Copa America win probabilities for 2016 at the knock out stage


These Copa America win probabilities are based on my international soccer/football rankings that include competition since the start of 2012.

The calculations weight games by their importance. For example, a World Cup match is worth four times a friendly.

However, the rankings do not weight recent games more. This has interesting consequences for the above win probabilities.

United States

For example, the United States ranks 13th in my world rankings. The largest contribution comes from the 2014 World Cup in which they emerged from a group of death to make the knock out stage.

Other predictive rankings such as tend to weight recent matches more. With their struggles in last year’s Gold Cup, the United States ranks 22nd by this metric.

Still, the United States has a 16% chance to win the Copa America. They will enjoy home advantage in each of their matches, worth 0.56 goals.

Also, it looked like Colombia did the United States a favor when they lost Costa Rica. The United States won the group on goal differential and most likely avoided Brazil in the first knock out game.

Then Brazil lost to Peru 1-0 when the referee missed a blatant hand ball goal. Brazil fails to advance from the group, and Peru, 27th by my rankings, wins the group.

I ran the numbers for the situation in which the United States finished second to Colombia in the group. This means they play Peru and Chile/Mexico instead of Ecuador and Argentina. The United States had a 21% win probability, larger than their 16% chance.

Partial home advantage for Mexico

I’ve given Mexico a half home advantage, since El Tri always gets strong support from their fans on American soil. However, they only have a 10% chance to win.

Mexico faces a tough road through Chile and Colombia, the seventh and fourth ranked teams by my numbers, to make the final. Then they most likely face top ranked Argentina in the final.


Argentina has the highest win probability at 32%. However, this is less than the about 58% chance (-140 as of Thursday morning) given by the futures market.

Note that superstar Lionel Messi has yet to start a match in this tournament because of an injury. He did score three goals as a reserve against Panama.

The top 25 college football teams of 2016 by recruiting rankings

Nick_Saban_StatueHow talented is your college football team? If only recruiting mattered, which teams would contend for next season’s College Football Playoff?

Here, I use a regression model to rank college football teams for 2016 based on the past four years of team recruiting rankings from Rivals. This model assigns a weight to each of the past four years to best predict on field performance in 2016.

The model gets trained on data from past years. As a measure of a team’s performance in each year, I use its rating given by my college football team rankings at The Power Rank. This rating gets calculated by taking margin of victory in games and accurately adjusting for strength of schedule.

Will these rankings accurately predict next season?

This article looks at the top 25 teams by recruiting rankings for 2016. Will these rankings accurately predict team performance next year?

Probably not.

The regression model is a poor predictor of team performance by The Power Rank. You’re better off looking at the year end rating from the previous season. (For you math types, the recruiting model explains 25% of the variance in team ratings, while the year end rating from the previous season explains 57%.)

However, I do have a better preseason model that has predicted the winner in over 70% of college football games before a single game has been played. This model drives my preseason rankings and win totals report.

This report, which gives an expected win total for each college football team, is available to people who get my free email newsletter. This is also how I give a sample of my best football predictions during the season.

To sign up to receive the 2016 college football win totals report (due out July 5th, 2016), enter your best email and click on “Sign up now!”

Let’s count down the top 25 college football teams by recruiting rankings.

25. Mississippi State

The Bulldogs will no longer have the services of QB Dak Prescott, who set every school record for passing. This will make life difficult in the SEC West.

24. Oregon

The defense has plunged over the past two seasons (35th in 2014, 74th in 2015 by my yards per play adjusted for schedule). Can former Michigan coach Brady Hoke revive the Oregon defense as coordinator?

23. Penn State

Despite a small class of 20, James Franklin still recruited a top 25 class for Penn State in 2016. And perhaps the offense will improve as they transition from pro style QB Christian Hackenberg to an up tempo spread offense.

22. Baylor

After ranking 40th in these recruiting numbers last year, Baylor jumps into the top 25 this season with the 17th ranked class, by far their best of the past decade. Then coach Art Briles gets fired and replaced by the uninspiring Jim Grobe.

21. Miami (FL)

Mark Richt, a good enough coach to not get fired at Georgia for 15 years, takes over the Hurricanes program. Always a strong recruiter at Georgia, he managed the 21st best class in his first year at Miami.

20. Stanford

Coach David Shaw continues to inspire a range of emotions in this Stanford alumni.

First, the Cardinal embarrasses Iowa in the Rose Bowl. The 45-16 victory had every alum dancing to All Right Now.

