3 overrated college football teams for 2015 by preseason analytics

Screen Shot 2015-08-05 at 9.56.57 AMIt’s always fun to pick at the brand name programs in college football.

USA Today released its Coaches Poll last week, and it gives us a chance to identify some overrated teams.

The win totals report

Based on my preseason college football rankings, I already wrote about 2 possibly overrated teams (TCU, Michigan State) in The 2015 College Football Win Totals Report. This report also identifies two teams with value in the win totals market.

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3 more overrated teams for 2015

Over at Football Study Hall, I wrote about 3 more college football teams that might not reach the expectations of media and fans based on my preseason rankings.

To read the article, click here.

One of the teams may have some value to go under their win total in the markets.

I’ve been a bit surprised at the reaction so far. Auburn is one of the three teams, and their fans just roasted me last year for a Grantland article.

However, I’ve gotten a few tweets agreeing with my analysis.

Go figure. To check out the article, click here.

Contenders’ flaws still give Tigers a chance

Screen Shot 2015-08-05 at 9.48.35 AMIn my most recent Detroit News column, I look at the American League landscape and find it devoid of all but one true contender.

It was kind of an argument that the Tigers could not sell their players and make a run at the playoffs. However, the Tigers did sell, a healthy move for their franchise.

The one AL team that I did like was the New York Yankees. In the 9 nine days since the column appeared, the Yankees have surged. They now have the best record in the AL and are 2nd in my MLB team rankings.

To read the Detroit News article, click here.

Introducing: The 2015 college football win totals report

cfb_win_totals_landscapeYou want to predict the 2015 college football season with accuracy. Any analytics that pinpoint a win total for each team is useful to you.

At The Power Rank, I’ve developed a regression model for preseason rankings in college football. It has predicted the game winner in 70.4% of games since the 2005 season.

To get the results of this model, check out The 2015 College Football Win Totals Report. It includes:

  • Win total for FBS teams based on the preseason rankings
  • 2 teams with value in the win totals market
  • 2 overrated teams heading into 2015
  • The simple truth that allows for accurate preseason predictions in college football

To download this report, sign up for my free email newsletter, which provides updates on all my predictions and content.

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

Here’s a sample from the win totals report.


The Power Rank: 5th, expected 9.4 wins. Market: 10 wins.

Each year, a team gets a bounce in preseason rankings because of an exceptional bowl game performance.

In 2011, West Virginia destroyed Clemson by a 70-33 margin in the Orange Bowl. West Virginia started 2012 at 11th in the AP poll only to end year 7-6.

In 2013, Oklahoma beat perennial power Alabama 45-31 in the Sugar Bowl. Oklahoma started 2014 at 4th in the AP only to have a disappointing 8-5 season.

Last year, TCU treated Ole Miss like a scout team, beating them 42-3 in a New Year’s Six Bowl. There’s almost no way TCU doesn’t get overrated in 2015.

However, TCU shows up at 5th in my preseason rankings. A big reason is program strength over the past 4 seasons. Even though they had a poor 4-8 record in 2013, TCU was 32nd in my year end rankings and 8 points better than the average FBS team.

Earlier, we discussed how Memphis had a lucky year in 2014 for a usually poor program. TCU also had an exceptional 2014, but they were also strong the previous 3 years. My model says TCU will remain a top 10 team in 2015.

However, there are reasons to believe 5th is too high for TCU. They had incredible luck with injuries last year. It’s unlikely that the defensive starters miss one game total due to injury again in 2015.

Also, long time defensive coordinator Dick Bumpas retired. Head coach Gary Patterson has a considerable impact on the defense, but he also has to deal with the loss of 3 of 4 starters in the secondary.

TCU won 11 games during a magical regular season in 2014. It will be hard to replicate that total, but the preseason model does predict 9.4 wins, close to the market total of 10. Just don’t pencil TCU in for the college football playoff just yet.

Get the win totals report

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Predicting Michigan’s win total in Jim Harbaugh’s first year

harbaugh_streetsHow many games will Michigan win in 2015? Can they rise to the level of Ohio State and become relevant on the national stage?

This seemed like a fantasy for Michigan until the hiring of Jim Harbaugh, one of the best coaches at both the college and pro level. For a suffering Michigan fan base, it felt like getting a new Porsche for a 17th birthday.

The conventional wisdom says that Harbaugh will bring Michigan back to national prominence. And this is a good thing. Love or hate the Michigan program, college football becomes more interesting with the increased relevaance of brand programs.

But will Michigan win many games this year? Here, we’ll use analytics to get a baseline expectation in 2015.

First, let’s take a closer look at the coach himself.

Stunning success as a coach

To understand the excitement in Ann Arbor over the hiring of Harbaugh, let’s look at what happened during his time at Stanford.

This visual shows a 30 year history of Stanford football. The rating in the bottom panel is an expected margin of victory against an average FBS team according to my computer calculations of team rankings.


Harbaugh took a team that went 1-11 the year before he arrived and turned Stanford into an elite college football team. He brought a culture of toughness and physicality to the program. It also helped that he recruited QB Andrew Luck, a future number one overall NFL draft pick.

The Harbaugh culture lives on at Stanford even years after his departure for the San Francisco 49ers. The program continues to win despite the questionable decisions made by current coach David Shaw.

Why is Harbaugh a good coach? Many articles have been written about his complete devotion to coaching football. ESPN’s Seth Wickersham wrote that “everything that isn’t coaching football is a distraction” to Harbaugh, which makes him seem rude at times.

However, there’s more to Harbaugh’s greatness. He also understands people. Consider this story about his wife Sarah from a recent Sports Illustrated profile.

