Everyone knew Week 7 in college football was going to be big, but we got even more than we expected with several key games going down to the wire.
No game was bigger than Alabama-Tennessee, with the Volunteers winning a 52-49 classic with a last-second field goal. That outcome, along with the results in USC-Utah, TCU-Oklahoma State, Michigan-Penn State and Clemson-Florida State, gave the playoff picture its biggest shakeup of the season. Could the Tide’s playoff hopes be in trouble? Did the Tennessee win set up a potential threesome of playoff teams from the SEC? Are TCU, Clemson and Michigan worthy of joining the elite?
I’ll dig into some of those questions as we take a look at how my strength indicators reacted to a huge Week 7. If you want to dig deeper, check out the complete list of all of my Strength Ratings.
For as popular of a consensus No. 1 team as Alabama was heading into the season, the team certainly hasn’t lived up to expectations so far. After what should have been a loss in Week 2 at Texas, the Tide also struggled in a four-point home win against Texas A&M before finally being knocked off by Tennessee on Saturday. Even though Nick Saban’s team always seems to get its opponents’ best efforts, the Tide was expected to cruise through the regular season. That said, they still control their destiny for another playoff appearance, and the Strength Ratings indicate they are only off by a point or two from preseason expectations. It just doesn’t feel like it. With Mississippi State coming up on Saturday and then road trips to LSU and Ole Miss following their bye week, the next three games will not be easy. Ohio State was off last week and maintains the No. 1 spot in the Power Ratings with a home game against low-scoring Iowa on tap. The Buckeyes will face a tough test after that when they travel to Penn State. Georgia leapfrogs Alabama after blowing out Vanderbilt and will have this week off before a treacherous four-game stretch starting with Florida. Michigan, after its rout of Penn State, is locked up at No. 4, followed by Tennessee a half point later.
Biggest upward movers after Week 7:
Colorado (+ 3 points): Fans storming the field in Boulder after the Buffaloes’ win over California was unusual, but considering the depths this team fell to in the first five games of the season, it was also understandable. Apparently, all it took to turn things around was firing much of the coaching staff. Colorado played its best game of the season and deserved the win over Cal.
UL Lafayette (+ 3 points): Louisiana had its best defensive outing of the season on Wednesday in upsetting Marshall as a double-digit dog on the road. The Ragin’ Cajuns allowed a season-low 276 yards and won the game despite going without starting QB Chandler Fields. At 3-3, ULL still isn’t likely to reach its season win total prop of 8.5, but the defending Sun Belt champs are in good position to make it back to the conference title game.
Tennessee (+ 2.5 points): I’ve focused on Alabama a lot in this report and don’t want to take away from what Tennessee accomplished Saturday. If you recall, the Vols were my No. 1 potential big-money team in college football when I wrote about the subject a few weeks ago. They certainly haven’t disappointed. With their game at Georgia on Nov. 5 being the only one in which they won’t be double-digit favorites the rest of the way, it’s quite possible that Josh Heupel’s team has already secured a playoff position, assuming they take care of business. If they beat Georgia, they likely go to the SEC title game unbeaten. If they lose to Georgia, they likely won’t play in the SEC title game and close the regular season as a one-loss team with a win over Alabama. After all the carnage that will occur between now and college football’s version of Selection Sunday, it’s probably enough. This team is potent, gritty and now proven as well.
Stanford (+ 2.5 points): Colorado wasn’t the only Pac-12 team to pick itself up off the mat this week with a big upset. Stanford also did it, coming up with an even bigger win on the road at Notre Dame. There were few signs other than the play of QB Tanner McKee that the Cardinal had any chance of pulling off such a mammoth upset, but they put together their best defensive outing of the season. At 2-4, they keep alive their hopes of beating their season win total prop of 4.5.
Biggest downward movers after Week 7:
NC State (-3.5 points): Between the Wolfpack’s loss at Syracuse on Saturday and the announcement that QB Devin Leary will miss the rest of the season, I have downgraded NC State’s Power Rating by 3.5 points. This means I will not be doing in-game adjustments for the Leary injury going forward. This team is a 50 PR now and any adjustments will be based only off of results.
California (-3 points): Betting Cal on a weekly basis this season has to be maddening for backers. The Golden Bears have looked strong in a couple of blowout wins, only to turn around and look awful in other games. What happened at Colorado was a continuation of sorts in that this team isn’t usually trustworthy when laying points. I dropped them three points after the loss.
Western Michigan (-3 points): I dropped WMU three points last week, so the Broncos have dropped six points on my Power Ratings in two weeks. The latest loss was a 33-14 decision at home against Ohio. At 2-5 and being outscored by nearly 10 PPG, WMU looks like a long shot to return to a bowl game.
Notre Dame (-2.5 points): Notre Dame’s disappointing season hit another low point Saturday with an unexpected 16-14 home loss to a struggling Stanford team. The loss snapped a three-game winning streak in which the Irish seemed far removed from the Week 2 loss to Marshall. They are now 0-3 ATS in South Bend, not a great start to the Marcus Freeman era. A home game against UNLV is next, and hopefully ND doesn’t take the Rebels for granted.
Effective Strength Ratings
I indicated earlier that Alabama, despite the loss Saturday and a couple of other near misses, still possesses the Strength Ratings of an elite team. Currently, the Tide are No. 2 in my Effective Strength Ratings. Their ESR of 45.6 is second only to Ohio State (46.5) and just ahead of Georgia (45.3). So, despite all of the early stumbles by the top three teams, those three remain at the top in all three of my most important indicators. Next in line in the ESRs is Tennessee at 41.5. To give you a better indication of how things move on a grander scale after a game such as the Vols’ 52-49 win over Alabama, that result, combined with all of the other outcomes in Week 7, saw Tennessee gain 2.2 points on Alabama in the ESRs. The Vols are now within 4.1 points head-to-head, meaning this strength indicator suggests Alabama is still the better team, by four points, despite the loss in Knoxville. Texas checks in at No. 5, more than three points below Tennessee. Michigan, USC and Ole Miss are next in line. Keep an eye on UCF (28.9 ESR, No. 15) and Illinois (30.5 ESR, No. 12) as two teams whose stats indicate they might be better than they are getting credit for.
