CFB Strength Ratings update: Biggest games still to come

November 1, 2022 11:00 AM
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As always, the turn of the calendar to November has fans and experts alike projecting out the rest of the college football season. The problem with that is that some of the season’s biggest games, including the one in Athens on Saturday matching Georgia and Tennessee, are yet to come. In fact, most of the country’s biggest rivalries get played in the next few weeks, and we know anything can happen in those games. Trying to project what might happen, even as we’re about to be treated to the first College Football Playoff rankings of the season, is essentially futile. There are still plenty of teams left in the hunt for the playoffs and a number of conference races that are nowhere close to being solidified.

This past weekend clarified some questions. We know for sure that Tennessee is VERY good, making this week’s showdown with Georgia a massive game, one that pits teams so strong that it might not even affect the CFP standings for the loser. We know Ohio State and Michigan are on a path for a winner-take-all showdown in the Big Ten on Nov. 26. We also know that no one in the Group of 5 is a real threat in 2022.

At the same time, there are a ton of things we don’t know and will find out shortly. TCU can score and is proving to be a factor, but can the Horned Frogs survive some of their biggest road tests, which are yet to come? Are Alabama’s next two games at LSU and Ole Miss trickier than most experts believe? Is the Pac-12 for real? On paper, there are three pretty good teams out west. Is Clemson really going to go unbeaten or is this week’s game at Notre Dame the decider on that? Finally, what about Illinois? Should we be taking the Illini a little more seriously?

Let’s take a look at how the Week 9 results impacted my college football strength ratings and how those subjects I just pondered were affected.

Power Ratings

Though reasonably tested at Penn State, Ohio State came through with a tough road victory, thus paving the trail for what figures to be an epic edition of The Game in a few weeks. The Buckeyes are set up to be 20-plus-point favorites in their next three games before welcoming Michigan to Columbus. With the win at State College, they hang on to the top spot in my Power Ratings, with a PR of 76. That number is 2.5 points better than Alabama’s and four points better than Georgia’s, although you’ll see a bit later that the SEC contenders creep a little closer in the other rating sets. Tennessee and Michigan are still on the fringe of joining the top three and both can make their cases with upcoming games.

Among the noteworthy games this weekend besides Tennessee-Georgia, Clemson travels to South Bend to take on Notre Dame, a team that has proven to be a far better road team of late. Can they find the luck of the Irish in time to knock the Tigers from the unbeaten ranks? Another big SEC game that is being overshadowed by the No. 1 vs. No. 2 showdown is in Baton Rouge. A much-improved LSU team hosts Alabama under the lights in Death Valley, and there aren’t many tougher environments to play in. The Tigers have scored 45 points in back-to-back wins over Ole Miss and Florida and sure seem capable of giving the Tide a game here.

Biggest upward movers after Week 9

1. Kansas State (+ 3.5 points)

No one, and I do mean NO ONE, could have possibly foreseen what happened Saturday in Manhattan, Kan. Quarterback Adrian Martinez was believed to be the reason for Kansas State’s resurgence. Well, with him sidelined, all the Wildcats did was trounce ranked Oklahoma State 48-0. They won the yardage battle 495-217, getting a huge game from backup QB Will Howard. Up next is a huge game at home against Texas.

2. North Texas (+ 3.5 points)

For those of you who may not have noticed, North Texas pulled a huge 40-13 upset of Western Kentucky as a 10-point road underdog. The Mean Green put up 536 yards of offense in securing their fifth straight point-spread victory. It was the third time in four games that they reached the 40-point mark and gained more than 480 yards of offense. Strangely, this juggernaut is only 5-4 but seems to be playing its best football as the season winds down.

3. Charlotte (+ 3.5 points)

Another game that no one saw coming happened at Rice on Saturday. A 15-point underdog won its game by 33 points. Spread victories of 48 points are extremely rare, and considering Charlotte was just 1-7 going in, an almost miraculous feat. You might be wondering why did I raise the 49ers only 3.5 points? Well, I tend to be a bit more conservative than some data analysts, and part of me believes this was a one-week fluke.

