Writers of Pro Football Prospectus 2008

06 Jan 2016

FEI: Bowl Blowouts

by Brian Fremeau

The story of this year's bowl season has been the general non-competitiveness of the games, especially in the marquee match-ups played over the New Year's holiday. The early afternoon bowls on January 1 included a 41-7 Citrus Bowl victory for Michigan over Florida, a 45-6 Outback Bowl victory for Tennessee over Northwestern, and a 44-28 Fiesta Bowl victory for Ohio State over Notre Dame. Those were followed up by a 45-16 Rose Bowl victory by Stanford over Iowa, a game in which the Cardinal took a 35-0 lead with more than eight minutes left in the second quarter. Ole Miss capped off the night with a 48-20 victory over Oklahoma State in the Sugar Bowl.

Those games were preceded, of course, by the College Football Playoff semifinals on New Year's Eve, a pair of inconveniently scheduled games that also turned out to be clunkers. Clemson and Oklahoma played a terrific and hotly contested first half in the Orange Bowl, but the Tigers dominated the second half en route to a 37-17 victory over the Sooners. Alabama and Michigan State slugged out a low-scoring first half before the Crimson Tide poured it on the Spartans to roll up a 38-0 shutout victory in the Cotton Bowl. In all, it was a terribly underwhelming couple of days for college football fans.

As a data geek, I find that every game has the potential to spark a new statistical curiosity. When a team jumps out to an early big lead, I start thinking about the frequency of comeback wins and losses. Slugfests like the start of the Cotton Bowl spark questions like "How often do games begin with eight straight punts?"

Longtime readers of this column also know that I'm interested in visualizing college football data, and though neither CFP semifinal game was particularly remarkable, the games inspired a new set of charts I had not previously considered exploring. It was actually the comparison between the two games that sparked the charts. Most of the first half of the Orange Bowl seemed to have been played in scoring range, while almost none of the Cotton Bowl was played in that part of the field. As I tweeted that night, there were only six offensive plays run inside the opponent's 40-yard line in the first half of the Cotton Bowl, compared to 39 such plays in the first half of the Orange Bowl.

How do we best chart data that tells the story of a game? The following charts represent the offensive first down series for each team in the College Football Playoff semifinal games played on December 31. The field position of every first down is charted along with the yards earned between that first down and the next first down series (or score, punt, or turnover) for each game.



These charts don't tell the whole story of the games, but they can be useful as a kind of offensive and defensive fingerprint of the games. Alabama and Michigan State combined to have only five first down series start inside the opponent's 30-yard line; Clemson had 11 such first down series of their own. Oklahoma lost yardage on each of the first down series it started inside its own 24-yard line, whereas Clemson earned another first down on almost every series it started on its own side of the field.

First down series data isn't something I have explored too deeply, but it is on the list of offseason projects I'd like to tackle. Clemson's winning chart looks like a relatively consistent onslaught of series-by-series success. Alabama's winning chart is more scattershot, and the Crimson Tide blew open the game on a pair of 50-yard plays moreso that consistently dominant or efficient play. Those kinds of observations are made more possible with this kind of visual exploration, I think. I'd like to do more of that, but I'd love to get more feedback on the kinds of things you'd like to see as well. Drop me a line in the comments if you want to see more of this.

FEI Post-Bowl 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 full schedule, including conference championship games and bowl games.
  • FBS MW: Mean Wins, the average number of games a team with the given FEI rating would be expected to win against its full schedule of FBS opponents.
  • OFEI: Opponent-adjusted Offensive Efficiency value generated per possession.
  • DFEI: Opponent-adjusted Defensive Efficiency value generated per opponent possession.
  • STE: Special Teams Efficiency value generated per game possession.
  • FVE: Field Value Efficiency value generated per game possession.

Preseason projection data receives no weight in this week's ratings. Ratings for all FBS teams can be found here.

