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

Ready for more #Pac12AfterDark? Ready for more defense optional play that makes MACtion look tame? Neither defense is good, both offenses are great, but it'll come down to Oregon getting key third downs, special teams play, and Cal somehow melting down in spectacular fashion for Oregon to pull it out.

Matt Kartozian-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, 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

On winning not being the same as being a good team

Vernon Adams definitely earned his scholarship after the ASU game, almost single-handedly willing the team to a victory with some absurd heroics and escapability.

The stats, however, are not impressed. Oregon dropped again in both values and is now sitting at literally the median spot in S+P - 60th. That is their lowest ranking in S+P since S+P started, in 2006.

Obviously a win is good, and I'd rather have the win than the loss. At the same time, Oregon showed that they are if anything worse than we thought. Their defense is even worse than expected. And we are going into a 3-game stretch where we face the 8th, 15th and 23rd ranked offenses in the nation.

I asked Vernon Adams to step up for the ASU game. This game, we're gonna need someone from the defense. Maybe Charles Nelson or Tyree Robinson. Because this? Not a pretty sight.

How S+P sees the game:

OVERALL When Oregon has the ball When Cal  has the ball
Category Oregon
UO Off Cal Def UO Def Cal Off
F/+ Rk 53 (8.8%) 31(22.6%)

S&P Percentile 56.5% 73.3%

2nd Order Wins 4.9 (-0.1) 4.9(-0.1)

S&P+ 60(3.2) 41 (8.5) 21 (36.3) 60 (27.4) 97 (33.1) 23(36.0)
Rushing S&P+

11(126.5) 68(99.5) 113(84.1) 34(114.2)
Passing S&P+

48(109.1) 80(95.6) 74(97.0) 7(131.7)
Std Down S&P+

14(122.3) 83(94.7) 95(92.4) 11(124.2)
Pass Down S&P+

54(108.1) 46(109.9) 90(92.5) 12(133.2)
Success Rate+

15(115.1) 75(97.0) 81(94.7) 9(121.6)

21(119.6) 66(100.4) 98(91.1) 9(129.8)

35(1.33) 27(1.16) 74(1.26) 83(1.22)

26(46.4) 92(44.8) 98(45.0) 10(48.9)
Field Position

17(33.0) 91(30.6) 95(30.8) 67(30.1)
Finishing Drives

45(5.09) 76(4.76) 111(5.29) 79(4.69)
Turnover Margin 36(+3) 38(3)

Turnover Luck +1.92 PPG +1.70PPG

One of the most fascinating things for me when doing these articles is to look at how Oregon's ratings change from week to week. I do this usually by simply looking at the prior values before replacing them with the current ones. As the season progresses these values tend to become a bit less volatile and jumpy.

This week what's funny is how little things really changed, and if anything things got more pronounced. Our run game got better and is now close to being a top 10 offense. Our run defense got even worse, and is close to being a bottom 10 defense. We got more explosive on offense and less efficient on defense. Our offense is still mediocre throwing and not good on passing downs. Our defense is getting even worse.

We're seeing the effects of Vernon Adams getting back to Oregon's offense and how that's changing things, making it a pretty good unit. What might be surprising to some is that the improvement of the offense has not led to the defense performing better. One common idea is that this defense works in tandem with the offense, and if the offense is failing the defense will too. That, so far, hasn't been held up by the stats. Our offense did very well against a good defense in ASU, and our defense performed at one of the lowest levels it has all year.

I've also added the success rate+ and IsoPPP+ values to the above table. These are opponent-adjusted metrics to show how well teams do on efficiency and explosiveness and weighed based on opponent. The raw explosiveness/efficiency is also listed so you can compare the two.

Similarity scores for California

Cal is currently the hardest offense Oregon will have faced so far this season, but that'll change in the next two weeks. They're slightly harder than Michigan State (27th), though MSU gets a big, big boost from how well they played against Michigan, so take that with a bit of a grain of salt. The next best offense Oregon has faced is WSU (42nd). Arizona State, the team that just put 740 yards on the defense, is ranked 56th. As far as comparing MSU to Cal it's not really a good comparison; Cal is far better on rushing and passing, and absurdly better on standard downs. The only place that they remotely compare is on passing downs. Don't let the rankings fool you; Cal is a much better offensive team.

