College football rest-of-season projections

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With most of the teams in college football having played about half of their regular-season schedules and team power ratings having somewhat settled over the past few weeks, this is a great time to project the rest of the season based on the quality information we have at our disposal. 

Let’s face it, doing this exercise at the outset of the season, while somewhat valuable, is more of an educated guess compared with now, when we have six games in the books and power ratings based on actual strength demonstrated. It also helps us adapt to the number of surprise stories, such as TCU, James Madison and San Jose State, to see if their conference win possibilities are realistic. Or alternatively, it helps us determine the potential bowl eligibility of teams that have struggled unexpectedly, such as Miami, Oklahoma, Wisconsin and Arkansas. It also is a great exercise if you’re trying to determine which teams have the best shot at a playoff spot. 

Of course, from a betting perspective, simulating the rest of the season can help us find value in conference winner odds or in evolving season win total options. As you can see, there are plenty of reasons to love simulations, and in particular projecting the rest of a college football season at the unofficial halfway point. 

So let’s get into the analysis. I’ve taken my adjusted power ratings and have run them against the remainder of schedule to project the season standings. You will find all of these projections in this chart, complete with current power ratings and records, rest of season schedule strength and rank, as well as projected final overall and conference records. The teams in each conference/division are sorted by their final conference won-lost marks. I will have some comments on each of the leagues, but first some highlights: 

— According to my figures, Northwestern plays the nation’s toughest remaining schedule, so any of you Wildcats season-win total Over ticket holders, such as myself, disappointingly, your odds of cashing that ticket are getting longer each week. Coach Pat Fitzgerald’s team still has four difficult road games remaining as well as home dates with Ohio State and Illinois. My projections show the Wildcats winning just 0.4 more games. Also facing difficult remaining schedules are Ole Miss and Auburn, two SEC teams headed in opposite directions. The Rebels are 6-0 but with the brunt of their tough opponents still to come, they are projected to finish 9.2-2.8. Auburn is 3-3 but supposedly headed for a much bleaker finish, 4.8-7.2. Keep in mind these schedule strength numbers and ranks are a huge variable in the projected finishing records.

— Army has the easiest remaining schedule, with opponents averaging a PR of 26.49. To put that in perspective, it would be like the Knights alternating between facing Louisiana-Monroe and Bowling Green for the rest of the season on neutral fields. As such, Army is expected to turn its current 1-4 record into a 5.8-6.2 finish, pushing bowl eligibility to the very end. Surprising San Jose State checks in at No. 130 in terms of schedule difficulty, a trait that could help the Spartans return to the top of the MWC West Division. They are projected to finish 9.6-2.4 overall and 6.6-1.4 in conference. Other programs with lighter remaining schedules include MAC reps Miami (Ohio), Central Michigan and Buffalo, with the Bulls projected to win the East Division.

— Ohio State has the highest win projection of any team, with 11.7, 0.4 wins more than these same numbers projected at the start of the season. The two other 11-win projections go to Alabama and Georgia, both with 11.4. That, of course, would lead to another SEC title game showdown between the teams. The only other double-digit win projections are on Clemson (10.7), Michigan (10.6), USC (10.4), UCLA (10.1) and Tennessee (10.0). Interestingly, all of those teams face their most challenging test of the season so far in their next game.

— Assuming the projections play out accurately, Clemson, Ohio State, Alabama and Georgia would make up the CFP Final Four. The other Power 5 conference teams that would be expected to contend for a spot in the College Football Playoff this year are Michigan, USC and UCLA. The Big 12, and the remaining teams in the ACC seem to have played themselves out of contention.

— Cincinnati (9.6), San Jose State (9.6), UCF (9.4), South Alabama (9.3), Liberty (9.2) and James Madison (9.2) have the highest projected win totals among the Group of 5 teams, although only one them will eventually find itself in a New Year’s 6 bowl game and none has the chance at what Cincinnati accomplished last season in making the CFP field.

— In terms of teams that have expected finishing win totals above what I projected at the start of the season, here are the teams with + 3 or greater:

James Madison (+ 4.5)

Illinois (+ 4.1)

South Alabama (+ 4)

Kansas (+ 3.8)

UNLV (+ 3.8)

Rice (+ 3.6)

San Jose State (+ 3.2)

Duke (+ 3.1) 

If you hold any season-win total wagers on these teams, you are likely either a winner already or are well on your way. 

— On the opposite side, these are the teams that are underachieving to this point and are now expected to finish with three or more wins fewer than they were at thestart of the season: 

Nebraska (-3.6)

Michigan State (-3.6)

Louisiana (-3.5)

Fresno State (-3)

It is time — or will be soon — to throw season-win total wagers for these teams in the trash.