On the opposite end, Florida International maintains its firm grasp of the title of worst team in the FBS, with an Effective Strength Rating of -22.9 (although that’s 3.1 points better than last week). Massachusetts (-15.3), Hawaii (-14.8), New Mexico State (-12.5) and Akron (-11) round out the FBS teams with ESRs worse than -10. However, Hawaii and New Mexico State did win games last weekend.
Alabama is still the most respected team in the betting markets, at least for another week as we wait to see what happens against Mississippi State. The Tide have a BR of -47.5, 3.5 points better than No. 2 Georgia. Ohio State checks in at No. 3 with a BR of -43.5. This means that according to how bettors have viewed things over the first seven full weeks of the season, the Tide would be 4-point favorites over Ohio State on a neutral field. Obviously, the other rating sets don’t share that optimism, but it goes to show how much bettors continue to respect Saban’s team. Perhaps the most noteworthy observation from the Bettors Ratings: There isn’t a single team that the markets respect enough to be within 9.5 points of the top three. No. 4 Michigan has a BR of -33.8. There is a relatively big group after that, with the next seven teams all within five points of the Wolverines. Potentially overrated teams include Washington and Pittsburgh, while those not getting the market respect they deserve are TCU, UCLA and UCF.
Four of the bottom-five teams in the Bettors Ratings are the same as the ESRs, with Connecticut replacing Akron in the BRs. FIU is the least respected team, with a BR of + 19.5, 67 points worse than Alabama.
In response to a question I received last week from a reader: In situations where a team’s Bettors Rating rank is similar to other indicators, it’s a good sign that bettors and those setting the odds have a good barometer on the actual strength of the team, thus making that team more predictable from a handicapping standpoint. The team’s performance may vary off of that perception, but you’ll probably see less volatility in the team’s lines each week.
Recent Ratings are always where we see the most variation from the other strength indicators. That said, Ohio State again tops this chart, with an RR of 48. Even though the Buckeyes didn’t play last week, their RR improved by 0.9 points based on how their recent opponents fared in Week 7. The next team in line in terms of how well it’s playing over the last month or so is Texas, which managed to survive an upset bid by Iowa State on Saturday. The Longhorns have a tough test on deck with a trip to Stillwater to face Oklahoma State. Georgia, Tennessee and Michigan round out the top five, while we don’t get a glimpse of Alabama until No. 6 in the RRs. TCU, Illinois and UCF are next in line and potential sleepers. A bit further down the list we’ll find UCLA and Oregon at Nos. 13 and 14. Those teams go head-to-head Saturday with the winner staying on track for a berth in the Pac-12 title game.
Who is the coldest team in college football right now? Well, on a quick scan of the RRs you’ll again find the usual teams, but at the very bottom is Nevada, with an RR of -13.8. The Wolf Pack are off a loss to Hawaii and are fulfilling their destiny after being the first-ever team in my preseason Stability Scores to show a score of zero. The Power 5 team with the lowest Recent Rating? Vanderbilt, which isn’t surprising after it faced Alabama, Ole Miss and Georgia in its last three games.
Schedule Strength Ratings
The Schedule Strength Ratings reflect the difficulty of each team’s schedule that has already been played. For the second straight week, a team that just beat BYU takes over the top spot in schedule difficulty. Last week it was Notre Dame; this week it’s Arkansas. The Razorbacks’ average opponent power rating this season has been 51.5, which is the equivalent of playing a team like Oregon State every week on a neutral field. Next in line is Auburn at 50.16, followed by Notre Dame at 49.18. Of those three, only Notre Dame plays this week (versus UNLV), so there figures to be little or no movement at the top after Week 8. If you’re wondering which Group of 5 team has played the toughest slate to date, that would be Houston, checking in at No. 36 overall. UAB has played the easiest schedule in FBS, followed by FIU and James Madison. The Blazers’ schedule will pick up significantly in the final six games however. Last week in this space I remarked that Minnesota’s easy start could come back to haunt, and it did again last week as the Gophers lost their second straight game, this time at Illinois. Could undefeated Syracuse be next? The Orange have faced the Power 5’s easiest schedule and take a trip to Clemson on Saturday.
After a decisive FCS game on Saturday matching the Nos. 1 and 2 teams in the polls, I have a change atop my FCS Power Ratings. South Dakota State’s win at North Dakota State earns the Jackrabbits the top spot with a PR of 40. They do share the honor, however, with Sacramento State, which is enjoying a solid season so far. Overall, this looks to be the most wide-open race for an FCS title in years, with all of my top seven teams within three points of one another. These seven teams represent four different conferences as well, so the playoffs figure to have fantastic intrigue. Weber State has rather quietly played itself into the top Effective Strength Rating among FCS teams, with an ESR of 18.0. To put that number in perspective, it’s 28.5 points less than Ohio State. On top of the Bettors Ratings, as usual, is NDSU, which will try to rebound from last week’s loss. Bettors see the Bison as a 15.8-point favorite over the average college football team (FBS and FCS) right now. The best FCS team in my Recent Ratings is again Mercer, which saw its Power Rating move up to 37 after a recent surge. In terms of FCS teams playing the toughest schedules so far, the top two are Eastern Washington (66th) and Portland State (81st).