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2010 Compu-Picks Ratings - College

Mr Pac Ten
Posted Nov 17, 2010


The Compu-Picks model rates the top and bottom teams in college football after week eleven

As of the end of Ohio - Temple, these are the top 25 and bottom 15, along with conference ratings (straight average of the scores for each team in the confernece), the top five performances of the year, and the top five / bottom five home-road splits. Remember that this is a predictive model, designed to pick games and show how good a team actually is. Its results can be very different from what you'll see elsewhere. The workings of the model are confidential (it is, after all, designed to make winning picks), but I'm happy to answer questions about the models' results.

Team Ratings

Rank Team League Score Schedule Rank BCS Rank
1 Oregon Pac-10 0.92 9 1
2 Texas Christian Mountain West 0.84 37 3
3 Boise State WAC 0.83 43 4
4 Stanford Pac-10 0.79 5 6
5 Alabama SEC 0.68 16 11
6 Auburn SEC 0.67 12 2
7 Virginia Tech ACC 0.64 42 16
8 Ohio State Big Ten 0.60 66 9
9 Nebraska Big 12 0.60 38 8
10 Louisiana State SEC 0.57 13 5
11 Arkansas SEC 0.57 22 13
12 South Carolina SEC 0.54 6 17
13 Oklahoma State Big 12 0.54 40 10
14 Missouri Big 12 0.50 17 15
15 Arizona Pac-10 0.50 10 22
16 Southern California Pac-10 0.49 11 NR
17 Oklahoma Big 12 0.47 26 14
18 Nevada WAC 0.45 71 18
19 Wisconsin Big Ten 0.43 53 7
20 Miami (Florida) ACC 0.43 19 24
21 Texas A&M Big 12 0.42 27 19
22 Florida State ACC 0.42 28 25
23 North Carolina State ACC 0.41 30 NR
24 Iowa Big Ten 0.39 50 20
25 Utah Mountain West 0.38 65 23
27 Michigan State Big Ten 0.38 49 12
106 North Texas Sun Belt -0.50 117
107 Nevada-Las Vegas Mountain West -0.52 73
108 Bowling Green State MAC -0.54 111
109 Western Kentucky Sun Belt -0.59 110
110 Rice C-USA -0.60 96
111 San Jose State WAC -0.61 64
112 Louisiana-Lafayette Sun Belt -0.61 103
113 Ball State MAC -0.64 120
114 Middle Tennessee State Sun Belt -0.64 119
115 New Mexico Mountain West -0.72 95
116 Memphis C-USA -0.73 88
117 New Mexico State WAC -0.74 102
118 Buffalo MAC -0.76 98
119 Eastern Michigan MAC -0.82 105
120 Akron MAC -0.91 104

League Ratings

League Rating OOC Schedule Rating
Pac-10 0.36 0.15
SEC 0.32 -0.19
Big 12 0.22 -0.05
ACC 0.14 0.07
Big Ten 0.11 -0.16
Indep 0.10 -0.07
Big East -0.01 -0.09
WAC -0.05 0.02
Mountain West -0.07 0.06
C-USA -0.22 0.01
MAC -0.42 0.00
Sun Belt -0.45 0.04

Top Five wins of the Year

Game Rank Team Opponent Score
1 Texas Christian Utah 47 - 7
2 Arkansas South Carolina 41 - 20
3 Oregon Stanford 52 - 31
4 Florida State Miami (Florida) 45 - 17
5 Missouri Texas A&M 30 - 9

Top and Bottom 5 Home-Road Splits

1 California
2 Connecticut
3 Nevada-Las Vegas
4 Northern Illinois
5 Iowa
116 Toledo
117 Western Kentucky
118 Navy
119 Central Michigan
120 Syracuse

Some thoughts on the list:

1) Last week, I posted the compu-picks top twenty-five and bottom ten, and this week I'm expanding to the top twenty-five (plus Michigan St, since I'm sure people are curious about where they fit in) and bottom fifteen. I will continue to slowly expand the list as the season goes on, and will provide a full list at year's end.

