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Baylor vs. Iowa State Advanced Stats Preview

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The Bears go on the road this week for their Big 12 opener to Ames, Iowa. What do the advanced stats say about this matchup?

Vaughn Ridley

Welcome back to the first full-blown Stats Preview of the 2014 season!  We are officially kicking things off this week with Baylor's game against Iowa State.  That means prettier charts, more information, and tooltip explanations for some of the more esoteric acronyms.  Let me know if there's anything that looks off to you.

Before we begin, a brief explanation of why I do this and what I'm trying to do:

I despise traditional, or as I call them "absolute", statistics when comparing teams in almost every situation.  Paces and styles vary so widely across the world of college football that it makes such statistics virtually useless beyond a very basic look at what has happened, and even more so when looking to what might happen in the future.  A very simplistic example of what I'm talking about:

Defense A gives up 5 yards per play and faces 60 plays, so they give up 300 total yards in a game.
Defense B gives up 4 yards per play but faces 90 plays, so they give up 360 total yards in the game.

Stated differently:

Defense A faces 8 opponent possessions and gives up 50 yards per possession for 400 total yards.
Defense B faces 12 opponent possessions and gives up 40 yards per possession for 480 total yards.

Which defense performed "better" in their game?  Absolute stats looking at total yardage would say Defense A in both cases, despite the fact that they gave up a full yard more per play than Defense B in the first scenario and 10 yards per possession in the second.  Advanced or adjusted stats considering pace and/or tempo might say Defense B.  You could do the same thing with offenses that gain more total yards but do it less efficiently while recognizing that an offense that runs more plays often opens up its defense to more plays in turn, or vice versa.  Key to this difference is understanding that counting stats are the result of multipliers that may be beyond an offense or defense's control, so it is efficiency, not necessarily overall output, that matters most.  You want to be the team that does things best rather than the team that just does things the most or least.

Now, a lot of times that kind of difference won't really matter.  Michigan State and TCU, to name two examples, often find themselves at or near the top of both types of rankings, because good defenses are good at being good.  Until recently, however, both of those teams were also very traditional offensively in terms of pace, meaning that same circle of tempo didn't affect them adversely.  For a team like Baylor that averages and has averaged a much higher tempo and more possessions for both sides, it makes a much bigger impact.  That's just something to keep in mind.

Still, with all that said, I recognize that the advanced stats I love are far from flawless.  Relying so heavily on opponent adjustments, particularly early in the season, opens you up to wonky situations where one big game changes the entire landscape of the rankings.  It's not that these metrics are perfect; it is that I believe they are less flawed.

I'm also taking stats showing what has happened and trying to use them to project what might, something that we've already seen doesn't always work (see Baylor vs. Oklahoma State or the 2014 Fiesta Bowl vs. UCF).

A Few Notes:

If you're a Cyclones fan or someone who hasn't seen my stats posts before, I already know the labels in the EDGE column are totally arbitrary.  With that out of the way, here's what they mean:
EVEN = 10 or fewer ranking spots difference
Lowercase = 40 or fewer ranking spots difference
UPPERCASE = 40 or more ranking spots difference.

There are a few situations where I've deviated based on the actual values for each category.

2014 FootballOutsiders Metrics for the Baylor Bears vs. the Iowa St. Cyclones.  Most of these metrics are making their appearance for the first time this season, so there's not a lot of comparison we can do.  I did, however, lay out where Baylor was in the metrics available a week ago.

Overall:

Category

Baylor (3-0)

ISU (1-2)

EDGE

Overall F/+ Rk 2 (24.2%)
66 (-1.4%)
BAYLOR
Overall FEI Rk 17 (.193)
42 (.098)
Baylor
Overall S&P+ Rk 2 (259.5)
104 (182.3)
BAYLOR
Field Position Advantage 6 (.607) 36 (.537) Baylor

Unlike last year, I can't do an individual unit comparison based on F/+ because we don't have those scores available on a per-unit basis.  I assume at some point we will.

Depending on which metric you favor, FEI or S&P+, you could view this game entirely different ways.  S&P+ sees it as a total mismatch of #2 vs. #104, FEI as a much more competitive game of #17 vs. #42.  Being that it is a combination of the two, F/+ has it somewhere in between.

It's worth noting that FEI weighs turnovers and performances against better opponents much more highly than S&P+.  As we've heard repeatedly the last few weeks, Baylor does not yet have many of the latter, while Iowa State has played Kansas State and Iowa already this season.  That probably contributes to the discrepancy in both teams' rankings as between the two metrics.  Also, FEI doesn't consider our game against Northwestern State at all, so we have just the two against SMU and Buffalo at this moment.

