As you probably know, I stop doing subjective rankings of the team and replace those with computer ratings starting in October each season. Usually people do not receive my first few computer ratings very well, and they can’t make sense of them until later. Of course, someone can get upset with any list of teams you come up with, but most people who give serious thought to it can at least make peace with my later computer rankings.
Disclaimer time: The teams below are NOT who I’m saying should be considered the 10 best teams yet. I did a trial run of my computer rankings this week just to make sure it’s set up properly and so forth. I used to have to do a lot of work the first week I went to the computers, but I’m trying to be as prepared as possible this year. Anyway, while normally I would keep this to myself, I wanted to share the top 10 just for the purpose of explanation. It’s easiest to explain with a small number of games.
I am well-aware that a team may be great and have great teams they’re going to play later, but maybe they’ve had a bye week and/or an FCS win and/or another win over a win-less team who’s going to be good (which may be true of Central Florida, for instance). So Missouri (who beat two FBS teams—Toledo, who has only beaten an FCS team, and Central Florida—and one FCS team) might well be one of the best teams in the country, but they’re not even in the top 20 of my computer ratings because Central Florida won’t count as a meaningful win until they beat some teams.
The best my system will consider an FCS team is average. North Dakota St., who went 14-0 and beat FBS bowl team Kansas St., was considered about equivalent to low-level bowl teams like Tulane and North Carolina. Even Kansas St. was considered better because I think 7 FBS wins should count for more than 13 FCS wins (one FBS win for each cancels out). Kansas St. was probably a much better team at the end of the year than it was at the beginning, so maybe had they played each other at the end of the season instead of at the beginning, Kansas St. would have proven my formula accurate. The only two ways the Bison could have been considered better were (1) to beat a better FBS team or (2) to beat more than one FBS team.
Of course it’s impossible to put teams in perfect order of who would (or did) beat whom anyway. There are always circular win chains at the end of the year. It seems like this happens in the SEC West every year. In 2013, LSU beat Auburn, who beat Alabama, who beat LSU. In 2012, LSU beat Texas A&M, who beat Alabama, who beat LSU. That’s actually another good reason for me to do this now. There aren’t so many dilemmas to get hung up on.
So this is my computer top 10. I will release my subjective top 10 later this week. There will be a couple of teams in common, but I will not rely on this by any means.
1. Oklahoma – What does it take to be #1 after three weeks? It wasn’t even close, by the way. Being 3-0 by itself puts you pretty close to the top (I don’t count FCS wins in my records, but I give teams credit separately), but I’ll go deeper into this. Oklahoma has beaten two teams who themselves have two wins apiece (Tennessee and Louisiana Tech). The third team, Tulsa, is 1-2. So being 3-0 and having opponents with a combined 5 (FBS) wins right now is why Oklahoma is a clear #1.
2. Ole Miss – Most importantly, the Rebels are also 3-0. Also important is the fact that Boise St. has two wins. Vanderbilt has an FBS win. Ole Miss got zero points for beating UL-Lafayette apart from the influence on its overall strength of schedule. Losing to an undefeated team and a 2-1 team (Louisiana Tech) gives ULL a decent strength of schedule.
3. UCLA – I think luck will catch up to the Bruins like it did to the cross-town rival Trojans, but hear me out. Like Ole Miss, they are 3-0 with a win over an otherwise unbeaten team (although Virginia has one FBS and one FCS win) and a second win over a team with a BCS win. The third team, Memphis, has a good strength of schedule because the only FBS team they’ve played is undefeated. I know that seems like circular logic, but when Memphis has played a few other FBS teams strength of schedule will begin to be more meaningful. This is another reason to wait for time to pass before I officially use these.
4. Notre Dame – The Irish are 3-0, and Michigan is 2-1, so that’s a good start this early. Purdue also has an FBS win. Rice has no wins, but being that they’ve only played Notre Dame and Texas A&M, that gives them a pretty good strength of schedule.
