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.

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.

College football win totals for 2014

ncaaf2014_preseason_rankHow many games will your team win this season?

Let’s estimate wins with The Power Rank’s preseason rankings. These rankings come from a regression model that considers team performance the previous four years, turnovers in each of these four years and returning starters for the current season.

While I developed this model before the 2013 season, I’ve gone back and calculated the rankings for each year since 2005. The earlier years have less data to consider, since I only uses numbers from seasons prior to the seasons of interest.

In the rankings, each team has a rating, and the difference in rating gives an expected margin of victory on a neutral site. To get a prediction for a home game, add 3 points for the home team.

The predictions of my preseason model pick 70.5% of game winners for the current year and 60.3% of bowl game winners. I’m still a bit surprised how well you can predict the season before any game has been played. College football programs have a history and tradition that set expectations. Alabama never drops to the level of Rice, or vice versa.

The predicted margin of victory translates into a win probability for each game, which you can see on the team pages. Assuming the randomness of one game has no effect on any other game, you can add these win probabilities to get expected wins for a team.

Below, I show the difference in this prediction (TPR) from the total posted at Pinnacle sports (Markets). Win totals for all teams are listed at the bottom of this post.

1. California, 1.74, 4.2 TPR, 2.5 Markets.
2. Kentucky, 1.72, 5.2 TPR, 3.5 Markets.
3. Virginia, 1.35, 4.8 TPR, 3.5 Markets.
4. Utah, 1.20, 5.7 TPR, 4.5 Markets.
5. Arkansas, 1.17, 5.7 TPR, 4.5 Markets.
6. Kansas, 1.13, 4.1 TPR, 3.0 Markets.
7. Illinois, 1.12, 5.6 TPR, 4.5 Markets.
8. Wake Forest, 1.10, 4.6 TPR, 3.5 Markets.
9. Iowa State, 1.08, 4.6 TPR, 3.5 Markets.
10. Purdue, 0.94, 4.4 TPR, 3.5 Markets.
11. Rutgers, 0.90, 5.4 TPR, 4.5 Markets.
12. West Virginia, 0.85, 5.3 TPR, 4.5 Markets.
13. Indiana, 0.69, 6.2 TPR, 5.5 Markets.
14. Boston College, 0.66, 5.7 TPR, 5.0 Markets.
15. North Carolina State, 0.48, 6.0 TPR, 5.5 Markets.
16. Nevada, 0.40, 6.4 TPR, 6.0 Markets.
17. Texas A&M, 0.39, 7.9 TPR, 7.5 Markets.
18. Washington State, 0.38, 5.9 TPR, 5.5 Markets.
19. UNLV, 0.20, 4.7 TPR, 4.5 Markets.
20. Michigan, 0.14, 7.6 TPR, 7.5 Markets.
21. Vanderbilt, 0.12, 6.1 TPR, 6.0 Markets.
22. Arizona, -0.00, 7.0 TPR, 7.0 Markets.
23. Stanford, -0.05, 8.5 TPR, 8.5 Markets.
24. Oregon State, -0.11, 6.9 TPR, 7.0 Markets.
25. TCU, -0.15, 7.9 TPR, 8.0 Markets.
26. Colorado, -0.26, 4.2 TPR, 4.5 Markets.
27. Oklahoma State, -0.35, 7.2 TPR, 7.5 Markets.
28. Mississippi State, -0.39, 7.1 TPR, 7.5 Markets.
