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My college football rankings — week 11 edition

Posted by Chase Stuart on November 18, 2009

To the non-college football fans this year, my apologies for making things so college heavy this month. The college game has held more of my interest more lately, for reasons most of you should be able to figure out.

Last Sunday, I posted my weekly NCAA SRS ratings. These simple ratings are designed to measure how good teams actually are, and how likely they are to win in the future. A week ago I posted by Week 10 college football rankings, which was the list I would submit if I was a voter in the AP or any other poll. As I wrote last week, strength of schedule and margin of victory still play a role in these rankings, but for the most part, "a win is a win." If there is one guiding principle behind why each team is slotted where it is, it is this: each team has accomplished slightly more this season than the team behind them, and has accomplished slightly less than the team behind them.

I also value SOS more than MOV now, because we're focused on accomplishments. When doing the SRS, we want to know which teams are the best -- the theory being that (roughly) you can't choose who you play but you can choose how much you beat them by. Great teams blow out inferior opponents, so blowing out teams is a sign that you're a very good team. But for college football rankings, we care more about who you beat than by how much you beat them. Not all wins should be treated equally -- a lucky win is not the same as an impressive win -- but I'm generally dialing down the MOV factor and increasing the weight on the SOS factor in these rankings.

After the list below, I also am listing each team's three best wins and worst losses on the season. The "best" win is the opponent who has the best SRS (after adding/subtracting 3 points to/from the opponent's SRS in road/home games); the "worst" loss is the opponent with the worst SRS (same).

1. Texas - not only do the Longhorns top my SRS rankings, and not only are they undefeated, but Texas also has beaten the strongest opponent of the big three (but not of the big four). While their SOS is a bit behind Alabama's, they've handled nearly all of their opponents with ease, and have shown very few weaknesses all year.

2. Alabama - the best SOS of the undefeated teams and Alabama has two impressive victories against Virginia Tech and Ole Miss. Because LSU was a home game for the Tide, that doesn't show up as one of their toughest three games; meanwhile, LSU (admittedly, on the road and at night) was Florida's toughest opponent.

3. TCU - with road wins at Clemson and BYU, TCU's resume is slightly more impressive than Florida's. TCU nearly beats Florida in the SRS thanks to the Horned Frogs' terrific margin of victory, and while their overall SOS is a bit weaker than Florida's, I'm more impressed with their big wins.

4. Florida - the number 1 team in most polls thanks to their pre-season ranking, Florida's resume relative to the big four is slightly lagging: The Gators have only the third best MOV (besting only Alabama), the third best SOS (ahead of only TCU) and have the weakest "best win." Winning against OU and VT at neutral sites and @Clemson are more impressive this season than a win in Baton Rouge. LSU (more on them later) is ranked highly, but they're best win was a controversial win over a underachieving Georgia team. Florida could of course win it all (and are understandably the favorites to do so), but their season has been slightly less impressive than three other teams so far this year.

5. Cincinnati - I was tempted to actually throw Georgia Tech in here, as both the Bearcats and the Broncos have had pitifully easy schedules. But undefeated is undefeated, and Cincy (ditto BSU) has a large enough MOV to make me think they're legit. With USF collapsing in the second half for the third season in a row, Cincinnati's signature win was in Corvallis. That's impressive win if it's your third best win, but when the Beavers are by far your best opponent, you've had an easy schedule.

6. Boise State - After embarrassing in-state rival Idaho, the Broncos MOV is back to respectable for a dominant team playing in the WAC. The win against Oregon still looks good, but there's little else on the schedule that's impressive. An excellent MOV and of course the undefeated record are the only reasons to put Boise State in your top six.

7. Georgia Tech - one of only two one-loss FBS teams, the Yellow Jackets have impressive wins over Virginia Tech, Clemson and in Tallahassee. The loss to Miami is excusable, and in some years, this sort of resume could have a team vying for the national championship. A relatively unimpressive MOV is the only knock on Paul Johnson's squad.

8. Oregon - both of the Ducks' losses came against very good opponents, road games against Stanford and Boise State. On the plus side of the ledger, Oregon hasn't beaten an elite team but did embarrass USC and Cal and won @UCLA. Oregon, like Georgia Tech, has played a deceptively difficult schedule and done well against it.

