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Hypothetical Matchup: Baylor Bears vs. Ohio State Buckeyes

Last week I proposed a series of posts pitting Baylor not against the teams we will play going forward but the teams we might, in a perfect playoff-filed world, get to play. Today's team is the one we'll probably fight for the #4 spot in the BCS: the Ohio State Buckeyes.

Jamie Sabau

Welcome back to the second installment of our Hypothetical Matchup series here on ODB. After last week's successful venture against our own 2011 team, I decided to move forward today with the newest stats from FootballOutsiders in hand and the Ohio State Buckeyes as our foe. This matchup intrigued me because there seems to be a burgeoning rivalry between the two fanbases, each of which believes that the other hasn't really played anybody and that their team should be #4 in the BCS, fo sho.

I took some inspiration for this piece from the fine people over at Addicted to Quack, the blog for the Oregon Ducks, and their work comparing Oregon and FSU. They do it a little differently than I will, but they also provide valuable insight into the stats themselves. Rather than reproduce it here, I'll link.

2013 FootballOutsiders Metrics for the Baylor Bears vs. Ohio State Buckeyes.

Category Baylor (7-0)
Ohio State (8-0)
Overall F/+ Rk 5 (36.5%)
7 (32.1%)
Overall FEI Rk 7 (.245)
13 (.213)
Overall S&P+ Rk 2 (290.4)
8 (254.2)
Field Position Advantage 29 10 Ohio State

When Baylor Has the Ball... EDGE
Offensive/Defensive FEI Rk
7 (.634)
38 (-.191)
1 (1.383)
45 (-.144)
First Down Rate
1 (.899)
25 (.606)
Available Yards Rate
1 (.749)
32 (.398)
Explosive Drives
1 (.420)
51 (.113)
Methodical Drives 93 (.116)
100 (.343)
Value Drives
2 (.650)
75 (.408)
Offensive/Defensive S&P+
1 (157.5) 36 (112.8)
Play Efficiency
1 (161.9)
42 (106.4) BAYLOR
Std. Downs S&P+ Rk.
3 (143.5)
48 (105.8) BAYLOR
Pass. Downs S&P+ Rk 1 (216.2) 49 (106.4) BAYLOR
Rushing S&P+ Rk 16 (124.4) 19 (122.1) EVEN
Passing S&P+ Rk 1 (209.9)
63 (100.2) BAYLOR
Drive Efficiency 2 (153.1)
31 (119.1) Baylor
Difference in Net Points
2 (2.64)
5 (-1.95) EVEN

When Ohio State Has the Ball... EDGE
Offensive/Defensive FEI Rk 26 (-.327) 6 (.643) Ohio State
11 (-.515) 6 (.763)
First Down Rate 7 (.529) 3 (.831) EVEN
Available Yards Rate 12 (.345) 6 (.651) EVEN
Explosive Drives 24 (.086) 11 (.225) Ohio State
Methodical Drives 45 (.129) 33 (.183) Ohio State
Value Drives 11 (.273)
1 (.567) EVEN
Offensive/Defensive S&P+ 11 (132.9) 4 (141.4)
Play Efficiency 27 (114.8) 7 (136.6) Ohio State
Std. Downs S&P+ Rk 39 (109.9) 6 (135.8) Ohio State
Pass. Downs S&P+ Rk 26 (119.6) 11 (141.3) Ohio State
Rushing S&P+ Rk
57 (106.0)
1 (159.1) OHIO STATE
Passing S&P+ Rk 27 (117.7) 13 (129.6) Ohio State
Drive Efficiency
8 (151.0)
3 (146.1) EVEN
Difference in Net Points
1 (-2.93)
10 (1.03) EVEN

Special Teams EDGE
F/+ Special Teams
102 4
Special Teams Efficiency
102 (-1.886)
4 (3.961)
Field Goal Efficiency
45 (.296)
16 (.628)
Punt Return Efficiency
117 (-.318)
11 (.162)
Kickoff Return Efficiency
47 (-.126)
19 (.011)
Not so bad.
Punt Efficiency
124 (.055)
20 (-.259)
Kickoff Efficiency
51 (-.212)
52 (-.207)
Opponent Field Goal Efficiency
22 (-.312)
84 (.282)
Wait, what?

A Few Notes:

I've added a lot. I can't help it-- I'm a tinkerer. Instead of kicking the actual data out this week as I expected, I decided to keep it in to provide extra context to the numbers. Example: You probably knew Baylor had the most explosive drives in the country. Did you know that an incredible 42% of our drives qualify as explosive drives (> 10 yards per play on the drive). See, that's informative.

The big part I added was all of the FEI information on special teams. It's not pretty for us, but it's there. The little part was a stat called "Difference in Net Points," abbreviated to DNP. According to FO, DNP is a "raw average of the points an offense scores on a given drive compared to the points it would be expected to score based on starting field position." This is important because it is entirely possible, for example, for a defense to do everything wrong (or right) and still prevent (or give up) points. Same for the offense.

Update: Right in the middle of publishing this post, Firefox quit, deleting everything I had written below this point. I'll try to recreate it as best I can. It was well over 1,000 words.

A note about the EDGE category -- I put the cutoff for all caps vs. normal typeface at 40 ranking spots. It's totally arbitrary, as any number I chose would be. My logic is that with 125 teams in FBS, if I have an advantage over you of about a third of the possible rankings, that's pretty good. Totally arbitrary, as I said, and very simplistic. I'm not married to if, if you have a better idea. The cutoff from EVEN to an edge is 10 spot. Same thing.


