2014 College football rankings: Initial S&P+ Projections

Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sport

Early 2014 college football projections taking into account three factors: recent performance, recruiting, and returning starters.

The college football clock almost never changes. The season ends a week into January, National Signing Day comes a month later, spring football begins 3-4 weeks after that, Stupid Arrests Season begins in late-May, fall camp starts around the first or second week in August, and the season begins over a long Labor Day weekend. Rinse, repeat.

I've developed some habits of my own in that time. Following National Signing Day, I post the first of what will basically be three rounds of projections for the coming season. The numbers will get further fleshed out and expanded upon in the summer's Football Outsiders Almanac, and there will be one final batch of projections in late-August, taking into account injuries, defections, etc. But in February, we go simple.

Below are the initial projected rankings for the 2014 college football season. They take into account three factors: recent history, returning starters, and recruiting. You'll find three projected numbers below:

1. Projected S&P+ (5-Year Weighted Average). This is exactly what it says -- a five-year weighted S&P+ average, with 2013 getting 5x the weight, 2012 4x, ..., and 2009 1x. It accounts for about 60 percent of the overall projections. In college football, the best predictor of what you will do is what you've done. Things don't change a whole lot from year to year.

2. Projected S&P+ (Returning Starters). This takes last year's S&P+ ratings and adjusts for your number of returning starters. Obviously returning starters is a pretty vague, debatable number, but at this stage in the game, one month removed from the last season, it's what we have to work with. For now, the best starter numbers to work with are probably Phil Steele's. For my projections, I'll replace his numbers with mine (which are more about top contributors than simply who started) as I derive them. For now, Phil's will do just fine. This number accounts for about 30 percent of the overall projections.

3. Projected S&P+ (2-Year Recruiting). As discussed previously, I have become convinced that a five-year recruiting average is redundant; by the time you're 3-4 years removed from a recruiting class's signing, you've replaced potential (which is what the recruiting rankings reflect) with production. Using two years (as approximately 10 percent of the overall projections) attempts to fill in the gaps between the number of players you lose from last year and the quality of players that will be replacing them.

That's pretty much it. 60-30-10(ish). In Phil Steele parlance, I'm using THREE SETS OF POWER RANKINGS. Below are the projections. (NOTE: By the time the FO Almanac rolls around, we'll have come up with rough projections for the FBS newbies -- Georgia Southern, Appalachian State, Old Dominion -- but for now these are just the FBS teams that were also FBS teams last year.)

