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Compu-Picks 2011 Preview: SEC

Mr Pac Ten
Posted Jul 25, 2011


2011 Compu-Picks Previews Each 1-A League: the SEC

Below is the preview for the SEC, consisting of three tables.

The first table outlines the projected rankings for each SEC team, sorted in each division from best to worst, and then presents the following selected key stats:
Rank - Projected 2011 ranking, from 1 to 120
2010 Rank - 2010 ranking using the current compu-picks model
Prev 4 yr - ranking of the average rating from 2006-2009
Recruit Rank - ranking of past 4 years of recruiting (each year equally weighted), from scout.com
Recruit Trend - the difference between the past 3 years of recruiting and the previous 3, ranked from best to worst
Injuries - starts lost to injury during the 2010 season (from Phil Steele)
Turnovers - turnover margin during the 2010 season, from cfbstats.com
Draft Losses - based on the 2011 draft
Ch - new head coach, per collegefootballpoll.com (1 indicates a new coach, . indicates no new coach)
Starters - returning offensive / defensive starters, per Phil Steele magazine (* if the QB returns), with some edits due to subsequent news

The second table shows the expected number of total wins for each team, as well as the odds for each potential number of wins, based on 2500 season simulation runs (note: a . indicates zero odds, while 0% indicates a non-zero probability that just rounds to 0%).

The third table shows the odds of winning the league, the expected number of league wins for each team, as well as the odds for each potential number of league wins, based on 2500 season simulation runs (note: a . indicates zero odds, while 0% indicates a non-zero probability that just rounds to 0%).

Projected ranking and key statistics

Team Rank 2010 Rank Prev 4 yr Recruit Rank Recruit Trend Injuries Turnovers Draft Losses Ch Starters
South Carolina 3 16 27 19 17 34 0 6 . 7*/6
Tennessee 18 49 31 15 20 34 4 7 . 7*/6
Florida 35 27 1 9 114 12 2 27 1 6*/4
Georgia 36 42 14 10 36 12 10 37 . 5*/7
Kentucky 41 58 39 41 11 10 -4 9 . 6/10
Vanderbilt 76 91 60 66 25 19 -4 0 1 11*/8
Alabama 1 6 9 1 4 13 11 58 . 7/10
Arkansas 7 9 25 24 14 19 1 10 . 6/7
Louisiana State 11 11 6 4 23 16 8 38 . 8*/7
Auburn 15 5 28 8 10 17 5 36 0.5 3/3
Mississippi State 27 25 63 32 39 14 7 16 . 9*/7
Mississippi 39 63 43 22 7 16 -6 2 . 9/4

Projected Results - All Games

Team Rank SOS E(wins) 13 12 11 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1 0
South Carolina 3 14 9.92 . 20% 25% 23% 14% 9% 6% 2% 1% 1% 0% 0% 0% .
Tennessee 18 22 7.85 . 3% 8% 12% 16% 19% 17% 13% 7% 4% 1% 0% 0% .
Florida 35 8 6.16 . 1% 2% 3% 7% 13% 15% 20% 19% 13% 5% 2% 0% 0%
Georgia 36 15 6.25 . 1% 3% 5% 9% 12% 15% 16% 14% 11% 8% 4% 1% 0%
Kentucky 41 32 6.91 . 1% 4% 7% 12% 16% 18% 15% 12% 7% 4% 2% 1% 0%
Vanderbilt 76 12 3.82 . 0% 0% 1% 1% 3% 5% 9% 14% 20% 20% 15% 9% 3%
Alabama 1 37 9.95 . 21% 25% 20% 15% 9% 5% 3% 1% 1% 0% 0% . .
Arkansas 7 5 8.66 . 7% 13% 19% 18% 17% 11% 8% 3% 2% 1% 0% 0% .
Louisiana State 11 1 7.93 . 5% 9% 13% 16% 16% 16% 10% 7% 5% 2% 1% 0% 0%
Auburn 15 11 7.62 . 3% 6% 11% 15% 18% 16% 13% 9% 5% 2% 1% 0% 0%
Mississippi State 27 28 6.78 . 1% 3% 6% 10% 15% 18% 18% 14% 8% 4% 1% 0% 0%
Mississippi 39 6 5.79 . 1% 2% 4% 7% 11% 13% 14% 17% 15% 9% 5% 2% 1%

