Is 2007 LSU the Worst BCS Title Winner?

Andy Lyons, Getty Images Sport

Is the only two loss title winner in the BCS era the worst of them all? Paul takes an objective look at the 2007 LSU team and other BCS winners since them.

The 2007 LSU team holds the unusual distinction of being a two-loss National Title winner. They are the only two-loss champion of the BCS era. In fact, only Minnesota in 1960 checks in as a National Title winner with two losses. It's a distinction that's often resulted in LSU being labeled "the worst National Champion" of the BCS, or possibly any other, era.

These types of conversations are typically devoid of context. People see two losses and automatically jump to the worst labeling. After all, how could they not be if they weren't even able to make it through their schedule without losing one or fewer games? The style or method of the loss is irrelevant, in this case. A loss is a loss is a loss. Having two of them is a pure indication of lack of quality.

It's not an argument entirely without merit. To be a two-loss team that wins the National Title, a good deal of fortune is involved. True enough, a good deal of fortune is involved in most any National Title run, but especially so when you lose two games in the regular season. That's typically something that relegates you to a BCS bowl, at best.

Yet, it also naively ignores any other factors at play. The assumption that two losses = poor quality fails to consider strength of schedule, overall level of quality from the rest of the field, and any number of other factors that are highly relevant to painting the National Title portrait. It's highly likely that 2011 LSU was the best team in the country that season, yet Alabama has the hardware, due to some good fortune. Yet, I don't see many racing to define a team that failed to win it's own conference and suffered its sole loss on its home turf as "the worst National Champion of the BCS era."

Thus, let's attempt to apply some objective data to the discussion. Now, the major weakness to framing this argument is that the data used will only be considered in context of the single season. By nature of the game, it's impossible to draw direct comparisons between seasons. We don't know if 2007 LSU would have beaten 2011 Alabama or 2013 FSU or any other team besides the ones they actually beat in 2007.

I don't, however, think this makes the data irrelevant. We can look at both the raw data AND where that performance ranked within the context of the season a given team's National Title season. That should give us a fair enough picture to draw a conclusion.

For the purposes of this discussion, I've decided to limit my data set to the following categories (more detailed explanations to follow):

  • Fremeau Efficiency Index (FEI)
  • Game Efficiency (GE)
  • Offensive Fremeau Efficiency Index (OFEI)
  • Defensive Fremeau Efficiency Index (DFEI)
  • Special Teams Efficiency (STE)
  • Field Position Advantage (FPA)
  • Strength of Schedule (SOS)
  • Offensive Yards Per Play (OYPP)
  • Defensive Yards Per Play (DYPP)
  • S&P+

The idea here is to capture a full picture of a team in all facets off the game (offense, defense, special teams). I opted for advanced statistics since they are either weighted or measured against level of competition, whereas raw numbers are not (total offense, defense, points per game, etc.). There's some overlay here, but enough variation that it gives us a full picture. So what are all these stats? Explanations from Football Outsiders:

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.

GE

Game Efficiency (GE) is the composite possession-by-possession efficiency of a team over the course of a game, a measurement of the success of its offensive, defensive, and special teams units’ essential goals: to maximize the team’s own scoring opportunities and to minimize those of its opponent. FEI ratings take the season-long GE data and adjust for opponent, placing special emphasis on quality performance against good teams, win or lose.

Strength of Schedule (SOS)

Strength of schedule, based on the likelihood of an elite team going undefeated against the given team's entire schedule.

OFEI

Offensive FEI, the opponent-adjusted efficiency of the given team's offense.

DFEI

Defensive FEI, the opponent-adjusted efficiency of the given team's defense.

STE

Special Teams Efficiency, the scoring value earned by field goal, punt and kickoff units measured in points per average game.

FPA

Field Position Advantage, the share of the value of total starting field position earned by each team against its opponents.

S&P+

There are three key components to the S&P+:

Success Rate: A common Football Outsiders tool used to measure efficiency by determining whether every play of a given game was successful or not. The terms of success in college football: 50 percent of necessary yardage on first down, 70 percent on second down, and 100 percent on third and fourth down.

