The Pi-Rate Ratings

August 12, 2019

2019 FBS Independents Preview

Note: There isn’t much to preview about the 2019 FBS Independents, so today you get a little incite about how these ratings began and how the Independents of football began to see the light about the weaknesses of not having conference affiliation.

This is the 150th year anniversary for college football.  Yours truly vividly remembers the 100th year anniversary in 1969.  That’s the year these ratings were born.  At the time, I was sort of enamored with Ohio State University and Coach Woody Hayes.  He was dedicated to perfecting what he thought was the way to win football.  Having watched the Buckeyes defeat O.J. Simpson and the USC Trojans in the Rose Bowl the season before, I expected Ohio State to challenge the 1944 and 1945 Army teams for best in the history of the game.

On October 11, 1969, Ohio State faced a ranked Michigan State team that had just lost a close game to Notre Dame.  The Buckeyes had begun the season with slaughters over TCU and Washington.  This was the fateful Saturday that led to the creation of the PiRate Ratings.

On that Saturday, Ohio State took care of business by running the Spartans into the ground and winning by more than 30 points.  Then, something incredible happened that night.  My hometown team, the school where multiple family members attended, Vanderbilt hosted Alabama at Dudley Field.  Vanderbilt was 0-3, and ‘Bama was 3-0.  Led by sophomore phenom and future head coach Watson Brown, Vanderbilt beat Alabama 14-10 in the greatest upset of the season.

The following Monday, I went to school and a teacher asked me what I thought about the weekend’s games.  On the playground, when we played touch football, we chose teams.  We called my team “Ohio State,” while the other team called themselves “Penn State,” because Alabama was no longer worthy of being good enough.

There was an argument that day.  Which team was better–Ohio State or Penn State?  Both teams won every game the year before.  Both teams had won every game so far this year, and both teams had just easily defeated ranked teams on that Saturday.

I went home the following day to read the old Nashville Banner newspaper, an afternoon publication.  The AP and UPI top 20 rankings were in the sports pages of that day’s paper.  The entire top 10 featured undefeated teams.  Among the teams besides Ohio State and Penn State were Texas and Arkansas from the Southwest Conference, UCLA and USC from the Pac-8 Conference, and Tennessee, LSU, and Florida from the SEC.  The other team was Missouri, a team that had just creamed Michigan and Nebraska.

I looked at the rankings and then glanced over at the “Litratings.”  The Litratings were a ratings system compiled by Dr. Edward Litkenhous, a famed Vanderbilt engineering professor.  In the days before computers, there were three alternatives to the AP and UPI rankings.  They were Dunkel, Carr, and Litkenhous.  The Nashville Banner carried the Litratings, as Dr. Litkenhous personally delivered his ratings to the paper every week.

I began comparing scores and opponents of the top 10 teams.  It was crude, but I basically started this to show my friends why Ohio State was the best team in college football, and that Penn State was not even as good as any of those undefeated conference teams.

The rest of the season, I happily compiled new top 10 rankings based on my crude mathematical knowledge, and each week through the middle of November, Ohio State was still the best team.  There were just four teams remaining that were unbeaten and untied–Ohio State, Penn State, Texas, and Arkansas.  On that next Saturday, Michigan gave Ohio State a spanking in Ann Arbor.  Seeking revenge for a 50-14 defeat in Columbus the year before, the Wolverines’ defense was superb, and the Buckeyes’  season ended at 8-1 and no chance for a national championship.

Meanwhile, Texas and Penn State slaughtered and shut out their opponents, while Arkansas beat a better quality opponent in SMU.  So, who was the top team in the nation?  My personal ratings said that Penn State was a tad better than Texas and Arkansas.  Once tied USC and once beaten LSU were just a tad behind.

Penn State closed out the regular season with two convincing road victories over mediocre teams, one over rival Pittsburgh and one over North Carolina St.  Arkansas and Texas both easily handled mediocre Southwest Conference teams.

Penn State accepted the Orange Bowl bid for the second year in a row.  They could have accepted a bid to the Cotton Bowl to play the Arkansas-Texas winner, but at the time they had to vote, Ohio State was still undefeated and a win over Michigan would clinch the national title.  The Buckeyes could not play in the Rose Bowl that year, because the Big Ten still did not allow teams to play in Rose Bowls in consecutive seasons.  They would be 9-0 and undisputed national champions with a win over Michigan.

Additionally, this was just six years after President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas, and a lot of people from outside the South and Southwest thought of Dallas as an outlaw town where the 1960s were not that much different than the 1860s.  Some of the African-American players on the Penn State team did not want to go to Dallas, so the team voted to return to Miami on New Year’s Day.  Their opponent would be 9-1 Missouri, the team that slaughtered Michigan earlier that season.

