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06 Oct 2010

FEI: Better Late Than Never

by Brian Fremeau

The Stanford Cardinal jumped out to a 21-3 first quarter lead against Oregon on Saturday night, looking every bit like a rising superpower seizing the national spotlight. Led by an efficient quarterback (Andrew Luck was 6-for-7 for 53 yards and a touchdown), a powerful ground game (Stepfan Taylor ran for 61 yards and touchdown, Luck added another), and opportunistic defense and special teams units (two forced turnovers), the first quarter script could not have played out better for Stanford.

Oregon answered with two touchdowns of its own before the Cardinal took another offensive snap. And though Stanford held onto the lead into halftime, Oregon rolled up an explosive seven touchdowns over the final three quarters to assert itself as the top dog in the Pac-10 and a confident contender for a BCS championship run. In a 16-possession stretch spanning the second and third quarters, Oregon outgained Stanford by more than 200 yards and outscored the Cardinal 42-10.

That's the scoring margin that dominated the highlight reels and may have resonated most with voters that dropped Stanford in the polls. FEI, however, rewarded Stanford for its impressive start and subsequently competitive game against Oregon, bumping both teams up to the top of the ratings behind Alabama. Was last Saturday's game in Eugene really a battle between two of the best in college football?

It will take a couple more weeks of data to get a better handle on that question. Heading into the weekend, Alabama and Florida were No. 1 and No. 2 in these ratings, but FEI doesn't look too kindly on teams that get completely manhandled. Florida had been artificially boosted by its preseason projection. If the Gators prove they really are a Top 10-caliber team by dominating the rest of their schedule, we may need a new set of superlatives to describe Alabama.

Most of the other shifts in this week's ratings had more to do with reducing the weight of projected data than significant or surprising results on the field. USC is still clinging to a Top 10 rating despite a last-second loss to Washington. There's still a bit of ACC love in the air, though Miami overtakes Virginia Tech as the league's top team on the strength of its impressive win at Clemson. The Big Ten leaders -- Ohio State, Iowa, and Michigan -- are looking strong enough to make for an intriguing conference race, but only the Buckeyes' victory over Miami and Denard Robinson's one-man show in Ann Arbor are carrying the Big Ten's national reputation.

And yes, Stanford leapt over Boise State in this week's FEI despite a loss, but the Broncos have ascended to No. 4 overall following a drubbing of New Mexico State. Boise State turned in the third-strongest Game Efficiency mark of 2010 (Nevada over Colorado State and Oregon over New Mexico rated slightly stronger), which is precisely what the Broncos will need to do to continue to remain at the top of the FEI ratings.

Speaking of drubbing opponents, let's circle back to Oregon. It takes a special kind of team to flip a switch and dominate after spotting an opponent a three-score lead. And actually, it is a very rare thing to come back from a three-score deficit at all. The Ducks are only the fourth team in 2010 to recover from a scoring margin deficit of 17 or more points and win. In 2009, only 10 teams accomplished the feat. During the last two seasons, a team that takes at least a 17-point lead at any point in the game has gone on to win 97.5 percent of the time. In fact, Oregon is only the second team in the last two seasons to erase a 17-point deficit and win by more than one score. The other was Virginia Tech, who spotted North Carolina State a 17-0 advantage Saturday and went on to win 41-30. In the last four seasons, only the Houston Cougars have transformed a three-score deficit into a four-score victory -- down 20-3 against UAB in 2008, the Cougars scored six second-half touchdowns to win 45-20.

Looking ahead for the Ducks, FEI projects Oregon to have a 22 percent chance of staying undefeated over the rest of the year. The toughest remaining test according to this week's ratings is Oregon's trip to USC on October 30, but that will likely change if USC continues to slide.

Three and Out

This section of the weekly FEI column features a new set of three offensive and defensive Top 10 data tables sliced from the raw possession efficiency data I collect each week. None of these splits are explicit factors used in FEI, but they may provide a unique perspective on the drive success rates in college football.

