The Safest Bet in Sports

I’ve promised that I would never place a 100% win probability on any game on this site, and that will always be true here. My goal is to determine the likelihood of outcomes and identify the safest picks. But what makes a pick safe? When it comes to sports, especially at a non-professional level as is the primary focus here, there really doesn’t appear to be a truly safe pick. But when a specific match-up features the same result, year after year, it becomes difficult to believe that a different outcome will occur in the next event.

This week, Michigan State plays at Michigan. This will be the 11th meeting in which Mark Dantonio is the Spartans head coach. In the previous 10 meetings between these two teams, against the spread, he is 10-0. His team covers when they’re favored and when they’re underdogs. Home or away; doesn’t matter. Here’s what I’m talking about:

MSU_Michigan_lines

2007_MSU_Michigan_openingline

Sources for graphics above: http://www.oddsshark.com/stats/dbresults/football/ncaaf

http://archive.scoresandodds.com/grid_20071103.html

I include the 2nd graphic to show that the line opened at Michigan -4.5, which MSU did cover. The first graphic shows that the line closed at Michigan -3.5, which MSU did not cover. At that point we’re really splitting hairs though; this streak is truly incredible.

The opening line for this game on October 7th is -12.5 in favor of Michigan. I’m not saying this is a guaranteed cover for MSU, but I mean…10 in a row? Something is going on here that the Vegas oddsmakers have failed to recognize for a decade. Will this year be any different? I wouldn’t bet on it.

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College Football Preview 2017 Part 4: Projections

The first 3 parts of this preview series looked at coaches, rosters, and schedules. Now, we’ll put it all together and project how well each FBS team will perform this season.

The table below will be updated throughout the season to track up-to-date projections as well as compare against how accurate the pre-season projections turn out to be. In addition to team and conference affiliation, the table displays the following:

Preseason expected wins (this will remain unchanged throughout the season)

Over/under win totals, per Bovada

Current expected wins (will be updated weekly throughout the season)

Difference between current expected wins and over/under (updated weekly)

Favored games (number of games where team has greater than 65% win probability)

Favored toss-ups (between 50-65% win probability)

Underdog toss-ups (between 35-50% win probability)

Underdogs (less than 35% win probability)

Current probability that team will be undefeated in regular season (updated weekly).

To open table in a new window, click here

A few takeaways from this table:

  • It would take a mild upset somewhere along the way for each of Ohio State, Alabama, Washington, and South Florida to not go 12-0 in the regular season.
  • My numbers are very optimistic on UAB, Nevada, Hawaii, and UTEP; each with more than 2.5 expected wins above the Bovada over/under.
  • Conversely, my numbers are not high on Minnesota, Army, San Diego State, Louisiana Tech, and Miami OH; each with more than 2.5 expected wins below the Bovada over/under.
  • It is a bit surprising to see Boise State projected at only 6.17 and Stanford at 6.77 wins. Stanford has a pretty brutal schedule, but Boise’s is manageable. They’re one to keep an eye on.
  • UCLA at only 5.48 wins doesn’t bode well for Jim Mora coaching the Bruins in 2018. Notre Dame at 7.06 may not be enough for Brian Kelly, either.

Postseason Outlook

It really doesn’t make much sense to forecast postseason results before the season has begun because so many factors have yet to be realized (injuries, breakout players), but for ease of interpreting my full FBS projections here are the projected postseason championships based on the information available today.

Conference championship projections (projected winners in bold)

ACC Clemson vs Miami FL

Big Ten Ohio State vs Wisconsin

Big XII Oklahoma vs Texas

Pac12 Washington vs USC

SEC Alabama vs Georgia

American South Florida vs Memphis

CUSA Western Kentucky vs UTSA

MAC Ohio vs Central Michigan

Mountain West Hawaii vs Colorado State

Sun Belt Appalachian State (Sun Belt championship game beginning in 2018)

Playoff Projection (does this look familiar?)

