2018 preseason rankings and ratings, featuring The Citadel (and the rest of the SoCon)

Yes, it’s that time of year. The preview magazines are out, and the Massey Ratings have been updated for preseason 2018. Let’s get right to the nitty-gritty!

Lindy’s ranks North Dakota State #1 in its FCS preseason poll. The rest of its top 5: James Madison, Sam Houston State, Jacksonville State, and South Dakota State. Incidentally, the top four teams were also the top four squads in Lindy’s 2017 preseason poll (with NDSU and JMU flip-flopped).

Wofford is ranked #10 (as was also the case in the magazine’s 2017 preseason poll), Samford #13, and Furman #17. Other teams of note include Kennesaw State (#7), North Carolina A&T (#19), and Elon (#21).

The Lindy’s preseason first team All-America squad for the FCS includes two players from Samford, quarterback Devlin Hodges and defensive lineman Ahmad Gooden. Not only that, but both are the magazine’s preseason national MVPs (on offense and defense, respectively).

Lindy’s first team also includes Wofford offensive lineman Ross Demmel. That is a bit problematic, as Demmel (who was an academic senior last season) is not on the Terriers’ 2018 roster.

The magazine’s preseason second team does feature a Wofford player who is expected to be on the field this year, however, in defensive lineman Miles Brown.

The preseason SoCon rankings, per Lindy’s:

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

Charleston Southern is the preseason #2 team in the Big South, while Towson is projected to finish 11th in the 12-team CAA.

South Carolina State is picked 5th in the MEAC.

Street & Smith’s FCS top 25 is similar to Lindy’s at the top, with North Dakota State and James Madison 1-2 in the rankings. South Dakota State is 3rd, followed by Kennesaw State and Jacksonville State.

Samford is ranked #10, Furman #17, and Wofford #21. Others of interest: Elon (9th), North Carolina A&T (15th), and Richmond (24th).

The magazine’s preseason All-America squad includes Samford’s Hodges and Gooden. No other SoCon players are named (and Street & Smith’s does not have a preseason second team).

As was the case last year, the SoCon preview was written by S&S assistant editor Will Long, who is based in Charlotte (and is a graduate of Clemson). The rankings:

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

Charleston Southern is projected to finish third in the Big South (behind Kennesaw State and Monmouth). Towson is picked 8th in the CAA.

S&S is not bullish on South Carolina State, with Buddy Pough’s charges ranked 9th in the 10-team MEAC.

Disappointingly, Athlon does not have an FCS conference preview section. The magazine does have a Top 25 preview written by Craig Haley of STATS FCS Football. The top 5, per Haley: North Dakota State, James Madison, New Hampshire, South Dakota State, and Kennesaw State.

Samford is 12th in this poll, with Wofford 16th. Those two teams are the only SoCon teams projected to make the FCS playoffs.

(It should be noted that the Terriers are not listed as a potential qualifier in the Athlon magazine currently on the shelf of your local bookstore. Wofford and Youngstown State were left off the page by mistake, but subsequently included in an online summary).

Also ranked: Elon (#10) and North Carolina A&T (#20). Monmouth, everyone’s favorite traditional Big South school, is included in an “others to watch” category.

Athlon‘s preseason All-America team includes Ahmad Gooden, but not his teammate Devlin Hodges; the squad’s quarterback is Eastern Washington’s Gage Gubrud.

Wofford’s Miles Brown is on the team, as is Western Carolina punter Ian Berryman. The magazine does not have a preseason All-America second team.

Okay, let’s talk about the Massey Ratings…

For the last few years, 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.

Massey rates every single college football team — not just FBS and FCS squads, but D-2, D-3, NAIA, junior colleges, even Canadian and Mexican schools. This season, there are preseason ratings for 957 colleges and universities, from Alabama (#1) to Minnesota State Community & Technical College (#957).

This year, The Citadel is #218 overall in the preseason ratings. As a comparison, the Bulldogs were the preseason #130 team last year, #113 in the 2016 preseason, and #174 in the 2015 preseason.

