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Each offseason, after the recruiting season has been finalized and the first major wave of transfer portal entries has come and gone, I publish preliminary SP+ ratings for the coming season. I base these projections on three primary factors, weighted by their predictiveness:

1. Returning production. Last week we published my initial returning production rankings for 2020, based on players graduating, leaving for the pros, transferring, etc. Estimating improvement or regression based on these percentages and applying it to last year's SP+ ratings accounts for more than 50% of the overall numbers below.

2. Recent recruiting. After determining how much of last year's team is being brought back, the next step is to determine the caliber of the players who will be filling in the missing returning production. To do that, I use a weighted mix of recent recruiting rankings. They primarily pull from the past two recruiting classes, but I have begun to incorporate older classes as well, to a lesser degree. No matter what the "stars don't matter" crowd will tell you, recruiting rankings are extremely predictive, and these projections are more effective because of them.

3. Recent history. While last year's SP+ ratings are taken into account with the returning production estimates above, I've found that involving previous years' performances as well gives us a nice way of estimating overall program health. It stands to reason that a team that has played well for one year is less likely to duplicate that effort than a team that has been good for years on end (and vice versa), right? Recent history accounts for less than 10% of the overall projections; it is a minor factor, but the projections are better with it than without.

Using this mix for last year's projections was incredibly effective, as evidenced by SP+'s 58% performance against the spread in the first five weeks of last season. Hopefully this year's will be as effective.

I will update these numbers in August, once further transfers, injuries and more can be taken into account. But here are the estimates to date.

A reminder on SP+: It's a tempo- and opponent-adjusted measure of college football efficiency. I created the system at Football Outsiders in 2008, and as my experience with both college football and its stats has grown, I have made quite a few tweaks to the system. SP+ is intended to be predictive and forward-facing. That is important to remember. It is not a résumé ranking that gives credit for big wins or particularly brave scheduling -- no good predictive system is. It is simply a measure of the most sustainable and predictable aspects of football. If you're lucky or unimpressive in a win, your rating will probably fall. If you're strong and unlucky in a loss, it will probably rise.

