Preseason Top 25: Five In, Five Out

Preseason polls always do such a poor job, I think everyone will agree. Just like March Madness does a “last four in, first four out” I’ve decided to do a similar thing and pick five unranked teams that will finish in the Top 25, and five Top 25 teams that will finish unranked.

Five Teams That Will Finish in Top 25:



Bowling Green




Five Top 25 Teams That Will Finish Unranked:

Notre Dame

Texas A&M

North Carolina




Current Preseason Top 25:

1 Florida State
2 Alabama
3 Oklahoma
4 Oregon
5 Auburn
6 Ohio State
8 Michigan State
9 South Carolina
10 Baylor
11 Stanford
12 Georgia
13 LSU
14 Wisconsin
15 USC
16 Clemson
17 Notre Dame
18 Arizona State
19 Ole Miss
20 Texas A&M
21 Kansas State
22 Nebraska
23 North Carolina
24 Texas
25 Washington

Week 1 Bets and Futures Bets!

The first FBS matchup is tomorrow, and boy does it feel like Christmas. I’ve been running some numbers in the offseason, and here are my bets for Week 1 games as well as futures. To be fair, some of these lines changed since I originally picked them, so I’m attaching my bet slip below for proof that I actually bet on these.

Week 1 Picks:

Eastern Illinois +30 vs Minnesota – so I actually made this bet multiple times at +30, +29.5, and +28.5. I documented pretty well that it was in fact me moving the lines…I think there was just no one else betting on them. Anyways, despite EIU losing Jimmy, the Panthers still return a pretty good squad. More importantly, both teams are likely to rely on the run game…which means run out the clock…which means fewer opportunities to win by four touchdowns. I had EIU at (don’t laugh) a 6 point underdog, and Minnesota doesn’t have the best track record against FCS teams. The +30 seemed like a steal and it turns out it was because as of two weeks ago the books went back and revised the line from 28.5-30 range down to 15. That’s pretty significant, and I think someone on the books recognized the error.

Navy +21.5 vs Ohio State – when I originally bet on this, I took Navy +21.5. They should have been +11.5 according to my analysis. This was all of course before the Braxton Miller injury. After the injury my line is +6.5, and the current Vegas line is 17.

Washington -21 at Hawaii: I had the line at 27, and I really like the Chris Petersen hire. I think he comes out looking to make a statement against a Hawaii team that’s considering discontinuing their football program.

Lee Corso Picks Florida State at College Game Day -7500: I would take this bet up to -1,000,000 or so given the fact that he is an FSU alum and they’re favored by 17.5. I will be there in Fort Worth watching him on Saturday. Don’t disappoint me Lee!

Future Games Picks:

Michigan State +14 at Oregon: I can’t quite remember the last time Michigan State lost by more than 14 points. Surprisingly I handicapped them at exactly 14 in my model (3.5 pts on neutral field + 3.5 pt home field advantage + 7 point adjustment for returning starters). Oregon returns all five offensive linemen,which is really the differentiator there. But despite the math, I really like this matchup in favor of the Spartans.

Kansas State +8 vs Auburn: It will be an electric atmosphere  in Manhattan Kansas, and we all know that Thursday nights are conducive to upsets. I have Kansas State handicapped at a 3 point underdog.

Baylor -27.5 at Buffalo: this line is mathematically accurate but as we learned last year, Buffalo really struggles handling Baylor’s air raid schemes. If the same crew returned on defense for Buffalo, I would have more trust in them to stop the Bears’ offensive attack. I expect Buffalo to score a few points, as their offense returns a quarterback and four offensive linemen against an inexperienced Baylor secondary. But with all of Buffalo’s stars gone on defense (1 DL, 2 LB, 1 S/CB return) an inexperienced Buffalo squad will be spread thin in four verts. And when they adjust, Shock Linwood will be there to run for 8 to 10 yards per carry. Rinse and repeat as Baylor wins in a high scoring affair.

Louisville -8.5 at Virginia: Wondering if this was a typo by the books, because I have Louisville as an 18 point favorite. Math aside, despite Virginia’s likely improvement, Bobby Petrino really knows how to keep a program running, at least on the field.

Win Totals and Other Futures:

Kansas UNDER 3 wins, +110: – Kansas’ win total will mostly be determined by their first three games. SEMO (W), Duke (L), Central Michigan (?). The likely outcomes are 2 wins or 3 wins for Kansas. If they lose to CMU, then win 0 or 1 games in the Big 12, this bet wins. If they beat CMU, then 0 wins in conference is pays out, and 1 win is a push. The unlikely scenario, a victory over CMU and 2+ Big 12 games (or 1+ Big 12 games and win at Duke and vs CMU), are the only cases in which the bet loses.

