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2018’s updated 130-team S&P+ rankings, plus win projections and strength of schedule

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Your three most likely 12-0 teams: Clemson, Ohio State (with a big asterisk), and Washington.

ACC Football Championship - Clemson v Miami
Clemson’s got the best FBS chance of reaching 12-0.
Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

The preseason S&P+ projections are a simple mix of three factors that’ve proved over time to be predictive going forward: recent history, returning production, and recruiting. To come up with 130-team projections, I create projected ratings based on each factor.

Here’s how the process works:

  • Recruiting is easy. I create a rating based on these two-year recruiting rankings. The recruiting-based projection makes up about a quarter 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 a little more than 50 percent.
  • For recent history, I get a little weird. I found last year that the previous year’s S&P+ ratings — which make up the starting point for the returning production figures — were carrying a little too much weight. 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, under 20 percent.

Each offseason before the beginning of my team preview series, I post a preliminary set of S&P+ projections based on the above factors. Then, upon completion of the series in late-August, I update the projections based on transfers, injuries, dismissals, changes in recruiting rankings, etc. These are different from my own personal rankings, which are informed as much by writing the preview series as they are by S&P+.

Below are the most updated possible S&P+ ratings based on personnel changes as I know them.

The rankings going to be similar to February’s for most teams, but a few have changed based on offseason moves.