Ohio State vs. Clemson

Alabama vs. Washington

Championship game: Ohio State vs Alabama

National Champion: Alabama

Despite a projected 13-0 season, South Florida’s schedule is far too weak to be considered for a playoff berth. It is thoroughly disappointing that my numbers project the same 4 teams as appeared in the 2016 College Football Playoff, but each of these 4 returns a very strong roster (the top 3 nationally plus Clemson at 8th nationally), their schedules are manageable (Alabama’s is the toughest at 16th but their toughest game is in week 1, while the other 3 schedules rank in the 50s), and they’ve all been on the biggest stage recently so they know what it takes to get there. At any rate, I’m confident some sort of chaos will derail at least one of these teams’ chances, but I don’t have a way to quantify that chaos yet.

This marks the end of my 2017 season preview series. Now we have actual college football games to watch this week! Win probabilities for Week 0 games will be posted prior to Saturday.

 

College Football Preview 2017 Part 3: Schedules

Scheduling matters. A team may have its strongest roster in years, but if it faces a brutal schedule it may not produce a record to reflect the strength of its roster. Conversely, a team may be over-valued due to a cakewalk of a schedule.

Biggest games of the year

The 2017 season features 3 games in which it is the hardest game of the year for both teams:

Alabama vs Florida State

Ohio State at Michigan

South Florida at Central Florida

 

These first two should not be too surprising, but when you look at South Florida’s schedule and realize their most difficult game is at Central Florida it’s no wonder they are a heavy favorite to be the G5 representative in a NY6 bowl.

The table below ranks the overall strength of schedule (regular season only) for all FBS teams. The SoS value represents the total number of standard deviations above or below a team’s complete schedule is relative to an “average” FBS schedule (i.e. cumulatively game-by-game, so if all games were 1 SD above the mean, the SoS value=12) . Additionally, the easiest game and 4 most difficult games with venues are listed next to each team to help illustrate why their schedule ranks in its position.

To open worksheet in a new window, click here

Up next: Putting it all together. Season projections will go up later this week, as we have actual college football games beginning on Saturday.

 

College Football Preview 2017 Part 2: Rosters

*Note: Most teams have not posted their Fall rosters yet, so this preview is looking at Spring 2017 rosters. Values will change slightly as Fall rosters become available; freshmen who didn’t enroll early, off-season attrition, and injuries/suspensions have not yet been factored into my roster values.

 

I evaluate rosters by looking at a few components: returning all-conference/all-American team members, recruiting rankings, and class standing for every player on every roster. After assigning each player a score, I add up the scores for the top-70 rated players on each roster to determine the overall roster value. I’ve settled on 70 instead of the 85 full-scholarship number because players beyond the 70th man on the roster are rarely seeing any game action. I also adjust for injuries/suspensions such that if a player in the top 70 will be out for a game, his player score will temporarily be set to zero and everyone beneath him moves up a slot, so the 71st player on the roster would then move into the top 70 and their score would count towards the roster value. Roster values are used in combination with coach win/expectation rate and game venue to compare teams and determine the likelihood of winning a given game.

 

Once again, Alabama and Ohio State are in a class by themselves when it comes to talent on the roster. Newcomers to FBS for 2017, UAB and Coastal Carolina, may be facing a bit of an acclimation period until they can assemble a more complete roster, though UAB compares rather favorably to their Conference USA brethren.

It’s a bit jarring to see Illinois and Syracuse so low on this list. South Florida should be a serious contender for a NY6 bowl in year 1 under Charlie Strong.

