Week 12 saw two more teams fall from the undefeated ranks. Our top three teams are the only remaining undefeated teams, giving us a log jam for the fourth and final playoff spot. Conference championships are beginning to take shape, with clear cut favorites all but locked in from the Big-Ten, SEC, Pac-12 and ACC into their respective title games. If you are looking for a nuanced article on the College Football Playoff, check out our AWS Spotlight article on the College Football Playoff Scenarios. Week 13 is light on quality matchups, with only two teams from our Top 25 facing off. Before we round out the regular season with rivalry week around the corner, let's take a close look at our current Top 25 rankings.
PFFELO is an iterative system that updates each team’s rating after each game based on two things: how well they played against their opponent and how well they were expected to play against their opponent. The PFFELO rating system measures the former using our unique offensive, defensive and special teams grades, while the latter is determined by the PFFELO ratings leading up to the game and where the game is played.
For example, a heavy favorite playing at home is expected to outplay the visitor, so a victory would result in only a small rise in their PFFELO rating and a similarly-small decrease in the defeated team’s, but if an upset were to happen, the visiting team would see their PFFELO rating rise substantially, and the home team’s see a similarly-sized drop.
Sometimes in football, the best team does not win, and PFFELO accounts for these oddities by using our grades. Hence, there will be teams rated higher or lower in this system than their win-loss record would suggest. While adjustments are made using preseason market data, along with recruiting rankings, the majority of these numbers are derived using our grades. Since PFF began charting college football in 2014, the difference in PFFELO values alone has been able to explain over three-fourths of the variance in the closing Vegas line. Check back to profootballfocus.com for weekly college spread picks using this model (as well as other information) and check out PFF College Greenline for a full slate of against the spread and total lines based on our rating metrics.
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Top 25 Rankings:
The Tigers have rattled off five of six covered victories and now sit at 8-3 overall against the spread. After their Week 6 bye, Trevor Lawrence has the fourth-best passing grade in the country while maintaining almost an 80% adjusted completion percentage. Clemson should be greater than two-touchdown favorites in every game they play before the College Football Playoff. Clemson is locked into the ACC title game and all but locked into the College Football Playoff, too. As the second or third seed, our simulation gives them a 32% chance of repeating as national title contenders, meaning +250 or better is still a significant buying opportunity for a team rounding into form at the right time.
LSU will go as far as Joe Burrow can take them. With Burrow running away with the Heisman trophy, the expectation is that he can take them far. Their path is the toughest of the three remaining undefeated teams, with the SEC title game serving as a de facto quarterfinal playoff game. Not much more can be said about Joe Burrow — he leads the country in every significant quarterback statistic and is looking like the clear number one pick in the 2020 NFL Draft. The one concerning flaw for the Tigers offense is their struggles with pass protection. As a unit, they have just the 68th best grade in the FBS, with Burrow under pressure on 30.5% of dropbacks. LSU’s average time to recorded pressure is the 15th quickest among Power-5 schools.
3. Ohio State
The Buckeyes failed to cover the historic 52-point road favorite spread, chalking up another victory for home dog backers. Ohio State continues to be the class of college football from a betting perspective, currently sitting at 8-2 against the spread after not covering their first and last games of 2019. Ohio State is the odds on favorite to win the National Championship with some slight disagreement from our simulation. Currently, we have the Buckeyes winning the national title 13% of the time. There are more valuable teams than the Buckeyes who have an implied probability around 33.3% at most sports books. Chase Young returns this week and needs some showcase performances against Penn State and Michigan if he wants any shot at catching Joe Burrow in the Heisman race.
Alabama provided a comfortable cover at Mississippi State but saw its playoff dreams implode when Tua Tagovailoa went down. Mac Jones previously filled in admirably in Tua’s absence. Not much will change for the Tide from a game script perspective, as they will continue to try and get the most talented pass-catching unit in the country in space to deliver big chunk plays after the catch. Overall, their receiving unit has the third-best grade in the country and the sixth-highest percentage of total yards coming after the catch. Tua's injury makes this season less of a championship-or-bust mentality, with the optics of this team cratering in the eyes of the playoff committee.
Georgia continued to flash its dominant defense in a covered victory on the road against Auburn. The team now sits just shy of two-touchdown favorites at home to Texas A&M, which is its last real test before the SEC title game. Currently, our simulation has Georgia winning the conference title 44% of the time, which would make them slight dogs to LSU on a neutral site. Georgia has struggled as a pass rush unit with just the 32nd best pass-rush grade in the FBS. They have also applied pressure at just the 32nd best rate in the FBS. With the third-best coverage unit in the FBS, Georgia has the right playmakers at key positions to keep the SEC title game matchup against LSU close.
