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2018 S&P+ projections have Cal near the bottom of the Pac-12

The games are played on paper, so the 2018 season is in the books.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: SEP 16 Ole Miss at Cal Photo by David Dennis/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

S&P. Two letters and a conjunction. Together, these three are some measure of the stock market or something business-y like that. I don’t really understand it.

If you add one more symbol, you get the S&P+, which is a measure of strength in college football or something like that. I still don’t really understand it.

But we have to make content and we don’t have writers, so I get to discuss something that I don’t understand. It’s like I’m giving a presentation in a Berkeley undergrad class all over again.

(Nick and I failed to coordinate, so we basically wrote about the same thing this week. Check out his take here, but you really should have read it already.)

Dr. Strange & Perplexing or: How I Learned what S&P+ Is and Hate the Life

What is this S&P+ thing if you’re as unknowledgeable as me?

Briefly, it’s an assessment of the strengths of college football teams independent of opponent strength or tempo. It primarily is a consideration of five factors that are critical for winning games: efficiency, explosiveness, field position, finishing drives, and turnovers.

A team’s S&P+ score is how many points they’d be able to outscore the average college football team. The S&P+ score of 27.0 for the Alabama Crimson Tide and the Ohio State Buckeyes mean their margin of victory over the average team would be 27 freakin’ points. On the flip side, the UTEP Miners have an S&P+ of –20.3 because they’d lose to the average team by nearly three touchdowns.

Let’s get to the Cal material already

So why are we talking about Football S&P+ when we’re still in the early stages of the offseason? Because 2018 S&P+ projections have come out and no one has the strength to talk about Men’s Basketball right now.

Although the S&P+ was already defined in the previously-linked article, the 2018 preseason projections... have absolutely nothing to do with that. Why did I even spend time summarizing what S&P+ is? What our SBN Overloads call Projected 2018 S&P+ is an algorithm based on three factors: recruiting over the past two years, returning production, and performance over the past five years.

You can find the full table of 2018 S&P+ projections at the link above; the table is fully interactive, so you can search by some parameters and sort by any category. But I only care about the California Golden Bears, so let’s take a look at the 2018 S&P+ projections for the Pac-12 and for our non-conference foes; the Idaho State Bengals are in the FCS, so they were not been analyzed.

2018 S&P+ projections

Nat'l rank Team Recruiting Returning production Weighted 5-yr Projected S&P+ Outscoring Cal
Nat'l rank Team Recruiting Returning production Weighted 5-yr Projected S&P+ Outscoring Cal
4 Washington 17 2 13 23.9 22.5
15 USC 3 27 9 14.0 12.6
20 Stanfurd 27 23 10 11.9 10.5
23 Oregon 18 29 30 11.3 9.9
28 Utah 32 30 34 9.4 8.0
33 Arizona 45 25 63 7.7 6.3
39 UC L.A. 19 75 23 6.0 4.6
41 Washington State 46 49 55 5.4 4.0
51 North Carolina 25 81 33 3.8 2.4
57 Arizona State 38 79 46 2.3 0.9
65 California 57 71 58 1.4 N/A
76 BYU 72 88 35 -1.1 -2.5
89 Colorado 43 112 64 -4.6 -6.0
110 Oregon State 60 126 68 -9.7 -11.1
From SBNation

Out of 130 teams, Cal is ranked at the exact middle as the 65th team; our S&P is 1.4, meaning we wouldn’t even beat the average team by a field goal. Cal is below the average for the above collection of teams in all four categories (data not shown). If we assume that Idaho State would have a lower S&P+ than us (which is likely), then we’re outranking just four of our 2018 opponents. Our scheduling misses for next year are the Utah Utes (projected to outscore us by 8 points) and the Arizona State Sun Devils (currently looking like a toss-up game where they wouldn’t even be favored by a full point).

If we base wins and losses strictly off of this (which Berkelium97’s analytical posts should teach you that probability and projected wins don’t work this way), then we’ll finish the regular season 4–8 (2–7 in conference) and ranked 10th in the Pac-12. I’m expecting all the comments to be in agreement with these projections!

I think we all (including Bill Connelly, the master of S&P+) agree that it’s way too early to have realistic predictions for any one team, let alone 130. There are some inherent flaws in the system as the category of 5-year performance is describing a team with a different coaching staff than the one we’ve got. Head coach Justin Wilcox showed better-than-expected improvement in Year One, so I won’t be surprised if he continues to outperform the skeptics in Year Two.