How to make your own college football power ratings

By Adam Burke  (VSiN.com) 

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The idea of setting your own game lines probably seems daunting. Oddsmakers have mountains of information and public betting data to work with. However, you can put together something raw and fairly basic that at least gives you a good idea of where a line should be.

Power ratings are an inexact science. They are designed to be a guide to give you a frame of reference. They are subjective in nature, which means nobody’s power ratings are 100% accurate. But the ability to look at a game and compare your spread to the spread in the market can be a tremendously valuable resource.

I know people who have all kinds of spreadsheets and numerous sets of power ratings. I am not one of those people. But I can point you in the right direction to design an introductory set of power ratings you can use to try and get ahead of the market.

The function of a power rating is to be able to compare two teams and set a spread. Home-field advantage is included and I have a separate process for that. My process is neither complex nor time-consuming, and the nice thing is we can refer to the game lines that are out for Week 0, Week 1 and the Games of the Year to compare.

Setting it up

Here’s how to set up a set of positional power ratings:

Talent disparities are bigger in college football than in most sports. Analyzing roster turnover and transfers — from the portal and junior colleges — all go into the process.

Typically, my scale for power ratings ranges from 40 to 100, with teams such as Alabama and Ohio State near the century mark and teams such as UMass and New Mexico State at the bottom of the list.

To get to a max of 100, I use this scale:

QB: 15

RB: 10

WR: 10

OL: 15

DL: 15

LB: 10

DB: 10

Coaches/special teams: 15

The most important position on the field is the QB. The battle in the trenches is huge and makes up 30% of my power rating number. Coaching is also big and I include special teams as part of the job description since special teams are much harder to analyze.

Position by position

Quarterbacks: A QB such as Bryce Young or CJ Stroud is going to get the highest rating possible at 15. Somebody just a step below that, such as Will Rogers at Mississippi State or Brennan Armstrong at Virginia, might get a 14 or 14.5. Quarterbacks for teams such as UMass, Akron or UConn are likely to be in the 5-6 range. You also have to grade these on a curve by conference, so if CJ Stroud is a 15 at Ohio State, Purdue’s Aidan O’Connell would be a 13 or 13.5. Connor Bazelak at Indiana might be an 8 or a 9.

Running backs: For a 10, think Bijan Robinson at Texas or the stable of backs at Georgia. If a team passes a lot, you may not want to grade the RBs that highly. On the other hand, a triple-option offense might get a 9 or 9.5 at the RB position while taking away points from WRs.

Wide receivers: Wide receivers mean more at Western Kentucky than they do at UAB. There are also some WR corps that have future NFL players and plenty of size, while others are used more for blocking purposes or suffered big losses in the offseason. The best WR group in a conference might be a 9 or 10, so each group after that would go down a bit on the scale.

Offensive line: Offensive lines on their own account for 15% of my power rating and that may not be enough. The ability to protect the quarterback impacts all of the above position groups and impacts the defense as well. I’ve toyed with extending this out to 20 and borrowing from another area, but the best offensive lines in the country are a 15 and the worst are in the 5-6 range.

Defensive line: Defensive lines are important as well and I tend to include edge rushers in this group. Does a team stop the run? Does a team get after the quarterback? How do they generate tackles for loss? You also have to consider if there is a new defensive coordinator and if a team moves from a 3-4 to a 4-3. The job description of a defensive lineman changes based on the scheme and some teams may be better equipped for one over the other.

Linebackers: Linebackers mean so much in football nowadays with all of the RPOs and how often tight ends are used in the passing game. Most college linebackers end up being tackle machines because there are so many different offensive schemes. The best groups get a 10, while the worst get a 4.

Defensive backs: Same story here, but defensive backs are often the ones that force the turnovers. With all of the position groups, it’s not enough to look at the starters. I also look at the backups, which is why a magazine such as Phil Steele’s is really valuable for this exercise. Injuries are prevalent in college football and the difference between a four-year senior starter and a true freshman can be big. Once again, the best groups get a 10 and the worst get a 4 or 4.5.

Coaching/special teams: This is loosely 5 points for special teams and 10 for coaching, but the coaching part means more than just the head coach. Coordinators are taken heavily into account, including new coordinators who are changing schemes. Recruiting is also a small part of the evaluation process, since some coaches can get a lot of talent but won’t get as much out of it as others. This scale goes from 7 to 15 for me.

The SEC as an example

To show you an example of one conference, here are my SEC Power Ratings:

Alabama: 98.5

Georgia: 95.5

Texas A&M: 86

Tennessee: 82.5

Arkansas: 81

Ole Miss: 81

Mississippi State: 80

Kentucky: 79.5

Florida: 79

Auburn: 78

LSU: 78

South Carolina: 74

Missouri: 69

Vanderbilt: 55

Based on my “raw power rating,” Alabama would be -3 on a neutral field against Georgia. Texas A&M would be -5 against Arkansas. Ole Miss would be -12 against Missouri.

Then I factor in home-field advantage and come up with my own game line. If the market line is off a few points from my line, I’ll take that spread early in the week and expect it to move toward my line.

The true skill comes in updating your power ratings as the season goes along, which I’ll outline in a future piece.

If you want to try this exercise, try rating one conference and then compare your lines with the Game of the Year lines to do some trial and error. If your research has you higher or lower on a team, that’s fine. There’s nothing wrong with that. It’s your opinion, but use the existing lines from sportsbooks as a guide to make sure you aren’t too far off.

I’ll be doing a weekly update on VSiN.com of my power ratings, weekly adjustments and game lines to further elaborate on this concept and process.

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