clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

130-team S&P+ rankings: Bama was college football’s best regular season team

New, comment

Championship Weekend provided minimal movement at the top of the S&P+ rankings.

NCAA Football: SEC Championship-Alabama vs Georgia Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Below are the new S&P+ rankings after college football’s championship weekend. As one might expect, there was minimal movement with a slate about one-fourth as large as usual.

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.

The S&P+ rankings have performed pretty well this year, hitting 53 percent against the spread 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 have it updated soon as well.

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 14 weeks

Team Rec. S&P+ Rating S&P+ Rank Last Wk Change
Team Rec. S&P+ Rating S&P+ Rank Last Wk Change
Alabama 13-0 29.7 1 1 0
Clemson 13-0 27.9 2 2 0
Georgia 11-2 25.9 3 3 0
Oklahoma 12-1 22.1 4 4 0
Michigan 10-2 21.3 5 5 0
Notre Dame 12-0 20.6 6 6 0
Ohio State 12-1 19.8 7 8 1
Central Florida 12-0 19.6 8 7 -1
Washington 10-3 17.0 9 9 0
Fresno State 11-2 16.2 10 10 0
Penn State 9-3 16.1 11 11 0
Mississippi State 8-4 15.6 12 12 0
Appalachian State 10-2 15.5 13 17 4
Florida 9-3 15.1 14 13 -1
LSU 9-3 14.8 15 15 0
Missouri 8-4 14.4 16 16 0
Utah 9-4 14.4 17 14 -3
Auburn 7-5 12.8 18 18 0
Texas A&M 8-4 12.7 19 20 1
West Virginia 8-3 12.6 20 21 1
Utah State 10-2 12.4 21 22 1
Miami-FL 7-5 12.1 22 23 1
Memphis 8-5 12.0 23 19 -4
Wisconsin 7-5 11.4 24 24 0
Washington State 10-2 10.9 25 25 0
Iowa 8-4 10.8 26 26 0
Stanford 8-4 10.6 27 27 0
Oklahoma State 6-6 10.4 28 28 0
Boise State 10-3 10.0 29 29 0
NC State 9-3 9.9 30 33 3
North Texas 9-3 9.8 31 30 -1
Cincinnati 10-2 9.0 32 31 -1
South Carolina 7-5 8.8 33 36 3
Temple 8-4 8.1 34 32 -2
Michigan State 7-5 7.7 35 34 -1
Texas 9-4 7.6 36 35 -1
Purdue 6-6 6.7 37 38 1
San Diego State 7-5 6.6 38 39 1
USC 5-7 6.6 39 40 1
Kentucky 9-3 6.5 40 41 1
Houston 8-4 6.2 41 42 1
Virginia 7-5 6.2 42 45 3
Syracuse 9-3 6.1 43 44 1
Texas Tech 5-7 6.1 44 43 -1
Ohio 8-4 5.6 45 46 1
Troy 9-3 5.4 46 50 4
Oregon 8-4 5.2 47 48 1
Toledo 7-5 4.6 48 51 3
Marshall 8-4 4.4 49 37 -12
Arkansas State 8-4 4.2 50 52 2
Buffalo 10-3 4.2 51 49 -2
Iowa State 8-4 4.0 52 47 -5
UAB 10-3 3.7 53 55 2
Arizona State 7-5 3.5 54 53 -1
Nebraska 4-8 3.2 55 57 2
BYU 6-6 3.1 56 56 0
TCU 6-6 3.0 57 60 3
Minnesota 6-6 2.9 58 59 1
Georgia Southern 9-3 2.9 59 61 2
Florida Atlantic 5-7 2.9 60 54 -6
Middle Tennessee 8-5 2.8 61 58 -3
Miami-OH 6-6 2.4 62 62 0
Eastern Michigan 7-5 2.0 63 65 2
California 7-5 1.6 64 64 0
Northern Illinois 8-5 1.6 65 73 8
Duke 7-5 1.4 66 67 1
Pittsburgh 7-6 1.4 67 63 -4
Vanderbilt 6-6 1.4 68 66 -2
Virginia Tech 6-6 1.3 69 81 12
Ole Miss 5-7 1.3 70 68 -2
Boston College 7-5 1.2 71 70 -1
South Florida 7-5 1.0 72 69 -3
Maryland 5-7 0.7 73 71 -2
Georgia Tech 7-5 0.5 74 72 -2
Arizona 5-7 0.3 75 74 -1
Southern Miss 6-5 0.3 76 75 -1
Wake Forest 6-6 -0.1 77 77 0
Wyoming 6-6 -0.1 78 76 -2
Nevada 7-5 -0.6 79 79 0
Northwestern 8-5 -1.1 80 78 -2
Florida State 5-7 -1.4 81 84 3
Indiana 5-7 -1.5 82 82 0
Army 9-2 -1.6 83 83 0
UL-Lafayette 7-6 -1.6 84 80 -4
Baylor 6-6 -1.9 85 86 1
Florida International 8-4 -1.9 86 85 -1
Tennessee 5-7 -2.2 87 87 0
Colorado 5-7 -2.4 88 88 0
Air Force 5-7 -2.7 89 89 0
Tulane 6-6 -3.3 90 90 0
UCLA 3-9 -3.5 91 91 0
Kansas State 5-7 -4.1 92 92 0
Arkansas 2-10 -4.3 93 93 0
SMU 5-7 -4.4 94 94 0
Louisiana Tech 7-5 -4.5 95 95 0
North Carolina 2-9 -4.6 96 96 0
Western Michigan 7-5 -6.3 97 97 0
UL-Monroe 6-6 -7.1 98 98 0
Old Dominion 4-8 -9.2 99 99 0
Hawaii 8-5 -9.3 100 100 0
Tulsa 3-9 -9.6 101 101 0
Navy 3-9 -9.8 102 102 0
Illinois 4-8 -10.6 103 103 0
New Mexico 3-9 -11.8 104 105 1
Texas State 3-9 -12.0 105 106 1
Western Kentucky 3-9 -12.3 106 107 1
East Carolina 3-9 -12.8 107 104 -3
Kansas 3-9 -13.0 108 108 0
Louisville 2-10 -13.0 109 109 0
UNLV 4-8 -13.1 110 110 0
Colorado State 3-9 -13.2 111 111 0
Charlotte 5-7 -13.6 112 112 0
Massachusetts 4-8 -13.8 113 113 0
Coastal Carolina 5-7 -14.2 114 114 0
South Alabama 3-9 -15.0 115 115 0
Rutgers 1-11 -15.6 116 117 1
Ball State 4-8 -15.8 117 118 1
Liberty 6-6 -16.3 118 119 1
Akron 4-8 -16.6 119 116 -3
Central Michigan 1-11 -17.5 120 120 0
Kent State 2-10 -17.6 121 121 0
Georgia State 2-10 -17.8 122 122 0
Oregon State 2-10 -18.1 123 123 0
New Mexico State 3-9 -18.2 124 124 0
San Jose State 1-11 -18.5 125 125 0
UTSA 3-9 -19.0 126 126 0
Bowling Green 3-9 -19.8 127 127 0
UTEP 1-11 -21.5 128 128 0
Rice 2-11 -22.2 129 129 0
Connecticut 1-11 -25.9 130 130 0

