Ranking the College Football Preview Magazines

August 13, 2013  |  Sports

With the 2013 NCAA Football season rapidly approaching, the predictions are coming in fast and furious. So which of the so-called experts, if any, should we listen to?

We analyzed the projections of four of the most popular College Football preview magazines: Athlon, Lindy’s, Phil Steele, and Sporting News. We looked at their Top 15 preseason rankings for each of the past five seasons, grading them against the corresponding final Associated Press rankings.

As with our NFL Mock Draft grades, we calculated several scoring metrics:

  • Variability: The difference between when each team was projected to finish and where the team actually finished. A lower score is better.
  • Median Error: Similar concept as variability, but the median is less impacted by ‘outliers’ (i.e. picks that are way off). Again, lower is better.
  • Hit Rate: Percentage of projections that were at most one spot off.  For instance, picking Alabama to finish #2 when the team actually finished #3 would be graded as correct. In this case, a higher percentage is better.

Here are the results:

Variability20082009201020112012Average
Average11.711.811.810.211.611.4
Sporting News11.911.111.38.712.211.1
Lindy's11.710.912.09.012.011.1
Athlon11.712.112.011.710.811.7
Phil Steele11.313.211.911.111.211.7

Median Error20082009201020112012Average
Average11.59.89.57.09.89.5
Sporting News12.09.08.05.09.08.6
Lindy's12.08.09.04.011.08.8
Athlon11.010.09.09.08.09.4
Phil Steele11.012.012.010.011.011.2

Hit Rate20082009201020112012Average
Average22%22%8%28%18%20%
Lindy's13%20%13%47%27%24%
Athlon20%33%7%20%27%21%
Sporting News20%20%7%33%13%19%
Phil Steele33%13%7%13%7%15%

Sporting News and Lindy’s have been the best performers on average, posting both the lowest Variability scores and Median Errors (which we consider to be more relevant metrics than hit rate). Most of the difference can be attributed to their superior performance in both 2009 and 2011, seasons in which Athlon and Phil Steele made a few notable flubs (more on these shortly).

Let’s look at how the magazines’ BCS Champion picks have fared, with the actual result of each team in parentheses.

Champion Pick20082009201020112012
AthlonFlorida (1)Florida (3)Alabama (10)Alabama (1)USC (N/A)
Phil SteeleFlorida (1)Florida (3)Oklahoma (6)Alabama (1)Florida State (10)
Lindy'sGeorgia (13)Florida (3)Alabama (10)Oklahoma (16)LSU (14)
Sporting NewsGeorgia (13)Florida (3)Alabama (10)LSU (2)LSU (14)

Alabama fans may have reason to wince at this spotty record, considering that all four magazines are picking the Crimson Tide to win the title this year. The Sporting News has Stanford at #2, while the others all have Ohio State.

The group had major collective whiffs in three of the five seasons:

  • Oklahoma (2009): All four had Oklahoma in the Top 4. They finished unranked.
  • Florida (2010): All four had Florida between 5 and 7. They finished unranked.
  • USC (2012): All four had USC in the Top 4. They finished unranked.

For a detailed list of all the notable ‘Hits’ and ‘Misses’, see the following link:

Notable Hits and Misses (2008-2012)

Think you can do better than these ‘experts’? There is still  time left to make your own NCAA Football predictions (click here), including the winners of the BCS Championship, Heisman Trophy, and various Bowl games.

 

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