College football’s regular season wrapped up this past weekend and what an impactful weekend it was with Michigan’s upset of Ohio State the highlight among several unexpected results. The Wolverines locked up a spot in the Big Ten title game and essentially, a berth in the College Football Playoff.
LSU and Clemson were also beaten in upset fashion, all but eliminating them from CFP contention, while TCU and USC fortified their playoff resumes with impressive wins. All that’s left for those two teams to do to join Michigan and Georgia in the playoff field is to win their conference championship games this weekend. It won’t be easy, however, as neither the Horned Frogs (versus Kansas State) nor the Trojans (versus Utah) are favored by more than a field goal. And USC is out to avenge its only loss of the season.
Let’s take a closer look at my final regular-season strength indicators heading into Championship Week, with most of the other bowl-eligible teams having wrapped up their schedules.
Defending champion Georgia finishes the regular season atop my Power Ratings, with a PR of 72.5. That is 2.5 points better than Ohio State and 3.0 points better than Alabama. As you’ll see, the Buckeyes’ strength indicators took a serious hit after their performances of the last two weeks. Michigan made the biggest upward move of the top teams, landing on a season-high 68 after their rout at Columbus. Tennessee rounds out the top five with a PR of 67.5 after demolishing Vanderbilt on Saturday. However, keep in mind that because QB Hendon Hooker’s season-ending injury occurred so late in the season, his absence is deducted from my ratings on a game-by-game basis, so effectively, the Volunteers’ PR for their bowl game will be 63. Texas, Penn State, TCU, Utah, USC and Kansas State round out the top 11 and the group with a PR of 60 or higher.
At the opposite end of the PRs, Florida International finishes the season as the lowest-rated FBS team, with a PR of 14. That winds up being 2.0 points worse than UMass and 5.0 points below New Mexico.
Biggest upward Power Ratings movers after Week 13
1. New Mexico State (+4.5 points)
As I explained early in the season, I rarely move any team more than 4 points in any given week. It takes a really unusual effort for me to do this. Well, New Mexico State wrapped up the regular season with a tremendous effort, winning 49-14 at Liberty as a 24-point underdog. You may have overlooked it, but the Aggies ended the regular season on a 4-1 SU and ATS run to finish 5-6, and they have applied for a bowl-eligibility waiver having played only 11 games. Whether or not they get it, this has been a season of tremendous growth for the program after winning just five total games in the past three seasons.
2. Kent State (+3.5 points)
Admittedly, I make some mistakes on teams, and I probably downgraded Kent State too much after its home loss to Eastern Michigan last week. The Golden Flashes recovered with a big upset win at Buffalo. Throughout MAC play, they demonstrated fantastic balance on offense. Unfortunately, it won’t be enough to secure a bowl bid as they finished 5-7.
3. Temple (+3.5 points)
Another team that finishes shy of bowl eligibility but closed the regular season in impressive fashion was Temple. The Owls nearly upset East Carolina, losing 49-46 while gaining 527 yards through the air. At 3-9, coach Stan Drayton’s team obviously failed to reach its season goals, but having gone 5-1 ATS down the stretch wile scoring 36 points or more three times lends to some good building blocks for 2023.
4. James Madison (+3.5 points)
While the Dukes weren’t eligible for a bowl game this season, they certainly proved capable of competing at a high level in their first year of FBS, finishing 8-3 and closing the schedule with a resounding 47-7 rout of Coastal Carolina. The score differential might not even do justice to the degree of blowout it was either, as JMU outgained the Chanticleers 512-183.
Biggest downward movers after Week 13
1. Ohio State (-4 points)
Facing its biggest rival in a revenge motivation spot with CFP and Big Ten title game berths at stake, Ohio State picked the worst time to come up with its worst performance of 2022. The Buckeyes took a 20-17 lead into the half against Michigan only to see things completely unravel in the second half, falling 45-23. The 532 yards allowed to the Wolverines were easily a season high. Now, OSU needs big-time help to reach the playoff.
2. Iowa (-3.5 points)
Another Big Ten team that had a division title on the line and came up woefully short was Iowa, which was upended as a double-digit favorite at home by rival Nebraska. It took the uninspired Hawkeyes a full half to wake up, but it was too late. Now they await their bowl destination rather than competing for a conference title on Saturday.
3. Liberty (-3 points)
On the opposite end of New Mexico State’s shocking win was Liberty, which dropped its third straight game to close out the regular season and ultimately may have been negatively affected by the news that coach Hugh Freeze was set to leave for Auburn. The Flames were once 8-1. Three double-digit upsets later, they stumble into a bowl game at 8-4.
4. Vanderbilt (-3 points)
Vanderbilt had bowl eligibility on the line against its biggest rival, which by the way was coming off an ugly upset loss and was down to its second-string QB. The Commodores did not respond, losing 56-0 to Tennessee while yielding 371 rushing yards. It was a tremendously disappointing end to the season, although at 5-7, coach Clark Lea’s team did equal the program’s win total of the last three seasons combined.
