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The Rocky Top Talk Computer Rankings: What the Numbers Say (and Don't Say)

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Rankings are a funny thing.  As complex as football is, as large as the D-1 gene pool is, and as few games are played, the most honest answer would be to not rank at all (or perhaps to rank in batches).  But that just wouldn't be any fun.  We're obsessed with ranking things - with finding out who's "best".  Heck, we even rank the ranking systems in our minds.  That's why, even though I'm highly partisan toward resume rankings, I don't blow a gasket over other preferences.  It's all part of the college football experience and, whether we like to admit it or not, it really does add to the enjoyment of the game.

One thing I appreciate about the system we use is that, rudimentary as it is, it's very easy to sift through the numbers and find out why teams get ranked the way they do.  Additionally, if the rankings seem odd, it's easy to find corrections and figure out what went wrong.  And, once in a while, the numbers stubbornly point out that we're ranking teams out of name brand recognition rather than actually paying attention.  So, with all of that in mind, here's a look at where the numbers are today, and what they tell us about some of the teams.  After the jump will be all of the numbers for all 120 teams, which makes for a rather large table.  But I'll put the commentary ahead of the table so it's easier to find.

Florida vs. Alabama

I mentioned in my SEC Power Poll ballot that Florida was ahead of Alabama for statistical reasons, and the chart shows what I was looking at.  Both teams have the same record and Alabama has played a tougher schedule to date, but the difference in performance within schedules has given the edge to Florida.  The most notable difference is Third Down Offense (3DO), where Florida is off-the-charts good.  Without trying to beat that dead horse (too late), it's a nice luxury to have a shotgun linebacker who is nearly guaranteed three yards on third and short, even when everybody in the stadium knows it's coming.  The other surprise is just how efficient Florida is at passing the ball.  For all we make of their lack of a deep threat, they're one of the most efficient passing teams in the country - far more so than Alabama.  (Look at the PEO column.)  Passing efficiency basically takes the NCAA qb rating system and applies it to the season as a whole, and the one observation is that Florida quite simply doesn't make mistakes passing the ball.  Those are the biggest reasons Florida edged out Alabama in my ballot; the rest of the metrics are within margin of error after accounting for strength of schedule..

Texas

If Texas were to lose a game, they'd plummet pretty hard in the rankings.  As it is, Virginia Tech has nearly eclipsed them despite having a loss.  Why?  First is strength of schedule - Texas just hasn't played anybody good yet.  Second is that their numbers aren't as dominating as they should be for having played such a soft schedule, and it's mostly their first halves.  They don't measure out well on passing efficiency defense and third down offense (relatively speaking) because they let lesser teams hang around for half the game until their opponents wear down.  For all of Oklahoma's problems so far, Texas has their share as well and can't head into the Red River Rivalry too cocky.  Texas is still rightly the favorite, but it's not really that big of a gap; Oklahoma is basically what Texas would be against a decent schedule and a loss or two.

The Value of Defense

One thing you'll observe about our system is that defense gets significantly more weight than offense.  The reason for being defense-heavy is that the weights are primarily derived from the correlations that Doc Saturday (then SMQ) derived when figuring out which numbers most strongly correlated to wins.  Now, the reason that defense correlates more strongly than offense is that defense is more consistent from game to game.  As we saw with Auburn last week, a high-powered offense can end up taking a nap on occasion.  In that game, Auburn lost 3 out of their 4 fumbles, for instance, and did not pick up Arkansas's lone fumble.  The 8 penalties and Chris Todd's inability to hit wide open receivers did the rest.

As a general rule, if I am asked which of two indistinguishable teams is better, I will generally pick the one with a stronger defense.  Offense is just as important for a team; it's just not as reliable.

I Swear I Don't Mean to Favor Tennessee!