2018 S&P+ projections (as of August 23)

Team Proj. S&P+ Rank Proj. Off. S&P+ Rank Proj. Def. S&P+ Rank
Team Proj. S&P+ Rank Proj. Off. S&P+ Rank Proj. Def. S&P+ Rank
Ohio State 27.1 1 43.8 2 16.7 8
Clemson 25 2 34.4 26 9.4 1
Alabama 24 3 39.4 10 15.4 6
Washington 23.5 4 37.3 15 13.8 4
Georgia 22.6 5 40.6 7 18 13
Auburn 22.1 6 36.7 18 14.6 5
Penn State 20.3 7 39.7 8 19.4 16
Oklahoma 19.6 8 50.3 1 30.7 83
Notre Dame 19.5 9 35.8 22 16.3 7
Michigan 19.2 10 31.2 45 11.9 2
Wisconsin 17.1 11 34.4 25 17.3 9
Miami-FL 17 12 34.9 23 17.9 12
Michigan State 16.2 13 29.7 54 13.5 3
Mississippi State 15.1 14 32.9 33 17.8 11
LSU 14.2 15 31.6 40 17.4 10
USC 13 16 36.3 20 23.3 37
Oklahoma State 12.9 17 41.8 4 28.9 68
Central Florida 12.6 18 43.7 3 31.1 87
Florida State 12.3 19 34.1 30 21.8 21
Stanford 12.1 20 39 12 26.9 53
Oregon 11.3 21 36.8 16 25.5 45
TCU 11.3 22 30.2 51 19 14
Texas A&M 10.8 23 33.8 31 22.9 31
Boise State 9.9 24 29.8 53 19.9 17
Utah 9.8 25 31.7 39 22 23
Louisville 9.2 26 41.3 5 32.1 97
Florida Atlantic 9.1 27 34.7 24 25.6 46
Ole Miss 9 28 40.9 6 31.9 95
South Carolina 8.9 29 31.1 46 22.2 28
Texas 8.4 30 29.4 59 20.9 19
Missouri 8 31 38.6 13 30.6 82
Arizona 8 32 39.5 9 31.5 91
Florida 7.8 33 28.8 62 21 20
Virginia Tech 7.7 34 29.7 55 21.9 22
Iowa 7.2 35 27.6 80 20.4 18
NC State 7.1 36 37.6 14 30.4 81
Northwestern 6.6 37 28.7 63 22.1 25
Duke 6.1 38 28.2 73 22.1 27
Memphis 6 39 39.1 11 33.1 104
Arkansas 5.2 40 34.3 28 29.2 71
Wake Forest 5.1 41 32.3 36 27.2 54
Fresno State 5 42 27 85 22 24
Toledo 4.9 43 33.6 32 28.6 65
Washington State 4.9 44 27 87 22.1 26
Iowa State 4.8 45 28.1 76 23.3 36
UCLA 4.7 46 36.8 17 32.1 96
Boston College 4.3 47 27.6 81 23.2 35
West Virginia 4.2 48 36.5 19 32.4 99
Indiana 3.9 49 27.8 79 23.8 38
Pittsburgh 3.4 50 28.1 75 24.8 41
Purdue 3.1 51 30.9 47 27.7 61
Arizona State 2.7 52 36.1 21 33.4 106
North Carolina 2.7 53 29.9 52 27.2 56
San Diego State 2.6 54 28.5 69 25.8 47
Texas Tech 2.5 55 29.3 60 26.8 52
Baylor 2.4 56 31.5 41 29.1 70
Marshall 2.3 57 24.7 96 22.4 29
South Florida 2.3 58 28.3 71 26.1 49
Appalachian State 2.3 59 27.3 82 25.1 42
Kansas State 2.1 60 32 37 29.9 78
Nebraska 2 61 30.8 48 28.8 66
Georgia Tech 1.8 62 31.9 38 30.2 80
Arkansas State 1.4 63 32.3 35 31 86
Kentucky 1.3 64 28.5 68 27.2 55
California 1.1 65 29.4 58 28.3 63
Northern Illinois 0.6 66 23.1 102 22.5 30
Ohio 0.5 67 31.4 43 30.9 85
Houston 0.3 68 25.8 90 25.5 44
Louisiana Tech -0.2 69 28.7 64 28.9 69
Tennessee -0.2 70 25.8 92 26 48
Maryland -0.4 71 27.2 84 27.6 59
Virginia -0.7 72 22.4 106 23.1 34
SMU -0.7 73 34.2 29 34.9 111
Troy -0.9 74 23.8 99 24.8 40
Wyoming -1 75 18.3 122 19.4 15
Minnesota -1.2 76 21.7 111 23 32
BYU -1.3 77 21.8 110 23.1 33
Utah State -1.3 78 26 89 27.4 57
Vanderbilt -1.4 79 28.3 70 29.8 77
Syracuse -2 80 30.3 50 32.3 98
Temple -2.1 81 23.4 100 25.4 43
Miami-OH -3 82 24.5 98 27.5 58
Army -3.1 83 28.3 72 31.4 90
Colorado -3.4 84 27.9 77 31.3 89
North Texas -3.6 85 32.8 34 36.4 116
Navy -3.7 86 29.4 57 33.1 105
Middle Tennessee -4 87 25.2 95 29.2 72
Western Michigan -4.1 88 28.7 67 32.7 101
Cincinnati -4.4 89 26.9 88 31.3 88
Colorado State -4.7 90 29.5 56 34.2 108
Buffalo -5.1 91 27.9 78 33 103
Western Kentucky -6 92 23.3 101 29.3 75
UAB -6.4 93 25.2 94 31.6 92
Rutgers -6.6 94 19.5 118 26.1 50
Massachusetts -6.8 95 27.3 83 34.1 107
Tulane -6.9 96 31.5 42 38.4 121
Eastern Michigan -6.9 97 19.3 120 26.2 51
New Mexico State -7.3 98 22.6 105 30 79
Southern Miss -7.6 99 21.2 114 28.9 67
Illinois -7.7 100 21.6 112 29.3 73
UTSA -7.9 101 16.6 128 24.5 39
Georgia Southern -8.4 102 19.4 119 27.8 62
Kansas -8.5 103 19.9 116 28.5 64
UNLV -8.7 104 28.7 65 37.4 118
Tulsa -8.9 105 31.2 44 40.1 126
South Alabama -9.6 106 21.2 113 30.8 84
Nevada -9.7 107 28.7 66 38.4 122
UL-Monroe -9.8 108 34.4 27 44.2 128
Bowling Green -9.9 109 24.6 97 34.6 110
New Mexico -10.1 110 22.8 104 32.9 102
Air Force -10.6 111 28.9 61 39.5 123
Old Dominion -10.8 112 18.6 121 29.4 76
Georgia State -10.8 113 20.8 115 31.6 93
Florida International -10.9 114 25.5 93 36.4 117
Central Michigan -11.2 115 18.1 124 29.3 74
Oregon State -11.9 116 25.8 91 37.6 119
Coastal Carolina -12.2 117 22.9 103 35.1 113
Akron -12.4 118 15.3 129 27.7 60
Ball State -12.8 119 22.2 108 35 112
UL-Lafayette -13.3 120 30.6 49 43.9 127
Liberty -13.7 121 22.2 109 35.9 115
Kent State -15.2 122 16.7 127 31.9 94
Charlotte -15.4 123 17.3 126 32.7 100
Texas State -16.8 124 17.7 125 34.5 109
Connecticut -17 125 28.2 74 45.1 130
East Carolina -17.2 126 27 86 44.2 129
Rice -17.5 127 22.3 107 39.8 125
San Jose State -18.8 128 19.6 117 38.3 120
Hawaii -21.3 129 18.3 123 39.6 124
UTEP -21.3 130 14.2 130 35.5 114

Note: Ohio State is projected No. 1, but these projections are not designed to take coaching changes, suspensions, or other unusual coaching arrangements into account. On paper, the Buckeyes have the best roster heading in, even if their overall situation is complicated.