5. Mississippi St. – Two Mississippi schools in the top five. Can you tell yet why we’re still in the preliminary stages? Guess the Bulldogs’ record. The rest will also generally follow the above script. Mississippi St. is the only team to beat UAB, who has an FBS win and an FCS win. South Alabama’s other two weeks are an FBS win (albeit over a winless team) and a bye. Mississippi St. also beat Southern Mississippi, whose only FBS games have been against 3-0 teams.
6. Arizona – A real top 10 team probably would have won by more against Nevada and UTSA, but as a reminder, this does not factor in margin of victory, which I think you need to do after only three weeks. Arizona is also 3-0, that Nevada team I mentioned has an FBS win and no other losses, and Arizona also beat Texas-San Antonio (again by a small margin), who has an FBS win. UNLV, whose only win is over an FCS team, does not really help except for Arizona’s record of course.
7. Oregon – So the next three are all teams you’ll see in the top 10 of pretty much any major rankings at this point. Oregon is the first team on this list that does NOT have 3 FBS wins (one was over an FCS team). Wyoming, whom the Ducks just beat, has one win over an FBS team and one over an FCS team. Michigan St. only has an FCS win, but at least they don’t have any other losses.
8. Texas A&M – Should be no surprise here. Of course, South Carolina has won two games over otherwise-undefeated teams since losing to the Aggies. East Carolina in turn beat Virginia Tech (who had beaten Ohio St.) after losing to the Gamecocks. I mentioned Rice in reference to Notre Dame. The Aggies have also beaten North Texas, who is 1-2, and an otherwise-unbeaten FCS team.
9. Alabama – We’re back to another 3-0 team, but obviously they wouldn’t be behind two 2-0 teams (with FCS wins) if they had great wins. West Virginia does have an FBS win and an FCS win though. Florida Atlantic is 1-2, and Southern Mississippi (common opponent with Mississippi St.) just has an FCS win.
10. Washington – I took the Huskies out of my subjective top 25 afer struggling to beat Hawaii (who was barely able to beat Northern Iowa last night/this morning) and Eastern Washington, an FCS team. Washington does have another FBS win now, over Illinois, who itself has FBS (over Western Kentucky) and FCS wins. Also, Eastern Washington is 1-0 against the FCS.
Hopefully that’s somewhat enlightening about how the system works. The above does not use any reference whatsoever to preseason rankings or prior seasons. It’s as if the entire FBS started from scratch this year. So it’s completely about what you’ve proven, and if a team has played and won every week and their opponents are in the FBS (especially if such opponents also have a number of FBS wins), that team will have a huge advantage whoever they are.
So when you look at other ratings, like Sagarin for instance, they might be more the teams you expect to see, because they do include reference to prior seasons. That said, his top four teams are all in my top 10, and there are 10 teams in common in our respective top 15 teams. The ones in my top 15 that are not in his are all ones that you would rightly be suspicious of due to recent seasons: Mississippi St., Arizona, Pittsburgh, Washington, and Syracuse.
In fact, apart from UCLA, I think I’ll use those teams in common as my top 9 when I make my subjective rankings for this week. I like to start making it largely results-based at this point, although there will still be at least a bit of a subjective and predictive element, which will be true until I rely exclusively on the computer formula.
This was also a good week to at least look at it this way since it’s already getting difficult to try to fairly rank teams without a major overhaul. South Carolina beat East Carolina who beat Virginia Tech who beat Ohio St. They also beat Georgia, who beat Clemson. So how good must that make Texas A&M for annihilating South Carolina? Then you have Pittsburgh, who beat Boston College, who beat USC, who beat Stanford. As I mentioned, it will only get more confusing once teams lower down the chain beat teams higher up.
I note there are only four SEC teams in the top 10 list above, but there are a total of six in the top 15, seven in the top 20, and ten in the top 30. The others in the top 15 are LSU and Auburn. The West should be interesting this year, by the way. I’ve mentioned everyone but Arkansas, and the Hogs just ran wild all over Texas Tech on the road. So the sixth-best team in the division is 13th and the seventh-best is 34th! I know that will change (It’s impossible not to since they will start playing each other, and there are bye weeks and FCS opponents coming up later in the season for some SEC teams), but I’ll probably get more into out-of-conference play so far later this week.