Week 3: Three-and-outs, Available Yards, and Explosive Drives
Week 4: Reaching the Red Zone, Methodical Drives, and Late and Close Efficiency

The following tables include only non-garbage drives from FBS games.

Turning 10+ Yard Drives Into Scoring Drives
Offensive Leaders Defensive Leaders
Team 10+ Yds
Scores Pct Team 10+ Yds
Scores Pct
Nevada 28 25 .893 Iowa 20 4 .200
Nebraska 21 16 .762 Arizona 21 6 .286
Oklahoma State 38 28 .737 Nebraska 20 6 .300
Fresno State 19 14 .737 Penn State 29 9 .310
Stanford 29 21 .724 Rutgers 25 8 .320
Alabama 36 26 .722 Ohio State 24 8 .333
Boise State 36 26 .722 Utah 21 7 .333
Ohio State 43 31 .721 LSU 29 10 .345
Utah 24 17 .708 South Florida 20 7 .350
Tulsa 32 22 .688 Florida State 22 8 .364

This table was suggested by Samuel Bryant of the Oklahoma State blog Cowboys Ride For Free. Through the first few weeks of the season, it appeared to Bryant that Oklahoma State was operating an all-or-nothing offense. Either a three-and-out killed a drive, or the Cowboys marched down the field for a score. Earning at least 10 yards seemed to make all the difference.

I ran the numbers for all teams and found the Oklahoma State offense to be among the nation's leaders in the category. The Nevada Wolf Pack offense blows away the field, however, scoring on nearly 90 percent of all drives that earned at least 10 yards. Defensively, Iowa and Arizona rank first and second in killing drives that earned at least 10 yards. Against one another on September 18, the Hawkeyes and Wildcats each scored on three of eight drives that earned at least 10 yards. Iowa has given up only one such drive in its other FBS games this year.

Last year, Cincinnati ranked first offensively (.721), and Nebraska ranked first defensively (.253) in this metric.

Points Per Possession
Offensive Leaders Defensive Leaders
Team Poss Points Pts/Poss Team Poss Points Pts/Poss
Nevada 34 151 4.441 Iowa 41 23 .561
Boise State 38 152 4.000 Ohio State 52 43 .827
Alabama 40 158 3.950 Arizona 34 30 .882
Nebraska 29 108 3.724 Utah 37 37 1.000
Indiana 29 108 3.724 Alabama 44 45 1.023
Stanford 36 127 3.528 Missouri 37 40 1.081
Ohio State 54 188 3.481 LSU 56 62 1.107
Utah 34 118 3.471 Nebraska 34 41 1.206
Michigan 44 149 3.386 Rutgers 38 48 1.263
Oklahoma State 51 167 3.275 Central Florida 37 48 1.297

This simple, tempo-free perspective on college football offenses and defenses has been suggested by a few readers recently. The usual suspects occupy the top spots, of course, on both sides of the ledger. One thing that is important to point out is the distinction between this and the Offensive (OE) and Defensive Efficiency (DE) data that will run in two weeks.

Starting field position is a critical component of OE and DE, since the expected scoring rate of an offense increases as it begins a drive closer to the goal line. Ending field position is critical for drives that don't reach the end zone. In the table above, offenses are credited with field goals whereas, with OE and DE, the offense and defense receives credit only for the value of drive-ending field position earned or surrendered.

Boise State led the nation in offensive points per possession in 2009 (3.273) and Nebraska ranked first defensively (.761).

