Week 7 Achievement Index: Who you lose to matters

This week’s Top 4 in the Achievement Index is Big 10 heavy. A week after the Big 12 surged into prominence, Michigan State’s dramatic last-second win at rival Michigan coupled with Iowa’s dismantling of Northwestern pushed those two teams into the playoff field (if it started today).  The Top 4 for Week 7, in order, is Michigan State, Utah, Iowa and TCU.

Of course, all of those teams are undefeated, and if they remain so, they’ll continue to look good for making the season’s Final 4 (though it is naturally impossible for both Iowa and Michigan State to both finish undefeated).  What’s more interesting is looking at the hierarchy of one-loss teams, and how those teams shake out.  And in general, a theme emerges: Unlike the pollsters, the raw data doesn’t care about the logos on your helmets or the tradition your program boasts.  It also doesn’t care about your statistical profile. Instead, the data looks at one factor above all others: Who did you lose to?

I am fundamentally okay with this (for now), because this rationale was what created the playoff system in the first place.

In 2011, Oklahoma State was passed over for a second SEC school in the championship game (and this event, of two SEC schools in the title game, largely sparked the other leagues into action to get the playoff off the ground).  OSU was denied because of one patented argument. It wasn’t historical precedent … well, it actually kind of was, but the folks in charge didn’t want to admit that … but rather an examination of the losses. Alabama’s only loss that year was “better,” an overtime defeat to the No. 1 team in the country, LSU.  Oklahoma State’s loss came on the road to .500-ish Iowa State.  That was the logic used at the time by many talking heads and voters to move Alabama up in the polls, assuring the Crimson Tide of a title shot and OSU of sitting home.

A home loss to No. 1 was deemed less offensive than a road loss to a team in the middle of the pack somewhere.  And my system, for whatever it’s worth, agrees. But the irony here is the primary beneficiary last time in Alabama, the team many pundits are already giving a pass to in our current season (yesterday on ESPN, several talking heads had Alabama in their personal Top 4 or close to it), is a team that if we apply this past precedent to in the form of my system, comes nowhere close to sniffing the Top 4.

Where is Alabama? No. 40.  The Crimson Tide, despite several quality wins at this point, have one giant gross home loss on their resume, to Ole Miss.  As the Rebels continue to lose and continue to see their statistical profile tumble, the Tide continues to be weighted down by that loss.  And justifiably so.  Who you lose to (and where) matters. Or at least it’s supposed to, if we are to take the example of 2011 to heart.  (And yes, Ole Miss is dealing with injuries. As a Kansas State fan, I respond with this: Cry me a freakin’ river.)

According to the metrics, Clemson is the best team in the country. Notre Dame’s only loss is to the Tigers.  Hence Notre Dame gets the benefit of the doubt as the top one-loss team in the rankings … even ranking above Clemson itself. Weird? Remember, it’s all about what you’ve accomplished.

Or more accurately in Alabama’s case, what you failed to accomplish.

Before we get to the whole rankings, here once again is the rundown of my methodology:

  1. Each team is ascribed a score derived from the combined efficiency rankings produced by the fine folks at Football Outsiders (specifically, Bill Connelley and Brian Fremeau), termed the “F/+” rankings.  The basic gist of each set of rankings that goes into this merged list — individually the “FEI” and the “S&P+ Ratings” — is to evaluate a team based on its efficiency on individual plays.  If you want a general sense of how “good” a team is, with only a few exceptions, you’re going to get an accurate reading from these.
  2. The scores pulled from the F/+ do not factor into an individual team’s ranking, however.  Rather, they provide the basis for evaluating who said team has played.  So for example, Wisconsin didn’t get any credit in regards to its own ranking for being the No. 35 team in the F/+, but it did get credit for facing Alabama, which ranks at No. 2.  In reverse, Alabama didn’t get credit for being No. 2, but did get credit for beating No. 35.  This is all about accomplishments. And for simplicity’s sake, all teams from below the FBS level got ascribed the same value: 129, which is one slot lower than the lowest FBS team (128).
  3. Basic weighting is applied such that, in general, road wins>neutral wins>home wins>bye weeks>road losses>neutral losses>home losses.  There are discrepancies such that a particularly egregious home loss can hurt a team more than two road losses, or a loss to No. 1 can actually help a team more than being off that week.  The actual weighting involved is the wild card here, as I expect I may tweak it some as we go along.  Lots of philosophical debates are involved in this process (For example: Is a road win worth more than two home wins?  And is a neutral site loss to No. 1 worse or better than a road loss to No. 8?).  These questions can go on for days, honestly, and much of it is dependent on an individual’s point of view.  I tried to go with the above approach as much as possible and applied a fair, consistent system across the board, so we’ll see where the chips fall.

