This week's S&P+ rankings are out, and they're ... fascinating. When I redesigned my ratings this offseason, one of my goals was to see how quickly I could get a season's data to stand on its own.
Just about any set of computer rankings is going to have a preseason-projections component early in the year until the data is less volatile. I used to phase mine out over seven weeks, but I found that while phasing them out after five made the numbers a little unstable, it didn't affect their projection quality that much. So I decided to let the numbers stand on their own, even if they said some confusing things.
I've gotten the grumpiest feedback from Ohio State fans, who think there must be a personal vendetta involved (in the Excel sheets) in their Buckeyes ranking 25th overall. But while 25th is a little lower than I would have guessed, the Buckeyes have played like a top-10 team for about four of their 20 quarters this year, a top-five team for maybe two. They have not looked the part, especially on offense.
The biggest beef comes from the Big 12: TCU currently ranks 36th, Baylor 39th. Thanks to the phasing out of the projections, both teams dropped rather significantly despite easy week 5 wins.
1. S&P+ doesn't like TCU's defense. The offense is fine; the Horned Frogs rank 11th in Off. S&P+ thanks to an increasingly ridiculous passing game. Trevone Boykin's opening performance against Minnesota confirmed all of my worst fears about him, that he was still inefficient at times, lucky not to throw more picks last season, etc. He was inaccurate and he averaged only 5.9 yards per pass, very much not Heisman=worthy.
Since, Boykin has completed 64 percent at nearly 17 yards per completion, with 18 touchdowns to two interceptions. That'll do. Speedy star receiver Kolby Listenbee has missed time to injury, as have approximately 114 other Horned Frogs, but players like freshmen KaVontae Turpin (14 catches, 245 yards) and Jarrison Stewart (nine catches, 131 yards) have more than filled the void.
The problem is on the other side of the ball. TCU suffered massive attrition in the offseason and has lost seemingly countless potential defensive starters in-season. And not even Gary Patterson has been able to make up the difference. TCU is still good on passing downs but can't force as many, and depth issues have come to the forefront: in S&P+, TCU ranks 17th in the first quarter, 37th in the second, 58th in the third, and 125th in the fourth.
Saturday's domination of a demoralized Texas was a step in the right direction, but it came on the heels of a two-game span that saw them allow 1,115 yards and 89 points to SMU and Texas Tech. With more performances like Saturday's, TCU will be fine. But in the Big 12, solid offenses remain on the schedule.
Baylor and TCU
Baylor and TCU
2. S&P+ haaaaaaaaates Baylor's defense. Sort of. The Bears are getting dinged by a combination of a poor strength of schedule (Baylor's first three opponents all rank 118th or worse in S&P+) and crippling special teams. Their field position margin (minus-3.7) ranks 104th in the country despite the woeful schedule; it hasn't cost the Bears yet, and with maybe the best offense in the country, it might never. But they rank 84th in kick return average allowed and have already allowed six returns of 30-plus yards.
There's a little bit of flukiness here that will even out over time. Baylor's offense has committed seven turnovers -- a little more than you'd like to see considering the competition, and a potential red flag -- and five of the seven turnovers have given opponents the ball inside the Baylor 40. That's a field position dagger, and it's dragging the ratings down a bit further.
Because Baylor hasn't suffered the dramatic number of injuries, and because there has been some fluky field position randomness scattered among the turnovers, I'm more confident in the Bears surging forward in the numbers than the Horned Frogs.
Regardless, they're both probably fine. Only one of TCU's next five opponents and one of Baylor's next four rank in the S&P+ top 45. If they're truly elite (or close to it) teams, their ratings will reflect that soon.
West Virginia's defense openly makes sacrifices. Mountaineer defenders are going to attack you at every level -- your line, your quarterback, your skill position guys -- and force you to beat them to make plays. They have produced one of the nation's most efficient defenses, forcing three-and-outs and creating turnovers opportunities as well as anyone in the country.
Against Oklahoma, the attack was mostly successful. WVU held Samaje Perine to 4.1 yards per carry and not only held Baker Mayfield to a 56 percent completion rate but also sacked him four times and picked him off once. One problem: of Mayfield's 14 completions, 10 gained at least 16 yards and four gained at least 28. Average yards per completion: 22.9.
The OU receiving corps had perhaps its best collective performance in years -- Sterling Shepard caught only two passes for 35 yards, but Durron Neal caught two for 87, Michiah Quick caught three for 69, and Dede Westbrook caught five for 107. Combined with OU's own attacking defense, which sacked Skyler Howard seven times and held Wendell Smallwood and Rushel Shell to 4.4 yards per carry, the Sooners were able to tilt the field and take advantage of every WVU breakdown.
The result: a 44-24 win over what still might be a very good Mountaineers squad. If you assume Baylor and TCU are still major contenders in the Big 12 and Playoff races, you should probably add a third team to that mix.
