Dinner rush at Cafe Malzahn

By Posted on: December 13th, 2013 in Featured Article, Football 24 Comments »

“Did you remember to ask for a table with a view?”

Now that the national media has finally rediscovered Auburn, I thought I’d let you all get your reservations in at Cafe Malzahn before the crowd.

As compelling, astonishing and amazing as the saga for the 2013 Auburn Tigers has played out, there remains one last chapter that won’t be revealed until the evening of January 6th, 2014. Every article, comment or analysis made prior to that day will pale in comparison to the actual game. Only in that forum, on a field of turf and paint, will the months of preparation and practice be fully resolved.

As I’ve said before in these articles, no college football game has ever been decided by statistics. The players on the field are the singular arbiters of results. However I crunch the numbers, it’s their sweat, spirit, effort and in some cases luck that defines the outcome. All I can manage is to show what teams have done to this point in time, not necessarily anticipate exactly how they will perform in the future.

This is especially true in my amateur statistical analysis. I ask that readers please realize the limitations of this effort. Throughout the season, I’ve shown a set of statistics based upon a common set of teams within a conference and how they’ve played together. As each week passed, that data seemed to become more accurate as a model of a given team’s expected performance, but any accuracy was illusion as often the ‘favored’ teams failed to exploit their expected advantage or an ‘underdog’ team was able to overcome their early season miscues and show sudden marked improvement.

That tendency wasn’t limited to just Auburn. If you recall, Alabama seemed to struggle mightily in the run game in September, only establishing a productive game at the start of October. Texas A&M had no apparent defense early, and other teams looked lost on either offense or defense. Still others like LSU, Georgia and even Florida looked incredibly formidable early on, but faded by the end of the season.

In the case of the BCS title game, the limitations are even greater. I’ve found my analysis is best when there is a common set of teams within a conference. The commonality of opponents aids in measuring efficiency as the data set for teams that play among themselves can be easily compared. The strengths and weaknesses play out on the same canvas, so to speak.

But if you change that data to include TWO separate sets with very few common opponents, the separation of data sets is a huge impediment to accurately measure efficiency between single teams from each set. This is my dilemma in presenting this analysis. I’ve attempted to present what I’ve found accurately without bias, but this is an issue that I cannot resolve based purely upon the numbers alone. For that I’ve had to look at both sets individually to get an appreciation of each for any sort of rational comparison.

No amount of mere data can adequately describe the inner Tiger

As always, these are the measurements of a successful BCS Champion

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First off, let’s look at the SEC this season

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Missouri took quite a tumble in efficiency in the title game, dropping six points. That’s what comes from giving up 1/3 of a mile on the ground and 7 of 7 touchdowns in the red zone. One of these days I’ll run an analysis of the number of ER points that each team lost after playing Auburn. We seemed to have made quite and impact on the league starting with the TAMU game.

In the following tables, Auburn’s opponents are marked in Blue, and the averages given are for those teams only.

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The final standings in the West reflect a couple of things. Four top tier and two above average offenses took a toll on the division defensive numbers. What started as three or four good to great defenses early in the year, end with only two or three above average teams, with only Alabama retaining elite status. Average team value of the entire division, Auburn included? 12 (8 Offense, 4 Defense).

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In the East, the story is somewhat different. Only two offenses can be considered BCS quality, and only one other is even above average. Defensively, I can’t sugarcoat it any more than to say that with the exception of Vandy and Missouri, the SEC East is downright bad. Average team value overall is 7.3 (5 Offense, 2.3 Defense). Of the teams that Auburn played, that total is 9.3.

The East is definitely the weaker of the two divisions. Missouri is BCS caliber, well within the top tier of the SEC West, but it is definitely a(nother) down year in the SEC East otherwise.

But what of Florida State and the Atlantic Coast Conference? That’s when the discussion gets interesting. FSU opponents are in Orange, along with their averages.

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Florida State is an elite team in a division with a couple of good teams and a slew of really bad teams. In the Coastal division, things are only slightly more competitive.

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In that division, only Georgia Tech seems close to a balanced team. But FSU didn’t play Georgia Tech or a mid-tier North Carolina this year. They blew up a flawed Miami team and put away Duke, but neither offense were showing the kind of threat that Auburn presents. In fact, in the entire ACC only three teams have averaged more than 200 yards rushing. One is Boston College (whose defense allowed a conference worst 419 yards per game), another is the aforementioned Georgia Tech.

