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College Football Season Recap

The college football regular season is over. You can view the SRS ratings for each team here, and the single-game SRS ratings from each game involving an FBS team here. That list is sorted by the best single-game performances of the year, and Ohio State’s 59-0 thrashing of Wisconsin in the Big 10 Championship Game takes the top prize there. But today I thought it would be fun to go back and look at some of the most unusual performances of the year.

Biggest Upset: Northwestern State 30, Lousiana Tech 27

Northwestern State is an FCS school with a rating of just 23.7. Louisiana Tech is actually pretty good, finishing 8-5 and 37th in the SRS with a rating of 43.4. Given that the game was in Louisiana, we would put Northwestern State as 23-point underdogs, but on September 20th, they pulled the shocking upset. Although it was not the most noteworthy upset of the day, because….

Biggest Upset involving a Power 5 school: Indiana 31, Missouri 27

Missouri won the SEC East, although the Tigers were not a great team, finishing with a 48.9 SRS rating. Of course, Indiana is kind of terrible: the Hoosiers began the year 0-7 in Big Ten play before edging by Purdue in the season finale. Given that the game was in Columbia and that Indiana finished with a 31.4 SRS rating, Missouri should have won by 20.4 points. Instead, Indiana pulled the shocking upset, and gave SEC haters something to crow about.

The table below shows the 25 biggest upsets of the year: the Virginia Tech/Ohio State game slides into the top five, as does this year’s Bedlam game, which flew a bit under the radar given what else was going on in college football last week. For each team, I’ve listed their SRS rating and their opponent’s SRS rating, along with the difference between the two teams’ ratings after taking into account home field.

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2014 College Bowl Preview

The Army/Navy game concluded our college football regular season. As a result, it’s now Bowl season for the Football Bowl Subdivision. The table below shows all 38 games, along with each team’s SRS ratings, the average of the two teams’ ratings, and the difference between the two ratings.

DateFavoriteSRSUnderdogSRSBowlLocationAvgDiff
12-20-14Utah45.3Colorado St41.1Royal Purple Las Vegas BowlLas Vegas NV43.24.1
12-20-14Utah St37.8UTEP29.6Gildan New Mexico BowlAlbuquerque NM33.78.2
12-20-14Western Michigan34Air Force32.8Famous Idaho Potato BowlBoise ID33.41.2
12-20-14Nevada34.2Louisiana-Lafayette30.2R+L Carriers New Orleans BowlNew Orleans LA32.24
12-20-14South Alabama25.9Bowling Green23.9Raycom Media Camellia BowlMontgomery AL24.92
12-22-14Memphis41.6Brigham Young38.2Miami Beach BowlMiami FL39.93.4
12-23-14Marshall46.3Northern Illinois34Boca Raton BowlBoca Raton FL40.112.3
12-23-14Navy34.6San Diego St32.1San Diego County Credit Union Poinsettia BowlSan Diego CA33.42.4
12-24-14Western Kentucky35.5Central Michigan30.2Popeyes Bahamas BowlNassau BA32.85.2
12-24-14Rice30.6Fresno St29.8Hawaii BowlHonolulu HI30.20.8
12-26-14Louisiana Tech43.4Illinois33.7Zaxby`s Heart of Dallas BowlDallas TX38.59.8
12-26-14North Carolina St37.8Central Florida36.8Bitcoin St. Petersburg BowlSt. Petersburg FL37.31
12-26-14North Carolina37Rutgers34.2Quick Lane BowlDetroit MI35.62.8
12-27-14Southern Cal51.3Nebraska47.7National University Holiday BowlSan Diego CA49.53.6
12-27-14Arizona St47.5Duke42.4Hyundai Sun BowlEl Paso TX455.2
12-27-14Miami FL44.1South Carolina41.6Duck Commander Independence BowlShreveport LA42.82.5
12-27-14Virginia Tech41.8Cincinnati39Military BowlAnnapolis MD40.42.9
12-27-14Boston College42.5Penn State37.3New Era Pinstripe BowlBronx NY39.95.2
12-29-14Oklahoma52.8Clemson47.1Russell Athletic Florida Citrus BowlOrlando FL49.95.7
12-29-14Texas A&M47.6West Virginia47.2AutoZone Liberty BowlMemphis TN47.40.4
12-29-14Arkansas52.2Texas41.9Advocare V100 Texas BowlHouston TX4710.3
12-30-14Georgia56.9Louisville47.1Belk BowlCharlotte NC529.9
12-30-14LSU52.3Notre Dame42.9Franklin American Mortgage Music City BowlNashville TN47.69.4
12-30-14Stanford48.3Maryland39.9Foster Farms BowlSanta Clara CA44.18.4
12-31-14TCU60.5Mississippi58Chick-fil-A Peach BowlAtlanta GA59.32.5
12-31-14Mississippi St55.5Georgia Tech50.7Capital One Orange BowlMiami Gardens FL53.14.8
12-31-14Arizona48.6Boise St44.8VIZIO Fiesta BowlGlendale AZ46.73.8
01-01-15Alabama61.6Ohio State57.6Allstate Sugar BowlNew Orleans LA59.64.1
01-01-15Baylor57.4Michigan St56.1Goodyear Cotton Bowl ClassicArlington TX56.81.3
01-01-15Oregon61Florida St51.6Rose Bowl Presented by Northwestern MutualPasadena CA56.39.4
01-01-15Auburn55.9Wisconsin49.7Outback BowlTampa FL52.86.3
01-01-15Missouri48.9Minnesota44Buffalo Wild Wings Citrus BowlOrlando FL46.54.8
01-02-15Kansas St53.7UCLA50.3Valero Alamo BowlSan Antonio TX523.4
01-02-15Tennessee47Iowa41TaxSlayer BowlJacksonville FL446.1
01-02-15Washington44.2Oklahoma St37.8TicketCity Cactus BowlTempe AZ416.4
01-02-15Pittsburgh40Houston33.1Lockheed Martin Armed Forces BowlFort Worth TX36.57
01-03-15Florida47.4East Carolina38Birmingham BowlBirmingham AL42.79.4
01-04-15Arkansas St34.1Toledo33.8GoDaddy BowlMobile AL340.4

Best Bowls

The Sugar Bowl, featuring Alabama and Ohio State, checks in as the best game of Bowl season, as measured by the average ratings of the two teams. The Crimson Tide have the best SRS rating, while Ohio State has the 5th highest rating.

The other playoff matchup comes in the Rose Bowl, but Florida State’s poor rating actually drops them game to #4 behind the Peach Bowl (TCU/Ole Miss) and even the Cotton Bowl Classic (Baylor/Michigan State).

The worst game? That’s South Alabama and Bowling Green in the new Camelia Bowl. Yes, the inaugural game of a new Alabama Bowl game featuring two six-loss teams will kick off at 9:20 on the opening night of Bowl season. Make sure you have your schedule cleared for that one.

Biggest Mismatches

Marshall and Northern Illinois face off in a game that, on the surface, appears to be a very good one. Marshall is 12-1 and a legitimately good team. On the other hand, while Northern Illinois is 11-2, a bunch of close wins against MAC teams doesn’t make UNI a good team. The Huskies lost by 38 against Arkansas and by 17 at home against a bad Central Michigan team. Northern Illinois is 12.3 points worse than Marshall in the SRS, which makes traveling to Boca Raton even more depressing.

Arkansas/Texas, Georgia/Louisville, and Louisiana Tech/Illinois are all 10-point mismatches, too. Of course, Bowl season has a habit of deviating from the regular season script, so don’t blame me when all the underdogs win. According to Vegas, the Foster Farms Bowl at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara is the most lopsided matchup. One reason for that: Stanford is the de facto host here, and the Cardinal are 14 point favorites against Maryland. [click to continue…]

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The college football regular season is over. Florida State ends the year as the only unbeaten team, even if the defining characteristic of the Noles’ season was their inability to ever earn any style points. FSU ends the regular season a mind-boggling 3-10 against the spread, which is all you need to know about how the team played relative to expectations on a weekly basis.

Most agree that Alabama and Oregon are the top two teams in the country; the SRS agrees with the consensus! The Crimson Tide have emerged with an SRS rating of 62.0, with the Ducks narrowly behind at 61.5.  The Seminoles are down at 15 in the SRS, which is unsurprising to regular readers.  The SRS is a predictive system, like Las Vegas; this implies that Florida State would be an underdog to all the top teams, which is hard to argue against.

Of course, FSU will take one of the four golden tickets, as will Alabama and Oregon.  The fourth spot in the first ever college football playoff will come down to TCU, Ohio State, or Baylor.  The SRS is not necessarily a great way to decide which team should advance — after all, that should be based more on resume than on best team — but it can be instructive to look at the ratings.  In this case, those three teams check in at #3, #5, and #6.

As always thanks to Dr. Peter R. Wolfe for providing the weekly game logs. Some more playoff thoughts about the jump:

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The Baylor/TCU Question

Today, TCU will finally play Iowa State, the worst team in the Big 12, and Baylor will finally play Kansas State, the best team in the Big 12 after Baylor and TCU. At that point, both the Horned Frogs and Bears will have faced each other and nine common opponents.1 The chart below shows how each team fared against those ten common opponents, treating Baylor/TCU as one team.

On the X-Axis is each opponent, in (roughly) descending order from left to right in terms of strength. For both Baylor and TCU, the other team was its toughest opponent, while Iowa State and SMU were the two easiest opponents both teams faced. On the Y-Axis is the home field adjusted margin of victory. Of note: TCU lost by 3 to Baylor, but the game was played in Waco, so both teams get a 0 for that game. TCU is represented by the purple dot below, with Baylor’s results displayed in green:

baylor tcu [click to continue…]

  1. In addition to the remaining 8 teams in the Big 12, both TCU and Baylor beat SMU in nonconference play. []
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College Football Rivalry Weekend

A couple of quick notes on rivalry weekend, using the latest SRS ratings. All rankings come from the College Football Playoff.

#15 Auburn at #1 Alabama (-8.5)

In the SRS, Alabama is first overall with a rating of 61.7; Auburn is 7th overall, which may surprise some folks, courtesy of a 57.5 rating. Given that the game is in Tuscaloosa, that would imply a spread of -7.2, not too far off of the 8.5-point line. Auburn is probably a top ten team in Vegas’ ratings as well, so this Iron Bowl may be closer than some experts think.

