Final 2013 Rankings: Who had the Best Overall Season?

by Patrick Rhamey

Disclaimer: I hesitate to provide a final ranking, as the purpose of the ranking was to determine the best teams for the bowls, with emphasis on the national championship.  As stated in the pdf explanation, this becomes even more important in a four team playoff.  But, in the interest of evaluating the total impressiveness of each team's season, I decided to post a final ranking.  However, Alabama is the national champion.  Under the BCS rules the top two teams following the regular season, with which this ranking was in agreement, play for the national championship game.  Alabama won that game, and what this ranking is saying does not contradict any of the following: Alabama is the national champion, Alabama is the best team in the country, Alabama is much better than Notre Dame, Alabama could defeat any team played more often than not (including Texas A&M).  Roll Tide.

I've said it many times but I'll say it again, what this ranking provides is not a prediction of greatness, but an evaluation of the "body of work" (see the pdf explanation for further details).  Because prediction is dangerous with so few games in college football, I think this is a better way to decide the top two teams for a national championship (or top four teams in a playoff).  The rankings are about who has earned the right to play in the championship.  Ranking after the fact is meaningless, because there's no longer anything left to earn through your body of work: a champion has been crowned.  So, this final ranking does not trump the results of a championship contest once played, as the AP poll would claim to do if it held a difference of opinion.  As discussed below, Alabama's body of work from the season took a blow with the Florida and LSU losses in their bowl games.  The SEC is a great conference, and if you like how I've created these rankings because the network more heavily takes into account conference strength, you have to accept the SEC was hurt by these two bowl games. The proper way to interpret this final ranking is that while Alabama is the national champion, and no doubt a much better team than Notre Dame, Notre Dame had overall more difficult wins taking the entire season into account and the Notre Dame loss to Alabama is less destructive than Alabama's loss to A&M.  Is Notre Dame better than Alabama?  Absolutely not.  Did Notre Dame's regular season earn them the right to play in the national championship, despite how badly they were beaten? Absolutely.

Bama defeated Notre Dame, resulting in a very large rise in their win score of 5.4 (and rightly so).  However, Florida losing to Louisville (who lost to the likes of Syracuse and Connecticut) and LSU losing to Clemson exploded Alabama's loss score because both teams defeated Texas A&M.  Bama's loss score rises from 2.58 to 19.04.  For Notre Dame they experience only gains in their win score from teams they beat in the regular season winning their bowl games (BYU and Stanford).  Their loss score also obviously rises for the Alabama loss as well as the losses from teams I just mentioned that are hurting Alabama.  However, because Notre Dame is 1 step further in the chain of losses from LSU and Florida, they impact Notre Dame's score slightly less.

So when it's all said and done, after the bowl season chaos, Notre Dame and Alabama both become more central to the network of losses.  However, because Florida and LSU's debacles are more proximate to Alabama in the web of losses, the National Championship win is not enough to propel the Tide ahead of Notre Dame in their body of work.  Because I'm interested in the value of the total body of work in this ranking, Alabama no more gets to jump Notre Dame for the one (very impressive) win anymore than Louisville gets to jump Florida.  You can take a closer look at all this by comparing rankings from the last post to rankings in this post to see how each team's win and loss network centrality measures fluctuate from the bowl season.

...and then there's Ohio State.  Ohio State is immune from loss network chaos as it has no losses.  It also has fewer games, which harm Ohio State in the ranking as they have fewer opportunities to gain points.  Note that Ohio State's win score is 49, compared to 56 for Notre Dame, 55 for Alabama, 52 for Georgia, 51 for Oregon, South Carolina and Florida, and 50 for LSU.  Hypothetically speaking, if they had been placed in the same situation as Notre Dame and played Alabama, and if they had lost, then they would be ranked below all of these teams.  But the absence of detracting losses is enough to propel them to number one in the realm of total body of work.

The chaos of this season is interesting, as I've applied this method to previous seasons (2003, 2010, 2011), and the final ranking is minimally different from the final AP poll and the BCS bowl results.  But if we truly believe such cliches as "every game matters" and "it's about a team's body of work", here is the final evaluation of the 2012 season:

Explanation: Rankings Done Justly

Top 25 (Full Rankings):

  1. Ohio State (49.23)
  2. Notre Dame (39.16)
  3. Alabama (36.29)
  4. Georgia (32.19)
  5. Oregon (29.16)
  6. South Carolina (27.99)
  7. Texas A&M (27.94)
  8. Florida (26.28)
  9. LSU (25.6)
  10. Clemson (25.26)
  11. Stanford (24.05)
  12. Kansas State (21)
  13. Oklahoma (19.74)
  14. San Jose State (18.52)
  15. Florida State (17.71)
  16. Texas (17.28)
  17. Louisville (16.71)
  18. Nebraska (16.22)
  19. Northwestern (16.19)
  20. Michigan (15.67)
  21. Baylor (15.36)
  22. Utah State (14.45)
  23. Vanderbilt (14.27)
  24. UCLA (14.08)
  25. Arizona (13.87)