6. Penn State
Despite failing to cover, Penn State shook off the hangover from their Week 11 loss before heading to Columbus in Week 13. After allowing -.254 EPA per pass attempt through Week 9, the Nittany Lions coverage unit has been scorched the past two weeks. Combined in Week 11 and 12, Penn State allowed .454 EPA per pass attempt, which is less than reassuring as they go on the road to face the third-best passing attack from an EPA standpoint in the country. The Nittany Lions have held to the 18.5-point spread, with Greenline giving them a 55.8% cover probability and only 13.6% chance of pulling off the upset outright.
The Wolverines continue to impress against the second tier of the Big Ten. Michigan has now picked up almost 100 ELO points since its humbling performance in Week 5. The team is 6-1 against the spread since that game, with its one blemish coming in an odd game script against Illinois. The Wolverines have embraced their spoiler role with the showdown matchup against Ohio State in two weeks. In the meantime, they open as 8.5-point road favorites against Indiana, which appears to have turned a corner offensively with the re-emergence of Peyton Ramsey. All early-season difficulties will be forgotten in Ann Arbor if a long-overdue victory over Ohio State is finally delivered.
It was a wild Big-12 contest at McLane Stadium, with Oklahoma putting up 17 fourth-quarter points to squeeze by Baylor. Things were dicey early for the Oklahoma offense, which clearly missed a healthy CeeDee Lamb to alleviate some of the pressure from Jalen Hurts. With three turnover-worthy throws coming in each of his past two games, Hurts now has more turnover-worthy plays than big-time throws in 2019. It is tough to say that the Sooners needed to do more in a thrilling come from behind victory, but Oklahoma still sits very much on the outside of the College Football Playoff. Currently, we have them with the sixth-best odds to make the four-team bracket, with a more nuanced writeup in our AWS college football playoff odds.
9. Notre Dame
Notre Dame dismantled sharp action in Week 12, running away from an overmatched Navy squad in a dominating home performance. Ian Book had his second-best passing game of the season, throwing for four big-time throws along with an 80% adjusted completion percentage. Most encouraging was his high aDot while still maintaining accuracy, which led to a near-perfect passing grade. Greenline likes Notre Dame to cover for the second straight week, this time laying 19.5 points at home to Boston College. The Fighting Irish have no shot at the College Football Playoff but appear destined for a significant New Year’s Day bowl game with their recent quality performances.
Florida took care of an overmatched Missouri squad, keeping them out of the endzone en route to a 23-6 victory. The Gators have the week off before the showdown for Florida establishes the pecking order for college football supremacy in the state. Kyle Trask has provided adequate quarterback play, posting a 74.7 passing grade but accounting for 16 turnover-worthy plays compared to just nine big-time throws. Thankfully, this coverage unit is one of the best in the country. With an 89.9 unit coverage grade, they have allowed a successful pass from an EPA standpoint on just 38.1% of attempts — 18th best in the FBS.
Bo Nix was able to turn in a slightly above-average performance at home against the Georgia defense but provided too little production too late to keep pace with the Bulldogs. Nix’s 6.3 aDot was his lowest on the season, with his 50 pass attempts his highest mark. He surprisingly had zero turnover-worthy plays but only threw past the sticks on 28% of attempts, meaning he really wasn’t forcing it downfield into tight windows. This Auburn defense is capable of keeping it close with anyone in the country, but without more production from the quarterback position, they will continue to fall just short of pulling off upsets against the class of college football.
The Badgers rode Jonathan Taylor to a covered victory in Nebraska. Wisconsin sits as 24-point favorites over Purdue at home before heading to Minnesota for a play-in game to the Big Ten conference title. Our simulation leans heavily toward Minnesota still getting to the conference title game. Jack Coan has been less than impressive recently, posting below a 60.0 game grade in each of his past three starts. He has a 9:9 big-time throw to turnover-worthy play ratio while maintaining the seventh-lowest aDot in the FBS at just 7.0.
