VARSITY NUMBERS: Retrofitting

Joe Robbins

In this week's Varsity Numbers, I take a look at some particularly funky S&P+ rankings.

Still ... despite my acceptance of oddities, this week's S&P+ rankings are particularly weird. Never mind Texas A&M being ranked sixth, two spots ahead of a team (LSU) that just beat the Aggies in College Station; that's run-of-the-mill oddity. No, teams No. 10 through 15 are the ones that set my hair on fire.

10. Tennessee (3-5)
11. Arizona (5-3)
12. Michigan (5-3)
13. BYU (5-4)
14. Nebraska (6-2)
15. Fresno State (6-3)

Really?

Boise State is 7-1 and 16th. Kansas State is 8-0 and 18th. Ohio State is 9-0 and 19th. Georgia is 7-1 and 22nd. Louisville is 8-0 and 54th. But these six teams, the 10th- through 15th-best in the country, have a combined record of 30-20. That's a little too weird, isn't it?

I have always trusted that when teams with iffy rankings figure out a way to rank pretty highly, there's a reason for it. If your schedule is quite a bit more difficult than anybody else's, then you should be expected to play well but finish with a worse record than peers with easier slates. For example, it made sense to me that Notre Dame ranked 10th, Texas A&M 16th, and Texas 22nd last year, despite a combined record of 24-16. […]

If I went back through the schedule so far and made retroactive projections for each game, how many do the current S&P+ projections get right? I figured if the current ratings were able to nail at least about 80 percent of the games played thus far, then I would feel comfortable with them, no matter how odd they may look. Obviously teams change, go through injuries and suspensions, etc., so this approach clearly isn't perfect. (Plus, thanks to a pointy ball, injuries, weather conditions, etc., sometimes the worse team wins. it's part of what makes this such an odd, confusing, wonderful sport. Sometimes N.C. State beats Florida State. Sometimes a team wins seven games by a touchdown or less. It doesn't have to all make sense.) But I don't need perfection to feel at ease. I only need 80 percent.

The verdict: of the 554 games that have taken place so far in 2012, the S&P+ ratings get 459 of the results correct when applying your customary three-point home field advantage. That's 82.9 percent. Success! Perhaps as importantly, it does pretty well with teams No. 10-16. Not great, mind you, but pretty well. It nails six-of-eight results for No. 10 Tennessee, six-of-eight for No. 11 Arizona, eight-of-eight for No. 12 Michigan, seven-of-nine for No. 13 BYU, seven-of-eight for No. 14 Nebraska, and eight-of-nine for No. 15 Fresno State.

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