 

School

Top 70

Conference

Alabama

106.25

SEC

Ohio State

106.25

B1G

Washington

92

P12

Florida State

89.5

ACC

Clemson

86.25

ACC

LSU

83.25

SEC

Oklahoma

80.25

XII

Georgia

79.5

SEC

Texas

77.25

XII

Auburn

76.25

SEC

Penn State

74.5

B1G

USC

72.5

P12

Oregon

71

P12

TCU

71

XII

UCLA

69.25

P12

Michigan

67.75

B1G

Florida

66

SEC

Notre Dame

65.75

Ind

South Florida

64.25

Amer

Ole Miss

64

SEC

Oklahoma State

63.25

XII

Texas A&M

62.25

SEC

Arizona State

58.25

P12

Tennessee

57.25

SEC

Kansas State

54.75

XII

Miami FL

54.5

ACC

Nebraska

54.25

B1G

Washington State

53

P12

Arkansas State

52.5

SunBelt

Michigan State

52.5

B1G

Utah

52.5

P12

Western Kentucky

52.25

CUSA

Louisville

52.25

ACC

Toledo

52

MAC

Arkansas

51.25

SEC

Troy

50

SunBelt

Central Michigan

49.25

MAC

BYU

48

Ind

Stanford

48

P12

Colorado

47.75

P12

North Carolina State

47.25

ACC

New Mexico State

46.75

SunBelt

Northern Illinois

46.5

MAC

Kentucky

46.25

SEC

Colorado State

46.25

MtnW

Iowa State

46

XII

Appalachian State

46

SunBelt

Baylor

45.25

XII

Memphis

45

Amer

Pitt

45

ACC

Central Florida

44.75

Amer

Maryland

44.75

B1G

Northwestern

44.25

B1G

Western Michigan

44

MAC

Ohio

43.75

MAC

San Diego State

43.75

MtnW

Nevada

43.25

MtnW

Boise State

43.25

MtnW

Mississippi State

43

SEC

Akron

42.75

MAC

Houston

42.75

Amer

California

42.75

P12

North Carolina

42.75

ACC

South Carolina

42

SEC

Tulsa

41.5

Amer

Temple

40.5

Amer

Missouri

40.25

SEC

Arizona

40

P12

Hawaii

39.75

MtnW

Virginia

39.75

ACC

Virginia Tech

39.5

ACC

Iowa

39.5

B1G

Wisconsin

39.5

B1G

Middle Tennessee

39.25

CUSA

Indiana

38.75

B1G

Southern Miss

38

CUSA

Georgia State

37.25

SunBelt

Vanderbilt

37.25

SEC

San Jose State

37.25

MtnW

Bowling Green

36.75

MAC

Oregon State

36.5

P12

UAB

36.5

CUSA

UTSA

36.25

CUSA

North Texas

36

CUSA

Eastern Michigan

35.25

MAC

West Virginia

35

XII

Louisiana-Lafayette

34.75

SunBelt

Florida Atlantic

34.5

CUSA

UTEP

34.5

CUSA

New Mexico

34.25

MtnW

Rice

34.25

CUSA

Minnesota

33.75

B1G

Old Dominion

33.5

CUSA

Georgia Tech

33

ACC

Purdue

32.75

B1G

Rutgers

32.25

B1G

Kent State

32

MAC

Cincinnati

32

Amer

Duke

31.75

ACC

East Carolina

31.5

Amer

Buffalo

31.5

MAC

Boston College

31

ACC

Idaho

30.5

SunBelt

Navy

30.5

Amer

Wyoming

30.5

MtnW

Texas Tech

30.5

XII

SMU

30.25

Amer

Connecticut

29.75

Amer

Wake Forest

29.75

ACC

Florida International

28.75

CUSA

Louisiana Tech

28.75

CUSA

Marshall

28.5

CUSA

Coastal Carolina

28.5

SunBelt

UNLV

27.5

MtnW

Fresno State

27.25

MtnW

Utah State

27

MtnW

Miami OH

26.5

MAC

Massachusetts

26.25

MAC

Tulane

26.25

Amer

Kansas

26

XII

Charlotte

26

CUSA

Georgia Southern

25.25

SunBelt

Ball State

24.75

MAC

Air Force

24.75

MtnW

Syracuse

24.25

ACC

Illinois

23

B1G

South Alabama

22.5

SunBelt

Louisiana-Monroe

22

SunBelt

Army

21.5

Ind

Texas State

18

SunBelt

Short preview this week, but the next two weeks previewing schedules and season projections, respectively, will feature much more content.

College Football Preview 2017 Part 1: Coaches

Fall camp is underway across the country, which means the season is finally around the corner! This year I have split the season preview into four parts: Coaches, Rosters, Schedules, and Projections. First up we’ll take a look at coaching, how it impacts a team’s success, how much turnover can be expected year-to-year, and how intertwined coaching ties have become at the Power 5 level.

Win/expectation rate

This value represents the rate which a coach wins games compared to their expectation, in terms of win probability. The input data is the most recent 4 seasons which a coach has led his current team, weighted towards the most recent seasons. If a coach has been with his team for fewer than 4 seasons, then his full tenure with the current team is used.

As an example, Paul Chryst* has the highest win/expectation rate among active coaches, at .3212. This means that Chryst increases Wisconsin’s win probability relative to their roster strength by approximately .32 standard deviations. By default, all coaches in their first year with a team start the season at zero and the rate adjusts after each game.

Coaches on the bottom end of the spectrum are likely to be fired without marked improvement. For reference, the lowest win/expectation rate in 2016 was Charlie Strong at Texas, with a rate of -.3126.

The inherent bias in this scale favors coaches who don’t recruit as strongly but win a lot of games, and penalizes coaches who recruit very strong rosters. This is why you don’t see names like Nick Saban or Urban Meyer near the top of this list (their recruiting prowess will be recognized in the Rosters preview).

*This high win expectation rate at Wisconsin tends to exist regardless of who is their current head coach, suggesting that recruiting ranking services are undervaluing Wisconsin prospects.

Highest win/expectation rates heading into 2017:

 

School Coach Win/Expectation Rate
Wisconsin Paul Chryst 0.3212
Air Force Troy Calhoun 0.3189
Navy Ken Niumatalolo 0.3128
Tulsa Philip Montgomery 0.2796
Appalachian State Scott Satterfield 0.2496
Troy Neal Brown 0.2251
West Virginia Dana Holgorsen 0.2242
Utah Kyle Whittingham 0.2187
Washington State Mike Leach 0.2159
BYU Kalani Sitake 0.2120
Virginia Tech Justin Fuente 0.2051

Lowest win/expectation rates:

School Coach Win/Expectation Rate
East Carolina Scottie Montgomery -0.1735
Missouri Barry Odom -0.1748
Massachusetts Mark Whipple -0.1870
Kansas David Beaty -0.1933
Texas State Everett Withers -0.2029
Georgia Kirby Smart -0.2090
Rutgers Chris Ash -0.2252
Notre Dame Brian Kelly -0.2438
Charlotte Brad Lambert -0.2516
UCLA Jim L. Mora -0.3007
Virginia Bronco Mendenhall -0.3094

It’s not realistic to say a coach is actually on the hot seat in year 2 so most of these guys don’t belong in that conversation just yet, though if they under-perform expectations again their names may come up in that discussion next year. Brian Kelly and Jim Mora, on the other hand, desperately need to have a successful 2017. It’s interesting to see BYU with one of the highest rates and their former coach Bronco Mendenhall with the lowest rate. Another year will shed light on whether he is a good fit at Virginia.

New coaches

FBS coaching turnover rate is typically around 22 coaches per year, and 2017 falls right in line with 23 coaches starting their first season with their team. The lowest number of new coaches to start a season since 1987 was 11 in 1988 followed by 12 in 2006. The highest number of new coaches was 33 to start the 2013 season.

