by Brian Fremeau
Alabama played its best game of the season on Monday night in a 42-14 victory over Notre Dame, but that’s understating it a bit. The Crimson Tide played the best college football game of the 2012 season period; the second straight year they have accomplished such a feat in the BCS title game. Yet, that’s still selling the win short. In the 2012 BCS championship match-up against the Fighting Irish, the Crimson Tide recorded the most dominant single game opponent-adjusted performance of the last ten years.
Like many others, I expected the BCS championship to be a low-scoring defensive battle between two of the nation’s best defenses. I expected both teams to move the ball reasonably well from their own end of the field, but to struggle to turn those drives into points as the end zone drew near. I expected to dissect each team’s execution by first-down series field position as a critical, measurable storyline of the game. Alabama obliterated my expectations.
The Crimson Tide scored a touchdown on their first three possessions and six of their first eight drives. Notre Dame had only surrendered seven touchdown drives of 50 or more yards all season heading into the title game, and Alabama nearly doubled that total in one night. Before Monday, the Irish had faced 122 opponent first-down series in Notre Dame territory, and only 18 percent of those situations led to a touchdown. In the title game, Alabama had 14 first-down series start in Notre Dame territory, all of which eventually led to the end zone.
Maybe we can look through the rearview mirror and wonder why we didn’t see that kind of performance coming all along. Alabama has a recent history of dominating performances in big games under Nick Saban, and as Matt Hinton described it yesterday, the Crimson Tide are a Death Star, a machine, and a dynasty built to last.
That said, the only game in which Alabama's offensive efficiency was comparable this season was in a 49-0 beatdown of Auburn at the end of the regular season. That Auburn team ranked among the worst teams in college football, No. 116 in FEI, No. 119 in OFEI, and No. 100 in DFEI. In the BCS championship game, Alabama's offense made one of the best defenses in the country look like one of the worst.
Alabama dominated Georgia's defense in the SEC championship game to the tune of 350 yards rushing, 512 total yards, and 7.1 yards per play. But against Notre Dame, the Crimson Tide machine generated more than twice as much offensive value in half as many possessions. That's ridiculous efficiency against any opponent, but this came against one of the best defenses in the country. Notre Dame didn't get on the scoreboard until garbage time hit.
Nick Saban's program in Tuscaloosa is the best in the country. The best players in the best system have proven themselves against most of the best teams over the last four years. It is especially remarkable that they have played their best against the best competition so consistently.
- 2009: Alabama crushed Florida (FEI No. 2) 32-13 in the SEC championship game, Florida's only loss of the year.
- 2010: Alabama crushed Michigan State (FEI No. 39) 49-7 in the Capital One Bowl, Michigan State's second loss of the year.
- 2011: Alabama crushed LSU (FEI No. 1) 21-0 in the BCS championship game, LSU's only loss of the year.
- 2012: Alabama crushed Notre Dame (FEI No. 10) 42-14 in the BCS championship game, Notre Dame's only loss of the year.
These games were either the final game or the second-to-last game played by Alabama in each of the last four seasons. All of them were remarkably dominant performances. We have just completed the first decade of the FEI era (2003-present), and there have been 7,036 FBS games played in that span. That's 14,072 individual game performances in the last decade. The four Alabama games listed above all rank in the top 20 of opponent-adjusted game efficiency performances, in the 99.9 percentile of the last decade. Monday night's game was the single-most dominant game of the last ten years.
No, FEI didn't see it coming. Alabama was ranked No. 4 heading into the bowl season and the Irish were ranked No. 3. I didn't expect that the winner of the BCS championship would have been able to leap ahead of the winner of the Fiesta Bowl (then-No. 1 Kansas State against then-No. 2 Oregon). But the best game played among the last 14,000 did the trick. Alabama is No. 1.
This marks the seventh straight year in which the FEI No. 1 and No. 2 teams did not play for the BCS championship (though they did meet in the SEC championship game in 2006). The current system is going away soon, and the field will be expanded to include many of the best teams that were left out. The No. 2 Oregon Ducks would have been a good candidate to challenge the dynasty, but who knows if it would have made much of a difference. As the Crimson Tide proved once again, knocking off Alabama in an end-of-year championship environment requires a once-in-a-decade level performance.
FEI Final 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: Strength of schedule, based on the likelihood of an elite team going undefeated against the given team's entire schedule.
- 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.
- 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 January 7th. 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.