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How FEI and S+P see the game: Alamo Bowl 2015

The best non-CFP bowl game of the season pits two video game offenses against two injury-riddled defenses. The key is whether Vernon Adams can outduel Trevone Boykin in highlight plays, Oregon being able to run effectively and a surprising advantage in getting giant passing plays for Oregon while stopping TCU from doing the same).

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, 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

The numbers are lying liars who lie

Hey, S+P predicted that the Beavers would cover! Missed the margin by 22 points, mind you, but it's something.


The numbers aren't going to get this right. You know this. I know this. Bill knows this. Brian knows this. While S+P has gotten aggregate scores fairly well across the board and against the spread, some teams are just numbers kryptonite for whatever reason. And Oregon? Oregon's one of the worst. A 5-6 against the spread isn't bad, but straight  up has been 2-9. Ouch.

So...why? What can we learn from this? Sadly, not a lot. Oregon had a habit of losing games it should have won - still! - like WSU or MSU. Especially WSU, whose running defense looked like a sieve for large chunks of their season. S+P doesn't predict that offensive coordinators are losing their minds in the 4th quarter. They also don't understand people doing crazy things to win game after game, such as Vernon Adams playing out of his mind against ASU. It doesn't understand how on earth the defense can give up more points than anyone all season to OSU and only let USC score 21 and hold Stanford to their average score for the season.

But mostly, as usual, when the numbers get it wrong it's usually about injuries. USC losing half their linebackers right before playing Oregon? Not a good sign for them. Oregon losing their only quality QB on their roster? Makes it hard to figure out what's going to go on later on. How about suspensions? We talk a lot about Vernon Adams, but what really was different was how Darren Carrington came on and systematically killed Washington, then proceeded to kill most other teams as well.

We'll look at the numbers, but keep in mind that they're not all that useful this year. Chances are good that Oregon's offense is underrated here. Chances are that Oregon's defense might do anything at all, and no one knows.

How S+P sees the game:

OVERALL When Oregon has the ball When TCU has the ball
Category Oregon
UO Off TCU Def UO Def TCU Off
F/+ Rk 26 (25.8%) 16(32.7%)

S&P Percentile 77.4% 82.7%

2nd Order Wins 8.4 (-0.6) 9.4(-0.6)

S&P+ 31(10.5) 23(12.8) 8 (41.9) 56 (26.6) 88(31.4) 13(39.5)
Rushing S&P+

4(126.3) 37(109.3) 110(87.8) 65(103.9)
Passing S&P+

19(123.1) 26(112.2) 61(101.4) 14(124.8)
Std Down S&P+

5(124.9) 27(112.5) 78(97.9) 23(114.6)
Pass Down S&P+

22(121.4) 41(108.2) 90(93.0) 35(116.4)
Success Rate+

18(114.7) 16(116.6) 63(100.6) 35(109.1)

6(131.1) 40(108.9) 87(94.4) 19(120.0)

9(1.41) 108(1.37) 54(1.22) 27(1.34)

12(48.6) 24(36.9) 102(45.5) 15(48.1)
Field Position

30(31.9) 18(27.2) 74(30.0) 45(30.8)
Finishing Drives

54(5.03) 72(4.74) 107(5.13) 40(5.05)
Turnover Margin 35(+5) 67(0)

Turnover Luck -0.09PPG -1.85 PPG

For the first time all season our offensive ratings went down after a game started by Vernon Adams. Which likely means that what we're seeing on the offense is pretty close to what we can expect from Oregon. It might be a smidgen depressed from earlier, but not insanely.

Of course, the bigger drops were on defense. Giving up 35 points defensively to Oregon State will do that. Still, not a ton of movement anywhere.

Similarity scores for TCU

Traditionally this is where the similarity scores are most interesting - when comparing teams from totally alien conferences.

