Writers of Pro Football Prospectus 2008

Most Recent FO Features

HarvinPer09.jpg

» Impact of the NFL's Kickoff Rule Change

After three NFL seasons of kicking off from the 35-yard line, what has been the impact on touchbacks, returns, field position, scoring and injuries? Also, is this rule responsible for a record number of big comebacks?

02 Nov 2011

FEI: Previewing Alabama vs. LSU

by Brian Fremeau

LSU and Alabama were the FEI preseason No. 1 and No. 2 back in August. They have occupied the top two spots in the ratings for all but one week since. Barring a shocking blowout in either team's favor, they'll likely retain the top two spots in the weekly FEI ratings after they battle this weekend as well.

Alabama is clinging to a narrow FEI margin over No. 3 Oklahoma State, and Stanford isn't far behind. But both LSU and Alabama will receive a boost by playing one another, and a close, fiercely competitive game will lay the groundwork for interest in a national championship rematch. That argument is still a ways down the road, of course. What have LSU and Alabama done to date to merit the extraordinary attention this game has received?

We're going to come at this question from a couple of different angles. First, let's resurrect the FEI resume comparison. I introduced this concept last season as a way to break down each team's game-by-game results into opponent-adjusted offensive and defensive splits.

The tables below are like an under-the-hood view of the FEI ratings calcuations. Game Efficiency, Offensive FEI, Defensive FEI, and "Game" FEI (GFEI) for each team in each game is provided. The ranking of those individual unit and game performances is provided. Note that there have been 438 FBS vs. FBS game played to date, meaning that there have been 876 individual game performances for each category.

The opponent FEI ratings are also provided, as well as a general relevance factor ("Rel") for that particular result for that team. As stated in the FEI principles, my system rewards playing well against good teams, win or lose, and punishes losing to poor teams more harshly than it rewards defeating poor teams. In the formula, the relevance factor is partly a function of the relative ratings of the two teams. The least-relevant results receive about one-eighth as much weight as the most relevant results. For simplicity, I've generalized the relevance data here into three equally distributed categories: High, Med, and Low.

LSU Tigers (7-0)
Date Wk Opponent Result Opp
FEI
Opp
OFEI
Opp
DFEI
GE GE
Rk
FPA FPA
Rk
OFEI OFEI
Rk
DFEI DFEI
Rk
GFEI GFEI
Rk
Rel
9/3 1 vs. Oregon W 40-27 10 13 11 .212 196 .650 27 1.154 118 -1.181 16 .608 8 Med
9/15 3 at Mississippi State W 19-6 45 83 36 .150 241 .385 804 .808 232 -.282 196 .332 111 Low
9/24 4 at West Virginia W 47-21 34 12 72 .201 202 .693 7 .314 433 -.957 36 .470 40 Low
10/1 5 Kentucky W 35-7 93 110 67 .381 97 .575 148 .575 324 .020 332 .088 349 Low
10/8 6 Florida W 41-11 50 89 41 .346 112 .553 232 1.247 96 -.143 257 .343 103 Low
10/15 7 at Tennessee W 38-7 51 61 29 .304 139 .670 12 .891 206 -.701 82 .428 54 Low
10/22 8 Auburn W 45-10 52 32 86 .655 19 .709 4 .846 224 -.967 34 .631 6 Low
Alabama Crimson Tide (8-0)
Date Wk Opponent Result Opp
FEI
Opp
OFEI
Opp
DFEI
GE GE
Rk
FPA FPA
Rk
OFEI OFEI
Rk
DFEI DFEI
Rk
GFEI GFEI
Rk
Rel
9/3 1 Kent State W 48-7 104 120 22 .295 146 .532 305 .850 222 1.151 764 -.107 571 Low
9/10 2 at Penn State W 27-11 32 84 9 .243 168 .503 430 1.433 62 -.425 142 .552 14 Med
9/17 3 North Texas W 41-0 115 113 102 .511 54 .622 61 .055 536 .288 458 -.021 488 Low
9/24 4 Arkansas W 38-14 18 33 55 .298 143 .581 127 1.079 143 -.701 81 .404 66 Med
10/1 5 at Florida W 38-10 50 89 41 .400 92 .628 50 1.209 107 -.006 317 .542 19 Low
10/8 6 Vanderbilt W 34-0 67 73 56 .551 42 .454 625 2.343 6 -.306 188 .422 56 Low
10/15 7 at Mississippi W 52-7 85 112 63 .521 51 .490 484 1.307 84 .304 465 .429 52 Low
10/22 8 Tennessee W 37-6 51 61 29 .443 76 .574 150 1.218 104 -.982 32 .422 57 Low

