College Football Playoffs odds and contenders
As the 2023 college football season rolls on, there has been one question persisting among everyone from casual fans to data-driven models: are any of these teams elite? Two-time defending champion Georgia has looked mortal to this point, escaping Auburn last week on the road in a game where Auburn had fewer than 100 passing yards.
Perennial powerhouse Alabama has looked extremely flawed on offense so far and lost a game before the calendar turned to October. The list goes on. We’ll call it “parity” in college football this year. How do this year’s championship contenders stack up against playoff-era champions through the lens of my T Shoe Index?
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From 2014-2022, the average National Championship team registered a 42.4 TSI offensive rating, which is how many points that team would be expected to score against the average FBS team. The best offensive rating in the CFP era has been the 2019 Joe Burrow-led LSU Tigers, and the worst offensive rating to win a title has been the 2017 Alabama Crimson Tide, a team that had to bench its starting QB Jalen Hurts in the national title game to secure a championship.
So far this season, only four FBS teams have a 42.4 rating or higher: Oklahoma, Washington, Ole Miss and USC. I would consider three of those teams legitimate contenders (sorry, Ole Miss). Oklahoma has its first major test of the season this week as it takes on Texas in the Red River Rivalry, so that game will tell us a lot more about both teams’ ability to truly compete for a title this year. Washington scored below expectation last week against Arizona, and the heavy lifting required to get to the playoff still lies in front of the Huskies. I have no doubts about the USC offense’s ability to score on anyone and keep them in high-level games, but the other side of the ball, however…
The National Championship betting odds currently have all of these teams as +1500 or better, with Ole Miss being the longest shot at +12000. Given that Oklahoma has both the highest TSI rating among this bunch and the easiest schedule, per TSI, the Sooners could be worth a look at +2500.
The average defensive rating of the CFP era has been 14.1, meaning the average champion would only be expected to allow two touchdowns to the average FBS team. The best defensive rating is unsurprisingly the 2021 Georgia Bulldogs, with a stingy rating of 8.7 (!!), while the worst was 2014 Ohio State with a 21.7 defensive rating (good thing they had Ezekiel Elliott and Michael Thomas on the offensive side).
So far in 2023, five teams have a defensive rating of 14.1 or better: Michigan, Ohio State, Alabama, Texas and Oklahoma. Obviously, Texas and Alabama already played, Texas and Oklahoma play this weekend, and Michigan and Ohio State will play in November to settle all of this on the field, but it’s exciting as a college football fan to see these teams – all of whom I’d consider true contenders – at that championship caliber with what Nick Saban would say is the most important side of the ball.
What sticks out to me on defense is Ohio State and Oklahoma being in the top five (and yes, these numbers are opponent-adjusted) given how poor both looked in big games last year on defense. Credit Jim Knowles and Brent Venables for turning those units around in a big way to start this season. Oddsmakers are valuing these defense-led teams more in the futures market, as Michigan (+400), Texas and Ohio State (+750) all have better odds than any of the aforementioned top offenses.
Depending on how you think the Red River Rivalry game will go this weekend, this might be the best time to buy Texas at this price; although, a loss (as TSI projects) could create more value on the Longhorns after this week. After beating Notre Dame, the Ohio State stock is certainly not at its low point, so I’d hold off on betting the Buckeyes for now and Michigan’s price should stay relatively flat until mid-November when they go to Happy Valley, so we’ll monitor that weekly and try to find the right time to buy if you believe in the Wolverines’ title chances.
It’s still very early in the season, so these numbers and teams in contention will surely change, but the average power rating of national champions in the CFP era is 29.7 and only one team currently meets that threshold: Oklahoma. That could easily come crashing down this weekend against Texas, but I think this gives us a good snapshot of which teams have been among the historical elites as we put a bow on September and head into conference play. I’ll update this comparison again heading into November, which is truly where contenders show up. As it stands, I would consider roughly a dozen teams as truly in the mix for the CFP. What an exciting way to end the four-team playoff era.
To learn more about who I am or what my T Shoe Index is, be sure to read my introduction on VSiN.com and check out my free CFB guide with ratings, projections and win probabilities for every single game this season and follow me on X, @TShoeIndex. See below for the top 10 units on both sides of the ball in my TSI ratings: