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2017’s projected 130-team college football rankings, from Bama through UAB

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Also, here are the three pieces used to create these projections, along with some more notes at the bottom.

NCAA Football: CFP National Championship-Clemson vs Alabama Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

The preseason S&P+ projections are a pretty simple mix of three factors: recent history, returning production, and recruiting. Over the last few days, I have posted about each.

To come up with preliminary projections, I create projected ratings based on each factor. Here’s how the process currently works:

  • Recruiting is easy. I simply create a projected rating based on these two-year recruiting rankings. The recruiting-based projection makes up 25 percent of the overall S&P+ projection.
  • For returning production, I apply projected changes (based on each team’s returning offensive and defensive production, which are on different scales) to last year’s S&P+ averages. The projection based on returning production accounts for 56 percent.
  • For recent history, I’ve gotten a little weird. I found that the previous year’s S&P+ ratings were carrying a little too much weight in the projections, so what you see below is a projection based solely off of seasons two to five years ago. Recent history now carries less weight in the overall formulas, only 19 percent. It basically acts as a slight supplement to the two factors above.

Enough talk. Here are the preliminary projected S&P+ rankings for 2017.

2017 Projected S&P+

Rk. Team Conference Recruiting impact Returning production Weighted 5-year Proj. S&P+
Rk. Team Conference Recruiting impact Returning production Weighted 5-year Proj. S&P+
1 Alabama SEC 1 1 1 34
2 Ohio State Big Ten 2 3 3 26
3 Florida State ACC 3 2 7 25.7
4 LSU SEC 5 8 2 23.3
5 Oklahoma Big 12 11 6 5 22.8
6 Clemson ACC 13 5 13 22.3
7 USC Pac-12 7 10 14 22
8 Penn State Big Ten 18 4 29 21.4
9 Auburn SEC 9 12 23 20
10 Michigan Big Ten 4 13 17 19.8
11 Wisconsin Big Ten 36 11 15 18.6
12 Stanford Pac-12 16 14 6 18.6
13 Washington Pac-12 28 9 39 18.1
14 Louisville ACC 34 7 36 18
15 Florida SEC 8 15 18 17.8
16 Texas Big 12 19 16 34 14.8
17 Notre Dame Indies 10 29 9 14.7
18 Miami ACC 17 20 37 13.5
19 Texas A&M SEC 12 34 11 13.4
20 Georgia SEC 6 41 8 13.4
21 TCU Big 12 27 21 25 12.9
22 Oklahoma State Big 12 40 18 16 12.7
23 Oregon Pac-12 23 43 4 11.7
24 Tennessee SEC 14 37 26 11.2
25 Virginia Tech ACC 37 25 33 11
26 Ole Miss SEC 20 42 20 10.8
27 NC State ACC 46 17 63 9.5
28 Baylor Big 12 24 56 10 9.1
29 Boise State MWC 64 28 19 8.8
30 Mississippi State SEC 31 48 24 8.6
31 Georgia Tech ACC 54 27 38 8.6
32 Arkansas SEC 26 51 21 8.6
33 Pittsburgh ACC 33 45 43 7.8
34 UCLA Pac-12 15 70 22 7.5
35 Kansas State Big 12 68 26 31 7.5
36 South Carolina SEC 21 64 28 6.8
37 Northwestern Big Ten 48 31 61 6.6
38 North Carolina ACC 29 58 42 6.5
39 Indiana Big Ten 61 23 75 6.5
40 Washington State Pac-12 51 30 81 6.2
41 Kentucky SEC 30 44 86 5.9
42 Nebraska Big Ten 22 72 32 5.6
43 Colorado State MWC 69 19 97 5.2
44 Michigan State Big Ten 25 79 12 5.1
45 Utah Pac-12 35 61 44 5
46 BYU Indies 55 52 35 4.8
47 Minnesota Big Ten 52 47 55 4.4
48 Iowa Big Ten 41 60 48 4.4
49 Houston AAC 56 46 50 4.3
50 Colorado Pac-12 47 35 102 4.2
51 Western Kentucky CUSA 91 24 64 4.1
52 San Diego State MWC 74 32 62 4
53 Missouri SEC 50 62 27 3.9
54 Oregon State Pac-12 43 59 57 3.6
55 California Pac-12 53 54 51 3.5
