Monday, November 2, 2015

College Football Playoffs By SORTACUS

The first college football playoff rankings will be released tomorrow.  These rankings will use an unknown combination of performance, reputation, and the infamous "eye test" to rank the top 25 FBS teams, with the top 4 in the driver's seat for one of the coveted playoff slots.

The committee actually did a very good job last year, taking the three easy choices and making a tough decision on Ohio State.  Human voters still present risks, conflicts of interest, and a lack of processing power that aren't an issue for an automated algorithm.

Fortunately SORTACUS presents a computer rankings solution to these human problems.  SORTACUS is a win-loss only Bayesian statistical program that was originally created to help my roommate rank his 100 favorite movies.  For the past couple years it's been deployed to help determine the most deserving (not best!) team in college football.  More information on SORTACUS can be found in the first rankings post of the year.

Top 25

The experienced readers likely just jumped straight to these ratings.  Below is the SORTACUS top 25 using games through Saturday October 31.  In theory, the top 4 teams are the most worthy of a playoff spot so far.  Note that only FBS vs FBS games are considered (affecting the record totals), and that "Rating" corresponds roughly to how many points better than the FBS average a school has been.

Rank Team Record Rating
1  Clemson 7-0 21.82
2  LSU 7-0 21.71
3  Michigan St 8-0 21.52
4  Iowa 7-0 21.19
5  Memphis 7-0 20.29
6  Ohio St 8-0 19.95
7  Notre Dame 7-1 19.30
8  TCU 7-0 19.04
9  Oklahoma St 7-0 18.16
10  Florida 7-1 17.81
11  Alabama 7-1 17.39
12  Stanford 7-1 17.18
13  Utah 7-1 16.73
14  Baylor 6-0 16.53
15  Toledo 7-0 15.94
16  Houston 7-0 15.16
17  Mississippi 6-2 14.57
18  Temple 7-1 14.51
19  Michigan 6-2 13.69
20  Northwestern 5-2 13.01
21  Oklahoma 7-1 12.83
22  Texas A&M 6-2 12.23
23  Penn St 7-2 12.17
24  Navy 5-1 12.04
25  UCLA 6-2 10.74

The Playoffs

There's a lot of change to happen as teams play out the next few week, but for now we have four teams standing above the rest.  Clemson and LSU have the two most impressive wins of the year so far over Notre Dame and Florida.  Michigan State and Iowa have won every game so far in a surprisingly tough Big Ten.  Iowa is poised to fade however with a weak closing schedule.

That top 4 might look a little different than the committee's.  Teams with successful pasts or blowout wins like Ohio State, TCU, and Baylor may work their way towards the top at the expense of more deserving but lest renowned squads.

Memphis in particular is an interesting case.  The Tigers have ridden an impressive victory over Ole Miss to 5th place in the SORTACUS polls, and their next 3 games are against Navy, Houston, and Temple (all in the SORTACUS top 25).  With all three wins they would deserve serious consideration of a playoff appearance.

How Is My Team Doing?

Not everybody gets to be a fan of the 4th and 12th most successful team in the country.  For the less fortunate, some notable team rankings are listed below.
Wisconsin:  30th, rating of 10.01
Texas Tech:  44, 3.93
Auburn:  54, 1.44
NC State:  68, -1.39
Iowa State:  71, -1.65
Nebraska:  82, -4.60
Vanderbilt:  84, -5.12
Maryland:  88, -6.60
Purdue:  98, -9.95

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