Setting Up College Football Power Ratings

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(Author’s note: I changed the date on this article that I wrote last July to bring it to the forefront; my power ratings on these two teams have changed, but the process is pretty much the same)

The start of a new college football season is rapidly approaching. The more work you can do in the preseason, the better off that you are going to be when the games kick off. For most handicappers, that means putting together a good set of power ratings. Power ratings are a value assigned to each that helps in the process of creating spreads. If the spread generated from your power ratings is off from the spread created by the oddsmakers, that’s how you determine your bets.

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Setting up an initial set of power ratings is challenging. Most professional bettors and handicappers have a good base of power ratings to go off of from the previous season and they can adjust accordingly. In this article, we’re going to look at a basic process for setting up power ratings that can give you a good head start.

I’ve been making power ratings for about five years now, but I didn’t make them last season. Unfortunately, life got in the way and the amount of time that I put into handicapping and analyzing baseball made it difficult. This season, I told myself that I was going to do it again and I did. I’ll be posting those power ratings at BangTheBook.com very soon, but skipping a year gave me a renewed appreciation for the process and how challenging it can be.

There are two enormous bits of advice that I can give you as you set about making your power ratings. The first is that you need to realize just how little you know. When it comes to analyzing teams, players, tendencies, and trends, you need to use all of the resources at your disposal. That includes friends, experts, and the numerous magazines that are put out before the start of the season.

The other bit of advice is to be patient. It can be an intensive process and it will frustrate you. You’re constantly tweaking them, even at the start. You want to find a good balance between taking positions on teams that you like and not being that far off of the numbers that are already out there. It all gets easier once you have a good set that you believe in, but setting up those first ones is a challenge.

Think about what goes into this process. You’re putting a numerical value on 130 teams, with Coastal Carolina joining in on the fun this season. There is no way that you know all 11 offensive starters, all 11 defensive starters, the first round of reserves, and the coaches. It is time-consuming. But, once you have a good base, adjusting in future years isn’t all that difficult. Setting up that foundation is important.

Before we go any further, I want to throw a disclaimer out there. If you are putting together power ratings for the first time, it’s probably best to take a conservative approach early in the season. You don’t want to bury yourself and burn up your bankroll by taking ill-advised positions on teams early in the year that you have overvalued or undervalued. As you get more experience with power ratings, you’ll have that base that you can adjust and you’ll have a better idea of what you’re doing.

Okay, now let’s talk about how to set up a power rating. There are a lot of different ways to set up a power rating and many people, some of our BangTheBook Radio guests included, have multiple sets of power ratings. For the purposes of this article, I’m just going to talk about the most basic power rating construction. To make it easy, I’ll refer to this as the Positional Power Rating.

All position groups on a team are important. Some are more important than others. I do my power ratings on a 100-point scale, broken down like this:

Quarterbacks: 5-15

Running backs: 4-10

Wide receivers: 4-10

Offensive line: 5-15

Defensive line: 5-15

Linebackers: 4-10

Defensive backs: 4-10

Coaching: 5-15

As you can see, the absolute lowest possible score is 36 and the highest possible score is 100. I’ve never had a team that rates 100, nor have I had a team that rates 36, but those are the lowest and highest possible values for each position group plus coaches. I can’t say that I’ve ever given a 5 to a coaching staff either, so that range is probably more like 7-15.

I use half-points. Some use quarter-points. Others have a bunch of decimals in there. Half-points keep it simple.

Here is an example using this system. We’ll focus on the Alabama Crimson Tide, the top ranked team in my power ratings:

Quarterbacks: 15

This one is obvious. Jalen Hurts put up video game numbers as a true freshman while shining in the brightest spotlight that college football has to offer. He accounted for almost 4,000 yards of offense and 36 touchdowns. The depth is a little bit of a worry here, but you adjust for that if Hurts gets hurt. Accounting for depth is most important in the trenches, where injuries are more frequent.

Running backs: 10

Bo Scarbrough and Damien Harris are a strong 1-2 punch. It takes an entire defense to drag Scarbrough to the ground and Harris is fast and shifty with 7.1 yards per carry last season.

Wide receivers: 9

There are a couple big losses here with ArDarius Stewart and OJ Howard moving on, but this is Alabama. When a four or five-star leaves, three are ready to take his place. Calvin Ridley led the team in receptions and was the reliable possession receiver, so that’s a good start for Hurts.

Offensive line: 15

Do I really need to explain?

Defensive line: 15

See above.

Linebackers: 9

Three NFL draft picks left this group in Reuben Foster, Ryan Anderson, and Tim Williams. A bunch of four and five-stars have been elevated up the depth chart, but that’s a lot of experienced talent out the door.

Defensive backs: 9.5

Eddie Jackson and Marlon Humphrey moved on to the NFL, so a couple key pieces of the defense are gone. But, both safeties return. One thing about Alabama is that they are so deep at every position that a lot of underclassmen get worked into the rotation, especially in the secondary. This group won’t lose much.

Coaching: 15

Come on, y’all, it’s Nick effing Saban. Brian Daboll is a question as an offensive coordinator at the collegiate level, but Saban’s rapport with defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt should be enough to cover the gap. Daboll worked with some guy you may have heard of named Tom Brady, so it’s not like he walked into this blindly. He’s got 17 years of coaching experience.