Based on player injuries, transfers, or players returning from injury — in which case I add their stats from their most recent seasons —a lot of teams moved slightly up or down since the initial rankings. (And sometimes human error is involved: Alabama moved from second to third here because I hadn’t initially accounted for all of their NFL defections on defense.)

Some teams moved a lot, though, and we should talk about them.

  • Virginia Tech (down 13 spots, from 21st to 34th). The Hokies had a horrid offseason, losing a couple of key defenders in corner Adonis Alexander (grades) and safety Mook Reynolds (dismissal). Losing an extra mass of production from the secondary, where lost production is more statistically correlated to regression, meant a tumble for Justin Fuente’s squad.
  • Bowling Green (down 12 spots, from 97th to 109th). Attrition was costly for Mike Jinks’ Falcons, who either lost or dismissed receivers Datrin Guyton, Janarvis Pough, and Matthew Wilcox Jr., and defenders David Konowalski, Armani Posey, and Dirion Hutchins.
  • Rutgers (down 10 spots, from 84th to 94th). This drop stemmed mostly from the dismissal of star safety K.J. Gray. Are you catching a theme?
  • Arkansas (up 12 spots, from 52nd to 40th). Bringing back 2016 star receiver Jared Cornelius from injury and adding Kansas transfer Chase Harrell did wonders for the Razorbacks’ offensive projections.

In the cases of Rutgers and Arkansas, those might not seem like huge personnel changes to dictate a double-digit rise or fall in the rankings. But remember how closely the teams in those ranges are bunched together. Only about 2.5 points separate the No. 52 team from the No. 40 team, and only 2.8 separate No. 84 from No. 94.

So those are the rankings. How might teams’ seasons play out?

Below, you will find the following information:

  • Each team’s average win probability.
  • Its projected strength of schedule ranking, which is derived simply from looking at the average projected S&P+ rating of each opponent. This being college football, the difference is pretty massive — Michigan is No. 1 in SOS, with an average opponent ranking of plus-9.5 adjusted points per game, while NMSU is 130th, with an average opponent ranking of minus-9.5. Nearly three touchdowns per game separate the strongest and weakest schedules in this silly sport. (Once we have actual results to discuss, we’ll have a different, cooler way to talk about SOS and résumés. This is just setting a baseline.)
  • The team’s average win probability for conference games. (You can sort by conference to compare and contrast there.)
  • The team’s projected strength of schedule ranking based solely on conference games.

Here are the final projected win expectations for 2018, based on S&P+ rankings.

