How safe is Florida State from an upset to Louisville?

Screen shot 2014-10-30 at 1.51.39 PMFlorida State won the national championship last season. With Heisman winning QB Jameis Winston’s returning for this season, the Seminoles looked poised to repeat as champions.

On the surface, things look fine for Florida State. They have beaten Clemson (without Winston) and Notre Dame on the way to an undefeated record. As the visual shows, the college football playoff committee ranked them 2nd in their first rankings.

However, numbers reveal another side of Florida State. Computer rankings that take margin of victory in games and adjust for strength of schedule aren’t impressed. For example, both my team rankings and the Sagarin predictor rank Florida State 20th.

Florida State doesn’t look better when we dig deeper into the numbers.

On this site, I take yards per play and adjust for schedule to rank offense and defense. Florida State shows up at 29th when combining offense and defense into a team ranking. On Football Outsiders, Bill Connelly and Brian Fremeau combine both drive and play based statistics before making schedule adjustments. They rank Florida State 11th.

Good computer rankings do not consider Florida State a top 10 team.

And the Seminoles face a stern test against Louisville tonight.

Florida State’s offense against Louisville’s defense

Jameis Winston and the Florida State offense have been great this season, ranking 7th in my adjusted yards per play. This unit led the comeback over North Carolina State from a 17 point deficit to win that game.

However, they face Louisville’s 3rd ranked defense. This is an incredible performance for a unit that lost 3 of 4 defensive line starters from last season.

Moreover, Florida State has struggled with pass protection this season. Defenses have sacked the QB on 5.8% of pass attempts, right near the 6% average. Louisville’s defense has generated sacks on 9.3% of pass attempts. Expect a long night for Winston.

Florida State’s defense against Louisville’s offense

Remember how Winston and the offense saved Florida State’s ass against North Carolina State? How does a team get 17 points down to an ACC door mat?

The defense stinks.

Well, the defense doesn’t stink. They rank 34th in my adjusted yards per play. Some teams would kill for a defense that good. However, a rank of 34th means severe regression for a Florida State defense that finished the last 2 seasons in the top 5.

The pass rush has been a problem. Florida State has sacked the QB on 4.2% of pass attempts. Notre Dame’s Everett Golson had ample time to look downfield against the Seminole’s defense.

However, Louisville’s offense hasn’t been great this season. They rank 69th by my adjusted yards per play, and QB Will Garnder has completed 57% of his passes, a steep decline from the 70% Teddy Bridgewater put up last 2 seasons. The offensive line hasn’t helped Gardner much, as Louisville has allowed sacks on 9.1% of pass attempts.

Louisville did get receiver DeVante Parker back from injury against North Carolina State. The preseason All-ACC receiver caught 9 passes for 134 yards in his only game of the season.

Prediction for Florida State at Louisville

Florida State has the edge in this game because their defense is better than Louisville’s offense. The Power Rank’s ensemble predictions give Florida State a 1.5 point edge.

However, if Louisville QB Will Gardner gets some time to throw to DeVante Parker, they might put up enough points to pull the upset. My numbers give them a 45.5% chance to win.

The markets also see the strength in Louisville. The opening line of Florida State by 7 moved to 3.5 by this afternoon.

Ensemble predictions for week 10

These predictions are a collaboration with Mike Craig, my partner in the prediction service. We use rankings based on margin of victory and yards per play as well as data from the markets to compute the spread and total in every game.

In this sample of predictions, the first number is a point spread in which a negative number predicts a victory for the home team. The second number is the total points scored by both teams.

All of these math predictions are available to members.

Kentucky at Missouri: -10.2, 48.5.

Boston College at Virginia Tech: -3.0, 41.3.

Illinois at Ohio State: -21.2, 62.4.

Arizona at UCLA: -10.8, 65.6.

Rice at Florida International: 5.1, 48.8.

Tennessee at South Carolina: -5.5, 56.8.

Northwestern at Iowa: -2.9, 41.2.

Brigham Young at Middle Tennessee State: 6.1, 62.4.

Virginia at Georgia Tech: -4.6, 59.0.

San Diego State at Nevada: -2.2, 50.5.

