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.

Can any team challenge Clemson and Florida State? A 2013 ACC college football preview

ACC_Odds_2013_ThePowerRankNote from Ed: This is another guest post from Chad Peltier, who penned an awesome SEC preview previously. While the conference win probabilities have changed after week 1, I decided to keep the preseason odds.

The ACC will attempt to fight off a “Big 2, Little 12” reputation with Clemson and Florida State at the top. Miami, Virginia Tech, Georgia Tech, Pitt, Syracuse, and North Carolina all have the skill to make the division races interesting, even if Clemson and Florida State far out-recruit the others.

The Coastal Division is highly unbalanced with both Clemson and FSU at the top. The Atlantic Division has a wider distribution of power between Miami, Virginia Tech, Georgia Tech, UNC, and Pitt.

The division races are far from certain this season, especially with upstarts in Maryland, Syracuse, and UNC.

Atlantic Division


It’s unfortunate that the two best teams in the conference, Florida State and Clemson, are both in the Atlantic Division. One very good team will not make the ACC title game. Florida State has a strong case to be that top team and Atlantic Division representative even with starting a redshirt freshman quarterback in Jameis Winston. Seminole fans have to be excited after glimpsing Winston’s first game and his 93% completion percentage.

With a deep defense buoyed by successive top recruiting classes (particularly in the secondary), Jimbo Fisher will likely be most concerned with his offense in 2013. Winston, a former five-star recruit, is as close to a sure thing as possible. However, the offensive line and receiving core are two possible areas of weakness. The Seminoles are talented in the secondary, at running back, and at linebacker, but match-ups with Clemson and Florida might be tough for this developing team in 2013.

With these match-ups in mind, Florida State is the second-most likely team to win the conference at 23.6%, as well as to win the Atlantic Division, at 36.8%.


Once again, Clemson looks to be the class of the conference in 2013. Senior QB Tajh Boyd leads a formidable pass oriented offense that unfortunately lost its top WR DeAndre Hopkins and top RB Andre Ellington.

Many Clemson fans feel comfortable with a receiving core of Sammy Watkins and Charone Peake, and Boyd showed in the Georgia game that he feels comfortable spreading the ball to the large group of receivers. One revelation was senior RB Roderick McDowell, who ran for 132 yards against Georgia’s defense. Offensive coordinator Chad Morris is hoping to run as many plays as possible – hitting 100 during the bowl game with LSU – so what the Tigers may lack in efficiency they can more than make up for in sheer volume of plays.

The greater concern for Clemson may be their defense, especially the back seven. While effective against the run, the Tigers had a penchant for giving up big plays in both the passing game and after running backs hit the second level. This was evident against Georgia, as even an injured Todd Gurley was able to break long runs throughout the night.

Regardless, Clemson faithful have plenty of reasons to be optimistic following their win over Georgia. As it stands now, Clemson remains the most likely conference champion at 32.1% and a 48.1% chance of winning the Atlantic Division.


NC State had a perfectly mediocre 7-6 campaign in 2012, thank-you-very-much. The Wolfpack are without possible Buccaneer starter Mike Glennon at quarterback, but will rely on an experienced (if not overly talented) defensive front seven to keep them in games in 2013.

While the front seven should at least be solid, the inexperienced secondary will likely give up explosive plays to the better quarterbacks in the conference, including Stephen Morris, Logan Thomas, and Bryn Retter.

As a result of the inexperienced secondary and the questions on offense – especially quarterback – the Wolfpack are just the fourth best in the Atlantic Division (behind Syracuse) with a 4% chance to win the division and just a 1.4% shot at the conference title.


Syracuse enters in to a new era with Coach Scott Shafer and new QB (and Oklahoma transfer) Drew Allen. Allen was only decent in a close loss to Penn State, completing less than 50% of his passes for 189 yards.

The secondary limited the defense’s effectiveness in 2012, but intercepted blue chip Penn State quarterback Christian Hackenberg twice. Orange faithful can be pleased with the front seven’s performance against a fairly formidable Nittany Lion run game, which was held to just 57 yards and a 1.5 yard per carry average.

Syracuse certainly won’t be irrelevant in the Atlantic Division and is projected to finish third with a 9.7% chance of winning the division (but just a 4.6% shot at the ACC title).


Boston College, Maryland, and Wake Forest all make up the cellar of the stratified Atlantic Division. Combining for just a .2% shot at the ACC and 1.2% chance to represent the Atlantic Division, things are still fairly grim for these three ACC teams. While all three won their opening day games, they came against the likes of Presbyterian, Villanova, and Florida International.