Cal's defense is somewhat comparable to ASU (73rd) and much worse than Michigan State (36th) and much better than WSU (87th). Now, here's something really odd. Cal compares much more closely to WSU in the stats than they do ASU, and ASU looks like they're better across the board - better on run defense, pass defense, standard downs, and almost the same on passing downs. Far better on success rate+ and IsoPPP+. Even WSU looks better than Cal does. I don't know why Cal is ranked where they are - but Cal's defense doesn't look so hot, one way or another, and it's certainly on par with the likes of ASU or WSU - and if anything, is closer to Colorado (101st).

Similarity scores for Oregon

Oregon is one of the better offenses that Cal has faced, but not the best, not by a long shot. That'd be USC (8th) and then UCLA (11th). The good news for Oregon is that Oregon is by far the best running attack Cal will have to face, and that includes Stanford. They're also the best on standard downs aside from Stanford, which is 2nd. The bad news is that Oregon is the worst of the lot on passing downs by a pretty substantial margin.

Oregon's defense is the worst that Cal will have faced this year, and is likely to be the worst that they face all year save, perhaps, Grambling's defense. And even that is not clear.  The next closest defense is WSU (87th). WSU is better against the run, much better against the pass, and much, much, much better on standard downs compared to Oregon. And hey, WSU held 'em to 34 points, so that's good, right?

Oregon's offense vs California's defense

Let's first jump into the good news. Oregon should go back to their dominant rushing plan that they used prior to the UW game. Cal's rushing defense isn't great, and Oregon has a 27 point advantage here. This is close to the kind of advantage Oregon's had against teams like Colorado (yay) and WSU (eeeehhh), but with the passing attack at least being credible I'm a lot more confident about it. I expect Royce Freeman to get a lot of plays and a lot of yards, and I expect either Kani Benoit or Taj Griffin to also get significant carries and some good plays. Unlike ASU and UW, I don't expect a lot of stops by Cal's defense or a lot of negative plays, either - Cal is 82nd in stuff rate, 81st in power success rate on defense and 82nd in adjusted line yards. Oregon isn't great at power (106th) but is excellent at adjusted line yards (10th) - which means Oregon should get at least 4-5 yards per carry most of the time.

Where that changes is on explosive plays. Oregon got better on big running plays thanks to the ASU game, but Cal doesn't let a lot of big plays go, period. You might see a couple, but nothing like what ASU was like. Chances are good that drives for Oregon look like a lot of 6-7 yard gains on first down, conversions on second and third down of short yardage, and occasional big shots down the field.

Oregon's passing game is another matter. As usual for this season Oregon struggles on passing downs. If they can stay in standard downs, they'll likely be fine - Oregon has almost a 30 point advantage there. But in passing downs, Cal has a slight advantage. Not a major one, mind you, but enough to where passing downs likely means a failure for Oregon about 70% of the time. As I've said a few times now this likely means that if Oregon doesn't do well early, and doesn't get explosive plays, drives are going to stall. They won't stall quite as early as they did against ASU, where it was either a giant play of doom or a 3-and-out, but they will likely stall a bit. And much like Oregon (at least in theory) Cal is pretty good at stopping big plays too - far better than ASU.

This likely means that the game is going to look somewhat similar to how it was expected to look against WSU, and probably even close to the WSU game. Given that Oregon's passing offense is still somewhat depressed statistically due to the Jeff Lockie experience, I would expect that Oregon would be able to pass a decent amount against Cal as well. I would finally expect red zone woes to continue some, as the power success rate and finishing drives is still a problem.

Expect a lot of 40-60 yard drives that finish in field goals, in other words.

Oregon's defense vs California's offense

Everything I said about Oregon's offense vs. Cal's defense applies here, except moreso.

Cal's advantage in running the ball? 30 points.

Cal's advantage passing the ball? 34 points.

Standard downs? 26 points.

All of that looks a lot like what Oregon can do vs. Cal's defense. So far, so good - it's a shootout, right?

Nope. The big problem is that Cal is great on 3rd downs and passing downs - especially compared to Oregon, which is horrrrrrrrrible. Cal has a 40 point advantage on passing downs over Oregon. While that's a bit misleading - Cal converts 39% of the time, and Oregon stops 35% of the time - it still means that Oregon is going to have a hard time getting Cal off the field.

The one bright spot to our defense - the sack rate - is also not a great sign vs. Cal, as Cal is 37th in the nation on passing downs and 65th on standard downs. We might get a sack early in the count, but Jared Goff is likely to avoid it.

