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Preseason Versus Final Rankings

In College Football, Rankings Commentary on January 24, 2015 at 4:38 PM

The Broncos were the highest finishers among unranked teams in pre-season.

The Broncos were the highest finishers among unranked teams in pre-season.


I'm including the Horned Frogs since most people had them even higher at the end.

I’m including the Horned Frogs since most people had them even higher at the end.

I haven’t noticed any major media organization that does this. I guess they just want to be able to come out with new preseason rankings in six or seven months and have people accept them. Surely, I suppose they think, people will have forgotten last summer by then; but they might not forget something six months before, so best not to remind them. I think it’s fun though, so I’m doing it.

Some of these differences are owing to differing philosophies. I think Sagarin is just based on accumulating recent rankings. Sports Illustrated and the polls are mostly based on predictions; but sometimes there is deference to teams that did well last year even if maybe they shouldn’t be expected to do well in the coming year.

What I mostly do is look at who I think will be the best teams right away, so I’m a little more interested in returning starters, and of course I also take into account last season. If a 1-win team has 23 returning starters next season, you wouldn’t expect them to finish with a winning record; and if one of the top teams this year had only 10, they might finish in the top 10 again. But when in doubt, I’m going to go with the team that has proven more in the last year or two and has more returning starters. If a team has very few, I count recent seasons for less. That’s why Oklahoma St., for instance, was not a team I ranked.

Final Top 25

Here are my Preseason Rankings. I also did an SEC West Preview.

The teams are listed in order of how they finished in my final rankings.

Preseason ranks: mine, Sports Illustrated, Sagarin, AP, Coaches’

1. Ohio St. 9, 4, 10, 5, 6
Even when I heard about Braxton Miller, I didn’t move the Buckeyes down. I had a feeling this would be a very good team with 12 returning starters and one or two players wouldn’t make a difference. So even though I didn’t put them very high, I think I used sound reasoning. Also, when I do preseason rankings, I have a skeptical stance toward untested players, and it’s not quite as much about potential as how much they have to start the season. The loss came pretty early.

2. Florida St. 1, 1, 3, 1, 1
There just wasn’t a compelling case to drop FSU down after last season. None of the other contenders stood out, and there really wasn’t an impressive team overall on the field either.

3. Oregon 3, 8, 2, 3, 4
I can’t complain about my pick here. The Ducks had the highest number of returning starters among teams that were ranked after 2013, so I was not shocked to see them in the title game.

4. Alabama 4, 2, 1, 2, 2
I didn’t have Alabama first in the SEC, I had Auburn. That’s not how it worked out, but Alabama was actually less dominating in most games than I thought they would be. They just won all but one in conference.

5. Boise St. NR, NR, NR, NR, NR
I thought the Broncos might be done with these seasons given the fact that coaches keep leaving, but few apart from maybe some Marshall fans can argue they weren’t the best non-P5 team this year.

6. TCU NR, NR, NR, NR, NR
I thought the Horned Frogs might bounce back, but I was thinking maybe 7-5 or 8-4 instead. I’m not sure whether to give them credit or the rest of the conference blame.

7. UCLA 7, 5, 21, 7, 7
The Bruins finally had the top-10 season we’ve been promised a few times in the past. I mostly only put them this high because I couldn’t find other teams that were very compelling, but like I said earlier, that turned out to be the case in reality, so that’s why I got this one right.

8. Michigan St. 13, 6, 19, 8, 8
I couldn’t tell how much of the preseason buzz was based on the previous year or based on how good they really seemed. Looking back though, none of the results of their games were different than I projected based on my ratings. I did think they might lose to some lesser team, so I guess I’ll give them credit for surpassing my expectations in that regard.

9. Marshall NR, 25, NR, NR, NR
Credit to SI here for ranking them at all. It didn’t even occur to me to rank a CUSA team, to be honest.

10. Georgia Tech NR, NR, NR, NR, NR
Like I had started to explain with Ohio St., I think to an extent, you have to look at how good teams likely are relative to one another at that point. Georgia Tech really wasn’t that good early in the season. They struggled with Tulane (early on anyway) and Georgia Southern and seemed dead in the water against Virginia Tech, but they kept getting better, and it seemed like they were a much better late-game team than they possibly ever were before under Paul Johnson.

11. Missouri NR, 22, 13, 24, NR
12. Baylor 22, 10, 15, 10, 10
These two are pretty much the same for me, so I’ll cover them together. I just thought they had one-off seasons in 2013. I didn’t anticipate that the two coaches would be able to “reload” so well. Missouri did lose the early game to Indiana and got blown out by Georgia, but they matured in a hurry after those setbacks. Baylor didn’t have early losses like that, but they did only have 9 returning starters, so 22 was high in light of that, at least from my perspective. Usually teams like that don’t come anywhere close to the successes of the previous version even though they get preseason rankings elsewhere.

13. Georgia 6. 12, 16, 12. 12
All the people who had them #12 did pretty well. I was right about how good they could be but wrong about how bad they could be. I would have never expected them to lose to South Carolina and Florida knowing about those two teams what I know now. Even though I had Auburn so high, I mentioned in the preseason that this was one of the games that might cause Auburn to have trouble winning the SEC West. I mentioned the Missouri game, but Auburn was an even more impressive big win at the time.

14. Wisconsin NR, 15, 9, 14, 14
I was surprised that Wisconsin ended up so high. I thought they would be more similar to last year’s team. But in my defense, they didn’t start out so well. On paper, they didn’t have much to start the season, which I think was an accurate understanding.

15. Ole Miss 16, 18, NR, 18, 19
I did a good job on this one. I didn’t expect them to make an appearance in the top 5 in the first place. This is an improving program though, so I don’t expect them to be an easy win in the SEC very often going forward either.

16. Mississippi St. NR, NR, NR, NR, NR
They were too mediocre in 2013 for me to seriously consider them for the top 25, but as I had mentioned in my SEC West preview, I thought they could beat some of the better SEC teams, which they did. So I wouldn’t say I was shocked here, I was just more reserved in the preseason.

17. Arizona NR, NR, NR, NR, NR
I honestly didn’t even consider the Wildcats. They had a number of teams with potential in the recent past and they all tended to fizzle, so I was most surprised to see them in the top 20.

