College Football Preseason Rankings For 2018

Here are the official TeamRankings 2018 college football preseason rankings, including the TR Preseason Top 25.

A Quick Primer On Our College Football Preseason Rankings

Our 2018 college football preseason rankings are almost 100% data-driven. We’ve used team data from past seasons to identify descriptive statistics that have correlated strongly with high end-of-season power ratings. We then used those stats to create a model that predicts what a team’s power rating will be at the end of a season.

Some examples of data points used in the model include:

  • Stats related to the level of “prior season performance returning” (a proxy for how many key players the team lost to the NFL draft or graduation)
  • Prior season final turnover margin (luck tends to play a significant role in turnover margin for a given year, and really good or really bad turnover margins in one season tend to regress to the mean in the next season)
  • End of season team power rating from the last few years (if a team’s been good in recent years, it’s much less likely to be horrible this year; plus this is an indicator of how good the coaching staff has been at replenishing talent.)

We assign each input factor a weight based on its demonstrated level of predictive power. The output is a projected end-of-season power rating that represents how many points above or below average we think a team will be this coming season, with a 0.0 rating representing a “perfectly average” team.

FYI: If you’re in a football pool or betting games, check out our Football Pick’em Pool Picks , NFL Survivor Picks and College Football Betting Picks.

Gut-Checking Our 2018 College Football Preseason Ratings

Once we generate our initial preseason ratings for college football, we eye test them against the both betting markets and the human polls.

If our ranking for a team seems way out of whack with those other sources, we’ll investigate more, checking for some out-of-the-norm factor not taken into account by our model that’s shaping public and/or betting market perception of a team. In some cases, we’ll manually adjust our rating to be a bit closer to the consensus.

However, only rarely will we adjust our numbers all the way to match the market consensus. Predicting how good a team will be before the season starts (especially for a sport like college football with 130 teams to project) is one area where the betting markets and human experts have proven to be good predictors overall — but certainly not gospel.

Some Examples

For example, last year one of our biggest preseason outliers vs. the AP Poll was TCU. Our preseason rankings had TCU at #18; the AP Poll had them at #26. TCU ended up going 11-3, finishing 12th in our predictive rankings, and 9th in the end of season AP Poll. (Ironically, by the end of the season the human voters, after underestimating TCU in the preseason, were even higher on TCU than our system was.)

Since our preseason ratings also drive our college football preseason projections, contrarian opinions of teams can also reveal value betting opportunities. Last season, for example, Vegas bookmaker CG Technology set Nebraska’s preseason win total at 6, with extra juice (-125) to bet the over — implying that over 6 wins was more likely for Nebraska than under 6 wins. Based on our preseason ratings, however, our projections only expected 5.4 Nebraska wins, a strong vote for the under. Nebraska ended up going 4-8 and the unders cashed.

2018 College Football Preseason Rankings Highlights

Similar to last year, our preseason ratings have a clear top two, only this year it’s #1 Alabama and, in place of Ohio State last year, #2 Clemson.

Dropping down a bit in team quality, Georgia slots in at #3, with #4 Wisconsin slightly behind. It’s worth noting that our top six teams this year show strong consensus with the preseason AP Poll, with only Washington (#5 TR, #6 AP) and Ohio State (#6 TR, #5 AP) flipped.

After our top four, #5 Washington, #6 Ohio State, #7 Auburn and #8 Oklahoma make up a trailing pack of four teams that we rate very closely; the difference between Washington and #8 Oklahoma is only 0.4 points, so don’t read too much into ranking differences there.

From there the team ratings drop again, with the next-best team, #9 Notre Dame, projected to be almost a touchdown worse on a neutral field than #1 Alabama. Still, out of the top 15 preseason teams this year, Notre Dame and #11 Michigan look like our slightly contrarian picks to be better than the AP voters expect.

As the 2018 season progresses, the impact of these preseason ratings will gradually decay, and actual 2018 game results will play more of a role in determining our team power ratings.

What Does “Better Than The AP Voters Expect” Mean?

Comparing our rankings to the AP preseason rankings is a very imprecise, hand-wavy type of exercise. In the case of Michigan, for example, all we are saying is that our preseason rankings project that Michigan will end up as the 11th strongest team in the nation at the end of the year, vs. the 14th, where they are ranked in the preseason AP Poll. Two takeaways there:

  1. The difference between the 11th and 14th strongest team in the nation could end up being very slim, so this isn’t some huge contrarian call on Michigan being way better than the human voters think.
  2. Correctly projecting how “strong” a team will prove to be (i.e. it’s predictive rating at the end of the season) only gets you part of the way to projecting things like its end of season win-loss record and place in the final conference standings. In short, a team’s overall schedule strength and the dynamics of its schedule also play a huge role there. In fact, when those factors are considered for Michigan, our college football preseason projections actually have the Wolverines at 8.2 expected wins in 2018, which is lower than where most sports books had set their over/under line for Michigan’s season win total (9, or even 9.5).