Team New Coach Coach’s Previous Stop
Baylor Matt Rhule Temple, Head Coach
California Justin Wilcox Wisconsin, DC
Cincinnati Luke Fickell Ohio State, co-DC
Connecticut Randy Edsall Detroit Lions, staff
Florida Atlantic Lane Kiffin Alabama, OC
Florida International Butch Davis North Carolina, HC (2010)
Fresno State Jeff Tedford Washington, staff
Georgia State Shawn Elliott South Carolina, OL
Houston Major Applewhite Houston, OC
Indiana Tom Allen Indiana, DC
LSU Ed Orgeron LSU, DL & interim Head Coach
Minnesota P. J. Fleck Western Michigan, Head Coach
Nevada Jay Norvell Arizona State, PGC
Oklahoma Lincoln Riley Oklahoma, OC
Ole Miss Matt Luke Ole Miss, OC
Oregon Willie Taggart South Florida, Head Coach
Purdue Jeff Brohm Western Kentucky, Head Coach
San Jose State Brent Brennan Oregon State, WR
South Florida Charlie Strong Texas, Head Coach
Temple Geoff Collins Florida, DC
Texas Tom Herman Houston, Head Coach
Western Kentucky Mike Sanford Jr Notre Dame, OC
Western Michigan Tim Lester Purdue, QB

 

Iowa is the only FBS program to have the same coach since 2000. Houston and Georgia Southern have experienced the most coaching turnover in that time, each with 7 different head coaches during the Kirk Ferentz era at Iowa.

Next Man Up (Power 5 only)

In order to prepare for inevitable turnover, athletic directors across the country need to have a list of names ready to go should a replacement be needed on short notice. Here are some names that are likely to be in the conversation for Power 5 openings in 2018, as well as candidates with ties* to each Power 5 school:

Available Big-Name coaches:

Art Briles– Fired amidst scandal at Baylor. At age 61 and carrying recent baggage, it is unlikely that Briles will land a head coaching gig again, but a desperate program may take a flyer on him at OC.

Jeff Fisher– Most recently coached the Los Angeles Rams in 2016, Fisher has never coached outside of the NFL. At age 59, he may be content to stay out of coaching, but it wouldn’t be surprising to see his name floated around for high-profile college openings.

Hugh Freeze– Very recently let go at Ole Miss, Freeze may be a little toxic for a year or so. However, if Bobby Petrino can bounce back from his incident, Freeze should be able to as well. Freeze is only 47 years old; he’ll be back in coaching one day.

Jim Grobe– Last seen as Baylor’s interim coach in 2016, but at age 65 is probably not a viable head coaching hire anymore.

Mark Helfrich– Fired from Oregon after a disappointing 2016 season, but just 3 years removed from a national championship game appearance. Only 43 years old, Helfrich will definitely get another shot very soon.

Chip Kelly– Possibly the biggest name out there at the moment. Kelly will be mentioned for every high profile college and NFL opening until he accepts an offer. At 53 years old, he’s got plenty of years left in the tank.

Les Miles– Fired mid-season 2016 at LSU, but Miles is still very much a viable head-coaching candidate and has expressed interest in wanting to get back in the game ASAP. He’ll turn 64 this fall, but Miles would be a great get for a program looking to make a quick splash in recruiting.

Bo Pelini– Currently the head coach for FCS Youngstown State, but Pelini is way too good of a coach to stay at that level for long. He’s only 49 years old, and last year took the Penguins to the FCS championship game. He won 9 or 10 games in each of his 7 seasons as Nebraska’s head coach.

Bob Stoops– Recently retired from Oklahoma and has publicly stated he wants to enjoy his retirement, but programs will definitely attempt to lure Stoops back into the game. He’ll turn 57 this season.

Jim Tressel– Currently the president at Youngstown State. It seems like if Tressel was going to get back into coaching it would’ve happened for the 2017 season, as his show-cause penalty expired in December 2016. He’s 64 years old, so it’s difficult to imagine a high-profile program chasing him, but this would be a very splashy hire for anyone looking to get a little publicity.

