How College Football Rankings Work

The Simple Explanation of How College Football Rankings Work

The Simple Explanation of How College Football Rankings Work

College football has always had a difficult relationship with rankings. There are too many teams and not enough games to thoroughly evaluate the abilities of each program.The reality is that there is no way to compile a perfect rankings system. The end result is a fistful of different ranking systems. If used correctly, these ranking systems are a tremendous tool when betting college football online.

The Coaches Poll, the AP Poll, the Playoff Committee rankings, various computer-based hierarchies: it can be difficult to keep all the various ranking systems straight in your head. Here’s a handy cheat-sheet of sorts, which provides an outline of each college football ranking system and details their varying levels of importance for sports bettors

College Football Playoff Committee Rankings

College Football Playoff committee rankings are a list of the top 25 teams, ranked by the committee that selects teams for the College Football Playoff.

Playoff committee rankings are  best for figuring out which teams have a chance at making the Playoff because the list clearly  indicates the committee’s preferences. That said, it’s not particularly good at evaluating the relative strength of teams. A fantastic mid-major who’s pasting everybody will likely be ranked well behind less impressive Power 5 teams.

Big name programs like Notre Dame are often  overrated because of the Committee’s responsibility to TV rights holders. Things like conference championships, which ultimately do not affect team performance, are heavily weighted. It’s a human committee, and thus a flawed one, and the justifications the committee provides for its rankings are often comedy gold.

Ultimately, these rankings remain  important because this committee has final say in who gets a chance at the national title. They’re just not as useful for directly comparing the relative strength of two teams.

When Do CFP Committee Rankings Come Out?

College Football Playoff committee rankings are released every Tuesday night, starting roughly seven weeks into the season. The final 2019 rankings, which determine the Playoff and New Year’s Six bowl games, will come out on Sunday, December 8th.

Who Puts Playoff Committee Rankings Together?

The College Football Playoff Committee is made up of athletic directors and university chiefs from across the country, as well as some retired media types and (for a while) Condoleezza Rice.

What Do CFP Committee Rankings Determine?

The playoff committee rankings determine who goes to the top bowl games, including those that make up the College Football Playoff.

Here’s a rule for every ranking system based on opinion polling: higher ranked teams will not necessarily be favored against lower ranked teams when they meet head to head.

Bettors should be wary of putting too much credence on human ranking systems when making wagers. Sportsbooks do their own calculations of relative team strength. These calculations often line up with the polls—the top-ranked team will generally be a sizable favorite over anyone not in, say, the top-15—but this is not always the case.

Sportsbooks are less susceptible to things like recency bias and brand name programs, and they are more attuned to factors like margin-of-victory and overall efficiency, which are a better gauge of future success than win/loss records.

BCS Rankings: A Thing of the Past

The BCS is how we used to determine who played in the national championship game. In short, it aggregated the results of the Coaches Poll, the AP Poll (and later the Harris Interactive Poll), and different computer-ranking systems to calculate the top two teams in the nation.

BCS rankings are no longer a thing – but many fans and bettors confuse today’s playoff committee rankings with this older term.  This confusion is understandable considering the BCS endured from 1998-2013 and college football isn’t exactly big on change.

When Do BCS Rankings Come Out?

They don’t anymore, ever since the Playoff was introduced.

Who Puts BCS Rankings Together?

They were a composite of human and computer rankings.

What Do BCS Rankings Mean?

Nothing, because they don’t exist anymore. WeI cannot stress enough how little existing they do these days.

The AP (Associated Press) Poll

Put together by 65 sportswriters from across the country, the AP (Associated Press) Poll is one of college football’s oldest traditions. Before the introduction of the College Football Playoff, the “national champion” was whoever finished the season atop of the AP Poll.

The AP Poll is another human poll of the top-25 teams in the nation, but it’s a little bit more palatable than the committee rankings. Really good mid-majors tend to be ranked higher by the AP than the playoff committee, but the rankings still skew towards the Power 5 and particularly the SEC.

The preseason edition of the AP Poll is often the subject of much debate, which is its purpose. After all, the Associated Press is most interested in selling headlines, not accurately predicting winners.

When Do AP Polls Come Out?

Every Sunday during college football season, usually around noon ET.

Who Puts AP Polls Together?

A group of AP-affiliated sportswriters from across the country.

What Do AP Polls Mean?

The AP Poll represents a consensus opinion from top sportswriters. The poll has no effect on who plays who in the postseason.

The Coaches Poll

What do sportswriters know, anyway? Coaches are at the coalface of college football; surely their opinion is better informed than anybody else’s. That’s the thinking, behind the Amway Coaches Poll, which polls 62 FBS head coaches to produce a(nother) top-25.

Coaches Poll rankings are often quite similar to those from the AP Poll. Once upon a time, it was also one component of the BCS rankings. The old crystal football that used to be the national championship trophy was named “The Coaches Trophy,” interestingly, and apparently, they still give you one when you win.

The Coaches Poll is, if anything, a little kinder to mid-majors and a little less likely to get caught up in the hype than the AP Poll.

When Does the Coaches Poll Come Out?

Every Sunday during college football season, generally slightly before the AP poll.

Who Puts the Coaches Poll Together?

Amway/USA Today polls 62 FBS coaches, including some of the most prominent in the country.

What Does the Coaches Poll Mean?

The Coaches Poll indicates who those 62 coaches think the best teams in the country are. Like the AP Poll, it has no effect on who plays who in the postseason.

Computer Rankings

Human polls are bad at predicting future performance.

If a team is ranked #1 this week, what does that mean for their chances against a #2 ranked program? Can they cover a seven-point spread on the road? Is the difference between #1 and #2 bigger than the difference between #2 and #3? Human polls don’t provide any real indication, but there’s another option for bettors looking for a deeper understanding of each team’s relative abilities.

Computer rankings are systems built to analyze games and come up with a more accurate understanding of relative team quality. They’re blind to things like brand name and hype. For the most part, they simply analyze the plays of every football game to produce an understanding of relative team quality.

Key statistical metrics like offensive and defensive efficiency and success rate are favored over the (somewhat trite) narrative arcs that sports media (and the rankings produced by sports media sites) seem to favor. They’re also unconcerned with concepts of respect or fairness, such that a team can beat a rival fair and square and find itself ranked behind that same opponent anyway. For this reason, they tend to annoy die-hard fans and find favor with bettors.

Best Computer Rankings for Betting

Football Outsiders (the people that make DVOA efficiency ratings for NFL teams) puts together a rating system called “S&P+,” which uses play-by-play analysis to measure performance and rank teams based on their efficiency, explosiveness, field position, ability to finish drives, and turnover margin.

The site also produces the Fremeau Efficiency Index (or FEI) which calculates the number of points scored over the expected number of points based on starting field position, and “F/+,” which is a combination of the FEI and S&P+. Both are effective ways to formulate win expectancy percentages, which can be used for moneyline betting, and projected scores, which are great when betting against the spread.

No system is perfect, but these efficiency rankings tend to  perform pretty well against the spread, particularly in the first few weeks of the season.

ESPN’s Football Power Index has similar aims, in that it calculates the number of expected points for a given down, distance, and field position. The difference lies in the frequency with which the metric is calculated: whereas FEI predicts expected points per possession, the Power Index does the same calculation for every individual play.

The final computer-modeled metric all bettors should be aware of is Massey-Peabody. The criteria behind this ranking system is a little opaque, but from what we know, they use an improved metric for yards per play rushing and passing, plus efficiency numbers for scoring and play success.

When Do Computer Rankings Come Out?

New computer rankings come out at various times during the week, although they are usually a little slower than, say, the easier-to-compile Coaches Poll.

Who Puts Computer Rankings Together?

Whoever has the time. If you’ve got a head for numbers, you could compile your own!

What Do Computer Rankings Mean?

They’re only as important as you make them and have no official status with the NCAA. Use them to inform your wagers and more effectively handicap college football matchups.

Unlike the human polls, which put a massive premium on winning games, computer models tend to value more detailed factors like margin of victory, which tend to be better indicators of future performance when compared and evaluated collectively.

Looking to Learn More About College Football?

Ranking systems are useful, but they don’t paint the whole picture when it comes to college football betting. In fact, the best NCAA football betting sites use a variety of handicapping methods to set lines for each game.

Check out our how-to bet on sports section for more information on everything you need to know when it comes to betting on NCAAF action!

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