I begin with an apology. After the loss to Purdue, I just didn’t have it in me to write a thread last week. Part of me said, F- the numbers, F- football, F- F/+, I’m done. Well, that lasted all of a week.
Week 8 Analytics Recap – Buckeyes dropped 6 places in F/+ to #10 after Purdue Harbor. Purdue catapulted to #17 in F/+. Unranked Fresno State moved up to #11 in F/+. Utah, WSU, Mizzou and UVA also moved up double digits, while NC State, USC and TCU moved down double digits. I went 4-1 in my picks, as analytics were a good predictor for most games, except the one that mattered to Buckeye fans.
Week 9 F/+ Top 40: Week 9 was good to the Buckeyes – proving you can win your bye week – with 11 AP Top 25 teams losing OSU moved up in the AP rankings and F/+. It also proved that you can lose your bye week – Auburn didn’t play and dropped in both F/+ and their AP ranking. Take that, SEC conspiracy theorists. F/+ predicted UGA’s win over UF, Miss State beating A&M, Houston defeating USF and Penn State beating Iowa. S&P+ predicted that oSu would beat Texas. But the rest of the weekend was hot mess.
Week 9 Observations
F/+ Top 10: For the first time since Week 1, a team not named “Bama” moved into the #1 spot in F/+: Clemson. UGA and OU swapped places; LSU and UW (the best three-loss team in football) also traded spots. The Buckeyes moved to #9 and PSU moved up two places to #10. That makes thee SEC and three B1G teams in the Top 10. The Gators dropped out of the Top 10 after being there for all of two weeks. LSU is the odd ball in this group – the Tigers are #13 in S&P+ and #3 in FEI, giving them the largest spread between the two systems among Top 10 teams. The Buckeyes aren’t far behind, but are reversed, coming in at #8 in S&P+ and #14 in FEI. FEI favors wins-losses, while S&P+ favors efficiency somewhat regardless of outcome.
College Football Playoff Rankings: The committee released their first round of rankings, so I’ve added a column to the table for them, as well as a comparison between CFP and F/+. As we’ve seen in past years, the Committee only looks back and does not project ahead to what teams might do. Consequently, we primarily see teams being ranked with two or fewer wins. Yes there are a couple of exceptions (Miss State, A&M and Iowa State), but that is primarily based on who they’ve beaten to date. As their wins grow stale (UK shouldn't count as a quality win three weeks from now, A&M), we’ll see some of these teams fall out. That’ll open up spots for MSU and Wisconsin/Northwestern to potentially move up.
Overrated: The CFP already has several overrated teams in its Top 25. Kentucky shows up nine spots higher in the CFP rankings than in F/+. WSU is about 12 places higher than its F/+ rating suggests. UVA is 14 spots too high, Texas and Boston college are 19 places too high, and Texas A&M is ranked 20 spots higher by the CFP Committee than it’s F/+. But the big winner in this category is Syracuse, which shows up #44 in F/+ but is ranked #19 by the CFP Committee. There are 25 other teams that could’ve taken that spot in the committee’s first rankings.
So while everyone wants to complain about Miss State and A&M, they really ought to start with NC State, Syracuse and BC: three 2-loss teams who haven’t beaten/played a Power Five team OOC and whose signature wins are against BC, NC State and Miami respectively. Only NC State has a reasonable shot to win out: BC and Syracuse play each other to end the season, Syracuse still faces ND, and BC hosts Clemson next weekend. Best case, NC State finishes 10-2 and #2 in their division. BC and Syracuse finish 9-3 and 8-4 or vice versa.
Underrated: I’ll start with this, and everyone can get all the venom out of their system. The CFP Committee undervalues Miss State, Auburn and Mizzou according to their F/+ ratings. And before people go all, “a four-loss team like Missouri has no business in the CFP Top 25”, last year’s final rankings included #13 Stanford (9-4), #23 Miss State (8-4) and #24 NC State (8-4). 2016 had seven 4-loss teams including Utah, Va Tech and Pitt. 2015 had a 4-loss Tennessee and a 5-loss USC in its final rankings. And, 2014’s final CFP standings included #19 Auburn (8-4), #22 Utah (8-4), #23 LSU (8-4), #24 USC (8-4) and #25 Minnesota (8-4). Power Five teams with four losses will be in this season’s final CFP Poll. Book it.
