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24 Jul 2011

A Resource-Centric Model for NCAA Football Success: Part I

Guest Column by Kevin Haynes

It’s impossible to follow college football without crafting narratives in your head that explain the sport’s on-field results. Tim Tebow gave an emotional speech and promised to work harder than anyone else, and that’s why his Florida Gators won the 2008 BCS title. Charlie Weis thought too highly of his own abilities, and that’s why Notre Dame struggled under his watch. Pete Carroll’s contagious optimism swept through USC like wildfire, and that’s why the Trojans were arguably the best team of the last ten years.

Yet no matter the season, no matter the decade, college football has a startling tendency to finish according to the same tired script: Ohio State finishes at or near the top of the Big Ten, Duke flounders in the ACC, and the national championship goes to (or at least through) the SEC. This isn’t to say the sport doesn’t have surprises, years where upstarts like Boise State run a Statue of Liberty play to catch the old guard napping. But for the most part, when Oklahoma and Florida State slip from prominence, they aren’t replaced by a New Mexico, Eastern Michigan, Temple or Baylor. Instead, the beneficiary is from within the elite cartel: teams like Nebraska, Penn State, Florida, Texas, and Alabama. The spread of national championships among teams in college football is so distinct that it follows what mathematicians refer to as a "power law distribution," meaning large values are rare and small values are common, and that the two extremes occur at a predictable and formulaic rate. Other examples of power law distributions can be found in the spread of World Series wins among Major League Baseball teams (there’s the Yankees, and then there’s everyone else), city sizes within countries and states (a small number of big cities, countless small towns and villages), blockbusters in Hollywood per year (a couple Avatars, numerous Hurt Lockers), and even the spread of individual wealth within societies (few rich people, lots of poor).

Final AP Rankings at 10-year intervals from 1969-2009
Ranking 1969 1979 1989 1999 2009
1 Texas Alabama Miami (FL) Florida State Alabama
2 Penn State USC Notre Dame Virginia Tech Texas
3 USC Oklahoma Florida State Nebraska Florida
4 Ohio State Ohio State Colorado Wisconsin Boise State
5 Notre Dame Houston Tennessee Michigan Ohio State
6 Missouri Florida State Auburn Kansas State TCU
7 Arkansas Pittsburgh Michigan Michigan State Iowa
8 Ole Miss Arkansas USC Alabama Cincinnati
9 Michigan Nebraska Alabama Tennessee Penn State
10 LSU Purdue Illinois Marshall Virginia Tech

The peculiar thing about these power law distributions, though, is that they’re typically formed not by choice, but by circumstance. The Yankees, for instance, are historically the best baseball team largely because they have the most money, but the Yankees only have the most money because they’re in the country’s largest market. New York is the country’s largest market for a few reasons, but mostly because it possesses a perfect natural harbor that to this day grants its inhabitants a competitive advantage over any city in the United States. Avatar squashed The Hurt Locker at the box office not because it’s necessarily a better movie, but because it possesses a matchless pedigree: a holiday release, top notch special effects (in 3D!), aliens, and the surefire brand of James Cameron.

With this distribution in mind, the question becomes: are games being won and lost because of the makeup of the competing players, or because of the makeup of the competing universities? Is there something unique to the sport’s competitive structure that makes Alabama inherently more likely to be a powerhouse than Iowa State? If so, this finding could force us to reexamine the way we think about the sport, and provide us a new way to evaluate and explain outcomes: one that doesn’t rely on tear-filled speeches and journalistic half-truths. If we get really lucky, we might even finally understand how Penn State, with an 84-year-old head coach who doesn’t wear a headset on the sideline, still manages to be competitive while Indiana can’t field a quality team no matter how many times the Hoosiers redesign their uniforms.

To determine whether this resource-centric assumption about outcomes in college football holds up under scrutiny, we turn to the statistical technique of multiple regression. Beginning with a "kitchen sink" model that includes as many variables as possible -- from the population and median income of each BCS conference school’s respective city to their average low temperatures in January to the tenure, age, and overall record of their head coach -- and then narrowing the list of predictors until we’re left with only the measures that remain influential and/or statistically significant. We wind up with a model that predicts, on average, the exact regular season records of over 20 percent of BCS teams from 2005 to 2010 essentially without error. In addition, 56 percent of its estimates are within one win of the actual totals, 81 percent of them are within two wins, and nearly 100 percent of them are within three wins.