29. Minnesota, -0.41, 6.1 TPR, 6.5 Markets.
30. Miami (FL), -0.44, 7.1 TPR, 7.5 Markets.
31. Virginia Tech, -0.46, 7.5 TPR, 8.0 Markets.
32. Georgia Tech, -0.47, 6.0 TPR, 6.5 Markets.
33. Pittsburgh, -0.51, 7.0 TPR, 7.5 Markets.
34. LSU, -0.54, 8.5 TPR, 9.0 Markets.
35. Texas Tech, -0.58, 5.9 TPR, 6.5 Markets.
36. Florida, -0.59, 6.9 TPR, 7.5 Markets.
37. Fresno State, -0.60, 6.9 TPR, 7.5 Markets.
38. Mississippi, -0.64, 6.9 TPR, 7.5 Markets.
39. Florida State, -0.72, 10.3 TPR, 11.0 Markets.
40. Arizona State, -0.73, 6.8 TPR, 7.5 Markets.
41. Missouri, -0.74, 6.8 TPR, 7.5 Markets.
42. Alabama, -0.80, 9.7 TPR, 10.5 Markets.
43. Colorado State, -0.81, 5.7 TPR, 6.5 Markets.
44. Kansas State, -0.82, 6.7 TPR, 7.5 Markets.
45. Brigham Young, -0.82, 8.2 TPR, 9.0 Markets.
46. USC, -0.85, 7.6 TPR, 8.5 Markets.
47. Tennessee, -0.89, 4.6 TPR, 5.5 Markets.
48. Maryland, -0.91, 5.6 TPR, 6.5 Markets.
49. Louisville, -0.91, 6.6 TPR, 7.5 Markets.
50. Northwestern, -1.00, 6.5 TPR, 7.5 Markets.
51. Penn State, -1.01, 6.5 TPR, 7.5 Markets.
52. Texas, -1.01, 7.0 TPR, 8.0 Markets.
53. Washington, -1.05, 7.9 TPR, 9.0 Markets.
54. Notre Dame, -1.06, 6.4 TPR, 7.5 Markets.
55. Clemson, -1.08, 7.4 TPR, 8.5 Markets.
56. Georgia, -1.20, 8.3 TPR, 9.5 Markets.
57. Nebraska, -1.28, 6.7 TPR, 8.0 Markets.
58. Wisconsin, -1.30, 8.2 TPR, 9.5 Markets.
59. Oregon, -1.33, 9.2 TPR, 10.5 Markets.
60. Duke, -1.34, 7.2 TPR, 8.5 Markets.
61. Iowa, -1.37, 7.1 TPR, 8.5 Markets.
62. Michigan State, -1.41, 8.1 TPR, 9.5 Markets.
63. South Carolina, -1.48, 8.0 TPR, 9.5 Markets.
64. North Carolina, -1.58, 6.9 TPR, 8.5 Markets.
65. Baylor, -1.77, 7.7 TPR, 9.5 Markets.
66. Utah State, -1.78, 7.7 TPR, 9.5 Markets.
67. Auburn, -1.80, 7.7 TPR, 9.5 Markets.
68. Boise State, -1.88, 8.1 TPR, 10.0 Markets.
69. Oklahoma, -1.90, 8.6 TPR, 10.5 Markets.
70. UCLA, -2.30, 7.2 TPR, 9.5 Markets.

Let’s first look some teams predicted to be overrated by The Power Rank.

Oklahoma

Every year, a team wins big in a bowl game and gets overrated the next preseason.

Two years ago, it was West Virginia after crushing Clemson in the Orange Bowl. Last season, it was Clemson, who beat LSU in the closing minutes in the Chick-fil-A Bowl.

This season, Oklahoma sits at 3rd in the preseason Coaches Poll after beating Alabama in the Sugar Bowl. The markets expect the Sooners to win 10.5 games.

I have all the respect in the world for Bob Stoops and his program. They are consistently a top 10 program, and my preseason rankings place Oklahoma 7th.

However, to win 11 games, they can only stumble once in a tough Big 12 conference. With games against TCU, Texas, Baylor and Oklahoma State, this seems unlikely at best.

UCLA

Everyone loves QB Brett Hundley and the program Jim Mora has built at UCLA. Moreover, they have 16 returning starters, tops in the Pac-12. The Bruins are 7th in the AP and Coaches preseason polls, and the markets expect 9.5 wins.

