The curious case of Marshall’s ESPN rating

August 6, 2014 by Derek Redd


If you got the latest issue of ESPN The Magazine, its college football preview, you saw it unveiled something it calls the Football Power Index or FPI. It’s the network’s new metric in judging the strength of college football teams.

If you’re a Marshall fan and you saw the magazine, well, you’re not exactly happy, not just with where the Herd is ranked, but who’s ranked right above them.

And you can actually hear the blood pressure rise among the Herd fan base.

And you can actually hear the blood pressure rise among the Herd fan base.

I’m sure that enrages Herd fans that a team that won 10 games last year and is picked to go undefeated this year is ranked behind one that won four games in 2013 and might not do much better than that in 2014. But before everyone breaks out the pitchforks and torches and march to Bristol, what does it actually mean?

First, let’s remember ESPN’s M.O. This is an outlet that conjured up its own quarterback rating, the QBR, and has been pushing it as the definitive metric in judging QBs, whether the rest of the world has caught on or not. So ESPN did the same thing with college football, took a bunch numbers, threw them into an algorithm and out pops a rating.

And it’s a rating, not a ranking. What’s the difference? At least in my eyes, a ranking is giving a list of teams to a guy telling him to put them in order from 1 to 25, 1 being the best. A rating is what ESPN is doing, doing some math, coming up with a result and placing them in order. Does that order look strange? Doesn’t matter, that’s what the numbers say.

We don’t know what weight ESPN has put with any specific metric. Do points added from offense mean more than points added from defense? How much is the adjustment for opponent strength?

The FPI doesn’t even match up with ESPN’s top 25 power rankings, which was voted on by humans rather than calculators. The human top 25 had Florida State at No. 1, Alabama at No. 2, Oklahoma at No. 3, Oregon at No. 4 and Auburn at No. 5. The FPI’s top five is No. 1 FSU, No. 2 Oregon, No. 3 Auburn, No. 4 Alabama and No. 5 UCLA. Oklahoma sits at No. 7.

(And remember, ESPN is the outlet that had one of its own pick Marshall for the Peach Bowl, followed QB Rakeem Cato around Miami for two days and is broadcasting this season’s MU-Akron game. They’re not exactly dismissing the Herd.)

In the end, this will be another chapter in the network’s “Embrace Debate” movement, where none of the channels can go an hour without someone arguing with someone else. It allows all the college football fan bases to argue over where their teams should sit and who they should sit over.

And I just helped them by writing this blog post.

<Sigh> I’m going to go curl up in the corner of the press box now.




2 Responses to “The curious case of Marshall’s ESPN rating”

  1. stephen304 says:

    It’s ok little brother … You will kick C-USA butt.
    It took Doc about 3 years to rebuild Marshall.
    This is Holgerson’s 3rd recruiting class. There was improvement in ’13 the record will reflect the improvement in ’14.

  2. stephen304 says:

    Also they have Marshall ahead of 2 AAC schools and a Big 10. The C-USA hurts the perception of Marshall. The Herd would be better off back in the MAC. If Marshall wants to be taken seriously they must upgrade that stadium. Get to 55,000 seats ECU did it and was able to make the jump when the AAC. Now ECU is one of the favorites in AAC.

    As a wvu fan in Raleigh, NC I hope Marshall continues being successful and I finally have a reason to watch a game @ NC st’s stadium in in 4 years and I will go watch and root for the Herd when they play here too

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