South Carolina ranked 4th in early 2014 projections

Pharoh Cooper and the Gamecocks are set to rise into the upper-echelon of college football in 2014. - David Manning-USA TODAY Sports

Bill Connelly, a member of the SBNation team, ran an early set of his 2014 projections. The numbers came out kindly for the Gamecocks.

Bill Connelly runs the excellent FootballStudyHall blog here on SB Nation, where he discusses how we can better go about quantifying what causes college football teams to succeed and fail.  As part of that project, he creates a set of ratings known as S&P+ (success + points per play, with schedule factored in).  The ratings tend to look favorably on the Gamecocks, mostly because the Gamecocks tend to play very good football of late.  Carolina finished 12th in the 2013 final ratings, though some may take issue with the fact they come in behind two teams they beat.

So no system is perfect, and as Connelly himself admits, this is a first run.  I'll let him describe the methodology:

Below are the initial projected rankings for the 2014 college football season. They take into account three factors: recent history, returning starters, and recruiting. You'll find three projected numbers below:

1. Projected S&P+ (5-Year Weighted Average). This is exactly what it says -- a five-year weighted S&P+ average, with 2013 getting 5x the weight, 2012 4x, ..., and 2009 1x. It accounts for about 60 percent of the overall projections. In college football, the best predictor of what you will do is what you've done. Things don't change a whole lot from year to year.

2. Projected S&P+ (Returning Starters). This takes last year's S&P+ ratings and adjusts for your number of returning starters. Obviously returning starters is a pretty vague, debatable number, but at this stage in the game, one month removed from the last season, it's what we have to work with. For now, the best starter numbers to work with are probably Phil Steele's. For my projections, I'll replace his numbers with mine (which are more about top contributors than simply who started) as I derive them. For now, Phil's will do just fine. This number accounts for about 30 percent of the overall projections.

3. Projected S&P+ (2-Year Recruiting). As discussed previously, I have become convinced that a five-year recruiting average is redundant; by the time you're 3-4 years removed from a recruiting class's signing, you've replaced potential (which is what the recruiting rankings reflect) with production. Using two years (as approximately 10 percent of the overall projections) attempts to fill in the gaps between the number of players you lose from last year and the quality of players that will be replacing them.

And that's where we get to the part that keeps me giddy about Carolina football.  The Gamecocks come in 13th place in his 5-year weighted average ratings (and that'll likely improve in the 2015 projections, as the 2009 season - where Carolina finished 23rd in the ratings despite a 7-6 record - comes off the books.  Connelly rates the projected impact from the Gamecocks' returning starters as 6th best in the nation, and places our last two recruiting classes at 16th, in line with other sites ratings of that group.

The result?  Fourth.  The Gamecocks start the 2014 season in the S&P+ ratings the same place they finished it in the national polls.  That'd put them second in the SEC, trailing only the juggernaut from Tuscaloosa, and just above LSU.  Here's how the Gamecocks' slate of opponents comes out in the ratings:

Opponent 2014 S+P+
v Texas A&M 7
v ECU 72
v Georgia 8
@ Vanderbilt 58
v Missouri 31
@ Kentucky 76
v Furman N/A
@ Auburn 12
v Tennessee 57
@ Florida 21
v South Alabama 92
@ Clemson 14

As you can see, the Gamecocks face a pretty tough slate, with five games against top 25 teams, three of which come on the road.  On the other hand, they do avoid a top 5 match-up and get the two toughest opponents at home, which plays slightly to their advantage as a truly elite team if they want a chance to run the table.

Before you jump all over these ratings as farcical, let's give them credit for what they do and acknowledge what they don't.  They're clearly imprecise, and programs that are recently ascendant (Auburn comes to mind, though their five-year average continues to include a national championship rating) will be undervalued.  Still, they're an interesting conversation starter and an excellent point of departure.

The full list can be found here.  Thoughts on where Carolina (or its opponents) fall?  Find us in the comments.

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