My preseason model is down on UCLA for two reasons. First, they have only had success recently. In 2011, they were barely an average FBS team by my rankings. My preseason model considers a 4 year window to evaluate program strength.

Second, UCLA was +10 in turnover margin last season. While this isn’t a remarkable total (Houston led the FBS with +25), the Bruins should not expect a similar total this season since turnover margin regresses to the mean.

Their schedule doesn’t do them any favors either. UCLA travels to Texas and Washington and also hosts Stanford and Oregon. My numbers have UCLA as an underdog in each of these games. If they lose 2 of these 4 and drop another one along the way, they’ll come under 9.5 wins.

Now let’s check out two teams underrated by the markets.

California

As a Stanford alum, I laughed when Cal hired Sonny Dykes. He had an incredible offense at Louisiana Tech but didn’t seem that concerned with defense. Dykes also doesn’t seem like the type of guy that will win recruiting battles on the West Coast.

Cal dropped off significantly last season in Dykes’ first year, posting a 1-11 record. He started a freshman QB and had significant departures on defense. The markets expect 2.5 wins this season.

However, Cal had bad turnover luck last season with a -15 turnover margin. The randomness of turnovers implies this margin will regress towards zero this season. Since my preseason model considers this bad luck from last season, Cal is ranked 69th, much higher than the 103rd they ended last season.

The markets expect 2.5 wins. However, Cal should beat Sacramento State and get a weak Colorado team at home. They only need one more win the rest of the way for that third win.

Kentucky

The Wildcats look like another team in which people look at their poor record from last season (2-10) and have low expectations for the current season. The markets expect 3.5 wins.

However, Kentucky has 16 returning starters, which places the Wildcats 68th in my preseason rankings. They should win games against Tennessee-Martin, Ohio and Louisiana Monroe. Moreover, my numbers expect them to beat either Tennessee or Vanderbilt.

Just in case they fall short and have 3 wins heading into their last game, they have a better than 1 in 3 chance of beating Louisville, a team that enjoyed quite a bit of turnover luck last season.

Win totals for all teams

Georgia State already has one win after their dramatic come from behind win over Abilene Christian last night.