Then Shaw embarrasses the entire Stanford community with this reaction to satellite camps.

It doesn’t make sense for us to go hold a camp some place where there might be one person in the entire state that’s eligible to get into Stanford.

Hey coach, try not to make us all look like pompous asses.

19. South Carolina

Will Muschamp? As a recent SEC power program, you couldn’t find someone with more head coaching success?

Muschamp would have fared better at Florida had he found a player that could throw the ball with any accuracy. He needs to do better in the QB department to last at South Carolina.

18. Michigan State

Mark Dantonio turned the Spartans recent success into the 18th ranked class in 2016, a strong result for a class of 20 players. Now they must deal with the loss of the best QB (Connor Cook) and tackle (Jack Conklin) in program history.

17. Oklahoma

The Sooners seemed to struggle in 2014 to an 8-5 record, but they went 1-3 in games decided by a touchdown or less. They rebounded in 2015 with an 11-2 record and a playoff berth last season, going 2-1 in close games.

16. Texas

Can Charlie Strong find a quarterback? Returning starter Tyrone Swoopes will compete with Shane Buechele for the starting job this fall.

15. Tennessee

Butch Jones couldn’t do better than the 5th ranked classes he had in both 2014 and 2015. However, he did get the 15th ranked class in 2016 with only 21 players.

Tennessee will build on a program that played close games with Oklahoma and Alabama, both playoff teams last season.

14. Michigan

It seems like Jim Harbaugh’s team should rank higher than 14th after their top 5 class in 2016. However, the model takes a weighted average over four years that includes the 31st and 49th ranked class in 2013 and 2014 respectively.

Michigan will rise in these rankings if Harbaugh continues to recruit top 5 classes.

13. Texas A&M

Is Kevin Sumlin an offensive guru? Or was Johnny Manziel just that good in college?

In 2015, Texas A&M had the 63rd ranked pass offense by my yards per play adjusted for schedule. Then two quarterbacks transfer during the off season.

Sumlin did bring in graduate transfer QB Trevor Knight. At Oklahoma, Knight won MVP of the 2014 Sugar Bowl when the Sooners beat Alabama.

12. UCLA

Jim Mora scored the 8th best recruiting class in 2016, tied for the best in program history over the past decade. They’ll need this talent to replace 8 players drafted into the NFL.

11. Florida

The Gators had a strong 10-4 season in Jim McElwain’s first season, led by a top 10 defense. However, the offense was a ceiling for this team, with the rushing worse than the passing.

10. Mississippi

How must Hugh Freeze felt on NFL draft day?

  • Crap, they lifted the ban on satellite camps. Now I gotta go work in June.
  • Well, at least Laremy Tunsil is getting drafted tonight.
  • What??!! He posted a video with his smoking of a bong on Twitter?
  • Well, at least my boy went 15th to the Dolphins.
  • What??!! He told everyone that we play our players??

Freeze can’t wait to get back to camp and take a look at his 7th ranked class from 2016.

The Rebels were one fluky fourth down bounce against Arkansas from winning the SEC West last season over Alabama.

9. Georgia

Can Kirby Smart take this program higher than Mark Richt? The long time Alabama DC has never been a head coach before.

Smart passed his first test by recruiting the 9th best class of 2016, including three 5 star recruits.

8. Clemson

The championship game against Alabama must have traumatized Tigers fans. The defensive line whipped a solid Bama offensive line only to see a stellar secondary make repeated mistakes that cost Clemson the game.

Still, a championship game appearance could only have helped Dabo Swinney recruit his second straight top 10 class. Expect Clemson to move up on this list next year.

7. Auburn

Will Muschamp had the defense headed in the right direction. After ranking 41st in 2014, Auburn’s defense jumped 19th in 2015 by my yards per play adjusted for schedule.

Former LSU coordinator Kevin Steele takes over the defense for 2016.

6. USC

One of college football’s traditional powers, USC can attract just about any coach to take over their program. They decided on OC Clay Helton, who has never been a head coach.

However, even Charlie Weis could recruit at USC. The Trojans had the 10th best class in 2016.

5. Notre Dame

Brian Kelly has done an exceptional job improving the talent at Notre Dame. The Fighting Irish had 6 players picked in the first round of the NFL draft.

The offense was spectacular last season (2nd in yard per play adjusted for schedule), but the defense needs to catch up (48th).

4. LSU

Les Miles hasn’t had a recruiting class worse than 8th the past four years, which leads to this lofty ranking. The tougher trick will be coaxing better QB play out of Brandon Harris.