Overall SP+ Rankings
TEAMPROJ. SP+OFFENSEDEFENSE
1. Alabama30.946.1 (1)15.2 (8)
2. Ohio St.29.744.2 (3)14.5 (5)
3. Clemson27.043.4 (4)16.4 (13)
4. Georgia25.832.3 (33)6.4 (1)
5. Penn St.23.839.0 (11)15.3 (11)
6. LSU23.441.9 (5)18.6 (23)
7. Florida23.137.6 (12)14.5 (6)
8. Oklahoma22.644.9 (2)22.3 (36)
9. Wisconsin21.636.0 (17)14.3 (4)
10. Texas A&M20.537.0 (15)16.5 (15)
11. Auburn20.334.5 (21)14.2 (3)
12. Notre Dame18.537.6 (13)19.1 (24)
13. Oregon18.129.8 (51)11.8 (2)
14. Texas17.040.3 (7)23.3 (42)
15. USC16.139.6 (9)23.6 (43)
16. Michigan16.132.4 (31)16.4 (14)
17. N. Carolina16.039.7 (8)23.7 (44)
18. UCF14.834.1 (26)19.3 (26)
19. Tennessee14.729.5 (56)14.8 (7)
20. Minnesota13.940.8 (6)26.9 (58)
21. Oklahoma St.12.935.5 (18)22.6 (38)
22. Memphis12.836.7 (16)24.0 (46)
23. Miami12.627.9 (63)15.2 (9)
24. Washington12.627.9 (62)15.2 (10)
25. Nebraska12.539.2 (10)26.7 (55)
26. Florida St.12.032.6 (30)20.6 (33)
27. Indiana11.634.4 (22)22.7 (39)
28. Kentucky11.630.7 (40)19.1 (25)
29. Iowa11.027.7 (65)16.6 (16)
30. Iowa St.10.629.9 (48)19.3 (27)
31. Utah10.334.1 (25)23.8 (45)
32. Va. Tech10.229.9 (46)19.7 (29)
33. Baylor10.134.3 (23)24.2 (47)
34. Cincinnati9.629.0 (57)19.4 (28)
35. S. Carolina9.526.5 (79)17.0 (19)
36. TCU9.529.8 (53)20.3 (32)
37. Ole Miss8.531.3 (37)22.8 (40)
38. Boise St.8.431.3 (36)22.9 (41)
39. App. St.7.535.4 (19)27.9 (66)
40. Arizona St.6.827.0 (73)20.2 (31)
41. Louisville6.737.2 (14)30.5 (84)
42. Pittsburgh6.022.4 (103)16.4 (12)
43. Miss. St.5.334.2 (24)28.9 (74)
44. Virginia5.227.7 (64)22.5 (37)
45. Michigan St.4.622.1 (106)17.4 (21)
46. Purdue4.232.8 (29)28.5 (70)
47. Wash. St.4.235.1 (20)30.9 (86)
48. Stanford4.231.1 (39)26.9 (57)
49. Missouri4.120.9 (108)16.9 (18)
50. Northwestern3.820.6 (110)16.8 (17)
51. Louisiana3.533.8 (27)30.3 (82)
52. California3.029.8 (49)26.9 (56)
53. BYU2.729.7 (54)27.0 (59)
54. Kansas St.2.427.6 (66)25.2 (50)
55. Navy1.930.3 (42)28.4 (69)
56. SMU1.633.8 (28)32.2 (94)
57. WKU1.519.9 (112)18.4 (22)
58. Ga. Tech1.322.3 (104)21.0 (35)
59. Texas Tech0.730.1 (43)29.4 (76)
60. UCLA0.532.3 (32)31.8 (90)
61. Illinois0.526.3 (81)25.8 (51)
62. NC St.0.226.8 (76)26.6 (53)
63. Houston0.230.3 (41)30.2 (81)
64. W. Virginia-1.326.2 (82)27.5 (61)
65. Air Force-1.431.2 (38)32.6 (97)
66. Maryland-1.428.4 (59)29.9 (78)
67. Ohio-1.531.5 (34)33.1 (99)
68. UAB-1.618.1 (118)19.7 (30)
69. Duke-1.719.0 (116)20.7 (34)
70. FAU-2.127.4 (67)29.5 (77)
71. Boston Coll.-2.229.8 (52)32.0 (92)
72. Temple-2.224.5 (90)26.7 (54)
73. Tulane-2.525.1 (86)27.6 (62)
74. SDSU-2.514.6 (127)17.2 (20)
75. Oregon St.-2.927.0 (72)29.9 (79)
76. Arkansas-3.124.8 (88)27.9 (67)
77. Marshall-3.224.5 (91)27.7 (63)
78. Arizona-3.230.0 (45)33.3 (100)
79. Colorado St.-3.427.1 (70)30.5 (83)
80. Buffalo-3.524.3 (93)27.7 (64)
81. Wake Forest-3.723.5 (99)27.2 (60)
82. CMU-4.124.5 (89)28.5 (71)
83. USF-4.320.8 (109)25.1 (48)
84. Ball St.-4.427.3 (68)31.8 (89)
85. Troy-4.529.5 (55)34.1 (104)
86. Arkansas St.-5.031.3 (35)36.3 (112)
87. So. Miss-5.023.9 (95)28.9 (73)
88. Tulsa-5.227.2 (69)32.3 (95)
89. Ga. Southern-5.323.6 (97)29.0 (75)
90. Wyoming-5.519.6 (114)25.2 (49)
91. Colorado-5.726.8 (75)32.5 (96)
92. La. Tech-6.224.9 (87)31.1 (87)
93. Toledo-6.328.6 (58)34.9 (108)
94. Fresno St.-6.427.9 (61)34.3 (106)
95. Syracuse-6.425.5 (85)31.9 (91)
96. ECU-7.128.0 (60)35.1 (109)
97. WMU-7.326.5 (78)33.8 (103)
98. Miami-OH-7.523.1 (101)30.6 (85)
99. Hawaii-7.630.1 (44)37.6 (117)
100. Utah St.-8.124.1 (94)32.2 (93)
101. Vanderbilt-8.317.8 (121)26.1 (52)
102. Rutgers-8.419.7 (113)28.1 (68)
103. Georgia St.-8.527.0 (71)35.5 (111)
104. Army-8.926.6 (77)35.5 (110)
105. Liberty-9.824.4 (92)34.2 (105)
106. MTSU-9.829.8 (50)39.6 (122)
107. Charlotte-10.129.9 (47)40.0 (123)
108. SJSU-10.226.9 (74)37.1 (115)
109. Coastal Caro.-10.226.3 (80)36.6 (113)
110. Nevada-10.920.6 (111)31.4 (88)
111. N. Texas-12.721.6 (107)34.3 (107)
112. Kent St.-12.926.1 (83)39.0 (120)
113. Kansas-13.023.7 (96)36.7 (114)
114. FIU-13.215.5 (125)28.7 (72)
115. Rice-13.914.0 (128)27.9 (65)
116. EMU-14.525.5 (84)40.0 (124)
117. NIU-14.918.0 (119)32.9 (98)
118. UL-Monroe-15.823.6 (98)39.4 (121)
119. S. Alabama-16.217.6 (122)33.8 (102)
120. ODU-16.913.2 (130)30.1 (80)
121. UNLV-17.223.5 (100)40.7 (126)
122. New Mexico-17.422.5 (102)40.0 (125)
123. Texas St.-19.518.1 (117)37.6 (116)
124. UTSA-19.522.2 (105)41.7 (127)
125. Akron-19.813.5 (129)33.3 (101)
126. UConn-21.417.4 (123)38.9 (119)
127. BGSU-22.215.6 (124)37.8 (118)
128. NMSU-23.319.1 (115)42.4 (128)
129. UMass-29.618.0 (120)47.6 (130)
130. UTEP-30.015.3 (126)45.3 (129)