Notable predictors at the year-to-year level include the number of wins a team had in its previous season, the number of returning starters it has on offense and defense (returning offensive starters matter almost twice as much as defensive starters), and, surprisingly enough, a team’s Academic Progress Rate score (teams that keep more players on track to graduate do, in fact, perform better on the field). It’s the significance of the factors that do not change from year to year, however, that begins to explain why the same group of teams consistently populate college football’s top ten. The model declares that the outcomes of college football games can overwhelmingly be attributed to three fundamental and relatively fixed factors: the academic standards held by the universities at-large, the amount of money they dedicate to their football programs, and the quality of high school talent found in the universities’ respective states.

What ultimately emerges when we combine the effects of these factors at the school level is a single quantitative measure that in many ways explains the disparate landscape of modern college football. The above figure shows how a handful of schools’ composite "starting positions" compare. With a distinct competitive advantage we see Ohio State and Alabama -- two extremely well-funded programs with softer academic standards located in states that typically produce a surplus of football talent. On the other end of the spectrum, we have Vanderbilt and Duke -- two cash-starved programs at academically demanding universities that also have the misfortune of being located in talent-poor states. Between these two extremes we see schools such as Wisconsin and USC, who have well-funded programs with strong traditions, but also at least one significant hurdle to overcome: Wisconsin is a fairly poor state to recruit in, and USC has extremely high academic standards. The values shown above indicate how many regular season games each of the selected teams should be expected to win if all the model’s fluid measures (number of returning starters, APR scores, etc.) were equal across the board. In other words, the competitive advantages inherent to Alabama (less-than-rigorous academic standards, an almost unmatched budget, and a talent-rich state) are so plentiful that the Crimson Tide should be expected to win roughly five more games than the Commodores even if a season rolls along where both teams have the same number of starters returning and their players are making the same progress toward earning their degrees.

Unfortunately for any nefarious plans to corner the sports betting market, predicting the result of an upcoming season with the accuracy we had from 2006-2010 is near impossible, as a number of the measures we’d like to use in the resource-centric model don’t become available until after that season ends. However, it’s also a lot of fun, so for the sake of argument we’ll use current 2011 data wherever possible to estimate the outcome of the 2011 campaign (number of starters returning on both sides of the ball, last season’s wins, etc.) and fill in the gaps with 2010 data wherever feasible (program budgets, academic standards, state talent levels). In places where we can’t feasibly fill the gap – such as APR scores and post-season Strength of Schedule indicators – we’ll just leave those measures out of the model entirely and cross our fingers that what’s left is robust enough to generate decent results. (Note that these predictions are not related to the forecasts in the new Football Outsiders College Football Almanac 2011.)

Phil Steele
2011 Ranking
Team Model's Win
1 Alabama 10.2
2 Oklahoma 9.3
3 Boise State N/A*
4 Oregon 9.4
5 Virginia Tech 8.2
6 Notre Dame 8.2
7 LSU 9.8
8 Texas A&M 9.1
9 Georgia 6.5
10 Florida State 8.7
*Because of data inefficiencies, non-BCS teams such as
Boise State and TCU were not yet applicable to the model.

For the purposes of comparison, we’ve posted the resource-centric model’s regular-season win predictions against noted college football guru Phil Steele’s top 10 teams for 2011. A quick glance at the results yields a number of similarities. Both Steele and the model agree that Alabama is primed to make a run at another national championship, but should face stiff competition for the SEC West from LSU. Oklahoma and Texas A&M (!) look like the front-runners in the Big 12, while Oregon could once again take advantage of USC’s sanctions to cruise to a third straight BCS bowl. Virginia Tech and Florida State seem destined to meet in the ACC Championship game, though it does not appear either will be a serious contender for the BCS title. The list and the system differ most over who should be the top team in the SEC East: the model holds that South Carolina (8.5 predicted wins) and Florida (7.1 predicted wins) are more likely to challenge for the SEC title, and that even Tennessee (6.6 predicted wins) should have a slight edge over the Bulldogs.

