Writers of Pro Football Prospectus 2008

25 Nov 2011

Varsity Numbers: Our Future World

by Bill Connelly

Conference realignment has left us in an interesting place, considering future changes while engulfed in the present tense of the 2011 season. Texas A&M and Texas still battled last night as conference rivals, Missouri and Kansas still face off tomorrow, the Backyard Brawl between West Virginia and Pittsburgh is still taking place, and we're still getting used to recent shifts in Big Ten and Pac-12 alignment. But with larger changes on the horizon, the best way to imagine how things will change in the future is to see how they would be affecting the present. Using F/+ ratings as our guide, let's look at how the 2011 season may have played out with future BCS conference shifts in place.

Big 12

Future Changes: Missouri and Texas A&M leave, West Virginia and TCU take their place.

Maintaining the current schedules and replacing Missouri with West Virginia and Texas A&M with TCU, we get the following:

  • West Virginia goes 3-6 in the Big 12, beating Kansas, Texas Tech and Iowa State.
  • Replacing their narrow road loss to Baylor with a home game (since that is what A&M had), TCU potentially goes 7-2, losing at Oklahoma and to Oklahoma State at home and taking out everybody else. One could probably assume a narrow loss at Kansas State, too, even though the F/+ ratings disagree.

So the current Big 12 standings would resemble something like this:

1. Oklahoma State (7-1)
2. Kansas State (6-2)
3. Oklahoma (5-2)
4. TCU (6-3)
5. Baylor (4-3)
6. Texas (4-4)
7. Iowa State (3-4)
8. West Virginia (3-6)
9. Texas Tech (2-6)
10. Kansas (0-9)

West Virginia's potentially poor finish despite an F/+ ranking of 41st gives us an idea of just how strong the Big 12 has been this year. The SEC may have the top three teams in the current BCS standings, but from top to bottom it is hard to beat the product the Big 12 has put on the field in 2011.

SEC

Future Changes: Missouri joins the SEC East, Texas A&M joins the SEC West.

We will give the newcomers the following semi-random schedules:

  • Missouri: at Kentucky, at Vanderbilt, at Georgia, at Texas A&M, Florida, South Carolina, Tennessee, Auburn.
  • Texas A&M: at LSU, at Ole Miss, at South Carolina, vs. Arkansas (in Dallas), Alabama, Mississippi State, Auburn.

Using the result of the actual Missouri-A&M game in College Station, Missouri is projected to beat everybody but Georgia. Home-road status could flip the result of the Georgia, Florida and South Carolina games, but in general Missouri could have expected to finish between 5-3 and 7-1 depending on who had homefield and who they drew from the SEC West.

Texas A&M, on the other hand, doesn't have it so easy. They are projected to take out both Mississippi schools, Auburn, and South Carolina (though as we know, there is a solid chance they would have blown the Auburn and South Carolina games) and get thumped by Alabama and LSU. Using the real Arkansas and Missouri results (both losses), then, they would be looking at something between 4-4 and 2-6. Life is quite a bit tougher in the West than the East right now.

If the SEC really does choose to stay at eight conference games, then Missouri's eight-game slate in the SEC East is really a bit easier than this year's nine-game Big 12 slate that featured road games at Oklahoma, Kansas State, Baylor and Texas A&M. Next year, it is quite possible that Georgia, Florida, South Carolina, Tennessee and Vanderbilt will all be improved, however, and if Mizzou's star running back Henry Josey is not yet healthy, then 2012 could be more difficult than a hypothetical 2011 would have been.

ACC

Future Changes: Syracuse and Pittsburgh will join at some point.

We do not yet know how new ACC divisions will take shape with two more northern teams joining the fray. Personally, I would like the conference to take this opportunity to move to more easy-to-remember, geographically-based divisions, but we'll see. A North Division could pretty easily consist of Pittsburgh, Syracuse, Boston College, Maryland, Virginia, Virginia Tech and a random North Carolina school (Wake Forest?), which means the South Division would consist of Clemson, Duke, Florida State, Georgia Tech, Miami, North Carolina and N.C. State. Competitively-speaking that isn't bad, especially compared to the current, Coastal-heavy alignment.

Anyway, here is a list of the F/+ rankings of the ACC teams, with Pitt and Syracuse included. This gives us an idea of the conference hierarchy, even if Florida State has very much failed to live up to their top-10 status in the loss column, while Clemson has overachieved a bit.