Florida at #2 Florida State (-7.5)

Sure, FSU is ranked #2 in the country while Florida is an unranked and disappointing 6-4. But the teams are pretty close in the SRS, with the Seminoles at #17 (51.6) and the Gators at #24 (49.4). We would expect the spread in Tallahassee to be FSU -5.2, again, closer than you might think. A Florida upset would be surprising, but not shocking.

#3 Oregon at Oregon State (+19.5)

This one should not be all that close: Oregon has a 60.3 in the SRS, which would imply a 23.8-point spread over the Beavers (33.5). Don’t believe anyone who invokes the phrase “throw the records out” when they preview this game.

#4 Mississippi State at Ole Miss (+2.5)

The SRS narrlowly prefers Ole Miss despite the worse record: the Rebels should be 3.6-point favorites given the ratings of each team. This game is a true toss up, but also one where the spread is about 6 points off of the SRS.

#5 TCU at Texas (+5)

Given the records for each team — 9-1 for the Horned Frogs, 6-5 for the Longhorns — you might be surprised that the spread is just five points. TCU has an SRS rating of 59.4, while Texas is down at 44.4. We would expect TCU to be 12-point favorites, so the spread being off by a full touchdown here is an eye-opener. On the other hand, Texas has been playing better of late, so the upset watch is on in Austin.

Michigan at #6 Ohio State (-21)

This is one spread that lines up perfectly with the SRS: Ohio State is 17.7 points better than Michigan on a neutral field, so being three touchdown favorites at home makes sense.

#7 Baylor vs. Texas Tech (+24.5)

Baylor (59.5) is 4th overall in the SRS, while the Red RAiders are down at #82 (32.4). That would imply a home spread of Baylor -30, so I guess Vegas views this game as ever-so-slightly more competitive than the SRS.

Stanford at #8 UCLA (-5.5)

UCLA has an SRS of 53.5, good enough for 15th overall. Stanford is a competitive 6-5, but the Cardinal’s 46.6 rating puts them down at 32nd in the SRS. Given that the game is in LA, a 10-point spread would make sense. The Bruins have a very uphill battle to crack the top 4, but a win over Stanford is the first domino that must fall (well, a Texas win tonight would help, too).

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The week 13 college football slate was not very exciting, so let’s just get straight to the updated rankings:

RkTeamConfConf RkGMOVSOSSRSREC
1AlabamaSEC11117.444.361.710-1
2OregonP1211119.540.860.310-1
3GeorgiaSEC21118.341.659.99-2
4BaylorB1211022.936.659.59-1
5TCUB1221019.340.159.49-1
6MississippiSEC31114.243.8588-3
7AuburnSEC4119.847.757.58-3
8Mississippi StSEC5111740.457.410-1
9Michigan StB1011118.538.156.69-2
10Ohio StateB102111838.256.210-1
11OklahomaB1231112.842.955.78-3
12Kansas StB1241012.64254.58-2
13WisconsinB1031117.43754.49-2
14ArkansasSEC6119.644.253.86-5
15UCLAP122117.945.653.59-2
16LSUSEC7117.945.253.17-4
17Florida StACC11113.138.551.611-0
18Georgia TechACC21112.838.150.99-2
19MissouriSEC8119.141.550.69-2
20ArizonaP1231110.839.750.59-2
21Southern CalP124118.741.750.47-4
22TennesseeSEC9111.747.949.65-6
23MarshallCUSA11124.924.749.611-0
24FloridaSEC10107.641.849.46-4
25Texas A&MSEC11116.742.549.27-4
26NebraskaB104111138.249.28-3
27Arizona StP1251110.238.648.89-2
28LouisvilleACC31111.436.948.38-3
29West VirginiaB125114.543.848.36-5
30ClemsonACC4119.337.947.28-3
31Miami FLACC5116.540.5476-5
32StanfordP126117.139.546.66-5
33UtahP127113.54346.47-4
34Notre DameInd1115.440.946.37-4
35MinnesotaB10511639.245.28-3
36TexasB126112.242.144.46-5
37South CarolinaSEC12112.341.844.16-5
38WashingtonP12812539.144.17-5
39DukeACC6119.834.143.98-3
40Boise StMWC11110.533.443.99-2
41Colorado StMWC21112.929.942.810-1
42MemphisAmer11113.329.442.78-3
43Virginia TechACC7112.240.342.55-6
44IowaB106114.637.842.57-4
45MarylandB107111.54142.57-4
46Boston CollegeACC811438.442.36-5
47VirginiaACC9110.841.542.35-6
48Louisiana TechCUSA2119.532.642.17-4
49North CarolinaACC1011-0.941.540.66-5
50Utah StMWC3129.630.940.59-3
51East CarolinaAmer21011.129.240.37-3
52CincinnatiAmer3107.732.139.87-3
53PittsburghACC11112.936.739.75-6
54CaliforniaP12911-2.44239.65-6
55NorthwesternB10811-140.639.55-6
56KentuckySEC1311-2.641.839.25-6
57Penn StateB109113.136396-5
58MichiganB101011-0.939.338.55-6
59Brigham YoungInd2118.629.738.47-4
60Georgia SouthernSun11113.822.936.78-3
61Central FloridaAmer4108.328.436.77-3
62Oklahoma StB12711-5.34236.65-6
63Western MichiganMAC11111.724.936.68-3
64NavyInd3103.432.936.35-5
65North Carolina StACC1211-0.236.2366-5
66Washington StP121011-6.341.435.13-8
67Arkansas StSun2115.329.434.76-5
68Western KentuckyCUSA3114.929.734.66-5
69NevadaMWC4110.733.634.46-5
70RutgersB101111-4.338.634.36-5
71ToledoMAC2112.431.834.27-4
72RiceCUSA4112.731.233.87-4
73HoustonAmer5107.126.533.66-4
74Alabama-BirminghamCUSA5110.732.833.55-6
75Oregon StP121111-437.533.55-6
76SyracuseACC1311-7.140.433.33-8
77PurdueB101211-942333-8
78TempleAmer6104.428.6335-5
79IllinoisB101311-8.241.132.95-6
80Air ForceMWC5117.425.332.78-3
81ColoradoP121211-10.643.132.52-9
82Texas TechB12811-1042.432.44-7
83IndianaB101411-840.232.23-8
84Northern IllinoisMAC3115.726.432.29-2
85Iowa StB12910-11.443.4322-8
86San Diego StMWC6112.828.331.26-5
87Central MichiganMAC4122.928.231.17-5
88UTEPCUSA6110.429.930.36-5
89KansasB121011-11.441.530.23-8
90Louisiana-LafayetteSun3110.928.929.87-4
91Fresno StMWC711-3.33329.75-6
92Middle Tennessee StCUSA711-0.630.129.56-5
93Appalachian StSun4115.123.9296-5
94Bowling GreenMAC5110.428.228.67-4
95WyomingMWC811-9.437.528.14-7
96Florida Int'lCUSA812-2.33027.74-8
97Hawai`iMWC912-6.633.6274-8
98VanderbiltSEC1411-15.141.926.83-8
99South AlabamaSun511-2.529.326.76-5
100San José StMWC1011-733.326.33-8
101Florida AtlanticCUSA911-8.434.526.13-8
102Texas St-San MarcosSun6112.423.726.16-5
103AkronMAC611-0.526.425.95-6
104Ball StMAC711-1.827.325.54-7
105Louisiana-MonroeSun711-5.330.425.14-7
106Wake ForestACC1411-10.635.625.13-8
107South FloridaAmer711-8.232.724.54-7
108Ohio U.MAC811-529.524.45-6
109Old DominionCUSA1011-5.629.724.15-6
110MassachusettsMAC911-427.823.83-8
111New MexicoMWC1111-8.832.323.53-8
112TulaneAmer811-12.135.623.43-8
113Texas-San AntonioCUSA1111-9.632.923.33-8
114Southern MissCUSA1211-12.935.9233-8
115BuffaloMAC1010-1.324.2234-6
116North TexasCUSA1311-4.626.922.34-7
117Miami OHMAC1111-9.63121.32-9
118ArmyInd411-7.827.8204-7
119TulsaAmer911-12.732.419.72-9
120ConnecticutAmer1010-12.831.718.92-8
121Kent StMAC1210-12.33118.71-9
122TroySun811-10.528.5183-8
123UNLVMWC1212-14.331.116.72-10
124New Mexico StSun911-11.526.6152-9
125IdahoSun1010-12.527.5151-9
126Georgia StSun1111-17.43012.61-10
127SMUAmer1110-27.439.412.10-10
128Eastern MichiganMAC1311-19.63111.42-9

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Comparing the Pac-12 South and the SEC West

The Pac-12 South now has 5 teams in the top 20 of the college football playoff rankings: UCLA at #9, Arizona State at 13, Arizona at 15, Utah at 17, and USC at 19. All five teams also appear in the top 25 of the AP Poll, with 2-8 Colorado being the only Pac-12 South team left out in the cold. Meanwhile, the SEC West has lost some of its luster after a disastrous week 11: only four of seven SEC West teams are in either sets of rankings, with LSU, Texas A&M, and Arkansas now unranked.

Simple math tells us that placing 5 out of 6 teams in the top 25 is more impressive than 4 out of 7; on the other hand, 25 is a pretty arbitrary cut-off point. Three SEC West teams appear in the top 8 of the playoff rankings, compared to zero Pac-12 teams. The same is true of the AP Poll, where Alabama, Mississippi State, and Ole Miss are all ahead of #11 UCLA, the highest-ranked Pac-12 South squad. If you were to combine the two divisions, the rankings would look something like this:

  • SEC West (Alabama)
  • SEC West (MSU)
  • SEC West (Ole Miss)
  • P-12 South (UCLA)
  • P-12 South (Arizona State)
  • P-12 South (Arizona)
  • SEC West (Auburn)
  • P-12 South (Utah)
  • P-12 South (USC)
  • SEC West (LSU)
  • SEC West (Texas A&M)
  • SEC West (Arkansas)
  • P-12 South (Colorado)

From that vantage point, the Pac-12 South doesn’t look so hot: the #1 team in the SECW is ahead of the #1 team in the P-12S, the #2 is ahead of #2, #3 is ahead of #3, #4 is ahead of #4, and the 6th and 7th best teams are ahead of the 6th best team.  The only advantage the Pac-12 South has, perhaps, is that it’s 5th best team — USC — has a slightly better resume than that of the 5th best team — LSU — in the SEC West.