1. Florida State, 10.28.
2. Alabama, 9.70.
3. Oregon, 9.17.
4. Oklahoma, 8.60.
5. Marshall, 8.54.
6. Northern Illinois, 8.50.
7. LSU, 8.46.
8. Stanford, 8.45.
9. Georgia, 8.30.
10. Wisconsin, 8.20.
11. Brigham Young, 8.18.
12. Houston, 8.17.
13. Boise State, 8.12.
14. Ohio State, 8.12.
15. Michigan State, 8.09.
16. South Carolina, 8.02.
17. UCF, 8.02.
18. Washington, 7.95.
19. Texas A&M, 7.89.
20. TCU, 7.85.
21. Baylor, 7.73.
22. Utah State, 7.72.
23. Auburn, 7.70.
24. Louisiana Lafayette, 7.70.
25. USC, 7.65.
26. Michigan, 7.64.
27. Toledo, 7.60.
28. Navy, 7.58.
29. Virginia Tech, 7.54.
30. Bowling Green, 7.49.
31. Georgia Southern, 7.45.
32. Clemson, 7.42.
33. Cincinnati, 7.28.
34. UCLA, 7.20.
35. Duke, 7.16.
36. Oklahoma State, 7.15.
37. Iowa, 7.13.
38. Mississippi State, 7.11.
39. Miami (FL), 7.06.
40. Arizona, 7.00.
41. Pittsburgh, 6.99.
42. Texas, 6.99.
43. Buffalo, 6.97.
44. North Carolina, 6.92.
45. Florida, 6.91.
46. Fresno State, 6.90.
47. Oregon State, 6.89.
48. Mississippi, 6.86.
49. Arkansas State, 6.82.
50. Arizona State, 6.77.
51. Missouri, 6.76.
52. Nebraska, 6.72.
53. Ball State, 6.71.
54. Kansas State, 6.68.
55. Louisville, 6.59.
56. Northwestern, 6.50.
57. Penn State, 6.49.
58. South Alabama, 6.47.
59. Western Kentucky, 6.46.
60. Notre Dame, 6.44.
61. Nevada, 6.40.
62. Troy, 6.25.
63. Indiana, 6.19.
64. Rice, 6.13.
65. Vanderbilt, 6.12.
66. UTSA, 6.10.
67. Minnesota, 6.09.
68. San Diego State, 6.08.
69. South Florida, 6.06.
70. Georgia Tech, 6.03.
71. Air Force, 6.00.
72. North Texas, 5.98.
73. North Carolina State, 5.98.
74. San Jose State, 5.96.
75. Texas Tech, 5.92.
76. Middle Tennessee State, 5.90.
77. Central Michigan, 5.90.
78. Washington State, 5.88.
79. Temple, 5.72.
80. Akron, 5.71.
81. Utah, 5.70.
82. Colorado State, 5.69.
83. Syracuse, 5.67.
84. Arkansas, 5.67.
85. Boston College, 5.66.
86. East Carolina, 5.64.
87. Ohio, 5.62.
88. Illinois, 5.62.
89. Maryland, 5.59.
90. Army, 5.57.
91. Memphis, 5.53.
92. Old Dominion, 5.51.
93. Tulsa, 5.50.
94. Rutgers, 5.40.
95. Louisiana Monroe, 5.40.
96. West Virginia, 5.35.
97. Western Michigan, 5.25.
98. Kentucky, 5.22.
99. UAB, 5.21.
100. Connecticut, 5.21.
101. Appalachian State, 5.19.
102. Hawaii, 5.18.
103. Florida Atlantic, 5.12.
104. Southern Miss, 4.98.
105. Louisiana Tech, 4.90.
106. Virginia, 4.85.
107. Wyoming, 4.79.
108. Kent State, 4.78.
109. SMU, 4.76.
110. UNLV, 4.70.
111. Tennessee, 4.61.
112. Wake Forest, 4.60.
113. Iowa State, 4.58.
114. Florida International, 4.54.
115. Purdue, 4.44.
116. Idaho, 4.42.
117. Texas State, 4.37.
118. UTEP, 4.37.
119. California, 4.24.
120. Colorado, 4.24.
121. Kansas, 4.13.
122. Tulane, 3.94.
123. New Mexico State, 3.77.
124. Massachusetts, 3.67.
125. Miami (OH), 3.64.
126. New Mexico, 3.32.
127. Eastern Michigan, 3.04.
128. Georgia State, 3.00.

3 college football predictions for week 8, 2013

With so many interesting games, let’s get right into it.

UCLA at Stanford

From the AP preview of this game, you might think Stanford’s offense is struggling. Stanford failed to convert on 4th and 2 from the Utah 6 yard line last weekend and lost. In the preview on ESPN, the no name writer came to this conclusion.

Failing to gain those last 6 yards could be a small part of a bigger problem for the Cardinal, who have fallen to 11th in total offense (405.2 yards per game) in the Pac-12.

But yards per game is misleading, especially for those that watch Stanford games. Ty Montgomery had some big returns against Washington, setting up a short field for the offense. The defense scored two touchdowns against Washington State, limiting the opportunities for the offense to gain yards.

Defense and special teams can skew yards per game numbers. Hence, The Power Rank uses yards per play to get a more accurate assessment of these teams. Stanford has gained 6.5 yards per play, 24th in the nation and 5th in the Pac-12. Adjustments for schedule do not change this number much, moving the Cardinal to 23rd. The Cardinal do face a stout UCLA defense, ranked 6th in the nation.

On the other side of the ball, UCLA’s offense looks incredible with their 547.0 yards per game, 5th best in the nation. Even with accounting for the number of plays, UCLA only drops to 14th.

