Do you make this mistake with college football statistics?

boy_hitting_foreheadYou’re smarter than the average college football fan.

You crave a true understanding of the game. Team rankings do not suffice. Even breaking a team into an offense and defense isn’t enough. You require a further division into passing and rushing.

Numbers can help you in this journey, but only if you’re careful. The passing and rushing statistics on major media sites are deeply flawed. You should never look at them.

Let me explain.

How to correctly evaluate passing and rushing

Sack count as rushing plays in college football.

It makes no sense. Plays that end in a sack started as a pass play. Those negative yards should count against passing yardage.

The inclusion of sacks as rushes probably originates from teams that run the option offense. The quarterback often rushes the ball by design. This makes it difficult to distinguish between a negative rushing play by the quarterback and a sack.

No matter the reason for college football’s quirks, sacks should count as negative pass plays to evaluate rushing and passing. To my knowledge, no college football statistics site makes this adjustment for sacks (although analytics guys like Bill Connelly of SB Nation do account for this in his preseason previews).

Armed with adjustment, we still must take two additional steps to get the most accurate evaluation of passing and rushing.

Accounting for pace

College football provides a diversity of styles. Baylor plays at an up tempo pace, cramming as many plays into the game as possible. In contrast, Alabama and Stanford milk every second from the play clock before snapping the football.

Due to these differing styles, yards per game is a terrible metric to judge passing and rushing on offense. Up tempo teams like Baylor generate more yards in a game by running more plays.

This pace also effects the defense. Since Baylor runs so many plays on offense, their defense tends to face more plays and allow more yards.

To account for these contrasting styles, you need a statistic that adjusts for the pace of play. While the football analytics community has many efficiency metrics, I like the simple yet effective yards per play.

The Power Rank has raw yards per play statistics for passing and rushing, which includes numbers for both offense and defense. Please use this public resource and avoid the misleading statistics on major media sites.

Adjusting for strength of schedule

With yards per play that count sacks as pass plays, you’re 95% of the way to understanding college football teams. However, to make the last leap, you must consider strength of schedule.

College football features a wide range of team strength. Programs like Alabama and Auburn will always tower over their neighbors in the Sun Belt due to tradition and financial resources.

A team should get more credit for 6 yards per carry against an SEC power like Alabama than a Sun Belt team. The Power Rank takes yards per play in college football and adjusts for strength of schedule, the same calculation I performed for adjusted pass efficiency in the NFL.

While anyone can view the raw yards per play numbers in college football, I save the adjusted yards per play statistics for members of The Power Rank.

Let’s look at how these three steps revealed a more accurate picture for Oklahoma’s defense in 2015.

Oklahoma’s defense in 2015

Oklahoma had a magical year in 2015. Despite a startling early to Texas, the Sooners stormed back to win the Big 12 and secured a spot in the College Football Playoff.

However, pass defense might have seemed like weakness for Oklahoma. The Sooners ranked 33rd in the nation for passing yards allowed per game.

However, these misleading statistics count sacks as rush plays, and Oklahoma had a fierce pass rush led by Charles Tapper and Eric Stryker. The Sooners defense sacked the opposing quarterback on 8.3% of pass attempts, higher than the 6.1% college football average.

When you count sacks as pass attempts, Oklahoma moves from 33rd to 25th in the nation in pass defense by yards per game.

However, yards per game doesn’t account for the higher tempo of play in the Big 12. For example, Oklahoma State attempted 45 passes against the Oklahoma defense.

To account for pace, we use yards per pass attempt. Oklahoma ranked 13th in yards per play adjusted for strength of schedule. While the typical college football statistics had Oklahoma’s pass defense outside the top 25, proper adjustments reveal an excellent pass defense.

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 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.

Can anyone beat North Carolina? A 2016 Final Four preview

FinalFour_2016_winprobWhich team will win the Final Four? A talented North Carolina is the clear favorite, as my numbers give them a 47% chance to win.

However, three other hungry teams will attempt to knock off the Tar Heels in Houston. In a year of college basketball parity and complete March insanity, can one of these teams do it?

Let’s break down the four teams.

North Carolina

Before the tournament, I wrote this about the Tar Heels.

However, there’s something not quite right about this team. They don’t feel like the top team in the nation when you watch them play.

Dumbass.

North Carolina has looked every bit the championship contender. There were plenty of pre-tourney signs that said they would arrive at the Final Four as the front runner.

  • North Carolina was first in my college basketball rankings entering the tournament (still are, check out rankings here)
  • North Carolina began the season first in the preseason AP poll, a surprising predictor of post season performance.
  • Roy Williams elevates his team the most in the tournament according a one of my studies.

