The top 26 college football teams of 2015 by recruiting rankings

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

Here, we use recruiting rankings to rank college football teams for 2015. Sure, recruiting rankings don’t always accurately access the talent of teenagers. Five star recruits fail while a three star recruit like Johnny Manziel wins the Heisman in his freshman year.

However, recruiting rankings look pretty good in the big picture. Matt Hinton showed that five star recruits have the highest chance to become an All-American, with diminishing chances for four and then three star recruits.

I developed a regression model that uses four years of team recruiting rankings from Rivals to predict on field performance. This on field performance is defined by the team rankings at The Power Rank. The regression model simply assigns a weight to each of the past four years.

Will these rankings accurately predict next season?

We’ll count down the top 26 teams of 2015 below. But don’t go telling people “ED FENG THINKS USC IS BY FAR THE BEST TEAM IN THE PAC-12.” Not true.

The regression model is a poor predictor of team performance by The Power Rank. It’s much better to just look 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%.)

This model will never describe teams like Wisconsin, a program that never has a top 25 recruiting class but contends for a conference title every year. It will also overrate programs (cough, cough, Notre Dame) that never live up to their talent level.

But hell, it’s fun to look at which teams have the most talent according to recruiting rankings. It will help pass the long 7 month off season.

Honorable mention

Wisconsin ranks 44th. Former coach Gary Andersen, who left for Oregon State this winter, lamented the tough academic standards that prevented him from recruiting some players to Wisconsin.

TCU and Baylor rank 37th and 40th respectively. Guess coaching matters, as these should be top 10 teams next preseason.

Missouri checks in at 32nd. Low recruiting rankings haven’t stopped Gary Pinkel’s team from winning the SEC East the past two seasons.

26. Michigan State

Mark D’Antonio has produced a mighty fine team the last two seasons despite mediocre recruiting. With the probably return of QB Connor Cook, the Spartans should still be a very good team in 2015.

25. Penn State

Coach James Franklin came to State College with a reputation for recruiting, and he seems to be delivering. But can he fix QB Christian Hackenberg, the supposed NFL prospect whose completion percentage slipped from 59% to 56% from his freshman to sophomore year?

24. Arizona State

Coach Todd Graham has elevated the level of recruiting in Tempe. Arizona State was outside the top 25 from 2009 through 2013 but has drawn the 20th best class the last two seasons.

23. Mississippi State

The Bulldogs had an amazing 10-3 year (well, they could have done better with a bowl win over Georgia Tech) and translated their success into the 16th best class this season. That’s their best rank since 2003.

22. Virginia Tech

Frank Beamer is still getting good recruits to come to Blacksburg? Virginia Tech was a perennial top 25 team in The Power Rank but have fallen off since the 2011 season.

21. Michigan

Michigan has had two successive small recruiting classes, which has reduced their team rank the past two seasons. When recalculating these rankings using average stars per recruit, Michigan ranks 17th.

20. Miami (FL)

The Hurricanes had a rough season. They ranked 17th in my ensemble rankings but finished with a losing 6-7 record. Al Golden recruited the 26th best class but 16th by average stars.

19. Oregon

Oregon always plays above their rank by recruiting numbers. However, 2015 will be a tough test for Mark Helfrich, as he loses QB Marcus Mariota and has many leaks to plug on the defense.

18. Mississippi

Two years ago, Hugh Freeze made a big splash on recruiting day by signing multiple five star recruits on his way to the 7th best class. However, he hasn’t been able to replicate that success the last two years. It remains to be seen whether their successful 2014 season was a fluke or not.

17. South Carolina

Steve Spurrier really had issues on defense this season, as South Carolina finished 37th in my team rankings in 2014. They didn’t finish outside the top 20 the previous four seasons.

16. Stanford

At least once during every Stanford game, I scream at coach David Shaw for some unthinkably bad decision. However, he wins games, and the 2014 Stanford team was much better than their 8-5 record suggests.

15. Oklahoma

In 2014, the Sooners won a huge bowl game over Alabama and entered the next season overrated. In 2015, they blew their bowl game against Clemson and will probably be underrated heading into next season. Bob Stoops continues to recruit at the same level, so expect them to challenge TCU and Baylor for the Big 12.

