FEI Week 14: Wildcat Strike
by Brian Fremeau
Five weeks ago, four teams had established themselves as the clear contenders in the BCS championship race. Alabama and Oregon sat atop the major polls, Kansas State and Notre Dame had won over the computers, and it appeared that we were in for a fiercely contested debate down the stretch to determine the national championship game participants among those four contenders.
FEI agreed, and from that point until today, those four teams have remained at the top of the FEI ratings each week. Alabama lost to Texas A&M, Oregon lost to Stanford, and Kansas State lost to Baylor. Those results and others shuffled the top four rankings each week, but the four remained the same. Those that follow FEI know that this isn’t an unusual phenomenon. Though the opponent-adjusted drive efficiency calculations I run each week are complex, I’m rarely surprised by the FEI output.
And yet, this year’s final regular-season ratings do challenge assumptions I’ve made about FEI, starting at the top. The Kansas State Wildcats are ranked No. 1 this week, a leap up from No. 4, following a victory over the Texas Longhorns last weekend. I expected that kind of jump might have been in store for Alabama after their SEC championship game win over Georgia, but it didn’t work out that way. What is it about the Wildcats that FEI finds to be so special?
The short answer is that FEI finds the Big 12 to be pretty special, and Kansas State earns a lot of credit for winning the conference, and winning in dominant fashion against many of its league foes. The Wildcats rank among the top 20 in Offensive FEI, Defensive FEI, Special Teams Efficiency, and Field Position Advantage, and KSU ranks in the top 5 in three of those measures. Alabama is the only other team to rank in the top 30 in those four measures. Stanford is the only other team to rank in the top 40 in those four measures. In other words, Kansas State distinguished itself as the best team in the country according to the primary efficiency components of FEI.
And yet, the Wildcats defied one of the primary philosophical components of FEI by getting blown out at Baylor by 28 points back on November 17. The Bears ended up with a very respectable No. 19 ranking in FEI, so the loss itself shouldn’t have been crippling, but it is extraordinarily rare for a team to lose badly and not have that significantly impact their FEI rating. Should that loss carry more weight than I am already assigning to it? That’s a question I’m going to have to explore in the offseason.
Speaking of the offseason, as you know, I have been using the Program FEI ratings (five-year weighted drive efficiency) as the foundation of my preseason projections. The Kansas State Wildcats were ranked No. 48 in PFEI heading into 2012, and if their FEI 2012 ranking holds, they will have made the biggest leap to No. 1 by far for any team I have ever tracked. Prior to this year, the lowest ranked PFEI team to ascend to No. 1 in next-year FEI was the 2003 LSU Tigers (PFEI No. 26 heading into 2003). Every other team in the last decade to ascend to No. 1 in FEI was ranked among the top 20 in PFEI. Kansas State is only the third team in the last 10 years to ascend to the top 5 in FEI from outside the top 40 in PFEI.
The bowl season is about to challenge other assumptions I have made about FEI. This is the first season since I’ve been calculating FEI that neither of the BCS championship game participants are ranked No. 1 in FEI. Neither is ranked No. 2, either. Kansas State’s leap and Alabama’s non-leap this weekend means that the Fiesta Bowl, not the BCS championship game, is the marquee matchup according to FEI.
The FEIsta Bowl, if you will, features Kansas State against the Oregon Ducks, another team to challenge assumptions I’ve made throughout the year. Oregon was held back below the other contenders for most of the season due to schedule strength, and though they did play their toughest opponents down the stretch, I wasn’t sure it would be enough to move ahead of the others. Not winning their division due to the loss to Stanford, and not playing in the Pac-12 title game was probably going to hurt their final FEI rating, I assumed. Instead, I think not playing the game might have helped.
Remember that I include a "relevance" factor in weighting the value of each game to calculate opponent adjustments. Oregon didn’t play many top teams, but the relevance of those games actually works in their favor. Beating Oregon State in the final week of the year may not have been enough to bump them forward if they had a few other wins against top-20 teams. But that data point is so much more significant than their collection of wins against very weak teams, it did provide the bump Oregon needed to leapfrog Notre Dame and Alabama.