Projected Results - League Games

Team Rank Division Odds Adj Div Odds E(wins) 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1 0
South Carolina 3 60.3% 6.18 . 21% 28% 23% 13% 8% 4% 1% 0% 0%
Tennessee 18 15.9% 4.11 . 3% 8% 13% 17% 21% 19% 11% 6% 2%
Florida 35 5.8% 3.01 . 1% 2% 5% 11% 17% 21% 22% 16% 5%
Georgia 36 9.2% 3.53 . 2% 5% 9% 15% 20% 18% 15% 10% 6%
Kentucky 41 7.9% 3.42 . 1% 5% 8% 14% 18% 21% 16% 12% 5%
Vanderbilt 76 0.8% 1.27 . 0% 0% 1% 1% 4% 9% 18% 31% 35%
Alabama 1 44.4% 49.1% 6.21 . 25% 26% 21% 14% 7% 4% 2% 1% 0%
Arkansas 7 19.0% 21.1% 5.12 . 8% 16% 21% 21% 15% 9% 5% 3% 1%
Louisiana State 11 18.6% 20.6% 5.03 . 8% 15% 21% 21% 15% 9% 6% 3% 1%
Auburn 15 9.7% 4.04 . 3% 8% 13% 18% 20% 16% 13% 7% 3%
Mississippi State 27 4.3% 4.7% 3.04 . 1% 3% 6% 11% 16% 20% 18% 16% 8%
Mississippi 39 4.0% 4.4% 3.04 . 1% 3% 7% 11% 16% 19% 21% 15% 7%

Some commentary about the projections:

1) South Carolina is a surprising pick at #3, but there are a number of things that point in the right direction for the Gamecocks compared to their SEC brethren: very low draft losses (lower than everyone other than Vandy and Ole Miss); lousy injury luck in 2010 (this should revert to a more normal number in 2011); and a very strong recruiting trend. Of course, if off-field issues (mainly the on-going Garcia saga) turn into a problem, then this projection will be way too optimistic, but if it doesn't, South Carolina could, and perhaps should, very well end up the SEC East champion and a very serious national title contender.

2) Clearly South Carolina wasn't a big enough surprise, because here comes Tennesse at #2 in the East, not just ahead but SOLIDLY ahead of both Florida and Georgia. This despite nobody (that I could find) ranking the Vols in the top 25. This despite being worse than both Florida and Georgia in 2010, 2006-2009, and recruiting over the last four years. So what do the Vols have going for them? A few things: very low draft losses (Florida and Georgia lost far more); a very strong recruiting trend; the same lousy injury luck in 2010 as South Carolina; and, unlike Florida, no new coach. Will that really be enough to catapult the Vols to 2nd place in the East? Compu-picks thinks so (though a brutal draw of Bama, Arkansas and LSU does NOT help), but this is clearly a wait and see one (though the Hilton line of 6.5 wins seems far too low).

3) So on to Florida. In this case, the story is actually pretty clear. While they were fantastic from 2006-2009, and normally we'd expect a bounce-back from a rough 2010 campaign, Florida has to deal with: a coaching transition; only 10 returning starters; substantial draft losses; and a horrific recruiting trend (mainly because their recruiting in 2006-2007 was simply ridiculous and coming down to earth was inevitable). It's worth noting that Florida is the only SEC team with a recruting trend outside the top 40, which makes their horrid trend all the more of a major negative factor. Could they still rebound and make a run at the East? Perhaps, but only if Muschamp handles all the transition issues smoothly from the get-go (always tough), and if somehow he and his staff can find a way to match Urban Meyer's production with materially less talent on the roster. More likely, 2011 will be a rebuilding year with the hope that 2012 will see a more serious run at greatness.

