Nine weeks into the college football season, we are in strange territory. The number of true statistical standouts is tiny, and the sport’s middle class is enormous. We are basically an LSU (or Mississippi State!) upset of Alabama away from complete and utter chaos.
Bring it on.
Below are this week’s S&P+ ratings. You can find full unit rankings (and a yearly archive) at Football Outsiders. (Also, if the chart below isn’t loading friendly on your mobile device, that Football Outsiders link should work.)
Week 10 S&P+
|San Diego State||7-2||1.8||59||72||13|
|New Mexico State||3-5||-1.5||78||76||-2|
|San Jose State||1-8||-15.6||126||125||-1|
The margin between good and bad keeps shrinking
The top team in these rankings got mauled by Oklahoma at home. The second-best team has looked the part at times but is getting dragged down by only marginally impressive wins over the current No. 72 and 75 teams. The No. 3 team probably has the best wins résumé of the bunch.
From an S&P+ perspective, the range between top and bottom hasn’t been this small since, drum roll please, 2007, the craziest season of all time. Using current S&P+ ratings:
- only 3.7 points separate No. 1 Ohio State from No. 3 Georgia (last year at this point, it was 7.4 points)
- only 3.2 points separate No. 4 Washington from No. 12 TCU (last year at this point: 9.9)
- only 3.4 points separate No. 20 USC from No. 39 West Virginia (last year: 5.5)
We think we know who’s good and who isn’t, but every good team has provided reason for doubt. And outside of the top 20 or so, pretty much everyone has been awful at least once, and one particularly good or bad game could cause a pretty significant rise or fall in the rankings.
This is nuts. That Ohio State and Alabama are at the top of this list make this season seem less weird than it is.
The margin between good and bad conferences almost doesn’t exist
Now that everybody has played at least seven games, and preseason projections are completely filtered out of the equation, what you’re seeing above is entirely based on 2017 data. And without the projections (and the standard deviations they create) propping things up, everything has sagged back toward the middle.
Perhaps not surprisingly, the conference-wide averages sank even more.
FBS conferences, ranked by average S&P+ rating:
- Big Ten (+5.0)
- SEC (+4.5)
- Big 12 (+4.4)
- ACC (+3.8)
- Pac-12 (+3.5)
- AAC (-0.3)
- Mountain West (-2.0)
- MAC (-2.3)
- Conference USA (-3.0)
- Sun Belt (-4.3)
The Big Ten, your current No. 1 conference, has three of the top seven teams and five ranked 71st or worse. The SEC — the conference so bad about half of its coaches are about to get fired — has four of the top 16 and seven teams ranked 70th or worse. The AAC has a top-five team and four bottom-30 teams. The Big 12 has three in the top 13 and two in the bottom 20.
Right now, we think we have a pretty good read for how the top two conferences’ races will play out. If Ohio State doesn’t suffer a significant upset, then we’re all but guaranteed an Ohio State-Wisconsin title game. And to say the least, the odds of an Alabama-Georgia SEC title game are quite strong.
Again, that distracts us from the disorder beneath the surface.
Just about everything else is amazingly messy. The Big 12 currently has six teams within a game of the conference lead (and remember: two of those teams will play for the title at the end of the year). There are six Pac-12 teams within 1 1/2 games of a division lead. There are six such MWC teams and nine such Conference USA teams. There are four teams within a game atop the AAC West. There are four teams within a game of the Sun Belt lead. One of them is Georgia State.
This could be an incredibly fun November.
The week’s top movers (good)
- Missouri (up 21 spots, from 78th to 57th)
- Wyoming (up 21 spots, from 83rd to 62nd)
- Memphis (up 19 spots, from 55th to 36th)
- Boston College (up 16 spots, from 92nd to 76th)
- Toledo (up 13 spots, from 31st to 18th)
- Arkansas State (up 13 spots, from 35th to 22nd)
- Troy (up 13 spots, from 54th to 41st)
- North Texas (up 13 spots, from 67th to 54th)
- San Diego State (up 13 spots, from 72nd to 59th)
- Colorado (up 13 spots, from 87th to 74th)
The rankings are designed to account for opponent strength in a way that prevents you from simply moving up when you play (and soundly defeat) a particularly bad team or moving down when you play (and get soundly defeated by) a particularly good team.
Missouri has proven opponent adjustment-proof over the last couple of seasons. Nobody obliterates a lesser team’s defense like the Tigers, who have, over the last two seasons, averaged 66 points per game against UConn, Eastern Michigan, Idaho, Missouri State, and Delaware State.
They have also, however, averaged just 20.3 points per game against power conference opponents in that span, more than a touchdown below the national scoring average. These are extremes teams aren’t supposed to reach. Congrats to Missouri for reaching them, I guess.
And now, the Tigers go back to playing SEC teams. Fortunately for them, Florida, Tennessee, Vanderbilt, and Arkansas haven’t exactly played like SEC teams this year.
Top movers (bad)
- Florida State (down 36 spots, from 39th to 75th)
- Florida (down 31 spots, from 59th to 90th)
- Georgia Tech (down 23 spots, from 23rd to 46th)
- Tulane (down 18 spots, from 70th to 88th)
- UCLA (down 15 spots, from 49th to 64th)
- NC State (down 14 spots, from 21st to 35th)
- Louisville (down 14 spots, from 28th to 42nd)
- Arizona State (down 13 spots, from 80th to 93rd)
- Texas A&M (down 12 spots, from 60th to 72nd)
- Texas Tech (down 10 spots, from 40th to 50th)
- Utah (down 10 spots, from 41st to 51st)
What happens when you play a particularly poor game just as your extremely favorable preseason projections are officially phased out all the way? You plummet. Just ask Florida, Florida State, and Georgia Tech.
Tech’s fall was a little bit more due to placement — the Jackets lost to Clemson by two touchdowns but fell a long way in part because of how bunched together everybody in the 20-40 range is.
Florida and FSU, however, don’t have that same excuse. They have simply played like bad teams for much of the year and don’t seem to be getting better.