College football strength ratings: Is Georgia still prime title contender?

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Another huge weekend of college football saw a separation of contenders and pretenders, although there are still a few teams that could go either way in the next couple of weeks. One of the teams that most experts figured to be a lock is starting to show some faults.

After a second straight lackluster outing, is it time we start questioning the title candidacy of Georgia? Although the Bulldogs are 5-0, their recent games have been anything but dominant and their Effective Strength Rating is now almost nine points worse than Alabama’s. Again … is it time for concern or are they just bored by the mediocre competition?

We probably won’t find out the answer to that until their schedule picks up dramatically at the end of October. For now, though, let’s take a closer look at my strength indicators after what was a very influential college football weekend with eight ranked teams losing.

Power Ratings

Georgia’s near upset loss at Missouri has dropped the defending champions to No. 3 in my Power Ratings and within a TD of fourth-rated Michigan. Alabama maintains the top spot with a PR of 75.5, two points better than Ohio State. Michigan, Utah, Tennessee, Clemson and Texas are next, although we could find out a bit more about a few of those teams who face difficult Week 6 road games. Utah is at UCLA, Tennessee travels to LSU, and Texas takes on Oklahoma in the Red River Rivalry game. Meanwhile, Texas survived what may wind up being its toughest test of the regular season by beating NC State last weekend. There are a few other remaining undefeated Power 5 teams that might wind up being sleeper playoff contenders by season’s end, including Ole Miss, Penn State, TCU, USC, Oklahoma State, UCLA and, gasp, Syracuse and Kansas.

Biggest upward Power Ratings movers

1. Illinois (+ 4 points)

The Illini walloped Wisconsin last week to go to 4-1 and bumped up four PR points in the process. Coach Bret Bielema’s team has lost only once, a heartbreaker at Indiana. The Illini have put together four blowout wins of at least 21 points in their other games. After holding the Badgers to an incredible 2 rushing yards, this defense has allowed just 49 rushing yards per game over its last four games. Up next is a home date with low-scoring Iowa.

2. TCU (+ 3 points)

For anyone who thought Oklahoma’s loss to Kansas State was a fluke, TCU proved otherwise by throttling the Sooners 55-24 on Saturday. The Horned Frogs gained 668 yards, the second time this season they have exceeded 600. This sleeper team is now 4-0 SU and ATS and scoring 48.5 PPG. TCU could wind up being one of those “big money” teams I described last week.

3. Duke (+ 3 points)

How much has this Duke team grown in just one year? Well, last season the Blue Devils lost 48-0 to Virginia. This year they turned it around with a 38-17 blowout victory. First-year coach Mike Elko certainly has this program headed in the right direction with its only loss coming at the hands of undefeated Kansas. Through five games, this team is allowing just 19 points per game, more than 20 pgg better than last year.

4. Navy (+ 3 points)

It’s very rare that I move a team that lost a game up three points in any given week, but Navy has proven itself far more competitive in its last two games than I had suspected. After upsetting East Carolina on the road two weeks ago, the Midshipmen almost doubled up by taking down Air Force. Although they lost 13-10, this program is finally showing some of the grittiness that is always expected.

Biggest downward movers

1. Oklahoma (-5 points)

Coach Brent Venables has always been a well-respected defensive guru, coming to Oklahoma after serving as the coordinator at Clemson for the title years. He was expected to have a huge impact on the Sooners in that regard. Over the last two weeks, however, it has been the same old Oklahoma as the defense has allowed 96 points and 1,177 yards. Of those, 636 have been on the ground as the front has been pushed around. Up next is a date with Texas, a team that can run the ball extremely well with running back Bijan Robinson.

2. Wisconsin (-4 points)

There had been rumblings of the wheels falling off at Wisconsin in the early part of the season, but Saturday’s 34-10 loss to Illinois confirmed it. Coach Paul Chryst was fired after the 2-3 start, one that culminated in the Badgers getting embarrassed at home by the Illini. This team can’t run or pass right now, and its defense is a shell of the one we’ve seen the past few years in Madison. Perhaps interim head coach Jim Leonhard can right the ship.

3. Michigan State (-3.5 points)

Just a few weeks ago, Michigan State was traveling to Washington as a 2-0 team that was ready to prove its worthiness. Since that trip, we have a clearer picture of the Spartans' prospects for 2022. They are not good. Coach Mel Tucker’s team is struggling on both sides of the ball and the schedule from here on out doesn’t suggest things will get better.

4. Virginia (-3.5 points)

One of the systems I tout each offseason details how teams with very few offensive starters returning struggle in new schemes, even with their starting quarterback returning. Their production drops significantly. That is exactly what is happening with Virginia as QB Brennan Armstrong has not been enough to help guide the Cavaliers through the early part of this first season under new head coach Tony Elliott. This team is scoring just 18 ppg against a pretty light schedule after averaging 34.6 ppg last season. The rest of the schedule will be tougher and this team isn’t ready.