The two teams have very similar profiles, of course, though LSU gets the edge on the strength of its tougher non-conference schedule. In terms of shared opponents, the games against Tennessee were nearly equivalent (though the Tigers played the Volunteers on the road) and Alabama's game against Florida was a bit more impressive than LSU's against the Gators.

The Tigers have had multiple field position advantages that have been exceptional, and as we'll see in the breakdown below, that may very well be the determining factor in Saturday's game. Football is an emotional game. When the lights go on for the biggest, most hotly anticipated regular season game in years, 100,000 fans packed into Bryant-Denny Stadium will feel it. You can bet the players and coaches will feel it, too. The psychological chess match between Nick Saban and Les Miles will play out in the physical, mano-a-mano combat on the field. We can run simulations and generate win likelihoods, but we can’t predict every possible bounce of the ball on Saturday night. What we can do with FEI data is present what we do know about the teams so far, and break down the field into the segments and critical field position situations that are likely to impact the final score.

Alabama on Offense

Ask West Virginia’s explosive offense what it is like to be pinned deep in your own territory against LSU. On September 24, in Morgantown, the Mountaineers offense started six drives inside its own 10-yard line, and four other drives started between its own 10 and 20-yard line. LSU punter Brad Wing was chiefly responsible for making West Virginia have to go the distance, and the Tigers defense took care of the rest. West Virginia racked up gaudy yardage in the game but had little to show for it. A Tyrann Mathieu interception deep in Mountaineers territory late in the first half put LSU on the doorstep for an easy touchdown and allowed the Tigers to play with a comfortable lead throughout the rest of the game.

On the season, LSU has forced 46 percent of its FBS opponent’s offensive possessions to start at or inside the opponent’s 20-yard line. The Tigers surrendered a score on only four of those 40 drives. Alabama’s offense has four touchdown drives of more than 90 yards this season, but even more importantly, the Crimson Tide hasn’t turned it over in that area of the field. Alabama has had 23 drives start deep in its own territory and has only gone three-and-out twice.

Expect a healthy dose of Trent Richardson if the Tide are pinned deep, as Alabama has rushed on 72 percent of its snaps inside its own 20-yard line this year. The passing game will be the real key, however. LSU was torched for a few big pass plays against West Virginia and Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron’s best yards-per-attempt rate (13.2) comes from deep in his own territory. Most of those completions have gone to Marquis Maze (seven catches, 150 yards) and finding other targets will be critical to loosening the LSU defensive pressure. Give the Tigers a chance to sell out on one or two weapons and they’ll make Alabama pay.

The middle of the field might make Alabama fans nervous. Three of McCarron’s five interceptions on the year were thrown between the 40-yard lines. LSU has recorded four picks themselves in that zone too, where they are holding opponent passers to only a 42 percent completion percentage. It is a dead zone for opposing teams against the Tigers: eight opponent drives started between the 40-yard lines against LSU this season and none resulted in a touchdown. Alabama wide receiver Darius Hanks has been most productive in this area of the field, however, catching nine passes on the year for 139 yards, seven of which went for first downs.

Generating drive momentum against LSU is critical. The Tigers rank third nationally in points allowed per drive (0.96) but have been susceptible to some long possessions -– 14 percent of opponent drives last at least 10 plays, a very pedestrian figure for an elite defense. Alabama’s offense specializes in long drives (22 percent last at least 10 plays, sixth most nationally), and it is through the middle of the field that those drives are made possible.