Jared Goff is also often likely to turn it over, but not against Oregon, which has a horrible havoc rate in the secondary (100th).

We gave up 740 yards to Mike Bercovici and an ASU offense rated in the 60s. Chances are good it's going to look even uglier against the Bear Raid offense. I guess the good news is that Cal isn't very good at big plays and Oregon is pretty decent at stopping big plays (at least passing ones; Oregon is horrible at allowing big runs).

My suspicion is that Cal is going to go fairly run heavy and dare Oregon to stop the run, which they won't be able to do. Khalfani Muhammad may have a career day, though Vic Enwere will likely still get a lot of carries. Jared Goff will also likely keep the ball and run successfully, as QBs have been able to run against us with a lot of success all year. Expect Oregon's defense to look off-balance and give up a lot of fairly easy drives.

Another way to say it is this:  these differentials look a lot like Ohio State's differentials against Oregon in the National Championship. And this is only the third best offense we'll be facing in the next three weeks. If you're hoping for Don Pellum to be fired, well, chances are good the next three weeks is going to be a make or break for him.

How FEI sees the game:

Unusually, FEI is not contrarian at all.

OVERALL When Oregon has the ball When Cal has the ball
Category Oregon


UO Off Cal Def UO Def Cal Off
F/+ Rk 53 (8.8%) 31(22.6%)

FEI Rk 47 (6.1%) 26 (12.9%) 21 (.58) 47 (.21) 92 (-.37) 30 (.4)
Field Position 12 (.15) 88 (-.06)

Raw Efficiency 60(.6%) 59(1.0%) 34 (.55) 64(-.16) 96 (-.65) 85(-.05)
First Down rate

27 (78.9%) 99 (78.0%) 108 (79.3%) 29(78.8%)
Available Yards rate

33 (50.5%) 81 (49.2%) 95 (51.3%) 27 (52.8%)
Explosive Drives

21 (20.0%) 64 (13.4%) 89(16.3%) 38 (16.5%)
Methodical Drives

53 (14.4%) 115 (20.7%) 76 (14.1%) 29 (16.5%)
Value Drives

38 (42.7%) 78 (41.1%) 83 (42.0%) 35 (44.0%)

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.

FEI also thought a bit more highly of Oregon's defense last week. It changed its mind considerably. This is one of the oddest years I can remember, in that both FEI and S+P saw Oregon as almost exactly the same team.

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

Well, this time they don't, or at least not appreciably. FEI thinks Oregon is a bit better than S+P does, notably due to special teams play, but otherwise Oregon's right there. Cal is thought of as a bit worse in S+P, but only a smidgen. Basically FEI thinks the PAC-12 is slightly better than S+P does (probably because FEI ignores FCS games) but the relative values are pretty much right there.

Similarity scores for California

Cal is better than WSU (42nd) and much worse than MSU (12th). They're also much better than ASU (56th). Cal is also much more likely to be explosive than methodical.

As I said in the S+P section Cal and WSU are neck and neck (49th), with ASU slightly better than Cal (41st). This makes a lot more sense compared to the rankings above given the actual ratings. Cal is much less likely to give up big plays and much more likely to give up long drives.

Similarity scores for Oregon

Look at how agreeable S+P and FEI are this season. Oregon once again compares only to USC (8th). UCLA is actually worse by FEI (34th). Oregon and UCLA are pretty similar as far as offenses go, being more explosive than methodical and getting a lot of yards on every drive. Oregon tends to be a bit more consistent and rarely gets 3 and outs. And don't kid yourself about USC - Oregon compares to USC about the same that Oregon compares to Colorado State (52nd).

Oregon is also the worst defense Cal will have faced, and it looks like the worst defense they will face all year. Yes, we're even worse than Oregon State (81st). In terms of teams they've played the next closest is San Diego State (57th), though Oregon gives up a full .5 points per drive more value than SDS does. Ouch.

Oregon's offense vs. California's defense

FEI likes Cal's defense a bit better than S+P does, but Oregon still has a good advantage here. And as S+P hinted at, the likely key is Oregon getting a lot of long (10+ play) drives. Oregon also has a pretty good advantage in explosive drives too; I would expect a  successful drive to have at least one 20 yard play as well as a few successful grind it out kind of plays, and staying out of 3rd down quite a bit. Unlike ASU, don't expect a lot of 3 and outs. Oregon should get some yards out of almost every drive. It just might not be a ton of points.