Maryland might have found a winning combination with Deon Long and Stefon Diggs, a wide receiver tandem that could star at almost any school in the country. QB C.J. Brown had a fantastic start after tearing his ACL last season, completing 20 of 23 passes and not throwing an interception on the day.

Wake will move towards a more running-based team this season, with QB Tanner Price tasked with more rushes and option football than in his previous years with the program.

Boston College was unable to rush the ball with any success in 2012 and is hoping senior QB Chase Rettig will have more help from his running backs this season.

Of the three, look for Maryland to make the most noise this season, with the potential to upset better teams due to its group of skill players.

Coastal Division


Virginia Tech has been on a slide since its excellent 2009 and 2010 campaigns, resulting in an underwhelming 7-6 2012 season. A large part of the problem was that the 2012 offense failed to find an identity under hyped junior quarterback Logan Thomas. Thomas has elite size for a quarterback (as a former tight end), but struggled with accuracy (16 interceptions), sacks, and interceptions. New offensive coordinator and QB guru Scott Loeffler comes to Blacksburg after an extremely disappointing year at Auburn, but many question whether the passing game will improve in 2013.

Despite the offensive woes, it’s certainly not all bad news for Hokie fans. The defense might become an elite unit with a senior-laden line and a young, athletic secondary. Though the Hokies lost to Alabama in the opener, the defense managed to hold the Tide to two offensive scores and A.J. McCarron to a 43% completion percentage.

Led by the defense, the Hokies are a distant fourth to win the conference at 6.9% and second in the Coastal Division at 20%.


Larry Fedora has done an admirable job bringing some measure of respect to the basketball-first school, though the Tarheels will be without their do-everything running back Giovani Bernard. Bernard averaged 6.7 yards per carry for over 1200 yards and almost 500 receiving yards, making him a step better than any other back on the Tarheel’s roster.

QB Bryn Renner was remarkably efficient last season, throwing for 3,300 yards on just seven interceptions, and should carry the fast-paced offense with a deep group of receivers. The concern might be in how well Fedora’s 4-2-5 defense holds up against the spread offenses in the ACC.

With early tough matchups with Miami, Virginia Tech, and Georgia Tech, the Tarheels have a 17% chance of winning the Coastal Division and a 6% shot at the ACC crown.


Tech has been consistently great on offense and mediocre to poor on defense since Paul Johnson began his tenure. That trend looks like it will continue for another season. Tech returns a load of quality running backs to play in the flexbone offense, as well as a more experienced QB Vad Lee and offensive line. Lee was solid against Elon, going 7/11 for 189 yards in 70-0 rout.

After a terrible defensive season under Al Groh, the Jackets hired Ted Roof to install a 4-3 defense, which Tech’s personnel is far more suited for. Elon really never stood a chance, but the Tech defense should get a better test against Duke and North Carolina in the next two weeks.

Georgia Tech as a 17.1% chance to win the Coastal and a 6.8% chance to take home the ACC title.


The Coastal Division has a more rough balance of power than the Atlantic Division, and Pitt’s entrance into the ACC only underscores that parity. The offensive cast is completely new, with running backs Ray Graham and Rushel Shell are both no longer with the team, quarterback Tino Sunseri has graduated, and the second and third best receivers have graduated as well. There isn’t too much room for optimism over the offense in Paul Chryst’s second season, despite an excellent first quarter against Florida State.

Pitt currently is the fifth-most likely Coastal Division representative, but at 15.7%, isn’t far behind UNC or Georgia Tech. Pitt has just a 6% chance of winning the ACC overall.


Despite the looming NCAA investigation, Miami generated a lot of hype behind the stellar late season play from QB Stephen Morris and freshman running back Duke Johnson. Johnson in particular lived up to his recruiting hype as an electric kick returner and pounding running back, despite being no taller than 5-9. The Miami offensive line is one of the most veteran units in the country and shouldn’t have too much trouble opening holes for Duke or protecting Morris.

However, the defense has an inexperienced secondary and might struggle with more dynamic offenses like UNC, Georgia Tech, and Florida State. Nonetheless, Miami’s offense should put them at the front of the pack in the Coastal Division, with a 27.5% chance to take the Coastal Division and a 11.9% chance to win the ACC (which is third behind Atlantic Division probables Clemson and Florida State).


Duke and Virginia have just a .5% chance of winning the ACC (and a 2.7% shot at the Coastal title), but should both be better than the Atlantic cellar-dwellers Boston College, Maryland, and Wake Forest.

