As most know, No. 9 Florida State will take on No. 18 Houston on New Year’s Eve in the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl. In a rebuilding year where three regular season losses for FSU was realistic, predictions about making one of the six New Year’s bowls were scant.
Many fans would have honestly been happy with just the Russell Athletic Bowl. Oddly enough however, Florida State fans may not even be the happiest group. The Houston fans are finally validated with a top 25 ranking and well-regarded bowl game, which are two accomplishments that any of the non-power conference teams should relish.
The similarities seem apparent for many Seminoles’ fans. Back in 2012, a 2-loss FSU team made it to the Orange Bowl, where it was slated to face a 16th-ranked Northern Illinois team led by athletic quarterback and Heisman finalist Jordan Lynch. The Seminoles’ offense was acceptable, but the defense was stalwart.
Northern Illinois was an underdog, but its quarterback was expected to give the Huskies a fighting chance against Florida State. The end result was a 31-10 stomping of the Huskies. The Seminoles’ defense was swarming, essentially invalidating any impact Lynch’s play-making ability would have. It was certainly satisfying for one side, but many still felt irked that NIU had even been selected as FSU’s opponent for its first BCS bowl appearance in seven years.
Other personalities have already touched on the parallels in the narrative, though few have really taken a closer look to see if the numbers actually fit the narrative.
Below is a rankings comparison between 2012 Northern Illinois and 2015 Houston using advanced states. Disclaimer: The numbers for NIU are from after the bowl game.
|2012 Northern Illinois||2015 Houston Cougars|
|Strength of Schedule||122||114|
|Record vs. Top 25||1-0||2-0|
Both teams are around the same overall F/+ rankings, keeping in mind that the Huskies certainly suffered in multiple categories from their bowl game performance. FEI certainly seems to like Houston much more than it did NIU, which means (very simplified) that Houston’s offense and defense are more efficient than NIU’s ever was. Both did not face very tough slates coming in either. Though some attention should be paid to the fact that Houston beat its two ranked opponents (Navy and Temple) to get here.
Also of note, Northern Illinois head coach Dave Doeren left to take the head coaching job at N.C. State before the Orange Bowl. This certainly affected his players in some way and it would be unfair to act like he would not change the outcome in some capacity. That being said, Florida State would still almost certainly win considering it overpowered the Huskies physically as well and won the total yardage battle 534-259. Doeren’s Wolfpack were one of two Power 5 programs the Cougars happened to defeat this year.
Tom Herman, despite being highly sought after by bigger programs, decided to stay at Houston for the time being. Herman is a great coach who will have his players ready to go for the Peach Bowl and is not one to be taken lightly. Though Jimbo Fisher and FSU know that already.
For a more direct comparison, let’s do 2015 FSU vs. 2015 Houston. This should be a bit more revealing and fair since neither team has played the other yet.
|2015 Florida State||2015 Houston Cougars|
|Strength of Schedule||40||114|
|Record vs. Top 25||1-1||2-0|
The numbers are a bit shocking here in regards to Florida State’s rankings on offense. Houston is more efficient, but S&P+ views the Seminoles as a top 25 offense. The reason for that probably lies in the factors that make up the rating. The description given says that “S&P+ ratings are based around the core concepts of the Five Factors: efficiency, explosiveness, field position, finishing drives, and turnovers.”
It certainly helps that Florida State has the most explosive running back in the nation, and the FEI ratings showing deceptive efficiency means that the Seminoles rank highly in this respect. Some might raise an eyebrow at the top 25 record, but it’s important to keep in mind that FSU played the No. 1 and No. 12 ranked teams while Houston played the No. 15 and No. 22 ranked teams. This fact is probably reflected in the strength of schedule numbers.
Houston’s defense should be the main concern for Cougars’ fans coming into the Peach Bowl. The offense has shown that they are at least efficient, but the defensive rankings show that they are barely average on that side of the ball. The only aspect where they rank above 60th is their rushing S&P+, sitting at 43rd in the nation. Keep in mind that Dalvin Cook has performed well against multiple top 25 rushing S&P+ teams. Houston’s best chance to win might be to get in a shootout with FSU, or to try and force turnovers whenever possible. The latter is not out of the question as Houston holds the nation’s third best turnover margin currently.
So the advanced stats are clear: Florida State has decisive advantages in most areas. But games are not won on paper and the numbers will only get you so far. Houston is a good team led by an up-and-coming head coach. It has the tools to upset FSU. The question is if it can get past the seemingly large barriers that the stats have put in front of them.
Leading Passer: Greg Ward Jr. (207-for-304, 2,590 yards, 16 touchdowns, 5 interceptions, 8.52 yards-per-attempt)
Leading Rusher: Greg Ward Jr. (178 carries, 1,041 yards, 19 touchdowns, 3 fumbles lost, 5.8 yards-per-carry)
Leading Receiver: Demarcus Ayers (89 receptions, 1,140 yards, 6 touchdowns, 12.8 yards-per-catch)
Leading Tackler: Elandon Roberts (132 total tackles, 17 tackles-for-loss, 6 sacks, 1 interception, 2 forced fumbles)