The third team is FSU. No other ACC team can manage above 60% of Auburn’s rushing average per game. With the exception of only a couple of games, those who have rushed on FSU, rushed at rates that were comparable to their per game average.

In a final comparison, I present the two conferences side by side, with the opposing teams that Auburn and FSU played highlighted.

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The story here is that while FSU is running up remarkable numbers, their competition within their conference is somewhat less than what Auburn faced. It would be generous to label the best of the ACC equivalent to the SEC East this year, as in truth only Clemson and Georgia Tech were as efficient as any of the teams in the top half of the SEC. The rest of the competition was around the level of Vandy and Florida (of which only one managed to reach a lower tier bowl game).

Average quality of the ACC in conference competition that the Seminoles played? Barely over 8. Auburn’s competition averaged just under 10, with many of those teams much, much higher,… until Auburn played them and their year end scores dropped precipitously.

What does this mean in terms of the BCS Championship? An 8-point deficit is about the same differential Auburn faced in their regular season games against TAMU, Georgia, Alabama and the SEC Championship against Missouri. In those games it came down to the players, the coaching staff and a little bit of luck, but each of those games was competitive until the very end. Auburn battled to the last quarter, the last down and even the last second to secure the win, and never showed a bit of quit.

FSU has yet to play a team of Auburn’s potent run game all season. Every game the Seminoles played was decided by halftime. They have yet to be tested by a team that will compete for every yard until the end of the fourth quarter. They have yet to be challenged by a team late in the game, with everything in the balance on a last series of downs, or a single go-for-broke play.

This Auburn team has. They’ve looked into the face of defeat, and never blinked nor flinched from the challenge. Instead, they performed and prevailed. When all is said and done, that still counts for something that can’t easily be measured on a statistical chart. When a team has that particular intangible quality, it’s clearly evident to everyone who watches and loves this game.

I believe we’ll see something remarkable on January 6th. Florida State better be ready to play ball, because I know these Auburn Tigers will be.

 

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  1. mvhcpa says:

    Amazing analysis as usual, Sully.

    You may have heard the old quip about statistics being used like a drunkard (or streetwalker) uses a lamp-post–more for support than illumination–but when the stats confirm what one observes in the non-numerical universe, I think you can feel good that you found a valid way to look at things. Someone here on TET posted in a comment a link to a FoxSports article explaining Las Vegas’ method of analysis, which seems to overlook comparison of the quality of conference opponents. You would think professionals would consider that, but looking at that article, they don’t seem to do so.

    I have been on several different sports boards and have been surprised to see 90% of the FSU fans are saying “We are gonna blow Auburn out by halftime”–I wish they could see this and just come to the more sane opinion that this game will be closer than any of them expect.

    Michael Val
    (who was glad that he only had to survive ONE frosh-level statistics class on his way to an accounting degree)

  2. KungFuPanda9 KungFuPanda9 says:

    Very good analysis. Pure statistics present quantitative analysis only. That is okay when dealing with the same set of variables. The problem arises when different sets exist. In this case, teams from different conferences, playing different teams, represent such variables.

    This is where qualitative analysis is needed. Rubrics are constructed and various factors are given weight. This is the “art” portion of analysis. It is subjective and requires knowledge of the game, an unbiased attitude, and an ingrained sense of the ancient Greek concept “Ideal of the Good.” The analyst must keep a standard in the back of his mind while looking at teams from different conferences and judging them against an ideal standard.

    I was thinking about this very thing since the strength of schedule debate has been raging lately in regards to not only FSU, but Ohio State, et al.

    For this reason I am glad you compared the SEC West to the SEC East because these are teams all of us SEC fans have observed over the years. We know that Florida and UGA are down this year. We know which teams within our conference are performing at, above, or below their historic norm. This gives us some idea of how team competition matters when trying to compare one team from a conference against another from outside that conference.

    All of this leads us to perhaps be more willing to accept that FSU has not faced a similar level of competition as has been faced by Auburn. This does not mean that FSU is a bad team. They may very well be the best team in America. But their level of competition makes it difficult to assess because their competition appears to be weak.

