Aug 9, 2010

The 2010 Unbiased Preseason Top 35


It's finally here.

Back during the boredom of the 2009 off-season, I started looking into preseason polls and rankings. Everyone loves to use the terms "overrated" and "underrated" to describe teams each year that are either ranked too high or too low during the preseason. It also seems that every year, a few teams receive undue hype from the media and appear very high in preseason rankings, only to quickly drop once the season (and reality) begins.

It isn't a secret that the biases of the media (and fans) lead to unearned expectations before the college football season begins. So how can we see where teams SHOULD be ranked preseason, based on their results from 2009 and looking objectively toward 2010?

I propose that it can be done, and it might prove to be more accurate to reality than the media/coaches' polls.

The Basics

When evaluating a team from one season to the next, what can you look at? Well, the first thing that comes to mind is how the team performed last season. So you look at the team's final record and, likely, where they finished in the polls. (This immediately injects a bit of media bias into the formula since we're using media polls, but generally, the FINAL polls (being based on RESULTS) are much more accepted than preseason polls.)

The next obvious thing to look at is what is changing on each team from last year to this year. You can look at what each team is gaining, based on obscure (and biased) recruiting rankings, but that would further inject bias into your evaluation. So instead, you choose to focus on LOSSES. You can accurately view and calculate what each team loses from last year's production, based on statistics of player performance. Most easily, you can see the number of starters being lost to the NFL or graduation. More in depth, you can calculate the exact percentage of offensive yards and touchdowns, or defensive tackles, sacks, and interceptions that are lost by each team.

These losses can be used to penalize teams in rankings, and to gain a much more accurate view of how a team might perform in 2010. At the very least, you'll see a much fairer list of how teams should be ranked before the season begins, without the hype and bias of media/fans.

Below is an explanation of the formula I used for creating this unbiased ranking. It's pretty complicated and full of numbers, so if you aren't interested in the stats, skip below to the rankings.

The Formula

The formula for determining the Unbiased Pre-season Top 35 can be described in 6 steps.

1. First, I took the final Associated Press Top 25 poll from 2009 which can be found HERE. I added the teams listed as "Others receiving votes" to the top 25 based on the number of votes received, so Oklahoma at #26, Oregon State at #27, and so on until #40 Villanova.

2. I researched the total number of starters on offense, defense and special teams that were departing from each of those top 40 teams. The total number of starters lost is added to the final AP Poll rank of each team, and then teams are ranked by the lowest number. For example, Ohio State was ranked in the AP Poll at #5, and loses 9 starters. This brings them to a Final Value of 14.

3. Third, I started to get to the real numbers. I designed a quarterback value to determine how important the QB was to each team's success in 2009. Teams that do not lose their starting QB (or the person responsible for all or the vast majority of passing yards/TDs) will not be penalized. For teams that DO lose their quarterbacks, the QB value is determined by: number of years that the QB started, and the QB rating of that player from 2009. The number of years can be any number from 1 to 4, and the QB rating is made into a value based on the chart below.

QB Rating: Rating Value
100-140: 1
140-160: 2
160+: 3

So if a team loses a QB who started for 2 years and had a QB Rating of 130 (1), then 2+1=3. The QB Value is 3.

Just like the number of starters lost, the QB Value is added to the Final Value.
Once again, any team NOT losing their starting QB will have a QB Value of ZERO (0).

4. Fourth, I calculated a value to represent other losses on offense. To calculate a rushing value, I started by looking at every rushing yard and touchdown lost by each team. This includes all rushing yards and touchdowns from 2009 gained by ANY player, whether it's the running back, fullback, receiver, QB or other. I calculated the percentage of rushing yards lost, and the percentage of rushing touchdowns lost. Then, I created a formula to determine a Rushing Value, in which rushing yards are worth 75%, and rushing TDs are worth 25%. I did the same thing with receiving yards and touchdowns. The Rushing Value and Receiving Value are then added to the Final Value.

5. I created a Defense Value, based on three criteria: percentage of defensive tackles lost, percentage of interceptions lost, and percentage of sacks lost. Since tackles are the most important and basic part of defensive stats, they are worth 70% of the Defensive Value, while sacks and interceptions are each 15%. The total Defensive Value is then added to the Final Value.

6. With all values added, you have the Final Value, and teams are ranked by the lowest Final Value. For example:
-Texas finished #(2) in the AP Poll in 2009.
-They lose a total of (10) starters from that 2009 squad on offense, defense and special teams.
-They lose QB Colt McCoy, who started for (3) years with a QB Rating in 2009 of 147.41 (2).
-They lose 16.8% of Rush Yards and 10.7% of Rush TDs for a Rushing Value of (1.53).
-They lose 38.7% of Receiving Yards and 44.8% of Receiving TDs for a Receiving Value of (4.02). -They lose 36.7% of tackles, 33.3% of sacks, and 32% of interceptions, for a Defensive Value of (3.548).
-To get to the Final Value, add the (n) values from above. (2)+(10)+(3+2)+(1.53)+(4.02)+(3.548)=26.098

With a Final Value of 26.098, Texas ranks at #7.

The Rankings
1. Boise State
2. TCU
3. Ohio state
4. Iowa
5. Alabama
6. Nebraska
7. Texas
8. Virginia Tech
9. Oregon
10. Wisconsin
11. Georgia Tech
12. Cincinnati
13. Florida
14. Miami
15. Texas Tech
16. Penn State
17. Pittsburgh
18. West Virginia
19. Utah
20. Oklahoma
21. BYU
22. Navy
23. LSU
24. Georgia
25. USC
26. Oregon State
27. Clemson
28. Stanford
29. Rutgers
30. Auburn
31. Arkansas
32. Florida State
33. Mississippi
34. Central Michigan
35. Air Force

(Disclaimer: Before you scoff at some of the rankings, remember that these are based completely on statistics and no personal opinion. For instance, you may find it ridiculous that non-BCS conference teams Boise State and TCU are at the top of the rankings. That's the point of the Unbiased Top 35. Teams are evaluated purely on results from 2009 and statistical losses. This is NOT an attempt to predict the best teams in 2010. It is simply an exercise in viewing where teams should be ranked preseason based on fair analysis rather than hype and opinion.)

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