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06 Dec 2017

FEI Week 14 Ratings

by Brian Fremeau

It's the end of the regular season, and the College Football Playoff field and bowl matchups have been set. The playoff selection committee had its work cut out for itself this year, with the fourth and final berth coming down to a choice between a pair of historically powerful programs that were both worthy and yet unworthy of consideration, depending on your perspective. As the creator of a statistical analysis tool that is designed to evaluate data and data alone, my own perspective is also conflicted.

The Alabama Crimson Tide were given the nod, and there are plenty of statistical reasons to agree with that choice. Along with the SEC champion Georgia Bulldogs (the No. 3 seed in the playoff rankings), Alabama is one of only two teams that rank among the top six nationally in opponent-adjusted offense, opponent-adjusted defense, and overall opponent-adjusted FEI ratings. Though not prolific offensively, the Crimson Tide were efficient and protected the ball better than any other offense this season, ranking first nationally in turnover percentage (3.7 percent of non-garbage drives). Their defense wasn't particularly reliant on turnovers, but was very efficient. Alabama ranked among the top five nationally in defensive drive success rate (17.4 percent of opponent drives generated more value than expected based on field position), available yards allowed (31.4 percent), and touchdown rate (10.1 percent).

All of that said, did Alabama prove themselves this year? The opponent-adjusted numbers recognize Alabama's elite status, but the Crimson Tide failed the one and only test they were given against a fellow elite opponent in their 12-point loss to Auburn in the Iron Bowl. Alabama has zero wins against top-10 FEI opponents, while each of the other three playoff contenders have one each. Alabama has only one win against an FEI top-20 opponent, while the other three playoff contenders have ten such wins combined. The Crimson Tide may have the capacity for greatness, but they didn't prove it when it mattered most this year, and their failure to reach the conference championship game might have actually benefited them, since they did not have to risk a second loss against another formidable foe. Is that playoff-worthy?

In comparison, Ohio State has an excellent collection of playoff-worthy victories. The Buckeyes have two wins against fellow FEI top-10 opponents, with victories over Penn State and Wisconsin. Ohio State is tied with Clemson for the most opponent-adjusted single game efficiency performances that rank in the 90th percentile nationally -- eight such wins, three more than Alabama. The Buckeyes rank among the top 10 in FEI, OFEI, and DFEI, and they played a more difficult schedule than the Crimson Tide. Ohio State's overall schedule strength played to date ranks 12th nationally. An elite team would have been expected to lose 1.73 times against their slate played to date. Alabama's schedule ranks 60th, and the same elite team would have been expected to lose only 1.12 times against their opponents.

That's the rub, though, isn't it? Ohio State has two losses, 0.27 more losses than an elite team "should have had" and Alabama has only one loss, 0.12 fewer losses than an elite team "should have had." Was the committee simply reluctant to pull the trigger on granting a playoff berth to a two-loss team, regardless of how strong that team's profile was otherwise? I think, perhaps, that might be so, but the committee appeared well prepared to have granted an exception for then-two-loss Auburn had the Tigers won the SEC championship game.

The albatross around Ohio State's neck was the bigger and more definitive issue, I think. And that's ultimately an albatross that drags down the Buckeyes in the FEI ratings as well. For as strong as Ohio State proved to be against the bulk of its schedule, their 31-point loss to Iowa was terrible. The Hawkeyes aren't terrible -- in fact, FEI has Iowa ranked 18th this week, so it's hardly the worst loss suffered by an otherwise great team in terms of the strength of the opponent faced. It's the blowout nature of the loss, inexcusable for a playoff-contending team.

The worst performance of the season recorded by Alabama this year was a 12-point loss to a top-five opponent, a loss that still ranks higher than 78 percent of all other single-game performances recorded in FBS this year. As for the other playoff teams, Clemson's worst game (a three-point road loss to Syracuse) ranks in the 55th percentile; Oklahoma's worst game (a 7-point loss to Iowa State) ranks in the 62nd percentile; and Georgia's worst game (a 23-point loss to Auburn) ranks in the 63rd percentile. Ohio State's loss to Iowa ranks in the 25th percentile. As bad losses by elite teams go, it was as bad as it gets. And I think the committee, whether they evaluated it through a data lens or otherwise, agreed.

Given a choice between Alabama and Ohio State for the final playoff spot, the FEI ratings would also pick the Crimson Tide. But if we used FEI to pick the playoff field, neither Alabama nor Ohio State would have gotten the nod. Instead, that seat would belong to Auburn. The Tigers played the nation's toughest schedule this year, with four games against the playoff field. A 2-2 record in those four games is nothing to sneeze at either, and actually reinforces their worthiness among the nation's elite. Unlike the Crimson Tide, we know what Auburn is capable of against elite competition.

Of course, a three-loss conference runner-up has no shot at the playoff and likely never will, since there will inevitably be several teams with unblemished or barely-blemished resumes. A case can certainly be made that if Auburn had traded schedules with any of the playoff teams, they likely would also have traded records and found themselves safely in the field. But that's college football, and we ultimately love it despite all of its imbalances and imperfections. And the eventual national champion, whether it is Alabama, Georgia, Oklahoma, or Clemson, will have been able to prove itself when it matters most in the end with a pair of wins against fellow elite teams.

