Writers of Pro Football Prospectus 2008

10 Sep 2014

FEI Week 2: Cardinal Sins

by Brian Fremeau

Bill Connelly and I both pay particular attention to how teams finish drives. Bill measures scoring opportunities as those that cross the opponent's 40-yard line, one of the Five Factors that are most important in determining the outcome of college football games. I measure value drives as possessions that cross the opponent's 30-yard line, the line at which a field-goal attempt becomes better than a 50-50 proposition for an average college kicker. Either way, the zone through which offenses move the ball and points on the scoreboard become a real threat is critical to winning football games. On Saturday, Stanford and USC provided us with one of the most extreme examples on record.

The Cardinal had nine total offensive possessions in the game. That's three fewer non-garbage possessions than a typical game, but not an extraordinarily low number in a game in which both teams move the ball consistently and methodically. Every single one of Stanford's nine possessions ended across the USC 35-yard line. That's unusual.

In the 737 FBS vs. FBS games played last season, a team ended every non-garbage possession across the opponent's 35-yard line only 16 times. Only five of those occasions went nine-for-nine.

2013 Games In Which Teams Finished Every Non-Garbage Drive Across the Opponent 35-yard Line
Date Team NG Final Final Opponent Opp Rk SO/Poss
8/31 UCLA 51-20 58-20 Nevada 92 8/8
8/31 North Texas 33-6 40-6 Idaho 119 9/9
9/7 Navy 41-35 41-35 Indiana 61 8/8
9/7 Stanford 34-13 34-13 San Jose State 85 8/8
9/13 Boise State 42-20 42-20 Air Force 117 8/8
9/21 Mississippi State 52-7 62-7 Troy 105 7/7
9/21 UCLA 38-0 59-13 New Mexico State 118 9/9
9/28 Illinois 36-0 50-14 Miami (OH) 122 7/7
10/5 Alabama 38-3 45-3 Georgia State 111 6/6
10/5 Louisiana Lafayette 45-3 48-24 Texas State 115 9/9
10/19 Ohio State 34-24 34-24 Iowa 31 7/7
10/19 East Carolina 45-0 55-14 Southern Mississippi 123 9/9
10/26 Central Florida 55-10 62-17 Connecticut 93 9/9
11/9 Marshall 42-14 56-14 UAB 113 7/7
11/9 Washington 45-7 59-7 Colorado 104 7/7
11/23 Tulane 45-3 45-3 UTEP 120 8/8
"NG Final" refers to the score at the end of non-garbage time possessions
"SO/Poss" refers to the number of scoring opportunities per total non-garbage possession

A few things jump out immediately from this table. One is the level of competition faced by the offenses in these games. The average FEI ranking for the opponents in these 16 games was No. 101, and only one of the opponents ranked among the top 60 in the country last year. Stanford's opponent this weekend currently ranks No. 3 and projects to be a College Football Playoff contender.

The second thing that jumps out from the table is that every one of those teams that had such success crossing into opponent scoring territory had little trouble putting points on the board. They averaged 42.5 points in non-garbage time as a group and average 49.6 points total for the game. None scored fewer than 33 points. Stanford, of course, scored only 10 points this past weekend.

It was epic futility in scoring range for the Cardinal. Two missed field goals, two fumbles, a turnover on downs, and two punts killed seven of the nine drives. The ball was at the USC 29-yard line and the USC 32-yard line at the end of the drives that ended with a punt for Stanford. That's extraordinary as well. In the entire 2013 season, only nine punts came at the end of drives at or inside the opponent's 32-yard line -- nine out of 6,978 non-garbage time punts total.

With seven failed possessions ending across the opponent's 35-yard line, it is amazing that Stanford was in the game at all. Only one team in 2013 went scoreless on more than four trips across the opponent's 35-yard line and still won the game: Oklahoma State defeated TCU 24-10 and had six failed possessions that ended across the Horned Frog's 35-yard line. Six teams failed on five non-garbage trips across the opponent's 35-yard line and lost, and their average margin of defeat was 18.9 points.

Instead, Stanford remained locked in a 10-10 tie until USC kicked a 53-yard field goal with less than three minutes left in the game. That possession for the Trojans ended on, you guessed it, the Stanford 35-yard line. USC had only eight non-garbage possessions in the game and only two of them ended across that yard line on the field, and two died at the 35. Only twice last season did a team lose a game in which it had more than four scoring opportunities across the opponent's 35-yard line than its foe. Both games were lost in overtime -- Western Michigan fell 32-35 to Eastern Michigan, and San Diego State fell 28-35 to Fresno State.