2) The picks had a fantastic week, going 28 - 9 to put together an overall ATS record of 74 - 65 in the four weeks of ATS picks. After an atrocious week 8 pickset, each of the last three weeks has been in the black. Is the model back on track? Is it an aberration? We'll see. The expectation is 55% ATS, and it's not there yet... but it's getting pretty close. And being over 53% is still a good record.

3) It seems like every week this year at least one teams the model thought that the BCS overrated got exposed:
After week 8: Auburn, Wisconsin, Michigan St - Michigan St loses 37-6 at Iowa
After week 9: Auburn, Utah, Oklahoma, Wisconsin, Michigan St - Utah loses 47-7 at TCU and Oklahoma loses 33-19 at Texas A&M
After week 10: Auburn, LSU, Wisconsin, Michigan St, Mississippi St - Mississippi St loses 30-10 at Alabama (this really wasn't that bad; Bama is a really good team, and it was on the road for the Bulldogs... but Bama and MSU were only seven spots apart in the BCS before the game)

Of course, there have been ones going the other way, most notably Oregon St's implosion last week against Washington St. But it certainly seems like there have been more noteworthy bad showings by teams the model thought overrated than those it thought underrated.

4) After last week's games, one team has jumped to the forefront of the ratings: the Oregon Ducks, despite their very close win at Cal. The Cal game actually docked their rating a small amount, but they had a number of results which boosted their schedule for prior opponents, such as Tennessee's big win over Ole Miss, Wazzu's big win at Oregon St (the Ducks have already played the Cougars but haven't yet played the Beavers), and USC's upset at Arizona (ditto). And the net effect was positive, boosting their rating by a fair bit. Of course, the flip side of it was that TCU just had their worst game of the year against SD St, which dropped the Frogs off of the pace that Oregon has been setting. Essentially, the Ducks have played an absolutely brutal schedule this year and have basically dominated it, with a couple close games but mainly a whole bunch of ass-kicking.

5) Wisconsin is a fascinating resume. If you only look at their first four 1-A games (before Minnesota), they're not even a top 40 team, much less a top 10 team. If you only look at the most recent four 1-A games (after Minnesota), they're easily a top ten team. So the real question here is, did they flip the switch mid-season and are simply a totally different team than they were at the start of the year? Or are they an up and down team, just randomly up for a few games recently and down for a few games early? The evidence is starting to mount that they're actually the first option, just a much better team than they were early in the year. The model isn't ready to really jump behind that conclusion, but it's starting to look more and more likely. This week's game at Michigan will be an interesting test of the theory. The early-season version of the Badgers would lose or barely hold on (ala ASU). The more-recent version of the Badgers would win without too much trouble, not the 60+ point beating like they did against Indy, but at least as convincing as the Ohio St result.

6) TCU jumped up appreciably after bludgeoning Utah, and then fell right back to the pack after having a way too close game against SD St (and Utah's blowout loss at Notre Dame hurt too). They're now in a dead heat with Boise; the rating difference is well within any reasonable error range. In other words, flip a coin as to which one of these teams will be ahead of the other next week. Both are ahead of everyone else (except Oregon) by a fair amount still, though the Auburn-Bama winner is likely to get a good-sized bump, perhaps even enough to put them in that ballpark.

7) The following teams are ranked materially higher by the model than the BCS: Stanford, Alabama, Virginia Tech, South Carolina, Arizona, USC, NC St. Putting aside Virginia Tech for now (as noted in previous weeks' notes, this difference is partially due to not counting AA games... though 20th is probably too low for how well they're playing right now), let's look at the other teams.

As noted in the above table, Stanford has gone through an absolutely brutal schedule. Moreover, they've had a boatload of dominant wins (35-0, 41-0 68-24, 42-17...). Those two things combine to result in a rating well above everyone outside the top three; that's only two slots above their BCS ranking, but in terms of the compu-picks ratings, there's a pretty substantial gap.

Alabama is another team that has gone through an extremely difficult schedule (especially on the road). Moreover, they have also had a number of very dominant wins, and look to be the best of the two-loss team by a mile. There's a very reasonable chance of them beating Auburn in the Iron Bowl (futures lines have had them favored even after they lost at LSU), though if they don't their rating will likely tumble at least a bit.

