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Market still catching up to reality in college football

By Jeff Fogle  (VSiN City newsletter) 

We put college football in the spotlight Wednesday with a look at estimated “market” Power Ratings, how those add context to the championship chase, and then an in-depth stat preview of #1 Georgia at #10 Auburn. Let’s get to work!

College Football: Estimated “market” Power Ratings in the Power 5 conferences

Every Wednesday we update our estimated “market” Power Ratings for the major conferences. If you’re new to the website or this newsletter, I need to emphasize that these aren’t my “personal” Power Ratings. These are a good faith estimate of how “the market” is rating teams based on this week’s point spreads. 

We use a standard three points for home-field advantage (except for neutral field games, like Texas Tech/Baylor this week in Arlington) to turn each spread into a neutral field equivalent. That gives us a couplet to place on the master scale. Washington is -6 at slumping Stanford this Friday night. That means Washington is 9 points better on a neutral field. We try to figure out where those teams go based on that information, other recent point spreads, and a sprinkling of common sense. We decided on Washington 86, Stanford 77 (docking Stanford from prior weeks for its ugly recent form). That’s just an estimate. Maybe Washington should be 87, Stanford 78. Maybe we’ve misread how the market sees the top of the Pac 12, and it’s only Washington 84, Stanford 75. We won’t really know until the bowls how the conferences relate to each other. 

If you think we’ve misplaced a couplet, please post a comment in the Facebook widget below, drop us a note, or let me know directly on twitter @JeffFogle

Notre Dame isn’t in a major conference, so we deal with it first. We’re lifting the Irish up to 86 because they’re laying three points at Miami…which means SIX better than the Hurricanes on a neutral field. The market sent mixed signals through the week on Miami ahead of the Virginia Tech game. It’s possible that 86-80 is off a smidge in either direction. The Irish have been in good form for several weeks, and Miami had legitimate stats vs. the Hokies, but had some ugly results in prior weeks. 

Onto the Power 5 conferences…

  • SEC West: Alabama 94, Auburn 82, LSU 77, Mississippi State 77, Ole Miss 67, Texas A&M 65, Arkansas 62.
  • SEC East: Georgia 87, Missouri 74, South Carolina 71, Florida 67, Kentucky 67, Tennessee 67, Vanderbilt 66.

Alabama and Georgia are starting to settle into an identifying price as they play upper division squads in the SEC. They were covering inflated lines vs. the dregs. But now we see that Georgia is -2.5 at Auburn, while Alabama is -14 at Mississippi State (after being -20.5 at home vs. LSU last week). We’ve seen anywhere from Alabama -6, -8, -9, or -10 over Georgia in the eventual SEC Championship game according to different oddsmaking sources. This scale has that at Alabama -7, which is at least in the middle of the neighborhood. We’ll know more when Alabama faces Auburn. Off the radar, note that Missouri’s been a hard-charger in recent weeks, covering its last three games by 32.5, 26., and 27.5 points.  

  • Big 10 East: Ohio State 88, Penn State 86, Michigan 80, Michigan State 76, Indiana 70, Maryland 61, Rutgers 58.
  • Big 10 West: Wisconsin 83, Iowa 73, Northwestern 70, Purdue 68, Nebraska 68, Minnesota 67, Illinois 58.

Ohio State and Penn State both missed by a lot last week, causing some fall from grace with this week’s pricing. Ohio State is still being priced like a Final Four team, and probably will be the rest of the season. The market is extremely likely to have the Buckeyes favored over Wisconsin in the Big 12 Championship game (if both get there). Because of won-lost records, Wisconsin has the best shot to break into the Final Four brackets from this league. 

  • Big 12: Oklahoma 85, Oklahoma State 83, TCU 82, Texas 78, Iowa State 74, West Virginia 73, Kansas State 72, Texas Tech 71, Baylor 63, Kansas 48.

Sharps were liking Oklahoma prior to kickoff of Bedlam last week, and were rewarded. That shoots the Sooners back into the championship picture. Though, OU has to play TCU this week, and then will have to win the new Big 12 championship game to stay a one-loss national contender. As a group, this could be a very interesting contingent come bowl time (especially if Texas can win two of its last three). 

  • ACC Atlantic: Clemson 88, NC State 78, Louisville 75, Wake Forest 75, Florida State 74, Syracuse 73, Boston College 72.
  • ACC Coastal: Miami 80, Virginia Tech 80, Georgia Tech 74, Pittsburgh 69, Virginia 67, Duke 66, North Carolina 62.

