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» Seventh Day Adventure: Week 13

The biggest game this week is the Iron Bowl, where the playoff hopes of Alabama, Auburn, and Georgia hang in the balance.

04 Jan 2017

FEI Championship Preview

by Brian Fremeau

The best pair of college football teams last season played an epic game in the College Football Playoff National Championship game, a 45-40 victory by Alabama over Clemson. The best pair of college football teams this season, Alabama and Clemson, will face off in a rematch for the national championship on Monday night.

The strength of both teams coming into the game is on the defensive side of the ball, and both teams showcased their defensive dominance in the semifinals. Alabama beat Washington 24-7 in the Peach Bowl, while Clemson shut out the Ohio State Buckeyes in the Fiesta Bowl on Saturday night by a final score of 31-0, the first scoreless performance by a team coached by Urban Meyer in his head coaching career.

An average team against an average opponent with Ohio State's starting field position in the game would have been expected to score 25.2 points according to my game splits data. Ohio State didn't have an elite offense this season, but they were more than adequate -- 16th nationally in opponent-adjusted offensive FEI, and 25th nationally in offensive points per drive. On three of their first 12 possessions, the Buckeyes starting field position was on Clemson's side of midfield, but Ohio State gained a total of 23 yards on those three drives and came away with zero points (two failed field goals and an interception). None of Ohio State's other nine possessions to that point in the game crossed the 50-yard line. Their first drive of the game that did progress from their end of the field to Clemson's ended with an interception in the fourth quarter and ushered in garbage time with the Tigers ahead 24-0.

Alabama's victory over Washington in the Peach Bowl was similarly smothering, and came against an offense that had been rather prolific throughout the regular season. The Huskies ranked seventh in OFEI and sixth nationally in offensive points per drive. They got on the scoreboard first in Atlanta with a 64-yard touchdown drive, and their next offensive possession had life before they coughed up a fumble. None of their next 10 possessions crossed midfield, and five of them were three-and-outs. Alabama returned an interception for a touchdown late in the second quarter and pinned Washington to the mat for the rest of the game.

Last year's championship game also featured a pair of excellent defenses -- Alabama ranked first in OFEI in 2015, Clemson ranked fifth -- but still ended up a high-scoring affair. The rematch could be a slugfest or follow a similar script. I think it's quite likely that the game will come down to turnovers, just like last year's game did. If so, Clemson may find itself on the wrong end of the scoreboard once again.

Alabama has been outstanding this season in generating value from turnovers. In 13 games against FBS opponents, the Crimson Tide have earned 123.3 points of value based on opponent turnovers alone, almost 24 more points in scoreboard value than the Alabama offense has generated in the same span. And Clemson has been turnover-prone itself, coughing up the ball on an interception or fumble on 15 percent of its non-garbage offensive possessions (115th nationally). Their opponents have generated 102.0 points in 13 games based on Clemson turnovers alone.

A pair of Deshaun Watson interceptions in the first half against Ohio State were overcome with excellent defense by the Tigers last weekend, but Alabama would very likely turn the same mistakes into points this Monday night. There was a single interception thrown in last year's championship game, and it set up Alabama with its best field position of the game, leading to a 42-yard touchdown drive in the first half to tie the game at 14-14. The interception itself and resulting field position were worth 2.8 points for Alabama according to my game splits, more than half of the final margin of victory in the game.

Against FBS opponents since 2007, the beginning of the Nick Saban era in Tuscaloosa, the Crimson Tide are 65-3 (.956) when they generate more turnovers in a game than their opponent. They are 35-0 in the same span when they win the turnover margin by two or more. Clemson's opportunity to dethrone the defending national champions hinges on their ability to play turnover-free, something they did only once against an FBS opponent this year (against Syracuse, a 54-0 victory for the Tigers).

FEI projects they will not play mistake-free, and Alabama will win its fifth national championship in the last eight years. FEI Game Projection: Alabama 27, Clemson 20.

