Blowouts Bagged by Michigan (and Many More)
NCAA Week 3 - Each of the top 15 teams in this week's FEI ratings played an FBS opponent in Week 3, and each of them rolled to victory. As a group, the average final score of their games last weekend was 50-9. Only one of the 15 won its game by fewer than 27 points. The Texas Longhorns (FEI No. 8) only trucked UTSA by a final margin of three touchdowns, 41-20. The Iowa Hawkeyes (FEI No. 15) only put 27 points on the board, but blanked Nevada and allowed just two Wolfpack drives to cross midfield. The top four teams (Georgia, Alabama, Ohio State, and Michigan) were favored to win on Saturday by an average of 38 points per game. They all covered, winning their games by an average of 53 points.
If it seems like there have been more blowouts this season than usual, that's because it is true. Through three weeks (plus Week 0), there have been 150 games played between FBS opponents, and 54 of them (36.0%) have been decided by at least 25 points. That is the highest percentage of "dominant wins" (defined here as victories with a final margin of 25-plus points) in FBS games through the Week 3 since at least 2007, five percentage points higher than the average (30.9%) over the previous 15 seasons.
Of course, most of these teams still ain't played nobody. There have been only two matchups to date between FEI top-15 teams, and both were decided by a narrow margin in Week 2: Alabama edged Texas 20-19, and Iowa State squeaked past Iowa 10-7. Among the FEI top 15, only Ohio State (21-10 over FEI No. 19 Notre Dame) and Penn State (35-31 over FEI No. 27 Purdue) also have a win on the books against an FEI top-30 opponent. The FEI top-15 teams have 41 total wins (including games against FCS opponents) through Week 3, and 34 of those games came against opponents ranked outside of the FEI top 60.
The Michigan Wolverines have completely obliterated their three opponents to date by final scores of 51-7, 56-10, and 59-0. Their non-conference opponents—FEI No. 114 Colorado State, No. 123 Hawaii, and No. 128 Connecticut—are collectively 0-9 against FBS opponents to date and all appear destined to end the year ranked among the very worst teams in FBS. On the one hand, Michigan ranks as one of the least tested teams in the nation and their strong start could fairly be judged with a healthy dose of skepticism. On the other hand, crushing weak teams with ruthless efficiency is what elite teams do, and racking up dominant wins is a good indicator that a team will be a contender.
Several years back, I researched the performance of "Massey Consensus Team Types" over a span of 10 seasons, 2007 to 2016. The Massey Consensus is a composite of dozens of computer-based rating systems (plus several national polls) maintained by Ken Massey since 1995. My FEI ratings have been included in the composite since 2007. Though no individual rating system is infallible, I have found the composite ratings to be a very reliable "wisdom of crowds" reference point with which to evaluate teams and the strengths and weaknesses of ratings systems. In my team types analysis, I separated all FBS teams in the composite rankings over a 10-season span into buckets—elite teams ranked among the top five, very good teams ranked from No. 6 to No. 15, etc.—and then calculated the performance of team types against other team types.
Elite teams won 90.3% of their games against FBS opponents over the 10-year span. Perhaps more significantly, they won 43.7% of their games against FBS opponents in the span by at least 25 points. Elite teams accounted for only 17% of all FBS games played by Massey Consensus top-30 teams in the span, but accounted for 28% of all dominant wins among them. Team types below the elite tier accumulate more losses, of course, but it's also telling that they don't destroy weaker teams as frequently. Dominant wins don't necessarily provide much insight about how elite teams may play against one another, but they serve an important role in separating elite teams from the pack.
Through Week 3, most non-conference regular season games have already been played, and many of the most extreme FBS mismatches are in the rearview mirror of the season. The level of competition for Michigan and the rest of the FEI top-15 will get a bit more challenging in the coming weeks, and I expect we will have a re-sorted set of FEI top-15 teams a month from now. (Preseason projections still carry a 43% to 82% weight in the ratings this week, depending on the number of FBS games played.) But the most dominant teams through the first several weeks are very likely to have staying power, and I would be shocked if Georgia, Alabama, Ohio State, or Michigan weren't still top contenders as the season advances.
2022 FEI Ratings (through Week 3)
Fremeau Efficiency Index ratings (FEI) are opponent-adjusted possession efficiency data representing the per-possession scoring advantage a team would be expected to have on a neutral field against an average opponent. Offense ratings (OFEI) and defense ratings (DFEI) are opponent-adjusted drive efficiency data representing the per-drive scoring advantage a team unit would be expected to have against an average opponent unit. Net drive efficiency (NDE) is the sum of offensive drive efficiency and defensive drive efficiency data representing scoring value earned by offense and defense units per drive. Strength of schedule ratings represent the expected number of losses an elite team two standard deviations better than average would have against each team's schedule to date (ELS), the expected number of losses a good team one standard deviation above average would have against the schedule to date (GLS), and the expected number of losses an average team would have against the schedule to date (ALS). Ratings for all 131 teams are found here, and expanded ratings including projected win totals are found here.