We’ve refined our college football preseason ratings algorithm with the benefit of an extra year’s worth of results, and fed all of the requisite 2014 input data into the model. After a few turns of the hand crank, the results are in.
Here are the official 2014 TeamRankings preseason college football team rankings and ratings, including the TR Preseason Top 25.
(Quick announcement though: Our picks for college football office pools and confidence pools, which gave our users up to a 10x edge over their opponents last year, are now available.)
2014 College Football Rankings Highlights
- A Trifecta At The Top. There’s a clear triumvirate at the top of our ratings this year, with Florida State (#1), Oregon (#2), and Alabama (#3) all projecting at least six points better than the rest of the FBS.
After several years of success blogging about picks and strategy for football office pools, including taking first place in the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference NFL pick’em contest, in 2013 we decided to take things to the next level.
We released the world’s most sophisticated picks and analysis for football pools, now part of our expanded lineup of Office Pool Picks products. We spent a big chunk of the summer working on improvements to this product, and we’re excited to announce the latest developments.
For those unfamiliar with our football pool picks, our approach uses millions of computer simulations to identify the picking strategy that gives you the best chance to win your football office pool or handicapping contest. We also customize picks based on key factors like your pool’s size, format, and scoring system.
Here’s a quick rundown on upgrades we made to our NFL Survivor Pool picks product this summer.
Before we dive in, it’s worth noting what happened to us in survivor last season. After ripping off a 29-week survivor win streak across the two previous two seasons, we hit a bit of rough patch during the first few weeks of 2013. This was especially frustrating for two reasons:
- Our analysis was sound, but our luck was bad. The teams our survivor algorithms categorized as “Top Options” and “Worth A Look” during Week 1 and Week 2 of 2013 won even more often than we expected. Combined, those teams went 13-3 compared to an expected 11-5 based on our pre-game win odds. Unfortunately, we just happened to settle on two of the losers as our Week 1 and Week 2 picks for people playing one entry in a pool.
- The rest of the season went fine. Toward the end of last season we began hearing from customers who, despite our rocky start, were still cashing in their survivor pools. These were people who played three, four, or more entries in their pools, which is often a good idea for survivor, especially in larger contests. They had lost entries early on, but stuck with our analysis and still ended up profiting.
In our ongoing effort to simplify our business, we’ve made several changes to our premium subscription packages in advance of the 2014-15 football season. In short, we’ve:
- Eliminated pricing tiers (e.g. “Lite” and “Pro”) from our office pool picks packages
- Combined our NFL Pick’em and College Football Pick’em products
- Lowered prices on longer-term premium subscriptions (Quarterly and Yearly)
- Moved to consistent $49 pricing for all office pool picks packages
Below is the reasoning behind each decision in case you are curious.
No More “Lite” And “Pro” Packages
We now have a single premium package associated with each type of office pool we cover. In addition, we still offer an awesome bundle deal on our yearly Pool Picks Subscription, which includes access to all four of our pool picks products. You can see all our current office pool packages on our sales page.
A lot of people will read our bracket picking guide and say, “Whatever. Winning a bracket pool just comes down to luck anyway. Last year Sally in accounting won the March Madness office pool picking by team colors, and my great grandmother knows more about college basketball than her. Research like this doesn’t mean squat in the end, it’s all a crapshoot anyway.”
We would never argue that winning a bracket pool in any given year doesn’t require luck. It’s ridiculous to imagine anyone, even with the best bracket research at their disposal, being 25 or 50 times better at making picks than all the other people in their pool — in other words, good enough to expect to win a smaller sized pool each and every year.
As a result, paying some money to enter a bracket pool will always be a very risky use of your money. On the grand scale of risk, let’s consider two extremes of what you could do with $25 this month:
Step 5: Think About Hedging Your Bets
With most standard scoring systems, the following two areas of the bracket can play a big role in determining who wins the office pool:
- The games in the final few rounds (all the time)
- The middle seeded early round games (sometimes)
Early round games involving mid-seeded teams (say, 5-seeds through 12-seeds) can be important because there are many of those games, and on account of the voodoo inherent in the NCAA tournament selection process, higher performing teams often hide behind worse seed numbers. So these games often present opportunities to gain a little bit of ground, primarily if you find some good Sweet 16 value picks among this group.
The flip side, though, is that early round victories usually count for very little in most scoring systems. In fact, Round of 64 winners are only worth one measly point in most bracket pools. So there is a limit to the impact great picking can have in early round games. Even if you have the luck of your life and correctly pick six or seven first round upsets, the points you earn will be less than getting one more Final Four pick right.
Step 3: Get Smart About Defining And Picking Upsets
Conventional wisdom regarding upset picking strategy is all over the map. “Always pick a 12 seed over a 5 seed,” right? Not so fast. It’s true that since 1985, an unexpectedly high percentage of 12 seeds have won a Round of 64 game. But that doesn’t mean you should blindly follow the historical trend.
Here’s a quick probability study. Let’s assume that in fact, out of every four games between 5 and 12 seeds, one 12 seed will win. Based on that assumption, if you blindly pick one 12 seed to beat a 5 this year, what is the expected outcome?
- There’s a 25% chance that you choose the right 12 seed to win, and you get all four of the 5 vs. 12 seed games right. As a result, You would earn 4 points in most scoring systems.
- There’s a 75% chance you pick the wrong 12 seed, meaning you only get two of the four 5 vs. 12 games right. As a result, you would earn 2 points in most scoring systems.
You would therefore expect to score 2.5 points on average by following this strategy of randomly guessing one 12 seed to beat a 5 seed.
Step 1: Know Your Enemy
Odds are that you know most, or at least some, of the people in your bracket pool. You know where they live. You know where they hang out. You probably have a sense of which of them are avid followers of college hoops.
These are your enemies.
As with any tactical operation, you’re only as good as your intel. So you need to gather it. Buy your office pool opponents a beer and ask them what teams they like, which they think are the can’t-miss picks. Find out who they think the sleepers are, and especially, what teams they think will go deep in the tourney.
Here at TeamRankings, we’ve been doing NCAA bracket analysis and prediction since 2000. We’re a team of engineers and data scientists who built the most sophisticated NCAA bracket analysis product on the market.
But most importantly, we love basketball and we love to win things. That’s why we love NCAA bracket pools, and why we’ve dedicated over a decade to figuring out how to profit from them.
Because you’re only competing against other people (and not, say, betting games at a Vegas sports book that makes a hefty commission off your action and often stacks the odds in its favor), bracket pools can offer great ROI opportunities. We absolutely consider bracket pools an investment, because we are confident we will come out on top in the long term.
Almost every single March, you can find a college basketball TV analyst talking about the parity in the sport for that given year. Last year was a particularly telling example. Nearly every expert was taking Louisville, but the field was still supposedly “wide open.”
So it shouldn’t come as a surprise that these same analysts are still harping on parity again this season. Instead, the surprise is that they are actually right. Parity rules the 2014 NCAA bracket.