If Mizzou escapes Florida, and then beats Vandy, Tennesse and Arkansas, I expect them to climb into the rankings. Auburn would have to beat A&M, and then one of UGA or Bama to claw their way in, so I don’t see that happening. Miss State, however, only has to beat LA Tech, Arkansas and Ole Miss, assuming they lose to Bama, to finish 8-4 and stay in the CFP Top 25.
Likewise, Sparty and UW could work their way back into the Top 25. Both sit with three losses, but they each only have one remaining game against a Top 25 team (OSU and WSU). Even if they lose those games, there’s a chance for them to find their way into the Top 25. According to their F/+ ratings this week, they should be able to do just that. Miami is another underrated team that will likely win their way back into the rankings. They should be favored in all four of their remaining games, and, if they win, will finish 9-3.
Group of Five Watch: Two weeks ago I added Fresno State to my watch list. They are now the highest ranked Group of Five team in the F/+ ratings at #11 (UCF is #14). They’re ranked #20 in the AP Poll and #23 in the CFP rankings. Their remaining opponents are UNLV, BSU, SDSU and SJSU. UCF finishes the season with Temple (close game last night), Navy, UC and USF. Their most likely opponent in the AAC championship game is one-loss Houston (which is ranked #17 by the AP Poll but didn’t make the CFP Top 25). The race for the Group of Five New Year’s Six bowl will be interesting down the stretch.
CFP Prediction: In order: ‘Bama, Clemson, Oklahoma and OSU.
I still believe ND takes a loss somewhere between now and USC, and WSU loses the Apple Cup. If that happens, and my four teams finish with one or fewer losses, they’re in.
Week 10 CFP “Top 25” Match-ups
My picks went 4-1 in Week 8, and obviously no picks for last week.
#10 Ohio State vs. Nebraska – A wise man once wrote, “Never bet on a team you’re emotionally involved with.” Well, I’m going to violate that again. I went to the MSU game last year and saw how this show ends. I’ll be at the Nebraska game tomorrow. Vegas has the line at OSU -18.0, and S&P+ has it closer to 13. I like the Buckeyes by two TDs.
#20 Texas A&M @ Auburn – This is where the SEC West will begin its self-cannibalization. Auburn is a 3.5-point favorite at home according to the odds-makers, which is right in line with S&P+ on a neutral field. It should be a close game, but I think Auburn gets the win, and A&M falls from the Top 25 for now.
#6 Georgia @ #9 Kentucky – Vegas has the line at Georgia -9 points, which is generous considering S&P+ has it closer to 11.5. I guess playing the game at Kroger field is worth a field goal? Personally, I think UGA wins this easily, probably by 10-14 points.
#13 West Virginia @ #17 Texas – The Longhorns are 2-point favorites at home. FEI and S&P+ both favor WVU, and by close to a TD in S&P+. I don’t understand why this is so close, unless the Texas faithful have swung this in favor of the Longhorns. Looking at S&P+ Offense and Defense, Texas’s defense should give up 14 points per game less (25.5) than the ‘Neers should score (39.7). But the Longhorns should only score 31.4 while WVU gives up 27.4 on defense. Point is, the disparity between the WVU offense and the Texas defense is much larger that the other way around. I think WVU gives the young Texas defense lots of match-up problems. I’m calling for WVU by a FG.
#5 Michigan vs. #14 Penn State - I hate all the love UM is getting, but it’s hard to argue with their success this year. They play significantly better at home than on the road (loss to ND, close games with Northwestern and MSU – but those are also their toughest opponents to date). Penn State on the other hand has won every road game this year and lost two very close games at home to OSU and Sparty. Vegas says UM -10.5, while S&P+ says it’s closer to six points. Michigan’s defense looks better than they should because they played ND with Brandon Wimbush under center. I think this is close, but Penn State pulls off the upset. Harbaugh will be bitterly disappointed.
#1 Alabama @ #3 LSU – The game of the week. Vegas and S&P+ basically agree on the line: ‘Bama -14.5 points. But I’m not convinced it will be that close. LSU has the 8th ranked defense in S&P+, and that has come against Georgia’s #6 ranked offense, and several others in the Top 50. ‘Bama has the #2 ranked offense in S&P+, but they haven’t faced a defense better than Texas A&M’s 50th ranked squad. This will be the Tide’s first (and potentially only) test against a good defense all season. Tua will be put under pressure and will take some hits for the first time this season. I like the Tigers to keep this a close, low-scoring game. Ultimately, I think Bama wins in a close one between 3-7 points.
As always, thanks for reading and I look forward to your comments.