Sadly, we are on the downhill side of the college football season, which means several things. Most teams have only five games remaining; the analytic rankings are settling down with all the preseason data removed; and we should see more big-time matchups with CFP implications each week. Late October and early November is elimination time.
Last week brought some upsets and a bit of chaos to the AP Top 25, but as we pointed out last week, some of that was expected. The analytics said Colorado was the 44th best team, not the 19th. They also indicated that West Virginia was more like the 12th best team than the 6th best team (even so, the Mountaineers never should’ve lost to Iowa State). In any event, last weekend’s result did shake things up a bit in the F/+ ratings depicted below.
Week 7 F/+ Top 40
Week 6 Observations
F/+ Top 10: Bama retained the #1 spot in F/+, and Washington held at #7 despite losing to the Ducks. But the rest of the Top 10 traded amongst themselves. The biggest changes came from a pair of Big Ten teams losing and falling out of the Top 10. Wisconsin not only exited the F/+ Top 10, the Badgers nearly fell out of the Top 25 completely after plummeting 15 places. Penn State, however, only fell five places to #11. A pair of SEC teams, LSU and Florida, filled their spots. LSU returned to the Top 10 after a one-week absence moving up to #8. This week marks the Gators first appearance in the F/+ Top 10 this season.
Overrated: The AP Poll is starting to self regulate as more teams take their second and third losses (looking at you Auburn – the best 3-loss team in America this week). But they still can’t help themselves when it comes to instant gratification. TEXAS IS BACK! At least in the AP Poll, which lofted the Longhorns all the way to #7, despite analytics saying they’re really about #26 (S&P+ actually has Texas at #43, but FEI has them #16).
Two other AP Top 25 teams that appear to be overrated are #12 Oregon, which appears at #35 in F/+, and #21 South Florida, which is conspicuously absent from the chart posted above. That’s because USF is sitting comfortably at #59, and I felt it was silly to include that many teams on the chart just to capture USF. We love ya, Bulls, but we’re pretty comfortable saying you’ve got a couple of losses coming your way in November when you play UC and UCF. But enjoy that Top 25 ranking while it lasts.
Cincinnati and USC should also be mentioned; both teams are about 10 spots higher in the AP Poll than in F/+.
Underrated: Sparty got a huge win last week after receiving zero AP votes in Week Six (which ranked at least 35 teams ahead of Michigan State). MSU jumped back into the AP Poll at #24. I point this out as Exhibit A: “It’s not just marginal, 2-loss SEC teams that get rewarded for knocking off potentially overrated Top 10 teams in their own conference.” In any event, MSU came off the underrated list.
Some notable mentions on the underrated list this week: Washington, Penn State and Mississippi State, although they each have two losses, still appear to be top 15 teams according to analytics. In past years, this is something we’ve seen primarily with SEC teams. It’s good to see the Pac 12 and Big Ten have a couple of the best two-loss teams in the nation. Likewise with Miami and Texas Tech, which F/+ has at #21 and #28, but AP voters have somewhere in the 30’s.
There are a couple of one-loss teams that may move up in the AP Poll in the coming weeks. Fresno State has very quietly moved to #16 in the F/+ ratings with a 5-1 record (their only loss was on the road to Minnesota in Week 2). The Bulldogs received their first AP votes this week appearing at #35. If they continue to win, and can capture the Mountain West, they may have a shot at a New Year’s Six bowl game. They’ll need to overtake UCF in the polls to do it.
Duke is the other team that just can’t seem to win over AP voters. After losing to Va Tech at the end of September, the Blue Devils dropped of the AP poll altogether only to return this week at #33. With UVA and Pitt up next, Duke should roll into Miami on November 3 at 7-1 and ranked somewhere in the AP Top 25. Their other big test is November 17 at Clemson.
In order: ‘Bama, OSU, Oklahoma, and Clemson. I firmly believe ND takes a loss somewhere between now and USC. Despite losing to Texas, OU will get a second shot at the Longhorns in the Big XII CCG. With an upgraded defense (hopefully), I predict the Sooners win the conference and advance. The PAC 12 is getting left out again with no team better than 2-losses.