    Great charts. That always makes data more accessible.

  3. KoolBell KoolBell says:

    Vandy and Florida in the same category. Vandy has truly improved, UF…… not so much.

  4. domaucan1 domaucan1 says:

    Sully,

    Great article and analysis. I was the one who referred to the Fox article about Vegas. I hope they get a chance to see your analysis. They may just change their line. I’m sure everyone knows that a Vegas betting line is set up for one purpose, i.e., to get the bets even on both teams so the bookies win the 10% “juice” on all bets. I was not a statistics major but I studied veterinary medicine at Auburn and we learned very early that the BARK of a dog can’t hurt you but his BITE surely can! I have a feeling that our “dogs” are very hungry and CAN and WILL bite! Let the Seminoles beware.

    And, NEVER FORGET:

    IT’S GREAT TO BE AN AUBURN TIGER !!!

    WAR EAGLE !!!

    GO BIG BLUE !!!

    BEAT THE SEMINOLES !!!

  5. MyAuburn MyAuburn says:

    Much was made of OSUs and Free Shoes U’s less than stellar schedules this year. The first time OSU came up against a quality team (MSU) they got their hat handed to them. Now it is Florida States turn. I fully expect the Tigers to be that ones to show them what a quality team can do. The only question in my mind is by how much. I will take a 1 pt win mind you but if we can get to Famous Jameis a time or two and Dee Ford leaves him on the ground looking out of his ear hole, and if our secondary can get a pick or two, the final margin could be 2 touchdowns plus. I know that is a lot of if’s but this team has the talent to pull it off.
    War Eagle

    • tigertracker says:

      I’m feeling the same. Several seniors, Gus, Rhett, and kodi have all been thru this NC prep before so the moment shouldn’t seem “quite” as large to them. Here’s an interesting question I don’t have the answer to. How many coaches from both teams have played or coached in an NC game. Coach Craig was in FSU offensive meetings for the last few years and should be giving Ellis Johnson some great intel. I believe Craig recruited Winston for FSU too so has seen all kinds of film on him. So here’s to FSU being the the team to lose both the first and last BCS MNC! War Eagle

      • win4au says:

        Dameyune is a huge advantage I think. So glad he’s back where he belongs. I attended AU during the Dameyune Craig era. He was truely awesome to watch! Great point!

        • eeprof says:

          Let’s talk more about coaching. We had a wonderful 2010. Wheels started coming off in 2011, but it was not a horrible season. Train wreck in 2012. With largely the same players (other than QB), 2013 has been beyond our wildest dreams — it’s all about the coaches! I know it is difficult, but can someone compare AU-FSU coaching, beyond win-loss numbers?

          • tigertracker says:

            Here’s a start…
            Jimbo fisher FSU head coach was auburn QB coach under Terry Bowden from ’93-98 and coached Dameyune Craig.
            Rick Trickett FSU O line coach was also o line coach at AU during same years as fisher.
            Charles Kelly FSU LB coach played at AU under Pat Dye in 1990.
            Jeremy Pruitt FSU def coordinator played at Alabama for gene stallings in the mid 90s and coached at bama from ’07-2012 and was part of a national championship team.
            Sal Sunseri FSU def ends coach was at bama from 2009-2011 for I think 2 NCs
            Randy sanders FSU QB coach was at Tennessee forever and was offensive coordinator in the ’98 NC year for them.

    • win4au says:

      MyAuburn, you said it…”if we can get to Famous Jameis a time or two” That is exactly what I think will happen. JW has just not seen a Def line like AU’s this season. If we can pressure him, we will get those picks or some kind of turnover. Get in his head early and often. Make him prove he deserves that Heisman. Im not to worried about our O. We can rush the ball on anyone in the nation. e will score… That’s a given! BOOOOOOOOM!

      • greyfox says:

        Their o-line up 2.23 sacks a game. Against ACC talent. Yikes. Just watching the first half of any of their games is hysterical. A four man pass rush from Duke or Boston College giving Winston max 2 seconds to get rid of it or scramble.

