by Brian Fremeau
Bill Connelly and I both pay particular attention to how teams finish drives. Bill measures scoring opportunities as those that cross the opponent's 40-yard line, one of the Five Factors that are most important in determining the outcome of college football games. I measure value drives as possessions that cross the opponent's 30-yard line, the line at which a field-goal attempt becomes better than a 50-50 proposition for an average college kicker. Either way, the zone through which offenses move the ball and points on the scoreboard become a real threat is critical to winning football games. On Saturday, Stanford and USC provided us with one of the most extreme examples on record.
The Cardinal had nine total offensive possessions in the game. That's three fewer non-garbage possessions than a typical game, but not an extraordinarily low number in a game in which both teams move the ball consistently and methodically. Every single one of Stanford's nine possessions ended across the USC 35-yard line. That's unusual.
In the 737 FBS vs. FBS games played last season, a team ended every non-garbage possession across the opponent's 35-yard line only 16 times. Only five of those occasions went nine-for-nine.
|2013 Games In Which Teams Finished Every Non-Garbage Drive Across the Opponent 35-yard Line|
|Date||Team||NG Final||Final||Opponent||Opp Rk||SO/Poss|
|9/7||Stanford||34-13||34-13||San Jose State||85||8/8|
|9/13||Boise State||42-20||42-20||Air Force||117||8/8|
|9/21||UCLA||38-0||59-13||New Mexico State||118||9/9|
|10/5||Louisiana Lafayette||45-3||48-24||Texas State||115||9/9|
|10/19||East Carolina||45-0||55-14||Southern Mississippi||123||9/9|
|"NG Final" refers to the score at the end of non-garbage time possessions
"SO/Poss" refers to the number of scoring opportunities per total non-garbage possession
A few things jump out immediately from this table. One is the level of competition faced by the offenses in these games. The average FEI ranking for the opponents in these 16 games was No. 101, and only one of the opponents ranked among the top 60 in the country last year. Stanford's opponent this weekend currently ranks No. 3 and projects to be a College Football Playoff contender.
The second thing that jumps out from the table is that every one of those teams that had such success crossing into opponent scoring territory had little trouble putting points on the board. They averaged 42.5 points in non-garbage time as a group and average 49.6 points total for the game. None scored fewer than 33 points. Stanford, of course, scored only 10 points this past weekend.
It was epic futility in scoring range for the Cardinal. Two missed field goals, two fumbles, a turnover on downs, and two punts killed seven of the nine drives. The ball was at the USC 29-yard line and the USC 32-yard line at the end of the drives that ended with a punt for Stanford. That's extraordinary as well. In the entire 2013 season, only nine punts came at the end of drives at or inside the opponent's 32-yard line -- nine out of 6,978 non-garbage time punts total.
With seven failed possessions ending across the opponent's 35-yard line, it is amazing that Stanford was in the game at all. Only one team in 2013 went scoreless on more than four trips across the opponent's 35-yard line and still won the game: Oklahoma State defeated TCU 24-10 and had six failed possessions that ended across the Horned Frog's 35-yard line. Six teams failed on five non-garbage trips across the opponent's 35-yard line and lost, and their average margin of defeat was 18.9 points.
Instead, Stanford remained locked in a 10-10 tie until USC kicked a 53-yard field goal with less than three minutes left in the game. That possession for the Trojans ended on, you guessed it, the Stanford 35-yard line. USC had only eight non-garbage possessions in the game and only two of them ended across that yard line on the field, and two died at the 35. Only twice last season did a team lose a game in which it had more than four scoring opportunities across the opponent's 35-yard line than its foe. Both games were lost in overtime -- Western Michigan fell 32-35 to Eastern Michigan, and San Diego State fell 28-35 to Fresno State.
More data will be needed before FEI passes its final judgment on the offensive and defensive efficiency results of the game, but as of now, a close game between two strong opponents rates as a feather in the cap of both teams. USC and Stanford both reside in the FEI top 4 this week, and both project to be contenders in the Pac-12 South and North division races the rest of the way. If Stanford struggles to put the ball in the end zone when it moves into scoring range all year, they won't last long. If USC's defense continues to lock down opponent scoring opportunities like it did last weekend, they'll be a playoff contender for sure.
FEI 2014 Week 2 Ratings
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The Fremeau Efficiency Index (FEI) is a college football rating system based on opponent-adjusted drive efficiency. Nearly 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. Game Efficiency (GE) is a function of the starting field position and outcome of non-garbage possessions. Opponent adjustments are calculated with special emphasis placed on quality performances against good teams, win or lose.
Strength of Schedule (SOS) is calculated as the likelihood that an "elite team" (two standard deviations above average) would win every game on the given team's schedule. SOS listed here includes all regular season games scheduled. A multifaceted approach to measuring schedule strength is available here.
Mean Wins (FBS MW) represent the average total games a team with the given FEI rating should expect to win against its complete schedule of FBS opponents. Remaining Mean Wins (FBS RMW) represent the average total games a team with the given FEI rating should expect to win against the remaining opponents on its schedule.
These ratings are partially influenced by preseason projections, a function of Program FEI ratings, previous-year FEI and garbage time data, previous-year turnover-neutral, special teams-neutral, and field position-neutral FEI, returning starters, recruiting success, and quarterback reliance. As the season progresses and actual 2014 data continues to be collected, the weight given to projection data will be reduced each week until Week 7, at which point it will be eliminated from the rankings entirely. Offensive and defensive FEI ratings will also debut in Week 7.