The Ultimate Guide to College Football Conference Win Probabilities

Will your college football team win a conference title in 2016? Which teams will win the Power 5 conferences, giving them the inside track towards a College Football Playoff berth?

Unlike the typical college football publication, I won’t pick a single team to win each conference. Every team has some chance to win, even Kansas, and modern sports analytics can assign each team a conference win probability.

These numbers come from my preseason college football model, which considers team performance over the past four years, turnovers and returning starters to rank all 128 FBS teams. This model predicted the winner in 73.3% of games last season, a win rate that only includes games with two FBS teams.

This preseason model gives a win probability for each game this season, and these numbers drive my win total predictions at The Power Rank.

These win probabilities also provide the parameters for simulating each conference 10,000 times with random numbers. Each simulation determines the division winners through tiebreakers, and then flips another coin to determine the outcome of the championship game. These simulations give the win probabilities below, which I compare with the market odds from Bovada.

Let’s look at the numbers and story lines for each Power 5 conference.

SEC

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Is Tennessee the new beast in the SEC East?

Despite 4 losses last season, Tennessee played close games with Alabama and Oklahoma and never lost by more than a touchdown. The Vols finished last season 8th in my team rankings, which take margin of victory in games and adjusts for strength of schedule.

This season, Tennessee should fully see the fruits of strong classes Butch Jones recruited in 2014 and 2015. My preseason model ranks the Vols 7th and gives them a 44.8% chance to win the East despite a difficult cross division game with Alabama.

Tennessee’s strong chances to win the East reflect poorly on the other programs in the division.

  • Georgia hired a coach (Kirby Smart) who has never been a head coach.
  • Florida looked on the rise last season under Jim McElwain before getting demoralized by Florida State, Alabama and Michigan to end the season.
  • Steve Spurrier left South Carolina mid-season, and the Gamecocks replaced him with Will Muschamp, who never got the job done in four years at Florida.
  • Missouri won the SEC East in 2013 and 2014 but appear in rebuilding mode after the retirement of Gary Pinkel.

My model doesn’t like the prospects of these usual contenders for the SEC East crown, which enhances the odds for Tennessee. The story changes if Tennessee played in the SEC West.

My numbers rank Ole Miss right behind Tennessee at 8th in the nation. However, with Alabama (#1) and LSU (#3) ahead of them, Ole Miss has a 8.7% chance to win the division.

The lack of power balance also favors Tennessee in the overall conference odds. My preseason model would make LSU a 2.5 point favorite over Tennessee in the SEC title game. However, because they play in a weaker division, Tennessee has a better probability of winning the SEC than LSU.

SEC East

Tennessee (#7) has a 44.8% chance to win.
Georgia (#16) has a 28.4% chance to win.
Florida (#28) has a 12.2% chance to win.
South Carolina (#34) has a 8.0% chance to win.
Vanderbilt (#44) has a 4.0% chance to win.
Missouri (#52) has a 2.2% chance to win.
Kentucky (#83) has a 0.3% chance to win.

SEC West

Alabama (#1) has a 45.1% chance to win.
LSU (#3) has a 27.7% chance to win.
Mississippi (#8) has a 8.7% chance to win.
Arkansas (#12) has a 8.3% chance to win.
Texas A&M (#10) has a 5.6% chance to win.
Mississippi State (#23) has a 3.5% chance to win.
Auburn (#32) has a 1.1% chance to win.

Big Ten

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A year ago, 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.

In contrast, Michigan had many unanswered questions a year ago. They went 5-7 the previous season, and their hopes for 2015 rested on their faith in new coach Jim Harbaugh.

Michigan had a few rough spots in 2015, including a demoralizing 42-13 home loss to Ohio State. However, they finished 10-3 after a convincing win over Florida in a bowl game, and Harbaugh landed a top 5 recruiting class in February.

How do Ohio State and Michigan compare in 2016?

My numbers imply a dead heat between Ohio State and Michigan in 2016. Michigan (#9) is ranked ahead of Ohio State (#11) but would be a 2.5 point underdog when they travel to Columbus in November.

