Atomic Football



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Welcome to Atomic Football, the best place on the web for college football rankings and predictions.

Objective Rankings

Atomic Football is home to what may be the only truly objective college football rankings anywhere. While our claim obviously leaves some wiggle room, you might still find it somewhat bold. After all, all computer rankings are objective, right? Not really. Let us explain.

One only needs to wade into the shallows of football rankings before the problem of "strength of schedule" is encountered. But just how important is it? Every other football ranking system of which we are aware and for which sufficient details are available have "solved" this problem with what we call a "knob." Like the volume knob on a radio, it must be set to some value. And like the volume of your radio, it is a matter of personal preference. So what? you might ask. Let's dig a little deeper.

So you have your ranking algorithm with your strength of schedule knob, and you've tuned it to produce rankings you feel are "reasonable." But is it possible that the final setting was influenced by how well your favorite team faired? Perhaps a weak team in a relatively strong conference - crank up the "strength of schedule." Or maybe a strong team in a relatively weak conference - turn down the "strength of schedule." Your rankings are still only as unbiased as you are.

Is there another way? What if you could find an algorithm that knows how to tune itself. Well, after many years, we have finally achieved this very thing. And, on top of that, we have shown how to validate the tuning from statistics we can derive independently of the algorithm - a self-consistency check, if you will. If you're not into the math, then feel free to go straight to the rankings page. Otherwise, please check out our paper.

Accurate Predictions

Atomic Football is also home to the most accurate college football predictions outside of the Las Vegas oddsmakers. Before you go plunk down a bunch of money betting college football games using our predictions, be sure you noted that little caveat -- "outside of the Las Vegas oddsmakers" (see Footnote).

Based upon archived data from Todd Beck's Prediction Tracker, our accuracy for the period from 2007 Week 5 (when our current algorithm came into being) through the end of the 2011 season was bested only by the betting line:

SystemMean Square Error
Line (updated)234.65
Line (opening)239.78
Atomic Football244.58
System Median244.79
System Average245.14
Stat Fox250.14
Jon Dokter251.22
Laz Index255.71
Sagarin Predictor257.46
Dunkel Index258.48
Everyone Else>258.71

SystemMean Absolute Error
Line (updated)12.07
Line (opening)12.18
Atomic Football12.34
System Median12.35
System Average12.37
Stat Fox12.43
Jon Dokter12.54
Dunkel Index12.62
Laz Index12.62
Sagarin Predictor12.68
Everyone Else>12.71

Also keep in mind that there are a few in the football prediction community who achieve much of their points accuracy by "blending in the betting line." Unfortunately, the resulting predictions are what I call "line plus noise" (translated, a pointless waste of time, energy, and bits). For more on this topic, see my blog entry on the matter.

Some Other Notes

While we are part of the FCS' new "BCS-like" system for ranking teams from the division formerly known as I-AA, we have no affiliation with the BCS. Our win-loss rankings are "BCS compliant" to the extent that they conform to the best of our knowledge to constraints imposed by the BCS on the various computer ranking systems that compose it (e.g., using only wins and losses -- no scores). They do NOT necessarily represent the BCS computer rankings as they might appear were they generated for divisions other than the FBS.

Since many of the BCS Computer Ranking formulas are secret (or at least insufficient details are available to reproduce them precisely), BCS-equivalent rankings of the divisions beyond the FBS do not exist. Also, be aware that while the constraints imposed by the BCS on their component computer rankings work well for the FBS, they are not as well-suited for some of the other divisions due to their poor "connectivity" (i.e., more regional play) and will tend to produce less meaningful results until later in the season.

Jim Ashburn
11 March 2005
Last Updated 7 Sep 2012


Footnote: The mathematics behind the gambling establishment are a bit complicated and, honestly, quite intriguing. Here's a little sample. It is fascinating how the mathematics have been designed to ensnare the human psyche. If you think you have an edge, you almost certainly don't. And if you do, it is so razor thin that you still have a problem -- if you try to compound your winnings, you're guaranteed to lose everything in the long run. This is what the math says, only put into words. If you want to know more, don't hesitate to email me.


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