18. Clemson 12, 16, 17, 16, 16
I thought there would be a second ACC team in or near the top 10, but I was wrong about which one.

19. Arizona St. NR, 19, 14, 19, 18
I remained skeptical about the Sun Devils based on so many seasons where they were supposed to have a good team and either didn’t at all or were wildly inconsistent. They were among the last teams I eliminated though.

20. USC 11, 17, 12, 15, 15
Where I picked them was a little ambitious, but where I dismissed teams with potential before, I thought USC would be more immediately good. This was not a good team to start the year though.

21. Auburn 2, 7, 24, 6, 5
Auburn was a disappointment in the end, but they were one of the best teams in the early going. They really should have beaten Alabama and Wisconsin later in the year. I think sometimes what happens is a team goes from competing for a national title to just trying to make a decent bowl and it’s deflating. Whereas another team that was mediocre the previous season would be excited to be ranked and so forth.

22. Colorado St. NR, NR, NR, NR, NR
Like Marshall, this wasn’t a team I looked at or considered.

23. Kansas St. NR, 21, 18, 20, 21
I think I was justifiably cautious about the Wildcats. Had the Big XII been more than a couple of teams deep, I don’t think they would have finished this high.

24. Northern Illinois 25, NR, NR, NR, NR
For some reason, you get a bunch of flak for picking a small-conference team to perform similarly as in recent years, whereas other teams who have very little coming back are ranked with no one batting an eye. I have to admit I feel somewhat vindicated here.

25. Memphis NR, NR, NR, NR, NR
See Marshall and Colorado St.

Top 5 Unranked Busts

36. Oklahoma 5, 3, 6, 4, 3
The Sooners made the cover of Sports Illustrated for the preview issue and received 4 first-place votes between the two major polls. They did look a little bit better early, but they just didn’t seem to improve from how good they were in September.

49. South Carolina 8, 11, 8, 9, 9
They only showed a glimpse of the team they were supposed to be when they beat Georgia. This is a reminder going into next season that if you don’t have leadership (they lost their top defensive and offensive players after 2013), you don’t have much.

32. Stanford 15, 9, 4, 11, 11
Maybe I should have been more pessimistic here, but they didn’t finish that far outside the top 25. Still, I’m glad I wasn’t tempted to rank the Cardinal in the top 10. I looked at them as a similar team to Baylor, and for whatever reason, Baylor had a great season and Stanford didn’t.

30. LSU 10, 14, 7, 13, 13
In my defense, I had LSU fifth in the conference. I had trouble judging which SEC teams would be better than which other teams. I was very disappointed with both coordinators overall. I don’t want to be sour grapes about former DC Chavis, but I expected better based on his very good years at LSU, especially before 2013. I think OC Cam Cameron may have forgotten how to develop a teenage quarterback rather than one well into his 20s as NFL starting quarterbacks typically are. LSU could have very easily won 11 games this year based on talent, but they also could have missed out on a bowl game entirely due to failures to close out games. I said the winner of LSU/Alabama would be the most likely SEC champion, so at least that part was true. Had LSU closed out that one and beaten Arkansas, they would have at least tied for the West title.

33. Notre Dame NR, 13, 20, 17, 17
I haven’t addressed the Music City Bowl in depth yet, but people who think that justified a top-25 ranking for the Irish are insane. Arkansas beat LSU 17-0 late in the season and since then beat up on Ole Miss and Texas, losing only to Missouri in a close game. Arkansas didn’t have a defensive stop over a touchdown gifted to them against LSU, and LSU’s defense didn’t just roll over on third downs time and time again. Also, somehow, Notre Dame made LSU look like a point-scoring machine at times. Anyway, I feel very justified in not ranking the Irish in preseason and in recognizing them as a bust now.

Other Disappointments

Mine: (14) Central Florida, (19) Texas, (20) Michigan, (21) Louisville, (23) Florida, (24) Duke
Michigan was the only bad team of the group, but they shouldn’t have been a bad team at all. I think Texas is improving but will take another year. Florida and Duke were good teams at times but inconsistent. Central Florida nearly beat Penn St. for the second consecutive season but somehow lost to Connecticut for their only conference loss. Louisville may have been about right had they won the bowl game.

SI: (20) Texas A&M, (23) Oregon St., (24) Nebraska
Nebraska and Texas A&M were by no means horrible and might have been a couple of bounces of the ball from being ranked, but I don’t know where Oregon St. came from. I know they beat Arizona St., but that was one bright spot in dismal year. In fact, it was the Beavers’ only win of their last 7 games. Their BEST win was at home over San Diego St. I still don’t understand Nebraska’s hiring of Mike Riley, by the way.

Sagarin: (5) Oklahoma St., (11) Texas A&M, (22) Washington, (23) Texas, (25) Florida
I’m not sure how Saragin’s preseason rankings work, but I think it’s mostly based on performances in recent years. Texas and Florida in particular would not have been surprising had the finished with those rankings. Oklahoma St. of course is ridiculous looking back, but it wasn’t too long ago that the Cowboys nearly made the title game, and in 2013 they were again one of the best teams in the country before dropping the last two games (Bedlam and the Cotton against Missouri). Like I said above, having A&M ranked wasn’t far-fetched, but of course #11 was a bit high to say the least. Washington never really clicked, but there was no shame in having them near the bottom of the top 25 in preseason. They made a bowl at least and played some competitive games against good teams. In fact, their only regular-season losses were to teams that were ranked at the time. Among those, only Stanford finished unranked.

Polls: (21, 20) Texas A&M, (22, 22) Nebraska, (23, 23) North Carolina, (25, 25) Washington, (NR, 24) Texas
I covered everyone but North Carolina above. I have no idea why they were ranked.

For the record, here are my final rankings of the teams in this section:
26. Nebraska
27. Louisville
31. Texas A&M
41. Florida
46. Duke
57. Washington
58. Oklahoma St.
59. Central Florida
63. Texas
65. Michigan
70. North Carolina
89. Oregon St.

Anyway, I’m sure I’ll have upcoming posts about other sports and sporadically football, but like I referenced above, we’re about halfway to the next preseason rankings, so I plan to have a lot to say then.