4) Georgia has been a fairly popular pick to win the East, largely because they lucked into missing Bama, Arkansas and LSU from the West. However, Georgia was simply not a particularly good team in 2010, and they lost a lot in the draft (3rd most in SEC), and they only have 10 returning starters (including QB), and they had a +10 turnover margin in 2010 that is unlikely to repeat itself. That's a lot of baggage to overcome if they want to make serious noise in the SEC. Like with Florida, it's certainly possible, but it'll be a tough road. And it'll be an even tougher road to hit 9+ wins, as that target could be all but over before late September if they start 0-2. Don't be stunned if this team has at least three losses before they play Florida (who usually beats them); Boise, South Carolina and Tennessee are all nasty tests, and both of the Mississippi schools are capable of pulling out a win.

5) Alabama is, unsurprisingly, the projected favorite in the SEC West. Interestingly, though, they're projected to most likely end up only around 10 wins. This is because, despite being a very good team, and despite actually having the easiest rated SEC schedule (not having to play against themselves helps, as does a pretty soft OOC), there are still a number of potential landmines. Penn St, Arkansas, Tennessee, LSU and Auburn are all projected to be serious challenges, and Florida and Mississippi St could be tough road trips; even Ole Miss isn't an automatic.
All that said, Bama is still #1 for good reason; they've been a consistent top 10 team, they've had the best recruiting nationally over the last 4 years, they have a great recruiting trend (best in SEC), and have 17 returning starters. The only meaningful drawbacks are the +11 turnover margin from last year (will likely revert to some degree), and the largest draft losses in the nation. Even with those two negatives, though, Bama should still be an extremely good team and an extremely tough out. But it still remains to be seen whether or not they can actually go 11-1 or better against their schedule. If they can (and Compu-Picks pegs it at nearly 50%), they should have a great chance of returning to the national title game.

6) Arkansas is a somewhat surprising #2 pick in the SEC West, since most people peg Bama and LSU as the two best in the West. However, Arkansas has a lot going for it, such as: a great 2010 team (better than LSU); a great recruiting trend (better than LSU); a national average turnover margin (which means less room to decline than Bama and LSU); and very low draft losses (much lower than LSU and especially Bama). Of course, 2010 was a bit of an outlier compared to prior history, their recruiting overall isn't at the level of the SEC elites, they return fewer starters than Bama and LSU, and you can reasonably argue that Ryan Mallet was much more valuable to them than being a 3rd round draft pick would suggest. Nevertheless, the overall picture gives Arkansas a mild advantage over LSU, at least as far as Compu-Picks is concerned.

7) LSU, of course, is still a very good team. They've been very good for a while, they recruit fantastically, and they've got a lot of returning starters. So without a doubt they're a legitimate contender in the West. A bit below Arkansas, and further below Bama (though so is almost everyone), but if things break well for them, if they win the close games, and if the talent develops more than normal, they're potentially capable of making another national title run.
That said, their schedule (rated #1 by Compu-Picks) is ludicrously difficult; not only are they in the SEC West, they also have West Virginia (on the road) and Oregon in OOC play, and they miss Vanderbilt from the East (though they also miss South Carolina). With this kind of nighmarish schedule, it's going to be very tough to reach 10 or more wins. Heck, against this beast even 9 wins would be a pretty noteworthy achievement.

