look like. As an example: Oregon getting big plays running the ball against Stanford was something the stats called out as a probable outcome, and Stanford not getting big plays of their own was another outcome that was expected. Similarly, Stanford getting good running outcomes but nothing huge vs. Oregon getting either a couple yards or paydirt was another thing. Where the stats went wrong - and where Oregon basically won - was that Stanford had avoided their curse from last year of not being able to score regularly once they got inside the 40, and were ruthlessly efficient most of the year. This game? They got 4 TDs - but they also had 4 field goals (3 made) and 2 fumbles. That's a lot more characteristic of the Oregon defense of old, and gives me some hope this week.

And while USC has similar numbers to Stanford, their character is really different. USC is much more boom and bust compared to Stanford. They get big plays quite often - not as often as Oregon does, but much more often. Their defense is much worse at getting regular stops and better at stopping big plays, especially against the run. This game will look very different than the last one, even though the numbers are virtually identical to what we faced last week.

Similarity scores for USC

Oh hey, for the third week in a row Oregon faces the hardest offense they've faced all year! Though it's really not that fair - Stanford was ahead last week before they ran into the defensive buzzsaw of Oregon and Joe Walker. The main difference between USC and Stanford is that USC is much, much better on passing downs, especially on getting big plays. Getting USC off the field is going to be tough.

USC's defense is also pretty close to Stanford (46th) and slightly worse than Michigan State (35th). USC is better against the run than both of those teams, which should be a bit concerning. They're also close to how good MSU is against big plays. Otherwise pretty close.

Similarity scores for Oregon

For the first time in what seems like forever, I get to say that Oregon is the best offense that USC will face this the Pac-12. Sadly, Notre Dame (6th) is better rated. Oregon is pretty close to Stanford (13th) as well. In general, Oregon is far better running the ball than either of those teams, far worse at passing the ball, and much better than Stanford on passing downs while being worse on standard downs. Notre Dame is a bit more explosive too.

Oregon's defense is still not great, and is still comparable to Colorado (96th). But hey, Colorado held USC to 27 points! That's good, right? Oregon and Colorado are actually pretty similar too - both are better against the pass than the run. Oregon is much worse on passing downs, and much better on standard downs. And chances are that if Oregon wins, the way that Colorado had success - by limiting big plays - will be the main key here, too.

Oregon's offense vs USC's defense

While most everyone looks at USC's good offense as the main reason they're ranked so highly, thinking of crazy plays by Adoree Jackson, USC's defense has been quietly effective against some of the best offensive teams this season. And as stated above, the real problem is that USC is quite good against the run. Oregon still has an advantage here, but it's not nearly as pronounced as it has been in the last two weeks, and that tends to mean that Oregon will be slower than usual in their drive success.

Then again, Oregon's run offense has improved dramatically in the last few weeks and seems to be getting better and better.

Unlike the ASU or the Stanford game, USC is good against explosive plays, especially against explosive run plays (42nd in the nation). While Oregon is excellent here they probably won't get the same level of explosiveness that we've enjoyed. USC is very good on adjusted line yards as well - 30th - but poor in power success and stuff rate. They're also not great at success rate against the run. What that all combines into is that Oregon is almost never going to lose yardage on running plays, will likely get good yards every time, but probably won't get a lot more than that. That's a good way to get long, methodical drives, and that should be a bit scary, as Oregon tends to shoot themselves in the foot along the way due to penalty or some blown play early in the count.

Oregon will likely have about the same amount of success passing the ball. Similar to their run defense, USC doesn't let a lot of big plays go (31st) but isn't good at stopping success (79th). How USC stops teams is through sacks - they're 28th in the nation getting sacks, and Oregon is 113th in the nation in giving them up. That likely  means Vernon Adams is going to have a pretty rough night throwing the ball, especially on passing downs where Oregon gives up a sack 12% of the time.

The good news for Oregon is still the injuries for USC, where Cameron Smith and Lamar Dawson are both out. USC gets most of their havoc and big stops from their linebackers (16th in the nation) and their loss is going to help Oregon hugely. That being said, most of their sacks don't come from there, and Su'a Cravens is still a monster player for USC with 12 tackles for loss and 5.5 sacks on the season.

Another bit of good news is that USC doesn't do that well on passing downs. While they're absolutely great at not giving up a big play (7th in the nation) they're not nearly so good at stopping drives - 96th in the nation with a 33.7% rate. Oregon's gotten a lot better here.