Rk Team Proj. S&P+
(5-Year Wtd. Avg.)
Rk Proj. S&P+
(Ret. Starters)
Rk Proj. S&P+
(2-year Recruiting)
Rk 2014 Projected S&P+
1 Alabama 295.5 1 275.3 5 290.3 1 288.9
2 Florida State 268.7 2 298.1 1 282.2 5 279.0
3 Oregon 257.4 3 281.1 2 257.4 20 264.6
4 South Carolina 242.3 13 266.8 6 268.4 16 252.3
5 LSU 250.2 5 244.7 18 285.9 3 251.9
6 Stanford 249.3 6 261.4 8 237.0 39 251.8
7 Texas A&M 245.4 9 255.7 13 280.0 7 251.8
8 Georgia 243.2 11 258.0 10 277.9 9 251.0
9 Oklahoma 245.0 10 256.3 12 269.8 15 250.8
10 Ohio State 242.6 12 251.4 14 288.1 2 249.6
11 USC 234.4 17 265.2 7 274.9 10 247.7
12 Auburn 222.9 30 277.7 3 279.3 8 245.0
13 Michigan State 241.9 14 246.6 15 248.7 26 244.0
14 Clemson 235.4 16 245.1 16 272.0 13 241.8
15 UCLA 215.9 43 276.0 4 270.6 14 239.4
16 Oklahoma State 246.7 7 222.4 37 247.2 28 239.4
17 Notre Dame 238.7 15 219.4 41 281.5 6 236.9
18 Boise State 251.2 4 219.9 39 198.4 65 236.7
19 Wisconsin 246.6 8 216.0 45 226.8 47 235.4
20 Louisville 224.6 27 257.6 11 216.6 51 233.9
21 Florida 233.0 18 218.1 42 283.0 4 233.2
22 Virginia Tech 231.7 21 226.7 29 257.4 20 232.6
23 Michigan 227.2 25 232.3 22 265.5 17 232.4
24 Central Florida 223.3 29 261.2 9 185.2 73 231.2
25 Baylor 232.9 19 223.1 34 246.5 29 231.2
Rk Team Proj. S&P+
(5-Year Wtd. Avg.)
Rk Proj. S&P+
(Ret. Starters)
Rk Proj. S&P+
(2-year Recruiting)
Rk 2014 Projected S&P+
26 Ole Miss 216.0 42 244.9 17 272.8 12 230.2
27 TCU 232.2 20 225.8 30 229.0 44 230.0
28 Arizona State 224.8 26 230.4 24 252.3 23 229.1
29 Mississippi State 218.1 37 243.1 20 243.6 34 228.1
30 Washington 214.5 46 244.4 19 252.3 23 227.3
31 Missouri 228.7 23 219.8 40 237.7 37 226.9
32 BYU 230.4 22 229.6 27 185.2 73 225.9
33 Texas 221.5 32 223.7 32 260.4 18 225.8
34 Arizona 218.7 36 228.6 28 245.0 32 224.2
35 Nebraska 228.3 24 203.7 60 256.0 22 223.5
36 North Carolina 215.1 45 232.2 23 245.8 31 223.2
37 Miami 219.7 33 221.4 38 250.1 25 223.1
38 Penn State 224.1 28 210.8 55 244.3 33 222.0
39 Oregon State 217.3 39 223.0 36 229.0 44 220.1
40 Iowa 216.7 40 230.0 26 210.0 54 220.1
41 Houston 213.9 47 235.6 21 199.8 63 219.2
42 Kansas State 218.8 35 216.1 44 211.5 52 217.3
43 Pittsburgh 215.3 44 213.0 50 235.6 40 216.5
44 Georgia Tech 218.9 34 209.3 56 195.4 69 213.7
45 Utah 213.2 50 212.7 51 211.5 52 212.9
46 Fresno State 216.4 41 211.7 53 189.6 71 212.4
47 Texas Tech 212.1 51 209.0 57 223.2 48 212.2
48 Arkansas 218.0 38 189.6 75 248.0 27 212.2
49 Northwestern 205.9 58 225.1 31 203.5 59 211.5
50 Indiana 192.5 83 230.2 25 234.1 42 208.0
Rk Team Proj. S&P+
(5-Year Wtd. Avg.)
Rk Proj. S&P+
(Ret. Starters)
Rk Proj. S&P+
(2-year Recruiting)
Rk 2014 Projected S&P+
51 Northern Illinois 213.8 48 213.3 48 152.4 98 207.8
52 West Virginia 209.5 53 191.9 73 246.5 29 207.6
53 Toledo 208.7 55 215.5 47 174.3 80 207.5
54 Cincinnati 213.3 49 196.8 68 194.0 70 206.4
55 Duke 198.4 71 223.0 35 200.6 62 206.1
56 Maryland 195.5 78 217.6 43 230.5 43 205.6
57 Tennessee 210.5 52 170.0 96 273.5 11 204.1
58 Vanderbilt 203.5 61 190.0 74 241.4 36 203.0
59 Marshall 200.4 65 208.6 58 199.8 63 202.9
60 Bowling Green 204.5 59 212.5 52 157.5 92 202.4
61 Illinois 198.9 69 207.2 59 204.9 58 202.0
62 Nevada 206.5 56 201.5 61 155.3 94 200.1
63 Virginia 195.8 75 194.7 69 243.6 34 200.0
