Over the last few years, I’ve used a mathematical formula of my own creation to come up with my Bottom 25 rankings. It’s a formula that uses nothing but stats from the current season and weighs wins and losses more than anything.
While The Bottom 25 has proven to be quite popular in its time (and very fun to write) and has managed to pick up its own cult-like following, there’s one question many readers have asked me over and over again over the years: “Which are the top 25 teams using your formula?”
Well, I got tired of answering all those questions in emails and on Twitter. So for this season, we’re introducing a new set of rankings, one that will complement The Bottom 25. But doing a top 25 is too generic, so we’re going to rank the top 50.
And that’s what we’re doing right now. Welcome to the very first set of The Fornelli 50 here on CBS Sports. Every week, I’ll share the top 50 teams in the nation using my formula for ranking teams. It’s the same formula I use for The Bottom 25, but for those of you who are unfamiliar with it, here’s a quick breakdown of how everything works.
1. My opinion has absolutely nothing to do with the rankings. They are based on a mathematical formula of my creation. Every week I enter a bunch of different numbers into a spreadsheet and that spreadsheet then spits out the rankings based on the data I entered. So keep this in mind before you call me an idiot, which I know you will.
2. There is true equality to start. That means exactly what it says. The math doesn’t play favorites. Before the season begins, defending national champion Alabama Crimson Tide is just as good as our defending Bottom 25 champion UCF Knights. It doesn’t matter where you’re ranked in the AP Top 25, or what you did last season, or any season before it. The only factor that matters in the rankings is how you’ve performed on the field in 2016.
3. Wins and losses mean more than anything. I have a lot of different statistics involved, and I factor in strength of schedule (though, remember, everybody begins the season with the same SOS), but at the end of the day whether you won or lost is going to mean more than anything else. Also, just because it’s too difficult for me to rank FCS teams as well, my formula doesn’t have much respect for FCS schools. If you beat one it won’t mean much, and if you lose to one, well, you might show up in The Bottom 25.
4. Things are strange early in the season. Remember, these rankings are based on data, and early in the season, there isn’t much of a sample size. So if you start the season 0-1, I don’t care what you did last season, you aren’t going to be ranked in The Fornelli 50 at this point. You might finish the season 11-1, but at the moment you’re just a winless entity in the formula.
4. The formula is in no way predictive. It is based on nothing but what has occurred in the season to this point in time. Just because a team is currently ranked No. 15 does not mean it’s better or that it’s going to beat a team ranked No. 35. It just means that, to this point, it’s been the 15th best team in the country. Think of it as a meritocracy in its purest form. The math plays no favorites.
5. I won’t share the formula. I just don’t want to. I’m not a mathematician. I know my formula isn’t perfect. I don’t think a perfect formula can exist, so I don’t share it because I don’t care what anybody thinks is wrong with it, or what else it should include. So don’t ask. Just know that, even if you don’t agree with it right now, at the end of the season, it’s been startlingly accurate.
And now, The Fornelli 50.
1. Alabama (1-0): There were a lot of fun, exciting games to watch this weekend. Outcomes all over the country gave fans of respective teams reason to be optimistic about the 2016 season and believe in all the possibilities of what could be. But if you paid attention to what Alabama did to Southern California Trojans on Saturday night, those dreams are likely nothing more than fantasies.
While I love a good beatdown from time to time, I couldn’t help but feel an impending sense of doom while watching the Alabama Murder Train get rolling yet again in Arlington, Texas. It wasn’t just the 52-6 dismantling of the Trojans, nor was it the physical dominance the Tide displayed in the process. We’ve seen that from Alabama plenty of times before. What scared me was that, for the first time in a while, it looks as though Alabama may have somebody at quarterback who isn’t just a glorified game manager.
The overall numbers that Jalen Hurts put up by himself aren’t going to scare you, but he made big plays when needed, and he carried with him a sense of excitement. Then you realize he’s only a freshman and that he’s not only going to be around for a few years, so he will continue to get better in the process, and, well, yeah. This Murder Train is going to be steaming down the track for a while.
2. Ohio State Buckeyes (1-0)
3. Michigan Wolverines (1-0)
4. Louisville Cardinals (1-0)
5. Boise State Broncos (1-0)
6. Washington Huskies (1-0)
7. Colorado Buffaloes (1-0)
8. Western Kentucky (1-0)
9. Nebraska Cornhuskers (1-0)
10. Tulsa Golden Hurricane (1-0)
11. Toledo Rockets (1-0)
12. Indiana Hoosiers (1-0)
13. Penn State Nittany Lions (1-0)
14. West Virginia Mountaineers (1-0)
15. Stanford Cardinal (1-0): You think Stanford might be trying to drive home the point that Christian McCaffery deserves your Heisman Trophy vote in 2016? The Cardinal turned to their star early and often, as he finished with 126 yards rushing, 40 yards receiving and 44 return yards in Stanford’s 26-13 win over Kansas State Wildcats on Friday night. Oh, and he also had a 96-yard punt return for a touchdown which featured numerous broken tackles, and unfortunately, one block in the back penalty to negate the entire play. If not for that penalty, McCaffery would have finished the game with 306 all-purpose yards. He averaged 276 all-purpose yards per game last season when he destroyed Barry Sanders’ record.
16. Iowa Hawkeyes (1-0)
17. Florida Gators (1-0)
18. Cal (1-0)
19. Southern Methodist Mustangs (1-0)
20. UTEP (1-0)
21. Florida State Seminoles (1-0)
22. Ball State Cardinals (1-0)
23. Clemson Tigers (1-0)
24. Georgia Bulldogs (1-0): The last time we saw Georgia running back Nick Chubb , he was suffering a gruesome leg injury against Tennessee Volunteers last year. I can still see the replay in my mind, and the agony Chubb was in lying on the turf afterward, his leg seemingly destroyed.
