Ruminating about ratings — 2019 preseason numbers for The Citadel, SoCon, FCS, and more

Recent posts about football at The Citadel:

“Advanced” statistics from The Citadel’s 2018 football season

– Inside the Numbers, Part 1: The Citadel’s 2018 run/pass tendencies and yards per play statistics, with SoCon/FCS discussion as well

– Inside the Numbers, Part 2: The Citadel’s 2018 4th down decision-making, plus Red Zone stats, 3rd down conversion info, etc.

– Football attendance at The Citadel (and elsewhere) — an annual review

– 2019 preseason rankings and ratings, featuring The Citadel and the rest of the SoCon

– During the 2019 football season, which teams will the Bulldogs’ opponents play before (and after) facing The Citadel?

– Homecoming at The Citadel — a brief gridiron history

Other links of interest:

– Cam Jackson, playing American football in Turkey (and enjoying dessert)

Brandon Rainey talks about the upcoming season, and about closure

Dante Smith had a very good game against Alabama; is ready to have even more very good games this season

Bulldogs hold first scrimmage in the heat of Charleston

Usually, I discuss the Massey Ratings at the same time that I write about the preseason rankings from the various college football magazines. This year, because the ratings came out a little later, I decided to have two posts, one for rankings (which can be read here) and one for ratings.

I’m going to also briefly delve into several other preseason computer ratings for FCS teams. There will be a table!

For several years now, I’ve been incorporating the Massey Ratings into my game previews. For those not entirely familiar with this ratings system, here is an explanation:

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 interpreted 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.

As I’ve mentioned before, Massey has ratings for almost every college football team — not just FBS and FCS squads, but D-2, D-3, NAIA, junior colleges, and Canadian schools. This season, there are preseason ratings for 927 colleges and universities in the United States and Canada, from Clemson (#1) to Vermilion Community College (#927).

Vermilion is located in Ely, Minnesota. The Ironmen were 1-7 last season (1-5 in the Minnesota College Athletic Conference).

This year, The Citadel is #176 overall in the preseason ratings. In previous campaigns, the Bulldogs had overall preseason rankings of 218 (in 2018), 130 (2017), 113 (2016) and 174 (2015).

The teams on The Citadel’s 2019 schedule are ranked in the ratings as follows (with the chances of a Bulldogs victory in parenthesis):

  • Towson: 151 (45%)
  • Elon: 161 (36%)
  • Georgia Tech: 54 (3%)
  • Charleston Southern: 245 (86%)
  • Samford: 148 (32%)
  • VMI: 249 (85%)
  • Western Carolina: 220 (75%)
  • Furman: 153 (34%)
  • Mercer: 181 (58%)
  • East Tennessee State: 192 (50%)
  • Chattanooga: 183 (47%)
  • Wofford: 138 (39%)

Going by the ratings, a Massey preseason poll for the SoCon would look like this:

1 – Wofford
2 – Samford
3 – Furman
4 – The Citadel
5 – Mercer
6 – Chattanooga
7 – East Tennessee State
8 – Western Carolina
9 – VMI

Massey’s FCS-only rankings (ratings) for select schools:

  • North Dakota State – 1
  • South Dakota State – 2
  • Eastern Washington – 3
  • Princeton – 4
  • Dartmouth – 5
  • UC Davis – 6
  • James Madison – 7
  • Northern Iowa – 8
  • Illinois State – 9
  • Weber State – 10
  • Colgate – 11
  • Harvard – 15
  • Kennesaw State – 19
  • Wofford – 21
  • Samford – 24
  • Towson – 26
  • Furman – 28
  • Elon – 33
  • Jacksonville State – 38
  • The Citadel – 46
  • Mercer – 49
  • Chattanooga – 51
  • North Carolina A&T – 54
  • East Tennessee State – 55
  • San Diego – 58
  • Duquesne – 59
  • Richmond – 61
  • Alcorn State – 70
  • Western Carolina – 75
  • Charleston Southern – 87
  • VMI – 91
  • South Carolina State – 94
  • Campbell – 96
  • North Alabama – 103
  • Gardner-Webb – 104
  • LIU – 110
  • Davidson – 114
  • Hampton – 117
  • Jacksonville – 118
  • Presbyterian – 122
  • Mississippi Valley State – 125
  • Merrimack -126