  6. tigertracker says:

    I hope someone makes the players watch the “hard fighting soldiers” DVD from the ’04 season before bowl practice picks up. Just a reminder to stay humble and seize the opportunity that others weren’t afforded.
    Great analysis sully. My research wasn’t as inside the numbers. I looked at who both teams played and whether those wins were versus opponents who finished with 8+ wins or 4 or fewer wins. AU played 5 teams with 8+ wins this year winning 4 of those with two coming over 11 win teams when the pressure was at it zenith for that moment. AU only had 2 wins over teams with 4 or fewer wins on the year. The remainder of the teams we faced fell at 7-5, 6-6, or 5-7.
    Meanwhile FSU beat 3 teams with 8+ wins. I don’t recall any having 11 wins and one of the 10 win opponents was a really good div 2 team. The most telling number was that 5, yes 5 teams. A full 38% of games played came against teams with 4 or fewer wins! Bottom line is FSU played the games that were scheduled long ago and who knew then what teams would be good, bad, or otherwise, but you just have to like the feel of an AU team playing with some belief because they’ve been battle tested. FSU is playing with confidence because they haven’t been truly tested. Will be interesting to see how they respond when AU punches them in the throat a few times for sure. We know our guys aren’t stopping til 0:00!
    Plus when the stud safety on the opposing team calls your running back a “manimal” and looks about half his size it just makes you feel warm and fuzzy.
    Lastly I keep seeing debate on how to stop this offense. I truly believe it has been refined to the point that Gus will call whatever play the defense “gives” us based on their alignment and tendencies because he believes we are better conditioned and will execute said play better than our opponents. So the only thing stopping the Gus bus is us with penalties, turnovers, and poor execution. And if the mizzou game shows you anything it’s that we can overcome a phantom TD, a gift at the goal line TD, a handful of penalties, and still drop 59! The blocking by this entire team is reminiscent of 2010. From line to H back to WR. They just get it done. One play really stood out to me from mizzou game. 8:59 to go in 4th. Jay Prosch blocks 3 mizzou defenders. Knocked 2 down and changed the pursuit angle of the 3rd (who eventually made the tackle because fulse missed him downfield) enough to allow an additional 10 yard pickup on masons run. Mojo advantage: Auburn!

  7. greyfox says:

    Love Cafe Malzahn. I’m a firm believer in the fact that most popular statistics thrown around by the big companies and their writers are a bunch of hogwash when it comes to specific match ups. So I really appreciate this method of analysis and your acknowledgement of the shortcomings of numbers.

    I would like to add a bit of fuel to the fire. In my thinking about and researching this game, I come to a very similar conclusion you do: that our experience in close games will help us. I’ll go another step. I believe we can win this game big because at every point during the game, when things are tight, we know we have been there before. We’ve faced teams with as much or more talent than FSU. We know what it feels like to get punched in the face and not know if we have the ability to succeed beyond sheer will power.

    My addition to the discussion comes by way of the players on the field. I have gone through each team Auburn and FSU played and compiled their 3-star and up recruits from 2010-2013. The results are shocking.

    Auburn’s conference opponent averages 34 4- and 5-star players.
    FSU’s conference opponent averages 12 4- and 5-star players.
    Auburn has 54.
    FSU has 49.

    By way of comparison, Alabama has 67, LSU 54, and UGA 47. All of these numbers were compiled from the rivals rankings.

    Of course, not all of these players are still on the team and often times, 3-star guys become much better than 4- and 5-star guys. But, on the whole, I believe it gives a good ratio of what’s at work here. Auburn has had to face 9 conference opponents with an average of nearly 3 (2.83) times the top talent that FSU has had to face. What’s more, for anyone wanting to quibble about elite players not panning out, when you subtract a few guys from the numbers (say 3), it becomes 9 to 31, which is 3.44. Yikes.

    When it comes to running the table in college sports, an elite team will face a few teams that can actually challenge them. Auburn faced 5 opponents with 34 4- and 5-star guys. FSU? 2, with one being Florida. The other is Clemson, who has 38. To put it another way, FSU’s 5th best recruiting opponent, Pittsburgh, has 13. Auburn’s, Texas A&M, has 34.