Week 8 AP “Top 25” Match-ups
My picks went 3-2 last week, so not terrible considering the carnage in the Top 10. My point spreads were pretty far off in most cases, but I at least got the USC-Colorado call correct.
#6 Michigan @ #24 Michigan State – A week ago, Sparty was out of the Top 25. Then they upset a “great” but not “elite” Penn State team. This week MSU gets to host “Little Brother.” Although with the way Michigan is playing, I think it will take more than a mishandled snap on a punt for Sparty to win. The line is UM by seven points. S&P+ has it closer to 12, but factor in home field and a rivalry, and I think Sparty covers the spread but UM wins.
#3 Clemson vs. #16 North Carolina State – Time for another unbeaten to go down. And sadly, it’s not going to be the one we want to see. Clemson has the easiest road to the College Football playoff. This game is at home for the Tigers, and they are favored by 17.5 points. S&P+ says it’s more like 12, but that would be on a neutral field, not in Death Valley. It’s too bad the WVU-NC State game was canceled by Hurricane Florence. We’d know a lot more about the Wolfpack, if they’d played. I’m picking Clemson to win, but only by 14 points.
#5 LSU vs. #22 Mississippi State – This should be a very interesting game. Although Vegas has the line set at LSU -6.5, S&P+ has these two teams dead even making this a “pick ‘em”. You can’t say enough about Death Valley (not that one, the other one) at night. All of LSU’s big games thus far (Auburn, UF and UGA) have been in the 3:30 time slot, so this will be their biggest night game so far. The Bayou will be rockin’. And it’s a revenge match after the bulldogs humiliated LSU last year 37-7. Miss State was highly rated in preseason F/+, which inflated their ranking throughout the first half of this season. They’ve mostly failed to live up to that, while LSU has climbed steadily to the spot they’re in. I like the Tigers at home to cover.
#12 Oregon @ #25 Washington State – It’s too bad this is being played in the same time spot as Ohio State-Purdue, because this will be a fun game to watch. Oregon’s QB Herbert is special, and the Cougars have their very own Uncle Rico slinging the ball. Seriously, have you seen Gardiner Minshew? He’s thrown for over 2400 yards this year. The over under is 68, and I would take the over. It’s in Pullman, which is supposedly one of the tougher places to win (just ask USC). Wazzu is favored by three points in Vegas, and by less than a point in S&P+ (on a neutral field). I like the Pirate and WSU in a shootout, probably a 1-point win.
Note: the city of Pullman (population 31,682) issued a state of emergency to deal with the 100,000 people arriving for College Gameday. In Columbus, we call 100, 000 people ‘low attendance.’
#2 Ohio State @ Purdue – I picked this game, because the line has moved to 13.0 points in favor of OSU. Clearly folks don’t think the Buckeyes can cover (see also: Indiana and Minnesota). But this is the week I believe they do, and here’s why. Although Purdue has the potential to break some big plays and put up points (ranked #17 in S&P+ Offense), the Boilermakers are bad at defense (ranked #84 in S&P+ Defense) and Special teams (ranked #69 in S&P+ ST). Purdue on average is giving up 267.5 yards per game in passing. Eastern Michigan threw for 347 yards against the Boilermakers in week two. Missouri’s Drew Lock passed for 375 yards, and he only completed 26 of 43 pass attempts when they played. Moreover, this is a team that gave up 31 points to Northwestern, 40 to Missouri and 28 to Nebraska. No way do they hold the Buckeyes and Dwayne Haskins below 40 points. Lastly, Ohio State is currently ranked #13 in the country in Turnover Margin at +7 turnovers on the season. Purdue is tied with eight teams at #77 at -1 turnover margin. (Interestingly, two of the teams tied with Purdue are Clemson and OU.) I’m a Cooper Survivor, and I remember the shades of Ross-Ade Stadium. But I honestly believe Buckeyes win this by three scores. Call it 17 points.
As always, thanks for reading and I look forward to your comments.