By the (Advanced) Numbers: Is The U Back?

Turnover margin is a statistic to keep your eye on throughout the game.

It's an annual punchline. "The U" is pronounced back, only for Miami to fall apart by November and fail to win the ACC Coastal Division, much less the conference. Most years, however, the idea that Miami has returned to significance is based on recruiting rankings and some limited on-field success while advanced statistics are largely ignored.

This year is different. Statistically, Miami really has been a high performer thus far and is currently the favorite — albeit a slight one — to win the division. Saturday's contest is likely a divisional championship game, as the winner will easily be the most likely Coastal representative in the ACCCG.

So will 2017 produce a real November collapse? Or can the Hokies take down a great team? Or will Miami's exceptional turnover luck — currently accounting for 4.8 ppg — finally run out?

Where the Season Stands

Virginia Tech is currently 7-1. The actual and predicted score difference and odds of winning each game are:

The odds of each possible regular season win total are now:

The predicted chance of beating Miami is based on the spread (VT by 2), while the predicted score differential is taken from the S&P+ ratings (Miami by 7). As a whole, these win odds result in about a 60% chance of a 10+ win regular season and a 90% chance of winning out.

Rankings and Computer Predictions

The computer rankings and predictions for each team:

Generally speaking, the Hurricanes have a slight advantage in rankings, but computers that make game predictions are mixed. It is worth pointing out that while computer ratings provide an ability to compare any two teams that is pretty accurate, the betting odds on a game are the most accurate predictor and the Hokies are currently a slight favorite in Vegas. The odds of a 2-point favorite winning is 56.0%.

Next is a look at any overall offensive or defensive advantages:

While The U's defense has received much of the attention this season, the Hokies actually enjoy a slight advantage on that side of the ball. However, to this point (and not adjusted for injuries), Miami has a moderate advantage on offense.

When Virginia Tech Has the Ball

Here is an explanation of S&P+ ratings, and FEI ratings. All statistics are now opponent-adjusted.

Who has the advantage in the passing and rushing game when the Tech offense has the ball?

Miami's defense is almost a mirror image of Tech's offense. It's mediocre on rushing, good on passing, good on standard downs, and weak on passing downs.

Offensive and defensive line performance are compared using Football Outsiders' metrics:

Now let's take a look at the FEI personality traits of the Hokie offense versus the Hurricane defense:

In nearly every metric, this game is strength on strength when the Hokies have the ball. Unfortunately the one weak spot — percentage of drives resulting in a touchdown — is a strength for Miami. Settling for field goals in the red zone could be an ominous sign for Tech.

The Virginia Tech offense is closest in personality to:

  1. LSU
  2. Colorado
  3. Western Michigan

The Miami defense is closest in personality to:

  1. Troy
  2. Marshall
  3. Eastern Michigan

Those are better than they sound.

When Miami Has the Ball

Again, examine pass-run comparisons first:

The biggest gap is in rushing, where Miami presents a slightly above average performance against Virginia Tech's excellent unit.

Offensive and defensive line performance are again compared using Football Outsiders' metrics:

As for personality traits:

To this point most metrics for both teams have been fairly good matchups. However, the Miami offensive line has been very poor at getting the needed yardage on the ground in short situations, while the Hokies' power run defense is exceptional. Additionally, Miami has protected the ball well while Virginia Tech has failed to produce turnovers at a high rate. With that said, Miami has benefitted from immense turnover luck so this stat may not have much meaning moving forward as that luck is bound to run out.

The Virginia Tech defense is closest in personality to:

  1. Northern Illinois
  2. Auburn
  3. Washington

The Miami offense is closest in personality to:

  1. Arizona State
  2. Iowa State
  3. South Carolina

Special Teams

First we look at the Hokie's kicking units:

The Hokies are the No. 9 special teams unit nationally, and are pretty strong at everything except field goal kicking.

When the Hurricanes kick:

Miami, however, is only good at returning punts.

Who To Watch Out For

Miami always signs a class of talented/highly rated recruits, but how has that actually manifested itself on the field.

  1. DB Michael Jackson (No. 28, JR, 6-1, 200) s a real "Thriller". (Why wasn't this game BEFORE Halloween?!). He ranks T-5th in the country with 4 interceptions on the season.
  2. WR Braxton Berrios (No. 8, SR, 5-9, 186) is 6th in the country in punt returns with a 16.33 yards per return average. However, Oscar Bradburn has only allowed four returns all season.

Statistical Key to the Game

While a good team, Miami is largely undefeated due to some great turnover luck — a stat that is typically unsustainable. If this is the game where the luck runs out, the Hokies can likely pull off the win. My stat of the game is turnover margin. I don't think the Hokies have to win it, but at least an even match should do it.

Statistical Prediction

Is the U back? This year, probably, as long as the standard for "back" doesn't mean a national championship game. This team is good enough to win the Coastal (finally). But they won't.

Virginia Tech 24, Miami 20

As always a thanks to Football Outsiders,, and Minitab Statistical Software.