14. UCLA

The Bruins had a tremendous signing day, finishing with the 4th best class by average stars per recruit. Let’s see if this makes them into the top 10 team that people expect each preseason.

13. Texas

Charlie Strong recruited the 12th best class to Texas. This is a fine haul anywhere except Texas, a program that had one class outside the top 5 from 2006 through 2012 under Mack Brown.

12. Florida

It seemed like new coach Jim McElwain had a good National Signing Day when five star CeCe Jefferson committed. However, Jefferson still hasn’t sent his letter of intent, and Florida has the 23rd best class, their worst rank in any year since 2002.

11. Tennessee

Butch Jones recruited his second straight 5th ranked class. Perhaps Tennessee can finally overcome the curse of Phil Fulmer, the Hall of Fame, national championship winning coach they fired in 2008.

10. Georgia

Mark Richt always recruits well. That’s why he can find a freshman (Nick Chubb) to replace the best running back in the country (Todd Gurley) when he gets hurt.

9. Clemson

Dabo Swinney recruited the best class of his tenure as Clemson head coach (4th by team, 7th by average stars). With a healthy DeShaun Watson at QB for the next two seasons, the future looks bright for the Tigers.

8. Texas A&M

The numbers back up Kevin Sumlin’s reputation as a top recruiter. Texas A&M had its third straight top 10 class in 2015, a feat they didn’t achieve the previous 7 years. Now, they need to fix that defense that has stunk for two straight seasons.

7. Notre Dame

The Fighting Irish recruit well no matter the coach. However, their play hasn’t lived up to their top 10 recruiting rankings, even under Brian Kelly. Since he arrived in 2010, they have finished 32nd, 21st, 11th (reached title game against Alabama), 23rd and 39th in my team rankings.

6. Auburn

It should scare the rest of the college football world that Auburn landed Will Muschamp as defensive coordinator. He was an excellent DC at Texas, and his reputation helped Auburn land top recruit Byron Cowart.

5. LSU

Les Miles had only the 13th ranked class by average stars. This is only the second time since 2007 that his recruiting class by average stars finished outside the top 10.

4. Florida State

The Seminoles had the top ranked class in 2015 by average stars. Jimbo Fisher needs some of these guys to step in on a defense that struggled this season.

3. USC

Did these recruits see USC get gashed by Boston College this season? And they still decided to play for Steve Sarkisian and his 9-4 record this past season? USC had the top ranked recruiting class in 2015.

2. Ohio State

For a team that won the first college football playoff, a 9th ranked recruiting class (10th by average stars) seems like a poor haul. However, Ohio State didn’t have one five star recruit on their offensive line that powered their running game this season.

1. Alabama

Duh? What did you expect? Nick Saban must be torturing himself because USC had a better ranked class (the first time since 2010 that Saban didn’t have the top ranked class by Rivals). However, Alabama still ends up at the top of these rankings that look at a four year window.

3 predictions from a new college football ranking system, week 6, 2013.

Rankings based on a regression model designed for early in the season.

Rankings based on a regression model designed for early in the season.

After 5 weeks of the college football season, we’re still in the dark about most college football teams. The only certainty is that Lane Kiffin no longer coaches USC.

I always try to improve the preseason and early season college football rankings at The Power Rank. The primary rankings on the site still use last season’s games, with this season’s games counted twice. I think they do a good job, but this method reacts slowly to teams that have struggled, such as Texas (31st).

So I developed new model this week. It’s based on the regression model that I used for my preseason predictions, which consider a team’s rating the last 4 years, turnovers and returning starters. Now, the model includes a rating calculated from only games this year.

The visuals shows the top 10 teams in this regression model. While Baylor is mostly likely overrated at 2nd since they have not played anyone, I do like that Alabama has dropped to 3rd and Washington has cracked the top 10.

Let’s look at the predictions this model makes.

How low should Texas be ranked?

Texas checks in at 51st in this regression model. Their moderate success over the past 4 seasons (moderate by Texas standards) and a host of returning starters keep the Longhorns above the average FBS team (125 teams total).

For last night’s game at Iowa State, the regression model predicted a 2.3 win for Iowa State. The rankings that use last year’s games had Texas by 2.8. The regression model has reacted faster to the Longhorn’s struggles, who have lost badly to Mississippi and BYU.

