Wisconsin in for a tough Rose Bowl

Using the awesome statistical site “College Football Statistics“, I have attempted to break down the Wisconsin vs. Texas Christian Rose Bowl Game that will be played this Saturday.  As a proud UW alum, I’m worried.  TCU is no “David”.  They are for real.  The statistics suggest a TCU victory, with the following score:

Wisconsin 27
TCU 35

Now, before I get in to how I derived those numbers, let me say that breaking down college sports is always dicey because it is hard to establish a common denominator from which to compare teams, especially geographically and historically separated teams like Wisconsin and Texas Christian.  To compensate, I used four different approaches: (1) Points Scored and Allowed versus Opponent Averages; (2) Points Scored and Allowed versus Winning BCS Opponent Averages; (3) Average Yards Gained and Allowed versus Opponent Averages; and (4) Performance against Common Opponents.

Each of the four methods I used suggested a TCU victory somewhere in the (35-33) to 27 range.  The reason for that outcome is simple.  Both teams have equally powerful offenses, but Wisconsin’s defense is somewhat suspect while TCU’s seems to be rock solid.

(1) Points Scored/Allowed vs. Opponent Average

I don’t have my math in front of me, but I did it last night so its somewhat fresh in my mind.  

The Badgers 2010 Opponents were, collectively, about .500%, with a scoring average that was something like 25.34 points scored per game and 25.76 points allowed per game.  The TCU Opponents were, collectively, below .500%, with something like 22.47 and 25.13 averages.  

When I compared the Badgers points scored and allowed against the points scored and allowed by their 2010 opponents, I found that the Badger offense was (+15.2) points above average, while the Badger defense was (+2.3) points above average.  Not bad.

However, doing the same comparison, the TCU Horned Frogs had an offense that was very similar to the Badgers with a (+12.5) points above average rating, but their defense was much better with a (+11.7) points above average rating.

If you assume the same +/- performances in the Rose Bowl, and then plug them into each team’s Points Scored/Allowed averages, you get a score of TCU 36.1 and Wisconsin 27.4.

2. Points Scored/Allowed vs. BCS Winning Team Averages

Perhaps the result above is a reflection of one or the other team beating up on the proverbial “Little Sisters of the Poor”.  What if we only considered their performances against BCS teams with winning records.

Again, we get almost the same result.  Against Winning BCS teams, TCU averages 40.3 points per game and gives up 14.3 points per game.  Wisconsin averages 40.8 points per game and gives up 26.6 points per game.  Once again, similar offenses, but a disparity on the defense side in favor of TCU.

I took each team’s Offensive scoring average in such games and added the other team’s Defensive scoring average in such games and the end result once again suggested a TCU victory, with TCU this time scoring 36.9 points and the Badgers scoring 27.5 points. (I kept getting the same “27 points” result for the Badgers no matter the category analyzed).

3. Yards Per Attempt vs Opponent Averages

Brian Burke of AdvancedNFLStats bases his entire NFL Power Rankings on team’s comparative “Yards per Attempt”.  YPA is basically the football equivalent of basketball’s “efficiency differential” numbers. 

This morning I calculated each Rose Bowl team’s Yards per Attempt performance against the YPA averages of their collective Opponents.  Once again, I got similar results.  In comparative YPA, the offenses are nearly equal, but Wisconsin’s defense is substantially weaker than TCU’s defense.

On the season, TCU’s offense averaged (+0.9) yards per attempt more than their Opponents defenses yielded.  TCU’s defense gave up (+1.4) yards per attempt less than their Opponent offenses normally produced. Meanwhile, Wisconsin’s offense averaged the exact same as TCU’s (+0.9), but Wisconsin’s defense was much less stingy (+0.3).

Against BCS Winning teams, both TCU and Wisconsin gained 6.4 YPA, but TCU gave up 4.6 YPA on defense whereas the Badgers gave up 5.5 YPA.

