It's hard to believe we've reached the midpoint of the season for most teams. Many have played at least six games, so the preseason bias should be gone from the analytical models. Removing preseason bias also allows for some big movement for a few teams this week. Next week we’ll be able to see offensive and defensive breakdown in S&P+ and FEI (Passing/Rushing Efficiency, Front 7 Havoc, etc.). That will help evaluate specific match-ups better as the top teams begin facing better competition in conference play.
Week 6 F/+ Top 40
Week 6 Observations
F/+ Top 10: Once again, the F/+ Top 10 saw minimal changes. The Top 4 are still rock solid, but the difference between their raw F/+ percentage has narrowed considerably. Less than one percentage point separates #1 Alabama from #4 Clemson. In terms of S&P+, the gap between 1 and 4 has narrowed from over six points to 5.5. It may not seem like much, but still noteworthy.
LSU and Auburn dropped from the F/+ Top 10; Michigan and Wisconsin replaced them at #9 and #10 respectively.
For those who like to tout ‘conference pride’, the B1G now has four teams in the F/+ Top 10, followed by the SEC with two, then comes the ACC, Big XII, and PAC 12 with one plus Notre Dame. That being said, the SEC has far and away the most teams in the F/+ Top 25 with eight teams at numbers 1, 2, 11, 13-16 and 25. The B1G is second with six, followed by the Big XII with four, the ACC with two and the PAC 12 with one.
Overrated: With the preseason bias removed, we see some nice normalization of team’s rankings in the AP and F/+. With several teams taking their second losses of the season, the AP voters also reduced the number of teams receiving votes from 44 to 33. I like it, because these lists tend to get shorter.
AP Top 25 Teams that are currently too high in the polls include WVU (+6), UCF (+7), and Texas (+14). The voters loved the Longhorns win over OU, moving them up ten places in the polls. But it barely registered in F/+, elevating UT four places.
Our ‘obscenely overrated’ list continues to grow; because AP Voters love them some undefeated teams, despite their level of competition and future opponents. Colorado has steadily moved up from #26 to #21 to #19 in the AP Poll, but their F/+ rating has been in the 50’s until this week. The Buffs jumped 13 places this week to #44, putting them still 25 spots below their AP ranking.
Similarly, #17 Oregon (+37), #23 South Florida (+25) and #25 UC (+16) are all ranked in the AP Poll well above their F/+ ratings. That should fix itself for Oregon this week, and then November 7th when the USF-UCF-UC round robin begins in the American Conference.
Underrated: AP voters react violently to losses, and then tend to forget about them over time. Oklahoma lost a rivalry game on a neutral field to a good opponent, and the AP voters dropped the Sooners four places to #11. F/+ actually moved the Sooners up one spot to #5. So OU just joined our list of underrated teams.
MSU lost again and dropped completely from the AP rankings, which is probably premature, Sparty still sits at #19 in F/+. Likewise with Oklahoma State, which dropped from the AP Poll altogether but sits at #21 in F/+. Meanwhile Miss State won (but also has two losses) and returned to the AP Poll at #24. They climbed to #16 in F/+ making them undervalued as well. And then there’s Duke (4-1). The Blue Devils have convincing wins over Army, Northwestern and Baylor, but lost by 17 to VaTech two weeks ago, and then apparently lost badly this past week against the dreaded bye. AP Voters dropped Duke like a bad habit, awarding them zero votes, but F/+ still has them at #26. Meanwhile the voters rewarded teams with equivalent or worse records like South Carolina (3-2), SDSU (4-1), TCU (3-2), Stanford (4-2), Utah (3-2) and Utah State (4-1).
This week’s Rodney Dangerfield award goes to Sparty, the Cowboys and Duke. No respect.
Big Movers: Now that preseason bias is gone, a few teams made significant in F/+. UF climbed ten places (big win over LSU helped). That's the Gators' second straight week moving up double digits. Utah climbed 13 spots despite being 3-2, and have been up and down so far this season. The biggest surprise is Utah State (4-1), which jumped 15 places this week. The Aggies were #75 in F/+ after Week One. Since then they've steadily climbed to 72, 56, 48, 46 and now sits at #31.
The opposite has happened with Miami. the Canes started the season at #13, lost their opener and dropped to #26. They climbed slowly to #16 after Week Four, and have been sliding ever since, despite winning every game since their first loss. Miami dropped seven places this week to #24 in F/+. Similarly, Oregon has continued to slip despite winning. As pointed out above, the Ducks have fallen all the way to #54 in F/+, but the AP voters strenuously object.
Group of Five Watch: The Group of Five is interesting for me as a Navy fan, but also as college football fan who doesn’t really buy into the artificial delineations of “Power Five” and “Group of Five”. It should be the “Money Five” and all the rest. The AP top 25 currently contains three AAC teams. As previously stated, that won’t last because they all have to play each other in November.