Based primarily on the previous point, you'll notice that Tennessee (#33; score of 41.2) is significantly ahead of the next .500 team (Washington, #42, score of 26.6).  Again, it all goes back to defense and strength of schedule.  Tennessee has struggled on the offensive side of the ball, but the defense has held firm against some very tough competition so far.  But the offensive numbers aren't abysmal either; even passing efficiency currently grades out at the NCAA average, thanks to four meh and two Crompton4Heisman!!! passing games.

But this is why I tend to speak so optimistically about Tennessee for the rest of the year.  We're not going to be going into Alabama as even odds in Vegas or anything, but you can know that the defense will show up.  Even with the offense at its worst, the team has been in games against very good opponents, so there's no reason to think that UT can't compete in every game on the rest of their schedule.

Why Arkansas is Hated

Arkansas seems to be a popular choice for the 5th best team in the SEC right now (typically behind LSU and South Carolina).  The problem is that they're surviving on tremendous offensive play and absolutely horrific defensive play.  Take a look at #57 on the chart, where Arkansas resides.  Their defense is below average (usually decidedly so) in all categories but third down defense.  And third down defense shows the weakest correlation to wins of all categories in the rankings.  Meanwhile, Arkansas is explicitly bad in third down offense, which oddly is the strongest offensive correlator to success.  So while the passing game is fun to watch, they're not good at all in the areas that you most need in order to win games consistently.  That's why the computers think people are overrating Arkansas.

Ok, the Table

Here are the weights used, with a caveat.  If you use these weights directly, you will get the right order, but the numbers will be too small.  If you divide all the weights by 0.81 first, then apply them, you'll get the right numbers.  This is because I force the weights to sum to 100 for consistency from week to week, but I figure out the balances in integers.  It's easier that way.

W/L = 25; SOS = 15; Pass Efficiency Defense (PED) = 9; Run Defense (RD) = 8; Third Down Offense (3DO) = 7; Total Defense (TD) = 6; Pass Efficiency Offense (PEO) = 5; Opponents' Points Per Game (OPPG) = 3; Total Offense = 2; Third Down Defense (3DD) = 1

To calculate, take each weight and multiply it by the value in the appropriate column for a team.  Do this for all weights and add the results together.  For example, Florida's W/L of 1.721 multiplied by 25/0.81 is 53.12.  For SOS, it's 0.262 multiplied by 15/0.81, which is 4.85.  Add the two together, and the sum is currently 57.97.  Continue with the remaining columns and there you go.  (It's easiest if you copy the whole table into Excel and go from there.)

