2014 PRESEASON THOUGHTS ON WHO’S GOT THE POWER IN COLLEGE FOOTBALL

By Bill Ellis

 

Yep, I’m back again with this year’s version of the model, and more opinions about the games, the teams, and the coaches. This may actually be the best time of the season for all of the teams as a whole because most of the teams are still optimistic of kicking butt and taking names on their way to the first playoff.

 

For those of you reading my columns for the first time, I have developed a college power ranking model designed to show which teams have played the best against the best. Points are earned or lost for wins and losses, whether the games are home or away, and whether the margins are 17 points or greater. I don’t worry about other power rankings or polls, and my results are often different from the national polls until they catch up with my results.

 

For those of you that have read this in earlier years, this year’s model has undergone some HUGE changes from what you’ve seen in the past. This biggest change has to be the inclusion of the FCS (1-AA) teams into the rankings. Why? Several reasons. The biggest is because I needed a more accurate method of computing strength of schedule. Even with the doubling the size of the model for these teams, this system won’t be perfect since a lot of 1-AA teams play lower division teams, but it will be better than what I used in the past and a whole lot better than what the BCS used. No one knows what the playoff committee will use.

 

I’m also adding a new source of points based strictly on where a team’s opponent is ranked. The home/away and scoring margin formulas have changed to reflect the lower ranked teams. The historical adjustment in computed on a team-by-team basis rather than per conference.

 

I’ve also found it necessary to abandon my previous philosophy regarding preseason ranking after I realized that, before the historical adjustment, a win over Alabama State in week 1 would be worth as much as a win over Alabama. I couldn’t have this.

 

Since I had to re-work all of the previous years’ models to reflect these changes, the preseason ranking is also based on each team’s 4-year historical ranking, which has also been altered. This ranking is set for week 1, only, and no team’s position in the rankings is protected. They will be ranked where their earned points put them, and you can expect the rankings to vary wildly the first few weeks of the season.

 

One thing you may notice is that decent teams that lose in the first week will seemingly pull big upsets over the next two weeks. Not quite. A lot of these teams will be ranked lower than their opponents because they lost while their opponents, either 1-A or 1-AA, either won or didn’t play. So, don’t worry Wisconsin fans when your team is ranked 110th or worse after week 1. Win after that, and all will be fine.

 

Again, I strive to show which teams played the best against the best; therefore, this model is reactive rather than predictive. Nonetheless, I’ve picked winners in EVERY game by having the higher team win. Like I just wrote, this WILL NOT occur. But, I mostly to test the model. I do plan to update the predictions throughout the season, but maybe not in the first few weeks because it just takes too long.

 

The outcome of these flawed picks has USC beating South Carolina for the national championship. I really hope this doesn’t happen.

 

Here’s how the preseason top 20 looks:

1 STANFORD
2 ALABAMA
3 OREGON
4 OKLAHOMA
5 FLORIDA ST
6 SOUTH CAROLINA
7 LSU
8 NOTRE DAME
9 GEORGIA
10 BAYLOR
11 OKLAHOMA ST
12 OHIO ST
13 UCLA
14 MICH ST
15 CLEMSON
16 USC
17 TEXAS AM
18 MISSOURI
19 WISCONSIN
20 NEBRASKA

 

 

Two things I and many college football fans share is the morbid desire for upsets and losses to 1-AA teams to happen to every other team besides our favorite.  The following teams could lose in week 1 to 1-AA teams:  Iowa State to North Dakota State, South Florida to Western Carolina, Memphis to Austin Peay, Wyoming to Montana, Air Force to Nicholls State, Nevada to Southern Utah, San Diego State to Northern Arizona, Florida International to Bethune-Cookman, Charlotte (transitioning to 1-A) to Campbell, Central Michigan to Chattanooga, Eastern Michigan to Morgan State, Georgia State to Abilene Christian and New Mexico State to Cal Poly.