The other significant dissimilarity lies at the hands of Notre Dame. "I KNOW the Irish underachieve EVERY year," Steele writes in his 2011 College Football Preview about Notre Dame’s chances for the upcoming season, repeating an assertion that in college football has become as customary as Lee Corso donning mascot headgear and Nick Saban handing out grayshirts. According to the resource model (which hasn’t seen Rudy and isn’t familiar with the legends of George Gipp and Knute Rockne, much less Rocket Ismail and Lou Holtz), the Fighting Irish should have a relatively solid season, but a return to the Top 10 might still remain a couple wins out of reach. The model doesn’t yet understand how good of a coach Brian Kelly might be (we’ll show in part two of this piece that Notre Dame might have finally made the right hire), and it certainly can’t quantify the sort of leadership a player like Manti Te’o provides, but it does understand the fact that Notre Dame’s rigid academic standards and talent-poor home state of Indiana curse the program with a sizable competitive disadvantage that its strong budget and prominent reputation are not likely to overcome. No matter how well Kelly understands his X's and O's and Te’o inspires his defense.

Phil Steele's Notre Dame: Constantly Underachieving or Habitually Overrated?
Year Steele's Preseason Ranking Model's Win Projection Actual Wins
2006 No. 7 8.0 10
2007 No. 38 6.1 3
2008 No. 19 5.1 6
2009 No. 7 6.5 6
2010 No. 16 7.1 7
2011 No. 6 8.2 7

For this reason, continuing to classify the Irish as habitual "underachievers" in the way the media typically does may be nothing more than a harsh exaggeration of the power of the Notre Dame brand. Instead, it might be more appropriate to only view the Irish as "overachievers" in seasons in which they win 10 or 11 games, and as simply "achievers" in all the rest. Case in point: if Northwestern wins eight games for three straight years, we’d be inclined to consider a run like that for the Wildcats as an unmistakable success. If Notre Dame does the same, though, we’d probably hear discussion about whether the Irish should once again gut the program in an effort to return the esteemed Catholic university to the apex of college football. But are these two schools really that different?

In terms of past success, national reputation, and expectations: heck yeah they are. Northwestern, as a program, has never truly made a run at a national championship, isn’t discussed on ESPN unless they upset a traditional power, and has to be at least somewhat satisfied with seven or eight wins. Notre Dame, on the other hand, has the most national championships in the sport, is discussed on network TV ad nauseam, and in a typical season, feels disappointment if its football team doesn’t win at least 10 games.

Compare their modern-day resources and restrictions, though, and the two schools actually have a lot in common. Both are small, private universities that only accept top tier students. Both are located in talent-poor states (Illinois is actually stronger than Indiana), and while Notre Dame has a far superior budget, the gap is not so large as to make the two schools complete strangers. While we can and should still expect Notre Dame to experience 10-win seasons from time-to-time due to the strength of its brand, the idea that the Fighting Irish are merely taking a sabbatical from the top tier of college football is almost certainly mistaken. For whatever reason -- be it larger television contract for conference teams, increased academic standards, or some other element we don’t have time to investigate here -- it appears that that the best days of the Fighting Irish might very well be a thing of the past.

(Next week: a look at what this model might tell us about coaches over the last decade.)

Kevin Haynes is a statistician in Cincinnati, Ohio. He earned a B.A. in English and Creative Writing at Clemson University and has a M.A. in Applied Economics from the University of Cincinnati. A lifelong Michigan fan, Kevin has spent the last four years making excuses for what’s been happening on the field in Ann Arbor, and swears that this season he won’t get too excited if the Wolverines beat Notre Dame.

Football Outsiders is always accepting guest columns that have a unique perspective on either the NFL or college football. Send your ideas or samples to mailbag-at-footballoutsiders.com.

Posted by: Guest on 24 Jul 2011

27 comments, Last at 27 Jul 2011, 7:20pm by Aaron Schatz


by Ethan (not verified) :: Mon, 07/25/2011 - 7:15pm

I find it ironic that of all places a writer on the Football Outsiders website (that is apparently a statistician by training) is taking the "kitchen sink" model of regression analysis and doesn't think there might be some problems with the predictive value of the output...

by Anonymous24534 (not verified) :: Mon, 07/25/2011 - 7:28pm

Ethan - A "kitchen sink" model wasn't used; he began with that approach, and then wittled out the problematic variables. Read a bit closer next time.

by justanothersteve :: Mon, 07/25/2011 - 9:30pm

One reason Notre Dame used to do so well was the pipeline from the large Catholic boys schools in the Northeast and Midwest. These high schools were local football powers who recruited across public school boundaries, gave scholarships, and whose programs were well-funded by alumni and Catholic parents who only wanted the best for their kids. Its only competition for those students was Boston College. Today, many of those kids do not want a Catholic collegiate education even if they go to Catholic schools from 1st grade to graduation. The parents and alumni are more concerned with grades and a post-graduate future, not whether the local high school is a football power. Much of the sports money is also funneled into less expensive sports like basketball and soccer, plus girls' sports take a chunk of that money. Indiana was never a big football state. But before, Notre Dame could recruit nationally. While they still have a recruiting advantage over Indiana and Purdue, the gap has closed. Not slamming ND here. It's a fine school. But they're not perceived by students like they were even 20 years ago.

