Projecting the college football season with award watch lists

App State, Charlotte should be smiling; Triangle teams, not so much

Charlotte defensive end Alex Highsmith, pictured during Conference USA’s media day last month, is on the watch list for the Chuck Bednarik Award that is presented to college football’s top defensive player. (Tony Gutierrez / AP Photo)

The college football award watch list season ended last month. Over a two-week span, watch lists for 18 different awards were released, honoring everything from best punter to top coach, from best player to most versatile.

For the past few years, we’ve taken the watch lists as a proxy for the talent level of each team. After all, the more watch list players a team has, the better it should be. Right?

For the most part.

Last preseason, we went through each North Carolina team’s schedule, predicting the winner of each game by which team had more watch listed players. For the most part, the watch lists did a remarkably good job of predicting each team’s record.

Of course, there were a few misses. Watch list committees overvalued Duke players (or couldn’t accurately predict injuries) and undervalued Charlotte.

So, since the watch lists give us some relatively reliable information about the upcoming season, what do they say for 2019?

It’s good news for App State, Charlotte and Wake, while the prospects for all points east are far dimmer. Here’s a look at total watch listers by team and their projected win-loss record.

Charlotte’s four players on watch lists are particularly notable, since the 49ers had no players on watch lists either of the last two preseasons.

App’s 15 players honored are also notable, since it puts the Mountaineers among the nation’s top tier of teams. Penn State also had 15 watch listers. Georgia had 17, Clemson 21.

In fact, other than Clemson, App has more watch listed players than any ACC team.

While App’s 15 players would guarantee it an outstanding win-loss record, the Mountaineers are also boosted by the schedule they play. App faces a total of 41 watch-listed players this season, which is by far the fewest in the state.

Duke not only has the toughest schedule in North Carolina but also the toughest in the ACC.

The two teams picked by the media to win their divisions — Clemson and Virginia — are boosted by having two of the three weakest schedules. Miami’s Manny Diaz is the only new coach who gets a break from the schedule. He plays the second-weakest schedule in the conference, while new coaches at Louisville, UNC and Georgia Tech are all among the toughest schedules.

Putting it all together, here’s a look at the projected ACC standings for the upcoming season:

If the model is to be believed, State, UNC and possibly Duke will all be home this bowl season, as will Virginia Tech, who hasn’t missed the postseason since 1992.

Miami, not Virginia, will be the team to emerge from the Coastal and face Clemson in the ACC Championship Game.

Of course, as we said earlier, the model isn’t always right. In fact, last year, it picked a team to go 1-11, winless in the ACC. That team? Eventual Coastal Division champion Pitt.