How did New England find the right combination of offensive linemen this season, and where are Seattle's biggest weaknesses in pass protection?
29 Sep 2010
by Brian Fremeau
The fourth weekend of the college football season featured only one truly stunning upset, UCLA's 34-12 toppling of Texas in Austin. Most of the other preseason hype machines flexed their muscles and dominated in impressive fashion.
A few weeks ago, I proposed that the 2010 script might be borrowing its first act from 2007, a year in which weekly upsets shook up the polls and the BCS title game invitations changed hands regularly. We may still be on track for a similar finale -- the poll carnage in 2007 kicked into gear in part due to a shocking upset of then-Big 12 South front runner Oklahoma at about the same point in the season. Our numbers don't forecast smooth sailing for the power conference contenders. But that doesn't mean we anticipate a completely unpredictable season. Individual game outcomes may surprise us, but with each passing week and the game data we collect, the big picture futures of most teams are already coming into focus.
One of the new features we added to this year's Football Outsiders Almanac was a set of tables detailing the distribution of projected wins for every team. Those numbers were based on F/+ projected data, the combination of FEI and Bill Connelly's S&P+ numbers. I ran a similar process with FEI data alone, projecting win likelihoods for each team in each scheduled game, and combining these data points to project season win distributions.
If you've been paying close attention, you may have taken note of the weekly changes in the FEI tables provided here. I have included two columns each week that summarize the game-by-game projected win expectation data as "Mean Wins." Mean Wins are the average number of wins against FBS competition each team is expected to earn based on its current FEI rating and the current ratings of its opponents. The first column (FBS MW) represents a team's projected average wins in its entire schedule, the second column (FBS RMW) represents a team's projected average wins for its remaining games.
The difference between the two indicates how many wins a team should have earned to date. For instance, Alabama has a total Mean Wins projection of 9.0 and a remaining Mean Wins projection of 5.4. Alabama should have 3.6 wins on the year by this measure. With their fourth victory of the season on Saturday, the Crimson Tide have earned 0.4 more wins than expected to date. Of course, teams cannot earn fractions of a victory, so there will always be a distribution of teams above and below their Mean Win projection. Currently, 74.2 percent of all teams fall within 0.5 games of their total Mean Wins.
The extremes are worth a closer look. Toledo has earned 2.1 more wins than expected to date, most in the country. Middle Tennessee ranks last, having earned 1.2 fewer wins than expected. It's important to note that the projected FEI data is still a factor, and it might be a very influential component for these outliers. By season's end, however, the extremes will more accurately be attributed to luck -- an inordinate number of close games in the win or loss column will have a big impact on the difference between a team's actual and mean wins.
Though the projected FEI data is still included, it hasn't held back some teams from ascending or descending rapidly in the ratings. And the mean wins and projected win distributions for some teams have changed dramatically over the last few weeks. Nevada, Stanford, and North Carolina State rank much higher at this point in the year than initially projected. They have each produced dominating victories over opponents they were projected to struggle against, and the combination of their FEI rating changes and those of their future opponents has completely changed the outlook on the season for these teams.
|Nevada Season Win Expectation|
|Stanford Season Win Expectation|
|North Carolina State Season Win Expectation|
These tables are based solely on remaining game win expectations. Nevada (+0.7), Stanford (+0.6), and North Carolina State (+1.1) have all earned more victories to date than expected, but that does not mean they are expected to regress and underperform expectations down the stretch. On the other side of the ledger, the season win distributions for BYU, Notre Dame, and Georgia have dropped significantly in the last few weeks.
|BYU Season Win Expectation|
|Notre Dame Season Win Expectation|
|Georgia Season Win Expectation|
These tables help illustrate the complexity of the weekly changes in FEI. As the value of projected data diminishes and more game results are included, the subtle and dramatic rating changes of a team and its set of opponents have a profound effect on the team's likelihood of victory in those games. UCLA owns the most dramatic win distribution shake-up this year. After dropping games against Kansas State and Stanford, the Bruins have recovered their early season projection and then some, knocking off Houston and Texas in the last two weeks.
|UCLA Season Win Expectation|
Most teams will not experience such dramatic changes in their win distribution projections over the course of the season, but will remain relatively stable from week to week. Will Nevada, Stanford and NC State fall back to earth? Will BYU, Notre Dame or Georgia recover? I'll revisit these tables for interesting case studies in future FEI columns.