8) Auburn at #15 is an interesting result. With only six returning starters, substantial draft losses, and a general sense that they'd been fairly lucky in their national title run (which compu-picks agrees with, thus the #5 rating in 2010), it's not surprising that a lot of national pundits have essentially dismissed the Tigers (most notably Phil Steele, who projected them dead last in the SEC West). However, that may be a bit too extreme.
It's true that in many ways Auburn is a blank slate, starting with new faces at almost every starting position, but unlike most rebuilding projects, Auburn has the benefit of a massive influx of talent. Their recruiting is top 10, both overall and in terms of trend, which means that it's a question of whether the great new talent can turn into star players quickly, as opposed to the certainty that they can't, which many other programs might face in similar situations. Moreover, it's worth noting that, other than Newton and Fairley, almost everyone Auburn lost was a player the NFL didn't want (technically they had a couple 7th rounders). So while they almost certainly can't replace those two players, it's completely possible that they can replace, and perhaps even upgrade, the rest of the players who departed. And if they can somehow find a decently consistent defense (a huge issue most of last year), they could be the surprise of the year.

9) Mississippi State seems like a somewhat trendy pick to be a top 25 team. Off a solid 2010 season, with a bunch of returning starters, it's not surprising they're getting a lot of respect. However, their recruiting is one of the worst in the SEC (even below Ole Miss), their recruiting trend is only better than Florida's massive decline, they had their best turnover margin in years (unlikely to repeat), and it's very much worth noting that 2010 was an outlier for them (that was only their third bowl game in 11 seasons). It's normal to decline a bit under those circumstances, and while it's possible that they make another good run in 2011, it's more likely that they fall back to the pack and end up around 6-7 wins.

There are a few important notes and caveats I need to make about this model:

1) Compu-Picks does not endorse implicitly or explicitly any form of illegal gambling. Compu-Picks is intended to be used for entertainment purposes only.

2) No guarantee or warranty is offered or implied by Compu-Picks for any information provided and/or predictions made.

3) This preseason model is primarily based on the main compu-picks model. Essentially, it attempts to predict how well a team will rate given its rating history, as well as a number of other data points, such as returning starters, draft talent lost, turnovers, recruiting, etc. This means, among other things, that the rankings are power rankings based on how good a team projects to be, as opposed to a more cynical (though accurate) model that attempts to project how the BCS will rank a team by making adjustments to favor those with easy schedules and punish those with tough schedules.

4) For three teams (Auburn, Oregon, UNC), you can see that they're projected to half a new coach. This was a manual adjustment I made to the data based on the off-field issues that each program is dealing with. A new coach is a negative predictive factor, so estimating a 50% chance of having a new coach makes an impact. For UNC, it's more that there's a pretty reasonable chance that they'll replace Butch Davis (or be forced to) before the season. For the other two, it's more a reflection of the possibility that the ongoing investigations will unearth more trouble, possibly leading to a coach replacement and/or current players being declared ineligible. For those two, estimating a 50% chance of a new coach is mainly a proxy for that possibility. It's admittedly arbitrary, but I believe that it's reasonable given the current climate.
I have also provided adjusted division (or league) odds in a number of instances. For the Pac-12 South, it shows the odds of each team winning adjusting for the fact that USC will be ineligible (the original calculation does not account for this). For various other instances, it would only be relevant if the team in question does in fact become ineligible for the division/league title. Should that not happen, you can ignore the adjusted odds.

5) There is a substantial amount of noise in these projections, which is to be expected given the large number of unknowns (who will have good and bad luck with injuries, which young players will improve and which won't, how specific matchups will come into play, etc.). Right now the standard error is a bit over 0.2 on a scale of about -1 to +1. It's important to look at the projections with this in mind to get a sense of how material the projected differences are. Given a standard error around 0.2, it is safe to project Alabama to be a much better team than Mississippi St, but it is not safe to project Arkansas to be any better than LSU, much less a lot better.

6) At this point, there are a number of model features that need to be investigated further. Chief among these is the distribution of extreme events. It appears that the model may be overstating the probabilities of extreme events, such as 12-0 or 0-12 records, or major underdogs winning their division/league. Please keep this in mind when looking at the distribution of win probabilities.

2011 Compu-Picks Blog

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