by Brian Fremeau
Every college football season plays out differently than the last, but as we approach the final few weeks of the regular season, there are peculiarities of 2018 that seem unusually odd. Perhaps it's the feeling of inevitability of the conclusion: that the Alabama Crimson Tide have assembled what may prove to be the most dominant team of all time, and that few other potential national championship contenders can conceivably challenge them and knock them down from that throne. Their 29-0 shutout of the LSU Tigers this past weekend was the biggest statement any team has made to date this year, and solidified for many (including this week's FEI ratings), that their exceptionally dominant offense and defense had not been firing on all cylinders merely due to the relative weaknesses of their opponents to date. Alabama is very much the real deal and is a clear favorite to claim its sixth title under head coach Nick Saban.
Maybe the Alabama machine is throwing other things out of whack, or maybe our perceptions of the relative strengths of other teams are simply tilted. Much of the national media refrain in between each weekend slate has revolved around teams not performing up to expectations. Or that there is an unusual drop-off in team strength outside of the top 10 or top 15 that is muddying the picture a bit. Some of this will sort itself out in the coming weeks, as it always does. A pile of three-loss teams with three weeks to play will likely result in some 9-3 teams, some 6-6 teams, and a number of 8-4 and 7-5 teams in the end, but right now it's difficult to discern which ones are positioned best to move in which direction.
But there is also evidence to support the perceived drop-off that's worth mentioning. I ran a study of "team type" performances over a ten-year period based on the Massey Consensus, a collection of more than 100 different computer rating systems collated by Ken Massey. The idea of the study was to better understand the relative strengths of Elite teams versus Very Good teams versus Average teams, etc., to better understand the average distribution of team types and, in part, to inform my modeling of the FEI ratings system as well. Check out the comprehensive results of the ten-year study here.
Elite teams -- defined in the study as those ranked in the top 5 in the end-of-year Massey Consensus ratings -- are the best of the best. They win more than 90 percent of their games against FBS competition. Their average margin of victory is by a final score of 39-18. They win almost 44 percent of their games by 25 or more points. They win national championships, and are in close contention for national championships when they don't win it all.
So far this year, the Massey Consensus "2018 Elite" teams are out-performing the Elite teams in my ten-year study. They've won 95 percent of their games against FBS opponents to date, and by an average margin of victory of 41-16. That's in part because they haven't played many top opponents yet -- there has been only one game between "2018 Massey Consensus Elite" teams so far this season, Notre Dame's victory over Michigan in Week 1. There have been only four games between Elite teams and Very Good (ranked 6 to 15 in the Massey Consensus) to date. As the final weeks of the season approach, and we conclude with conference championships, bowl games, and College Football Playoff games, we'll have more of these games to compare. But as we sit here today, the Elite and Very Good team types are performing to expectations.
That's not true of the next set, the "Good" teams (ranked 16 to 30 in the Massey Consensus), which supports the "drop-off" anecdotal evidence we've kicked around in our ratings evaluations and in the national media. In the ten-year study, Good teams won nearly 69 percent of their games against FBS competition, by an average final scoring margin of 32-23. As of this writing, the 2018 "Good" teams have only won 66 percent of their games against FBS opponents, winning by an average score of 31-23. That's not too dissimilar, but it is also virtually indistinguishable from the next team type set, the "Above Average" teams (ranked 31 to 50 in the Massey Consensus). Those teams have also won 66 percent of their FBS games this year, and by the same average margin of victory, 31-23.
Good teams are indistinguishable from Above Average teams. A team ranked in the 16-to-25 range is performing similarly to a team ranked in the 41-to-50 range. That's unusual in comparison with historical trends, and that's probably what makes this year feel different. As I stated earlier, this may still sort itself out somewhat, and the Good will separate themselves from the Above Average over the final month of the season. Maybe. Or maybe there is a significant drop-off after the top-15 that will ultimately characterize the 2018 season.
FEI Week 10 Ratings
The Fremeau Efficiency Index (FEI) is a college football rating system based on opponent-adjusted possession efficiency. Adjusted Possession Advantage (APA) ratings represent the per-possession scoring advantage a team would be expected to have on a neutral field against an average opponent, calculated as a function of current FEI overall, offense, defense, and special teams ratings.
Strength of Schedule ratings (PSOS) represent the average number of losses an elite team (two standard deviations better than average) would have against the team's regular season schedule to date. Offensive FEI (OFEI) is scoring value generated per drive adjusted for starting field position and opponent defenses faced. Defensive FEI (DFEI) is scoring value generated per opponent drive adjusted for starting field position and opponent offenses faced. Special Teams FEI (SFEI) is scoring value generated per possession by a team's non-offensive and non-defensive units adjusted for opponent special teams units faced. The team's record to date against opponents ranked in the FEI top 10 (v10), top 20 (v20), top 30 (v30), top 40 (v40), and top 50 (v50) are also provided.
Ratings and supporting data are calculated from the results of non-garbage possessions in FBS vs. FBS games.
|24||North Carolina State||5-2||.131||1.18||22||.81||44||3.32||8||2.2||63||.107||23||0-1||0-1||0-1||1-1||2-2|