SB Nation's Bill Connelly updated his S&P+ rankings for the upcoming 2014 season. I encourage you to check them out. He last updated his rankings in February after National Signing Day and NFL Draft declarations. This update takes into account spring attrition, and a major tweak that factors offense and defense separately rather than an overall team ranking. This is a very early look ahead to Kentucky's football season, but it is probably a better guide than other alternatives. ASoB did game previews most weeks last season using Connelly and Brian Fremeau's work, and it proved an accurate predictor of outcomes and final scores. Their work earned my respect.
The S&P+ Ratings are a college football ratings system derived from both play-by-play and drive data from all 800+ of a season's FBS college football games (and 140,000+ plays). There are four key components to the S&P+
S&P+ also filters out garbage time stats that can inflate statistics, and controls for strength of competition.
The Good News
|Year||Rank||S&P+||Feb Proj||Chg||2013 Rank||Proj Chg.||Proj. Off||Rk||Proj. Def||Rk|
Encouragingly, S&P+ says UK will be improved on both sides of the ball. The 2013 end of the season rankings had UK's offense ranked 74th (as opposed to 67th in this projection), while the defense was ranked 109th (opposed to 80th in this projection). The big jump was initially surprising, but as Connelly explains in his methodology, defenses benefit more than offenses from returning starters. UK could be returning 8 on that side of the ball depending on fall camp's position battles.
The Bad News
UK's schedule won't be any easier next season.
|Location||Rk||Team||Conf||Proj.||2013 Rk.||Proj. Chg.||Proj. Off.||Rk||Proj. Def.||Rk|
A few things stand out:
- S&P+ only projects three of UK's opponents (Ohio, Missouri, and Louisville) to be weaker next season.
- UK faces 7 teams in the top thirty.
- Many UK fans are probably more optimistic than they should be that UK can pull an upset against Missouri, Miss. State, and Louisville this season than is realistic, especially with two of those games on the road.
- UK's offense is expected to be better than Vanderbilt and Florida while being on par with Tennessee.
- UK would probably need to be in the top forty in both offense and defense to be a serious threat to win the SEC East division this season. Puts the summit in numerical perspective.
- I'd seriously entertain the idea of UK upsetting Florida if they played in Lexington this fall.
- Missouri's offense being that high, or Georgia's defense being that low by the end of the season would be surprising.
In conclusion, this data is very early and should be taken with a grain of salt; however, it is probably a strong predictor of the first half of the season. S&P+ is updated weekly after the first month of the season (I believe), so more accurate predictions will be forthcoming. It's even harder to predict at this juncture the last half of the season given possibilities such as injuries, team morale, or surprising play.
On Monday Phil Steele's 2014 season preview will hit the street. Stay tuned for that breakdown and review as well.