FEI 2017 Week 14 Ratings

The Fremeau Efficiency Index (FEI) is a college football rating system based on opponent-adjusted drive efficiency. Approximately 20,000 possessions are contested anually 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 measure of net success on non-garbage possessions, and FEI opponent adjustments are calculated with special emphasis placed on quality performances against good teams, win or lose. Strength of schedule (SOS) ratings represent the average number of losses an elite team (two standard deviations better than average) would have against the team's schedule to date.

Offensive FEI (OFEI) is value generated per drive adjusted for starting field position and opponent defenses faced. Defensive FEI (DFEI) is value generated per opponent drive adjusted for starting field position and opponent offenses faced. Special Teams Efficiency (STE) is the average value generated per possession by a team's non-offensive and non-defensive units.

Ratings for all 130 teams can be found here.

Rk Team Rec FEI GE Rk SOS Rk OFEI Rk DFEI Rk STE Rk
1 Clemson 11-1 .311 .262 6 1.57 21 2.97 18 .83 2 .01 55
2 Georgia 11-1 .293 .293 3 1.77 11 3.61 3 .89 4 .02 45
3 Oklahoma 12-1 .283 .247 8 1.68 16 4.24 1 2.16 61 -.01 68
4 Auburn 9-3 .266 .218 10 2.53 1 2.96 19 .83 3 .03 34
5 Alabama 10-1 .241 .300 2 1.12 60 3.33 6 1.08 5 .08 15
6 Ohio State 11-2 .234 .269 5 1.73 12 3.52 4 1.37 10 .01 52
7 Wisconsin 12-1 .228 .233 9 .97 71 2.65 31 .82 1 .07 19
8 Washington 9-2 .218 .300 1 .68 91 3.29 10 1.18 6 .05 26
9 Penn State 10-2 .216 .286 4 1.14 58 3.29 11 1.40 12 .12 5
10 Central Florida 11-0 .210 .254 7 .48 108 3.30 9 1.54 20 .10 9
11 Notre Dame 9-3 .208 .161 15 1.84 6 3.06 13 1.54 21 -.02 77
12 Stanford 9-4 .171 .116 23 1.50 30 3.01 16 2.17 62 .10 10
13 Oklahoma State 9-3 .168 .181 11 1.32 39 3.66 2 2.13 58 -.09 124
14 TCU 9-3 .168 .147 16 2.14 2 2.40 47 1.45 16 .14 3
15 Miami 9-2 .161 .077 36 1.35 38 2.51 39 1.39 11 -.04 94
Rk Team Rec FEI GE Rk SOS Rk OFEI Rk DFEI Rk STE Rk
16 Iowa State 6-5 .158 .088 29 1.52 27 2.61 33 1.85 31 .03 41
17 USC 11-2 .158 .088 30 1.37 36 3.01 15 2.10 55 .00 63
18 Iowa 7-5 .157 .085 32 1.67 17 2.48 41 1.44 15 .01 51
19 Mississippi State 7-4 .128 .128 19 1.82 8 2.58 34 1.42 14 .04 27
20 Boston College 7-5 .126 .064 39 1.72 13 2.27 53 1.48 18 .06 20
21 North Carolina State 7-4 .124 .043 49 1.69 15 2.74 26 2.06 50 -.08 118
22 Louisville 7-4 .118 .113 24 1.38 35 3.30 8 2.47 84 .01 59
23 Boise State 10-3 .116 .120 22 .46 110 2.64 32 1.99 45 .07 16
24 Florida Atlantic 9-3 .110 .162 14 .71 89 3.21 12 2.40 78 .11 7
25 Wake Forest 6-5 .110 .023 60 1.83 7 2.66 30 2.00 48 -.03 88
26 Purdue 6-6 .105 .064 40 1.20 51 2.23 57 1.59 25 -.03 90
27 Virginia Tech 8-3 .105 .136 17 1.27 43 2.06 80 1.33 9 .11 8
28 Memphis 9-2 .104 .130 18 1.12 61 2.98 17 1.99 44 .06 23
29 LSU 8-3 .103 .092 28 1.28 41 2.75 25 1.85 32 -.01 73
30 Toledo 10-2 .094 .172 13 .57 98 2.91 20 2.22 64 .09 11

Posted by: Brian Fremeau on 06 Dec 2017

12 comments, Last at 08 Dec 2017, 8:02pm by ssereb

Comments

1
by justanothersteve :: Wed, 12/06/2017 - 7:43pm

If there was ever a year to include a non-power conference school, this was the year. UCF may not have had a tough schedule. But they went undefeated and with no strong contender for the #4 seed, it deserved a shot.

9
by horn :: Thu, 12/07/2017 - 3:58pm

The 108th worst schedule is never getting you in, nor should it.

10
by Eddo :: Thu, 12/07/2017 - 5:34pm

Never?

What if next year, every team in the SEC lost all scholarships and had to play with walk-ons only -- except for Alabama, who would have the same roster as normal. They'd all stink, and Alabama would win each game handily. Would Alabama deserve to be left out? They would be as strong a team as they always are, and through no fault of their own, all their opponents would be awful and their strength of schedule would be one of the worst in the nation.

