With each year in this series, I’ve attacked it from two different directions, first putting together a post full of advanced box scores and YouTube clips from each season, then taking a look at the updated rankings.
Since 2016 advanced box scores already exist in slightly outdated form (follow your team’s links here, and ignore the S&P+ rankings associated with them, as they are also outdated), and since I’m itching to move on to Phase 2 of my S&P+ offseason (basically: finally designing my own KenPom.com), I’m going to forego the official Advanced Box Scores post and go straight to the rankings.
What changes have I made?
Instead of filling space with the text here again, I’ll just direct you to the other posts in this series.
The short version:
- I changed the garbage time definition.
- I increased the weight and longevity of preseason projections
- I introduced ways to make S&P+ more reactive to actual game results.
- I incorporated conference-level adjustments to account for occasional connectivity issues.
For further details, click on any of these posts:
Anyway! On with the 2016 rankings!
2016 S&P+ rankings
|Team||Rec||S&P+||Rk||Off. S&P+||Rk||Def. S&P+||Rk||ST S&P+||Rk|
|Team||Rec||S&P+||Rk||Off. S&P+||Rk||Def. S&P+||Rk||ST S&P+||Rk|
|San Diego State||11-3||11.4||31||32.0||50||22.5||29||1.9||10|
|San Jose State||4-8||-13.6||112||22.4||108||36.7||110||0.7||38|
|New Mexico State||3-9||-17.2||123||23.2||103||39.5||121||-0.8||93|
Behold, the mountaintop
When Clemson beat Alabama, 35-31, in 2016’s national title game (i.e. Clemson-Bama II), I wrote the following:
Five years ago, Dabo Swinney made a change.
In the 2012 Orange Bowl, West Virginia scored eight touchdowns in nine possessions to turn a back-and-forth shootout into a 70-33 laugher. Geno Smith threw for 407 yards and six touchdowns, Tavon Austin caught 12 passes for 123 yards and four scores, and the Mountaineers humiliated Swinney’s Tigers.
It put Swinney in a strange place. His Tigers won the ACC that year and won 10 games for the first time since 1990, but they still managed to pull what the internet would then call “Clemsoning,” and they still got humiliated on a national stage to finish off what an otherwise solid season. Swinney had engineered a little bit of improvement, and the offense was dynamic. But could he ever build a complete team?
Two weeks after the Orange Bowl embarrassment, Swinney hired out-of-favor Oklahoma defensive coordinator Brent Venables, who appeared to need a fresh start as much as Clemson’s defense did, to replace Kevin Steele.
Two weeks after that, Swinney and offensive coordinator Chad Morris landed a commitment from the consensus top quarterback in the 2014 class, a kid from Gainesville, Ga., named Deshaun Watson.
In the chart above, you can basically pinpoint the 2011 season as both the low point and the starting point of a rise that basically still continues today. Clemson encountered brief setbacks when it lost each of two star quarterbacks (Tajh Boyd after 2013, Deshaun Watson after 2016), but the Tigers growth from strong program to standard bearer (more or less) was about as linear as you’ll ever see. And the first of two peaks (and counting) came in 2016.
Rise of the ACC (and fall of the SEC)
Clemson most certainly wasn’t the only thing the ACC had going for it this year, however. The Tigers finished second in S&P+ behind forever-No. 1 Alabama, but Florida State ranked seventh, Louisville ninth, Miami 12th, North Carolina 17th, Virginia Tech 22nd, and Clemson conqueror Pitt 23rd.
That’s seven of the top 23. Granted, the SEC still had seven of the top 27, but after a down 2015, the league sank a bit further in 2016, and for the first time since 2008, some other conference ranked first overall in average S&P+ rating.
Full-season average S&P+ ratings, 2016:
- ACC (+10.3, up 0.7 adjusted points per game from 2015)
- SEC (+10.2, down 3.6 from 2015 ... and 8.3 from 2014)
- Big 12 (+8.3, up 1.0)
- Pac-12 (+8.0, down 1.3)
- Big Ten (+6.9, down 0.5)
- AAC (+0.2, up 2.0 from 2015 and 4.8 from 2014)
- MAC (-4.3, up 0.8)
- Mountain West (-4.7, up 0.1)
- Conference USA (-8.3, up 1.0)
- Sun Belt (-8.9, down 1.9)
Overall, there wasn’t a ton of movement this year. The SEC fell by a good amount, and the AAC rose enough to move it into the positive figures overall, but no one else rose or fell by more than two points per team. Most of the ACC’s hard work took place the year before, and the league improved only by a little bit in ‘16 itself.
Two years later, with FSU, Louisville, and UNC all plummeting (and others either falling a little or, at best, holding steady), the ACC had crumbled all the way to fifth again. But they’ll always have 2016.
Hello there, WKU (and Toledo, and Temple)
With the top conference less “top” than normal, it opened the door for some unique entries into the overall top 30.
As I’ve mentioned before, the conference-level adjustments I applied this offseason both a) make S&P+ more accurate overall and b) hurt good mid-major teams’ ratings a good amount. But a few Group of Five teams played at a rather high level in 2016, led by a coach who was getting ready to go turn Purdue around.
Top 10 mid-major football teams, 2013-18*
* We’re not going to count the AAC until 2014, since it still had a major bowl auto-bid in 2013.
- 2018 Fresno State (+17.4 adjusted points per game, 16th overall)
- 2014 Marshall (+16.8, 24th)
- 2018 UCF (+16.5, 18th)
- 2016 WKU (+15.5, 19th)
- 2018 Utah State (+14.2, 21st)
- 2017 UCF (+14.1, 22nd)
- 2016 Toledo (+12.3, 26th)
- 2018 Boise State (+12.2, 28th)
- 2015 Navy (+12.1, 29th)
- 2016 Temple (+11.9, 28th)
WKU went 11-3 and was soooooo close to something greater. The Hilltoppers began the year 3-3 with a 31-30 loss to Vanderbilt and a 55-52 loss to Louisiana Tech. Vandy’s post-game win expectancy, by the way: 18 percent. (Their other loss was 38-10 at Alabama in a game in which they trailed by just seven midway through the second quarter.)
WKU eked by Middle Tennessee to get to 4-3, then rolled from there, winning its last five regular season games by an average score of 53-12. The ‘Toppers got their revenge on Louisiana Tech with a 14-point C-USA title game win, then spotted Memphis a 10-7 early lead in the Boca Raton Bowl before outscoring the Tigers 44-21 the rest of the way.
This was a damn good team. So was Toledo (9-4 with three losses by five or fewer points), and so was Temple, another team that started slowly (3-3 with one-score losses to Penn State and Memphis) before winning the final seven games of Matt Rhule’s tenure — in the excellent AAC, no less — by an average of 33-13.
None of these teams represented the G5 in its New Year’s 6 auto-bid bowl, however. Those honors went to another team about to lose its head coach to the Big Ten, Western Michigan. The Broncos went unbeaten and damn near made this top 10 as well (+11.5, 29th), then lost a competitive Cotton Bowl to Wisconsin (16th in S&P+), but S&P+ thinks WKU might have made that game a dead heat. Alas.
Notre Dame: 4-8 and 18th? Really?
Yep. Sounds about right to me.