Projecting college football season with watchlists

Preseason honors may mean big things for Duke, Appalachian State

Appalachian State Clifton Duck (4) was named to the watchlist for the Jim Thorpe Award as the nation’s top defensive back, one of five Mountaineers to be given preseason recognition. (Jeremy Brevard / USA TODAY Sports)

The college football award watchlist season ended last week with the release of the preseason list for the Walter Camp Award. Over a two-week span, watchlists for 16 different awards were unveiled, honoring everything from best punter and best interior lineman to best player and most versatile.

Sixteen committees of experts have culled down the top players at each position to come up with a short list, which should give us a good idea of what to expect this season. After all, the more watchlist players a team has, the better it should be, right?

We tested that theory last year by using the preseason lists to predict each local team’s win-loss record. Overall, that method was more accurate than we had any right to expect it to be:

Team: Predicted record; Actual record
NC State: 7-4 (1 toss-up); 8-4
App State: 10-1 (1 toss-up); 8-4
UNC: 2-8 (2 toss-ups); 3-9
ECU: 1-9 (2 toss-ups); 3-9
Charlotte: 0-9 (2 toss-ups); 1-11
Duke: 9-3; 6-6
Wake Forest: 4-8; 8-5

Other than Duke and Wake, who underperformed and outperformed the model’s expectations, respectively, we were within a game or two of each team’s actual record, just by comparing the team’s watchlisted players to those of the opponents.

Assuming the lists are as predictive this year, Duke should brace itself for a big season.

The Blue Devils had players on 13 of the 16 lists. No other local team had as many, and Duke’s 15 players led the in-state teams.

Duke: 15
NC State: 8
Wake Forest: 6
App State: 5
UNC: 3
ECU: 1
Charlotte: 0

For the second straight year, Charlotte was one of just six FBS teams not to have a player named to any of the preseason watchlists for on-field performance. (Linebacker Juwan Foggie was on the list for the Wuerffel Award, which is based on community service.) The 49ers are the only FBS team to be shut out two years in a row. Air Force, Central Michigan, New Mexico, Rice and Texas State were the other programs without a watchlisted player this year.

Based on the number of watchlist appearances, Duke should contend for the ACC Coastal Division this year, while NC State is looking at fourth place in the Atlantic.

Atlantic Division

Team — Watchlists
Clemson — 25
Boston College — 13
Florida State — 10
NC State — 8
Wake Forest — 6
Louisville — 5
Syracuse — 4

Coastal Division

Team — Watchlists
Miami — 17
Duke — 15
Virginia Tech — 6
Georgia Tech — 6
Virginia — 4
UNC — 3
Pitt — 2

Wake outperformed the watchlist prediction last year and will have to repeat that trend to make another bowl game. The Deacs also face the toughest schedule of the local teams, based on the number of watchlist players on their opponents.

Team — Opponents’ watchlisters
Wake Forest — 102
NC State — 91
Duke — 89
UNC — 85
ECU — 61
Charlotte — 48
App State — 36

In the ACC, Wake has the third-toughest schedule.

Team   Opponents’ watchlisters
Florida State — 114
Louisville — 108
Pitt — 102
Wake Forest — 102

Virginia (68), Miami (75) and UNC (85) have the easiest schedules in the league.

Comparing individual games, based on the watchlists, we can predict wins and losses. For example, Duke should beat Army in Week 1, since the Blue Devils have a 15-to-5 advantage in watchlist players. UNC (3 players) won’t fare as well in its opener against Cal (11 players).

Going game-by-game, here’s a look at the expected win-loss records for local teams, based on which team has more watchlist appearances:

Duke: 10-2 (Losses to Miami and Clemson)
App State: 9-3 (Losses to Penn State, Arkansas State and Troy)
NC State: 8-4 (Losses to West Virginia, Boston College, Clemson and FSU)
Wake Forest: 6-6 (Losses to BC, ND, Clemson, FSU, NC State and Duke)
UNC: 3-9 (Wins over ECU, Pitt and Western Carolina)
ECU: 1-10 with one toss-up (ECU and UConn each have one watchlist player. The win comes against NC A&T)
Charlotte: 0-11 with one toss-up (Like Charlotte, Fordham has no watchlisters)

Here’s a look at the projected ACC standings for the upcoming season:

Atlantic Division

Team: Record (ACC record)
Clemson: 12-0 (8-0)
Boston College: 10-2 (6-2)
Florida State: 8-4 (5-3)
NC State: 8-4 (5-3)
Wake Forest: 6-6 (3-5)
Syracuse: 4-8 (2-6)
Louisville: 4-8 (2-6)

Coastal Division

Team: Record (ACC record)
Miami: 12-0 (8-0)
Duke: 10-2 (6-2)
Georgia Tech: 7-4 (4-3)*
Virginia Tech: 6-5 (3-4)*
Virginia: 5-7 (2-6)
UNC: 3-9 (1-7)
Pitt: 1-11 (0-8)
* Toss-up game between Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech