2014 College football rankings: Updated S&P+ projections

Harry How

Right after Signing Day, as is my custom, I posted some preliminary S&P+ projections based on initial returning starting data and new two-year recruiting rankings. As is also my custom, I have updated those projections after spring football to account for attrition, better estimates of returning talent, and whatever tweaks I have made to my projection system.

This time around, my major tweak was in looking more closely at offensive and defensive trends instead of full-team trends as a whole. Instead of using a weighted five-year history figure for the team, I tinkered with the proper weights for offense and defense. It's the same with returning starters -- attrition affects the units differently.

Using eight years of returning starter data, bouncing it off of S&P+, and using some general regression, I was able to derive the following:

Returning Starters Proj. Change in Off. S&P+ Proj. Change in Def. S&P+
1 -21.3% -10.1%
2 -16.1% -8.4%
3 -11.5% -6.6%
4 -7.4% -4.6%
5 -3.9% -2.6%
6 -0.8% -0.5%
7 +1.7% +1.8%
8 +3.7% +4.1%
9 +5.2% +6.5%
10 +6.2% +9.0%
11 +6.7% +11.7%

Inexperience matters more on offense than on defense, while experience makes more of a difference on defense, if that makes sense. Let's put that another way: returning almost no starters will hurt an offense more than a defense, while returning 10 starters helps a defense more than an offense. And returning 5-8 starters affects each unit pretty much equally.

(And yes, using returning starter data is and will always be a hindrance. The eventual goal is to come up with something better -- % of yards/TFLs/whatever returning, for instance -- but I never leave myself enough time in the offseason.)

So with these and other general tweaks in mind, here are the updated S&P+ projections as we enter the summer months. Brian Fremeau has his projected FEI figures out as well, and we will make combined use of these numbers for the F/+ projections in the Football Outsiders Almanac 2014 in July. But for now, here's S&P+.