And one final note … this is through games completed as of Oct. 18 (no last-minute Mac-tion additions; those will be added in due course at the conclusion of next week).  So with all that said, here we go:

1. Michigan State (7-0) … 96.357
2. Utah (6-0) … 99.786
3. Iowa (7-0) … 107.357
4. TCU (7-0) … 109.143
5. Ohio State (7-0) … 117.786
6. Notre Dame (6-1) … 127.214
7. Memphis (6-0) … 134.714
8. LSU (6-0) … 141.571
9. Florida State (6-0) … 142
10. Oklahoma State (6-0) … 153.643
11. Baylor (6-0) … 156.286
12. Temple (6-0) … 157.857
13. Clemson (6-0) … 166.071
14. Toledo (6-0) … 173
15. Houston (6-0) … 174.429
16. Appalachian State (5-1) … 191.357*
17. Florida (6-1) … 418.429
18. Cal (5-1) … 438.286
19. Texas A&M (5-1) … 478.286
20. Navy (4-1) … 581.714
21. Pittsburgh (5-1) … 603.714
22. Georgia Southern (5-1) … 979.143
23. Georgia (5-2) … 1444.571
24. Utah State (4-2) … 1590.643
25. Ole Miss (5-2) … 1753

* Like Notre Dame, App St.’s only loss is to Clemson, hence the Mountaineers’ appearance in the Top 16.  We shouldn’t expect it to last much longer, as even wins over the likes of Troy, Idaho and Louisiana-Lafayette will be a significant drag on their profile.

26. BYU (5-2) … 1829.571
27. Illinois (4-2) … 1952.571
28. Penn State (5-2) … 2133.714
29. Stanford (5-1) … 2146.071
30. Northwestern (5-2) … 2148.857
31. Wisconsin (5-2) … 2187.857
32. Mississippi State (5-2) … 2237.071
33. Texas Tech (5-2) … 2592.786
34. Western Kentucky (6-1) … 2623
35. Michigan (5-2) … 3135.786*
36. Boise State (4-2) … 3217.929
37. Marshall (6-1) … 3262.071
38. East Carolina (4-3) … 3298.929
39. Miami (4-2) … 3596.857
40. Alabama (6-1) … 3845.571
41. West Virginia (3-3) … 4077.143
42. Kansas State (3-3) … 4100.214
43. Arizona State (4-3) … 4510.357
44. Northern Illinois (4-3) … 5204.714
45. Air Force (3-3) … 5211.714
46. Auburn (4-2) … 5277
47. Louisiana Tech (4-3) … 5370.5
48. Western Michigan (3-3) … 5387.214
49. Bowling Green (5-2) … 5516.857
50. Missouri (4-3) … 6519.643

* Michigan is one of those teams, like Alabama, that passes the “eyeball” test. That is, of course, a stupidly ignorant way to rank teams, though I will allow that on the face of it, it seems harsh to ding Michigan too hard for last week’s loss. But we’re in the business of evaluating results, and Michigan shouldn’t have lost that game. That they did still counts against them.

51. USC (3-3) … 6850
52. Arizona (5-2) … 6882.429
53. Oklahoma (5-1) … 7060.643
54. North Carolina (5-1) … 7285
55. Texas (2-4) … 7548.714
56. Iowa State (2-4) … 7584.256
57. Oregon State (2-4) … 7751.429
58. Rice (3-3) … 7993.929
59. Syracuse (3-3) … 8106.571
60. Duke (5-1) … 8196.5*
61. Tulsa (3-3) … 8607.429
62. Tennessee (3-3) … 8680.571
63. Southern Miss (4-3) … 8982.429
64. South Florida (3-3) … 9162.571
65. Maryland (2-4) … 10096.857
66. Cincinnati (3-3) … 10098.714
67. N.C. State (4-2) … 10170.214
68. Virginia (2-4) … 10270.857
69. Central Michigan (3-4) … 10497.429
70. Minnesota (4-3) … 10818.357
71. UCLA (4-2) … 10820.643
72. Oregon (4-3) … 11390.071
73. Virginia Tech (3-4) … 11587.071
74. Florida International (3-4) … 12253.357
75. Louisville (2-4) … 12396.286

* The Blue Devils are a trendy Top 25 pick right now, and with only one loss, it’s hard to argue that point too much. But they’re lower than that here thanks partly to a home loss (to Northwestern), but more importantly, because their wins don’t amount to much yet.