Rank Team WL SOS PED RD 3DO TD PEO OPPG TO 3DD W SUM
1 Florida 1.721 0.262 2.251 1.166 2.039 2.359 1.976 2.324 1.742 1.780 156.901
2 Alabama 1.721 0.857 1.905 1.649 -0.040 2.077 0.741 1.515 1.065 2.072 136.874
3 Texas 1.721 -0.798 1.372 2.081 1.031 1.880 0.885 1.183 1.632 2.546 114.014
4 Virginia Tech 1.076 2.119 1.264 0.357 0.020 0.663 1.592 0.829 0.141 1.541 110.243
5 Boise St. 1.721 0.046 1.475 0.842 0.078 1.238 1.883 1.262 0.980 0.839 108.275
6 TCU 1.721 -0.254 1.112 1.255 0.390 1.625 0.913 1.156 0.623 1.351 101.722
7 Southern Cal. 0.947 1.246 1.669 1.668 -1.468 1.792 0.241 2.032 0.837 1.271 100.567
8 Iowa 1.721 0.751 1.704 0.123 0.423 0.742 -0.171 1.073 -0.258 0.093 98.728
9 Nebraska 0.947 0.409 1.845 0.646 0.908 1.244 0.703 2.112 0.416 0.641 94.724
10 Cincinnati 1.721 -1.081 0.884 0.762 1.291 0.599 1.639 1.342 1.447 -0.075 84.621
11 Ohio St. 1.076 0.515 1.293 1.127 -0.146 1.269 -0.019 1.581 -0.658 0.332 80.898
12 Oregon 1.076 1.244 1.603 0.504 -1.264 1.127 -0.282 1.006 -0.304 0.608 78.465
13 Penn St. 1.076 -1.175 1.212 1.290 1.942 1.523 0.473 1.824 0.787 0.817 78.359
14 South Fla. 1.721 -2.196 1.467 0.779 0.739 1.408 2.025 1.926 0.562 1.339 75.956
15 Miami (FL) 0.947 1.699 0.071 -0.216 0.361 0.495 1.147 0.042 0.182 0.297 74.184
16 BYU 1.076 -0.150 -0.186 0.560 2.850 0.206 1.771 0.277 1.352 -1.111 73.982
17 LSU 1.076 1.100 1.119 0.231 -0.184 0.471 0.291 1.249 -1.361 -0.546 72.580
18 Utah 0.947 0.405 1.396 0.042 0.282 0.785 0.242 0.705 0.951 2.162 70.012
19 West Virginia 0.947 -0.370 0.562 1.228 1.394 0.668 0.981 0.042 1.139 0.460 67.347
20 Georgia Tech 1.076 1.212 -1.260 0.097 1.609 -0.515 1.930 -0.343 0.774 -0.929 64.110
21 Wisconsin 1.076 0.731 -0.341 0.379 1.369 0.303 0.439 -0.233 0.703 -0.275 64.018
22 Arizona 0.173 1.707 0.510 0.913 0.334 1.112 -0.011 0.042 0.695 -0.632 63.761
23 Kansas 1.721 -1.621 -0.150 1.082 1.385 0.023 1.409 0.785 2.277 0.772 62.433
24 Oklahoma 0.173 0.121 0.832 1.917 -0.046 1.518 0.695 2.059 1.265 0.516 62.272
25 South Carolina 1.076 -0.121 0.538 0.234 -0.075 1.135 0.285 0.741 -0.140 0.029 51.219
26 Notre Dame 0.947 0.814 -0.407 0.006 0.031 -0.799 2.090 0.015 1.476 -0.100 50.675
27 Idaho 1.076 -0.029 -1.022 0.916 1.884 0.028 0.710 -0.210 0.684 -2.314 49.282
28 Auburn 1.076 0.152 0.676 -0.551 0.449 -0.266 0.830 -0.432 1.797 -0.075 47.880
29 Central Mich. 1.076 -1.487 0.524 0.134 1.558 0.868 1.090 1.227 0.274 0.706 45.544
30 Missouri 0.947 -0.278 0.519 0.264 0.092 0.290 0.538 0.811 0.461 -0.670 42.035
31 Wake Forest 0.431 0.217 -0.235 0.456 1.363 -0.135 1.523 0.277 0.763 -0.765 41.355