In terms of overall scoring percentages and touchdown rates, Alabama’s red zone offense and LSU’s red zone defense haven’t been too spectacular. But the key here will be whether the Crimson Tide can create a short-field scoring opportunity in the first place. LSU has allowed only one opponent drive to start in the red zone -– Oregon took over at the Tigers’ 20-yard line after a fumble in the opener. LSU held the Ducks to a field goal on that possession and haven’t made the same kind of mistake again.

When Alabama reaches the red zone, it will behoove the Crimson Tide to unload Trent Richardson as often as possible. Richardson has scored on one of every three carries in the red zone this season, while McCarron’s completion percentage in the same area of the field is under 50 percent.

Perhaps the most intriguing possible scenario is a goal-line fourth-down situation for the Crimson Tide. Saban is among the more conservative coaches in the game in those kinds of situations. In the last four seasons, Alabama has attempted 29 field goals from inside the opponent’s 10-yard line, more than any other team in college football. Going for it is a risk, but a failure would position LSU in a long-field situation that the Tigers aren’t well suited to take advantage of.

LSU on Offense

The Tigers don’t just pin opponents deep, they also avoid getting pinned deep themselves. LSU led the nation in fewest drives started inside their own 20-yard line last year (11.1 percent) and they’ve only had two drives start inside their own 10-yard line this season (LSU scored on both possessions). The Tigers special teams often positions the offense with starting field position between its own 20-yard line and own 40-yard line (42 percent of drives). Alabama’s defense faces this zone more often (34 percent of plays) than any other on the field.

And the Crimson Tide defense has dominated this part of the field. Alabama has recorded five interceptions in this zone, held opponents to only 1.8 yards per rushing attempt, and limited quarterbacks to only 50 percent completions. The Crimson Tide have forced three-and-outs or worse on 58 percent of opponent drives in this territory. It hasn’t been an area of strength for LSU’s offense, either. The Tigers are averaging only 3.8 yards per carry and 5.6 yards per pass attempt in this area of the field.

Jarrett Lee’s worst quarterback rating has come between his own 20-yard line and own 40-yard line, and he’s completed only 53 percent of his passes from here. His lone interception on the season came in this part of the field against Mississippi State, setting the Bulldogs up with their second-best starting field position of the game. Mississippi State wasn’t able to capitalize, but you can bet Alabama will if given the same chance.

The key for LSU will be avoiding three-and-outs, and running back Spencer Ware will be the biggest factor in their success. Alabama has surrendered 5-of-11 rushing attempts on third and short this year and Ware is 8-of-11 for LSU in those situations. Alabama has only given up one touchdown all year on drives started 60 or more yards from the end zone.

On the other side of the 50-yard line, inevitably, is where the magic happens for LSU. A big punt or kickoff return, a forced fumble, or an interception run back from the other side of midfield generates an opportunity, and the Tigers take advantage. LSU has made a living generating short-field opportunities over the last few seasons and last year’s Alabama game was ultimately decided on turnovers that positioned the Tigers in Tide territory.

LSU works the running game more successfully on the opponent's side of the field, averaging 5.1 yards per carry and handing it off on 77 percent of all plays between the opponent's 40-yard line and 20-yard line. Running back Spencer Ware is the featured back, of course, but they’ve spread the wealth with Michael Ford and Alfred Blue in this zone as well, each averaging better than five yards per carry in this area of the field. Quarterback Jordan Jefferson has seen action too, so Alabama will need to prepare for multiple weapons.

Offense, defense, and particularly special teams will dictate starting field position throughout the night. And field position advantages have been LSU’s bread and butter for years. If the Crimson Tide can keep the field balanced, they’ll be able to keep the Tigers off the scoreboard. But will they be able to limit mistakes?