4. Tennessee (+ 3 points)

I was among the people who were concerned about Tennessee’s potential lookahead scenario on Saturday, but as they’ve done all season, the Volunteers simply responded. A few weeks ago, I wrote about potential big-money teams in college football for 2022, and UT was at the top of the list. Since then, they have gone 3-0 SU and ATS while scoring 53.7 PPG. I know Georgia is very good and uber-talented, but are the Bulldogs stepping in front of a train?

Biggest downward movers after Week 9

1. Western Kentucky (-3.5 points)

Western Kentucky’s hopes of getting back to the Conference USA title game this season took a huge hit with the blowout loss to North Texas, although its toughest conference games are now out of the way. Losing by 27 points as a double-digit favorite does have its consequences, however, and a 3.5-point drop is well justified.

2. Oklahoma State (-3.5 points)

Ironically, the talk all week leading up to the OSU-KSU showdown was how well the Cowboys had fared recently under Mike Gundy in their biggest games. I even fell for it in my trends piece. Oklahoma State fell behind quickly to the Wildcats and never showed a pulse. Very un-OSU-like. With a Big 12 title game run looking less likely now, it could be time to recalibrate 2022 goals in Stillwater.

3. Rice (-3.5 points)

It has been an up-and-down season for the Owls in 2022, and after winning five straight ATS to go to 5-1 ATS after six games, they have now dropped back-to-back games. It’s one thing to lose by 52 at USC, it's another to lose by 33 as a 15-point favorite to a 1-7 team. With three very tough CUSA games yet to come, it was the kind of loss that might eventually leave this 4-4 team shy of bowl eligibility.

4. Kentucky (-3.5 points)

With a healthy QB Will Levis back in the Kentucky lineup, it was thought that the Wildcats had a shot of giving Tennessee a run for its money. What happened, however, was damaging both to Levis’ NFL resume and the Wildcats' 2022 prospects. Having lost three of its last four games, coach Mark Stoops’ team has already equaled its 2021 loss total and still has a date with Georgia on the schedule.

Effective Strength Ratings

After the rout of Kentucky on Saturday, Tennessee has moved to within striking distance of the top three teams in my Effective Strength Ratings. The Volunteers’ ESR of 43.7 is just 3.4 points shy of top-rated Ohio State. Alabama and Georgia are sandwiched between those teams but again, all four are separated by fewer than 3.5 points. Is this the eventual CFP Final Four? It’s possible, but still, there’s a lot to be worked out in the coming weeks. At this point, it’s interesting that the Nos. 5, 6 and 7 teams in ESR are Michigan, Texas and USC. Two-loss Utah is followed by TCU and Kansas State, which makes a first appearance in the top 10. We’ve had some interesting movement at the bottom of the FBS list after Florida International’s recent winning streak. UMass has now found its way to the basement with an ESR of -16.5. That is 1.7 points worse than FIU, but it is noteworthy that the Panthers have risen 8.4 points since their low spot about a month ago and they are actually in positive territory based on recent play. Hawaii, New Mexico State and Colorado State round out the worst five teams. Pac-12 Colorado continues to struggle in 2022 and has a Power 5-worst ESR of -3.1 through eight games.

Bettors Ratings

The market has moved to Ohio State as the most respected college football team after Week 9, although the difference between the Buckeyes and the Crimson Tide is razor thin. OSU has a BR of -46.8, just 0.2 points better than Alabama’s. Georgia is a somewhat distant third, a full 4.0 points behind the No. 2 spot. Fourth in line is Michigan at -35.6, and it isn’t until No. 5 that we find Tennessee at -32.8. If we think about the merits of this, post-Week 9, bettors find Georgia to be 9.8 points superior to the Volunteers based on my formulated calculations. Keep in mind, I calculate these ratings postgame, and they do not include the upcoming week’s game lines. Thus, when adding about 2.0 points of home-field advantage for the Bulldogs, my BRs indicate that they should be favorites of -11.6. In other words, by recent standards, Georgia is a bit underpriced, as bettors have quickly upgraded their belief in Tennessee. Is it merited? We shall see on Saturday. On the opposite end of this strength indicator, you’ll find FIU as the lowest-rated team, as it seems bettors are not getting behind them as quickly as UT. The Panthers are still 4.4 points worse than the next lowest-rated team, UMass, in the eyes of the market. The FIU BR of + 17.1 is 63.9 points lower than Ohio State.