8. Florida State (Current Division: Atlantic)
15. Virginia Tech (Coastal)
24. Miami (Coastal)
25. Georgia Tech (Coastal)
30. Clemson (Atlantic)
37. North Carolina (Coastal)
39. Pittsburgh
44. Virginia (Coastal)
51. Wake Forest (Atlantic)
63. N.C. State (Atlantic)
66. Syracuse
69. Duke (Coastal)
71. Boston College (Atlantic)
92. Maryland (Atlantic)

Big East

Future Changes: West Virginia leaves for the Big 12 in 2012 (probably), while Pittsburgh and Syracuse leave for the ACC at some point in the coming years. Meanwhile, some combination of Boise State, Air Force, Navy, Central Florida, SMU and Houston will join the fray, along with possibly San Diego State. Yes, San Diego State.

Evidently BYU is out of the picture for Big East football membership due to their insistence on, among other things, retaining TV rights to their home games (which is something the Big 12 doesn't even give Texas). But seemingly every other decent non-BCS team remains a candidate for football membership, so we're going to take the macro view of this and list all definite and potential Big East members by F/+ ranking (with potential members in bold):

3. Boise State
21. Houston
22. Rutgers
31. South Florida
34. Cincinnati
52. Louisville
61. Central Florida
62. SMU
68. San Diego State
70. Connecticut
84. Navy
89. Air Force

The addition of Boise State and Houston would actually give the conference three top-25 teams (this year, at least) and potentially maintain a view of the Big East as a semi-viable BCS conference. Moving forward, however, it is going to be a battle to maintain that status, though the rules for what it takes to actually lose BCS status once you have it are unclear.

In all, most of these moves will have a larger impact on television sets and revenue than they do conference titles. TCU has been solid enough in recent years to potentially steal a Big 12 title (and West Virginia may have done the same in the 2006-07 window), Missouri could emerge as an occasional SEC East contender (for as long as Florida is mediocre, anyway), and Boise State might finally end up in a BCS conference, but for the most part, this year's champions in the present tense would be the champions in a reshuffled BCS lineup as well.

This Week on SB Nation

Notre Dame-Stanford and Iron Bowl previews and a Heisman column are still on the way today and tomorrow.

F/+ Rankings

The full list is here, along with the full S&P+, FEI, Off. S&P+ and Def. S&P+ rankings.

F/+ Rk Team Record F/+ Rk Chg Off
F/+
Rk Def
F/+
Rk Spec.
Tms
F/+
Rk
1 LSU 11-0 36.1% 1 0 13.4% 3 19.3% 1 3.4% 5
2 Alabama 10-1 31.3% 2 0 12.5% 8 18.9% 2 -0.1% 67
3 Boise State 9-1 26.5% 5 2 13.0% 5 9.7% 7 3.8% 2
4 Oklahoma State 10-1 25.0% 3 -1 12.2% 11 10.5% 5 2.4% 15
5 Oregon 9-2 24.0% 4 -1 12.8% 6 9.7% 8 1.6% 20
6 Wisconsin 9-2 22.8% 7 1 17.6% 1 5.1% 25 0.1% 60
7 Oklahoma 8-2 20.8% 6 -1 12.3% 10 8.2% 13 0.3% 51
8 Florida State 7-4 19.4% 8 0 6.2% 31 9.1% 10 4.1% 1
9 Notre Dame 8-3 18.0% 9 0 10.0% 17 6.7% 19 1.2% 28
10 Michigan State 9-2 17.9% 10 0 5.9% 33 9.1% 11 2.9% 7
11 Arkansas 10-1 17.3% 12 1 11.8% 13 3.0% 38 2.5% 10
12 Michigan 9-2 16.7% 16 4 10.1% 16 6.8% 18 -0.2% 71
13 Stanford 10-1 16.6% 11 -2 12.7% 7 3.2% 35 0.8% 38
14 USC 9-2 16.4% 15 1 12.5% 9 2.5% 45 1.3% 24
15 Virginia Tech 10-1 15.6% 14 -1 9.3% 19 6.8% 17 -0.5% 79
F/+ Rk Team Record F/+ Rk Chg Off
F/+
Rk Def
F/+
Rk Spec.
Tms
F/+
Rk
16 Texas A&M 6-5 13.9% 21 5 9.5% 18 3.9% 29 0.5% 47
17 TCU 9-2 13.4% 17 0 9.2% 21 2.9% 40 1.4% 23
18 Nebraska 8-3 12.8% 13 -5 6.8% 26 3.7% 30 2.4% 14
19 Penn State 9-2 12.7% 19 0 0.4% 59 12.2% 3 0.1% 62
20 Texas 6-4 12.7% 20 0 -1.0% 66 10.9% 4 2.8% 8
21 Houston 11-0 11.9% 23 2 13.2% 4 -2.7% 77 1.4% 22
22 Rutgers 8-3 11.9% 32 10 0.9% 54 7.3% 15 3.8% 3
23 Georgia 9-2 11.7% 18 -5 7.3% 24 5.2% 24 -0.8% 84
24 Miami 6-5 9.7% 26 2 11.9% 12 -3.5% 86 1.3% 25
25 Georgia Tech 8-3 9.7% 28 3 10.6% 14 0.6% 55 -1.6% 91

