Everyone needs to throw out their two cents, don’t they? Everyone offers a Top 25 ranking these days. The thing about these projections, though, is that they are always an amalgamation of a popularity contest and pure guesswork. Though neither will be relevant in the College Football Playoff picture, the AP and coaches polls still nearly mirror one another in their ordering of the top 20 percent of teams at the FBS level.
So instead of just offering up another crapshoot of a list, I’m going to provide a different way of looking at all 128 teams this preseason. And that requires us first to get to the root of what it is we are really trying to do when we look at preseason polls and rankings. Ultimately our goal is to project which teams will emerge most successfully at the other side of the season, and thus should be rooted in trying to see which teams are being overlooked.
How can we go about looking at these teams? I can’t say my way is the right way, but it is different. What I’ve done is taken a few metrics of interest — strength of schedule, the combined experience of each team as expressed in Phil Steele’s metrics, the 2013 winning percentage of each team, and their final 2013 F/+ rankings from Football Outsiders — and calculated out each team’s projected spot in the pecking order.
Honestly, a lot of this list looks similar to the pollsters… the top teams won’t surprise anyone, that’s for sure, though the ordering isn’t exactly as one might expect. Once you go further down the top 25, however, there are some teams that show up favorably when breaking down experience and last season’s rates of success that are afterthoughts for those coaches and media members filling out ballots. The table below shows the top 25; you can also click here to view the full ranking of all 128 teams right away.
Six Takeaways from the Top 25
- No matter how you calculate things, the defending champions are the team to beat in 2014. Florida State has plenty of returning talent, a schedule that is challenging but not insurmountable, and they return large portions of the team that was the best of 2013 by most metrics. Jameis Winston is back to build upon his Heisman campaign and build NFL Draft stock, the defense should be as stingy as usual, and the ACC is there for the Seminoles to claim.
- Behind FSU, though, there are some discrepancies in how these tabulations rate the next level of contenders for the other three CFP spots. While both polls are bullish on Alabama, it is cross-state rival and defending SEC champ Auburn that rates as the SEC West favorite in my estimation. The Tigers play a tougher schedule and return more talent, which should bode better in the eyes of the selection committee. In the SEC East, the Gamecocks look like the team to beat… but rather than Georgia nipping at their heels, as most polls and power rankings project, it could very well be a Missouri team that should be anything but a flash in the pan.
- After beating the Crimson Tide in the Sugar Bowl last January, expectations have been riding ultra-high for the Oklahoma Sooners. But they might not even be the best team in their own state, let alone the entire Big 12. Oklahoma State, Baylor, and Kansas State all rated higher after crunching the numbers, with Bob Stoops’ crew falling all the way outside the top 25. No team returns a lower level of combined experience than Oklahoma, which might put a damper on their national championship aspirations.
- The SEC looks like the conference to beat, with eight teams factoring into the top 25. The Pac-12 is second with eight teams in the rankings, while the Big Ten, Big 12, and ACC are each represented by three teams. Independent (though nominally ACC-affiliated) Notre Dame falls into the 25 spot, while the only team from outside of the five power conferences to factor into the preseason ranking is defending AAC and Fiesta Bowl champion UCF.
- Only five teams in the top 25 play schedules that are in the top 25 in terms of difficulty. Three of the teams in the top 25 — Louisville, Wisconsin, and Alabama — actually play schedules against teams that had aggregate losing records in 2013. How the strength of schedule will affect selection committee decisions this year will set an interesting precedent moving forward in the CFP era.
- The three teams with the most experience among top 25 teams are all SEC squads (Auburn, Ole Miss, and Missouri). The three teams with the lowest level of returning experience among the same sample of teams? Clemson, LSU, and Notre Dame, which could make it that much tougher for Dabo Swinney, Les Miles, and Brian Kelly to guide their squads to one of the inaugural bids to the CFP bracket come December.
Comparing Polls to the Spreadsheet
Who do the polls like that the number crunching does not?
- Alabama (2nd in AP, 2nd in coaches, 10th in this ranking)
- LSU (13th in AP, 13th in coaches, 20th in this ranking)
- Georgia (12th in AP, 12th in coaches, 22nd in this ranking)
- Oklahoma (4th in AP, 3rd in coaches, 26th in this ranking)
- Nebraska (22nd in AP, 22nd in coaches, 33rd in this ranking)
- North Carolina (23rd in AP, 23rd in coaches, 39th in this ranking)
Who do the numbers like that the polls do not?
- Auburn (6th in AP, 5th in coaches, 2nd in this ranking)
- Missouri (24th in AP, 26th in coaches, 6th in this ranking)
- Oklahoma State (33rd in AP, 30th in coaches, 9th in this ranking)
- Louisville (31st in AP, 36th in coaches, 12th in this ranking)
- UCF (26th in AP, 28th in coaches, 16th in this ranking)
- Washington (25th in AP, 25th in coaches, 18th in this ranking)