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Defenses have taken a wide variety of responses to the rise of 11 personnel. Is any one system better than another? And how has the rise of the "moneybacker" changed defensive philosophy?

20 Sep 2017

FEI Week 3 Ratings

by Brian Fremeau

One of the most competitive games of the season thus far was played last weekend in a clash between two powerhouse programs, USC and Texas. The Trojans entered the year with College Football Playoff aspirations and a Heisman-hopeful quarterback, and started the season with strong offensive performances and a pair of victories over Western Michigan and Stanford. As for Texas, the Longhorns entered the year with a new coach and renewed excitement in the program before flopping in an opening weekend loss to Maryland. In part due to that inauspicious beginning, Texas was a heavy underdog on the road against USC, but they battled valiantly regardless, taking the Trojans to overtime and losing only by three points.

It was a defensive slugfest throughout the game. The first three possessions all ended in a turnover on downs, including a goal-line stand by the Longhorns on four plays run by USC inside the Texas 5-yard line. Texas threw an interception on the ensuing possession, but then thwarted another USC drive, forcing a punt on a possession that began at the Texas 34-yard line. With less than five minutes to go in the first half, the score was still knotted at zero points apiece, but a flurry of points were scored in the last few possessions of the first half.

USC got on the board with another short-field opportunity (six plays, 37 yards), forced a punt, then threw an interception returned by Texas for a touchdown with under 30 seconds remaining in the half. On the ensuing drive, USC's Sam Darnold connected with Ronald Jones for a 56-yard touchdown as the first half ended, grabbing a 14-7 halftime lead.

The second half also featured the defenses -- after an opening drive field goal by Texas, nine consecutive possessions resulted in a punt, turnover on downs, or interception. Texas took a late lead with a long touchdown drive with under a minute to play, but USC again found end-of-half success, driving into field goal range and connecting on a 31-yard field goal to take the game to overtime, tied at 17 points each. The teams traded touchdowns in the first overtime, then a Texas fumble in the second overtime opened the door for USC to win the game 27-24 with a field goal.

How much did the offenses struggle in the game? We can answer that question with my game splits analysis, which credits the value of each score and possession change event to the offense, defense, and special teams unit that produced it. An average offense against an average defense with USC's starting field position would have been expected to score 40 points. Texas' starting field position was worth 34 points on the night. Neither offense even sniffed those totals.

The turnover value exchanges in the game were interesting as well. USC's pick-six in the first half was the only turnover that directly led to points for the opponent, but the value of Texas' four turnovers (two fumbles, two interceptions) were more costly in terms of expected value lost than either of Darnold's interceptions. USC wasn't able to immediately capitalize on those turnovers until the fumble in overtime.

USC's offensive success on the final possession of each half was the key to their victory, of course. And the touchdown drive to end the first half turned out to be an extra possession that tipped the scales in their favor as well. Every yard line on the field has an expected starting field position value of some kind, and therefore every possession has an inherent value. In my game splits formula, that value is 2.1 points, equivalent to the average points scored by an average offense against an average defense, regardless of field position.

Football is played in alternating possessions, and if each team finishes the game with the same number of possessions as its opponent, the inherent values of each possession are a wash. In the USC vs. Texas game, both teams had six second-half possessions and both teams had two possessions each in overtime. But in the first half, USC had nine possessions and Texas had only eight. USC finished the game with 2.1 "extra possession points," more than 66 percent of the difference in the ultimate scoring margin of the game.

In all of last season there were only seven similar occasions in which a team won a game by three points and had extra possession worth 2.1 scoring value points in the contest as well. One of those occasions was USC's Rose Bowl victory over Penn State, a 52-49 win on a field goal as time expired. That extra possession for the Trojans also started with less than a minute left in the game. If USC continues on its path toward a potential conference championship and Playoff berth, it will certainly have its success in squeezing out extra possessions and executing in end-of-half situations to thank.

