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…

2017 preseason rankings and ratings, featuring The Citadel (and the rest of the SoCon)

Previous posts on The Citadel’s upcoming football campaign:

Inside the numbers: run/pass tendencies, 4th-down decision-making, and more (including coin-toss data!)

A look at “advanced stats” from The Citadel’s most recent SoCon season

The Citadel’s fans aren’t afraid to travel

I think it’s time to take a gander at some preseason rankings and ratings. After all, what’s the purpose of even having a month of July otherwise?

First up, some rankings…

This year, the Street & Smith’s college football annual returns, after several years of being usurped by the byline of The Sporting News (which had been acquired by the same company that owned Street & Smith’s about a decade ago). Now, the magazine is going by the Street & Smith’s name again, a return to a tradition that began in 1940.

On a personal level, I was pleased to see this. For years, it was a somewhat of a tradition for my father to buy the Street & Smith’s annual in July (usually after we made a trip to the barber shop). I would voraciously read the magazine cover-to-cover, even the section on the “Little Three” (yes, back in the day S&S would routinely have a page dedicated to the preseason prospects for Amherst, Williams, and Wesleyan).

Anyway, the SoCon preview for this year’s annual was written by S&S assistant editor Will Long (who also wrote the FCS preview article in the magazine). Long is a resident of Charlotte who graduated from Clemson, so presumably he has some familiarity with the conference.

Long wrote that the SoCon “is as wide-open as it has been in recent memory.” His preseason predictions:

1 – Wofford (#9 in the S&S preseason Top 25 of the FCS)
2 – The Citadel (#12)
3 – Chattanooga (#18)
4 – Samford (#20)
5 – Mercer
6 – Furman
7 – Western Carolina
8 – East Tennessee State
9 – VMI

Sam Houston State is the magazine’s #1 team in its preseason top 25, followed by North Dakota State and defending FCS champion James Madison. Big South favorite Charleston Southern is #13, while MEAC standard-bearer North Carolina Central is #22.

The preseason FCS All-America team for Street & Smith’s includes Wofford defensive lineman Tyler Vaughn, South Carolina State linebacker Darius Leonard, and Western Carolina running back Detrez Newsome (on the team as a return specialist).

Other preseason magazines tend not to have specific previews for FCS conferences, but stick to national previews and Top 25 rankings.

Athlon ranks The Citadel #25 in its preseason list. North Dakota State is #1 in its rankings, ahead of James Madison, South Dakota State, and Sam Houston State. Wofford is ranked #10, Chattanooga #15, and Samford #18.

Wofford is projected to win the SoCon, with Chattanooga and Samford receiving at-large bids to the FCS playoffs. Based on the rankings, The Citadel is one of the “last two teams out” for making the playoffs, according to Athlon. 

Incidentally, the magazine’s online site posted an article that mentions Wofford as a “dark horse” candidate to win the national title.

The annual’s preseason FCS All-America team includes Charleston Southern defensive lineman Anthony Ellis, South Carolina State linebacker Darius Leonard, Western Carolina punter Ian Berryman, and two North Carolina A&T players — offensive lineman Brandon Parker and punt returner Khris Gardin.

Lindy’s ranks James Madison #1 in its FCS preseason poll. The rest of its top 5: North Dakota State, Sam Houston State, Jacksonville State, and Eastern Washington. Wofford is ranked #10, Chattanooga #11, The Citadel #18, and Samford #22. Other teams of note include Richmond (#9 here, and in the top 10 of all three rankings for the magazines mentioned in this post), Charleston Southern (#12), and Kennesaw State (#25).

The Lindy’s preseason first team All-America squad for the FCS includes Charleston Southern defensive lineman Anthony Ellis and teammate Solomon Brown (a linebacker), South Carolina State’s Darius Leonard (who may have the most preseason accolades of any FCS player in the Palmetto State), and Western Carolina’s Ian Berryman at punter.

Lindy’s also has a preseason second team, and that features Chattanooga offensive lineman Jacob Revis, Western Carolina return specialist Detrez Newsome, and The Citadel’s Kailik Williams (listed as a safety).

For a couple of years now, I’ve been incorporating the Massey Ratings into my weekly game previews. For those not entirely familiar with this ratings system, a quick explanation:

Kenneth Massey (complete with bow tie) is an assistant professor of Mathematics at Carson-Newman University. His college football ratings system was used (with several others) for fifteen years by the BCS, the predecessor to the CFP. Massey has ratings for a wide variety of sports, but the lion’s share of the attention surrounding his work has been focused on college football.

Massey’s bio on the school website notes that he is “likely the most famous of C-N’s faculty” as a result of his ratings systems.

From the ratings 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 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.

That lack of data won’t stop us from discussing the rankings, though!

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 959 colleges and universities (Zorros ITQ, the football team at the Technological Institute at Querétaro, is the preseason #959 squad).

