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130-team S&P+ rankings: Bama’s 1st, Clemson’s 2nd, and it’s chaos after that

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There’s been drama beneath the surface all year. That could be bad news for Georgia against Florida this coming week.

NCAA Football: Alabama at Tennessee Bryan Lynn-USA TODAY Sports

Below are the new S&P+ rankings after college football’s Week 8.

A reminder: S&P+ is intended to be predictive and forward looking.

Good predictive ratings are not résumé ratings, and they don’t give you bonus points for wins and losses. They simply compare expected output to actual output and adjust accordingly. That’s how a given team can win but plummet or lose and move up.

Through eight weeks, the S&P+ rankings are performing well, hitting 55 percent against the spread and 53 percent on the over/under point totals for the year.

As you would hope, the absolute error — the average size of miss between projection and reality — has settled into a healthy area as well.

If you’re interested in a decent résumé ranking of sorts, I encourage you to visit this post on strength of schedule. I created a Resume S&P+ ranking and will be updating it on Mondays throughout the rest of the season.

Below, however, are the predictive ratings, the actual S&P+.

(You can find full unit rankings, plus a yearly archive, at Football Outsiders. The offense and defense pages are updated by Monday at the latest.)

2018 S&P+ rankings after 8 weeks

Team Rec. S&P+ Rating S&P+ Rank Last Wk Change
Team Rec. S&P+ Rating S&P+ Rank Last Wk Change
Alabama 8-0 26.6 1 1 0
Clemson 7-0 24.2 2 2 0
Oklahoma 6-1 21.7 3 3 0
Michigan 7-1 20.9 4 4 0
Georgia 6-1 19.7 5 6 1
Washington 6-2 17.4 6 9 3
Notre Dame 7-0 16.1 7 10 3
Ohio State 7-1 16.0 8 5 -3
Fresno State 6-1 15.6 9 12 3
Penn State 5-2 14.7 10 7 -3
Central Florida 7-0 14.5 11 8 -3
Appalachian State 5-1 14.0 12 11 -1
Wisconsin 5-2 14.0 13 16 3
Florida 6-1 13.4 14 13 -1
LSU 7-1 13.0 15 14 -1
Miami-FL 5-2 13.0 16 17 1
Auburn 5-3 12.6 17 23 6
Texas A&M 5-2 12.4 18 18 0
Utah 5-2 12.0 19 26 7
Mississippi State 4-3 11.9 20 15 -5
Iowa 6-1 11.8 21 21 0
Oklahoma State 4-3 10.6 22 25 3
West Virginia 5-1 10.5 23 24 1
Washington State 6-1 10.1 24 29 5
Missouri 4-3 10.0 25 37 12
Purdue 4-3 9.9 26 39 13
Houston 6-1 9.3 27 28 1
Kentucky 6-1 9.1 28 22 -6
Boise State 5-2 9.0 29 36 7
Utah State 6-1 8.6 30 20 -10
Texas Tech 5-2 8.3 31 35 4
Cincinnati 6-1 7.5 32 31 -1
North Texas 6-2 7.4 33 42 9
NC State 5-1 7.3 34 19 -15
Duke 5-2 7.3 35 32 -3
Temple 5-3 6.9 36 45 9
Iowa State 3-3 6.7 37 44 7
Texas 6-1 6.3 38 43 5
Memphis 4-4 6.2 39 27 -12
South Florida 7-0 6.1 40 41 1
Oregon 5-2 6.1 41 34 -7
Michigan State 4-3 6.1 42 33 -9
Stanford 5-2 6.1 43 40 -3
Boston College 5-2 5.4 44 47 3
Virginia 5-2 5.4 45 48 3
Ole Miss 5-3 5.3 46 38 -8
UAB 6-1 5.1 47 49 2
USC 4-3 5.1 48 30 -18
TCU 3-4 4.4 49 46 -3
Buffalo 7-1 4.0 50 50 0
Virginia Tech 4-2 3.8 51 56 5
Syracuse 5-2 3.7 52 58 6
San Diego State 6-1 3.6 53 51 -2
South Carolina 3-3 3.5 54 54 0
California 4-3 3.2 55 65 10
Marshall 5-2 3.0 56 60 4
Florida State 4-3 2.5 57 73 16
Arizona State 3-4 2.5 58 57 -1
Baylor 4-3 2.1 59 59 0
Troy 5-2 1.9 60 62 2
Nebraska 1-6 1.8 61 69 8
Colorado 5-2 1.6 62 52 -10
Maryland 4-3 1.5 63 55 -8
Georgia Tech 3-4 1.4 64 61 -3
Indiana 4-4 1.0 65 64 -1
Eastern Michigan 4-4 0.8 66 70 4
Minnesota 3-4 0.6 67 53 -14
Arkansas 2-6 0.5 68 72 4
Northwestern 4-3 0.1 69 68 -1
Georgia Southern 6-1 -0.2 70 74 4
Florida Atlantic 3-4 -0.3 71 63 -8
Miami-OH 3-5 -0.3 72 66 -6
Southern Miss 3-3 -0.5 73 78 5
Western Michigan 6-2 -0.6 74 80 6
Tennessee 3-4 -1.0 75 67 -8
Arkansas State 4-3 -1.2 76 86 10
Army 5-2 -1.2 77 75 -2
Northern Illinois 4-3 -1.3 78 79 1
BYU 4-3 -1.4 79 77 -2
Vanderbilt 3-5 -1.5 80 81 1
Louisiana Tech 5-2 -1.5 81 71 -10
Nevada 4-4 -1.8 82 92 10
Toledo 3-4 -2.1 83 84 1
Ohio 4-3 -2.4 84 94 10
Arizona 3-5 -2.7 85 87 2
UCLA 2-5 -2.8 86 76 -10
Pittsburgh 3-4 -2.9 87 82 -5
Middle Tennessee 4-3 -3.4 88 91 3
Kansas State 3-4 -3.7 89 88 -1
North Carolina 1-5 -3.7 90 90 0
UL-Lafayette 3-4 -4.6 91 96 5
Wyoming 2-6 -5.0 92 99 7
Air Force 3-4 -5.3 93 100 7
New Mexico 3-4 -5.7 94 85 -9
Florida International 5-2 -5.7 95 95 0
Tulane 2-5 -5.9 96 83 -13
Louisville 2-5 -6.0 97 98 1
Wake Forest 3-4 -6.1 98 89 -9
Tulsa 1-6 -6.5 99 93 -6
Navy 2-5 -7.3 100 101 1
SMU 3-4 -7.7 101 105 4
Hawaii 6-3 -8.2 102 97 -5
Coastal Carolina 4-3 -8.8 103 104 1
Massachusetts 2-6 -9.5 104 109 5
Illinois 3-4 -9.5 105 102 -3
East Carolina 2-5 -9.8 106 114 8
Western Kentucky 1-6 -10.2 107 110 3
Kansas 2-5 -10.2 108 103 -5
UL-Monroe 4-4 -10.3 109 117 8
Colorado State 3-5 -10.7 110 107 -3
Old Dominion 2-6 -10.7 111 116 5
Liberty 4-3 -11.0 112 108 -4
Akron 3-3 -11.5 113 119 6
UNLV 2-5 -11.6 114 106 -8
South Alabama 2-5 -11.7 115 113 -2
Texas State 1-6 -11.8 116 115 -1
Ball State 3-5 -12.1 117 111 -6
Charlotte 3-4 -12.9 118 121 3
Oregon State 1-6 -13.0 119 112 -7
Central Michigan 1-7 -13.7 120 118 -2
New Mexico State 2-6 -14.7 121 122 1
Kent State 1-7 -15.1 122 123 1
Georgia State 2-5 -15.2 123 120 -3
Rutgers 1-7 -15.3 124 124 0
UTSA 3-5 -16.6 125 125 0
UTEP 0-7 -16.6 126 127 1
San Jose State 0-7 -16.6 127 126 -1
Bowling Green 1-7 -19.1 128 128 0
Rice 1-7 -21.4 129 129 0
Connecticut 1-6 -22.7 130 130 0