Texas squeaked out a win last night over Iowa State. They needed a hail mary touchdown at the end of the 1st half as well as a no call on a fumble that would have ended Texas’s game winning drive. Further more, Iowa State gained 6.0 yards per play compared to 4.9 for Texas.

Mack Brown is dating Lady Luck.

How good are the predictions of the new model?

I went back and tested how accurately each ranking system predicted game winners. This test considered all games after week 5 from the 2007 to 2012 seasons.

The regression model predicted 69.2% of game winners, while The Power Rank using last year’s games got 68.9% correct. With an error of about 0.8%, both rankings system have the same predictive power.

However, both methods perform better than The Power Rank with only this year’s games. Those rankings predicted 67.5% of game winners, quite a bit less.

Let’s look at the predictions these two models make.

Notre Dame and Arizona State

Notre Dame has disappointed this season. They have already lost twice, and that 7 point win over Purdue looks worse as the Boilermakers continue to lose badly each week.

The rankings with last year’s games predict a 1.3 point loss against Arizona State at a neutral site in Dallas. However, the regression model predicts a 5.5 point loss, the same as the line.

I still don’t know what to think about Notre Dame. Their defense doesn’t tackle well in the secondary. But Oklahoma scored 14 points off of 2 tipped passes against the Fighting Irish last week. Moreover, QB Tommy Rees had a terrible game.

I’d stay away from this game.

Illinois at Nebraska

Illinois has been a pleasant surprise, a rarity in the Big Ten this season. Behind the 9th best offense, the Fighting Illini are 53rd in the regression model, a miracle for a team that finished 115th last season.

They travel to Lincoln to face a Nebraska team that has struggled on defense. The regression model has reacted more quickly to the opposite fortunes of these two teams, picking a 6 point win for Nebraska (the line favors Nebraska by 9).

The rankings with last year’s games have Nebraska by 13.6 points. With the two teams that do not resemble their preseason expectations, it’s safe to ignore this prediction.

This is my upset special for the week. Nebraska’s offense has not lived up to expectations, and QB Taylor Martinez will not play again this week. Illinois gets the win in Lincoln. Next week’s headlines give Mack Brown a week of reprieve and focus on the job security of Bo Pellini.

Kansas State at Oklahoma State

Kansas State lost a host of starters from last season’s stellar team. In addition, the Wildcats had an unsustainable turnover margin in 2012. Hence, my preseason ranking had them at 37th.

The rankings with last season’s games predict a tight game (0.8 points) in favor of Oklahoma State. Again, it’s safe to ignore that given the changes to this Kansas State team.

The regression model predicts a 9 point win for Oklahoma State. This margin is probably to big. Kansas State fumbled the ball 3 times in gifting a win to Texas last week.

The line favors Oklahoma State by 14. This is too much for a team whose offense hasn’t performed at the elite level it did last season.

What do you think?

I’ve copied the rankings from the regression model below. Would you like to see them as the primary rankings?

Let me know in the comments. Thanks for reading.

