Wilson: 3 Teams I’m Backing, 3 I’m Not For The 2019 College Football Season

Wilson: 3 Teams I’m Backing, 3 I’m Not For The 2019 College Football Season article feature image
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USA TODAY Sports. Pictured (left to right): USC QB JT Daniels (18), Northwestern head coach Pat Fitzgerald, Army QB Kelvin Hopkins Jr. (8).

  • The college football season is officially over, but it's never too soon to look ahead to the 2019 season.
  • Using three factors -- coaching changes, second-order win total and power rating deviation from the mean -- here are three potential risers and fallers.

The titanic clash of Clemson-Alabama IV has closed out the calendar on the college football season. Most handicappers move to college hoops, NBA and MLB win totals, but I move directly into offseason activities sizing up all 130 FBS programs for the 2019 season.

The Action Network Power Ratings have had their final adjustment for the season following the national title. Changes will be made in the offseason as news on coaching changes and player transfers trickle out.

A number of factors go into moving the power rating this early in the offseason. Here are a few factors to consider when adjusting the number for each team.

Coaching Changes

The news of Mark Richt’s retirement led to a bevy of changes. Temple pocketed millions as Manny Diaz cleaned out his office after just a few hours as head coach to move back to the Hurricanes. Diaz is known as one of the best defensive coordinators in the nation, but the hiring of Major Applewhite will have an affect on the power rating.

Each team is different and plenty of research is needed. How did West Virginia improve offensively under Jake Spavital and will that translate to Texas State? Mike Locksley served as a highly successful Alabama offensive coordinator, but does his record of 3-31 as a head coach affect the power rating for Maryland?

Second-Order Win Total

A metric that is used often in MLB and other sports for projections, Second-Order Win Total looks at the single-game win expectancy compared to the actual result of the game. There is plenty of content provided by our friends at Football Outsiders, but when Northwestern beats Nebraska with a 16% postgame win expectancy, this specific stat will catch my eye.

Look for teams with positive SOW to rebound, like Nebraska, USC and Washington — they got a little unlucky this past season. Teams with negative numbers like Texas and Washington State could regress.

Power Rating Deviation from the Mean

All FBS programs and conferences hover around a certain power rating year to year. A few teams may deviate from their 10-year mean. For example, Notre Dame went 4-8 in 2016 and had a power rating dip from the top 20 to the middle of the pack in FBS.

In that specific scenario, a program of Notre Dame’s caliber is going to bounce back with recruiting and coaching changes like the addition of defensive coordinator Mike Elko.

There are a few teams that had a deviation more than 10 points from their initial 2018 power rating. Those teams include Florida State, South Florida, Wisconsin and Connecticut. Programs with a history of stability deserve a bump back to the mean — with the exception of UConn. We still are not sure they can improve from a Texas State-type power rating.


With those factors in mind, here are a handful of FBS programs that are headed in a specific direction for 2019.

Three Up

Texas State, USC and Nebraska

From the firing of head coach Everett Withers to the student body revolt against Athletic Director Larry Teis, there is no shortage of drama at Texas State. Jake Spavital, formerly the offensive coordinator at West Virginia, moves into the head coach position and adds a high profile JUCO quarterback from Montana.

Texas State finished 2018 with the highest Second-Order Win Total at 3.1. The Bobcats had a postgame win expectancy of 84% or higher in losses to UTSA, Georgia Southern and Troy.

Along with quarterbacks Tyler Vitt and Willie Jones III, Texas State returns its top five rushers while losing only two of its top 12 tacklers. Along with offensive coordinator Bob Stitt from Montana, the Bobcats should easily improve on a 3-9 record. It will be a large transition year for the Sun Belt, as the both strongholds Appalachian State and Troy will have first-year head coaches.

The biggest news out of USC camp was the addition of Kliff Kingsbury as offensive coordinator, although keeping him in the position continues to be a daily topic. The Trojans finished the season with a Second-Order Win Total of 2.0 as losses to Cal and Arizona State had a postgame win expectancy above 65%. JT Daniels returns for his sophomore campaign at quarterback along with his top five receiving targets.

Lastly, let the hype for Nebraska football begin. Scott Frost had plenty of heartbreaking losses — Colorado, Troy and Northwestern. The Cornhuskers continued to play hard, winning four of five after starting the season 0-6.

The offense will have one of the highest ratings in returning production, while the 2019 schedule can be navigated for a potential West division title. Nebraska leaves Lincoln just three times after Sept. 22.

Three Down

Army, Northwestern and Kentucky

A quick glance at all the metrics point to Army football taking a turn down after an 11-2 season with a blowout of Houston in the Armed Forces Bowl. The Black Knights finished the season with a -2.9 Second-Order Win Total, winning games against Hawaii and Air Force that had a postgame win expectancy of less than 10%.

Seven of the top 12 tacklers graduated, but quarterback Kelvin Hopkins returns under center. Beware of the strength of schedule increase, Army will trade out a schedule full of MAC teams and play Michigan in Week 2.

The magic continued for the Wildcats in the Holiday Bowl. A whopping six turnovers from Utah sealed the Northwestern 31-20 victory. Pat Fitzgerald is reported to stay in Evanston for 2019 after interest from the NFL, but the head coach will lose quarterback Clayton Thorson and top receiving target Flynn Nagel.

The Wildcats had one of the worst Second-Order Win Totals at -2.8 and will play on the road at Stanford, Wisconsin and Nebraska during the first five weeks of 2019.

This may have been the best season in Kentucky football history since a 1976 SEC Championship. A 10-3 record with a season ending New Years Six Bowl victory over Penn State capped off a tremendous season that included breaking a 31-year losing streak to Florida.

The Wildcats posted a -2.2 Second-Order Win Total and will lose their best player on both sides of the ball. Junior running back Benny Snell Jr. will leave early for the NFL draft, while linebacker Josh Allen graduates leaving behind 21.5 tackles for loss and 17 sacks.