Why Clemson⇔Auburn might be the right analogy for FSU vs. Auburn

Joshua S. Kelly-USA TODAY Sports

FSU faces another team of tigers January 6th.

A visibly-defeated Dabo Swinney faced the press back in October:

This was very disappointing. When you're going against a team as good as Florida State, you don't have very much room for error. We fumbled in the beginning, had a busted play, fumbled again and before you know it, it's 17-0. When you spot a team that good 17 points, it's a huge uphill challenge. We never could swing the momentum back in our favor and turnovers were a huge part of that.

And though Clemson would drop yet another game to in-state rival USC late in the season, they're heading to the Orange Bowl as the #12 ranked team in the country. F/+ has Clemson with the #17 offense and #13 defense. And while Clemson has dropped a bit offensively from last year's #7 ranking, consider that Clemson finished 2012 with the #51 defense.

However, perhaps no one improved more from last year than the Auburn Tigers. They're heading to the national championship game featuring the #10 ranked offense and #18 ranked defense. And this coming off last season where Auburn finished with the #111 offense and #95 defense.

So both teams have shown improvement. And their defensive and offensive rankings show them to be comparable. While Auburn has shown to have the better offense this season, Clemson has the better defense. And consider that Clemson has played FSU already. Strength-of-schedule factors into F/+ calculations, but how you perform against direct opponents has to be weighted more heavily.

We all watched the domination FSU put on the pre-season ACC champion Clemson Tigers. FSU got up early, much in part due to turnovers. But how much of the game was won by turnovers versus the play of our offense? Or defense?

Fortunately, Brian Fremeau (@bcfremeau) has some nice stats that evaluate the scoring margin components of a game (i.e., the value contributed to the margin of victory/defeat):

Team Wk Opponent Final NG Final Off Def ST Ex FP TO
FSU 8 Clemson 51-14 41-7 +16.3 +14.1 +1.7 +1.9 +5.0 +12.9

Some notes on the splits first:

  • FSU's +16.3 offensive points contributed to the NG margin of victory vs. Clemson was their 3rd lowest on the season.
  • FSU's +14.1 defensive points vs. Clemson was their 3rd highest on the season.
  • FSU's +12.9 points contributed from turnovers vs. Clemson was their 2nd highest (behind +29.9(!) vs. Wake).
  • The splits consist of the value created by the offense, defense, special teams, and the "extra possession" if applicable. This adds up to the non-garbage time (NG) final margin of victory. Additionally, the value of turnovers and field position are separated out.

    So, yes, turnovers made a huge difference in the Clemson game. But subtracting the points that came from turnovers, field position, the extra possession, and special teams still leaves FSU with a margin-of-victory of 12.5 points (34 - 1.7 ST - 1.9 EP - 5.0 FP - 12.9 TO).

    Said another way: After accounting for special teams and turnovers in FSU's favor, FSU's offense & defense was two scores better than Clemson's #17 offense & #13 defense.

    So turnovers did majorly factor in this game. But even if FSU had been neutralized in the other (very important) facets of the game, FSU had the better offense and defense.

    This really wasn't that close of a close game.

    January 6th may not be, either.

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