Gridiron countdown: preseason ratings, featuring The Citadel (and the rest of the SoCon)

Also part of the “Gridiron Countdown” series:

What teams will the Bulldogs’ opponents play before facing The Citadel?

The Citadel competes to win games — and fans

Independence Day has come and gone, which means the home stretch of the college football offseason is drawing closer. That first college football weekend can’t get here fast enough.

There is still time to kill, though. With that in mind, I decided to take a brief look at a preseason ratings system that was released this week, the Massey Ratings.

Ken Massey is a math professor at Carson-Newman whose ratings system was used (with several others) for fifteen years by the BCS. He has ratings for a wide variety of sports, but most of the attention surrounding his work has been focused on college football.

A quick introduction of the Massey Ratings, from its website:

The Massey Ratings are designed to measure past performance, not necessarily to predict future outcomes…overall team rating is a merit based quantity, and is the result of applying a Bayesian win-loss correction to the power rating.

…In contrast to the overall rating, the Power is a better measure of potential and is less concerned with actual wins-losses.

…A team’s Offense power rating essentially measures the ability to score points. This does not distinguish how points are scored, so good defensive play that leads to scoring will be reflected in the Offense rating. In general, the offensive rating can be interpretted as the number of points a team would be expected to score against an average defense.

Similarly, a team’s Defense power rating reflects the ability to prevent its opponent from scoring. An average defense will be rated at zero. Positive or negative defensive ratings would respectively lower or raise the opponent’s expected score accordingly.

…the Massey model will in some sense minimize the unexplained error (noise). Upsets will occur and it is impossible (and also counter-productive) to get an exact fit to the actual game outcomes. Hence, I publish an estimated standard deviation. About 68% of observed game results will fall within one standard deviation of the expected (“average”) result.

Preseason ratings are typically derived as a weighted average of previous years’ final ratings. As the current season progresses, their effect gets damped out completely. The only purpose preseason ratings serve is to provide a reasonable starting point for the computer. Mathematically, they guarantee a unique solution to the equations early in the season when not enough data is available yet.

So there you go. Basically, preseason ratings are almost meaningless, which makes them perfect for a blog post!

One of the interesting things about the Massey Ratings is that all college football teams are included — not just FBS and FCS squads, but D-2, D-3, NAIA, junior colleges, even Canadian schools. In all, there are preseason ratings for 924 colleges and universities.

The Citadel is #174 in the preseason ratings. How does that compare to the teams on the Bulldogs’ schedule?

  • Davidson — #584
  • Western Carolina — #168
  • Georgia Southern — #86
  • Charleston Southern — #162
  • Wofford — #182
  • Samford — #146
  • Chattanooga — #95
  • Furman — #205
  • Mercer — #267
  • VMI — #272
  • South Carolina — #28

As you can see, there isn’t a great deal of difference between The Citadel and most of the teams on its schedule.

Massey gives the Bulldogs a 1% chance of beating South Carolina. Of course, that is notably higher than the odds offered by The State newspaper when the two teams met in 1990 (the publication infamously opined that all the Gamecocks would have to do to win the game was “show up”; it didn’t quite work out that way).

Meanwhile, Davidson is listed as having a 0% chance of upsetting The Citadel, which is a function of the Wildcats having not beaten a legitimate team (no, College of Faith doesn’t qualify) since November 2012. The Wildcats are rated next-to-last among all FCS schools, ahead of only East Tennessee State, which relaunches its program this season and has a preseason rating of #651.

Another startup program, Kennesaw State, is actually rated ahead of Davidson (the Owls carry a #519 preseason rating). Kennesaw State begins its gridiron history with a Thursday night game at ETSU. It’s a shame they couldn’t work Davidson into a three-way round-robin.

Among all FCS schools, Chattanooga is rated 5th; Samford, 22nd; Charleston Southern, 33rd; Western Carolina, 36th; The Citadel, 38th; Wofford, 42nd; Furman, 56th; Mercer, 84th; VMI, 85th; and Davidson, 124th.

The highest-rated FCS team overall is (no surprise) four-time defending subdivision champ North Dakota State, rated #47 in all of D-1. Last year’s runner-up, Illinois State (#64 in D-1), is second among FCS squads.

A few other schools that may or may not be of interest:

  • Alabama — #1
  • Ohio State — #2
  • Oregon — #3
  • Georgia — #4
  • TCU — #5
  • Michigan State — #6
  • Baylor — #7
  • Arkansas — #8
  • Auburn — #9
  • Georgia Tech — #10
  • Stanford — #11
  • Clemson — #12
  • Florida State — #17
  • Notre Dame — #32
  • Duke — #41
  • North Carolina — #61
  • Navy — #73
  • Air Force — #80
  • Georgia Southern — #86
  • Coastal Carolina — #98 (#7 in FCS)
  • Appalachian State — #105
  • Old Dominion — #119
  • Liberty — #128 (#17 in FCS)
  • Army — #132
  • Colorado State-Pueblo — #134 (#1 in D-2)
  • James Madison — #147 (#23 in FCS)
  • Richmond — #148 (#24 in FCS)
  • Fordham — #150 (#26 in FCS)
  • William & Mary — 158 (#29 in FCS)
  • Harvard — #160 (#31 in FCS)
  • Georgia State — #178
  • Presbyterian — #188 (#48 in FCS)
  • Lenoir-Rhyne — #190 (#13 in D-2)
  • Delaware — #194 (#51 in FCS)
  • South Carolina State — #206 (#57 in FCS)
  • Charlotte — #226
  • Elon — #250 (#78 in FCS)
  • Gardner-Webb — #258 (#80 in FCS)

Sure, this is relatively light fare. Right now, though, it’s all we have.

Keep counting down the days…

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