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Week 4: Baylor Bears vs. ULM Warhawks Statistical Preview

Baylor is playing an actual game of football just 4 days from now. You should probably get ready for it, and to help, I come bearing stats!

Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

It's time once again, ladies and gents, to preview this week's opponent in the ULM Warhawks! As I mentioned before we played Buffalo, my plan for how these will work through the season is to hit the statistics first (generally on Wednesdays), followed by the depth charts and schemes (generally on Thursdays). This week, I'm moving things up a day because we didn't have a game last week to take up Sunday and Monday.

Below you'll find the table I promised before our last game amalgamating the various measures FootballOutsiders uses for College Football into one place. It probably seems, at first glance, a lot more complicated than it really is. As I said two weeks ago...

So that's what this is about-- finding information and presenting it in a way that makes sense. If you need primers on what each statistic really "means," feel free to ask in the comments or head over to FO and read their descriptions. Basically, they take the tack, with which I wholeheartedly agree, that absolute stats are not nearly so useful as people believe, especially where each of the 125 teams couldn't possibly play every other, and schedule strength varies widely. But even more than that, pace (or tempo, as we've called it) matters. Baylor's defense, for example, probably looks a lot worse in the absolute stats than it really is because we give (making up these numbers) opponents 15 possessions a game instead of 8. Our offense scoring as many points as it does, as quickly as it does, skews the numbers.

As you'll see, the numbers still aren't fully there (something I explain below), but this is how I like to present it. It's relatively clear, it's concise, and it's something anybody can pull up and see how the teams stack up from an advanced statistical perspective. Of course, as we well know, stats only tell the story they're made to tell, provide the illumination they're used to provide.

2013 FootballOutsiders Metrics for Baylor vs. Louisiana-Monroe. Last week's numbers, so much as they exist, are in parenthesis. Dashes (---) mean there are no such numbers to report.

OVERALL When Baylor
Has the Ball ...
When ULM
Has the Ball ...
Category Baylor
2013 F/+ Rk 10 (28) 75 (---) --- (---) ---
2013 F/+ Special Teams
--- ---
2013 FEI Rk 28 (32) 72 (---)
(---) ---
2013 S&P+ Rk 5 (29) 74 11 (3) 80 11 (30) 62
2013 FPA --- ---

2013 FD Rk

(---) --- (---) ---
2013 AY Rk

(---) --- (---) ---
2013 Ex Rk

(---) --- (---) ---
2013 Me Rk

(---) --- (---) ---
2013 Va Rk

(---) --- (---) ---
2013 Success Rate (Off)

1 (---) 48 15 (---) 98
2013 Points Per Play (Off)

1 (---) 47 26 (---) 107
2013 Rushing S&P+ Rk

4 (---) 80 4 (---) 94
2013 Passing S&P+ Rk

1 (---) 27 104 (---) 105
2013 Std. Downs S&P+ Rk

1 (---) 31 10 (---) 109
Run-Pass Ratio
(Std. Downs)

--- --- --- ---
2013 Pass. Downs S&P+ Rk

3 (---) 73 51 (---) 95
Run-Pass Ratio
(Pass. Downs)

--- --- --- ---

This chart is going to take a little unpacking, and I'll do my best.

The top measure listed, F/+, is the result of an effort to combine two different measurements, FEI and S&P+. Each are also listed on the chart, with their respective subcategories. FEI stands for the Fremeau Efficiency Index, and here's what FootballOutsiders' itself says about it:

The Fremeau Efficiency Index (FEI) considers each of the nearly 20,000 possessions every season in major college football. All drives are filtered to eliminate first-half clock-kills and end-of-game garbage drives and scores. A scoring rate analysis of the remaining possessions then determines the baseline possession efficiency expectations against which each team is measured. A team is rewarded for playing well against good teams, win or lose, and is punished more severely for playing poorly against bad teams than it is rewarded for playing well against bad teams.

The five subcategories for FEI measure possessions, not plays, based off of position on the field, opposing team strength, and other factors. Those five categories won't be updated for this season until more games are played, which means they won't be in this table until mid-October. We should have them for the heart of the conference slate. Click the link above from FO for more information.

The second major measure is S&P+, which is designed to be an "OPS-like" measure for college football. S&P+ has four key components feeding info to the 6 categories I have listed above, beginning with Success Rate and ending with Passing Downs S&P+. Again, I highly recommend you read the explanations from FO for more information. One key to note is that "Passing Downs" doesn't necessarily mean a third down. From FO:

Passing Downs are defined as:

  • second down with 8 or more yards to go
  • third or fourth down with 5 or more yards to go
All other downs are Standard Downs.

Clear as mud, right? You'll get used to it as we go along. Just remember, both measures are, at this point, heavily influenced by preseason projections. That influence will step down, week-by-week until Week 7 of the season, when they will disappear completely. That's how you get the facially absurd result of the Baylor offense, ranked first in so many categories, being 11th best in S&P+.

What Does This Mean

Overall, it means the oddsmakers are probably right to favor Baylor so highly. Even acknowledging the ridiculously small sample size we're working from, we are very likely better on both sides of the ball than ULM, and significantly so on offense, especially. Two season-opening blowouts have us ranked quite highly, mostly on the strength of that same offense,

Furthermore, even though it's only two games and so much can still happen, most of the numbers look about right, don't they? Our defense looks to be significantly improved, though still vulnerable to the pass and on passing downs. The rushing defense has been quite good against two teams that both committed themselves to running the ball, and we've managed to handle our opponents' offenses consistently on standard downs. All in all, the defensive stats look about as good as the defense has looked, to put it simply.

Offensively, the stats say we've been pretty incredible in this young season, and that fact probably cannot be argued. Even considering the quality of opponent we've faced, Baylor has been extremely strong both in the run and pass, perhaps even more so than we had any right to expect. Matching our offense up with ULM's defense, their apparent belief that they need to stack the box to stop the run seems at once both justified and slightly strange. They have been significantly better against the pass this year than the run, so the belief that they must improve in the latter makes sense. Of course, the response is that committing yourself fully to doing so probably weakens your pass defense, to this point your strength.

For ULM's offense, things don't look especially good through 3 games. How much of that is OU's defense, we can't be sure, just like we can't be sure how much of their success defending the pass can be attributed to Trevor Knight playing that game. But the stats seem to show that ULM's offense hasn't been as good this year as you would have expected, and that has to concern Todd Berry and delight Phil Bennett. As usual, if Baylor's defense can provide the offense with the opportunity early to score points without taking return fire, we may be able to run away with it.