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Ranking Kentucky Football Opponents

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Running the numbers against UK's opponents.

Mark Zerof-USA TODAY Sports

Last week, I wrote this post summarizing how several ranking systems viewed Kentucky's upcoming football season. The consensus is UK has a solid chance at 6 wins, but it will prove difficult to get over that hump to the promise land of 7 wins or more.

Towards the end of that post, I raised the point that for UK to even get 6 wins, and become bowl eligible, it would have to do so at the expense of its opponents. For one team to win the games to become bowl eligible, another team has to lose games. Cause and effect.

The aim of this post will be to apply the same metrics in the previous post to UK's opponents this season. Eastern Kentucky and Charlotte were not included.

SEC East S&P+

SEC East 2014 Preseason 2014 Final Difference 2015 Preseason
UGA 10 7 +3 3
Mizzou 22 23 -1 23
UT 55 19 +36 19
Florida 29 29 0 29
S. Carolina 7 43 -36 31
UK 75 58 +17 52
Vandy 61 105 -44 83

S&P+'s preseason projections were very close on three teams final rankings, but were fairly far off for the rest. In fairness, it's hard to imagine Vanderbilt would have had such a precipitous fall in one year. The 2015 preseason rankings see UK next to last in the division.

Let's see what ESPN's FPI says before forming a judgement...


SEC East 2014 Preseason 2014 Final Difference 2015 Preseason
UGA 14 4 +10 9
Mizzou 32 27 +5 24
UT 47 35 +12 14
Florida 21 22 -1 28
S. Carolina 7 37 -30 40
UK 52 60 -8 48
Vandy 69 97 -28 51

FPI agrees with S&P+ on the order of the division, and with the exception of Vanderbilt, the 2015 preseason rankings are very similar. Another key difference is South Carolina is ranked far closer to Kentucky.

Now, one last metric...

Pythagorean Projection

Recall that Pythagorean projection is a measure of how many games a team should have won the previous season relative to their record. Teams that overachieved tend to regress the following season; likewise, teams that underachieved tend to have better seasons the following year.

SEC East 2014 Record Pyth. Diff.
Florida 6-5 +1.7
UT 6-6 +1.0
UGA 9-3 +0.9
UK 5-7 +0.5
S. Carolina 6-6 -0.5
Vandy 3-9 -1.0
Mizzou 10-2 -1.5

According to Pythagorean projection, Florida and Tennessee are both expected to improve upon their records from last season. In fact, Florida should have won nearly 2 more games last season which makes sense given their record in one-score games and the cancellation of the Idaho game. Missouri is poised to take the biggest step back. Georgia, meanwhile, will have a strong opportunity to make the playoffs if they finish the regular season with 10 wins and go to the SEC Championship. Vanderbilt is expected to be a game worse this season.

These rankings make a certain sense when looking at these teams records last season in one score games. Florida and Tennessee were both 2-3 in those games, suggesting a bit of bad luck. Missouri, on the other hand, went 4-1 in one score games, which is a rate that isn't sustainable. Vanderbilt won a one score game last year, but this year opens with a strong Western Kentucky program, travels to Houston, and still has to deal with its SEC slate.

Going off these three systems, it appears that South Carolina will be UK's most important opponent this season in the SEC East. The game in Columbia, in the second week of the season, seemingly will play a major role in both team's bowl aspirations.

What About UK's Other Opponents?

There's not much encouraging here either, going solely by these numbers. Louisville finished last season 9-3 and has a Pythagorean differential of exactly 0. It neither underachieved nor overachieved, and meanwhile S&P+ rank them 32nd and FPI ranks them 44th. Mississippi State finished last season 10-2 and also has a Pythagorean differential of 0. The advanced statistics both rank the Bulldogs at 22nd. UK has played competitive games with both of these programs under Mark Stoops, and that's likely to continue into 2015, but beating just one of the two should not be expected. It could certainly happen, but it would take some luck (again, according to these numbers).

Auburn also has a Pythagorean differential of 0, and S&P+ ranks them 5th, while FPI ranks War Eagle 18th. If these ranking do bring assurance it's at the expense of the University of Louisiana-Lafayette. S&P+ rank the Ragin' Cajuns 84th, FPI ranks them 95th, and their Pythagorean differential after an 8-4 record last season is -1.35. They seem due for a regression.


There are other variables to keep in mind as I suggested in last week's post. Preseason projections don't factor in  injuries, turnover margin, defensive touchdowns scored/allowed, fourth down conversion percentage, or special teams touchdowns scored/allowed. All are factors that can play a major role in an additional 1-2 wins or losses over the course of a season. While those things will happen either for or against teams, they can't be comfortably relied upon to occur on UK's behalf.

Assuming off-season player development cancels itself out, UK has very few windows of opportunity this season. The South Carolina game appears extremely important to UK's bowl hopes, and it's on the road. Playing Florida early is advantageous for UK, but that may not be enough going by these numbers. If UK is able to hold on to win one or two close games it should be able to make it to 6 wins.

That should be what we expect of UK at this point under Stoops. He has recruited well and his first signing class now find themselves as juniors and redshirt sophomores. They are now on the front lines bearing the blue and white banners. They should now be expected to pull an upset or two over the course of the season regardless of whether or not the numbers say it should happen on paper.