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Saturday Sports! K-Ranks: Top 25 and Bowl Picks

December 16, 2011

by Kevin Leyden
Saturday Sports! K-Ranks: Top 25 and Bowl Picks

It was a dark and stormy night. Somewhere in the world, anyway.

I, the college football enthusiast, pored over the latest edition of the BCS standings and tried to use it to rank my Nightcap Bowl Mania Confidence Page (you can register for free for a chance to win a $50 prize or T-shirt here. Fore more info, check out the facebook page). I thought about all the ways it attempts to rank teams that might never play each other. What exactly is a strong loss? How should margin of victory be adjusted for home-field advantage? What's worse: an early loss to a team with a bad record or a late loss to equal competition?

And what in the world are the agendas of the poll voters?

The list of questions is endless, and the BCS standings aim to reveal the answers. But the real question is: Who cares?

I realized that I could break down rankings as much as I liked and never uncover much. Politics and inordinate emphasis on wins and losses, rather than actual performance, would always keep me from answering the question I really care about, the one I imagine most of you would probably like answered as well. Between two teams, who's better?

It's all fine to compare teams by resume to determine which are most worthy of playing in better bowl games. But a team's profile - headlined by its wins and losses - explains what has happened each time a team has stepped on the field. It's great at predicting the past. However, there's a lot of randomness involved in who wins and loses any given game.

I decided to create a rating system that cuts out all the garbage and is based entirely on performance. My model is built on three pillars: efficiency, tempo, and opponent strength. I crunched some numbers for every game this season between FBS teams: all 15 weeks, all 120 teams. For each game, I quantified each team's performance by fitting it to the following scenario.

Team X played at some level against Team Y. Now they're playing at the same level in a hypothetical game against a team that is the national average at everything, Team Z (roughly Washington State). Evaluated on a per-possession basis, how many points will Team X's offense score on Team Z's defense, and vice versa?

It was a fairly extensive undertaking, but I am stoked with the results. So here's my Top 25, based entirely on performance and completely adjusted for schedule strength. All of this was analyzed game by game; I took no shortcuts. I've shown records here for fun, but the other numbers you will see are offensive points per 100 possessions against Team Z and points allowed on defense per 100 of Team Z's possessions. Enjoy!

  1. Alabama Crimson Tide (11-1, 7-1 SEC): 351, 44

  2. LSU Tigers (13-0, 8-0 SEC): 418, 66

  3. Wisconsin Badgers (11-2, 6-2 B10): 471, 155

  4. Florida State Seminoles(8-4, 5-3 ACC): 292, 101

  5. Oklahoma State Cowboys (11-1, 8-1 B12): 409, 144

  6. Stanford Cardinal (11-1, 8-1 P12): 422, 152

  7. Oklahoma Sooners (9-3, 6-3 B12): 303, 110

  8. USC Trojans (10-2, 7-2 P12): 322, 129

  9. Georgia Bulldogs (10-3, 7-1 SEC): 261, 107

  10. Arkansas Razorbacks (10-2, 6-2 SEC): 406, 168

  11. Texas A&M Aggies (6-6, 4-5 B12): 334, 141

  12. Oregon Ducks (11-2, 8-1 P12): 339, 144

  13. Michigan State Spartans (10-3, 7-1 B10): 254, 110

  14. Michigan Wolverines (10-2, 6-2 B10): 339, 156

  15. Florida Gators (6-6, 3-5 SEC): 283, 133

  16. Virginia Tech Hokies (11-2, 7-1 ACC): 263, 127

  17. South Carolina Gamecocks (10-2, 6-2 SEC): 226, 113

  18. Boise State Broncos (11-1, 6-1 MWC): 332, 166

  19. Clemson Tigers (10-3, 6-2 ACC): 357, 181

  20. Vanderbilt Commodores (6-6, 2-6 SEC): 259, 132

  21. Missouri Tigers (7-5, 5-4 B12): 261, 133

  22. Miami Hurricanes (6-6, 3-5 ACC): 339, 179

  23. Kansas State Wildcats (10-2, 7-2 B12): 320, 173

  24. Nebraska Cornhuskers (9-3, 5-3 B10): 342, 186

  25. West Virginia Mountaineers (9-3, 5-2 BE): 315, 174

But this is only the beginning; with efficiency and tempo stats in hand, this model can predict future games as well. Bowl season is right around the corner, so without further ado, I present performance-based bowl predictions for 2011-12.

  • Georgia 17, Michigan State 16

  • South Carolina 23, Nebraska 21

  • Florida 27, Ohio State 21

  • Wisconsin 41, Oregon 32

  • Oklahoma State 39, Stanford 38

  • Michigan 24, Virginia Tech 23

  • Clemson 42, West Virginia 39

  • Arkansas 44, Kansas State 34

  • Pittsburgh 27, SMU 12

  • Alabama 11, LSU 9

We'll be keeping track of the model's success here at the Claremont Sports Connection and come back after bowl season with a recap. But if you can't wait until then, or you want to show me just how wrong I am, you can lay down some picks against me and the rest of the Nightcap team! Send us an email at and we'll get you set up in no time, or you can go to the google docs survey, which takes you to the ESPN Page, or go to our facebook page for more information. But remember, bowl season begins Saturday, December 17, so don't wait! Enjoy the bowl season!

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