You may be familiar with my postings this 2019 CFL season using Elo Ratings and other methods to look at odds for CFL match-ups.
You may, or may not, be surprised to know I do the same processes for USports football as well.
The biggest issue to this pursuit is the lack of true inter-lock (inter-conference) play.
What are the Mitchell and Uteck Bowls and Vanier Cup?
Currently the only time we see inter-conference play are rare pre-season games or during the Uteck and Mitchell Bowls and the Vanier Cup. These games feature teams at the end of season in sites ranging from relatively neutral University of Calgary versus Laval University in Hamilton in 2016, to the home advantaged Laval University in their Quebec City stadium versus University of Calgary in 2013.
The host team for the Uteck and Mitchell Bowls is an ever cycling six-year process between the Canada West, OUA, RSEQ, and AUS conferences. Each of the four conferences host and visits each of the other conferences once every six years. This year McMaster University travelled to the University of Calgary where they lost at McMahon Stadium, while the University of Montreal traveled to Acadia University where they won at Raymond Field.
OUA teams which face shorter travel than Canada West teams have not won a national semi-final (bowl game) in the West since 1968 and have lost 14 games in a row travelling West. Laval University won a semi-final for the RSEQ in the West in 2017 at the University of Calgary. At the same time, the last time an AUS team won any national semi-final was in 2007, an 11-game streak of losses and an average losing margin of 11 to 44.
The Vanier Cup was played in Toronto until 2003. After that it was determined by bid processes which have had it hosted in Hamilton and Quebec City fives times each since 2003. Included in those hosts are a rare visit East of Hamilton to Saskatoon where Laval won a 13-8 game and a visit to BC Place in 2011 for maybe the best Canadian university football game of all time. The 2011 Vanier Cup was co-located with the Grey Cup and featured a 41-38 double overtime win for McMaster over Laval for their first Vanier Cup ever. Since 2003 Toronto and Montreal are the only other hosts outside those four, occurring twice and once respectively.
Similar to how the OUA struggles in the West it is valid to consider that the Canada West may struggle in the Vanier Cup, which has twice been East of Hamilton, for the same reasons.
The Vanier Cup is about to be hosted in Quebec City for the sixth time in the past 11 years. There is speculation that the Vanier Cup may return to co-location with the Grey Cup. The last co-located Vanier Cup was in 2012.
The lack of inter-conference play means predictions of any sort at this time of the year for Mitchell and Uteck Bowl and Vanier Cup games is a messy process. This lack of data also means that any mathematical way of attempting to produce cross-conference rankings during the season will always be flawed. ‘Garbage in, garbage out’ is an accurate statement.
The current USports ranking method use an Elo Rating valued at 50 percent and 50 percent given to a panel of voters.
There is big flaw in this method with the lack of inter-conference play that I will address further into this article in more detail.
I can apply the same methodology I explained in my first CFL Elo Rating article. This ranking is post-Mitchell and Uteck Bowl which means it finally contains some current season feedback of inter-conference play.
This can be simplified to a top 10 as below.
You will notice an extreme swing in AUS Markov Chain ranking values. Acadia University was shut out 38-0 by the University of Montreal which meant all the value of the AUS teams flowed into the RSEQ where the dominant top two teams of Laval and Montreal benefited the most.
You can also see that the Markov method heavily disagrees with the RPI and season Elo Rating methods. Season Elo Rating, which only knew about games by Acadia within its own conference, had Acadia as one of top teams in conference, if not the top team, due to their unbeaten record and great margin of victory. Only the final Uteck Bowl game loss dropped them back into the regular tier with the rest of the USport top teams.
You will notice similar behaviour in the USports ranking poll where Elo had Acadia highly ranked while the voters very much disagreed.
There is a lot of evidence that the AUS is by far the lowest tier conference in country. This will be discussed later on.
In general, I prefer only to attempt to rank teams within their own conference when using Elo Ratings. This produces relative values with more meaning. Right now these rankings have been swung by the Markov chain method responding to inter-conference Bowl play but are still more interesting and insightful than any attempt to rank teams across USports.
Huskies held the edge in Canada West until the end of season healthy Dinos passed them in the Hardy Cup playoffs. Laval was the best team in the RSEQ and still hold that spot despite a loss to Montreal due to their more convincing Markov (point for and against flow) results. Western was the clear OUA favourite but McMaster was a strong number two in OUA with Guelph competing well. Acadia easily won the AUS with all other teams being considered below average (sub 1,500), but were still shut out 38 to 0 in the Uteck Bowl at home.
One way to consider inter-conference rankings is to only consider the Bowl and Vanier games. I have applied the Elo Rating method (with no end of year regression to average) to those games since 2004. The result is the following chart. In this chart you can see that the OUA and Canada West are effectively average in representative teams over time with the RSEQ acting like a dominant team, mostly on the back of Laval winning 50 percent of the Vanier Cups since the for-profit business won its first in 1999.
During the period of 2004-2019 the AUS has won one game. If this was an in-conference Elo Rating a game between the AUS and RSEQ would be comparative to York versus Western. Since 2004 Western has won every one of those games by an average margin of victory of 59 to 8. AUS versus OUA or Canada West is much like York vs an average team like the Ottawa Gee-Gees since 2013. York is 0-6 and has lost on average 44-14. The RSEQ would similarly be a favourite over OUA and CW.
This conference Elo Rating method lacks the yearly regression by two-thirds towards the average. However, if this method was used to judge the game Montreal would be favoured at 70 percent. The regular inter-conference franchise Elo Rating has Montreal favoured at 68.5 percent with the game treated as a neutral site game.
The Elo Rating chart for Montreal and Calgary is interesting given that their path has been much the same over the season. Montreal started off ahead, and gained slightly more at each step as wins over Laval were valued better than Calgary’s win over the University of Saskatchewan Huskies.