Below are the new S&P+ rankings after college football’s Week 12. As you probably would have guessed, there are next to no changes at the top. It’s pretty clear which teams have been 2018’s best, and Week 12 did nothing to change that.
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 13 weeks, the S&P+ rankings are performing pretty well, hitting 53 percent against the spread (56 percent for the first nine weeks and 49 percent over the last four — Vegas is on a damn roll of late) and 52 percent on the over/under point totals for the year.
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 13 weeks
|Team||Rec.||S&P+ Rating||S&P+ Rank||Change in Rating||Change in Rank|
|Team||Rec.||S&P+ Rating||S&P+ Rank||Change in Rating||Change in Rank|
|San Diego State||7-5||6.6||39||-0.6||-2|
|New Mexico State||3-9||-18.5||124||+0.4||0|
|San Jose State||1-11||-18.5||125||+1.0||0|
Ratings vs. rankings
Michigan’s blowout loss to Ohio State has opened the door for a sudden and vociferous debate about the merits of 11-1 Oklahoma’s résumé vs. that of the 11-1 Buckeyes, a team left for dead a week ago. Fox announcers Gus Johnson and Joel Klatt had the entire fourth quarter to ruminate on the subject on Saturday, since Ohio State was winning so handily.
Naturally, the rankings of these two schools were the first things I looked at when this week’s S&P+ finished processing.
If you look at the teams’ rankings, it appears almost nothing changed. Oklahoma hopped Michigan into fourth in S&P+, while Ohio State remained at eighth. How can that be???
The ratings tell the story, though.
A week ago, Michigan’s S&P+ rating (presented as an adjusted points per game figure) was plus-25.1, Oklahoma’s was plus-23.2, and Ohio State’s was only plus-17.9 following the Buckeyes’ narrow win over Maryland.
This week, those ratings shifted pretty significantly. Michigan’s fell by 3.9 points, and Ohio State’s rose by 1.7, a net 5.6-point shift that is really hard to pull off this late in the year, with almost all of the season’s data already complete.
Oklahoma’s, meanwhile, fell by just 0.2 after the Sooners’ narrow road win over what is now the No. 21 team in S&P+, West Virginia.
Since this is a predictive rating and not a résumé tool, Ohio State doesn’t automatically jump Michigan just because of a head-to-head win, even an easy one. As we see, the Buckeyes still made up massive ground, and they will jump Michigan in Tuesday’s CFP rankings.
But one amazing performance doesn’t automatically make OSU a Playoff-caliber team. Two could get them pretty close, though. Look out, Northwestern.
The week’s top movers (good)
- Middle Tennessee (up 17 spots, from 75th to 58th)
- Toledo (up 15 spots, from 66th to 51st)
- Arizona State (up 11 spots, from 64th to 53rd)
- Vanderbilt (up 11 spots, from 77th to 66th)
- Wake Forest (up 11 spots, from 88th to 77th)
- Georgia Southern (up 10 spots, from 71st to 61st)
- Wyoming (up 10 spots, from 86th to 76th)
- Arkansas State (up nine spots, from 61st to 52nd)
- Minnesota (up eight spots, from 67th to 59th)
- Miami (Ohio) (up eight spots, from 70th to 62nd)
A month ago, Vanderbilt had lost five of six games and, at 3-5, was teetering on the brink of another bowl-free season. The Commodores were 80th in S&P+, and it was fair to wonder about Derek Mason’s job security.
The schedule eased up, however, and the Dores collected themselves, handling Arkansas, nearly beating Missouri, surviving Ole Miss, and, on Saturday, crushing a Tennessee that was also looking for its sixth win. That secured bowl eligibility for the third time in four years. Well done.
Top movers (bad)
- Maryland (down 13 spots, from 58th to 71st)
- Texas Tech (down 11 spots, from 32nd to 43rd)
- Duke (down 11 spots, from 56th to 67th)
- Ole Miss (down 11 spots, from 57th to 68th)
- Boston College (down 10 spots, from 60th to 70th)
- Florida State (down 10 spots, from 74th to 84th)
- UAB (down nine spots, from 46th to 55th)
- Pitt (down nine spots, from 54th to 63rd)
- Georgia Tech (down nine spots, from 63rd to 72nd)
- Tennessee (down nine spots, from 78th to 87th)
Ohio State responded brilliantly to last week’s near-upset loss to Maryland. Maryland, however, didn’t respond nearly as well. The Terrapins crumbled at Penn State, 38-3, to finish a game away from bowl eligibility. At one point they were 5-3, but they finish 5-7.
FBS conferences, ranked by average S&P+ rating:
- SEC (plus-10.9 adjusted points per game, same as last week)
- Big Ten (plus-5.1, down 0.3)
- Big 12 (plus-4.9, down 0.2)
- Pac-12 (plus-3.9, same)
- ACC (plus-3.1, down 0.5)
- AAC (minus-0.6, down 0.1)
- Mountain West (minus-2.0, up 0.2)
- Sun Belt (minus-4.1, up 0.2)
- Conference USA (minus-5.6, up 0.3)
- MAC (minus-6.0, up 0.3)
Safe to say, the SEC is going to finish atop the S&P+ hierarchy once more. Congrats to the ACC, however, for winning Most Disappointing Conference in a runaway. The league is far closer to the AAC than the SEC in 2018.
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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.