However, the adjustments for schedule have a big impact on UCLA. They have played Nevada (122nd) and New Mexico State (124th), two of the worst defenses of all 125 FBS teams. The 41 points they scored at Nebraska looked impressive, but their defense is only 79th (actually a huge improvement from their rank a few weeks ago).

After accounting for strength of schedule, UCLA ranks 31st in offense, worse than Stanford. Moreover, they rank an awful 107th in rush offense. The Bruins will have problems if they get into 3rd and long situations against the 8th ranked Stanford defense that excels at rushing the passer.

Both yards per play and team rankings suggest a 3 point win for Stanford. UCLA’s poor rush offense gives a slight advantage to Stanford. Also, Stanford has been good on special teams this season, a factor that yards per play does not consider. These factors push my prediction close to the line of 5.5 points for Stanford.

Jameis Winston at Clemson

I purposely ignored all the preseason articles on Florida State’s freshman quarterback Jameis Winston. People said the kid would win the Heisman, and I was not buying. Potential doesn’t matter until a player performs on the field.

Then I turned on his first game at Pittsburgh. Under some decent pressure, Winston completed 25 of 27 passes for 356 yards. The numbers should be better, as the referees botched an out of bounds call on one of those two incompletions. Four games later, Winston’s completion percentage is still an absurd 73%.

Winston leads a Florida State offense ranked 2nd behind Baylor in adjusted yards per play. While the arm of Winston is a huge factor, the 15th ranked rush offense also plays a role. They should punish a Clemson defense ranked 108th against the run.

Clemson’s pass defense is much better at 25th in the nation. They get a strong pass rush, sacking the QB on 12.5% of pass attempts. They will need to pressure Winston to slow down the 2nd best pass offense in the nation.

QB Tajh Boyd leads Clemson’s 20th ranked offense against a Florida State defense that ranks 10th. Clemson certainly has the weapons such as receiver Sammy Watkins to put up points. But don’t expect those points to come as easily as they did against Georgia.

Yards per play predicts a 27 point Florida State win, which is way too much. The team rankings predict a more reasonable 5 point win for Florida State, a 3 point favorite on the road. Especially with Florida State’s distinct advantage in running the ball, all factors point to Clemson’s losing and dropping from the national championship picture.

Indiana at Michigan

Michigan is a traditional Big Ten power, with more wins than any other college football team. Indiana plays the role of Big Ten doormat, happy to receive those Big Ten Network checks from the revenue earned from Michigan and Ohio State fans. And the line only favors Michigan by 9?

Not so fast.

Indiana coach Kevin Wilson has a fast break offense ranked 10th in the nation. They gained 6.08 yards per play against a Penn State defense that ranks 14th. The Hoosier face a Michigan defense ranked 45th in yards per play, the worst ranking since coordinator Greg Mattison arrived 2 seasons ago. The defensive line struggles to get a pass rush, and Indiana should be able to score points.

Michigan’s offense relies on the arm and legs of QB Devin Gardner. Their rush offense would be much worse than 57th without the carries of Gardner. The offensive line has struggle to the point that it’s a mystery who will start at left guard on Saturday. Moreover, stellar tackle Taylor Lewan is banged up over a hip injury sustained against Penn State.

The good news for Michigan’s offense? They will try to run the ball anyway, and Indiana defense ranks 93rd against the run.

In the air, Gardner has been inconsistent with his throws. He routinely misses easy passes but then throws an accurate pass 30 yards down field for a touchdown. Michigan has 32nd rankings in pass offense, which faces Indiana’s 61st ranked pass defense.

The 9 point spreads seems like an anachronism from last year. Michigan could cover, but they’ll need a turnover free game from Gardner and a defense that handles the up tempo offense of Indiana. However, my numbers don’t see that happening. Yards per play gives a 5 point win for Indiana while the team rankings favor Michigan by 6.

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The Top 25 College Football Teams of 2013 by Recruiting Rankings

Nick_Saban_StatueRecruiting rankings do matter.