TCU is neck and neck with USC on offense (though probably not after the Holiday Bowl) in raw score. They're also somewhat close to Stanford (7th) and Cal (17th). Of the three, Cal is probably closest in flavor, having a similar difference in run/pass ratios and run/pass quality. Cal is much better on standard and passing downs as well. Stanford is far better across the board. USC is better running and worse passing. And TCU is far more explosive than any of those teams. TCU is also the fastest offensive pace Oregon has faced by a large margin - faster than Oregon even (by a good 4.5 plays per game). Arizona State is the closest to the same pace - but is of course much worse.

Defensively TCU is right there with Stanford. This, however, shouldn't raise a crazy amount of alarm - Stanford's only 54th this year. Stanford is better against the pass than the run compared to TCU. USC is also similar, and as we'll see this is probably the biggest sign for hope for Oregon.

Similarity scores for Oregon

By S+P standards Oregon is an also ran on offense. Both Baylor(4th) and Oklahoma(3rd) are better, and the best in the nation is Texas Tech (1st). And TCU held Oklahoma to only 30 and Baylor to 21. Huh. (that might have had a smidgen to do because of injuries to Baylor. Maybe.) Of those teams, Oregon is most similar to TTech - being better at running than passing by rankings, and about even by ratings. Note that TTech almost never runs, so that comparison is a bit odd. Oregon is closer to Oklahoma in how they do on standard downs vs. passing downs, but Oregon is better balanced than any of the teams TCU has faced there. As you might expect, Oregon is close in pace to Baylor and TTech and basically dead even with Oklahoma in pace. Oregon is otherwise really most similar to Baylor in pace, run plays, and explosiveness.

People don't typically think of the Big 12 as having a lot of defense, but by comparison to Oregon they've played monsters or pushovers. SMU and TTech are way worse than Oregon - that's good. Almost everyone else is in the top 60 or higher, like Oklahoma. The best comparison is probably Kansas State (75th). KState is much better against the run than the pass by comparison, and better against passing downs. Not a great sign when the best comparison is a 52 point game.

Oregon's offense vs TCU's defense

The standard stats above look like a decent but not insane Oregon advantage. Oregon has their biggest advantage running the ball, and typically that has meant an easier time of it throughout the game in both avoiding pressure and dealing with issues. TCU does not cause a lot of havoc with their front 7 and does not have a crazy sack rate on standard downs, meaning that usually Oregon will have some time. Passing downs TCU gets after the QB crazy well, however - 19th in the nation with a 10.8% sack rate. Oregon's horrible at giving up sacks on passing downs (108th), so I'd expect players like Josh Carraway or Davion Pierson to get a couple here and there.

So...that doesn't sound amazing, but it's not bad. Why am I optimistic?

Because TCU is one of the worst in the nation at stopping explosive plays. Especially against the pass. Their passing IsoPPP is 1.78 - good for 125th in the nation. Oregon's passing explosiveness is 15th in the nation, but that's artificially depressed due to the Lockie/Alie times - it's even better than that. While I think we'll run the ball quite a bit and largely successfully, and while I expect that TCU will get a lot of pass breakups (their DB havoc rate is great but they don't get a ton of ints), Oregon has a  chance to absolutely feast on the TCU secondary this game. Note that it is very boom and bust with TCU too. They only let 32% of passing plays be successful, but boy do those gain a lot of yards when they are.

Does this sound familiar? It should - it's very close to what ASU was like, and USC as well. Except TCU isn't as good against the run as ASU was. Expect blitzes and aggressive defense, but also expect Oregon to make TCU pay several times.

While Royce Freeman will likely have a very solid, workmanlike day - if he has highlights it'll be on wheel routes and the like. Meanwhile, I expect the big stars for Oregon to not be Darren Carrington or Bralon Addison as the TCU defense has a very good corner in Corry O'Meally and two good safeties Nick Orr and Denzel Johnson. Who then? Maybe Taj Griffin, Devon Allen, or another not heralded third receiver. Dwayne Stanford, ready for your closeup? Let's hope so.