But all of the above is based solely on the rankings.  When you look deeper at each team’s season, the differences become more stark.

For starters, Colorado is a terrible team, while the SEC West boasts no bad teams.  Arkansas is 5-5, courtesy of a 1-4 record in the SEC West and a loss to Georgia; on the other hand, the Razorbacks also blew out Alabama-Birmingham, Texas Tech, and Northern Illinois, three teams that are very comparable to Colorado.  Against Alabama, Georgia, and Mississippi State — three top ten teams — the Hogs are 0-3 but with an average margin of defeat of just 7 points.

If we want to just look at the quality teams in each division, then, we are looking at 5 teams in the Pac-12 South and 7 in the SEC West.  It’s probably unfair to do such a comparison to the SEC West, but let’s do it anyway.

Head to Head

Let this be a good reminder of how frustrating college football analysis can be: not only have there been zero games this year between the SEC West and the Pac-12 South, but there have been no interconference games at all between the SEC and the Pac-12. In fact, there’s only one team in the country that’s even played a team from both divisions: Memphis, which lost 24-3 in Oxford and 42-35 at the Rose Bowl.

Losses

The seven SEC West teams have just three losses in non-division play this year, which is three times as many as it had week ago.  Those three loses were by Arkansas and Auburn to a very good Georgia team, and by Texas A&M to a pretty good Missouri squad.

The five Pac-12 teams have five interdivision losses: UCLA and Utah both lost to an excellent Oregon team, which is pretty understandable.  From there, though, the wheels fall off the track pretty quickly: USC lost to 6-4 Boston College, Arizona State lost to a 4-6 Oregon State, and Utah lost at home to a 3-7 Washington State team.  The Utes led 21-0 in that game and 27-14 in the 4th quarter, but wound up losing 28-27 in one of the more inexplicable losses of the year.

Judged solely by losses, the SEC West is the far superior division.  The biggest wart is probably Auburn’s blow out loss against UGA, but Utah also lost by 24 at home to Oregon, so the Pac-12 South can’t say it has avoided blow outs, either.

Wins

The most impressive non-division win from either set of schools this year probably belongs to the Pac-12:1 Arizona’s 7-point win in Eugene over the Ducks. After that, though, one could argue that the next seven best wins came from the SEC West.

Close calls aside, there’s nothing to criticize about when it comes to wins on the road against Kansas State (Auburn) or on a neutral field against Wisconsin (LSU). Those two teams a combined 15-2 in all other games. A neutral site victory against 6-5 West Virginia (Alabama) counts for something, too.  Tennessee and Florida are both inconsistent SEC East teams, but (1) the SRS has both teams in the top 25, and (2) both teams are in the top 30 of Sagarin’s pure predictor ratings.  The Football Outsiders ratings have both squads slightly lower, but in any event, SEC West teams have registered a 4-0 record against those two teams.

What about the Pac-12? After Oregon, the next best win is either: (1) any of the wins by ASU, Southern Cal, or Utah against Stanford, (2) Arizona State against Notre Dame, or (3) UCLA against Texas.  Those are all solid wins, but those five are pretty comparable to the five against West Virginia, Tennessee, and Florida.

Conclusion

The Pac-12 South now has five top 25 teams, but the number 25 is a pretty arbitrary bench mark. The SEC West, despite having an additional team, is stronger top to bottom. The SEC West has entirely avoided losses to bad teams, something the Pac-12 South can’t quite represent. And when it comes to non-division wins, it’s a close call, but the SEC West probably has the better case to be made. The Pac-12 South remains a great division, but it’s clear that even after a rough week 11, the SEC West is still the top division in college football.

  1. At least if you exclude Margin of Victory. If you include that, one could make the case for the 34-3 win by Ole Miss over Tennessee, which registered a whopping 79 on the SRS, the 9th best result this year. []
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Checkdowns: College Football QB ANY/A, 2014

Adjusted Net Yards per Attempt is the basic measure I use to measure quarterback performance. ANY/A, of course, is calculated as follows:

(Passing Yards + 20*PassingTDs – 45*INTs – SackYardsLost) / (Sacks + Attempts)

Finding college football sack data is notoriously challenging, but ESPN does at least list sack numbers (but not sack yardage lost) for quarterback. But if we assume each quarterback loses 6.7 yards per sack1, then we can calculated estimated ANY/A. And we can also calculate estimated value.

This year in college football, the average ANY/A is 6.13. Let’s use Oregon’s Marcus Mariota as an example. The Heisman frontrunner has thrown for 2,780 yards and 29 touchdowns on 277 attempts, while being sacked 23 times and throwing just two interceptions. As a result, Mariota has an ANY/A of 10.39. That’s 4.26 ANY/A above average, and over the course of Mariota’s 300 dropbacks, that means he’s provided 1,278 of Adjusted Net Yards of value over average. As it turns out, that’s the most in college football. The table below is fully sortable and searchable, and it lists the 172 quarterbacks this season with at least 50 pass attempts:

RKPLAYERTEAMCOMPATTYDSTDINTSACKANY/AVALUE
1Marcus MariotaORE18627727802922310.391278
2Garrett GraysonCSU2043113024265209.621157
3Cody KesslerUSC2383392919293228.911005
4Jared GoffCAL2624193398304238.29956
5Brandon DoughtyWKU2844253507318178.26945
6Rakeem CatoMRSH1682842613267119.3937
7Zach TerrellWMU1932772668196139.28914
8Blake SimsALA170276245418379.3898
9Connor CookMSU159274246619589.1839
10Bryce PettyBAY1642832421213138.85805
11J.T. BarrettOSU1652582356298208.78739
12Gunner KielCIN1682792485241078.63716
13Trevone BoykinTCU2293863021245177.85693
14Kenny HillTA&M2143212649238157.88590
15Shane CardenECU2634183216205197.47586
16Brad KaayaMIA16026724032210148.18577
17Jake WatersKSU1882952569145207.9560
18Kale PearsonAFA86140134213299.74539
19Connor HallidayWSU35452638733211207.11538
20Deshaun WatsonCLEM791181197122810.27521
21Dak PrescottMSST17328725212010157.85520
22Bo WallaceMISS1902972554228237.75519
23Justin ThomasGT75145139615499.45512
24Everett GolsonND22737430442712217.35483
25Brett HundleyUCLA2203052547174297.52466
26Drew HareNIU141230172014178.05456
27Jameis WinstonFSU22133628441812147.34426
28Gary NovaRUTG13923922121610167.74412
29Seth RussellBAY406872271012.01400
30Blake FrohnapfelUMASS24143733452310226.99395
31Wes LuntILL1412161671143107.74364
32Nick MarshallAUB125210168814587.75354
33Grant HedrickBSU23032227951713187.15346
34Dylan ThompsonSC21736127942210187.03341
35Taylor HeinickeODU22836728922511247340
36Driphus JacksonRICE1412451960154197.4335
37Cody SokolLT20033725132410146.98298
38Hutson MasonUGA1502221638163137.39296
39Clint TrickettWVU28141932851810266.79294
40Mike BercoviciASU101164132210377.84292
41Trevor KnightOKLA162279219714967.13286
42Cooper RushCMU1912932416189237.02281
43Marquise WilliamsUNC2343692773208226.82270
44Davis WebbTTU2113452539241346.9269
45Anu SolomonARIZ2564413058257226.69259
46Joe LicataBUFF20431823922511156.9256
47Taylor LambAPP157253196313787.1255
48Will GardnerLOU1272211669123137.21253
49Paxton LynchMEM1953032299126136.9246
50Darell GarretsonUSU9113511408397.67222
51Joshua DobbsTENN61997907228.18208
52Luke FalkWSU841209038177.65193
53Treon HarrisFLA33565654159.29193
54Jaquez JohnsonFAU1522631778153126.77178
55Travis WilsonUTAH1322211558132166.84169
56Cyler MilesWASH1512291627122176.76156
57Brandon AllenARK1602761905155116.64148
58Michael CummingsKU113195149273136.78135
59Phillip ElyTOL41685414128.04134
60Taylor KellyASU1131971498145176.72128
61Kent MyersUSU43575314178.11127
62Nick ArbuckleGAST21435428121912286.45124
63Cody ClementsUAB1542281910118206.6116
64Kevin EllisonGASO631098655347.11111
65Jake RudockIOWA1722691863124136.51108
66Logan WoodsideTOL151252177314776.53104
67Tommy Armstrong Jr.NEB1282481889149126.4890
68Jacoby BrissettNCST1973332278195246.3685
69Chad VoytikPITT1362201688126186.4679
70Kevin HoganSTAN1872932155157216.3775
71Lamar JordanUNM50946995256.8269
72Andrew HendrixM-OH2074203062228396.2868
73Caleb RoweMD34544895417.3165
74Justin HolmanUCF14525520091610206.3560
75Tyler JonesTXST2203442403207266.2547
76C.J. BeathardIOWA39695003146.6941
77Chad ChalichIDHO36644912216.6836
78Derrius VickOHIO8414210356396.3634
79Austin GrammerMTU19229522981510246.2333
80Munchie LegauxCIN41624063126.3715
81Matt JohnsUVA8615610448516.1910
82Nate SudfeldIND10116711516386.1910
83Patrick MahomesTTU52946216266.11-2
84Fredi KnightenARST2313802578175296.11-7
85Johnny McCraryVAN611148069626.06-8
86Taysom HillBYU8813297573146.07-8
87Blake JurichSJSU52816295455.99-11
88Dontreal PruittTROY44775331145.94-15
89Kyle AllenTA&M7913088411585.98-20
90Dajon WilliamsUNT46776077495.89-20
91Sean MannionORST2333682688127306.06-27
92Christian StewartBYU1402441633135175.95-45
93Jameill ShowersUTEP122219141711595.93-45
94Reggie BonnafonLOU519266241155.57-59
95Joel StaveWIS571046886455.45-73
96Joe GraySJSU2013172215109115.9-73
97Keenan ReynoldsNAVY429270753155.34-84
98Brandon SilversTROY162237156083175.79-85
99Mitch LeidnerMINN881711310108155.64-90
100Ozzie MannBALL921619476275.54-99
101Terrel HuntSYR831459831435.43-104
102Grant RohachISU27542832144.33-104
103Mike WhiteUSF90182128887105.55-110
104Steven BenchUSF36764662254.72-114
105Mitch TrubiskyUNC29563143314.08-117
106Angel SantiagoARMY336444011114.55-118
107Tyrone SwoopesTEX1913252152126205.76-126
108Nick MullensUSM1943232207119145.72-137
109Patrick TowlesUK2113632542147335.77-141
110Greg Ward Jr.HOU102145100565125.22-142
111Brandon BridgeUSA1192311457104175.5-156
112Anthony JenningsLSU92192135396195.38-157
113Terrance BroadwayULL1552591771129145.54-161
114Cody FajardoNEV2093392202149135.65-167
115Brandon ConnetteFRES29532992343.11-172
116Kendal ThompsonUTAH325232422103.34-173
117Dane EvansTLSA21339026452012235.69-180
118Tanner McEvoyWIS651127095634.51-186
119Jack MilasBALL10419211337555.15-193
120Colby KirkegaardWYO1743012214118335.55-194
121Chandler WhitmerCONN1212141471116255.24-211
122Stephen RiversVAN25633340322.86-213
123Andrew McNultyUNT7814090945104.65-222
124Nick MontanaTULN42723001213.06-224
125JD SpragueOHIO94194118333124.99-235
126Reginald Bell Jr.EMU6111276944174.3-235
127Sefo LiufauCOLO29845328422614155.62-236
128Quinn KaehlerSDSU137235165689175.15-247
129Alex McGoughFIU1272491624147255.19-257
130Sam B. RichardsonISU1883231938146185.36-262
131Josh GreerUNT24501710241-277
132Maty MaukMIZZ15629417841910155.22-280
133James KnapkeBGSU22539625141210135.42-289
134Matt DavisSMU558952123143.23-299
135Anthony BooneDUKE2213912232167115.38-300
136Cole WeeksUSM5911276125153.74-303
137Austin ApplebyPUR9918910758694.57-309
138Tyler MurphyBC1011841293910164.58-310
139Reilly O'TooleILL6311474556153.68-316
140Chuckie KeetonUSU51924262432.8-316
141Tommy WoodsonAKR761438065664-317
142Greyson LambertUVA12220412758994.55-335
143Tucker CarterUTSA7813880625103.74-353
144Daxx GarmanOKST15227720411212314.98-354
145Wade FreebeckVAN34723761571.57-360
146Kyle PohlAKR191340199896155.09-368
147Cole StoudtCLEM145235144458114.51-397
148Brian BurrellFRES16828917691610224.8-414
149AJ LongSYR7212872746133.19-414
150Danny EtlingPUR8916280065113.59-439
151Montell CozartKU6412870157112.97-439
152Justin WorleyTENN1572521579128294.5-457
153Rob BoldenEMU419539945111.7-469
154Zander DiamontIND388128213111.01-470
155Michael BrewerVT21835622371512234.86-479
156Austin RobinsonUTSA7312658514112.56-488
157John O'KornHOU8917294468113.44-491
158Pete ThomasULM2384062524115415.02-495
159Tyler RogersNMSU2253612363152044.76-500
160Devin GardnerMICH1392271557813194.08-503
161Blake DeckerUNLV20034925281015334.8-509
162C.J. BrownMD1472791723119274.43-518
163Colin ReardonKENT20035521681215104.56-570
164Tanner LeeTULN14426015521213154.02-579
165P.J. WalkerTEM16430818661214164.22-616
166Jeff DriskelFLA9718492861092.79-645
167Garrett KrstichSMU9617484926162.69-652
168Ikaika WoolseyHAW1733542060910294.17-751
169Matt LinehanIDHO20034123191017373.98-810
170Trevor SiemianNW2213802121610303.88-922
171Christian HackenbergPSU2073732318714373.85-932
172John WolfordWAKE1722991626913342.98-1047
  • It’s important to remember that much more so than in the NFL, strength of schedule is a significant variable in all college football analysis. That is completely ignored here. In addition, coaching and scheme matter more, too, and that is not considered in this analysis. This is simply a quick and dirty look at the numbers.
  • Jameis Winston checks in only at #27. This is not because ANY/A is a bad way to measure quarterback play — in fact, Winston ranked 2nd in the SOS-adjusted version of this last year, while averaging 10.2 ANY/A. He’s had a down year, at least statistically.
  • Down at the very bottom of the list, in second to last place? Penn State’s Christian Hackenberg. It’s been a rough year for the Nittany Lions offense, as the offensive line is in shambles. Hackenberg, considered to be a possible first round pick in 2016, will need to put together a much better season statistically in 2015 if he wants to keep that dream alive.
  1. Based on the results here. []
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The SEC West closed system is no more. If so inclined, one could note that Alabama lost to Ole Miss, and Ole Miss lost to Auburn, and Auburn lost to Georgia, and Georgia lost to both Florida and South Carolina, and Florida and South Carolina both lost to Missouri, and Missouri lost to Indiana. And Indiana is terrrrrible.