When Baylor Has the Ball:

Category

Baylor Off

ISU Def

EDGE

Offensive/Defensive FEI Rk
--
--
--
Raw OE/DE
20 (.509)
94 (.270)
BAYLOR
First Down Rate 5 (.870)
59 (.667)
BAYLOR
Available Yards Rate 3 (.709)
77 (.486)
BAYLOR
Explosive Drives 22 (.217)*
73 (.143)
BAYLOR
Methodical Drives 15 (.217)
113 (.238)
BAYLOR
Value Drives 3 (.667)
80 (.429)
BAYLOR
Offensive/Defensive S&P+
2 (133.0) 105 (87.1)
BAYLOR
Success Rate
51 (41.6%)
117 (44.2%) BAYLOR
IsoPPP 1 (1.93)
47 (.87) BAYLOR
S&P
1 (.719)
104 (.528) BAYLOR
Std. Downs S&P Rk 4 (.667)
113 (.562) BAYLOR
Pass. Downs S&P Rk 1 (.852) 76 (.458) BAYLOR
Rushing S&P Rk 19 (.555) 113 (.541) BAYLOR
Passing S&P Rk 1(.857)
71 (.510) BAYLOR

Without the benefit of trend data for each team in most of these submetrics, there's a lot we can't say about what's going on here.  There's also a lot we can, beginning with the fact that this appears to be a significant mismatch, no matter which metric you favor, when Baylor has the ball against the ISU defense.  A couple of things to watch:

  1. ISU has given up an extremely high % of methodical drives, exactly what you'd expect from a team that does not appear to be very good against the run and has played NDSU, KSU, and Iowa in their first three games.  I wouldn't expect Baylor to come out and do what those teams have done simply because they've done it.  We're not built the same way.  I would, however, expect to see us try, since it's a road Big 12 game, and Briles has that tendency. 
  2. So far this season, ISU's defense has been decidedly below average in giving up available yards, stopping the run, and in creating negative or neutral plays for opposing offenses (that's what success rate tries to encapsulate).  They haven't been good everywhere else, but they've been better.
  3. ISU's strengths, such as they are, appear to be in stopping the pass and on passing downs, generally, two places where Baylor is far and away the best team in the country at this point.
  4. I'm not entirely sure what's going on with Baylor's offensive Success Rate so far this year.  My guess is that incomplete passes and less successful rushing plays are playing a big role there.
  5. There's a lot of BAYLOR up there, meaning there are a lot of areas where the advanced stats project a severe mismatch as between the two units.
*Remember, the NWState game isn't reflected here at all, and that game was basically explosive drive after explosive drive before things got out of hand and we ran the ball 300 times in a row.

When Iowa State Has the Ball:

Category

Baylor Def

ISU Off

EDGE

Offensive/Defensive FEI Rk
--
--
--
Raw OE/DE
3 (-1.103)
61 (.048)
BAYLOR
First Down Rate 3 (.391)
41 (.750)
Baylor
Available Yards Rate 1 (.180)
61 (.469)
BAYLOR
Explosive Drives 12 (.043)
108 (.050)
BAYLOR
Methodical Drives 1 (.000)
9 (.250)
EVEN
Value Drives 2 (.091)
78 (.333)
BAYLOR
Offensive/Defensive S&P+
10 (126.6) 78 (95.2)
BAYLOR
Success Rate
1 (15.1%)
71 (38.9%) BAYLOR
IsoPPP 1 (.52)
120 (1.14) BAYLOR
S&P
1 (.224)
98 (.468) BAYLOR
Std. Downs S&P Rk 1 (.253)
103 (.469) BAYLOR
Pass. Downs S&P Rk 1 (.218) 88 (.445) BAYLOR
Rushing S&P Rk 1 (.288) 113 (.402) BAYLOR
Passing S&P Rk 1 (.225)
83 (.505) BAYLOR

If you believe Bill Connelly's S&P metrics, Baylor's defense has been nothing less than absolutely dominant so far in this young season, sweeping the #1 spot in every submetric and only dropping to #10 because of opponent adjustments.  That definitely will not last, but it's good to see.  FEI doesn't think all that much less of our defense, either, and that may be even better.

At first glance, it would appear that ISU is simultaneously a poor rushing team and one that heavily favors methodical drives, an interesting combination you often see in Air Raid offenses.  Sam Richardson's average of 6.3 yards per attempt supports the conclusion that this is an offense that likes to run the ball and throw relatively short passes, both of which would lead to a tendency toward methodical drives.  It also leads me to believe that ISU will try a familiar tactic against Baylor of limiting our possessions by denying us the ball.  If they can make each possession more valuable, it increases their chances of keeping the score close as long as possible.  Unfortunately for ISU, Baylor is likely to counter by forcing Richardson to challenge us down the field, a tactic that will both speed the game up and probably lead to more 3 and outs for the ISU offense, exactly what they don't want.

Special Teams:

Not yet available, so ... yeah.  You can get a sense of things generally by looking at the Field Position Advantage page linked in the first chart above, but I don't have anything for you beyond that.  One thing to keep in mind there is that it doesn't appear that Levi Norwood will return for this game, so we'll have Cal Spangler returning punts.  If Corey Coleman does, don't be surprised to see him returning kicks.

The Bottom Line:

As of this writing, Baylor is a 21-point favorite Saturday night, down from 23.5 at the open.  Taking into consideration the venue and the fact that ISU's fans are likely to be fired up for national television on Saturday night, that's probably about right.  Though I can't say for sure without specific unit information, the advanced stats above seem to show that Baylor has the better offense and defense in this game by quite a bit and thus should win handily.  Whether we actually play to these numbers, however, is a question I obviously can't answer.  All we can do is look at how things are right now and try to guess how things might go Saturday night.  There are no guarantees in college football.

As I said above, the most likely game plan for ISU likely has them trying to hold the ball as long as possible like the Snydercats of Kansas State.  If they are successful doing so, the final score could be relatively low for a Baylor team, something like 37-21.  If they are not and Baylor gets its big play offense going, all bets are off.  Regardless, I expect for Baylor to play well but be tested on the road in our first Big 12 game of 2014.