Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Pre-Season College Football Top 25!

In preparation for the 2010 football season, I've gotten caught up in the pre-season polls and started wondering how I might do that myself. After a couple of different attempts, I've finally settled on 4 roughly independent factors that can change a team's performance from season to season: Offensive returning starters, Defensive returning starters, Bowl game result from the previous season, and loss of star talent (I counted two points for a player chosen in the first round of the NFL draft, one for a player in the second). After studying how these variables related to changes in ratings last year, I took the weights and applied them to changes this year. Here's one example:
By my rankings Northwestern last year was the 70th best football team in the nation, with a power ranking around 51 (yes, their record was better than that, see the article about luck from last week). For this year they have 8 returning starters on O and 6 on D. 6.5 is roughly the average for each, so they'll probably improve a little because of the returning players. They lost their bowl game last year, which actually means they'll likely improve, and they had no players taken in the first two rounds. Overall, Northwestern will likely be about 1.6 times better this year than last year, with a power ranking around 80, making them about the 55th best team in the nation.
What? Bowl losses mean improvement? That surprised me too, but it was a definite trend at least last year. One possible explanation is that teams that win become too satisfied, and don't work hard enough during the off-season. It also may be an auto-correction for including bowl game results in the power ranking.
And now, the debut of my Pre-Season top 25:
2 Oregon
3 Texas
4 Boise St.
5 Ohio State
6 Virginia Tech
7 Miami FL
8 North Carolina
9 Nebraska
10 Alabama
11 Arkansas
12 Stanford
13 Texas Tech
14 Cincinnati
15 LSU
16 Georgia Tech
17 Georgia
18 Wisconsin
19 Washington
20 Oregon St.
21 Penn State
22 South Carolina
23 West Virginia
24 Texas A&M
25 Clemson

Some interesting things to note: Three teams that are projected to make big jumps are Stanford(!), North Carolina, and Stan Kamande's Washington Huskies. All three of these teams are actually expected to be better this year than last year (just maybe not as much better in Washington's case). Non-BCS schools TCU and Boise St. are highly ranked, but they both have a lot of returning starters from pretty good teams (each actually lost some star talent in the draft though). Also, Alabama is expected to drop from other people's preseason polls (They have only 1 returning defensive starter!).
The most astute observer might note two highly ranked teams are missing: the Florida Gators and the Iowa Hawkeyes. Florida amazingly drops to 26th in my projections, easily the biggest fall, but it kinda makes sense. They only return 9 starters, second lowest of the top 50 teams, they won their bowl game, and they lost the most star talent (3 1st rounders, 3 2nd rounders). Everything is working against them. The same thing happened last year to USC, and they dropped from 2nd to 24th. So Florida should maybe be a little worried.
What about my Iowa Hawkeyes? They are actually only expected to get a little worse this year (they lost some star talent, and won their bowl game), but because they played so many close games last year my ratings system only had them at 22nd in the nation. A preponderance of teams bunched around 30 meant that the small projected drop of the Hawks moved them from 22nd to 36th in the ratings.
Is the projection system perfect? Absolutely not, Florida and Iowa will still probably be top teams this fall. But it does provide some food for thought: maybe these pre season polls are not as accurate as we imagine.


  1. Did you only use one year for your "losing a bowl makes you better" theory. If so I'd be interested to see what happened with a larger sample size.

  2. Stanford 12 and Iowa unranked? Somebody ate too many eggs when home in Iowa last month!