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Michigan State Spartans Football: Five Factors Season in Review

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The regular season (plus the B1G championship) is now in the books and I thought it would be fun to check out the season-level Five Factors. Here's how MSU fared in the factors in aggregate:

[As always, data is sack-adjusted. Check out our primer on advanced football stats here.]

And here's how they did against Big Ten competition (including Iowa):

The Pass Defense Got Better

It generally makes sense when stats against Big Ten competition are a little worse than against the full schedule, as the average Big Ten opponent is better than the average non-conference opponent for MSU. That disparity is probably a little bit smaller this year, given that all four of MSU's non-con opponents are going to bowl games. Still, even in the logical extreme where schedule quality didn't pick up in conference play at all, we can learn some things just because all Big Ten opponents came later in the schedule.

The biggest is that B1G opponents averaged 5.8 yards per pass attempt against MSU, while opponents overall averaged 6.1 yards per pass attempt. Over the course of the season, it has seemed clear that the secondary has jelled; the best example of this is Arjen Colquhoun. That's borne out here.

Also of note is that Big Ten opponents were less efficient than all opponents, too. That's encouraging.

Special Teams Got Better, Too

The much-maligned MSU special teams have been a wild grab bag of misery and elation. But MSU actually had a more pronounced field position advantage in B1G play. That generally jives with my eye as well. It seems that the kick and punt coverage units have improved, as has Jake Hartbarger. I am also encouraged by this.

As Compared to 2014

Here's MSU's five factors from last season:

What jumps out here is how much worse MSU is at defending the pass (4.9 yards per pass in 2014 vs. 6.1 ypp in 2015). That's to be expected after losing Kurtis Drummond, Trae Waynes, and R.J. Williamson from a season ago. This has caused opposing offenses to be more efficient (also, a tougher schedule).

It's also interesting that MSU's offense in 2015 is significantly less explosive than it was in 2014, but basically just as efficient. I believe this has quite a bit to do with game situations, though; games against Oregon, Ohio State, and Baylor in 2014 were shootouts while the Ohio State and Iowa games in 2015 were knife fights. Anyways, just an interesting contrast.

It Me, Turnover Luck

In both 2014 and 2015, MSU go some serious turnover luck. Last year I lamented that the turnover luck came in the non-Oregon/Ohio State games. This year, they were more evenly distributed (positive luck against Regular Michigan and Iowa, negative against Ohio State, neutral against Oregon).

At a certain point, though, when is it no longer turnover luck? MSU consistently generates more turnovers than you'd predict given opponent fumble rates and MSU's rate of defending passes. In a sentence I'll later wish I'd never written, it seems safe to assume MSU will tend towards positive turnover "luck" until proven otherwise.

Up next week: a Five Factors preview of Alabama!