Offensive Scoring After Forcing Three-And-Out
Offensive Leaders Defensive Leaders
Team Points Pts After
3 & Out
Pct Team Points Pts After
3 & Out
Buffalo 65 45 .692 Mississippi State 52 0 .000
Tulane 53 36 .679 Auburn 91 3 .033
Arizona 64 37 .578 Alabama 45 3 .067
Florida International 72 41 .569 Syracuse 44 3 .068
Texas 110 61 .555 Michigan State 83 7 .084
San Jose State 13 7 .538 North Carolina State 83 7 .084
BYU 68 36 .529 Arizona 30 3 .100
Duke 91 48 .527 Miami (OH) 95 10 .105
Alabama 158 83 .525 Stanford 61 7 .115
Florida State 85 44 .518 TCU 55 7 .127

How important is forcing a three-and-out? Momentum and field position can swing back in a team's favor, and the offense that hustles back on the field might catch an overly winded defense reeling on the next possession. Which offenses most take advantage of drives following defensive three-and-outs, and which defenses have been at their best when pressed quickly back into action?

This table lists the percentage of each team's offensive scoring output that comes from drives immediately following an opponent's possession of three-and-out or worse. The SEC West leads the way defensively, with the Bulldogs, Tigers, and Crimson Tide giving up a combined total of two field goals following offensive three-and-outs.

In 2009, Penn State ranked first offensively in this metric (.603), and Stanford ranked first defensively (.096).

As always, if you have a suggestion for a future Three and Out featured table, please add a comment, or drop me a note on Twitter or via e-mail. The most popular tables will be updated and republished in future weeks.

FEI Week 5 Top 25

The principles of the Fremeau Efficiency Index (FEI) can be found here. FEI rewards playing well against good teams, win or lose, and punishes losing to poor teams more harshly than it rewards defeating poor teams. FEI is drive-based, not play-by-play based, and it is specifically engineered to measure the college game.

FEI is the opponent-adjusted value of Game Efficiency (GE), a measurement of the success rate of a team scoring and preventing opponent scoring throughout the non-garbage-time possessions of a game. FEI represents a team's efficiency value over average. Strength of Schedule (SOS) is calculated as the likelihood that an "elite team" (two standard deviations above average) would win every game on the given team's schedule to date. SOS listed here includes future games scheduled.

Mean Wins (FBS MW) represent the average total games a team with the given FEI rating should expect to win against its complete schedule of FBS opponents. Remaining Mean Wins (FBS RMW) represent the average expected team wins for games scheduled but not yet played.

Only games between FBS teams are considered in the FEI calculations. Since limited data is available in the early part of the season, preseason projections are factored into the current ratings. The weight given to projected data will be reduced each week until Week 7, when it will be eliminated entirely. Offensive and defensive FEI ratings will also debut in Week 7. The FEI ratings published here are a function of the results of games played through October 2.

FEI ratings for all 120 FBS teams are listed in the stats page section of FootballOutsiders.com. Click here for current ratings; the pull-down menu in the stats section directs you to 2007 through 2009 ratings.

Rank Team FBS
FEI Last
1 Alabama 5-0 .297 1 .420 1 .203 30 9.7 5.1
2 Oregon 4-0 .246 3 .341 7 .195 29 9.0 5.7
3 Stanford 3-1 .234 7 .289 9 .162 22 8.6 5.7
4 Boise State 4-0 .220 5 .385 3 .485 90 11.0 7.6
5 Ohio State 5-0 .212 4 .359 6 .312 53 10.1 5.7
6 Miami 2-1 .211 11 .040 41 .174 25 8.1 6.3
7 Oklahoma 5-0 .206 12 .150 20 .300 49 9.8 5.6
8 Virginia Tech 3-1 .190 6 .139 22 .181 27 8.2 5.4
9 USC 4-1 .186 9 .175 17 .153 19 9.6 5.0
10 Iowa 3-1 .173 17 .278 10 .302 50 8.3 5.0
11 LSU 5-0 .169 8 .158 19 .132 10 7.4 3.6
12 Auburn 5-0 .165 10 .213 14 .132 11 7.5 3.6
Rank Team FBS
FEI Last
13 Nebraska 3-0 .164 16 .384 4 .427 74 8.7 6.0
14 South Carolina 2-1 .160 13 .176 16 .149 18 7.4 5.2
15 TCU 4-0 .157 15 .274 11 .635 106 9.8 6.3
16 Michigan 4-0 .142 21 .250 13 .284 45 7.6 4.4
17 Arkansas 2-1 .139 19 .061 36 .145 16 6.9 5.1
18 Florida 4-1 .138 2 .031 43 .144 15 6.9 3.7
19 Texas 3-2 .134 14 .035 42 .295 48 8.8 5.2
20 Arizona 3-0 .133 27 .196 15 .135 13 6.7 4.6
21 Missouri 3-0 .130 24 .251 12 .350 62 7.8 5.2
22 North Carolina State 3-1 .128 25 .067 34 .267 41 7.0 4.6
23 Oklahoma State 4-0 .125 28 .301 8 .332 59 8.6 5.0
24 North Carolina 2-2 .125 20 .011 49 .171 23 6.2 3.7
25 Georgia Tech 2-2 .122 22 -.041 66 .215 33 6.7 4.3

