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» 2017 Play-Action Defense

Our look at play-action pass in 2017 flips to the defensive side of the ball. Carolina was historically good, Houston was historically bad, and a long-standing question about year-to-year correlation gets cleared up.

07 Sep 2017

FEI Week 1 Ratings

by Brian Fremeau

The biggest game of the weekend featured a major test for the top-ranked Crimson Tide, but one they managed to ultimately pass by a comfortable margin. Alabama battled ferociously with Florida State on Saturday night in Atlanta and prevailed by a final score of 24-7. The game marked the 72nd occasion since Nick Saban arrived in Tuscaloosa in 2007 that Alabama defeated an FBS opponent by at least 17 points. They have won by at least three scores more often than any other program in that span. Perhaps even more impressively, Alabama is also the only program that has never lost by 17 or more points in that span.

The game remained in doubt well into the second half, but a series of special teams gaffes very quickly unraveled Florida State's opportunity to win. Leading 10-7 with under five minutes remaining in the third quarter, Alabama blocked a Florida State punt to set themselves up with the ball inside the Seminole's 10-yard line. Alabama only managed a field goal on that possession to take a 13-7 lead.

Florida State fumbled the ensuing kickoff, again setting up Alabama deep inside scoring range. This time the Crimson Tide reached the end zone on an 11-yard touchdown run on the first play of the drive, and a successful two-point conversion pushed the lead to 21-7. Three minutes of game clock had elapsed since Florida State had set up to punt trailing only by three points, and in that span, the ball never advanced beyond Florida State's own 20-yard line, and 11 points were surrendered to Alabama.

With FEI game splits, I calculate the value of each possession and possession-change event based on the scoring opportunity value of the field position surrendered or gained. Whether the team capitalizes on the opportunity or not, the value of a punt block or fumble recovery on an opponent kickoff return generates significant scoring opportunity value. In Alabama's case, the special teams events generated 10 of the 11 points scored in the sequence, and Alabama's offense is only credited with one point of scoring value added on the touchdown.

In total over the course of the game, the Crimson Tide special teams unit was credited for 11.3 points of the 17-point final scoring margin. That number and the final scoring margin could have been larger if Alabama hadn't missed a pair of field goals in the game, one of which came early in the fourth quarter after a Florida State interception again started Alabama in plus territory.

A combination of key special teams and defensive plays helped Alabama to a significant starting field position advantage in the game. According to FEI game splits, Alabama's non-garbage starting field position was worth 33.9 points in the game -- an average offense against an average defense would have been expected to score almost 10 more points in the game than the Crimson Tide managed to put on the board. Florida State's starting field position value was 20.2, over 13 points more than the Seminoles managed to score. Starting field position alone accounted for a 13.7-point advantage for Alabama in the game.

On the one hand, the game demonstrated that Alabama doesn't simply stand head and shoulders above all other opponents on offense and defense. They can line up and dominate many opponents, but not other elite programs. Instead, Florida State appeared to be every bit equal to Alabama at the line of scrimmage and played evenly on most possessions. But the game also demonstrated that near flawlessness in all three phases of the game is required to topple the Crimson Tide. Alabama may yet stumble this year, perhaps even more than once. But they're equipped to seize opportunities and dominate whenever their opponents make mistakes, even against other elite opponents. And as they have now done for a decade, Alabama will win comfortably in the end as soon as their opponent makes those mistakes.

FEI 2017 Week 1 Ratings

The Fremeau Efficiency Index (FEI) is a college football rating system based on opponent-adjusted drive efficiency in FBS games. Preseason projected ratings are a function of five-year program ratings, recent recruiting success, and returning offensive and defensive experience. Strength of schedule (SOS) ratings are a function of the projected FEI ratings of a given team's schedule of opponents and the location (home/away/neutral) of each game, representing the average number of losses an elite team (two standard deviations better than average) would have against the schedule.

Ratings for all 130 teams can be found here.

Rk Team Rec FEI SOS Rk
1 Alabama 1-0 0.316 1.41 18
2 Ohio State 1-0 0.264 0.94 58
3 Florida State 0-1 0.225 1.71 7
4 Clemson 1-0 0.214 1.19 36
5 Oklahoma 1-0 0.199 1.42 17
6 Georgia 1-0 0.197 1.28 26
7 USC 1-0 0.195 0.92 59
8 Stanford 1-0 0.185 1.22 35
9 LSU 1-0 0.181 1.73 5
10 Penn State 1-0 0.167 1.15 39
11 Washington 1-0 0.158 0.81 64
12 Wisconsin 1-0 0.158 0.58 80
13 Auburn 1-0 0.152 2.02 1
14 Michigan 1-0 0.142 1.33 23
15 Florida 0-1 0.139 1.46 13
Rk Team Rec FEI SOS Rk
16 TCU 0-0 0.134 1.13 44
17 Notre Dame 1-0 0.131 1.24 32
18 Oklahoma State 1-0 0.130 0.90 61
19 Oregon 0-0 0.124 1.01 50
20 Louisville 1-0 0.124 1.09 45
21 Texas A&M 0-1 0.107 1.73 6
22 Kansas State 0-0 0.101 0.97 52
23 Texas 0-1 0.099 1.36 21
24 Tennessee 1-0 0.098 1.77 4
25 Georgia Tech 0-1 0.098 1.24 33
26 Miami 0-0 0.098 1.04 49
27 Virginia Tech 1-0 0.089 0.77 66
28 South Carolina 1-0 0.084 1.36 22
29 Boise State 1-0 0.082 0.49 91
30 Northwestern 1-0 0.081 0.73 70

Posted by: Brian Fremeau on 07 Sep 2017

3 comments, Last at 12 Sep 2017, 10:13pm by Brian Fremeau


by Aaron Brooks Go... :: Fri, 09/08/2017 - 8:47am

Do you really buy Georgia at #6?

I get it, based on talent. But they're still, you know, Georgia.

by LionInAZ :: Fri, 09/08/2017 - 11:00pm

Not worth arguing about. Even FEI is still weighted mostly by poll rankings, which are mostly opinions.

by Brian Fremeau :: Tue, 09/12/2017 - 10:13pm

Poll rankings and opinions? No. But very much weighted by preseason projection data (five-year program ratings, recruiting success, and returning offensive and defensive production).