Both sides are probably looking at this chart right now and finding out things they didn't know: Baylor fans, that Ohio State's offense is one of the best in the country, and Ohio State fans, that Baylor's defense is very strong, as well. Each offense has an advantage over the opposing defense with Baylor's being significantly larger than that of Ohio State, and lurking in the background is that ridiculous, almost unfathomably good Buckeye special teams unit. Basically, I rank the individual units in this game in the following order:

1. Baylor O
2. Ohio State ST
3. Ohio State O
4. Baylor D
5. Ohio State D
112. Baylor ST

So the biggest question for anyone looking at this game has to be -- Is Ohio State's special teams unit good enough to overcome the fact that Baylor has a stronger offense and defense than the Buckeyes? I wish we had a way to figure (or play) that out.

When Baylor Has the Ball:

I'm comfortable saying Baylor has the best offense in the country at this point. The adjusted portion of FEI doesn't agree, ranking the Bears 7th, while the raw portion does by a wide margin. S&P+ has loved what Art Briles has been doing for a long time now, and this year is no different. The Baylor offense amasses yards, first downs, and points like kids do candy on Halloween. Ohio State's defense, a decent but not spectacular group by both measures, probably wouldn't stop them on a regular basis. Ohio State's best hope would be that their DNP (which I'll talk about below) isn't a mirage, and they could give up sustained value drives by the Baylor offense without giving up points. I'm not sure that's a great hope.

The biggest thing I'd be worried about from the chart above if I were a Buckeye fan in this game: Baylor's passing offense against your pass defense. In both passing S&P+ and on passing downs, Baylor is the best in the country by a wide margin. With Bryce Petty throwing and the duo of Antwan Goodley and Tevin Reese catching, Baylor has been nigh unstoppable so far this year. And against that attack, Ohio State would throw a defense that is great neither against the pass (63rd) nor on passing downs (49th). That could get ugly. tOSU doesn't give up too many explosive plays, but should they lean too hard to stopping Lache Seastrunk and Glasco Martin, their vulnerability through the air could become an even bigger problem. The good news is that Baylor probably wouldn't be able to take advantage of their tendency to give up methodical drives, but it might not need to. Briles would pass, pass, and pass again.

If you're looking at OSU's DNP rank, which doesn't seem to follow from their overall defensive profile, my guess is that takeaways are playing a big role there. The Buckeye defense isn't disproportionately good in the red zone (ranked 40th according to the NCAA) as might also explain such an outcome.

When Ohio State Has the Ball:

It's pretty clear that they would try to run the ball as often as possible with Carlos Hyde against a defense that, despite recent strong showings against Iowa State and Kansas, still bears the statistical scars of the Kansas State game. That's the big problem for Baylor on this side: Ohio State has the best rushing offense in the country by S&P+ while our defense is ranked 57th. It is not at all hard to imagine a scenario where Urban Meyer decides to attack Baylor's defense across the front 7, believing that his rushing game can win that battle. It's a clear advantage for his team.

The good news is for Baylor fans that our defense, on the whole, is actually quite impressive. I doubt most Ohio State fans reading this (assuming there are any), knew beforehand just how well it's played. Our defense is especially good at limiting opponent drive efficiency, meaning that if they give up yards, they don't give up points. You can see that in our DNP ranking as well, a shocking #1. We're not just bending in the hope we don't break, we're not breaking.

I have a theory related to that DNP rating that might seem paradoxical at first glance, so stick with me: it is a function of our offense as much as the defense. What I mean by that is our offense, as good as it is, puts so much pressure on opposing teams to score touchdowns, not field goals, that they often go for it on fourth downs in our end of the field at the expense of just getting points, giving our defense the opportunity in an advantageous situation to stop them and suffer no nominal damage. We've seen it time and again: ULM went for it twice in the first quarter knowing that field goals weren't going to beat us. WVU, KU, ISU, they've all done it. I don't mean to take anything away from the defense at all; it's just that the offense puts opponents into situations where they know they have to score to keep pace, and the defense stops them from doing so. That's a credit to both sides, I think.

Special Teams:

I don't know why I did this to myself. Sure, because of the garbage time rules at play across the metrics, neither of Baylor's touchdown returns against ISU counted in these rankings. That means the blocked punt by Kansas State is probably playing a disproportionate role in our rankings being this awful. But I don't think it's a stretch to say our special teams are awful, and Ohio State's are not. At all. As big as our advantage is on offense versus their defense, their advantage here trumps it.

Still, it's something that I have a hard time predicting, on the whole, because unlike offense and defense, you're not guaranteed to get the chance to make a big play on special teams. We think Baylor will score, so tOSU will get the chance to return kicks. That's probably going to happen. But if we don't punt much, their advantages in returning punts won't matter. The same goes for their own kickoff team, should they not score (that's not a prediction, it's an example). The nature of special teams play is inherently unpredictable, but that nature also lends itself to a situation where Baylor could get up a touchdown or two, then kickoff to Ohio State and have them run it back, completely changing the complexion of the game. And based on this, it's totally possible, if not likely, that we will give up something that makes us shake our heads.

The Bottom Line:

The way you think this game will go probably depends on how much you value special teams, for the reasons I just said. Baylor has the better offense and defense, according to the stats, and should be able to score points faster than we give them up (aka. The Baylor Way). That's why the reports we heard a month ago that Baylor would be favored on a neutral field by about 7 make sense to me. In fact, I'd probably take the Bears (homerism engaged) by as many as 10. I don't think the Buckeye defense is good enough to stop our offense, and should things go the way we expect when we have the ball, they have to stop running sometime.

I'm curious for thoughts from both sides on how this game will play out. Recognizing that the stats above show how things have gone versus how things will go, projecting forward is tricky, at best. But based on everything I've seen, I think Baylor is the better team at this point. Do you?