Writers of Pro Football Prospectus 2008

13 Jan 2016

FEI Final: Alabama Again

by Brian Fremeau

The 2015 season wrapped up in dramatic fashion Monday night in the College Football Playoff national championship game, as Alabama out-dueled Clemson over the final quarter to win a thrilling 45-40 victory. References were posted ad nauseam on Twitter throughout the game, but I'll mention it once more -- the game absolutely paralleled and at times rivaled the classic 2006 Rose Bowl between Texas and USC. That game may never be topped, due in large part to the epic hype that preceded it. But this year's championship game provided an ample supply of spectacular plays and high-stakes drama, and in the end, the nation's most dominant program once again stood alone atop the college football universe.

The teams traded blows and possessions fairly evenly over the first 40 minutes of the game, each offense finding opportunities to demonstrate its explosive potential and each defense finding some success when it managed to leverage field position in its favor. Clemson took a 24-21 lead with just under five minutes remaining in the third quarter, and forced an Alabama punt on the ensuing possession. At that point in the game, all of the scoring drives and scoring opportunities for either team had been created by favorable field position. The six touchdown drives between the two teams started an average of 59 yards from the end zone, and the three field goal attempts came at the conclusion of drives that started an average of 67 yards from the end zone. The 11 other drives at that point in the game started an average of 80 yards from the end zone, and resulted in ten punts and one interception.

There are many moments that Alabama fans will remember fondly as crucial turning points in the game, but two that haven't received as much fanfare in the postgame chatter that I have come across were produced by the Alabama defense on the next two possessions. After Clemson forced that Crimson Tide punt up 24-21, the Tigers took over on their own 38-yard line. A sack of Deshaun Watson six plays later forced a Clemson punt, the first good field position squandered by either team in the game.

That punt pinned Alabama deep in its own territory, and Clemson's defense came up strong with a three-and-out, starting its next drive at midfield. The game was now in the fourth quarter, and Clemson moved the ball to the Alabama 40-yard line on the first play of its drive. Again, however, Alabama's defense rose to the challenge and didn't allow Clemson to push the ball further. Clemson punted again, and Alabama seized their next possession to drive into field goal range and tie the game up at 24 points apiece.

The game's final possession sequences from that point forward will not soon be forgotten -- Alabama onside kick, Alabama touchdown drive, Clemson field goal drive, Alabama kickoff return touchdown, Clemson touchdown, Alabama touchdown, Clemson touchdown …. and a failed last-gasp Clemson onside kick attempt. 45-40, Crimson Tide.

Special teams were a huge difference maker -- Alabama earned 7.5 points of net scoring value on special teams according to my game splits -- but the two defensive stops by Alabama before that final fast and furious sequence even began were huge in their own right. For an average team against an average opponent, the combined field position value of two drives started at the team's own 38-yard line and at midfield are worth 4.9 points. For Deshaun Watson and a Clemson offense that scored a touchdown or moved into field goal range on seven of its other eight drives begun 75 yards or closer to the end zone, coming up empty on those two possessions was borderline catastrophic.

In addition to claiming its fourth national championship in the last seven seasons, the Crimson Tide finished ranked in the top five of the final FEI ratings for the seventh straight year. Nick Saban has clearly built a machine in Tuscaloosa that wins as consistently and as dominantly as any program I've measured. USC had a similarly elite run in the Pete Carroll era and Florida State was a remarkably consistent contender for nearly a decade under Bobby Bowden. Maybe it's recency bias, but Alabama's program today seems to be playing on another level than either of those dynasties. I'm looking forward to working on a number of projects in the off-season in preparation for next year, but one thing is for sure: the Crimson Tide will once again be an easy call to be in contention for yet another championship run.

Final 2015 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 these 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 13-1 .333 .210 5 .044 2 12.6 .77 11 1.05 1 .02 50 .13 12
2 Clemson 13-1 .270 .191 9 .074 12 12.1 .99 6 .81 3 -.04 100 -.11 110
3 Stanford 12-2 .265 .243 3 .182 36 12.4 1.30 2 .52 22 .14 5 .19 4
4 Ohio State 12-1 .248 .245 2 .273 63 11.6 .68 13 .69 9 .07 21 .21 3
5 Mississippi 9-3 .221 .159 16 .054 6 9.2 1.00 5 .55 18 -.03 89 .02 59
6 Oklahoma 11-2 .220 .201 6 .138 27 10.7 .74 12 .98 2 -.01 79 .07 33
7 Notre Dame 10-3 .202 .141 20 .044 3 9.6 .89 8 .01 57 .09 12 .10 16
8 Michigan State 12-2 .198 .105 27 .051 5 10.6 .51 24 .67 14 -.07 111 .06 34
9 Arkansas 7-5 .181 .085 37 .032 1 7.9 .98 7 -.04 61 -.05 104 .05 42
10 Houston 12-1 .175 .214 4 .498 103 11.3 .63 15 .68 11 .06 25 .17 7
11 Tennessee 8-4 .175 .149 17 .079 13 8.8 .57 17 .14 46 .14 3 .19 5
12 TCU 10-2 .173 .109 25 .249 57 9.4 .16 42 .53 20 .07 18 .07 26
13 Baylor 9-3 .171 .195 8 .291 70 9.5 .86 9 .78 4 -.05 106 -.04 80
14 Michigan 10-3 .167 .200 7 .235 54 10.0 .56 19 .63 15 .07 19 .06 35
15 LSU 9-3 .167 .102 30 .046 4 8.0 .61 16 .44 27 -.03 90 -.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 .085 14 7.8 .53 23 .31 33 .02 47 .01 62
17 USC 8-6 .156 .109 26 .058 7 8.9 .63 14 .48 25 .01 60 .04 47
18 Utah 10-3 .155 .099 32 .218 49 9.5 .00 54 .76 7 .09 9 .16 9
19 Washington 6-6 .154 .097 33 .122 16 8.2 .09 47 .67 12 .08 14 .09 22
20 Toledo 10-2 .151 .162 13 .425 93 9.9 .46 26 .72 8 -.01 74 .04 50
21 North Carolina 9-3 .149 .165 12 .250 58 9.2 .78 10 .01 56 .11 8 .08 23
22 Western Kentucky 12-2 .149 .247 1 .487 101 12.1 1.49 1 .19 43 .05 29 .07 30
23 Oregon 8-4 .144 .044 51 .070 11 7.2 .55 20 -.04 60 .02 56 .03 54
24 Navy 10-2 .143 .178 10 .266 61 9.0 1.23 3 .09 50 -.02 87 -.07 96
25 Florida State 9-3 .137 .144 19 .190 41 8.8 .50 25 .49 24 .03 43 .00 63
26 Texas A&M 7-5 .110 .064 44 .069 10 6.8 -.09 64 .34 30 .07 20 .07 29
27 Memphis 8-4 .105 .103 29 .228 52 7.6 .38 31 .24 41 .09 10 .08 24
28 California 7-5 .101 .025 57 .086 15 6.2 .53 22 -.11 65 -.03 95 -.08 99
29 Nebraska 6-7 .100 .055 47 .440 95 9.1 .27 37 .24 40 .05 28 -.06 87
30 Bowling Green 10-4 .099 .148 18 .438 94 10.4 1.22 4 .05 53 -.08 116 -.05 84

Posted by: Brian Fremeau on 13 Jan 2016

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