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130-team S&P+ rankings: Penn State and Michigan try to crash the top tier

Updated S&P+ rankings show two of the country’s five best teams squaring off in Week 5. Can Michigan end the emerging No. 5 curse?

Penn State v Illinois Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images

Note: updated on September 24 to fix a data error. When this post initially went up, last week’s special teams numbers were being used instead of this week’s. Fixing this error didn’t result in much change, but a few teams flipped around — most notably, Michigan eked ahead of Penn State for the new No. 5 ranking.


College football just enjoyed its first truly strange week of 2018. But that doesn’t mean the top of the S&P+ rankings changed all that much. The very top, at least.

Below are this week’s S&P+ rankings.

A reminder: S&P+ is intended to be predictive and forward looking.

Good predictive ratings are not résumé ratings, and they don’t give you bonus points for wins and losses. They simply compare expected output to actual output and adjust accordingly. That’s how a given team can win but plummet or lose and move up.

Through four weeks, the S&P+ rankings are performing about as normal, hitting 53 percent against the spread and 54 percent on the over/under point totals for the year. As you would hope, the absolute error — the average size of miss between projection and reality — is shrinking each week as well.

If you’re interested in a decent résumé ranking of sorts, I encourage you to visit this post on strength of schedule. I created a Resume S&P+ ranking, and it will be updated in the coming weeks. It paints no clearer a picture but might make more sense from a transitive perspective.

Below, however, are the predictive ratings, the actual S&P+.

(You can find full unit rankings, plus a yearly archive, at Football Outsiders. The offense and defense pages will start getting updated in the coming weeks.)