Arkansas at Mississippi State: -12.4, 58.6.

Wisconsin at Rutgers: 10.8, 60.5.

Oklahoma State at Kansas State: -11.9, 51.7.

Indiana at Michigan: -5.3, 59.2.

Georgia State at Appalachian State: -6.8, 70.5.

East Carolina at Temple: 13.0, 64.1.

California at Oregon State: -0.9, 63.9.

North Carolina State at Syracuse: -4.6, 57.8.

Cincinnati at Tulane: 7.4, 58.9.

Air Force at Army: 3.7, 57.3.

Wyoming at Fresno State: -8.5, 60.4.

Forecasting the college football playoff after week 9

Excellent graphic from Stat Milk.

What do the first selection committee rankings mean for the college football playoff? What can analytics say about the odds that each team ends up in the top 4 on December 7?

First, let’s recognize the limitations of analytics. Numbers won’t tell you how far Auburn will drop if they lost a 5 overtime game to Ole Miss this Saturday. I also have no adjustments for committee politics or how much Mike Tranghese hates the ACC.

However, analytics based on margin of victory and yards per play lets us accurately forecast the win probability of each game. With some reasonable assumptions on committee behavior, computer simulations give the playoff odds for all 25 teams in the first committee rankings.

To see the playoff chances for your team and read my analysis on Bleacher Report, click here.

Ensemble predictions for week 9 of college football

ncaaf2014Last week, I wrote about how neither Florida State nor Notre Dame would make the college football playoff. One piece of evidence was that Florida State had less than 50% chance to win at Miami by my numbers.

People called bullshit on that one. A commenter said:

If your numbers say Miami over FSU, you ain’t got good rithm

I think he meant algorithm.

It’s easy to understand why people doubt numbers that predict Miami over Florida State. Miami has lost to Louisville, Nebraska, and Georgia Tech. They start a true freshman, Brad Kaaya, at quarterback.

Breaking down Miami into offense and defense

However, The Power Rank looks deeper at college football teams by breaking them down into offense and defense. It starts with a statistic like yards per play, an efficiency metric for football mostly immune from the randomness of turnovers. My algorithm adjusts yards per play for strength of schedule to rank offense and defense.

Before last night, Miami had the 12th and 14th ranked offense and defense respectively. While Kaaya will probably make freshman mistakes, he has weapons like Duke Johnson to break off big plays. The defense is solid against both the pass and rush.

These adjusted yards per play numbers also predict a point spread for any game. Before last night, yards per play predicted a 11.7 point win for Miami at Virginia Tech.

That margin was probably too large. This season, I’ve been working with Mike Craig to aggregate many different predictions for a better ensemble prediction. In addition to yards per play, we use calculations based margin of victory and data from the markets. The public predictions on The Power Rank is just one member of the ensemble.

This ensemble predicted a 1 point win for Miami over Virginia Tech. The line opened favoring Virginia Tech by 3 points before ending with Miami as a 2 point favorite.

Miami thrashed Virginia Tech 30-6 last night. The Hurricanes gained 6.61 yards per play compared with 4.44 for Virginia Tech. Miami led 24-0 at half without the benefit of any Virginia Tech turnovers.

It doesn’t always work out so nicely in the random world of college football. But yards per play has an amazing power to identify undervalued teams at this point in the season.

Let’s at some other ensemble predictions for this weekend.

Mississippi at LSU

Mississippi will beat LSU by 3.3. The teams will score 47.5 points.

Life is never easy in the SEC West. Ole Miss is undefeated with a huge win over Alabama. They attempt to continue their fairy tale season at LSU on Saturday.

Even though LSU has lost twice already, they are still solid on both sides of the ball. The Tigers rank 35th and 32nd on offense and defense respectively in my adjusted yards per play.

Ole Miss has a lights out defense ranked 2nd. On offense, they have struggled to run the ball, so they rely on the arm of quarterback Bo Wallace. Their passing game ranks 14th in adjusted yards per attempt.

Grantland asked me to predict the Heisman winner for their mid-season predictions article. These predictions make me uncomfortable because my analytics do not directly apply.

