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02 Sep 2015

FEI 2015 Primer: The 90th Percentile

by Brian Fremeau

(Welcome back to Football Outsiders' coverage of college football! We've got you covered for the 2015 college football season with all our regular columns starting up over the next few days. Brian Fremeau's FEI ratings run each Wednesday during the season. Chad Peltier will preview the first week's games in Seventh Day Adventure on Thursday. This Friday, Bill Connelly has the season premiere of Varsity Numbers with updated official F/+ projections and an explanation of the biggest differences this year between our projections and conventional wisdom. One Foot Inbounds, wrapping up each weekend's action, starts next Monday, September 7.)

The Ohio State Buckeyes won the first national championship in the College Football Playoff era with one of the most dominant three-game stretches in memory. They emphatically made their case for the playoff selection committee with a 59-0 thrashing of Wisconsin (FEI No. 26) in the Big Ten championship game in December, then followed up with a 42-35 win over Alabama (FEI No. 2) and a 42-20 win over Oregon (FEI No. 3) in January to claim the title. All three victories ranked among the 25 best single-game performances of the 2014 season according to the FEI ratings. Championship teams peak when it matters most.

We often remember national champions and other elite teams in college football in the moments when they were at their very best. I've been taking a closer look this offseason at single-game opponent-adjusted efficiency data (GFEI) and in particular, the performances that are most exceptional. Four games highlighted the championship attributes of the Buckeyes last season: the three postseason wins and a 49-37 win over Michigan State (FEI No. 10) on the road in November. All four victories ranked among the top two percent of GFEI ratings last season. No other team posted as many top-25 GFEI ratings as Ohio State. Oregon and Georgia (three each) were the only other teams to post more than one.

The best teams perform at an elite level frequently, but it is also important to recognize that they don't always perform that way. Not only did the Buckeyes fall to Virginia Tech last season (GFEI in the 54th percentile), but they posted a handful of other results that ranged from merely decent to mediocre according to their opponent-adjusted single game efficiency. A 42-27 win over Indiana (FEI No. 86) was ultimately a comfortable win, but it was unremarkable and didn't showcase Ohio State's championship pedigree in any discernable way. It was their only below-average GFEI rating of the season (46th percentile), a notch in the win column but a performance that may have resulted in a loss against a better opponent.

The GFEI data are the guts of the FEI ratings, and I recommend that long-time readers and new readers take a closer look to better understand the system. I've posted GFEI data for each of the last eight seasons on my site in a new format, providing both the unadjusted game efficiency data and the single-game rank and rating percentile for each performance.

How often do championship teams perform like champions? If we define the best GFEI results as those that rank among the top 10 percent of games each season, the 90th percentile, we'll find that champions reach that threshold with regularity. Seven of Ohio State's 14 wins on the season ranked in the 90th percentile of GFEI performances last year. In 2013, the Florida State Seminoles posted eight victories in the 90th percentile to claim a national title. In 2012, the Alabama Crimson Tide posted ten GFEI ratings in the 90th percentile, capping their year with the single highest GFEI rating on record, a ruthlessly efficient victory over Notre Dame in the BCS championship game.

It isn't just the champions, but also the championship contenders that regularly post 90th percentile GFEI ratings. Oregon had nine such performances last season. Alabama had eight. They each may have come up short against Ohio State in the playoff, but they found their way into that position by frequently and consistently playing like elite teams. That wasn't the case for other title contenders.

Florida State followed up its 2013 championship with an undefeated regular season record in 2014, but the Seminoles only posted two 90th percentile wins last season on their way to the playoff. TCU had only two 90th percentile performances in the regular season. Baylor had only three. Last year's Big 12 co-champions were both capable of playing like the best team in the country at times -- TCU posted the second-best single game rating of the season in its 42-3 bowl victory over Ole Miss (FEI No. 7). But neither put together as many singularly impressive performances as the Buckeyes, Ducks, and Crimson Tide.

With the 2015 season upon us, I'll be keeping a closer eye on the contenders that rack up 90th percentile performances as a key indicator of their potential playoff chops. Wins are wins, but 90th percentile wins are the mark of a potential champion.

FEI 2015 Preseason Projections

The Fremeau Efficiency Index (FEI) is a college football rating system based on opponent-adjusted drive efficiency. Approximately 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. Unadjusted game efficiency (GE) is a measure of net success on non-garbage possessions, and opponent adjustments are calculated with special emphasis placed on quality performances against good teams, win or lose. Other definitions:

  • SOS: Strength of Schedule, measured as the likelihood of an elite team going undefeated against the given team's regular season schedule. Schedule strength data based on FEI ratings and calculated across other dimensions can be explored in this interactive visualization.
  • FBS MW: Mean Wins, the average number of games a team with the given FEI rating would be expected to win against its regular season schedule.

