Dynamics of the system

My rankings are in effect, a “power rating” and it is possible to derive a projected point spread from them by subtracting ratings, dividing by three and adding three points to the home team, however, I’m not as concerned about predicting future outcomes as I am honoring what transpired most recently on the field of play. Let me give you a general example. If #35 Texas Tech beats #10 Texas (regardless of the score as margin of victory is not a consideration), and both teams have an identical record of 5-1, then my philosophy dictates the Red Raiders should be ranked ahead of Texas in my next poll, regardless of whether the odds are they would win again if they played the next week. The results may not hold true for more than one week, but that’s OK because if a team EARNED that position, they deserve the ranking, regardless of what happens in the next week of play. Ranking winning teams above losing teams is not always possible. It’s not logical to rank 1-5-0 # 110 Temple over 5-1-0 #21 Virginia Tech, (as in the case of the Owls 28-24 win in 1998). I guess in a sense, my rankings are not only about who the “best team” is, but also about who is the “most deserving” team.

Let’s start from the very beginning and move through the system using the data included, in order of its inclusion in the formula, and then detail each of the components.

#1-Starting position

#2- Accumulating points

#3- Strength of opponent

#4- Instituting deductions for losses

#5- Site of the game

#6- Instituting head to head rules

Starting Position- This is one of the most hotly debated subjects in rankings. Starting position DOES have an impact in rankings, especially in human polls where it is a HUGE advantage, and it does make a slight difference in my rankings. I respect many different points of view here, ranging from creating a pre-season poll based on returning starters and media hype (as in the AP/Coaches), starting everyone equal (as in some computer polls), or having a starting position based on an average of 3-5 previous seasons (also in some computer models). I believe having a starting position is best, but starting everyone equal is not logical to me. We know through observation of past seasons that some teams are stronger than others. No disrespect to the Vandals, but in 2007 Idaho was not as strong a team as Texas. If we know this in advance, to a high degree of accuracy, then ranking Texas and Idaho equal is not only illogical, it is unfair to Texas and completely (in my mind) skews any hope of an accurate strength of schedule. I also do not believe in allowing media hype to propel teams from nowhere into the Top 10, instead I keep teams in their earned rank positions from the end of one season to the beginning of the next. If a team finishes #10 in 2007, they start #10 in 2008. I do however change a team’s RATING to a standard point value that brings teams closer together, preventing an unfair advantage in points from one season to the next. Each year the #1 team starts at 270 points; #2, 269 points; #3, 268 points and so forth all the way to #120 starting at 151 points. This allows a team to easily overcome a lower starting rank simply by winning over higher ranked opponents. This season (2008) you can witness this by looking at Colorado which started at # 64 and in three weeks moved to #27, or Arkansas State from #106 to #65.

 

Accumulating Points- My system is the only one I am aware of that uses an “accumulating” value system. It was designed this way to emphasize a team’s most recent game as the AP and Coaches do. As a result, a team only gets credit for playing an opponent ONE TIME. Whatever happens to that opponent from that point forward is “water under the bridge.” The greatest example I could ever use to defend this philosophy came just last year (2007) in a scenario involving Oregon. After beating #4 USC and #5 Arizona State on successive weekends the Ducks rose to #3 in the Billingsley Report (#3 AP, #3 Coaches). After losing QB Dennis Dixon Oregon fell to Arizona, UCLA and Oregon State. Every time Oregon lost, USC and Arizona State suffered in some computer rankings. I don’t agree with that methodology. The Trojans and Sun Devils played an Oregon team that was playing some of the best football in the nation during those games. They should not have to suffer because of an injury that happened to Oregon after the fact. In my rankings it did not matter. USC went on to finish #3 in the Billingsley Report, #3 in the AP, and #3 in the Coaches Poll. Each week a team accumulates or “earns points” based on the situation surrounding the current week’s opponent and nothing else. If a team is playing a #89 team, they cannot earn more points than a team with an equal record playing a #50 opponent, or a #10 opponent etc. If a team has a bye week, their rating does not change, with two exceptions. A special rule is in place (in the head to head section) that allows an undefeated team to ALWAYS be ranked ahead of every opponent they have beaten, and allows any team experiencing a bye week to remain ahead of a team they had just beaten the week before.     

 

Strength of opponent- This is another great topic of discussion. The value placed on the strength of an opponent is (as it should be) the core of most computer rankings. My system is unique in it’s calculation of strength of schedule as most models use wins and losses and I do not. I use an opponent’s RANK and RATING instead. Let me give you an example. In the 8th week of 2007 Washington posted a record of 2-4 while playing one of the most the nations most difficult schedules. Army recorded 3-4 while playing a milder schedule. By counting wins and losses (as the NCAA and most computers do) as a method of determining strength, Army would be given equal or slightly more value as an opponent. In my system Washington was ranked #44 and Army at # 109, therefore a team playing the Huskies would receive more than 3 times as much credit. I believe strongly this is a more accurate method of determining opponent strength. Wins and losses do not always tell the whole story.

 

Instituting deductions for losses- Remaining undefeated is paramount in my system. A team with no losses has, in effect, a “ticket to the top ten” as long as they are playing a reasonable schedule. With no losses a team receives “full earnings” of their “available opponent value”, but each loss creates a percentage of deduction. For instance, if Maryland is 5-0-0 playing a #35 opponent, and North Carolina is 4-1-0 playing a #30 opponent, the Terps will still receive more points that week than the Tar Heels even though North Carolina played a slightly more difficult team because of the penalty the Tar Heels incur from having a loss. However, if Maryland is playing a significantly lower opponent, say #70 Colorado State, then North Carolina, even with one loss, will receive more credit that week than the Terps. Two losses create a larger handicap and so on. The only way for a team to overcome a loss is to beat higher ranked opposition.

 

Site of the game- I realize some computers do not take the site of the game into consideration, but I believe it is important. The reward, once again is slight, but it is still a consideration. I believe that playing at Tennessee in front of 106, 000 fans screaming Rocky Top is more difficult than playing in front of 15,000 at Rice stadium. There are some who say any form of measuring the value of the site of a game is biased, but I disagree. My scale is based on information available to the general public through the NCAA and is evaluated by stadium size and average attendance over a 5 year period. Rice plays in a 72,000 seat stadium, but only fills a portion of that to capacity, so playing at Rice is not as valuable as playing at some MAC teams who fill their smaller stadiums to capacity.

 

Instituting head to head rules- The most powerful part of the program states that if certain criteria is met in regards to wins, losses, ratings and rankings that the winner of a game will be ranked ahead of the loser in the next poll. This is guaranteed for one week only. A team must be consistent and continue winning against good opposition to maintain their position from week to week. These rules set me apart from most computer analyst. I realize that by instituting these rules the program basically creates a situation where it is not the best “power rating” system it could be. Winning teams will not always be able to maintain their most recent level of play, but again, I feel if they earned it, they deserve to be ranked higher even if for just one week. East Carolina this season (2008) is a perfect example of that. The Pirates beat Virginia Tech and West Virginia. They earned the right to be ranked ahead of both of those teams at the time. Rising to #8 in the Billingsley report and losing to North Carolina State the next week makes the system look like a failure but I defend East Carolina’s right to be ranked in the Top 10 based on what they accomplished on the field. In spite of any issues in the power rating, the system still holds an average 76% of higher ranked teams beating lower ranked opponents over its 37 year history. If you are seeking a power ranking system that is specifically designed to project future outcomes, check out Jeff Sagarin. His work in that area is about as good as you’ll ever find. We run neck and neck in comparison when not using margin of victory, but what Jeff calls his “predictor” system has a superior winning percentage.

 

One final thought before I close. It’s no secret that I’m a big fan of the BCS. I suppose the majority of fans who read this will feel it’s because I’m part of the process. That is not the case. I would be in favor of this format even if I were not a participant because I believe strongly in what the BCS is accomplishing in college football. The mission of the BCS was clear; create a set of rules and match the #1 and #2 teams in a championship game. I’ve been a fan of college football for 50 years. I lived through the days of bowl game participants being determined by “smoke filled back room deals” sometimes weeks before the regular season was complete. I’ve lived through seasons where the top teams could not be matched in a game because of conference ties to specific bowl games. What a tragedy we could not witness Ohio State and Penn State in 1968, Texas/ Penn State in 1969, Georgia Tech/Colorado in 1990; Miami/Washington in 1991 or Nebraska/ Michigan in 1997 just to mention a few. Thanks to the BCS we no longer have to deal with “mythical” national championships. The BCS is not standing in the way of a playoff. The regular season in college football is a playoff. This is an evolving sport. At some point we may see a playoff but in the interim we have some form of championship in place. Controversy would not end even if we had a more suitable format for a playoff as someone is always going to feel slighted regardless of the number of teams that are involved. The BCS is not perfect, but college football is light years ahead of where we were before 1998. 

Richard Billingsley

October 2008