1. Oregon (4-0), 28.80
2. Baylor (3-0), 26.81
3. Alabama (4-0), 23.22
4. Stanford (4-0), 17.67
5. Georgia (3-1), 15.98
6. Texas A&M (4-1), 15.55
7. LSU (4-1), 15.49
8. Washington (4-0), 14.31
9. Florida State (4-0), 14.14
10. Florida (3-1), 14.07
11. Ohio State (5-0), 13.87
12. Clemson (4-0), 13.46
13. Louisville (4-0), 12.92
14. UCLA (4-0), 12.58
15. Wisconsin (3-2), 11.93
16. South Carolina (3-1), 11.47
17. Miami (FL) (4-0), 10.73
18. TCU (2-2), 10.14
19. Oklahoma (4-0), 10.14
20. Arizona State (3-1), 9.84
21. Texas Tech (4-0), 9.74
22. Arizona (3-1), 9.59
23. Missouri (4-0), 9.01
24. Utah State (3-2), 8.32
25. Mississippi (3-1), 8.17
26. USC (3-2), 7.75
27. Northwestern (4-0), 7.42
28. Oklahoma State (3-1), 7.41
29. Oregon State (4-1), 7.23
30. Northern Illinois (4-0), 5.76
31. Virginia Tech (4-1), 5.24
32. Tennessee (3-2), 4.79
33. Maryland (4-0), 4.72
34. Auburn (3-1), 4.67
35. UCF (3-1), 4.53
36. Penn State (3-1), 4.43
37. Notre Dame (3-2), 4.37
38. Boise State (3-2), 4.28
39. Nebraska (3-1), 4.11
40. Iowa (4-1), 3.92
41. Michigan State (3-1), 3.67
42. Utah (3-2), 3.45
43. Brigham Young (2-2), 3.41
44. Vanderbilt (3-2), 3.05
45. Georgia Tech (3-1), 3.01
46. Michigan (4-0), 2.60
47. Fresno State (4-0), 2.24
48. West Virginia (3-2), 1.88
49. Arkansas (3-2), 1.76
50. Syracuse (2-2), 1.50
51. Texas (3-2), 1.40
52. Kansas State (2-2), 1.21
53. Illinois (3-1), 1.02
54. East Carolina (3-1), 0.94
55. Mississippi State (2-2), 0.80
56. North Carolina State (3-1), 0.73
57. Iowa State (1-3), 0.72
58. Washington State (3-2), 0.50
59. Rutgers (3-1), -0.15
60. Toledo (2-3), -0.17
61. Ball State (4-1), -0.23
62. Cincinnati (3-1), -0.33
63. San Jose State (1-3), -0.38
64. Pittsburgh (3-1), -0.44
65. Houston (4-0), -0.58
66. California (1-3), -0.62
67. North Carolina (1-3), -0.66
68. Kentucky (1-3), -0.75
69. Minnesota (4-1), -1.11
70. Bowling Green (4-1), -1.49
71. Marshall (2-2), -1.65
72. North Texas (2-2), -1.87
73. Indiana (2-2), -1.90
74. Boston College (2-2), -1.92
75. Western Kentucky (4-2), -2.02
76. Buffalo (2-2), -2.33
77. Ohio (3-1), -2.50
78. Rice (2-2), -2.77
79. Navy (2-1), -3.03
80. San Diego State (1-3), -3.31
81. Connecticut (0-4), -3.37
82. Colorado State (2-3), -4.02
83. Virginia (2-2), -4.74
84. Wyoming (3-2), -5.16
85. SMU (1-3), -5.28
86. Arkansas State (2-3), -5.78
87. Louisiana Lafayette (2-2), -6.11
88. Tulsa (1-3), -6.14
89. Nevada (3-2), -6.31
90. Duke (3-2), -6.34
91. Louisiana Monroe (2-4), -6.46
92. Colorado (2-1), -6.49
93. Army (2-3), -7.09
94. Wake Forest (2-3), -8.01
95. Temple (0-4), -8.05
96. Kent State (2-3), -8.11
97. Louisiana Tech (1-4), -8.17
98. Florida Atlantic (1-4), -8.54
99. Middle Tennessee State (3-2), -8.61
100. Purdue (1-4), -9.07
101. Kansas (2-1), -9.54
102. South Florida (0-4), -9.68
103. Tulane (3-2), -10.27
104. Western Michigan (0-5), -10.40
105. Troy (2-3), -11.14
106. UAB (1-3), -11.34
107. Hawaii (0-4), -11.75
108. Air Force (1-4), -11.80
109. UNLV (3-2), -12.39
110. Southern Miss (0-4), -13.19
111. Memphis (1-2), -13.20
112. Akron (1-4), -13.27
113. UTEP (1-3), -14.38
114. Idaho (1-4), -14.94
115. Miami (OH) (0-4), -15.71
116. Florida International (0-4), -15.86
117. Central Michigan (1-4), -16.30
118. Eastern Michigan (1-3), -17.36
119. New Mexico (1-3), -18.10
120. New Mexico State (0-5), -19.98

3 predictions for week 4 of college football, 2013

Will Mack Brown continue to hook the horns?

Will Mack Brown continue to hook the horns?

Snooze.

College football isn’t giving us the most compelling slate of games this Saturday. The Gameday crew at ESPN looked at it and went to Fargo, North Dakota.