9. Pittsburgh - with one loss, you could make the case for the Panthers in the top eight. Upon deeper review, Pittsburgh's best three wins come against Rutgers (50.3), Notre Dame (48.8) and UCONN (47.1). There's nothing sexy about their resume except for the record, which is tarnished by a loss to a mediocre N.C. State team.

10. LSU - the Tigers lost to the two powerhouses they faced and beat everyone else. Unfortunately, "everyone else" consists of a bunch of unimpressive teams, and LSU doesn't even have a strong MOV on which to fall back. I didn't want to put LSU this high, and their 16th spot in the SRS is more indicative of how good they are. But unlike every other team below them, LSU hasn't lost to anyone they should have beat and they've played a relatively difficult schedule.

11. Virginia Tech - after LSU, the next best two-loss teams are all in the same tier (OSUx2, PSU and Iowa) and it's difficult to justify ranking one over the other. So why not put a three-loss team with a more impressive resume ahead of them? If Virginia Tech had scheduled a cupcake instead of Alabama, they'd belong here, so I'm not going to penalize them for playing just as well if not better against the Tide than any of the two-loss teams below them would have done. In addition to that opening day performance, Virginia Tech has two big wins over Nebraska and Miami and lost close games to Georgia Tech (elite) and North Carolina (while not elite, they're no worse than Purdue, Houston or Northwestern). With a respectable MOV and a brutally difficult SOS (third toughest in the nation), Virginia Tech has had an impressive season despite the "-3".

12-15. Iowa, Ohio State, Penn State, Oklahoma State. How do you separate these teams?

Iowa has by far the most embarrassing loss. No good team loses to the Wildcats of Northwestern. Iowa also owns the most impressive three wins, with victories over PSU, Wisconsin and Michigan State.

Ohio State, along with Iowa, owns the most impressive win (@PSU) but that's largely countered by one bad loss to Purdue.

Penn State has no embarrassing losses but no impressive wins; their best victory was over Michigan.

Oklahoma State lost to Texas (excusable) and Houston (not). Wins over Texas Tech and Missouri sound better than they are.

12. Oklahoma State - the Big 10 teams didn't have to face the #1 team in the country, and none of them would have fared any better against UT than the Cowboys did. Combined with wins against some respectable Big 12 opponents, and this OSU has an ever so slightly better case to make than the other one.

13. Ohio State - as bad as Purdue is, at least they're not Northwestern. Iowa has faced a harder schedule than the Buckeyes, but OSU has proven to be a legitimately good team by blowing out most of the bad teams they've faced. Also, Ohio State's loss to USC could have been avoided, so kudos to the Buckeyes for their scheduling bravado.

14. Iowa - it's hard to forget the loss against Northwestern, and Iowa was unimpressive in many of their wins this year. This was a 8-4 team masquerading as an undefeated for most of the year, but they at least have some solid trophies in their case.

15. Penn State - the best SRS score of these four teams, but an anemic SOS and losses to their two best opponents relegate them here. The Nittany Lions have the 9th best scoring differential among FBS teams thanks to devouring all the cupcakes they faced, but their only chance to show they can do more than that will be in their Bowl game.

16. Clemson - I'm ranking Clemson over several two-loss teams, but the Tigers have some solid wins and two explainable losses. The biggest head in their trophy case was picked up in Miami, but Clemson beat BC by 22, Wake Forest by 35, FSU by 16 and N.C. State by 20. Three point losses to TCU and Georgia Tech shouldn't kill them in the polls, although the loss to Maryland is inexcusable. Still, that one blemish on their resume is covered up by a lot of good looking wins.

17. Miami - with wins over against Oklahoma, Georgia Tech and @FSU, Miami boasts more impressive victims than most of the teams ahead of them in my ranking. Virginia Tech and Clemson may be the two best teams in the ACC, records be damned, making losses to both of them are excusable. In fact, even the loss in Chapel Hill last weekend isn't damning. Miami has faced a very difficult SOS, and while the Hurricanes beat FSU, Oklahoma and Wake by six combined points, 7-3 against that schedule is very impressive.

