2020 College Football Rankings: AP Poll Top 25 vs. Our Betting Power Ratings For Week 3
David K Purdy/Getty Images. Pictured: Emani Bailey (20).
In a typical college football season, there are around 130 FBS programs vying for a national championship. That’s a lot of teams to evaluate on a weekly basis, especially with minimal overlap in scheduling from conference to conference. The Associated Press Top 25 poll attempts to fill this gap in national awareness, but it’s often more for vanity than utility.
Simply put, college football’s ranking system doesn’t make much sense in the modern age — especially in the realm of sports-betting. Handicapping requires a forward-looking approach that operationalizes the myriad variables at play across the world of college football. It doesn’t benefit us to rely on a media poll that responds reflexively to events in the past.
So, as we’ve done for the past two seasons, we’ll be comparing the AP Poll to The Action Network’s College Football Power Ratings to see how the betting market differs from conventional ranking systems.
Our power ratings are fueled by Collin Wilson’s projections, which aim to judge the true quality of a team based on advanced metrics, coaching changes, year-over-year roster continuity and a host of other underlying components.
You can use his ratings to create a point spread between any two teams in the country on a neutral field — just subtract the higher team’s rating from the lower-ranked one.
Collin also publishes projected point spreads for each week’s slate of games every Sunday. You can use those projections to target early betting value even before sportsbooks release official lines for the week’s action.
College Football Rankings: AP Poll vs. Power Ratings
After Week 2
Notable Team Differences Between the AP Poll and Our Power Ratings
▲ Texas A&M Aggies (+5)
- AP Poll: 10
- Power Rating: 5
Keep on sleeping on the Aggies if you’d like, but the Texas A&M train is coming in, and it goes through College Station. Head coach Jimbo Fisher is now in his third year with the program with two top-10 recruiting cycles under his belt. The Aggies return ostensibly their entire defense, which has been disruptive and suffocating in pass coverage over the past two seasons.
Texas A&M is likely faltering in the polls for two main reasons: 1) The Aggies haven’t played a down of football yet in 2020, and casual national media members may be overlooking them; and 2) Many fail to recognize just how difficult A&M’s schedule has been for two straight seasons in rebuild-mode with ol’ Jimbo. In Fisher’s first season with the team, the Aggies drew the most difficult schedule in the country, and last season’s schedule ranked 13th.
In fairness, Texas A&M’s 2020 draw isn’t exactly a cakewalk. But don’t let that undercut the Aggies’ potential. They’re a sleeping giant ready to capitalize on major disruption to the SEC hierarchy. Fade the Aggies at your peril.
▲ Virginia Tech Hokies (+9)
- AP Poll: 20
- Power Rating: 11
The Hokies have a lot going for them this season. The Virginia Tech defense returns 89% of its production from 2019, and the Hokies also retain every starter at offensive line. In a season marred by uncertainty due to COVID-19 inactive statuses, that kind of team continuity is a precious commodity. In fact, it’s one of the main reasons why Collin Wilson tapped Virginia Tech as his sleeper pick to win the 2020 ACC Championship (in addition to the Hokies’ exceedingly soft schedule).
▼ North Carolina Tar Heels (-5)
- AP Poll: 12
- Power Rating: 17
Don’t get it twisted: Our staff is more-or-less unified in its position that the Tar Heels program is trending the right direction. In fact, Steve Petrella and Stuckey each picked Carolina to cover the 23 against Syracuse in our Week 2 Staff Best Bets column, and the Tar Heels carried us to the window.
But let’s also not forget that this is only Year 2 with Mack Brown, Phil Longo, and Co. at the helm in Chapel-Hill. Sam Howell may be a future Heisman Trophy candidate, but he’s also just a sophomore. Given the depth of talent yet to take the field in the SEC — plus in-conference competition from Miami, Louisville, Virginia Tech, Pittsburgh and Clemson — UNC’s top-15 ranking is perhaps one year premature.
▼ Memphis Tigers (-8)
- AP Poll: 16
- Power Rating: 24
The Tigers should find ample success feasting on the comparatively barren cupboard of the AAC, but this also isn’t the same Memphis team that almost ran the table in 2019. The Tigers lost running back Patrick Taylor Jr. via graduation, and its previous rushing- and scrimmage-yards leader Kenny Gainwell opted out of the 2020 season due to COVID-19 concerns.
Former head coach Mike Norvell is now leading the Florida State Seminoles, the team replaces 17 seniors from last season’s squad, and it failed to cover the -14.5 closing line against Arkansas State in Week 1. Oh, and one more thing: Memphis was one of the luckiest teams in the country in 2019 based on second-order win differential. Luck has been in woefully short supply for all of us this 2020 calendar year; are we supposed to believe Memphis is the lone exception?
▼ Louisiana-Lafayette Ragin’ Cajuns (-12)
- AP Poll: 19
- Power Rating: 31
I don’t claim the Ragin’ Cajuns myself, but I have a father from New Orleans, and my best friend is a die-hard Louisiana Tech Bulldogs fan. So trust me when I tell you that I was fed a hefty dose of Cajuns banter from all sides after their marquee upset win over Iowa State last Saturday.
Assuredly, Louisiana-Lafayette has built one of the top Group of Five teams in the country, and taking down the Cyclones on national TV certainly amplified the Cajuns’ household recognition. But while we’re being so frank with one another, can’t we also admit that Iowa State is no Oklahoma? And furthermore that Matt Campbell’s squads have been particularly notorious for underwhelming early-season starts? I mean, I haven’t checked my calendar recently, but I don’t believe it’s Brocktober just yet.
It’s not that Louisiana-Lafayette is somehow a poor team. Of course the Ragin’ Cajuns are an excellent ball club and deserve respect. But No. 19 in the country? After no one in the national media even discussed them through the offseason? That’s a bit too cute.