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Alabama ranks ahead of Ohio State in 2015 advanced stats projections

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One part of the formula that gives Football Outsiders its official team rankings has a surprise No. 1. Where's your team rank?

Each year, Brian Fremeau and I make our separate projections (his FEI and my S&P+) for the official F/+ projections found in the Football Outsiders Almanac.

I use recent history, returning talent, and recent recruiting as the guide for my S&P+ part of the equation. I have tinkered with other factors -- NFL Draft value lost, previous year's late-season quality, etc. -- but I haven't come up with anything that performs better than this relatively simple version.

Below you'll find my initial S&P+ projections for 2015 (initial, because there will be an update right before the season with updated starter numbers and whatnot).

The process is to come up with three sets of projections based on five-year performance (weighted to make 2014 more important than 2013, and so on), the likely changes associated with each team's returning starter figures, and the likely changes associated with each team's two-year recruiting averages (recruiting rankings are relatively solid predictive stats).

I blend them together based on what has produced the best results in the past. That means recent history carrying the most weight and recruiting carrying the least.

Without further adieu, here are the 2015 projections. Analysis below the table.


Conf Proj. S&P+ Rk 2014 Rk Proj. change Weighted 5-year Returning starters impact Recruiting impact
Alabama SEC 24.4 1 2 1 1 4 1
Ohio State Big Ten 24.0 2 1 -1 2 1 9
Georgia SEC 20.9 3 7 4 4 7 10
Oregon Pac-12 20.5 4 3 -1 3 6 23
Auburn SEC 19.5 5 4 -1 6 8 5
Ole Miss SEC 18.2 6 6 0 14 2 21
UCLA Pac-12 18.0 7 9 2 22 5 4
LSU SEC 17.9 8 16 8 10 11 7
Michigan State Big Ten 17.2 9 11 2 8 13 22
Oklahoma Big 12 17.0 10 13 3 12 15 16
Stanford Pac-12 16.9 11 15 4 7 17 17
Arkansas SEC 16.7 12 5 -7 13 3 28
USC Pac-12 16.1 13 20 7 16 18 2
Baylor Big 12 15.3 14 14 0 11 10 32
Clemson ACC 14.8 15 17 2 20 20 12
Notre Dame Ind 14.4 16 27 11 24 19 11
Florida State ACC 14.3 17 22 5 9 29 3
TCU Big 12 14.2 18 8 -10 5 9 49
Georgia Tech ACC 14.0 19 10 -9 15 16 37
Tennessee SEC 13.9 20 19 -1 34 14 6
Mississippi State SEC 12.9 21 12 -9 18 21 29
Texas A&M SEC 12.7 22 30 8 29 24 8
Missouri SEC 12.6 23 23 0 19 22 31
Arizona State Pac-12 12.3 24 32 8 27 23 24
Wisconsin Big Ten 11.8 25 25 0 21 26 35

Conf Proj. S&P+ Rk 2014 Rk Proj. change Weighted 5-year Returning starters impact Recruiting impact
Virginia Tech ACC 11.4 26 37 11 30 27 26
Boise State MWC 10.9 27 18 -9 17 12 62
Miami ACC 10.8 28 26 -2 33 30 19
Florida SEC 10.4 29 29 0 28 43 13
Nebraska Big Ten 9.7 30 31 1 31 34 30
South Carolina SEC 9.5 31 43 12 25 48 18
Louisville ACC 9.0 32 24 -8 26 39 45
Kansas State Big 12 8.8 33 28 -5 23 28 58
Arizona Pac-12 8.8 34 35 1 32 38 41
Michigan Big Ten 8.8 35 45 10 41 33 14
Texas Big 12 8.6 36 33 -3 44 31 15
Penn State Big Ten 8.4 37 46 9 40 41 20
Pittsburgh ACC 7.9 38 44 6 37 32 42
Utah Pac-12 7.4 39 41 2 35 36 51
West Virginia Big 12 7.2 40 40 0 39 40 38
Marshall CUSA 5.9 41 21 -20 36 25 72
Minnesota Big Ten 5.0 42 36 -6 47 37 59
Oklahoma State Big 12 4.6 43 63 20 42 57 33
North Carolina ACC 4.6 44 55 11 60 46 25
BYU Ind 4.4 45 47 2 38 44 70
Virginia ACC 4.1 46 42 -4 51 50 43
Cincinnati AAC 3.8 47 38 -9 46 42 68
NC State ACC 3.8 48 50 2 57 49 39
Boston College ACC 3.2 49 39 -10 43 59 53
Louisiana Tech CUSA 2.7 50 34 -16 45 35 80