by sundown (not verified) :: Tue, 07/26/2011 - 12:24am

I think there is truth to what you say. I'm from a Catholic family going back generations and things have decidedly changed since my grandfather's time. There are fewer staunch Catholics who will reach deep to give to the Catholic high schools and a growing portion of students come from non-Catholic families looking for top-flight education. (Thus, they have no real pre-disposition to Notre Dame even if they are good enough to play Division I sports.)

And, they are victims to their own lack of recent success. Lou Holtz's national title took place before current recruits were even born. To these kids Notre Dame has been an occasional contender, but more down than up, for their entire lives. Seeing is believing and they've never seen Notre Dame do anything particularly memorable.

by Kevin Haynes (not verified) :: Mon, 07/25/2011 - 9:49pm

That's a really interesting point, Steve, and supports the idea that Notre Dame's advantage has sharply declined in recent years. They never were a "naturally" occurring power, so to speak, and so when that Catholic well dried up, so did that edge.

by Aaron Brook's Good Twin (not verified) :: Tue, 07/26/2011 - 12:28am

Notre Dame had natural advantages over Northwestern -- as the most prominent Catholic university in the nation, it had a national draw, which helped overcome its rural northern Indiana location. ND recruits Chicago better than NW does (and before that, Chicago recruited it better than NW did). That said, it's not that far from Chicago and no farther from the Ohio recruiting grounds than Michigan State. It also has a tendency to relax its academic and Catholic requirements for the football team, much like USC does.

The real outlier is Stanford, who wins despite the academic rep -- but they are in the middle of CA, and also have had some really horrid teams from time to time.

by Willsy :: Tue, 07/26/2011 - 12:17am

To support that point in Australia Catholic schools have provided the bulk of the Australian representative players for both Rugby League and Rugby Union for many years. Parents whose children have some talent aspire to send their children to a number of elite sporting schools who are keen to enroll catholic students who are good at sport. The fees are also lower at the catholic schools versus the protestant schools and since 1/3 of Australian kids attend catholic primary schools there is a long pipeline of kids flowing into the elite schools who then turn the select few into professional ready players.
I can easily imagine this scenario existing very strongly in the 50's to 80's as you can imagine a working class catholic family having such strong aspirations to send their boy to a catholic, elite academic and elite sporting institution for little to no cost.
I would look at some metrics such as religious orientation and the success of ND i.e. as people lost affiliation with Catholicism then the allure of the university diminished.
I also understand that ND is, as we say in Australia, in the middle of "Bu* F**k Idaho" and is less likely to be attractive as a college address than say 30 years ago which I can imagine does not help.

by dryheat :: Tue, 07/26/2011 - 2:42pm

Wow...I wish I knew someone from Idaho so I could tell him/her that even Australians, with perhaps more empty space than any other country, invoke Idaho when talking about the sticks.

by BH (not verified) :: Tue, 07/26/2011 - 2:18am

I'd be interested to know which variables were included, and which ones ended up having little or no relevance. Also, I'd be interested to see what the starting position graph looks like based strictly on the football budget. It seems like academically strong schools, such as USC and Michigan, have been highly successful. They seemingly spend substantially on the program. And schools in talent poor states, such as Nebraska, Tennessee, and Oklahoma, have also been successful. They also seemingly spend a lot on football. I guess my theory is just that money weighs much more heavily than any other factor, and that there are very few programs with big budgets who are unsuccessful, and very few programs with small budgets who are successful.

by Aaron Brooks' Good Twin (not verified) :: Tue, 07/26/2011 - 9:39am

Nebraska is a little unique. As little as Nebraska seems to have going for it, it is the only game in town, draws from a gigantic geographic area (the only competition between Denver and Columbia and Minneapolis and Kansas City is Iowa State, who has a terrible football reputation), and sits in the middle of a football-mad area. Nebraska has a small starting population, but has no competition for recruitment within Nebraska. Unlike a Northwestern, there is no Wisconsin, Illinois, or Notre Dame poaching its recruiting grounds. Even Tennessee has more competition. Oklahoma gets around its limitations by recruiting Texas heavily.

by panthersnbraves :: Tue, 07/26/2011 - 10:00am

Not to be a complete idiot, but what defines a "talent-poor" state? We live in NC and I want to know if we have to move in order for my son to get into a good school? Or should we stay here because the competition will be less?