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Ranking the Conferences, Part IV: Full Season 2014

In College Football, Conference Reports on January 17, 2015 at 5:29 PM

sec-pinwheel-logo

Part I: Frame of Reference
Part II: King of the Bowls
Part III: Overall Bowl Performance

1. SEC
2. Pac-12

I’m going to start with acknowledging that if you look solely at winning percentages against the P5 or even against the FBS, the Pac-12 has a better winning percentage than the SEC. In overall winning percentages, the SEC and Pac-12 are in a virtual tie (I will discuss that more below).

I’m going to give some records below. Since I’m trying to get this out before it’s too late in the day (I’m on the West Coast), I haven’t checked them with other sources since the bowl games, so if I missed one or two games, I apologize in advance.

I also want to mention that while this is my last entry about the conferences, I do plan at least one more blog about the rankings (comparing my pre-season list to the current list) and something about LSU. Apart from the Notre Dame “Rivalry” blog. I haven’t done an LSU-specific blog since Thanksgiving weekend.

My philosophy for ranking conferences in my “conference report” series is as close as I can get to my philosophy for ranking teams. From watching the playoff games, the overwhelming consensus is that the team who entered those undefeated (Florida St.) was the worst of the four teams. So much so that they finished 6th in the coaches’ poll and in a tie for 5th in the AP poll.

You can’t get better than 100%. A lot of reasonable people had Alabama, who had only won 92.3%, ahead. The committee (and a few individuals) had Oregon (same winning percentage as Alabama) ahead. That winning percentage was also shared by Ohio St.

Oregon, the loser of the title game, won 86.7%, about 6 points below Florida St.’s current winning percentage.

In Part III of this series, I determined that the Pac-12 had a better bowl season than the SEC. The overall records of the conferences also reached a tipping point, as the Pac-12 record against other FBS conferences surpassed the SEC record against other FBS conferences for I believe the first time this season.

There is only a gap of 3.7% though. I think based on the discussion above, when it’s a winning percentage that close, you need to look a bit deeper.
When you go down the line, the SEC’s opponents are consistently better though. Judge for yourself though. I’ll start with how they did against the ACC, Big Ten, and Big XII, respectively. I think the top four teams of each conference are fairly easy to determine, so I’ll separate it there. Unfortunately, there were no games between the SEC and the Pac-12.

After giving the records, I will list the wins over the top four, followed by other losses to teams outside of the top four. “Good” losses don’t prove as much and neither do wins over mediocre teams.

Pac-12 vs. ACC: 1-0 vs. top 4 , 2-1 vs. others
SEC vs. ACC: 2-5 vs. top 4, 1-0 vs. others

Oregon beat Florida St.
Boston College beat USC

Georgia beat Clemson
Georgia beat Louisville.

Pac-12 vs. Big Ten: 1-1 vs. top 4, 5-1 vs. others
SEC vs. Big Ten: 2-2 vs. top 4, 1-1 vs. others

Oregon beat Michigan St.
Rutgers beat Washington St.

LSU beat Wisconsin
Missouri beat Minnesota
Indiana beat Missouri

Pac-12 vs. Big XII: 1-0 vs. top 4 (UCLA), 1-1 vs. others
SEC vs. Big XII: 1-2 vs. top 4 (Auburn), 4-0 vs. others

UCLA beat Kansas St.
Oklahoma St. beat Washington

Auburn beat Kansas St.

So the SEC played 14 games against top-4 opponents of the other power conferences against only 4 for the Pac-12. You can’t tell me that’s not a disproportionate ratio. It happened to be that the team who played two of three was the best team in the Pac-12, and the one who won the other was arguably the second-best team in the Pac-12, UCLA. UCLA beat the same team SEC #6 Auburn beat.

The Pac-12 makes up some ground with Notre Dame, but I don’t believe they would have been a top-4 team in any power conference apart from possibly the Big XII (unfortunately, their recent games with Oklahoma didn’t take place this year to let us know more clearly). Arizona St. and USC beat Notre Dame. The Irish beat Stanford of the Pac-12 and LSU of the SEC. LSU and Stanford were similarly ranked in their respective conferences, and Notre Dame beat both by a field goal.

LSU was also denied what could have been a game-changing touchdown right before halftime. I don’t bring that up to say LSU is better than Stanford or their loss is more excusable, but I think we can infer that if Notre Dame played two higher teams in the SEC like they did in the Pac-12 (Arizona St. and USC were higher in the Pac-12 than Stanford), they most likely would have lost both games.

Anyway, the differences in schedules don’t end there. I think CUSA, MAC, and Sun Belt only have two teams worth considering apiece, but I’ll go with the top 4 for the MWC and AAC. Neither of those are very deep, but they’re centered around a few serious teams. The MWC had four teams who each won at least 10 games, so I think they’re all worth considering strongly (though not as strongly as the top 4 of the power conferences of course). The AAC had three teams tie for first. East Carolina was not in that tie, but I think they made up for having a couple more losses (two to teams in that tie) with their wins over North Carolina and Virginia Tech out of conference, so I’ll give them credit for 4 too. I’ll break these down collectively.

Pac-12 vs. G5: 2-3 vs. top teams, 16-1 vs. others
SEC vs. G5: 10-0 vs. top teams (Auburn), 18-1 vs. others

UCLA beat Memphis
Utah beat Colorado St.
Nevada beat Washington St.

South Carolina beat East Carolina
Florida beat East Carolina
Missouri beat Central Florida
Missouri beat Toledo
Ole Miss beat Boise St.
Ole Miss beat Memphis
Ole Miss beat ULL
Auburn beat Louisiana Tech
Arkansas beat Northern Illinois
Tennessee beat Utah St.
Temple beat Vanderbilt

Despite winning 11 games over the Mountain West, the Pac- 12 only won the bowl game against a 10-game winner. The Pac-12 was 0-2 against those teams otherwise and also lost to Nevada, the #6 MWC team. The Pac-12 also suffered a loss to BYU, who I included as one of the good G5 teams even though they’re independent.

The only SEC loss to a non-P5 team was by the worst team in the SEC, Vanderbilt. They lost to Temple.

I mention who won the games because I have no problem with Oregon and UCLA both being in the top 10. You can even put them both ahead of Alabama if you want to, but they got all the major wins for the Pac-12, except for the two over Notre Dame and the one over Colorado St.