Tommy Tuberville– Most recently fired from Cincinnati, Tuberville may not grab another head coaching gig at age 62, but would be an appealing addition to a staff for recruiting purposes.

Team Current Coach Replacement Candidate & connection
Alabama Nick Saban Dabo Swinney, Clemson head coach- former Alabama player & WR coach
Arizona State Todd Graham Jay Norvell, Nevada head coach- former Arizona State PGC
Arizona Rich Rodriguez Dino Babers, Syracuse head coach- former Arizona OC
Arkansas Bret Bielema Gus Malzahn, Auburn head coach- former Arkansas OC
Auburn Gus Malzahn Jimbo Fisher, Florida State head coach- former Auburn QB coach
Baylor Matt Rhule Philip Montgomery, Tulsa head coach- former Baylor OC
Boston College Steve Addazio Doug Martin, New Mexico State head coach- former Boston College OC
California Justin Wilcox Hue Jackson, Cleveland Browns head coach- former California OC
Clemson Dabo Swinney Chad Morris, SMU head coach- former Clemson OC
Colorado Mike MacIntyre Pat Fitzgerald, Northwestern head coach- former Colorado GA
Duke David Cutcliffe Scottie Montgomery, East Carolina head coach- former Duke OC
Florida Jim McElwain Geoff Collins, Temple head coach- former Florida DC
Florida State Jimbo Fisher Kirby Smart, Georgia head coach- former Florida State GA
Georgia Kirby Smart Mike Bobo, Colorado State head coach- former Georgia OC
Georgia Tech Paul Johnson Jeff Monken, Army head coach- former Georgia Tech RB coach
Illinois Lovie Smith Paul Petrino, Idaho head coach- former Illinois OC
Indiana Tom Allen Rod Carey, Northern Illinois head coach- former Indiana player
Iowa Kirk Ferentz Bret Bielema, Arkansas head coach- former Iowa player & LB coach
Iowa State Matt Campbell Chris Ash, Rutgers head coach- former Iowa State DB coach
Kansas David Beaty Dave Doeren, North Carolina State head coach- former Kansas co-DC
Kansas State Bill Snyder Brad Lambert, Charlotte head coach- former Kansas State player
Kentucky Mark Stoops Neal Brown, Troy head coach- former Kentucky OC
Louisville Bobby Petrino Jeff Brohm, Purdue head coach- former Louisville player & OC
LSU Ed Orgeron Frank Wilson, UTSA head coach- former LSU RB coach
Maryland D.J. Durkin Mike Gundy, Oklahoma State head coach- former Maryland PGC
Miami FL Mark Richt Mark Whipple, Massachusetts head coach- former Miami FL OC
Michigan State Mark Dantonio Pat Narduzzi, Pitt head coach- former Michigan State DC
Michigan Jim Harbaugh D.J. Durkin, Maryland head coach- former Michigan DC
Minnesota P. J. Fleck Everett Withers, Texas State head coach- former Minnesota DC
Mississippi State Dan Mullen Mark Hudspeth, Louisiana-Lafayette head coach- former Mississippi State PGC
Missouri Barry Odom Dirk Koetter, Tampa Bay Buccaneers head coach- former Missouri OC
Nebraska Mike Riley Scott Frost, Central Florida head coach- former Nebraska player & GA
North Carolina Larry Fedora Blake Anderson, Arkansas State head coach- former North Carolina OC
North Carolina State Dave Doeren Doc Holliday, Marshall head coach- former North Carolina State WR coach
Northwestern^ Pat Fitzgerald Kevin Wilson, Ohio State OC- former Northwestern OC
Notre Dame Brian Kelly Skip Holtz, Louisiana Tech head coach, former Notre Dame OC
Ohio State Urban Meyer Tom Herman, Texas head coach- former Ohio State OC
Oklahoma Lincoln Riley Seth Littrell, North Texas head coach- former Oklahoma player
Oklahoma State Mike Gundy Larry Fedora, North Carolina head coach- former Oklahoma State OC
Ole Miss Matt Luke Tom Allen, Indiana head coach- former Ole Miss LB coach
Oregon Willie Taggart Chris Petersen, Washington head coach- former Oregon WR coach
Oregon State Gary Andersen Kalani Sitake, BYU head coach- former Oregon State DC
Penn State James Franklin Matt Rhule, Baylor head coach- former Penn State player
Pitt Pat Narduzzi Mike Norvell, Memphis head coach- former Pitt  co-OC
Purdue Jeff Brohm Kevin Sumlin, Texas A&M head coach- former Purdue player & WR coach
Rutgers Chris Ash P.J. Fleck, Minnesota head coach- former Rutgers WR coach
South Carolina Will Muschamp Shawn Elliott, Georgia State head coach- former South Carolina co-OC
Stanford David Shaw Willie Taggart, Oregon head coach- former Stanford RB coach
Syracuse Dino Babers Tim Lester, Western Michigan head coach- former Syracuse OC
TCU Gary Patterson Justin Fuente, Virginia Tech head coach- former TCU co-OC
Tennessee Butch Jones Dave Clawson, Wake Forest head coach- former Tennessee OC
Texas A&M Kevin Sumlin David Beaty, Kansas head coach- former Texas A&M WR coach
Texas Tom Herman Major Applewhite, Houston head coach- former Texas player & co-OC
Texas Tech Kliff Kingsbury Mike Jinks, Bowling Green head coach- former Texas Tech RB coach
UCLA Jim L. Mora Brent Brennan, San Jose State head coach, former UCLA player
USC Clay Helton Mike Riley, Nebraska head coach- former USC OC
Utah Kyle Whittingham Gary Andersen, Oregon State head coach- former Utah DC
Vanderbilt Derek Mason Mike MacIntyre, Colorado head coach- former Vanderbilt player#
Virginia Bronco Mendenhall No obvious candidate with ties to school
Virginia Tech Justin Fuente Bud Foster, current Virginia Tech DC
Wake Forest Dave Clawson Troy Calhoun, Air Force head coach- former Wake Forest OC
Washington Chris Petersen Jim L. Mora, UCLA head coach- former Washington player & GA
Washington State Mike Leach James Franklin, Penn State head coach- former Washington State TE coach
West Virginia Dana Holgorsen Todd Graham, Arizona State head coach- former West Virginia co-DC
Wisconsin Paul Chryst Justin Wilcox, California head coach- former Wisconsin DC

