Frequently Asked Questions
(updated Oct. 2012)
What is the Fantastic 50?
The Fantastic 50 is a ranking of a Ohio's top fifty high school football teams, out of over 700 OHSAA teams, regardless of divisional classification.
How is the Fantastic 50 different from other polls?
Most polls are determined by the opinion of a handful of sports writers, who can be vulnerable to regional bias and may not be able to follow every team across the state. The Fantastic 50 is a computer ranking, similar to those used in college football’s Bowl Championship Series, so it's completely impartial. Also, the other current statewide polls rank teams only within their own classification, but the Fantastic 50 is a ranking combining all classifications.
Why have an "all-classifications" ranking?
Some people assume that even the best smaller schools couldn't compete with the top teams from large schools, but this is often not the case. The Fantastic 50 gives smaller schools a chance to be measured against (and sometimes finish ahead of) the large schools.
How do the rankings work?
The method for the rankings is based on linear algebra; it has some similarities to the Colley Matrix method used in the Bowl Championship series rankings. My method includes some additional elements that Colley does not: margin-of-victory, home vs. away games, and unequal weighting of games (recent games count more, as do games against similarly-rated opponents). Margin of victory (or defeat) is used, but capped at 21 points; this means that (in the rating system) winning a game by three touchdowns is considered sufficient to show one team's dominance over the other for that night. The results of a previous season are used as a starting point each fall. In setting up the pre-season ratings, I start from the final ratings from previous years, make some adjustments that "pull" teams toward historical and divisional average performance, and also factor in the number of returning starters, and returning key skill players (QB, top RB, and top WR). Just like in past years, pre-season rankings diminish in importance as the season goes on. For more technical details, see my article that appears in a book about mathematics applications in sports.
What do you know about ranking football teams?
I was first involved in North Carolina high school football as a statistician at Raleigh’s Enloe High School, in the early 1990s. After studying mathematics and sports medicine at the University of Florida, I returned to North Carolina as a math teacher and head athletic trainer at Fuquay-Varina High School for several years. During this time, I began developing my own ranking system, which made its statewide debut in 2001 and has continued to evolve since that time. In 2008, I completed a Ph.D. in applied mathematics at N.C. State University and began a position as a math professor at the College of Wooster, in Wooster, Ohio. The North Carolina rankings were discontinued following the 2010 season.
How are games against private schools and out-of-state opponents treated?
Only schools that are members of the OHSAA are rated, so only games against these opponents are included. Games against other teams (out-of-state schools and non-OHSAA schools) are not used for ranking purposes, as it is difficult to judge the strength of these teams. However, the results of these games are included in the records displayed for each team. Also, for computing playoff qualifiers in Ohio, I do follow the Harbin points system, including the use of out-of-state games.
How are forfeits dealt with?
Games that were forfeited and not played (for example, if a school drops the football program in mid-season) are noted in teams' records, but not used in any way in the rankings. Games forfeited after they are played (usually when the winning school finds that their team had an ineligible player) are noted as forfeits, but the original on-field results are used for ranking purposes.
How is that fair? Couldn't a team forfeit all its' games, and still be ranked?
These rankings are not intended to be "fair," but instead are meant to most accurately compare the strength of all teams, predicting the results of future games. An ineligible player rarely had such a large role as to swing the outcome of a game. In many cases, the ineligible player did not even step on the field, but his presence on the sideline (dressed to play) is enough to cause a forfeit. In 2002, I took criticism for having Burlington (NC) Cummings highly ranked at the end of the regular season, after they forfeited six wins. That team slipped into the playoffs at 4-6, and went on to win the 2A state championship.
What is the significance of the rating numbers?
An average team (compared with all teams in the state's major association) would have a rating of 100. Ratings of 115 are good, 130 great, 85 fair, and 70 poor. To predict the margin of a game between two teams, take the difference between their ratings, then give 1.5 points to the home team. In cases where this makes a predicted margin of more than 21, it is adjusted downward by a mathematical formula, since most teams winning by a large margin ease up as the game goes on.
Why are some NC teams' win-loss records not the same as the ones printed in the newspaper?
For playoff seeding purposes, the NCHSAA allows teams that play 11 regular-season games to drop the result of any one non-conference game; sometimes these adjusted records are published in media outlets.
How do I interpret the Ohio playoff projection information?
The playoff information is based on thousands of simulations of the remainder of the regular season, computing the Harbin points each time. They are not based on the favored team winning every remaining regular-season game. If a team is shown at 100% for a playoff berth (or home game), this indicates that they earned this distinction in ALL of the simulations, but still may not have mathematically clenched a playoff berth (or home game). By comparison, the percentage for a team that made the playoffs in 99.98% of the simulations would be rounded down to 99%.
The numbers in parenthesis are conditional probabilities of making the playoffs (or receiving a home game) based on finishing the regular season with the specified number of wins. For example 8W-19.1H-73% means that the team would have an estimated 19.1 Harbin points and a 73% chance of receiving a playoff berth (or home game) if they finish the regular season with an 8-2 record. Teams are listed in order of percentage, not by projected seed. For each region, the projected Harbin point cut-off is noted. This is the estimated number of Harbin points the #8 seed in the region will have at the end of the regular season.
Championship probabilities are based on the outcome of the same simulations, with the playoffs included. These are not intended to encourage any form of gambling, but rather are posted for informational and entertainment purposes only.
This looks like a lot of work ... how much time does it take?
Using some number-crunching software, and thanks to Joe Eitel providing the scores, I can run all the computations (even for playing out the season thousands of times) in just a few minutes. The work involved is in maintaining the computer code, collecting and organizing all the data (schedules, divisional equivalents for non-OHSAA teams, etc.), and posting the results on the web site. There is a lot of set-up work involved, prior to each season's first rankings.
Do you get paid to do this?
No ... I provide these rankings and predictions as a public service, because I enjoy both mathematics and high school football. My employer, The College of Wooster, supports my involvement in the broader community through this project. Additionally, I have sometimes have chances to talk about the mathematics behind the rankings at math conferences, as well as informally with college students and high school teachers.
How much traffic does this site get?
During the months of September and October, there are several hundred thousand page views. On peak days, the number can be around 20,000.
I have a question that's not addressed here. How can I get it answered?
Please send comments, questions, or corrections to dpasteur AT gmail DOT com.