Preseason projections are a function of program strength and trajectory as well as transition factors including returning starters and recruiting success. The weight given to preseason projections is reduced in the FEI formula over the first half of the season until it is eliminated entirely following the results of Week 7.

These projections will differ slightly from the official Football Outsiders F/+ projections, which combine FEI stats with Bill Connelly's S&P+ play-by-play stats. An updated set of F/+ projections will appear on Friday.

Rk Team FBS
Rec
FEI SOS Rk
FBS
MW
1 Ohio State 0-0 .279 .451 73 11.4
2 Alabama 0-0 .265 .110 5 9.2
3 Oregon 0-0 .246 .205 30 9.5
4 Baylor 0-0 .235 .337 59 9.7
5 Georgia 0-0 .206 .210 31 8.6
6 Michigan State 0-0 .196 .143 14 9.8
7 Florida State 0-0 .189 .392 70 9.3
8 TCU 0-0 .186 .286 47 8.7
9 LSU 0-0 .180 .115 6 7.7
10 UCLA 0-0 .180 .265 43 9.4
11 Mississippi 0-0 .178 .138 13 8.0
12 Arizona State 0-0 .170 .189 27 8.0
13 USC 0-0 .166 .118 9 8.4
14 Georgia Tech 0-0 .166 .187 25 7.6
15 Notre Dame 0-0 .163 .293 49 9.2
Rk Team FBS
Rec
FEI SOS Rk
FBS
MW
16 Boise State 0-0 .161 .640 106 9.8
17 Missouri 0-0 .158 .299 53 8.2
18 Stanford 0-0 .151 .245 40 8.6
19 Oklahoma 0-0 .141 .203 29 8.7
20 Clemson 0-0 .141 .325 58 7.7
21 Wisconsin 0-0 .138 .366 66 9.9
22 South Carolina 0-0 .134 .183 24 6.9
23 Virginia Tech 0-0 .134 .285 46 7.8
24 Auburn 0-0 .132 .133 11 6.3
25 Texas A&M 0-0 .131 .100 3 6.0
26 Kansas State 0-0 .120 .342 61 7.7
27 Mississippi State 0-0 .117 .115 7 6.2
28 Arkansas 0-0 .110 .085 1 5.7
29 Utah 0-0 .102 .149 18 7.2
30 Arizona 0-0 .095 .244 39 6.7
Rk Team FBS
Rec
FEI SOS Rk
FBS
MW
31 Nebraska 0-0 .088 .474 80 8.5
32 Oklahoma State 0-0 .088 .348 62 6.9
33 BYU 0-0 .088 .280 45 6.6
34 Louisville 0-0 .087 .372 67 7.2
35 Tennessee 0-0 .083 .125 10 5.9
36 Marshall 0-0 .065 .813 126 9.2
37 Penn State 0-0 .061 .159 20 8.0
38 Michigan 0-0 .058 .261 42 6.9
39 Duke 0-0 .057 .486 81 6.9
40 Utah State 0-0 .057 .551 92 7.2
41 Pittsburgh 0-0 .051 .303 54 5.7
42 West Virginia 0-0 .051 .148 17 5.9
43 Northern Illinois 0-0 .042 .298 51 7.8
44 Miami 0-0 .039 .250 41 4.5
45 Western Kentucky 0-0 .037 .600 103 8.6
Rk Team FBS
Rec
FEI SOS Rk
FBS
MW
46 Central Florida 0-0 .036 .457 75 6.7
47 Florida 0-0 .035 .099 2 5.3
48 Toledo 0-0 .034 .661 110 7.5
49 Temple 0-0 .034 .653 109 8.2
50 North Carolina 0-0 .029 .339 60 4.7
51 Ball State 0-0 .029 .583 100 7.3
52 Minnesota 0-0 .022 .181 23 5.8
53 Texas Tech 0-0 .016 .202 28 4.6
54 Northwestern 0-0 .016 .374 68 4.9
55 Iowa 0-0 .014 .555 94 6.5
56 Cincinnati 0-0 .013 .642 107 6.5
57 North Carolina State 0-0 .010 .361 64 5.9
58 Georgia Southern 0-0 .006 .461 76 7.5
59 Navy 0-0 .002 .592 101 7.1
60 Washington 0-0 .001 .147 16 3.3
Rk Team FBS
Rec
