Ghosts of Novembers Past. Last week was pretty much chalk as far as F/+ was concerned. My upset picks (except for the ‘late’ Boise State pick) were wrong, and favorites won out. It made for little change in the AP and CFP rankings. But it had some notable effects on the F/+ ratings, which we’ll touch on this week. And this week looks like more of the same. It is, after all, the third Saturday in November, when the SEC gorges on cupcakes and the conversation is more focused on upcoming rivalry games, rankings and potential College Football Playoff scenarios. And that, my arduous analytical allies, is exactly why everyone should be paying close attention to college football this weekend. On the surface, the match-ups look weak. But this is the weekend when the myriad playoff scenarios start to unravel, and chaos takes over.
Week 11 Observations
F/+ Top 10: Very little to say about the top 10 this week. #1-#7 remain unchanged with notable exceptions of Michigan and Oklahoma swapping places at #4 and #5. This is the first week that UM, which has climbed steadily all season, has seen a higher F/+ rating than OU. Also of note, the Buckeyes returned to the Top 10, moving up three spots to #8 ahead of Washington and Fresno State. Digging deeper into the raw numbers, Ohio State made a huge jump in FEI from #19 last week to #9 this week, and their raw S&P+ has climbed two points since Purdue Harbor. Sadly, that number is 13 points lower than ‘Bama, 11 points lower than Clemson, 7.5 points below Georgia and a touchdown behind The Rival. Improvement? Yes. But it may not be enough.
Overrated: Where do I begin?
- Northwestern (CFP #22) moved into the CFP rankings, but shouldn’t have. The Wildcats are noticeably absent from the chart above and don’t show up in F/+ until #51. More on them later.
- Syracuse (CFP #12) is riding their 8-2 record and close loss to Clemson (who played without Bryant or Lawrence most of the game). The Orange’s two best wins are NC State and Western Michigan. Every other opponent they’ve defeated is 5-5 or worse. Which is why they're 29 places lower in F/+ at #41.
- BC (CFP #20) lost by the same number of points to Clemson that Sparty lost to the Buckeyes (the Eagles’ starting QB wasn’t going to change that outcome), but only dropped three places in the polls. They are more than 20 places lower in F/+ at #46.
- Kentucky (CFP #17) has lost two straight games (including a 17-point loss to 5-5 Tennessee) and only won their two previous games by single scores against unranked Vanderbilt and Missouri. The Wildcats fell 12 places in F/+ this week to #37.
- Texas (CFP #15) has one win over a team above .500, which happens to be OU (CFP #6). The Longhorns have a pair of losses to 5-5 teams (Maryland and Oklahoma State). The only Big XII team they’ve beaten by more than one score is TCU. They struggled with Baylor, Texas Tech and Kansas State. Texas is #29 in F/+.
Although not nearly as egregious as the teams above, Florida is ranked nine places higher in the CFP than their F/+ rating, Iowa State is ranked eight places higher, and LSU and Washington State are both ranked six spots above their F/+ rating. Most of these teams have easy games remaining, so it may not matter. But for Texas & Iowa State, and Syracuse & BC, there’s a reckoning coming.
Underrated: The Washington Huskies (7-3) are at the top of my list. UW, despite their record, is the #9 team in F/+. That puts them nine places lower than their CFP ranking. They may not go to the playoffs, but the Huskies still have a part to play in determining who does. The Apple Cup will be played in Pullman, and the Cougars should be happy Gameday won't be there.
Just behind UW is Missouri. The Tigers (6-4) lost by one point to Kentucky and by two to South Carolina. They scored more points against ‘Bama in the first quarter than Miss State and LSU mustered in 120 minutes combined. What they lack are great defense and marquee wins. With the #18 F/+ rating, the Tigers should win out against Tennessee and Arkansas and move into the Top 25.
Michigan State, Iowa and Auburn are the other four-loss teams that deserve consideration. They appear at #19, #20 and #23 in the F/+ ratings respectively. The first two should win out and move up. Auburn, if they escape Liberty, faces ‘Bama in the Iron Bowl. That’s probably going to keep the Tigers out of the Top 25 permanently. But they're still dangerous, and could make things interesting if they pull off the upset in T-Town.
Group of Five Watch: UCF and Fresno State remain #7 and #10 in F/+. Fresno State (8-2) has little chance to return to the Top 25, despite their F/+ rating of #10. They might win the Mountain West, and depending on what happens in the American could backdoor their way into a New Year’s Six bowl game.
Cincinnati (CFP #24) continues to move up, climbing three places to #21. UC is currently #19 in S&P+ Defense, and is one of the best teams (I heard Top 5) in the nation in ‘getting off the field’. They force as many punts, turnovers on downs, etc. as teams like ‘Bama, Clemson and Michigan. The Bearcats (9-1) are going to make a move this week.
