Football Outsiders Almanac
Last week, we discussed the 2010 Football Outsiders Almanac preview of Boston College and the ACC Atlantic Division race. To shed more light on FOA's preseason predictions and methodology, we welcome FOA writer Bill Connelly - also of Rock M Nation fame - to the blog for Five Good Minutes.
BC Interruption: In this year's FO preview, you predict BC to go 9-3 (5-3) with a mean win total of 8.9. What factors go into this mean win total?
Football Outsiders Almanac: The projections themselves are based on a number of factors. In college football, the best predictor for future success is past success, and the most heavily weighted factor in the projections is recent history. That doesn't just mean last year's performance either -- there is actually a stronger predictive correlation with four-year history than there is for last season.
Beyond recent history, recruiting rankings are taken heavily into account. While we can all point to teams or players that did not achieve what their recruiting rankings suggested, on average it is highly predictive. We use a weighted five-year recruiting average from Rivals.com for that piece.
Change factors are also factored in to a lesser degree -- returning starters, talent lost to the NFL Draft, last year's turnover margin and fumble recovery percentage, etc.
For BC, recent history is very much their friend (they rank 15th in the country in "Program F/+", our measure of recent success), though obviously they do not recruit at as high a level as other ACC teams (five-year recruiting rank: 48th).
BCI: How many years has Football Outsiders predicted the college football season? How do your past years' projections for BC stack up to the Eagles' actual win totals?
FOA: I believe this is the third year FO has made college projections -- Briam Fremeau used his Fremeau Efficiency Index (FEI) to make projections before this season, and I jumped in to help this time around. It has expanded slightly each year, but we really haven't been doing it long enough to get a read on how successful we are compared to others. This column from Brian shows how this projection system would have done last season, but it is not a perfect comparison, since we used last year's data in our projections. It's not perfectly clean, but the correlations are very, very good, and we're optimistic about how we will do this season.
BCI: One of BC's strongest Divisional competitors, Florida State, is considered by many to be the preseason favorite to win the Atlantic Division. Yet FO predicts only a 6-6 (5-3) season for the 'Noles in Jimbo Fisher's first season. (You must not want to sell a lot of almanacs ranking FSU so low. Just kidding!) Why such a discrepancy between what FO predicts and pretty much everyone else?
FOA: Most people assume that Florida State will undergo an immediate defensive turnaround in 2010 under Jimbo Fisher, and while that is certainly possible, our projections aren't built to account for coaching changes just yet, not until we figure out the best way to approach it. And since the largest portion of our projections comes from recent history … well, recent history hasn't been as kind to Florida State as the past 25 years have. They have recruited well, and that helps them out a bit, but with a brutal schedule (they're projected to go just 1-3 out of conference) and no actual proof that a turnaround is on its way, the FO projections are going to take the conservative route.
BCI: Is Clemson still your preseason pick to win the Atlantic if Kyle Parker doesn't suit up for the Tigers this fall? How much of a factor is the QB in arriving at a record projection?
FOA: Honestly, individual returnees do not carry as much weight as one would think. Here are the correlations between returning starters at a given position and next year's success:
Meanwhile, here are the correlations for other factors:
4-year F/+ history: 0.812
Last Year's F/+ performance: 0.718
5-year Weighted Recruiting Rk: 0.662
Those factors play a much larger role in the projections than the effect of any one player. The loss of Parker would hurt them, but right now they are seventeen spots ahead of second-place Boston College (Clemson is No. 12, BC No. 29), so I am betting that they would still be projected to win the division.
These projections are always going to play it on the safe side -- one person doesn't make a huge difference, and one SEASON doesn't make a huge difference (we had Ole Miss projected lower than everybody else last year because anytime you see a team take a sudden, gigantic step forward, they are unlikely to take another step forward after that -- a bit of regression to the mean is likely).
BCI: In FO's ACC preview, you mention the few teams that play well on both sides of the ball - Virginia Tech, Clemson and Miami - are the favorites to reach the conference championship game. Which "unbalanced" team, for lack of a better term, do you think has the best chance of earning a trip to Charlotte?
FOA: With a logjam in the Coastal Division, you would have to think the truly 'best' chance to make the title game would have to come in the Atlantic, and if you look past Clemson to more unbalanced teams, then it comes down to either defense-heavy Boston College or offense-heavy Florida State. They are virtually even (FSU is projected No. 33, and they are both projected to go 5-3 in conference), and the BC-FSU game is in Tallahassee, so I would give the 'Noles the slight nod. The Atlantic is definitely the place to be this year.
BCI: Last one, in your appendix about the history of conference realignment, I saw that BC has had the highest boost in winning percentage among teams that have joined the ACC (Georgia Tech, FSU, Miami, Virginia Tech and BC). Why do you think BC has been successful since moving to the ACC?
FOA: It wasn't winning percentage that we were using in the comparison -- it was percentile performance, i.e. where their general ranks were in comparison to the rest of the country. Boston College improved by basically winning the same number of games every year while playing tougher schedules. Since joining the ACC in 2005, they've gotten cracks at teams like Miami and Florida State while still playing Virginia Tech, and they have generally fared well. BC has really been a bit of a freak of nature in the way they have maintained their football identity despite going through a few different coaches and changing conferences over the last decade. They are easy for people to write off because they rarely have the "star power" that attracts eyeballs (Matt Ryan begs to differ, obviously). Instead, they have just gone about their business with superior line play and smart defense and have rather consistently played at a rather high level.
BCI: Thanks for joining us, Bill.
Be sure to check out Football Outsiders Almanac and their college football section. The PDF of their college football almanac can be purchased here for $5.