56 South Florida AAC 70 33 79 3.4
57 Iowa State Big 12 49 50 71 3.4
58 Arizona State Pac-12 38 75 30 3.3
59 Toledo MAC 81 40 40 3.3
60 Syracuse ACC 62 49 60 3
61 Memphis AAC 65 36 89 3
62 Appalachian State Sun Belt 112 22 80 2.7
63 Vanderbilt SEC 59 53 67 2.4
64 Wake Forest ACC 66 39 94 2.4
65 Duke ACC 39 69 66 2.4
66 Texas Tech Big 12 45 67 52 2.2
67 Temple AAC 79 38 74 1.7
68 Arizona Pac-12 42 76 45 1.7
69 West Virginia Big 12 44 81 47 0.6
70 Virginia ACC 58 73 69 -0.4
71 Navy AAC 83 63 54 -1.1
72 Maryland Big Ten 32 94 77 -1.5
73 Utah State MWC 109 66 41 -1.7
74 Western Michigan MAC 73 68 88 -2.1
75 Cincinnati AAC 67 83 49 -2.3
76 Boston College ACC 71 78 58 -2.5
77 Tulsa AAC 87 65 76 -2.5
78 Central Florida AAC 60 87 70 -2.6
79 Troy Sun Belt 94 57 104 -3.3
80 Wyoming MWC 110 55 112 -3.9
81 SMU AAC 77 80 96 -4.9
82 Louisiana Tech CUSA 89 90 65 -5.4
83 Arkansas State Sun Belt 99 82 68 -5.5
84 Southern Miss CUSA 82 84 92 -5.7
85 Illinois Big Ten 57 107 73 -6
86 Northern Illinois MAC 122 88 56 -6.4
87 Purdue Big Ten 72 96 82 -6.6
88 Miami (OH) MAC 88 77 116 -6.7
89 Middle Tennessee CUSA 84 89 101 -6.9
90 Ball State MAC 96 91 90 -7.1
91 UTSA CUSA 86 85 110 -7.2
92 Rutgers Big Ten 63 109 84 -7.3
93 Old Dominion CUSA 118 74 122 -7.7
94 Tulane AAC 93 86 119 -8.1
95 Bowling Green MAC 98 102 59 -8.4
96 Eastern Michigan MAC 126 71 128 -8.7
97 Central Michigan MAC 106 93 105 -8.8
98 Georgia Southern Sun Belt 95 113 46 -9
99 Florida Atlantic CUSA 80 97 107 -9
100 East Carolina AAC 76 115 72 -9.3
101 Marshall CUSA 78 118 53 -9.4
102 Army Indies 103 92 126 -10
103 Ohio MAC 121 101 91 -10.4
104 Florida International CUSA 92 98 117 -10.4
105 San Jose State MWC 100 110 85 -10.8
106 North Texas CUSA 114 100 106 -11.1
107 Kansas Big 12 75 114 109 -11.2
108 South Alabama Sun Belt 111 104 103 -11.3
109 Hawaii MWC 120 95 121 -11.4
110 New Mexico MWC 102 103 123 -11.8
111 Massachusetts Indies 97 99 127 -11.9
112 UL-Lafayette Sun Belt 116 111 95 -12
113 Georgia State Sun Belt 113 105 120 -12.4
114 Coastal Carolina Sun Belt 130 108 87 -12.5
115 Fresno State MWC 85 124 78 -12.6
116 Air Force MWC 115 116 93 -12.7
117 Nevada MWC 107 121 83 -12.9
118 UNLV MWC 90 117 114 -13.1
119 Idaho Sun Belt 125 106 125 -14
120 Rice CUSA 124 120 100 -14.3
121 UL-Monroe Sun Belt 108 123 111 -15.3
122 Akron MAC 129 119 113 -15.6
123 Kent State MAC 128 122 99 -15.6
124 New Mexico State Sun Belt 127 112 129 -15.9
125 Connecticut AAC 104 127 98 -16.5
126 UTEP CUSA 123 125 118 -16.8
127 Charlotte CUSA 119 126 130 -20
128 Buffalo MAC 117 128 108 -20.1
129 Texas State Sun Belt 101 129 115 -22.3
130 UAB CUSA 105 130 124 -28.2

Your projected conference leaders

You can sort by each category above, but here are the top four projected teams in each conference:

  • AAC: No. 49 Houston, No. 56 USF, No. 61 Memphis, No. 67 Temple
  • ACC: No. 3 FSU, No. 6 Clemson, No. 14 Louisville, No. 18 Miami
  • Big 12: No. 5 Oklahoma, No. 16 Texas, No. 21 TCU, No. 22 OSU
  • Big Ten: No. 2 Ohio State, No. 8 Penn State, No. 10 Michigan, No. 11 Wisconsin
  • Conference USA: No. 51 WKU, No. 82 Louisiana Tech, No. 84 Southern Miss, No. 89 MTSU
  • MAC: No. 59 Toledo, No. 74 WMU, No. 86 NIU, No. 88 Miami (Ohio)
  • Mountain West: No. 29 Boise State, No. 43 Colorado State, No. 52 SDSU, No. 73 Utah State
  • Pac-12: No. 7 USC, No. 12 Stanford, No. 13 Washington, No. 23 Oregon
  • SEC: No. 1 Alabama, No. 4 LSU, No. 9 Auburn, No. 15 Florida
  • Sun Belt: No. 62 Appalachian State, No. 79 Troy, No. 83 Arkansas State, No. 98 Georgia Southern