Total: 97.5

The Crimson Tide are 3.5 points higher than anybody else in my power ratings. The talent here speaks for itself and a true sophomore quarterback should only get better, making other parts of the team better.

You probably have a couple of questions. The first should be “How do you come up with these numbers?” You want to make the ratings for each position group relative to the rest of the conference and the rest of the country. I don’t do any hardcore statistical analysis to say a team is a 9 at linebacker instead of a 9.5. I do look at returning production and stats over the last couple of seasons. If a team suddenly went from 3.5 yards per carry allowed to 4.5 yards per carry allowed, you have to account for that. Is it a lack of talent? Was it injuries? Was it variance? Was it a defensive coordinator change? A scheme change from a 4-3 to a 3-4 or a 4-2-5?

It’s easier with blue-blood programs like this. They’re going to have talent and be good. That doesn’t change.

The second question is probably something along the lines of “How do you know you have a good rating for a team?” Well, with my late start, I can compare with some Week 1 lines and Games of the Year lines to see if I have a team rated accurately. In the huge Week 1 clash in Atlanta, I have Alabama a five-point favorite on a neutral against Florida State. The line is 7.5, which does seem a tad high, but keep in mind that Alabama went 10-4-1 ATS last season, which was unheard of for an elite team like that with such scrutiny in their lines. It isn’t a surprise to see an inflated price.

On October 7, Alabama heads to Texas A&M. I have Alabama as a 97.5 and Texas A&M as an 82. The line is Alabama -11.5. When adjusted for the great home field advantage at Kyle Field – I’d give A&M 3.5 points at home – which brings the line down to 12. That’s a pretty fair number.

For S&G, let’s look at a harder team to figure out, the Appalachian State Mountaineers. The Mountaineers are my highest-rated Sun Belt Conference team.

Quarterbacks: 12

Taylor Lamb didn’t replicate his sophomore season, when he had a 31/9 TD/INT ratio, but he’s effectively a four-year starter in Boone. He was still an effective runner and took care of the football last season as a junior. He’s the best QB in the Sun Belt for me, but you have to adjust relative to the rest of the country. He’s no Jalen Hurts or Baker Mayfield.

Running backs: 9.5

Star running back Marcus Cox will continue his career at the next level, but Jalin Moore stepped in for the injured Cox and won the Sun Belt’s Offensive Player of the Year award. He scampered for 1,450 yards on 237 carries with 10 TDs. He’s the top back in the SBC and valued accordingly.

Wide receivers: 6

Top WR Shaedon Meadors is back, with his team-leading 45 catches, but nobody for the Mountaineers caught more than three touchdown passes. Appalachian State ran the ball 578 times and passed it 334 times. That limits the value of the receivers. This is one of the better groups in the SBC, but not the top group.

Offensive line: 11

Again, you have to remember that this is relative to the rest of the country as well. You can’t have Appalachian State as a 15 as one of the best lines in the SBC and on par with Alabama. In fact, they are clearly the second-best OL behind Troy to me.

Defensive line: 10

The SBC isn’t exactly known for defense. Appalachian State’s defensive line is up there with the conference’s best and I may have to adjust this as we go forward, but it’s all relative to the rest of the country. Will App State’s DL hold up against Georgia in Week 1? Against Wake Forest on September 23?

Linebackers: 7

This is the best linebacker group in the SBC for me, based on last year’s 3.9 yards per carry allowed, sack totals, and returning production. While 7 may seem low, it’s worth pointing out that one team in the SBC got a 6.5 and the rest are lower.

Defensive backs: 5.5

Maybe I’m a little bit low here, but the SBC isn’t blessed with good quarterbacks and you have to adjust accordingly. There are several teams in the SBC rated 5 or lower in the secondary, even with a lack of QB production conference-wide.

Coaching: 11

Scott Satterfield and his assistant staff tie atop the Sun Belt Conference for me. Appalachian State is 21-5 over the last two seasons now that Satterfield has gotten his recruits and systems in place.

Total: 72

The top team in the SBC should look something like the bottom of the SEC. It actually looks like I’m a little bit light on Appalachian State, who is a 14.5-point underdog at Georgia in Week 1. I actually have Georgia 15.5 points better on a neutral. Factoring in home field, I clearly have that number higher.

When something like that happens, you double and triple check your numbers and decide whether or not you want to play Georgia or reevaluate your Appalachian State stance. Maybe Georgia is too high in my numbers.

Ultimately, what matters is getting that final number and getting a final number that lines up given the rest of the betting market. A half-point off in the secondary that you make up for somewhere else isn’t a big deal.

These are the considerations that you have once you get your power ratings set up. Some may opt to do individual power ratings by conference and then adjust accordingly to have a full 1 through 130. It’s all about what works for you and what makes you feel comfortable.

Hopefully this gives you a little bit of a start into the world of power ratings. Setting them up is easier than it seems because you have a lot of time and a lot of direction. Staying on top of them throughout the season and adjusting accordingly is something entirely different and something we’ll talk about throughout the year.