However, Michigan does have a better chance to win the Big Ten East (37.8% vs 34.9% for Ohio State) due to an kinder cross division schedule. Both teams play Wisconsin, but Michigan gets Iowa (#36) and Illinois (#88) while Ohio State tangles with Nebraska (#25) and Northwestern (#58).

In the Big Ten West, it might seem strange to that Nebraska has the highest conference win probability. However, the Huskers went 1-5 in games decided by a touchdown or less, which included a loss to BYU on a Hail Mary. A turnover margin of -12 didn’t help either.

Luckily for Nebraska, my research shows that their record in close games and turnover margin most likely improve in 2016. QB Tommy Armstrong returns, and Nebraska could be really good if they can fix their porous pass defense.

However, the real reason Nebraska has the highest odds to win the Big Ten West is Wisconsin’s schedule. After two years of playing Rutgers and Maryland in cross division games, the Badgers get Ohio State, Michigan and Michigan State. Nebraska also plays Ohio State but gets Indiana and Maryland. Advantage Nebraska.

And I guess we should discuss defending Big Ten West champion Iowa. The Hawkeyes had a magical season last year, but quickly regressed in the Rose Bowl against Stanford. My numbers give them a 19.3% chance to win the division, much less than the even odds in the markets.

Big Ten East

Michigan (#9) has a 37.8% chance to win.
Ohio State (#11) has a 34.9% chance to win.
Michigan State (#29) has a 19.0% chance to win.
Penn State (#43) has a 5.7% chance to win.
Indiana (#67) has a 1.4% chance to win.
Maryland (#78) has a 0.7% chance to win.
Rutgers (#84) has a 0.5% chance to win.

Big Ten West

Nebraska (#25) has a 34.2% chance to win.
Wisconsin (#22) has a 31.1% chance to win.
Iowa (#36) has a 19.3% chance to win.
Minnesota (#60) has a 7.7% chance to win.
Northwestern (#58) has a 4.8% chance to win.
Purdue (#76) has a 2.5% chance to win.
Illinois (#88) has a 0.5% chance to win.

Pac-12

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My numbers understand some of the hype surrounding the Washington Huskies. They return 15 starters from last season, including 7 players on a defense that ranked 9th by my adjusted yards per play.

The subjective adjustments also seem to favor Washington, as QB Jake Browning returns as a sophomore after a promising freshman season. Coach Chris Petersen enters his third year and might find the same success he had at Boise State.

But it’s pure insanity to make Washington the Pac-12 favorite, as the markets have them in early August.

While Washington showed promise last season, they finished 7-6 and 31st in my team rankings that take margin of victory and adjust for schedule. Not exactly playoff material.

Last season, Washington had one signature win, a 17-12 win at USC. However, it almost doesn’t count, as USC coach Steve Sarkesian got fired the next week and possibly wasn’t sober while preparing for the Huskies.

Washington has yet to prove itself on the field, which makes it difficult to think they’ll win the Pac-12 North over proven teams.

  • Stanford has to replace their QB and fill holes on both lines, but they still have this guy named Christian McCaffrey.
  • Even though they’re replacing the quarterback, Oregon has most of its weapons back on offense. And the defense can’t get worse, can it?

My numbers like Stanford (35.8%) and Oregon (21.4%) over Washington (10.1%) to win the Pac-12 North.

In the Pac-12 South, the odds makers might be overlooking Utah. It’s not just that Kyle Whittingham has the Utes back on the rise with stellar play on defense. It’s the schedule.

When the Pac-12 split into two divisions, UCLA and USC wanted to keep their rivalries with Stanford and California. However, this has implied a more difficult schedule for all four of these teams.

USC gets the worst of it this season, as they not only play their two northern California rivals but also Oregon. The Trojans always have talent. However, Clay Helton went an uninspiring 5-4 as interim head coach last season, so there’s reason to doubt his ability to get this talent to play at a championship level.

UCLA catches a break in getting Oregon State as their third cross division game. In addition, I think my numbers underestimate Jim Mora’s team this year. My preseason rankings are based on their team rank of 41st last season, but this seems inconsistent with an offense and defense that ranked 27th and 14th last season by my adjusted yards per play.