 

These are some other teams that need to be on upset alert, according to my ranking:  LSU to Wisconsin (hell, I hope not), Georgia to Clemson, South Carolina to Texas AM, Penn State to UCF, Purdue to Western Michigan, Louisville to Miami, Colorado to Colorado State, Washington State to Rutgers, Tulsa to Tulane, Boise State to Ole Miss, Utah State to Tennessee, Kent State to Ohio, and Louisiana Monroe to Wake Forest.

 

There are ten or so 1-AA teams that start the season in the top half of the ranking with one, North Dakota State, looking like it could be competitive with most of the 1-A teams on a weekly basis. On the other hand, the following teams need to quit wasting their fans’ time and money and quit playing ball:  UTEP, Florida International, Southern Miss, UAB, Eastern Michigan, Miami (OH), Idaho and New Mexico State.

 

In addition, the following teams either recently transitioned or are transitioning to 1-AA, and they look like they need to go back to 1-AA:  Charlotte, UMASS, Georgia State and Appalachian State. To be fair, their strength of schedule will get better. Appalachian State is the only one that looks to have any upside.

 

Several teams have started football teams from scratch with plans to play 1-A ball and grab some of the TV money. These include Texas San Antonio, UMASS, Georgia State, Charlotte, Mercer and Kennesaw State. It’s going to be interesting to see how the recent decision about autonomy for the Big 5 affects these teams and others looking to jump to 1-A.  I’m also wondering if any of the bowl sponsors will rethink their plans since they will be officially hosting irrelevant teams.

 

Here’s how I see the top 20 looking after Week 1:

2014 PREDICTIONS
WEEK 1 POINTS RECORD LST RNK
1 FLORIDA ST 43.3608 1 0 5
2 GEORGIA 40.948 1 0 9
3 LSU 39.69 1 0 7
4 PENN ST 37.989 1 0 28
5 SOUTH CAROLINA 37.908 1 0 6
6 LOUISVILLE 36.288 1 0 29
7 USC 36.08 1 0 16
8 BOISE ST 33.285 1 0 40
9 UTAH ST 32.6304 1 0 53
10 WASHINGTON ST 29.2698 1 0 57
11 BOWLING GREEN 28.7496 1 0 58
12 OHIO ST 28.428 1 0 12
13 ALABAMA 28.244 1 0 2
14 IOWA ST 27.232 1 0 70
15 NOTRE DAME 27.016 1 0 8
16 KENT ST 26.128 1 0 79
17 UCLA 25.992 1 0 13
18 COLORADO 25.1328 1 0 90
19 AUBURN 24.9964 1 0 26
20 BAYLOR 24.4948 1 0 10

 

 

A few thoughts about the SEC:  As much as it pains me to write this, Alabama has earned its hype and deserves it until they lose on the field. LSU could be outstanding if their QBs protect the ball and their defensive line matures quickly. Ole Miss can be dangerous if it can learn how to beat a current contender. A&M and Missouri can be trouble if they start playing defense. Georgia is replacing its QB, but if that is pretty smooth and Jeremy Pruitt gets the defense to even approach its potential, they could be GREAT. South Carolina could contend for a national championship if it could play all twelve games without remembering that it’s South Carolina and not supposed to be that good. Coming off all of those injuries last season, Florida could have a Missouri-like turnaround. Did I miss any team? What? Auburn?

 

Let’s talk Auburn. I was a believer in Malzahn well before last season, and I had no idea they’d play for the national championship. I think he is either the best or second to Bobby Petrino at play-calling, and he certainly gets a lot from his offenses. Plus, he is great at adapting his offense to the talent at hand. With this being said, I think Auburn has a good season. Good like 9-3. Why, since almost everybody has them in the top 5 right now?