"What The...?" Team of the Week

In terms of ratings, Florida State, Notre Dame and Texas A&M have all either met or exceeded projected expectations this year. But performance on paper does not always translate to results, and the teams have combined for a 5-10 record in one-possession games (Notre Dame is 3-2, Florida State 1-3, Texas A&M 1-5 after last night's loss to Texas) that has held them back significantly. If they replayed the season from the start, all of these teams might make some noise the second time around, but between injuries, bad breaks, and poor late performance, the Seminoles and Aggies in particular just have not quite lived up to the standard their numbers have set.

Big Movers

Notable Rises

Iowa State (16 spots, from 91st to 75th). Oklahoma State's ratings barely moved, which suggests that Iowa State overachieved in their upset of the Cowboys more than OSU underachieved.

Baylor (13 spots, from 55th to 42nd). The same goes for Baylor, which played incredibly well on the offensive side of the ball in their first-ever win over the Sooners.

N.C. State (11 spots, from 74th to 63rd). The Wolfpack caught Clemson at the right time -- Clemson's star receiver Sammy Watkins was hurt, and the Tigers were perhaps playing with a hangover a week after clinching the Atlantic Division title -- but the numbers don't know that. All the numbers see is a team that destroyed a solid, if unspectacular, squad.

Rutgers (10 spots, from 32nd to 22nd). Rutgers also benefited from circumstance: Cincinnati was playing without injured quarterback Zach Collaros. Still, they looked fantastic on defense in beating the Bearcats 20-3 to potentially take control of the Big East.

Others: Temple (36th to 27th), Oregon State (86th to 78th), Kansas State (33rd to 26th).

Notable Tumbles

Southern Miss (12 spots, from 24th to 36th). You just cannot lose to UAB and remain a top-25 team. The Golden Eagles were smoking hot ... and now they're not.

Ole Miss (eight spots, from 78th to 86th). When you hand your opponent two defensive touchdowns in the first 20 minutes, and your opponent is kneeling the ball to avoid running the score up with over four minutes left, you are going to fall in the rankings.

Mississippi State (eight spots, from 45th to 53rd). The Bulldogs are still solid defensively, but the offense just hasn't figured anything out this year.

Clemson (eight spots, from 22nd to 30th). Again, Watkins' injury and a hangover game hurt. Still, this wasn't a top-10 team (as they were in the polls) even before Watkins' injury. They are a good team, but not a great one.

Others: UTEP (71st to 81st), South Carolina (35th to 43rd), Cincinnati (27th to 34th).

Upset Watch

Georgia Tech over Georgia (Spread: Georgia -6 | F/+ Projection: Ga. Tech by 1.5). It is hard to know what kind of effort to expect from the Yellow Jackets -- they have been all over the map in 2011 -- but it is probably worth noting that Georgia has won two of three against Paul Johnson's Tech teams, and Tech is at least partially benefiting from their high level of play long ago in September.

Wake Forest over Vanderbilt (Spread: Vandy -1.5 | F/+ Projection: Wake by 4.9). Wake is better than Vegas thinks, and Vandy is still a bit worse. This game is a tossup, but Vanderbilt has more to play for: a win would grant them bowl eligibility (Wake already has six wins).

Clemson over South Carolina (Spread: S. Carolina -4 | F/+ Projection: S. Carolina by 0.9). Watkins is back, and South Carolina's offense is still a mystery. Sounds like a tossup to me.