Rk Team FBS
Rec
FEI GE Rk SOS Rk FBS
MW
OFEI Rk DFEI Rk STE Rk FVE Rk
1 Alabama 12-1 .319 .225 4 .043 3 12.4 .51 28 1.17 1 .00 72 .12 13
2 Clemson 13-0 .273 .213 6 .082 12 12.2 .82 12 .84 6 -.03 89 -.10 106
3 Stanford 12-2 .265 .243 3 .182 36 12.4 1.29 4 .22 49 .14 5 .19 4
4 Ohio State 12-1 .248 .245 2 .274 63 11.6 .64 19 .66 11 .07 21 .21 3
5 Mississippi 9-3 .220 .159 16 .061 7 9.2 .88 8 .50 29 -.03 90 .02 59
6 Oklahoma 11-2 .220 .201 7 .135 26 10.7 .72 16 .86 5 -.01 79 .07 33
7 Notre Dame 10-3 .202 .141 20 .043 2 9.6 1.14 6 .04 60 .09 12 .10 16
8 Michigan State 12-2 .197 .105 27 .056 5 10.6 .51 27 .64 14 -.07 111 .06 34
9 Arkansas 7-5 .181 .085 37 .036 1 7.9 1.35 3 -.37 97 -.05 104 .05 42
10 Houston 12-1 .175 .213 5 .497 103 11.3 .62 21 .51 28 .06 25 .17 7
11 Tennessee 8-4 .175 .149 17 .089 14 8.8 .64 20 .21 50 .14 3 .19 5
12 TCU 10-2 .173 .108 25 .249 59 9.4 .19 45 .58 18 .07 18 .07 26
13 Baylor 9-3 .171 .195 9 .291 70 9.5 .90 7 .41 35 -.05 106 -.04 80
14 Michigan 10-3 .167 .200 8 .235 54 10.0 .52 26 .54 23 .07 19 .06 35
15 LSU 9-3 .167 .102 30 .051 4 8.0 .69 18 .44 32 -.03 91 -.03 74
Rk Team FBS
Rec
FEI GE Rk SOS Rk FBS
MW
OFEI Rk DFEI Rk STE Rk FVE Rk
16 Mississippi State 8-4 .157 .079 39 .094 15 7.8 .71 17 .26 47 .02 47 .01 62
17 USC 8-6 .156 .108 26 .058 6 8.9 .74 14 .41 34 .01 59 .04 47
18 Utah 10-3 .155 .099 32 .218 50 9.5 -.22 82 .90 3 .09 9 .16 9
19 Washington 6-6 .154 .096 33 .122 16 8.2 -.24 83 1.04 2 .08 14 .09 22
20 Toledo 10-2 .150 .161 13 .425 93 9.9 .29 38 .63 15 -.01 74 .04 50
21 North Carolina 9-3 .149 .165 12 .245 57 9.2 .85 10 -.08 73 .11 8 .08 23
22 Western Kentucky 12-2 .149 .246 1 .487 101 12.1 1.42 2 .02 63 .05 29 .07 30
23 Oregon 8-4 .144 .044 51 .071 8 7.2 .84 11 -.19 84 .02 55 .03 54
24 Navy 10-2 .143 .178 10 .265 61 9.0 1.28 5 -.03 66 -.02 87 -.07 96
25 Florida State 9-3 .137 .143 19 .185 37 8.8 .46 30 .52 26 .03 43 .00 63
26 Texas A&M 7-5 .110 .063 44 .076 11 6.8 -.15 72 .62 16 .07 20 .07 29
27 Memphis 8-4 .105 .103 29 .228 52 7.6 .57 24 .16 52 .09 10 .08 24
28 California 7-5 .101 .024 57 .086 13 6.2 .77 13 -.20 85 -.03 96 -.08 99
29 Nebraska 6-7 .100 .055 47 .440 96 9.1 .41 32 -.15 80 .05 28 -.06 87
30 Bowling Green 10-4 .099 .148 18 .437 94 10.4 1.42 1 -.30 89 -.08 116 -.05 84

Posted by: Brian Fremeau on 06 Jan 2016

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