by Brian Fremeau
The Alabama Crimson Tide, winners of five national championships in the last nine years, have had an exceptionally dominant first month of the 2018 season. They're off to the kind of start that suggests they may be better than any other team Nick Saban has fielded to date.
Alabama's defense has allowed a paltry 0.7 points per drive through the first five games of the season, within striking distance of their remarkably stifling 2011 defense that allowed only 0.5 points per drive over the course of its championship campaign. The 2011 Crimson Tide were merely solid on offense (20th in offensive points per drive) whereas this version of Alabama's traditionally dominant defense is paired with an exceptionally efficient offense.
Here were Alabama's first six offensive drives on Saturday against Louisiana-Lafayette:
- 8 plays, 72 yards, touchdown
- 2 plays, 14 yards, touchdown
- 5 plays, 69 yards, touchdown
- 5 plays, 80 yards, touchdown
- 10 plays, 70 yards, touchdown
- 7 plays, 62 yards, touchdown
Those were Alabama's only offensive possessions of the first half. Alabama's special teams chipped in a punt return touchdown in the first quarter as well. The Crimson Tide led 49-0 at halftime, having scored a touchdown every time they possessed the ball. Their defense forced four three-and-outs in the first half and never allowed the Ragin' Cajuns to advance the ball to midfield. The entire second half was garbage time according to my criteria, and Alabama had a perfect raw possession efficiency rating for the game.
Alabama's net points per drive average through five games currently sits at +3.9. The teams that lead this category in most years finish the season around +2.0 net points per drive. Florida State in 2013 (+3.1) is the only team in my records (2007 to present) to finish the year with a three-point margin net points per drive. Alabama's possession success rate (scores when in possession, stops when opponents are in possession) currently sits at 82.7 percent, nearly 10 percentage points better than the second-best team in this category this season (Georgia, 73.7 percent PSR). They rank No. 2 nationally in average net starting field position, beginning non-garbage drives an average of 12.6 yards further downfield than their opponents.
The Crimson Tide have been so efficient, and so dominant ... that they dropped this week to No. 3 in the FEI ratings. We had a similar scenario last year. Alabama kept winning, often in resounding fashion, and they kept slipping in the FEI ratings anyway. They fell all the way to No. 13 last year in Week 9, despite crushing opponents throughout the year. The problem then was that Alabama had only faced one (barely) top-50 opponent in its first eight games of 2017. The same problem may be in play this year.
Alabama's victory over Texas A&M (FEI No. 29) is their only win against an above-average opponent so far this year. They've faced the 107th-toughest schedule in the nation to date -- a typical elite team (two standard deviations better than average) would be expected to have an average of only 0.1 losses against that schedule. Among undefeated teams, a handful of others have played an easier schedule to date than Alabama, and none of them are ranked near the Crimson Tide: No. 16 North Carolina State (117th-toughest SOS to date), No. 28 Central Florida (129th), No. 50 Cincinnati (124th), No. 67 Colorado (125th), and No. 68 South Florida (127th).
As with last season, Alabama's schedule is back-loaded, and there will be two big opportunities for them to demonstrate their dominance against formidable opponents. LSU (November 3 in Baton Rouge) and Auburn (November 24 in Tuscaloosa) are both currently ranked in the FEI top six. I wrote last year that if Alabama dominates each of their late-season opponents as it did against its opponents through Week 9, there would be no question of their worthiness of a spot in the College Football Playoff. But that at-the-time seemingly invincible Alabama team did fall in its regular season finale to Auburn. Will this year's team suffer a similar fate, or will their more-dominant offense carry them through the regular season unscathed? Time will tell.
FEI Week 5 Ratings
The Fremeau Efficiency Index (FEI) is a college football rating system based on opponent-adjusted possession efficiency. Preseason projections (29 percent weight in this week's ratings) are based on five-year results, recruiting success, and returning offensive and defensive production. Strength of Schedule ratings (SOS) represent the average number of losses an elite team (two standard deviations better than average) would have against the team's regular season schedule. Strength of Schedule ratings against opponents played to date (PSOS) and remaining regular season opponents (RSOS) are also calculated from the perspective of an elite team.Net points per drive (NPD) is the difference between each team's points scored per offensive drive and its points allowed per opponent offensive drive. Net starting field position (NFP) is the difference between the average starting field position for each team's offensive drives and its opponent's offensive drives. Possession success rate (PSR) indicates each team's percentage of possessions played that result in a score when in possession or a stop when the opponent is in possession.
|16||North Carolina State||3-0||.158||.78||81||.09||117||.69||56||2.05||5||.9||59||.712||4|