I wouldn't expect TCU's line to get a lot of big stops on running either; while they're good on adjusted line yards (24th) they're bottom 5th in stuff rate (109th) and only average on opportunity rate and power rates. Oregon's not good at power but great everywhere else. This bodes well for Oregon's chances, as typically negative plays hurt Oregon a lot more than not getting exactly enough yards on a given play.

Note also that TCU isn't great against big explosive running plays either. But they're so much worse against the pass.

Oregon's defense vs TCU's offense

Here is the only big good news: TCU doesn't do a ton of running. They're bottom quartile in running rates, though they're decent at it. They're not as unbalanced as Cal or WSU, but they don't run a ton.

That's good news, because Oregon is horrible against the run, but vaguely competent against the pass. The bad news is that Trevone Boykin is a lot more than competent passing the ball. The passing offense is just as good as Oregon's this year, just as explosive, and just as dangerous. While Josh Doctson is out, their offense is still hugely capable of putting up video game numbers against Oregon.

My real concern is that Oregon has been atrocious against running QBs, as seen on runs on passing downs and the like. And TCU? Has Trevone Boykin.

Oregon also isn't going to sack Boykin. Like, at all. They have an absurd 10th rated sack rate going into the game. Maybe if Boykin falls down or something.

Another bit of good news is that Oregon is bad at giving up long drives, but is somewhat good at not giving up big plays. TCU thrives on big plays, just like Oregon, but this is actually a fairly big advantage for Oregon (they're 14th on big plays vs. 25th for TCU) and I would expect this to be something that might drive TCU a bit mad. TCU should be able to march down the field with successful play after play, but that's not their style, and Oregon may be able to frustrate TCU a bit in playing a fast paced game with long drawn out drives and relying on a mistake or two to end drives.

So how it works? Oregon scores under 2 minutes. TCU scores under 4. Whoever kicks fewer field goals wins.

How FEI sees the game:

OVERALL When Oregon has the ball When TCU has the ball
Category Oregon
UO Off TCU Def UO Def TCU Off
F/+ Rk 26 (25.8%) 16(32.7%)

FEI Rk 24 (13.5%) 10 (17.5%) 8 (.88) 22 (.53) 87 (-.23) 38 (.31)
Field Position 46 (.05) 35 (.07)

Raw Efficiency 49(5%) 28(11.0%) 11 (1.05) 51(-.01) 101 (-.66) 22(.75)
First Down rate

3 (83.2%) 19(64.5%) 111 (78.6%) 35(75.0%)
Available Yards rate

11 (57.7%) 38 (40.6%) 100 (51.3%) 22 (53.3%)
Explosive Drives

5 (25.5%) 62(13.2%) 76(14.3%) 7 (23.68%)
Methodical Drives

70(13.1%) 30(11.2%) 71 (14.3%) 62 (13.5%)
Value Drives

5 (53.8%) 43(33.3%) 76(40.8%) 27 (46.3%)

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.

Um...the TCU offense is rated lower than the defense? Wha?

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

As usual, FEI rates a Pac-12 school higher because the P12 is rated higher. That's not special.

TCU is also rated higher than Oregon, and that's not that special.

But...TCU is rated higher because TCU's defense is really good by FEI. Why? What? Why? Well, because largely of two games. FEI has no knowledge that Baylor was starting a 5th string QB. FEI has no knowledge that Oklahoma had their own QB injury issues. When you can hold teams that close like that? Awesome. As a result their defense shot way up. But FEI also thinks not particularly highly of the Big-12 in general, so teams like Oklahoma only have the 15th best offense...and TCU didn't do anything against Kansas (again, injuries) and that brought them way down.

FEI really punishes teams when they do badly against bad teams. That's a big part of their offense looking bad despite Boykin not actually playing. Their defense looking better however...that's just odd.

Similarity scores for TCU

TCU's in a weird place in FEI land - which we kind of already talked about - and that goes for their offense. Their offense is rated above Arizona State (49th) and well below Cal (19th). That' odd. As stated, FEI doesn't think a whole lot about the Big 12's defenses.