Duke returns a surprisingly deep cast of running backs, while also adding freshman four-star recruit Shaw Powell to run behind the veteran offensive line. The ground game won’t be the problem for the Blue Devils in their quest for bowl eligibility – that will likely be the passing game, which lost its quarterback and top wide receiver to graduation. Duke took the first step towards 6 wins in week one, beating NC Central 45-0.

Virginia’s 4-8 2012 campaign was disappointing after a promising series of recruiting classes and a decent 2011 season. This year’s offense will look much different after the graduation and transfer of the top two QBs. The Cavs managed to beat a decent BYU defense without many offensive fireworks, but should begin to work freshman five-star recruit Taquan “Smoke” Mizzell in at running back.

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, 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.


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.

Thanks for reading.

LSU, Alabama have a 70% of a rematch in the National Championship game

LSU, Bama
BCS tranquility
Seventy percent

College Football Rankings, Week 12, November 19, 2011

The insanity started Friday night. Oklahoma State, ranked 2nd in the BCS, traveled to Iowa State, and the game turned into a much closer affair than anyone imagined. Iowa State cornerback Leonard Johnson harassed Justin Blackmon all night, holding the Oklahoma State receiver to 99 yards on 10 catches. The road team Cowboys let the underdog Cyclones stay in the game with a soft defense and 5 turnovers. The last turnover, a Brandon Weedon interception in double overtime, led to an epic 37-31 Iowa State victory.

The insanity continued on Saturday night. Oklahoma, the 5th ranked team in the BCS, tied the game with Baylor at 38 with less than a minute remaining in the game. After the ensuing kickoff, Baylor played for overtime with a running play on 1st and 10. Oklahoma quickly called timeout in hopes of getting the ball back in regulation. This aggressive call backfired when Baylor quarterback Robert Griffin, an Olympic caliber 400 meter hurdler, ripped of two long runs to move the ball up the field. Finally, at the Oklahoma 34, Griffin scrambled left, stopped in the face of the Oklahoma defense, and fired a pass deep into the right corner of the end zone. The beauty of the pass was its location in which only his receiver could catch it. Oklahoma’s national championship dreams evaporated into the Texas night.

The insanity next surfaced in Oregon coach Chip Kelly’s head. Down 3 to USC with 2:54 minutes remaining, Oregon, 4th in the BCS, had 3 timeouts but 86 yards in front of them. Inexplicably, coach Kelly used only one timeout before the drive stalled in USC territory. No matter how well an uptempo offense works for the Ducks, two extra plays (3 if they didn’t take a knee in the middle of the field to set up the field goal) might have resulted in a touchdown or better field position. The field goal attempt sailed wide left, giving USC a 38-35 win. Oregon won’t play in the national championship game again this year.

The losses to 3 of the top 5 teams has prompted media outlets to apply the term “chaos” to this incarnation of the BCS. But chaos doesn’t apply when a region of the county just smiles at the sight of LSU, Alabama and Arkansas at the top of the BCS rankings. It’s BCS tranquility down south. With LSU and Alabama in the first and second position respectively, these two teams only need to win their remaining games to play in the national championship game. The Power Rank gives LSU a 77% chance to beat both Arkansas at home and Georgia in the SEC championship game while Alabama has a 90% chance to beat rival Auburn. This implies a 70% chance for a LSU versus Alabama rematch in New Orleans this January. While a fresh matchup might feel more satisfying, LSU (1) and Alabama (2) are both 5 points above any other team in The Power Rank.

Two other scenarios merit some attention. What if Arkansas makes good on the 13% chance they have of upsetting LSU in Baton Rouge? Assuming Alabama beats Auburn, this leaves 3 one loss teams in the SEC West. To break this stalemate, the SEC picks the top team in the BCS, expect if the 2nd place team is within 5 places, because then it selects the head to head winner between the top two teams. Make sense? Good, because then you can explain it to us. We won’t attempt to predict how the BCS will reshuffle these 3 teams in this situation.

Last, we consider an Alabama loss to Auburn, an event with 10% likelihood, coupled with an LSU win over Arkansas (87%). The second losses for Alabama and Arkansas would open a spot in the national championship game for a non-SEC West team. To calculate the likelihood that any team ranked 4th or lower in the BCS makes the game, we will assume each team must win their remaining games while the teams above them (except LSU) must lose at least once. The Power Rank gives the following chance for these teams.