UCF is currently riding the nation’s longest winning streak at 18. They are certainly getting AP love, but their F/+ hasn’t yet caught up with that. That’s due to their low FEI rating, which has the Knights down at #28 (S&P+ has them at #9). So, why the disparity? For one, FEI has UCF’s SOS at 123rd in the nation. This doesn’t make sense, since they will be facing UC, Memphis, and USF in the next two months. My suspicion is that Fremeau has inflated “strength” of schedule based on conference more than actual opponents’ strength. FWIW, FEI has UCF rated #2 in Net Points per Drive and #3 in Possession Success Rate, which are more statistically objective stats.
Three other Group of Five teams that bear watching are Appalachian State (4-1, AP #31, F/+ #22), Utah State (4-1, AP #33, F/+ #31) and Fresno State (4-1, AP UNR, F/+ #30). Of note, App State is #12 in S&P+ and #36 in FEI. USU is #25 in S&P+ and #41 in FEI. Fresno State is #20 in S&P+ and #44 in FEI. Does anyone see a trend?
App State took PSU to OT losing by a TD. They also have blown out their competition holding every other opponent below 10 points. Their challenges are they had a game against Southern Miss postponed, they have an FCS opponent, and they play in the Sun Belt.
Utah State is looking very good this year, and they are the best team in the nation against the spread so far. They opened the season with a seven-point loss at Michigan State, and have been rolling ever since. The Aggies just trounced BYU by 25 points, and they appear to be the favorite to win the Mountain West Mountain Division. Their challenges are they played one FCS team, and they have games remaining at Hawaii and at Boise State before a possible CCG.
Fresno State is in a similar position to USU. The Bulldogs only loss was in a week-two road game at Minnesota by seven points. But they played two Power Five opponents OOC, knocking off UCLA on the road. Their challenges are Hawaii, SDSU and USU as well as a potential CCG. Should they win out, Fresno State has the best record/schedule of the three.
Way Too Early CFP Prediction
In order: ‘Bama, OSU, Oklahoma, and Clemson. Wildcard: Notre Dame.
Week 7 AP “Top 25” Match-ups
I got bold last week and chose some close match-ups as well as picking a couple of dogs to win. It panned out for UF, but not for ASU. Auburn completely choked on the road and OU’s defense couldn’t stop Texas in the end (and their DC lost his job because of it). So, my picks went 3-3 last week, leaving me 21-8 on the season.
There are three AP Top 25 matchups, across three major conferences, all with playoff implications.
#2 Georgia @ #13 LSU – This is huge for both teams, even if it is across divisions. It should surprise no one that the Bulldogs are favored in this game. What surprises me is that the line is only 7.5 points; S&P+ has this closer to 12. I would think maybe you throw a FG to the Tigers in Death Valley at night, but it’s a 3:30 EDT kick (2:30 in Baton Rouge). I won’t be surprised if UGA wins this by 10.
#7 Washington @ #17 Oregon – I can never remember what this rivalry is called, but it’s a lot of fun. The teams have met 110 times, and the Huskies lead the series 60-45-5 and is riding a two game winning streak in which they’ve outscored the Ducks 108-24. Vegas favors UW by three points, and S&P+ has UW as almost a 9-point favorite on a neutral field. Sadly, this game is also in the 3:30 pm slot, so invest in a second TV or picture-in-picture. I like Washington by a TD.
#12 Michigan vs. #15 Wisconsin – This game may be more important to Jim Harbaugh’s future than it is to either team’s CFP chances. Beating the Badgers at home would be a nice win, but losing would be just another indication that he can’t win the big games. UM is favored by nine points according to the bookies. S&P+ has them as 7-point favorites. I see this coming down to a FG, and the Wolverines pull it out in a low-scoring affair that takes football backwards about forty years. This will likely be the worst game played in the 7:30 time slot on ABC. The over/under is 49, and I’m taking the under.
#19 Colorado @ USC – OK, Buffs fans, you’re ranked and the Trojans aren’t. But you’re a 7-point underdog in Los Angeles tomorrow night after dark (10:30 pm EDT). How can that be? CU is ranked?!?! S&P+ predicts about a two-point win for the Trojans on a neutral field, so I can see where Vegas is coming from. I picked an upset last week against the Buffs, and lost. This week, I’m going with the analytics and taking USC by a FG. Sorry PAC-12, but UW is your last best hope to get a team into the CFP.
#10 Central Florida @ UNR Memphis – This is my Group of Five game of the week. Why, you might ask? First, UCF has the longest winning streak in the country, and if they lose and the Buckeyes win, Ohio State moves into #1 in that category. Second, if you haven’t been watching Memphis (why would you?), they have arguably the most explosive running back in the county in Darrell Henderson. Even though he’s only been given the ball 79 times this season, he leads all rushers in FBS with 934 yards over six games, averaging 11.8 yards per carry. That’s not a typo. Hand him the ball – get a first down. Henderson has two games over 200 yards against Navy and Georgia State, and he’s scored 12 rushing TDs. Added to that, he has nine receptions for 178 yards and two more TDs.
UCF and Memphis met twice last year, with the Knights winning 40-13 in the regular season, and 62-55 in an overtime thriller in the AAC championship game. Vegas has no line on this game, but S&P+ favors UCF by about nine points. I’m taking UCF by a TD.
As always, thanks for reading and I look forward to your comments.