Most of the oxygen at this point in the college football season is consumed by playoff conversation. Will LSU or Ohio State claim the No. 1 overall seed in this year's College Football Playoff, or are either or both susceptible to a stumble down the stretch? Can Alabama still sneak into its sixth-straight playoff field without playing in the SEC Championship Game and despite losing its star quarterback to a season-ending injury? Will the Pac-12 and Big-12 teams currently on the outside looking in make a leap in the final weeks of the season? Are there any spoilers lurking to turn the race upside-down?
It never garners the same attention, but there's always something interesting to be found outside of the playoff picture. A number of teams are having seasons that won't result in a national championship, but will still produce something worth celebrating. The AAC still boasts three teams in the CFP top 25 (Cincinnati, Memphis, and SMU), three times as many ACC teams are ranked by the committee. Two other teams, Boise State and Appalachian State, round out what may be one of the most interesting races of the season, for the Group of Five bid to a New Year's Six bowl. None of the five has a better than 62% chance of winning each of its remaining regular-season games according to FEI, and any that do will also have to win a conference championship game in order to claim that prize.
Further down the rankings -- way further down the rankings -- a pair of teams are having extraordinary seasons themselves. Akron and Massachusetts rank No. 129 and No. 130 respectively in this week's overall FEI ratings, and there's little reason to expect they'll crawl out of the cellar. The Zips have two games remaining and only an 8% chance of coming away with a win against either Miami (Ohio) or Ohio. Massachusetts finishes up its regular season this weekend with BYU, and the Cougars have a 99% chance of beating the Minutemen. According to FEI, these are quite simply two of the worst teams I've ever measured.
Akron has the nation's least efficient offense in pretty much every way I slice it. They've scored a touchdown on only 10.5% of their non-garbage offensive possessions. They've earned only 27.9% of available yards. They've gained a first down on only 53.3% of drives. Only 3.8% of their drives averaged at least 10 yards per play. 26.7% of their drives earned zero or negative yards, a busted drive rate that ranks as the third-worst in college football since 2007. The Zips' opponent-adjusted OFEI rating of -1.77 (1.77 points per possession worse than an average team) currently ranks dead last in comparison to all team offenses of the last 13 seasons. They've scored seven or fewer points in non-garbage time in seven of their 10 games this season, and that's against the 129th-toughest set of opposing defenses according to FEI.
UMass' defensive failures are even more spectacular than Akron's offensive failures. The Minutemen have given up a touchdown on 58.8% of opponent non-garbage possessions. They've allowed a first down on 84.3% of opponent drives. They've given up 71.0% of available yards. And they've allowed 33.3% of opponent possessions to average at least 10 yards per play. Massachusetts' opponent-adjusted DFEI rating of -2.56 (2.56 points per possession worse than an average team) is more than a point per possession worse than the second-to-last-ranked defense in college football this year, and currently ranks worse than Connecticut's horrific 2018 defense. Like Akron, they've played extraordinarily poorly, and against poor competition at that.
In fact, these two teams faced one another back in September. Akron's woeful offense put up its best performance of the season, scoring 29 points against Massachusetts' equally woeful defense. It was the only game Massachusetts played against an FBS opponent this year in which they gave up fewer than 44 points. The Minutemen scored 37 of their own -- their largest output of the season, of course -- and won the game. They haven't come within 20 points of defeating anyone else before or since and have lost by an average of 33 points per game on the year.
These teams aren't just bad on one side of the ball, of course. Akron pairs its worst-in-13-years offense with the 120th-ranked defense and 127th-ranked special teams units in 2019. Massachusetts pairs its worst-in-13-years defense with the 129th-ranked offense and 107th-ranked special teams units in 2019. Since 2007, I've published FEI ratings for 1,622 teams, and Akron and Massachusetts currently rank 1,621st and 1,622nd respectively, in terms of overall, opponent-adjusted efficiency. The playoff chase will most definitely capture my attention over the next few weeks, but I'll be keeping an eye on the historic seasons these two are wrapping up as well.
2019 FEI Ratings (through Week 12)
The Fremeau Efficiency Index (FEI) is a college football rating system based on opponent-adjusted possession efficiency, representing the per possession scoring advantage a team would be expected to have on a neutral field against an average opponent. Unadjusted possession efficiency (PE) is calculated as a function of offensive, defensive, and special teams game splits. Schedule strength is represented by each team's average per possession opponent adjustment (OA). Opponent-adjusted offense ratings (OFEI), opponent-adjusted defense ratings (DFEI), and opponent-adjusted special teams ratings (SFEI) are calculated in a similar manner as overall FEI ratings. Team records against all FBS opponents (W-L) and 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.