Oregon's success is on the big play, but those big plays won't come with long down and distance times. Where they will come, most likely, is taking a shot early in the count. Oreogn is 15th in the nation on standard down big plays, and USC's better defense against the big play is only 58th when they have to worry about short plays. I would expect either misdirection type run plays like jet sweeps or triple options to do well for big yards, but mostly I'd expect play action passes to Darren Carrington or Bralon Addison to be really successful in getting points. And if you want to be really specific - 2nd down is the key, where the USC defense ranks 63rd (compared to 30th on first and 9th on 3rd).

In general this is a slightly worse matchup for Oregon than it has been against the last two teams, mostly due to USC's good defense against the run. We'll see if the stats are caught up yet to Oregon's ability. And of course, stats don't see injuries.

Oregon's defense vs USC's offense

As usual, Oregon's defense is going to look really, really bad.

USC has a crazy big advantage running the ball, as almost every team Oregon's faced can attest to. Though it's not as high as it's been in recent weeks - only 24 points. Furthermore, while USC is committing to a more balanced offense, they still tend to pass more than the average - 55% runs on standard downs, 30% runs on passing downs, both are fairly low. I'm concerned about reports that Clay Helton will have USC running more - and looking at their splits since he came on, that appears to be accurate (they've run around 40 times a game since the ND game) - but they're still not going to go crazy with it compared to what, say, Oregon does.

The big difference between USC's running and Stanford's running is that USC is far more explosive - 21st in the nation. And Oregon? 87th. That's Oregon's best running defense stat, but if Ronald Jones II breaks out like he has in a number of games the day is going to be really, really long for Oregon.

The good news for Oregon - if you can find any - is that USC is really bad at getting stuffs. They tend to be pretty boom or bust, and a number of their run plays end up in the backfield. They've got a 82nd ranked stuff rate on offense (20% of the time) and a 92nd rated power rate (60% of the time), meaning that 1 in 5 runs ends up failing in the backfield.

USC is also hard to get off the field. They're good passing and have a 19 point advantage there, but oddly don't get nearly as much explosive plays as you might expect from their passing game. Cody Kessler tends to keep things somewhat in front of him and take what's given, which...well, for Oregon, tends to be a lot. The bright spot here is that USC gets a lot of sacks, especially on passing downs - they are 121st in the nation on passing downs, giving up a sack about 12.6% of the time. Oregon sadly isn't that good at getting sacks on passing downs but it's probably the best shot. Otherwise, USC converts passing downs significantly higher than Stanford or most other teams Oregon has faced (22nd in the nation) and gets big plays a whole lot of the time on those downs (9th). This actually matches up decently against Oregon, which is very good at stopping big plays on passing downs but allowing success. USC tends to go for the home run on 3rd downs, and Oregon stops that a fair amount of time. I'd expect a combination of giving up long passing plays and getting pressure sacks on USC's drives.

Overall this seems a bit more scary than Stanford does, honestly. USC is balanced, able to get big plays, and can make something out of nothing very quickly. USC probably won't have a lot of long drives; they're too error-prone to allow for that. But they'll also have quick turnaround time and be able to score in a blink of an eye, and we've seen that kind of game already when we faced Utah.

How FEI sees the game:

OVERALL When Oregon has the ball When USChas the ball
Category Oregon


UO Off USC Def UO Def USC Off
F/+ Rk 33 (20.2%) 9(38.8%)

FEI Rk 27 (11.9%) 9 (18.5%) 20 (.69) 23 (.49) 87 (-.20) 5 (1.11)
Field Position 29 (.07) 39 (.05)

Raw Efficiency 54(2.6%) 22(16%) 24 (.79) 37(.15) 101 (-.63) 13(1.08)
First Down rate

14 (80.5%) 80 (74.3%) 113 (80.3%) 50(74.1%)
Available Yards rate

20 (54.7%) 65 (45.6%) 101 (52.5%) 22 (54.0%)
Explosive Drives

11 (23.0%) 22 (9.2%) 77(14.5%) 16 (21.3%)
Methodical Drives

50(14.2%) 53 (12.8%) 64 (13.7%) 68 (13.0%)
Value Drives

9 (48.5%) 58 (36.4%) 82 (42.2%) 16 (51.0%)

As explained last week, FEI has gone through a slight change so that the values are expected points added per drive. More details here, if you're so inclined.

For the first time this year FEI kind of disagrees with S+P. FEI sees USC as a good but not insanely great offense - compared to Stanford, which had one of the best offenses in the  nation prior to playing Oregon. But the USC defense? Whoo, boy, is it good.

Now it's time to play my favorite game - Why Do They Differ!