76. Georgia Tech (2-5) … 13014.571
77. Arkansas State (3-3) … 13336.214
78. Washington (3-3) … 13987.929
79. Middle Tennessee (3-4) … 14111.143
80. Tulane (2-4) … 14140.857
81. Rutgers (3-3) … 14274.214
82. Kentucky (4-2) … 14359.786
83. Vanderbilt (2-4) … 14712.214
84. Ohio (5-2) … 15018.571
85. Arkansas (2-4) … 15093.929
86. Fresno State (2-5) … 15237.429
87. Kent State (3-4) … 16065.643
88. South Carolina (3-4) … 16342.429
89. Indiana (4-3) … 16791.286
90. Nebraska (3-4) … 17031.143*
91. Wake Forest (3-4) … 17061.929
92. Old Dominion (3-3) … 18176.357
93. Boston College (3-4) … 18305.714
94. UConn (3-4) … 19317.071
95. Texas State (1-4) … 19391.143
96. Louisiana-Lafayette (2-3) … 20367.714
97. Akron (3-4) … 21008.786
98. Louisiana-Monroe (1-5) … 21135.429
99. Hawaii (2-5) … 21191.143
100. New Mexico (4-3) … 21713.071

* Of the teams in this range, Nebraska might well have the most upward mobility. For one, they suffered home losses to teams that could very well improve/sustain enough in the rankings to not hurt them as badly as might first be assumed. They also have a chance to earn three solid wins down the stretch (Northwestern, Michigan State, Iowa). Then again, they have to win those games to see the benefit.

101. San Diego State (4-3) … 22500.286
102. Washington State (4-2) … 22971.429
103. Troy (2-4) … 24744.286
104. San Jose State (3-4) … 24849
105. UTEP (2-4) … 25687.214
106. South Alabama (3-3) … 26249.071
107. Colorado State (3-4) … 26987.071
108. Ball State (2-5) … 28801.786
109. Buffalo (2-4) … 29456.286
110. UMass (1-5) … 30039.714
111. Colorado (3-4) … 30676.857
112. Charlotte (2-4) … 31257.357
113. Miami, Ohio (1-6) … 32008.286
114. UNLV (2-5) … 32400.857
115. Purdue (1-6) … 34494
116. SMU (1-5) … 35149.143
117. Nevada (3-4) … 36632
118. Kansas (0-6) … 42270*
119. UTSA (1-6) … 42352
120. Idaho (1-5) … 45606.857
121. Army (2-5) … 46587.5
122. New Mexico State (0-6) … 48698.571
123. Georgia State (2-4) … 51157.786
124. North Texas (0-6) … 55770
125. Florida Atlantic (1-5) … 58649.714
126. UCF (0-7) … 63600
127. Wyoming (1-6) … 67013.143
128. Eastern Michigan (1-6) … 72393.643

* KU is one of the weaker teams in the nation by most any measure, and the Jayhawks have an excellent chance at going winless. Yet their profile will continue to rise in the coming weeks simply due to strength of schedule. As we said about Alabama, it matters who you lose to, and Kansas, though it will likely pile up a lot of losses down the stretch, will be playing some pretty salty teams in the Big 12.

I suppose it’s best to take the silver linings where we can get them.

Week 6 rankings
Week 5 rankings

Week 4 rankings
Week 3 rankings

Week 2 rankings

As always, let me know your thoughts and feel free to share with friends, family, and special persons of import.  See any errors in record/placement?  Probably a typo since I did most of this by hand, but I’d appreciate hearing about it anyway … I might have goofed up something in the rankings themselves.

2 thoughts on “Week 7 Achievement Index: Who you lose to matters”

  1. The ‘outliers’ like Notre Dame and Alabama interest me, thanks for detailing their positions. Interested to see the shake out when the season winds down.

    1. Yeah, me too! I keep waiting for Alabama’s overall strength of schedule to make up the difference for them, and it just hasn’t happened. The biggest thing that can/will help them is teams above them taking home losses. For anyone outside the Top 15 or so, there’s a reasonable chance of that happening, so I would expect that if the Tide keeps winning, it’s going to work its way back into the Top 20. I would feel a whole lot better about the system as a whole if a one-loss Alabama were somewhere in the Top 8 at the end of the day, but I’m not going to panic about it until we get closer.

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