Thursday, November 12, 2009

Making the Case for TCU

I highly recommend Football Outsiders' piece on TCU($) being a true national title contender. It's always nice when my subjective sense about a team is confirmed by quality statistical measures. Sagarin's Predictor has TCU as being right in the Texas/Alabama/Florida class, as does the FEI. Brian Fremeau also makes the argument that this TCU team is like '04 Utah and unlike most unbeaten non-BCS conference teams in that they dominate their opponents from start to finish:

We use a measure called Game Efficiency (GE) to describe team performances, a function of a team's ability to maximize its own possessions and minimize those of its opponent. TCU currently ranks third nationally in GE, but all of the undefeated contenders find themselves in top 10 in GE. What the Horned Frogs have been able to do more effectively than the others is jump out to a lead and never look back. TCU has trailed in only 10.9 percent of its possessions on the season and has had at least a two-score lead (greater than eight points) in 54.5 percent of its possessions so far this year. Nationally, teams with a two-score lead at any point in a game win nearly 90 percent of the time. TCU pushes the score margin to a three-score level faster than any other team in college football -- 36 percent of all Horned Frogs possessions this year have been played with at least a 17-point lead.

It's that kind of throat-stomping that impresses a drive-based rating system like FEI, and it's the kind of thing that has held back other non-BCS teams from achieving high end-of-year ratings. The 2008 Utah Utes had five games come down to the wire and never received a dramatic schedule strength boost until the Sugar Bowl victory over Alabama. The 2004 Utah Utes provided a much better benchmark for undefeated non-BCS team success: stomp everyone.

That Utah team, led by Urban Meyer, trailed only two teams at any point in the season and never trailed in the second half. Their 0.436 GE rating for the season is the best unadjusted efficiency measured since 2003. TCU hasn't put together quite that level of annihilation this year, but has faced a stronger slate than 2004 Utah, and still has opportunities left to impress.

I also like the idea of Football Outsiders' strength of schedule ranking system giving greater weight to the top of a team's schedule as opposed to the bottom. I've always been bothered by the methodology of ranking a team's schedule simply by averaging the ranks of its opponents. It doesn't matter whether a top five team plays a team ranked #70 or #125; they're almost certainly going to win the game. The question is how many games did that team play against teams that posed a legitimate threat. So, kudos to Fremeau for inventing a better mousetrap.

Here are the current FEI rankings. FEI is high on the ACC, as its top third occupies spots six through nine in the rankings. Georgia Tech has the best offense in the country according to the ratings, but their defense is 16 places worse than anyone else in the top 15. FEI is definitely not impressed by LSU.

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