Effective Strength Ratings
With the regular-season schedule over, the Effective Strength Ratings essentially define a team’s statistical power. It’s often said that the numbers don’t lie, and I am a big believer in that when it comes to my Effective Stats. Heading into the postseason, Georgia leads the country with an ESR of 45.8, which is equivalent to about a 74.5 PR. The reason I have the Bulldogs as a PR of 72.5, however, is that their Recent Rating is equivalent to only 68.5, and strength ratings in terms of yards per play is equivalent to 72.3. On a surface level, their lack of urgency in several games this season, including Saturday versus overmatched Georgia Tech, is a big concern. Still, the ESR of 45.8 is 3.7 points better than Alabama and 4.1 points ahead of Tennessee. Ohio State is fourth at 41.2. You have to go down to No. 5 with Michigan at 40.0 to find any of the teams that Georgia is right now expected to compete with in the CFP. Of note, the other two top contenders for the CFP and their ESRs are TCU (34.5) and USC (31.4). Of course, both of those teams still have work to do to ensure their spots in the four-team playoff. The Horned Frogs and Trojans rank ninth and 11th, respectively, in Effective Strength Rating heading into their conference title games. Interestingly, those ranks are each one spot behind their upcoming opponents, Kansas State (8th) and Utah (10th). At the bottom, Florida International cements its grasp of the title as worst team in FBS football, with an Effective Strength Rating of -17.2, a full 63 points worse than Georgia, although at one point earlier in the season, the gap between FIU and the top spot was approximately 75 points, so some improvement was made late in the season.
Interestingly, my Bettors Ratings show a completely different team at the top, that being Ohio State. The markets loved the Buckeyes going into their game versus Michigan, so it will be interesting to see how they reach when OSU’s next game is announced. Clearly, the market was wrong on coach Ryan Day’s team, rating them 2.3 points better than anyone else. Currently, Ohio State’s BR is -47.2, 2.3 points better than Georgia’s, and 4.8 points better than Alabama’s. Big Ten West champ Michigan is No. 4 at -38.8, and if you are starting to project out playoff lines, this indicator shows the Wolverines as 6.1 points below Georgia, the same team they faced in last year’s semifinals. TCU has a BR of -28.8 and USC -28. Obviously both teams are rated at least 10 points worse than Michigan by the markets. Elsewhere, Florida State makes its first top-10 appearance of the season, coming in at No. 9 with a BR of -29.5. The Seminoles will carry a ton of momentum into their eventual bowl game. On the opposite end of this strength indicator, you’ll again find FIU as the lowest-rated team, 0.8 points behind UMass with a rating of 12.7. Remember, the more negative the better for this ratings set, and thus the FIU BR of +12.7 is 59.9 points worse than OSU’s.
The deeper we get into any college football season, the more important the Recent Ratings become, as teams naturally go through ups and downs, and it is the teams that are playing best recently that figure to carry the most momentum into their conference title or bowl games. Currently, the team with the highest RR is TCU, with a 46.1 rating, the equivalent of a 74.5 Power Rating for recent play. That would be the highest power rating in the country had the Horned Frogs sustained that level of play for the entire season. However, it does give some credence to the thought that they are capable of playing with any team right now. Penn State heads into its bowl game tied with Kansas State with the No. 2 RR at +45. Michigan checks in at No. 4 at 44.4, while Tennessee (41.9) and Florida State (40.6) round out the top 6. CFP favorite Georgia checks in at No. 7 at 39.9. Other teams that seem to be playing their best ball right now include Pittsburgh, Washington and Memphis. At the bottom of the RRs you’ll find the usual teams, with FIU setting itself apart. The Panthers’ RR of -24.7 is a full 9.0 points worse than the No. 130-ranked FBS team in recent play, New Mexico. Not surprisingly, Colorado closed the regular season with the lowest RR among Power 5 teams at -9.2. That is equivalent to a power rating of 19.5, which is the closing PR of teams like Abilene Christian and Sam Houston State of FCS. That is how poorly the Buffaloes played down the stretch.
Schedule Strength Ratings
The Schedule Strength Ratings reflect the difficulty of the schedule each team has played to this point. Previously mentioned Colorado, which closed the season in an ugly 63-21 loss to Utah, can at least stake claim to the fact that it played the nation’s toughest schedule with a SOS of 52.3. That would be the equivalent of playing teams like Florida, Wisconsin or Texas Tech every week on a neutral field. Auburn, Indiana, Northwestern and Iowa State round out the top 5 of the most difficult schedules faced to date, and not coincidentally, none of those team qualified for a bowl game in 2022. You have to go down to No. 6 and Texas to find the first team that has faced a tough schedule and will be playing in a bowl. The FBS team that played the easiest slate was New Mexico State, although at 5-6, the Aggies made the most of it. San Jose State is next in line, followed by Eastern Michigan and Air Force, three teams you will be watching in bowl games over the next month. Interestingly, Duke, an ACC team, played the easiest schedule among the Power 5 teams, a point that could come back to bite the Blue Devils in their bowl game, as they posted an unexpected 8-4 record in the regular season.
The FCS playoffs began last weekend and we are now down to 16 teams left in the tournament. The top-seeded team, South Dakota State, also shares the honor of being my highest power-rated team at 42.5. I say shared because No. 3 seed Incarnate Word also boasts a PR of 42.5. Second-seeded Sacramento State (40.5) and No. 3 North Dakota State (41.5) are also among my top four in the PRs. It looks like we are about to witness a highly competitive playoff bracket, and there are at least five or six teams that are capable of winning a title in January. Sacramento State has rather quietly played itself into the top Effective Strength Rating among FCS teams, with a rating of 15. To put that number in perspective, it is about 30 points below than Georgia’s. SDSU is the preferred team in the betting markets with a BR of -14.2, 2.9 points better than any other program. The best team RECENTLY in FCS football is Incarnate Word, with a RR of 22.1, although Jacksonville State, a non-playoff team, was a close second at 21.3. Rounding out the FCS strength ratings analysis, you can dig and find that South Dakota (103rd) played the toughest schedule among the second-tier teams, while SDSU played the toughest schedule of the playoff teams remaining.