FSU to College Football Playoff -220: Florida State does not need to go undefeated to make the playoff. It is likely that the majority, if not all, college football teams will have at least one loss entering the playoff. Florida State’s schedule is not as easy as many would think (Oklahoma State, Notre Dame, Clemson, Florida, at Louisville, at Miami) and is in fact equivalent to Alabama’s schedule. A one loss FSU team still walks into the college football playoff, and barring some key injuries or another crab legs incident, two or more losses appears to be unlikely for Florida State at this time.

Bonus – Lottery Parlay: Navy +700, FAU +1350, UNT +1500 – hey, why not have a little fun? By not means do I think all three of these guys will win, but at a payout of 1875 to 1, might as well take a lottery pick here.


Other bets I contemplated, but couldn’t quite pull the trigger:

FAU +23.5 at Nebraska

UNT +25.5 at Texas

Villanova +17 at Syracuse

UCLA -21 at Virginia

NDSU +3.5 at Iowa State

Screen Shot 2014-08-27 at 7.01.59 PM


Is FSU’s Schedule Really Cake Compared to Alabama’s?

“Sure they dominate in their conference, but they could never do that well in the SEC.”

If I had a dime for every time I’d heard it, I’d be one rich man. While there isn’t much argument that the SEC has produced the strongest teams overall in the BCS era, how much does playing an SEC schedule hurt a team’s odds of, say, going undefeated?

I originally embarked on this bit of research to answer a simple question: “How would FSU do if they played Alabama’s schedule?” The answer I found was actually quite surprising. It turns out Florida State’s odds of going undefeated would only fall by 1.1% when playing Alabama’s schedule rather than their own.

Record Probability
 12-0 45.7%
 11-1 39.5%
 10-2 12.7%
 9-3 1.9%
 8-4 0.2%


How could this be? I compared the average and median power ratings of both teams’ opposition, which may shed some light on the reason:

FSU Opponents: 71.28 Avg, 71.00 Median

Alabama Opponents: 69.39 Avg, 72.10 Median

Surprisingly, the two schools play a very similar strength of schedule. FSU’s scheduling of Notre Dame and Oklahoma State boosts them above the ACC average, and games at Louisville and Miami keep the strength of schedule boat afloat.

Meanwhile, while Alabama faces LSU and Auburn, as well as two very underrated teams in Ole Miss and Mississippi State, their strength of schedule is weighed down by a poor FCS team in Western Carolina, and a Southern Miss team that finished the season rated lower than most FCS teams.

A significant disclaimer must be attached to these statistics though. Florida State playing Alabama’s schedule implies that they wouldn’t have to play against Alabama. If they were simply added to the SEC West and faced Alabama in addition to all of those opponents, their odds of going undefeated would be cut in half.


Top 10 Most Improved Teams of 2013-2014

We often talk about the most improved teams by our own eyeball test. We’re astounded at how quickly Auburn turned around, and are certainly impressed with Missouri’s performance last year as well. But there is improvement going on around the country as well in some teams that are often overlooked. The below numbers show the +/- change in each team’s Sagarin power rating from 2012 to 2013. The difference is the amount in which each team improved over the course of the past year.

Most Improved:

Auburn +24.95

Washington +15.75

Washington State +15.37

UNT +15.29

Colorado +14.96

Houston +14.10

South Alabama +13.29

Least Improved:

LA Tech -26.50

FIU -22.76

Tulsa -21.36

Miami OH -16.47

SMU -15.14

Florida -15.10

Team Improvement 2013 Rating 2012 Rating
Auburn 24.95 90.26 65.31
Washington 15.75 90.51 74.76
Washington State 15.37 76.87 61.50
North Texas 15.29 72.67 57.38
Colorado 14.96 65.65 50.69
Houston 14.10 74.77 60.67
South Alabama 13.29 63.44 50.15
Tulane 12.92 63.35 50.43
Missouri 12.78 89.42 76.64
Buffalo 12.60 66.90 54.30
Colorado State 12.17 68.22 56.05
Florida State 11.64 100.53 88.89
Bowling Green 11.03 77.92 66.89
Michigan State 11.01 88.74 77.73
Marshall 10.83 72.46 61.63
Navy 10.50 73.48 62.98
UCLA 10.36 89.98 79.62
Iowa 10.24 78.79 68.55
Illinois 9.57 66.06 56.49
Arizona 9.55 84.96 75.41
Duke 8.46 74.63 66.17
UNLV 8.27 61.89 53.62
East Carolina 8.11 72.20 64.09
Louisville 7.97 84.98 77.01
Florida Atlantic 7.33 64.41 57.08
Texas-San Antonio 7.23 64.77 57.54
Baylor 7.07 91.78 84.71
Hawai’i 6.88 57.40 50.52
Boston College 6.72 69.35 62.63
Stanford 6.00 92.86 86.86
Ohio State 5.77 88.11 82.34
Utah 5.68 79.04 73.36
Southern California 5.43 86.30 80.87
Wake Forest 5.13 62.18 57.05
Wisconsin 4.94 88.15 83.21
Indiana 4.74 71.03 66.29
Maryland 4.02 66.69 62.67
Arizona State 3.98 87.75 83.77
Memphis 3.72 61.19 57.47
Mississippi State 3.51 80.13 76.62
Central Florida(UCF) 3.22 80.32 77.10
Clemson 2.96 87.30 84.34
Akron 2.88 54.49 51.61
Massachusetts 2.29 42.78 40.49
Toledo 2.18 67.88 65.70
Minnesota 2.16 70.53 68.37
Ball State 1.73 67.73 66.00
Oklahoma State 1.21 89.31 88.10
Georgia Tech 1.03 78.52 77.49
South Carolina 1.01 89.39 88.38
Texas Tech 0.98 78.95 77.97
Virginia Tech 0.78 74.89 74.11
Fresno State 0.43 74.53 74.10
Oregon 0.36 95.73 95.37
Oklahoma 0.18 86.36 86.18
Rice 0.15 66.60 66.45
Western Kentucky 0.11 64.33 64.22
Kentucky 0.11 62.03 61.92
Army 0.09 52.19 52.10
LSU -0.42 86.05 86.47
Middle Tennessee -0.96 60.27 61.23
Miami-Florida -1.34 72.73 74.07
North Carolina -1.44 77.34 78.78
New Mexico -1.54 53.95 55.49
Boise State -1.62 75.84 77.46
Pittsburgh -2.02 71.98 74.00
Nevada -2.29 63.56 65.85
Wyoming -2.32 55.41 57.73
New Mexico State -2.34 43.38 45.72
Central Michigan -2.47 54.53 57.00
Temple -2.74 59.32 62.06
Tennessee -3.09 70.45 73.54
Mississippi -3.23 78.36 81.59
Utah State -3.55 79.07 82.62
Idaho -3.70 43.36 47.06
Vanderbilt -4.00 75.78 79.78
Nebraska -4.18 76.06 80.24
Northern Illinois -4.68 71.91 76.59
BYU -4.71 79.14 83.85
San Diego State -4.79 65.53 70.32
Arkansas -5.18 64.85 70.03
Virginia -5.18 59.55 64.73
Oregon State -5.19 80.63 85.82
California -5.35 61.21 66.56
TCU -5.52 74.04 79.56
Texas -5.77 77.75 83.52
Texas State -5.85 52.20 58.05
Connecticut -5.87 57.58 63.45
Louisiana-Lafayette -5.98 64.37 70.35
Kansas State -6.22 83.60 89.82
Troy -6.24 57.82 64.06
Cincinnati -6.29 71.06 77.35
Kansas -6.44 56.35 62.79
Alabama -6.60 95.15 101.75
Michigan -7.26 75.11 82.37
Air Force -7.55 49.36 56.91
Penn State -7.58 72.20 79.78
Ohio -8.11 57.23 65.34
West Virginia -8.18 66.26 74.44
Iowa State -8.25 65.87 74.12
UAB -8.39 47.74 56.13
Syracuse -9.49 68.88 78.37
Georgia -9.77 82.19 91.96
Eastern Michigan -10.38 38.93 49.31
NC State -10.88 61.06 71.94
Notre Dame -10.99 79.24 90.23
South Florida -11.01 53.14 64.15
Arkansas State -11.44 61.55 72.99
Southern Miss -11.56 39.75 51.31
Northwestern -11.85 68.91 80.76
Kent State -13.10 57.68 70.78
San Jose State -13.13 65.07 78.20
Rutgers -13.15 61.61 74.76
Louisiana-Monroe -13.20 52.80 66.00
Texas A&M -13.85 82.49 96.34
UTEP -14.29 43.53 57.82
Western Michigan -14.42 44.54 58.96
Purdue -15.04 52.03 67.07
Florida -15.10 73.87 88.97
SMU -15.14 60.39 75.53
Miami-Ohio -16.47 37.78 54.25
Tulsa -21.36 54.59 75.95
Fla. International -22.76 35.34 58.10
Louisiana Tech -26.50 47.70 74.20


Your Team’s Odds of Going Undefeated

While we can never predict injuries, arrests, and other black swans, we as statisticians do our best. With the information given at this time, I’ve used my simulation results to determine the odds of any team going undefeated. Just because your team isn’t on there doesn’t mean that they can’t go undefeated…they’re just not as likely to as Florida State right now.

