The Sagarin College Football Ratings: What They Are, How to Read Them and What to Do With Them

Copyright © 2007 Ed Bagley

While betting on sports is only legal in a few places in the United States, such as Las Vegas, millions of office workers are involved in sports pools every week now that the football season has arrived.

When you know that more than $700 million can be bet on one game—the Super Bowl—in only Las Vegas, then you understand that billions were bet illegally on the Super Bowl last year in the United States and in offshore sports books around the world.

Folks in the gaming business know that more than a billion dollars is wagered on every Monday Night Football game during the season.

For those who wager, it may be helpful to put some science on your side when you wager, and one of the best places to do that is with the Sagarin College Football Ratings.

Created by Jeff Sagarin, a 1970 MIT mathematics graduate, these computer ratings are for Division I-A (what the NCAA now calls the Football Bowl (FB) Subdivision) and Division I-AA (what the NCAA now calls the Football Championship (FC) Subdivision) teams.

You will have to forgive the NCAA for taking titles that have been used for years and are perfectly clear, then renaming them and creating confusion in the process.

If there is a way for the NCAA to assert its superior power, it does so by making everything more difficult and confusing, similar to your United States government and its IRS tax code which could reduce a sane person to tears just reading it.

Anyway, the Sagarin rating is a numerical measure of a team’s strength.

A hypothetical victory margin is determined by comparing the rating of the two teams after adding 2.93 points to the home team. The home edge will vary during the season.

Only Division I (both A and AA) are counted for rating and schedule strength during the season.

A diminishing-returns principle exists to prevent teams from building up ratings by running up large victory margins against weak teams. Instead, it rewards teams that do well against good opponents.

The BCS (Bowl Championship Series) does not factor in scoring margin. For Sagarin ratings and more detailed information go to:

USA Today, the largest circulation newspaper in the United States, is the nation’s daily newspaper and carries the Sagarin College Football Ratings. The ratings are updated following each week’s games and published in USA Today on Wednesdays.

Following the first week of college football action, here are some facts that interested me about Sagarin’s first-week ratings:

1) Washington, one of the poor to mediocre teams in the country the last several years, was rated No. 31 after hammering Syracuse 42-14 in its home opener.

2) Michigan State, another short end of the stick team for far too long, was rated No. 36 after steamrolling over UAB 55-18 in its home opener.

3) Appalachian State, a AA school, was rated No. 38 following its upset of mighty Michigan 34-32 on Michigan’s home field. The win was the biggest upset in college football history as no AA team had ever beaten a ranked team.

Michigan was ranked No. 5 by both the AP Poll and Coaches Poll going into the game. Following its horrendous loss, Michigan ended up being ranked No. 40 by Sagarin.

4) Wyoming, a small school and never among the nation’s top teams, was ranked No. 41 by Sagarin following its 23-3 home victory over Virginia.

5) Notre Dame, beaten badly (33-3) by Georgia Tech, was rated No. 57 after the loss. Georgia Tech was rated No. 2. The Irish failed to score a touchdown for the first time ever in their home opener.

6) Temple (ranked No. 143 after its opening loss) and Buffalo (ranked No. 145 after its opening loss) face off in week two. Both teams are among the 7 worst Division I-A teams in the country, joining Louisiana-Monroe, Rice, Duke, Utah State and Florida International.

7) A total of 242 teams, 119 A schools and 123 AA schools, make up the Sagarin College Football Ratings. The worst-rated A school is Florida International at No. 174 (56 AA teams are rated better), and their play reflects their rating. The worst-rated AA school is the No. 242 La Salle Explorers. La Salle is a Catholic university located in Philadelphia.

La Salle lost its home opener to Ursinus 28-0. Ursinus is not a planet but a real liberal arts college in Pennsylvania.

Ursinus College is not a Division 1 school (which includes the 242 teams with La Salle), not a Division II team (which includes another 157 teams), but a Division III team. Now you can better understand why La Salle College is ranked last among 242 Division I schools.

The first job for La Salle this year will be to score a touchdown, or any points, including a field goal or touchback. The Explorers next job will be to actually win a game. Good luck, La Salle, and God speed.