By the (Advanced) Numbers: Talkin' 'Bout the 'Noles

A beyond the boxscore statistical preview of the Virginia Tech-Florida State football game.

For nearly every concern, uncertainty, and source of optimism among the Virginia Tech fanbase, Florida State fans know the feeling. After missing virtually the entire 2017 season, quarterback Deondre Francois returns as the starting quarterback, and has a decent group of offensive returners returning. The defensive side of the ball, however, has been decimated with eight starters replaced in 2018.

Ratings and other statistics reflect how each team ended 2017 as obviously no data is available on 2018 yet. With Willie Taggart taking the reins at FSU after a one-year stint at Oregon, many statistics in this week's preview include Oregon in order to help anticipate what changes may come to Tallahassee.

What do those statistics tell us about the Hokies and Seminoles on Labor Day...

Where the Season Stands

Virginia Tech is currently 0-1, having been defeated in a lopsided victory by the offseason. Can the team bounce back?. The actual and predicted score difference and odds of winning each game are:

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

Although most outside pundits would put the Hokies at around an 8-win season, anything from 6 to 11 wins is well within reason. The good news is that puts the bowl streak at a very high chance of continuing; the bad news is that with the most likely losses coming in conference, an ACC Championship game appearance is going to require significant luck or a much better team than anticipated.

Additionally, predictions are mostly tied to 2017 performance so it would not be wise to read to much into future game predictions at this point other than as a very rough guide. Virginia Tech would face Notre Dame and Miami right now as larger underdogs than illustrated in all likelihood.

Rankings and Computer Predictions

The computer rankings and predictions for each team:

There is a computer that predicts a 17-point Virginia Tech victory, and while that prediction is likely terrible, let's all just agree it's actually pretty fantastic. While certain ranking systems do account for offseason turnover and recent recruiting, many do not, and thus rankings mostly reflect how each team finished 2017. Las Vegas incorporates both game location and offseason changes in pegging a 7-point spread. The odds of a 7-point underdog winning is 30.1%.

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

While the Hokies finished with a better defense than either Florida State or Oregon, that defense was decimated by moves to the NFL and offseason dismissals. The Seminoles did not show a better offense than the Hokies, although Oregon was quite a bit better.

When Virginia Tech Has the Ball

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

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

Virginia Tech was a fairly effective passing team in 2017, but in what has become a multi-year trend had no significant rushing game to speak of. The team did well on standard downs, but struggled on passing downs as the offense became more one-dimensional. Florida State featured a defense that was well above average in all categories, as did Oregon.

What style offense do the Hokies use and what style will they face?

Fans will not be surprised to hear the Hokie offense was far from explosive; the team also ran slightly more than the average team and at a slightly faster pace. The Seminoles on the other hand excelled at preventing explosive plays, and did so by causing major havoc on the defensive line and in the secondary; similarly so did Oregon, although the Ducks were less able to stop explosive offenses.

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 Seminole defense:

The Hokies were generally mediocre in most categories, with the exception of getting at least one first down on drives and not turning the ball over. This matches up well against a Florida State defense that struggled in those same categories. The Ducks were also lackluster in those categories although better than the Seminoles. Field position and the turnover battle are winnable for Virginia Tech.

The Virginia Tech offense was closest in personality to:

  1. Colorado
  2. Louisiana Tech
  3. Georgia State

The Florida State defense was closest in personality to:

  1. TCU
  2. Marshall
  3. Fresno State

The Oregon defense was closest in personality to:

  1. Virginia (!)
  2. Georgia State
  3. New Mexico State

When Florida State Has the Ball

Again, examine pass-run comparisons first:

Both the Seminoles and the Ducks were generally good at both passing and rushing, but neither performed well on passing downs. The Hokies' defense on the other hand was a very good team against both pass and rush and on both standard and passing downs.

What style offense do the Seminoles use and what style will they face in the Hokies' defense?

Here is where the starkest difference between 2017 and 2018 Florida State football may show. Last year's Seminoles ran nearly the slowest offense in the country, with a fairly average explosiveness and run rate. The Ducks on the other hand were very explosive, ran more than almost any other team not running the triple option, and was among the 10 fastest paced offenses. It would be shocking if Taggart did not bring a similar style to the team this season. The Hokies were average at stopping explosive plays, but featured a very disruptive defense on the line and in the secondary.

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

As for personality traits:

While Florida State did not stand out in any personality measures, Oregon was among the better teams at percentage of drives that ended in touchdowns, and among the worst at ending drives with turnovers. The Tech defense was exceptional across the board, except at creating turnovers.