FEI SOS Rk
FBS
MW
61 East Carolina 0-0 .001 .562 95 5.6
62 Louisiana Tech 0-0 .000 .552 93 7.2
63 Texas 0-0 -.001 .115 8 4.8
64 Colorado State 0-0 -.001 .662 111 7.2
65 Virginia 0-0 -.006 .220 34 3.0
66 Memphis 0-0 -.007 .647 108 6.4
67 Western Michigan 0-0 -.007 .215 32 5.6
68 California 0-0 -.008 .108 4 3.3
69 San Diego State 0-0 -.010 .713 118 6.7
70 Houston 0-0 -.010 .706 117 6.4
71 Appalachian State 0-0 -.012 .700 115 7.8
72 Arkansas State 0-0 -.020 .497 82 6.5
73 Washington State 0-0 -.023 .145 15 4.1
74 Boston College 0-0 -.027 .293 48 3.0
75 Nevada 0-0 -.031 .567 96 6.1
Rk Team FBS
Rec
FEI SOS Rk
FBS
MW
76 Vanderbilt 0-0 -.039 .221 36 2.6
77 Bowling Green 0-0 -.044 .704 116 5.9
78 Middle Tennessee 0-0 -.046 .304 56 5.6
79 Tulsa 0-0 -.047 .578 98 5.7
80 Kent State 0-0 -.056 .746 122 5.8
81 Oregon State 0-0 -.056 .165 22 2.9
82 Illinois 0-0 -.060 .294 50 2.9
83 Maryland 0-0 -.062 .136 12 3.5
84 Iowa State 0-0 -.068 .187 26 2.5
85 Kentucky 0-0 -.069 .221 35 2.7
86 Air Force 0-0 -.070 .365 65 4.8
87 Tulane 0-0 -.074 .527 88 4.0
88 Indiana 0-0 -.078 .277 44 3.4
89 Purdue 0-0 -.079 .298 52 2.7
90 San Jose State 0-0 -.079 .549 91 4.2
Rk Team FBS
Rec
FEI SOS Rk
FBS
MW
91 Fresno State 0-0 -.081 .463 78 3.5
92 Wake Forest 0-0 -.082 .303 55 2.8
93 Louisiana Lafayette 0-0 -.084 .821 127 6.0
94 Ohio 0-0 -.087 .744 121 4.5
95 Rutgers 0-0 -.087 .239 38 3.2
96 Central Michigan 0-0 -.087 .452 74 4.0
97 Florida International 0-0 -.093 .692 114 4.4
98 Syracuse 0-0 -.093 .313 57 2.9
99 Louisiana Monroe 0-0 -.100 .217 33 4.6
100 Florida Atlantic 0-0 -.100 .740 120 4.8
101 Hawaii 0-0 -.105 .165 21 4.4
102 Connecticut 0-0 -.107 .463 77 3.0
103 Colorado 0-0 -.108 .158 19 2.0
104 Rice 0-0 -.109 .409 71 5.0
105 Texas State 0-0 -.113 .541 90 4.9
Rk Team FBS
Rec
FEI SOS Rk
FBS
MW
106 Massachusetts 0-0 -.123 .599 102 4.6
107 Buffalo 0-0 -.124 .772 124 3.9
108 Charlotte 0-0 -.134 .839 128 4.2
109 Old Dominion 0-0 -.143 .760 123 4.4
110 New Mexico 0-0 -.143 .433 72 3.0
111 South Alabama 0-0 -.144 .738 119 3.4
112 SMU 0-0 -.150 .383 69 2.4
113 Akron 0-0 -.150 .687 113 3.7
114 North Texas 0-0 -.156 .607 104 3.1
115 Army 0-0 -.156 .797 125 2.9
116 South Florida 0-0 -.160 .473 79 2.1
117 Wyoming 0-0 -.161 .528 89 3.0
118 Southern Mississippi 0-0 -.161 .612 105 3.5
119 UTEP 0-0 -.166 .677 112 3.4
120 UNLV 0-0 -.170 .503 84 1.7
Rk Team FBS
Rec
FEI SOS Rk
FBS
MW
121 New Mexico State 0-0 -.171 .510 85 3.8
122 Georgia State 0-0 -.173 .361 63 3.0
123 Miami (OH) 0-0 -.183 .573 97 2.6
124 Troy 0-0 -.185 .515 86 2.6
125 Idaho 0-0 -.193 .499 83 2.3
126 UTSA 0-0 -.197 .578 99 2.3
127 Kansas 0-0 -.214 .237 37 .6
128 Eastern Michigan 0-0 -.291 .520 87 1.2

Posted by: Brian Fremeau on 02 Sep 2015

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