Conf Proj. S&P+ Rk 2014 Rk Proj. change Weighted 5-year Returning starters impact Recruiting impact
California Pac-12 1.6 51 61 10 72 53 46
Kentucky SEC 1.4 52 58 6 79 58 27
Texas Tech Big 12 1.3 53 64 11 75 52 47
Duke ACC 0.9 54 73 19 56 73 44
Washington Pac-12 0.8 55 75 20 52 80 34
Maryland Big Ten 0.7 56 53 -3 69 66 36
Iowa Big Ten 0.7 57 70 13 55 70 56
Navy AAC 0.6 58 48 -10 48 54 78
Utah State MWC 0.5 59 52 -7 49 47 105
Central Florida AAC -0.2 60 71 11 50 84 52
Western Kentucky CUSA -0.4 61 51 -10 61 45 93
Northwestern Big Ten -0.8 62 85 23 67 79 40
Illinois Big Ten -0.8 63 65 2 77 62 57
Temple AAC -0.9 64 66 2 76 51 71
Western Michigan MAC -1.5 65 62 -3 71 55 73
Washington State Pac-12 -1.5 66 68 2 81 63 55
Georgia Southern Sun Belt -1.6 67 57 -10 54 65 84
Memphis AAC -1.8 68 49 -19 63 56 85
Toledo MAC -2.1 69 67 -2 53 69 87
Oregon State Pac-12 -2.1 70 74 4 59 83 63
Arkansas State Sun Belt -2.3 71 59 -12 66 60 88
Colorado State MWC -2.9 72 56 -16 73 61 89
Syracuse ACC -2.9 73 78 5 74 81 60
Purdue Big Ten -3.2 74 79 5 82 68 66
Colorado Pac-12 -3.3 75 77 2 88 67 61

Conf Proj. S&P+ Rk 2014 Rk Proj. change Weighted 5-year Returning starters impact Recruiting impact
Air Force MWC -3.3 76 54 -22 62 64 124
San Diego State MWC -3.5 77 83 6 70 74 74
Northern Illinois MAC -3.5 78 80 2 58 71 120
Rutgers Big Ten -3.6 79 69 -10 78 78 64
East Carolina AAC -3.6 80 72 -8 65 76 76
Indiana Big Ten -4.3 81 86 5 83 89 54
Nevada MWC -4.5 82 81 -1 64 77 95
Vanderbilt SEC -5.3 83 105 22 94 92 48
UL-Lafayette Sun Belt -5.9 84 60 -24 80 75 103
Houston AAC -6.1 85 90 5 68 99 79
Iowa State Big 12 -6.3 86 95 9 84 94 67
Middle Tennessee CUSA -7.0 87 87 0 92 72 94
Rice CUSA -7.4 88 76 -12 85 82 92
Wake Forest ACC -8.4 89 112 23 96 100 65
South Florida AAC -8.8 90 115 25 107 118 50
Central Michigan MAC -9.1 91 89 -2 91 88 110
Tulane AAC -9.2 92 93 1 99 86 81
Fresno State MWC -9.4 93 100 7 87 108 75
Bowling Green MAC -10.0 94 96 2 90 98 99
Kansas Big 12 -10.1 95 92 -3 106 116 69
Ohio MAC -10.1 96 98 2 97 90 112
Kent State MAC -10.2 97 101 4 95 91 121
South Alabama Sun Belt -10.5 98 82 -16 86 106 107
UTEP CUSA -10.5 99 88 -11 101 85 128
Ball State MAC -10.6 100 116 16 89 103 106

Conf Proj. S&P+ Rk 2014 Rk Proj. change Weighted 5-year Returning starters impact Recruiting impact
Florida Atlantic CUSA -10.8 101 97 -4 105 97 82
UL-Monroe Sun Belt -11.0 102 94 -8 98 95 119
Appalachian State Sun Belt -11.0 103 113 10 110 93 96
New Mexico MWC -11.1 104 91 -13 117 87 113
San Jose State MWC -11.2 105 114 9 102 107 77
Tulsa AAC -11.3 106 118 12 93 111 83
Florida International CUSA -11.8 107 111 4 100 101 102
Southern Miss CUSA -12.1 108 103 -5 104 102 97
Texas State Sun Belt -12.2 109 106 -3 103 104 101
Old Dominion CUSA -12.2 110 102 -8 112 105 91
Georgia State Sun Belt -13.4 111 108 -3 124 96 122
Akron MAC -13.6 112 104 -8 116 109 98
Miami (Ohio) MAC -13.8 113 99 -14 113 112 114
UConn AAC -13.9 114 119 5 109 117 90
Wyoming MWC -14.3 115 107 -8 115 113 116
Idaho Sun Belt -15.2 116 109 -7 121 110 126
SMU AAC -15.5 117 124 7 120 120 86
Hawaii MWC -15.7 118 123 5 111 123 118
UMass MAC -15.9 119 120 1 125 115 115
Charlotte CUSA -16.2 120 127 114 100
UTSA CUSA -16.2 121 110 -11 108 127 111
Buffalo MAC -16.3 122 122 0 114 124 104
UNLV MWC -16.4 123 117 -6 119 119 108
Troy Sun Belt -17.6 124 121 -3 123 121 117
North Texas CUSA -17.9 125 126 1 122 126 109
Army Ind -18.3 126 125 -1 118 125 125
New Mexico State Sun Belt -19.7 127 127 0 126 122 127
Eastern Michigan MAC -21.5 128 128 0 128 128 123