Since he plays line, wouldn't the "Barbecue Rule" apply?

by sundown (not verified) :: Tue, 07/26/2011 - 12:04pm

What is your definition of a "good" school? US News has UNC as the fifth best public university in the entire country and NC State is at #52. And they have Duke rated on a par with the Ivy League schools. They may not have powerhouse football teams but your son's career will almost certainly be in something other than football. And if your son is so incredible you have realistic hopes he might be a pro someday, the big football schools will find him, no matter where you live. Talent poor means less overall talent there, not that the state gets totally ignored by recruiters.

by panthersnbraves :: Tue, 07/26/2011 - 4:52pm

If he can say "I played some college ball" and maybe pick up a partial scholarship, I'll be happy. I have no real delusions of him going Pro. Can't afford Duke, and if he goes to Carolina, I'll have to hose him down at the end of the driveway before he can come in the house, but even a D-II school is fine.

I'm really just curious about how "talent poor" was defined, but I guess it comes down to total population(?).

by VinnyMurphSully :: Tue, 07/26/2011 - 10:06am

I think the academic standards issue is misunderstood if not a little overblown. Each potential recruit may or may not meet a school's academic standards any more than any non-athlete would. The difficulty in recruiting, and in admissions as a whole, is balancing the number who fall short with those that exceed. Typically, the difficult decisions are made in the admissions process regarding the 'helmet sports' - football, hockey, lacrosse.

The area where this would tend to show itself is in overall roster talent. A school with high standards could admit a student (or students) with a poor academic profile but recruiting/admissions would have to work that much harder to counterbalance that admission. Vanderbilt and Duke may simply be less flexible when it comes to admitting football recruits who fall below their guidelines. Neither school seems to have trouble attracting basketball talent, but that may be due to a couple of coaches who have had success being granted greater flexibility. Of course, NCAA basketball rosters are far smaller and the effort required to 'balance' a class is proportionately less.

by Trust Doesn't Rust (not verified) :: Tue, 07/26/2011 - 2:35pm

Higher academic standards logically will give a school a smaller overall talent pool to chose from than a school with lower academic standards. Yes, there are ways that a school can get a borderline kid in, but again, what constitutes "borderline" for a school with higher standards is going to be more exclusive than "borderline" for the school with lower standards. Beyond this, the overall culture at a school with higher academic standards, particularly a private school, might not appeal to certain kids as much as your standard big state school. I suppose a high standard school with a good athletic rep like Stanford (and Duke for basketball) can work this to their advantage by getting relatively exclusive access to the group of good football players with decent grades and/or who come from upper middle class families.

by VinnyMurphSully :: Tue, 07/26/2011 - 3:06pm

Fair enough. I don't believe that admitting even 10-20 students per cohort who are even significantly below admissions averages really affects anything. You may be doing the kids a disservice in admitting them to a school where they can't do the work but people don't really seem to care about that at any level. I'm just saying that the 'high academic standards' are a convenient scapegoat if your school has the financial resources to compete.

by Kevin Haynes (not verified) :: Tue, 07/26/2011 - 10:11am

BH - You're pretty much right on when it comes to the influence of cash in college football. From how I interpret the coefficients in the model, it's pretty much impossible to win without a sizable amount of money at your disposal. But I will say two things about this: first, I believe there's a point for every school where additional dollars won't buy additional wins (diminishing returns, if you will). For instance, if Washington State suddenly bumped its program budget to 40 million, we might see the Cougars qualifying for bowl games on a consistent basis, but I don't think we'd see them in too many Rose Bowls. And second, I wonder in a chicken-and-the-egg sort of way whether the schools that are good at football got that way because they spend large amounts of money, or do they spend large amounts of money because they were already good at football? The only way to answer this, though, would be to gain budget information from WAY BACK, and from all the digging I did it simply isn't available.