18. Wisconsin - similar to PSU (and LSU), the Badgers lost to the best two teams they played and beat everyone else. The biggest knock on Wisconsin is the MOV while playing such a weak schedule; one fewer loss relative to teams like Clemson and Miami is hardly convincing of your superiority when you beat Indiana, Minnesota and Fresno State (overtime) by 3 points each, and escape against Northern Illinois by one score.

19. Stanford - what separates Stanford from the other three loss powerhouses (Virginia Tech, Clemson and Miami above them, Nebraska and USC behind them) is that all of the Cardinal's losses were to beatable teams. Stanford is better than Oregon State, Arizona and Wake Forest, so they can't hide behind the "no shame in losing to Alabama/TCU/Virginia Tech/Virginia Tech/Oregon" defense. On the other hand, Stanford has two very impressive wins in the last two weeks (including the win of the season) and Jim Harbaugh has done a terrific job making this team a potential Rose Bowl champion.

20. Nebraska - the Cornhuskers have good wins (Oklahoma, Missouri) and an excusable loss in Blacksburg, but that loss to Iowa State is tough to swallow. Nebraska has a dominant defense and is only a few plays away from being 9-1. They should win the Big 12 North, and then we'll see what they're made of against the Longhorns. Against their two toughest opponents, Nebraska came to play this year. We'll see if they can do it again in Dallas in a few weeks.

21. BYU - That win over Oklahoma looks terrific, and the loss to TCU is understandable. The problem for BYU is the lack of any other impressive wins, as Wyoming and UNLV appear to be their next best victories. Still, the win over the Sooners keeps them above their in-state rival, despite the Cougars' ugly home loss to Florida State.

22. Utah - The Mid-Major version of LSU, PSU and Wisconsin. Utah lost to Oregon and TCU, and beat everyone else. Unfortunately, not only was everyone else a bad team most of the time, but the Utes didn't even beat those teams convincingly. If they had been more impressive in wins over San Jose State (10) or Colorado State (7), or handled better teams than Louisville and San Jose State out of conference, maybe we'd be able to write off the TCU bludgeoning last weekend as a fluke. As it stands, losing by only 7 to Oregon is the best thing Utah's done all season.

23. USC - The Trojans are in full-fledged tailspin mode, but they still deserve to be ranked. Road wins against OSU, Cal and Notre Dame are impressive, and there's nothing embarrassing about losing to a better team (Oregon) on the road. And once you judge USC as a borderline top-25 team instead of a top-10 team, the losses to Stanford and Washington don't seem too bad. USC played one of the hardest schedules in the country, and 7-3 against that lineup is only unimpressive by USC's lofty standards.

24. Mississippi - pre-season darlings can salvage the season this weekend with a victory over LSU. No one discredits them for losing to Alabama, but Ole Miss went a ho-hum 2-2 against Arkansas, Tennessee, Auburn and South Carolina. With OOC wins against Memphis, Southeastern Louisiana, UAB and Northern Arizona, I'm not feeling particularly generous towards the Rebels. When your third best win is against a team like Vanderbilt, you're usually a Mountain West team, not an SEC team. Houston and Rutgers are ranked in the AP while Ole Miss is not, but I'm not ready to go that far. Houston has two awful losses on top of a weak SOS; Rutgers lost to Cincy and Pitt, so they're ranked based on beating... Connecticut and South Florida? Their third best win was against Maryland. Their fourth best was against FIU; their fifth best against Army. Texas Southern and Howard round out the pushovers that came to Piscataway this season.

25. Oregon State - the loss to Cincinnati is excusable, as was the 42-36 battle in the Coliseum. Oregon State has played a bunch of close games, and wins at Cal, against Stanford and @ Arizona State are all respectable. The Beavers are the definition of a solid team in a solid conference, but have done little to distinguish themselves from the rest of the pack. A 7-3 record with no ugly losses against a tougher than average schedule is enough for me to have them sneak into my top 25.

