Win probability for the Big Ten East in 2015

Screen Shot 2015-09-23 at 3.35.27 PMOver at the Detroit News, I used analytics to assign a preseason win probability for each team in the Big Ten East.

My favorite part of the article was questioning the dominance of Ohio State.

Before the season started, people acted like the Buckeyes were the greatest team in college football history. However, looking at their track record through analytics over the past 3 season reveals a different story.

Ohio State looked amazing against Virginia Tech in a revenge game from last season (Virginia Tech came to Columbus and won). Then they have looked putrid on offense against Hawaii and Northern Illinois.

I still think they’re one of the two best teams in the nation. But let’s not put them in the playoff just yet.

Michigan State and Michigan also have a chance at the Big Ten East title, with Penn State as an intriguing fourth option.

To read the article, click here.

Predicting Michigan State’s win total for 2015

Screen Shot 2015-08-27 at 7.03.37 PMOver on the Detroit News, I wrote a preview of Michigan State’s season and predicted a win total.

I knew my numbers had Michigan State a bit low. I tried to explain that in the article.

But I got the expected backlash. This email landed in my inbox a few hours after the article’s publication.

Hey Ed…..how much do you want to bet on this game? I have deep pockets so name your price. You should stick to engineering because you do not know jack shit about college football.

Can’t make everyone happy.

However, the article is good, as I look back at their 30 year history and isolate the one reason that the Spartans might not live up to potential. To read the article, click here.

Preseason Big Ten college basketball rankings for 2015-16

Screen Shot 2015-07-02 at 9.28.53 AMLast month, I had the honor of being a guest on Assembly Call, the Indiana Hoosiers basketball podcast. Show runner Jerod Morris, Andy Bottoms and I discussed the upcoming college basketball season.

To prep for the show, I developed some preseason Big Ten rankings that combine calculations with subjective factors. It’s similar to what elite gamblers do in preparation for the season.

I wrote an article for Assembly Call that describes the methods and summarizes my thoughts on all 14 Big Ten teams.

My apologies in advance to Maryland fans.

And Bo Ryan’s announcement that he will retire after this season doesn’t change my mind on Wisconsin’s preseason rank, which you might find surprising.

To read the article on preseason Big Ten college basketball rankings for 2015-16, click here.

The top 10 college basketball teams in 2015 by Sweet 16 appearances

tom_izzoWhich school has the best college basketball program?

It’s an easy question to answer with only analytics. We could take an average rating from computer rankings over the past 10 years to find the best programs.

However, college basketball is a sport that almost entirely relies on the postseason for its popularity. Any legitimate ranking must consider success in the NCAA tournament.

To balance analytics with post season success, I propose ranking programs by Sweet 16 appearances over the past 10 years. With such a long time period, it’s difficult for a non-elite team by the numbers to have enough tournament success to make this list. The top 10 below includes all the traditional college basketball powers.

In addition, the Sweet 16 seems like an appropriate balance between making the tournament and winning the entire contest. It’s not enough to just make the field every year, but there’s too much randomness in winning the tourney. In the past 10 years, only two programs have won more than one tournament (Florida and Connecticut), and neither made the tournament in 2015.

To break ties among programs with the same number of Sweet 16 appearances over the last 10 years, I looked at appearances in the past 9 seasons. If this didn’t break the tie, I looked at successively shorter time periods until one program came out ahead.

The rankings below show the top 10 college basketball programs by Sweet 16 appearances. Only one program had 7 appearances over 10 years, which shows the parity in college basketball. Even the best programs have years in which they lose before the second weekend of the tournament.

Teams that missed the cut

Gonzaga has made the tournament each of the past 10 years but did not make this list. While they have become a brand name program in college basketball, Gonzaga has struggled in the tournament with only 3 Sweet 16 appearances.

Ohio State and UCLA have 5 Sweet 16 appearances each but lost out to the teams below based on the tie breaker method. Ohio State hasn’t make the second weekend of the tournament the last two years, while UCLA had 3 straight appearances early in the 10 year window.

