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Ranking The Bowl Games

In the never-ending effort to rank the bowl games, most articles rely on just the author's subjective analysis of all parts of the game. For example, how big of a mismatch is it? How good or bad are the teams? Are the stakes high? Is it a traditionally good bowl game?

I've decided to put a statistical spin on things, by using the latest Fremeau Efficiency Index ratings from Football Outsiders. FEI is basically a formula that, "considers each of the nearly 20,000 possessions every season in major college football. All drives are filtered to eliminate first-half clock-kills and end-of-game garbage drives and scores. A scoring rate analysis of the remaining possessions then determines the baseline possession efficiency expectations against which each team is measured. A team is rewarded for playing well against good teams, win or lose, and is punished more severely for playing poorly against bad teams than it is rewarded for playing well against bad teams."

It is probably a better method of ranking teams than what the BCS or human polls would provide. So, what I did was compute a few things. In each of the tables I post, you'll see some abbreviated titles above certain columns. FEI next to certain teams is simply the latest FEI of each team (updated after championship week). Avg FEI indicates the average of both teams' ratings. The higher the value, theoretically the better the teams that will be competing in the bowl game. Everyone likes to watch bowl games with the elite teams. FEI Diff indicates the differential in the rating of the two teams in each game. Both of those values are ranked from 1 to 34, with 1 being the best rating. Z is simply the average of twice the z-score of the Avg FEI and the z-score of the FEI Diff. Basically, how much better the teams are compared to the average bowl game, and how much more evenly the teams are matched, play into this value. I weighted it to give the advantage to the bowl games with better teams in them, as those will be the ones most people want to watch.

For the rankings, follow the link below; they are after the jump!

The Elite Bowls


The best bowl game? Turns out it is the Sugar Bowl - between Cincinnati and Florida. The teams are fairly evenly matched (it is the 4th most evenly matched game), but it is also the bowl game with the 2nd best combination of teams rankings-wise. It's worth noting that all BCS Bowl Games are in this first "elite" tier of bowl games. The one non-BCS game that managed to sneak in? The Capitol One Bowl between LSU and Penn State. This should come as no surprise. Both teams are very evenly matched and are above average squads. It also comes with a bit of extra oomph as it will pit the minds of Joe Paterno and Les Miles, and it will be an early afternoon game on New Years' Day (late enough so most people will be awake to watch it). For future reference, the bolded team is the one that would be favored based on FEI rating.

The Above Average Bowls


The next tier of bowl games is the "above average" tier. These games are the next best bowls to watch, but you won't necessarily be setting your calendar by them. These are the bowls that pit above average teams, but still have a reasonable chance of producing a good, down-to-the-wire game. Notably for Sooner fans, the Sun Bowl comes in just shy of the mark to make it into an elite bowl matchup. Oklahoma and Stanford both have mediocre records, but both have excellent FEI ratings suggesting that the teams have underachieved but are both very dangerous.

The Gator Bowl is the 3rd most evenly matched bowl game, which pulls it up to the ranking of the 8th best bowl game. The overachieving bowls this year (i.e. ones that are usually terrible, but could be good in this case)? The Meineke Car Care Bowl, the Emerald Bowl, and the Bowl. The Meineke Car Care Bowl pulled off a great matchup this year by being able to snag two solid teams in Pittsburgh and North Carolina.

The Below Average Bowls


There are some pretty mediocre bowls in this bunch. Most of them usually have pretty mediocre matchups, but you wind up watching them anyways because you're bored, you have some extra snacks in the freezer, and it's football! None of these bowl games features particularly great teams, but it is interesting that the EagleBank Bowl, the International Bowl, and the Hawaii Bowl all feature very evenly matched teams.

The Terrible Bowls


These bowl games, in all likelihood, will not be very good. They feature mediocre to below average teams, typically from weaker conferences, and they generally feature a huge mismatch. You have to ask how a bowl like Ohio vs. Marshall would draw much viewership at all.

The Awards

  • Best Bowl Game: Sugar Bowl (Cincy vs. Florida)
  • Worst Bowl Game: New Mexico Bowl (Fresno State vs. Wyoming)
  • Biggest Overachiever: Emerald Bowl, #11 (USC vs. Boston College)
  • Biggest Underachiever: Outback Bowl, #21 (Auburn vs. Northwestern)
  • Why Is This Being Played?: Humanitarian Bowl, #32 (Bowling Green vs. Idaho), let's see it's a late December bowl game in the mountains of Idaho, pitting two 7-5 teams, one from the MAC and one from the WAC. Yikes.
  • Potential Blowout: GMAC Bowl (Central Michigan vs. Troy), CMU is a very good team, and Troy hails from the Sun Belt conference with a mediocre record.
  • Something's Got To Give: Orange Bowl (Georgia Tech vs. Iowa), Ga Tech comes in boasting the #1 Offensive FEI, and Iowa has the #3 defensive FEI. Two elite units match up. Whoever wins this battle, probably wins the game.
  • Best Game Probably Nobody Will See: Hawaii Bowl (SMU vs. Nevada), these two teams are very evenly matched but they have no pull whatsoever to a national audience.
  • Shootout: Las Vegas Bowl (Oregon State vs. BYU), both teams come in with offensive FEI rankings of better than #20, and defensive FEI rankings of worse than #60.
  • BCS Game With Best Chance of Blowout: National Championship Game (Alabama vs. Texas), Alabama comes in with an exceptionally high FEI rating as the result of beating some very good teams rather soundly and surviving a very tough conference. Texas comes in with a solid FEI rating that lacks somewhat because of their struggles as of late (against Texas A&M and Nebraska).
  • New Years Reigns Supreme: despite recent adjustments in the bowl schedule, January 1st still remains king of the bowl days. The average ranking of the bowl games on this day is 7.8! If you remove the early clunker of the Outback Bowl, the average ranking is 4.5 and no bowl played on the day is ranked worse than 8. You have to flip between the Gator and Capitol One Bowls in the early afternoon, the matinee is the Rose Bowl, and you follow that up with the primetime special - the Sugar Bowl. If you want to pick a day to veg out in front of the television, this is it!
  • Don't Be Fooled By January 2nd: the average ranking of these bowls? 19.2. It seems that the conspiracy this year was to create another day where you could sit around just watching football all day. But all indications are that this will be a collection of mainly mediocre bowl games.
  • Best Pre-Christmas Bowl Game: that honor falls to the Poinsettia Bowl, which is played on December 23rd between Utah and California.
  • No NFL Network? No Problem: only one bowl game is played on the NFL Network this season - the Insight Bowl. I have it ranked as the 29th best bowl game (6th worst). Unless you have a burning desire to watch it, you shouldn't be missing much.