In the “overall” category, some schools of note:

  • Clemson – 1
  • Alabama – 2
  • Georgia – 3
  • LSU – 4
  • Oklahoma – 5
  • Ohio State – 6
  • Notre Dame – 7
  • Florida – 8
  • Texas A&M – 9
  • Auburn – 10
  • Syracuse – 15
  • Texas – 16
  • Washington – 17
  • Missouri – 18
  • Kentucky – 19
  • UCF – 20
  • Fresno State – 25
  • North Dakota State – 26 (highest-rated FCS team)
  • Stanford – 27
  • South Carolina – 34
  • North Carolina State – 35
  • Virginia – 40
  • Wake Forest – 42
  • Miami (FL) – 44
  • Appalachian State – 47
  • Vanderbilt – 49
  • Army – 50
  • Georgia Tech – 54
  • Southern California – 56
  • Florida State – 59
  • Ohio – 66
  • Marshall – 71
  • Air Force – 79
  • Georgia Southern – 85
  • Navy – 98
  • North Texas – 99
  • Rutgers – 103
  • Oregon State – 116
  • Coastal Carolina – 127
  • Liberty – 131
  • Laval – 155 (highest-rated Canadian team)
  • Connecticut – 169
  • Ferris State – 174 (highest-rated D-2 team)
  • Rice – 179
  • Laney College – 184 (highest-rated junior college team)
  • UTEP – 191
  • Mary Hardin-Baylor – 227 (highest-rated D-3 team)
  • Morningside (IA) – 237 (highest-rated NAIA team)

Of course, the Massey Ratings aren’t the only ratings out there. On his website, Massey himself lists 19 other services, some of which include FCS teams in their respective ratings. Not all of those have preseason ratings, however.

There appear to be five other ratings systems (on his list, anyway) that have updated preseason FCS ratings. I decided to create a table in order to compare the ratings (by rankings) of 17 different FCS schools — the nine SoCon institutions, along with The Citadel’s three non-conference FCS opponents this season (Towson, Elon, and Charleston Southern), two other instate schools (Presbyterian and South Carolina State), and three other solid programs in the league footprint (Jacksonville State, Kennesaw State, and North Carolina A&T).

Like any good table, there is a key:

Drum roll…

The table (remember, these are rankings only for the 126 FCS teams; i.e., VMI is the preseason #91 team among all FCS squads in the Massey Ratings):

Team A B C D E F
The Citadel 46 24 43 36 39 59
VMI 91 111 114 107 106 120
Furman 28 33 20 25 27 32
Wofford 21 22 13 17 13 13
Chattanooga 51 49 54 42 33 43
ETSU 55 56 31 65 83 19
Samford 24 23 25 24 20 52
WCU 75 82 86 78 76 99
Mercer 49 54 56 48 41 67
Towson 26 29 11 28 18 23
Elon 33 36 24 40 38 26
Ch. Southern 87 83 62 74 97 62
Presbyterian 122 115 115 112 112 114
S.C. State 94 85 88 81 71 71
Kennesaw St. 19 5 7 9 15 8
N.C. A&T 54 37 18 37 53 11
Jacksonville St. 38 26 6 12 10 16

While some teams have fairly small groupings in terms of rankings among the services (such as Furman, Wofford, and Presbyterian), others differ wildly (particularly East Tennessee State and North Carolina A&T).

I was perhaps most surprised by the generally solid rankings for Samford, which comes across as a borderline top 25 preseason pick in these ratings. That certainly isn’t how SU has been perceived in the various rankings that have been released this summer, either league or national.

A few other things I’ll mention that aren’t reflected in the table:

– Entropy System’s preseason #1 FCS team isn’t North Dakota State, but South Dakota State. Hmm…

–  CSL included Virginia University of Lynchburg in its rankings. VUL is not an FCS school, but the computer program that put together the list may have thought it was, given that the Dragons play seven FCS opponents this season (Merrimack, Davidson, Mississippi Valley State, Prairie View A&M, Hampton, Southern, and Morgan State).