2018 S&P+ rankings, through 4 weeks

Team Rec. S&P+ Rating S&P+ Rank Last Wk Change
Team Rec. S&P+ Rating S&P+ Rank Last Wk Change
Alabama 4-0 33.8 1 1 0
Ohio State 4-0 30.3 2 2 0
Clemson 4-0 28.8 3 4 1
Georgia 4-0 27.1 4 3 -1
Michigan 3-1 25.1 5 10 5
Penn State 4-0 24.9 6 8 2
Washington 3-1 24.0 7 7 0
Oklahoma 4-0 22.7 8 9 1
Mississippi State 3-1 20.6 9 5 -4
West Virginia 3-0 20.3 10 15 5
Notre Dame 4-0 20.0 11 18 7
Wisconsin 3-1 19.4 12 13 1
Auburn 3-1 19.0 13 14 1
Kentucky 4-0 17.6 14 22 8
Oklahoma State 3-1 17.5 15 6 -9
Central Florida 3-0 17.4 16 19 3
Miami-FL 3-1 17.2 17 24 7
Michigan State 2-1 16.8 18 20 2
LSU 4-0 16.7 19 21 2
Appalachian State 2-1 16.4 20 26 6
Memphis 3-1 15.6 21 11 -10
Boise State 2-1 15.2 22 16 -6
Stanford 4-0 15.0 23 27 4
Florida 3-1 14.8 24 31 7
South Carolina 2-1 14.7 25 28 3
Texas A&M 2-2 14.6 26 12 -14
Duke 4-0 12.5 27 33 6
Missouri 3-1 12.2 28 29 1
NC State 3-0 11.5 29 49 20
TCU 2-2 11.0 30 25 -5
Iowa 3-1 10.6 31 34 3
USC 2-2 10.4 32 39 7
Oregon 3-1 10.0 33 32 -1
Texas Tech 3-1 9.9 34 51 17
Texas 3-1 9.7 35 43 8
Ole Miss 3-1 9.5 36 50 14
Utah 2-1 9.4 37 37 0
Fresno State 2-1 9.2 38 36 -2
Houston 3-1 9.2 39 42 3
Boston College 3-1 9.0 40 17 -23
Washington State 3-1 8.3 41 30 -11
Utah State 3-1 8.1 42 56 14
Virginia 3-1 8.0 43 52 9
North Texas 4-0 7.9 44 53 9
Indiana 3-1 7.9 45 23 -22
Purdue 1-3 7.6 46 54 8
Baylor 3-1 7.3 47 68 21
South Florida 4-0 7.3 48 38 -10
Colorado 3-0 6.2 49 44 -5
Syracuse 4-0 6.2 50 61 11
Iowa State 1-2 6.1 51 59 8
Buffalo 4-0 6.1 52 64 12
Virginia Tech 2-1 6.0 53 41 -12
Toledo 2-1 6.0 54 47 -7
Arizona 2-2 5.5 55 78 23
California 3-0 4.2 56 65 9
Tennessee 2-2 3.4 57 40 -17
Vanderbilt 2-2 3.1 58 35 -23
BYU 3-1 3.1 59 58 -1
Northwestern 1-2 2.6 60 66 6
Maryland 3-1 2.4 61 81 20
San Diego State 3-1 2.4 62 60 -2
Cincinnati 4-0 2.2 63 63 0
Arkansas 1-3 2.0 64 67 3
Minnesota 3-1 2.0 65 48 -17
Temple 2-2 1.8 66 72 6
Florida State 2-2 1.6 67 77 10
Arizona State 2-2 1.5 68 55 -13
Florida Atlantic 2-2 0.7 69 69 0
Georgia Tech 1-3 0.6 70 45 -25
Marshall 2-1 -0.4 71 70 -1
Nebraska 0-3 -0.4 72 46 -26
Southern Miss 2-1 -0.5 73 86 13
Eastern Michigan 2-2 -0.8 74 74 0
Pittsburgh 2-2 -1.2 75 62 -13
Arkansas State 3-1 -2.0 76 91 15
Navy 2-2 -2.5 77 73 -4
North Carolina 1-2 -3.0 78 87 9
Western Michigan 2-2 -3.2 79 88 9
Louisiana Tech 2-1 -3.2 80 71 -9
UCLA 0-3 -4.6 81 85 4
Wyoming 2-2 -4.9 82 84 2
UAB 2-1 -5.0 83 80 -3
Wake Forest 2-2 -5.4 84 57 -27
Louisville 2-2 -5.5 85 76 -9
Troy 3-1 -5.5 86 94 8
Georgia Southern 2-1 -5.6 87 96 9
Kansas 2-2 -6.5 88 82 -6
Kansas State 2-2 -7.1 89 75 -14
UNLV 2-2 -7.6 90 90 0
Coastal Carolina 3-1 -7.9 91 103 12
Tulsa 1-3 -7.9 92 97 5
Miami-OH 1-3 -8.0 93 92 -1
Army 2-2 -8.1 94 101 7
South Alabama 1-3 -8.3 95 102 7
Nevada 2-2 -8.4 96 100 4
Tulane 1-3 -8.6 97 79 -18
Hawaii 4-1 -8.7 98 105 7
UL-Lafayette 1-2 -9.3 99 89 -10
Florida International 2-2 -9.8 100 83 -17
Northern Illinois 1-3 -9.8 101 95 -6
Illinois 2-2 -10.1 102 99 -3
Western Kentucky 1-3 -10.3 103 107 4
Ohio 1-2 -10.4 104 120 16
Massachusetts 2-3 -11.4 105 116 11
Old Dominion 1-3 -11.5 106 111 5
Oregon State 1-3 -11.8 107 93 -14
East Carolina 1-2 -12.4 108 112 4
Ball State 1-3 -13.2 109 110 1
Liberty 1-2 -13.5 110 98 -12
Akron 2-1 -13.7 111 104 -7
New Mexico 2-1 -14.0 112 115 3
Middle Tennessee 1-2 -14.0 113 108 -5
Air Force 1-2 -14.1 114 106 -8
SMU 1-3 -14.4 115 117 2
UL-Monroe 2-2 -14.9 116 109 -7
Colorado State 1-4 -14.9 117 113 -4
Rutgers 1-3 -16.9 118 114 -4
Central Michigan 1-3 -18.3 119 119 0
Kent State 1-3 -19.9 120 118 -2
Georgia State 1-3 -20.2 121 121 0
Texas State 1-3 -21.0 122 125 3
New Mexico State 1-4 -21.1 123 123 0
Charlotte 2-2 -21.5 124 122 -2
UTSA 1-3 -24.1 125 127 2
San Jose State 0-3 -24.6 126 124 -2
Rice 1-3 -24.7 127 128 1
Bowling Green 1-3 -26.0 128 126 -2
Connecticut 1-3 -27.0 129 129 0
UTEP 0-4 -30.0 130 130 0

Your No. 5 Team of the Week: Michigan

It’s painfully clear who the top four teams in the country have been, and it’s basically who we expected: in some order, Alabama, Ohio State, Georgia, and Clemson.

The fifth team in the S&P+ top five, however, has shifted and churned a bit.

  • Washington began the season No. 4 but fell after losing to Auburn.
  • Oklahoma jumped to second before settling back in at eighth, its preseason ranking.
  • Boise State’s early dominance produced a surge to No. 5, and the Broncos immediately crashed and burned at Oklahoma State.
  • Mississippi State took the No. 5 spot from BSU and immediately got smoked at Kentucky.

This is quickly becoming The Curse of No. 5. And hell, new No. 6 Oklahoma State didn’t look all that hot bombing out against Texas Tech on Saturday, either.

This week’s new “top teams not named Bama/OSU/UGA/Clemson” now have a chance to either end the curse before it becomes a thing or succumb all the same. Michigan has looked outstanding since the first half of the loss to Notre Dame and eked out the No. 5 spot over just-barely-No.-6 Penn State.

James Franklin’s Nittany Lions host Ohio State for White Out this coming Saturday. That’s just sort of a big game, isn’t it?