3. Florida State

Jimbo Fisher has recruited a top 10 class each of his 7 years as head coach of the Seminoles. If he can get some solid QB play in 2016, Florida State will challenge for a playoff spot out of the ACC.

2. Ohio State

In August of 2015, Ohio State was the toast of college football. Urban Meyer’s team had won the first playoff, and he was killing it as usual on the recruiting trail.

Then in the most inexplicable game of 2015, Ohio State lost to Michigan State, a team without star QB Connor Cook. The loss cost the Buckeyes a spot in the playoff, and they lost 10 players to the first 3 rounds of the NFL draft.

Now, heading into 2016, many believe that Michigan is a better team than Ohio State. I find this difficult to believe, and Ohio State’s recruiting rank of 2nd is only one reason why.

Full disclosure: I live in Ann Arbor and consider myself part of the Michigan family (although I may get booted this preseason). For the past three years, I’ve talked Michigan sports on WTKA sports radio.

1. Alabama

Over seven of the past nine years, Nick Saban has recruited the top class in the nation.

2016 NBA Finals series win probability

nba_champ_trophyFor the NBA playoffs, I developed rankings that use both data from games and the markets. These numbers give the following win probability for the finals.

Golden State has a 75.3 percent chance of winning the series.

This number has changed since the start of the playoffs.

Back on April 16th, the Warriors had just won a record 73 games during the regular season. My numbers said the Warriors were 4.5 points better than the Cavs on a neutral court, which implies a 83.4% series win probability.

Since then, Steph Curry got hurt, and perhaps hasn’t played up to his MVP form since his return. The Warriors struggled in a seven game series against Oklahoma City, getting outscored by 7 points during the series.

Meanwhile, Cleveland has played exceptional during the playoffs, as they have lost only two games (both in Toronto). Shooting 43.4% from three compared with 36.3% during the regular season has helped.

Now, the numbers imply Golden State is three points better on a neutral court than Cleveland, which gives the 75.3% win probability.

As of Tuesday morning (May 31st), the markets imply a 65.5% win probability for Golden State.

NBA series win probabilities for the 2016 conference finals

These numbers come from rankings that use data from games and the markets. To see my numbers for the entire playoffs, check out the interactive visual for NBA win probabilities.

Oklahoma City vs Golden State.
Golden State has a 78.5 percent chance of winning the series.

Toronto vs Cleveland.
Cleveland has a 75.1 percent chance of winning the series.

The numbers point to a Golden State versus Cleveland rematch of the NBA finals.

To see update numbers on these series probabilities, check out the predictions page.

Would a Big 12 championship game be a mistake? — Analytics on College Football Playoff odds


The Big 12 hired an analytics firm to advise them on the best way of making the College Football Playoff. After crunching the numbers, the firm suggested expanding to 12 teams, playing 8 instead of 9 conference games and having a championship game.

This idea of holding a championship game interests me the most. Navigate, the research firm, says this change alone would increase the Big 12’s playoff odds by 5 percent. (All three suggestions add up to an 10-15 percent increase.)

However, it doesn’t make sense that adding a championship game will increase a conference’s chance to make the playoffs.

Think back to 2015. Oklahoma finishes their regular season at 11-1 and 3rd in the committee rankings. Since the Big 12 didn’t have a championship game, the Sooners sat at home during the last week of the season. They couldn’t lose and fall in the rankings.

Here, we’ll use simulations to determine the effect of a championship game on a conference’s playoff chances. The results impact not only Big 12 teams but also Notre Dame.

The numbers suggest that the committee must place extremely high value on winning a championship game, not just being a conference champion, to see any kind of increase in playoff odds. Let me explain.

Analytics on conference championship games

br_playoff_oddsIn 2014, Bleacher Report asked me to calculate the chance that each team would make the College Football Playoff. I wrote about these simulation results in their weekly playoff odds report for the past two seasons.

I’m happy with the accuracy of these projections. The numbers didn’t like undefeated Utah in early in 2015, and they subsequently lost 3 games. I also predicted a difficult path for top ranked Mississippi State in 2014, a team that failed to make the playoff. You can make your own judgement based on the archive of predictions.

To look at conference championship games, I use the same methods to simulate the past three seasons retrospectively. Let’s look at the two key components to this calculation.

  • College football team rankings. For each season, I use season ending rankings to calculate a win probability for each game. This uses the best estimate of team strength to retrospectively look at the season.
  • Season long simulations. The simulation marches through each week of the season and picks winners at random according to the assigned win probability.