There’s no intention to reward a weak schedule in FEI, and for the most part, FEI does the opposite. But Oregon is a unique case -– No. 1 in raw Game Efficiency against many weak teams, big wins against two top-25 teams (USC and Oregon State), and an overtime loss to a top-10 team. Those three results suggest to FEI that the Ducks are definitely one of the nation’s best, but the relative insignificance of most of their other wins gives them a boost. Should that be the case? Again, this is something I’m going to look more closely at in the offseason.
The way the FEI ratings currently shake out, I fully expect that the winner of the Fiesta Bowl will be ranked above the winner of the BCS championship game in the final FEI ratings to be published after the bowls. The top four teams will almost certainly remain the top four teams at the end of the year. But since I’ve had many other assumptions challenged this year, I guess I should hold off on making any guarantees.
Week 14 Revisionist Box Scores
This weekly feature identifies the games played each week that were most impacted by turnovers, special teams, field position, or some combination of the three. The neutralized margin of victory is a function of the point values earned and surrendered based on field position and expected scoring rates.
|Week 14 Games In Which Total Turnover Value Exceeded Non-Garbage Final Score Margin|
|Week 14 Games In Which Special Teams Value Exceeded Non-Garbage Final Score Margin|
|Week 14 Games In Which Field Position Value Exceeded Non-Garbage Final Score Margin|
2012 totals to date:
- Net Total Turnover Value was the difference in 113 of 696 FBS games (16.2 percent)
- Net Special Teams Value was the difference in 56 of 696 FBS games (8.0 percent)
- Net Field Position Value was the difference in 70 of 696 FBS games (10.1 percent)
- Turnovers, Special Teams and/or Field Position was the difference in 158 of 696 FBS games (22.7 percent)
2012 Game Splits for all teams, including the offensive, defensive, special teams, field position, and turnover values recorded in each FBS game are provided here.
FEI Week 14 Top 25
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The Fremeau Efficiency Index (FEI) rewards playing well against good teams, win or lose, and punishes losing to poor teams more harshly than it rewards defeating poor teams. FEI is drive-based and it is specifically engineered to measure the college game. FEI is the opponent-adjusted value of Game Efficiency (GE), a measurement of the success rate of a team scoring and preventing opponent scoring throughout the non-garbage-time possessions of a game. FEI represents a team's efficiency value over average.
- SOS Pvs: Strength of schedule to date, based on the likelihood of an elite team going undefeated against the given team's schedule to date.
- SOS Tot: Strength of schedule, based on the likelihood of an elite team going undefeated against the given team's entire schedule, including 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 entire schedule.
- FBS RMW: Remaining Mean Wins, the average number of games a team with the given FEI rating would be expected to win against its remaining schedule.
- OFEI: Offensive FEI, the opponent-adjusted efficiency of the given team's offense.
- DFEI: Defensive FEI, the opponent-adjusted efficiency of the given team's defense.
- STE: Special Teams Efficiency, the scoring value earned by field goal, punt and kickoff units measured in points per average game.
- FPA: Field Position Advantage, the share of the value of total starting field position earned by each team against its opponents.
These FEI ratings are a function of results of games played through December 1st. The ratings for all FBS teams, including FEI splits for Offense, Defense, and Special Teams can be found here. Program FEI (five-year weighted) ratings and other supplemental drive-based data can be found here.
10 comments, Last at 09 Dec 2012, 9:30pm
#1 by RickD // Dec 06, 2012 - 11:26am
I love that these rankings have a bunch of 5- and 6- loss teams and doesn't feel the need to include Louisville simply because they won the Big East.
#2 by Will Allen // Dec 06, 2012 - 12:15pm
Wouldn't it be fun if, on Saturday, Wisconsin was playing at Notre Dame, Florida State at Alabama, Georgia at Stanford, and Oregon at Kansas State? Yeah, I know Florida is getting left out, and Wisconsin has 5 losses, but if we accept the reality that the major conferences (Big 10, Pac 12, SEC, ACC, Big 12) are going to demand at least one representative in a tourney, and have a rule where you don't penalize a division winner for losing a conference championship game, to favor a team the division winner beat in the regular season, and limit each conference to two participants, it seems like an entertaining slate of games.
I think you could auction the t.v. rights to four games like that, on the 2nd Staurday in December, with two semi-finals on January 1st at two of the major Bowl sites, with a Championship 7 to 14 days later, at whatever suitable city bid successfully for the last game, for a pretty fair sum. Just a guess.