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

The teams on The Citadel’s 2017 schedule are rated as follows (with the chances of a Bulldogs victory in parenthesis):

  • Newberry – #341 (98%)
  • Presbyterian – #296 (96%)
  • East Tennessee State – #279 (92%)
  • Samford – #143 (50%)
  • Mercer – #178 (74%)
  • Wofford – #110 (43%)
  • Chattanooga – #117 (36%)
  • VMI – #228 (87%)
  • Western Carolina – #208 (83%)
  • Furman – #169 (62%)
  • Clemson – #2 (0%)

The Citadel is favored in 7 of 11 matchups, with one tossup.

Don’t worry about that 0% number for the Clemson game, though. When I began simulating the game, on just my fourth try The Citadel beat the Tigers 31-20. Never bet against the Bulldogs.

There are matchup simulations for each game. Feel free to waste a few minutes of your time toying around with them.

Based on the ratings, here are the projected overall season records for The Citadel’s Division I opponents (there aren’t simulations for teams below D-1, so Newberry is not listed):

  • Presbyterian (2-9)
  • East Tennessee State (2-9)
  • Samford (7-3, not including a tossup game versus The Citadel)
  • Mercer (4-7)
  • Wofford (10-1)
  • Chattanooga (8-3)
  • VMI (3-7, not including a tossup game against Western Carolina)
  • Western Carolina (2-9, not including a tossup game versus VMI)
  • Furman (5-6)
  • Clemson (12-0)

Note: Western Carolina plays 12 regular-season games this season, because it opens at Hawai’i.

Let’s look at the FCS-only ratings for a list of select schools:

  • North Dakota State – 1
  • James Madison – 2
  • Eastern Washington – 3
  • Youngstown State – 4
  • South Dakota State – 5
  • Northern Iowa – 6
  • Jacksonville State – 7
  • Wofford – 8
  • Chattanooga – 9
  • Sam Houston State – 10
  • Charleston Southern – 11
  • Villanova – 12
  • Illinois State – 13
  • Central Arkansas – 14
  • Richmond – 15
  • The Citadel – 16
  • South Dakota – 17
  • Western Illinois – 18
  • New Hampshire – 19
  • Samford – 20
  • Lehigh – 26
  • Cal Poly – 28
  • Princeton – 30
  • Furman – 32
  • William and Mary – 33
  • San Diego – 34
  • Liberty – 35 (ranked here despite it being a “transition” year for LU)
  • Colgate – 36
  • Mercer – 38
  • Stony Brook – 41
  • Delaware – 45
  • Fordham – 47
  • Kennesaw State – 50
  • Gardner-Webb – 52
  • Towson – 54
  • Grambling State – 58
  • Western Carolina – 59
  • Harvard – 61
  • VMI – 64
  • Dartmouth – 67
  • North Carolina A&T – 70
  • Monmouth – 71
  • Yale – 77
  • Holy Cross – 78
  • Elon – 79
  • North Carolina Central – 80
  • East Tennessee State – 90
  • Presbyterian – 94
  • South Carolina State – 96
  • Campbell – 110
  • Delaware State – 121
  • Davidson – 122
  • Mississippi Valley State – 123
  • Arkansas-Pine Bluff – 124 (of 124 FCS teams)

North Dakota State is the preseason #1-rated FCS school, as it was last year. NDSU checks in at #58 overall. Other schools on the “overall list” that may be of interest:

  • Alabama – 1
  • Clemson – 2
  • LSU – 3
  • Florida State – 4
  • Oklahoma – 5
  • Michigan – 6
  • Washington – 7
  • Ohio State – 8
  • Miami (FL) – 9
  • Southern California – 10
  • Florida – 14
  • Virginia Tech – 15
  • North Carolina – 16
  • Louisville – 19
  • Tennessee – 20
  • North Carolina State – 23
  • Georgia Tech – 24
  • Notre Dame – 30
  • Georgia – 34
  • Appalachian State – 40
  • Northwest Missouri State – 46 (highest-rated Division II team, and I can’t believe it either)
  • Texas – 49
  • Wake Forest – 53
  • Vanderbilt – 59
  • Duke – 61
  • James Madison – 62
  • UCLA – 64
  • Kentucky – 65
  • Navy – 66
  • Air Force – 73
  • South Carolina – 74
  • Maryland – 78
  • Missouri – 81
  • Virginia – 83
  • New Mexico – 92
  • Georgia Southern – 93
  • Army – 99
  • Kansas – 104
  • Wofford – 110
  • Rutgers – 113
  • East Carolina – 115
  • Chattanooga – 117
  • Charleston Southern – 120
  • Coastal Carolina – 125
  • Massachusetts – 131
  • Ferris State – 136 (rated second-highest in Division II)
  • Marshall – 148
  • Charlotte – 152
  • Laval – 156 (highest-rated Canadian team)
  • Buffalo – 164
  • Texas State – 190
  • Butte College – 197 (highest-rated junior college team)
  • Trinity (CT) – 270 (highest-rated Division III team)
  • St. Francis (IN) – 280 (highest-rated NAIA team)
  • UAB – 285
  • North Greenville – 305
  • UDLA Puebla – 465 (highest-rated Mexican team)

Less than two months until actual official pigskin activity…