The teams on The Citadel’s 2018 schedule are rated as follows (with the chances of a Bulldogs victory in parenthesis):

  • at Wofford – #162 (21%)
  • Chattanooga – #217 (56%)
  • Charleston Southern – #214 (56%)
  • at Mercer – #174 (29%)
  • at Towson – #178 (28%)
  • East Tennessee State – #264 (72%)
  • at VMI – #403 (92%)
  • Furman – #158 (28%)
  • at Western Carolina – #185 (35%)
  • Samford – #148 (27%)
  • Alabama – #1 (0%)

On the site, The Citadel’s matchups with ETSU and WCU are not listed for some reason. I used the Massey simulator to derive projected win percentages for those two games.

There are simulations for any possible matchup. Feel free to waste a few hours playing with them.

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

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

Massey’s FCS-only ratings for select schools:

  • North Dakota State – 1
  • James Madison – 2
  • South Dakota State – 3
  • Weber State – 4
  • Western Illinois – 5
  • Northern Iowa – 6
  • Youngstown State – 7
  • Southern Utah – 8
  • South Dakota – 9
  • Eastern Washington – 10
  • Richmond – 13
  • Delaware – 15
  • Kennesaw State – 19
  • Samford – 25
  • Yale – 27
  • Furman – 30
  • Wofford – 32
  • Elon – 34
  • Mercer – 37
  • Colgate – 38
  • North Carolina A&T – 39
  • Towson – 41
  • Western Carolina – 44
  • William and Mary – 50
  • Charleston Southern – 57
  • Chattanooga – 60
  • The Citadel – 61
  • Harvard – 64
  • Lehigh – 65
  • East Tennessee State – 81
  • Gardner-Webb – 86
  • Presbyterian – 93
  • South Carolina State – 95
  • Campbell – 110
  • VMI – 113
  • Georgetown – 115
  • Davidson – 124
  • Mississippi Valley State – 125

Massey is clearly a big fan of the Missouri Valley Football Conference (six teams in the top 10). Mississippi Valley State is the lowest-rated FCS squad.

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

  • Alabama – 1
  • Georgia – 2
  • Clemson – 3
  • Oklahoma – 4
  • Ohio State – 5
  • Penn State – 6
  • Wisconsin – 7
  • Auburn – 8
  • Notre Dame – 9
  • Oklahoma State – 10
  • TCU – 11
  • UCF – 12
  • North Carolina State – 16
  • Miami (FL) – 17
  • Michigan – 19
  • Mississippi State – 20
  • Virginia Tech – 21
  • Florida State – 25
  • Southern California – 27
  • Wake Forest – 28
  • Georgia Tech – 32
  • South Carolina – 33
  • North Dakota State – 34 (highest-rated FCS team)
  • Duke – 35
  • Texas A&M – 39
  • James Madison – 45
  • Missouri – 49
  • Florida – 50
  • Navy – 53
  • Florida Atlantic – 57
  • North Carolina – 59
  • Maryland – 60
  • Army – 67
  • Appalachian State – 68
  • UCLA – 69
  • Tennessee – 75
  • Weber State – 80
  • Western Illinois – 81
  • Rutgers – 87
  • Air Force – 96
  • BYU – 97
  • Western Ontario – 111 (highest-rated Canadian team)
  • Southern Mississippi – 112
  • Connecticut – 118
  • Northwest Missouri State – 131 (highest-rated D-2 team)
  • Fullerton College – 150 (highest-rated junior college team)
  • Coastal Carolina – 156
  • Georgia Southern – 159
  • San Jose State – 173
  • Texas State – 180
  • Mt. Union – 200 (highest-rated D-3 team)
  • St. Francis (IN) – 245 (highest-rated NAIA team)
  • North Greenville – 297
  • UDLA Puebla – 359 (highest-rated Mexican team)
  • Newberry – 360
  • Lenoir-Rhyne – 416
  • Limestone – 445

Football season is getting closer. Trust me, it is…

Watching a Watch List (from the CFPA), and some early FCS preseason polls

It’s mid-June, and we’re getting closer to actual gridiron activity. There have already been a few national preseason polls released, and a series of watch lists. I decided to take a quick look at a few of them, starting with the CFPA watch lists.