However, college football never disappoints for drama. Texas coach Mack Brown has provided plenty, as everyone talks about his replacement while his team struggles.

I’ll have more to say about what Vegas thinks of Texas. But first, let’s look at two intriguing games.

Arizona State at Stanford

Arizona State is overrated.

The Vegas line had them as more than a 5 point favorite at home against a good Wisconsin team last Saturday. ASU won by 2 when the referees failed to give Wisconsin the chance to kick a game winning field goal.

If you haven’t seen this truly bizarre play, click here. The announcer is wrong. Wisconsin’s quarterback did put his knee on the ground.

Moreover, Arizona State struggles against teams that can run the ball. They rank 108th in my rush defense rankings (yards per rush adjusted for schedule), and Wisconsin racked up over 7 yards per rush last week.

Stanford bring a big, physical offensive line, very similar to Wisconsin. They roughed up a good San Jose State team in their opener.

My team rankings predicted more than a 10 point win for Stanford at home. With a stellar defense and a rush offense that should dominate, Stanford should win by more than the 6.5 points predicted by Vegas.

San Jose State at Minnesota

A Big Ten team plays a cupcake school at home. The Big Ten team should win. Vegas opened with Minnesota as a 6.5 point favorite against San Jose State.

Not so fast.

Minnesota is the definition of mediocre. They finished last year ranked 82nd in my team rankings. With a host of returning starters, including star defensive tackle Ra’Shede Hageman, my preseason rankings project them at 67th.

San Jose State was spectacular last season. They pushed Stanford to the limit in Palo Alto before losing. They lost to Utah State (10th in my rankings) but won every other game. With their convincing margin of victory against weak teams, San Jose State finished 24th in 2012.

San Jose State lost coach Mike MacIntyre to Colorado. However, they return most of the offense, including a NFL prospect at QB, David Fales. Despite these returning starters, it’s reasonable to expect San Jose State to regress this season, as my preseason rankings have the Spartans at 48th.

However, San Jose State is better than Minnesota. As proof, the line has shifted from 6.5 to 3.5 in favor of Minnesota. Moreover, Minnesota QB Phillip Nelson is doubtful for the game. San Jose State has better than a 50% chance to win this game.

Vegas still likes Texas

A week ago, both Texas and USC were struggling. It gave college football die hards the chance to talk about their replacements.

I thought Texas coach Mack Brown was in more trouble.

Brown made the desperation move of firing his defensive coordinator and hiring Greg Robinson. In case you might have forgotten, Robinson was the DC at Michigan when that unit imploded the last two seasons under Rich Rodriguez. They both got fired, and new DC Greg Mattison immediately improved the defense the next season with many of the same players.

Last week, I correctly picked Mississippi to beat Texas in Austin on the Onside Sports app. You should download this app. It’s a great way to follow sports and interact with others. If you’re on an iPhone, click here.

Now, the media has reached a frenzy with speculation that Alabama coach Nick Saban will become the Texas coach. With the undying love that Saban has for the media, I can’t imagine his inner anger over dealing with Texas questions for the next 4 months.

Texas plays Kansas State at home this weekend. Vegas still favors Texas by 5.5. Since my predictions vary from Texas by 9.8 to Kansas State by 5.3, I’m believing in the wisdom of crowds on this one.

Vegas still likes USC, too

While this isn’t a popular opinion, I think USC’s Lane Kiffin is a good coach.

USC beat Boston College last week, as the offense improved drastically from the previous week against Washington State. In all the media noise surrounding Kiffin’s job, it’s getting lost that USC’s defense has improved from last season. They have only given up 3.8 yards per play, although they haven’t faced a great offense yet.

Vegas has USC as a 6.5 point favorite against Utah State, another strong team from a year ago that lost a coach. Given that Utah State will not end this season 10th like they did a year ago, this spread seems about right.

Thanks for reading.