    When there are only 11 guys on the field at a time, it truly is the elite talent that drives the course of the game. It’s impossible for a team with eight 4- and 5-star guys to compete with a team that has 49 (Boston college has eight 4-star guys, no 5-stars in the last 4 years. They were up 17-3 on FSU and ran 200 yards on the day. You don’t need a doctorate to figure out what happened as the game wore on).

    Auburn, on the other hand, has had to play through a gauntlet of talent. We all know this is why the SEC has been so dominant in the NC in recent years. I just didn’t know how big the disparity was. Our 2013 Tigers know what it’s like to get punched in the face, just like the 7 teams before them. Of the last 7, all but 2009 Bama and 2010 Auburn have lost regular season games.

    2006 Florida: lost to Auburn 27-17; 5 wins of 7 points or less
    2007 LSU: lost to UK and Ark; 2 wins of 7 points or less
    2008 Florida: lost to Miss
    2009 Alabama: 2 wins of 7 points or less
    2010 Auburn: 6 wins of 7 ponts or less
    2011 Alabama: lost to LSU
    2012 Alabama: lost to aTm; 2 wins of 7 points or less

    2013 Auburn: lost to LSU; 5 wins of 7 points or less
    2013 FSU: closest game was a 14 point win over BC

    I’d say our season bears a striking resemblance to 2006 season, where Florida was questioned coming in and faced an undefeated OSU team (with recent Heisman winner; they won games 36.6 to 10.4; closest two were 17-10 and 42-39; held 10 teams under 14…). We all know what happened there. OSU returned the kickoff then scored only one offensive TD en route to a 41-14 trouncing. Florida got punched in the face on kickoff and wasn’t fazed.

    Prediction: 52-38 Auburn

    • MyAuburn MyAuburn says:

      Interesting score prediction but I agree which brings up another thought. While the line is -8.5 right now the over/under is 66. The over could be the bet of the year.

  8. Tigerstripe Tigerstripe says:

    Absolutely love that you guys are crunching numbers and sharing with the group. It’s a sign that you’re educated fans. Now that the season is over and all the stats are in, it gives us the opportunity to validate and understand what we witnessed this season. If only FSU would look at the numbers as well, they might see things from a different perspective and hold their tongue. I guarantee you their coaches, staff and players know but whatever… FSU is a great team with great coaching and definitely deserve the opportunity to play for the BCS. I just don’t think there is a stat to show how a true freshmen will react to this level of pressure and competition, especially when he’s never face such. Let’s play loose, hit him early, often and make him press on 3rd and long, the rest will take care of itself.

    Are we there yet???

    • MyAuburn MyAuburn says:

      Or how a true freshman will react to Dee Ford, Carl Lawson, and Nosa Eguae pounding the crap out of him.

    • greyfox says:

      Winston is a RS freshman, but your point is nonetheless true. He’s in for a long night, methinks.

      • MyAuburn MyAuburn says:

        Perhaps it would be better to say, How a Quarterback will react to meeting a good SEC defense that is pounding him into the turf. I want to see so many grass stains on his uniform not even Clorox would get them out.

  9. AUJTJarhead AUJTJarhead says:

    If we can complete a couple of passes downfield early, it will loosen the defense to be run on all night.

  10. War_Eagle_2010 War_Eagle_2010 says:

    In the end you have t9 go by what you know. Whay we know is that Auburn has played tough competition and has out played everyone (minus the first quarter monsoon meltdown in Baton Rouge). FSU is a wild card, everyone agrees that they faced weak competition so how they will react when they are legitimately confronted is unknown. Personally I believe that they will pull their annual choke job at the most opportune time (for AU). I won’t be shocked if it turns out like the 2006 championship game.

    • War_Eagle_2010 War_Eagle_2010 says:

      Sorry for all the typing errors (phone keypad….)

      • Tiger on the mountain Tiger on the mountain says:

        What happened to the magical football gods who fix all wrongs, including, but not limited to, occasional misspellings?

        • Acid Reign Acid Reign says:

          …..Not only is it hard to type on a phone or tablet, but idiot auto-correct gets turned back on every time the phone updates. That’s one of my big pet peeves about Android. It updates, and you lose all your settings, wallpaper, and it helpfully rearranges all the icons you moved or deleted. Apps that you didn’t need or want, they come back, too.

        • Tigerstripe Tigerstripe says:

          Ha! payback…LOL