Two or three years ago, the College Football Performance Awards started to get cited by athletic media relations departments on a regular basis. This is when I first began to wonder if anybody with a pulse could come up with preseason and postseason awards and have them publicized by desperate sports information directors. Of course, the folks behind the CFPA would argue they aren’t just anybody:

The goal of College Football Performance Awards is to provide the most scientifically rigorous conferments in college football. Recipients are selected exclusively based upon objective scientific rankings of the extent to which individual players increase the overall effectiveness of their teams.

As prominent scholars from a wide variety of disciplines note, CFPA eliminates the politics and biases that vitiate balloting-based awards. Furthermore, CFPA has received praise from both Republican and Democratic White House officials for promoting objectivity and fairness in college football.

Well then.

Dennis Dodd of CBS Sports wrote about the CFPA three years ago:

Just what the world needs, more college football awards, right? It has gotten a bit silly. Every position and coach is honored to the point that, well, didn’t some group or another just announce the Petrino Award, for the coach most likely to rent?

Anyway, I clicked on the site just for giggles. Something caught my eye…

…The consultants on this project include noted economist Andrew Zimbalist…

…Former Davidson and USC kicker Brad Smith put the CFPA together.

That’s right. An ex-Davidson placekicker is responsible for the CFPA, which has an “academic review” panel that includes, well, academics. The undergraduate degrees received by members of this group include Davidson, Carleton, Kansas, Columbia, and St. Mary’s College. Very few pigskins have been bruised in recent years at any of those schools.

To be honest, at times when I was wandering through the CFPA website (which needs updating in a major way), the thought occurred to me that the whole enterprise was a giant put-on. I don’t think it is (Andrew Zimbalist isn’t going to lend his name to a joke), but it does not inspire a great deal of confidence.

I noticed that a lot of releases from various schools trumpeting one of their players being selected to a watch list included this phrase (or something very similar):

All CFPA recipients are selected exclusively based upon objective scientific rankings of the extent to which individual players increase the overall effectiveness of their teams.

That’s nice, but what exactly is the process that leads to “objective scientific rankings”? Where is the statistical summary? I couldn’t find any nuts-and-bolts description of the CFPA “methodology”, which I found disappointing (no, the overview on page 2 of its Methodology page doesn’t cut it; besides, the page itself hasn’t been updated since 2008).

Last season, CFPA named Harvard quarterback Colton Chapple its QB of the year and its National Performer of the Year. Chapple led a Crimson squad that set multiple offensive records in the Ivy League. He certainly had an outstanding season, but was it really good enough for a player of the year honor at the FCS level? It’s not like the Ivy is considered to be among the better FCS conferences, and Harvard didn’t even win the league — Penn did.

The CFPA claims to control for strength of schedule. Without more information, it’s hard to know it that is actually true.

Also, someone needs to inform the CFPA that the commissioner of the Southern Conference is John Iamarino.

At any rate, let’s take a quick look at the CFPA watch lists, at least from the perspective of The Citadel. A watch list isn’t really scientific — it’s strictly a promotional vehicle — but that’s okay. It gives people something to read during the summer, after all.

FCS Offensive Awards Watch List

– Ben Dupree is on the list of quarterbacks. Also on the list of note: Jamal Londry-Jackson (Appalachian State), Jacob Huesman (Chattanooga), Jerick McKinnon (Georgia Southern), Andy Summerlin (Samford), and Taylor Heinicke (Old Dominion). The Citadel will face a number of quality QBs this season (including Clemson’s Tajh Boyd).

– Darien Robinson is one of three SoCon players on the running backs list, joining Dominique Swope (Georgia Southern) and Fabian Truss (Samford). Tyree Lee (Old Dominion) is also on the list.

