Analytics Guru Shows Florida State Would Have Lost 4 Games If It Played in SEC

Ed Feng@@thepowerrankAnalytics ExpertNovember 26, 2014

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Is Florida State a fraud?

Yes, the Seminoles are defending champions. Yes, Jimbo Fisher's squad has never been ranked outside the Top Three. And yes, FSU has still not lost a game. That is all well and good, but the interesting question here is, are the 'Noles one of the four best teams in college football? 

My stats say no. 

Simply put, Florida State has not dominated teams like it did last season. It plays in the ACC and has trailed at halftime against North Carolina State, Louisville and Miami. This past weekend,as a 17-point favorite, the Seminoles beat Boston College by three points on a late field goal.

Because of their undefeated record, the 'Noles probably deserve to make the College Football Playoff. However, Florida State's presence in the Top Four shows that the selection committee has strayed from its intention of finding the four best teams.

Any respected computer ranking will tell you the same thing. 

Whether you look for Florida State in the Sagarin rankings (16th), ESPN's Football Power Index (10th) or my numbers at The Power Rank (23rd), it never appears near the top four. 

You can further consult the markets for evidence of Florida State's weakness. For example, the Seminoles were three-point favorites at Miami, a three-loss team. In contrast, Alabama was a 10-point favorite against Mississippi State, the top-ranked team in the nation at the time. 

Florida State's weak schedule has saved it. To prove that, we simulated how the 'Noles would have fared against Auburn's SEC schedule. 

It's not pretty. 

These win probabilities come from my rankings at The Power Rank, the same analytics that drive the weekly college football playoff projections. Among other factors, these calculations consider strength of schedule and home-field advantage.

The numbers tell us Florida State would have won 3.9 of eight games if it had played Auburn's SEC schedule. In contrast, the same analytics project 6.1 wins for Florida State with its actual ACC schedule. By winning close games, the Seminoles have exceeded this expectation.

The main reason my numbers project Florida State as a 4-4 SEC team is the defense. In the past two seasons, this unit was in the top five in my defense rankings, which take yards per play and adjust for strength of schedule.

In the 2014 season, Florida State has dropped to 38th. 

The numbers single out the pass defense, which has allowed 6.48 yards per pass attempt, 87th-worst in the nation. Florida State can’t generate a pass rush, as it has sacked the quarterback on 4.6 percent of pass attempts, compared to the six percent FBS average.

The win probabilities against SEC teams are also interesting, as Florida State might play these teams in the playoff. Let's analyze some potential games using my efficiency rankings, which take yards per play and adjust for strength of schedule.

 

Ole Miss

Neutral-site win probability for Florida State: 44.2 percent

The Rebels have the seventh-ranked defense, a unit strong enough to slow down Jameis Winston and the Florida State offense. On offense, Mississippi relies on quarterback Bo Wallace and a passing attack that ranks 18th in the nation in pass efficiency.

It is important to note that these numbers might overestimate the Ole Miss passing attack if the teams were to play today, as they don't take into account star wide receiver Laquon Treadwell's absence. 

That said, the 'Noles have struggled out of the gate seemingly all season, and the Rebels' relentless defense would have a strong chance of preventing any comeback efforts by Winston and Co. 

 

Mississippi State

Neutral-site win probability for Florida State: 37.8 percent

Florida State and Mississippi State would score a lot of points. QB Dak Prescott leads the 12th-ranked offense with both his arm and his legs, and running back Josh Robinson is a force at breaking tackles.

FSU has missed a great deal of tackles this season, including "30-something" tackles versus North Carolina State earlier in the year, according to safety Tyler Hunter, via Bob Ferrante of Bleacher Report

The Bulldogs are far more talented than the Wolfpack.

Mississippi State's 32nd-ranked defense would most likely struggle against Winston's offense, but it's hard to deny the Bulldogs offense finding quick success against Jimbo Fisher's defense. 

 

Auburn

Neutral-site win probability for Florida State: 36.5 percent

Auburn's offense relies on its ground game, as the Tigers run on 64.5 percent of plays. (This does not include sacks, which traditionally count as rushes in college football.) 

Cameron Artis-Payne, who just so happens to lead the SEC in rushing, and QB Nick Marshall are quite the tandem with the read-option, a play the 'Noles have had a tough time stopping at times this season. 

Auburn's defense is ranked 28th, which is not elite, but it is better than the unit Florida State faced in the national title game last season. And this is not the same 'Noles offense from a year ago. A slow start against the fast-paced Gus Malzahn offense, and FSU would be in trouble.

 

Georgia

Neutral site win probability for Florida State: 33.6 percent

Georgia and Florida State would be another shootout. Georgia features the sixth-ranked offense behind an offensive line that has opened up holes for both Todd Gurley and Nick Chubb, the latter of whom Bleacher Report's Ray Glier said is "an upgrade" over the former. 

Georgia's defense fares better against the pass than the run. The Bulldogs running game matches up well against Florida State, which relies on Winston's arm for most of its points.

That said, though, the Bulldogs did an excellent job of keeping the high-powered Auburn offense in check, allowing the Tigers to score just seven points. That touchdown was on the Tigers' opening drive, and Jeremy Pruitt's defense never let up after that.

Winston would put up points, but Georgia would answer right back, using its talented running back depth to milk the clock and keep Winston off the field as much as possible.

 

Alabama

Neutral site win probability for Florida State: 22.1 percent

Alabama is a nightmare matchup for any team, as its 11th-ranked offense and second-ranked defense make it the most balanced team in the nation.

Even though he gets little credit, QB Blake Sims has led the sixth-most-efficient pass offense in the nation. His top wide receiver, Amari Cooper, is a big reason why, hauling in 11 touchdowns on the year and ranking third in receiving yards nationally. 

The defense is in the top six in both pass and rush defense and is finding its groove at the right time. 

A sluggish first half against Nick Saban would be tough to overcome for Florida State. If the 'Noles had a hard time putting up points to start the game against weaker ACC opponents, just imagine what Alabama would do out of the gate. 

 

Ed Feng founded The Power Rank and has also written for Grantland and Sports Illustrated. Follow him on Twitter @thepowerrank.