The Auburn loss to Georgia was enough to ruin this crazy streak: prior to Saturday, Auburn, Alabama, LSU, Mississippi, Mississippi State, and Texas A&M were a combined 35-0 against the rest of college football this season. But on Saturday:

  • Auburn lost badly to Georgia, 34-7. The Bulldogs are very good — and even better with Todd Gurley back — and now rank 5th in the SRS. But Georgia still did somehow lose to both Florida and South Carolina, who are a combined 9-9 this year against FBS opponents. As for the Tigers: I had been leading the Auburn bandwagon because they have easily played the toughest schedule to date in college football — oh, and Alabama is still on the schedule — but this was the straw that broke Auburn’s playoff chances.
  • LSU was shut out against Arkansas, 17-0. The Razorbacks had been 4-5, albeit with losses to Alabama, Mississippi State, Auburn, Georgia, and Texas A&M.
  • Texas A&M lost to Missouri, 34-27. The Tigers, of course, had the most embarrassing SEC performance of the season, losing to an Indiana team that is 0-6 in conference play. That’s 0-6 in the Big Ten, for you folks keeping score at home. And Missouri lost to them. As a result, any team that loses to Missouri gets to wear that shame by osmosis, and indirectly, you could stretch that all the way to Alabama.

Of course, the SRS is not based purely on wins and losses: in some ways, it isn’t based at all on wins and losses, as it is focused solely on points differential (adjusted for close games, blowouts, and home field) and strength of schedule. The table below shows the week 12 college football SRS ratings, with Alabama now moving into the top spot. As always thanks to Dr. Peter R. Wolfe for providing the weekly game logs. Some more playoff thoughts about the jump: [click to continue…]

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The SEC West and Maximum Likelihood

The upper crust of college football

The upper crust of college football

Eight years ago, Doug Drinen wrote about the Maximum Likelihood rating system, a computer model which one could use to rank college football teams. The short, non-mathy version is this: the probability of Alabama beating Team X is equal to the rating of Alabama divided by the sum of Alabama’s rating plus the rating of Team X. You can use that formula for every game in each season, which would leave you with an enormous series of equations. From there, you would give each team a rating, and keep tinkering with the ratings until the ratings you have for each team provides the system with the maximum possible likelihood of the actual results.

To do this, you would want to give Alabama a high rating, because that would increase the likelihood of the system as a whole reflecting what’s happened on the field. In fact, you might why would we ever limit Alabama’s rating: after all, if we keep jacking up the Tide’s rating, what’s the harm? In this case, there is only one reason not to give Bama an insanely high rating: a loss in Oxford to Ole Miss on October 4th.

Speaking of the Rebels, what should their rating be? A really high one, although it needs to be capped by Mississippi’s losses to both Auburn and LSU. What about Auburn and LSU? Well, both sets of Tigers lost to Mississippi State, Auburn lost to Texas A&M, and LSU lost to both Alabama and Auburn.

You might think “okay, this seems reasonable: all these losses will help control the ratings.” But there’s a problem about to emerge. Sure, LSU and Auburn lost to MSU, but the Bulldogs are undefeated, so there’s no reason not to give Mississippi State a rating of a zillion. And we already know that Alabama is going to get a high rating, so LSU’s loss to the Tide won’t hurt much. LSU lost to Auburn, but isn’t Auburn’s rating really high? The Tigers don’t get dinged for losing to MSU, while the Texas A&M loss doesn’t hurt because A&M’s only losses are to Alabama, Mississippi, and MSU. [click to continue…]

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The Tide escaped Baton Rouge with a win and its playoff goals in sight

The Tide escaped Baton Rouge with a win and its playoff goals in sight.

The playoff picture is beginning to emerge. With most teams having just three games left in the college football regular season, we get a sense of the task ahead for the college football playoff committee. And, unfortunately, it feels as though the committee is going to use some variation of the following logic:

Step 1: Rank teams in ascending order by losses

Step 2: Rank teams by some combination of eye test and recency of last loss

There are still three undefeated teams: Mississippi State, Florida State, and Marshall. MSU and FSU seem likely to take the top 2 spots, and there does not appear to be much thought given to the process other than that. Marshall is not in the conversation, and for good reason: they have a bottom three strength of schedule according to the SRS (you can sort by SOS in the table below).

Mississippi State still ranks just 7th in the SRS, but remember, that’s a predictive ranking. I would put the Bulldogs atop my mythical rankings for playoff purposes, too. But Florida State? FSU has three notable wins on its resume, and none of them were in convincing fashion. Those wins came against Clemson (#25), Notre Dame (#31), and Louisville (#32), and one would think that the 2nd best team in the country would defeat those teams more convincingly. Regardless, as defending champions and riding a 25-game winning streak, nobody will argue against the Seminoles.