Aaron - Totally agree about Nebraska and Oklahoma. I wanted to but haven't been quite able to figure out how multiple BCS schools in a state or region impact each other, but both those schools are certainly in an advantageous position. If I was given a map and no other information and had to pick between OK and OK State, I'd pick OK every time simply because Norman is so much closer to Dallas than Stillwater.

by BH (not verified) :: Tue, 07/26/2011 - 11:32am

I agree with you for the most part about the chicken and egg conundrum of spending money and having a successful program, especially among the traditional powers. However, I somewhat disagree about your example of Washington State, and what happens when a program drastically increases spending. Just look at another program in the Pac 10 (now Pac 12), Oregon. Oregon had little or no history of football success until recently (one Rose Bowl appearance between 1921 and 1994, and seven total bowl appearances in those 74 years). Then they got an influx of money from Phil Knight and Nike. Now they’ve been to back-to-back BCS Bowls, played for the championship last year, and according to your model are predicted to win 9.4 games this year. Perhaps they are the exception rather than the rule, but it seems like spending money can buy success.

by Kevin Haynes (not verified) :: Tue, 07/26/2011 - 12:02pm

I don't disagree that it can buy success, only that I think it can't buy consistent top-tier success for teams that aren't also blessed with the right fixed resources.

Oregon is an interesting case, though, and I guess I'd quantify its great run with three thoughts: 1.) It came when USC (the traditional Pac-10 power) is not quite itself due to NCAA sanctions 2.) Chip Kelly, in his tenure there, has been a true overachiever and so much of that success may be attributed to him (more on that in part 2 of this piece) and 3.) Are the Ducks sustainable? It's easy to point to one or two season where a team went against the odds and had great seasons (like Stanford, Wake Forest, Michigan State, GA Tech, Cincinnati, etc.) but until it happens for 10-20 (okay, 5-10) years, I'm not quite willing to grant that team a label as a system-beater.

by Aaron Brooks' Good Twin (not verified) :: Tue, 07/26/2011 - 6:17pm

Michigan State had great teams for 10 or 20 years. Then the SEC acknowledged that black people were also humans, and started allowing them on their football teams, and the recruiting pipeline in the deep south dried up.

For many of those teams, too, you'll note they are primarily known as basketball schools. Very few schools are both. If this were Basketballoutsiders.com, we'd talk about the one-hit wonders like USC, LSU, Clemson, U-M, West Virginia, etc.

by BH (not verified) :: Tue, 07/26/2011 - 7:39pm

While Oregon hasn't had quite the same consistency as a program like Ohio State, they have had a number of successful seasons over the past decade or so. In 2000, they finished 10-2, and number 7 in the final AP poll. In 2001, they finished 11-1, AP number 2, and arguably should have played Miami in the BCS Championship game. In 2005, they finished 10-2, AP number 12. In 2008, they finished 10-3, AP number 10. In 2009, they finished 10-3, AP number 11. And last year, they finished 12-1, losing in the BCS Championship game. That's 6 top 12 finishes in 11 years. And with their roster for next year, as long as they don't get hit too hard with sanctions over Will Lyles, seems like they may be here to stay.

by sundown (not verified) :: Tue, 07/26/2011 - 9:16pm

Nobody is really "here to stay" and Oregon most certainly won't break that rule. Florida State went 14 straight years finishing in the top 5--it doesn't get any more impressive than that-- but now they are down. USC went through a lengthy stretch being down, same with Alabama, Michigan is down right now....

I think Oregon is in a more precarious place than most might expect. A major suspension, Kelly leaving, or Nike shutting off the money spigot (or even turning it down significantly) would all have a major impact on them. And you could theoretically see all of those coming about at the same time if the program were sufficiently sullied in a scandal.

by dryheat :: Tue, 07/26/2011 - 2:29pm

: Wisconsin is a fairly poor state to recruit in, and USC has extremely high academic standards.

Whoa, whoa...while USC has a fine academic program, let's not pretend that its money-making sports recruits are held to the same admission standard as the overall student body. The claim that they're hurt by their "extremely high academic standards" is a little silly.

by FourteenDays :: Tue, 07/26/2011 - 6:30pm

It's not really useful to tout the small error of the fit for the years that you just fitted, since presumably there are enough variables for the fit that it can do well. A much more illuminating measure of performance would be to do the fit on only some subset of the years for which you have data, and then look at the error of the fit in the other subset.

by Kevin Haynes (not verified) :: Tue, 07/26/2011 - 7:34pm

When I used the subset (using just 2009) and then applied that fit to the rest of the years, I actually found the model significantly more accurate; I just didn't take that approach here for simplicity's sake.

by FourteenDays :: Wed, 07/27/2011 - 7:05am

Ah, interesting. Thanks for the response!

by Aaron Schatz :: Wed, 07/27/2011 - 7:20pm

Just a quick note -- with so much attention on NFL free agency these next couple days, we're going to wait and publish part II of this piece next Monday.