All of those games are on the road — in fact, the Dragons will play ten road games in 2019. VUL, a member of the National Christian Colleges Athletic Association (NCCAA), has two home games this year.

For the purposes of this post, I removed Virginia University of Lynchburg from the CSL Ratings, so that all the teams ranked were actually FCS squads.

– LIU, which will field an FCS team for the first time (having combined varsity programs at its two branch campuses), is ranked #22 by CSL, probably because the then-Pioneers (new nickname: Sharks!) were 10-1 in D-2 last season. Considering LIU did not play a Division I team last season, that high of a preseason ranking seems a bit dubious. We’ll know rather quickly just how dubious it is, as LIU opens its season at South Dakota State.

The overall situation with LIU is quite interesting. Basically, a D-2 varsity athletics program is being folded into an existing D-1 setup. Not everyone was happy about that decision.

College basketball fans may be familiar with the LIU Blackbirds, which made the NCAA tourney a few times and once played home games in the old Paramount Theater in Brooklyn. Now there are no Blackbirds, and no Pioneers (from the LIU-Post campus). Everyone is a blue-and-gold Shark.

LIU-Brooklyn didn’t have a football team, unlike LIU-Post. Thus, the D-2 football program is simply moving up to D-1 — but because it is going to be part of an already existing D-1 athletics program, it doesn’t have to go through a “transition” period and is immediately eligible to compete for the NEC title and an NCAA playoff berth.

– Steve Pugh is the creator/publisher of the “Compughter Ratings”. He has a master’s degree from Virginia Tech, as does Ken Massey. Apparently VT grad students spend most of their waking hours coming up with sports ratings systems.

– The Laz Index also rates Florida high school football teams. It has done so since 1999.

– Along with college football, the Born Power Index rates high school football teams in Pennsylvania and New Jersey — in fact, it was used last year by the New Jersey Interscholastic Athletic Association to rank playoff teams in that state.

This didn’t go over too well:

There has been a tremendous amount of criticism heaped on the NJSIAA for the new United Power Rankings.  A complicated formula that no one is 100 percent sure is accurate at any time, it basically breaks the ranking of teams into numbers – The Born Power Index and average power points.

The Born Power Index has been around since 1962, and is a mathematical rating system which somehow, determines how good a team is. Somehow, I say, because the formula is proprietary, and William Born, its creator, is not sharing with the public. That lack of transparency has a lot of people bothered.

The index will apparently not be a part of the “power ranking” for the New Jersey high school football playoffs this season.

– Five of the six ratings systems have Princeton in the top 7. The exception is the Compughter Ratings, which has the Tigers ranked 19th. On the other hand, fellow Ivy League school Dartmouth is ranked 12th by the Compughter Ratings.

Entropy has both Princeton and Dartmouth in the top 5, and Harvard ranked 14th among FCS schools. Massey also has Princeton and Dartmouth in the top 5; Harvard is 15th in that service.

Ivy League schools with high ratings (and rankings) are the norm for most of these college football ratings services. I think this is a bug, not a feature.

Personally, I find it difficult to justify ranking Princeton and Dartmouth in the top five, or even the top 20 for that matter. That said, the Tigers and Big Green might be very good.

However, the Ivy Leaguers’ lack of schedule connectivity with the vast majority of their FCS brethren — particularly the more highly-regarded teams — makes it all but impossible to compare those squads to the elite outfits in the sub-division. For example, in 2019 none of the Ivies will face a team from the MVFC, Big Sky, SoCon, Southland, OVC, Big South, or SWAC.

Here is a list of all the non-conference games played by Ivy League schools this season against teams ranked in the STATS preseason Top 25:

  • Dartmouth hosts #13 Colgate
  • Cornell hosts #13 Colgate
  • Penn is at #22 Delaware

Princeton has been the standard-bearer for the league in recent years. The Tigers host Lafayette and Butler, and travel to Bucknell. Those three teams were a combined 8-25 last season; this year, their respective preseason Massey rankings in FCS are 100, 112, and 108.

It is very hard to say that Princeton is one of the best FCS teams in the country when there is no practical way to demonstrate the validity of such a statement.

At any rate, we’re getting even closer and closer to football season, which is all that really matters.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: