Analyzing the College Football S&P Rankings

In recent years, the S&P+ rankings created by Bill Connolly have become wildly popular in terms of trying to determine how good teams really are. Many teams navigate good luck and an easier schedule to an inflated win total compared to how well they actually played.

The rankings are then updated using recruiting and returning production to attempt to project the rankings for the 2016 season. This generally means that teams that over perform compared to recent recruiting rankings or have one big season in the year prior tend to, rightly or wrongly, get ranked further down than they would be by human pollsters. Here are some of the teams that stick out in the rankings:

Analyzing the College Football S&P Rankings

LSU Tigers

Les Miles is on the hot seat in 2016 after being one loss away from being fired at the end of the 2015 regular season. LSU are always well ranked by S&P+ because they are so good at recruiting. But recent years have shown that LSU is immensely talented on paper but has fallen short. The major shortcoming being at quarterback and it’s meant they’ve never truly challenged for the SEC West since winning it in 2011.

This year, S&P+ likes them even more compared to last year as they ranked eighth pre-season and only finished at 22. The depth chart is more talented and more experienced but for me there is no guarantee they challenge for the SEC title this year for them to be ranked second in the nation.

Iowa Hawkeyes

After failing to win more than eight games in recent seasons, few people saw a 12-0 regular season for the Hawkeyes in 2015. The rankings unfortunately saw some close wins through an easy schedule to get to the Big Ten title game. Much to the chagrin of the Iowa fans who took to Twitter to complain recently.

Naturally, Iowa’s ranking in recruiting holds them back somewhat here but even so 38th sounds quite low for a 12-2 division winner. The main issue is the final two games of 2015. The loss to Michigan State for many people proved they were a good team because they came close to winning against a genuine top ten team. The problem comes with the Spartans hammering at the hands of Alabama in the playoff semi-final is taken into account. Throw in a 45-16 blow out loss to Stanford in the Rose Bowl and its clear to see why they’ve been dragged down.

Washington Huskies

The high ranking for the Huskies goes beyond just the S&P+ metrics. Many analysts and polls have this team, which went just 7-6 including a bowl victory last year, in the top ten. Firstly, Washington was a very young team last year and now returns almost everybody from that team.

At this point, it feels like a leap of faith that this young team will hit their ceiling and take the PAC-12 North. Oregon is still re-building its defense and Stanford has to replace some key players including quarterback Kevin Hogan. The situation is perfect for Washington to step up in this division but nobody would be surprised if they only won eight or nine games.

Houston Cougars

The Cougars won 13 games last year and their only defeat came against Connecticut without their starting quarterback. After beating Florida State in the Peach Bowl, you would have thought that the S&P+ rankings would have Houston around the top 25. Houston is actually ranked 53rd just behind Duke and Boston College.

Once again, the recruiting rankings being factored in will hold the Cougars back, the five year recruiting ranks have them at 68th in the nation. Houston were also judged to be quite lucky in close wins over Cincinnati and Memphis during the 2015 season. It also shows the difference that S&P+ sees in playing a power five conference schedule against the AAC schedule with teams like SMU and Tulane at the bottom end.

The 2016 season sees a schedule including a drastically improved Louisville and a neutral site game with Oklahoma while facing AAC powers Navy, Cincinnati and Memphis all on the road.


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