Official 2012 College Football Preseason Projections: Records And Conference Win Odds For 124 FBS Teams

The 2012 college football season kicks off Thursday with South Carolina at Vanderbilt. Team rosters were finalized and published last week, and we’ve finished crunching the numbers on our final, official 2012 college football season projections.

Last year, our inaugural 2011 college football preseason projections proved overall to be successful, especially if your goal was to unearth some value in Vegas futures odds and win totals. We also made some incremental improvements to the prediction logic in the off-season, so we’re eager see what happens this year.

Skip straight to bottom if you just want to see the predicted standings for your favorite conference. Otherwise, read on for some discussion of the projections.

How We Make College Football Predictions

Before we delve into the numbers, here’s a quick primer on how the sausage gets made. These projections are the result of a two step process. First, we combine team ratings from the past few years with other info like the number of returning starters, players lost to the draft, and how much production a team returns in various stat categories. This gives us our preseason team ratings.

Then, we use those ratings to simulate the season thousands of times, and we report the average results below. So these projections are based on cold, hard facts, not on our subjective opinions. If you’re curious for a few more details, you might want to check out these posts on our preseason ratings methodology and our season simulation process.

Projection Highlights for 2012

Full standings projections for all FBS conferences are listed in the table below, and also on our college football projections page, which is updated daily throughout the season. Here are a few highlights:

Oregon Favored In the Pac-12 Over USC?! — USC is ranked #1 in the AP Poll, so we imagine we’ll get a fair amount of comments asking why they aren’t our favorite in the Pac-12. Make no mistake, they are an elite team; we rank them #4 heading into the season, just a hair behind #3 Oregon. But based on quantifiable relationships, our model places a lot of importance on team ratings from the past couple years, and USC doesn’t really stack up to the other elite teams in that area.

The Trojans ended up ranked 9th in our predictive ratings last year, but there was a huge gap between 1st and 9th. They also lost quite a bit of talent to the draft; in fact, they received the 6th-biggest penalty in the country for lost draft talent. Their main strength is their high number of returning starters (17). The real message here is that we think the Pac-12 will have a classic battle between Oregon and USC for the title this season. We give Oregon a slight edge (30% to 27%), but it’s nearly a toss up.

Oklahoma Is Our #1 Team — The Sooners are only rated #4 in both polls, but looking at the numbers, their profile looks similar to USC’s, only better. Oklahoma has had a higher rating each of the past four years, returns the same number of starters as USC (or slightly more, depending on how you define a starter), and lost less talent to the draft. In fact, they return the most starters of any team in our final 2011 top 25.

And it’s a good thing that OU returns all that talent, as the top of the Big 12 is loaded. The conference sees three other teams crack our top 10 (TCU, Texas, and Oklahoma State), and couple more are on the fringe of the top 25 (West Virginia and Kansas State). Oklahoma is a clear favorite, but there’s still a 60% chance that some other team wins the Big 12 title.

Ohio State Gave Wisconsin A Huge Gift — The top three Big Ten teams (Nebraska, Michigan, and Wisconsin) all rank between #14 and #18 in our preseason ratings. Ohio State is ineligible for the postseason this year, but is primed to play spoiler, sitting at #22 in our rankings. However, because of Ohio State’s ineligibility, Wisconsin has a much easier path to the conference title game than either Nebraska or Michigan. They only need to finish ahead of Illinois, Purdue, and Indiana to be guaranteed a birth in the final. The odds of that are around 50%.

