To the naked eye, Alabama and Oklahoma were the two best-looking teams in the country this past weekend.
The computers agree! The S&P+ rankings, updated through Week 1 action, now have the Crimson Tide and Sooners up top. The full rankings are below.
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 team like Ohio or Michigan State can win but plummet, and it’s how a team like Utah State or Tulane can lose and move up.
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 week 1
|San Diego State||0-1||-4.6||86||54||-32|
|New Mexico State||0-2||-20.2||122||98||-24|
|San Jose State||0-1||-27.6||128||128||0|
Your new overlords are your old overlords.
Alabama completely pantsed a game Louisville, looking almost better on offense (with Tua Tagovailoa behind center, at least) than on defense, where Nick Saban teams usually dominate.
That was enough for the Crimson Tide to jump Clemson and Ohio State, two teams projected above them in the final preseason S&P+ rankings. The Tigers and Buckeyes did nothing wrong per se (though OSU has some defensive questions to answer all of a sudden), but Bama looked like, well, Bama.
Oklahoma, your Week 1 team of the week, also hopped your previous top two teams. And while Mississippi State took on a mid-tier FCS team in Stephen F. Austin, the Bulldogs looked so dominant that they jumped into the top 10 as well.
The biggest games of the week were all decided by unique factors.
- Notre Dame beat Michigan but only moved to ninth because the Irish were drastically outdone from an efficiency perspective — the Wolverines had a 45 percent success rate to Notre Dame’s 33 percent. Advantages in drive finishing and field position were enough to do the deed, but that wasn’t a dominant recipe.
- Auburn beat Washington but stayed about the same in the rankings, falling from sixth to seventh. Why? Turnovers luck, mainly. Based on national averages for passes defensed and fumble recoveries, the Tigers’ turnover margin was 2.7 turnovers better than it probably should have been. That makes a pretty big difference in a five-point win.
- Virginia Tech beat FSU by three touchdowns ... and remained at 34th. Why? All-caps TURNOVER LUCK, the most in a game since 2015.
All of the vanquished teams in this game fell pretty considerably, and I’ll get to why in a bit.
The week’s top movers (good)
- Colorado (up 44 spots, from 84th to 40th)
- Ball State (up 40 spots, from 119th to 79th)
- EMU (up 38 spots, from 97th to 59th)
- Nevada (up 38 spots, from 107th to 69th)
- UL-Lafayette (up 38 spots, from 120th to 82nd)
- Minnesota (up 37 spots, from 76th to 39th)
- Vanderbilt (up 37 spots, from 79th to 42nd)
- Air Force (up 34 spots, from 111th to 77th)
- North Texas (up 32 spots, from 85th to 53rd)
- Liberty (up 32 spots, from 121st to 89th)
Most of the biggest movers fell within the same range of rankings — from the 30s to the 80s — which is a reminder of two things: a) to be a big mover, you have to have room to move (and the teams at the top don’t), and b) the teams in the within-one-standard-deviation range of the ratings are bunched together pretty tightly, so a little bit of movement in the ratings can result in a lot of movement in the rankings.
That said, Colorado dominated Colorado State to reassume a top-40 position, and Minnesota looked awfully good in disposing of NMSU. And Vanderbilt proves each year that it knows how to handle MTSU. They were your biggest movers from power conferences.
Top movers (bad)
- FAU (down 57 spots, from 27th to 84th)
- Louisville (down 52 spots, from 26th to 78th)
- Arizona (down 40 spots, from 32nd to 72nd)
- Troy (down 35 spots, from 74th to 109th)
- SMU (down 34 spots, from 73rd to 107th)
- Tennessee (down 34 spots, from 70th to 104th)
- Texas Tech (down 33 spots, from 55th to 88th)
- SDSU (down 32 spots, from 54th to 86th)
- UCLA (down 29 spots, from 46th to 75th)
- Ohio (down 28 spots, from 67th to 95th)
FAU and Louisville got thumped by the top two teams in the country, but the most interesting team to me here is Arizona. The Wildcats not only dropped a tight game to BYU in Kevin Sumlin’s debut, but — in basically having the nimble Khalil Tate stay in the pocket as much as possible — forfeited their biggest strength.
The Wildcats were manhandled in terms of success rate (51 percent to 39 percent), points per scoring opportunity (7.0 to 4.8), and average field position (31.4 to 25.2). That’s a good recipe for an upset loss. Maybe have your best player play like your best player now.
Well hello there, Pac-12! FBS conferences, ranked by average S&P+ rating:
- SEC (plus-15.5)
- Pac-12 (plus-8.6)
- Big Ten (plus-8.5)
- ACC (plus-7.1)
- Big 12 (plus-6.6)
- MWC (minus-4.5)
- AAC (minus-4.9)
- MAC (minus-7.7)
- Sun Belt (minus-11.2)
- Conference USA (minus-11.3)
Despite Arizona’s disappointing performance, the Pac-12 eased ahead of the pack and into the No. 2 spot overall thanks to stark rises from Colorado and Arizona State and double-digit rises from Cal, Washington State, and Utah. Eight teams moved up, and only four moved down.
I have also 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, but it’s the reason why teams like Michigan and Washington moved down despite their Week 1 opponents winning with shaky statistical recipes. (FSU moved down a lot because of this and the fact that the Noles were dreadfully inefficient.)
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.