Only two teams in 2010 didn't allow LSU to have a single possession start on their side of the field: Auburn and Tennessee. The Tigers scored their fewest points of the year in those two games: 17 and 16, respectively. LSU lost to Auburn and eked out a last-second victory against the Volunteers. This year, no one has been able to keep LSU from creating at least one short field opportunity. If LSU’s defense and special teams get their chance on Saturday, it will probably be enough to win.

FEI Projection: LSU 24, Alabama 23

FEI Week 9 Top 25

The Fremeau Efficiency Index (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. "SOS Pvs" represents only games played to date. "SOS Fut" represents only remaining scheduled games.

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.

Offensive FEI (OFEI), Defensive FEI (DFEI), Special Teams Efficiency (STE) are also provided, along with Field Position Advantage (FPA), the share of the value of total starting field position earned by each team against its opponents.

Only games between FBS teams are considered in the FEI calculations. These FEI ratings are a function of results of games played through October 29. The ratings for all FBS teams can be found here. You can also find OFEI, DFEI, and STE on their own pages.

Rk Team FBS
W-L
FEI Last
Wk
GE GE
Rk
SOS
Pvs
Rk SOS
Fut
Rk FBS
MW
FBS
RW
OFEI Rk DFEI Rk STE Rk FPA Rk
1 LSU 7-0 .310 1 .306 5 .439 65 .392 12 9.8 3.4 .357 22 -.727 2 4.779 1 .615 2
2 Alabama 8-0 .266 2 .392 1 .537 89 .407 17 9.5 2.2 .537 9 -.476 14 .680 46 .554 9
3 Oklahoma State 8-0 .265 4 .283 7 .386 53 .520 37 10.3 3.3 .198 38 -.770 1 1.880 16 .560 7
4 Stanford 8-0 .250 7 .366 2 .534 87 .641 53 10.8 3.5 .311 25 -.641 5 1.164 32 .525 30
5 Oklahoma 7-1 .247 11 .291 6 .371 44 .380 10 9.9 3.0 .552 8 -.512 12 -.135 64 .562 6
6 Boise State 7-0 .244 6 .310 4 .535 88 .885 91 11.1 4.8 .238 34 -.644 4 2.776 10 .616 1
7 Clemson 7-1 .224 3 .157 17 .344 33 .706 65 9.0 2.5 .562 7 -.321 28 1.558 21 .534 20
8 Wisconsin 5-2 .213 9 .345 3 .297 21 .715 68 8.9 3.4 .657 3 -.336 27 -.157 66 .528 28
9 Michigan State 5-2 .204 5 .091 32 .172 8 .775 78 8.1 3.5 .147 45 -.636 7 1.600 20 .523 31
10 Oregon 6-1 .201 10 .264 8 .301 22 .369 9 8.3 2.6 .467 13 -.535 11 1.987 15 .492 68
11 Nebraska 6-1 .199 37 .160 16 .349 35 .482 28 8.3 2.9 .375 21 -.226 38 3.350 5 .535 17
12 USC 6-2 .195 16 .074 36 .278 17 .591 43 9.2 3.2 .519 10 -.104 50 .957 38 .541 15
Rk Team FBS
W-L
FEI Last
Wk
GE GE
Rk
SOS
Pvs
Rk SOS
Fut
Rk FBS
MW
FBS
RW
OFEI Rk DFEI Rk STE Rk FPA Rk
13 Ohio State 5-3 .192 22 .093 31 .194 10 .581 42 8.5 3.1 -.008 56 -.693 3 3.023 8 .570 4
14 Arizona State 5-2 .192 14 .127 21 .325 28 .938 106 8.9 3.8 .441 16 -.443 17 .508 50 .511 45
15 Michigan 7-1 .181 17 .258 9 .453 67 .440 21 9.0 2.4 .460 15 -.407 20 -2.177 105 .495 64
16 Texas A&M 5-3 .172 8 .143 18 .365 41 .349 7 8.4 2.5 .594 4 -.038 57 1.483 24 .527 29
17 Georgia Tech 6-2 .172 29 .164 15 .365 40 .728 69 8.2 2.2 .307 27 -.448 16 -1.942 96 .504 57
18 Arkansas 6-1 .171 13 .094 30 .337 31 .276 2 7.8 2.5 .241 33 -.064 55 .971 37 .487 75
19 Kansas State 6-1 .166 12 .126 22 .377 48 .343 6 7.5 2.4 .162 44 -.405 21 2.018 14 .571 3
20 Notre Dame 5-3 .162 21 .171 14 .320 27 .455 24 8.2 2.7 .387 18 -.467 15 .014 61 .488 72
21 Southern Miss. 6-1 .150 20 .131 20 .720 106 .941 112 9.6 3.9 -.015 59 -.496 13 -.458 76 .499 61
22 Missouri 3-4 .149 43 .025 54 .103 2 .877 90 6.8 3.4 .352 23 -.138 44 -.139 65 .504 56
23 Miami 3-4 .148 15 .025 55 .270 15 .598 44 6.7 2.8 .892 1 .331 90 3.548 3 .521 33
24 Virginia Tech 7-1 .147 19 .107 27 .517 84 .488 31 7.5 1.5 .097 47 -.423 18 -1.286 87 .513 39
25 Florida State 4-3 .147 24 .142 19 .335 30 .710 67 7.6 2.8 .116 46 -.382 23 2.960 9 .534 18

