Advanced numbers look at Ohio State versus Penn State

(Chuck Crow, The Plain Dealer)

The Ohio State Buckeyes finally have an opportunity to wash away the stench of a 31-16 loss to the Oklahoma Sooners in Columbus. Since the game, the Bucks have dominated their competition by an average score of 53-11, but Army, UNLV, Rutgers, Maryland, and Nebraska are not the teams by which Ohio State is measured.

Head coach Urban Meyer has created a juggernaut with the yearly expectations being to compete for the College Football Playoffs and championship. To achieve those end games, the unrelenting play against lesser opponents will need to prove to have been the repetitions needed to defeat the biggest obstacle the Buckeyes have in the Big Ten. The Penn State Nittany Lions travel to Columbus on Saturday hoping to erase memories of their own- that of falling just short in the College Football Playoff rankings in 2016 to the Buckeyes.

Both teams are ranked in the Top 6 of all of college football. The place in the standings is not a mistake as they have shown through their consistent excellence to have been among the best programs in the country.

One of the issues with college football is the disparity in talent levels and the minimal amount of games leaves much of the perception of teams to the dreaded eye test. A few big plays can often bias the mind and create myths of what is actually happening on the field.

There are sites creating better ways to help determine if what we think we see on the field bears out through the numbers. For instance, is J.T. Barrett really that bad throwing downfield?

Here is a look at how the Nittany Lions and Buckeyes match up through a peek at their advanced statistics.

Fremeau Efficiency Index

Stats courtesy of Football Outsiders

From Football Outsiders: The Fremeau Efficiency Index (FEI) is a scoring rate analysis to determine 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.

For all the talk about how the Buckeyes have played a soft schedule, it should not be lost that the Nittany Lions only quality win has been against Michigan, who might not be a good team in 2017. An out of conference slate of Akron, Pittsburgh, and Georgia State does not move the needle. The other three best teams in the Big Ten (Ohio State, Michigan State, and Wisconsin) have not yet been played. As such, the Lions strength of schedule has actually been weaker than the Buckeyes.

The Buckeyes offense has been masterful. They are ranked in the Top 7 in all individual offensive categories with the nation’s best offensive efficiency and scoring rates. Slight deficiencies in turnover rate and ability to achieve first downs (though, again, still Top 7) are the only things holding the Buckeyes back.

The Lions offense is Top 12 but not nearly performing at the same level as the Buckeyes despite the presence of Saquon Barkley. The individual categories rank closer to 20 with the net across the board accounting for their rise as a whole.

The Buckeyes also hold a small advantage on the defensive side of the ball in the FEI rankings. One of the most important categories though- Defensive Drive Success- has found the Lions to have the third best ranking with the Buckeyes at 10. The Lions are also slightly better at creating turnovers, which could turn the game.

The Lions do hold an advantage on special teams. It will be interesting to see if they can create a momentum changing play.

S&P Ranks

statistics courtesy of Football Outsiders

From FootballOutsiders: 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. The components for S&P+ reflect the components of four of what Bill Connelly has deemed the Five Factors of college football: efficiency, explosiveness, field position, and finishing drives.

The S&P show similar results to FEI in terms of rankings. There is a better breakdown of the run versus pass and explosion plays, but the Buckeyes hold small advantages across the board. The Lions have been an extremely good offensive football team, but only the Oklahoma Sooners have been in the same category of the Buckeyes there in 2017.

The defensive side of the ball shows a difference between the teams. While they have both been good, the Lions have shut down the passing attacks of the opposition (ranked 8) compared to the Buckeyes (ranked 43).1 Just don’t go trying to run on the Buckeyes who are ranked three against the run compared to the Lions rank of 50.

Combined Look

Stats courtesy of Football Outsiders

The combined advanced statistics give some different views of how teams have stacked up thus far in the 2017 college football season. The Buckeyes currently sit atop those rankings despite having come up short in one of their games. The margin is thin with the Nittany Lions being ranked No. 4 by the same measures though, which means everyone watching should be in for quite the game on Saturday.

  1. It should be noted that the Sooner passing attack could well have thrown these numbers off a ton for the Buckeyes. []