As introduced last week, I'm now featuring "Three and Out" as a regular series in the FEI column. This section will feature a set of three offensive and defensive top-10 data tables sliced from the raw possession efficiency data I collect each week. None of these splits are explicit factors used in FEI, but they may provide a unique perspective on the drive success rates in college football.
At this point, I plan to feature a new set of tables each week. Last week's set included three-and-outs, available yards, and explosive drives. This week, we'll look at reaching the red zone, methodical drives, and efficiency late in close games.
The following tables include only non-garbage drives from FBS games.
|Reaching the Red Zone|
|Offensive Leaders||Defensive Leaders|
|Nebraska||16||29||.552||North Carolina State||8||36||.222|
Much is made about team success in the red zone. Field goals and touchdowns per possession inside the opponent's 20-yard line are interesting. But how often does each team reach the red zone, and how often do they prevent the opponent from reaching it? The data here includes any possession that concluded at or inside the opponent's 20-yard line. Touchdowns, field goals, missed field goals, turnovers, and non-kneel down end of half drives are included.
Florida led the nation in reaching the red zone last season (.590). Defensively, TCU led the nation in preventing opponents from reaching the red zone (.147).
|Methodical Drives (10+ Plays)|
|Offensive Leaders||Defensive Leaders|
|Iowa State||10||27||.370||Western Michigan||0||27||.000|
|Air Force||8||28||.286||Texas A&M||1||31||.032|
|Penn State||8||30||.267||Arizona State||1||25||.040|
|Michigan||8||32||.250||San Diego State||2||39||.051|
Last week we looked at explosive drives, possessions that averaged at least 10 yards per play, regardless of result. These tables include any and all drives that included at least 10 or more plays from scrimmage in the possession.
Air Force led the nation in 2009 in percentage of possessions with 10 or more plays (.252). Boise State ranked first defensively (.069).
|Second Half Scoring Efficiency in One-Possession Games|
|Offensive Leaders||Defensive Leaders|
|Texas A&M||8||21||2.6||Ball State||3||0||0.0|
Per the suggestion of 'Portmanteur,' these tables provide the scoring rate (points per possession) of each team for "late and close" possessions. The definition here is the same one used for the NFL splits in FO's Premium DVOA data. Only drives in the second half are included, and only when the score margin in the game was eight or fewer at the start of the drive. The team may have been trailing, tied, or in the lead. (Note: Four other defenses have also given up zero scores in second half close game possessions, against only one opponent drive: Louisiana Monroe, Florida State, Tulane, and Kent State).
Idaho ranked first offensively in 2009 in "late and close" scoring (4.0 points per possession). UCLA ranked first defensively (0.7).
If you have a suggestion for a future Three and Out featured table, please add a comment, or drop me a note on Twitter or via e-mail. The most popular tables will be updated and republished in future weeks.
The principles of the Fremeau Efficiency Index (FEI) can be found here. FEI rewards playing well against good teams, win or lose, and punishes losing to poor teams more harshly than it rewards defeating poor teams. FEI is drive-based, not play-by-play based, and it is specifically engineered to measure the college game.
FEI is the opponent-adjusted value of Game Efficiency (GE), a measurement of the success rate of a team scoring and preventing opponent scoring throughout the non-garbage-time possessions of a game. FEI represents a team's efficiency value over average. Strength of Schedule (SOS) is calculated as the likelihood that an "elite team" (two standard deviations above average) would win every game on the given team's schedule to date. SOS listed here includes future games scheduled.
Mean Wins (FBS MW) represent the average total games a team with the given FEI rating should expect to win against its complete schedule of FBS opponents. Remaining Mean Wins (FBS RMW) represent the average expected team wins for games scheduled but not yet played.
Only games between FBS teams are considered in the FEI calculations. Since limited data is available in the early part of the season, preseason projections are factored into the current ratings. The weight given to projected data will be reduced each week until Week 7, when it will be eliminated entirely. Offensive and defensive FEI ratings will also debut in Week 7. The FEI ratings published here are a function of the results of games played through September 25.
FEI ratings for all 120 FBS teams are listed in the stats page section of FootballOutsiders.com. Click here for current ratings; the pull-down menu in the stats section directs you to 2007 through 2009 ratings.
|25||North Carolina State||3-0||.116||44||.155||24||.223||36||6.4||4.5|
30 comments, Last at 30 Sep 2010, 4:50pm by Brian Fremeau