 

*Incredibly, every Power 5 program except Virginia and Virginia Tech has ties to a current head coach in either the NFL or at another FBS program. Note that the viability of candidates with ties to a school may not be great, this is just an illustration of how intertwined the coaching community is today.

^The only active head coach with Northwestern ties is Jim Caldwell with the Detroit Lions. At age 62, Caldwell seemed less likely than Wilson (age 55) as a candidate which would be mentioned as a viable replacement.

#MacIntyre eventually transferred to and graduated from Georgia Tech, but began his college playing career with Vanderbilt.

 

National Championship Win Probability

Updating for game results and injuries, I’ve run my model to generate a win probability for the National Championship game on Monday between Alabama and Clemson:

Projected winner Opponent  Win Prob.
Alabama Clemson 68.37%

This equates to a line of Alabama -7 (as of this writing the Las Vegas consensus line is Alabama -6.5).

The advantage for Alabama is largely from their roster value; coaching efficiency slightly favors Clemson in a weighted average over the past 4 seasons, despite an edge to Alabama for the 2016 season (coaching efficiency measures how well teams fare compared to expectations based on roster value differences. The higher mark for Clemson here implies that Clemson has performed better than expected against their opponents over the last 4 years when isolated to roster values compared to Alabama’s expectations. The edge in 2016 for Alabama is largely due to Clemson’s loss to a less talented roster compared to no losses for Alabama). Alabama’s season performance rates a little higher than Clemson’s (again, due to Clemson’s loss), and there is no tangible home-field advantage for either team.