And because Oregon didn't face a ton of hard defenses, TCU is also in an odd place. They're between Michigan State (15th, another weird oddity) and USC (30th), and much worse than Washington (1st! Seriously, FEI rates UW's defense 1st!) or Utah (9th).

Similarity scores for Oregon

As you might expect, Oregon is closest to Texas Tech (7th) and Baylor (11th). And like those teams Oregon is very explosive and not particularly methodical.

Oregon's defense is not like anything TCU has played, really. Oklahoma and WVU are way better. Texas is way better. TTech and Kansas are much worse. Again, the closest is probably Kansas State (67th). Meh.

Oregon's offense vs. TCU's defense

FEI looks at rates, not value, which means that TCU looks better when giving up big plays - they don't give up big plays as often, but those plays tend to be very, very large. As with S+P, this indicates that Oregon will probably not be getting a lot of hits but will be swinging for the fences. To continue with that, TCU isn't great at a lot of things but is very good at not allowing first downs, meaning that some of the 3 and out plagues that Oregon has had occasionally will still likely continue. Again, big boom or bust offense on Saturday.

Oregon's defense vs. TCU's offense

And similar to the above, Oregon lets teams get plays that are 10 or more yards quite a bit - but not a whole lot more than that. So TCU should get 'big' plays, but not huge plays. Otherwise there's just not a lot to say about this. Oregon's defense has been consistently bad all season; going up against one of the best quarterbacks in the country isn't going to change that.

Special Teams





Special Teams Efficiency
66 (.01)
24 (.06)
Field Goal Efficiency
30 (31%)
Punt returns vs. punt efficiency
Kickoff returns vs. kickoff efficiency
13 (15%)
49 (-2%)
Punting vs. punt return efficiency
69 (-1%)
Kickoff vs. Kickoff return efficiency
35 (7%)
Opponent Field Goal Efficiency

For the first time in a while, Oregon loses out on special teams. While TCU isn't great at returns, Oregon's return defense has been horrible, especially punting - where we've given up two TDs in the last two weeks. Oregon's return game is stellar, but TCU's defense is at least as good against punts. Meaning that if we're going to get something big, it'll be likely from Charles Nelson. Both teams have very good field goal kickers. TCU has been lucky in facing bad ones, but that likely isn't going to be that big a deal.

So what does this all mean?

This is what I said for the civil war:

How about now? It's a -34.5 point line right now, and lines like that are a bit insane - but I think that the numbers are if anything understating how good Oregon is, how bad Oregon State is, and how overbalanced this game is going to get. Everyone agrees Oregon wins - if they do not, it will be one of the biggest upsets in history. I think Oregon wins and covers. (S+P thinks Oregon only wins by 27; I don't see how that happens).

Uh, yeah. Not remotely close. Oregon's defense absolutely melted down in the second half, Oregon's offense was a bit inconsistent, and it was a mess. The first half looked a lot like I figured...but then Oregon State started running. And running. And running. That's 3-9 for the season for my picks in case you were playing along.

I had a dream about this being how the Alamo Bowl going. How Trevone Boykin would take off on every chance and run for 200 yards, and TCU deciding to throw only when they cared about making a highlight. It wasn't a nice dream. Fortunately it's not likely he does that or TCU does that given their tendencies, but...yikes. Anyone who watched film on Oregon has to be wanting to do that.

Anyway, enough about dream analysis. What about this game?

By the numbers, TCU should win. They're better on defense than Oregon is, about the same on offense, and have essentially a home field advantage. They're even better on special teams. S+P has TCU winning by about 3 points, and I would believe that it'd be closer to 6. The betting line is a pickem.

So what does an Oregon win look like?

It looks like 6 or 7 long TDs, almost all of them passing TDs. It looks like Dwayne Stanford winning MVP. It looks like Royce Freeman breaking LaMichael James' single season yardage record. And it looks like Oregon winning the turnover battle decisively, by two or more.

I don't think that'll happen. I think we'll get a game that will rival the legendary Washington-Baylor shootout that got Nick Holt fired, and I think Oregon will lose.

But hey, I'm 3-9 on the season.