College football rankings: LSU leads after four weeks in top 10 based entirely off resumes
Sometimes, simple is better; that's our aim with these college football rankings
If necessity is the mother of invention, then boredom is probably its uncle -- or maybe even its stepfather. During the long, boring college football offseason, I spend a lot of time messing around to keep myself interested, and one of my favorite pastimes has been figuring out ways to rank teams. It was offseason boredom that led to me developing the statistical formula I use to rank all 129 FBS teams that gives us The Bottom 25 every week. Over the years, I tweaked the recipe until it became what it is today, and this offseason, I didn't touch it. I like it, and there wasn't a part of it I felt needed to be changed.
So an idea popped into my head: I wonder if there's a formula I can come up with that helps predict where the College Football Playoff Selection Committee will rank teams. Well, I think I may have found one. At least, I found one that has proven to be pretty close so far. And here's what's crazy: Unlike the formula I use to rank the teams myself, which involves a number of different statistics and metrics all weighted differently, the formula I created for the CFP is aggressively simple. In fact, it was so simple that I wasn't sure I even wanted to share it because it felt so basic.
But when I went through past seasons to 2014 -- when the CFP began -- it kept working. While the seeds weren't always the same, the top four teams my formula spit out matched the four teams chosen in the College Football Playoff in 2015, 2016 and 2017. The lone season where the formula didn't get the same four teams was 2014.
Following the 2014 regular season, the CFP gave us these rankings.
- Florida State
- Ohio State
You may remember that, at the time, Ohio State's selection was controversial. Many felt that 11-1 Baylor or 11-1 TCU deserved the spot ahead of the Buckeyes and that the reason they were left out was mostly due to the Big 12 not having a conference championship game. The Buckeyes got the spot and then shut everyone up by going on to win the title. Well, this was the top four using my simple CFP formula.
- Florida State
Baylor finished at No. 5. Ohio State? The Buckeyes came in at No. 9.
So how ridiculously simple is my formula? Very!
The thought process behind it was that when it comes to ranking teams, the committee seems to be focused on two key factors: how many losses you have (no two-loss team has made the playoff thus far) and impressive resume wins.
So I decided to assign points based on wins and losses. Every win, no matter who it is against, is worth 1 point. You get bonus points if you beat a ranked team. Teams ranked between 21-25 are worth an extra 2 points, 16-20 an additional 3 points, 11-15 an additional 4 points, 6-10 an extra 5 points, and a win over a top-five team is worth 6 points. Losses are worth -3 points. If you lose to a ranked team, it's -2 points because it's a "resume loss." Then I added a simple margin of victory scale that adds or subtracts (depending on whether you win or lose) 0.1 points for every point you win or lose a game against a ranked team.
That's it. That's the incredibly basic formula. Hell, it's so basic I hesitate even to call it a formula. But it's proven to have a level of accuracy to this point, and now that we're four weeks into the regular season and have enough data to work with for 2018, we're going to share them here with you every week.
Now, remember, these rankings aren't a ranking of how good teams are or where they will be ranked at the end of the season. Consider them to be a resume ranking more than anything. If a team is ranked No. 1, that doesn't mean its better than No. 2 or even No. 8; it just says the team has a better resume at that point.
Looking back at last season, the CFP gave us these rankings:
Using my CFP formula, here's what the top four was following the regular season last year, along with that team's resume points.
- Clemson -- 42.4 points
- Oklahoma --- 34.7
- Georgia -- 23.7
- Alabama -- 23.6
The fifth-place team was Auburn with 21.5 points, and had it beaten Georgia in the SEC Championship Game, it would have been in the top four.
So what do these resume rankings look like right now for the 2018 season? Well, once again, things are looking good for the SEC at the moment.
Resume Rankings, Week 5
It shouldn't be a surprise to see LSU at the top of the rankings right now. The Tigers have picked up two wins against teams that were ranked in the top 10 at the time, beating Miami 33-17 and Auburn 22-21.
Kentucky is a surprise at No. 2, but it is 4-0 (4 points) with a win over then-No. 25 Florida (2 points) by 11 (1.1 points) and a win over No. 14 Mississippi State (4 points) by 21 (2.1 points). Add it all up, and you get 13.2 points. Of course, for Kentucky (or any team) to maintain its ranking would be to keep winning, but there's one problem for the Wildcats right now. If you look at the remainder of its schedule, there's only one game against a ranked team remaining, and it's against No. 2 Georgia on Nov. 3. Obviously, rankings will change, but it just goes to show how easily things can change, and how difficult it could be for some teams to earn resume points.
It will be interesting to follow how these rankings change every week and to see how they compare to the rankings the College Football Playoff will start releasing every week a month from now.
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