Oklahoma State: 5.2%
Virginia Tech: 0.9%
Stanford: 1.7%
Boise State: 0.6%

Stanford has a higher chance than Virginia Tech because The Power Rank puts the latter at 28th, much lower than their BCS rank of 5th. Despite only one loss, Virginia Tech has squeaked by bad teams (Duke, North Carolina) in their wins. Needless to say, these teams have very slim hopes of playing in the national championship game. However, up to two of them could end up in the top 4, which guarantees a BCS bowl game and its hefty payout.

Have any scenarios that we’re missing? Please leave a comment. Here are some situations we considered but didn’t use above.

LSU loses to Arkansas, makes the SEC championship game through BCS magic, but then loses to Georgia in Atlanta: 1.4%.

LSU loses two games by the above scenario and Alabama loses to Auburn (This is the true BCS chaos scenario, since LSU, Alabama and Arkansas would each have 2 losses but SEC fans would still demand one of them play in the national championship game): 0.14%.

College Football, Week 8

Thank you, JMU. On Saturday, September 11, the Dukes of James Madison University traveled to Blacksburg, Virginia and beat the Virginia Tech Hokies. Lower division schools like James Madison aren’t supposed to beat top division powerhouses like Virginia Tech. In addition, Tech’s loss muddied the national championship picture. Just the previous week, Boise State, an upstart team from the weak Western Athletic Conference, had been annointed a national championship contender with their win over Virginia Tech. But now that the Hokies had lost to a cupcake, how good was Boise State? So thanks, James Madison; it’s not like college football needs anymore chaos in picking a national champion.

Here at the Power Rank, this game was doubly troubling, since the algorithm did not use games with lower division teams. There were plenty of complaints when Virginia Tech showed up at 4th in last week’s rankings, sporting a 5-1 record that didn’t include the loss to James Madison. When the Power Rank was posted at One Bronco Nation Under God, Boise State fans couldn’t believe that Virginia Tech was ranked so high. We find this quite ironic, since the Hokies gave Boise State all they could handle on the field, even holding a lead late in the fourth quarter. Boise State scored a late touchdown to win by 3. But the best complaint comes from a friend of mine, who sent an empty email with the subject “I am going to stab you if you keep letting tech get away with losing to jmu”. That’s the passion we like from our followers here at the Power Rank!!

So thanks, JMU, thanks for all the extra work to include all games with lower division teams. But, in the end, it makes a ton sense to include games with lower subdivision teams. With only 12 games on the regular season schedule, it’s silly to throw away any information. So now the rankings include an additional 124 lower division teams and account for all games in which the 120 teams in the top division played. (Sorry, the terms Bowl and Championship subdivision are so confusing. You get what we mean if we say there’s a top division and a lower division. The top division fights to play in the Bowl Championship Series.) The rankings still exclude games in which a lower division team plays a team from an even lower division. While we could include these games as well, the effect on the top division rankings would likely be very small.

With these additional teams, The Power Rank now provides a means to compare the top two divisions of college football. Lower division Delaware comes in at 35th, right behind Texas and Oklahoma State of the Big 12 and just ahead of Mississippi State and Georgia of the Southeastern Conference. Not bad too shabby for a Delaware team that can’t possibly have the same resources as these other teams. So Big East commissioner John Marinatto, if you can’t get TCU to join your conference, make an offer to Delaware. It might just strengthen the league. And while you’re at it, consider Villanova, New Hampshire and James Madison as well. These teams are all ranked ahead of all but two teams in your conference.

As for Virginia Tech, the loss to James Madison drops them out of the top ten, but they end up at 11th. Since losing their first two games, they won all their games by at least 11 points.

1. Oregon, 7-0, 40.98
2. TCU, 8-0, 36.40
3. Boise State, 6-0, 32.48
4. Missouri, 7-0, 27.94
5. Nevada, 6-1, 27.37
6. USC, 5-2, 27.13
7. Ohio State, 7-1, 27.01
8. Utah, 7-0, 26.51
9. Stanford, 6-1, 26.32
10. Oklahoma, 6-1, 25.71
11. Virginia Tech, 6-2, 25.69
12. Auburn, 8-0, 24.92
13. Alabama, 7-1, 24.81
14. Nebraska, 6-1, 24.74
15. Arizona, 6-1, 24.53
16. Oregon State, 3-3, 24.15
17. Florida State, 6-1, 24.10
18. Wisconsin, 7-1, 24.08
19. Michigan State, 8-0, 23.95
20. South Carolina, 5-2, 23.87
21. Miami (FL), 5-2, 23.62
22. California, 4-3, 23.58
23. Iowa, 5-2, 22.96
24. Arizona State, 3-4, 22.82
25. San Diego State, 5-2, 21.67