Rk Team Conf Proj.
S&P+
Feb.
Proj.
Chg. 2013 Rk. Proj. Chg. Proj. Off.
S&P+
Rk Proj. Def.
S&P+
Rk
1 Florida State ACC 275.6 2 1 1 0 131.7 1 143.9 1
2 Alabama SEC 263.5 1 -1 2 0 125.2 6 138.4 2
3 Oregon Pac-12 242.1 3 0 10 7 126.6 4 115.6 23
4 Ohio State Big Ten 238.0 10 6 11 7 126.6 3 111.4 31
5 Clemson ACC 237.4 14 9 6 1 115.4 12 122.0 12
6 Stanford Pac-12 237.4 6 0 4 -2 112.9 17 124.5 8
7 South Carolina SEC 237.4 4 -3 12 5 119.6 10 117.9 19
8 Auburn SEC 235.6 12 4 7 -1 124.7 7 110.8 33
9 USC Pac-12 235.3 11 2 13 4 101.4 48 134.0 5
10 Georgia SEC 234.7 8 -2 17 7 120.8 9 113.9 26
11 Texas A&M SEC 234.7 7 -4 18 7 129.0 2 105.7 48
12 LSU SEC 233.4 5 -7 19 7 116.9 11 116.5 21
13 Michigan State Big Ten 233.4 13 0 8 -5 96.4 61 137.0 3
14 Baylor Big 12 233.3 25 11 3 -11 125.3 5 108.0 40
15 Wisconsin Big Ten 231.4 19 4 9 -6 111.8 20 119.6 18
16 Louisville ACC 230.6 20 4 5 -11 110.2 24 120.4 15
17 Oklahoma Big 12 230.5 9 -8 24 7 110.8 23 119.6 17
18 Oklahoma State Big 12 228.7 16 -2 15 -3 105.8 33 122.9 10
19 Virginia Tech ACC 226.5 22 3 21 2 91.1 83 135.4 4
20 UCLA Pac-12 226.0 15 -5 22 2 112.7 18 113.3 28
21 Arizona State Pac-12 224.1 28 7 16 -5 115.3 13 108.8 37
22 Missouri SEC 223.9 31 9 14 -8 108.6 28 115.3 24
23 Boise State MWC 223.1 18 -5 38 15 107.0 29 116.1 22
24 Ole Miss SEC 222.6 26 2 29 5 100.7 50 121.9 13
25 Notre Dame Ind 221.7 17 -8 34 9 112.2 19 109.5 35
26 Mississippi State SEC 221.3 29 3 28 2 99.1 54 122.2 11
27 Central Florida American 220.3 24 -3 20 -7 115.2 14 105.1 50
28 Washington Pac-12 219.9 30 2 23 -5 106.3 31 113.6 27
29 Florida SEC 219.9 21 -8 49 20 92.0 79 127.9 6
30 Miami ACC 218.4 37 7 30 0 122.6 8 95.8 86
Rk Team Conf Proj.
S&P+
Feb.
Proj.
Chg. 2013 Rk. Proj. Chg. Proj. Off.
S&P+
Rk Proj. Def.
S&P+
Rk
31 TCU Big 12 218.1 27 -4 43 12 92.2 76 125.9 7
32 Michigan Big Ten 217.6 23 -9 44 12 108.7 26 108.9 36
33 BYU Ind 217.4 32 -1 27 -6 100.1 53 117.3 20
34 Iowa Big Ten 217.3 40 6 25 -9 94.3 70 123.0 9
35 North Carolina ACC 215.4 36 1 37 2 106.9 30 108.5 39
36 Arizona Pac-12 214.8 34 -2 33 -3 104.9 34 109.9 34
37 Penn State Big Ten 213.4 38 1 53 16 91.7 82 121.7 14
38 Texas Big 12 213.2 33 -5 48 10 100.8 49 112.4 29
39 Pittsburgh ACC 212.2 43 4 42 3 100.5 51 111.8 30
40 Nebraska Big Ten 210.8 35 -5 54 14 102.1 43 108.7 38
41 Kansas State Big 12 210.8 42 1 31 -10 111.4 21 99.3 70
42 Houston American 209.6 41 -1 52 10 102.4 42 107.1 42
43 Oregon State Pac-12 209.3 39 -4 50 7 109.0 25 100.3 65
44 Georgia Tech ACC 208.7 44 0 35 -9 111.1 22 97.6 79
45 Utah Pac-12 207.8 45 0 39 -6 96.9 59 110.9 32
46 Texas Tech Big 12 207.6 47 1 45 -1 113.3 16 94.3 88
47 Indiana Big Ten 206.4 50 3 47 0 113.8 15 92.6 95
48 Fresno State MWC 205.9 46 -2 40 -8 104.2 37 101.7 57
49 Utah State MWC 204.4 69 20 26 -23 84.5 100 119.9 16
50 Northwestern Big Ten 204.3 49 -1 57 7 101.4 47 102.8 55
51 Maryland Big Ten 203.7 56 5 58 7 97.8 57 105.9 47
52 Bowling Green MAC 203.6 60 8 32 -20 103.2 41 100.4 63
53 Arkansas SEC 203.4 48 -5 80 27 102.0 44 101.4 58
54 Cincinnati American 203.3 54 0 56 2 102.0 45 101.4 59
55 Tennessee SEC 203.2 57 2 67 12 95.7 64 107.5 41
56 Duke ACC 203.2 55 -1 46 -10 103.6 38 99.6 69
57 East Carolina American 202.6 72 15 36 -21 106.1 32 96.5 84
58 Toledo MAC 202.5 53 -5 55 -3 103.3 39 99.1 71
59 Marshall Conf USA 201.5 59 0 51 -8 104.7 35 96.9 81
60 Northern Illinois MAC 198.9 51 -9 63 3 108.6 27 90.3 103
Rk Team Conf Proj.
S&P+
Feb.
Proj.
Chg. 2013 Rk. Proj. Chg. Proj. Off.
S&P+
Rk Proj. Def.
S&P+
Rk
61 Vanderbilt SEC 198.3 58 -3 64 3 94.5 69 103.8 54
62 Virginia ACC 198.3 63 1 76 14 83.1 108 115.2 25
63 Illinois Big Ten 197.0 61 -2 71 8 100.2 52 96.8 82
64 UTSA Conf USA 196.0 75 11 65 1 97.2 58 98.8 72
65 Navy Ind 195.9 67 2 62 -3 104.2 36 91.8 97
66 N.C. State ACC 195.7 68 2 85 19 90.4 86 105.3 49
