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09 Oct 2013

FEI Week 6: Stanford's Head Start

by Brian Fremeau

The Stanford Cardinal have played in three straight BCS bowls and have only lost five of their last 45 games. The program trajectory skyrocketed after the arrival of Jim Harbaugh in 2007 (see chart below), and David Shaw seamlessly transitioned into his role in 2011 and has kept the momentum going. Stanford has finished in the FEI top 10 for three straight seasons. This week, they claim the No. 1 spot in the FEI ratings for the first time.

(Ed. Note: Wait, isn't Baylor on top of the Football Outsiders college ratings? Well, Baylor leads in the play-by-play-based S&P+ ratings, but rank just 17th in the FEI ratings. Bill Connelly will be covering this issue in Friday's "Varsity Numbers" column.)

I was a bit surprised by some of the shifts in the FEI ratings this week. Alabama "slipped" not because they played poorly, but because they played a very poor team. Oregon "slipped" because they have played the 123rd toughest schedule in the country to date -- and though they’ve been dominant, the opponent adjustments drag them down (see also: Louisville and Florida State). I wasn’t too surprised by Stanford’s leap into the top spot after their victory over Washington. The Cardinal have played well against a decent set of opponents so far, and their preseason projection (No. 3) is still a small factor. Next week, we will debut the first FEI ratings of the season that do not include any preseason projected data.

It’s hard to tell at this point if Stanford will be in a position to retain their No. 1 ranking for the long haul. If they keep dominating field position, they might. I haven’t posted the FPA ratings for the season to date, but Stanford is the leader in the clubhouse. The Cardinal have a .631 FPA rating through their first five games, meaning that they have earned 63.1 percent of the total field position value at stake in the games they have played. That’s a big factor that boosts a team’s FEI rating, as evidenced by Kansas State throughout the 2012 season (.577 FPA, best in the nation). Stanford is blowing that away through the early part of 2013.

One important factor included in FPA is non-offensive scores. If a team records a defensive touchdown (fumble or interception return) or special teams touchdown (punt return, kickoff return, blocked field goal return), those are counted as "possessions" as well as "field position value" equaling 6.96 points. Even though the offense doesn’t take the field on such non-offensive scores, I need to properly assign this value such that a return which ends just shy of the end zone doesn’t distort these field position values.

Stanford has recorded two interception returns for touchdowns (both against Washington State) and a kickoff return touchdown (against Washington). Those three plays account for 20.9 points of field position value total. On the year, Stanford has 52.4 points of field position value, most in the country. Their non-offensive scores are responsible for nearly 40 percent of that value. If instead of scoring touchdowns, Stanford was tackled inside the opponent’s 10-yard on each of those plays, they still would have been credited with generating more than 15 points of field position value on those three plays. Big non-offensive plays are huge, both for teams that generate them and for teams that avoid them.

But Stanford’s field position success has been much more than big non-offensive scores. The Cardinal ranks No. 2 nationally in starting field position, beginning its non-garbage offensive drives at its own 38.4 yard line on average. They rank No. 3 in opponents starting field position, forcing opponents to start drives on average from their own 22.9 yard line. That 15.5 yard advantage per drive is best in the country. Houston is second with a 12.3 yard advantage. Oregon is third with a 10.9 yard advantage.

Stanford has started only five non-garbage drives from inside its own-20 yard line, and it has started 13 drives at midfield or in opponent territory. Stanford opponents, meanwhile, have started only two drives in Stanford territory (the Cardinal gave up only three points on those two drives) and have started 18 drives from inside the opponent’s own 20-yard line.

Teams that want to take down Stanford this season are going to have to do a much better job of positioning themselves for success with shorter fields and forcing the Cardinal to move the ball over longer distances. In non-garbage possessions on the season, Stanford has started drives a total of 987 yards further downfield than its opponents.

FEI Week 6 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 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.

Other definitions:

  • SOS Pvs: Strength of schedule based on the likelihood of an elite team going undefeated against the given team's schedule to date.
  • SOS Fut: Strength of schedule based on the likelihood of an elite team going undefeated against the given team's remaining schedule.
  • FBS MW: Mean Wins, the average number of games a team with the given FEI rating would be expected to win against its entire schedule.
  • FBS RMW: Remaining Mean Wins, the average number of games a team with the given FEI rating would be expected to win against its remaining schedule.

These FEI ratings are a function of results of games played through October 5th. The ratings for all FBS teams can be found here. Program FEI (five-year weighted) ratings and other supplemental drive-based data can be found here.

