On paper, when this season started, the Ohio State Buckeyes were talked about as being one of, potentially, the best assembled offenses in the country. In this decade. Maybe ever. And that made plenty of sense, and game one against Virginia Tech seemed to indicate the direction of the season. Since then, however, this year's batch of Buckeyes have been inconsistent, unable to put away lesser talent, and playing down to competition with each week. It got better against Maryland, granted, but this Buckeye team is far from the Paper Titan predicted in the preseason.
SB Nation is lucky to employ some very bright minds under the umbrella, specifically when it comes to advanced statistical analysis. Think "sabemetrics" or "Moneyball", but for predicting performance of a college football team. These metrics allow a viewer a more complete look at how a team is performing and, perhaps more importantly, how it will perform against other competition. You can look at a bunch of different #hot #stats #takes about college football in SB Nation's Football Study Hall.
Typically, these metrics are pretty good at predicting performance, especially when there are some games under the belt to help the matter out a bit. Given enough data points, these metrics (and the people behind them) could predict the result of any game, and probably be pretty close to right. In all this season, using these metrics, the overall stats record is 129-115-3, which, granted, isn't overachieving, but is better than you or I could do given the same information. At least better than me, for sure:
An acceptable score will be in the 40s for sure, so let's say 45... NIU is probably not getting shutout, so lets give the Huskies a score or two. Final score 48-14, which, for entertainment purposes only, means Buckeyes cover, and hit the under.
Hey, at least I got the under part right.
So, halfway through this college football season, with a ton of data to use, and some big Buckeye games coming up, what do the advanced statistics think of our favorite Paper Titans?
It isn't pretty.
Before delving into the Buckeyes' remaining schedule, lets take a look at what the S&P+ rankings look like as of yesterday:
That's right. According to the S&P+ rankings, the AP and Coaches #1 team in the land is sitting DOA at #28. If you click on the link above, you'll see that this is not necessarily a bad thing, because S&P+ ranking is an indicator of how the team will play and has played, not necessarily how good they are. It is a snapshot. And based on the rankings above, that would seem pretty fair. Clemson has looked great this year. Bama, too, save for one 35+ points-scored-but-still-a-loss. And, yes, dear friends at Maize and Brew. We see you at #3, and we'll get back to you soon.
Now there are some question marks on that list, too. For instance, USC is #6, and West Virginia is #8, despite both teams coming off bad losses (and USC in all kinds of trouble at present). But if you look at the season, and you look at it from all angles, #28 seems close to fair for these Buckeyes, if not a little bit low.
Now let's look at the Buckeyes previous six games, and remaining schedule using these metrics (and do yourselves a favor and go to FBSH and just pour over all the great work there).
|Record: 6-0 | Second-order wins (diff.): 5.7 (-0.3) | S&P+ Rk: 28|
|Date||Opponent||Opp. S&P+ Rk||Score||W-L||Percentile
|7-Sep||at Virginia Tech||45||42-24||W||86%||20.3||99%|
Other than in the Northern Illinois, and even including the game against the pesky Huskies, the Buckeyes had an average win expectancy of 96% in their games so far. That's seemingly indicative of a top tier team (or a good team with a crappy schedule, and in the case of Ohio State, both are true). The games to come, however, make things look pretty bleak:
|Date||Opponent||Opp. S&P+ Rk||Win
|17-Oct||Penn State||31||57%||W||3.1||25.5 - 22.4||6.57|
|24-Oct||at Rutgers||103||91%||W||22.9||39.4 - 16.4||7.48|
|7-Nov||Minnesota||35||61%||W||4.7||24.8 - 20.2||8.08|
|14-Nov||at Illinois||29||34%||L||-7.0||18.8 - 25.8||8.43|
|21-Nov||Michigan State||40||63%||W||5.7||29.8 - 24.1||9.06|
|28-Nov||at Michigan||3||18%||L||-15.6||13.8 - 29.4||9.24|
A few things worth noticing here:
- If you're headed to The 'Shoe to see these new unis, you can expect to see them in a close game. Like, a three-point game, according to the metrics.
- The Buckeyes play a night game in Piscataway and win by a lot, probably.
- Minnesota is not good this year. Ohio State should beat them.
- Ohio State is going to lose in Champaign.
- Ohio State is going to beat Michigan State in a squeaker.
- Ohio State is going to get boat-raced by Michigan.
Let's look at the bolded points above. First with Illinois. The same Illinois that doesn't have a permanent head football coach. The same Illinois that is looking hard at Tom Herman as a possible next head coach. The same Illinois that backed up a stunning win over Nebraska, with an egg-laying against Iowa. The advanced stats say that game will be a seven-point win for the Illini.
And then there's the game that everyone was looking at at the beginning of the year as a possible Big Ten East Division Championship Game (brought to you by Rotel). Ohio State should get by Sparty in close fashion at home. A lot of Buckeye fans (maybe just me) have been very worried about Sparty since they beat Oregon. But it turns out, Oregon is really bad this year, and Sparty is ... it's tough to say what Michigan State is. We should know more about them this week, because Ohio State's final opponent will be the one that tells us what, exactly, Michigan State is.
That's right: the Michigan Wolverines and their Khaki King are not only the conference's best team (according to statistics), but also look primed to win out, their only loss by a touchdown on the road against a really good Utah team. According to the statistics, The Game won't be close, an 82% win probability for Michigan, with a predicted score of 29-14. And that seems ... fair, actually. Since losing to Utah, Michigan has given up 14 points. It has shutout three consecutive opponents. It has looked much better than the product Ohio State has but on the field in the last few weeks.
Now the big caveat about all of this is that they don't play the games on paper, they play the games on the field. And any given Saturday and all of that, blah, blah, blah. But paper is a pretty good predictor of what the real world holds. Against Maryland, Ohio State showed that it is more than capable of explosive plays on offense...and giving up the same on defense. What the Buckeyes are missing is consistency on both sides of the ball, and until the offense and defense start to click, the advanced statistics aren't going to give the Buckeyes any benefit of any doubt.
Being a Paper Titan might be enough to beat the likes of Hawaii and Indiana on the field. But unless Ohio State can play to its true potential on the field and on both sides of the ball, the Buckeyes might have some troubling Saturdays ahead.