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SEC Football Preview 2016: Using Peers to Estimate Win Totals

How many games will each team win this fall?

Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

In my last post, I went over how to use the early S&P+ projections to estimate how many peer programs each SEC team will have in 2016. Long story short: if two teams are within seven points of each other, I considered them to be peers. The way I determine that is with the S&P+ number for each team, as that number tells you about how many points a team is better than a purely average team.

Last time, I just gave you figures of how many total peers each SEC team has. This time, I'm going to show you how many peers each team has on its schedule.

Team S&P+ Rank S&P+ Peers Above Peers Below Peers on Schedule
Alabama 1 26.8 - 3 (LSU) 1
LSU 2 24.4 1 (Alabama) 5 (Ole Miss) 2
Ole Miss 7 18.9 5 (LSU, Florida St.) 18 (UGA, Ark, MSU, AU, A&M) 7
Tennessee 9 17.0 5 20 (UGA, UF, A&M) 3
Georgia 15 16.2 11 (UT, Miss) 19 (UF, AU, UNC) 5
Arkansas 17 15.2 13 (Miss) 20 (UF, MSU, AU, A&M, TCU) 6
Florida 19 14.5 14 (FSU, UT, UGA, Ark) 20 4
Mississippi State 21 13.6 16 (Miss, Ark) 21 (AU, A&M, BYU) 5
Auburn 24 12.5 16 (UGA, Ark, MSU) 21 (A&M) 4
Texas A&M 25 12.5 17 (UT, UCLA, Ark, MSU, AU) 20 5
Missouri 47 5.1 21 (WVU) 33 (SC, VU) 3
South Carolina 63 2.8 32 (Miz) 27 (VU, UK, ECU) 4
Vanderbilt 69 1.8 34 (WKU, Miz, GT, SC) 27 (UK, MTSU) 6
Kentucky 83 -2.4 32 (SC, VU, So. Miss) 22 3

Because Alabama is so far ahead of the field, it only has one peer on its schedule. Ole Miss is tops for the league with seven thanks to its non-conference scheduling (opening with FSU in Orlando), its East draw (Georgia), and the fact that the West is really bunched up below Bama and LSU. Vandy has the most in the East, but half of that is due to its non-conference foes (Western Kentucky, Georgia Tech, and Middle Tennessee).

By comparing the number of peers on the schedule with the total number they have, we can see how well connected each team is with its peer group.

Team Total Peers Peers on Schedule Pct. Peers on Schedule
Alabama 3 1 33.3%
LSU 6 2 33.3%
Ole Miss 23 7 30.4%
Tennessee 25 3 12.0%
Georgia 30 5 16.7%
Arkansas 33 6 18.2%
Florida 34 4 11.8%
Mississippi State 37 5 13.5%
Auburn 37 4 10.8%
Texas A&M 37 5 13.5%
Missouri 54 3 5.6%
South Carolina 59 4 6.8%
Vanderbilt 61 6 9.8%
Kentucky 54 3 5.6%

Even though they have small numbers of peers on their schedules, Alabama and LSU will play a third of their projected peer group during the regular season. The real contrast comes from Ole Miss and Vandy again. They both play a large number of peers, but the Rebels will play nearly a third of all of their peers whereas the Commodores will play only about ten percent of them.

This sort of thing is something to keep in mind when arguing about how good teams are. It gives us an idea of what extent teams played the other teams that are actually on their level.

Finally, let's get to what was in the title of the post: win totals. I did a dead-simple estimation for this part. For every game against a team above its peer group, I gave that team a loss. For every game against a team below its peer group, I gave that team a win—this includes FCS opponents, as they're not included in S&P+. And then, I had team would win half of its games against its peers. They're toss up games, so let's just make them coin tosses for now.

Here are the projected win totals for each team using this method:

Team Above Peer Set Peers Below Peer Set Est. Wins
Alabama - 1 11 11.5
LSU 0 2 10 11
Georgia 0 5 7 9.5
Tennessee 1 3 8 9.5
Florida 1 4 7 9
Ole Miss 1 7 4 7.5
Mississippi State 2 5 5 7.5
Arkansas 2 6 4 7
Auburn 3 4 5 7
Texas A&M 3 5 4 6.5
Missouri 5 3 4 5.5
South Carolina 6 4 2 4
Vanderbilt 5 6 1 4
Kentucky 7 3 2 3.5

Take a pair of teams that produced one of the more baffling results of 2015: Florida and Ole Miss.

By this method, the Gators start off the year with a loss to LSU, but they also begin the campaign with seven wins. Some of those seven come from good, old fashioned Jeremy Foley scheduling—hey there UMass, North Texas, and Presbyterian—but it also comes from the S&P+ ratings' dim view of the East. Mizzou, South Carolina, Vanderbilt, and Kentucky all project to be more than a touchdown behind UF in 2016. The Gators will only need to split their games against Tennessee, Georgia, Arkansas, and FSU to hit nine wins.

But while Florida starts the year with seven wins, Ole Miss has seven games against its peers. The Rebels also have a game against Bama that is out of reach, leaving only Wofford, Memphis, Georgia Southern, and Vanderbilt as projected wins. Even though the S&P+ ratings have Ole Miss as being 4.4 points better than Florida, schedule differences mean that the Gators figure to get one or two more wins than the Rebels will this fall by my simple reckoning.

So what do you think? Do these win totals look about right to you?