My numbers make Utah the favorite in the Pac-12 South because they play Oregon State, California and Oregon in cross division games. If the offense can get better with new personnel, Utah could become a legitimate Pac-12 contender.

Pac-12 North

Stanford (#6) has a 55.1% chance to win.
Oregon (#18) has a 21.4% chance to win.
Washington State (#30) has a 11.8% chance to win.
Washington (#26) has a 10.1% chance to win.
California (#56) has a 1.5% chance to win.
Oregon State (#87) has a 0.1% chance to win.

Pac-12 South

Utah (#24) has a 35.8% chance to win.
USC (#19) has a 29.9% chance to win.
UCLA (#37) has a 15.9% chance to win.
Arizona (#38) has a 12.3% chance to win.
Arizona State (#53) has a 4.9% chance to win.
Colorado (#77) has a 1.3% chance to win.

ACC

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It seems like Clemson should win the ACC over Florida State in 2016.

Clemson beat Florida State on their way to the national title game against Alabama. Despite the 5 point loss against Bama, you could argue Clemson should have won. They dominated the line of scrimmage but couldn’t overcome blown coverages in the secondary.

However, my preseason ranking like Florida State, as the Seminoles rank 2nd over Clemson at 5th. The returning starters variable plays a critical role in this rank.

Florida State has 17 returning starters, which includes star running back Dalvin Cook. In contrast, Clemson returns only 12 starters. The Tigers also had heavy attrition in the secondary, including 3 players that got drafted by the NFL.

In addition, while Clemson beat Florida State by 10 last year, it was a closer game than the final score indicated. Florida State had more yards per play than Clemson. The Seminoles couldn’t overcome a 2 for 12 rate in converting third downs.

However, Clemson might have the trump card. They bring back Deshaun Watson, the best quarterback in the nation. Florida State is still deciding between returning starter Sean McGuire at QB or a few younger players.

In the Coastal division, the markets have the same odds for Miami as for defending champion North Carolina. This shows major respect for new Hurricane coach Mark Richt, who won 145 games in 15 season at Georgia.

My numbers, which do not consider the coaching change, give Miami the fourth largest win probability for the Coastal division.

ACC Atlantic

Florida State (#2) has a 53.3% chance to win.
Clemson (#4) has a 31.3% chance to win.
Louisville (#14) has a 13.9% chance to win.
Boston College (#55) has a 0.6% chance to win.
North Carolina State (#59) has a 0.4% chance to win.
Syracuse (#64) has a 0.4% chance to win.
Wake Forest (#73) has a 0.2% chance to win.

ACC Coastal

North Carolina (#20) has a 37.3% chance to win.
Virginia Tech (#31) has a 25.0% chance to win.
Pittsburgh (#33) has a 16.4% chance to win.
Miami (FL) (#40) has a 10.2% chance to win.
Georgia Tech (#47) has a 6.7% chance to win.
Duke (#75) has a 2.3% chance to win.
Virginia (#72) has a 2.1% chance to win.

Big 12

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Can any team topple Oklahoma from the top of the Big 12?

Bob Stoops has had consistent success as coach at Oklahoma. Only once in his 17 years have the Sooners finished the season outside the top 25 in my team rankings (2005).

Stoops has had his bad years. In 2014, Oklahoma went 1-3 in games decided by a touchdown or less and had an 8-5 record. However, despite an embarrassing bowl loss to Clemson, they still finished 15th in my team rankings.

My preseason model that looks over the past four years appreciates this type of consistency, and it ranks Oklahoma 5th. They could slip like they did in 2014. But with QB Baker Mayfield back, don’t count on it.

The Big 12 win probabilities do not consider the departure of Baylor coach Art Briles. There should be some type of adjustment downward for the Bears. They have one starter returning on both the offense and defensive lines, which suggests they might regress even with Briles as coach.