67 Syracuse ACC 195.2 66 -1 75 8 93.8 74 101.3 60
68 Washington State Pac-12 195.0 73 5 60 -8 96.5 60 98.4 74
69 Boston College ACC 194.0 80 11 61 -8 96.2 62 97.7 77
70 Nevada MWC 193.9 62 -8 79 9 103.3 40 90.7 101
71 West Virginia Big 12 193.7 52 -19 98 27 93.9 73 99.8 68
72 North Texas Conf USA 193.7 94 22 41 -31 86.5 97 107.1 44
73 Minnesota Big Ten 193.1 65 -8 74 1 92.0 80 101.1 61
74 Tulsa American 191.7 64 -10 86 12 84.9 98 106.8 45
75 Kentucky SEC 191.7 76 1 93 18 94.9 67 96.9 80
76 SMU American 191.4 74 -2 82 6 93.1 75 98.2 75
77 Ball State MAC 190.3 81 4 59 -18 101.5 46 88.8 107
78 Rutgers Big Ten 189.7 70 -8 94 16 89.9 88 99.8 67
79 Colorado State MWC 188.7 85 6 66 -13 91.0 84 97.7 78
80 Iowa State Big 12 188.7 71 -9 90 10 92.2 77 96.5 83
81 San Diego State MWC 188.2 83 2 84 3 84.2 103 103.9 53
82 California Pac-12 188.1 78 -4 102 20 94.1 71 94.0 91
83 Wake Forest ACC 188.0 89 6 81 -2 80.9 115 107.1 43
84 UL-Lafayette Sun Belt 187.9 79 -5 87 3 98.7 55 89.2 104
85 Rice Conf USA 187.6 88 3 68 -17 87.5 94 100.0 66
86 South Florida American 187.2 77 -9 104 18 81.3 113 105.9 46
87 South Alabama Sun Belt 187.2 92 5 72 -15 96.1 63 91.1 99
88 San Jose State MWC 186.8 82 -6 69 -19 98.4 56 88.4 108
89 Florida Atlantic Conf USA 186.8 103 14 70 -19 84.1 104 102.7 56
90 Memphis American 185.9 95 5 83 -7 82.0 110 103.9 52
Rk Team Conf Proj.
S&P+
Feb.
Proj.
Chg. 2013 Rk. Proj. Chg. Proj. Off.
S&P+
Rk Proj. Def.
S&P+
Rk
91 Tulane American 185.0 90 -1 73 -18 80.5 116 104.5 51
92 Western Kentucky Conf USA 184.0 91 -1 77 -15 91.9 81 92.0 96
93 Connecticut American 183.8 86 -7 97 4 83.4 107 100.3 64
94 Arkansas State Sun Belt 183.3 84 -10 91 -3 87.1 95 96.2 85
95 Temple American 182.7 87 -8 103 8 95.6 65 87.2 112
96 Buffalo MAC 182.4 107 11 78 -18 83.9 105 98.5 73
97 Hawaii MWC 182.1 93 -4 92 -5 84.2 102 97.8 76
98 Middle Tennessee Conf USA 181.3 99 1 88 -10 88.3 90 93.1 94
99 Colorado Pac-12 181.3 96 -3 101 2 87.9 92 93.3 93
100 Troy Sun Belt 180.2 111 11 99 -1 95.2 66 85.0 116
101 UNLV MWC 179.3 109 8 89 -12 90.2 87 89.1 105
102 Air Force MWC 178.8 105 3 109 7 94.6 68 84.2 117
103 Ohio MAC 177.6 108 5 96 -7 87.0 96 90.6 102
104 Kansas Big 12 177.5 97 -7 111 7 76.8 124 100.6 62
105 Wyoming MWC 177.3 100 -5 95 -10 89.2 89 88.1 110
106 UL-Monroe Sun Belt 176.4 112 6 107 1 81.8 111 94.6 87
107 Kent State MAC 176.0 102 -5 106 -1 84.7 99 91.3 98
108 Purdue Big Ten 174.9 104 -4 112 4 81.3 114 93.7 92
109 Central Michigan MAC 174.0 106 -3 113 4 87.6 93 86.3 115
110 Army Ind 173.5 101 -9 110 0 90.9 85 82.6 118
111 Akron MAC 172.3 118 7 100 -11 78.1 120 94.2 90
112 Louisiana Tech Conf USA 171.5 98 -14 116 4 82.6 109 88.9 106
113 Texas State Sun Belt 171.4 114 1 108 -5 77.2 123 94.2 89
114 Southern Miss Conf USA 170.8 110 -4 119 5 79.7 117 91.1 100
115 New Mexico MWC 170.3 116 1 105 -10 94.0 72 76.3 127
116 UAB Conf USA 170.3 115 -1 114 -2 92.1 78 78.2 122
117 Western Michigan MAC 168.4 113 -4 117 0 81.4 112 87.0 113
118 UTEP Conf USA 164.5 117 -1 118 0 88.0 91 76.5 125
119 Idaho Sun Belt 164.1 120 1 115 -4 77.7 121 86.4 114
120 Old Dominion Conf USA 161.4 N/A N/A N/A N/A 84.3 101 77.1 124
Rk Team Conf Proj.
S&P+
Feb.
Proj.
Chg. 2013 Rk. Proj. Chg. Proj. Off.
S&P+
Rk Proj. Def.
S&P+
Rk
121 Eastern Michigan MAC 160.2 122 1 120 -1 83.8 106 76.4 126
122 Florida International Conf USA 158.4 119 -3 124 2 70.0 126 88.4 109
123 Appalachian State Sun Belt 157.7 N/A N/A N/A N/A 79.4 118 78.3 121
124 Miami (Ohio) MAC 156.3 121 -3 125 1 68.7 127 87.7 111
125 Georgia Southern Sun Belt 156.2 N/A N/A N/A N/A 78.7 119 77.6 123
126 Massachusetts MAC 152.1 123 -3 121 -5 70.8 125 81.2 120
127 New Mexico State Sun Belt 151.1 124 -3 123 -4 77.6 122 73.6 128
128 Georgia State Sun Belt 149.6 125 -3 122 -6 67.7 128 81.9 119