Posted by: Brian Fremeau on 02 Nov 2011

15 comments, Last at 08 Dec 2012, 3:18am by john123456

Comments

1
by Aaron Brooks Go... :: Wed, 11/02/2011 - 1:36pm

For anyone who thinks a close game between teams ranked 1 and 2 automatically deserves a rematch in the title game, especially when they are from the same conference, 2006 should serve as a cautionary tale.

http://www.sports-reference.com/cfb/boxscores/2006-11-18-ohio-state.html

Both teams entered the game having beaten a #2 ranked team that season (U-M beat ND, OSU beat Texas). Ohio State actually went 2-1 against #2 ranked teams that season. (No team has ever beaten three teams ranked #2 or higher in a single season)

Both lost their bowl game.

3
by Anonymous Jones :: Wed, 11/02/2011 - 1:46pm

Cautionary tale? Certainly.

Distinguishable? Probably.

The Big Ten had not just won the last five BCS Championships like the SEC has. Not saying that this fact is determinative, but it is one piece of evidence that the teams at the top of the SEC have been relatively good recently.

5
by Aaron Brooks Go... :: Wed, 11/02/2011 - 3:01pm

In college, past performance is even less predictive of future success than normal, considering a maximum career length of four seasons. And for that matter, neither Alabama nor LSU won it last year. Neither Alabama nor LSU even won their division last year, let alone their conference. Alabama finished 3rd!

The point was that U-M, despite being a one-loss team with that loss coming against the #1 team, wasn't any more deserving of a rematch, as their lopsided loss to USC showed, than any of the other 1-loss team.

Those teams included 12-1 Louisville, who beat #3 WVU and lost at 11-2 Rutgers; 13-1 Florida, who beat #8 and 9, and lost at 11-2 #11 Auburn; 12-1 Wisconsin, who lost at #6 11-2 U-M (but who beat no one of consequence until Arkansas); 13-0 Boise State (who played no one until Oklahoma).

OSU absolutely deserved to be in the title game (even with the loss, you can argue they had the best overall season that year -- they had the best wins and the best loss), but U-M didn't.

10
by CuseFanInSoCal :: Wed, 11/02/2011 - 10:25pm

While this is true, it's also true that
- Even ignoring the 2006 Big Ten rematch argument, it took amazingly good luck for the SEC to even be in the 2006 and 2007 championship games; 2006 USC and 2007 West Virginia (both of which would go on to win BCS bowl games convincingly) needed to lose their final regular season game to far inferior teams
- It's pretty clear the voters erred in selecting 2008 Oklahoma to face 2008 Florida; both Utah and USC were superior teams in that season.