10. Xavier

5 Sweet 16’s: 2015, 2012, 2010, 2009, 2008

Xavier is the only program in the top 10 not from a power conference. Sean Miller led the Musketeers to the first two Sweet 16 appearances, while Chris Mack has reached the Sweet 16 in half of his 6 seasons.

9. Wisconsin

5 Sweet 16’s: 2015, 2014, 2012, 2011, 2008

Bo Ryan has made the NCAA tournament in each of his 14 years as Wisconsin’s coach. They have made the Sweet 16 in half of the past 10 years, and the 2015 team led by Frank Kaminsky might be the best of all these teams.

8. Arizona

5 Sweet 16’s: 2015, 2014, 2013, 2011, 2009

Sean Miller coached Arizona for the last 4 Sweet 16 appearances. However, Arizona only had 1 appearance between 2006 and 2010 as the program transitioned from long time coach Lute Olsen to Miller.

Arizona has a great team in 2015, and I think they have the best chance of beating Kentucky should they play in the Final Four.

7. Kentucky

5 Sweet 16’s: 2015, 2014, 2012, 2011, 2010

With their undefeated season so far in 2014-2015, one might expect Kentucky to be higher on this list. However, the Wildcats struggled in the early years of this 10 year period as they transitioned from Tubby Smith to Billy Gillispie (whoa, remember him?) to John Calipari.

Even within the last 5 years, Kentucky had a down year in 2013 when they lost to Robert Morris in the first round of the NIT. Even the best programs can’t escape the vagaries of luck in this era of one and done players.

6. Florida

6 Sweet 16’s: 2014, 2013, 2012, 2011, 2007, 2006

Billy Donovan has had tremendous success at Florida, winning back to back championships in 2006 and 2007. However, it doesn’t always run smoothly in Gainesville. Florida didn’t make the tournament in 2008 and 2009 when the stars from the championship teams left. They also didn’t make the tournament this year.

5. Duke

6 Sweet 16’s: 2015, 2013, 2011, 2010, 2009, 2006

Back in the Christian Laettner years, Duke made four straight Final Four appearances and won two championships. Even Mike Krzyzewski can’t duplicate that success in this era of parity and one and done players.

Duke has fallen victim to two of the biggest Round of 64 upsets recently, as they lost to 15 seed Lehigh in 2012 and 14 seed Mercer in 2014.

4. Kansas

6 Sweet 16’s: 2013, 2012, 2011, 2009, 2008, 2007

Bill Self has an incredible streak of 11 straight Big 12 regular season championships. He also hasn’t made the Sweet 16 the past two seasons. In 2015, Kansas lost Wichita State, a program in their own state they refuse to schedule during the regular season.

3. North Carolina

6 Sweet 16’s: 2015, 2012, 2011, 2009, 2008, 2007

I thought North Carolina would be lower on this list, as Roy Williams has had some subpar teams in recent memory. North Carolina didn’t make the tournament in 2010, and they didn’t make the Sweet 16 in 2013 and 2014. However, they still have 6 appearances over the last 10 years and squeak ahead of Kansas with their Sweet 16 appearance in 2015.

2. Louisville

6 Sweet 16’s: 2015, 2014, 2013, 2012, 2009, 2008

Rick Pitino has the Louisville program in great shape, as they almost always feature a top 10 defense by adjusted points per possession. However, their offense has been the problem in 2015. If they can find enough offense in the soft East Region this year, they could make another Final Four appearance.

1. Michigan State

7 Sweet 16’s: 2015, 2014, 2013, 2012, 2010, 2009, 2008

Tom Izzo’s teams continue to perform well in March. In 2015, Michigan State beat Virginia to make the Sweet 16 for the 7th time over the last 10 years, tops in the country. I doubt Michigan State would have the highest rating averaged over the past 10 seasons, but they continue to have success in the tournament.

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.