FEI Week 1: Comebacks
by Brian Fremeau
In last week's column to kick off the season, I confessed that I prefer chaos taking center stage in college football to having an accurate projection model. The opening weekend delivered a bit of both. FEI game projections identified more first week winners than most thanks to underdog victories from South Carolina, Southern Mississippi, Ball State, and Toledo. On the flip side, FEI didn’t anticipate faceplants from LSU, Oklahoma, or Mississippi State. In total, the first weekend provided as much excitement as any college football fan might want, especially due to the back-and-forth nature of several key games.
There were 40 FBS games this past weekend, and the team that went on to victory trailed at some point in 26 of those games (65 percent). On average since the start of the 2007 season, teams in FBS vs. FBS games that went on to victory only trailed at some point in 51 percent of those contests. Week 1 has usually been even less volatile than that -- from 2007 to 2015, only 41 percent of Week 1 FBS vs. FBS game winners trailed at some point in those games. Hooray for an uptick in competitive early-season scheduling!
Naming a game in which a team trailed at some point and then went on to victory a “comeback” is a bit of a stretch, of course. Alabama gave up an early field goal to USC on Saturday night, didn’t take the lead until the game’s 11th possession, but then dominated from that point forward en route to a 52-6 victory over the Trojans. Since the Crimson Tide did trail early on, that never-really-in-doubt victory still counts as a comeback under this admittedly very broad definition.
When we think about comebacks, we think much more so of teams that fall behind by several scores before rallying and then taking the lead. The opening weekend featured three games in which a team went on to victory after trailing by at least 17 points. This is historically a much more infrequent situation than our initial broad definition. Since 2007, comeback victories after scoring deficits of at least 17 points occurred in only 2.4 percent of all FBS vs FBS games. On average, we should have expected only one such win in 40 games this weekend. Last year it took until October 3, the fifth weekend of the season, before we had accumulated a total of three comeback victories by 17 or more points in FBS games. This year? Southern Mississippi (44-35 winner over Kentucky after trailing 35-10) and South Alabama (21-20 winner over Mississippi State after trailing 17-0) each pulled off the feat on Saturday, and Florida State made it three for the weekend in spectacular fashion Monday night.
With just over three minutes left in the second quarter, Ole Miss capped a 10-play, 80-yard touchdown drive to take a 28-6 lead over Florida State. The Rebels had scored touchdowns on three straight possessions and appeared to be on their way to a comfortable victory. But the Seminoles flipped the script and dominated the game from that point forward. Florida State scored two field goals and four touchdowns on its next six possessions and allowed Ole Miss a total of minus-7 yards of offense in the same span. In total, Florida State scored on each of its final nine non-garbage possessions of the game to seal a 45-34 victory.
Florida State has been no stranger to major comeback victories. The Seminoles had two wins in their undefeated 2014 regular season (against North Carolina State and Louisville) in which they trailed by at least three scores before rallying to victory. They even fell behind by 18 points in their BCS national championship game victory over Auburn the previous year. Since the start of the 2007 season, the Seminoles have had a total of five 17-plus-point comeback victories, tied with Houston for the most in that span.
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If we shift our view to merely double-digit comeback victories -- teams that fell behind by at least 10 points at some point in the game before rallying to win -- Florida State comes out on top of that list as well. The Seminoles have had a total of 16 such victories since the start of the 2007 season, more than any other team. Nearly 20 percent of their FBS wins over the last ten years have come after they fell behind by double digits in the game. The national average frequency of such comeback victories is only 13.6 percent.
Just as significantly and impressively, Florida State hasn’t allowed an opponent to rally from 17 or more points down against them since at least 2007. And they’ve only allowed four comebacks to opponents facing a double-digit deficit in that span. Florida State is one of 16 teams to have played in at least 20 games in the last ten seasons in which a double-digit comeback victory occurred. None of the other teams on that list won more than 60 percent of the games in which they were involved. Florida State won 80 percent of them.
|Teams Involved In At Least 20 Double-Digit Comeback Games Since 2007|
|San Diego State||10||11||.476|
The Seminoles have tough challenges ahead against Louisville and Clemson in ACC play, but they certainly appear equipped to be a contender in the College Football Playoff race. And their ability to play well from in front and after falling behind makes them a dangerous threat to win no matter how those tough games or any others begin.
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FEI Ratings Through Week 1
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.
FEI ratings through the first six weeks of the season are based in part on preseason projection data. Preseason ratings represent approximately 86 percent of this week's ratings. Ratings for all teams are linked here.
1 comment, Last at 08 Sep 2016, 5:54pm
#1 by ramirez // Sep 08, 2016 - 5:54pm
I'm curious to know how these FEI numbers are calculated, because it sure looks like they just rate all SEC games as tougher than those of any other conference. Last year's rankings had Arkansas at 9 and Tennessee at 11, with Iowa way down at 34. It's hard to take a ranking seriously when it produces results like that.
If you look at the teams that are currently rated as having the toughest schedules, they're all SEC teams, except for Sourthern Cal. Here are some of the nonconference juggernauts SEC schools will face this weekend: Nicholls State, Prairie View, Western Kentucky, Wofford, Middle Tennessee, Arkansas State, Jacksonville State, and Eastern Michigan. You can't tell me SEC schedules are harder when they consistently play teams like that.