EqPts Per Play (PPP): An explosiveness measure derived from determining the point value of every yard line (based on the expected number of points an offense could expect to score from that yard line) and, therefore, every play of a given game.

Drive Efficiency: As of February 2013, S&P+ also includes a drive-based aspect based on the field position a team creates and its average success at scoring or preventing the points expected based on that field position.

Opponent adjustments: Success Rate and PPP combine to form S&P, an OPS-like measure for football. Then each team's S&P output for a given category (Rushing/Passing on either Standard Downs or Passing Downs) is compared to the expected output based upon their opponents and their opponents' opponents. For the drive efficiency portion, the same approach is taken based on net points and starting field position. This is a schedule-based adjustment designed to reward tougher schedules and punish weaker ones.

OYPP

Offensive yards per play. Total yards gained/Total plays

DYPP

Defensive yards per play allowed.Total yards allowed/Total plays

One final point here is that this data has only been tabulated from 2007 onward. It's convenient for the sake of our study, but does leave off nine previous title winners. However, I do believe the data sufficiently answers what is posited: Is 2007 LSU the Worst BCS Title Winner?

2013 2012 2011 2010 2009 2008 2007
FSU Alabama Alabama Auburn Alabama Florida LSU
Rank Number Rank Number Rank Number Rank Number Rank Number Rank Number Rank Number
FEI 1 .319 1 .324 3 .306 1 .348 1 .342 1 .356 1 .282
GE 1 .466 1 .342 2 .317 14 .167 5 .228 1 .374 6 .200
OFEI 12 .499 5 .533 11 .418 1 .857 5 .555 3 .591 3 .513
DFEI 5 -0.653 4 -0.657 1 -0.780 8 -0.480 1 -0.753 1 -0.630 6 -0.519
STE 27 1.343 28 1.32 72 -0.407 60 .230 49 .492 2 4.472 36 1.008
FPA 2 .562 6 .555 2 .558 40 .517 18 .533 4 .556 25 .525
SOS 65 .236 31 .1 16 .091 4 .038 6 .058 16 .980 17 .102
OYPP 1 7.67 5 6.95 12 6.46 3 7.37 32 5.96 3 7.13 28 5.84
DYPP 2 4.09 2 4.18 1 3.32 56 5.36 4 4.08 10 4.46 4 4.42
S&P+ 1 310.3 1 312.3 1 333.0 6 259.4 2 284.4 2 299.4 3 282.0
Average Rank 11.7 8.4 12.1 19.3 12.3 4.3 12.9

So, what does all of this tell us?

Well, LSU didn't produce the single best output in any single category for these seven teams. No, what defined the 2007 team is that they didn't heavily dip in any single category. In fact, only 2009 Florida and 2012 Alabama exhibited lower dips, both in Strength of Schedule.

Yet, for this very reason, it also indicates that statistically the 2007 squad is not the worst BCS champion. Based on this collection, that team is clearly Auburn, who struggled on special teams, in field position and on defense. In hindsight, it all makes Cam Newton's wrecking-ball-Heisman-trophy season all the more impressive. Since the data wasn't tabulated prior to 2007, we can't know how the 2010 Auburn would stack up to previous title winners.

Speaking of dominant, how in the world did 2008 UF ever lose a game? Have mercy.

Not only is LSU's 2007 team not the worst, they are within a few percentage points of both of Alabama's title winner in 2009 and 2011, and not that far off of FSU's title winner this season.

The counterpoint here is that LSU's numerical totals in 2007 are significantly behind the outputs for the other teams in FEI and GE. Well that and the whole two loss thing.

For those keeping track, here's how 2011 LSU checks in:

2011
LSU
Rank Number
FEI 1 .318
GE 4 .270
OFEI 17 .391
DFEI 2 -0.747
STE 6 2.83
FPA 2 .572
SOS 1 .033
OYPP 50 5.71
DYPP 2 4.08
S&P+ 2 297.5
Average Rank 8.7

Life ain't fair sometimes, huh?

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