Each year, Rivals assigns a rating or points value to each school that describes the talent of the players who signed a letter of intent. For Sports Illustrated, we developed a model that takes the Rivals ratings and predicts future team performance. To compare the rankings from this model with the preseason AP poll, we looked at which rankings better predicted the final AP poll.

The Rivals model did as good or better than the preseason AP poll on 46 out of 100 teams over the last 4 years. This is remarkable given the limited information the recruiting model has compared with the writers that vote in the AP poll.

To get the full story on SI.com, click here.

Before we count down the top 25 teams for 2013, we note the following about this regression model.

  • The regression model has learned from the past by relating recruiting ratings to the team ratings from The Power Rank algorithm. For example, recruiting data from 2009 to 2012 were fit to The Power Rank’s results for the 2012 season. Our team ratings from the regular season have picked the winner in 62.8% of bowl games over the last 11 years, a better percentage than the Vegas line (62.2%). Part of the accuracy of the recruiting model depends on our team ratings.
  • We used the final AP poll as the measuring stick for the accuracy of the Rivals model and the preseason AP poll. This poll has problems, as it strongly considers wins but almost ignores margin of victory. However, it was the most relevant measurement of team strength for a general college football audience.
  • The 100 teams we looked at were the top 25 teams in the preseason AP poll over the last 4 years. This puts the recruiting model in a better light, since this set of teams didn’t include teams highly ranked by the recruiting model but outside the AP top 25. For example, the recruiting model had Auburn 7th heading into the 2012 season. The preseason AP poll had Auburn 28th, which more accurately predicted their disasterous season.

With the passing of National Signing Day 2013, we now have the Rivals ratings to predict the 2013 college football season. The predictions are based the past 8 years of team performance.

25. Stanford. The Cardinal only had 12 scholarships to offer incoming freshmen. Since the number of recruits directly affects the Rivals team rating, Stanford only had the 61st ranked class this year, a far cry from their 5th ranked class a season ago.

24. Miami (FL). Miami coach Al Golden can’t walk off campus without tripping over a highly touted high school player. However, impending NCAA sanctions made recruiting difficult this year, as they had the 44th best class, much worse than their 9th ranking a year ago.

23. Virginia Tech. Despite two down years, coach Frank Beamer still recruited the 22nd ranked class. The Hokies need QB Logan Thomas’s passing to improve or groom a better passer.

22. California. The Bears continue to recruit well despite the coaching change from Jeff Tedford to Sonny Dykes. However, this ranking is probably too high. The Cal offense will be learning a new spread system under Dykes, while the defense lost coordinator Clancy Pendergast to USC.

21. Washington. The Huskies have continually improved their recruiting rank over the last 4 year, rising from 28th in 2010 to 18th in 2013. Hopefully, some of the linemen recruiting during this time will give QB Keith Price better protection next season.

20. Nebraska. The Cornhuskers pulled in the 17th best class, by far the 3rd best class in the Big Ten. Unfortunately, Michigan and Ohio State were way ahead, and Nebraska has to travel to Ann Arbor this season.

19. South Carolina. With all the media chatter about the talent in Columbus and the draw dropping hits from Jadeveon Clowney, you might think South Carolina is a top 10 recruiting team. In reality, their 16th ranking in 2013 was their best over the last 4 seasons.

18. Tennessee. The Rivals model had the Vols 13th in the nation last season, which was way too high. With new coach Butch Jones taking over, this year’s 18th ranking is also probably too high.

17. Oregon. Over the last 4 years, the Rivals model has consistently underrated the Ducks. The preseason AP poll was more accurate each year. Will this continue after head coach Chip Kelly handed the program over to Mark Helfrich?

16. UCLA. In talent rich Southern California, the Bruins always recruit well. They finally lived up to that talent last season under first year head coach Jim Mora. Their 11th ranked class this year should continue this trajectory.

