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Michigan State Spartans Football: Football Five Factors Season Preview

Joe delves into what to expect from MSU this season

Mitchell Layton/Getty Images

Like last year, every Monday morning this year I'll be deep-diving into the MSU box score and giving you some dubious analysis of the game. For those of you unfamiliar with Bill Connelly's Five Factors, here is Connelly's breakdown of those factors. Also, read Connelly's MSU preview if you have not yet done so. If you're more of a basketball person, these are roughly analogous to Dean Oliver's Four Factors.The categories:


The Stats

Success Rates, Percentage of Available Yards Achieved, Yards per Drive

You won't see Connelly use percentage of available yards gained, but I think it's a useful metric to show successful a drive was, taking into account that drives may begin on short fields

MSU in 2014

This was the major strength of the team in 2014, on both sides of the ball. The offense posted the 14th best Success Rate in the nation last year, while the defense was 4th. The MSU running game generated over 3000 yards rushing at 5.1 yards per carry, while MSU opponents generated just 1150 rushing yards at 3.2 yards per carry.

MSU in 2015

On defense, this MSU team could potentially be less efficient now that 2/3rds of the linebacking corps is gone and the secondary is still a bit unsettled. Any concerns with the back seven could be overshadowed by a dominant defensive line, though.

On offense, expect more of the same. The offensive line should guarantee a strong running game, while Cook should theoretically improve. Even if he doesn't (maybe because of the lack of a clear #1 option) this offense got to a near-elite level by the end of last season.


The Stats

Yards per play, Points Per Play (PPP), IsoPPP

I'll typically use yards per play, as it is the easiest to compute. Points per play incorporates the idea that yardage at certain spots on the field is more valuable than at other spots. IsoPPP is the Points Per Play only on "Successful" plays.

MSU in 2014

Offensively, MSU was elite in terms of explosiveness, at 11th in the nation in IsoPPP. Tony Lippett and Keith Mumphery averaged 11.4 and 11.8 yards per target, though. That explosiveness will be missed; R.J. Shelton, Macgarrett Kings, and Aaron Burbridge all averaged fewer than 10 yards per target.

Defensively, this is why we invented the term, "break-but-don't-bend." MSU landed at 123rd nationally in IsoPPP. This was especially a problem against elite offenses.

MSU in 2015

This is the elephant in the room defensively. MSU will have to play at least one terrific quarterback with weapons to stretch the field when they head to Ohio State in November. That's a lot of time to figure things out. Does the scheme change some with Harlon Barnett calling the plays?

Offensively, this is one area where regression wouldn't be too surprising. Lippett and Mumphery could be difficult to replace. If you're confident about the new receiving options, then this is another category where you should expect more of the same.

Finishing Drives

The Stats

Points per Drive Inside the 40

MSU in 2014

This was one area that could still improve offensively, with MSU checking in at 29th nationally in points per drive inside the 40. Part of the problem was settling for too many field goals at times; MSU attempted 22 field goals compared to 15 for opponents. It didn't help that Michael Geiger regressed from 2013 badly, hitting just 14 of those 22 attempts.

Defensively, MSU dropped to 47th in this area after being 7th nationally in 2013.

MSU in 2015

With a strong offensive line, a senior quarterback, and solid receiving options at tight end, improvement could be expected. I also expect an improved performance from Geiger this season. This was of particular importance against Oregon, where MSU had to settle for field goals too often.

Defensively,the efficiency vs. explosiveness trade-off could be important. Additional bend to the defense might result in longer, more sustained drives. This would give opponents more opportunities inside the 40, which could mean more field goals. But it also could mean a defense that's less likely to clamp down and stop drives near the end zone.

Field Position

The Stats

Average Field Position

MSU in 2014

MSU opponents started their drives on their own 28.8 yards line (good for 45th nationally). MSU started at their own 34.4, 6th nationally. Part of that was some regression from Mike Sadler, but the return game was solid overall.

MSU in 2015

Jake Hartbarger is the key to the category. If he can live up to the hype surrounding him as a recruit, then MSU should be elite in this category again. If Tyler O'Connor ends up doing much actual punting, this could be problematic.


The Stats

Expected Turnovers, Actual Turnovers

Expected turnovers account for the fact that teams typically recover 50% of available fumbles and intercept 22% of defensed passes. Comparing these totals gives some idea of how "lucky" a team may have been with regards to turnovers.

MSU in 2014

Expected turnovers: +8.8

Actual turnovers: +19.0

Difference: 10.2

MSU ended up being pretty lucky in terms of turnovers last year. But this turnover "luck" came in non-competitive games anyways. MSU got unlucky against both Oregon and Baylor in the turnovers department.

MSU in 2015

Turnovers at least seem to be the most random of the Five Factors; it's tough to predict this category. For sanity's sake, it's probably worth presuming a little regression here, especially with a new corps of running backs.


If Harlon Barnett and Mike Tressel can bring MSU back to Earth in terms of allowing big plays, then the sky is the limit for this team. If big plays continue to be a problem, then it'll be interesting to see if Cook and company can simply outscore opponents (and they very well might).