People often ask Sarah what it’s like when Jim yells at her, and she tells them, “He’s never yelled at me.” She yells sometimes, but he doesn’t yell back. He just tells her the real reason she is mad, and he is usually right, and yes, that can be maddening. Sometimes it would be easier if he just yelled.

Great coaches can motivate their players. Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski doesn’t create innovative basketball strategies. Instead, he gets people and what makes them tick. Same for Phil Jackson.

Can Harbaugh make a difference in 2015? Let’s estimate the talent he has to work with.

Michigan in The Power Rank’s preseason rankings

In 2014, Michigan went 5-7, which led to the firing of coach Brady Hoke. While the firing seemed justified, I don’t know how many coaches survive a season with a -16 turnover margin (takeaways minus giveaways) and a senior QB Devin Gardner whose performance regressed.

While my preseason model doesn’t account for Gardner, it does consider the turnover margin. There’s a lot of randomness in turnovers, which implies that teams with large negative (or positive) values in this statistic are unlikely to have such extreme values the next season.

There is no guarantee in this regression to the mean. In the three years that Rich Rodriguez coached Michigan, the team had a turnover margin of -10 or worse. But by the numbers, Michigan is unlikely to perform worse than -16 in turnover margin this season no matter who coaches them.

In addition to turnovers, the preseason model also considers a program’s performance over the past four seasons and returning starters. Despite the simplicity of the model, which does not consider coaching changes, it has predict the winner in 70.4% of games since 2005. In addition, the higher ranked team has won 60.2% of bowl games from 2005 through 2014.

Michigan is 34th in my 2015 preseason rankings, almost exactly what SB Nation’s Bill Connelly expects.

They’re not in the same class as Ohio State (2nd), or even Wisconsin (14th) and Michigan State (16th) in the Big Ten. However, Michigan sits between Nebraska (32nd) and Penn State (38th).

Michigan is better than many of the other Big Ten opponents on their schedule. This will impact their expected win total.

For the full preseason rankings, click here.

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The most important player in 2015

Heading into the 2015 season, Michigan fans are stressing about quarterback. Devin Garnder struggled last year, and the offense ranked 71st in yards per play adjusted for strength of schedule, The Power Rank’s primary metric for evaluating offense and defense.

With the graduation of Garnder, rising sophomore Shane Morris looked like the best quarterback in spring practice. However, he showed the same inaccuracy in the spring game (11-24) that has plagued his career. While the 135 passing yards looks good, he got most of those throwing against a running back attempting to play cornerback (Dennis Norfleet).

I agree with Brian Cook of mgoblog.com that Morris will almost certainly lose the QB job to Jake Rudock, the graduate transfer from Iowa. Rudock started two years and completed 60.3% of his passes, almost the exact same percentage as Gardner. However, Rudock will most likely be better reducing turnovers, as he threw interceptions on 2.6% of his passes, much less than the 4.1% of Garnder.

It’s becoming cliche to say that Rudock raises the floor for Michigan in 2015. However, the most important player should be high ceiling talent that allows the team to exceed expectations. For Michigan, that’s Jabrill Peppers.

Peppers was the top ranked cornerback recruit in 2014. As the third ranked recruit overall that season, recruiting guru Sam Webb thought he was vastly underrated. He played a few games last season before getting injured and will move to safety this season.

Peppers has the potential to take a Michigan defense ranked 17th by adjusted yards per play last season up into the top 10 or 5. Throw in some lucky bounces that turn into takeaways, and the Michigan defense could carry this team above expectations.

Breaking down the schedule

To determine how games Michigan will win, let’s break the schedule into four tiers.

  • Almost certain wins: UNLV (97.3%).
  • Very likely wins: Oregon State (82.2%), BYU (67.2%), at Maryland (75.2%), Northwestern (77.7%), Rutgers (83.3%), at Indiana (74.0%).
  • Toss up games: at Utah (40.4%), Michigan State (45.5%), at Minnesota (53.9%), at Penn State (46.1%)
  • Unlikely wins: Ohio State (23.5%)

Unless an earthquake swallows the Big House, Michigan will beat UNLV. They have greater than 66% chance in another 6 games, which results in 4 or 5 more wins. If they can win two of four toss up games, that’s 7 or 8 wins for the season.

Adding the win probabilities in Michigan’s 12 games gives an expected win total of 7.7, very close to the market total of 7.5. Simulations of the season give Michigan a 56% chance to win 8 or more games.


The expected 7.7 wins by my preseason model makes no adjustments for the Harbaugh factor. If he can establish his brand of physical football this season, Michigan can exceed these preseason expectations.

Michigan should also vastly improve on special teams. Harbaugh hired special teams coach John Baxter, who had a remarkable track record at Fresno State and USC. With a timely blocked kick, Michigan steal an extra game.

Want more Michigan content from a numbers point of view? I’m part of the MGoBlog Roundtable with Sam Webb, Brian Cook and Craig Ross on WTKA. The radio starts up again in August (Thursday mornings at 9am).

How to find a late round QB with value for fantasy football

Screen Shot 2015-07-15 at 4.18.14 PMFantasy football is so random.

Your buddy Jones picks up some rookie running back late in the draft and runs off with the league championship. Who can predict such things?

Even with the difficulty of predicting rookie performance, that doesn’t stop the quants from trying. Joseph Juan over at Numberfire makes the argument for Tennessee rookie QB Marcus Mariota (assuming he signs a contract).

The quantitative argument is flimsy, as it relies on a comparison with one other player (Cam Newton). But the article is worth a read if you’re in a fantasy football league.

To read the article over on Numberfire, click here.