But the next two spots? That’s where the debate begins. Ignoring 9-1 Colorado State (very soft strength of schedule), 8-1 Duke (same), and 8-1 Nebraska (only one win — against SRS #23 Miami — against an SRS top-65 team), there are 6 teams with one loss that seem likely to take the #3 through #8 spots in the next edition of the playoff rankings. A best guess as to where those teams land on Tuesday:

  • #3 Oregon – the Ducks ranked 4th last week, and won in convincing fashion at Utah in week 11, while #3 Auburn slipped at home against Texas A&M.
  • #4 Alabama – a chance the Tide move ahead of Oregon because of a “big win” against a high-profile opponent in LSU. Will the committee penalize Alabama for needing overtime to beat LSU, or praise Alabama because by virtue of the game going to overtime it means LSU is a really good team (This, of course, is known as SEC country logic)?
  • #5 TCU – the Horned Frogs were 6th last week, and handled Kansas State, which ranked 7th in the rankings last week. Could TCU jump Alabama or Oregon? After all, #6 beating #7 should count more than beating #16 (LSU in last week’s rankings) or #17 (Utah), but don’t hold your breath for a team like TCU getting a wave of momentum. In fact, we might even see the Horned Frogs drop, because…
  • #6 Baylor – the Bears demolished Oklahoma in Norman in week 11. And Baylor defeated TCU back in week seven. The committee is supposed to value head-to-head, but does that mean Baylor should be ranked ahead of TCU? That argument would hold more weight, at least to me, if Baylor hadn’t lost by 14 points to West Virginia, a team that TCU happened to beat. If West Virginia had just one conference loss, Baylor, TCU, and West Virginia would all be tied and be 1-1 in the three-team round robin; instead, crediting Baylor for West Virginia losing other conference games somehow makes that Baylor loss… better? I don’t follow that logic, but who knows what the committee will do. Frankly, choosing between the top two Big 12 teams is an exercise in hair splitting. Will the recency of Baylor’s loss be held against the Bears vis-a-vis TCU? That sounds silly, but Baylor dropped below TCU after losing to West Virginia, and perhaps the Bears will never rise above them again.
  • #7 Arizona State – the Sun Devils crushed Notre Dame, and were ranked ahead of Baylor last week. Perhaps ASU will remain in the 6 spot, but frankly, the committee can punt on this question. If Arizona State and Oregon both win out, the Pac-12 championship game will turn into a de facto play-in game for the college football playoffs. Arizona State lost by 25 points to UCLA — will that weigh on the committee’s mind in choosing among the 1-loss teams? ASU’s best wins are against USC, Utah, Notre Dame, and Stanford, which still leaves a bit to be desired.
  • #8 Ohio State – just a guess, but the assumption here is the committee puts OSU in the 8 slot this week. Ohio State convincingly defeated Michigan State this week, easily the most impressive performance by the Buckeyes this year. But a home loss to Virginia Tech looks terrible in retrospect, and OSU’s second best win was against… Maryland? Penn State? Cincinnati? If Ohio State is ranked in the top 8 this week, it’s a sign that the committee is basically operating on 4th grade level. First, rank the team by losses, then….

When we go to the 2-loss teams, Auburn and Ole Miss stand out. The Tigers in particular deserve to be ahead of both Ohio State and Arizona State, in my opinion, and Auburn’s resume would only get stronger with road wins against Georgia and Alabama. Auburn has defeated Ole Miss, LSU, and Kansas State, wit two of those games coming on the road. If going 3-2 in five games that are @Ole Miss, vs. LSU, @KSU, @Mississippi State, and vs. Texas A&M supposed to be less impressive than going 4-1 @Michigan State, vs. Virginia Tech, @Maryland, @Penn State, and vs. Cincinnati? I am not buying that logic at all, and that still ignores Auburn’s wins against Arkansas, Louisiana Tech, and South Carolina, teams that all rate as tougher than Penn State and Cincinnati.

As for Ole Miss, the Rebels went 3-2 vs. Alabama, @Auburn, @LSU, vs. Texas A&M, and vs. Tennessee. Is it clear that such a record is worse than going 4-1 vs. UCLA, @Southern Cal, vs. Utah, vs. Notre Dame, and vs. Stanford? And Ole Miss still has a chance to pad its resume with a win on the road against Mississippi State.

If the committee is using strength of schedule solely as a tiebreaker after sorting teams by losses,1, then shame on the committee. The table below shows the week 11 college football SRS ratings, with Alabama now moving into the top spot. As always thanks to Dr. Peter R. Wolfe for providing the weekly game logs. Some more playoff thoughts about the jump: [click to continue…]

  1. You know, after eliminating Marshall, Colorado State, Duke, and Nebraska for strength of schedule. []
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Heartbreaking

Heartbreaking.

From one perspective, Saturday brought one of the cruelest moments in years. In a must-win game for Ole Miss, the Rebels played a back-and-forth contest with perhaps the best team in college football. Trailing 35-31, Bo Wallace and the offense took over on the Mississippi 48-yard line with just over three minutes remaining. The Rebels moved quickly down the field, and on short pass to Laquon Treadwell appeared to turn into the go-ahead score. Just as Treadwell crossed the goal line, he was tackled from behind, suffering an injury that you knew was bad as soon as it happened. As it turned out, Treadwell broke his leg, and then the insult came. Upon review of the score, while Treadwell crossed the goal line, the ball did not, and he fumbled as he was taken down. Auburn recovered in the end zone, and the Tigers would prevail. [click to continue…]

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In many ways, week 9 was an uneventful week of college football. Of the top 18 teams in last week’s SRS, only one lost in week 9. On the surface, the loss by Ole Miss — ranked 2nd in the SRS last week and 3rd in the polls — was a big loss. But as long as the Rebels keep winning, it wasn’t a big deal at all. Ole Miss, like Mississippi State, like Alabama, like Georgia, and like Auburn (more on them later) all control their own destiny for the playoffs. Ole Miss still has to play Auburn, Arkansas, and MSU, so it’s not as though things will be easy for the Rebels; but they do control their own destiny, just as they did a week ago.

Among top-30 SRS teams last week, only three others lost, and in two of those games it was to fellow top-30 teams. Utah (#22 in last week’s SRS) defeated Southern Cal (#19) on a touchdown pass with 8 seconds left, to give the Utes a 24-21 home win. Tennessee (#24 last week) lost at home to Alabama in the Lane Kiffin Bowl. The one real surprise was Virginia Tech (#29) losing 30-6 at home to a Miami team that was just 43rd in the SRS entering week 9.

The table below shows the SRS ratings through nine weeks. Breaking up the SEC West stranglehold at the top is TCU, and the Horned Frogs now lead the nation in scoring. It appears as though style points may not be an issue, so for TCU, the biggest hurdle may just be finishing the year 11-1. For the Horned Frogs, the toughest two games remaining are the next two: at West Virginia next week, and against Kansas State a week later. As always thanks to Dr. Peter R. Wolfe for providing the weekly game logs. Some more playoff thoughts about the jump: [click to continue…]

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Every week, I publish my college football Simple Rating System scores for each of the 128 FBS teams. But to run the calculation — using this methodology — I also have to derive ratings for each non-FBS school, too.

Below are the SRS Ratings for all non-FBS college football teams through nine weeks. [click to continue…]

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Last week, three Big 12 teams occupied the 4-5-6 spots in the rankings, making the Big 12 look like an obvious contender to take one of the four spots in college football’s first ever playoff. Then week 7 happened.

Yesterday, West Virginia won at home against Baylor, 41-27, while Oklahoma lost in Manhattan to Kansas State, 31-30.1 TCU blew out Oklahoma State, 42-9, which only increases the pain associated with how the Horned Frogs blew the Baylor game a week ago. When SEC teams beat up each other, it shows the strength of the conference. When every other conference beats up each other, it shows how the conference isn’t as good as we thought. That’s an extreme version of the narrative, but that does seem to be the thought process for many in the media. After week 7, the Big 12’s big three is now a big four with Kansas State2 joining the mix. All four are in the top 12, but none are in the top 4. More importantly, TCU, the top Big 12 team, ends the season with Kansas, Texas, and Iowa State. It’s going to be tough for TCU to gain a lot of momentum in December with that finish to the schedule, and will TCU look that much different than say, the winner of the Oklahoma/Baylor game? Kansas State could wind up undefeated in the conference, but what will that say about the Big 12 relative to the SEC if KSU’s only loss was to Auburn?

It’s definitely too early to really think through possible scenarios, but that doesn’t make it any less fun. Below are the week 8 ratings. As always thanks to Dr. Peter R. Wolfe for providing the weekly game logs. Some more playoff thoughts about the jump: [click to continue…]

  1. The Sooners not only missed an extra point, but a 19-yard field goal in the game’s final minutes. []
  2. Why not West Virginia? Sure, the Mountaineers are 5-2 with only losses to Alabama and Oklahoma, but the SRS so far thinks WVA belongs in a lower tier than the top teams in the conference. []
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The Bulldogs pushed aside the Tigers in week 7; just not in the SRS

MSU pushed aside Auburn in week 7; (but not in the SRS).

In last week’s rankings, Auburn stood head and shoulders above the rest of college football. As a result, even a 15-point loss on the road against Mississippi State wasn’t enough to nudge the Tigers from the top spot. Is this a problem? Not really. The SRS ratings are predictive; they are not designed to tell you which teams are the most deserving or which schools have accomplished the most. Instead, they are intended to give you an idea of what might happen in a future game between any two teams.

Auburn’s rating is amplified by a 41-7 victory against LSU, which stands out as the most dominant performance of the year. The Tigers also crushed Arkansas by 24, a margin that looks more impressive every week. Other than yesterday’s loss, Auburn’s “worst” performance of the year by SRS standards was a 6-point win on the road against Kansas State (#14 in the SRS), which would be the best game of the year for all but a handful of teams.

The Mississippi schools check in at #2 and #3 in the SRS this week; Alabama and Texas A&M are #8 and #9, giving the SEC West five teams in the top ten yet again. Auburn, with the double-edged sword of a brutal schedule, will have no problem getting back into the playoff discussion if the Tigers can win out. Georgia, fresh off a 34-0 thumping of Missouri, is now 7th in the SRS. But I want to focus on schools 4, 5, and 6 in the ratings. All are from the Big 12, a conference doesn’t appear to be getting much respect nationally.

The ten-team conference plays a round robin schedule, meaning each team gets nine division games. That leaves only 3 nonconference games for each school, and the class of the conference — Baylor, Oklahoma, and TCU — are already done with that part of their schedule. It makes sense to analyze these teams as a group, because for SRS purposes (and based on the two head-to-head games), these three teams are all about equal. In their nine nonconference games, they went 9-0 with an average margin of victory of 41 points, and all wins came by at least 23. Of course, that schedule was loaded with cupcakes: other than Tennessee (currently 12th in the SRS), the only semi-respectable opponents were Minnesota (#38) and Louisiana Tech (#50). And the Vols game is certainly helping: Tennessee is 3-3, but the losses were by 1 point to Florida, 4 to Georgia, and 24 to Oklahoma. [click to continue…]

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Thoughts on SEC West schedules

The SEC West is the best division in all of college football. The division is 31-6 this year, with all six losses coming at the hands of other SEC West teams. There have been only three inter-divisional games in the SEC this year, and the West teams came away with three blowout victories: Alabama over Florida (42-21), Texas A&M over South Carolina (52-28), and Ole Miss over Vanderbilt (41-3). In Power 5 play, Arkansas, Alabama, and Auburn have notched wins over Texas Tech, West Virginia, and Kansas State, while LSU knocked off Wisconsin. And Ole Miss defeated Boise State and Memphis, too.