Posted by: Brian Fremeau on 06 Oct 2010

8 comments, Last at 15 Oct 2010, 2:12am by Didgeridoo


by D :: Wed, 10/06/2010 - 1:34pm

How much weight are the current preseason projections worth at this point?

by Portmanteur :: Wed, 10/06/2010 - 1:48pm

How Georgia Tech can be in the top 25 is mind boggling. We are God-awful if not God-forsaken. I felt like our preseason FEI projections were a little low, but now I think they were too high. Now I know why we drink our whiskey clear.

by Scott P. (not verified) :: Wed, 10/06/2010 - 2:06pm

Those stats on score after 10+ yard drives are very interesting. Nebraska's defense is specifically based on a 'bend but don't break' concept. So far, it seems to be working, despite jitters on the part of fans.

by Kal :: Wed, 10/06/2010 - 5:28pm

Heh. I do like these stats :)

I'm pretty surprised at the discrepancies between this and S+P. Alabama is clearly the top no matter what, but the best vs. the next best is hugely different. Any ideas where y'all disagree so vehemently? I can't imagine S+P putting in the FCS games would actually hurt Oregon or Stanford that much, but that's about the only major difference I can see.

by Will :: Thu, 10/07/2010 - 2:38am

At quick glance, Alabama, Ohio State, Nebraska and Utah show up in the top ten of offensive and defensive Pts/Pos. Surprised to not see Oregon up there on the offensive side with as many points as they have put up. Also interesting in that all four of these teams are thought of to be defense first teams, but I guess all those turnovers on defense lead to easy points on offense.


by Kal :: Thu, 10/07/2010 - 1:47pm

I'm going to guess that the Arizona State game - where Oregon punted like 10 times - dropped the points per possession down fairly low. They've also had a lot of games where the game was effectively done by halftime, so their scores later aren't as efficient then. Finally, points per possession doesn't count things like special team or defensive scores, and Oregon has had quite a few of both in their games.

by Didgeridoo (not verified) :: Fri, 10/15/2010 - 2:06am

I think the general idea behind the "Offensive Scoring After Forcing Three-And-Out" table is a good idea, but my gut says you may be comparing the wrong numbers. If I'm understanding the description properly, the table says that Miami's defense has given up 10 points (out of the 95 total they've surrendered) after their offense has gone three-and-out. If their offense has only had 4 such drives though, that means their defense is giving up 2.5 points per possession when pressed back into service quickly. This number wouldn't seem to be that remarkable compared to the other defensive efficiency numbers you list in the table right before it.

It seems like the better calculation would be something like:
(points per possession) (points surrendered after three-and-out)
----------------------- - -------------------------------------------
(total possessions) (number of possessions after three-and-out)

That is, compared to how an offense normally does on a given possession, how well does it capitalize on a good defensive stop. Or, how well is a defense able to rally when quickly pressed back into service.

by Didgeridoo (not verified) :: Fri, 10/15/2010 - 2:12am

Sorry, the formatting on that formula didn't come out as well as I'd hoped. The idea was to calculate the number of points scored on an average possession and the number of points scored per possession that occurs after a three-and-out. Then take the difference of those two numbers.