I just don’t think the accomplishments of those two teams put the Pac-12 as a whole ahead of the SEC. The fact that teams so far down the SEC won major games, not to mention that 5 teams that weren’t even in the top half of the SEC won bowl games. These are not the games mentioned above, except for the Florida win over East Carolina.

If you evaluate conferences anything like teams are evaluated in the main, you’d have to acknowledge that the SEC was far more tested in terms of opposition, and that how tested they were overcomes the slight deficit in winning percentages.

Some people only want to look at performance among the top teams or don’t care at all (win or lose) what happened against non-P5 opponents, but that’s not how anyone I know of looks at teams. The concepts overlap, but I’ll give analogies.

Regarding the former outlook, West Virginia and LSU looked like two of the best teams when they played top teams. WVU was within a possession of Alabama for 50 minutes (losing by 10), beat Baylor, and lost by a single point to TCU. LSU beat Wisconsin, beat Ole Miss, and lost to Alabama in overtime. No one I know of is going to ignore that LSU lost to Arkansas and Notre Dame or that West Virginia lost to Texas and Texas A&M though.

Regarding the latter outlook, the problem many people had with Ohio St. was that they lost to Virginia Tech, who barely even qualified for a bowl game. Imagine they had lost to Navy instead. That wouldn’t count against them? So when the Pac-12 loses to BYU and Nevada, that should count against them.

Still others might say that you look at the performance at the end. So between the last week of the season and the bowls, the SEC lost nine games to other conferences (even all of those were either the best independent team [Notre Dame] or in the top 4 of P5 conferences).

Anyway, as I indicated at the beginning, I’ll grant that there are ways of looking at this that would not put the SEC first, but not the way I’ve ever approached this discussion.

The demise of the SEC West was also greatly exaggerated. Even counting the bowl losses, the SEC West won 85.7% of its non-conference games. Granted, the Pac-12 South won 86.9%, but refer back to what I said about strength of schedule. Most of those quality SEC wins were by the West. Then take out the Oregon wins when you consider the Pac-12. It’s not even close.

Also, it’s been overlooked that the SEC East went 5-0. They got a lot closer to the SEC West in the process. The SEC East won a total of 78.8% of their non-conference games. The Pac-12 North, on the other hand, won only 73.9% of their non-conference games.

The numbers I just gave count FCS opponents, so that’s where some of the discrepancy is, but I excluded those games initially because strength of schedule matters.

Including the FCS games, the Pac-12 was only 0.4 percentage points ahead, and there wouldn’t even be that difference had the Florida/Idaho game not been canceled. Even if you don’t place a high premium on it, if you don’t think strength of schedule can change the outcome of just one game out of dozens, then I guess this just isn’t for you. Also, I guess Marshall should have been in the top 2 going into Thanksgiving, and Florida St. was the best team going into the playoff games despite how those games turned out.

I think the bowl results are pretty conclusive as to the rest of the Power 5 conferences and many of the others, so rather than trying to fill up another blog with that, I’ll just list the teams and mention any highlights briefly.

3. Big Ten

Like the SEC/Pac-12 discussion, the B1G had a slightly worse record than the ACC against the P5, but the level of competition was higher. For instance, it played six games against the top half of the SEC compared to only four by the ACC. The ACC had a better record against the SEC than the B1G did, but mostly because they played Florida, South Carolina, and Kentucky. Also, the Big Ten had fewer losses overall, meaning they had fewer bad losses. It also helps that the B1G went 5-1 against the ACC, the only loss to Virginia Tech by Ohio St.

If you’re not convinced, this is the list of their P5 wins to compare with the others: Pitt, Syracuse, Miami, Boston College, North Carolina, Baylor, Washington St., Oregon, Missouri, Alabama, Auburn.

4. ACC

This is more a symptom of the weakness of the Big XII, who went only 6-11 against P5 conferences compared to the mark I mentioned by the ACC (nearly .500).

P5 wins by the Big XII: Maryland, Iowa, Minnesota, Washington, Tennessee, Ole Miss. Two were against top teams of those conferences, but both were wins by TCU. Not a lot of depth.

P5 wins by the ACC: Ohio St., Oklahoma St., Kansas, Oklahoma, USC, Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, Kentucky, Mississippi St.

Also, if you didn’t notice, the ACC went 3-0 against the Big XII.

5. Big XII

Even though 6-11 vs. the P5 isn’t great, it beats the 5-18 mark of the MWC by far enough that we don’t really have to look into the specifics much. The other four conferences went a combined 10-79. I did give the CUSA credit for having a better bowl season, but the bowl win by Louisiana Tech over Illinois was the only win of the season by the CUSA over a P5 opponent. Also, the Big XII only lost two games to a non-P5 opponent compared to the MWC’s nine losses against that group.

6. Independents

Notre Dame, BYU, and Navy were all a bit above average (at least in records) while Army was a bit below. They went just under .500 against P5 opponents, and a few games over .500 against the FBS. Most of the big wins were by Notre Dame, but BYU beat Texas, Cal, and Houston. Navy didn’t do anything spectacular, but they did beat three teams with winning records: Texas St., Georgia Southern, and San Diego St. The only somewhat bad losses were by Army: Yale, Kent St., and Wake Forest.

7. Mountain West (MWC)

The MWC, as usual, was clearly the best of the rest. It was competitive with many P5 opponents and had the best record of the G5 conferences against them. Also, it suffered no embarrassing losses. It went undefeated against FCS opponents (unlike the Big XII, by the way). There were only three losses to non-bowl teams. Colorado and Oregon St. beat Hawaii, and Oregon St. beat San Diego St. Colorado was a bad team, but they didn’t beat one of the MWC’s seven bowl teams. As to the Oregon St. win over San Diego St., it’s not shameful in any way for a low-level G5 bowl team to lose to possibly one of the best P5 non-bowl teams. If there were a losing-record championship game, I probably would have liked to have seen Oregon St. vs. Kentucky.

8. CUSA
9. AAC

The CUSA has to have been happy with how well it fared given the defection of so many teams to the American (AAC), who I believe it just barely edged out. I mentioned the CUSA only had the one win over a P5 conference, and while that was certainly a negative, as were the two FCS losses. The CUSA had better games against everyone in between, however. 21-25 vs. the FBS is a lot better than the 10-31 mark of the AAC. The CUSA went 3-1 against the AAC (losing only to Memphis), it beat three of the MAC bowl teams (compared to only one such win by the AAC), and it beat three MWC teams (compared to only one). The wins over ULL and Navy roughly cancel out the two AAC wins over BYU.

