The 2018 college football season has been two things at once. On one hand, the number of weird division races and WTF conference contenders — Northwestern, Purdue, Washington State, and now Pitt and Arizona State — befitted a 1984- or 2007-style crazy season. The top of the rankings, however, has been incredibly static. Alabama and Clemson have been by far the two best teams in the land and haven’t shown any recent signs of wanting to change that.
Week 10, then, was the most 2018 week of the 2018 season. Alabama blew out its closest competition in the SEC West, almost immediately rendering a proud, physical LSU team hopeless in Baton Rouge, and Clemson absolutely humiliated a Louisville team that came within inches of winning in Clemson two years ago. The top two became more “top two” than ever, and the next two teams in the CFP hierarchy (Notre Dame and Michigan) looked fine, too.
The further beneath the surface you dig, though, the weirder things got. Surging No. 15 Utah got thumped. No. 8 Washington State nearly lost to Cal. No. 11 Florida got blown out by an unranked team on Homecoming. No. 10 Ohio State seriously considered losing at home to 2-7 Nebraska.
The ACC Coastal and Pac-12 South races got even weirder than before, and the unexpected results were bountiful. And Alabama and Clemson remained Alabama and Clemson.
Let’s look back at Week 10 action by looking at the difference between projection and reality. S&P+ had a very strange week (see the bottom of the post for more about that), but whether the numbers are dialed in or not, however, there are always surprises. 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)
- Troy 26, UL-Lafayette 16 (projected margin: Troy by 9.3)
- Purdue 38, No. 16 Iowa 36 (projected margin: Purdue by 0.8)
The Boilers remain in the Big Ten West race by the skin of their teeth, tied with Wisconsin and a game behind Northwestern. In some seasons, this might be the strangest division race in FBS ... but this season it’s probably third behind the ACC Coastal and Pac-12 South.
- USC 38, Oregon State 21 (projected margin: USC by 15.7)
- Appalachian State 23, Coastal Carolina 7 (projected margin: App by 17.3)
- No. 12 UCF 52, Temple 40 (projected margin: UCF by 10.6)
- UMass 62, Liberty 59 (projected margin: UMass by 4.5)
I love it when S&P+ reacts to totally crazy games (like this three-overtime thriller) with “Yeah, that’s about what I expected.”
- Wyoming 24, San Jose State 9 (projected margin: UW by 13.5)
- Auburn 28, No. 20 Texas A&M 24 (projected margin: AU by 5.8)
Auburn’s offense is reliably horrible for 3.5 quarters, then explodes for two late touchdowns. “Yeah, that’s about what I expected.”
- San Diego State 31, New Mexico 23 (projected margin: SDSU by 9.8)
- Buffalo 51, Miami (Ohio) 42 (projected margin: UB by 6.9)
- Southern Miss 26, Marshall 24 (projected margin: Marshall by 0.3)
- Tennessee 14, Charlotte 3 (projected margin: UT by 13.4)
- No. 13 West Virginia 42, No. 17 Texas 41 (projected margin: WVU by 4.0)
WVU goes for two and the win in the final seconds and succeeds. “Yeah, that’s about what I expected.”
Mostly on (3 to 7 points)
- No. 4 Notre Dame 31, Northwestern 21 (projected margin: ND by 13.2)
- Army 17, Air Force 14 (projected margin: Army by 6.3)
- No. 8 Washington State 19, Cal 13 (projected margin: Wazzu by 9.4)
Cal, an old-school, defense-first Big Ten team in an offense-first conference.
- Northern Illinois 36, Akron 26 (projected margin: NIU by 6.1)
- Memphis 59, ECU 41 (projected margin: Memphis by 13.9)
- Kent State 35, Bowling Green 28 (projected margin: Kent by 1.7)
- UTEP 34, Rice 26 (projected margin: UTEP by 2.2)
UTEP’s winless no more! No one’s going to mistake the Miners as a 2019 C-USA contender or anything, but they’ve taken a definitive step forward over the last few weeks and finally got a win to show for it.
- EMU 17, CMU 7 (projected margin: EMU by 16.3)
- Georgia Tech 38, North Carolina 28 (projected margin: GT by 3.1)
- No. 7 Oklahoma 51, Texas Tech 46 (projected margin: OU by 12.0)
OU spotted Tech a 14-0 lead with two early turnovers, and then it was basically exactly what was expected from there.
A little off (7 to 17 points)
- Arizona 42, Colorado 34 (projected margin: UA by 0.7)
Colorado started the season 5-0 and is now in serious danger of finishing 0-7.
- Boise State 21, BYU 16 (projected margin: BSU by 12.7)
- MTSU 29, WKU 10 (projected margin: MTSU by 11.2)
- No. 6 Georgia 34, No. 9 Kentucky 17 (projected margin: UGA by 9.0)
- NMSU 52, Alcorn State 42 (projected margin: NMSU by 18.2)
- South Carolina 48, Ole Miss 44 (projected margin: UM by 4.3)
- Washington 27, Stanford 23 (projected margin: UW by 13.0)
- Texas State 40, Georgia State 31 (projected margin: TXST by 0.0)
- No. 22 Boston College 31, Virginia Tech 21 (projected margin: BC by 0.5)
From a surprising-ness standpoint, BC is about the only strange CFP contender left. The Eagles will have to pull a huge upset of Clemson next week to remain on that list.
