Luke DeCock

Even computers can’t get sense of NC State

N.C. State head coach Dave Doeren gets ready to lead his team onto the field before the Wolfpack's game against Old Dominion at S.B. Ballard Stadium in Norfolk, Va., Saturday Sept. 19, 2015.
N.C. State head coach Dave Doeren gets ready to lead his team onto the field before the Wolfpack's game against Old Dominion at S.B. Ballard Stadium in Norfolk, Va., Saturday Sept. 19, 2015. ehyman@newsobserver.com

N.C. State is the best team in the ACC.

At least according to one set of computer ratings whose creator admits there aren’t enough results in the system yet to be trusted.

N.C. State is the eighth-best team in the ACC.

At least according to a different set of computer ratings that still takes preseason expectations into account.

All of which indicates that humans aren’t the only ones having trouble getting a read on N.C. State so far this season. The Wolfpack won’t play an opponent from a Power Five conference until its ACC opener against Louisville on Oct. 3, so the limited sample size from playing Troy, Eastern Kentucky, Old Dominion and, on Saturday, South Alabama, can be interpreted any number of different ways.

And “different” can mean the same data leading to near-opposite conclusions.

The KPI, which assesses teams based only on their results without any preseason weighting, ranks N.C. State 15th in the country, several spots ahead of Florida State, the next ACC on the list. This is based on a relatively strong impression of Old Dominion, a win considered as valuable at this point as a win over Wisconsin or Southern Cal. That will change as more teams play more games.

The Wolfpack’s other two wins, over Troy and Eastern Kentucky, are slightly inflated in value – both are credited roughly the same as Miami’s win over Nebraska – and will decline as well, but at the moment, N.C. State benefits from this confluence of circumstances, well ahead of the ACC’s other 3-0 teams: Florida State (24), Miami (28), Syracuse (29) and Clemson (51).

The same can’t be said in the Sagarin Ratings, probably the most popular and well-known computer ratings. Those correspond more closely to conventional wisdom, in part because they’re still weighted by preseason expectations and aren’t yet based only on 2015 results. That accounts better for the quality of N.C. State’s schedule – in the ACC, only Boston College and Syracuse are considered to have played lesser competition than the Wolfpack – but may not account for any improvement from last season.

According to Sagarin, Georgia Tech is the ACC’s top team, ranked ninth overall despite being 2-1, ahead of Florida State (10) and Clemson (15). There’s a big dropoff to Virginia Tech (27), which is one of five Coastal Division teams ranked ahead of N.C. State, along with North Carolina (28), Miami (35) and Duke (41).

N.C. State comes in at 42nd, although once home-field advantage is figured into the equation, the Wolfpack projects to be 8-3 going into the North Carolina game, which is essentially a coin flip per Sagarin’s current ratings. That presumes losses to Virginia Tech, Clemson and Florida State, but N.C. State’s history would suggest the Wolfpack wins at least one of those while losing at least one game it is expected to win handily.

Meanwhile, the computers have an equally hard time assessing 0-3 Louisville, with losses to Auburn, Houston and Clemson. The KPI has the Cardinals 108th, behind South Alabama, while Sagarin has the Cardinals 50th, separated by only a field goal from N.C. State.

With both teams, the truth is certainly somewhere in the middle. N.C. State may indeed turn out to be a top-15 team, but there will be other ACC teams in that discussion, a state of affairs the KPI will reflect more accurately with each passing week. And if the Wolfpack does go 9-3, it’s equally unlikely it will objectively be considered the eighth-best team in the ACC.

It’s just hard to say, based on the teams N.C. State has beaten so far. A true assessment is very difficult, by eye and data alike.

DeCock: ldecock@newsobserver.com, @LukeDeCock, 919-812-7195.

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