10. Mid-American (MAC)

Like the AAC, the MAC only had 10 wins, but unlike the AAC, the MAC didn’t beat teams like North Carolina and Virginia Tech and did lose to two FCS teams. The MAC only beat three bowl teams: Pitt, South Alabama, and Arkansas St. The last two were wins in bowl games.

11. Sun Belt (SBC)

The Sun Belt won only 5 FBS games, two over bowl teams. ULL beat Nevada, and Arkansas St. beat Utah St. It did get one P5 win, but Wake Forest (who lost to ULM) barely counts.

2014 Final College Football Top 25

In Bowls, College Football, Rankings, Rankings Commentary on January 14, 2015 at 3:45 PM

My Top 25
My Rank/team/prev
1 Ohio St. 3
2 Florida St. 1
3 Oregon 4
4 Alabama 2
5 Boise St. 6
6 TCU 5
7 UCLA 11
8 Mich. St. 13
9 Marshall 12
10 Ga. Tech 14
11 Missouri 16
12 Baylor 7
13 Georgia 17
14 Wisconsin 15
15 Ole Miss 8
16 Miss. St. 9
17 Arizona 10
18 Clemson 21
19 Arizona St. 23
20 USC —
21 Auburn 18
22 Colo. St. 20
23 Kansas St. 19
24 N. Illinois 24
Memphis
25 Memphis —

Full Rankings 1-128

Out of top 25: (22) Nebraska, (25) Louisville

Earlier top-25 blogs:
Preseason
Week 1
Week 2
Week 3
Week 4
Week 5
Week 6
Week 7
Week 8
Week 9
Week 10
Week 11
Week 12
Week 13
Week 14
Pre-Bowl

Comments
I guess I’ll start with some good news. I like how the top four stayed in place. If after the Alabama game anyone still believed Ohio St. didn’t belong in the top four, I’m sure they do now. Other than that, pretty much everyone agreed with the other three teams.

Why does the fact that teams won these games mean that suddenly some of them aren’t in the top four? It doesn’t. If we made 5-8 play each other and then the winners of those games play each other, that would leave three teams in that group with one more loss than they had before the bowls as well.

I am also pleased with my rankings before the bowls. Eleven of my top 17 (including Oregon) won their bowl games. All of the top 19 either won their bowl game or lost to another top-19 team. Colorado St. and Nebraska were the only top-25 teams to lose bowl games to other teams.

Obviously, some people will criticize where TCU is, but only one team they played all year won a bowl game, and the Horned Frogs don’t get a lot of points from Oklahoma St.’s win over Washington. The margin of victory over Ole Miss doesn’t help in my ratings, but like most fans, I would have liked to have seen TCU play one of the top four. (I still don’t want another round of playoffs though, at least not without a major overhaul.)

I know Boise St. lost to Ole Miss, but losing to Baylor doesn’t hurt that much less. Boise St. also played an extra game. The Broncos were one of four 10-win teams in the Mountain West (all in the same division), while only two teams in the Big XII won 10 or more.

This might be boring, but it might also be a way of explaining my rankings, so bear with me. On 11/23, TCU led Boise St. by about 0.12 (which was the approximate distance from Ohio St. to Oregon before the bowls). Boise St. won three games between 11/23 and the bowls (Wyoming, Utah St., and Fresno St.) while TCU only won two (Texas and Iowa St.). This cut TCU’s lead to 0.006.

All things being equal, the TCU lead should have increased to 0.017 because Ole Miss counts for more points than Arizona does. So the 1-6 performance in bowl games by TCU opponents cost the Horned Frogs 0.021 by comparison since they ended up 0.004 behind the Broncos. Only three of Boise St.’s, but of the 13 games they played, 10 were against teams that went to bowl games (they played Fresno St. twice, Ole Miss, Colorado St., ULL, Air Force, Nevada, BYU, San Diego St., and Utah St.).

For a non-mathematical argument, a lot of people thought I had Boise St. way too high and they shouldn’t have been ahead of Arizona. I think they corrected that perception.

This is the fifth time since 2008 (when I started my current system) that Boise St. has finished in the top 6. By comparison, this is only Alabama’s fourth time in that time frame. Florida, Ohio St., and Oregon have finished in that group three times apiece. Not apropos of anything, but every time Ohio St. has been in that group, so has Oregon.

I would have liked to have seen Marshall play a P5 team, but they did about as well against then-11-2 Northern Illinois as Arkansas had back in September.

I do think Georgia Tech would have likely beaten them, but remember the point of my formula is so that teams with few losses end up near the top. Georgia Tech obviously had a much better schedule, but you have to have a much better schedule to account for two extra losses.

I’m sure most of you remember when LSU had two losses and made the BCS Championship ahead of one-loss Kansas. That was a huge difference in schedule, but if LSU had three losses or Kansas had no losses, LSU would not have gone ahead of Kansas. I first started working on my current formula after the 2007 season, so that’s probably something I considered when I decided how much winning percentage counts and how much strength of schedule counts. I also think LSU would have beaten Kansas even if the Jayhawks had gone undefeated in 2007, but that doesn’t mean LSU would have deserved to play in the game ahead of them.

Anyway, Marshall is in the CUSA, which went 4-1 in the bowls. Compare that to the 4-7 mark of the ACC. Also, bad losses hurt more in my formula than good wins help. The one team that beat Marshall (Western Kentucky) won its bowl game, but all three teams that beat Georgia Tech lost theirs.

The top two teams of the SEC East (Missouri and Georgia) got into the top 15, finally passing up Ole Miss and Mississippi St., but they had too far to go to make it into the top 10. I think 19 of the top 21 being in P5 conferences is about right. I don’t mind giving some credit to the better teams of the other conferences at the bottom of the top 25.

USC made a pretty decent jump forward after they beat Nebraska and several teams in the group immediately ahead of them lost.

This is the completion of my 20th year ranking teams (although it was purely subjective before 2004), and this is the very first time I am ranking Memphis. Memphis is the 101st team I have ranked.