 

Simply, I won’t believe their defense is better until I see it against a decent team. This may not happen until week 6 when they play LSU. As great as their recruiting has been the past few years, I think they’ll have a problem replacing Dee Ford. Even if they do, I also expect the DCs in the conference to have a better grasp at slowing down their offense which will place more pressure on the defense. In other words, they could actually play a little better defense than last season, but still give up more yardage if their offense isn’t quite as good. I believe all of this because Auburn only beat one good team by 8 points or more last season—Missouri in the SEC championship.

 

I’m wondering if Tennessee can become a factor again. I’m not confident in Derek Mason continuing the success at Vanderbilt, but it would be pretty cool if he can. I don’t know why Mississippi State and Dak Prescott are getting so much love. Mississippi State’s season was incredibly ordinary, finishing 6-6 even with winning 3 of its last 4.  don’t expect Prescott to be a Heisman finalist, and I wouldn’t be surprised if Mullen is fired this season.

 

A few thoughts on BAMA: Saban is still a smart guy and a liar. Besides winning most of his games, he is clearly the greatest evaluator of coaching talent I’ve ever seen. What I don’t know for sure is whether this evaluation includes the potential for the assistants to get busted and put the school on probation.

 

Anyway, you may not have heard, but Saban hired Lane Kiffin in January when Doug

Nussmeier left to become Michigan’s offensive coordinator. I have heard that Saban pushed Nussmeier out because of their performance against Auburn and Oklahoma which I don’t believe. I’ve also heard that Saban wanted to install a hurry-up offense, which I’ve never seen Kiffin run. I’ve also heard that Saban is also getting an alternative to be his hand-picked successor in case some school finally lures away Kirby Smart. What I believe is that Nussmeier was looking around, wanted the HC position with Washington, and took the Michigan gig to get out of Saban’s pressure. When this happened, Kiffin, who orchestrated the same pro-set offense, was available. Could be a smart move from an Xs-Os standpoint.

 

But Kiffin brings some intangibles. Besides being an incredible recruiter, he may be the all-time, most hated coach to ever set foot in Tennessee. Good thing Tennessee only produces a handful of really good players each year. He also has the fantastic potential to do some incredibly stupid things. This, again, is why I think Saban is so smart.

 

See, I think Saban knows Kiffin will do one or more stupid things that will eventually force Paul Bryant, Jr. to ask Saban for his head. This is when Saban will lie again and claim that he loves all of his assistants, and won’t fire any of them. Even though Bryant will back down, Saban will have somebody leak this meeting on to social media, and the following firestorm will allow Saban to resign while claiming some honor. In this fashion, Kiffin becomes Saban’s GOLDEN ANCHOR.

 

A few more thoughts: Notre Dame has a mediocre schedule despite not scheduling a 1-AA team (they, Oklahoma, Texas, USC and UCLA almost never do). Despite having a few strong opponents, they easily could end up with over half them having losing seasons. I was going to say that they could make another championship run, but their latest academic scandal puts this in doubt.

 

Sleep on Oklahoma. One thing I believe from Saban is that he and the staff treated the Sugar Bowl as a consolation game. Again. They do this, and their players take their cues from the coaching staff. They reap benefits from this in killer recruiting and having something to yell at the players about the following season. Because of this, I don’t believe Oklahoma will suddenly be great again. Their QB wasn’t great except against Alabama. Don’t bet the house on the Sooners. By the way, I sure do respect Bob Stoops for overlooking DGB’s numerous run-ins with authorities regarding drugs and violence and adding him to the team. I really, really do. Look out for Baylor and Texas Tech will be the teams to beat.

 

I don’t believe USC will regain the summit until Sark hires a real defensive staff. I think UCLA will be good again, but not great.  Stanford and Oregon should battle it out again.

 

I hope Virginia Tech or Cincinnati can upset Ohio State early this season, but I’m not counting on it. Michigan State could be legitimate again this year. Is there anything Pelini can say that could get him in trouble with his AD?

 

Thanks. Now, let me know what you think.