130-team S&P+ rankings: SEC and Big 12 have been the best

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This week’s rankings feature minimal movement at the top but plenty of subplots beneath the surface

Below are the new S&P+ rankings after college football’s Week 9.

A reminder: S&P+ is intended to be predictive and forward looking.

Good predictive ratings are not résumé ratings, and they don’t give you bonus points for wins and losses. They simply compare expected output to actual output and adjust accordingly. That’s how a given team can win but plummet or lose and move up.

Through nine weeks, the S&P+ rankings are performing well, hitting 55 percent against the spread and 53 percent on the over/under point totals for the year.

As you would hope, the absolute error — the average size of miss between projection and reality — has settled into a healthy area as well.

If you’re interested in a decent résumé ranking of sorts, I encourage you to visit this post on strength of schedule. I created a Resume S&P+ ranking and will be updating it on Mondays throughout the rest of the season.

Below, however, are the predictive ratings, the actual S&P+.

(You can find full unit rankings, plus a yearly archive, at Football Outsiders. The offense and defense pages are updated by Monday at the latest.)

The week’s top movers (good)

NCAA Football: Oregon at Arizona
Casey Sapio-USA TODAY Sports
Arizona’s J.J. Taylor

Ohio (up 17 spots, from 84th to 67th)
Toledo (up 12 spots, from 83rd to 71st)
Arizona (up 12 spots, from 85th to 73rd)
Wake Forest (up 10 spots, from 98th to 88th)
Utah State (up nine spots, from 30th to 21st)
Michigan State (up nine spots, from 42nd to 33rd)
Maryland (up nine spots, from 63rd to 54th)
Georgia Southern (up nine spots, from 70th to 61st)
Minnesota (up eight spots, from 67th to 59th)
Texas State (up eight spots, from 116th to 108th)

The preseason S&P+ projections were pretty accurate overall — of the current teams in the top 15, 14 began the season projected 25th or better. Granted, part of that is impacted by the fact that those projections are still included in S&P+, but in-season data makes up a vast majority of the formula now, and it’s still pretty stable at the top.

Arizona, however, has had what you might call a rather unstable season. To put it lightly. The Wildcats began the season projected 32nd, fell all the way to 109th within two weeks, rebounded to 55th, hit 87th with a thud two weeks ago, and just rebounded 12 spots — their seventh time moving either up or down by double digits — following their out-of-nowhere blowout of Oregon. Considering the season began with division title aspirations, it’s safe to say that this season will have been a disappointment even if UA rebounds to bowl eligibility. But what a ride it’s been regardless.

Your lone top-15 usurper lives in Fresno

NCAA Football: Fresno State at UCLA
Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sports
Fresno State’s Marcus McMaryion

Only one current top-15 team began the season outside of the top 25: Jeff Tedford’s Fresno State Bulldogs. They began 42nd and stood at 38th after losing a tossup game to Minnesota in Week 2. Since then:

Bulldogs 38, UCLA 14
Bulldogs 49, Toledo 27
Bulldogs 21, Nevada 3
Bulldogs 27, Wyoming 3
Bulldogs 38, New Mexico 7
Bulldogs 50, Hawaii 20

Hawaii was the first team all season to average better than 5.3 yards per play against Fresno State (national average is typically in the 5.7 or 5.8 range). And when a team does move the ball a bit, Tedford and offensive coordinator Kalen DeBoer release the hounds on offense.

Obviously the race for the Group of Five’s New Years Six bowl bid goes through UCF — until the Knights lose, FS probably doesn’t have a chance because of the Minnesota loss — but Fresno has been absolutely ridiculous since the Minnesota game, and it was decent against the Gophers, too.

Top movers (bad)

Baylor v West Virginia
Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images
There was a lot of WVU celebration on Thursday night.

Baylor (down 18 spots, from 59th to 77th)
Oregon (down 12 spots, from 41st to 53rd)
Western Michigan (down 11 spots, from 74th to 85th)
Indiana (down 11 spots, from 65th to 76th)
Florida State (down 11 spots, from 57th to 68th)
Illinois (down nine spots, from 105th to 114th)
Duke (down nine spots, from 35th to 44th)
four teams down eight spots

When Baylor headed to Morgantown for a Thursday night battle with WVU, the Bears had, per S&P+, a 61 percent chance of reaching bowl eligibility. Safe to say, those odds have sunk dramatically, not only because they lost to the Mountaineers, but because they lost badly and damn near fell out of the top 80 in the process.

FBS conferences, ranked by average S&P+ rating:

SEC (plus-9.2 adjusted points per game, down 0.5 points)
Big 12 (plus-5.2, down 0.5)
Big Ten (plus-5.2, same)
ACC (plus-3.6, down 0.3)
Pac-12 (plus-3.6, down 0.2)
AAC (minus-0.8, same)
Mountain West (minus-2.2, up 0.1)
Sun Belt (minus-4.4, up 0.4)
Conference USA (minus-5.6, up 0.4)
MAC (minus-5.8, up 0.3)

A quick reminder: as non-conference play ends and conference play begins, the scoring margins tend to get closer on average. As a result, the overall spread of S&P+ ratings — which is distributed along the bell curve for scoring margins — tends to get smaller each week, too. That explains why the top conferences’ averages continue to fall while the bottom conferences’ averages all continue to rise.

Margins aside, though, there were no changes to this week’s conference rankings. The Big 12’s lead over the Big Ten for the No. 2 spot basically vanished, but it remains No. 2 at the moment, quite the plot twist from the previous couple of seasons. Its glorious, grinding conference title race might preclude it from having a national title contender (though OU’s CFP odds are still solid), but despite far-worse-than-normal Kansas State and TCU teams, this is the deepest the conference has been in quite some time, with seven of 10 teams in the top 50. We’ll see if it can hold off the Big Ten, but it’s looking like it will finish third at worst.

Another reminder: I have made a few philosophical changes in this year’s S&P+ rankings.

When I get the chance (so, maybe in the offseason), I will update previous years of S&P+ rankings to reflect these formula changes, too.

I changed the garbage time definition. S&P+ stops counting the major stats once the game has entered garbage time. Previously, that was when a game ceased to be within 27 points in the first quarter, 24 in the second, 21 in the third, and 16 in the fourth. Now I have expanded it: garbage time adjustments don’t begin until a game is outside of 43 points in the first quarter, 37 in the second, 27 in the third, and 21 in the fourth. That change came because of a piece I wrote about game states at Football Study Hall.

Preseason projections will remain in the formulas all season. Fans hate this — it’s the biggest complaint I’ve heard regarding ESPN’s FPI formulas. Instinctively, I hate it, too. But here’s the thing: it makes projections more accurate. Our sample size for determining quality in a given season is tiny, and incorporating projection factors found in the preseason rankings decreases the overall error in projections. So I’m doing it.

To counteract this conservative change, I’m also making S&P+ more reactive to results, especially early in the season. If I’m admitting that S&P+ needs previous-year performances to make it better, I’m also going to admit that S&P+ doesn’t know everything it needs to early in a season, and it’s going to react a bit more to actual results.

Basically, I’ve added a step to the the rankings process: after the rankings are determined, I go back and project previous games based on those ratings, and I adjust the ratings based on how much the ratings fit (or don’t fit) those results.

The adjustment isn’t enormous, and it diminishes dramatically as the season unfolds.

Testing this process for past seasons improved performance against the spread a little and, more importantly, decreased absolute error (the difference between projections and reality) quite a bit. I wouldn’t have made the move if it didn’t appear to improve performance.

Read more: sbnation.com

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