Writers of Pro Football Prospectus 2008

16 Sep 2015

FEI Week 2: FCS Close Calls and Blowouts

by Brian Fremeau

When Auburn trailed Jacksonville State by seven points with less than two minutes left in regulation, the game seemed destined to rank among college football's all-time most stunning upsets. The Tigers were ranked in the top 10 of both the Associated Press and Coaches polls last week and were favored over the FCS Gamecocks to win by more than 40 points. A total of 25 FBS teams faced FCS opponents in Week 2, and the major college programs outscored their opponents by an average of more than 35 points per game. Only one of those games was decided by fewer than 14 points -- Auburn wasn't simply sleepwalking against Jacksonville State, they were in the midst of a nightmare.

They woke up just in time. After a terrible punt gave Auburn excellent field position in Gamecocks territory, the Tigers drove 31 yards in five plays and completed a 10-yard touchdown pass with less than 60 seconds left in regulation to tie the game 20-20. In overtime, Auburn's superior offense scored in six plays and kept Jacksonville State out of the end zone to win 27-20. One of the presumed SEC West contenders took a major hit in public perception by merely escaping, but Auburn's loss column remains unscathed.

That dramatic finale and Auburn's overall performance on Saturday had no impact on the FEI ratings, of course. All game results against FCS opponents are ignored, win or lose, blowout or narrow escape. Had the Gamecocks pulled out the victory, or had Auburn won by six touchdowns, it would have made no difference.

As I have written about many times, I don't include FCS game results in the FEI ratings formula not because I consider the raw data itself to be worthless, but because the opponent adjustments are unreliable. I have not determined a method that would confidently rank Jacksonville State in relationship to FBS opponents based on one afternoon in Auburn. For the same reason, I don't reliably eliminate preseason projection data from the FEI formula based on one or two games -- only after all teams are reasonably well connected are the opponent adjustments reliable.

FCS opponents are weaker than FBS teams, and we know this based on overall results between the two classifications. FCS teams have won only 8.1 percent of games against FBS opponents in the last ten seasons. We know also that the best FBS teams have more success than the worst FBS teams. According to my analysis of the Massey Consensus ratings over the last ten seasons, top-30 teams are 209-3 against FCS opponents (98.6 percent) and bottom-30 teams are 177-44 (80.1 percent).

The degree of victory or defeat is also instructive. The charts below illustrate the frequency of dominant and narrow wins and losses by Massey Consensus Team Types over the last ten seasons.

masseychart

Top-30 teams don't just beat FCS opponents, they crush them with regularity, recording a win by at least 25 points in 77.4 percent of their matchups. Even mediocre FBS teams usually crush FCS opponents -- teams ranked between 31st and 90th in the Massey Consensus defeat FCS foes by at least 25 points in 60.1 percent of their matchups. Even the lowliest of FBS teams defeat FCS foes by at least two scores in 58.4 percent of their matchups.

Auburn's close call against an FCS opponent wouldn't be considered unusual if the Tigers were one of the bottom 30 teams in the nation. But Auburn is probably much better than that, and that makes the game against Jacksonville State very unusual. Even if Auburn isn't good enough to be a playoff or conference championship contender (our projections didn't think so in the preseason), the Tigers are likely to compete as top-30 FBS team. And teams of that caliber very rarely lose against or even flirt with losing against FCS opponents.

The near disaster last weekend won't be very meaningful in the context of their other 11 FBS games this season, and may simply be a head-scratching anecdote at the end of the year. Including this Saturday's showdown with LSU, we're about to find out what kind of team the Tigers really have.

FEI Week 2 Ratings

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 of FBS opponents.
  • FBS RMW: Remaining Mean Wins, the average number of games a team with the given FEI rating would be expected to win against the remainder of its regular season schedule of FBS opponents.

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. Preseason projection data receives 71 percent of the weight in this week's ratings. Ratings for all FBS teams can be found here.