We lifted Wake Forest a bit from last week…to make last week’s line match the new spot for Notre Dame. It’s likely we had mis-guessed for both given how much respect ND is getting at Miami this week. Fun, competitive conference in the middle of the pack this season. Another group to watch come bowl time, particularly as dis-respected underdogs.

  • Pac 12 North: Washington 86, Washington State 79, Stanford 77, California 70, Oregon 68, Oregon State 60 (QB out).
  • Pac 12 South: USC 83, Arizona 79, Utah 75, Arizona State 72, UCLA 71, Colorado 67.

I have to admit this has been a tough one to read in recent weeks…with some teams catching fire then flaming out, others dealing with injuries. USC is back in form after bad showings at Washington State and Notre Dame. Washington’s finally ready to be challenged by Stanford (maybe), Washington State (blood rivalry), and USC (probably in the P12 title tilt). The Huskies laid eggs last year vs. USC and Alabama. Far from a sure thing they’ll play to that rating in these pending tests. 

ESPN announces the new Playoff Rankings every Tuesday night. For the time being, we’ll emphasize our estimated “market” Power Ratings for those teams on Wednesdays for those of you who are just interested in the Final Four because of futures bets.

College Football Playoff Rankings: Top five stay the same, but it might be about to get messy

Let’s jump right in.

College Playoff Rankings (estimated “market” Power Rating in parenthesis)

1…Georgia (87)

2…Alabama (94)

3…Notre Dame (86)

4…Clemson (88)

5…Oklahoma (85)

6…TCU (82)

7…Miami (80)

8…Wisconsin (83)

9…Washington (86)

10…Auburn (82)

11…USC (83)

12…Michigan State (76)

13…Ohio State (88)

14…Penn State (86)

We went all the way down to #14 this week just to show you how far Ohio State and Penn State plummeted. And to show you that those two teams are still being priced like Final Four contenders. You’ll often hear Vegas-based media talking about how oddsmakers or some sort of Las Vegas “influence” should be allowed into the decision-making process. While that makes sense, you can see above it’s not a solution. Just a different kind of mess. 

Like Ohio State needs more people lobbying for them! Honestly, there’s just not enough evidence in these short college football seasons for ANY methodology to say with CERTAINTY who the top four teams should be. Many current oddsmakers would still have Ohio State in the Final Four with two losses. Respected MIT computer guru Jeff Sagarin still has Penn State at #2 in his rankings even after they suffered a second loss last week. Football Outsiders has Oklahoma down at #12 despite the Sooners’ road wins over their #2 Ohio State and their #10 Oklahoma State! (Okie State went UP from FO’s #11 to #10 by losing a home game by 10 points to OU!). 

If the process was ONLY oddsmakers and quants, you’d be surprised how disappointed college football lovers would be with the results. 

Ideally the regular season and conference championships help create a pseudo “Round of 16” and “Round of 8” that help narrow down “deserving” candidates by rewarding the winners. That sets up this week’s blockbuster schedule.

#1 Georgia at #10 Auburn (previewed momentarily)

#3 Notre Dame at #7 Miami (previewed Thursday in VSiN City)

#5 Oklahoma hosting #6 TCU (previewed Friday in VSiN City)

Gonna’ be fun. 

College Football: Stat preview of #1 Georgia (9-0) at #10 Auburn (7-2)

Georgia (-2.5) probably isn’t the best team in the country. The Bulldogs have the best “resume” because a road win at Notre Dame is better than anything Alabama has done this season. Can the Bulldogs add a road win at Auburn?


  • Georgia: 6.8 on offense, 4.2 on defense (vs #52 schedule)
  • Auburn: 6.4 on offense, 4.4 on defense (vs #39 schedule)

A lot of pundits have been slamming Alabama’s schedule (we use the schedule rankings from Jeff Sagarin of USA Today). Georgia’s is only slightly better. Both play in what’s turned out to be an out-manned conference. Alabama facing healthy Florida State on a neutral field was a legitimate challenge. Don’t make the mistake of thinking Georgia heads to Auburn “battle-tested.” It survived a nailbiter at Notre Dame and deserve credit for it. You’ve got to do that more than once to be battle tested! Georgia has the YPP margin differential edge at plus 2.6 to plus 2.0. That shrinks a bit when you adjust for schedule strength (Auburn played at Clemson and LSU). Edge to Georgia, but possibly not enough by itself to justify being a ROAD favorite of -2.5. 