Did Penn State have a legitimate claim to the national title?  I thought they did.  Their offense was solid but not spectacular, even though they had three running backs that would play in the NFL, including future all-pros Franco Harris and Lydell Mitchell.  It was the Nittany Lions defense and special teams that made this team so special.  The defense gave up fewer points than the defense and special teams scored or set up.

It wasn’t the Associated Press, United Press International, Dunkel, Carr, or Litkenhous that made the decision on which team would win the national championship.  President Richard Nixon proclaimed that the winner of the December game between Arkansas and Texas in Fayetteville, Arkansas, would be the national champion.  He even planned to be there in person to present the trophy to the winner.

Until the early 1970’s, it was the norm for the national championship to be awarded before the bowl games.  The bowl games were considered rewards for great seasons and not like postseason play.  So, it wasn’t out of the ordinary for the national champion to be crowned after the conclusion of the regular season.

That first Saturday in December of 1969, the home team Razorbacks quickly scored two touchdowns to lead 14-0.  It looked like Arkansas was going to win its third national title of the 1960s, as they won a piece of the 1964 and 1965 titles in split decisions.  This would be their first consensus championship, and Coach Frank Broyles would probably take over the title of greatest current college coach.

Texas was on the verge of being defeated.  The Longhorns had an 18-game winning streak on the line as well as the national championship.  The fourth quarter started with Arkansas still ahead 14-0, and the Razorback defense had solved the triple option that no other opponents could stop.  Texas quarterback James Street was not your typical wishbone quarterback.  He was a decent passer, and Royal decided that the Longhorns would have to start passing the ball, something the wishbone offense was not meant to do other than the occasional surprise play-action pass.

Street dropped back to pass, while the Arkansas pass rush forced him to scramble to avoid a 10-yard sack.  Somehow, a small pocket opened, and Street took off down the right sideline for a touchdown.  Royal decided to go for two, and a counter option run was successful to make the score 14-8.

With less than five minutes left in the game, and the score still 14-8 in favor of the Razorbacks, Texas was in deep trouble.  Facing a fourth down and three on their side of the 50 yard line, Coach Darrel Royal decided to gamble and go for the first down.  They came out in their wishbone offense, and Arkansas bunched up with nine defenders near the line of scrimmage.  Not only was Royal ready to gamble, he figured that even if the Longhorns powered for the three yards and a first down, they could not keep the ball on  the ground and score the winning touchdown with so little time left.

Royal called for the play-action long bomb off the option fake.  Street faked to his fullback running into the line and continued to option the Arkansas defensive end–for two steps.  Then, he quickly dropped back three steps and fired the ball long and high into the air.  At the other end of the play, receiver Randy Peschel had maybe a half-step on two Arkansas defenders.  The ball came out of the sky into Peschel’s arms inside the Razorback 15 yard line.  Arkansas was stunned.  They were in place to stop all three phases of the triple option and then run the clock out to play LSU in the Cotton Bowl, the team that had upset them in the Cotton Bowl just four years before.  Alas, neither team would spend New Year’s in Dallas.

Texas ran two plays and scored a touchdown on a counter dive.  The extra point put the Longhorns up 15-14 with just over three minutes to play.

The game wasn’t over.  Unlike Texas, Arkansas ran a pro-style offense, and Quarterback Bill Montgomery had a dangerous receiver in Chuck Dicus.  The Razorbacks quickly drove into Longhorn territory.  They needed one more first down to get into legitimate field goal range with a chance to win the game in the final seconds.  Montgomery rolled out to throw toward Dicus, but the toss was a little off target, and Texas intercepted the pass to clinch the game.

The Longhorns were given the trophy by President Nixon.  It appeared that they would now play 9-1 LSU in the Cotton Bowl, and my ratings would actually make LSU a small favorite.

Except it didn’t happen.  After decades of not permitting the football team to play in bowl games, the elders at Notre Dame decided that it was now okay.  LSU was in essence uninvited to the Cotton Bowl, and a weaker Notre Dame team was invited in their place.  Meanwhile, LSU was now shut out of a bowl, as Ole Miss had already accepted the Sugar Bowl bid when it appeared that LSU was Dallas-bound.

In the bowl games, Texas struggled to beat Notre Dame in what was basically a Longhorn home game.  Irish quarterback Joe Theismann shredded the Texas secondary for well over 200 passing yards, and Texas had to come from behind to win.

At the same time, Ole Miss, led by Archie Manning, beat Arkansas in a mild upset in the Sugar Bowl.  The Rebels had ended the season on a hot streak, having also giving Tennessee and LSU their only regular season losses.  Still, the Southwest Conference teams did not look to be as strong as the poll-voters believed.

That evening, Penn State played a Missouri team that averaged over 40 points per game and held the Tigers to one field goal.  They won only 10-3, but the defense intercepted Missouri quarterback Terry McMillan seven times (he threw just six interceptions in the 10 regular season games).

So, who was the best team in 1969?  Was it Penn State or Texas or maybe even another team?  My ratings said that Penn State was the best team, but I also had LSU number two and USC and Texas tied at number three.