Florida State (46.8%) – Our favorite to go undefeated comes as no surprise. The Noles’ video-game-like numbers combined with their favorable schedule make them an absolute frontrunner in the odds to go undefeated…again. While I say their schedule is below average, it is by no means easy. We discovered late last year that the Clemson team they whipped 51-14 turned out to be pretty good and that Duke team they beat 45-7 matched up quite well with Texas A&M. So while their high odds of going undefeated are partially due to a favorable schedule, it’s even more due to the fact that they’re just an amazing team.

Alabama (28.2%) – Yes, the SEC West is a tough road. Alabama travels to Ole Miss on October 4th and travels to LSU on November 8th, and this year’s Iron Bowl will be a heated rematch in Tuscaloosa. Those will be by far three tough challenges. But beyond that, home games hosting Texas A&M and Mississippi State are very manageable, as is the Tide’s road slate.

Marshall (21.7%) – Wait…who?

That’s right – the Thundering Herd come in at #3 on the list of most likely to go undefeated. They’re a similar version of Florida State’s case. FSU is a great team playing against very average competition. Marshall is a very good team, by no means playoff quality, but will likely be worthy of a spot in the Top 25 by the end of the year. They play one of the easiest schedules in the FBS. Last year it was debatable whether the C-USA East or MAC East was the worst division in FBS. With ECU’s departure to the AAC, Marshall’s C-USA East should be a cakewalk.

Bill Connelly dubbed Marshall the “overlords of Conference USA” and I can’t think of a better word. Led by senior quarterback Rakeem Cato and a high powered offense. they are -500 to -700 to win the conference, miles ahead of the rest. Marshall’s biggest stumbling block last year was road games, but this year Marshall’s “toughest” opponents come to Huntington. Statistically, Marshall is likely to trip up somewhere along the way. But my gut tells me otherwise, as I have a sneaking suspicion that the Herd will run the table, yet still not be invited to the College Football Playoff. And as a result they may be one of the key pieces to expanding this playoff system to eight teams.


Team Undefeated Odds
Florida State 46.80%
Alabama 28.20%
Marshall 21.70%
Wisconsin 19.40%
Baylor 12.90%
Ohio State 11.70%
Oregon 9.00%
Missouri 8.00%
Michigan State 6.60%
Utah State 4.80%
Northern Illinois 4.50%
Oklahoma 3.80%
Bowling Green 2.90%
South Carolina 2.30%
Houston 2.30%
UCF 2.20%
Auburn 2.10%
Boise State 2.00%



College Football Win Totals 2014

Every May or June, a handful of bookmakers release the first odds. I’m not quite sure what their method is, but I’m happy to explain my own. In doing so it’s easy to identify lines that are just plain wrong. In my last article, I detailed the methods of generating win totals. Now I’m releasing the results from my simulations.

My favorite line released this year was Notre Dame 9.5 wins, -150 under,  in a schedule with games at Florida State, Arizona State, and USC, in addition to facing Stanford, Michigan, and a very underrated North Carolina team). The line has since moved dramatically.

Below are all the teams ranked by average win totals.