Rank Team FBS
W-L
FEI LW GE GE
Rk
SOS SOS
Rk
FBS
MW
FBS
RMW
1 Alabama 2-0 .293 1 .383 10 .103 9 9.5 7.6
2 Ohio State 2-0 .265 2 .340 14 .446 74 11.3 9.5
3 Oregon 0-1 .236 3 -.034 70 .193 30 9.3 8.7
4 Baylor 1-0 .221 4 .400 7 .289 55 9.4 8.4
5 Georgia 2-0 .208 5 .205 25 .145 16 8.5 6.6
6 Michigan State 2-0 .203 6 .095 41 .181 27 10.0 8.5
7 UCLA 2-0 .201 9 .381 11 .248 45 9.8 7.8
8 TCU 1-0 .198 7 .061 52 .245 44 8.8 8.0
9 LSU 1-0 .193 10 .023 59 .084 4 7.9 7.2
10 Georgia Tech 1-0 .184 14 .622 1 .174 23 7.9 6.9
11 Notre Dame 2-0 .181 12 .233 22 .238 41 9.3 7.5
12 Florida State 2-0 .180 8 .323 16 .342 66 9.0 7.1
13 Clemson 1-0 .179 21 .400 6 .305 58 8.6 7.6
14 Mississippi 1-0 .174 11 .434 5 .086 6 7.7 6.7
15 Arizona State 0-1 .174 13 -.182 93 .174 22 7.9 7.4
Rank Team FBS
W-L
FEI LW GE GE
Rk
SOS SOS
Rk
FBS
MW
FBS
RMW
16 USC 2-0 .173 15 .537 2 .109 10 8.4 6.4
17 Texas A&M 2-0 .170 20 .391 8 .066 2 6.9 5.5
18 Oklahoma 2-0 .159 19 .182 28 .214 34 8.9 7.3
19 Stanford 1-1 .159 18 .095 43 .235 39 8.7 7.0
20 Boise State 1-1 .153 16 -.041 72 .609 107 9.6 8.2
21 Missouri 1-0 .152 17 .069 50 .296 57 8.0 7.1
22 Auburn 1-0 .145 22 .095 42 .078 3 6.4 5.7
23 Kansas State 1-0 .143 26 .301 17 .319 61 8.1 7.1
24 Virginia Tech 0-1 .133 23 -.298 107 .270 50 7.7 7.5
25 Wisconsin 1-1 .131 24 .126 37 .281 53 9.6 8.4
26 Arkansas 1-1 .121 27 .261 19 .058 1 5.7 4.0
27 Mississippi State 1-1 .120 28 .090 47 .089 7 6.0 4.6
28 South Carolina 1-1 .119 25 .000 60 .156 19 6.2 4.5
29 BYU 2-0 .111 31 .079 49 .274 51 7.0 6.2
30 Utah 2-0 .107 29 .118 38 .162 21 7.3 5.8

Posted by: Brian Fremeau on 16 Sep 2015

8 comments, Last at 19 Sep 2015, 5:39pm by Tomlin_Is_Infallible

Comments

1
by mehllageman56 :: Thu, 09/17/2015 - 12:35am

How good is Jacksonville state at the FCS level? Because North Dakota State, FCS national champion 4 times running, hasn't lost to a FBS team in 4 years. They beat Kansas State in their home opener, the year after Kansas State made it to the Fiesta Bowl.

2
by Brian Fremeau :: Thu, 09/17/2015 - 8:33am

That's a good question. There obviously is variability in the strength of FCS teams, and the best ones might be equivalent to a middle-of-the-pack FBS team in a given year.

Regardless of the strength of the individual opponents, a loss or near-loss to and FCS opponent hasn't yet been flipped into the FBS team having elite success later in the year. The following teams either narrowly won or lost a game against an FCS opponent in the last 10 years and finished the season in the Massey Consensus top 30. (FEI rank listed for each as well).