Of course, North Carolina has had their share of good fortune as well. They didn’t have to play Kentucky, West Virginia or Xavier, the other top teams in the East Region by my numbers.

Prior to the start of the tourney, North Carolina didn’t have the best odds to win partially due to this tough region. The numbers like Kansas out of a weaker Midwest region.

Now, North Carolina is a clear Final Four favorite, and my numbers give them a 47% win probability.

Villanova

Before the tourney, I warned people about picking Nova as champion. The Wildcats took 44% of their shots from three, and these high volume three point shooting teams tend to not win the tournament.

However, Villanova has shifted their offensive strategy over the last three games. Against Iowa, Miami and Kansas, the Wildcats have taken 33% of their shots from three. They no longer live by the three, die by the three.

Over these three games, the Wildcats have shared the ball. No one player has taken more than 11 shots except for Jason Hart (18) against Kansas. With their typical stellar defense, Villanova made the Final Four.

Villanova has also had their good fortune. They shot a blistering 59% (20-34) from three against Iowa and Miami in comfortable double digit wins, much better than their 34% average for the season.

Against Kansas, Villanova didn’t shoot that well. However, Kansas had a miserable shooting game from three (4-18). It got painful watching Wayne Selden miss shot after shot from behind the arc. The pain reminded me of watching Mike repeatedly call a girl in Swingers.

Villanova is 2nd in my team rankings with a rating a hair below top ranked North Carolina. These rankings would predict a toss up between these two teams in the title game.

However, my team rankings probably overestimate Villanova. My algorithm tends to weight games against good teams more, and Nova had some good fortune from behind the arc against their last 3 quality opponents.

I also calculate market rankings based on the closing point spreads in the markets, a predictor not as affected by the noise of game results. These numbers rate Villanova about 1.5 points worse than North Carolina, and I expect that to be the line should these two teams meet in the final.

Oklahoma

The Sooners are on a roll, as they blew threw the West region to secure a Final Four berth. Buddy Hield earned almost mythical status with 37 points against top seeded Oregon in the regional final.

Oklahoma came through on their 38.5% chance to make the Final Four by my numbers, highest of any team in the West Region. However, I still see flaws with this team.

Oklahoma takes a high rate of three point shots (41% of their field goal attempts). In addition, they have hit on 43% of these three pointers, a rate destined to regress against better defenses in the Final Four.

The markets have Oklahoma as a two point underdog against Villanova, and all of my calculations agree with this point spread.

But wait. Didn’t Oklahoma beat Villanova by 23 points this season? Yes, but the Sooners got blessed with good fortune from three point range. They shot a blistering 14 of 26 from three, while Villanova struggled in going 4 of 32.

My calculations do consider this game, but it’s one of 30 some games that contribute to my team rankings. Looking over a more complete body of work, Villanova is the better team.

Oklahoma can certainly beat Villanova, as a just a bit of jump shot luck can easily make up 2 points. However, Villanova defense ranks 5th in the nation by my points per possession adjusted for strength of schedule. Good looks from three will not come easy.

The odds should favor Villanova to beat Oklahoma.

Syracuse

Many pundits thought Syracuse shouldn’t have made the tournament at all.

The Orange lost to a woeful St. John’s team this season and couldn’t even win their first game in the ACC tournament. And perhaps this wasn’t surprising, as Syracuse didn’t get a single vote in the preseason AP poll.

However, the committee did select Syracuse. And in a year of college basketball parity, Syracuse made the Final Four as a 10 seed.

Syracuse wins with defense. Jim Boeheim recruits tall and long players to execute his zone defense, and this defense ranks 17th in adjusted efficiency numbers.

To make the Final Four, Syracuse beat Virginia when they Malachi Richardson hit a series of contest three point shots. Can this continue against North Carolina? Probably not, as my numbers give them only a 15% chance to pull the upset.

Bleacher Report college football playoff articles after week 12

Screen Shot 2015-11-25 at 11.11.25 AMOver on Bleacher Report, I predicted the committee rankings on Saturday night and then calculated playoff odds based on the actual committee rankings.

Oklahoma gave me a hard time with the predicted rankings. They barely beat TCU, so I kept them 5th behind Notre Dame and Iowa.

The committee decided they liked Bake Mayfield’s hair and jumped Oklahoma to 3rd ahead of Notre Dame and Iowa. They probably deserve the spot, but there’s not much reason behind the jump.

To check out the latest probabilities for each team to make the playoff, click here.