Each week, teams that lose drop in the committee rankings. Teams that win usually hold their place in the rankings but occasionally jump over teams ahead of them.

The simulation also determines the winners of divisions to hold conference championship games the last week of the season. The simulation accounts for conference champions before the final rankings. If a top four team is not a conference champion, they have a chance of falling out of a playoff spot (25% with one loss, 50% with two losses, 75% with three losses).

These assumptions on conference champions have an enormous impact on playoff probability.

Does a championship game give the Big 12 an edge?

Suppose the Big 12 added a conference championship game with its current 10 team structure. The simulation finds the top two teams by conference record and has them play in a championship game.

Over the past three seasons, the Big 12’s playoff chances drops an average of 17%. This differs from the Navigate Research results that show a 5% increase.

My story almost ended here. The simulations made the clear statement that a championship game would hurt the Big 12. Their top team can’t drop without a loss, so don’t hold a championship game.

And I probably should have stopped here. “Big 12 analytics firm makes stupid conclusions” makes a pretty good headline. But I wanted to see how far I could push these results. What if the simulation gave more credit to teams that played in a title game?

How will the committee view a conference championship?

Let’s push the boundaries of how the committee gives credit to a conference championship.

  • 1. Dropping teams without a conference championship. Now, a one loss team has a 50% to drop out of a playoff spot, and all two loss teams get dropped.
  • 2. Moving up for winners of conference championship games. A team that wins a conference title game has a 75% chance to move ahead of the team in front of them. This places a high value on “one last chance to impress the committee,” an opportunity Big 12 teams and Notre Dame do not have right now.

With only the first criteria of a higher drop rate for non-champions, the Big 12’s playoff chances decrease an average of 9.2% with a championship game. The drop is smaller than in my original model (17%) but still significant.

With both criteria, the Big 12’s playoff chances increase by 5.5% with a championship game. If you assume the committee will give a bump to teams that win a conference championship game, then this game helps the odds. This 5.5% increase is about the same result obtained by Navigate Research.

What about expansion to a 12 team league?

Navigate Research also suggested expanding to a 12 team league. It’s impossible to know this might impact the Big 12 without knowing which teams would join the conference.

However, a simple trick lets us study how a championship game impacts a larger conference. I can eliminate the championship game from each the other Power 5 conferences and study how this changes their playoff odds.

First, consider the strongest assumptions on a conference championship that include both criteria of the previous section. Then a conference championship gives these conferences a 1.2% advantage to make the playoff, a smaller increase than the Big 12 increase of 5.5%.

In my study over three seasons, I get three probabilities for the Big 12 and 12 for the other Power 5 conferences with more teams. This small sample size most likely explains the differences in the playoff odds between these two sets. This also suggests that the estimate of a 5.5% increase for the Big 12 is probably high.

What does analytics say about expansion?

My simulations confirm that a Big 12 championship game would increase their odds of making the College Football Playoff. However, there are numerous reasons to doubt whether this increase actually exists.

First, the simulation assumes that the committee will give a strong preference to teams that win a conference championship game. This includes the dropping of teams without a conference title and the bumping of teams that win a championship game, an opportunity that doesn’t currently exist for Big 12 teams or Notre Dame.

The results are extremely sensitive to the parameters. For example, the simulation assumes a 75% chance that a team that wins a conference title game jumps over a team without such a win. This leads to a 5.5% edge for making the Playoff if the Big 12 holds a title game.

If the simulation only gives a 50% chance to make this jump, then a championship game hurts the Big 12. Remember, this extra game exposes a team to a possible loss. With these parameters, the Big 12 playoff chances decrease by 2.8% with a championship game.

What’s the honest truth on analytics and a Big 12 championship game? We don’t know. It’s impossible for me to assign pinpoint values to the parameters of my simulations, even if I had ten years of data on the selection committee.

The committee does seem intent on giving winners of a championship game every advantage. In 2014, a flawed Florida State team jumped TCU after winning the ACC championship game. In 2015, Michigan State and Stanford both moved ahead of teams without championship game wins (Oklahoma, Ohio State respectively).

But no one knows if the committee will keep placing such a high value on conference titles. And what about top teams that lose their conference championship game? If top ranked Clemson lost to North Carolina in the 2015 ACC title game, would they have dropped from the top 4?

What do you think? Do my methods give too much credit to conference champions? Let me know in the comments.