The team most likely push Oklahoma is TCU. Gary Patterson had the 17th ranked defense by my adjusted yards per play despite a rash of season ending injuries. With the return of a few of these players, who do not count towards the number of returning starters, TCU’s defense should be elite.

On offense, TCU lost almost all of their skill players on offense. However, they will reload with Texas A&M transfer Kenny Hill at quarterback.

How many conferences will my numbers get right?

The Power Rank’s preseason model predicted the game winner in 73.3% of games in 2015. Despite appearances, it is possible to make accurate game by game college football predictions right now.

However, that doesn’t imply we know which teams will win their conferences with any certainty. Teams play a small sample size of 8 or 9 games to determine a champion, which provides an opportunity for teams to steal a conference title.

It only takes one game. In 2015, Michigan State traveled to Ohio State without QB Connor Cook. The markets made the Spartans more than a two touchdown underdog. Michigan State won the game anyway, and this one loss eliminated Ohio State from Big Ten title contention.

For the Power 5 conferences, no team has better than a 50% chance to win their conference by my numbers. Oklahoma has the highest odds at 47.6%, a number that could be higher because of the coaching changes at Baylor.

This means that if three of my predicted champions actually win, I would have benefitted from some good fortune in making my predictions. This leaves plenty of room for surprise teams to make a run at the College Football Playoff, just like Michigan State in 2015.

The accuracy of The Power Rank’s 2014 college football predictions

How did my college football predictions do in 2014? Here, I look at not only my posted numbers for all games but also the forecasts made on this site and other outlets such as Grantland, Deadspin and Bleacher Report.

It’s 2015, and I’m making a full effort to track and report on all of my predictions. It started with baseball this spring, and it will continue through football and basketball.

Let’s get started.

Best prediction

Before the BCS title game, I wrote on Deadspin about how Ohio State presented a terrible match up for favorite Oregon. Ohio State had a vicious rushing attack that had just mauled a strong Alabama defense. Oregon had an average rush defense.

During the game, Ohio State RB Ezekiel Elliott gashed Oregon for 246 yards on 36 carries (6.8 yards per carry). Despite 4 turnovers, Ohio State won 42-20.

In the comments of the Deadspin article, a reader wrote this:

It is the start of the fourth, and it is creepy how on point your predictions are.

Two of my preseason predictions make honorable mention.

Auburn to regress

Auburn had a dream season in 2013, as they rose from the ashes of the SEC West to win the conference and play in the BCS championship game. However, they got the benefit of a few lucky plays (a tipped hail mary completion against Georgia, a field goal returned for a touchdown against Alabama).

In August, I wrote about how Auburn would have a tough 2014 season because of their schedule and the small chance they benefit from those lucky type plays again. Auburn fans didn’t like that I called them lucky.

Auburn couldn’t reproduce those plays in 2014. After a magical 12-2 season in 2013, they fell to 8-5 last season. Part of their demise was a tough cross division game at Georgia that they lost.

TCU to win the Big 12

My other favorite preseason prediction was that TCU would win the Big 12.

I actually went against my numbers on this one as Oklahoma had a higher win probability. However, no one gave TCU a chance, and I had them ranked 14th in the preseason.

TCU had a tremendous season as they went 12-1 and finished as co-champions with Baylor of the Big 12.

Worst prediction

Grantland asked me to predict the Heisman winner during the preseason. I don’t make player predictions, so I had some fun and picked Stanford QB Kevin Hogan.

I thought I had some strong reasoning, but Hogan came no where near the Heisman conversation. He led a Stanford offense that made red zone stalls a season long habit. This led to a disappointing 8-5 season.

Halfway through the season, Grantland gave me a do over and asked for another Heisman prediction. This time I go with Bo Wallace, the quarterback of a 6-0 Ole Miss team. Part of my reasoning was his improved completion percentage the first half of the season, an oh so huge sample size to make a judgment.

I wrote the following about my Wallace pick.

It’s hard to deny a blond quarterback from an unexpected SEC contender.

Then Wallace had a terrible second half of the season. He couldn’t make a play in a close game against LSU, and Ole Miss lost their first game of the season. The once mighty Rebels lose two more SEC games before getting blown out by TCU 42-3 in a bowl game.

