If last weekend's slate of games was a fast, then this weekend's definitely feels like a feast. There's the The Iron Bowl, The Egg Bowl, a very relevant Arkansas-Mizzou tilt, and a "Muschamp and coaching staff with nothing to lose" game against their heated rival. Even Derek Mason is selling the Vandy-Tennessee game as if Ric Flair has been consulting him. That's not even mentioning the other games, each at least worthy of having on in the background while we all eat tasteless white turkey meat together and go up a waist size or four.
Since most SEC teams have been analyzed in these spaces a few times this season, I'm going to focus this week's installment on some teams from the ACC. Let's breakdown the South Carolina-Clemson and the Georgia-Georgia Tech games. Both have interesting matchups and are probably the SEC's best chance to draw blood against the ACC, at least on paper.
(Brief navel-gazing moment: have you liked these advanced stats previews this season? Should we continue highlighting select SEC basketball games this season using basketball-specific ratings like Kenpom's and/or The Four Factors systems? Feedback in the comments is appreciated.)
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 for additional use.
Lastly, the F/+ percentage ratings measure every team against a perfectly average team. So, if the F/+ rating of a team is 0 percent, that team is considered perfectly average by this rating system.
Georgia and Georgia Tech Rankings
|F+ Overall||6 (30.3%)||12 (24.6%)|
|F+ Offense||7 (16.5%)||1 (21.7%)|
|F+ Defense||23 (9.4%)||61 (0.3%)|
|F+ Special Teams||6 (4.4%)||17 (2.6%)|
|S&P+ Rushing Offense||1||7|
|S&P+ Rushing Defense||74||108|
|S&P+ Passing Offense||12||4|
|S&P+ Passing Defense||18||84|
This looks like a pretty evenly matched team just going by the overall F+ ratings. It's two Top 15 teams in terms of F+, and their lofty ratings are largely the results of their offense, though both defenses and special teams are considered above average to varying degrees.
Both offenses are efficient, but they are efficient in vastly different ways. Georgia overpowers through the abilities of its individual play-makers a bit more than Georgia Tech, which gets most of its production from its system. Neither rushing defense is great, but Georgia's is slightly better. In any case, the offenses will probably do the lion's share for their squads on Saturday.
Something interesting is how much better Georgia's secondary has gotten in the last few weeks. A unit previously rated in the 70's has risen up to 18th, after limiting Nick Marshall and Patrick Towles to 150 and 140 yards throwing respectively (Auburn's ranked first and Kentucky 54th in S&P Passing Offense). That improvement will serve them well against Georgia Tech's fourth rated S&P+ Passing Offense.
Georgia Tech will be a threat running the ball against Georgia's rushing defense. The Bulldogs' run defense has been much better since the Florida game—limiting Auburn to 150 yards rushing is a rarity these days—but these are the same Yellow Jackets that ran for 250 yards against Clemson's top-ranked S&P+ Rushing Defense.
Nevertheless, Georgia Tech's defense should be challenged by UGA's balanced offense and play-makers. In all likelihood, Georgia Tech will look to limit overall possessions and spend a lot of clock on offense to protect its defense. If the Georgia defense that showed up against Auburn is present Saturday, that may be the deciding factor for a close victory.
South Carolina and Clemson Rankings
|F+ Overall||48 (5.3%)||20 (20%)|
|F+ Offense||8 (15.9%)||55 (0.3%)|
|F+ Defense||112 (-11.5%)||1 (21.3%)|
|F+ Special Teams||51 (0.9%)||102 (-1.6%)|
|S&P+ Rushing Offense||15||112|
|S&P+ Rushing Defense||106||2|
|S&P+ Passing Offense||22||64|
|S&P+ Passing Defense||66||4|
Clemson looks to have a decided advantage in terms of overall F+, but these two teams match-up so well in places that it's hard to imagine that this won't be competitive barring uncharacteristic turnovers.
First, South Carolina's rush defense has been poor this season, and the panacea for that is Clemson's rushing offense. That match-up sees both teams units in the triple digits in terms of S&P+ indicating that it'll be competitive if not high-level. South Carolina's 106th S&P+ Rushing Defense is similar to the NC State's 101st that allowed 230 yards to Clemson. That's probably not encouraging news to Gamecock fans, but that game was also in early October, and even Clemson's leading rusher on that day, Deshaun Watson, only averaged 4.1 yards per carry for 62 yards.
Second, Clemson's front seven may be the best in the country, but it's going against a South Carolina offense which has proven it can score on anyone this season. As stated above, last week Georgia Tech's similarly rated rushing attack torched Clemson for 230 yards so it is human after all. South Carolina will be hard-pressed to replicate that success on the ground though if the past is a guide. Mizzou's 8th ranked S&P+ Rushing Defense held South Carolina to 120 yards, as did Auburn's 20th ranked rushing defense.
South Carolina's passing offense will be challenged by Clemson's secondary, but going to the air to set up the run may be the Gamecocks' best path to victory. The Gamecocks have faced Top 20 S&P+ Passing Defenses this season in Missouri, Georgia, and Florida, and against those teams they averaged about 230 yards through the air. Combine that with another 120 yards rushing, and 350 total yards may be enough for 17-24 points.
Will that be enough cushion for South Carolina's defense facing a Clemson offense with its own issues? ESPN's FPI seems to think Clemson has a 62% change of winning.