The Curse of No. 5 is back!

For a good percentage of the season, the top four in the S&P+ rankings has been pretty stable, but the No. 5 spot was all sorts of rickety.

  • Boise State’s early dominance produced a surge to No. 5, and the Broncos crashed and burned at Oklahoma State.
  • Mississippi State took the No. 5 spot from BSU and immediately got smoked at Kentucky.
  • Michigan took over, damn near lost to Northwestern, and fell two spots. A blessing, really.
  • Washington moved back into the top five, then gave serious consideration to losing to winless UCLA and fell to 10th.

Michigan took the No. 5 spot again and walloped Wisconsin, seemingly ending the curse. The Wolverines moved up to fourth last week, moving Ohio State to No. 5, and ... well ...

NCAA Football: Ohio State at Purdue Thomas J. Russo-USA TODAY Sports

...the curse, it has re-awakened. [Checks new rankings] Sorry, Georgia. And just in time for GameDay and the Cocktail Party, too.

The Buckeyes fell three spots to eighth, cushioned only by the fact that there was decent separation between them and teams ranked ninth or worse.

So while the top four didn’t change, there was quite a bit of shuffling in the No. 6 to 17 range. Washington, Notre Dame, Wisconsin, and dominant Fresno State all moved up three spots, and Auburn’s solid win over Ole Miss allowed the Tigers to rise six spots to 17th. Ohio State, Penn State (which barely held off Indiana), and UCF (which dilly-dallied with ECU) all fell three spots.

That’s been the story of the season, huh? Alabama is laminated in the top spot, Clemson has been No. 2 for a while ... and just beneath the surface, weekly chaos has ensued.

Nope, the numbers still don’t believe in LSU.

A few days ago, I listed seven teams the AP Poll was significantly higher on than S&P+ was. In Week 8, three of them lost, two were off, and one beat UConn by only a single score. The other, LSU, is now 7-1 after beating Mississippi State comfortably, but only gained 3.3 yards per play in the process. That’s probably not gonna cut it against Alabama.