One other ominous note for Bucky backers.  Wisconsin’s defense was much more “turnover dependent” than TCU’s.  Why is that significant?  Because most football analysts believe that defenses don’t really “force” turnovers.  Rather, turnovers are closer to random occurences.  The fact that Wisconsin’s defense was more reliant on such random events, whereas TCU’s defense was not, is unsettling for a Badger fan.

(4) “Comparable” Opponents

There isn’t much to work with in this category, but what is there once again suggests TCU might be the stronger team.

The only common opponent between the two teams was Nevada-Las Vegas.  Each played UNLV on the road.  TCU beat them 48-7, whereas Wisconsin beat them 41-21.  Once again, this suggests the teams have comparable offenses, but that the defensive advantage belongs to Texas Christian.

There is one other pseudo comparable opponent we can use: Oregon State.  Wisconsin beat Arizona State at home, 20-19.  Oregon State beat Arizona State at home, 31-28.  That is a similar result in a similar home/away setting.  Earlier in the season, Oregon State played TCU on a neutral field, just as Wisconsin will at the Rose Bowl.  TCU prevailed, 30-21.  One needs to be careful with such “X beat Y who beat Z” comparisons, but for what this one is worth, it once again points to about a 9 point strength advantage for TCU.

ADDENDUM TO ORIGINAL POST: FIFTH COMPARISON

(5) “Double Winning Team” YPA Analysis

Since I originally posted I thought of one more analysis to add: Wisconsin and TCU’s YPA compared to the YPA average acheived by the Winning FBS teams on each schedule against other Winning FBS teams.  A little confusing, but here’s what I mean.  I compared Wisconsin’s numbers against the FBS Winner Ohio State, for example, against the numbers Ohio State put up against other FBS Winners.  The purpose was to add another level of “strong vs. strong” team comparison to my analysis.

Well, I got about the same results.  Against FBS Winners, Wisconsin posted an offensive YPA of (6.4) and a defensive YPA of (5.6).  Those FBS Winners in turn posted offensive YPA of (5.7) and a defensive YPA of (5.7) against the FBS Winners they played.  So Wisconsin’s “Double Winner” comparative average was (+0.7) on offense and (+0.1) on defense.

TCU posted an offensive YPA of (6.4) against FBS Winners and a defensive YPA of (4.6).  The FBS Winners they played posted offensive YPA of (5.6) and defensive YPA of (5.8) against the FBS Winners they played.  Meaning, TCU’s “Double Winner” averages were (+0.6) on offense and (+1.0) on defense. 

The bottom line is, every way I’m slicing this apple I’m coming up with the same basic core.  That is, the two teams are about equal on offense but TCU holds a decisive advantage on defense. 

HOW CAN WISCONSIN WIN?

Remember, one-off sporting events like the Rose Bowl Game are often determined by chance. While I could not find any evidence to support the notion that Wisconsin is the stronger team, that does not mean they have no chance against TCU.

Wisconsin’s road to victory lies in three areas:

(1) Home Field Advantage

In each of the past three Rose Bowl Games, Wisconsin fans provided the team with a noticeable partisan advantage.  All three games were played against opponents who were situated in California and who had alumni bases much larger than Texas Christian.  I would expect another “Camp Randall West” on Saturday, and that would provide Wisconsin with a distinct edge.

(2) Time of Possession

We will know early on if the Badgers are going to have a hard time with TCU.  The Badgers will undoubtedly come out using their “Ground and Pound” strategy.  If the Wisconsin line doesn’t move TCU’s defenders, it could be a long afternoon.  If they do move them, Wisconsin might be headed to victory.

(3) Turnovers

Last season, a similarly strong TCU team was beaten in its bowl game by a Boise State team that had comparable numbers to the 2010 Wisconsin Badgers.    Boise State won by forcing 5 TCU turnovers.  If Wisconsin can win this battle, they can win the game.

I will have more on the Rose Bowl in follow-up posts.

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