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Football 201: Definitive End of Season Big 12 Power Rankings

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Who is ***really*** the best team in the Big 12?

NCAA Football: Oklahoma at West Virginia Ben Queen-USA TODAY Sports

The end of the season is nigh, and bowls are almost upon us. In the coming weeks, I’ll do an advance stats preview series in which I will scout TCU and Cal on both sides of the ball in anticipation of their matchup in the very dignified and definitely not embarrassing Cheez-It Bowl. For now, though, we have unsettled business. Conference play is concluded, and the Big 12’s One True Champion is yet again a Playoff-Bound Oklahoma. (Convenient timing for the Big 12 Championship game to come back and help OU get that extra data point into the playoffs twice, no?) The conference was simultaneously better and worse than everyone thought at points along the season, and at the end of the season, we see a morass in the Big 12 Standings:

  1. OU
  2. Texas
  3. Iowa State
  4. WVU
  5. TCU
  6. Baylor
  7. Ok State
  8. Kansas State
  9. Texas Tech
  10. Kansas

No one undefeated, no one winless. In this column, though, we are better than merely ranking teams by their wins and losses. No, to end the season, I will provide definitive, inarguable Big 12 End of Season Power Rankings.

Methodology

To definitively rank the Big 12 teams by quality, I will go where no one has gone before and combine both descriptive and predictive rankings. By descriptive, I mean raw metrics of what happened on the field - wins and losses, total offense, and total defense. I’ll marry these to two popular predictive ratings - FEI and S&P+. FEI looks to measure efficiency per drive, and S&P+ assigns quality to each play, both predicting how teams would fare going forward against an average team.

I’ve created a very simple database of these metrics, listed out in a table below.

I’m going to try three ranking methods:
First, a simple average of all 9 metrics. That is, I’ll just add up the rankings, divide by 9, and there’s your ranking.
Second, a weighted average. I’ll arbitrarily weight some rankings, and then do the same as above.
Third, I’ll regress wins on these metrics, and use those to predict win totals, and rank teams by win totals.
Let’s get started.

Ranking 1: Simple Average

Yep, just the basics.

Team (Simple Rank)

  1. West Virginia (3.11)
  2. Oklahoma (3.66)
  3. Texas (4.11)
  4. Iowa State (4.33)
  5. TCU (5.11)
    Oklahoma State (5.11)

7. Texas Tech (6.22)
8. Baylor (6.88)
9. Kansas State (7.44)
10. Kansas (9)

Nothing to see here, just West Virginia ahead of Oklahoma. This is due to defense, 100%. As this is a simple rank, OU can’t get higher than a 1 on offense, and that ceiling limits them. WVU is better on defense than OU by more than OU is better on offense than WVU. Confused yet? Let’s get to a weighted ranking.

Ranking 2: Weighted Average

Arbitrarily, let’s make the efficiency rankings 60% of the rankings (30% each), the total offense and defense rankings 25%, and wins and losses 15%, and see what we get.

Team (Weighted Rank)

  1. West Virginia (.755)
  2. Oklahoma (.916)
  3. Texas (1.04)
  4. Iowa State (1.105)
  5. Oklahoma State (1.105)
  6. TCU (1.3)
  7. Texas Tech (1.5)
  8. Baylor (1.74)
  9. Kansas State (1.87)
  10. Kansas 2.25

Well, it appears OU can’t overcome the defensive floor. WVU reigns again, and it’s clear that we have a definite top four - WVU, OU, Texas, Iowa State. We get some movement lower in the rankings - namely, emphasizing the predictive metrics boosts OSU over TCU. I’ll take this moment to complain about that. Both of these metrics favor offense, because defense is harder to measure, and so despite the fact that TCU beat OSU straight up, OSU stands far higher than TCU in both FEI and S&P+. The bottom four remain the same, although I think I can concoct a metric where Kansas isn’t the worst. Just give me time.

Ranking 3: Predicting Wins

First, I run a linear regression of wins on all these metrics. Sure, there’s some collinearity and endogeneity issues, but who cares? Then, I’ll sort based on predicted values.

Team (Predicted Wins)

  1. Oklahoma (11.8)
  2. Texas (8.98)
  3. WVU (8.1)
  4. Iowa State (7.9)
  5. Oklahoma State (6.5)
  6. TCU (5.9)
  7. Baylor (5.8)
  8. Kansa State (5)
  9. Texas Tech (4.58)
  10. Kansas (3.11)

Surprise surprise, these rankings look at lot like the standings based on wins. The top four moves around slightly, and WVU gets a penalty based on their missing a game, but overall, these rankings seem less fun than those above. TCU is still behind Oklahoma State, and Kansas State moves ahead of Texas Tech. So, head to head mattered, except that it didn’t in these rankings.

Anyway, in some down time before bowl season, I wanted to poke and prod the Big 12. We are far from definitive rankings, but here are three attempts to quantify the season. Let’s argue in the comments until bowl games start.