The week’s top movers (good)

NCAA Football: Wake Forest at Florida State Glenn Beil-USA TODAY Sports
  1. Florida State (up 16 spots, from 73rd to 57th)
  2. Purdue (up 13 spots, from 39th to 26th)
  3. Missouri (up 12 spots, from 37th to 25th)
  4. Cal (up 10 spots, from 65th to 55th)
  5. Arkansas State (up 10 spots, from 86th to 76th)
  6. Nevada (up 10 spots, from 92nd to 82nd)
  7. Ohio (up 10 spots, from 94th to 84th)
  8. North Texas (up nine spots, from 42nd to 33rd)
  9. Temple (up nine spots, from 45th to 36th)
  10. three teams up eight spots

FSU isn’t paying Willie Taggart millions of dollars to rank 57th, but the Noles have rebounded nicely in recent weeks. After starting the season 19th, they plummeted to 77th in just three weeks, but there’s been a slow climb since. Saturday’s easy win over cratering Wake Forest was the latest step.

Top movers (bad)

NCAA Football: Southern California at Utah Jeff Swinger-USA TODAY Sports
  1. USC (down 18 spots, from 30th to 48th)
  2. NC State (down 15 spots, from 19th to 34th)
  3. Minnesota (down 14 spots, from 53rd to 67th)
  4. Tulane (down 13 spots, from 83rd to 96th)
  5. Memphis (down 12 spots, from 27th to 39th)
  6. UCLA (down 10 spots, from 76th to 86th)
  7. Louisiana Tech (down 10 spots, from 71st to 81st)
  8. Colorado (down 10 spots, from 52nd to 62nd)
  9. Utah State (down 10 spots, from 20th to 30th)
  10. three teams down nine spots

Among current top-20 teams, your biggest riser was Utah, which moved up seven spots from 26th to 19th. The Utes did that by obliterating the Pac-12 South’s heavyweight, USC. The Trojans, who had climbed from 47th early in the season to 30th, gave away all of their recent gains and then some. That tends to be what happens when you get out-gained by 336 yards and 2.9 yards per play. A listless season for Clay Helton’s squad.

FBS conferences, ranked by average S&P+ rating:

  1. SEC (plus-9.7 adjusted points per game, down 0.1 points)
  2. Big 12 (plus-5.7, down 0.3)
  3. Big Ten (plus-5.2, down 0.6)
  4. ACC (plus-3.9, down 0.1)
  5. Pac-12 (plus-3.8, down 0.4)
  6. AAC (minus-0.8, down 0.6)
  7. Mountain West (minus-2.3, up 0.2)
  8. Sun Belt (minus-4.8, up 0.4)
  9. Conference USA (minus-6.0, up 0.7)
  10. MAC (minus-6.1, up 0.6)

A quick reminder: as non-conference play ends and conference play begins, the scoring margins tend to get closer on average. As a result, the overall spread of S&P+ ratings — which is distributed along the bell curve for scoring margins — tends to get smaller, too. That explains why the top conferences’ averages all fell and the bottom conferences’ averages all rose.

The only change in the rankings this week: the Pac-12 fell past the ACC to officially qualify as the worst power conference. That’s certainly what our eyes have told us for a little while, but the ACC’s bottom tier was bad enough to keep that league in last. No more.


Another reminder: I have made a few philosophical changes in this year’s S&P+ rankings.

When I get the chance (so, maybe in the offseason), I will update previous years of S&P+ rankings to reflect these formula changes, too.

  1. I changed the garbage time definition. S&P+ stops counting the major stats once the game has entered garbage time. Previously, that was when a game ceased to be within 27 points in the first quarter, 24 in the second, 21 in the third, and 16 in the fourth. Now I have expanded it: garbage time adjustments don’t begin until a game is outside of 43 points in the first quarter, 37 in the second, 27 in the third, and 21 in the fourth. That change came because of a piece I wrote about game states at Football Study Hall.
  2. Preseason projections will remain in the formulas all season. Fans hate this — it’s the biggest complaint I’ve heard regarding ESPN’s FPI formulas. Instinctively, I hate it, too. But here’s the thing: it makes projections more accurate. Our sample size for determining quality in a given season is tiny, and incorporating projection factors found in the preseason rankings decreases the overall error in projections. So I’m doing it.
  3. To counteract this conservative change, I’m also making S&P+ more reactive to results, especially early in the season. If I’m admitting that S&P+ needs previous-year performances to make it better, I’m also going to admit that S&P+ doesn’t know everything it needs to early in a season, and it’s going to react a bit more to actual results.

Basically, I’ve added a step to the the rankings process: after the rankings are determined, I go back and project previous games based on those ratings, and I adjust the ratings based on how much the ratings fit (or don’t fit) those results.

The adjustment isn’t enormous, and it diminishes dramatically as the season unfolds.

Testing this process for past seasons improved performance against the spread a little and, more importantly, decreased absolute error (the difference between projections and reality) quite a bit. I wouldn’t have made the move if it didn’t appear to improve performance.