#4 by Mood_Indigo (not verified) // Dec 06, 2012 - 12:24pm
The Stanford players have to study for their final exams.
#5 by Will Allen // Dec 06, 2012 - 12:35pm
Is that considered when Stanford's basketball team takes a month to play in their conference tourney, and then the NCAA tourney? Or are athletes who play with a brown oblong ball just considered intellectually and academically different than athletes who play with a round orange ball?
#8 by My name is my … (not verified) // Dec 07, 2012 - 9:11am
With your parameters, why does Oregon make it in? They didn't win their division. Thus, if Stanford would have lost their title game, you would be comfortable leaving Oregon at home?
Putting in Georgia over Florida basically rewards weak schedules. One cannot say Georgia>Florida from the win, as Georgia>Florida>USC>Georgia circle cancels any transitive property assumption
#9 by Will Allen // Dec 07, 2012 - 9:22am
Because the reality of the situation is that a majority of the major conferences will likely demand that no single conference have more than two participants, just like they will demand that each major have at least one participant. Personally, I don't care which third place finisher gets shafted.
#3 by DisplacedPackerFan // Dec 06, 2012 - 12:19pm
I'm not convinced that your #1 and #2 are wrong either.
Last year at this time 1-4 in FEI were at 0.318, 0.297, 0.255, 0.252
Those 4 teams ended up at 0.318, 0.311, 0.235 (#5), 0.306(#3). The new #4 was 0.240. LSU, OK State, and Alabama were great teams last year.
This year they are 0.305, 0.299, 0.289, 0.279. #5 and #6 are 0.273 and 0.260.
These are good teams, the gaps just aren't as big. It's possible that you are right and that a little bit of noise is shuffling them around more than it should be, or that they really are really good to great teams and trying to put them in the proper order is hard.
OK I'm just gonna treat them like batting averages and drop the decimals.
I wasn't able to quickly find the pre-bowl numbers for 2010, but the final numbers looked more like 2011, a couple 300 plus teams, and then a clear drop off. 2009 was even more stark in the drop offs.
It seems pretty rare to have more than 4 teams above a 260. (3 in 07, 4 in 08, 2 in 09, 4 in 10, 3 in 11) This year there are currently 6. It also seems rare for the top team to end up under 340 (07 it was 282, 08 was 356, 09 was 342, 10 was 348, 11 was 318). So the "best" isn't as dominate this year either. Now the bowl games are going to provide some bump too, but I don't see any team getting up past 315.
I still think these rankings are solid and more accurate than many others out there. It's good to challenge assumptions, but don't assume they are wrong. It's possible that the rest of the conventional wisdom that has Notre Dame and Alabama as #1 and #2 is wrong. Most of the other metrics agree that all four of these teams are really good and most other metrics have had failures as well in the past "getting it right".
#6 by Kal // Dec 06, 2012 - 3:50pm
What is the actual predictive value of special teams and field position as far as winning games go? I know that DVOA ranks special teams as 1/7th of the value; I don't quite know what field position does to that overall value other than giving some amount of expected points.
Similarly, it sounds like both special teams and field position are considered 'lucky' - otherwise the revisionist box score wouldn't be the way it is. Is that the case? How much can we expect special teams and field position to continue on a game to game basis? how much variance is there?
#7 by Brian Fremeau // Dec 06, 2012 - 4:01pm
The relationship between efficiency stats and winning percentage is illustrated in this chart: http://www.bcftoys.com/home/2011/12/18/fei-data-update.html
It only recently occurred to me, but I could run a set of FEI ratings based on the revisionist box scores. There could be a turnover-neutral FEI, a special teams neutral FEI, a field position neutral FEI. I think I ought to do that this off-season and find out if those ratings (or maybe a combination of alternate FEIs) might be more predictive.
#10 by Brian Fremeau // Dec 09, 2012 - 9:30pm
I'll definitely devote another column altogether to this idea, but I did run a turnover-neutral, special-teams-neutral, and field-position-neutral FEI. Each of them had the same top-6 teams, just in a different order for each:
2. Notre Dame
5. Texas A&M
6. Kansas State
2. Notre Dame
3. Kansas State
6. Texas A&M
1. Notre Dame
4. Kansas State
6. Texas A&M