Recent Ratings

For the first time this season, we have a team that tops the chart in all of the first four strength indicators. That team is, of course, Ohio State, which currently leads the Recent Ratings list after winning at Penn State. The Buckeyes’ RR of 51.3 is equivalent to playing at a Power Rating of about 79.5 by my scale. If you recall, their actual PR is 76, meaning they are outperforming their season body of work in recent weeks, or in other words, trending upward. Georgia, No. 2 in RRs, as well as Tennessee (No. 3) are in the same boat as they are red-hot teams preparing to square off on Saturday. Michigan checks in at No. 4 in the RRs, followed by Kansas State, which has reached elite territory in any strength indicator after its blowout of Oklahoma State. Another surprise team, Louisville, checks in at No. 6 after its rout of Wake Forest, which was highlighted by forcing the Demon Deacons into eight turnovers. Alabama finally checks in at the No. 8 spot in the RRs, just four positions ahead of LSU, the Tide’s opponent this weekend in Baton Rouge. At the bottom of the RRs, you’ll find New Mexico and UMass, but perhaps more interestingly, you’ll find three teams that seem to be trending in the wrong direction, with Recent Ratings far below their Power Ratings. Those teams are Rice, UNLV and Central Michigan. Sometimes teams performing in this manner can prove to be gold to go against. The lowest Recent Rated Power 5 team in Boston College, fresh off an ugly loss to UConn.

Schedule Strength Ratings

The Schedule Strength Ratings reflect the difficulty of each team’s 2022 schedule they have played. With most FBS teams having played at least eight games, the SSR ratings are a valid indicator of which teams have tested themselves and which might not be ready for the rigors of November. The most tested team to this point is Auburn (51.11 average opponent PR), which was just pummeled by Arkansas on Saturday. Ironically, the Razorbacks have played the country’s second-toughest slate, although at 5-3 compared with the Tigers’ record of 3-5, are handling it in a much better fashion. Apparently, school administrators didn’t take the difficulty of Auburn’s schedule into account when they fired coach Bryan Harsin on Monday, a move that will cost them plenty in buyout money. The schedules don’t get much easier for either team in the coming weeks. The other teams that have played tough slates are Texas A&M, Michigan State, Vanderbilt and Colorado. Interestingly, the Spartans’ tough schedule helped ready them for their spirited effort and ATS win at Michigan on Saturday. The FBS team that has played the easiest slate to this point has been Florida International, which has revived its season with back-to-back wins. About a month ago, I pointed out how easy of a slate UNLV had faced in its 4-1 start and cautioned bettors from getting too much behind the Runnin’ Rebels. Since that point, they’ve lost three straight games. I also questioned JMU’s worthiness a week later, and the Dukes have also struggled since. This week’s team I am most concerned about is San Jose State, which is 5-2 off of the FBS world’s fourth-easiest schedule. These Spartans have four horribly underachieving teams on their remaining slate, no guarantee they will win or cover, however.

FCS Teams

South Dakota State has separated itself by three points from its FCS competition through Week 9 and is the emerging favorite for the title in January. The Jackrabbits’ PR of 43 tops the 40 of Incarnate Word and the 39.5 of Sacramento State. However, Weber State is No. 1 in the FCS in both Effective Strength at 15.3. UC Davis tops the Recent Ratings list at 20.3. Interestingly, other than SDSU and IWU, the other aforementioned teams all come from the Big Sky Conference, a league that also has Montana, a team enjoying a tremendous season itself. If you’re curious about what happened to North Dakota State, the Bison are lurking at No. 5 in the PRs, No. 4 in the ESRs, No. 1 in the BRs but No. 15 in recent play, a sign of trending the wrong direction. The worst team in all of Division I football right now remains Presbyterian, with a -20.5 Power Rating, a strength indicator 11 points worse than the next-lowest team, Wagner.

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