I picked Wallace to win the Heisman. He has a great defense to help win games, and he has increased his completion percentage 66% this season. (The blond hair probably helps as well.) If my prediction has any chance of coming true, Wallace must have a Heisman moment at LSU to win the game. Perhaps a leap over a defender for a go ahead touchdown?

Ohio State at Penn State

Ohio State will beat Penn State by 5.8. The teams will score 50.4 points.

Matt Hinton of Grantland had a nice article on Ohio State QB J.T. Barrett. The freshman has been impressive recently, and some think he’s better than the injured Braxton Miller. With only six games played for Barrett, that’s absurd.

It’s easy to get excited about a small sample size, especially when two of Ohio State’s opponents were Rutgers and Cincinnati. Remember when Texas A&M freshman Kenny Hill destroyed South Carolina in their first game and jumped to the front of Heisman lists? Hill has stumbled against the elite defenses in the SEC West.

Barrett faces a Penn State defense ranked 16th, a unit which will make it difficult for Barrett to put up the same numbers he did against Cincinnati and Rutgers. Ohio State probably wins this game at Happy Valley, but it won’t be easy.

Oregon at California

Oregon will beat California by 11.8. The teams will score 75.8 points.

Offensive linemen usually don’t get much credit. However, tackle Jake Fisher got props from CBS writer Rob Rang for jump starting Oregon’s offense when he returned from injury against UCLA.

I didn’t see that game, but Oregon’s offensive line looked terrible against Arizona. And I like it when the big guys up front get credit.

Oregon should take care of business against an improved California team.

Michigan at Michigan State

Michigan State will beat Michigan by 14.4. The teams will score 45.8 points.

For Michigan to capitalize on their 15% chance to beat Michigan State, quarterback Devin Gardner must put on the superman cape that he lost after last year’s Notre Dame game.

Sample of other ensemble predictions

In the following, the first number gives the point spread for the home team; a negative number implies a victory for the home team. The second number gives total points scored in the game.

UNLV at Utah State: -20.7, 54.5.

Northern Illinois at Eastern Michigan: 18.1, 62.4.

Texas Tech at TCU: -20.8, 68.3.

Central Michigan at Buffalo: 3.3, 56.7.

Akron at Ball State: 2.6, 50.9.

UCLA at Colorado: 18.9, 65.1.

West Virginia at Oklahoma State: 2.5, 64.5.

Vanderbilt at Missouri: -22.3, 45.0.

Maryland at Wisconsin: -7.9, 55.7.

Louisiana Tech at Southern Miss: 6.8, 52.1.

Temple at UCF: -11.7, 51.2.

UAB at Arkansas: -17.2, 59.1.

Massachusetts at Toledo: -17.6, 68.8.

Texas State at Louisiana Monroe: -2.1, 49.6.

Minnesota at Illinois: 2.1, 56.0.

UTEP at UTSA: -19.1, 52.2.

Texas at Kansas State: -10.4, 44.6.

Kent State at Miami (OH): -9.1, 51.9.

Troy at South Alabama: -16.0, 54.1.

Members of The Power Rank have access to these ensemble predictions and my yards per play calculations. To learn more, sign up for the free email newsletter. Just enter your best email and click “Sign up now.”

World Series win probability for 2014

world_series_winprobAt the end of the regular season, I ranked baseball teams based on expected runs scored and allowed. The formula comes from Dave Smyth’s Base Runs, which on average estimates a team’s season run total within 1%.

The first number after a team gives the differential in expected runs, followed by offense and defense in parentheses. The record comes from baseball’s Pythagorean theorem with an exponent 1.83.