So I can’t tell you how happy I was to see Chubb back on the field and healthy against North Carolina Tar Heels on Saturday. As an added bonus, he wasn’t just a healthy Nick Chubb, but he was still the dominant Nick Chubb. The great Nick Chubb. The kind of Nick Chubb that could sneak up and win himself a Heisman in 2016 if he keeps it up.
A lot of attention was paid to Kirby Smart in his first game with the Bulldogs and the decision — or more accurately, lack thereof — on the team’s quarterback, but the fact is that if Chubb is rushing for 222 yards and two touchdowns every week, it really won’t matter who plays quarterback. Based on what we saw this weekend — and I say this with the caveat that we never want to take anything from the first weekend too seriously — a healthy Chubb makes Georgia the team to beat in the SEC East.
25. Army (1-0)
26. South Carolina Gamecocks (1-0)
27. Houston (1-0)
28. South Alabama Jaguars (1-0)
29. Texas A&M (1-0)
30. Texas (1-0): What is this strange sensation I’m feeling? Could it be positive vibes surrounding the football program at the University of Texas? I mean, did you see that win over Notre Dame Fighting Irish on Sunday night? How can you not be feeling good about the Longhorns right now? Don’t get me wrong, I’m not about to sit here and scream “Texas is going to win the Big 12” at you, but the mere fact that it no longer seems like some crazed delusion speaks volumes about feelings surrounding this program right now.
On a weekend featuring a number of teams making odd decisions with their quarterback situations, Texas not only played two quarterbacks but did so to perfection. Shane Buechele (who wasn’t even supposed to be here) stepped in as a true freshman and started dropping dimes all over the dang place, and then the oft-maligned Tyrone Swoopes would swoop in and just start running people over.
This is still just a 1-0 Texas team coming off a 5-7 season, but I feel the need to point out that after losing their first three games against ranked opponents last season (No. 11 Notre Dame, No. 24 Oklahoma State Cowboys , No. 4 TCU), the Longhorns have now won three straight against ranked teams (No. 10 Oklahoma Sooners and No. 12 Baylor Bears last year, and No. 10 Notre Dame on Sunday). This isn’t some kind of TEXAS IS BACK statement, but it sure feels like a shift in momentum, doesn’t it?
Now if the Horns can just avoid another 24-0 loss against Iowa State Cyclones …
31. Minnesota Golden Gophers (1-0)
32. BYU (1-0)
33. Wisconsin Badgers (1-0)
34. Western Michigan Broncos (1-0)
35. Southern Mississippi Golden Eagles (1-0)
36. Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets (1-0)
37. Tennessee (1-0): I was rather open about my skepticism surrounding Tennessee entering the season, particularly the fact that they were beginning the year ranked in the top 10. What we saw from the Vols as they struggled to deal with Appalachian State Mountaineers , and needed overtime to finish the Mountaineers off, reflected a lot of my concerns about this team. It’s talented, sure, but when it’s come to execution the last few years, that talent hasn’t been able to overcome opponents in key situations often enough for my liking.
Josh Dobbs didn’t look good, and if not for a 67-yard touchdown pass to Josh Malone , his ugly numbers would have been uglier. Jalen Hurd averaged only 3.9 yards per carry against an Appalachian State defense that was actually quite good last year against the run but still wouldn’t qualify as an SEC-caliber unit.
All of that said, I wouldn’t take too much away from this for the Volunteers. They certainly wouldn’t be the first team in the history of college football to struggle in a season-opener, and if there’s any consolation to take away from this one, I feel like this was the kind of game Tennessee could have easily lost the last few seasons. They didn’t lose this one, though. They fought back in the fourth quarter, and then finished it off in overtime. Sometimes that’s all it takes to get things going in the right direction.
38. Wyoming Cowboys (1-0)
39. Wake Forest Demon Deacons (1-0)
40. Arkansas Razorbacks (1-0)
41. Texas State Bobcats (1-0)
42. Miami (1-0)
43. Georgia Southern Eagles (1-0)
44. Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders (1-0)
45. Illinois Fighting Illini (1-0): When Illinois shocked the world by hiring Lovie Smith to replace Bill Cubit during the offseason, it did so for a few different reasons. First of all, Illinois believes Smith to be a good coach, and a definite upgrade over Cubit and Tim Beckman before him. Perhaps more importantly, Illinois wanted to make a move that would garner attention in Chicago. A city roughly 130 miles to the north of Champaign that the school needs to have in its corner if it’s ever going to be the program it wants to be. So far, so good.
Nobody is going to sit here and tell you that a 52-3 win over Murray State means Illinois is going places. It doesn’t. We’ll all have a much better idea of what kind of team Lovie has when North Carolina comes to town this weekend. The win definitely got Chicago’s attention, though. You know who was on the front page of the sports section of the city’s two biggest newspapers (the Chicago Sun-Times and the Chicago Tribune) Sunday morning? Lovie and the Illini.
That’s a big deal for a program that’s only been front page news due to the latest embarrassment of Tim Beckman in recent years. Particularly on a weekend that saw Northwestern Wildcats lose at home to Western Michigan.
46. Central Michigan Chippewas (1-0)
47. UNLV (1-0)
48. Baylor (1-0)
49. Kansas Jayhawks (1-0)
50. Eastern Michigan Eagles (1-0)
Source: CBS Sports Headlines / The Fornelli 50 rankings: Even the unbiased numbers love Alabama