The Pi-Rate Ratings

August 12, 2018

2018 Mid-American Conference Preview

Note: The preseason ratings you see in the previews may not be the same as the ratings you see for the first game. We update every team’s rating based on player injuries, changes to the depth charts, and other factors that may change during preseason practice.

Some of our Group of 5 Conference won-loss predictions were figured before the beginning of August preseason practices. Thus, it could be that a player or players on some teams have already suffered season-ending or multiple game injuries or have left their teams, and these won-loss predictions no longer accurately reflect our ratings. We hope that by the time we preview the Power 5 conferences, we will know who is not going to be available (players and head coaches).

They call it “Maction.” The Mid-American Conference frequently produces teams capable of beating the lower half of the Big Ten and occasionally a weaker upper echelon team from their Big Brother rival conference. Additionally, the MAC has produced some star players that became NFL stars. It has also successfully placed its champion in the New Year’s 6 bowl that is reserved for a Group of 5 team.

2018 should be no different in these respects. The MAC has some strong teams, two or three of which are talented enough to make a run at the NY6 Bowl bid. On the other hand, these teams are good enough to beat each other and prevent the champion from running the table. Additionally, both divisions have more than one really good team, so it may be difficult to have either division champion go 8-0 in the league.

2018 could be another Year of the Quarterback in this league. Buffalo’s Tyree Jackson led the league in passing last year as a sophomore. Jackson missed four games, but when he was healthy, he was the top quarterback in the league. Against Bowling Green he topped 400 passing yards and three touchdowns versus no interceptions. He threw four TD passes the next week against Ball State, and he finished the year with 294 yards and two scores in a win over Ohio. If he stays healthy, Jackson could pass for 3,000 and run for 1,000 yards this year.

Another junior quarterback, Nathan Rourke makes Ohio’s offense potent. Rourke is also a dual-threat QB; his passing arm isn’t quite up to Jackson’s quality, but he is a little better runner and has a considerably better offensive line in Athens.

The MAC-East is rich with quality quarterbacks. Miami of Ohio’s Gus Ragland is the senior statesman of the division. Ragland became a star in the second half of the 2016 season, when he orchestrated a 6-0 finish after the Red Hawks began the season 0-6. He’s more of a move the pocket passer than Jackson or Rourke and will not beat opponents with his legs. Miami’s much improved offensive line should give Ragland a chance to compete for top passer in the MAC.

The West Division will have the best defensive team this year. Northern Illinois should have the best pass defense in the entire league, as their pass rush and pass coverage both rank as the tops in the MAC. NIU will face competition from Toledo, Western Michigan, Central Michigan, and even Eastern Michigan. The Huskies probably have the best chance at going 8-0 in the league, because the West is a little down compared to recent years.

One reason why no MAC team may qualify for the NY6 Bowl this year is a much tougher slate of non-conference schedules. Every team faces a tough Power 5 opponent, and the ratings call for the MAC to lose all of these games.  Northern Illinois could easily lose all four non-conference games having to play at Iowa, Florida State, and BYU and host Utah. Of course, our ratings cannot select upsets out of a hat, and usually there is always an upset or two, which is why we only rely on our ratings for picking the next game on the schedule for each team.

Here is how the MAC media voted in the preseason poll.

Team Votes
East Division 1st Place Total
1. Ohio 21 140
2. Buffalo 1 112
3. Miami (Ohio) 2 95
4. Akron 0 74
5. Bowling Green 0 58
6. Kent State 0 25
West Division 1st Place Total
1. Northern Illinois 15 133
2. Toledo 7 125
3. Western Michigan 1 87
4. Eastern Michigan 0 67
5. Central Michigan 1 58
6. Ball State 0 34

Picked to win 2018 MAC Championship Game
Ohio 13
Toledo 5
Northern Illinois 4
Miami 1
Central Michigan 1

The PiRate Ratings differ minimally from the media’s preseason opinions.