Auburn, Mississippi, MSU, Alabama, and A&M all are in the top 10 of the SRS, and LSU and Arkansas are in the top 20. So what happens if these teams beat up on each other? Each school plays each of the other six SEC West teams. While there’s a good chance at least one of these schools goes 5-1 or 6-0 in division play, there’s also a chance we end up with a multi-team tie atop the division at 4-2. The actual tiebreakers are the typical boring type that you can imagine, but we need not restrict ourselves to the creativity capacity of executives of the Southeastern Conference. So today, I’m ranking schedules. Since this is not the tiebreaker that the SEC would actually use, you can think of this as how-to guide to rooting for people who have morals: [click to continue…]

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Ole Miss pulled off the big upset

Ole Miss pulled off the big upset.

Early in the day, Mississippi State blew out Texas A&M in Starkville, 48-31. That was the first half in the most incredible football day in Magnolia State history. What happened next was much more dramatic.

Ole Miss had lost 10 straight games to Alabama, with 9 of those games coming by at least 22 points. The last three years, the Crimson Tide had won by an average of 36.7 points. Last year, a 3-0 Ole Miss team — fresh off of a blowout win in Texas — lost in Tuscaloosa, 25-0. So while the Rebels entered Saturday with a 4-0 record and a top-15 ranking, it would be fair to wonder how they would handle an Alabama team that was still Alabama.

Early on, the Tide looked like the better team. Amari Cooper was not dominating, but T.J. Yeldon looked great, en route to a 100-yard day. Quarterback Blake Sims looked smart and efficient, while Ole Miss couldn’t seem to get much going on offense like just about every opponent ever against Alabama. Still, the Rebels defense had played well enough to keep the Tide to just seven first half points, and the game looked to be 7-3 at the end of the half. That is, until what appeared to be the turning point of the game.

In the final seconds of the half, a screen pass to I’Tavius Mathers looked to be uneventful, until Cyrus Jones pulled off the trifecta — strip, fumble recovery, return for a touchdown. Replays showed that Jones committed a blatant facemask penalty, which likely lead to the fumble, but the refs didn’t see it. So after a great first half, a bad call meant Ole Miss was suddenly down 14-3. This seemed like a recipe for yet another Alabama win over the Upstart Of the Week.

But the weirdest thing happened in the second half. Ole Miss didn’t just outscore Alabama, it outplayed them. And not by an insignificant margin. Bo Wallace, Laquon Treadwell, and Evan Engram (other than a huge drop) were dominant in the second half, while the Ole Miss defense continued its excellent play. A gorgeous touchdown to Jaylen Walton gave Ole Miss a touchdown lead, but in typical Ole Miss fashion, the team botched the extra point not once, but twice.1

With Ole Miss now clinging to only a 6-point lead, you could hardly blame anyone for expecting Alabama to win the game with a last second touchdown. A 30-yard catch and run by Cooper on the final drive put the Tide in inside the Ole Miss 30. But an incredible interception by Senquez Golson sealed the victory, and the day was complete: Mississippi not only beat, but outplayed Alabama, in a crucial game in a battle for SEC West supremacy. The game (and the aftermath) was everything that was great about college football.

Which almost makes it seem silly to transition to college football ratings, since we are still too early in the year for these ratings to hold significant meaning. Last week, I unveiled the initial SRS ratings. In perhaps two weeks, the ratings will start to really hold up, but for now, these are mostly a gut check. As always thanks to Dr. Peter R. Wolfe for providing the weekly game logs. As a reminder, these ratings are intended to be predictive only, and not intended as a way to rank college football teams for any other purpose. [click to continue…]

  1. First, the kick clanked off the upright. A roughing the kicker penalty gave the Rebels another chance, but the second extra point attempt was blocked. []
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Your Guide to Rooting Against the SEC

I got an email a few days ago with an idea for a post. Because coming up with one entire idea every day can get to be a grind after awhile, sending me such an email is Step Two to getting on my good side (Step One, of course, is submitting a guest post). I can use all the help I can get. Here was the email in full.

Vanderbilt lost to freakin’ Temple this year. While it would be great if Vanderbilt went undefeated in SEC play, that’s not going to happen. So what else can an SEC-hater root for this year that would make the SEC look bad?

If you’re rooting against the SEC as a whole — and getting involved in conference wars is a surefire way to get lost down the rabbit hole — what teams do you want to keep an eye on this year?

  • As our emailer suggested, having Vanderbilt fare well in SEC play would be one way the conference as a whole would look worse. As it stands, that’s exceedingly unlikely to happen. Vanderbilt’s best game of the year was a 10-point loss to Kentucky; the Commodores look to be the worst team in the conference, which will minimize the impact of the Temple loss.
  • SEC teams have not lost any other games against non-Power 5 conferences. So what’s next? In fact, the conference has lost just two other out-of-conference games.
  • Tennessee lost to Oklahoma 34-10, but the Sooners are the top team in the early edition of the SRS rankings. The Vols may be pretty good this year — they nearly beat Georgia last weekend — but it’s going to be hard for this loss to wind up reflecting badly on the SEC as a whole. Absent an unexpected SEC East division title, the biggest hope here would be for the Vols to be competitive with Alabama. In that case, if the Sooners and Crimson Tide are both battling for one playoff spot, that data point could be used against ‘Bama.
  • But by far the biggest blemish came when Indiana — Indiana(!) — won in Missouri, 31-27. The Hoosiers are one of the worst teams in a not very good Big Ten. In the team’s other three games, Indiana beat an FCS school, lost badly at home to Maryland, and lost to a MAC school (Bowling Green). Every game Mizzou wins could theoretically devalue the conference (or at least the SEC East) as a whole. After the Tigers beat South Carolina last weekend, Missouri is off to a good start in the team’s bid to repeat as SEC East champs. Assuming Indiana tanks, this is the one data point SEC haters can cling to so far.

[click to continue…]

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The past couple of weeks, I was using a quasi-Elo style rating system to produce college football team ratings. And while after five weeks it is still far too early to put much faith in any computer ratings, we can at least begin framing the discussion of which are the most impressive teams in college football. So, as we did last year, the first edition of the college football SRS ratings are coming out at the end of September. As a reminder, here is the methodology:

1) For each game not played at a neutral site, 3 points are given to the road team. After that adjustment, all wins and losses of between 7 and 24 points are recorded exactly as such. This means that a 24-10 road win goes down as +17 for the road team, -17 for the home team.

2) With one exception, wins of 7 or fewer points are scored as 7-point wins and losses of 7 or fewer points are scored as 7 point losses. So a 4-point home win goes down as +7 (and not a 1) and a 1-point home loss is a -7 (and not a -4). The one exception is that road losses of 3 or fewer (and home wins of 3 or fewer) are graded as ties. So a 21-20 home victory goes down as a 0 for both teams.

3) Wins/Losses of more than 24 points are scored as the average between the actual number and 24. This is to avoid giving undue credit to teams that run up the score. So a 75-point home win goes down as a 48-point win.

Once we have a rating for each team in each game, we then adjust each result for strength of schedule. This is an iterative process, where we adjust the ratings hundreds of times (to adjust for SOS, you have to adjust for the SOS of each opponent, and the SOS of each opponent’s opponent, and so on.) in Excel. Then we produce final ratings, where the SRS rating is the sum of the Margin of Victory and Strength of Schedule in every week.

After five weeks, what are the results? As usual, the table is fully searchable (type “-0″, for example, to see a list of undefeated teams, or SEC to see all SEC teams.) Right now, the number one team is Oklahoma, with an average (adjusted) Margin of Victory of 24.6 points per game against an average opponent that is 43.3 points better than average (average includes all football teams at all levels, so all FBS teams will have a positive grade). Among undefeated teams, the only teams with tougher to-date schedules than Oklahoma are Auburn and UCLA. Below shows the ratings for all 128 FBS teams.

As always thanks to Dr. Peter R. Wolfe for providing the weekly game logs. [click to continue…]

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Week Four College Football Ratings (2014)

Last week, I unveiled some ELO-style college football ratings. Next week, with five weeks of data, I plan to run the first edition of the traditional SRS ratings. But for one more week, let’s stick with the current format.

Step 1) Twenty-five FBS teams were off in week 3, leaving 103 teams to analyze.

Step 2) In 25 of those matchups, one team had an SRS rating at least 15 points higher than its opponent. In 22 of those games, the favorite one; as a result, there is no change in either team’s rating following that game, so Oregon does not get downgraded for only beating Washington by 7 points on the road. But the three “upsets” include the big surprise of the week: Indiana going into Columbia and upsetting Missouri, 31-27. For those games, we’ll include them in Step 4.

Step 3) After eliminating the 22 heavy favorites who were victorious, there are 81 teams remaining. While some of those games were against FCS schools, 16 of the heavy underdogs in those games were against FBS schools. Since those teams will not have their ratings change, that leaves 65 teams to analyze.

Step 4) For all other teams, I modified each team’s rating following the result of that game, with 85% of the new rating coming from the old rating, and 15% coming from that single game.

Below are the ratings through four weeks. As always thanks to Dr. Peter R. Wolfe for providing the weekly game logs. [click to continue…]

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Week Three College Football Ratings (2014)

Mariota and the Ducks look as good as any team in the country

Mariota and the Ducks look as good as any team in the country.

Regular readers know that I publish weekly college football ratings using the Simple Rating System. The catch is that the SRS isn’t a viable option in the first few weeks of the season; until we have more interaction among the top teams, we can’t really generate computer ratings.  Frankly, running an SRS program today would be pretty useless.

Consider that a team like Arizona State has played Weber State, New Mexico, and Colorado. Auburn has played Arkansas (the Razorbacks are not very good) and San Jose State. Oklahoma has played Louisiana Tech, Tulsa, and Tennessee (the Vols are not very good). So what can we do?