God I want to believe Tech will take them to the woodshed but I'm so gunshy to pull the trigger based on historical performance.

Wet stuff on the red stuff.

Join us in the Key Players Club

I'm with you. After watching both teams play this season, my gut says we can win big, but with the Hokies in big games, my gut has let me down before......

I had to read "gunshy" three or four times to realize that it didn't approximately rhyme with "bunchy"

Chem PhD '16

I read "gooshy". That's obviously wrong, but the context is probably right.

Leonard. Duh.

In their game against UNCheat, was Miami looking ahead to the Hokies?

If Rosier is out or hampered significantly by his sore shoulder, I think we win big. If he's healthy, game will probably be close.

Hokie in West Africa...sadly, I can't jump up and down hard enough for it to be felt in Lane

Joel, do the rushing statistics take into account Walton? I know Homer has done pretty well, but I also remember hearing that losing Walton was supposed to be a big blow for them. If they have Rosier out and are down to their second string RB, I'm hopeful we can win this one in a fashion that soundly puts da U in their place.

Warning: this post occasionally contains strong language (which may be unsuitable for children), unusual humor (which may be unsuitable for adults), and advanced mathematics (which may be unsuitable for liberal-arts majors)..

They do not take into account specific players getting injured - just how well the team has performed as a whole.

Am I reading this right... we have a 56% chance to win, but we're projected to lose by 7?


The Virginia Tech offense is closest in personality to:

Western Michigan

"Some days you’re a horse and some days you’re a horse’s ass. I’ve been a horse’s ass for a little while." - Roy Halladay

Exactly. Especially when Miami is closest to TROY?!? Don't put that kind of voodoo on us Ricky Bobby.

Two points:

1. This is closest in PERSONALITY to those teams, not necessarily overall rating although there is some relationship there as well.
2. Troy is the #20 defense in S&P+ and 11th nationally in points allowed per game (albeit against a weak schedule)

Win percentages come from the Vegas spread (-2=>56%). Predicted spread is from averaging computer models. Joel said in the post that Vegas spread tends to be the more accurate predictor of who wins (though not necessarily by how much) so he uses that to get likelihood of winning.

Warning: this post occasionally contains strong language (which may be unsuitable for children), unusual humor (which may be unsuitable for adults), and advanced mathematics (which may be unsuitable for liberal-arts majors)..

What he said.

So Hale and Adelson over at ESPN both picked da U. I did enjoy Hale's reasoning though...

Do I like this pick? No. Do I have a good explanation for it? No. Have you seen my picks record? I'm awful. So chalk this up to a gut feeling. Miami will hit a few big plays downfield and the Canes' D will force a key turnover. Or, I'm way off again. Miami 24, Virginia Tech 20

Using /s is for cowards.

Miami has been doing it with "lucky turnovers" all season. Eventually that luck has to run out.

Honestly, anyone who has watched Miami and VT football knows that Miami doesn't have a chance if the turnover margain is close to even. Thier picks just show that ESPN talking heads don't even watch the game and just look at the polls.

At least she's honest about it

Twitter me

Mrs. David Hale appreciates your decision to out her choice.

“I remember Lee Corso's car didn't get out of the parking lot.” -cFB

Do you know how the Punt eff is calculated? It seems like we should be at the very top in this category considering we only have 4 returns for 4 yards on the year along with several punts downed inside the 10 and even the 5 yard line. I'm sure it would be difficult to calculate exactly how effective these units are, but if they can get it right I would love to see what units are ranked ahead of us.

Alabama probably had to punt one time this year and it downed it inside the 1...probably.

“Stats are for losers.” -Mel Kiper Jr.

You can see the entire list at although it is not sortable by individual stats.

Basically for any punt, you are expecting a certain number of points based on where you are on the field; when you point that equation switches to the opponent expecting points. You want this differential to be as small as possible (think of punting from your own 1 to the opponent's 1: you aren't expecting to score much on average from yours and they aren't from theirs so it's a great punt). Punt efficiency is how well you've tended to do on the season.

I wouldn't complain too much about being #23 in the country.

I think it will in fact come down to turnovers, and VT's ability to score TDs once they get into the red zone. Weather is supposed to be fairly nice at game time -- no rain, mid 70s, light north wind. So that should not be a factor in the game.

Jackson has been good this year at not making bad decisions that result in turnovers. Last week in the Duke game, it went largely unnoticed, but he had two or three ill-advised passes hat could have been picked (remember when Cam got shaken up breaking up a pick where Jackson forced the ball into double coverage). Miami's secondary is better and will punish Jackson if he does that again.

My view: Jackson plays smart. VT wins the turnover battle and wins the game.

I will take 56% against a 7-0 team (even if they have not played anyone good) on the road at night. Let's go Hokies!

I can imagine no more rewarding a career. And any man who may be asked in this century what he did to make his life worthwhile, I think can respond with a good deal of pride and satisfaction:
“I served in the United States Navy"


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