The week’s top movers (good)

  1. Arizona (up 23 spots, from 78th to 55th)
  2. Baylor (up 21 spots, from 68th to 47th)
  3. Maryland (up 20 spots, from 81st to 61st)
  4. NC State (up 20 spots, from 49th to 29th)
  5. Texas Tech (up 17 spots, from 51st to 34rd)
  6. Ohio (up 18 spots, from 120th to 102nd)
  7. Arkansas State (up 15 spots, from 91st to 76th)
  8. Ole Miss (up 14 spots, from 50th to 36th)
  9. Utah State (up 14 spots, from 56th to 42nd)
  10. Southern Miss (up 13 spots, from 86th to 73rd)

What the hell are you, Maryland? Are you the team that beat Texas (the team that just beat TCU) and destroyed Minnesota? Are you the team that got destroyed by Temple? S&P+ has no idea. In three weeks, the Terps have gone from 52nd to 81st to 61st.

Then there’s the other team that has already lived many lives in 2018. Texas Tech began the season getting handled by Ole Miss and falling to 88th overall. The Red Raiders surged to 50th the next week, then jumped to 33rd with their strangely easy win at Oklahoma State.

Top movers (bad)

  1. Wake Forest (down 27 spots, from 57th to 84th)
  2. Nebraska (down 26 spots, from 46th to 72nd)
  3. Georgia Tech (down 25 spots, from 45th to 70th)
  4. Boston College (down 23 spots, from 17th to 40th)
  5. Vanderbilt (down 23 spots, from 35th to 58th)
  6. Indiana (down 22 spots, from 23rd to 45th)
  7. Tulane (down 18 spots, from 79th to 97th)
  8. Tennessee (down 17 spots, from 40th to 57th)
  9. FIU (down 17 spots, from 83rd to 100th)
  10. Minnesota (down 17 spots, from 48th to 65th)

It’s been like stages of grief with S&P+ and Nebraska. After the Huskers narrowly lost to Colorado in a game that played out on paper like a NU win, they rose quite a bit. Then they fell 17 spots following a discouraging loss to Troy. Then they fell 26 spots following the humiliation against Michigan. And based on what we saw last week, 72nd feels too high — there might be more falling to go.

FBS conferences, ranked by average S&P+ rating:

  1. SEC (plus-14.9, down 1.4 points)
  2. Big 12 (plus-9.1, down 0.3 points)
  3. Big Ten (plus-8.7, down 0.7 points)
  4. Pac-12 (plus-6.5, same)
  5. ACC (plus-6.2, down 0.7 points)
  6. AAC (minus-1.6, down 0.3 points)
  7. Mountain West (minus-5.2, down 0.1)
  8. Sun Belt (minus-7.8, up 1.6 points)
  9. MAC (minus-9.3, up 0.5 points)
  10. Conference USA (minus-10.4, up 0.9 points)

The great Regression Toward The Mean has begun — the top conferences all sank a bit in terms of overall ratings, and the bottom teams all rose a bit.

Perhaps the most noteworthy thing four weeks in: the ACC is bad.

In the preseason, I noted that while this conference might only have one true national title contender (Clemson), it might also have no truly bad teams. We’ll see how the coming weeks play out, but while only two teams were projected worse than 62nd in the preseason projections, six are now 68th or worse a month into the year.

Miami’s nearly climbed back to where it was in the preseason, and Duke (28th), NC State (29th), BC (40th), Virginia (46th), and Syracuse (49th) are all higher than they were a month ago.

But woof, is that bottom tier bad. Not “Big Ten bottom tier” bad, but bad ... and without the Big Ten’s upside.


A reminder: I have made a few philosophical changes in this year’s S&P+ rankings.

When I get the chance (so, maybe in the offseason), I will update previous years of S&P+ rankings to reflect these formula changes, too.

  1. I changed the garbage time definition. S&P+ stops counting the major stats once the game has entered garbage time. Previously, that was when a game ceased to be within 27 points in the first quarter, 24 in the second, 21 in the third, and 16 in the fourth. Now I have expanded it: garbage time adjustments don’t begin until a game is outside of 43 points in the first quarter, 37 in the second, 27 in the third, and 21 in the fourth. That change came because of a piece I wrote about game states at Football Study Hall.
  2. Preseason projections will remain in the formulas all season. Fans hate this — it’s the biggest complaint I’ve heard regarding ESPN’s FPI formulas. Instinctively, I hate it, too. But here’s the thing: it makes projections more accurate. Our sample size for determining quality in a given season is tiny, and incorporating projection factors found in the preseason rankings decreases the overall error in projections. So I’m doing it.
  3. To counteract this conservative change, I’m also making S&P+ more reactive to results, especially early in the season. If I’m admitting that S&P+ needs previous-year performances to make it better, I’m also going to admit that S&P+ doesn’t know everything it needs to early in a season, and it’s going to react a bit more to actual results.

Basically, I’ve added a step to the the rankings process: after the rankings are determined, I go back and project previous games based on those ratings, and I adjust the ratings based on how much the ratings fit (or don’t fit) those results.

The adjustment isn’t enormous, and it will diminish as the season unfolds.

Testing this process for past seasons improved performance against the spread a little and, more importantly, decreased absolute error (the difference between projections and reality) quite a bit. I wouldn’t have made the move if it didn’t appear to improve performance.