One thing we could do is to use the concept of Elo Ratings. But calculating Elo ratings in this context is no simple task, and there’s a good chance my buddy Neil is going to do that, anyway, so I thought I would try simpler process. I’ll give a high-level overview of the process here, then present the rankings, and then provide all the nuts and bolts for those interested at the bottom of the post. [click to continue…]

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FSU is a heavy favorite to wind up in the national title game again

FSU is a heavy favorite to wind up in the national title game again.

The Simple Rating System is a set of computer rankings that is focused on only two variables: strength of schedule and margin of victory. I publish weekly college football SRS ratings each season, and you can read more about the SRS there. Last year, I took the Las Vegas point spreads for over 200 college football games to come up with a set of power rankings. By taking every data point, and using Excel to iterate the ratings hundreds of times, I was able to generate a set of implied team ratings.

Well on Friday, the Golden Nugget released the point spreads for 200 games (h/t to RJ Bell). You might not think we can do much with just a couple hundred games, but by using an SRS-style process, those point spreads can help us determine the implied ratings that Las Vegas has assigned to each team.

We don’t have a full slate of games, but we do have at least 1 game for 77 different teams. Theoretically, this is different than using actual game results: one game can be enough to come up with Vegas’ implied rating for the team. Purdue may only have a spread for one game, but that’s enough. Why? Because Purdue is a 21-point underdog at a neutral field (Lucas Oil) against Notre Dame, and we have point spreads for the Fighting Irish in ten other games. Since we can be reasonably confident in Notre Dame’s rating, that makes us able to be pretty confident about Purdue’s rating, too.

The system is pretty simple: I took the point spread for each game and turned it into a marvin of victory, after assigning 3 points to the road team in each game. For example, Alabama is a 6-point home favorite against Auburn. So for that game, we assume Vegas believes the Tide are three points better than the Tigers; if we do this for each of the other 199 games, and then iterate the results hundreds of times, we can come up with a set of power ratings. [click to continue…]

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College Observations from the 2014 Draft

Messing with Texas

By now, you’ve probably heard that no player from the University of Texas was drafted. Jackson Jeffcoat was the Big 12 co-Defensive Player of the Year, but that honor wasn’t enough to enable him to hear his named called on any of the three draft days.1 The draft was first instituted in 1936, and not since 1937 had an NFL draft has been Longhorn-free.  From 2000 to 2013, players selected from the University of Texas were, in the aggregate, responsible for about 37 points of value per season using the values from my pick value chart.  That’s the 10th most of any school during that period, behind only Miami (FL) (51), Southern Cal (49), Florida State (42), LSU (39), Ohio State (39), Georgia (39), Alabama (38), and Florida (38). But UT wasn’t the only school that had a rough weekend:

  • Illinois, which ranked 37th in draft value from 2000 to 2013 (14 points), was the next highest-ranked school after Texas to get shut out of the 2014 draft.  Hawaii (53rd), Rutgers (59th), and Cincinnati (66th) were other top-70 programs from ’00 to ’13 that did not have a player selected this year. A couple of other schools from power conferences — Northwestern and Kansas — were also left out in the cold.
  • For Texas and Illinois, injury was added to insult. No only were no Longhorns drafted, but three Aggies — Jake Matthews, Mike Evans, and Johnny Manziel – went in the first round, while TCU had a first round pick (Jason Verrett), Texas Tech had a second round pick (Jace Amaro) and Baylor had five players drafted.  No Illini went in the draft, but Northern Illinois had two players (including 1st round safety Jimmie Ward), Eastern Illinois had a second round pick (Jimmy Garoppolo) and even Illinois State had a player selected (Shelby Harris in the 7th round).
  • It was also a rough draft for a few other schools. Miami normally dominates the draft, but only three Hurricanes were selected: two offensive lineman and a punter.  Brandon Linder was drafted 93rd overall to Jacksonville, followed by Pat O’Donnell to Chicago at 191 and Seantrel Henderson to the Bills at 237.
  • The Georgia Bulldogs had just two players drafted, both in the fifth round: quarterback Aaron Murray and tight end Arthur Lynch.
  • Sooners fans probably want to gloat over Texas, but this was a pretty ugly year for Oklahoma, too.  The school’s highest-drafted player was Jalen Saunders at 104. That marks the first time since 1997 that no Sooner was drafted in the top 100 picks.

Small Schools Making Draft History

There were four players who came from schools that haven’t had a single player drafted in the last 20 years.

  • At pick 198, New England took defensive end Zach Moore out of Concordia University in St. Paul, Minnesota. He’s not only the first player ever drafted from the school, but no player from the Division 2 program has ever made it to the NFL. Last year, Concordia only ranked as the 26th best football team in Division 2 through 13 weeks (by reference, Pittsburgh State ranked 8th).
  • Finally, Terrence Fede out of Marist was drafted by the Dolphins with the 234th pick. Fede, like Desir and Moore, made history by becoming the first player ever drafted out of his school. Marist, located in New York state, plays in the Pioneer Football League, but ranked as just the 70th best FCS school last year.

The Crimson Tide Reign is Over

For three straight years, more draft capital was spent on Alabama players than those from any other school. The reign is over, as Alabama tumbled all the way down to … fourth place. Texas A&M led the way: while only three Aggies were selected, they were drafted high enough to make College Station the most valuable town for the 2014 draft with 60.3 points of value. Next up was LSU (57.0), which also led the way with 9 players drafted (but only one in the top 50). In third place was Notre Dame (54.7 points, 8 players drafted, three in the top 75), followed by Alabama (54.3, 8 players), Florida State (54.2, 7 players), Auburn (52.4, 4), Louisville (49.9, 4), and Ohio State (49.8, 6).

Texas A&M, Louisville, and Notre Dame had excellent drafts especially by their standards: none of the three ranked in the top 20 from ’00 to ’13 in draft value provided (the Fighting Irish were 21st, the Aggies were 24th, and the Cardinals were down at #50).  Other schools that had comparably big years: UCLA, Auburn, Buffalo, Central Florida, South Carolina, and Clemson. Okay, in the case of UCF it was just because of Blake Bortles (running back Storm Johnson, at pick 222, was the only other Knight drafted) and for Buffalo it was Khalil Mack and done. But still, neither program had ever had a player drafted in the top ten before, so a top-five pick is a pretty remarkable accomplishment.

  1. as Bill Barnwell points out, Jeffcoat’s tumble provided a good counter to those arguing that Michael Sam was going to go undrafted despite being the SEC co-Defensive Player of the Year solely because he was openly gay.  As it turns out, being co-DPOY isn’t worth as much as you might think.  Jeffcoat landed with the Seahawks, though, so he and Sam will both get a chance to prove their mettle in the NFL’s toughest division. []
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Which College Conferences Dominate the NFL Draft?

On Sunday, I used my draft value chart to determine how NFL teams valued various positions. Today, I’ll use the same method to see which schools and conferences dominate the NFL Draft. You are not going to be surprised to discover that USC Trojans have dominated the draft over the last ten years. You’ll be even less surprised to see that SEC teams have accumulated the most draft value, and the most value per team, of any conference. But let’s put some numbers on what we all know. Here’s what I did:

1) Using these draft values, assign a value to every pick in every draft from 2004 to 2013.

2) Calculate the amount of draft capital assigned to each college team by summing the values from each draft pick for each player from that college.

3) Sum the values for each school in each conference. Note: I am using the school-conference affiliations as of the 2013 season, so the SEC gets credit for the last ten years of Texas A&M, and the ACC gets a decade worth of Pitt draft picks. (Speaking of Pitt, regular readers may recall last year’s two posts on college and NFL team connections). On the other hand, Maryland and Rutgers are not credited to the Big Ten… yet. This is almost certainly not the ideal way to handle the situation, but any other approach would be too time consuming and as a reminder, nothing about college football makes any sense, anyway.

Based on that methodology, the table below shows the 100 schools that have produced the most draft value from 2004 to 2013. By default, I’m listing only the top 10, but you can change that in the dropdown box to the left: [click to continue…]

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Chris Berman has already copyrighted Teddy 'Bridge over troubled' Water.

Chris Berman has already copyrighted Teddy 'Bridge over troubled' Water.

Sometimes, it’s hard to believe that it’s 2014. With draft season now in full gear, I wanted to take a few minutes and look at the stats of the top college quarterbacks from last year. Unfortunately, that’s easier said than done. I couldn’t find a site that presented a full list of all college quarterback stats, including sacks, which is, of course, insane.

College football records sacks as rushing plays for the offense; as a result, knowing how many sacks Johnny Manziel or Teddy Bridgewater took last year is not that easy to find. So here’s what I did:

1) Using team game log data, I found the number of sacks for each defense in each game.

2) Next, I recorded the percentage of team pass attempts recorded by each quarterback for his offense in each game (usually close to 100%).

3) I synched up these two sets of data, and multiplied each quarterback’s percentage of team pass attempts by the number of sacks by his opponent’s defense in that game.

That provided me with some useful estimated sack data. From there, I calculated each quarterback’s Adjusted Net Yards per Attempt average, which is simply (Gross_passing_yards + 20*PassTDs – 45*INTs – Estimated_sack_yards_lost) / (Pass_attempts + Estimated_sacks). I did this for the 140 quarterbacks with the most pass attempts in the FBS (sorry, Jimmy Garoppolo fans) in 2013.

Since the number of pass attempts vary wildly at the college level, I also calculated a Value Over Average statistic. The 140 quarterbacks had an average ANY/A of 6.44, so the Value metric (which is what the table is sorted by) is simply (ANY/A – 6.44) * (Pass_attempts + Estimated_sacks). Here’s how to read Bridegwater’s line, the Louisville quarterback who many believe will be the first quarterback selected in the draft.

Bridgewater provided the 5th most passing value by this formula, completing 303 of 427 passes for 3,970 yards with 31 touchdowns and 4 interceptions. He took 25.5 sacks and lost 185 yards, and had a sack rate of 6% (if I included the percent sign, the table would not sort correctly). Bridgewater also averaged 13.1 yards per completion and had a 9.34 ANY/A average, which combined with his number of dropbacks, means he added 1,310 adjusted net yards of value over average. By default, the table below only shows the top 25, but you can sort and/or search to find each of the 140 quarterbacks (and you can change the number of quarterbacks displayed via the dropdown box to the left). [click to continue…]

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Pittsburgh’s Aaron Donald Was Your Combine MVP

Building on yesterday’s post, I decided to crown a combine MVP because it’s February and there’s nothing else to do. I looked at each player’s combine results, courtesy of the great NFLSavant.com, in four different tests.