TR vs. AP Rankings Comparisons

Here are some other TR vs. AP comparisons:

In the TR Top 25 but not the AP’s. Two teams in the TR Preseason Top 25 did not rank in the AP’s version:

  • Oklahoma State (#21 TR, #29 AP)
  • Texas A&M (#25 TR, #33 AP)

TR likes them more than the AP does. Other teams we ranked higher than the AP voters include:

  • Notre Dame (#9 TR, #12 AP)
  • Michigan (#11 TR, #14 AP)
  • Mississippi State (#14 TR, #18 AP)
  • Texas (#17 TR, #23 AP)
  • Iowa (#26 TR, #41 AP…only 2 votes)

In the AP Top 25 but not TR’s. Two teams in the AP Preseason Top 25 didn’t make the TR Top 25:

  • Boise State (#27 TR, #22 AP)
  • LSU (#28 TR, #25 AP)

The AP likes them more than TR does. Other teams we ranked lower than the AP voters include:

  • Miami (#12 TR, #8 AP)
  • USC (#18 TR, #15 AP)
  • TCU (#20 TR, #16 AP)
  • West Virginia (#24 TR, #17 AP)
  • South Carolina (#30 TR, #26 AP)

An Open Letter To Hardcore Fan Of Team X

Dear Hardcore Fan Of Team X,

Before you read the preseason rankings below and potentially become enraged because we think your beloved alma mater is going to be much worse this year than you do, please keep two things in mind:

  • We use a systematic approach to rank all 130 teams. Our approach has done very well over the years when measured by the yardstick we care about most when we design a predictive model like this: the overall accuracy of projecting team performance levels for all 130 teams. We’re going to get plenty of individual teams wrong, and some very wrong, for all sorts of reasons.
  • Look at ratings, not just rankings. A big problem with “Top 25” or “Top 10” lists of sports teams is the performance gap between one team and the next-highest-ranked team might be significant, or it might be negligible. So comparing our numerical ratings for two teams offers more precision than just comparing their rankings.


  • Team ratings are expressed as points better (positive rating) or worse (negative rating) than the average FBS team, when playing on a neutral field
  • A positive TR Difference means we gave a team a better ranking than the AP; a negative TR Difference means we gave it a worse ranking than the AP
  • If you’re curious to learn more about our college football preseason rankings in general, check out our 2012 post covering college football rankings components. We’ve made various refinements since then, but the core elements remain in place.

Remember, if you’re in a football pool or planning on betting some games this football season, check out our Football Pick’em Pool Picks , NFL Survivor Picks and College Football Betting Picks.

Official 2018 College Football Preseason Rankings

TR RankAP RankTR DifferenceTeamTR Rating
65-1Ohio State19.7
912+3Notre Dame17.9
1010Penn State17.2
128-4Miami (FL)16.7
1311-2Michigan St15.7
1418+4Miss State15.6
1619+3Florida St13.9
1920+1VA Tech12.6
2016-4TX Christian12.5
2129+8Oklahoma St11.4
2321-2Central FL10.9
2417-7W Virginia10.6
2533+8Texas A&M10.6
2722-5Boise State10.1
3026-4S Carolina9.1
3134+3Boston Col9.1
3436+2Kansas St8.4
3632-4NC State7.6
37GA Tech7.5
4037-3Iowa State6.9
43San Diego St5.1
44Fla Atlantic5.0
48Wake Forest4.6
50Texas Tech4.2
52Arizona St3.9
59N Carolina2.1
60Arkansas St2.1
61N Illinois1.9
62Fresno St1.9
63S Florida1.9
66Wash State1.5
67App State1.4
73Utah State-0.4
78Air Force-2.9
82Middle Tenn-4.3
85North Texas-5.0
86LA Tech-5.2
88W Michigan-5.4
89S Methodist-6.0
91GA Southern-6.3
97Miami (OH)-8.6
98LA Monroe-8.7
100Colorado St-9.9
102Oregon St-10.3
103E Michigan-10.4
105New Mexico-10.9
106U Mass-11.0
107Central Mich-11.9
108Old Dominion-12.9
111Bowling Grn-13.9
112S Mississippi-14.1
113Florida Intl-14.9
115TX-San Ant-15.3
116S Alabama-15.3
117E Carolina-15.6
118W Kentucky-15.9
119N Mex State-17.0
120Coastal Car-17.3
121Georgia State-17.4
122San Jose St-19.0
124LA Lafayette-19.6
125Texas State-20.5
126Ball State-21.2
128Kent State-22.6
130TX El Paso-26.2