I'm not saying UCF deserved it this season, but your rule is ridiculous.

12
by ssereb :: Fri, 12/08/2017 - 8:02pm

Like any other team, UCF's ability to assemble a schedule that appeals to the CFP committee is limited by imperfect information about the future and the agreement of other teams. Power 5 teams get their pick of non-Power 5 teams to schedule, so I assume UCF scheduled Maryland and Georgia Tech because they couldn't get Ohio State and Clemson, then hoped that the teams they got would be good. They had no way of knowing that Maryland would be even worse than when they scheduled them, and that a hurricane would cancel the Georgia Tech game. Just like Alabama, their out-of-conference games ended up weaker than expected. Just like Alabama, the in-division games they played weren't against particularly strong teams. Unlike Alabama, they went undefeated and concluded their season by beating a ranked opponent in a conference title game. Memphis might not be Auburn, but they're no slouches and UCF managed to beat them both times.

2
by RickD :: Thu, 12/07/2017 - 1:18am

It's unfortunate that this decision essentially rewards Alabama for scheduling cream puffs. As you point out, they have zero high quality wins. The other three participants have one apiece, but Auburn has two, victories over both Alabama and Georgia. And two of their losses are to Clemson and Georgia.

Combined with their Iron Bowl victory over Alabama, the eyeball test says that Auburn is a stronger team than either Alabama or Ohio State. They just happened to have a schedule that included four games against playoff participants.

Meanwhile Alabama beat up on Mercer and Fresno State.

If the committee was going to take a second team from the SEC, shouldn't they have taken the better team?

3
by ryan5581 :: Thu, 12/07/2017 - 10:20am

If Auburn had won the SEC championship, shouldn't Georgia still have been selected for the CFP (in addition to Auburn, Clemson, Oklahoma), leaving Alabama out? Georgia likely still would have been a top-3 FEI team with only 2 losses.

4
by Aaron Brooks Go... :: Thu, 12/07/2017 - 11:58am

Question:

Had Ohio State scheduled Mercer instead of Iowa, would they be in?

Question 2:

If Alabama's uniforms said "Wisconsin", would they still be in?

11
by Raiderfan :: Thu, 12/07/2017 - 6:44pm

+2

5
by coremill :: Thu, 12/07/2017 - 12:43pm

Alabama did actually try to schedule decent non-conference opponents. They played Florida State, who have been a consistent top-10 team the last several years and were ranked in the pre-season top 5, at a neutral site. It was a tough break for Alabama's SOS that Florida State turned out to be terrible. They played Fresno State, who are a solid mid-major program that went 9-4. Mercer, well, yeah.

The real issue is that the SEC and ACC have a major advantage in playing only 8 conference games while the Big 10, Pac 10, and Big 12 play 9. The P5 should all be playing the same number of conference games. It's not a level playing field otherwise.

6
by meblackstone :: Thu, 12/07/2017 - 1:29pm

It's not about the number of conference games only. If the ACC went to 9 games, we likely wouldn't have had the Alabama/FSU game. Too many schools in the ACC and SEC have out of conference rivalries that play in to end of year rankings. Clemson/USCe, FSU/Florida, UGA/GT, Kentucky/Louisville.

The 8 game conference schedule has given us Clemson/Auburn 2010-2012, Clemson/Georgia 2013 and 2014, Clemson Auburn 2016/2017, Clemson vs TX A&M 2018/2019...

Those are much better than a 9th conference game against Duke, or Alabama beating up on a pathetic SEC least team. Maybe they play Georgia, but more likely Kentucky, Vanderbilt, or some other bottom dweller like USCe.

7
by Aaron Brooks Go... :: Thu, 12/07/2017 - 1:52pm

9 conference games didn't prevent Wisconsin/Alabama, Wisconsin/LSU, Ohio State/Virginia Tech, MSU/ND, OSU/Oklahoma, Washington/Rutgers (sorry), or Purdue/Louisville.

8
by meblackstone :: Thu, 12/07/2017 - 2:51pm

But of those, only Louisville has a regular out of conference rivalry. That's the difference, and why the ACC and SEC ended up sticking with 8 games. The only teams I'm aware of outside the ACC and SEC that have an out of conference rivalry are Iowa and Iowa State, and they don't play any premier out of conference games.

The Pac12, Big10, and Big12 (Seriously...get rid of the numbers in conference names) usually play 1 OOC power 5 team plus 9 conference games for 10 total power 5 games. The SEC and ACC usually play 2 OOC power 5 teams and 8 conference games for 10 total. Notre Dame plays 5 ACC games as well.

Alabama also played Colorado State.

It largely comes down to the power 5 needing 7 home games to make the finances work. 5 games home and home plus 2 getting paid to get whipped. That's the same for all the conferences.

The extra game provides greater interconnectivity for stats too.

Edit: The teams playing ND have an out of conference rivalry. USC/Alabama would be an exception, but it's also an exception in that it was a neutral site game with a payout to make up for the loss of a home game.