Utah State (CFP #23) is also getting little respect from the Committee. The Aggies (9-1) moved up five more places in the F/+ ratings to #15. Rarely do I side with the AP voters over the Committee, but in this case I do. USU still has the highest point total against Sparty this season (their only loss), and they dropped another 62 last week on hapless San Jose State. If the win out and take the Mountain West, they may be the highest ranked Group of Five conference champion.
In order: ‘Bama, Clemson, Oklahoma and OSU.
Week 12 CFP “Top 25” Match-ups
My picks went 4-2 last week; my bold upset predictions for Colorado and Texas Tech failed to materialize, although, the Red Raiders were in it until the end. The Buckeyes would’ve won by two scores, even without the defensive score, but winning by 20 on a 3.5 point spread ain’t too shabby. BC kept it close for about 20 minutes with Clemson, but they just couldn’t put together any offense.
In the intro I stated this was a weekend to watch out. I picked six games this week with spreads of 10.5 points or less. And I’ve picked upsets in all of them.
#10 Ohio State @ Maryland – This is not one of the six. The Buckeyes are favored by 14.5 points by Vegas, which matches S&P+. I think this is going to be a complete game for OSU. Ohio State wins by at least 21 points. The road to the CFP began last week.
#22 Northwestern @ Minnesota – No Buckeye fan wants to hear this, but the ‘Big Ten West Champion’ Wildcats are 2-point road dogs against Goldie (who climbed 18 places in F/+ last week). S&P+ has the spread closer to four points on a neutral field. I’m jumping in the boat, and sticking with the Gophers to win by a FG at TCF Back Stadium. Gametime forecast is 28° and partly sunny – break out the Dilly Bars.
#12 Syracuse @ #3 Notre Dame – ND is the home team, but this game is being played in Yankee Stadium. As a Navy fan, I know how lopsided the ND crowd can be on the road; it’s not unlike Buckeye road games. The Irish are 10.5-point favorites, and S&P+ says 13 points on a ‘neutral field’, which this is, sort of. But I don’t believe Ian Book is as healthy as ND is letting on. One solid hit to the mid-section, and this game is a Brandon Wimbush Pick-6 from being a one-score game. And I think Dino Babers is going throw the kitchen sink at ND’s QB. Despite my misgivings about Syracuse being overrated, I think they sneak up on the Irish this weekend.
#7 West Virginia @ Oklahoma State – Some may think the Cowboys will give up after losing to OU on a failed 2-point conversion. Watching Mike Gundy for several years, I think the opposite. WVU is only a 4.5-point favorite in Stillwater tomorrow, and OK State needs a win this week or next (TCU) to go bowling. S&P+ has the spread at less than five at a neutral site. I think Boone Pickens will be rocking tomorrow afternoon, and the Pokes shock the ‘Neers.
#20 Boston College @ Florida State – (See also Overrated.) BC is 1.5-point favorite in Tallahassee. S&P+ thinks it’s more like a touchdown at a neutral site. BC’s injured starting QB is scheduled to play, but the fact the #2 has been taking a lot of reps gives cause for concern. FSU is 4-6 and needs this game to be bowl eligible. The boats have been burned, and the Noles have to win. I think they get it done.
#11 Central Florida vs. #21 Cincinnati – Vegas has the line at 7.5 points in favor of UCF, and S&P+ has the Knights as 8-point favorites. But I watched both teams play Navy, and saw Cincinnati live. The Bearcats defense is stifling. I think Luke Fickle is about to earn his rightful due as the second best, FBS head coach in the great state of Ohio. UC upsets the Knights ending the nation’s longest winning streak and catapulting UC toward a NY6 bowl game.
#15 Texas vs. #16 Iowa State – If you want to watch this one, you’ll need the Longhorn Network. (I wonder if ESPN regrets that whole deal? I’m sure there are about 200 former employees who do.) UT is only a 2.5-point favorite at home. But, S&P+ has that reversed on a neutral field. Giving Texas five points of home field advantage is overly generous; Tulsa and Baylor only lost by seven and six in Austin. This is probably the best matchup of young coaches outside of OU-ISU. I think the extra-curricular Twitter fight between Tom Herman and Zach Smith takes its toll. The Cyclones take Austin by storm, and inch closer to the Big XII Championship Game.
So, yeah. I just picked six unranked or lower ranked teams to win this weekend, three of which are visitors. I’ll either be a hero, or look very foolish. I’m guessing it’s somewhere in between.
As always, thanks for reading and I look forward to your comments.