2018 college football win projections

Team Conf Avg. Wins SOS Rank Avg. Conf. Wins
Team Conf Avg. Wins SOS Rank Avg. Conf. Wins
Ohio State Big Ten 10.4 37 7.6
Clemson ACC 10.5 47 6.9
Alabama SEC 9.9 28 6.2
Washington Pac-12 10.1 51 7.6
Georgia SEC 10.1 54 6.2
Auburn SEC 8.9 19 5.5
Penn State Big Ten 9.2 15 6.5
Oklahoma Big 12 9.7 35 7.1
Notre Dame Ind 9.3 25 N/A
Michigan Big Ten 8.4 1 6.2
Wisconsin Big Ten 9.2 59 6.5
Miami-FL ACC 9.3 65 6.1
Michigan State Big Ten 8.5 16 5.9
Mississippi State SEC 8.1 20 4.6
LSU SEC 7.2 4 3.9
USC Pac-12 8.1 34 6.2
Oklahoma State Big 12 8.4 55 5.9
Central Florida AAC 9.6 85 6.5
Florida State ACC 7.2 3 4.5
Stanford Pac-12 7.4 14 5.4
Oregon Pac-12 8.3 66 5.4
TCU Big 12 7.5 33 5.7
Texas A&M SEC 6.7 9 3.7
Boise State MWC 9 73 6.2
Utah Pac-12 7 13 4.7
Louisville ACC 7.3 36 4.5
Florida Atlantic C-USA 8.8 89 6.3
Ole Miss SEC 6.8 24 3.4
South Carolina SEC 7 27 4.3
Texas Big 12 7.1 32 5
Missouri SEC 6.8 21 4
Arizona Pac-12 7.7 64 5.4
Florida SEC 6.9 42 3.9
Virginia Tech ACC 7.4 63 4.3
Iowa Big Ten 7.1 44 4.9
NC State ACC 7 41 4.1
Northwestern Big Ten 6.4 17 4.6
Duke ACC 6.5 46 3.8
Memphis AAC 8.8 110 5.7
Arkansas SEC 6 22 2.8
Wake Forest ACC 6.3 49 3.5
Fresno State MWC 8.2 88 5.8
Toledo MAC 8.7 117 6.1
Washington State Pac-12 6.5 52 4.1
Iowa State Big 12 6.2 31 4.3
UCLA Pac-12 5.2 2 3.8
Boston College ACC 5.9 38 3
West Virginia Big 12 5.9 29 4.1
Indiana Big Ten 6 18 3.7
Pittsburgh ACC 5.3 8 3.8
Purdue Big Ten 5.3 6 3.6
Arizona State Pac-12 5.1 5 3.6
North Carolina ACC 6.2 61 3.6
San Diego State MWC 8 102 5.6
Texas Tech Big 12 5.7 53 3.8
Baylor Big 12 5.9 60 3.8
Marshall C-USA 7.8 92 5.5
South Florida AAC 8 101 5.2
Appalachian State Sun Belt 8.5 122 5.8
Kansas State Big 12 5.5 26 3.6
Nebraska Big Ten 5.3 12 3.2
Georgia Tech ACC 5.1 23 2.8
Arkansas State Sun Belt 8.4 121 5.9
Kentucky SEC 5.4 43 2.7
California Pac-12 5.4 45 3.5
Northern Illinois MAC 6.4 67 5.1
Ohio MAC 8.1 123 5.4
Houston AAC 7.3 107 4.7
Louisiana Tech C-USA 7.1 90 5.2
Tennessee SEC 5.4 57 2.2
Maryland Big Ten 4.6 10 3.1
Virginia ACC 5.2 56 2.7
SMU AAC 6.3 72 4.4
Troy Sun Belt 7.9 127 5.5
Wyoming MWC 6.8 86 4.8
Minnesota Big Ten 4.9 30 3.2
BYU Ind 5.4 62 N/A
Utah State MWC 7.3 113 5.1
Vanderbilt SEC 4.9 39 2.5
Syracuse ACC 4.7 48 2.3
Temple AAC 6.6 84 4.4
Miami-OH MAC 6.6 94 4.7
Army Ind 7.4 125 N/A
Colorado Pac-12 4.4 40 2.9
North Texas C-USA 7.1 120 4.7
Navy AAC 6.4 75 3.5
Middle Tennessee C-USA 6.1 81 4.6
Western Michigan MAC 6.3 97 4.1
Cincinnati AAC 6.1 96 4
Colorado State MWC 6.2 93 4.5
Buffalo MAC 6.6 124 4.3
Western Kentucky C-USA 5.7 82 4.1
UAB C-USA 6.8 129 4.6
Rutgers Big Ten 3.6 11 1.8
Massachusetts Ind 6 98 N/A
Tulane AAC 4.9 68 3.4
Eastern Michigan MAC 5.8 103 4
New Mexico State Ind 6.7 130 N/A
Southern Miss C-USA 6 118 4.2
Illinois Big Ten 3.8 58 2.2
UTSA C-USA 5.5 100 4
Georgia Southern Sun Belt 5.6 104 3.8
Kansas Big 12 3.4 50 1.6
UNLV MWC 6 119 3.9
Tulsa AAC 4.3 69 3
South Alabama Sun Belt 5.2 111 3.6
Nevada MWC 5.2 106 3.4
UL-Monroe Sun Belt 5.2 109 3.8
Bowling Green MAC 4.7 87 3.3
New Mexico MWC 4.4 79 2.5
Air Force MWC 4 71 2.7
Old Dominion C-USA 5.4 126 3.2
Georgia State Sun Belt 4.8 95 3.4
Florida International C-USA 4.9 108 3.2
Central Michigan MAC 4.5 83 3.1
Oregon State Pac-12 2.4 7 1.4
Coastal Carolina Sun Belt 4.8 116 3
Akron MAC 4.3 99 3
Ball State MAC 3.9 74 2.6
UL-Lafayette Sun Belt 4.1 77 3
Liberty Ind 4.6 115 N/A
Kent State MAC 3.6 80 2.4
Charlotte C-USA 3.6 91 2.3
Texas State Sun Belt 4 128 2.2
Connecticut AAC 3 76 1.7
East Carolina AAC 2.7 70 1.6
Rice C-USA 4.2 114 2.5
San Jose State MWC 2.7 78 1.9
Hawaii MWC 3 112 1.5
UTEP C-USA 2.4 105 1.7