Top projected teams in each conference

American

East: No. 47 Cincinnati, No. 60 UCF, No. 64 Temple
West: No. 58 Navy, No. 68 Memphis, No. 85 Houston

ACC

Atlantic: No. 15 Clemson, No. 17 Florida State, No. 32 Louisville
Coastal: No. 19 Georgia Tech, No. 26 Virginia Tech, No. 28 Miami

Big 12

No. 10 Oklahoma, No. 14 Baylor, No. 18 TCU, No. 33 Kansas State, No. 36 Texas

Big Ten

East: No. 2 Ohio State, No. 9 Michigan State, No. 35 Michigan
West: No. 25 Wisconsin, No. 30 Nebraska, No. 42 Minnesota

Conference USA

East: No. 41 Marshall, No. 61 WKU, No. 87 MTSU
West: No. 50 Louisiana Tech, No. 88 Rice, No. 99 UTEP

MAC

East: No. 94 BGSU, No. 96 Ohio, No. 97 Kent State
West: No. 65 WMU, No. 69 Toledo, No. 78 NIU

Mountain West

Mountain: No. 27 Boise State, No. 59 Utah State, No. 72 Colorado State
West: No. 77 SDSU, No. 82 Nevada, No. 93 Fresno State

Pac-12

North: No. 4 Oregon, No. 11 Stanford, No. 51 California
South: No. 7 UCLA, No. 13 USC, No. 24 Arizona State

SEC

East: No. 3 Georgia, No. 20 Tennessee, No. 23 Missouri
West: No. 1 Alabama, No. 5 Auburn, No. 6 Ole Miss

Sun Belt

No. 67 Georgia Southern, No. 71 Arkansas State, No. 83 UL-Lafayette

Some notes:

  • Since I use recruiting rankings, even with a relatively low weight, that props up the usual suspects. It bumps Alabama to a projected No. 1 ranking (which actually surprises me -- I would have thought Ohio State was far enough ahead to keep the lead), and it is the main reason why LSU is projected eighth, USC 13th, etc. It's also why TCU, Georgia Tech, Boise State, etc., are projected to fall.
  • Here's where I'll mention that these are based on statistical precedent. We sometimes take a cynical view toward recruiting rankings, at least when certain teams are involved. But they provide us with a glimpse of the talent in the pipeline for a given school.
  • I've always wanted to figure out a relatively elegant way to combine the experience and recruiting figures. Like, if you return 19 starters, recruiting doesn't mean very much this year. Players from recent recruiting classes don't have many spots to fill on the two-deep. But if you return six starters, recruiting carries heavier weight. I haven't come up with a way to do it that actually makes the projections more predictive.
  • The most surprising teams in the top 10: Georgia, Ole Miss, and UCLA. Well, Georgia being third is surprising. I included each set of rankings so you could understand what the numbers see. Georgia has been one of the most consistently awesome teams in the country (fourth in weighted five-year history) and benefits from that here.
  • Ole Miss benefits from a wealth of returning starters (and the fact that the Rebels were first in S&P+ last year before Laquon Treadwell's injury).
  • UCLA benefits both from returning starters and from recruiting. UCLA is this year's South Carolina, returning basically everybody but the players you can name from last year. That often works out well for a team, though South Carolina is obviously the cautionary tale.
  • Another surprise: Oklahoma is 10th. If nothing else, this reminds you that the Sooners are not in the type of freefall that has accompanied their offseason story lines (just as they weren't a title contender last year because of a good bowl performance). I expected them to be in the top 15 because of their consistency, but ending up ahead of Baylor and TCU was surprising.
  • Yes, your team is underrated and disrespected. I apologize for that.

As I always say, the role of stats is as a conversation starter, not a conversation finisher.

Good projections (and I like to think these are reasonably sound) give us the best way to start figuring out who will or won't be good in 2015. OU might be too high, TCU might be too low, etc., but this is a reminder that some teams you think highly of might not have a ton of margin for error, or a team you think is terrible might not be as far down as you thought.