Yesterday we took a look at the Ohio State-Northwestern game through the eyes of advanced statistics from Football Outsiders.
Today, we examine where the Buckeyes rank halfway through their season based on FO’s measure of play-by-play efficiency known as S&P+ (later in the season they will add drive efficiency measures, but those aren’t up yet for this season). It should also be noted that garbage time is weeded out of these numbers before rankings are determined.
On the offensive side of the ball, we see a balanced unit that is 17th overall and No. 1 in the Big Ten. That includes rankings 17th on both standard downs and passing downs (second-and-8 or more and third- or fourth-and-5 or more).
The top ranking for the Buckeyes? Seventh in the country in success rate, which measures how often they gain at least five yards on first down, 70 percent of the yards to gain on second down and all of the yards to gain on third down and fourth down.
In “PPP”, a measure of explosiveness based on percentage of yards gained based on the number of points an offense can expect to score from each particular yard line, the Buckeyes are also 17th.
Their PPP and success rate combined gives them a raw ranking of 10th in S&P, but factoring for the schedule produces the No. 17 overall ranking referenced in the third paragraph of this post.
As you might expect, the numbers aren’t great for the Ohio State defense, but they aren’t terrible, either.
Overall, the Buckeye defense ranks 25th in S&P+ (a measurement that does take into account strength of schedule). That is good for fifth in the Big Ten behind Michigan State (No. 2), Penn State (14), Iowa (18) and Wisconsin (20).
In breaking down the numbers a little further, it is interesting to note the top ranking within the rankings is 12th in combined quality (considering both success rate and explosiveness) of defense on passing downs while they are only 52nd in the nation on standard downs. They are 55th against the pass and 16th against the run with similar rankings for success rate (36th) and preventing big plays (32nd).
What happens when all the numbers are mixed together? Sit down because you probably won’t like it if you’re a supporter of the Scarlet and Gray.
FO’s combined S&P+ ranking for the Buckeyes is 13th. That is behind five one-loss teams (including Arizona, who has since picked up a second loss Thursday night though rankings have not been updated). It is good for only second in the Big Ten behind Michigan State, which ranks seventh in the country thanks almost entirely to its second-ranked defense (the Spartan offense is, not surprisingly, 96th).
If you’re scratching your head about those results, you’re probably not the only one. Baylor tops the rankings thanks to its otherworldly offense and is followed by unbeaten Florida State, Florida, Oregon and Alabama to round out the top five.
As far as balance, no one tops the Seminoles, who with the No. 5 offense and eighth-ranked defense are the only team with both units in the national top 10.
What does it all mean? Well, nothing really considering these numbers are not part of the BCS formula (though who’s to say they are any less reliable than the computer rankings that are?), but it is interesting to consider with the Buckeyes off this week.
Ultimately, Ohio State’s chances to play in the BCS championship game will be determined by what happens on the field (theirs and others) from here on out, which isn’t too abnormal for the first half of October. The schedule is a real concern, and the Buckeyes are going to need some help from losses by teams ahead of them to move up in the polls.
There is a way the schedule could improve, though, and that’s by adding another ranked team via the Big Ten championship game.
Who could that be? Well, Nebraska may be ranked higher in the coaches’ poll now (24th), but I think the odds the Cornhuskers fix their porous defense (97th in S&P+) are worse than Michigan State’s prospects for coming up with a more productive offense.
Undefeated Michigan is 16th in the coaches’ poll, but the Wolverines haven’t passed the eyeball test since beating overrated Notre Dame a month ago. The Football Outsiders numbers aren’t impressed with Michigan, either, as its overall ranking is only 40th (No. 33 on offense and 49th on defense). That is one spot ahead of once-beaten Nebraska.
Some have suggested Ohio State fans should root for Michigan to be undefeated heading into The Game in Ann Arbor, but I’m not sure that’s true.
Adding a new ranked team to the schedule figures to have a greater impact on both strength of schedule numbers in the computers and national perception, so the better outcome for the Buckeyes probably involves Michigan losing to either Michigan State or Nebraska then winning out before taking on Ohio State to preserve and maximize a spot somewhere in the polls. Then, of course, Ohio State very much needs the team that knocks off the Wolverines run the table as well to present a juicier conference championship game matchup.