If you haven’t seen the latest edition of ESPN’s 2017 FPI (Football Power Index) rankings, here’s what they say about Georgia: a 9-3 regular season, 6-2 in the conference, with losses to Notre Dame, Tennessee and Auburn. Only the Auburn loss isn’t considered a close call.
As best I can tell, that would be good enough per FPI to get the Dawgs to the SECCG, by virtue of winning the head-to-head tiebreaker against the Gators, strangely enough.
I suppose that’s good news, with the obvious caveat that FPI is one of those ESPN-created stats we all love to mock, but there are a couple of things that make me a bit cautious about embracing that. One is that I find FPI rates Georgia’s strength of schedule absurdly high, at fourth. (Florida’s is fifth, which might help explain Georgia’s slight edge.) One reason for that is that FPI loves the SEC East. Every team in the division is in the top fifty (Vanderbilt, at 46, brings up the rear), with three, including Georgia, in the top twenty. I’m not sure I’m ready to buy into that just yet.
Sure, on the surface that may favor Georgia. But it may favor Florida. Or it may favor the West teams in their cross-divisional games. It’s hard to map that out at the start of the summer.
The second thing that makes me nervous is a statistical analysis that suggests one thing FPI isn’t so good at is picking upsets.
From all of this, I come to my second main conclusion from all this analysis: In-season algorithms don’t do a good job of predicting the outcomes of actual games, but they can do a good job of predicting the Vegas spread. In this regard, the FPI (and to a lesser extent, my algorithm) does have value in doing things such as projecting point spreads out 2-3 weeks in advance. That type of analysis is appears to be fairly robust. I also must concede that the FPI does a better job of predicting these spreads than my algorithm does (which I would expect considering they most likely have more than one dude working on it in his spare time). But, you could argue that the FPI is so good at predicting the spread that it doesn’t add much to the discussion. It is on some level too conservative. At least my algorithm takes some chances and will make more than 1-2 upset picks a week. But, at the end of the day, the gold standard is the Vegas spread, which honestly makes sense. After all, if there was a computer program out there that could beat Vegas, somebody would be very rich and they would certainly not tell the rest of us about it.
Again, maybe that’s a good thing. For one, I have a hard time assessing Auburn’s chances of beating Georgia as being as strong as FPI does; recent history suggests it takes a once in a generation talent at quarterback or a ginormous rabbit’s foot for Auburn to take down Georgia on the Plains. (Not to mention Smart outcoached Malzahn in last year’s meeting.) But upsets, as we know, cut both ways, and it’s not hard to pick out a few likely opportunities for the Dawgs to wet the bed.
Anyway, summer has started and this is food for thought. Comments?