2012 College Football Projections

And now, the part you’ve all come here to see…

Final 2012-2013 College Football Preseason Projections
--------------------------------------------------- ACC ATLANTIC ---------------------------------------------------
TeamWLConf WConf LBowl EligibleWin ConfUndef
Florida St9.
Boston Col6.
NC State6.
Wake Forest5.
--------------------------------------------------- ACC COASTAL ---------------------------------------------------
TeamWLConf WConf LBowl EligibleWin ConfUndef
GA Tech8.
VA Tech7.
N Carolina8.
Miami (FL)
--------------------------------------------------- BIG 12 ---------------------------------------------------
TeamWLConf WConf LBowl EligibleWin ConfUndef
Oklahoma St8.
TX Christian8.
W Virginia7.
Kansas St7.
Texas Tech6.
Iowa State4.
--------------------------------------------------- BIG EAST ---------------------------------------------------
TeamWLConf WConf LBowl EligibleWin ConfUndef
S Florida8.
--------------------------------------------------- BIG TEN LEADERS ---------------------------------------------------
TeamWLConf WConf LBowl EligibleWin ConfUndef
Ohio State8.
Penn State5.
--------------------------------------------------- BIG TEN LEGENDS ---------------------------------------------------
TeamWLConf WConf LBowl EligibleWin ConfUndef
Michigan St7.
--------------------------------------------------- CONFERENCE USA EAST ---------------------------------------------------
TeamWLConf WConf LBowl EligibleWin ConfUndef
S Mississippi8.
Central FL8.
E Carolina5.
--------------------------------------------------- CONFERENCE USA WEST ---------------------------------------------------
TeamWLConf WConf LBowl EligibleWin ConfUndef
S Methodist6.
TX El Paso4.
--------------------------------------------------- MAC EAST ---------------------------------------------------
TeamWLConf WConf LBowl EligibleWin ConfUndef
Bowling Grn7.
Miami (OH)
Kent State4.
U Mass2.
--------------------------------------------------- MAC WEST ---------------------------------------------------
TeamWLConf WConf LBowl EligibleWin ConfUndef
N Illinois7.
W Michigan7.
Central Mich5.
Ball State4.
E Michigan5.
--------------------------------------------------- MOUNTAIN WEST ---------------------------------------------------
TeamWLConf WConf LBowl EligibleWin ConfUndef
Boise State9.
Air Force6.
Fresno St6.
San Diego St6.
Colorado St5.
New Mexico2.810.21.16.97%0%0%
--------------------------------------------------- PAC-12 NORTH ---------------------------------------------------
TeamWLConf WConf LBowl EligibleWin ConfUndef
Oregon St5.
Wash State4.
--------------------------------------------------- PAC-12 SOUTH ---------------------------------------------------
TeamWLConf WConf LBowl EligibleWin ConfUndef
Arizona St4.
--------------------------------------------------- SEC EAST ---------------------------------------------------
TeamWLConf WConf LBowl EligibleWin ConfUndef
S Carolina7.
--------------------------------------------------- SEC WEST ---------------------------------------------------
TeamWLConf WConf LBowl EligibleWin ConfUndef
Texas A&M7.
Miss State6.
--------------------------------------------------- SUN BELT ---------------------------------------------------
TeamWLConf WConf LBowl EligibleWin ConfUndef
Florida Intl7.
Arkansas St7.
LA Monroe5.
W Kentucky6.
LA Lafayette6.
North Texas5.
South Alabama4.
Middle Tenn4.
Fla Atlantic3.
--------------------------------------------------- WAC ---------------------------------------------------
TeamWLConf WConf LBowl EligibleWin ConfUndef
LA Tech8.
Utah State8.
Texas-San Antonio6.
San Jose St4.
Texas State4.
N Mex State3.
--------------------------------------------------- INDEPENDENTS ---------------------------------------------------
TeamWLConf WConf LBowl EligibleWin ConfUndef
Notre Dame7.84.2----79%--2%

Teams With Special Circumstances

Our projections are great for analyzing a “normal” team — a team that loses some players to the draft, gains some new recruits, maybe has a transfer or two. We’ve laid out the reasons we think our projections are better than most humans. But because our projections are entirely data-driven, and are based studying how similar teams have performed in the past, they may have trouble handling very unique situations. We simply don’t have a variable in our model for, say “legendary coach involved in shocking scandal which demoralizes entire school.”

Here a few cases where our margin of error might be bigger than normal:

Penn State – I think we all know how this is a special case, so no need to rehash any details. Some of the repercussions of the scandal are accounted for by our model: the Nittany Lions have the fewest returning starters in the country, and they have very low returning stats. But the loss of an icon like Paterno, and the turmoil surrounding the team … those are nearly impossible to quantify by math. So rather than try to quantify them, we’ll leave our projection unaltered, and just warn you to dock Penn State as you see fit.

Ohio State (and other teams with new coaches) — Our projections were too high on the Buckeyes last year, possibly because they underestimated the drop off in coaching talent from Jim Tressell to Luke Fickell. This year, Urban Meyer takes the reigns. Will he end up causing the reverse effect?

Missouri, Texas A&M, West Virginia, TCU (and other teams that switched conferences) — In theory, our projection for a team shouldn’t be affected by them switching conferences. True team strength shouldn’t change with conference affiliation, and the strength of schedule difference should be accounted for by our simulation. But moving to a new conference carries a hidden SOS penalty: the coaching staff must scout for a whole new conference worth of opponents. All their old notes about traditional opponents are worthless. It’s possible that teams switching conferences could have a bit more trouble than expected.

Which of our predictions do you agree or disagree with? What’s most surprising? Who’s your #1 team and conference? Have any questions? Ask away in the comment section below, and we’ll try to reply to as many people as possible.