Virginia Tech is an interesting case. Part of this difference is that the model doesn't count AA games (which means that the JMU loss doesn't count against them here), but just as important is the fact that they've gone on a tear through the ACC, virtually wrapping up their division already and only once allowing the other team to even come withing 10 points of them. Compu-picks has them too high, but the BCS has them too low.

South Carolina has beaten Alabama, has blown out Florida in the Swamp, and has dominated a number of opponents while facing off against a very tough schedule. Sure, there have been stumbles (the Kentucky and Arkansas games were pretty bad), but overall this is a much more quality resume than most people seem to realize. Yes, they're capable of losing the SEC title game by a couple touchdowns on a bad day... but they're also capable of winning it on a good day.

Arizona is the same type of story as most other teams that compu-picks thinks is underrated: very tough schedule, tendency towards blowout wins and close losses (except at Stanford). Despite what the BCS thinks, there simply aren't 21 teams out there better than the Arizona Wildcats.

USC isn't eligible to be ranked by the BCS. If they were eligible, they'd be ranked.

A bit under the radar, NC St has nonetheless turned in a fairly quality resume. Decent schedule, two of their losses were very close (overtime loss and 1 pt in regulation), and they've scored a number of blowout wins. Another team much better than you'd think just lazily looking at their W-L record.

8) The following teams are ranked materially lower than the model than the BCS: Auburn, LSU, Wisconsin, Michigan St, Mississippi St.

Auburn is an interesting case. Clearly the schedule heft is there; right now their schedule to date is rated as the toughest of all the unbeaten teams. What's really been holding them back has been the unusual string of close games. 3 points at home in overtime to Clemson, 3 points each at Kentucky and Miss St... those really aren't the type of performances you expect from a truly elite team. On the other hand, they did beat both Arkansas and Ole Miss by more than 20, so that criticism is starting to fade. Should they run the table, including a win at Alabama, their rating will materially increase... though right now the model doesn't give them a great shot at winning at Tuscaloosa. For now, the model thinks that Alabama is actually the best team in the SEC (though it's VERY close, well within a reasonable error range). Is the model right? We'll see in a few weeks. For what it's worth, I suspect that the model underrates Auburn by a couple spots... though I think it's premature to say they're really a top 2 team. If they can pass their big road test at Bama I'll be convinced, but until then I'm on the fence about them to some degree.

Wisconsin has been talked about above, so I won't rehash that one.

Michigan St has been covered in previous weeks; not especially dominant (especially after they got waxed at Iowa), not much of a schedule to date (Notre Dame was actually the best by far of a really bad set of non-conference opponents, which continues to hold them down, though not as much now that they're well into the Big Ten schedule). Even if you think compu-picks is too low on them, they're simply not the 12th best team in the country, and they're probably not even particularly close.

Mississippi St has had a quality schedule, but they've been blown out twice and had a way too close win against UAB. Three crummy results, and not a whole lot of quality results to offset it. They've racked up a good number of wins, but almost all of them have been close, against not good teams, or both. For the most part, outside of the three-game stretch of Georgia, Houston, Florida stretch, this team simply hasn't looked anything like a top 25 team. That three-game stretch keeps them in the ballpark of the top 25, but ultimately the resume is too thin to have them there. Maybe something happens against Arkansas to change the system's mind, but for now they're out.

9) The SEC's OOC schedule strength number is a bit misleading, since they still have four games against the ACC (though one of those games is against Wake); that number is going up even before bowl season. For that matter, the ACC's OOC schedule strength number will also go up due to those same four games (though one of those four games is Vandy). 10) This isn't directly to do with the list, but here's a couple fun lists of results:

Texas 20, @ Nebraska 13
Nebraska 48, @ Kansas St 13
Kansas St 39, @ Texas 14

@ Michigan St 34, Wisconsin 24
Wisconsin 31, @ Iowa 30
@ Iowa 37, Michigan St 6

Alabama 24, @ Arkansas 20
Arkansas 41, @ South Carolina 20
@ South Carolina 35, Alabama 21

If you try to apply "head to head is the only thing that matters" logic to this list, your head will explode. You can tease out certain information from these lists (Wisconsin and Alabama had both of their games on the road, they get a bonus; Iowa, Nebraska and Arkansas had losses much closer than their wins, therefore they get a bonus; etc.), but what it really does is highlight that each of these results was JUST ONE GAME. To properly evaluate a team, you need to evaluate the whole resume, not pretend that a single result means everything and the rest almost nothing just because of head to head "logic".

The alternative is pretty well demonstrated by Andy Staples' latest ballot (link here), where he moved Michigan St from #14 to #7 just because Iowa (who beat MSU) beat Northwestern (who MSU beat). His justification was:
The Spartans had been drilled by Iowa, which had lost to Arizona and Wisconsin. Because I didn't want to punish Iowa for playing a difficult schedule, I evaluated Iowa on par with the other one-loss Big Ten teams. That changed when Iowa -- and Arizona -- lost this past Saturday. Michigan State has the same record as Wisconsin and won the head-to-head meeting. That's why the Spartans are now ranked above the Badgers, who are ranked above Ohio State by virtue of their head-to-head win against the Buckeyes.
Translation: two teams Michigan St already played faced off. As a consequence, I'm making a huge movement in Michigan St's rating, because now I'm going to pretend that one of their results suddenly doesn't really matter much anymore. Unfortunately, this sort of absurd logic is quite common; the only reason I'm picking on Staples here is that he's at least good enough to write down the reasons he votes the way he does, instead of just throwing out a list and leaving his reasons to the imagination. He's not the problem; the absurd approach that has become commonplace is the problem. Is it preferable to "let's just vote the local team #1"? Of course it is. But it's extremely flawed, and relying on it inevitably leads to serious problems with a ballot. That's why Compu-Picks doesn't give ANY special consideration to head to head results. You are what your resume says you are. Period.

Technical notes about the lists:

1) Conference ratings are straight averages of all of the teams in the league. There is no "central averaging" (like Sagarin does), or over-weighting the top teams, or anything like that. Such approaches would yield different numbers, and could potentially change the order of some of the leagues.

2) Games against AA teams are not counted. There are many good arguments both for and against counting such games (see this link for an interesting analysis of the issue). I have elected not to count these results in the Compu-Picks model. As is the case almost every year, this means that one or two especially surprising AA upsets don't make it into the numbers, skewing the results to a fair degree for a couple of teams. I believe that this is a more than acceptable tradeoff given the substantial issues that counting AA games would create, but you are certainly welcome to disagree with my decision on this matter.

3) As mentioned here, the purpose of this system is to make picks, not to create a list used for rankings. As such, I evaluate the system solely on the basis of how good a job it does making picks. I do not evaluate the system on the basis of whether or not it agreed with AP polls, BCS rankings, the BCS computers, or any other such list out there. In fact, the system has a long and established history of being substantially different than those sources. I am fine with these differences. To be honest, I publish these lists because I find them interesting and thought-provoking, and because I believe it is a good thing to introduce an approach that doesn't simply regurgitate the same avenues of thinking as you can find in most places.

4) The system is noisy, especially earlier in the year. This is why I start with only a top 10 / bottom 10 list, and slowly expand it. While I believe that the numbers are reasonable, I certainly accept that they're not perfect. If you believe that a specific team is over- or under-ranked, you may well be right. I bring this up because if you're going to criticize the system for being wrong about a team, I'd appreciate it if you explain why you think the system is substantially wrong, rather than just marginally so (if it's just one or two slots off, especially well before the end of the year, I'd consider that well within a reasonable error range).

5) Some people have expressed curiosity about compu-picks' schedule ratings. Essentially, it's the average difficulty of all 1-A games that a team has played to date, which basically means the average rating of all of a team's 1-A opponents, then adjusted for things like home-field advantage. This, of course, varies enormously from the NCAA's official schedule ratings, which simply look at the opponents' winning percentages and that's it. Needless to say, the NCAA's approach is silly and deeply flawed; it's better than picking numbers out of a hat, but no serious analyst should rely on it at all when trying to evaluate how difficult a team's schedule actually was.

2010 Compu-Picks Blog

Questions, comments or suggestions? Email me at cfn_ms@hotmail.com

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