Two weeks into the 2018 season, the stats and eyeballs still mostly agree on the best-looking teams in the country.
Below are this week’s S&P+ rankings. That the top four consist of Alabama, Ohio State, Georgia, and Oklahoma shouldn’t be particularly surprising, but No. 5 might throw you for a loop.
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.
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 2
|San Diego State||1-1||-2.1||74||86||12|
|New Mexico State||0-3||-27.8||128||122||-6|
|San Jose State||0-2||-31.1||129||128||-1|
What is this, 2010?
From 2008-11, Boise State logged 50 wins, three top-10 S&P+ finishes, and a No. 1 year-end ranking in 2010. Since then, the Broncos have assumed the position of a great Group of 5 team, but not necessarily a great team — they’ve won at least 10 games and finished in the S&P+ top 30 in four of six seasons.
There’s a long way to go in 2018, but Bryan Harsin’s Broncos have handled their first two opponents with a level of disdain we tend to only see from the top teams in the country. They traveled to Troy, 21-5 the last two seasons, and won by 36 points. And on Saturday in their home opener, they welcomed UConn to the blue turf and went up 41-0 at halftime.
Boise State is destroying iffy to bad teams, and when you’re reading early-season tea leaves, that’s a pretty reliable predictor. We’ll see where things go from here, but BSU has played like one of the best teams in FBS so far this year, and its No. 5 S&P+ ranking reflects it.
Oh god, Alabama has a top-five offense. We’re doomed.
Ohio State’s destruction of Rutgers, mixed with solid preseason projections, have the Buckeyes back on the doorstep of the No. 1 ranking. But Alabama’s dismantling of Arkansas State, one of the Sun Belt’s best teams, was enough to keep the Crimson Tide at the top for now.
That Bama is at the top is no surprise. But the fact that the Tide are dominating as much offensively as defensively is rather terrifying.
Through two games, quarterback Tua Tagovailoa is completing 71 percent of his passes at 18.2 yards per completion, with a 237.2 passer rating, six touchdowns, and no interceptions. Sure, it was against Louisville and Arkansas State and not dominant defenses. But those numbers are otherworldly all the same, especially when combined with the work of Najee and Damien Harris (no relation) who are thus far averaging 141 rushing yards per game at seven yards per carry. Guh.
The week’s top movers (good)
- Tennessee (up 47 spots, from 104th to 57th)
- Texas Tech (up 38 spots, from 88th to 50th)
- Nebraska (up 35 spots, from 64th to 29th)
- UL-Lafayette (up 34 spots, from 82nd to 48th)
- Oregon State (up 34 spots, from 114th to 80th)
- Akron (up 34 spots, from 116th to 82nd)
- Georgia Southern (up 30 spots, from 91st to 61st)
- Kentucky (up 28 spots, from 63rd to 35th)
- Tulane (up 28 spots, from 93rd to 65th)
- Houston (up 25 spots, from 62nd to 37th)
As a reminder (see below), I have built S&P+ to be a bit more sensitive to swings early in the season, and this week’s performance against the spread showed that a more sensitive system can still do pretty well. But it does mean that if you outperformed your projections by a decent amount, you’ll likely rise quite a bit, especially if you start out in the lower portion of the ratings.
One interesting mover here, though: Nebraska. The Huskers’ post-game win probability — in which S&P+ looks at the key stats from a given game and says “You could have expected to win this game X percent of the time” — in their loss to Colorado was 93 percent. They out-gained the Buffaloes by 170 yards but lost because of a minus-3 turnover margin. If the breaks even out, the Huskers could do pretty well this fall.
Top movers (bad)
- Arkansas State (down 42 spots, from 56th to 98th)
- Arizona (down 37 spots, from 72nd to 109th)
- Rutgers (down 33 spots, from 68th to 101st)
- BYU (down 29 spots, from 49th to 78th)
- Florida (down 27 spots, from 19th to 46th)
- Florida State (down 27 spots, from 44th to 71st)
- Pitt (down 27 spots, from 48th to 75th)
- Northwestern (down 26 spots, from 46th to 72nd)
- Air Force (down 26 spots, from 77th to 103rd)
- Iowa State (down 25 spots, from 51st to 76th)
Remember when Arizona was supposed to be a darkhorse Pac-12 South contender? Yeah, me neither.
FBS conferences, ranked by average S&P+ rating:
- SEC (plus-17.1, up 1.6 points from last week)
- Big Ten (plus-10.3, up 1.8 points)
- Big 12 (plus-8.2, up 1.6 points)
- Pac-12 (plus-6.6, down 2.0 points)
- ACC (plus-6.5, down 0.6 points)
- AAC (minus-2.6, up 2.3 points)
- MWC (minus-5.6, down 1.1 points)
- Sun Belt (minus-8.2, up 3.0 points)
- MAC (minus-8.5, down 0.8 points)
- Conference USA (minus-12.6, down 1.3 points)
The Big Ten didn’t have the best of weeks from a pure results standpoint, but the top teams not named Michigan State all dominated, at least. And wow, is Conference USA looking bad at the moment.
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.