32 Stanford 0.431 0.827 -0.152 0.353 0.526 0.073 0.494 0.476 0.409 0.048 41.354
33 Tennessee -0.215 0.957 1.160 0.660 -0.275 1.266 -0.009 0.586 0.222 0.820 41.188
34 Pittsburgh 1.076 -0.305 -0.730 0.675 -0.049 0.261 1.667 0.675 0.160 0.004 40.831
35 UCLA 0.173 1.204 1.454 0.362 -1.076 1.052 -1.192 0.891 -1.558 0.911 39.062
36 Oklahoma St. 0.947 -1.036 0.420 0.522 0.661 -0.081 1.549 0.095 0.753 0.565 37.445
37 Navy 0.431 -0.241 -0.274 0.693 1.213 0.707 0.859 0.497 -0.275 1.236 36.343
38 Oregon St. 0.431 0.362 -0.200 0.938 0.826 -0.324 0.328 0.121 0.136 0.516 35.231
39 Tulsa 0.947 -1.741 0.462 0.997 0.100 0.838 1.282 1.024 0.571 0.706 33.021
40 North Carolina 0.431 -0.378 1.791 0.608 -1.313 1.807 -0.814 1.293 -1.569 1.152 31.555
41 Connecticut 0.173 0.058 0.096 0.917 0.132 1.084 -0.155 0.944 -0.453 1.258 28.681
42 Washington -0.215 2.437 -1.031 -0.477 1.725 -1.032 0.008 -0.609 -0.339 0.066 26.642
43 Fresno St. -0.602 1.507 -0.105 0.122 1.539 -0.273 0.328 -0.277 1.447 0.093 25.334
44 Mississippi 0.173 -0.133 1.828 0.188 -0.879 0.983 -1.036 1.448 -0.612 2.243 24.938
45 California 0.173 1.253 -0.607 0.442 0.065 -0.122 -0.542 0.174 0.205 0.313 23.980
46 Texas Tech 0.431 -1.095 0.289 0.727 0.390 0.044 1.538 0.343 2.311 -0.121 23.411
47 Michigan St. -0.215 0.841 -0.517 0.834 0.385 0.369 0.660 0.144 0.728 -0.409 23.400
48 Arizona St. 0.173 -0.845 0.942 2.006 -1.240 2.056 -1.161 1.077 -0.456 1.558 22.101
49 Georgia -0.215 2.094 -0.688 0.260 -0.275 -0.389 -0.018 -0.897 -0.891 0.531 16.852
50 Michigan 0.431 0.280 0.184 -0.032 0.143 -0.557 -0.437 -0.078 -0.040 -0.096 14.120
51 Ohio 0.431 -0.180 1.236 -0.718 -0.549 -0.111 -0.121 0.055 -0.847 0.444 8.953
52 Clemson -0.602 1.269 0.890 0.206 -0.980 1.005 -1.481 0.811 -1.010 0.771 8.149
53 Boston College 0.431 0.066 -0.164 0.364 -1.264 0.534 -0.177 0.409 -1.269 1.133 8.020
54 Virginia -0.602 0.670 1.157 0.162 -0.439 0.892 -0.733 0.440 -0.874 1.407 7.770
55 Houston 0.947 -0.539 0.050 -1.998 0.820 -1.542 1.266 -0.861 3.084 -1.747 5.817
56 NC St. -0.215 -0.991 -0.915 1.712 1.207 1.093 0.659 0.121 0.182 0.135 5.416
57 Arkansas 0.173 1.161 -0.940 -0.118 -1.499 -0.727 1.136 -0.516 1.181 0.369 5.345
58 Air Force -0.215 -0.739 0.842 0.171 0.290 1.106 -0.393 1.338 -0.323 1.407 4.910
59 Minnesota 0.431 0.329 -0.070 -0.506 -0.146 -0.452 -0.423 0.011 -0.961 -1.510 2.188
60 Northern Ill. 0.173 -0.488 -0.073 0.148 -0.090 0.120 0.664 0.705 -0.226 -1.180 1.743
61 Texas A&M 0.173 -0.991 -0.194 -0.309 1.454 -0.550 0.732 -0.489 2.166 0.911 -0.574
62 Marshall 0.431 -0.192 0.548 -0.677 0.080 -0.618 -0.741 0.144 -0.788 -1.829 -2.988