- No. 24 Iowa State 27, Kansas 3 (projected margin: ISU by 14.5)
- No. 21 NC State 47, Florida State 28 (projected margin: NCST by 8.6)
- No. 10 Ohio State 36, Nebraska 31 (projected margin: OSU by 15.4)
Just think of what might have happened had NU not lost its mind from a special teams perspective.
- Oregon 42, UCLA 21 (projected margin: UO by 10.6)
- Arkansas State 38, South Alabama 14 (projected margin: ASU by 12.4)
- No. 19 Syracuse 41, Wake Forest 24 (projected margin: Cuse by 5.3)
- TCU 14, Kansas State 13 (projected margin: TCU by 13.2)
- Tulsa 49, UConn 19 (projected margin: TU by 17.5)
- Baylor 35, Oklahoma State 31 (projected margin: OSU by 8.5)
Baylor’s odds of reaching a bowl just increased dramatically.
- Wisconsin 31, Rutgers 17 (projected margin: UW by 29.2)
- Duke 20, Miami 12 (projected margin: The U by 7.9)
Miami’s defense is strong, and the run game is solid (and was excellent last night). But Mark Richt’s future at The U might be defined by how well he can stop trusting people named Richt (namely, play-caller Mark or quarterbacks coach Jon).
- Toledo 45, Ball State 13 (projected margin: Rockets by 15.7)
Way off (17-28 points)
- No. 1 Alabama 29, No. 3 LSU 0 (projected margin: Bama by 11.0)
Alabama — No. 1 in S&P+ — continues to overachieve its projections, even against top teams on the road. Scary.
- Pitt 23, No. 25 Virginia 13 (projected margin: UVA by 8.6)
Pitt is a home win vs. Virginia Tech away from seizing total control of the ACC Coastal. The Coastal is even stranger than normal.
- Michigan State 24, Maryland 3 (projected margin: State by 1.1)
- No. 23 Fresno State 48, UNLV 3 (projected margin: FS by 24.8)
- Utah State 56, Hawaii 17 (projected margin: USU by 16.6)
USU was 21st in S&P+ heading into Week 10 and will almost move up further now. The Aggies have been one of the most reliable overachievers of the year.
- Cincinnati 42, Navy 0 (projected margin: Cincy by 17.5)
Really, really bad year in Annapolis.
- UAB 52, UTSA 3 (projected margin: UAB by 24.4)
- No. 18 Mississippi State 45, Louisiana Tech 3 (projected margin: MSU by 16.9)
- Missouri 38, No. 11 Florida 17 (projected margin: UF by 4.8)
Missouri was almost literally two plays away from 6-2 after last-second losses to South Carolina and Kentucky and took out its frustrations on Florida, which makes sense, really — over the six seasons, every game in this series has been a blowout, one way or the other (four for the Tigers, two for the Gators).
- No. 5 Michigan 42, No. 14 Penn State 7 (projected margin: UM by 8.5)
- Arizona State 38, No. 15 Utah 20 (projected margin: Utes by 8.7)
Utah looked brilliant over the last month and seemingly put itself in position to finally win the Pac-12 South. And then November began.
- SMU 45, Houston 31 (projected margin: UH by 12.8)
- No. 2 Clemson 77, Louisville 16 (projected margin: Clemson by 33.8)
It’s rare that you project a team to beat a conference foe by 34 and undershoot by four touchdowns.
Way, way off (more than 28 points)
- ULM 44, Georgia Southern 25 (projected margin: GS by 9.5)
Apparently GS spent a little too much time patting itself on the back after last week’s blowout of Appalachian State.
- FAU 49, FIU 14 (projected margin: FAU by 2.1)
A really strange year for FAU and Lane Kiffin gets even stranger with a blowout win in a rivalry game.
- Illinois 55, Minnesota 31 (projected margin: UM by 11.2)
Out of nowhere, the Illini rushed for 430 yards. Wow.
- Tulane 41, USF 15 (projected margin: USF by 13.7)
About nine days ago, USF was the shakiest of FBS’ remaining unbeaten teams. Now the Bulls have lost two in a row. And now Tulane’s bowl hopes, on life support heading into Saturday, are downright promising.
- Ohio 59, WMU 14 (projected margin: Ohio by 0.0)
About nine days ago, WMU had won six games in a row and positioned itself well in the MAC West race. Now they’ve lost back-to-back conference games by a combined 72 points.
So about S&P+’s strange week:
From an absolute error standpoint — the average difference between projected and actual scoring margin — it was an incredibly normal week, in that S&P+’s absolute error was 12.6 points per game, right in the range it’s been for the last seven weeks (anything below 13 or so is solid, and anything below 12 is tremendous).
Vegas, however, was dialed in. Whereas S&P+ nailed 57 percent against the spread with an absolute error of 12.8, this time around it hit just 45 percent against the spread with a lower error.
Stranger yet, it was basically two extreme weeks in one. S&P+ began the week a frankly incredible 8-20-1 against the spread (29 percent) before rallying to go 19-13 from there (59 percent). I don’t know how anyone gambles for a living. Saturday would have distilled me into a pool of blubbering mess.