2
by Newt (not verified) :: Wed, 11/02/2011 - 1:40pm

I think these stats can be misleading, especially the DFEI numbers. I don't think anyone in America would argue that Oklahoma State had a defense anywhere close to Bama or LSU, yet they're first in that category.

4
by TomTom (not verified) :: Wed, 11/02/2011 - 2:03pm

When your offense is good, your defense gets underrated. Oregon's defense has been really solid, and holding teams below their average productivity in recent years (Auburn to 22 points, LSU to under 300 yards). Oklahoma St. is the same, they go through more possessions than other teams. Also, the Big 12 is packed with good offenses. I wouldn't have them as my #1 neither, but in a season with so few games played it's not so unreasonable to call whole system bunk.

6
by Brian Fremeau :: Wed, 11/02/2011 - 3:25pm

Oklahoma State just held the Bears to 3 points in non-garbage time this weekend. I'm not arguing that the data is infallible, but there is specific reasoning behind the numbers. I'm not arguing that Alabama and LSU aren't capable of doing the same against an elite offense, but they haven't had a performance quite like that one yet.

7
by MardiGrastexan (not verified) :: Wed, 11/02/2011 - 4:15pm

Would your numbers be the same if you included our (LSU) weak OOC win against Northwestern State on Sept 10th?

8
by Brian Fremeau :: Wed, 11/02/2011 - 4:51pm

I do not include FCS games in my calculations, including SOS. But it would not impact LSU's SOS the way I calculate it. My methodology calculates the likelihood that an elite team can go undefeated against a given schedule. Adding games can only make a schedule stronger (incrementally, negligibly in the case of FCS opponents), not weaker. In other words, an elite team would have a 44 percent chance of going undefeated against LSU's FBS schedule to date. Since that team would have a virtual 100 percent chance of defeating an FCS opponent, it is still a 44 percent chance of going undefeated against the entire schedule to date.

9
by Scott P. (not verified) :: Wed, 11/02/2011 - 7:38pm

Wow, Nebraska from 37th to 11th in one week. Good to see FEI getting in line with my own evaluations.

11
by Orlando McCain (not verified) :: Wed, 11/02/2011 - 10:42pm

"Three of McCarron’s five interceptions on the year were thrown between the 40-yard lines."

McCarron has only thrown three interceptions. The other two belong to Phillip Sims in the first game of the season.

12
by TV_Pete (not verified) :: Thu, 11/03/2011 - 11:42am

Does FEI take into account Home Field advantage? (like Sagarin)

Personally, I think FEI and Sagarin (not the ELO-Chess that is forced to use for the current BCS input) are far better at predicting than the other computer models I have seen. No computer model is infallible, of course, specifically not accounting for injuries, suspended players, etc.

13
by Brian Fremeau :: Thu, 11/03/2011 - 1:42pm

Yes, home field advantage is taken into account, both in the predictions as well as in the evaluation of past game data.

14
by Joseph :: Thu, 11/03/2011 - 1:44pm

IMO, there is one thing that could make a MAJOR difference in this game: "STE"--special teams. Tigers are #1, ALA #46. The difference is more astounding than the ordinal ranking difference. My guess is that it comes down to the punting. IMO, if Brad Wing doesn't have an otherworldly game against WVU, that game is much closer.

15
by john123456 (not verified) :: Sat, 12/08/2012 - 3:18am

Examsmafia.com provides its customers genuine and quality study material. The study material for the certification 70-498 exam is thoroughly researched and prepared by IT industry experts who have deep knowledge and exposure of the candidates’ needs and problems. The 70-498 study material is also being constantly updated and amendments are being made whenever required in order to keep the content valid and relevant. Thus there is no question of authenticity with the 70-498 exam material provided by http://www.examsmafia.com/70-498.html. Our 70-498 study material is to the point, interactive and very easy in learning. Thus candidates from varying academic backgrounds find it the best and easy way of preparation for their certification 70-498 exams.