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Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Final College Football Rankings

Here are my "final" college football rankings. They are based (as last year) on the average of three different rankings: The final Associated Press (AP) College Poll, USA Today Coaches Poll, and the Sagarin Rankings. The first two are human polls; the third is based on a series of algorithms. Some are skeptical of the latter, but research has repeatedly demonstrated that algorithms are typically better predictors of future events than are we humans (see e.g., Chapter 21 of Daniel Kahneman's book, "Thinking, Fast and Slow"). Moreover, because it takes into account all of the season's games, it is less swayed by the results of the bowl games than are the human polls. A brief description of the three polls follow my rankings, as does a ranking of the top college conferences in 2013:


The AP Poll is compiled by polling 65 sportswriters and broadcasters from across the nation. Each voter provides his own ranking of the top 25 teams, and the individual rankings are then combined to produce the national ranking by giving a team 25 points for a first place vote, 24 for a second place vote, and so on down to 1 point for a twenty-fifth place vote (I used an identical method for averaging the three polls). Of the three, only the AP Poll was not taken into account in calculating the Bowl Championship Series (BCS) rankings. For several years it was, but after a series of controversies, the AP demanded that its poll no longer be used in the BCS rankings.

The USA Today Coaches' Poll is compiled by the USA Today Board of Coaches, which is made up of 59 head coaches at NCAA Division I Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) institutions. All coaches are members of the American Football Coaches Association (AFCA). The Coaches' Poll began ranking the top 20 teams during the 1950 season. It was initially published by United Press from 1950 thru 1990, followed by USA Today/CNN from 1991 thru 1996, USA Today/ESPN from 1997 to 2004, and USA Today from 2005 to the present. For the 1990-1991 football and basketball seasons, the poll expanded to ranking the top 25, and it has continued to do so ever since.

The Sagarin Rankings are the brainchild of Jeff Sagarin, who ratings of various sports teams and players have been a regular feature in the USA Today sports section since the 1985. His football rankings have been used by the BCS in determining its rankings since the BCS's inception in 1998. Sagarin calculates three different rankings, all of which take into account a team's schedule strength. One, "Pure ELO," uses only wins and losses with no reference to the victory margin. A second, "Predictor," takes the margin of victory into account but applies a law of diminishing returns. A team that wins a game 10-9 is rewarded less than a team that beats the same opponent 21-9, but a team that wins a game 35-0 receives similar ratings to a team that beats the same opponent 70-0. Sagarin notes that the "Predictor" is a better predictor of future games than "Pure ELO." Sagarin added a new ranking system this year, "Diminished Curve," which uses the ELO method but takes into account actual scores. This year Sagarin used a synthesis of the "Predictor" and "Diminished Curve" rankings to calculate his "final" rankings, but for my rankings I used his "Diminished Curve" rankings.

P. S. Sagarin also ranks the top conferences for the year. Here are the to 20 for 2013 (no real surprises here):
  1. SEC (WEST) 
  2. PAC-12 (NORTH) 
  3. PAC-12 (SOUTH) 
  4. SEC (EAST) 
  5. BIG 12 
  6. BIG TEN (LEGENDS) 
  7. ACC (COASTAL) 
  8. BIG TEN (LEADERS) 
  9. ACC (ATLANTIC) 
  10. AMERICAN ATHLETIC 
  11. MWC (WEST) 
  12. MWC (MOUNTAIN) 
  13. I-A INDEPENDENTS 
  14. CONFERENCE USA (WEST) 
  15. SUN BELT 
  16. MISSOURI VALLEY 
  17. MAC (WEST) 
  18. COLONIAL 
  19. CONFERENCE USA (EAST) 
  20. MAC (EAST)

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