In looking at the current standings and making any wagers based on the projections, here are my thoughts on each conference:

American

The AAC as a whole has been a bit of a disappointment in 2022, led by SMU and Houston failing to live up to lofty expectations. UCF seems most poised to take down Cincinnati and will host the Bearcats in its homecoming game on Oct. 29. If you can get a wager on the Golden Knights to win this conference at + 220 (DraftKings), I would be willing to do it myself. Quarterback Rhys Plumlee, the transfer from Ole Miss, is getting more and more comfortable each week in coach Gus Malzahn’s system.

ACC

Clemson has taken all comers so far and turned them away. The next big challenge comes Saturday when an improved Florida State team welcomes the Tigers. This clearly looks like Clemson’s conference to lose again, and at -360 according to DraftKings, the price reflects it. North Carolina is listed at + 650 and is the likely representative in the conference title game from the Coastal Division, but the better value might be Pittsburgh at + 2500. The Panthers are just a game back in the division and face the Tar Heels on Oct. 29. Either way, Clemson figures to be a double-digit favorite in the conference title game. 

Big 12

This is the conference with the most value in taking an underdog price to win. Texas is my projected winner despite being a game behind Kansas State. When QB Quinn Ewers is healthy, the Longhorns seem to be the league’s best team. They need only finish second in the standings to make the title game. Coach Steve Sarkisian’s team is listed at + 270, which remains tops in the Big 12. In terms of my power ratings, no other team is within 4.5 points.

Big Ten

Ohio State has separated itself from the rest of its rivals in the Big Ten East Division by 12 points in my power ratings. As such, it doesn’t make much sense to take an underdog here. Furthermore, this Buckeyes team is getting stronger as the season wears on. This is a true national title contender, but I’d be hesitant to take them at + 180 to win the national title. Strangely, OSU is a bigger favorite (-500) to make the CFP than to win the Big Ten (-380). I don’t see much value anywhere.

Conference USA

DraftKings didn’t have any conference title odds listed for C-USA as of press time, but if they did, UTSA would be the favorite. My projections have the Roadrunners winning the regular-season title by 1.3 games. In terms of potential opponents in the title game, UAB is at the top of the list and hosts UTSA on Nov. 5. However, in order to capture the league title in 2022, the Blazers would likely have to beat UTSA twice, which is unlikely. Only Western Kentucky should be given any other underdog consideration.

MAC

Toledo is the only team in the MAC that I have projected for more than 7.5 wins. It’s been kind of an ugly start for the league in 2022. How ugly? Well, so bad that a team that started the season 0-3 and lost to FCS Holy Cross is expected to win the East Division. That team is Buffalo, although to be fair, that side of the standings is truly up for grabs. Look for a surging Miami (Ohio) to possibly emerge from the fray.

Mountain West:

The MWC has been as big of a disappointment in 2022 as any other conference, headed by Fresno State, which has struggled to a 1-4 start and has underperformed with and without injured QB Jake Haener in the lineup. Right now the favorite in this league figures to be Boise State, although even the Broncos have been tough to gauge. They are projected to win the Mountain Division by two games and then face surprising San Jose State in the league title game. The Spartans are projected for an impressive 9.6-2.4 finish, aided greatly by a schedule that lines up one rebuilding team after another the rest of the way.

Pac-12

The biggest question mark team in college football entering the season was USC, and the Trojans have answered the call behind new coach Lincoln Riley and QB Caleb Williams. They will face their biggest test of the season Saturday at Utah, where they are 3-point dogs. This year’s Pac-12 title game matches the top two teams overall, not the division winners like in the past, so every loss will loom large. UCLA has already survived Utah but squares off with undefeated Oregon next week. If either of the two L.A. teams can go through the league schedule and remain undefeated, we could see a playoff team from this league for the first time since 2017. Oregon is the favorite at + 160 compared with + 175 for USC, but with the Trojans playing two tough road games yet, the smart money could be on UCLA at + 300.

SEC

We will know a lot more about the SEC after this week’s games. With Tennessee hosting Alabama in what could be the game of the year so far, the Vols have a chance to inject themselves into the conversation as a conference title and playoff hopeful. Remember, they still have to travel to Georgia. UT’s odds of + 850 to win this conference reflect reality, as it would seem that Alabama and Georgia are once again on a collision course. The Bulldogs are the conference favorite at -105, but I would prefer a healthy Alabama at + 105 as I feel the Tide are the better team.

Sun Belt

James Madison has emerged as one of the most pleasant surprises in FBS this year, the Dukes’ first playing at this level. They are undefeated both SU and ATS, but the brunt of their schedule is yet to come. The game at home versus Coastal Carolina figures to have division implications on the line and the Chanticleers are likely to get the backing of the betting public, but JMU is the better team right now. It would be a shame if coach Curt Cignetti’s team won the division but couldn’t play in the SBC title game. The other division pales in comparison, although South Alabama is the likely representative in the title game. With a home game versus the West’s other contender Troy upcoming, the smart money for the SBC title could be with the Jaguars at + 280.

 

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