USC at #9 might look pretty weird, but keep in mind that FEI loves teams with hard schedules that do well against those games regardless of actual outcome. For this, USC has played Stanford (5th) close, played Notre Dame (3rd), played Utah (12th) and beat them well, and otherwise played great...until recently. Their win over Utah was the 8th best game of t he year, by FEI standards, and the loss to Notre Dame was the 34th best game of the year. Is Utah overrated? Probably. Is Notre Dame? Maybe.

The good news for Oregon is something that is seen in both FEI and S+P stats - how well they've been playing recently. For the first 8 games of the season, USC played very, very well. They had only one game in that which ranked below 227th of all games played this season, or only one game that they didn't play at an 80th percentile or higher (that would be the Washington game, if you were curious). Since that time, however, they've played two games at 41st and 27th percentiles - that's pretty bad. And since that Utah game, they've had a one possession game against Cal, Arizona and Colorado, the latter two at home. S+P tells a similar story - their first 4 games had 3 90+ percentile performances, their last 4 have 2 60% performances.

USC looks like a team that's trending down.

So how does Oregon look? Well, as you might expect they had some horrible performances early in the season - until the Washington game, only the MSU game ranked anything better than 400th - but since then, Oregon has had the 89th best (against Washington), 234th best (against ASU), 168th best (against Cal) and then the 21st best (against Stanford). Oregon is playing much better right this minute, and USC is playing much worse right this minute.

Similarity scores for USC

Stanford is still considered to be a better offense than USC (7th), and that's about as close as you can get. Michigan State (19th) is next, and they're not really close to either. USC, as you might expect, is far more likely to get big plays - and far less likely to get some yards on a drive.

FEI differs quite a bit about USC on defense too, and USC is far better than Stanford (57th). The closest team that they compare to is MSU (31st). And if you want some reason to doubt the numbers - Vanderbilt is 3rd on defense, and Washington is 4th. USC is much better against explosive plays than MSU, and much less likely to get a 3 and out.

Similarity scores for Oregon

If you wondered why USC is so highly ranked on defense, here ya go - they've played, by FEI, the 5th, 7th, and 18th best offenses in the nation, and Oregon will add another top 15 school. Notre Dame is still the best overall, and Stanford is the best in the Pac-12 - and Oregon isn't close to either of those, really. Oregon's a lot closer to Arizona (18th). As you might expect, Oregon is far more explosive. Oregon is also more likely to get some yards on a drive.

Oregon's defense is worse than Colorado by FEI (80th) but better than Arizona (100th). Oregon is less likely to yield an explosive play compared to Oregon, but we're not talking about a lot of difference here.

Oregon's offense vs. USC's defense

So last week I said that Stanford will give up long drives but not big plays. Naturally Oregon got massively big plays on all of their successful drives. So...yeah. Numbers are great until they get punched in the face. This week USC looks even tougher - but a lot of that is the grueling schedule they've played. USC hasn't given up a ton of explosive plays, but they've not played a ton of explosive offenses, either. They tend to give up longer drives in theory - however, Oregon just doesn't do that very often, or at least hasn't since Vernon Adams came back and the only thing Oregon had was long drives.

Mostly, I think that USC's defense is generally boosted by a couple of really good games against supposedly good teams that went...meh. Their game against Cal is one of the better indicators - but they didn't do much better against Cal than Oregon did, and Colorado almost did as well.

Oregon's defense vs. USC's offense

While USC doesn't have quite as big an advantage on offense as Stanford did, they are still fighting against Oregon's defense. Oregon does have something of a bonus in that they tend to not give up as many explosive drives whereas USC tends to rely on them, but that's about it. FEI still doesn't think that Oregon has anything resembling a decent defense. DeForest Buckner is probably Oregon's best hope for pulling something out.

Special Teams





Special Teams Efficiency
29 (.06)
96 (-.04)
Field Goal Efficiency
17 (43%)
Punt returns vs. punt efficiency
25 (14%)
128 (32%)
Kickoff returns vs. kickoff efficiency
16 (14%)
9 (-14%)
Punting vs. punt return efficiency
62 (1%)
Kickoff vs. Kickoff return efficiency
85 (-3%)
Opponent Field Goal Efficiency

Wow, what a big advantage Oregon has. USC is good on kicking off - so Charles Nelson is probably not going to break any - but boy, USC is bad at punting. They are literally the worst in the nation at it, and combined Oregon has a 44% better than the average value when USC punts the ball. If USC punts much, I'd expect either big returns from Bralon Addison or just not great punts in general. USC allows about 15 yards/return on 40 yard punts, so that's a kind of a big deal. They've only allowed one TD return; it's mostly that they just don't defend it that well to start with.

