Utah @ USC- Advanced Metrics Primer

Since this was met with some approval last week, I shall continue aggregating advanced metrics and distributing to the Ute fan masses. This week I'm trading out the detailed description of each advanced stat and replacing it with a Pac-12 vs. SEC analysis. For the detailed descriptions, check out last week's post.

1. FEI- This is a final score independent analysis of a team's FBS games, and has an extremely heavy strength of schedule component, favoring teams which have lost games to tough teams than those who have endured cupcake row.

2. S&P+- This statisic is the twin brother of FEI. It appears to give less weight to strength of schedule, but the ability of opponents is calculated in the stat.

3. DPE- This stat doesn't care who is playing, it only asks two questions: what yard line did the drive start on and how many points were scored. Teams are compared against the league average scoring for that field position.

4. CFRC- The College Football Ranking Composite aggregates and averages dozens of computer rankings to give a good sense of where the teams are rated by the sports community as a whole.

Analysis from last week:

Ute fans were crossing their collective fingers that there wouldn't be a let down game... and there was. Arizona was never an easy matchup, and the advanced metrics let us know that despite some ugly numbers against Washington and USC, the Wildcats had the athletes necessary to compete on both sides of the ball. Utah's main advantage came from special teams rankings, 45th to 81st in FEI. Phillip's foot was not as true as we expected, and Arizona managed to put on an impressive punting performance. These turned out to be keys to winning the game.

The stats this week:

FEI- Utah is still dominant in FEI, even after a tough loss. We dropped from 4th place to 6th (.260) nationally, with the 4th best offense, 40th overall defense, and 39th special teams. That's actually an improvement in both D and special teams, despite the missed kicks and big points from Arizona.

USC is ranked 27th (.141), improving from their 32nd spot last week after a close, hard fought defensive struggle with Notre Dame. FEI doesn't think USC is weak in any particular area, with the 30th best offense, 12th best defense, and 50th best special teams.

S&P+- Utah is 21st (235.3) in this statistic, having not budged an inch since last week. They are ranked 15th in offense and 30th in defense.

USC held its ground as well, keeping its 23rd (234.3) ranking from a week ago. S&P doesn't think much of the Trojans' offense, ranking them 75th nationally, but the defense is good for 8th in the nation.

DPE- Utah's DPE is .485, with the Utes being .420 points better than average on offense and just barely over average on defense, .065 points per drive. USC's DPE is only .101; while they are an impressive .296 points better than average on defense, they are considerably below average on offense, scoring .195 points per drive less than the average football team.

The Utes' DPE dropped from .760 last week, a considerable regression.

CFRC- Utah took a drop in the computer rankings, down to 33rd from the number 21 spot they held prior to the Arizona game. The Utes best ranking is FEI's 6th place mark , and their worst mark is a no. 62 spot.

USC is close to Utah here, too, coming in at 39th overall, down from 33rd last week. One computer has them pegged as the 63rd worst team in the country, while a rosier formula puts the Trojans at 16.

The Analysis:

FEI looks like a bit of an outlier here, and it doesn't really match with what our eyeballs tell us: the Utes and Trojans are pretty evenly matched this year. The Trojans defense is an elite unit and they match up against a Utah offense that advanced metrics say is one of the most dynamic in the country. With the teams within a few points of each other in most every advanced stat, the Trojans' home field advantage would seem to give them just a hair of an edge.

Something that these stats do not attempt to measure is the effect of injuries on a team. USC is a bit of a MASH unit this year, and along with the headliner injury to Marquise Lee, USC lost the services of starting linebacker Lamar Dawson (33 tackles, 1.5 sacks) and running back Justin Davis (53 carries, 361 yards, 6 TDs). These aren't standout star players, but with USC's lack of depth they could alter the course of the game.

Overall, this is a classic strength vs. strength, weakness vs. weakness matchup. Will our solid but not spectacular defense be able to hold USC's struggling offense in check? Will the Trojan's army of defensive playmakers be able to swing the momentum their way enough to win? Or will the Utes top-shelf offensive assault be able to knock the shine off the USC D and run them out of their own stadium. We'll find out in just a few hours (fewer than I would like... I gotta get to sleep)!

The Pac-12 SEC Debate:

The great debate this year seems to be 'Pac-12 or SEC?', but it isn't frequently subjected to any analysis beyond 'man, Oregon is really good but Alabama won the last two NCGs.' I'm going to use a stat called F/+, which is an aggregate of FEI and S&P+ used by College Football Outsiders. We'll take a look at the top 3 teams in each conference, the kind of teams the conference has in the top 25 or so, and finally the conference as a whole.

The top three teams ranking favors the Pac-12, with Stanford, Oregon, and ASU all in the top 6. The SEC features the best team in the land in Alabama, but falls off sharply after that, with no. 9 Missouri and no. 15 LSU. The average ranking of the Pac-12's top three teams is 4.33, while the average ranking of the SEC's top teams is 8.33.

Drawing a line at 25 is pretty arbitrary, particularly since Ole Miss ranks 26th. Instead, we'll slice the deck at 40th. That's a nice tidy top third, and includes the teams we think of as 'good teams' in each conference, while leaving out also-rans such as Vanderbilt, Tennessee, and Washington State.

The SEC fields 9 teams in the top 3rd of the FBS, good for 64.2% of their league. This teams are heavily bunched in the 15-30 range, with an average ranking of 18.88

The Pac-12 also has 9 teams in the top 3rd, an impressive 75% of teams. All but one of this group is in the top 21, and this high end bunching leads to an average ranking of 15.11.

When you add in the dead weight at the bottom of each conference, the gap closes a little. The SEC's 5 'bad' teams have an average ranking of 62.6, while the Pac-12s three bottom dwellers average an abysmal 86.66. Overall, the SEC has an average F/+ ranking of 34.5, while the Pac-12 boasts a slightly higher average ranking of 33.

The advanced stats show a close race, but one with a clear winner. The top three teams in the Pac-12 are bunched right at the top, but apart from Alabama the SEC is struggling to stay in the top 10. Just considering the competitive conference teams, the Pac-12 once again comes out stronger, featuring a ton of top 20 teams while the SEC tends to bunch up closer to the 30 mark. The bad teams in the SEC could whoop the bad teams in the Pac-12, but the SEC's larger size actually counts against it here, since there are 5 bad teams to drag the average down.


Team S&P+ FEI F/+
1. Alabama 280.5 .320 46.5%
9. Missouri 251.1 .291 28.1%
15 LSU 235.0 .238 25.7%
17 Georgia 239.8 .212 25.2%
22 South Car. 233.1 .185 22.8%
24 TA&M 233.2 .204 20.3%
25 Auburn 220.2 .207 20.0%
26 Ole Miss 221.6 .208 19.9%
31 Florida 240.0 .115 16.2%
44 Vanderbilt 203.2 .074 7.2%
49 Tennessee 213.7 .040 5.5%
52 Miss. St. 219.6 .041 4.5%
83 Arkansas 201.8 -.139 -9.8%
85 Kentucky 211.8 -.107 -10.2%

PAC 12

3 Stanford 257.2 .292 39.6%
4 Oregon 263.8 .290 39.1%
6 ASU 247.1 .212 33.0%
12 Utah 235.3 .260 26.2%
16 Washington 238.3 .181 25.6%
18 UCLA 233.5 .201 24.1%
20 Arizona 232.1 .177 23.3%
21 USC 234.3 .141 23.1%
36 OSU 208.9 .184 12.6%
63 WSU 207.4 -.032 -2.9%
98 California 187.3 -.155 -16.1%
99 Colorado 193.8 -.177 -16.6%

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