1. Los Angeles Angels, 131.99. (728.60, 596.61). Record: 95-67.
2. Washington, 125.88. (695.92, 570.04). Record: 95-67.
3. Oakland, 117.29. (684.77, 567.49). Record: 94-68.
4. Los Angeles Dodgers, 115.87. (737.74, 621.87). Record: 93-69.
5. Pittsburgh, 91.53. (724.80, 633.26). Record: 90-71.
6. Baltimore, 72.00. (718.53, 646.54). Record: 88-74.
7. Detroit, 59.78. (771.46, 711.68). Record: 86-76.
8. San Francisco, 52.06. (657.84, 605.78). Record: 86-75.
9. Tampa Bay, 35.93. (642.20, 606.27). Record: 85-77.
10. Seattle, 31.37. (606.33, 574.97). Record: 84-78.
11. Toronto, 28.01. (735.04, 707.04). Record: 83-79.
12. Cleveland, 22.12. (686.96, 664.84). Record: 82-79.
13. St. Louis, 16.59. (628.22, 611.63). Record: 82-80.
14. Kansas City, -4.46. (634.16, 638.61). Record: 79-82.
15. Milwaukee, -5.71. (659.09, 664.80). Record: 80-82.
16. New York Yankees, -20.64. (638.51, 659.14). Record: 78-84.
17. Chicago Cubs, -25.19. (634.64, 659.83). Record: 77-84.
18. Atlanta, -28.47. (602.24, 630.71). Record: 77-85.
19. Miami, -29.88. (662.45, 692.33). Record: 77-85.
20. Colorado, -34.93. (784.56, 819.49). Record: 77-84.
21. New York Mets, -46.29. (620.00, 666.29). Record: 75-87.
22. Houston, -49.93. (648.16, 698.10). Record: 75-87.
23. San Diego, -55.98. (539.81, 595.78). Record: 73-89.
24. Cincinnati, -58.94. (582.96, 641.90). Record: 73-89.
25. Chicago White Sox, -69.15. (670.81, 739.96). Record: 73-89.
26. Minnesota, -71.83. (700.10, 771.92). Record: 73-89.
27. Philadelphia, -72.87. (611.56, 684.42). Record: 72-90.
28. Boston, -80.61. (647.36, 727.97). Record: 72-90.
29. Arizona, -111.52. (620.73, 732.25). Record: 68-94.
30. Texas, -150.93. (629.36, 780.30). Record: 65-97.

Kansas City had a negative run differential by expected runs. They should have lost more games than they won during the regular season. Now the Royals are playing in the World Series.

San Francisco had the 4th best run differential among 5 NL playoff teams. They beat that 5th team (St. Louis) to return to the World Series.

Playoff baseball is crazy.

World Series Prediction

My numbers gives San Francisco a 53% chance to beat Kansas City in the World Series. The markets favorite a Kansas City team that has not yet lost a game in the playoffs.

Kansas City has home field because the AL won the All-Star game. If San Francisco had home field, their win probability goes up to 55%. I thought the gap would be bigger, but the 0.3 runs I use for home field advantage has a small effect on series odds.

The series win probabilities start with my MLB team rankings, which take raw run differential and adjust for strength of schedule. Also, I adjust for cluster luck based on the regular season.

In addition, the projections consider starting pitching through xFIP, an ERA type statistics that captures the skill of a pitcher through strike outs, walks and fly ball rate.

Daily predictions for each game appear on the predictions page.

Why neither Florida State nor Notre Dame will make the 2014 college football playoff

The Power Rank's top 10 as of Oct 16th, which doesn't include Florida State or Notre Dame.

The Power Rank’s top 10 as of Oct 16th, which doesn’t include Florida State or Notre Dame.

You expect the winner of the Notre Dame and Florida State to make the first college football playoff. It might be the easiest prediction of the season given their unblemished records and the recent track record of these programs.

Florida State won the national title last season and returns Heisman winning QB Jameis Winston. Only an incredible run of wins by Mississippi State has knocked them from first in the AP poll.

Notre Dame played in the national championship game two years ago. Now Everett Golson, the quarterback that led the Fighting Irish during their championship run, has returned after getting removed from school for year. Notre Dame seems like an elite team again.

The past few season has brought a return to former greatness for both programs. This visual shows a 30 year history of Florida State.

Florida State

The bottom panel shows a rating, or an expected margin of victory against an average team from The Power Rank’s algorithm.

Former Florida State Bobby Bowden took the program to incredible heights before regressing in the new millennium. Current coach Jimbo Fisher had the Seminoles on an upward trajectory before making a huge leap last season.

Notre Dame has also enjoyed some terrific seasons over the last 30 years.