Don’t ask me about the Heisman.

The Ohio State season end surge

For predictions based on my numbers, I was disappointed to not predict Ohio State’s surge at the end of the season. Before the Big Ten title game, they were 13th in my team rankings. Their loss to a bad Virginia Tech team at home pulled them down.

Then Ohio State plays the 3 best games any college football team has ever put together. They become the first national champion in the playoff era.

Member predictions

Members get access to my best predictions for spreads and totals.

The member predictions with the most value are the college football totals, which were posted from week 6 to the end of the season in 2014. These predictions went 53.3% against opening totals (273-239-4) and 51.5% against closing totals (260-245-9).

However, these numbers do not tell the entire story. When the predicted total differed from the opening total by more than 4 points, the market total moved in the direction of the prediction 90.4% of the time (122-13, with two totals that didn’t move).

On average, the final total moved 3.5 points in the direction of the model prediction. Some refer to this as closing line value.

For the entire 2014 season, spread predictions for members were 50.1% against the opening line (367-366-19) and 48.6% against the closing line (357-378-8). Modifications will be made to this model for 2015.

To learn more about becoming a member of The Power Rank, click here.

Public predictions

On the predictions page, I posted a margin of victory for each college football game.

These predictions got the game winner correct in 70.4% of games (539-227). It’s interesting that my preseason model, which doesn’t use data from the regular season, predicted a higher percentage of game winners (71.1% on 482-196 with no predictions on the other games).

Against the markets, the public predictions won at 49.9% against the opening line (370-371 with 18 pushes) and 48.5% against the closing line (363-385 with 9 pushes). It’s tough to beat the markets on every game.

The public predictions will be reworked this season. There’s room for great improvement, especially since these predictions were 53.8% against the opening spread through week 8 of the season.

Playoff probabilities on Bleacher Report

Playoff predictions on 11-18-2014.

On Bleacher Report, I predicted which teams would make the four team playoff based on the committee rankings. To learn more about these simulation methods, click here.

Overall, I thought the predictions did pretty well. Mississippi State was first in the committee’s first rankings. However, my numbers thought they wouldn’t make it due to tough games at Alabama and Ole Miss. Mississippi State lost both games and didn’t make the playoff.

By week 12 of the season, Alabama, Oregon and Florida State had the highest chance to make the playoffs by my calculations. Eventually, all 3 of these teams made the playoff.

However, the predictions were off the last week of the season as my numbers had TCU instead of Ohio State for the last spot. As I mentioned earlier, it was difficult to predict Ohio State’s surge at the end of the season based on their previous numbers.

However, my methods also need work. I had no way of knowing how the committee would value a conference championship. For 2015, I’ll account for this in my model.

Even with this improvement, there are still human factors out of my control. Though the committee placed an emphasis on a conference championship, Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby still presented them with co-champions in Baylor and TCU. It might make more sense to crown Baylor the champion as they beat TCU.

My other decent predictions

Some of my other predictions had the right idea but didn’t nail it.

Thanks for reading.

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.

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Here’s a sample from the win totals report.

TCU

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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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.

Rose Bowl consolation and an Alabama LSU rematch

LSU on top
Rose Bowl saves the BCS
Bama still in hunt

College Football Rankings, Week 10, 2011

Down 3-0 heading towards halftime, LSU had a 1st and goal at the Alabama 8 yard line. On first down, they ran the ball, picking up 4 yards. Tick, tick, tick, the clock went from 1:15 to 0:35 before LSU ran another play. They ended up kicking a field goal on 3rd down from the 2 yard line. In a game in which the Tigers hadn’t scored against one of the nation’s best defenses, LSU coach Les Miles failed to use his last timeout to give his offense another shot at the endzone. Poor clock management has plagued Miles in the past, particularly against Mississippi in 2009. It’s one reason why there have been questions about Miles’ job security as recently as last year.

