2020 College Football Rankings: AP Poll Top 25 vs. Our Betting Power Ratings For Week 4

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Bob Levey/Getty Images. Pictured: Braden White (12) and Texas A&M Aggies football team at Kyle Field in College Station, Texas.

The college football gods have graciously cradled SEC football through its early-season hibernation, and now mercifully we have made it to Week 4: The reintroduction of SEC conference play.

Soon, the nascent college football season will begin to feel more familiar as six of the nation’s top-25 programs (No. 2 Alabama, No. 4 Georgia, No. 5 Florida, No. 6 LSU, No. 8 Auburn and No. 10 Texas A&M) return to our television sets — and our betting slips.

As glorious as this ‘reunion’ may be, it also highlights a real flaw in college football’s traditional rankings system, which 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.

After all, how ought we to judge a 0-0 Georgia Bulldogs team one-to-one against, say, the 2-0 Notre Dame Fighting Irish? There are always scheduling-related issues with comparing teams in the FBS, but this season’s COVID-19 disruptions amplify that problem even further. So, what’s the solution?

Each week, we compare the AP Top 25 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

Check out our new NCAAF PRO Report, where we highlight factors that provide betting edges — like large wagers, historically profitable betting systems, model projections and expert picks — that when combined with sharp money can powerfully detail the smartest bets on a given slate.

After Week 3

Notable Team Differences Between the AP Poll and Our Power Ratings

Texas A&M Aggies (+4)

  • AP Poll: 10
  • Power Rating: 6

I discussed the Aggies in last week’s edition of this column, where I put everyone on notice that A&M means business this season:

“They’re a sleeping giant ready to capitalize on major disruption to the SEC hierarchy. Fade the Aggies at your peril.”

Unfortunately, we’re unlikely to learn a great deal about this team as the Aggies and the rest of the SEC return to play this weekend: Texas A&M draws a Week 4 matchup against Vanderbilt, which should offer little resistance on either side of the ball.

Virginia Tech Hokies (+9)

  • AP Poll: 20
  • Power Rating: 11

Another holdover from last week’s column, the Virginia Tech Hokies remain one of our most highly-ranked programs that the AP is still sleeping on. In fairness, the Hokies have yet to play a game due to the postponement of their scheduled Week 3 matchup against in-state rival Virginia.

Furthermore, Tech’s Week 4 matchup against N.C. State is also in jeopardy. This ACC matchup was originally planned for Sept. 12, but the game was postponed due to the Wolfpack program’s issues with COVID-19 in the run-up to Week 2. Now, it might be the Hokies’ turn for a postponement due to similar concerns related to COVID-19.

Ole Miss Rebels (—)

  • AP Poll: Not Ranked.
  • Power Rating: 15

You may look at the Rebels’ No. 15 ranking and think it’s a bit aggressive. I don’t blame you. But allow me to provide some context.

Before COVID-19 disrupted the college football season, removing the Pac-12 from play altogether and significantly delaying the Big Ten’s conference start, Ole Miss was ranked No. 22 overall in the Action Network Power Ratings.

The Rebels shared close company with Tennessee (No. 24) and Kentucky (No. 28), neither of whom seems like a disingenuous comparable to Ole Miss. However, the Volunteers and Wildcats are each ranked among the AP Top 20, while the Rebels remain off the media’s radar. That doesn’t make much sense.

… Until you look at Ole Miss’ schedule, that is.

The Rebels draw a date with Florida to open conference play this weekend, then travel to face Kentucky on the road before returning home to play Alabama on Oct. 10. That’s a brutal start to the 2020 campaign, to be sure.

So, at least in part, Ole Miss’ exclusion from the AP’s Top 25 rankings may not necessarily reflect the media’s indictment of the program. Instead, this could very well be a case of schedule-peeking.

It’s true that Ole Miss faces five top-10 teams on its schedule. Let’s say the Rebels lose every single one of those games and finish the season 5-5. No one would bat an eye that Ole Miss wasn’t ranked to open the year.

Then again, would that be any proof that the Rebels aren’t actually a good team? No; of course not. What we care about is betting value; not necessarily straight-up wins and losses.

Ole Miss ranks 31st in SP+ and ranks 25th among active teams. The program gets a much-needed fresh start in newly-minted head coach Lane Kiffin, who takes over after three dreadful seasons under Matt Luke.

The Rebels lost a lot along their defensive front, but they do return last season’s sack-leader Sam Williams to hold the edge and offset some of those losses. Moreover, Ole Miss returns two solid quarterbacks in Matt Corral and John Rhys Plumlee, both of whom have an outside shot at Heisman Trophy candidacy.

This is not a bad team. This is a competitive team. And regardless of the Rebels’ end-of-season record in 2020, they should draw at least a few matchups where they deserve to be a live dog.

You know what? I hope the media continues to ignore Ole Miss. The more the public fades the Rebels, the juicier their opening lines might be mid-season.

Army Black Knights (-30)

  • AP Poll: 22
  • Power Rating: 52

As friends of the Action Network Colleges Podcast should already know, we appreciate our armed forces — but that doesn’t necessarily mean we love their football programs each weekend.

Army’s No. 22 ranking is due in large part to its 42-0 dismantling of Middle Tennessee State in Week 1 — back before the entire world became aware of just how dismal the Blue Raiders program truly is. But in fairness to the Black Knights, they doubled-down in Week 2 with an emphatic 37-7 victory over Louisiana-Monroe. So, it’s hard to argue against Army’s 79-7 combined margin of victory in 2020.

But, of course, I’m going to argue anyway. Frankly, Army hasn’t played anyone yet. I already remarked on the Blue Raiders’ ineptitude, but Louisiana-Monroe isn’t much better. The Warhawks rank 113th in returning production — including dead last (130th) in returning offense — and join UTEP in occupying the bottom rung of the FBS ladder in overall SP+ rating.

The divide between our Power Ratings and the AP Poll suggests that media members are severely overestimating Army’s impressive wins. This weekend’s matchup against Cincinnati should be revealing.

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