15. Texas A&M. New coach Kevin Sumlin is getting tons of credit for recruiting the 10th best class this year. Of course, it helps that Johnny Manziel (a 3 star recruit) led the Aggies to their best season in more than a decade.

14. Mississippi. The Rebels and coach Hugh Freeze had a magical signing day, landing two top 10 recruits on the offensive and defensive line. Their 7th ranking is by far their best since 2002. However, three of their rivals in the SEC west are ranked higher in these rankings.

13. Clemson. With their dramatic, come from behind win against LSU in the Chick-fil-A Bowl, the Tigers will surely be an overrated top 10 team in the preseason AP poll. This ranking in the teens seems more appropriate.

12. Oklahoma. In the past 12 years, the Sooners have recruited a top 10 class 7 times. However, none of these top 10 classes have occurred during the last 3 seasons. Coach Bob Stoops needs more talent on the defensive line to start contending for national titles again.

11. Texas. Even Mack Brown can’t recruit after 3 subpar seasons. The Longhorns had the 23rd ranked class, their worst since 2002. Their usually excellent defense really needs help after last season.

10. Georgia. How would the Bulldogs recruiting class would have fared if the coaches had told QB Aaron Murray to spike the ball during the waning moments of the SEC championship game? A win over Alabama would have landed Georgia in the national title game against Notre Dame. Instead, they had the 12th best class, a fine rank but the second worst for coach Mark Richt over the last 12 years.

9. Michigan. After a disasterous 3 seasons under Rich Rodriguez, Brady Hoke has turned around this program both on the field and recruiting trail. The Wolverines notched the 5th ranked class after finishing 7th last year. These are their two best ranked classes over the last 8 years.

8. USC. While we kept hearing about the defections from the Trojan’s class, no one mentioned that coach Lane Kiffin still had five 5 star recruits coming to campus, more than any other school (yes, even Alabama). Lack of talent will not be a problem for USC.

7. Auburn. Yes, feel free to call BS on this one. The Tigers continue to recruit well. But unless the next Cam Newton and Nick Fairley show up on campus this fall, Auburn will not return to elite status this season under new coach Gus Malzahn.

6. Florida State. Call BS on this one at your own risk. Despite disappointing loses to NC State and Florida this year, expect the talent rich Seminoles to exceed expectations next season.

5. LSU. It’s a bit shocking that top recruit Robert Nkemdiche picked Ole Miss over LSU. There’s more certainly in winning games in Baton Rouge. Still, coach Les Miles landed the 6th best class in the nation.

4. Notre Dame. The Fighting Irish took full advantage of their undefeated regular season and landed the 3rd best class in the nation. While we should expect Notre Dame to be good next year, 4th is probably too high.

3. Ohio State. The Buckeyes will not surprise anyone this year. In coach Urban Meyer’s first season, Ohio State started the year 18th in the preseason AP poll. Now, with an undefeated season and a 2nd ranked recruiting class, anything but a national title will be a disappointment.

2. Florida. Last year, first year coach Will Muschamp landed the 3rd ranked class despite finishing 7-6. Somehow, a 11-2 season this year got the Gators the 4th ranked class (although they did top the rankings before National Signing Day). Talent is never a problem at Florida.

1. Alabama. Duh. What did you expect? After going 7-6 in his first year at Alabama, coach Nick Saban still recruited the top ranked class in 2008. This started a streak of top ranked classes for Alabama in 5 of the last 6 years. The rest of the SEC should resort to a voodoo consultant to bring bad turnover luck to Alabama next season.

Outlook

No one should take these rankings too seriously. With the short season and the youth of the players involved, college football is incredibly difficult to predict during the preseason. And these rankings have their problems. There’s an incredibly high likelihood that Boise State will be better than the 60th best team in the nation next year.

However, these rankings are still useful, and not only because they are six months ahead of the preseason AP poll. As with all predictive analytics, use these rankings has a guide to help navigate expectations for next season.

Moreover, this is only the beginning of our preseason college football predictions. To keep up to date, sign up for our free email newsletter below.

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