Finally!! College football preseason rankings for 2015

American Football on the Field near the hashmarks or yard lines

Which college football teams will excel in 2015 and go over their projected win total? Which teams will fail to live up to the hype and fall short?

In college football, it’s much easier to make this projection than in the NFL. Team performance tends to persist from year to year.

For example, Alabama has consistently been in the national championship picture for the last 6 years. Even with the worst luck, Nick Saban’s team usually ends the season in the top 10 of The Power Rank’s team rankings.

In contrast, Eastern Michigan has none of the resources of a program like Alabama and perform accordingly. Escaping the bottom 25 of FBS schools in computer rankings constitutes a monumental achievement for the Eagles.

Preseason regression model for college football

My preseason rankings come from a regression model that uses The Power Rank’s team rankings from the past 4 years, turnovers and returning starters. For more details, see the bottom of this post.

The college football preseason model is simple. It doesn’t break down a team into offense and defense or distinguish a starting quarterback from a linebacker. These are areas for potential improvements.

However, the model performs very well in predicting the winners of games. The model assigns each team a rating, and the difference in the rating of two teams gives a predicted margin of victory on a neutral field. The home team gets an extra 3 points.

For example, Ohio States opens the season at Virginia Tech. The Buckeyes have a 19.7 rating, which gives a predicted margin of victory against an average team. The Hokies have a 11.0 rating.

On a neutral field, Ohio State would beat Virginia Tech by 8.7 points. The home advantage for Virginia Tech brings this advantage down to 5.7 points. The model still predicts an Ohio State victory.

In 2014, this model predicted the winners in 70.4% of games. With a large sample of 678 games, the model performed very close to the 70.5% win rate from the 2005 through 2013 seasons.

If we assume no home field in bowl games, then this model predicts the higher ranked to win. This prediction has won in 59.9% of bowl games from 2005 through 2014.

For comparison, the team favored by the opening line of the markets won 59.5% of bowl games from 2005 through 2013. The markets have the benefit of evaluating an entire regular season of games.

The top preseason college football teams of 2015

The visual shows the top 15 college football teams for 2014.

Screen Shot 2015-07-10 at 12.29.32 PM

For a full list, click here or check out the list at the bottom of this post.

Let’s look at three things that jump out at me.

Ohio State

Ohio State had a preseason rank of 13th before the 2014 season.

While that might seem low, Ohio State’s performance on the field didn’t justify a higher rank. Even with a 24-2 record over the 2012 and 2013 seasons, the Buckeyes finished 15th and 12th in my rankings.

However, Ohio State surged at the end of the 2014. They obliterated Wisconsin in the Big Ten championship before winning two more games to capture the first college football playoff championship.

This season, the Buckeyes are 2nd in my preseason rankings. If the model considered the quarterback depth with 3 returning starters, they would be above Alabama for first.

The end of SEC dominance?

Alabama, Auburn, Ole Miss, Mississippi State and LSU all lost their bowl game last season. College football fans outside the south rejoiced, claiming the end of the SEC’s rule over college football.

However, my preseason numbers disagree. Let’s look at the rank of SEC teams in my preseason rankings over the past two years.

  • 2014: 2, 5, 6, 8, 9.
  • 2015: 1, 6, 8, 9, 10.

With cross country scoring, SEC teams had a total rank of 34 for its top 5 teams in 2015. Since a lower score is better, this is only slightly worse than their 30 score from last year.

The SEC continues to have traditional powers with ample financial resources and fertile recruiting territory in their back yards. They are in no danger of becoming the ACC anytime soon.

Don’t let the small sample size of 5 bowl games losses for the SEC fool you. For more on this crucial aspect of understanding sports, check out this article.

Notre Dame

Brian Kelly started coaching at Notre Dame in 2010 and has achieved these final rankings in The Power Rank’s college football rankings.

  • 2010: 32nd.
  • 2011: 21st.
  • 2012: 11th, went undefeated before losing to Alabama in the BCS title game.
  • 2013: 23rd.
  • 2014: 39th, started 6-0 before losing to Florida State and ending 8-5.

It’s not the resume of an elite team.

Moreover, Notre Dame recruits well. They finished 7th in the 2015 rankings of college football teams by recruiting. The roster is always littered with 4 and 5 star recruits.

Could 2015 be the year that all the talent meshes into a winning team? Notre Dame returns every starter besides QB Everett Golson, who graduated and transfered to Florida State, and two offensive lineman. This propels them up to 12th in my preseason rankings.

Notre Dame should be favored in every game except their trip to Stanford. If they can’t get 9 wins with this kind of talent and experience, it’s not unreasonable to ask Brian Kelly or anyone else can consistently win at Notre Dame.

More college football previews to come

Over the next two months, I’ll be adding more college football preview content based on these analytics. This includes team write ups on win totals as well as a preview of Michigan at the dawn of the Jim Harbaugh era.

To get updates on this content, sign up for my free email newsletter. As a thank you, I’ll send you a report with the top 5 football analytics articles.

Enter your email and click on “Sign up now!”.