So what does this all mean?

This is what I said for last week:

Well, what about this week? This week is pretty clear:  just like against Washington, Oregon should lose. Even with a 9 point spread Oregon should lose. Oregon's on the road (just like Washington) against a team that statistically is one of the best in the PAC-12 (just like Washington) and has played better throughout the season (just like Washington). Stanford is a pretty different team otherwise; defensively, they're far closer to Cal. Offensively, they're far closer to what Oregon used to play like. But yeah, the numbers don't think highly of Oregon one bit.

So let's play a game, just like we did against Washington or ASU: what does an Oregon win look like?

  • Oregon somehow manages to get a lot more disruptive, likely getting turnovers at the end of long drives. Oregon has to win the turnover battle and likely has to win it by at least 2.
  • Oregon manages to get a few crucial run stops and force longer 3rd downs. And Oregon keeps Stanford under 50% conversion of 3rd downs.
  • Oregon gets a lot of pressure on Kevin Hogan, especially on standard downs. At least 4 sacks.
  • Oregon's run attack almost always gets positive yards and either avoids 3rd downs entirely or gets very manageable 3rd downs.
  • Evan Baylis, Royce Freeman and Taj Griffin have a great day both running and catching the ball.
That's what a winning formula against Stanford probably looks like. Let's hope, once again, that the numbers and I are totally wrong.

What's interesting is that while the numbers got it wrong, how Oregon wins was pretty close. Oregon won the turnovers by +2, ending three promising drives with turnovers. Oregon did force some longer 3rd downs and critically got stops in the red zone, forcing 4 field goal attempts. Oregon's run attack got a lot of success and Oregon only saw 7 total third downs. Royce Freeman had a good game, Evan Baylis got a great catch and Taj Griffin got a long TD pass on a wheel route. We only threw 12 times too, so it wasn't like our receivers were going insane there.

What was wrong was that we still didn't get a lot of sacks (we only got 1) and couldn't force a lot of 3rd down stops (Stanford was 12-17). Oregon got big explosive runs, which had been a predicted weakness for Stanford. And Oregon got lucky.

What about this week? This game isn't nearly as lopsided as the last game was predicted to be - Oregon started as 1.5 point favorites and is now a 4 point favorite. S+P has USC favored by 4.7 points and has an Oregon win with 39% (this used to be something like 25% a couple weeks ago) - it'd be more, but it's on the road for USC. It's not hard to see how Oregon can make up a 4.7 point deficit one way or another.

So what does a win look like for Oregon? In this case, it's probably about pressuring USC's defense in the middle. With their starting two ILBs out for the season and USC's depth already reeling due to the sanctions (they only have two safeties that are not injured and on scholarship right now) they're still feeling, it's going to be about Oregon's ability to run successfully up the middle and be able to pass out of situations like that. In short, it's going to look a lot like what teams have done against Oregon for a good chunk of the season. Against Stanford Oregon had an 11.0 YPC average up the middle, and chances are good that Oregon's going to have to do about that well and then some against USC. I would also expect some quickie slants and some longer crosses and wheel routes. Taj Griffin may have some more good targets here. What I wouldn't expect is the same amount of time in the pocket; unlike Cal or Stanford, I would expect Vernon Adams to have a lot more pressure, and hopefully the game plan will expect to deal with that. I don't think we'll get big plays based on long passes nearly as much as we'll get big plays from missed tackles and bigger yards after contact/catch.

You might also see some inside screens and draw plays a bit more too. But mostly, a win will look like Royce Freeman just getting crazy amounts of yards on play after play.

On defense, as weird as it sounds - if Oregon wins I think it's going to be because they were able to stop big run plays and force Cody Kessler, Adoree Jackson and especially JuJu Smith-Schuster to beat the defense. Don't get big plays, force USC to march down the field and hope that they can get a couple of small stops here and there. Another ray of hope is that USC may be playing without another offensive lineman this game - VIane Talamaivao tore his meniscus and is day to day, making the third lineman they've potentially lost this season. Because of that, what I would expect is for Oregon to try and get a stuff, get a longer 3rd down and then go for sacks.

So - big broken plays on offense, sacks and stopping the run on defense. That's what it looks like.

Do I think it'll happen? That's a different question, but the numbers predict that Oregon won't win. Just like the numbers predicted Oregon wouldn't win against Washington, Cal, ASU, or Stanford.