2006 South Carolina (def Wofford 27-20) - MC #26, FEI #23
2007 Michigan (lost to Appalachian St. 34-32) - MC #21, FEI #16
2008 Georgia Tech (def Gardner Webb 10-7) - MC #25, FEI #32
2009 Iowa (def N.Iowa 17-16) - MC #11, FEI #8
2010 Virginia Tech (lost to James Madison 21-16) - MC #14, FEI #12
2011 Kansas St (def E.Kentucky 10-7) - MC #17, FEI #22
2011 Clemson (def Wofford 35-27) - MC #28, FEI #42
2012 Wisconsin (def N. Iowa 26-21) - MC #27, FEI #15
2013 Kansas State (lost to N. Dakota St.) - MC #26, FEI #24
2014 Nebraska (def McNeese St 31-24) - MC #28, FEI #31

6
by AmToo :: Thu, 09/17/2015 - 3:25pm

That 2010 Hokie team won the ACC (though got blown out in the Orange Bowl). Though, not to excuse that loss, they had played Boise St. tight 5 days before the JMU game.

4
by SuperGrover :: Thu, 09/17/2015 - 1:39pm

They are most likely a title contender this year. They lost in the 1st round of the playoffs last year to Sam Houston St. who eventually finished 2nd. SHSU, btw, lost at Texas Tech in week 1 by just 14 after outgaining them 671-614. Jacksonville St. lost just twice last year, once at Michigan St. and in the playoffs. I expect a similar run this season.

7
by mehllageman56 :: Sat, 09/19/2015 - 3:39pm

I guess the real question in the FCS is whether Montana's win vs North Dakota State means Montana's new coach is ready to put them over the top again, and whether NDSU is going to fall a little now. Winning 4 years in a row at any level is pretty amazing, they lost Kyle Emaunuel off last year's team, and Carson Wentz is banged up. I only really follow NDSU because they keep having decent NFL prospects: Emanuel last year, Wentz this year, and Marcus Williams is probably a starter for the Jets now that Cromartie's hurt.

3
by Tomlin_Is_Infallible :: Thu, 09/17/2015 - 10:32am

It isn't just the score:

Auburn was pretty much manhandled, and only in the game due to:

several splash plays
jax st with a colossal shank punt
jax st coach having his balls shrink at the end

they are a pathetic team and I'd be shocked if they finish with 6 wins.

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The standard is the standard!

5
by SuperGrover :: Thu, 09/17/2015 - 1:49pm

I think you might be down playing how good Jacksonville St. is. While FEI doesn't rate FCS teams, Sagarin does. Jack St. was 89th in predictor last year, about the equivalent of Temple, San Diego St., Temple, Syracuse, and Indiana. Yeah none of those teams are good, but I expect the reaction would have been different had it been a poor FBS team rather than a good FCS team. Plus, there is every reason to believe Jacksonville St. may be better this season, somewhere near the top 65 in Sagarin (4 FCS teams were in top 65 last year). FBS teams around 65 last season included Houston, North Carolina, Michigan, and East Carolina. Again, not great teams by any stretch, but good enough that a poor performance doesn't necessarily mean your team is shite.

With that said, Auburn did not look good week 1 either and they certainly seem overrated. 6 wins does seem like a legitimate forecast given their schedule:

@LSU - L
v Miss St. - Toss Up
SJ ST. - W
@ Kent - Toss Up
@ Ark - Toss Up
v Ole Miss - Toss Up
@ Tex A&M - L
v Georgia - Toss Up
v Idaho - W
v Alabama - L

I see two definite wins, 3 definite losses and 5 toss up's, and that's probably generous for the Arkansas game. Looks like a 5-7 win season to me. A loss to Jack St. could have meant no bowl. 'Tis the life in the SEC West, especially when not playing Vandy in the East.

8
by Tomlin_Is_Infallible :: Sat, 09/19/2015 - 5:39pm

I'm not sure "L" sums up this LSU game

Fournette alone playing 1v11 might beat Aubarners.

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The standard is the standard!