63 Colorado St. -0.215 0.586 -0.377 0.638 -0.937 -0.276 0.599 -0.299 -0.040 -2.074 -3.870
64 Troy 0.173 0.608 -0.744 0.015 -0.765 -0.736 0.027 -0.410 0.199 -0.016 -4.464
65 Rutgers 0.947 -2.978 -0.007 1.659 -0.383 0.785 -0.282 0.997 -0.239 1.027 -4.489
66 Northwestern 0.431 -2.055 -0.217 0.456 1.421 0.235 0.224 0.144 0.063 0.313 -6.183
67 Southern Miss. -0.215 -0.959 0.073 0.668 -0.139 0.637 0.631 0.011 0.636 0.590 -7.228
68 Kentucky -0.602 1.499 -0.229 -0.843 0.192 -0.037 -0.923 -0.383 -0.715 -0.317 -9.560
69 SMU 0.173 -0.070 0.856 -0.149 -1.368 -0.620 -0.406 -0.701 -0.262 -0.237 -10.393
70 Baylor 0.173 -0.506 0.878 -0.696 -0.809 -0.462 0.211 0.201 -0.174 -0.384 -10.442
71 Florida St. -0.860 1.846 -1.735 -0.732 1.050 -1.168 0.922 -0.565 0.763 -0.639 -13.763
72 La.-Monroe 0.173 -1.262 -0.244 0.748 0.361 -0.346 0.236 -0.993 0.643 -0.888 -14.538
73 Temple 0.173 -1.216 -0.048 1.099 -0.749 0.303 -0.491 0.466 -0.771 -0.539 -14.960
74 East Carolina -0.215 0.125 -0.771 0.508 0.522 -0.025 -1.299 -0.122 -1.145 -0.459 -15.377
75 Nevada -0.602 0.454 -1.720 0.299 1.291 -0.664 0.141 -0.622 1.557 -0.502 -18.292
76 Duke -0.215 -0.296 -0.444 -0.243 -0.232 -0.101 0.686 -0.432 0.301 -0.427 -19.356
77 UCF 0.173 -1.662 -0.479 1.010 0.253 0.190 -0.235 0.519 -0.962 -0.314 -19.484
78 Wyoming 0.431 -1.224 0.167 0.453 -0.792 -0.591 -1.072 -0.254 -0.399 0.172 -22.596
79 Middle Tenn. 0.173 -0.186 0.182 -0.776 -1.225 -0.594 -0.548 -0.383 0.286 0.140 -22.675
80 Buffalo -0.860 -0.551 -0.042 -0.266 0.889 0.343 0.706 -0.233 0.433 -0.586 -25.780
81 Kansas St. -0.215 -0.561 -0.483 0.301 -0.624 0.104 -0.195 -0.210 -0.350 0.168 -26.673
82 San Diego St. -0.602 -0.423 0.599 -0.163 -0.361 0.684 -0.772 -0.250 -1.007 -0.427 -28.112
83 Indiana -0.215 -0.013 -0.837 0.071 -0.525 -0.284 -0.475 -0.565 -0.488 -0.156 -28.534
84 Purdue -1.505 0.884 0.581 -0.610 0.656 -0.429 0.122 -0.874 0.506 -0.740 -29.322
85 La.-Lafayette 0.173 -0.311 -0.367 -0.638 -0.084 -0.635 -0.982 -0.914 -0.926 -1.445 -29.750
86 Western Mich. -0.215 -0.694 -0.312 -0.936 0.567 -0.749 0.139 -0.233 -0.075 -0.177 -33.235
87 Bowling Green -0.860 0.794 -0.523 -1.162 0.186 -0.471 -0.157 -0.940 0.358 1.024 -33.307
88 Iowa St. -0.215 -0.667 -0.875 -0.214 -0.011 -0.599 -0.691 0.055 0.363 0.276 -38.170
89 Hawaii -0.602 -0.537 -0.088 -1.376 0.809 -0.793 0.700 -0.622 1.038 -1.428 -39.136
90 Mississippi St. -0.860 0.172 -0.557 -0.029 -0.356 -0.316 -0.805 -0.410 0.339 0.093 -40.775
91 Vanderbilt -0.860 -1.124 1.720 -0.673 -0.624 1.009 -2.166 1.094 -0.699 1.049 -42.557
