The MaxDiff Poll After Week 7: Ohio State Emerges as the Top Contender to Alabama in the Minds of Fans

Another week is in the books for the 2018 College Football Season. There was chaos this week as three top ten teams went down. Despite the unexpected losses, I was surprised to find more agreement among fans in this week’s rankings compared to last week. My hypothesis is that as more games are played, fans’ perceptions will tend to converge. Let’s dive in!

This Week’s Poll Specs

When was this fielded?: October 15, 2018
Number of respondents: 1,882
Research technique: Online quantitative survey using the MaxDiff Market Research Technique.

Interpreting the Scores: The MaxDiff scores for each team are indexed against the average score of 100. For example, UCF’s MaxDiff score of 127 means that team was ranked 27% higher than the average team in the exercise. It is important to note that these scores should not be interpreted as “votes.” See our explanation of MaxDiff if you would like more information.


FanJuicer’s “Big Six” Takeaways From This Week’s Poll

    1. Ohio State has emerged as the most credible challenger to Alabama in the minds of fans.

      Ohio State’s placement alongside Alabama in Tier I is a reflection of that fact that Ohio State was chosen a significantly high percentage of the time in head-to-head sets against all non Alabama teams. This puts distance between the Buckeyes and the rest of the field designating them as perhaps the only team in the minds of fans with a chance of knocking off the seemingly invincible Crimson Tide.

    2. LSU may have the next best shot.

      On Saturday, Coach O logged his biggest victory yet as head man in Baton Rouge as the LSU Tigers stunned the college football world by knocking off the former Tier I UGA Bulldogs. With victories over Miami, Auburn, and Georgia, the LSU Tigers have amassed as impressive a resume as any, despite the loss to Florida a couple weeks ago. LSU has now entered Tier II in the minds of fans, and have (perhaps surprisingly) surpassed Clemson in this week’s MaxDiff Poll. I want to point out that this is not because this poll is overloaded with SEC fans. In fact, LSU was ranked higher than Clemson by B1G fans, Big 12 fans, SEC fans (of course), and Non-SEC fans as a collective group. The only groups to rank Clemson higher than LSU were ACC fans (of course) and Pac 12 fans. This poll’s results suggest that if Clemson and LSU were to meet on a neutral field right now, LSU would be favored to win the game by a small margin. I think this says a lot about the public’s perception of LSU now versus preseason expectations. The Tigers will get a shot at Nick Saban and company in two weeks when the juggernaut Tide Offense led by Tua Tagovailoa rolls into Baton Rouge. ESPN GameDay will almost certainly be there as well because no other game will command as much attention.

    3. Three of this week’s most underrated teams in the minds of fans hail from the B1G.

      Penn State, Wisconsin, and Michigan State were ranked by fans as three of this week’s most underrated teams in the AP. I want to point out that this trend holds up even among Non B1G fans. My hypothesis is that fans think the B1G has been “beating up on itself” lately as Penn State has recent losses to Ohio State and Michigan State, Wisconsin took a loss on Saturday to Michigan, and Michigan State lost to Northwestern a couple weeks ago. Of course, Michigan State and Wisconsin also have less than impressive out-of-conference losses to Arizona State and BYU respectively, but since these losses are further in the rear view, perhaps they are getting less consideration from fans.

    4. Fans may give lip service to the Group of Five teams, but they don’t actually think they can compete.

      Many fans argue that the Group of Five teams should be given more credit. In fact, I’m used to seeing arguments all across the Internet as to why we should give more respect to the G5, and more specifically, the American Conference (AAC). Furthermore, I don’t think G5 teams are particularly disrespected in other fan polls like the r/CFB poll. However, I will argue that despite this, most fans still don’t think the G5’s elite teams can really compete with the Power Five teams in the AP. The MaxDiff Poll shows this when other polls obscure it because the MaxDiff system forces respondents to consider teams directly against others in discrete sets of four teams. When filling out polls that simply have you list out your top 25, fans may give lip service to the G5 by ranking UCF #10 (like the AP does this week), but when they are truly asked to consider if UCF would beat Florida or Oregon like the MaxDiff Poll does, more times than not they will choose the Power Five teams.

      This week, three of the four teams fans feel are most overrated in the AP – USF, Cincinnati, and San Diego State – hail from a Group of Five Conference. This isn’t a trend unique to this week’s poll. Group of Five Teams are consistently ranked lower in this poll than the AP because when it comes down to it, fans just don’t think the G5 can hang.

    5. There is more agreement among fans this week.

      Due to the large number of upsets this week, I expected there to be little consensus among fans who tend to bring a variety of interpretations to what upsets mean. I was surprised to find relatively even tiers, which reflect agreement among fans. The data leads me to expect most will agree with each teams’ tier membership this week, even if not everyone agrees with the ordering of teams within each tier.

    6. Appalachian State are fans’ new darlings.

      Bucking the trend of fans giving no respect to the G5 are the Appalachian State Mountaineers. App State has been on a roll as of late. After decimating Arkansas State last week 35 – 9, the Mountaineers have now amassed a 4 – 1 record. Despite App State’s impressive wins so far, my hypothesis is that fans are giving the Mountaineers respect largely due to how competitive they played Penn State in their only loss.



The MaxDiff Poll Versus the Spread?

Last season, I noticed a peculiar trend in the MaxDiff Poll in that the teams fans felt were OVERRATED in the AP tended to win versus the spread the following week, while teams fans felt were UNDERRATED tended to lose versus the spread. I have received quite a bit of questions this season about the logic behind this pattern. Firstly, keep in mind that when point spreads are set, oddsmakers take into account public perceptions and this poll is simply a reasonably good reflection of how the public perceives the AP Top 32 in terms of relative team quality. Casual observers tend to overwhelmingly choose favorites and brand names ATS regardless of the line. Oddsmakers understand this tendency, which is why they typically shade their opening lines to force the casual participants to take less favorable point spreads when playing the popular side of a game.

Last week’s predictions fared very, very poorly. In fact, last weekend was the worst one yet for the MaxDiff Poll’s predictions versus the spread. Last week’s poll made 11 predictions with three three wins and eight losses. That’s rough. Regardless, I’m still glad I have been recording this poll’s predictions ATS because one bad week doesn’t completely invalidate the hypothesis that this poll could have a systematically repeatable pattern of correctly predicting 50%+ of its games against the spread. Despite the worst slate of predictions last week that the MaxDiff Poll has yet to make, the Poll’s predictions are still +50% (but barely) on the season with a  32 – 27 record (54% hit rate) ATS on the season. Please keep in mind that this is only after 59 games and I am still monitoring this pattern before I deem it systematic.

Here are this week’s predictions:

  • USF (-32.5) over UConn
  • CINCINNATI (+3.5) over Temple
  • SAN DIEGO STATE (-27.5) over San Jose State
  • ILLINOIS (+25) over Wisconsin
  • MICHIGAN (-7) over Michigan State
  • INDIANA (+14.5) over Penn State
  • LOUISIANA-LAFAYETTE (+24.5) over Appalachian State

How Do Fans Feel About This Week’s ESPN GameDay Showdown Between Oregon and Washington State?