40-yard dash

There were 268 players with 40-yard dash times posted at NFL Savant. I ran a regression using weight as the input and 40-yard time as the output, and the best-fit formula (R^2 of 0.75) was:

[math]Expected 40 Time = 3.433 + 0.00554 * Weight[/math]

Using this formula, Jadeveon Clowney, with a weight of 266 pounds, would be projected to run the 40 in 4.91 seconds. Since he actually ran the 40 in 4.53 seconds, he gets credited for finishing +0.38 seconds above expectation. That was the best of any player in Indianapolis this year. The table below shows, for each of the 268 players (the table, by default, displays only the top 10, but you can change that in the dropdown box), their weight, their actual 40 time, their expected 40 time, and the difference. Auburn tackle Greg Robinson hopes be a top-five pick, and his 40 time does a good job displaying his athleticism. Pittsburgh’s Aaron Donald comes in third, but there will be plenty of reasons to talk about him later. [click to continue…]

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Love the Bowl Championship Series or (more likely) hate it, tonight marks the end of college football’s 16-year BCS experiment. Designed to bring some measure of order to the chaotic state college football had been in under the Bowl Alliance/Coalition, the BCS did streamline the process of determining a national champion — though it was obviously not without its share of controversies either.

If various opinion polls conducted over the years are any indication, the public is ready to move on from the BCS to next season’s “plus-one”-style playoff system. But before it bids farewell forever, how does the BCS grade out relative to other playoff systems in terms of selecting the best team as a champion?

Back in 2008, I concluded that it didn’t really do much worse of a job than a plus-one system would have. But that was more of an unscientific survey of the 1992-2007 seasons than a truly rigorous study. Today, I plan to take a page from Doug’s book and use the power of Monte Carlo simulation to determine which playoff system sees the true best team win the national title most often.

(Note: If you just want the results and don’t want to get bogged down in the details, feel free to skip the next section.) [click to continue…]

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Which Four Teams Would Make a College Playoff in 2013?

We can officially declare the BCS dead (1998-2013). As it turns out, the final edition of the BCS rankings was not controversial. It took awhile, but with the losses by Ohio State and Northern Illinois, Florida State was the only team in the Football Bowl Subdivision to finish the year without a blemish. The champion of the Pac-12 had two losses, while the one loss champions of the Big 12 (blowout loss) and Big 10 (one win against a team in the SRS top 25) had unimpressive resumes compared to the one-loss SEC Champion (4-1 record against teams in the SRS top 25). No team distinguished itself from the AAC or any other the other conferences, nor did any of the independent teams. That left the voters with two easy choices to fill two slots.

But starting next season, there will be a four-team playoff in college football. In general and on average, a four-team playoff is preferable to a two-team playoff: leaving out the fifth best team is easier to stomach than leaving out the third place team. A four-team playoff may not be ideal, but it’s the system we will have. So which teams would be deserving of the third and fourth golden tickets if the playoffs began in 2013?

There are only four legitimate candidates: Alabama, Stanford (Pac-12 champion), Baylor (Big 12 champion), and Michigan State (Big 10 champion). Any other team could be dismissed quickly: Fresno State, Northern Illinois, Central Florida, and Louisville each lost just one game, but easy schedules make that accomplishment less impressive. Among two-loss teams, Stanford had the most difficult schedule and was the only to win its conference: South Carolina, Missouri, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, and Clemson were good teams, but don’t have elite resumes. The two teams that could make the best case would be Oregon and Ohio State, but both teams can’t make credible arguments after losing their conference to another team in consideration.1 Which team you would pick out of those four would say more about the voter than the team in question. But before we go through the criteria, first, the final college football SRS ratings. [click to continue…]

  1. I will leave the argument as to whether head-to-head is the best tiebreaker, particularly between Ohio State and Michigan State, for another day. []
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Let’s just assume that Auburn defeats Missouri this afternoon and Ohio State defeats Michigan State tonight. Which team would have pulled off the more impressive feat: Ohio State, going undefeated against a relatively easy schedule, or Auburn going 12-1 against a harder schedule? That’s a tricky question to answer, but here is one way to think about it.

To make the math easier for everyone — and the answer won’t be practically different otherwise — let’s eliminate the eight easiest games on each team’s schedule. For Ohio State, that means elminating wins over Florida A&M, Purdue, San Diego State, California, Buffalo, Illinois, Penn State, and Indiana. For Auburn, we remove wins over Western Carolina, Arkansas State, Florida Atlantic, Arkansas, Mississippi State, Washington State, Tennessee, and Mississippi. A team arguing that it should be the #2 team in the country is going to win those games over 95% of the time. Granted, this slightly disadvantages the Tigers as they had a slightly harder bottom eight, but you can include those games if you want to do more heavy lifting. For now, let’s just focus on each team’s toughest five games.

Ohio State will have gone undefeated against Wisconsin, Michigan State, Michigan, Iowa, and Northwestern. Is that more or less impressive than going 4-1 against Alabama, Missouri, LSU, Texas A&M, and Georgia? One way to can answer this question is by looking at a team’s win probability in each game.

Let’s assume that Ohio State has an SRS rating of 62.1. Why that number? You’ll see why in a minute. When the Buckeyes hosted the Badgers (SRS of 53.8), how likely was Ohio State to win? If we give three points for home field, that would make the Buckeyes 11.3-point favorites. And we can use the following formula to determine how likely an 11.3-point favorite is to win a given game:

(1-NORMDIST(0.5,-(home_fav),13.86,TRUE)) + 0.5*(NORMDIST(0.5,-(home_fav),13.86,TRUE) – NORMDIST(-0.5,-(home_fav),13.86,TRUE))

Based on this formula, an 11.3-point favorite would win 79.2% of the time. Against Michigan State (48.8), Ohio State would be a 13.3 point favorite if the Buckeyes had an SRS rating of 62.1, which translates into an 83.1% win probability. For Michigan, Iowa, and Northwestern, the spreads and win probabilities would be 15.4/86.7%, 20.3/92.8%, and 22.6/94.8%, respectively.

Now, what are the odds that Ohio State would win all five of those games? That is simply the product of 79.2%, 83.1%, 86.7%, 92.8%, and 94.8% — which is 50%. That’s not a coincidence, of course: the reason I picked 62.1 is because that’s what rating Ohio State would need to have in order to have a 50% chance of going undefeated against those five teams. In reality, the Buckeyes have a rating of 56.1, which indicates that — like just about every undefeated team — they were a little bit lucky to go undefeated (assuming, of course, that they beat Michigan State).

Now, let’s use that same 62.1 rating number to go through Auburn’s schedule. At home against Alabama (rating of 56.4), a team with an SRS rating of 62.1 would be a 5.7-point favorite, and have a 65.9% chance of winning. In Atlanta against Missouri (55.7), the team would be a 6.4-point favorite, and have a 67.8% chance of success. The team would be 8 point favorites in Baton Rouge — the game Auburn lost — against LSU (51.1), and have a 71.8% chance of winning. The games at Texas A&M (48.9) and at home against Georgia (48.5) would have 76.9% and 88.4% chances of victory.

Now, the odds of winning all five of those games is just 21.8%, which is a very long-winded, mathematical way of saying what we all know: Auburn faced a harder schedule. But what are the odds of going 5-0 or 4-1 against that schedule? Well, the odds of going 4-1 is just a bit more complicated.

    • The probability of beating Missouri, LSU, A&M, and Georgia, but losing to Alabama, is 11.3%;
    • The probability of beating Alabama, LSU, A&M, and Georgia, but losing to Missouri, is 10.4%;
    • The probability of beating Alabama, Missouri, A&M, and Georgia, but losing to LSU, is 8.6%;
    • The probability of beating Alabama, Missouri, LSU, and Georgia, but losing to A&M, is 6.6%; and
    • The probability of beating Alabama, Missouri, LSU, and A&M, but losing to Georgia, is 2.9%.

Therefore, the likelihood of going 4-1 is 39.6%; that means the likelihood of a team with an SRS rating of 62.1 going 4-1 or 5-0 against those five teams is 61.4%. While there are many assumptions implicit in this post, the conclusion is that it is harder to do what Ohio State will do if it wins tonight than what Auburn will do.  Adding in the bottom 8 opponents for each team won’t change the numbers much (you can run the numbers using the above formula).

What would change the numbers is changing the ratings of some of the team’s opponents.  If, for example, Alabama had a rating of 69 instead of 56.4, then a team of a a quality equal to 62.1 would win that game only 38.9% of the time, and the odds of going 4-1 or 5-0 against that schedule would be 50/50. But that’s a pretty significant increase to Alabama’s grade, of course.

For a team to have a 50% chance of winning at least four out of five games against Alabama, Missouri, LSU, A&M, and Georgia, they would need a rating of 59.8. But a team with a rating of 59.8 would only have a 40.5% chance of not dropping a game to Wisconsin, Michigan State, Michigan, Iowa, or Northwestern.

Of course, I’ve followed college football long enough to not wait until Sunday to make this post. That’s because there is only a 30% chance of both Ohio State and Auburn winning today. We could perform the same analysis for Missouri, but the results would only look worse for the SEC crowd, as those Tigers have had an easier schedule than Auburn.  Assuming a rating of 62.1, a team would have a 36.8% chance of beating Auburn, Georgia, South Carolina, A&M, and Ole Miss, and a 78.0% chance of winning at least four of those games. In fact, a team would only need a rating of 56.0 to have even odds of going 5-0 against those teams.

The more interesting case, however, is Florida State. Assuming a rating of 62.1, the Seminoles would have a 69.8% chance of winning in Clemson, and then over a 90% chance of winning every other game (Duke will be the second toughest game of the year for FSU). That means a 62.1 SRS team would have a 53.0% chance of going 5-0 against Clemson, Duke, Florida, Pittsburgh, and Boston College; a team that had only a 50% chance would need a rating of 61.4, slightly lower than what Ohio State has produced.

That doesn’t mean Ohio State is more deserving of a spot than Florida State in the BCS National Championship Game, as FSU’s dominance is an element that can’t be overlooked. But I wouldn’t argue with you if you said that it was easier for FSU to go undefeated than it is for Ohio State.

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