Stats vs. conventional wisdom

NCAA Football: Rose Bowl Game-Penn State vs Southern California
Rose Bowl bump!
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

There are no significant surprises here, at least not compared to what emerged as conventional wisdom following the 2016 season. But here are some of the larger differences between S&P+ and human rankings:

  • LSU (+7): 11th per humans, fourth per S&P+
  • Auburn (+4): 13th per humans, ninth per S&P+
  • Stanford (+3): 15th per humans, 12th per S&P+
  • Penn State (-3): fifth per humans, eighth per S&P+
  • USC (-4): third per humans, seventh per S&P+
  • Washington (-5): eighth per humans, 13th per S&P+
  • Georgia (-6): 14th per humans, 20th per S&P+
  • Oklahoma State (-12): 10th per humans, 22nd per S&P+
  • Kansas State (-14): 21st per humans, 35th per S&P+
  • USF (-37): 19th per humans, 56th per S&P+
  • West Virginia (-46): 23rd per humans, 69th per S&P+

We can draw some rough conclusions from these differences and the projections overall.

S&P+ still likes the SEC.

Among teams ranked in both human and S&P+ top 25, my computer overestimates the two Tiger squads. This is partially because of the impact of recruiting in the projections, but it’s primarily because S&P+ liked both of these teams last season, too.

LSU went just 1-4 against teams in last year's S&P+ top 15, but the four losses were by a combined 23 points. Against teams outside of the top 15, the Tigers were 7-0 with an average win of 22 points. They were an excellent, slightly unlucky team, and they project in the top 10 per all three projection factors — recruiting, returning production, and recent history.

Auburn's case is a bit shakier and powered by recruiting, but Gus Malzahn's Tigers still went 7-2 against teams outside of the S&P+ top 10 last year. They were close to being excellent but couldn't maintain their October form. And they return a lot of offensive firepower.

The Big 12 is getting a bowl bump.

The most maligned of the power conferences had a lovely bowl season: Oklahoma took down Auburn in the Sugar Bowl, Oklahoma State walloped Colorado, Baylor thumped Boise State, and Kansas State knocked off Texas A&M. And OU and OSU in particular looked excellent down the stretch of the regular season.

While OU is projected in the top five, however, S&P+ only likes OSU — it doesn’t like like the Cowboys — and is significantly lukewarm on KSU.

Meanwhile, WVU must replace more production than any other power conference team in the country; asking the Mountaineers to maintain a top-30 level might be asking too much.

Recent history is dragging USC and Penn State down a bit.

Including recent history in the projections adds a bit of conservatism to the mix. S&P+ doesn’t overreact to one great year — or in the case of these two Rose Bowl combatants, nine (USC) or 10 (PSU) excellent games — and the programs’ relative underachievement in previous seasons drags them down a bit.

But wow, did these two teams look great down the stretch last year. I’ll allow for a Rose Bowl bump. It was an incredible game.

Baylor 28th? OK, sure.

I enjoy the projections process in part because it quantifies every team, including those I have no idea how to judge. Baylor projects 28th, which seems like a decent place to set the bar for a team that has a lot of recent success, but also about as much turnover as you can experience over a calendar year.

Matt Rhule is an excellent head coach and recruited well in the 2017 cycle (all things considered), but it wouldn’t be surprising to see Baylor finishing anywhere between 10th and 50th. So 28th is a decent starting point.

It’s a big year in Westwood.

Based on recruiting and recent history alone, UCLA would project as a top-20 team. But the Bruins were incredibly disappointing last year and rank 99th in returning production. They are starting over in 2017, but they still have an awesome (when healthy) quarterback in Josh Rosen, and ... well ... after last year, maybe starting over isn’t an unattractive thought.

Still, this could go sideways. Jim Mora needs his best coaching performance this fall.

Haves vs. Have-Nots in Rotel Country

The Big Ten has four teams projected 11th or higher and four projected 72nd or lower, a facsimile of what happened this past year. The conference was impossible to judge because of the variance between highs and lows — based on the top four teams, it might have been the best conference in the country, and based on averages, it might have been third or fourth. It won’t be any easier this year.