Mid-American Conference
East Division
Team MAC Overall PiRate Mean Bias Average
Ohio U 0-0 0-0 95.1 96.5 96.4 96.0
Buffalo 0-0 0-0 94.3 96.7 95.4 95.5
Miami (O) 0-0 0-0 91.5 93.9 93.4 92.9
Akron 0-0 0-0 90.5 92.1 90.7 91.1
Bowling Green 0-0 0-0 85.1 85.4 85.7 85.4
Kent St. 0-0 0-0 80.2 81.6 79.5 80.4
West Division
Team MAC Overall PiRate Mean Bias Average
Toledo 0-0 0-0 96.3 98.4 96.4 97.0
Northern Illinois 0-0 0-0 96.3 97.9 96.6 96.9
Western Michigan 0-0 0-0 91.5 93.8 92.9 92.8
Eastern Michigan 0-0 0-0 89.1 90.5 89.8 89.8
Central Michigan 0-0 0-0 84.8 88.5 85.2 86.2
Ball St. 0-0 0-0 77.7 80.4 77.4 78.5
MAC Averages 89.4 91.3 90.0 90.2


New Coaches

Kent State: Sean Lewis has some history in the MAC.  He was the offensive coordinator for Dino Babers at Bowling Green, when the Falcons torched MAC defenses for 45.6 points per game in 2015.  Lewis followed Babers to Syracuse, where he helped lead the Orangemen to new passing heights.  He played for Brett Bielema at Wisconsin, so he could incorporate some of his alma mater’s power game with the Baylor-style spread offense.

Predicted Won-Loss Records

Team Conference Overall
Ohio 7-1 10-3
Buffalo 6-2 8-4
Akron 4-4 5-7
Miami (O) 4-4 4-8
Bowling Green 1-7 3-9
Kent St. 0-8 1-11
Team Conference Overall
Northern Illinois 8-0 9-4 *
Toledo 7-1 9-3
Western Michigan 4-4 6-6
Eastern Michigan 4-4 5-7
Central Michigan 2-6 3-9
Ball St. 1-7 2-10
* Northern Illinois picked to win MAC Championship Game

Bowl Tie-ins
The MAC does not have a set bowl pecking order. They send teams to bowls to create the best overall games. These are the bowls tie-ins for 2018.

Boca Raton Bowl in Boca Raton, FL
Camellia Bowl in Montgomery, AL
Dollar General Bowl in Mobile, AL
Frisco Bowl in Frisco, TX
Idaho Potato Bowl in Boise, ID

There is a secondary bowl agreement with the Quick Lane Bowl in Detroit if it needs an at-large alternate.

Coming Tomorrow–The Mountain West Conference

August 10, 2018

2018 Sun Belt Conference Preview

Welcome to the 2018 College Football season! It has been a long Winter, Spring, and Summer in dry dock, but the PiRates have fixed the ship up better than new, and we are anxious to launch our repaired vessel to the Gridiron Sea for 2018-19.

If you read yesterday’s post, we took on a remodeling job with our ratings this year. New analytical data became available to convince us that we needed to tweak the weighting we gave each position on the field, more in the NFL, but still a great deal in the NCAA. Thus, some schools that may have been ranked in the top 25 to start the season did not climb out of the 30’s, while one or two schools that may have faced what we thought might have been rebuilding seasons stayed in the top 25. We will know soon how well the new system fares. The advanced statistics should be more accurate if history holds up, but the sample size is still small enough that some increased standard deviation and variance could give us some nervous Saturdays in September. By the first of October, the ratings should be about the same as they would be if we kept the old algorithms.

Before we start with out first preview, let us notify you that the preseason ratings you see in the previews may not be the same as the ratings you see for the first game. We update every team’s rating based on player injuries, changes to the depth charts, and other factors that may change during preseason practice. Of course, we also have two major stories that will force us to alter the ratings before week one–What happens with Urban Meyer at Ohio State, and how many players from North Carolina will not dress for the California game in Berkeley.

With our ratings, the total average for the 130 teams must be 100.0, so if we remove 10 points from one school and 7 points from another, those lost 17 points have to be redistributed to the other 128 teams. It isn’t as easy as that, because upwards of 40 schools will need to have their opening week ratings lowered due to the high number of roster adjustments in August, and the remaining 90 schools will then pick up fractions of a point to as much as a couple of points.

Now that the preliminary announcements have been made, let’s start with this year’s first conference preview. Bringing up the rear yet again is the Sun Belt Conference, which ranks 11th out of 11 leagues in FBS power rating.

The SBC has changed quite a bit in 2018. Idaho left the conference and FBS football, as the Vandals dropped to FCS. New Mexico State left to become an independent just one year after breaking a string of 14 consecutive losing seasons and celebrating their first bowl win since 1960.