3 types of college football coaches that got fired

College football is a big business. The University of Texas made over $93 million in revenue in 2010, a season in which they went 5-7 and failed to make a bowl game. This excellent visualization from Bloomberg shows the revenue and profit of other major programs. With so much money on the line, athletic directors are desperate to find the superstar coach. So when a coach doesn’t work out, he gets fired. Here, we look at programs headed in a new direction with our offense and defense rankings. The visual shows the offensive and defensive ratings, which corresponds to the expected number of points scored or allowed respectively against average opposition. See the offense and defense rankings for numerical values of these ratings. Note we did not include teams like Southern Miss who had coaches leave for other schools or Ohio State who kept interim coach Luke Fickell within the program.

Data visualization of college football teams that fired coaches at the end of the 2011 season.

The visual shows three regions that stand out.

1. Teams terrible on offense and defense. These teams appear in the lower left corner. Not surprisingly, Akron, Memphis and New Mexico all decided to head in new directions with their program. New Mexico fired Mike Locksley in September, a long overdue move after two 1-11 seasons and one fist to the head of his receivers coach. The fourth team in the corner is Florida Atlantic, whose coach Howard Schnellenberger announced his retirement at the beginning of the season.

2. Teams with a strong defense. Illinois and Penn State stand out in this visual because of their strong defenses. Joe Paterno lost his job over the child sex abuse scandal at Penn State, a shocking and sad state of affairs. The Nittany Lion defense ended the regular season ranked 4th. Illinois let Ron Zook loose after dropping 6 games to end the season, including a 27-7 loss to 69th ranked Minnesota. They finished the season with the 5th best defense after our adjustments for strength of schedule, but an anemic 97th ranked offense sunk the Illini this season.

3. Teams not so terrible on offense and defense. The two strangest firings according to TPR are Mike Sherman at Texas A&M and Dennis Erickson at Arizona State. Earlier, we devoted an entire post and visual to the folly of Sherman’s firing. Not only had his program improved from last year but the Aggies have severely struggled the year after replacing a head coach this decade. However, expectation were high in College Station, and Sherman posted a 6-6 record and lost to rival Texas. Arizona State controlled the Pac-12 South as late as November before 4 straight losses got Erickson fired. TPR has ranked the Sun Devils in the top 20 both of the past two season despite only 9 wins over bowl subdivision teams. So Erickson’s teams were a bit unlucky. However, his team also led the nation in penalty yards this season, and silly penalties prevented his teams from winning. Last night in the MAACO Bowl, an Arizona State defender picked up a personal foul after hitting a Boise State player after he had crossed the goal line. The touchdown made the score 42-10 Boise State. It was a fitting end to Erickson’s tenure.

For more content, find The Power Rank on Twitter.

Related Posts:

About The Power Rank.
Ranking college football bowl games: a viewer’s guide.
College football’s incredibly slow progress towards a playoff.
Texas A&M should not have fired Mike Sherman
The Power Rank featured on KALX Spectrum, the science and technology show on UC Berkeley student radio.

Oregon (7) will beat Arizona State (14) by 10.9 at home

When Oregon traveled to Tempe last year to face Arizona State, Ducks fans didn’t know much about their quarterback Darron Thomas in his 4th game as a starter. He performed well in the desert, throwing for 7.9 yards per attempt (260 total) and led Oregon to a 42-31 victory. Arizona State turned the ball over 7 times in that game. Thomas ended up completing 61.5% of his pass attempts and throwing for 8.0 yards per attempt last year in leading Oregon to the national championship game.

This year, Arizona State travels to Eugene to face Oregon. Oregon ended last season with a 28.2 rating but has dropped to 20.5 this season. However, since our rankings use a one year window of games, Oregon’s rank includes the national championship game loss to Auburn. Since Auburn’s rating is dropping rapidly with the departure of key starters like quarterback Cam Newton, Oregon’s rating is negatively impacted by this loss. Oregon’s rating of 23.9 using only games this year might be more accurate. Arizona State’s rating of 12.6 hasn’t changed much from last year’s season ending 12.8. However, unlike last year’s Oregon game, Arizona State has enjoyed a +4 and +5 turnover margin against USC and Utah this year. This might be artificially inflating their rating. While turnovers are crucially important in the outcomes of games, turnovers are not useful in predicting the future. For example, Brian Burke at Advanced NFL Stats showed almost no correlation between defensive interception rate in the first and second half of the season. All things considered, the predicted 0.27 chance Arizona State has of beating Oregon is probably high.