Thoughts:

  • There's still a huge lump of teams between fourth and about 18th. Because of my formula tweaks, it looks like some teams moved up or down quite a bit -- Ohio State up from 10th to fourth, Clemson up from 14th to fifth, LSU down from fifth to 12th -- but that's really not the case. A slight improvement or regression can affect your ranking quite a bit when you're clustered together with so many other teams.
  • Yes, Clemson fifth. I've removed draft points from the equation for now, simply because I don't like the way I do it and don't think it has much of a positive effect, so losing Sammy Watkins will look like simply losing a starter. But the major positive impact for Clemson comes from experience on defense; the Tigers have improved by quite a bit over the last couple of years, and they return a relatively experienced unit in 2014. They're one of only three teams projected in the top 15 on both offense and defense. (The other two are pretty obvious.) You don't have to actually believe the Tigers are a top-5 team if you don't want, but you might want to set the bar a little higher than you were thinking.
  • Yes, Oklahoma 17th. And UCLA 20th. I expect both teams to be better than that ... but not necessarily a LOT better than that. If nothing else, consider this a warning sign for the top-5 hype. Both teams will be good, but we need some leaps of logic to call them elite when they very much were not last year.
  • When I looked into proper weighting for my weighted five-year history, the major tweak was to give last year quite a bit more heft. Five-year history is still far more effective than looking ONLY at last year, but things change a little too quickly for an evenly weighted five-year history to be effective. It stands to reason that last year carries quite a bit more weight than 2009. Anyway, one of the major beneficiaries with this tweak was Baylor, for obvious reasons. (The other obvious beneficiary: Florida State, which jumped Alabama into the top spot. They're far and away the top two.)
  • LSU: 12th in the country, sixth in the SEC.
  • The Kansas State projection scares me a bit. I'm really excited about the Wildcats' offense this year, but the projections are reminding me that the defense has a lot of talent to replace, even if losing starters on defense doesn't hurt as much as we might think.
  • Gotta say, a No. 26 Mississippi State team is going to rack up quite a few wins with that schedule.
  • Your major-conference bottom 5: No. 108 Purdue, No. 104 Kansas, No. 99 Colorado, No. 83 Wake Forest, No. 82 California.

I'll try to hammer out some win projection data with these numbers at some point. But it might take me pretty far into the summer to get to it.

Anyway, I've always viewed these projections as a way to start the conversation in the right place. There's plenty of "yeah, but..." context to add, but this is a safer place to conversation than "Team A looked AWESOME in the __ Bowl!"

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