The Virginia Tech defense was closest in personality to:

  1. Texas
  2. Penn State
  3. Northern Illinois

The Florida State offense was closest in personality to:

  1. Cincinnati
  2. Eastern Michigan
  3. Minnesota

The Oregon offense was closest in personality to:

  1. West Virginia
  2. Georgia Tech
  3. New Mexico State

Special Teams

First we look at the Hokies' kicking units:

Special teams remain a strong point for Virginia Tech, although the kicking situation has yet to be clarified as of writing. As a result, the Hokies were second in the country in net field position in 2017.

When the Seminoles kick:

While place kicking was a strong point for the team, they struggled when punting. Probably because their punter is not from Australia.

When the Ducks kicked:

While place kicking was a strong point for the team, they struggled when punting. Probably because their punter is not from Australia.

Who To Watch Out For

Opening:

  1. QB Deondre Francois had to beat out 2017 starter James Blackman; his 2016 QB rating of 142 exceeds Josh Jackson's 2017 rating of 135.
  2. RB Cam Akers ran for over 1,000 yards as a freshman and now joins a run-first offense.

Statistical Key to the Game

The Seminoles will find success on offense, especially with the ground game as Taggart favors the run. Worse yet, Taggart often has his quarterbacks keep the ball on the ground. Not the he needs any more pressure on him, but Josh Jackson will need to keep pace and take advantage of a talented, but inexperienced defense. Rack up 300 or more yards and the Hokies have a chance to leave with a big win.

Statistical Prediction

This is a matchup between teams with a floor around bowl eligibility and a ceiling around an ACC Championship Game, and much of that uncertainty is due to inexperience. The Seminoles will be plugging in players with more raw talent, while the Hokies have Bud Foster's track record of not letting turnover result in a big step back.

I think both quarterbacks impress — Jackson through the air and Francois on the ground, and the game turns into a nailbiter reminiscent of the 2017 opener against West Virginia. A turnover or big special teams play makes the difference, and the Hokies leave Tallahassee stunned...

Virginia Tech 27, Florida State 24

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

Comments

Since you agree I ain't gonna let you drive this car to dinner and I agree you ain't gonna let me drive this car to dinner, there's only one way to settle this.

That's the great value version of Jack Black.

I don't know what a Hokie is but God is one of them- Lee Corso

I assume his name is Johnny Brown.

Can we talk about that woman's neck movements at the end of the gif? Is she starting to dance? Stretching? Doing a shimmy that makes all the Cleveland girls puke?

I appreciate all the support, and I appreciate all the hate I am getting. I will continue to work as hard as I can to be the best I can be and bring this team a championship. Go Hokies 🐔 - Josh Jackson

So this is the only game we AREN'T favored in (with a slight disadvantage against ND)? And a lower shot to beat W&M than ECU? Not debating your work, but it just seems odd

ECU has a chance to be the worst team in FBS this season. Even if W&M finishes middle of the pack in the CAA, they still could be better than ECU.

And other than the FSU game odds, which are based on the Vegas spread (with FSU being a 7.5 point favorite), the rest of the games are based on the final 2017 rankings of each team. S&P+ had ND #13 at +11.3 points over an average team, Miami #17 at +9.2, and VT #30 at +7.6, meaning on a neutral field they would call ND a 3.7-point favorite and Miami a 1.6-point favorite. Combine that with the fact that Vegas typically assumes a 3-point home-field advantage, and that makes ND a roughly 0.7-point favorite, and Miami a 1.4-point underdog. Using those assumptions, the win probabilities seem about right.

It'll be a bit more in line with what we'd expect to see after the computer rankings are updated post-week 1.

This.

That team sure did suck last night. They just plain sucked! I've seen teams suck before, but they were the suckiest bunch of sucks that ever sucked.

Do you by chance keep track of your overall record since you started writing these? Just for funsies.

I searched for the WVU write up just to see how the season predictions compared, but I couldn't find it.

stick it in, stick it in, stick it in!

Virginia Tech is currently 0-1, having been defeated in a lopsided victory by the offseason

Laughed at this then cried

via GIPHY

"Virginia Tech is currently 0-1, having been defeated in a lopsided victory by the offseason. "

So many statistics....but this one jumps out as comical. Thanks for the great read.

JP

Surprised to see us favored over Miami? Nope. If this data is based on 2017 I think Miami was wildly overrated as they flirted with losing 6 games all season, and a statistical deep dive probably would paint an uglier picture of that 2017 Miami team than their final record suggested.

Miami was 17th in both S&P+ and FEI (we were 30th and 31st). They weren't CFP contenders by any means, but they were still very good. Even with the late swoon, that basically was just losing a game they shouldn't have (every school does this), getting blown out by a playoff team, and losing by a reasonable amount to a better team. In fact that's almost exactly what we did.

