I’ve done the same thing for college football that I do with NFL teams: average out their statistical rankings in a select number of categories I’ve deemed most important and used that to rank them 1-25. Only teams in the AP top 25 are eligible for consideration here, just for simplicity’s sake because it would take an extremely long time to rank out all 130 teams in the FBS.
But no doubt teams like Florida and Clemson would be in the top-25 if they were eligible.
I just quickly want to get a little bit into what I’m doing here and why I use statistical rankings instead of the statistics themselves. The reason I use 1-130 rankings in statistical categories is because it allows me to standardize the data across a variety of categories. For instance, how do you create a statistical ranking system that incorporates total offensive yards per game, yards allowed per game, and point differential? You can’t just average a team’s numbers out because you’re incorporating apples (yards) and oranges (points).
Plus, more offensive yards are good, but more defensive yards are bad. So it wouldn’t make any sense at all to add those two figures together and average them out.
But if you go by where a team ranks in each category, then you can average those numbers out. It’s an apples to apples comparison across the board. For instance, if the team ranks 10th in offensive yards, 25th in defensive yards and 16th in point differential, they’d have an average rank of 17.
We have to “convert” all these diverse statistics into numbers we can directly compare to one another. That’s why I use average rank per statistical category.
So what categories am I using for these rankings? Let’s go over them, starting with the offensive categories:
- Offensive yards per game
- Plays of 20+ yards
- Red Zone TD%
- Yards per play
The defensive categories:
- Yards allowed per game
- Plays of 20+ yards allowed
- Red Zone TD% allowed
- Yards per play allowed
- Overall special teams rating as calculated by Football Outsiders
Overall team categories:
- Point differential (double-weighted)
- Net turnovers per game
- Net field position
- Strength of Schedule (double-weighted)
- Strength of Record
- Talent (triple-weighted)
So essentially we’re looking at net yards, net scoring, net field position, net turnovers, net explosive plays, net Red Zone TD%, and net yards per play. We have a special teams component, which we’ve “outsourced” to Football Outsiders.
We also account for strength of schedule, because this is hugely important in college football where schedule difficulty can vary wildly from team to team. For instance, Coastal Carolina ranks really highly in a lot of categories, but they also rank 130th in strength of schedule, so we have to adjust for that.
We account for strength of record, which is different from strength of schedule in that it accounts for what you actually did against the teams you played. ESPN’s strength of record statistic, which is what I use, defines strength of record as “the chance that an average Top 25 team would have this team’s record or better, given the schedule.” So it incorporates losses as well as wins.
Finally, because talent is such an important factor in college football, we triple-weight it, making it the single most important category. I’m going off of 247 Sports’ composite team talent rankings here.
So it’s a different ranking system than the one I use for NFL teams, and that’s because college football is a different game, despite being the same sport.
Here are my initial rankings:
Alabama, despite having a loss on their resume, is still #1. And it’s because they just do everything well. There’s nothing they really do poorly. They’re strong on offense, strong enough on defense, and strong on special teams.
Georgia, on the other hand, isn’t elite offensively, although they do rank 20th in yards per play. Georgia is as elite as it gets on defense, though, and by no means are they bad offensively. This is why they’re just behind Bama.
Bama and Georgia are in a class of their own at the top, and it kind of drops off between them and the next-best grouping of teams, which is Michigan, Ohio State, Cincinnati and Auburn.
Michigan is interesting because they’re not elite at anything, really, but they just don’t do anything badly and they haven’t lost yet. They rank 29th in yards per play on offense and 25th in yards per play allowed, but they have managed to compile the 6th best point differential in the nation, albeit against the 67th ranked schedule. In terms of talent, they’re 15th best. I think Michigan is being over-inflated because they haven’t lost yet, and I do not buy them as the 3rd best team in the nation by any stretch.
Ohio State is elite offensively, probably the best offense in the nation, but mediocre on defense, plus they rank 97th in strength of schedule. And they have that loss to Oregon, too. But they’re #3 in talent, which can’t be discounted.
Cincinnati ranks pretty highly in just about everything, as you’d expect, including 7th in yards per play and 4th in yards per play allowed. However, they only rank 54th in talent and 95th in strength of schedule played.
Auburn is the big surprise here, although maybe they really shouldn’t be. Sure, they’ve got 2 losses already, but one was to Penn State on the road (and it was a close game), while the other was to Georgia (not a close game). Auburn, like Michigan, doesn’t do anything poorly, although also like Michigan, they don’t do anything at an elite level. They’ve played the 2nd toughest schedule in the nation, boast a convincing road win over Arkansas, and have beaten LSU on the road.
The next tier of teams is Michigan State, Oregon, Baylor, Pitt, and Penn State. I was particularly impressed with how well Pitt ranks across the board: they’re really good on offense, adequate on defense, average on special teams, and elite in point differential. However, they have the 81st ranked strength of schedule and are just 36th in talent, which drags them down a bit.
The big surprise here is probably Oklahoma ranking 14th, while they’re #3 in the AP rankings. Look, Oklahoma is good (not elite) on offense, but their defense is below-average, their special teams is weak, even worse than Ohio State’s, and they only rank 51st in strength of schedule. They’re still #6 in talent and have the #2 record in terms of strength, but they just don’t really jump out at you when you take a close look at their statistics.
Iowa is ranked 15th because while they’ve been really good on defense, they’re abysmal on offense and only rank 43rd nationally in talent.
Here is the full board. I’d recommend opening it in a new tab so you can see it full size: