Alabama the real favorite for 2011

Trent Richardson and the Crimson Tide are the early favorites to win another BCS title in 2011. Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

We know, it's early.

But with the 2010 season officially wrapped, we can't help but take a look ahead at what 2011 will bring. Our projections at Football Outsiders will come into much clearer focus by the end of spring practices, once returning starters data can be collected and analyzed along with dozens of other metrics that will tell us who has the best shot of hoisting the BCS Championship trophy next January.

However, we do already have access to the first step in the projection process: program ratings based on multiyear data. What we're looking for is this: Which programs may be primed to contend in 2011, and which programs are not yet ready to make that leap?

One helpful metric is Program FEI (PFEI), a five-year weighted rating of a team's possession efficiency. PFEI is produced with the same basic methodology
described here, but includes data from the 2006 to 2010 seasons, with a special emphasis placed on more recent data. From our research, five-year data has a stronger correlation to next-year success in college football than other baseline metrics. That isn't particularly intuitive -- most fans base their expectations on what happened last year, not what happened over the past five years. But as with many data sets, the most recent data point isn't as important as the trend line.

How important is a strong PFEI ranking? Auburn and Oregon may have appeared to some to come out of nowhere and play for a national championship this year, but both were ranked in the PFEI top 15 headed into 2010. The last national champion to truly come out of nowhere according to PFEI was the 2000 Oklahoma Sooners. So in other words, by using this metric, we can do our best to separate the 2011 contenders from the pretenders -- even though it's early.