Adam Burke shares his weekly college football power ratings
The first seven data points of the college football season were certainly interesting. Because there were only seven games, I have a golden opportunity to use those to outline my process and how I update my College Football Power Ratings on a weekly basis.
Here is my three-step process:
Compare my line to the closing line: Did the market move towards the number that I had on the game? Influential money and high volume create a pretty efficient line and a good indicator of where the two teams stand. How closely did it move towards my line?
Study the box score: Did the box score accurately reflect the final score? Were there turnovers at inopportune times, like deep in a team’s own territory or in the red zone? Was there a big yardage edge, particularly with yards per play? Did big special teams plays decide the game? Did a star player leave sometime during the game? Did the game play out to the betting market expectation?
Scrounge for injury intel: College football does not have standardized injury reporting like the NFL and it can be very hard to find info. For example, Ohio’s Kurtis Rourke left in the first quarter and the Bobcats still nearly beat San Diego State. Rourke is worth 7-8 points to the line, if not more. If he’s not there, that’s a huge loss, but you won’t always find out that info or get clear answers out of the coaches and beat writers. Rourke is “getting an x-ray”, but we don’t know for what. It looked almost like concussion protocol more than anything, but he is coming back from a torn ACL. Head coach Tim Albin said he wanted to go back in, but they wouldn’t let him, so maybe he’s fine, but you have to hope for clarity somewhere.
The only pick I had last week was Louisiana Tech against FIU and the 22-17 victory by Louisiana Tech fits perfectly into showcasing how I think about the process of updating my Power Ratings:
Compare my line to the closing line: I took Louisiana Tech early in the week at -10. The line closed as high as -13 and my line was -16.5. That’s what I like to see and it’s the function of my Power Ratings - use them early in the week to get line value on a number I expect to move.
However, the line never got to as high as mine was. Knowing that I was higher on LA Tech than the market, I would regress back their power rating at least a couple of points.
Study the box score: But, here’s the caveat and this is where it gets really difficult. LA Tech outgained FIU 450-182 and ran 81 plays compared to 44. FIU had FOUR TOTAL PASSING YARDS and eight first downs. Louisiana Tech had 27. FIU ripped off a 67-yard TD run in the first quarter that accounted for 36.8% of their total yards. FIU had 2.67 YPP aside from that run and 4.14 YPP with it.
The Bulldogs, meanwhile, had 5.56 yards per play (would have ranked T-75th last season). They had two turnovers and missed two field goals. They also had an 11-play, 34-yard drive that took 6:28 and ended in a punt. From a box score standpoint, this should have been a complete rout. It was not. How much should I penalize LA Tech for holding an opponent to under 200 yards (when they were one of the worst defenses in FBS last year) for not coming even close to covering?
Scrounge for injury intel: With RB Marquis Crosby hurt, Charvis Thornton got the start and had eight carries for 51 yards before getting hurt and being ruled out. Running backs don’t move power ratings like quarterbacks or star wide receivers do for me, but it is a notable loss with cluster injuries at the position. Thornton was seen wearing a boot on the sidelines. Crosby was nearly a 1,000-yard rusher last season.
Outcome: I am confident in having FIU power-rated as the worst team in the country after that performance. But, I have to temper my expectations for LA Tech a bit and moved their power rating down three points. I’ll still mentally view them as a team I wanted to be higher on, but I may have been a bit too optimistic. They, too, had one explosive play (64-yard TD) and it was kind of a slog otherwise.
So, that’s the process I go through on every game during the college football season. As you can tell, it is pretty labor-intensive and it is far from an exact science. A lot of the games and results are open to a little bit of interpretation, along with trying to stay on top of injury news that can be really hard to find.
I’ll also fill you in on my thought process about a couple more games to illustrate these concepts - Navy vs. Notre Dame. Even though the line didn’t really move towards mine at -24.5, Notre Dame won in a rout. I didn’t adjust Notre Dame up or down and didn’t move Navy up or down. Why? I was already four points higher than market on the game and it played out closer to my expectation. If that’s a mistake, we’ll find out Sept. 16 when Notre Dame plays NC State, but I think I have those teams pretty accurately rated based on the result.
By the way, the stats in that box score look a lot like FIU/LA Tech, yet one was 42-3 and one was 22-17. Notre Dame had 7.93 yards per play and that’s the difference. Looking at YPP, or at least understanding that some teams wind up with big yardage edges simply by running a lot more plays, is a more accurate representation of a box score.
Lastly, UTEP vs. Jacksonville State. UTEP had a 364-277 edge (5.05 YPP to 4.47 YPP). UTEP had two plus-territory turnovers, including the game-sealing interception on 4th-and-1 at the 24, which could have been a game-tying FG attempt instead. UTEP ran 10 more plays on offense and had seven more first downs. Even though UTEP lost and my line was higher than the market at -3 (closed -1.5), I didn’t adjust them down.
Here are my Week 1 College Football Power Ratings:
Here are my Week 1 Power Ratings adjustments:
Up: UMass +2.5, Hawaii +2
Down: New Mexico State -1, Louisiana Tech -3, Vanderbilt -1
Injury: Ohio -7* (if Rourke out)
*Note: Ohio plays Long Island, so I doubt Rourke plays; this applies to Week 2 vs. FAU
Normally, I’d run through the biggest adjustments and the reasons why I made them, but I mostly did that up above.
Here are my Week 1 betting lines:
Games to consider based on my Power Ratings (by date/rotation number):
Kent State (+37 / +31.5) vs. UCF: Kent State has been rated as one of the worst teams in FBS for this season based on a number of personnel losses. I don’t disagree, but this line seems a little bit too steep, especially given how much quicker the games moved without the stopped clock after first downs. I don’t think I’ll bet it, but it’s on my radar because of the overlay that I have.
Weather could also be a factor for this Thursday night game depending on how Tropical Storm (Hurricane?) Idalia moves between now and then. Wednesday is the bad day in Orlando right now, but the storm track is still up for debate.
Nebraska (+7.5 / +4.5) at Minnesota: One of the positions I’ve taken this season is to be lower on Minnesota than the market. The loss of Mo Ibrahim and the switch to Athan Kaliakmanis both worry me. I don’t know if Matt Rhule’s team will be ready to go right away in Week 1, but I think Nebraska has a decent ceiling this year and feel like this could be a down year for the Golden Gophers. This is a bet I like.
Kentucky (-26.5 / -30) vs. Ball State: I’m very high on Kentucky this season. Devin Leary and returning OC Liam Coen should work really well together and I think this offense will be more balanced than it has historically been. The Wildcats almost always fashion a strong defense. At numbers this high, I typically like my overlay to be a little more than 3.5 points, but there’s a huge talent mismatch and Kentucky could be pretty explosive on offense.
Western Kentucky (-11.5 / -17) vs. South Florida: I’m not sure what kind of NIL bag Austin Reed got to return to WKU, but the offense should hum again this season. I’d be very surprised if South Florida can keep up. First-year head coach Alex Golesh wants to run with a lot of tempo and I’m not sure that’s a great idea with his personnel and this opponent. This is my favorite play of the week.
North Texas (+7 / +4) vs. Cal: I bumped Cal in my power ratings last week after seeing how far off my line was, but I still can’t seem to get up to +7. I’m not taking North Texas, because I clearly have one or both teams rated wrong, but this will be a data point I study from Saturday’s slate.
If you ever have questions about the power ratings process, you can find me on X as @SkatingTripods or email aburke [at] vsin [dot] com.