Note on conferences

This is slightly different analysis from my “conference report” series. In this blog, I’m commenting upon the rankings of the various teams rather than strictly looking at games between conferences. I do a summary of this with every ranking (except for the one after the Army-Navy game). You can see my chart here.

The SEC finishes with only one team in the top 10, but six in the top 25, nine in the top 40, and twelve in the top 50 (the chart linked to above does not give any credit for the top 50, just the top 40). Even #13 Kentucky finished 68th, just four spots behind Virginia Tech (who, as I think most people know, beat Ohio St.). Although like most of the country, I was a little surprised by WHICH SEC teams won, I think the above shows how tough it was to go undefeated if 13/14 teams in the conference were good enough to beat who turned out to be the best team in the country.

The SEC has 14 teams, and only 8 of them got to play Vanderbilt. The SEC might not have the best top teams (as was thought for much of the season), but if you think any other conference schedule was tougher, you’re kidding yourself.

Kenneth Massey lists about 90 top-to-bottom computer rankings of teams on his comparison site. Every one of them has the SEC as the top conference (at least based on average ranking of the teams). I know people want to call me a homer, but until I’m not part of the overwhelming consensus (even if one or two come out that disagree, that’s still true), I won’t take that allegation seriously.

The only rankings he lists on there that put the SEC second are the two (subjective) polls, but only the top 25 of each one is considered. Since the SEC has six teams between #26 and #50 in my ratings compared to only two in that range for the Pac-12, that’s ignoring a lot of the SEC’s relative strength toward the middle and below the middle of the conference.

Ranking the Conferences, Part III: Overall Bowl Performance

In Bowls, College Football, Conference Reports on January 10, 2015 at 3:08 PM
The Pac-12 edged the SEC for #1.  I cover the remaining conferences below.

The Pac-12 edged the SEC for #1. I cover the remaining conferences below.

Part I: Frame of Reference
Part II: King of the Bowls

1. Pac-12
2. SEC

3. Big Ten

The B1G finishes with one more win than the ACC, which had qualified one more team, so even if you prefer looking at percentages, they would come out on top.

Ohio St. was of course matched with another conference’s #1. Michigan St. still gets credit for beating Baylor even though the way they did it was kind of ridiculous. That was another evenly-matched game. I think TCU should have been regarded as the tougher team to beat out of the Big XII. Wisconsin barely held on in overtime in what should have been a win anyway over Auburn, the SEC #6.

The next couple of teams, the ones who unsuccessfully competed for the Big Ten West, lost. Minnesota lost to Missouri, but if anything Missouri was a spot higher in the SEC. (I don’t think Missouri should have been considered the SEC #2 though since the best SEC team they beat during the regular season was Florida.) Nebraska played respectably despite getting rid of Pelini but fell short to USC, another fair match-up.

Maryland was a little higher in the Big Ten than Stanford was in the Pac-12, but Stanford basically had a home game, so they should have been expected to win, which they did easily.

That still gives the top six of the Big Ten a 3-3 record. That’s one game better than the top six of the SEC, but the other teams went 2-2 rather than the SEC’s 5-1 in other games. Had they gone 4-0 to give the Big Ten a total of record of 7-3, the Big Ten could have had an argument for #2.

I mentioned in the previous blog that if the conferences were equal, Iowa (the #7) should have been better than Tennessee, but they weren’t. On the other hand, North Carolina probably should have beaten Rutgers and Boston College probably should have beaten Penn St., so these results help me determine SEC, Big Ten, ACC in that order.

Northwestern might have been a better bowl team than Illinois judging by the good teams they beat (Notre Dame and Wisconsin), but like Maryland, Illinois didn’t get a geographically beneficial game, so I don’t treat them too harshly for losing to Louisiana Tech.

4. ACC

Since it didn’t make the cut for #3, the ACC was the obvious #4. It got four wins, twice as many as the Big XII. They also qualified four more teams. I covered most of the games already. I didn’t mention Pitt losing to Houston in the most ridiculous conclusion this year. I don’t think it was bad enough to drop the ACC lower than #4.

5. Conference USA
6. Big XII

Conference USA went 4-1. The Big XII should have won both of the games they won anyway. #1 vs. #4, and #7 vs. #8.

I mentioned Louisiana Tech beating Illinois, the only P5 opponent. Marshall beat Northern Illinois. Northern Illinois is not a P5 opponent, but I think they’re a serious enough program to be considered in the same category as a low-level P5 bowl team. The only loss was by UTEP to Utah St., which beat BYU and Air Force during the season, so they’re no joke either.

The Western Kentucky and Rice wins weren’t impressive, but it was too hard for me to put a 2-win conference ahead of a 4-win one. Obviously the Big XII will still be much better overall.

TCU did a good job, I have no problem with them being in the top 5. Whatever happens with my objective system, that’s how I would have voted them, but their conference just didn’t impress me enough to be #5 in the bowls.

7. Mountain West (MWC)

The MWC went 3-4, but also in that conference, there was a steep drop from #1 to everyone else, so that’s why I kept them behind the Big XII. I mentioned the Utah St. win. Air Force also beat Western Michigan. It would have been embarrassing to lose either of those games. Colorado St. and Nevada barely showed up (losing a combined 61-13), and San Diego St. basically lost a home game against Navy (although I do realized there are plenty of Navy people in the area).

8. Independents

The independents went 2-1. They qualified three of the four teams in that category, the only loss was to a conference co-champion. There were wins over SEC #7 and MWC #6.

9. American (AAC)

The AAC went only 2-3 even with Houston’s miraculous win. The losses to N.C. State and Cincinnati showed pretty clearly that they don’t belong in consideration for a power conference. Even Memphis, the only of the three co-champions to win, needed two overtimes to beat BYU. BYU, who at one time was predicted to go undefeated, had continually gotten worse as the year went on. East Carolina was respectable in a loss, but that’s not much to go on.

10. Mid-American (MAC)

The MAC went 2-3, but Bowling Green (who beat South Alabama) beat one of the worst bowl teams in history, and Arkansas St. (who lost to Toledo) wasn’t much better. The MAC #1 got blown out, Western Michigan lost by a couple of touchdowns to Air Force, and Central Michigan lost to Western Kentucky.