Your top 10 teams in terms of projected wins:

  1. Clemson (10.5)
  2. Ohio State (10.4)
  3. Washington (10.1)
  4. Georgia (10.1)
  5. Alabama (9.9)
  6. Oklahoma (9.7)
  7. UCF (9.6)
  8. Notre Dame (9.3)
  9. Miami (9.3)
  10. Wisconsin (9.2)

Win projections will appear a little conservative — if you’ve got a 60 percent chance of winning a game, you’re given only 0.6 projected wins for that week — but consider these teams the most likely to finish the year 12-0.

Your top three teams in each conference/division, per projected conference wins (in conferences with no divisions, I’ll list five):

  • AAC East: UCF (6.5), USF (5.2), Temple (4.4)
  • AAC West: Memphis (5.7), Houston (4.7), SMU (4.4)

Houston’s load of incoming transfers makes the Cougars’ offense a wildcard, but the two teams that finished 2017 on top begin 2018 the same way.

  • ACC Atlantic: Clemson (6.9), FSU (4.5), Louisville (4.5)
  • ACC Coastal: Miami (6.1), Virginia Tech (4.3), Duke (3.8)

Ditto the ACC, where Virginia Tech’s fall has made Miami nearly as comfortable a favorite in the Coastal as Clemson is in the Atlantic.

  • Big 12: Oklahoma (7.1), OSU (5.9), TCU (5.7), Texas (5.0), Iowa State (4.3)

Oklahoma is projected to slip from last year’s perch, but the Sooners have a long way to fall before someone else catches up.

  • Big Ten East: Ohio State (7.6), Penn State (6.5), Michigan (6.2)
  • Big Ten West: Wisconsin (6.5), Iowa (4.9), Northwestern (4.6)

If Ohio State regresses at all, PSU, UM, and Michigan State (5.9), are ready to pounce.

  • C-USA East: FAU (6.3), Marshall (5.5), MTSU (4.6)
  • C-USA West: Louisiana Tech (5.2), North Texas (4.7), UAB (4.6)

With FAU traveling to Marshall and MTSU, I guess we shouldn’t crown the Owls just yet. Meanwhile, with four teams projected within one game (Southern Miss is also at 4.2), the West could be a free-for-all.

  • MAC East: Ohio (5.4), Miami (Ohio) (4.7), Buffalo (4.3)
  • MAC West: Toledo (6.1), NIU (5.1), WMU (4.1)

Frank Solich and Ohio are never going to have a better shot at a conference title.

  • MWC Mountain: Boise State (6.2), Utah State (5.1), Wyoming (4.8)
  • MWC West: Fresno State (5.8), SDSU (5.6), UNLV (3.9)

A definitive two-team race in the West. And we’ll see if BSU’s trip to Wyoming muddies the waters in the Mountain division.

  • Pac-12 North: Washington (7.6), Stanford (5.4), Oregon (5.4)
  • Pac-12 South: USC (6.2), Arizona (5.4), Utah (4.7)

Only Clemson has a bigger projected division advantage than UW. And with USC potentially starting a freshman QB and Arizona breaking in a new head coach, the South is full of wild cards.

  • SEC East: Georgia (6.2), South Carolina (4.3), Missouri (4.0)
  • SEC West: Alabama (6.2), Auburn (5.5), Mississippi State (4.6)

No surprises here, I’m guessing.

  • Sun Belt East: Appalachian State (5.8), Troy (5.5), Georgia Southern (3.8)
  • Sun Belt West: Arkansas State (5.9), ULM (3.8), South Alabama (3.6)

A near-definite three-team race.