64 Tulsa 209.0 54 186.9 78 180.1 76 199.5
65 Minnesota 191.8 84 211.3 54 209.3 55 199.4
66 Syracuse 199.9 67 197.8 67 201.3 61 199.4
67 Navy 200.2 66 215.6 46 139.3 106 199.1
68 N.C. State 200.8 64 184.3 81 235.6 40 199.1
69 Utah State 222.0 31 172.3 93 137.8 107 198.8
70 Rutgers 197.6 73 189.2 76 218.1 50 197.0
71 Iowa State 193.2 81 200.0 63 208.6 56 196.7
72 East Carolina 206.5 57 186.2 79 168.5 85 196.7
73 Washington State 186.6 98 213.2 49 202.0 60 196.2
74 SMU 203.0 62 185.7 80 176.5 77 195.2
75 UTSA 189.9 88 223.2 33 118.9 121 193.3
Rk Team Proj. S&P+
(5-Year Wtd. Avg.)
Rk Proj. S&P+
(Ret. Starters)
Rk Proj. S&P+
(2-year Recruiting)
Rk 2014 Projected S&P+
76 Kentucky 188.6 93 181.3 84 259.6 19 193.1
77 South Florida 197.5 74 169.9 97 227.5 46 191.9
78 California 198.8 70 164.1 104 237.7 37 191.9
79 UL-Lafayette 193.4 80 199.0 65 159.0 90 191.9
80 Boston College 197.7 72 175.3 89 197.6 66 190.8
81 Ball State 193.6 79 197.9 66 146.6 101 190.5
82 San Jose State 199.4 68 193.0 71 124.7 117 190.3
83 San Diego State 203.6 60 165.0 102 182.3 75 189.8
84 Arkansas State 202.8 63 170.1 95 149.5 100 187.8
85 Colorado State 184.7 101 194.6 70 176.5 77 186.9
86 Connecticut 195.5 77 178.4 88 158.3 91 186.8
87 Temple 195.8 76 167.6 100 186.0 72 186.3
88 Rice 187.8 95 187.5 77 157.5 92 184.9
89 Wake Forest 189.0 91 164.1 103 207.1 57 183.1
90 Tulane 178.9 108 192.4 72 174.3 80 182.5
91 Western Kentucky 188.6 92 174.1 91 170.7 84 182.5
92 South Alabama 182.4 103 199.6 64 126.9 114 182.4
93 Hawaii 187.9 94 182.5 82 143.7 103 182.0
94 North Texas 191.2 86 179.5 86 127.6 113 181.6
95 Memphis 173.5 117 200.8 62 166.3 86 181.1
96 Colorado 176.7 111 179.8 85 196.2 68 179.5
97 Kansas 174.9 115 174.9 90 218.8 49 179.1
98 Louisiana Tech 192.8 82 147.1 111 174.3 80 177.1
99 Middle Tennessee 182.2 105 168.5 99 161.9 89 176.1
100 Wyoming 182.2 104 173.0 92 145.9 102 175.9
Rk Team Proj. S&P+
(5-Year Wtd. Avg.)
Rk Proj. S&P+
(Ret. Starters)
Rk Proj. S&P+
(2-year Recruiting)
Rk 2014 Projected S&P+
101 Army 178.7 109 181.7 83 140.0 104 175.9
102 Kent State 189.1 90 162.9 105 130.5 110 175.5
103 Florida Atlantic 180.3 106 169.6 98 164.1 87 175.5
104 Purdue 186.7 97 145.1 115 196.9 67 175.0
105 Air Force 190.4 87 155.0 108 140.0 104 174.8
106 Central Michigan 179.4 107 171.8 94 153.9 95 174.6
107 Buffalo 186.8 96 165.4 101 118.9 121 173.8
108 Ohio 191.7 85 149.1 110 137.8 107 173.6
109 UNLV 176.4 113 178.6 87 121.1 120 171.8
110 Southern Miss 184.8 99 141.6 118 175.0 79 170.7
111 Troy 189.8 89 142.3 117 131.3 109 169.7
112 UL-Monroe 184.8 100 153.0 109 126.9 114 169.6
113 Western Michigan 183.9 102 132.6 120 174.3 80 167.3
114 Texas State 178.3 110 146.4 112 162.6 88 167.1
115 UAB 176.7 112 146.3 113 153.9 95 165.3
116 New Mexico 167.8 121 156.6 106 153.2 97 163.0
117 UTEP 174.9 116 145.1 116 113.8 124 160.0
118 Akron 167.9 120 156.2 107 121.8 118 160.0
119 Florida International 175.7 114 129.4 122 150.2 99 159.1
120 Idaho 169.3 119 145.8 114 128.4 111 158.3
121 Miami (Ohio) 172.5 118 133.9 119 125.4 116 156.2
122 Eastern Michigan 165.8 122 122.1 123 128.4 111 148.9
123 Massachusetts 150.1 125 130.2 121 121.8 118 141.3
124 New Mexico State 157.7 123 111.5 125 117.4 123 139.8
125 Georgia State 151.9 124 119.9 124 109.4 125 135.0

