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Week One FEI Ratings from Football Outsiders

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You may be asking yourself, what are FEI Ratings? Well, let me start off by saying that if you haven't checked out Football Outsiders ever, you should definitely check it out. In a nutshell, they are trying to bring advanced statistics to football, but tend to focus more on the NFL than college football. 

FEI:

The Fremeau Efficiency Index (FEI) 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.

Allow me to digest that for you. Basically, it is a rating system that considers how efficient a team is at stopping the other guys from scoring, and how efficient they are at scoring themselves. After that's all calculated, it is adjusted for the quality of the opponent.

If you click on the link to the rankings page above, you'll notice that it also provides you with "FBS MW" (the mean wins expected for that team, given that team's schedule) and "FBS RMW" (the mean wins expected for that team's remaining schedule). Note that the rankings system only counts wins against FBS opponents, so teams that played an FCS team last week will have a record of 0-0, and may have an odd ranking to start off the season.

In the Week One rankings, OU comes in at #15. Surprisingly, Boise State is way back at #13 (but I guess you could argue that it wasn't the most efficient game - lots of turnovers). Florida comes in at #1, but would only be expected to get about 8 more wins based on their schedule. 

However, what's most interesting about these ratings are what the associated headline on their home page had to say about Boise State...after the jump...

I'm going to chop this up a bit, so if you get a bit confused, I'd recommend going in and reading this entire article. Here's the basics:

If you follow FEI, you know that my adjustments for opponent strength are significant factors in the formula. FEI is not concerned with identifying "deserving" candidates. It is designed to isolate the strength of each team in terms of its ability to maximize scoring opportunities and minimize those of its opponent. And because there are stark differences between the best and worst teams in college football, the lens through which those raw efficiency metrics should be viewed is critical.

Most computer ranking systems use a simple average to calculate strength of schedule. FEI takes a unique approach to SOS calculations that can tell us much more about the relative difficulty of each team's slate of opponents. How difficult is it for a team to win every game? That is a fundamentally different question than "What is the average strength of a given set of opponents?" And it is a better one, too.

Indeed, and based on the chart that he provided, and the fact that OU and FSU have a power differential of about 0.17, we would expect OU to have about a 61-63% chance of victory on Saturday, just eyeballing the curve.

[...] Based on this regression model, I calculate the likelihood of victory for our fictional elite team against every game on every team's schedule. The product of those individual game win likelihoods is the overall probability that the elite team could run the table. The lower the probability, the tougher the schedule. SOS isn't permanently fixed at this point in the year. It will fluctuate throughout the season as FEI ratings change, but we get a pretty good idea now regarding the differences among Boise State and other title contenders.

Let me guess, Boise State has a weaker schedule?

As it currently stands, the Broncos total 2010 schedule ranks 103rd among all FBS teams. A typical elite, top five team would have a 57.9 percent likelihood of winning every game. And the biggest hurdle is already in the rearview mirror. An elite team would be expected to have a better than 94 percent chance of winning each of its remaining games (Oregon State is the next toughest challenge, and they have to visit the blue turf), and an 80.5 percent chance of running the table the rest of the way. That's the fifth-easiest remaining schedule in all of college football.

Holy cupcakes, Batman!

It isn't as though all automatic qualifying programs have tremendously difficult schedules in comparison, however. Texas and Ohio State rank 62nd and 59th, respectively, by this SOS measure. But it isn't enough to say their schedules are roughly 40 spots tougher than Boise State's. How much tougher is 40 spots?

Let's compare the schedules of Ohio State and Boise State, currently neck and neck in the Associated Press poll at No. 2 and No. 3. FEI produces a strength of schedule rating of .332 for Ohio State, a 33 percent likelihood that an elite team would win every game. If Boise State's schedule were played twice -- that is, 24 total games, two trips to FedEx Field to face the Hokies, two at home against Oregon State, etc... -- it would still be easier than the Buckeyes' 59th ranked schedule. An elite team would have a better chance of going 24-0 against Boise State's slate twice (33.5 percent) than it would going 12-0 against Ohio State's slate this year (33.2 percent).

And that, in a nutshell, is why I still would find it hard to give Boise State a pass into the National Championship Game.

One question to close this out: Why are we not using these rankings in the BCS? I'd say they have just as much value as any of the other ones.