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Ranking college football’s Rivalry Week final scores by surprising-ness

The Big Ten got particularly strange during Rivalry Week.

NCAA Football: Minnesota at Wisconsin Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

The 2018 college football season has been defined by the most straight-forward, frankly boring national title race imaginable, complemented by all the strangeness you can fathom beneath the surface. That certainly continued during Rivalry Week. Ohio State’s romp over Michigan did provide the slightest of shake-ups in the title race, but Alabama, Clemson, and Notre Dame all ended up winning handily.

Once again, though, there was all the craziness you could handle if you dug just a bit deeper.

Let’s look back at Week 13 action by looking at the difference between projection and reality. S&P+ had a strange week, starting 24-17 (58 percent) but finishing on a 7-15-1 stretch to finish just below 50 percent against the spread. But whether the numbers are dialed in or not, there are always surprises. There were plenty this weekend.

Using the S&P+ projections as a guide, let’s look at which games played out as expected and which ones very, very much did not.

(Rankings listed below are from the most recent CFP rankings.)

Right on (projection and reality within 3 points of each other)

NCAA Football: Louisiana State at Texas A&M
Texas A&M’s Kendrick Rogers (13) and Jhamon Ausbon (2)
Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports
  • Ohio 49, Akron 28 (projected margin: Ohio by 20.8)
  • UL-Lafayette 31, UL-Monroe 28 (projected margin: UL by 2.6)
  • Texas A&M 74, LSU 72 (projected margin: A&M by 1.6)

College football produces one of the wildest, most ref-unfriendly games in the history of the sport. S&P+: “Yeah, that’s about what I projected, give or take.”

  • Appalachian State 21, Troy 10 (projected margin: App State by 11.9)
  • Arizona State 41, Arizona 40 (projected margin: UA by 0.2)

Arizona pulls off a mind-bending late collapse that includes one of the silliest interceptions you’ll ever see and a straight-up gift of a lost fumble, blows a 19-point lead, and then settles for a long field goal (missed) instead of staying aggressive in response. S&P+: “Yep, nailed it.”

  • Purdue 28, Indiana 21 (projected margin: PU by 4.9)
  • Marshall 28, FIU 25 (projected margin: Marshall by 5.2)
  • Georgia 45, Georgia Tech 21 (projected margin: UGA by 26.3)

Actual projected score: UGA 45, Tech 19. Congrats to Tech for overachieving.

  • Miami (Ohio) 42, Ball State 21 (projected margin: Miami by 18.5)
  • South Alabama 31, Coastal Carolina 28 (projected margin: Coastal by 0.01)

Mostly on (3 to 7 points)

NCAA Football: North Carolina State at North Carolina
NC State’s Dave Doeren
Rob Kinnan-USA TODAY Sports
  • NC State 34, North Carolina 28 (projected margin: NC State by 9.4)

What’s better than a rivalry game? A rivalry game that goes to OT, then sparks a brawl right after the winning points.

  • Liberty 28, NMSU 21 (projected margin: Liberty by 3.6)
  • Cal 33, Colorado 21 (projected margin: Cal by 8.5)
  • Clemson 56, South Carolina 35 (projected margin: Clemson by 24.7)
  • Oklahoma 59, WVU 56 (projected margin: OU by 7.0)
  • Stanford 49, UCLA 42 (projected margin: Stanford by 11.8)

Stanford’s disappointing offense finishes the regular season with 97 points in two games, and after an 0-5 start, UCLA finishes the season 3-4 with two ultra-tight losses. Everybody gets a moral victory!

  • Notre Dame 24, USC 17 (projected margin: ND by 12.3)
  • Northwestern 24, Illinois 16 (projected margin: NU by 13.4)

Northwestern beat Rutgers and Illinois by a combined 11 points but is one upset win from the conference title.

  • Utah 35, BYU 27 (projected margin: Utah by 13.7)

Depending on when you went to bed, this one might be the most surprising score you discover this morning. It was 27-7 BYU with 16 minutes left.

  • Tulsa 27, SMU 24 (projected margin: SMU by 3.2)
  • Georgia Southern 35, Georgia State 14 (projected margin: GS by 14.6)

One of 2018’s most underrated coaching jobs: Chad Lunsford inheriting an 0-6 team midway through 2017, going 2-4 as interim head coach, securing the full-time gig, and then ripping off a 9-3 full-season debut.

  • Iowa 31, Nebraska 28 (projected margin: Iowa by 9.5)
  • Air Force 27, Colorado State 19 (projected margin: AFA by 14.8)

A bit off (7 to 17 points)

NCAA Football: Utah State at Boise State
Boise State’s Alexander Mattison
Brian Losness-USA TODAY Sports
  • Virginia Tech 34, Virginia 31 (projected margin: UVA by 4.6)

The most gutting rivalry loss of the weekend east of Utah/Arizona.

  • Tulane 29, Navy 28 (projected margin: Tulane by 8.9)

Tulane watches a 21-3 lead turn into a 28-21 deficit, then scores with 90 seconds left and makes the two-point conversion for the win and bowl eligibility. Damn.

  • Iowa State 42, Kansas State 28 (projected margin: ISU by 12.5)

If this was Bill Snyder’s last game, blowing a 17-point lead with 11 minutes left is not the most spectacular way to go out.