Team Avg Win
Florida State 11.30
Alabama 10.87
Utah State ** 10.67
Marshall 10.64
Wisconsin 10.61
Ohio State 10.34
Baylor 10.33
Michigan State 10.17
Washington ** 10.04
Oregon 9.99
Missouri 9.83
Bowling Green 9.80
Northern Illinois 9.64
Oklahoma 9.50
North Texas 9.45
UCF 9.39
Louisville 9.28
South Carolina 9.26
Navy 9.25
Buffalo 9.24
Houston 9.16
Clemson 9.15
Brigham Young 9.15
Stanford 9.04
Auburn 9.00
Oklahoma State 8.87
Boise State 8.83
Iowa 8.81
LSU 8.79
UCLA 8.63
Ball State 8.52
Louisiana-Lafayette 8.37
Duke 8.32
Arizona State 8.19
Georgia Tech 8.15
Fresno State 8.13
USC 8.12
Kansas State 8.11
Georgia 8.06
Colorado State 7.93
Mississippi State 7.83
Arizona 7.79
Cincinnati 7.74
Rice 7.73
Texas Tech 7.62
East Carolina 7.60
North Carolina 7.56
Nebraska 7.47
Texas A&M 7.45
Vanderbilt 7.41
Arkansas State 7.40
Pittsburgh 7.33
Virginia Tech 7.33
Toledo 7.22
Michigan 7.21
Oregon State 7.07
Ole Miss 7.02
South Alabama 6.98
Penn State 6.94
Western Kentucky 6.94
Middle Tennessee 6.93
San Diego State 6.72
Troy 6.64
Notre Dame 6.60
UTSA 6.52
Florida Atlantic 6.50
TCU 6.38
Texas 6.15
Old Dominion 6.12
Miami (FL) 5.96
Northwestern 5.77
Florida 5.72
Minnesota 5.56
San Jose State 5.56
Boston College 5.55
Washington State 5.55
Utah 5.49
Memphis 5.46
Indiana 5.46
Ohio 5.28
Texas State 5.21
Kent State 5.21
Syracuse 5.17
Central Michigan 5.15
Tulane 5.11
UNLV 5.06
Nevada 4.99
Illinois 4.94
Akron 4.84
Maryland 4.62
North Carolina State 4.43
Louisiana-Monroe 4.39
Georgia Southern 4.38
Wake Forest 4.31
Tennessee 4.31
Temple 4.14
Connecticut 4.08
SMU 3.75
UAB 3.72
New Mexico 3.49
Colorado 3.47
Army 3.47
Kentucky 3.36
South Florida 3.30
Hawaii ** 3.24
West Virginia 3.18
Arkansas 3.14
Iowa State 3.08
Louisiana Tech 3.08
Air Force 3.02
Wyoming 3.00
New Mexico State 2.98
Georgia State 2.96
Rutgers 2.94
Tulsa 2.92
Western Michigan 2.88
Idaho 2.70
Appalachian State 2.67
Virginia 2.45
Kansas 2.41
UTEP 2.32
Southern Miss 2.23
Purdue 2.16
California 2.08
Massachusetts 1.65
Miami (OH) 1.44
Florida International 1.29
Eastern Michigan 0.97


** Utah State, Washington, and Hawaii play 13 games.



How to Make Your Own College Football Win Totals

How does one go about setting the win total for every college football team? A simple Monte Carlo simulation is able to do the trick! In this article I will detail exactly how you can generate your own win totals for the college football season.

Step 1: Generate power ratings of each team using a nonlinear regression (or use someone else’s). 

You can generate your own power ratings using the Solver tool in Excel for all FBS and FCS teams. In an upcoming post I will detail the exact process for doing this.

Step 2: Build a list in Excel for every college football game that is being played.

This data can be found on any site such as ESPN and formatted into columns. You must then use the VLOOKUP function in excel to look up the power ratings for each team. (You’ll need to make adjustments to those power ratings based on returning starters, but that’s a discussion for another day). Add 3.5 points to each home team’s power rating to account for home field advantage, then find the difference between the two. This difference is the point spread that you would expect for the game.

Step 3: Convert Spreads into Win Probabilities

I did a regression of wins and losses of all games based on the closing point spreads, and in doing so created the following formula to estimate win probability based on a point spread:

Win Probability = 55.63% – 1.71% * (Point Spread)

For example, if a team is a 14 point favorite, or ” -14 ” as we will say, then their odds of winning are 55.63% – 1.71% * -14 = 79.57%.

Step 4: Randomly Generate Game Outcomes

In a column next to each game, generate a random number using the =RAND() function in excel. Next to it, use an =IF function to determine the winner. In the example above, let’s say Alabama is a 14 point favorite over Oklahoma. We would write a formula as such:


This means that if the randomly generated number is anywhere from 0% to 79.57%, Alabama will be deemed the winner, but if it is any higher then Oklahoma is the winner. By inserting these formulas for every game in an entire season, we can simulate every game. By pressing F9, a new batch of random numbers is generated and another full season simulated.

Step 5: Create a Win Totals List

In a separate column, create a list of every college football team playing. In one column, do =COUNTIF(*columns listing teams playing*,”Alabama”,”W”) and in another do =COUNTIF(*columns listing teams playing*,”Alabama”,”L”).

Step 6: Run Monte Carlo Simulation

Don’t freak out if you’ve never done this before. All you have to do is record a macro that copies and pastes each team’s win record into a column A on a new sheet, and then moves over to column B. Title tha Macro as “Macro 1”. Then go into Developer > Record Macro and create a new macro called “Loop.” The screen will open up with a development tab for you to write VBA. Type in:

i = 0 

Do While i < 10000

Call Macro 1

i = i + 1


This simple code will repeat the simulation 10,000 times (or however many you choose). Once the simulation is completed, you can find the average wins (or the mode wins) and use it as your win total.