They also needed miracle type plays to beat FSU, GT, played UNC like they were equals winning by 5, and beat Syracuse by one score with Dungey throwing 4 picks. They could have easily, easily had six or seven losses. I am a huge fan of both S&P+ and FEI, I view them as superior ranking metrics, but I still put them into context and consider which inputs could be boosting/hurting a team's ranking.

Yes. There is not metric for "90% of your QB's passes are nearly intercepted". That is an exaggeration but if you watched Miami last year it was easy to see how bad a passer Rosier really was.

I was surprised at how bad the FSU offensive line was statistically, I would have expected better. I think the VT front 7 vs the FSU OL is the matchup that decides this game. It may be weakness vs weakness and if the Hokies DL can get the better of the battle, it will be a major factor.

Come to Blacksburg and see what the Hokie Pokie is really all about

Nice! Does this look much different if you use Michigan State's defense? Harlon Barnett was at MSU last year. Is it a mix maybe? For example does FSU's defense resemble Oregon's defense physically with a new DC?

MSU is probably a better comparison due to scheme similarities as pointed out by Mason's awesome film review of the quarters defense.

Chem PhD '16

MSU was obviously very good (4th in S&P+), and I'd say their "weakness", which isn't really a weakness but rather more about their style, was they were very middle of the pack in all havoc categories. So they weren't racking up sacks, TFL, and interceptions, but rather just stopping opponents.

Like all of this, we'll know soon how much of that style bleeds into FSU this season and how fast it does.

The Oregon defense was closest in personality to:

1. Virginia (!)

via GIPHY

Outspoken team cake advocate. Hates terrapins. Resident Macho Man Gif Poster. Distant cousin to Dork Magic. Frequently misspells words.

Not to be a Debbie Downer but this was my first thought as well until I realized we only put up 10 on loluva.

thanks i was just wondering the same thing remembering the game as not a blowout

But FSU's defense is going to be more like Michigan State's than Oregon's because FSU's DC was Michigan State's DC last year. Which also means FSU's defense is more like Pitt's than UVA's. Not that that should make us feel a whole lot better.

You do realize the personality comparison just has to do with how the defense ranked in the six categories listed right? What you are talking about is the scheme you see them run on the field.

It's Time to go to Work

I do now!

Man, I have trouble trusting any of this since it doesn't take into account all the offseason carnage. That and the fact that Taggart hasn't had "his" team since USF. Last year's FSU had the talent of this year, but not the scheme. Last year's Oregon was driven by inherited personnel which may have watered down the scheme.

That said, I'm super excited that this series is back. Thanks Joel!

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)..

Last years FSU was heart broken, and other verb expletives by Alabama,

Then week 3 and 4 and it was over the coach was on to the money.

Between Last years FSU not caring and VT offseason there's no way to know on paper what to expect

What's
Important
Now

These articles always make me feel dumb.

Thanks Joel, always interesting to see what the numbers have to say.

A coaching change has to introduce the widest margin of error for this type of analysis. duh.

If our 2017 offense and the Oregon 2017 defense show up, the personalities show it will be like Georgia State playing Georgia State. Yawn, hope that isn't the case.

.

.

#extendbronco

Joel, Thanks for writing all of these they are definitely on my weekly reading list every season. I was wondering if it made sense to include an overlay image that blends the Hokies vs Opponents detailed breakouts - or is this a no-no because we are looking and different measurements within each graph. I know I'm constantly scrolling up & down to mentally compare where the dots fall in relation to each other.

Run to Win. Pass To Score
Josh Jackson on Ricky Walker - ““He is the captain of this team, He’s the leader. He’s the bell cow, the Pail Holder.“

Good idea...making the graph might be a little tricky, but it would make comparison easier and the numbers are on the same relative scales. Not sure if I can make it happen mid-season, but will work on it as some point!

Awesome!! Until then I'll keep scrollin'

Run to Win. Pass To Score
Josh Jackson on Ricky Walker - ““He is the captain of this team, He’s the leader. He’s the bell cow, the Pail Holder.“

Shout-out to that one computer that predicted a 17 pt victory. I imagine it has a line in the code where it subtracts two TDs if the opposing team has a Bud Foster.

Nice pull.

There is a computer that predicts a 17-point Virginia Tech victory, and while that prediction is likely terrible, let's all just agree it's actually pretty fantastic.

I can't believe we ever doubted HoKiEMaN_ViCk_4_HeIsMaN's totally accurate and unbiased computer model.

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)..