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Kentucky Football: How F/+ Views Kentucky vs. Mississippi St.

Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports

Background

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. Connelly is an author at SBNation, RockMNation,Football Study Hall and Football Outsiders. S+P is an advanced statistical measure which combines success rate, explosiveness per play and opponent adjustments.

The combination of these two ranking systems provides the F/+ ranking.

This is how Fremeau and Connelly describe their rankings:

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 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 S&P+ Ratings are a college football ratings system derived from both play-by-play and drive data from all 800+ of a season's FBS college football games (and 140,000+ plays). There are four key components to the S&P+

If interested, here is a glossary that might be helpful. Lastly, keep in mind that the F/+ percentage ratings measure every team against a perfectly average team. So, if the F/+ rating of a team is 0% that team is considered perfectly average by this rating system.

How F/+ and S&P+ view the matchup:

OVERALL

When UK Has the ball...

When MSU has the ball...

Category

UK

MSU

UK Off.

MSU Def.

UK Def.

MSU Off.

F/+ Rk (Overall)

85

(-10.2%)

52 (4.5%)

F/+ Rk (Off.)

36 (6.6%)

42 (4.9%)

F/+ Rk (Def)

117

(-16.6%)

59 (0.5%)

F/+ Rk (Spec Teams)

70 (-0.2%)

85

(-0.9%)

S&P+ Rk (Overall)

53 (211.8)

44 (219.6)

28 (114)

45(109.6)

83 (97.9)

35 (110)

Rushing S&P+ Rk

4 (145.1)

64 (102.6)

87 (91.5)

32 (115.3)

Passing S&P+ Rk

31 (116.4)

39 (109.7)

53 (103.4)

35 (113.3)

The chart above verifies how many of us saw this matchup: UK is slightly more efficient than MSU on offense (36 compared to 42 F/+ rankings) and special teams (70 compared to 85 F/+), but there is a gaping chasm of efficiency when comparing the defenses. MSU's defense is ever so slightly above average at 0.5% while UK's is far below average sitting at -16.6%. Digging into the numbers provides additional insight into the overall figures. I've bolded the areas where UK has an advantage.

UK has an overall S&P+ offensive ranking of 28 with an impressive rushing S&P+ of 4th in the country. UK's offense matches up favorably with MSU's defense both running and passing; however, defensively, UK does not have a distinct advantage against either MSU's rushing or passing attack. Is it possible to correlate these rankings with past performances?

Comparing track records:


UK's Performances


Opponent

Opp. Off. S&P+

Opp. Def. S&P+

Outcome

Louisville

14 (121.2)

6 (141.7)

27-13 (L)

Florida

81 (92.9)

5 (147.1)

24-7 (L)

USC

19 (117.2)

28 (115.9)

35-28 (L)

MSU's Performance

Opponent

Opp. Off. S&P+

Opp. Def. S&P+

Outcome

Auburn

61 (100.2)

26 (120)

24-20 (L)

LSU

9 (130.2)

64 (104.7)

59-26 (L)

Bowling Green

41 (107.2)

55 (106.4)

21-20 (W)

The above charts illustrate the outcomes of previous matchups for UK and MSU in competitive games (don't be fooled by the MSU-LSU score. LSU scored 28 points in the 4th quarter to make the margin of victory look worse than it really was) while taking into account current S&P+ rankings. MSU's overall offensive S&P+ is ranked 35th (see Table 1 under "MSU Off. when MSU has the ball...") which would place them behind both UofL (14th ) and USC (19th). Those offenses scored 4-5 touchdowns against our defense. Additionally, the defensive ranking MSU has played that is closest to UK's ranking of 83rd is LSU's at 64th, and MSU scored 26 points on that team. MSU should score 4-6 touchdowns against UK's defense, according to these numbers. Anything less than that should be considered a major victory for our defense.

The picture would be brighter in terms UK's offense, but it's hard to judge how this team will play without having a healthy Jalen Whitlow under center. UK is in unknown territory. It's impossible to discern at this point if this offense is resilient enough to fully function without one of its most important pieces.

UK has to hope it's overall 4th ranked rushing attack creates manageable 2nd and 3rd down scenarios, and leaves the majority of the Neil Brown's playbook open. MSU's defense has an overall S&P+ ranking of 45th placing it behind all three of UK's opponents listed. UK's scoring has risen when it faces teams that have a lower ranked defense. The defense that most resembles MSU in the S&P+ rankings is actually Western Kentucky who are ranked 80th against whom UK scored 26 points.

Yet that was the first game of the year, and UK's offense has improved since. Of MSU's opponents, UK (28th) has the best offense after LSU (9th). The lower ranked offenses of Auburn and Bowling Green each mustered 3 touchdowns against MSU, so it's plausible UK can at least score that many touchdowns.

Diving deeper into the S&P+ rankings, I noticed UK's high offensive rating largely comes from its offensive play efficiency which is ranked 17th in the country while MSU's defensive play efficiency is a middle-of-the-road 54th. This means that MSU is moderately susceptible to big plays, and UK happens to be pretty good at creating them. The bad news is that UK's offensive drive efficiency is 41st, and MSU's defensive drive efficiency is a higher 38th. UK already struggles sustaining drives by converting on 3rd downs, and MSU's defense is not going to make that any easier. UK's offense will need big plays to win this game.

How FEI views the match-up:

Off

Def

ST

Ex

FP

TO

UK

30.7

-72.9

-2.9

-1.9

-10

5.1

MSU

47.9

-34.2

-8.7

0

8.7

14.6

Taking FEI's aggregate game splits so far this season illustrates that MSU is better at UK in all measurable besides special teams. I pointed out in a previous post that FEI favors drive efficiency and not play efficiency, and UK is pretty bad at that measurement. Additionally, FEI rankings are not weighted by a previous opponent's offensive or defensive strengths. I'm not sure if FEI says anything dramatically different than S&P+ in this case anyway.

TL;DR

The Vegas line of MSU -10 may be too low. MSU will probably score between 28-35 points, and UK's offense, if it was fully functioning, would probably score 21-28 points. I think it's more likely that UK scores on the lower end of that number with the questions about Whitlow's health. While UK's offense has been solid this year, according to F/+, the defense continues to hold the team back. Specifically, the rush defense. The margin of error is so small because the defensive negates more than the offense's share of production. Essentially, UK's offense has been playing entire games from behind. If the defense was ranked 15-20 spots higher I believe UK wins this game.

To end things on a positive note, there are avenues to victory for UK. Hitting big plays that negate stalled offensive drives, creating turnovers, and winning the special teams battle are all possible when taken into account precedent from UK's season so far against superior teams. UK's rushing attack also matches up favorably with MSU's rushing defense thereby making it more possible for UK to outperform history and manage long offensive drives that keep the defense on the sideline and the ball out of the other team's hands.

The outcome of this game will tell the UK fan base much about how the second half of this season will go against an "easier" schedule. If UK beats MSU then the question of if UK can even win 3 games this season quickly changes to can UK win 4 or 5 games?

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