Below are the new S&P+ rankings after college football’s Week 10.
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 10 weeks, the S&P+ rankings are performing well, hitting 54 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 10 weeks
|Team||Rec.||S&P+ Rating||S&P+ Rank||Last Wk||Change|
|Team||Rec.||S&P+ Rating||S&P+ Rank||Last Wk||Change|
|San Diego State||7-2||7.2||44||49||5|
|New Mexico State||3-7||-16.4||122||122||0|
|San Jose State||1-8||-18.6||125||125||0|
The separation has begun
Our eyeballs have told us that Alabama and Clemson are easily the two best teams in the country, and while S&P+ has agreed for a while — Bama’s been No. 1 since Week 2, and Clemson’s been No. 2 since Week 5 — it really agrees now. The two 9-0 teams have separated themselves from even the rest of the country’s good teams.
There’s a 3.8-point difference between Clemson and new No. 3 Michigan and a 9.2-point difference between Clemson and No. 6 Notre Dame. How big is 9.2 points? Well, there’s a 9.5-point difference between Notre Dame and No. 25 Purdue. That’s how big 9.2 points is.
This is fine, I guess. The drama among the bottom 126 teams or so has been fascinating, and hey, at least Alabama and Clemson are pretty dang fun to watch (as in, they seem to enjoy scoring points more than previous iterations of these teams). Should they avoid upsets and meet in the national title game, the combined quality would be as high or higher as their first two title game matchups (2015 and 2016). Variety is spice in college football, and this is anti-variety. But maybe those wacky division title races can entertain us while we wait for the inevitable.
The week’s top movers (good)
- Illinois (up 14 spots, from 114th to 100th)
- UAB (up 13 spots, from 45th to 32nd)
- Cincinnati (up 12 spots, from 40th to 28th)
- Arkansas State (up 12 spots, from 79th to 67th)
- BYU (up 12 spots, from 82nd to 70th)
- Troy (up 10 spots, from 60th to 50th)
- Arizona State (up 10 spots, from 62nd to 52nd)
- Ohio (up 10 spots, from 67th to 57th)
- Toledo (up nine spots, from 71st to 62nd)
- Pitt (up nine spots, from 80th to 71st)
The entire Pac-12 South is within a game of the division lead — USC, Utah, and Arizona are all 4-3, and ASU moved to 3-3 with a surprising stomping of Utah on Saturday. The Sun Devils surged to 29th in S&P+ early in the year, then drifted back down in the 60s, but they’ve beaten two of the teams above them (USC and Utah) in the last two weeks, and if they beat Arizona for the Territorial Cup on November 24, that might be enough to secure the division title.
I mean, someone’s got to win it.
Top movers (bad)
- Minnesota (down 17 spots, from 59th to 76th)
- Houston (down 11 spots, from 25th to 36th)
- Maryland (down 11 spots, from 54th to 65th)
- USF (down 10 spots, from 41st to 51st)
- LSU (down nine spots, from 13th to 22nd)
- Florida (down nine spots, from 18th to 27th)
- five teams down eight spots
From the perspective of rankings movement, Illinois’ win over Minnesota was the most impactful game of Week 10. The win sent the Illini up 14 spots and the Gophers down 17, tops on each list. Illinois has crafted an exciting run game this year — the Illini were 14th in Rushing S&P+ before they posted more than 400 yards against Minnesota — and it paid off with a really nice win.
Minnesota, meanwhile, is reeling for about the fourth different time this year. The Gophers have either risen or fallen by 10-plus spots six different times this season. S&P+ doesn’t have a read on this team, and it doesn’t appear that head coach P.J. Fleck does either.
FBS conferences, ranked by average S&P+ rating:
- SEC (plus-10.3 adjusted points per game, up 1.1 points)
- Big 12 (plus-5.8, up 0.6)
- Big Ten (plus-5.6, up 0.4)
- Pac-12 (plus-4.0, up 0.4)
- ACC (plus-3.9, up 0.3)
- AAC (minus-0.7, up 0.1)
- Mountain West (minus-2.2, same)
- Sun Belt (minus-4.7, down 0.3)
- MAC (minus-6.3, down 0.5)
- Conference USA (minus-6.4, down 0.8)
We have a new last-place power conference: the ACC has taken the mantle back from the Pac-12. Meanwhile, I don’t believe the Sun Belt has ever finished higher than ninth in these rankings, so that might be something to watch as well.
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.