Fast forwarding to the 4th quarter, the game was tied 6-6 with Alabama threatening deep in LSU territory. Receiver Marquis Maze took a direct snap and threw a pass that Alabama tight end Michael Williams seemed to snare at the 2 yard line. But LSU safety Eric Reid came away from the play with the ball, and the official signaled for an LSU first down. The replay (see 1:07 of this clip for the best angle) suggests that Reid had two hands on the ball while Williams hung on with only one as his body hit the ground. The play would have never gone LSU’s way if the officials had ruled in favor of Alabama on the field.

There is such a fine line between winning and losing when two great teams play. LSU ended up winning 9-6 over Alabama in overtime, and Les Miles won’t have to worry about job security until next year. The Tigers move to number one in The Power Rank with a 32.7 rating. No team in the last decade has ended the year with a rating that high except for Texas in 2005. And no matter how life threatening this loss might seem to Alabama fans, there’s really no shame in losing by 3 to the top ranked team, even at home. Alabama lands at 2nd in The Power Rank with a 29.2 rating, strength that will still have them in contention for the national championship game.

Now that the Tuscaloosa Tussle has given us a winner, the national championship picture becomes more clear. Only 5 undefeated teams remain, and The Power Rank gives the following chance that each end the season undefeated.

LSU: 76.5%
Boise State: 66.9%
Stanford: 44.2%
Oklahoma State: 37.8%
Houston: 29.2%

With Alabama behind them, LSU has the highest chance to run the table. The Power Rank thinks so highly of the Tigers that we only give 11th ranked Arkansas a 10.5% chance of upsetting LSU in Baton Rouge. But there are two ways to look at these numbers. Our analytics also imply a 23.5% chance that LSU loses at least one game. If they lose to Georgia in the SEC championship game, it sets up the awkward situation in which neither of the two best teams in the country win their conference. So let’s not hand LSU the national championship just yet.

Oklahoma State is first in line to play LSU in the big game, with a 37.8% chance to win their remaining 3 games. Then Stanford comes next, and their 44.2% chance to remain undefeated includes a game against Arizona State in the inaugural Pac-12 championship game. (Stanford might be behind Alabama in the rankings that determine who plays in the national championship game, but they are ahead of Alabama in the two human polls, and a win over Oregon almost surely gives them the strength in computer rankings to jump over Alabama.) The path for the Cardinal to the national championship game is simple: win the rest of their games and watch Oklahoma State lose. The Power Rank gives this a 27.5% chance.

But what if LSU, Oklahoma State and Stanford all remain undefeated? One of these 3 big conference champions will not play in the national championship game, which should shake the system at its core, much like when it left Auburn hanging in 2003. However, the Rose Bowl complicates matters. “The Granddaddy of Them All” has a special place in college football, and every August, Stanford fans dream about a trip to Pasadena. Last year, TCU got the Rose Bowl as a consolation prize for being an undefeated team left out of the national championship game. Their win over Wisconsin in Pasadena made the BCS seem far away, something the Fiesta or Orange Bowl just can’t do. This year, in the 12.8% chance that LSU, Oklahoma State and Stanford all remain undefeated, Stanford fans will raise hell and try to find someone in the law school to sue the system. But then, they’ll pour another glass of wine, return to innovating in technology and reluctantly remember the historical prestige of playing in the Rose Bowl on New Year’s Day. Chaos will melt into a lack of will to fight the system.

Things get more interesting for the BCS if Oklahoma State and Stanford both lose. Alabama and Boise State would be next in line to face LSU in New Orleans for the national championship. In the 16.6% chance that Oklahoma State and Stanford both lose while Alabama and Boise State win the rest of their games, who knows what the system will give us? Alabama, who has a 71.5% chance to win their remaining 3 games, and Boise State are incredibly close in the most recent BCS standings. For Alabama, the likelihood of a rematch with LSU all depends on how many other teams matter. If all the remaining undefeated teams must lose, then there’s a 5.8% chance of a rematch. However, Houston and their weak Conference USA schedule really don’t matter, which increases the chances to 8.2%. If Boise State doesn’t matter and only Oklahoma State and Stanford need to lose, then The Power Rank gives a 24.8% chance of a rematch. Alabama is far from out of the picture.