How the contenders stack up

Alabama's schedule could end up working against it if it loses a game early. AP Photo/Dave Martin

Our college football FEI projections are based on a number of factors that correlate well with next-year success. These factors include five-year drive efficiency, adjustments for transition factors like returning starters and recruiting success, and refinements to account for unpredictable factors like turnovers. Those factors provide the most accurate projections of overall team efficiency that we've tested, and we've been using those projections to discuss team win likelihoods for the upcoming season in several articles over the last few weeks.

This week, we produced similarity profiles, identifying teams over the last six seasons that had similar projections to this year's top contenders. Each team profile includes an overall team efficiency projection, strength of schedule projection, and offensive efficiency and defensive efficiency projections. We compared these four factors with the team profiles of every preseason projection since 2007 to calculate the closest similarity match. Here are the results, and a potential glimpse of what opportunities and pitfalls lie ahead for several of the the top contenders.

Alabama Crimson Tide
FEI projections: No. 1 overall, No. 58 SOS, No. 13 offense, No. 5 defense
Similarity profile match: 2008 USC (12-1)

The Crimson Tide are the team to beat this fall, winners of three national championships in the last four seasons. USC was one of the favorites heading into 2008, a program that had lost only six games over the previous five seasons. The Trojans tripped up in Week 3 on the road against Oregon State and ranked fifth in the first BCS standings of the season. Despite cruising to victories down the stretch, USC wasn't able to overtake top teams ranked ahead of them, even when they lost, and that was due to their relatively weak strength of schedule.

Might Alabama suffer the same fate if it stumbles early on in the year?