Some quick reactions:

1. The top two spots are no surprise. Really, the No. 3 spot isn't, either. However, No. 4 caught me off-guard. South Carolina is a projections darling, with a lovely recent history, a healthy number of returning starters, and decent recruiting. The Gamecocks lead an outright MASS of teams projected between 249.0 and 253.0 (the difference between No. 3 and No. 4: 12.3 points; the difference between No. 4 and No. 11: 4.6 points), and a healthy number of returning starters (14 by Steele's count) pushes them over the edge for now. This is interesting because the eight starters they lose are almost the eight starters you could name right offhand. They'll return running back Mike Davis and a potentially awesome offensive line, but what they lose in star power, they make up for in sheer numbers. I'll be curious to see what happens to this projection when I take things like Draft Points (hello, Jadeveon) into account. A little bit of slippage could knock SC all the way out of the top 10. But for now, hello, No. 4.

2. Why yes, the SEC does have the No. 1, No. 4, No. 5, No. 7, No. 8, No. 12, No. 21, No. 26, No. 29, and No. 31 teams. Auburn and Missouri, last year's SEC title game participants, are projected sixth and 10th in the conference ... and are both in the top 31 overall.

3. UCLA is still getting held down by Rick Neuheisel. Even with a five-year history weighted heavily in favor of the last couple of seasons, the Bruins still come in only 43 in that figure. They should finish closer to fourth (the Returning Starters projection) than 43rd. Meanwhile, Boise State is the anti-UCLA, still ranking fourth overall in weighted 5-year history because of the awesomeness of 2009-11.

4. Top three projected teams in each conference:

* AAC: UCF (No. 24), Houston (No. 41), Cincinnati (No. 54)
* ACC: Florida State (No. 2), Clemson (No. 14), Louisville (No. 20)
* Big 12: Oklahoma (No. 9), Oklahoma State (No. 16), Baylor (No. 25)
* Big Ten: Ohio State (No. 10), Michigan State (No. 13), Wisconsin (No. 19)
* Conference USA: Marshall (No. 59), UTSA (No. 75), Rice (No. 88)
* MAC: NIU (No. 51), Toledo (No. 53), Bowling Green (No. 60)
* MWC: Boise State (No. 18), Fresno State (No. 46), Nevada (No. 62)
* Pac-12: Oregon (No. 3), Stanford (No. 6), USC (No. 11)
* SEC: Alabama (No. 1), South Carolina (No. 4), LSU (No. 5)
* Sun Belt: UL-Lafayette (No. 79), Arkansas State (No. 84), South Alabama (No. 92)

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