I'm not as savvy as Bill C when it comes to sports numbers, but I do love me some spreadsheets, so I thought I'd plug some media rankings into Missouri's upcoming football schedule and see how it shakes out.
When it comes to preseason rankings, obviously some are better than others. My personal pet peeve are rankings that confound current team "power" (how good/talented is this team right now regardless of any external factor), with implicit projections of where the team is likely to finish in final season rankings (which factors schedule strength into the equation, and can become a self-fulfilling prophecy). Give me an informed, well-reasoned current power ranking please, using some combination of objective measures and thoughtful subjective opinion.
Three national preseason rankings that meet those criteria in my opinion are Bill C's Football Outsiders preseason rankings, Phil Steele's "Power Poll" (not his "preseason top 40", but his talent-based ratings - on p. 35 of this year's issue FYI), and Paul Myerberg's Countdown. So I decided to use the average of those three rankings to look at how Missouri stacks up against each 2013 opponent.
Couple notes: I'm not aware that Bill's rankings are officially listed in any one place yet, but they do show up in all of his preseason team previews (these may not be the final preseason rankings that will be published in the Football Outsider's Almanac, but close enough for now). And Myerberg is only up to #55 (coincidentally Missouri opponent Arkansas St) as of this writing, so high ranked teams won't receive his input here, at least for now.
So here are the averages of those three rankings:
Missouri - 44.7
And Missouri's 2013 opponents:
Murray St - unranked, let's just say 100 for this discussion
Toledo - 63.7 *
@ Indiana - 65.3
Arkansas St - 69.3
@ Vanderbilt - 42.0 **
@ Georgia - 7.5 **
Florida - 8.0 **
S Carolina - 16.5 **
Tennessee - 47.3
@ Kentucky - 91.3
@ Mississippi - 22.5 **
Texas A&M - 12.0 **
(*Myerberg hasn't profiled them yet, so we know he has them ranked at least #54, which is lower than the other two. We know then that his ranking will bring down Toledo's average, so for now I listed his ranking at 54.)
(**Also not ranked yet by Myerberg, but the other two have these teams ranked lower than 50, so I can't say whether Myerberg's will raise or lower the average. I'm leaving his ranking blank for now.)
So how would these rankings translate into likely wins and losses for Missouri? Well, let's assume just for discussion that Missouri's ranking is effectively 10 spots lower for road games [EDIT: and their opponents would be 10 spots lower if facing Missouri at Faurot, fixed in results below]. Now let's break results into 7 categories:
Expected WIN - Missouri is ranked at least 25 spots higher than the opponent
Probable WIN - At least 15 spots higher
Close WIN - At least 10 spots higher
Toss Up - Within 10 spots either way
Close Loss - Up to 15 spots lower
Probable Loss - Up to 25 spots lower
Expected Loss - More than 25 spots lower
With those criteria, Missouri's schedule breaks out as follows:
Expected WIN -
2 4 (Murray St, Toledo, Ark St, @Kentucky)
Probable WIN -
2 0 ( Toledo, Ark St)
Close WIN -
1 2 (@Indiana, Tennessee)
Toss Up -
1 0 ( Tennessee)
Close LOSS - 1 (@ Vanderbilt)
Probably LOSS -
0 2 (S Carolina, Texas A&M)
Expected LOSS -
5 3 (@Georgia, Florida, S Carolina, @ Mississippi, Texas A&M)
I have to say that's a bit disappointing based on my own expectations. I've really been thinking 7 wins this year, and this little exercise puts Mizzou lower than that. Just to carry the numbers one step further, let's assign win probabilities to each category as follows:
Expected Win - 0.9 (we would expect to win 9 out of 10 of these)
Probable Win - 0.75
Close Win - 0.6
Toss Up - 0.5
Close Loss - 0.4
Probably Loss - 0.25
Expected Loss - 0.1
Using those probabilities, Missouri's overall expected wins would be (drumroll please):
5.3 6.0. Boo Meh.
I want to note that this is a simplistic method for calculating Expected Wins. Bill does a much more thorough job in the FO preseason work (at least he has in past years).
OK, just a few final thoughts. Another fun thing about these types of assessments is it helps you see floors and ceilings for the team. Here we can see Missouri has a likely floor of 4 wins and ceiling of 7 (again, boo), with three crucial games (@Indiana, Tennessee, @Vanderbilt) likely determining success or failure for this season.
Obviously things aren't this set in stone. You could argue Mizzou's ranking is unfairly skewed by Myerberg, who has the Tigers ranked #58 (Bill C = 39, Phil Steele = 37). Lowering Paul's ranking to around 40 would give us roughly one additional expected win. And of course, we can hope with cautious optimism that not only will Missouri fulfill our talent potential this year, but one or two (or three) of Mizzou's opponents will not. Personally I like our chances against Vanderbilt, I'm not convinced Ole Miss is unbeatable, and I could see us stealing a home upset against one of Florida, South Carolina, or Texas A&M.
Anyway, some fun fodder to chew on during the dog days of summer.