– There are no Bulldogs among the “watch list” wide receivers and tight ends, but plenty of The Citadel’s opponents are represented, including Sean Price and Andrew Peacock (Appalachian State), Kierre Brown (Elon), Larry Pinkard (Old Dominion), Kelsey Pope and Zeke Walters (Samford), and Mario Thompson (VMI).

FCS Defensive Line/Linebackers Watch List

– Derek Douglas and Carl Robinson of The Citadel are both on the watch list at their respective positions. Also on the list from the defensive side of the ball: Derrick Lott, Davis Tull, Wes Dothard, D.J. Key, and Kadeem Wise (Chattanooga), Javon Mention (Georgia Southern), Caleb Taylor (Old Dominion), Jaquiski Tartt (Samford), and Alvin Scioneaux (Wofford).

Chattanooga will undoubtedly be championing the CFPA watch list until at least the start of the season.

Several preseason magazines are already out with their predictions and polls. Here are three of them.

Sporting News Top 25

1. North Dakota State
2. Georgia Southern
3. Montana State
4. Eastern Washington
5. Appalachian State
6. Sam Houston State
7. Villanova
8. South Dakota State
9. Illinois State
10. Old Dominion
11. Central Arkansas
12. Northern Iowa
13. Towson
14. Montana
15. Richmond
16. Arkansas-Pine Bluff
17. Northern Arizona
18. Stony Brook
19. Eastern Illinois
20. Chattanooga
21. Cal Poly
22. New Hampshire
23. Colgate
24. Sacramento State
25. Bethune-Cookman

Its preseason All-American list includes Taylor Heinicke of Old Dominion at QB, Georgia Southern’s Garrett Frye and Furman’s Dakota Dozier along the offensive line, and wide receiver Sean Price of Appalachian State. Davis Tull of Chattanooga (DL) and Jaquiski Tartt of Samford (DB) are on the first-team defense.

Predicted SoCon standings:

1. Georgia Southern
2. Appalachian State
3. Chattanooga
4. Wofford
5. The Citadel
6. Samford
7. Furman
8. Elon
9. Western Carolina

Athlon Sports Top 25

Athlon has five SoCon schools in the Top 25, including The Citadel at #25. About the Bulldogs, the magazine says:

A rare sweep of Appalachian State and Georgia Southern last season could be a prelude for an even better 2013. The Bulldogs’ triple option returns quarterbacks Ben Dupree and Aaron Miller, 1,000-yard fullback Darien Robinson and a veteran offensive line.

Athlon’s first-team All-Americans include App’s Price, Chattanooga’s Tull, and Samford’s Tartt, who was one of two Samford players named (Fabian Truss made the squad as a kick returner).

The magazine projects Chattanooga and Wofford will make the playoffs out of the SoCon.

Lindy’s Top 25

1. North Dakota State
2. Georgia Southern
3. Montana State
4. South Dakota State
5. Wofford
6. Eastern Washington
7. Central Arkansas
8. Towson
9. Villanova
10. Sam Houston State
11. New Hampshire
12. Appalachian State
13. Northern Iowa
14. Stony Brook
15. Coastal Carolina
16. Northern Arizona
17. Bethune-Cookman
18. Eastern Illinois
19. Youngstown State
20. Chattanooga
21. Richmond
22. Illinois State
23. Montana
24. Wagner
25. Tennessee State

Lindy’s first-team All-Americans include Tull, Dozier, Dothard, Tartt, and Truss (again as a kick returner). It also has a preseason second-team AA roster; Price and Frye are on that team.

The magazine also makes an excellent point about the expanded 24-team FCS playoff. There will be no Ivy League or SWAC teams participating in the playoffs, and Appalachian State, Georgia Southern, and Old Dominion are all ineligible for postseason competition.

If you assume that the Pioneer League champion will be the only team from that league to receive a bid (which is likely), then essentially there are 91 schools competing for 23 spots in the playoff. Those aren’t bad odds.

Something to think about as the season draws closer…