Penn State would enjoy undefeated seasons in 1968, 1969, and 1973 and not win the national championship in any of those years.  The 1973 team finished at the top of my ratings.  The poll voters favored conference teams, and except for Notre Dame, an Independent had to win every game convincingly to win a national title.  Syracuse in 1959 dominated all 11 opponents to win only a split decision, as once-beaten Ole Miss from the SEC received more #1 honors that year.

In 1969, the centennial year for college football, 27 major college teams played as independents.  West Virginia finished 10-1 losing only to Penn State, the Mountaineers just barely made the final top 20.  Houston finished 8-2 in the regular season and also just barely made the top 20 prior to bowl season.  The Cougars then totally thrashed Auburn in the Bluebonnet Bowl to earn some respect.

50 years later, there are just six independent football schools left.  Notre Dame can remain an independent and thrive.  The Irish have their exclusive NBC TV contract.  They can steal a bowl bid from the ACC in a sweetheart arrangement, where they can finish leap over any ACC team that has one more win than they have.

BYU left the Mountain West Conference with aspirations of joining the Pac-12 or Big 12, but they were left at the altar.  The Cougar football program has contracted in recent years.  It won’t be a surprise if they try to return to the Mountain West in three or four years.

Army does not need to join a football conference.  Although their two military rivals belong to conferences, the Black Knights can remain independent and survive by doing what they have been doing for the last few years.  Navy actually has regressed since joining the American Athletic Conference.

As for Massachusetts, Liberty, and New Mexico State, they have to wait until the next round of cannibalism from the Power 5 conferences.  If the AAC loses a team or two, UMass and Liberty could be in line to replace them.  If the Mountain West loses a team to Pac-12 or Big 12 expansion, maybe NMSU could get in as a replacement, or maybe if BYU returns to the MWC, the Aggies can be the 14th members.

There is no such entity as a media poll for the FBS Independents.  Therefore, we will show you how 10 of the most reputable computer forecasters believe.  We are not vain enough to include ourselves in these 10 ratings, plus you will see our ratings below as well.

 

10 Computer Gurus Poll of FBS Independents
Pos. Team 1st Place Votes Overall Votes
1 Notre Dame 9 59
2 Army 1 51
3 BYU 0 38
4 Liberty 0 32
5 New Mexico St. 0 17
6 Massachusetts 0 13

 

Here are the preseason  PiRate Ratings for the FBS Independents.

 

Preseason PiRate Ratings–FBS Independents
Team PiRate Mean Bias Average
Notre Dame 121.4 119.1 121.9 120.8
Army 102.6 102.7 102.4 102.6
BYU 101.8 101.7 102.0 101.8
Liberty 87.9 89.6 88.4 88.6
New Mexico St. 77.8 81.2 77.6 78.8
Massachusetts 73.5 76.8 73.1 74.5
 

 

Indep. Averages 94.2 95.2 94.2 94.5

Note:  These preseason ratings are accurate as of August 1, 2019, and subject to change before the first week of the season due to personnel changes prior to the first week of the season.

 

Predicted Won-Loss Records

The PiRate Ratings were not created to forecast won-loss records like other ratings might attempt.  Our ratings are valid for just the next game on the teams’ schedules, and we have pre-set adjustments built into our ratings on many teams.  For instance, if a team has exceptional starting talent but little depth, their rating has a pre-set reduction per week of the season, so that even if they win or lose a game by the exact expected margin, they will lose some of their power rating due to their depth issues.

If a team has exceptional, but inexperienced talent, their rating will have a pre-set addition per week of the season, and even if their performance may be exactly what was expected, their power rating will rise.

What you see in these predicted won-loss records are our opinion and not calculated from the ratings.  These are the estimated records based on a vote, with the Captain having 50% of the vote and the crew having the other 50%.  The Captain then rounded up or down those teams picked to have an average wins that were not whole numbers.

 

PiRate Members Predicted Won-Loss
Pos Team Won-Loss
1 Army 11-2
2 Notre Dame 10-2
3 BYU 8-4
4 Liberty 7-5
5 New Mexico St. 2-10
6 Massachusetts 2-10

 

 

Bowl Predictions

Hawaii BYU
Orange Notre Dame
Cotton Army (top G5 team)
 

 

Also Bowl Eligible
Liberty

 

 

Coaches That Could Move to Power 5 Conferences

Jeff Monken, Army

Hugh Freeze, Liberty

 

Coaches On The Hot Seat

Kelani Sitake, BYU

Doug Martin, New Mexico St.

 

Top Quarterbacks

Ian Book, Notre Dame

Zach Wilson, BYU

Kelvin Hopkins, Army

 

Best Offense

Army

Notre Dame

Liberty

 

Best Defense

Notre Dame

Army

BYU

Coming Tomorrow: The American Athletic Conference–still the #1 Group of 5 conference

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