Full preseason college football rankings for 2015

1. Alabama, 20.91.
2. Ohio State, 19.70.
3. Oregon, 19.65.
4. Baylor, 18.02.
5. TCU, 17.22.
6. Georgia, 14.84.
7. UCLA, 14.60.
8. LSU, 13.97.
9. Texas A&M, 13.87.
10. Mississippi, 13.36.
11. Oklahoma, 13.24.
12. Notre Dame, 13.14.
13. Stanford, 13.14.
14. Wisconsin, 12.72.
15. Arkansas, 12.14.
16. Michigan State, 11.97.
17. Florida State, 11.72.
18. Georgia Tech, 11.42.
19. USC, 11.41.
20. Arizona State, 11.26.
21. West Virginia, 11.12.
22. Virginia Tech, 11.00.
23. Kansas State, 10.53.
24. Tennessee, 10.49.
25. Auburn, 9.80.
26. Boise State, 9.73.
27. Missouri, 9.52.
28. Oklahoma State, 9.14.
29. South Carolina, 8.88.
30. Clemson, 8.84.
31. Mississippi State, 8.73.
32. Nebraska, 7.94.
33. Florida, 7.66.
34. Michigan, 7.60.
35. Utah, 7.58.
36. Arizona, 6.99.
37. Pittsburgh, 5.89.
38. Penn State, 5.79.
39. North Carolina, 5.68.
40. Texas, 5.35.
41. California, 5.10.
42. Brigham Young, 5.08.
43. Miami (FL), 4.84.
44. Texas Tech, 4.83.
45. Louisville, 3.99.
46. Utah State, 3.96.
47. Minnesota, 3.38.
48. Duke, 3.37.
49. Iowa, 3.19.
50. Marshall, 2.75.
51. Washington State, 2.59.
52. Washington, 1.73.
53. Vanderbilt, 1.57.
54. Cincinnati, 1.47.
55. Northwestern, 0.99.
56. East Carolina, 0.62.
57. Temple, 0.44.
58. Western Kentucky, -0.14.
59. Louisiana Tech, -0.18.
60. Boston College, -0.30.
61. North Carolina State, -0.35.
62. Virginia, -0.37.
63. Houston, -0.74.
64. Kentucky, -0.98.
65. UCF, -1.01.
66. Oregon State, -1.19.
67. San Diego State, -1.27.
68. Colorado State, -1.41.
69. Iowa State, -1.69.
70. Rutgers, -1.80.
71. Purdue, -1.99.
72. Navy, -2.28.
73. Toledo, -2.33.
74. Colorado, -2.61.
75. Illinois, -2.65.
76. Northern Illinois, -2.66.
77. Western Michigan, -2.69.
78. Nevada, -3.08.
79. Air Force, -3.40.
80. Indiana, -3.46.
81. Arkansas State, -3.54.
82. Memphis, -3.57.
83. Maryland, -3.94.
84. Wake Forest, -4.00.
85. Fresno State, -4.16.
86. Ball State, -4.44.
87. Syracuse, -5.10.
88. San Jose State, -5.75.
89. Louisiana Lafayette, -6.36.
90. Tulsa, -6.39.
91. Louisiana Monroe, -6.98.
92. Middle Tennessee State, -7.48.
93. Central Michigan, -8.27.
94. Bowling Green, -8.36.
95. Ohio, -8.37.
96. South Florida, -8.38.
97. Connecticut, -8.86.
98. Hawaii, -8.87.
99. Kansas, -9.27.
100. Florida International, -9.39.
101. Rice, -9.96.
102. Tulane, -10.03.
103. Kent State, -10.82.
104. UTEP, -11.00.
105. New Mexico, -11.57.
106. Florida Atlantic, -11.84.
107. Akron, -11.93.
108. Wyoming, -12.44.
109. Southern Miss, -12.92.
110. SMU, -13.07.
111. Buffalo, -13.36.
112. Miami (OH), -14.45.
113. New Mexico State, -14.56.
114. Troy, -14.87.
115. North Texas, -15.09.
116. Army, -16.05.
117. Idaho, -16.74.
118. UNLV, -16.94.
119. Eastern Michigan, -21.17.

Factors in The Power Rank’s preseason model

First, the model considers a team’s year end rating from each of the past four seasons. This rating comes from The Power Rank’s algorithm that considers margin of victory in games and adjusts for strength of schedule.

It’s crucial to take a four year window. With the short season in college football, a team can get a calculated rating higher than their true skill level for one year. It’s much harder to achieve a high rating for four straight years.

The second variable in the model is turnover margin. As I’ve written about before, randomness plays a large role in this statistic. A large turnover differential one year for a team has no ability to predict the same quantity next year.

Last, the model considers the number of returning starters. Teams with a large number of returning starters tend to exceed their performance from the previous season due to experience.


  1. Michael Laham says:

    Have you or do you publish team O/U’s for the year? I’d love to compare yours to some others I have seen. Thanks Mike, Ok. City

  2. Good post, but you’re missing some teams here, mostly from Sun Belt and CUSA:

    Appalachian State, Georgia Southern, Georgia State, UNC-Charlotte, South Alabama, Old Dominion, Texas State, UTSA. ESPN ranks 128 teams to your 119, so there may be one more missing.

    • Yes, teams that have not been on the FBS level for four years are missing. I do address these teams with a different model when I calculate win totals.

  3. So returning starters all count as equal? If one team loses a punter and the other a quarterback they count the same?

  4. If you want to lose your money, put your faith in this nice guy’s rankings. Your algorithm is highly ambiguous when it’s simply not that hard to figure out. But, eh, if you want to put your money into this fairy tale. Please be my guest. lol

  5. ED,
    I joined your site last year and completely love it. When will you provide members with the 2015 College Football interactive team sites? Is this done after or before week 1 of 2015?

  6. Mizzou not on the list at all and Kentucky 30+ spots behind Vanderbilt? These rankings must be satire

  7. ATSUSHI P says:

    What about drastic coaching changes? When the HC, OC,DC are replaced or at when two of the three are replaced? Analytically calculate the degree of influence for a team? Point value wise? U can look returning starters for each side of the ball for percentage returned. But the impact of a regime change? Thank you in advance.

  8. These rankings have been added to the big board:

    Good luck.


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