What does this all mean?

Alabama is more likely to win, but it would not be shocking to see Clemson come out on top. For reference, my model had the line at Alabama – 16.5 against Washington (Alabama won by 17, covering by 0.5; nice), and Clemson +3 against Ohio State (Clemson won by 31, covering 34; not so nice).

Throughout the season Alabama rarely covered the spread my model set for them (only 4 out of 14), but the average spread was about -34 so that doesn’t really imply under-performance. In fact, this is the first spread my model has for Alabama that is not double digits (the next smallest was -14 against LSU).

Clemson followed a strikingly similar path, also covering only 4 of 14 with an average spread of about -31. My model had Clemson favored by double digits in all but two games: -7 against Florida State and +3 last week against Ohio State.

A few factors to consider in this game that are not accounted for in my model:

  • Lane Kiffin is no longer running the offense for Alabama. This will be Steve Sarkisian’s first time running the show for Bama; quite a stage for a debut. Perhaps Sark has been more involved behind the scenes all year? It’s hard to imagine Saban wasn’t prepared for this scenario.
  • Will Alabama be a little complacent? Clemson fell just short in this game last year, and the revenge-seeking emotional edge could be enough to overcome the slight talent disparity.
  • Going 15-0 is really hard to do. Clemson entered this game last year at 14-0 while Alabama was 13-1. In 2014, Florida State entered the playoff at 13-0 and was obliterated by a 1-loss Oregon team. Sometimes the experience of a loss helps later in the season. Small sample size caveats aside, is this Alabama team led by a freshman QB really going to be the first to go 15-0?

16 Team Playoff

The number of bowl games has grown to the point where most of them are irrelevant. So much so that players are deciding to skip the lesser games to prepare for their post-college playing careers. Bowl games are supposed to be a reward for a great season; instead they have been watered down to merely an exhibition game that coaches can point to as an achievement to justify bonuses and contract extensions. All of this could be fixed with the implementation of an expanded playoff. I briefly touched on this in an off-season feature, but let’s now take a look at what a 16-team playoff would’ve looked like this year with the following criteria:

  1. All 10 conference champions receive an auto-bid; 6 at-large
  2. Home sites for the first 2 rounds, hosted by the higher seed

Here is what this field would look like:

Auto bids

1 Alabama

2 Clemson

4 Washington

5 Penn State

7 Oklahoma

12 Western Michigan

13 Temple

14 Western Kentucky

15 San Diego State

16 Appalachian State

At-Large

3 Ohio State

6 Michigan

8 Wisconsin

9 USC

10 Colorado

11 Florida State

And the bracket:

Round 1

16 Appalachian State at 1 Alabama

9 USC at 8 Wisconsin

12 Western Michigan at 5 Penn State

13 Temple at 4 Washington

11 Florida State at 6 Michigan

14 Western Kentucky at 3 Ohio State

10 Colorado at 7 Oklahoma

15 San Diego State at 2 Clemson

Yes, please! Every game is meaningful, and even in round 1 there are some fantastic match-ups. If the higher seeds advance, Round 2 looks even better:

8 Wisconsin at 1 Alabama

5 Penn State at 4 Washington

6 Michigan at 3 Ohio State

7 Oklahoma at 2 Clemson

We do get a re-match of a regular season game, but it was one of the best games of 2016 and as a traditional rivalry would have massive appeal. If the higher seeds advance in Round 2 we’d have the current playoff bracket. This format gives 15 excellent games, and could completely replace an antiquated bowl system where 38 of the 41 games are essentially exhibitions with only a handful of interesting match-ups.