The Difficult Task of Ranking College Football Teams

Four Reasons Why It Is Difficult To Rank the FBS College Football Teams

1. FBS college football is not a closed system.

In professional football, NFL teams only play NFL teams. Contrarily, FBS college football teams do not only play FBS college football teams. In fact, it is quite common for an FBS team to have at least one FCS opponent on its schedule in any given year. This would not be so troublesome if it were not for the fact that sometimes the FCS team wins the game.

2. Not all teams play the same number of games.

Brigham Young played fourteen regular-season games in 1996 while most other Division 1A teams played eleven. Although this is the most extreme case in modern college football history, there has not been any year in which all the major college football teams have played the same number of regular-season games.

3. The ratio of games played by a single team to the total number of teams is very small.

Currently, most FBS teams play twelve games in a season and there are now 128 FBS teams. This accounts for less than 10% of what a full round-robin schedule would entail. By contrast, NFL teams play thirteen of the other thirty-one teams in the league or approximately 42% of a full round-robin schedule. On top of this, every NFL team plays a second game against each of the other members of its division.

4. The disparity between the strength of the most challenging schedule of opponents and the weakest schedule is enormous.

In 2013, the sixty-two teams from the power conferences and Notre Dame were 107-24 versus the other sixty-two FBS teams. This computes to an .817 winning percentage and even includes four losses to FCS schools. Clearly, there is a wide gulf between the top five conferences and the other five conferences. Contrary to popular opinion, any playoff system that gives automatic bids to the winners of the bottom five conferences is statistically biased and absolutely inequitable!

Despite what many experts proclaim, the solution to the problem of ranking the major college football teams is not subjective polls and selection committees. The answer is an objective algorithm that has a solid mathematical foundation, and yet is simple enough that a college football fan of average intelligence can understand it when provided with a clear explanation and sufficient examples. This is precisely what I aim to do!

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