Tulsa over Houston (Spread: Houston -3.5 | F/+ Projection: Houston by 0.3). Houston has looked better and better in recent weeks, but they still have two interesting hurdles remaining in games versus Tulsa and, potentially, Southern Miss in the conference title game.

Favorite Moment of Last Weekend

It has to be this play, doesn't it? Baylor's crazy upset over Oklahoma was an incredibly fun way to end a fun week.

Posted by: Bill Connelly on 25 Nov 2011

5 comments, Last at 27 Nov 2011, 2:09pm by Jeff Fogle

Comments

1
by JonFrum :: Fri, 11/25/2011 - 7:36pm

I can't imagine why anyone would care about conferences any more, besides the effects of scheduling on BCS ratings. Outside of a few core franchises - and they are franchises, not schools - conferences have been shuffed so often that tradition is who you played last year. When I watch college football, I want to see the best teams matched up, not grandpa's pennants.

2
by Kal :: Fri, 11/25/2011 - 11:51pm

I care a lot about rivalries.

The Oregon-Washington game still means something to me. It still matters that Oregon's won 8 in a row as much as it matters that Washington voted to deny Oregon the Rose Bowl entry 50 years ago.

Perhaps that's because the Pac-12 hasn't really shuffled. Oregon's been playing Oregon State and Washington for so long it seems like it's forever - and in the case of the Civil War, it is forever. But it's not just those games - there's the history with Washington State, the history with Cal and Stanford, the history with USC and UCLA. Even Arizona and ASU have some amazing matchups and history.

I get the feeling; when Nebraska is in the Big-10, when Texas A&M is in the SEC and when gods know who are in the Big East and ACC those sorts of rivalries are confused and bizarre. But to me, it's still a big deal to win the Pac-12. It's still a big deal to go to the Rose and beat a Big-10 team.

3
by Jeff Fogle :: Sun, 11/27/2011 - 12:51am

Please tell us that Notre Dame is finally going to fall behind the USC team that outgained them 443-267, and the Stanford team that outgained them 457-303. Rushing edges were 219-41 and 224-51 respectively...which forced the Irish into higher risk stuff in the air...which led to a 6-2 turnover loss too. The team that beat BC by 2 and Pitt by 3...and lost to South Florida...just CAN'T be ahead of those Pac 10 powers who blew them off the point of attack. Heading into Stanford, there was a bug in the system the size of Mothra. Did Saturday Night's game exterminate it?

4
by wut (not verified) :: Sun, 11/27/2011 - 11:15am

There's not really a "bug" in the system. It's just that the interconnectedness of college football is so poor that rankings like this provide more information about how a team has played against it's schedule than how they really rate overall. If college teams played more games against common opponents, this would be less of an issue.

5
by Jeff Fogle :: Sun, 11/27/2011 - 2:09pm

I agree that interconnectedness is poor...but, who's more interconnected than Notre Dame?

3 games vs. the Big 10
3 games vs. the ACC
2 games vs. the Big East
2 games vs. the Pac 10
2 games vs. Air Force/Navy

Plus, it's possible for interconnectedness to be poor, AND for there to be a bug in the system that overrewards teams who's style dominates lesser opponents in ways that BC's system smiles on more than others. Air Force and Navy are having really down years by their past standards. Notre Dame blows and goes against lesser lights, but gets blown off the line of scrimmage by quality. In reality, there's more "quality" ahead of them than what BC's rankings show.

They've clearly very firmly established that they don't measure up to Stanford and USC at the point of attack...which would suggest Oregon by default too. How many SEC or Big 12 teams would they match up well against? Would you take them at pick-em vs. Virginia Tech given what happened vs. BC and Wake? Versus the Big East they lost to South Florida and beat Pitt by a field goal.

At their best they can play with the best of the Big 10...but point of attack issues vs. the best teams they've faced would suggest a "round robin" series against top 20 teams wouldn't put them in the top 10. They were more than 150 yards worse in rushing yardage and total yardage vs. Stanford and USC, and the need to move through the air creates a higher turnover likelihood. Something's getting over-rewarded within the methodology.

And, ND is pretty well connected Kevin Bacon-wise with many of the teams in their neighborhood. We can assume they'd have issues up front vs. SEC athletes if they had such glaring issues up front vs. USC and Stanford...