More data will be needed before FEI passes its final judgment on the offensive and defensive efficiency results of the game, but as of now, a close game between two strong opponents rates as a feather in the cap of both teams. USC and Stanford both reside in the FEI top 4 this week, and both project to be contenders in the Pac-12 South and North division races the rest of the way. If Stanford struggles to put the ball in the end zone when it moves into scoring range all year, they won't last long. If USC's defense continues to lock down opponent scoring opportunities like it did last weekend, they'll be a playoff contender for sure.

FEI 2014 Week 2 Ratings

The Fremeau Efficiency Index (FEI) is a college football rating system based on opponent-adjusted drive efficiency. Nearly 20,000 possessions are contested annually in FBS vs. FBS games. First-half clock-kills and end-of-game garbage drives and scores are filtered out. Game Efficiency (GE) is a function of the starting field position and outcome of non-garbage possessions. Opponent adjustments are calculated with special emphasis placed on quality performances against good teams, win or lose.

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 listed here includes all regular season games scheduled. A multifaceted approach to measuring schedule strength is available here.

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 total games a team with the given FEI rating should expect to win against the remaining opponents on its schedule.

These ratings are partially influenced by preseason projections, a function of Program FEI ratings, previous-year FEI and garbage time data, previous-year turnover-neutral, special teams-neutral, and field position-neutral FEI, returning starters, recruiting success, and quarterback reliance. As the season progresses and actual 2014 data continues to be collected, the weight given to projection data will be reduced each week until Week 7, at which point it will be eliminated from the rankings entirely. Offensive and defensive FEI ratings will also debut in Week 7.

Rank Team FBS
W-L
FEI LW GE GE
Rk
SOS SOS
Rk
FBS
MW
FBS
RMW
1 Oregon 1-0 .315 2 .127 29 .136 37 9.7 8.8
2 Florida State 1-0 .291 3 .059 46 .197 53 9.6 8.9
3 USC 2-0 .266 9 .316 11 .092 24 9.7 8.3
4 Stanford 0-1 .265 5 -.050 72 .028 1 7.9 7.3
5 Alabama 2-0 .252 1 .325 9 .119 29 8.7 6.8
6 Georgia 1-0 .251 10 .173 23 .165 44 9.0 8.2
7 LSU 1-0 .250 4 .041 53 .091 23 8.4 7.7
8 Oklahoma 2-0 .247 6 .557 3 .305 73 10.4 8.5
9 Missouri 1-0 .237 22 .276 14 .144 40 8.7 7.8
10 Notre Dame 2-0 .235 18 .432 5 .047 9 8.7 6.9
11 Mississippi 2-0 .228 16 .410 6 .127 34 8.4 6.6
12 Texas A&M 1-0 .220 8 .256 16 .059 13 7.4 6.9
Rank Team FBS
W-L
FEI LW GE GE
Rk
SOS SOS
Rk
FBS
MW
FBS
RMW
13 Virginia Tech 1-0 .210 37 .138 25 .263 62 8.9 8.4
14 Michigan State 0-1 .207 14 -.127 90 .124 32 8.4 8.3
15 Auburn 2-0 .202 7 .333 8 .036 2 6.6 4.6
16 BYU 2-0 .199 25 .280 13 .473 100 9.5 7.8
17 Arizona State 1-0 .187 20 .320 10 .070 16 7.0 6.0
18 South Carolina 1-1 .185 13 -.054 75 .120 30 7.4 6.1
19 Oklahoma State 0-1 .184 15 -.059 76 .088 20 7.4 7.2
20 Ohio State 1-1 .177 11 -.024 63 .230 58 8.9 7.6
21 Wisconsin 0-1 .176 21 -.041 66 .300 72 8.7 8.4
22 Louisville 1-0 .166 24 .131 27 .165 45 8.0 7.3
23 Baylor 1-0 .165 19 .402 7 .226 56 7.9 6.9
24 UCLA 2-0 .163 12 .074 41 .060 15 7.2 5.6
25 Kansas State 1-0 .160 23 .048 47 .146 41 7.2 6.5

Posted by: Brian Fremeau on 10 Sep 2014

3 comments, Last at 23 Sep 2014, 2:09pm by

Comments

1
by coremill :: Wed, 09/10/2014 - 7:39pm

Which tends to be more predictive/which is more likely to regress, Stanford's ability to sustain drives or its inability to finish them?

2
by cfn_ms :: Thu, 09/11/2014 - 1:30pm

Since the model seems to be giving a lot more credit for Stanford making the drives than demerits for not finishing them, the assumption has to be that their ability to sustain drives is more sustainable (pardon the pun) than their inability to finish them. And I think that makes sense; atrocious play-calling and decision-making, while really bad, is a lot more fixable (IMO) than, say, a total lack of a pass defense (like South Carolina showed against A&M).