FEI 2017 Week 3 Ratings

The Fremeau Efficiency Index (FEI) is a college football rating system based on opponent-adjusted drive efficiency in FBS games. Preseason projected ratings are a function of five-year program ratings, recent recruiting success, and returning offensive and defensive experience, and account for 57 percent of this week's ratings. Strength of Schedule (SOS) ratings are a function of the projected FEI ratings of a given team's schedule of opponents and the location (home/away/neutral) of each game, representing the average number of losses an elite team (two standard deviations better than average) would have against the schedule.

Ratings for all 130 teams can be found here.

Rk Team Rec FEI SOS Rk
1 Alabama 3-0 0.292 1.24 39
2 Georgia 2-0 0.228 1.27 34
3 Oklahoma 3-0 0.227 1.41 19
4 Ohio State 2-1 0.227 1.14 45
5 Clemson 3-0 0.225 1.04 50
6 Florida State 0-1 0.216 1.61 8
7 USC 3-0 0.212 0.98 55
8 TCU 2-0 0.193 1.21 40
9 Penn State 3-0 0.183 1.08 47
10 Stanford 1-2 0.179 1.35 23
11 Michigan 3-0 0.178 1.32 30
12 Wisconsin 3-0 0.159 0.59 83
13 Washington 2-0 0.159 0.78 66
14 Notre Dame 2-1 0.157 1.35 24
15 Oklahoma State 3-0 0.152 1.00 54
Rk Team Rec FEI SOS Rk
16 Auburn 1-1 0.142 1.83 1
17 LSU 1-1 0.140 1.55 9
18 Florida 1-1 0.135 1.44 16
19 Oregon 2-0 0.126 1.02 53
20 Memphis 2-0 0.118 0.42 98
21 UCLA 2-1 0.106 1.63 5
22 Kansas State 1-1 0.104 1.16 44
23 Louisville 2-1 0.099 1.06 48
24 Mississippi State 2-0 0.099 1.61 7
25 Miami 0-0 0.098 0.96 56
26 Texas 1-2 0.096 1.64 4
27 Virginia Tech 2-0 0.096 0.76 71
28 Georgia Tech 0-1 0.093 1.25 36
29 Tennessee 1-1 0.090 1.66 3
30 San Diego State 2-0 0.086 0.40 102

Posted by: Brian Fremeau on 20 Sep 2017

9 comments, Last at 21 Sep 2017, 8:10am by Aaron Brooks Good Twin


by Pottsville Maro... :: Wed, 09/20/2017 - 4:48pm

It's interesting to me that Florida State's strength of schedule is #8, when the only team they've played against is #1. Meanwhile, Auburn is #1 with games against Clemson (good) and Georgia Southern (not good).

by Brian Fremeau :: Wed, 09/20/2017 - 5:57pm

SOS represents each team's entire regular season schedule, not its games played to date.

by Aaron Brooks Go... :: Wed, 09/20/2017 - 5:19pm

What's buoying USC and Stanford aside from pre-season projections?

USC has beaten a 1-2 Stanford, an 0-2 Texas, and a 1-2 Western Michigan that was clobbered by MSU and squeaked past Idaho.

Stanford beat a terrible Rice team, got clobbered by a USC team that struggled with WMU and Texas, and lost to SDSU.

I realize teams like OK St have been playing high-school teams, but at least they've looked good doing so.

by Brian Fremeau :: Wed, 09/20/2017 - 5:58pm

Preseason projections still carry more weight than results to date. That data is phased out over the first seven weeks of the season.

by bird jam :: Wed, 09/20/2017 - 5:21pm

When was the last time Florida State was winless this late in the season?

by bird jam :: Wed, 09/20/2017 - 5:27pm

And Miami too?

EDIT: Actually the chart is wrong. Miami is 1-0.

by Brian Fremeau :: Wed, 09/20/2017 - 5:59pm

Only FBS results are included. Miami has only played an FCS opponent to date.

by buzzkill :: Wed, 09/20/2017 - 11:30pm

These ratings lose all credibility when you see Baylor at #43 and California at #78

by Aaron Brooks Go... :: Thu, 09/21/2017 - 8:10am

While I think it's a flaw, FEI discounts FCS games, so Baylor doesn't get dinged for their loss. (Even though I think it should carry devastating consequences, akin to losing to the 131st-ranked team)