National Rushing Rankings

  • Georgia: #9 per carry, #8 per game; #9 per-carry defense, #5 per-game defense
  • Auburn: #35 per carry, #19 per game, #16 per-carry defense, #24 per-game defense

We went with that shorthand because both of these teams do prefer to move the ball safely on the ground. We need context for offense and defense. Georgia is a national championship threat because they have a GREAT rushing attack (with game-breaking weaponry) and a stellar stop unit. Auburn also excels, but just a teensy bit less impressively even after you mentally adjust for schedule strength. The SEC plays smash mouth football. 

Passing Stats

  • Georgia: 9.2 yards-per-attempt, 15 TD’s, 6 INT
  • Auburn: 9.0 yards-per-attempt, 13 TD’s, 3 INT

Virtual clones, which would have seemed impossible back in August when pundits were putting Auburn’s Jarrett Stidham on the Heisman list because he was going to be perfect for this offense. Only 13 passing TD’s through NINE games is way below expectations. These teams are winning on the ground. But they do make frequent big pass plays "between the 20's" that goose the per-attempt yardage. Stidham has been great in the risk/reward area, with just three picks. Jake Fromm is slightly more likely to make miscues. That fact that this game is being played at Auburn could frustrate Fromm in a way we haven’t seen yet. 

Impact Defense 

  • Georgia: 32% third down pct-allowed, 14 takeaways, 17 sacks
  • Auburn: 34% third down pct-allowed, 13 takeaways, 26 sacks

Also very similar, until you get to sacks. This could matter because Fromm is the more likely of the two starting QB’s to get flustered if his team falls behind, or if it’s time to win a nailbiter in a tight fourth quarter. 

The overall composite we see above doesn’t show much separation. Yes, Georgia is better. That’s why they’re a small road favorite. We don’t see anything suggesting the Bulldogs should be favored by more than a field goal, or that Auburn is getting disrespected in this line. But as you mentally play out the game…

  • Georgia may have trouble running consistently vs. this sturdy Auburn defense
  • Fromm may have to make some plays with his arm
  • As the road QB, Fromm is the more likely of the two QB’s to get sacked or throw a pressured pick

Can Stidham win the game with his arm? If you look at “super-league” matchups against quality opposition, Stidham has been a huge disappointment. 

  • Auburn’s passing line was just 13-24-0-79 at Clemson, as the team went 6 of 18 on third downs and 1 of 2 on fourth downs.
  • Auburn’s passing line was a woeful 9-26-0-165 at LSU, as the team went 3 of 15 on third downs and 0 of 2 on fourth downs.

That’s a two-game passing total of 22-50-0-244! No interceptions (safe), but 28 incomplete passes and only 4.9 yards-per-attempt in efforts that saw the Tigers go 9 of 33 on third down tries. 

Essentially, both teams will try to play it safe. If you’re betting Georgia, it’s because you trust Fromm to avoid mistakes and you like your chances with those great running backs to get enough on the board to cover a tight point spread. If you’re betting Auburn, you’re rooting for a win in the turnover category to push you over the top. Nothing from the tests vs. Clemson and LSU suggest "War Eagle" glory here. 

Intangibles? It’s not uncommon for teams high up in the national polls to get nervous and conservative under a national spotlight. It’s one thing to get fired up to “win your way into” something important. It’s another to feel like you have to “protect” your position. None of last week’s top four teams in the Playoff Poll covered their spreads. Georgia and Alabama were conservative on offense while grinding against very high numbers (both teams barely scored the spread!). Clemson and Notre Dame seemed to back off on defense in a way that let opposing offenses find a rhythm and light up the scoreboard. 

The scenario “beyond the numbers” would be Georgia playing too conservatively against a fired-up home underdog…falling behind…then watching its kid quarterback make mistakes when pressured in front of this hostile crowd. Georgia’s best case “within” the numbers we’ve read would be forcing Auburn to punt all night while star Bulldogs’ running backs bust a couple of runs to get them some air on the scoreboard. 

Put on your bibs, it’s going to be a slobberknocker!

That’s it for today. See you Thursday to preview Notre Dame/Miami as our college football series continues, along with the Seattle/Arizona Thursday nighter in the NFL. That’s also our day to look at estimated “market” Power Ratings in the NBA. Some college hoops is coming up soon too to get you ready for Friday’s opening night. 

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