Note: In-season, SP+ also takes special teams into account. But I have not yet established a solid way to project special teams ratings, so for these projections it is assumed that everyone's ST rating is 0.0.

SP+ vs. conventional wisdom
For the most part, these projections match up reasonably well with our offseason assumptions. Sure, you might have the top three teams in a different order, but you still probably have Alabama, Ohio State and Clemson in your top three, or very close to it. Meanwhile, the presence of LSU, Georgia, Florida, and Oklahoma, in some order, near the top feels about right, too.

Still, SP+ offers some differences in opinion. Using Mark Schlabach's Way-Too-Early 2020 Top 25 as our guide, here are some of the teams for which the stats and eyeballs might be in a little bit of disagreement.

No. 1 Alabama
Schlabach ranking: No. 3

I was expecting Ohio State and Clemson as the top two teams here, and you probably were, too. But the injury that defined Bama's 2019 season helped boost its 2020 odds. Losing quarterback Tua Tagovailoa to injury for four late games meant that backup Mac Jones got an extended audition in the starting role, and he looked mostly great. He produced a better passer rating against Auburn than LSU's Joe Burrow and a better rating against Michigan than Ohio State's Justin Fields.

Because the Tide return Jones' 1,503 passing yards (plus 100 more from Taulia Tagovailoa) -- not to mention the contributions of receivers DeVonta Smith and Jaylen Waddle, running back Najee Harris, most of the offensive line, and most of the defensive front seven -- they boast a better returning production ranking (88th) than Ohio State (93rd), Clemson (96th), LSU (127th), etc.

That, combined with consistently elite recruiting and performance (the Tide haven't finished lower than third in SP+ since 2008), pushed Bama to the top. Disagree if you want, but allow this to be a reminder that Nick Saban's run of greatness in Tuscaloosa probably isn't over.
 

50+yeartidefan

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Clemson once again has best chance to go all the way to playoffs...
Just getting to Playoffs,..is biggest threat to bama...
 

bama alum

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Disagree if you want, but allow this to be a reminder that Nick Saban's run of greatness in Tuscaloosa probably isn't over.

You're damn skippy!
 

50+yeartidefan

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Isnt even close ...well..maybe close...
But agreed...biggest problem for nick n bama..and us...is a bunch of others are ..have stepped up their game......this trip to lsu and Tennessee ..TX AnM....aren’t what they use to be...and msu and ole ms.... wont be cakewalks...the trip to AU every other year...
With some supernatural force we have to play against is .....well..unnatural...
The 2 SECe beast...uga this year... @ Florida next....
getting to play for top will be a rough road...
 

mando

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If you can't win your division and ultimately conference you do not deserve to win the NC. All the others in the SEC west have to play these SEC teams for the most part (yes I know about the UGA and UF rotation). Time to step up and get back to playing to the Bama standard!!!!!
 

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Agree....need to step it up....
So....didnt deserve the NC in 2017( no division or sec cc)?........
But I know what u mean...
Just pointing out...how the others have stepped uptheir game in SEC e and w....
Aint going to be going into a Knoxville ...Starkville...Oxford...with a guarenteed win year after year.... and not just affecting bama....also the others in conference...especially SECw
 

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