92 Toledo -0.215 -0.494 -0.156 -1.088 -0.040 -1.599 0.633 -2.290 1.479 -1.663 -43.417
93 Louisville -0.602 -0.168 -0.747 -0.198 -1.213 0.268 -0.605 -0.250 -0.301 -0.598 -46.578
94 Maryland -0.860 0.525 -0.999 -0.762 -0.201 -0.848 0.012 -1.604 -0.545 0.215 -50.418
95 Army -0.215 -1.913 0.369 0.464 -0.971 0.825 -2.257 0.364 -1.374 -0.122 -51.765
96 North Texas -1.376 0.368 0.542 -0.678 -0.698 -0.166 -0.986 -1.312 0.063 0.706 -53.515
97 Syracuse -0.860 0.272 -1.502 0.945 -1.919 -0.465 -0.099 -0.741 -1.066 -0.062 -54.953
98 Arkansas St. -1.183 -0.046 -1.459 0.753 -0.662 -0.316 -0.126 0.121 -0.587 -0.171 -56.173
99 La. Tech -0.602 -0.502 -0.180 -1.749 0.477 -0.859 -0.557 -0.144 -0.712 -1.163 -56.554
100 New Mex. St. -0.215 -1.970 0.479 -0.554 -0.141 0.285 -2.032 -0.034 -1.795 -0.417 -59.976
101 Illinois -1.376 0.851 -0.568 -1.016 -0.451 -0.884 -1.469 -0.622 -0.605 -1.338 -68.021
102 Tulane -0.602 -0.510 -1.746 -1.207 0.591 -0.613 -0.273 -1.338 -0.816 -1.257 -68.994
103 Colorado -1.376 0.670 -1.134 -0.678 -0.455 -0.585 -1.431 -0.808 -1.127 0.356 -71.800
104 Utah St. -1.376 0.178 -0.125 -1.118 -1.551 -1.126 0.400 -1.126 1.048 -0.392 -72.947
105 UAB -0.602 -0.724 -1.301 -0.114 -0.540 -1.592 -1.279 -1.046 -0.317 -1.001 -77.821
106 Akron -1.376 -0.241 -0.603 -0.638 -0.555 -0.157 -1.123 -0.436 -1.490 -1.537 -80.034
107 UNLV -0.860 -0.539 -1.829 -1.706 1.694 -1.945 -0.018 -1.494 0.085 -2.265 -81.697
108 Memphis -0.860 -1.399 -0.482 -0.973 -0.580 -0.945 -0.429 -0.565 -0.442 1.251 -83.710
109 Miami (OH) -2.151 1.098 -0.688 -0.554 -0.266 -0.492 -1.488 -1.693 -0.812 -1.111 -83.944
110 San Jose St. -1.376 1.591 -0.532 -2.478 -1.633 -1.744 -0.738 -1.073 -1.688 -0.798 -84.109
111 FIU -1.376 0.337 -0.300 -2.336 -0.236 -2.115 -0.413 -1.391 -0.557 0.145 -89.230
112 Kent St. -0.860 -1.171 -0.135 -0.055 -2.747 -0.780 -1.060 -0.233 -1.166 0.301 -89.691
113 UTEP -0.860 0.042 -0.799 -1.684 -0.705 -2.213 -1.179 -1.449 -0.756 -1.194 -89.732
114 Fla. Atlantic -2.151 1.020 -0.960 -1.897 0.264 -1.500 -0.544 -1.604 0.090 -0.570 -95.504
115 Washington St. -1.505 1.530 -1.294 -1.332 -2.037 -2.160 -1.540 -1.471 -1.777 0.502 -98.000
116 Eastern Mich. -2.151 0.079 -0.327 -2.713 -0.359 -0.701 -1.396 -1.577 -1.724 -0.986 -123.578
117 Ball St. -2.151 -0.704 -1.701 -0.706 -0.374 -0.827 -1.494 -0.851 -1.628 -0.275 -131.388
118 New Mexico -2.151 -0.133 -1.544 -0.703 -2.376 -1.226 -1.172 -1.847 -1.339 -1.049 -141.228
119 Rice -2.151 0.417 -1.882 -1.677 -1.169 -1.885 -1.812 -2.709 -1.361 -0.505 -145.383
120 Western Ky. -2.151 0.399 -3.250 -3.136 -1.439 -2.272 -1.665 -2.161 -1.380 -2.483 -180.096