College football just enjoyed its first truly strange week. But that doesn’t mean the top of the S&P+ rankings changed all that much. The very top, at least.
Below are this week’s S&P+ rankings.
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 three weeks, the S&P+ rankings are performing about as normal, hitting 54 percent both against the spread and 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 it will be updated in the coming weeks. It paints no clearer a picture but might make more sense from a transitive perspective.
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 will start getting updated in the coming weeks.)
2018 S&P+ rankings, through 3 weeks
|San Diego State||2-1||3.2||60||74||14|
|New Mexico State||0-4||-23.0||123||128||5|
|San Jose State||0-3||-23.8||124||129||5|
Hello, Oklahoma State
The top five of this week’s rankings make a lot of sense: Alabama, Ohio State, Georgia, and Clemson are a pretty obvious top four, and at No. 5, well, S&P+ has been in love with Mississippi State for a while. That love grows a little stronger each week.
At number six, though, is the new top team in the Big 12: Mike Gundy’s Oklahoma State Cowboys. The Pokes hosted a smoking hot Boise State, and while they benefited from a pair of blocked punts (a pretty unsustainable thing from a predictiveness standpoint), they also made life incredibly hard on a previously untouchable BSU defense. They’re now 19th in Off. S&P+ ... and 14th in Def. S&P+.
We’ll see if they can maintain that, but early on, you could say Gundy’s hire of defensive coordinator Jim Knowles has been the most impressive of the season.
A quick word about Memphis:
Despite being 0-1 in AAC play, Memphis moved up to 11th with an easy win over Georgia State. How?
Here’s something to keep in mind: being a predictive tool, S&P+ isn’t interested specifically in a team’s record, only how that team is actually playing. It views Memphis as a team worthy of 3-0 because, from a statistical perspective, the Tigers did everything they were supposed to do in their lone loss to Navy.
One of the most telling stats I use is called Postgame Win Expectancy. It basically tosses all the key stats from a given game into the air and says “You could have expected to win this game X percent of the time.” For Memphis against Navy, that number was 98 percent. So S&P+ basically views UM as a 3-0 team, which makes the high ranking at least a little more understandable.
The week’s top movers (good)
- Arizona (up 31 spots, from 109th to 78th)
- FIU (up 31 spots, from 114th to 83rd)
- Temple (up 30 spots, from 102nd to 72nd)
- WMU (up 29 spots, from 117th to 88th)
- Navy (up 27 spots, from 100th to 73rd)
- Kansas (up 23 spots, from 105th to 82nd)
- Indiana (up 21 spots, from 44th to 23rd)
- BYU (up 20 spots, from 78th to 58th)
- Syracuse (up 20 spots, from 81st to 61st)
- Iowa (up 17 spots, from 51st to 34th)
For teams like Arizona and Temple, we’ll say Week 3 represented a rebound from an unsustainably bad start.
But the noteworthy teams here are, to me, Kansas and Indiana. Tom Allen’s Hoosiers are now 3-0 and have looked the part of at least a top-35 team or so. On Saturday, for instance, they manhandled a Ball State that had just given Notre Dame fits.
Then there’s KU. David Beaty’s Jayhawks are up to 82nd, and here’s your reminder that, since 2009, they have only once finished higher than 92nd (they were 79th in 2012, Charlie Weis’ first season). Now, 82nd isn’t good, and I’m not thinking this is suddenly a team with bowl potential. But we do need to start thinking about where the line is for Beaty to keep his job.
At the very least, Beaty might be putting together enough improvement in 2018 that KU can attract a higher-level replacement than they could have, had they been searching for one last season.
Then again, KU lost to Nicholls two weeks ago. So maybe two weeks doesn’t mean a lot. We’ll see.
Top movers (bad)
- UL-Lafayette (down 41 spots, from 48th to 89th)
- Georgia Southern (down 35 spots, from 61st to 96th)
- Maryland (down 29 spots, from 52nd to 81st)
- Toledo (down 28 spots, from 19th to 47th)
- Kent State (down 25 spots, from 93rd to 118th)
- UMass (down 22 spots, from 94th to 116th)
- Akron (down 22 spots, from 82nd to 104th)
- Illinois (down 22 spots, from 77th to 99th)
- Arizona State (down 21 spots, from 34th to 55th)
- Ball State (down 20 spots, from 90th to 110th)
A lot of natural regression here, but ... Illinois fell that much after nearly beating USF? Yep. Their postgame win expectancy here was 4 percent. USF out-gained the Illini by 246 yards and 2.7 yards per play, and created nine scoring opportunities to UI’s seven. The expected turnover margin, based on national averages for fumbles and passes defensed, was USF plus-0.7. Actual turnover margin: Illinois plus-1.
So yeah, USF wins this game pretty comfortably as often as not. S&P+ is designed to react to that, not simply points scored and allowed.
FBS conferences, ranked by average S&P+ rating:
- SEC (plus-16.3, down 0.8 points)
- Big Ten (plus-9.4, down 0.9)
- Big 12 (plus-9.4, up 1.2)
- ACC (plus-6.9, up 0.4)
- Pac-12 (plus-6.5, down 0.1)
- AAC (minus-1.3, up 1.3)
- MWC (minus-5.1, up 0.5)
- Sun Belt (minus-9.4, down 1.2)
- MAC (minus-9.8, down 1.3)
- Conference USA (minus-11.3, up 1.3)
The Big 12 had itself a pretty nice weekend and might be college football’s second-best conference. (For the Big Ten, it’s the same story as always: plenty of strength at the top and lots of dead weight at the bottom.)
A 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 will diminish 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.