11. Sun Belt (SBC)

Last is the SBC. I mentioned it got two awful teams into bowl games. It’s a shame Georgia Southern and Appalachian St. couldn’t get those spots or maybe the SBC could have gotten a spot or two higher. The only other team the SBC got into a bowl is ULL, but they only had to travel a couple of hours (by car) in what has become an annual New Orleans Bowl tradition to play Nevada, who came from half a continent away and was #7 in their conference.

Ranking the Conferences, Part II: King of the Bowls

In Bowls, College Football, Conference Reports on January 7, 2015 at 4:30 PM
I believe these are all of this season's bowl games.  Apologies if I missed something.

I believe these are all of this season’s bowl games. Apologies if I missed something.

Part I: Frame of Reference

This went long enough just covering the top two conferences, so I plan at least one more blog to finish off the bowl list and another for the overall list.

Before assessing the overall strength of conferences, we should discuss the bowl games, since that’s often the first place people go when talking about conference strength.

I’m skeptical about the bowls being very decisive because all but four teams (until 2014, all but two teams) aren’t really playing for anything but a nice trophy that few people really care about. Not only that, but there is a month layover after the games that really count.

Granted, anyone who lost more than a game or two was out well before the season ended, but there were few teams who didn’t at least have a rivalry game to get excited about in the last couple of weeks of the season. Also, what often happens is a team will be disappointed or disinterested in a bowl game.

There is a lot of talk about let-down games during the season, but a fair percentage of the time the better team ends up winning games like that. It’s a little bit different in bowl games. A relative lack of interest and motivation over a month makes a bigger difference than over a week. Also, you’re pretty much guaranteed an opponent who will beat you if they have a fairly good game by their standards and you have a fairly poor game by your standards.

Nonetheless, if you take the bowl games as one week, that’s still the most important playing week of the season when determining relative conference strength.

The most important consideration for me is how many wins a conference has. I think this is more important than winning percentage, because winning percentage is based more on who your competition is and which teams you have qualify. If only your best five teams are put to the test in a bowl game, what about the other half or more of your conference? They wouldn’t likely have won bowl games. Also, you have to look at who the wins came against.

The SEC, the #1 conference going into the bowl season, had the most wins with 7, 6 of which were against Power 5 conferences. The SEC had 12 teams qualify (and was very close to a 13th). The ACC was second with 11, but the ACC only won a total of 4 bowl games, two of which were not against other Power 5 conferences.

The Pac-12, the #2 conference going into the bowl season, did very well with 6 wins (5 over Power 5 conferences) out of 8 bowl teams. As a result, discussion of the best conference of the bowl season should rightly center in on the SEC and the Pac-12

Where I may part with some is I believe strength of schedule should not only be evaluated in the abstract (how good the opponents are on their own) but also by how difficult the opponent is in light of how highly ranked the conference member.

For instance, the most impressive non-conference win of the season in my opinion was by the ACC when Virginia Tech beat Ohio St. Virginia Tech was about #10 in the ACC, and they beat a team that made the championship game. If Florida St. had beaten Ohio St. instead, it would have been a lot less impressive.

All of the Pac-12 bowl games were fairly even match-ups. I think the combination of Arizona and Utah was a fair match for Boise St. and Colorado St. of the MWC. Each conference won one of the two. The combination of UCLA and Washington was also a fair match for Kansas St. and Oklahoma St., and again each conference won one of the two.

Since there were no other losses, everything else goes in the plus column for the Pac-12. Of course, Oregon beat Florida St. going away. Arizona St. was #4 in the Pac-12 and beat the ACC #5 Duke. Stanford was #7 in the Pac-12 and beat Big Ten #6 Maryland. USC was #5 and beat Big Ten #5 Nebraska.

Returning to the SEC, the results were contrary to what one would have expected. Most of the season, the top five teams of the SEC West beat all the other teams. It wasn’t until the last few weeks that that group lost to ANYONE else. Auburn lost to Texas A&M and Georgia, and Ole Miss and LSU lost to Arkansas. Still, it was interesting that three of those losses were still inside the SEC West. Also, despite the fact that the SEC lost more inter-conference games in rivalry week than it had lost the entire rest of the season combined, not a single one of those losses were by the SEC West.

Those five top SEC West teams were curiously the only teams to lose bowl games though. I think part of it was that disappointment, letdown sort of phenomenon I mentioned, but obviously that wouldn’t apply to Alabama. I think what happened there is the Tide defense got worn down, and then the Tide offense couldn’t keep up with the Buckeyes. That’s not the kind of game Alabama is accustomed to having to win, although they did manage to win a similar game against Auburn.

Also, those teams gave each other a beating. The most notable injury in an inter-SEC West game was to Laquon Treadwell, but I know LSU lost a lineman in the Alabama game, and some other players (such as Kenny Hilliard) were banged up as well.

Out of the five games lost, there was only a game and a half that was bad. Auburn took Wisconsin to overtime, LSU lost in the last second, Alabama was alive in their game until the final minute. The second half by Mississippi St. and the whole game by Ole Miss were pretty ugly though.

I believe I counted accurately that despite those five teams not winning any bowl games of their own, they got a total of 18 wins over teams that won bowl games. That’s more than the top five of any other CONFERENCE. The only one that comes close is, of course, the Pac-12.

I was a bit surprised that with Arkansas playing Texas in Texas (#10 SEC vs. #6 of the Big XII), Texas A&M playing West Virginia (#9 SEC vs. #5 of Big XII), South Carolina playing U. Miami (#12 SEC vs. #10 of the ACC), and Tennessee playing Iowa (#11 SEC vs. #7 of the Big Ten), no other SEC team lost a game. I won’t pretend I was at all surprised by Missouri, Georgia, and Florida winning all of theirs, but that doesn’t make them count for less.

It’s frustrating that there were no games between the SEC and the Pac-12 of course, but there are a few different ways to look at this.

There were four bowl wins by the Pac-12 over teams in the top 5 of power conferences and two losses to other teams. If we limit that to the top 4, the Pac-12 had two wins inside and two losses outside.

