Ranking Teams and Quality Wins

When I updated my ratings, I was really not happy that two teams that don’t even belong in the conversation were fourth and fifth while the team I thought was the deserving #4 was a somewhat distant seventh.

If Alabama were fifth, I would have shrugged it off. Last year, after the Army/Navy game, Washington edged out Penn St. for fourth. I think if Penn St. had played Washington at a neutral site last December, Penn St. would have won. I know Penn St. lost the Rose Bowl, but a team going from playing for a national championship to playing for nothing but a bowl win can sometimes be a bit of a letdown. I still think the Penn St. team that won the Big Ten Championship game would have beaten Washington, and I still think that they had a better resume as well.

Penn St.’s dramatic Big Ten championship over Wisconsin convinced me they belonged in the top 4 last year. (Pictured: TD catch by TE Mike Gesicki)

No ratings system is perfect though, and for the two to be so close that the result of one major game (there were also a couple of FCS results added in) could tip the balance was good enough. Also, I don’t really mind the deciding factor when two teams are close being who has fewer losses.

But for the arguments I presented over the weekend in Alabama’s favor and to have them that far behind was cause to reevaluate things.

I still think I have a really good formula, but approaching each game neutrally has some shortfalls. So I’m going to have two different computer ratings from now on. I considered “power rating”, but I never know what that means, so I’m just going to call it weighted and unweighted. The new rating will be weighted toward success against the best teams.

With it unweighted, you get the same credit this year for beating Texas and Temple as you do for beating Alabama and having a bye week. Central Florida beat a lot of teams like Texas and Temple but didn’t even play any teams that were nearly as good as Alabama, Ohio St., USC, etc.

This made Wisconsin’s and Central Florida’s 12 wins apiece hard to overcome even though as I pointed out, each only had two wins apiece against the top 40. I could not devise a system I believed in that put Ohio St. ahead of Wisconsin and Central Florida, but by weighting overall strength of schedule and quality wins, I was able to get Alabama ahead of them.

Central Florida-Memphis was a fun game to watch; but being that this was the best team the Knights beat, UCF should not be considered one of the best teams.

When I tried to alter the system to allow for more losses without a high penalty in order to push Central Florida and Wisconsin down, it pushed up teams like USC, Notre Dame, and Auburn instead of Ohio St.

This year, the Big Ten’s problem was depth. Ohio St. only played 7 teams in the top 80 (one out of conference) and Wisconsin played 6. Both Ohio St. and Wisconsin played 10 games against Big Ten opponents, so it should have been higher. By contrast, Alabama played only 8 SEC games and had 9 opponents in the top 80 (Tennessee was the only SEC opponent outside; Florida St. and Fresno St. are both inside the top 80). Oklahoma played 10 games against the top 80 and played 10 conference games (Ohio St. and Tulane are in; Kansas and Baylor are not). Anyway, moving Wisconsin and UCF down a peg for not having very deep schedules is part of the reason Ohio St. fell just slightly below Alabama.

People will see me as a Big Ten detractor, but again, I wanted two Big Ten teams in the playoff last year. Also, in both the weighted and unweighted top 9s from last year, there were two other Big Ten teams. Like this year though, I did think the SEC was the best conference top to bottom.

How do I figure out which games to add weight to? I mentioned the top 80 above, that roughly corresponds with the positive numbers in my unweighted system. So that’s where I drew the line. It so happens to be just low enough to encompass teams with wins over competitors in the major conference (and in one case a playoff team). So along with Syracuse, the low positive-numbered teams also include Cal (Berkeley), which beat Washington St., and Pittsburgh, which beat U. Miami.

So that’s one tier. The next tier includes teams like Ole Miss, Duke, Utah, and Virginia, .500 Power 5 teams. Both Duke and Virginia had good non-conference wins too. It also includes Southern Mississippi, who went 8-4 despite playing two SEC teams in non-conference play.

The next tier starts with teams better than 0.3, which right now is the top 45. This is low enough to include Iowa St., which beat both Oklahoma and TCU. It has some slightly better (than the previous tier) Power 5 teams like Kentucky, UCLA, and Texas A&M as well as Group of 5 teams that competed for titles like South Florida, North Texas, and Fresno St. This tier has a little bit more of an increase in points than the last one.

The penultimate tier is teams better than 0.55. I made it that instead of an even 0.6 because last year it would have only encompassed 18 teams rather than 24. Right now it encompasses 25 teams instead of 23. Numbers 24 and 25 are San Diego St. and Virginia Tech, so this had nothing to do with trying to tilt the playing field. Clemson would have been #1 anyway.

I treated teams better than 0.9 (roughly top 10) a little bit differently. I think whether you win or lose to a top 10 team, you should get a little bit extra consideration. The loss hurts in some parts of the formula, and maybe it shouldn’t hurt as much. So that’s why Auburn and Ohio St. didn’t seem to get the proper credit in the unbalanced formula for playing really good teams out of conference. Also, teams like Wisconsin and Central Florida have less impressive resumes for not beating any top 10 teams.

I’m going to show the final top 10 for both this year and last year. If I had to make a list of teams most likely to compete well in a playoff now and at the end of last year, I’m not sure the membership of either top 10 or top 5 would be any different. Clemson would win obviously, but if I forced Clemson to be higher last year, the formula would move Central Florida higher this year. The whole point was to help teams with good opponents. Clemson and Penn St. were both safely in the top 4 and nearly tied last year, so I’m fine with how it turned out.

Now
1 Clemson 39.717752 (1)
2 Georgia 38.920924 (2)
3 Oklahoma 33.422577 (2)
4 Alabama 32.829833 (7)
5 Ohio St. 32.801820 (6)
6 UCF 32.794786 (5)
7 Auburn 32.580250 (10)
8 USC 32.413394 (8)
9 Wisconsin 32.266683 (4)
10 Notre Dame 32.227370 (9)

December 11, 2016
1 Alabama 43.268628 (1)
2 Ohio St. 37.306985 (3)
3 Penn St. 35.458147 (4)
4 Clemson 35.410836 (2)
5 Wisconsin 30.033484 (9)
6 Washington 28.799632 (5)
7 Colorado 27.670309 (11)
8 Michigan 26.841181 (7)
9 Florida St. 26.795726 (10)
10 Oklahoma 25.479138 (8)
(Western Michigan fell from 6th to 15th)

If you couldn’t tell, the number at the end is where the teams fell in my unweighted ratings.

If you’re interested in the full lists, they are as follows:
2016 Pre-Bowl
2016 Final
Current

I think with so many more opponents in flux or not yet attaining enough points (for instance, only 4 teams qualified for the second-highest tier in my first list this year), the weighted version may be less useful early on. I plan to start publishing both lists at the usual times (Saturday night or early Sunday morning between about October 1 and December 15 and the night of the national championship) though.

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