Notre Dame

Former coach Lou Holtz capture the national championship in 1988 and had amazing teams in 1989 and 1993. The program went in decline after his departure in 1996 except for a one year blip in 2005 (Charlie Weis’s first year with Tyrone Willingham’s players). Current coach Brian Kelly had the Fighting Irish on the rise until a slight drop last season.

Despite this return to greatness for these programs, neither Notre Dame nor Florida State will make the college football playoff this season. Let me explain.

Florida State

No, my pessimism towards Florida State isn’t based on the high likelihood Jameis Winston gets kicked off the team. The news cycle has brought us constant stories about his problems over a rape case and whether he took money for signing autographs.

Florida State’s offense has been good this season. The Power Rank takes yards per play and adjusts for strength of schedule through a proprietary algorithm to rank offense and defense. These rankings put the Seminole offense at 6th in the nation. They might even be better, as this calculation includes the Clemson game in which Winston didn’t play.

Florida State’s problems are on defense. In the past two season, this unit has ranked in the top 5 by my adjusted yards per play. However, they have dropped to 35th this season.

There are many possible reasons for this decline. Florida State lost tackle Tim Jernigan and cornerback LaMarcus Joyner to the NFL draft. Coordinator Jeremy Pruitt left for Georgia, who pitched a shutout at Missouri this past weekend.

The numbers single out the pass defense, which ranks 51st by yards per pass attempt adjusted for schedule. Florida State can’t generate a pass rush as they have sacked the quarterback on 4.2% of pass attempts compared to a 6% FBS average.

To confirm these numbers, I watched the first half of Florida State’s game against Syracuse. The Seminoles only pressured the quarterback three times on 18 pass attempts. None of these pressures led to a sack, although one did result in an interception.

With this struggling defense, Florida State becomes vulnerable to a few of their conference foes. (Well, they were also vulnerable 2 seasons ago when they lost at North Carolina State.) My best predictions at The Power Rank come from aggregating a number of predictions based on stats such as margin of victory and yards per play.

These ensemble predictions make Florida State an underdog at Louisville (44% win probability) and Miami (38%). Louisville has the 2nd best defense in the nation, while Miami looks strong on both sides of the ball despite 3 losses already.

Notre Dame

The Everett Golson story has been heart warming. The kid makes a mistake and cheats on a test. Notre Dame finds out and kicks him out of school, causing him to miss the 2013 season. Then Golson comes back and has led the Fighting Irish to a 6-0 record this season.

However, the numbers suggest that Notre Dame’s offense is not any better than last season. With Tommy Rees at quarterback last season, Notre Dame ranked 23rd in yards per pass attempt adjusted for schedule. This season, Notre Dame ranks 22nd.

On both offense and defense, Notre Dame looks the same as last season if not slightly worse. In my numbers, their offense is ranked 35th after ending last season 28th. Their defense is ranked 31st after ending last season 28th. For comparison, one loss Alabama has the 11th and 7th ranked offense and defense respectively this season.

In addition, Notre Dame hasn’t played any quality teams except Stanford. They beat Stanford when converted a 4th and 11 for a go ahead touchdown when Stanford coach David Shaw inexplicably rushed 3 guys (no, this Stanford alum is not bitter. Not at all.). Notre Dame also won a strange 31-0 game against Michigan in which they had fewer total yards than Michigan.

Even if they beat Florida State, Notre Dame will find their remaining schedule difficult. My numbers have them as underdog at USC and Arizona State, two teams that have struggled this season. They also have a slim 51% win probability against Louisville at home.


Notre Dame at Florida State should be a fantastic game. The environment will be electric, the offenses will score points.

The best predictions at The Power Rank come from aggregating a number of different predictions. In collaboration with Mike Craig, we use my numbers as well as data from the betting markets and other trusted rankings. This ensemble method predicts a 9 point win for Florida State, which implies a 25% win probability for Notre Dame.

However, these are not two of the best five teams in the nation. Florida State might sneak back into the top 5 if their defense returns their level of play over the last two seasons. The numbers suggest Notre Dame is a solid top 25 team but nothing more.

Expect neither Florida State nor Notre Dame to end up in college football’s first playoff.