Rank Tm1 MOV SOS SRS W-L W1 W2 W3 L1 L2 L3
1 Texas 24.7 46.0 70.7 10-0 Oklahoma (63.7) Oklahoma St (59.2) Missouri (55.6) - - -
2 Alabama 18.0 49.0 67.0 10-0 Virginia Tech (62.5) Mississippi (60.1) Arkansas (55) - - -
3 TCU 23.6 43.2 66.7 10-0 Clemson (64.6) Brigham Young (55.6) Air Force (54.6) - - -
4 Florida 21.3 45.8 67.1 10-0 LSU (59.3) Arkansas (55) South Carolina (52.8) - - -
5 Cincinnati 20.9 41.3 62.2 10-0 Oregon St (57.7) South Florida (51.2) Rutgers (50.3) - - -
6 Boise St 22.7 38.7 61.3 10-0 Oregon (60.5) Fresno St (51.9) Tulsa (45.4) - - -
7 Georgia Tech 12.0 49.9 61.9 10-1 Virginia Tech (59.5) Clemson (58.6) Florida St (56) Miami FL (60.9) - -
8 Oregon 14.2 49.3 63.5 8-2 UCLA (52.6) Southern Cal (52) California (51.6) Stanford (61.1) Boise St (64.3) -
9 Pittsburgh 15.3 42.2 57.5 9-1 Rutgers (50.3) Notre Dame (48.8) Connecticut (47.1) North Carolina St (46.2) - -
10 LSU 10.0 46.3 56.3 8-2 Georgia (54.7) Mississippi St (50.4) Auburn (49.6) Florida (64.1) Alabama (70) -
11 Virginia Tech 11.0 51.5 62.5 7-3 Nebraska (55.5) Miami FL (54.9) Boston College (51.1) North Carolina (48.5) Georgia Tech (64.9) Alabama (67)
12 Oklahoma St 11.4 44.8 56.2 8-2 Texas Tech (51.9) Missouri (49.6) Texas A&M (49.1) Houston (46.2) Texas (67.7) -
13 Ohio State 15.0 43.9 58.9 9-2 Penn State (59.4) Iowa (50.6) Wisconsin (48.7) Purdue (46.7) Southern Cal (52) -
14 Iowa 6.9 46.7 53.6 9-2 Penn State (59.4) Wisconsin (54.7) Michigan St (52.5) Northwestern (36.3) Ohio State (61.9) -
15 Penn State 15.4 41.0 56.4 9-2 Michigan (45.7) Northwestern (42.3) Illinois (42.3) Iowa (50.6) Ohio State (55.9) -
16 Clemson 14.2 47.4 61.6 7-3 Miami FL (60.9) Boston College (51.1) Florida St (50) Maryland (38.5) TCU (63.7) Georgia Tech (64.9)
17 Miami FL 7.2 50.7 57.9 7-3 Oklahoma (60.7) Georgia Tech (58.9) Florida St (56) North Carolina (54.5) Clemson (58.6) Virginia Tech (65.5)
18 Wisconsin 7.4 44.3 51.7 8-2 Minnesota (47.8) Michigan St (46.5) Fresno St (45.9) Iowa (50.6) Ohio State (61.9) -
19 Stanford 10.5 47.6 58.1 7-3 Oregon (60.5) Southern Cal (58) UCLA (46.6) Wake Forest (52.4) Arizona (57.3) Oregon St (57.7)
20 Nebraska 12.1 46.4 58.5 7-3 Oklahoma (60.7) Missouri (55.6) Kansas (50.3) Iowa St (39.3) Texas Tech (51.9) Virginia Tech (65.5)
21 Brigham Young 11.5 41.1 52.6 8-2 Oklahoma (63.7) Wyoming (39) UNLV (38.7) Florida St (50) TCU (63.7) -
22 Utah 8.5 41.5 50.0 8-2 Air Force (48.6) Colorado St (39.3) UNLV (38.7) Oregon (66.5) TCU (69.7) -
23 Southern Cal 6.0 49.1 55.0 7-3 Ohio State (61.9) California (57.6) Notre Dame (54.8) Washington (48.3) Stanford (55.1) Oregon (66.5)
24 Mississippi 13.3 43.8 57.1 7-3 Arkansas (55) Tennessee (51.8) Vanderbilt (41.7) South Carolina (52.8) Auburn (55.6) Alabama (64)
25 Oregon St 7.5 47.2 54.7 7-3 California (57.6) Stanford (55.1) Arizona St (50.6) Arizona (51.3) Southern Cal (58) Cincinnati (59.2)

This entry was posted on Wednesday, November 18th, 2009 at 10:30 pm and is filed under College. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.