6 teams have taken a 13+ point lead in every game this season: Temple (4-0) Navy (4-0) LSU (4-0) Baylor (4-0) FSU (4-0) Tennessee (2-3)— Peter Edmiston (@peteredmiston) October 5, 2015
In four years as Georgia's starting quarterback, Aaron Murray spoiled the Dawgs with supernatural consistency. Over 53 games, he produced a passer rating of greater than 150 on 32 occasions and dipped under 100 just six times. The standard deviation for his passer rating was a tidy 47.0, despite playing extensively as a freshman and despite dealing with an absurd number of receiver injuries over his last two years.
Greyson Lambert's standard deviation through five games as a Georgia starter is more than twice as wide: 94.8. Lambert has been nearly perfect in three games and awful in two. Against ULM, South Carolina, and Southern, he completed 41 of 47 passes (87 percent!) for 617 yards, seven touchdowns and no picks. His passer rating was above 220 each time.
Against Vanderbilt and Alabama, he was 21-for-45 for 202 yards and an interception. He was so shaky in Saturday's 38-10 mauling at the hands of Bama that he was replaced by Brice Ramsey ... who went 1-for-6 for 20 yards and two interceptions.
I was exceedingly high on Georgia heading in, thanks to the Dawgs' quality at basically every position but quarterback. Placing a team on such a pedestal made me nervous, considering how much we didn't know about the QBs, but between Lambert, Ramsey, and Faton Bauta, I assumed a quality starter would emerge. It was a defensible thought! And against lesser competition, QB has proved anything but problematic.
But against two good defenses, Georgia's passing game has been hapless. And the Dawgs' next three opponents -- Tennessee, Missouri, Florida -- have good defenses, Florida most of all. If UGA is to rebound and win the SEC East, it's got to figure out how to move the ball through the air enough to open up holes for the running game. Nick Chubb doesn't need MANY holes, but he needs a little bit of help. He got none against Alabama.
Break up the Cardinal! For the third consecutive game, Stanford was a red zone machine, finishing scoring opportunities (first downs inside the opponent's 40) with aplomb and wrecking a Pac-12 opponent. This time it was a flailing Arizona in a 55-17 romp.
Granted, Stanford could have blown quite a few opportunities and still won comfortably, but the Cardinal are becoming a killing machine. Not including a clock-killing drive to end the game, they not only scored on nine of their 10 possessions, they scored touchdowns on seven. Points per scoring opportunity: 6.1. Goodness. Kevin Hogan completed 17 of 19 passes, and Christian McCaffrey and Barry Sanders carried a combined 21 times for 232 yards.
In three weeks, Stanford has gone from one of the worst in the country at converting opportunities into points to one of the best. I said last week that a Stanford team that finishes drives is a top-10 team. The Cardinal have played at a top-five level in Pac-12 play.
Actually, Stanford appears to be stealing other teams' scoring mojo. While Iowa deserves all sorts of credit for stiffening when it needed to, Wisconsin's 10-6 loss to the Hawkeyes in Madison featured plenty of dropped daggers. Wisconsin outgained Iowa by 99 yards and created seven scoring opportunities to the Hawkeyes' four. On average, creating three more chances than your opponent results in about a 90 percent chance of winning in 2015. But those seven chances resulted in two field goals, a missed field goal, two turnovers, a turnover on downs, and a punt.
Yes, star running back Corey Clement is out with a sports hernia. But ... damn, Bucky.
The 0-12 watch is on for five teams.
- Kansas is 0-4 and 124th in the S&P+ ratings. The Jayhawks are almost hopeless. Following Saturday's loss to Iowa State, their best chance of winning, per S&P+ win probabilities, is either at Texas on November 7 (7 percent chance) or at home against Kansas State (7) in the season finale. Projected win total: 0.3.
- UCF is 0-5 and all the way down to 126th in S&P+. The bottom has dropped out for the Golden Knights, who aren't very good defensively and are one of the worst in the country on offense. If they don't beat UConn (26 percent chance) this Saturday, they could finish the George O'Leary era like they started it: winless. Projected win total: 0.7.
- North Texas is 0-4 and has lost its last two (to Iowa and Southern Miss) by a combined 111-30. The Mean Green are given a 36 percent chance of beating Portland State this Saturday and a 57 percent chance of beating a surprisingly wretched UTEP, so despite bringing up the rear in the S&P+ ratings, they'll probably avoid an 0-fer. Projected win total: 1.1.
- Wyoming is 0-5 and 123rd in S&P+. We figured it would take another season for Craig Bohl to get his pieces in place, but yikes. Between home games against Nevada (45 percent chance), Colorado State (32) and UNLV (26), the Cowboys should find a win or two. Projected win total: 1.5.
- New Mexico State is 0-4 but has actually shown progress. Based on the stats in each game, the Aggies had a better than 50-50 chance of winning each of their last three contests (losses to Georgia State, UTEP, and New Mexico by a combined 14 points) and should be able to score some wins against the upcoming Sun Belt slate. Projected win total: 4.