Oregon's defense vs. California's offense

Oregon has about a .3 points per drive advantage when they have the ball; Cal has about a .7 points per drive advantage when they do. That's pretty close to what S+P thinks as well. Oregon almost never gets a 3 and out and that'll continue against Cal. Unlike Oregon, Cal is likely to be a bit more explosive and a bit less methodical, but one way or another Oregon doesn't look like they're going to stop Cal a whole lot.

Special Teams





Special Teams Efficiency
17 (.08)
99 (-.05)
Field Goal Efficiency
22 (41%)
Punt returns vs. punt efficiency
14 (18%)
74 (3%)
Kickoff returns vs. kickoff efficiency
12 (20%)
85 (5%)
Punting vs. punt return efficiency
113 (18%)
58 (1%)
Kickoff vs. Kickoff return efficiency
98 (-6%)
Opponent Field Goal Efficiency

Huh. Well, this is interesting. Oregon has a pretty big advantage on special teams across the board. Basically, every special teams play is going to generate something like .13 points for Oregon. That doesn't sound like a lot, but it's basically half as valuable as their offense. If Oregon can get another big return or two from Bralon Addison and Charles Nelson, they may find themselves actually in this game. Furthermore, Oregon should be able to pin Cal somewhat deep on kickoffs. And if somehow, someway, Oregon can stop Cal and force them to kick field goals Oregon has a pretty good advantage too; Cal is one of the worst kicking teams in the nation and Matt Anderson is only 7-10 so far.

So what does this all mean?

This is what I said for last week:

So what does that mean for this week? Well, here's the thing about S+P and FEI: neither adjust for injuries or players coming back all that well. And Oregon looks like a hugely different team with a functional Darren Carrington and Vernon Adams. The defense is still very bad, and that sucks - but the offense can win a lot of shootouts if Adams can play at the level he played in getting the 12th win. Chances are good that S+P undervalues Oregon's current ability quite a bit on offense - and FEI definitely does. FEI also likely overvalues ASU's win over UCLA. Given that it's already likely to be a close game (ASU is a 2.5 point favorite and a 1 point favorite in S+P) I think that Oregon winning is more likely.

If Oregon wins, it's because Oregon has at least 4 big passing or punt return plays and wins the turnover battle. If Oregon loses, it's almost certainly because they lost the turnover battle or the turnovers were even.

This game went pretty much exactly as the numbers predicted. Some highlights:

  • Oregon's offense basically being big plays or drive stalls
  • Oregon's running offense being basically big plays or 2 yards
  • Oregon getting a big special teams play (a kickoff, not a punt)
  • Oregon winning the turnover battle, largely due to Mike Bercovici's penchant for interceptions
  • Oregon's defense continuing to suck (though even the numbers didn't expect as much)
  • Oregon's defense looking especially bad against the run

Things I missed was us having a good kickoff return, ASU having as much success as  they did on offense, and the idiocy of the wildcat formations. Still, a pretty good prediction and the numbers largely figured out how the game would look.

So what does that mean for this week? Oregon's offense is still going to be a bit lower than they should be due to the Jeff Lockie/Taylor Alie experience, but the Oregon defense is if anything buoyed incorrectly by that MSU game, which looks increasingly like Don Pellum spent the entire summer devising how to beat Connor Cook. I can see Oregon doing almost as well against Cal as Cal does against Oregon, but I can't see how Oregon is going to get stops like they need to.

In the past, this would be the kind of game where Oregon's defense would get a ton of turnovers and win that way. If Oregon's defense was decent against the run I could see that. They aren't. I don't think that Oregon will force Cal to throw all that often, and as a result you'll see a game a lot like Arizona in 2013 - where Jared Goff has a high completion %, plays are successful all over the place, and Oregon looks like they have no answers.

The current like is Oregon -5.5. That seems incredibly insane to me; even if you figure Oregon at home is a boost it's not enough to counteract how good Cal is. Perhaps Cal has injuries that I'm unaware of, or Oregon has some voodoo that they can do. Otis Day will be there, and that's awesome. It's homecoming, and I guess that's awesome if you're living in 1958. The S+P spread has Cal favored by about 2 points. The numbers think that AtQ south is ready to become CGB, and AtQ will turn into CGB north again.

I don't think Oregon wins. If Oregon does win, it'll be because either Jared Goff melts down in spectacular fashion, Oregon gets a lot of special teams shenanigans, or some major injury hits Cal. I hope the latter doesn't happen and I don't expect the others to happen.