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Predicting Ohio State's 2014: Offensive juggernaut

This is the first part in our advanced statistical preview of the 2014 season.

Trevor Ruszkowksi-USA TODAY Spor

12-2 doesn't really sound like a legendary season for Ohio State. Any time the second number isn't "0", Ohio State fans will enter the next offseason a little disappointed.

However, it really can't be understated just how special last year's offense was. In almost every conceivable measure of offensive power -- from the basic statistics like total yards and touchdowns, to the more advanced, opponent-adjusted ones like Rushing S&P+ -- the Buckeyes dominated.

And that says good things about the 2014 season. Often the greatest predictor of next season's performance will be last season's performance. That's why Football Outsiders and Football Study Hall use a metric called Program F/+, a weighted five-year measure of a team's drive-by-drive and play-by-play data as the basis for their Projected F/+ data. According to the 2014 Football Outsider's College Football Almanac, Projected F/+ is "a more accurate predictor of next-year success than any other data we have tested or used to date", and it is all built on weighing the most recent years' performances to predict the future.

Over the next few weeks, we'll break down the 2014 Buckeyes using advanced metrics like Program F/+. So while news from camp trickles in, you'll also have advanced statistics to balance your excitement over the latest crop of blue chip Buckeyes on the practice field (and in case you'd like to reference what the metrics mean, here's a link to the glossary).

A baseline: Offensive F/+ in 2013 and 2014

F/+ is designed to be an opponent-adjusted, predictive and evaluative metric to rate college football teams. It is made up of two other advanced stats called FEI and S&P+, both of which we'll detail later on. But you can understand what these metrics have to say about the Buckeyes without delving too deep into the math behind the scores.

The Buckeyes ended the 2013 season with an F/+ score of 22.1%, which ranked second overall in the country. Florida State, National Champions and home of your Heisman Trophy winner, ranked third behind the Buckeyes in this measure. Offensive F/+ combines a lot of smaller numbers, like opponent-adjusted drive-by-drive data, opponent-adjusted play-by-play efficiency data, red zone success rates, measures of field position advantage, a measure of explosiveness called Points Per Play, and a novel measure of strength of schedule. Its relative comprehensiveness leads to a much better measure of a team's offense.

You might have noticed this last season as the Buckeyes didn't have much trouble driving the field on almost anyone. Braxton, Hyde, and a killer offensive line scored over 50 points against four FBS teams and three conference opponents. Sure, your intramural team could have put up three touchdowns on the Golden Bears, but that's why the offensive F/+ takes strength of schedule into account.

The only real struggle came against the eventual Rose Bowl champions, the Spartans.

OK, so the 2013 offense was good. But what do they numbers say about 2014? With the 66th most difficult schedule according to Football Outsiders, the Buckeyes are predicted to have the eighth-best Offensive F/+ next season.

That's a regression, but it would still place the Buckeyes in an elite class of offenses. My theory behind the numbers here is that the loss of  four offensive linemen is too much talent to simply write off. It was a talented, experienced group that had played together as a unit for a while and that can't be shrugged off. Yes, Braxton progressed as a quarterback, and yes, Carlos Hyde was an inhuman scoring machine, but it was the line that set up the 24 game winning streak.

High efficiency where it matters most

On both a drive and play-by-play basis, the 2013 Buckeyes were extremely efficient. Efficiency has a few specific meanings here. Drive efficiency -- coming from FEI -- is based on a scoring rate analysis of a team's non-garbage time/clock killing possessions in each season. Of course, starting field position matters a lot here, so scoring rates are compared to starting and ending field position to find the points expected from a certain field position.

Play efficiency is measured by calculating success rates for each play. Depending on the down, a play must gain a certain percentage of a first down to be considered successful (i.e. 50% of the necessary yardage on first down, 70% on second down, etc.). Then, play-by-play success rates are adjusted based on field position (because a 5-yard gain on second-and-goal  from the six means much more than a five yard gain from your own six yard line). This success rate is half of the S&P+ metric (the other half being a measure of explosiveness).

So the Buckeyes excelled in both measures of efficiency. Just looking at Success Rates+  -- the "+" meaning that it is opponent-adjusted -- the Buckeyes led the country. They were third in Offensive FEI (drive based), and second in Offensive S&P+ (play based).

Again, much of efficiency can be credited to the offensive line, which was elite in terms of line yards and Running Back Block Success Rate. This means that the offensive line could be trusted to knock out five yards a play, with Hyde just having to run behind these road pavers. With 4/5 of the line and Hyde gone for 2014, a lot is up in the air in terms of maintaining these gaudy numbers.

Furthermore, the Buckeyes were most efficient when it mattered most. Their Offense Red Zone S&P+ was way above average at 140.9, which topped the country.

However, the Buckeyes have retained Ed Warinner for at least another season -- and that is absolutely critical. Furthermore, it's not like the guys waiting to start on the line are scrubs - they're almost all blue chippers or proven commodities like Pat Elflein. It's just a matter of not knowing exactly how they will play as a unit. The same can be said for the talented stable of running backs.

The 2013 offense kept ahead of schedule efficiency-wise by running hard and then varying with play action pass wrinkles. While unproven, the 2014 group will likely attempt the same gameplan, but with maybe more attention to the talented wideouts and outside playmakers.

Efficient, not necessarily explosive

One thing that really struck me from the advanced stats is the difference between the 2013 efficiency scores and the exposiveness scores. While the combined metrics (S&P+, F/+, etc.) are all high, the explosiveness components alone are fairly pedestrian.

For instance, the measure Offensive Iso PPP+ (Points Per Play) rates the Buckeyes as barely over average (102.1), or 49th in the country. That the combined scores are as high as they are is yet another testament to the efficiency of the offense.

Passing vs. rushing efficiency and explosiveness

Finally, there was a stark difference between the rushing and passing advanced stats. S&P+ differentiates between rushing and passing plays. The Buckeyes were tops in the country in Rushing S&P+, but 17th in Passing S&P+. There is a similar difference between Standard Downs and Passing Downs S&P+ as well (1st and 18th, respectively).

That is still an excellent ranking, but it does demonstrate that the ground game is what kept the Buckeyes putting points on the board. The fun thing about 2014 is that there are so many newcomers that could result in a completely different rating for next season. Between a non-redshirted Michael Thomas, Corey Smith, Johnnie Dixon, Jeff Greene, James Clarke, and Jalin Marshall, there are a lot of candidates for breakout stars.


The 2013 offensive juggernaut was paced by an extraordinary ground game and an effective, if not explosive, passing game. With a fairly high degree of turnover -- especially along the line -- it's unclear exactly what the 2014 edition will look like.

However, with former blue chippers waiting at every vacant starting position and coaching stability on offense, you can expect more road-paving on the ground and maybe some more explosiveness through the air.