  • EMU 28, Kent State 20 (projected margin: EMU by 16.5)
  • Buffalo 44, Bowling Green 14 (projected margin: UB by 21.1)
  • Boise State 33, Utah State 24 (projected margin: USU by 1.4)

Utah State peaked too soon, apparently. The Aggies were 9-1 and playing like the most dominant mid-major, but they barely survived woeful Colorado State last week and played antsy against a mature BSU in Boise. The result: Boise State vs. Fresno State in the conference title game for the second straight year.

  • Miami 24, Pitt 3 (projected margin: Miami by 10.0)

Your quarterback goes 6-for-24 passing, and you beat the division champ by three touchdowns. Achievement unlocked.

  • Texas 24, Kansas 17 (projected margin: UT by 19.3)

Texas and Northwestern both continued their “do as little as possible against bad opponents to throw S&P+ off the scent” routines with vigor in Rivalry Week.

  • Alabama 52, Auburn 21 (projected margin: Bama by 18.4)

Bama covers. Again.

  • Washington 28, Washington State 15 (projected margin: Wazzu by 0.2)
  • WMU 28, NIU 21 (projected margin: NIU by 6.6)
  • TCU 31, Oklahoma State 24 (projected margin: OSU by 6.9)

It’s hard to have a more up-and-down year than what OSU pulled off in 2018, going 2-2 against the Big 12 teams with winning conference records (their two losses by a combined seven points) and going 1-4 against the Big 12 teams that finished with losing conference records.

  • UCF 38, USF 10 (projected margin: UCF by 13.7)
  • Southern Miss 39, UTEP 7 (projected margin: USM by 17.4)
  • Arkansas State 33, Texas State 7 (projected margin: ASU by 11.3)
  • Florida 41, Florida State 14 (projected margin: UF by 11.8)
  • Memphis 52, Houston 31 (projected margin: UM by 5.7)

Way off (17-28 points)

NCAA Football: Arkansas at Missouri
Missouri’s Drew Lock (3) and Kevin Pendleton (71)
Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports
  • Toledo 51, CMU 13 (projected margin: UT by 20.5)
  • UNLV 34, Nevada 29 (projected margin: Nevada by 12.8)
  • Temple 57, UConn 7 (projected margin: Temple by 30.1)
  • Hawaii 31, SDSU 30 (projected margin: SDSU by 19.3)
  • Missouri 38, Arkansas 0 (projected margin: Mizzou by 17.7)

Mizzou finishes 8-4 with a top-10 strength of schedule and has now won nine straight games in the month of November. Probably time to extend Barry Odom’s contract, guys.

  • Fresno State 31, San Jose State 13 (projected margin: Fresno by 38.7)
  • Penn State 38, Maryland 3 (projected margin: PSU by 13.9)
  • Oregon 55, Oregon State 15 (projected margin: UO by 18.8)
  • Wyoming 31, New Mexico 3 (projected margin: UW by 6.3)
  • Syracuse 42, Boston College 21 (projected margin: BC by 0.9)
  • Baylor 35, Texas Tech 24 (projected margin: Tech by 11.1)
  • Vanderbilt 38, Tennessee 13 (projected margin: VU by 2.6)

Vandy beats Tennessee by 21 more points than it beat Tennessee State.

  • Mississippi State 35, Ole Miss 3 (projected margin: MSU by 9.5)

“Rivalry game gets out of hand late” is a pretty common theme in this section of games.

  • Michigan State 14, Rutgers 10 (projected margin: MSU by 27.7)
  • Charlotte 27, FAU 24 (projected margin: FAU by 21.2)
  • WKU 30, Louisiana Tech 15 (projected margin: LT by 9.3)
  • North Texas 24, UTSA 21 (projected margin: UNT by 29.5)

North Texas finishes 11 points from 12-0 and nine points from 6-6. The Mean Green had the highest ceiling in Conference USA and damn near lost to both UTSA and UTEP. Weird year.

  • Middle Tennessee 27, UAB 3 (projected margin: UAB by 3.0)
  • Ohio State 62, Michigan 39 (projected margin: UM by 4.7)

I’m mad at you, Ohio State. We know you can play like that, but you only do it like twice all year. That was a stunner of an offensive performance.

Way, way off (more than 28 points)

NCAA Football: Kentucky at Louisville
Kentucky’s Kavosiey Smoke
Jamie Rhodes-USA TODAY Sports
  • Rice 27, ODU 13 (projected margin: ODU by 14.3)

At 4-7, ODU had nothing to play for, and Rice took advantage by scoring a second win.

  • Kentucky 56, Louisville 10 (projected margin: UK by 15.3)

“Rivalry game gets out of hand” doesn’t even begin to describe this one.

  • Cincinnati 56, ECU 6 (projected margin: Cincy by 19.0)

ECU had taken a couple of steps forward over the last few weeks ... and then this.

  • Minnesota 37, Wisconsin 15 (projected margin: UW by 14.0)

Minnesota spent half of 2018 playing like the best team in the Big Ten West and half of it playing worse than Rutgers. I knew this, but I still wasn’t prepared for this result.

Holy crap! (more than 60 points)

NCAA Football: Wake Forest at Duke
Wake Forest’s Cade Carney
James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports
  • Wake Forest 59, Duke 7 (projected margin: Duke by 8.1)


S&P+ was off by 60.1 points in this game, by far the biggest miss of the season. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen that. It produced almost a full extra point in the week’s absolute error average all by itself.