The top 10 remains almost exactly the same

There was only one small piece of movement among the top teams: Ohio State, decimal points behind UCF for the No. 7 spot last week, is now decimal points ahead. Otherwise the order remained the same.

That doesn’t mean there wasn’t movement from a ratings perspective, though.

  • Alabama’s overall S&P+ rating fell by 0.7 adjusted points per game, from plus-30.4 to plus-29.7, after its first near-loss of the season.
  • Georgia fell by 1.2 points as well, thanks mostly to a dismal special teams performance against Bama. (The Dawgs fell from 10th to 27th in Special Teams S&P+ after a series of miscues.)
  • Oklahoma fell by 0.8 points in a win, while UCF and Fresno State each fell by 0.4 points each while winning their own respective title games.
  • Who rose? Clemson, for starters, but only by 0.2 points. Ohio State moved up by 0.2 as well.
  • The biggest positive movement among top 30 teams came from Appalachian State (plus-1.2), which dominated UL-Lafayette in the Sun Belt Championship by more than the final margin would suggest, and from NC State (plus-2.2). The Wolfpack rose just three spots in the rankings because of how teams were spaced out, but their dominance of hapless ECU did not go unnoticed.

The week’s top movers (good)

  1. Virginia Tech (up 12 spots, from 81st to 69th)
  2. NIU (up eight spots, from 73rd to 65th)
  3. Appalachian State (up four spots, from 17th to 13th)
  4. Troy (up four spots, from 50th to 46th)
  5. NC State (up three spots, from 33rd to 30th)

Virginia Tech fans haven’t had a ton to cheer about this year, but in their “win and you’re bowling” game against Marshall, the Hokies looked as sharp and motivated as they had all year. They handled their business and won easily against an opponent that had, on paper, been better than them over the course of 2018.

Top movers (bad)

  1. Marshall (down 12 spots, from 37th to 49th)
  2. FAU (down six spots, from 54th to 60th)
  3. Iowa State (down five spots, from 47th to 52nd)
  4. UL-Lafayette (down four spots, from 80th to 84th)
  5. Pitt (down four spots, from 63rd to 67th)

Honestly, I thought ISU was going to fall further after messing around with Drake on a sloppy field for four quarters and barely surviving.

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

  1. SEC (plus-10.9 adjusted points per game, same as last week)
  2. Big Ten (plus-5.1, same)
  3. Big 12 (plus-4.7, down 0.2)
  4. Pac-12 (plus-3.8, down 0.1)
  5. ACC (plus-3.5, up 0.4)
  6. AAC (minus-0.8, down 0.2)
  7. Mountain West (minus-2.0, same)
  8. Sun Belt (minus-4.0, up 0.1)
  9. Conference USA (minus-5.7, down 0.1)
  10. MAC (minus-6.1, down 0.1)

Obviously there’s not going to be much movement in these averages when there are only 16 games. The ACC benefited the most from Week 14, thanks to NC State and Virginia Tech.


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.