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?
08 Jan 2014
by Brian Fremeau
There was a moment late in the second quarter of the BCS Championship game that many point to as the most pivotal play of the game. Florida State was trailing Auburn 21-3 and quarterback Jameis Winston had just thrown an incomplete pass on third-and-4 at the FSU 40-yard line. The Seminoles had been outgained by about 100 yards to that point in the game, an almost identical score and yardage deficit faced by Notre Dame in a blowout loss to Alabama in the BCS title game one year earlier. Florida State appeared to be flopping in a similar manner on the biggest stage of the year.
And then Jimbo Fisher called a fake punt, and Karlos Williams sprinted for a first down. Winston added a spectacular 21-yard scramble later in the drive and Florida State scored one play later to cut the deficit to 11 and head into halftime with a little bit of confidence.
That fake punt doesn’t register with FEI. It was one of several important plays in an 11-play, 66-yard touchdown drive, but the total value of the drive wouldn’t have been different in the eyes of FEI if FSU had converted on third down, threw a 66-yard touchdown pass at the start of the possession, or any other combination of plays to reach the end zone.
It was the most valuable possession for Florida State in the first half, but the Seminoles had three key possessions in the second half of the game that were even more significant. Florida State ultimately won the national championship by earning its most valuable offensive, defensive, and special teams possessions in the second half of a game that featured big plays from both teams in all three phases.
After FSU added a field goal on its second drive of the second half to pull to within eight points, the Tigers and Seminoles traded a pair of three-and-outs. Auburn’s punt team outperformed Florida State’s in that sequence, and Auburn started its next drive on its own 43-yard line. It was the Tigers’ third-best starting field position of the night and Auburn had converted both of its other short field opportunities into touchdowns. On the season, Auburn had scored an average of 3.9 points per drive on possessions started within 60 yards of the end zone.
Florida State allowed Nick Marshall to run 13 yards into FSU territory on the first play of the drive, but then stonewalled the Auburn offense on its next three plays to force a punt. Not many highlight reels of the championship game will feature plays on that particular possession because of the fireworks that followed, but it was the single most valuable defensive sequence of the game, denying valuable field position and earning 2.3 points of scoring margin value according to the Game Splits formula.
Auburn started its drives almost 200 yards closer to the end zone than Florida State in the game due to strong special teams play on punts, kickoffs, and returns. A missed field goal for the Tigers in the first half proved to be a significant special teams miscue, but not as significant as the Auburn kickoff late in the fourth quarter after Auburn took a 24-20 lead.
Kermit Whitfield streaked 100 yards down the sideline, untouched to the end zone and Florida State’s first lead of the game. According to the Game Splits formula, Whitfield's play was worth a total of 5.4 points, the most valuable single event of the game. Florida State’s kickoff return efficiency ranking jumped from 43rd before the bowls to No. 4 after the bowls based on that spectacular play. FSU’s overall special teams efficiency jumped 24 spots. Auburn’s kickoff efficiency dropped 27 spots. It was a big play.
Auburn answered with a 75-yard touchdown drive and reclaimed a 31-27 lead with just under 90 seconds left in the game. The Tigers special teams stepped up on the ensuing kickoff, tackling Whitfield at the Seminoles’ 20-yard line, 80 yards from victory. Winston was outstanding down the stretch, connecting on 6-of-7 passes including a quick strike to Rashad Greene that he took 49 yards on the second play, and a touchdown pass to Kelvin Benjamin on first-and-goal at the 2-yard line with only seconds left in the game.
Based on Game Splits, Florida State’s final 80-yard touchdown drive was worth a total of 5.9 points of scoring value, more than tripling the total scoring margin value FSU had earned on offense to that point in the game. Auburn’s defense held Florida State to its least productive offensive game of the season, but Winston and the Seminoles delivered in the biggest spot.
Florida State’s win ranks 44th nationally in terms of opponent-adjusted single game efficiency (GFEI), the Seminoles’ seventh top-50 single-game performance of the year. No other team had more than three top-50 GFEI games this year. In the last four seasons, only the 2011 LSU Tigers also posted seven top-50 GFEI performances in a single season. Only ten programs have posted at least seven top-50 GFEI performances in the last four years combined.
|Top 50 GFEI Performances since 2010|
|Alabama Crimson Tide||6||5||5||2||18|
|Oklahoma State Cowboys||1||4||2||2||9|
|Florida State Seminoles||1||0||0||7||8|
|South Carolina Gamecocks||5||0||1||1||7|
The Seminoles don’t go down in FEI history as an all-time top team due to overall schedule strength, however. Florida State’s strength of schedule, including the win against Auburn, ranks 65th. In the SEC’s seven year run of BCS championships, the lowest SOS ranking of any of those title teams was 2012 Alabama, with the 31st toughest schedule (hampered in part by FEI’s unfavorable rating of the Crimson Tide’s title game foe, Notre Dame).
Florida State’s 2013 season does rank 10th in the "all-time" FEI ratings dating back to 2003, and they are kings of the college football world at the end of the BCS era. Next season welcomes a new four-team playoff format to FBS, a long-awaited change in a two-team postseason structure that has prevented many strong contenders over the years from having an opportunity to settle the national championship debate on the field.
For everyone that claims that the entire college football season is the playoff, I threw together an official bracket for 2013 over the weekend. It works, and yet it is a ridiculous exercise, designed retroactively to fit imperfect results into a perfect conclusion. Kind of like the BCS.
Click here or on the image below for a larger version of the 2013 College Football Playoff Bracket.
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.
Overall FEI ratings and FEI splits for Offense, Defense, Special Teams, and Field Position can be found using the drop-down menus provided above. Program FEI (five-year weighted) ratings and other supplemental drive-based data can be found here.
10 comments, Last at 09 Jan 2014, 6:20pm by cfn_ms