The SEC had three bowl wins over teams in the top 5 of power conferences, and Notre Dame was the only loss outside of that group. Notre Dame barely had a winning record against Power 5 opponents (even though they generally played pretty good ones), but we don’t have to count them as of that quality. Of course, if we discount the Irish too much, that devalues the season as a whole for the Pac-12 (three games against them vs. only one by the SEC). If we limit it to the top 4, it’s two wins and one loss. These are both better ratios than the Pac-12 had. I would also note that the Pac-12 didn’t have a sub-top-5 team beat a top-5 team of another conference.

Here’s another way to look at it. The Pac-12 wasn’t really over- or under-matched in any of their games, so they’re 6-2 in games in which they weren’t over-matched or under-matched.

The SEC was 3-2 in games in which they were over-matched. The wins I mentioned were by Arkansas, Texas A&M, and Tennessee; the losses were by Ole Miss (#4 SEC vs. #1 [tie] in the Big XII) and Auburn (#6 SEC vs. #3 in the Big Ten).

You could argue Florida was under-matched by East Carolina (#8 SEC vs. #4 American/AAC), but even though they struggled against the top of their own conference, East Carolina did beat ACC #6 North Carolina 70-41, so I think it’s fair to say that was basically even as well.

If the SEC and Pac-12 had the same number of teams, I would honestly struggle to pick a better conference despite the Pac-12’s 75 winning percentage in bowls vs. the SEC’s 58.3%. But since ½ of each conference won bowl games, I think it’s fair to give the Pac-12 a little slack for not being over-matched in any games and for having a smaller percentage of teams qualify. So they’re my #1 for the bowl “week”.

I do want to note that I don’t blame the Pac-12 for not having better bowl opponents. There aren’t that many great bowls out west that the other major conferences really want to play in. Also, the bowls in the East aren’t particularly disposed to trying to get Pac-12 opponents. Just because they’re good teams doesn’t mean a large group of fans want to travel two or three thousand miles to go to the game. But just like with my team standings, I can only judge on the games that actually take place.

Ranking the Conferences, Part I: Frame of Reference

In Bowls, College Football, Conference Reports on January 4, 2015 at 11:57 AM

Walter Sobchak: Were you listening to The Dude’s story?
Donny: I was bowling.
Walter Sobchak: So you have no frame of reference here, Donny. You’re like a child who wanders into the middle of a movie and wants to know…

The Big Lebowski (1998)

The characters Donny and Walter

The characters Donny and Walter

Standing alone, this blog probably won’t be very interesting, but I want to provide a frame of reference for later blogs I have planned.

As I had stressed at the end of the regular season, it’s helpful to look at where a team is in a conference when talking about inter-conference games. For instance, it’s not anything to brag about when a top-4 team of one conference barely beats a bottom-two team of another conference at home.

I’m going to start with what I think are fair conference standings going into the bowls. Since there are so many ties and since so many conferences have uneven conference schedules, you can’t just follow the official conference standings. This won’t be exactly what I’ll go by when I rank the conferences overall; but, since I consider the bowls to be just another game (in actuality, if you’re not in the top 4, they’re LESS meaningful than most regular games), it won’t be far off.

Even though the SEC West (for instance) went only 2-5 in bowl games, playing six bowl teams in the division should earn some consideration. Texas A&M and Arkansas (winners of the two bowl games) were not opponents that provided teams in that division a breather like the bottom two teams of just about any other division would have. To not be able to take a break at all in divisional play makes it harder to get to 7-1, 6-2, 5-3, etc.

I decided not to alter that by more than two games though. For instance if one team is 5-3 and another is 7-1 and the two teams did not play one another, I’m going to keep the 7-1 team ahead.

I also factored in non-conference play at times if two teams were close, especially where there was no meaningful difference in conference schedule.

I’ll list the conferences in the order I had them going in. I’m grouping Notre Dame with the ACC since it is part of the ACC bowl group.

There were a couple of teams such as Western Kentucky and South Alabama who were arguably lower, but since a bowl picked them instead of another team, I used that to break the tie rather than making it more complicated. That’s also how Penn St. went ahead of Michigan and Northwestern (neither of which was eligible for bowls).

However, I included two non-bowl teams in the Sun Belt listings because they were clearly better in the conference than bowl teams. (They were considered transitional teams and would only have been eligible had other teams in the conference been ineligible for contractual bowl slots.)

SEC (12/14 teams in bowls)
1. Alabama
2. Mississippi St.
3. Missouri
4. Ole Miss
5. Georgia
6. Auburn
7. LSU
8. Florida
9. Texas A&M
10. Arkansas
11. Tennessee
12. South Carolina

Pac-12 (8/12 teams in bowls)
1. Oregon
2. Arizona
3. UCLA
4. Arizona St.
5. USC
6. Utah
7. Stanford
8. Washington

Big Ten (10/14 teams in bowls)
1. Ohio St.
2. Michigan St.
3. Wisconsin
4. Minnesota
5. Nebraska
6. Maryland
7. Iowa
8. Rutgers
9. Illinois
10. Penn St.

ACC (11/14 + Notre Dame)
1. Florida St.
2. Georgia Tech
3. Clemson
4. Louisville
5. Duke
5 1/2. Notre Dame
6. North Carolina
7. Pittsburgh
8. Boston College
9. North Carolina St.
10. U. Miami
11. Virginia Tech

Big XII (7/10 teams in bowls)
1. TCU
2. Baylor
3. Kansas St.
4. Oklahoma
5. West Virginia
6. Texas
7. Oklahoma St.

(Other) Independents (2/3 teams in bowls)
1. BYU
2. Navy

Mountain West (7/12 teams in bowls)
1. Boise St.
2. Colorado St.
3. Utah St.
4. Air Force
5. Fresno St.
6. San Diego St.
7. Nevada

Conference USA (5/13 teams in bowls)
1. Marshall
2. Louisiana Tech
3. Rice
4. UTEP
5. Western Kentucky

American (5/11 teams in bowls)
1. Memphis
2. Central Florida
3. Cincinnati
4. East Carolina
5. Houston

Sun Belt (3/11 teams in bowls)
1. Georgia Southern (NOT in a bowl)
2. UL-Lafayette
3. Appalachian St. (NOT in a bowl)
4. Arkansas St.
5. South Alabama

MAC (5/13 teams in bowls)
1. Northern Illinois
2. Toledo
3. Western Michigan
4. Central Michigan
5. Bowling Green