FEI Ratings Pre-Championship

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. Overall SOS ratings represent the likelihood than an elite team (two standard deviations better than average) would go undefeated against the given team's entire schedule.

Offensive FEI (OFEI) is value generated per offensive non-garbage possession adjusted for the strength of opponent defenses faced. Defensive FEI (DFEI) is value generated per opponent offensive non-garbage possession adjusted for the strength of opponent offenses faced. Special Teams Efficiency (STE) is the average value generated per non-garbage possession by a team's non-offensive and non-defensive units.

Ratings for all teams are linked here.

Rk Team Rec FEI GE Rk SOS Rk OFEI Rk DFEI Rk STE Rk
1 Alabama 13-0 .354 .310 1 .041 3 .72 17 2.02 1 .03 47
2 Clemson 12-1 .293 .194 7 .026 1 .96 8 .87 9 .00 65
3 Ohio State 11-2 .276 .233 5 .050 4 .74 16 1.22 2 .02 49
4 Michigan 10-3 .242 .261 3 .110 24 .81 11 .89 8 .22 1
5 Washington 11-2 .229 .288 2 .102 22 .98 7 1.17 3 .06 26
6 Wisconsin 11-3 .210 .145 13 .068 8 .44 34 .96 6 -.01 71
7 Oklahoma 11-2 .206 .173 10 .197 40 1.38 2 .08 53 .00 60
8 LSU 7-4 .199 .138 18 .083 16 .50 31 1.15 4 -.15 127
9 Florida State 9-3 .190 .083 36 .074 12 .84 10 .25 41 -.12 123
10 Miami 8-4 .189 .130 20 .224 46 .17 50 .57 13 .06 25
11 Penn State 11-3 .181 .127 21 .081 15 .72 18 .20 48 .05 28
12 USC 10-3 .178 .166 11 .053 5 .65 21 .27 36 .14 4
13 Western Michigan 12-1 .162 .251 4 .462 93 1.33 3 .22 44 .04 36
14 Auburn 7-5 .152 .124 24 .033 2 .48 32 .57 14 .10 11
15 Oklahoma State 9-3 .148 .094 34 .271 59 .64 22 .21 47 .03 43
Rk Team Rec FEI GE Rk SOS Rk OFEI Rk DFEI Rk STE Rk
16 Western Kentucky 10-3 .143 .218 6 .127 28 1.00 6 .26 38 .11 7
17 Louisville 9-4 .141 .192 8 .121 26 .79 13 .51 19 -.03 86
18 Virginia Tech 9-4 .135 .112 28 .125 27 .07 60 .51 18 .03 46
19 Boise State 10-3 .132 .174 9 .507 105 .58 26 .52 17 -.08 109
20 Tennessee 8-4 .131 .060 44 .142 32 .57 27 -.04 64 .05 30
21 Florida 9-4 .127 .107 31 .053 6 -.41 100 .96 5 .10 10
22 Washington State 8-4 .123 .133 19 .300 66 .68 20 .23 43 .03 44
23 North Carolina 6-5 .120 .040 52 .224 47 .38 35 -.29 76 .09 13
24 Pittsburgh 7-5 .119 .045 49 .070 11 .86 9 -.47 95 .04 38
25 Colorado 9-4 .118 .062 43 .096 19 -.03 67 .92 7 -.09 113
26 Houston 8-4 .118 .114 27 .358 74 .15 53 .55 15 .04 40
27 West Virginia 9-3 .109 .073 39 .260 55 .18 48 .52 16 -.04 88
28 BYU 8-4 .109 .097 33 .442 90 -.05 70 .47 23 .13 6
29 Toledo 8-4 .105 .139 15 .452 91 1.10 4 -.11 67 -.03 78
30 Stanford 10-3 .102 .110 30 .202 41 -.21 79 .61 11 .16 3

Posted by: Brian Fremeau on 04 Jan 2017

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