There are now 10 teams in the Sun Belt Conference, but the league has now split into two divisions, and there will be a conference championship game on December 1st.

Last year, Appalachian State and Troy tied for the league championship, with Arkansas State, Georgia State, and former member New Mexico State joining the co-champions in bowl games. Troy won with their defense and a strong passing game, while Appy State won with their balanced offense and tough pass defense.

Here is how the SBC media voted in the preseason poll.

Team Votes
East Division 1st Place Overall
1. Appalachian State 6 46
2. Troy 4 44
3. Georgia State 0 26
4. Georgia Southern 0 22
5. Coastal Carolina 0 12
West Division 1st Place Overall
1. Arkansas St. 9 49
2. Louisiana-Monroe 0 37
3. South Alabama 1 26
4. Louisiana 0 25
5. Texas State 0 13

There were no votes for overall conference champion.

The PiRate Ratings are a tad different to begin the 2018 season. They agree with the media all up and down in the West Division, but the East is different at the top, where Troy begins the season ranked ahead of Appy State, and Georgia Southern leads Georgia State at the beginning of the season.

East Division
Team SBC Overall PiRate Mean Bias Average
Troy 0-0 0-0 91.8 93.7 93.7 93.1
Appalachian St. 0-0 0-0 87.5 89.1 88.7 88.4
Georgia Southern 0-0 0-0 82.5 83.7 82.4 82.9
Georgia St. 0-0 0-0 77.6 80.6 78.4 78.9
Coastal Carolina 0-0 0-0 73.2 76.4 73.6 74.4
West Division
Team SBC Overall PiRate Mean Bias Average
Arkansas St. 0-0 0-0 88.0 89.8 89.7 89.2
UL-Monroe 0-0 0-0 87.3 86.7 88.1 87.4
South Alabama 0-0 0-0 81.4 83.8 82.6 82.6
Louisiana 0-0 0-0 78.9 81.1 79.9 80.0
Texas State 0-0 0-0 70.4 73.9 69.9 71.4
Sun Belt Averages 81.9 83.9 82.7 82.8

New Coaches
Georgia Southern elevated Chad Lunsford from interim coach to full-time head coach, and Lunsford will move the Eagles back to the option/zone read offense that former coach Willie Fritz used when GSU went 8-4 and played in the Bowl. Lunsford assumed head coaching duties last year when Georgia Southern began the year 0-6 and averaging just 18 points per game. Under Lunsford, the team finished 2-4 and averaged 23.7 points per game. Expect the Eagles to top 25 points per game and approach 28 to 30 this year.

Louisiana begins the Billy Napier era in Lafayette. Napier has an impressive resume that includes working for Dabo Swinney and Nick Saban. He most recently served as offensive coordinator at Arizona State, where the Sun Devils averaged 31.8 yards and 431 yards per game. Napier was offered to remain in Tempe as the offensive coordinator under Coach Herm Edwards, but he took the job in Lafayette instead.

South Alabama welcomes Steve Campbell to Ladd-Peebles Stadium. Campbell enjoyed an outstanding four-year stint at FCS Central Arkansas. He led the Bears to a 33-15 record including back-to-back 10-win seasons and FCS Playoff bids. Campbell served as the offensive line coach at Mississippi State for one season and as offensive coordinator at Middle Tennessee for one season as his only paid FBS coaching experience. He was also a graduate assistant under Pat Dye at Auburn.

Predicted Won-Loss Records

Team Conference Overall
Troy 8-0 11-2*
Appalachian St. 6-2 9-3
Georgia Southern 4-4 6-6
Georgia St. 2-6 3-9
Coastal Carolina 0-8 1-11
Team Conference Overall
Arkansas St. 8-0 10-3
UL-Monroe 6-2 7-5
Louisiana 4-4 6-6
South Alabama 2-6 3-9
Texas St. 0-8 1-11
* Troy picked to win SBC Championship Game

Bowl Tie-ins
The SBC does not have a set bowl order. They send eligible teams to bowls to create the best overall games. These are the bowls tie-ins for 2018.

Arizona Bowl in Tucson, AZ
Camellia Bowl in Montgomery, AL
Cure Bowl in Orlando, FL
Dollar General Bowl in Mobile, AL
New Orleans Bowl in New Orleans, LA

Coming Tomorrow–Conference USA

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