Rk Team FBS
1 Stanford 5-0 .315 3 .224 15 .531 53 .176 16 10.4 5.8
2 Oklahoma 5-0 .289 6 .301 8 .695 82 .339 42 10.8 6.1
3 Alabama 5-0 .280 1 .336 6 .505 44 .451 54 9.6 5.3
4 Missouri 4-0 .272 15 .184 20 .778 93 .257 30 9.5 5.8
5 UCLA 4-0 .269 17 .405 3 .463 39 .053 2 9.0 5.7
6 Oregon 4-0 .263 2 .366 5 .939 123 .051 1 8.5 4.5
7 LSU 5-1 .259 12 .198 18 .380 18 .213 21 8.6 3.5
8 Louisville 4-0 .259 5 .579 1 .932 122 .742 89 10.5 6.6
9 Miami 4-0 .257 9 .307 7 .723 85 .487 61 9.9 6.3
10 Georgia 4-1 .240 7 .028 56 .329 13 .296 35 8.2 4.5
11 Washington 3-1 .240 4 .085 40 .225 4 .195 18 7.9 5.2
12 Clemson 4-0 .236 8 .299 9 .668 77 .594 73 8.7 5.2
Rk Team FBS
13 Florida State 4-0 .218 22 .487 2 .939 124 .215 22 9.0 5.2
14 Ohio State 5-0 .216 10 .264 12 .708 83 .535 69 9.5 5.0
15 Florida 4-1 .213 13 .105 31 .463 38 .096 5 7.2 3.2
16 Utah 2-2 .209 31 -.023 74 .427 24 .098 6 7.0 4.3
17 Baylor 3-0 .201 11 .403 4 .954 125 .220 23 8.7 5.8
18 Arizona 2-1 .198 20 .219 16 .535 55 .197 19 7.7 5.4
19 Texas A&M 3-1 .176 16 .115 28 .506 45 .163 13 7.5 4.6
20 Michigan 5-0 .165 37 .273 10 .860 105 .350 44 9.1 4.6
21 Texas Tech 4-0 .165 14 .217 17 .854 103 .233 26 8.1 4.6
22 BYU 3-2 .150 50 .153 23 .631 72 .505 64 8.2 4.4
23 Northern Illinois 4-0 .146 23 .248 13 .801 98 .832 102 9.9 6.4
24 Wisconsin 2-2 .137 30 .182 21 .446 35 .559 72 7.7 5.1
25 Virginia Tech 4-1 .127 25 .095 35 .428 27 .470 59 7.9 4.5

Posted by: Brian Fremeau on 09 Oct 2013

13 comments, Last at 09 Oct 2013, 9:53pm by Brian Fremeau


by Aaron Brooks Go... :: Wed, 10/09/2013 - 12:46pm

How do Northwestern and Notre Dame compare over that same stretch of years?

by Brian Fremeau :: Wed, 10/09/2013 - 1:14pm

Northwestern is 27-17 since the start of 2010.
Notre Dame is 32-13 since the start of 2010.
Stanford is 40-5 since the start of 2010.

by Aaron Brooks Go... :: Wed, 10/09/2013 - 2:24pm

I was thinking the FEI comparison plots.

This means I totally missed that ND is already on there and that it was based on schedule.

That said, I do find comparing Stanford, Northwestern, Vanderbilt, and Duke occasionally enlightening.

by Brian Fremeau :: Wed, 10/09/2013 - 4:00pm

Here is the PFEI history graphic for Notre Dame: http://www.bcftoys.com/notre-dame
Here is the PFEI history graphic for Northwestern: http://www.bcftoys.com/northwestern

I made about 40 of these over the summer, and they all have the same basic url: bcftoys.com/[team]

by justanothersteve :: Wed, 10/09/2013 - 1:42pm

I guess this weekend we'll find out if Mizzou is for real as they play at Georgia.

by Jake (not verified) :: Wed, 10/09/2013 - 2:00pm

I think Baylor's ranking needs an adjustment. How do you fall six spots when you score a TD on 9 of your first 10 drives and lead 63-14? I'm guessing it's because of what happened the rest of the game but Baylor pulled its starters after that 10th drive (which happened to be the first of the third quarter).

by KennyB (not verified) :: Wed, 10/09/2013 - 3:02pm

B/C Baylor has the easiest OOC schedule in the nation, name 1 decent team they have played? They should win games by 63-14.

by Jake (not verified) :: Wed, 10/09/2013 - 4:43pm

You're telling me that any team should score 56 points and gain 617 yards IN ONE HALF against WVU? I get that they've played an easy schedule but to say any team should do what they're doing is preposterous.

by Kal :: Wed, 10/09/2013 - 4:32pm

it's not because of what they did the rest of the team; FEI correctly sees that as garbage time and throws it out.

It's because Baylor has played a hugely weak schedule and FEI punishes heavily those teams that haven't proven themselves. In this way it's more descriptive than predictive.

by Jake (not verified) :: Wed, 10/09/2013 - 4:44pm

I forgot that FEI throws out garbage time. It just seems odd that they ranked 11th last week despite the insanely easy schedule, dominated their slightly more difficult game this week, and then fell 6 spots.

by Kal :: Wed, 10/09/2013 - 6:29pm

I think that this may be the first week (or one of them) where we're seeing fewer of the preseason rankings and more of the weighted current season rankings.

by cfn_ms :: Wed, 10/09/2013 - 6:30pm

Eyeballing the numbers, Baylor's FEI rating actually increased a bit, the issue was simply that they were passed by others, such as Clemson, LSU, Mizzou and Florida.

That said, I'm not quite sure why both UCLA and Utah jumped over Baylor after their H2H game. UCLA I'm sure got a bump from a good Nebraska showing but it's hard to think Nevada's loss was especially meaningful and if anything NM St should now suck even harder than last week's numbers. Meanwhile for Utah, USU and BYU played each other so that seems like a wash, and while Oregon St drilling Colorado is nice, I wouldn't think it'd be a major impact on Utah's schedule ratings.

by Brian Fremeau :: Wed, 10/09/2013 - 9:53pm

Baylor's rating improved from Week 5 (marginally). They were passed by other teams so their ranking dropped.

One of the teams that leaped ahead of Baylor was Florida State who beat Maryland 63-0. A week ago Maryland beat West Virginia 37-0. FEI doesn't follow strictly transitive properties, of course, but those two results coupled together are doing more for Florida State than Baylor's single game against West Virginia is doing for the Bears.