Effective Strength Ratings

Most college football teams have played five games to date, meaning the Effective Strength Ratings are gaining more and more validity each week. After its rout of Arkansas on Saturday, Alabama strengthened its hold on the top spot in the ESRs with a rating of 50.7, 5.8 points better than Ohio State, and perhaps more importantly, 8.8 points better than No. 3 Georgia. Remember, the ESRs are a completely statistical measurement, with schedule strength and opponent averages being key factors. At this point, it’s interesting that the Nos. 4, 5 and 6 teams in Effective Strength — Tennessee, Utah and Michigan — are all within 0.4 points of one another. The Utes are a team to keep an eye on, as they have a loss on their resume but have played dominant football since that opening game and remain somewhat under the radar. Texas, TCU and the two FBS programs in the state of Mississippi may be a bit underrated as well, all rounding out the top 10 of the ESRs. We had some interesting movement at the bottom of the FBS list after Florida International’s shocking upset over New Mexico State last week. While the Panthers remain the worst team in the country in terms of Effective Strength, they were able to gain a bunch of ground and are now within 2.3 points of Hawaii. Colorado continues to slip and has also changed its coaching staff after recording a -7 ESR through five games.

Bettors Ratings

The market still seems to love Georgia, and the Bulldogs keep the top spot in my Bettors Ratings, with a market grade of -47, meaning bettors believe they are 47 points better than the average Division I football team (FBS and FCS). The average team would be one like UTEP, with a PR of 29. Second on the BRs is Alabama, at -43.4, 3.6 points below the top spot. Remember, the more negative, the better with this indicator. Ohio State is third at -39.1, while Michigan, Oklahoma and Clemson round out the top 6. Obviously, bettors have lost big with the Sooners the last two weeks. A few other teams that continue to command unwarranted respect are Miami, Texas A&M and Wisconsin. You can determine this by analyzing which teams are more highly viewed in the Bettors Ratings compared with the Power Ratings. On the opposite end of this strength indicator, you’ll again find FIU as the lowest-rated team, but only a half-point behind UMass. The FIU BR of + 18 is 65 points lower than Georgia.

Recent Ratings

We have a tie for the top spot in the Recent Ratings, with Alabama and Ohio State each boasting a RR of 51.4. These programs have broken away from the pack in recent weeks, so much so that no one else is within two touchdowns. The next batch of teams is all within 1.5 points of one another and includes Michigan, Utah, TCU and Illinois. Yes, you read that right, the Illini have performed as the sixth-best team in the country since their loss to Indiana in Game 2. Georgia finally checks in at the No. 7 spot, just ahead of Tennessee and LSU, two teams that will be squaring off against one another this weekend in Baton Rouge. That could be the game of the week in college football and would have been sold as a lot bigger contest had the Tigers lost not their opener to Florida State. At the bottom, you’ll find the usual suspects, FIU and New Mexico State, 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 Marshall, Florida Atlantic and Virginia Tech. Sometimes teams performing in this manner can prove to be gold to go against.

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 five games to this point, the SSR ratings are also proving to be a valid indicator of which teams have tested themselves to this point and which haven’t. The most tested team to this point is Notre Dame (52.05 average opponent PR), which had last weekend off but now faces a tough BYU team in a neutral game in Las Vegas. Next in line is Colorado, with an average opponent power rating of 51. The Buffaloes’ grueling slate has taken a toll and coach Karl Dorrell has been dismissed after an 0-5 SU and ATS start. The other teams that have played tough slates thus far are Arkansas, Florida, Georgia Tech and Oregon State. Interestingly, the Yellow Jackets’ tough schedule helped ready them for their upset win at Pitt last weekend. The FBS team that has played the easiest slate to this point is UNLV, which at 4-1, sees the schedule toughness pick up dramatically over the next five games. I wouldn’t count on the Runnin’ Rebels being adequately prepared based on who they’ve played so far. Other teams on the weak end of the schedule-strength meter are FIU, James Madison and Western Kentucky. JMU is one of the remaining unbeaten teams at 4-0 SU and ATS but has four tough road tests in its next five games.

FCS Teams

North Dakota State has separated itself by 3.5 points from its FCS competition through Week 5 and is the obvious favorite for the title in January. The Bison’s PR of 43.5 tops the 40 of Montana and the 39.5 of South Dakota State. However, Weber State is No. 1 in the FCS in both Effective Strength at 15.5, a half-point above Sacramento State, which tops the Recent Ratings list at 18.6. Interestingly, other than NDSU, the other aforementioned teams all come from the Big Sky Conference. NDSU is the top FCS team according to the Bettors Ratings, at -15.6. If you’re wondering, that is 31.4 points below Georgia’s D-I leading BR of -47. The worst team in all of Division I football remains Presbyterian, with a -18 Power Rating, although that is actually up four points after the Blue Hose almost upset Morehead State last week.

 

 

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