Oregon is hitting its stride at the most opportune time, securing blowouts in its two most recent performances as the team looks to wrap up its Pac-12 regular-season schedule. The Ducks are locked into the conference title game, with our simulation making it right around a pick-em spread if they face off against Utah. Justin Herbert has moved up and currently sits as the third highest-graded quarterback in the FBS. He has a 3:1 big-time throw to turnover-worthy play ratio, with the Ducks passing attack posting the ninth-best EPA per pass attempt in the country. As we mentioned before, their defense has performed like one of the best units in the country, giving this Ducks squad real hope at sneaking into the College Football Playoff.
If Oregon falters out West, Utah could turn into an intriguing pick for the College Football Playoff. Right now, our simulation gives one of these two teams from the Pac-12 a 5% chance to make the playoff bracket. This could be lower than current odds, with the selection committee looking favorably on a one-loss conference title winner. Everyone knows how good Utah's defense is, but they have the talent offensively to keep pace with anyone in the country. Tyler Huntley has an elite passing grade, with this unit posting the fifth-best mark from an EPA standpoint.
Iowa shattered the Gophers' dreams of an undefeated season with a signature victory at Kinnick stadium. Nate Stanley had his second-best passing grade of the season while maintaining an aDot of 12.0. Outside of Stanley, the pass rush for the Hawkeyes was the key to their victory, posting a pressure rate of 41.3% and accounting for six sacks. Iowa stays home to take on an Illinois squad as 15-point favorites. Greenline leans slightly toward the Hawkeyes, giving them an 86.4% win probability.
The dream finally ended, with the Gophers pulling up lame so close to shore. It was a performance highlighted by crucial mistakes and drops at the most inopportune times. Minnesota now has to win out to get into the Big Ten title game. Our simulation is overly optimistic of the team's chances, with a 90% chance of getting to the conference title and a 22.9% chance of winning it. Their rivalry matchup to close out the regular season at home against Wisconsin amounts to a play-in game for the West division.
Washington heads to Colorado out of its bye week, where the team sits as more than two-touchdown favorites on the road. Our ranking system is still high on Washington, making them the clear third-best team in the Pac-12 conference. Both of their offensive and defensive units grade well and hold up in our opponent-adjusted metrics, which is why they continue to rank well in our ELO system. They close out the year in a battle of Washington. They should then be in line for a decent-sized bowl game against a mid-tier Power-5 team.
18. Texas A&M
The final stretch for the Aggies is in sight, as they have road matchups against the two highest-ranked teams in the SEC left on their schedule. They have gained a little backing from betting markets after opening as 14.5-point road dogs to Georgia, dropping below a two-touchdown spread. Our model has loved Georgia all year and gives them a 54.6% cover probability at the current -13 price. Kellen Mond has graded above average over his past two games after a rocky middle season stretch of games. Facing off against two of the best teams in college football on the road in back to back weeks is no easy task, with Mond needing to deliver performances he has yet to put up in 2019 if the Aggies want any shot at an upset victory.
Texas has now dropped three of its past five games and needed some late-game field goals to emerge victorious in the other two games. It is tough to fault Sam Ehlinger, who has posted an 86.8 passing grade during that stretch with a 2:1 big-time throw to turnover-worthy play ratio. Their pass rush has just the 106th best grade in the FBS, with their coverage unit only slightly better at 82nd overall. They are 110th in the country in EPA allowed per pass attempt and again find themselves as road dogs as they head to Baylor this weekend.
Memphis continues to look like the class of the American Athletic Conference, holding down both the number one overall ranking and also the top-ranked offensive unit. With their showdown against Cincinnati looming in two weeks, we have them getting into the conference title game on 63% of simulations and winning the title 38% of the time. Their EPA per pass attempt ranks sixth in the FBS with Brady White is getting 53.6% of his total yards through the air.
Baylor couldn’t hang onto a comfortable first-half lead and ended up losing late to the Sooners after failing to score in the second half. It was a huge disappointment for the no longer undefeated Baylor Bears, who saw their playoff hopes all but evaporate before their eyes. They are still a virtual lock to play in the Big-12 title game, which should be a neutral site rematch against Oklahoma. Currently, our simulation gives them just a 31% chance at winning the Big-12 title.
USC has bounced in and out of our top 25 on what seems like a weekly basis as they continue to be one of the hardest teams to project in the FBS. They have an outside shot at getting to the Pac-12 title game but need some major help from Utah’s final opponents to backdoor their way in. Kedon Slovis posted his highest passing game grade of the season against California and continues to flash play that elicits hope for USC in the future. Next year's quarterback room with JT Daniels and Kedon Slovis could be one of the most talented in the country.
23. Iowa State
The Cyclones had another game come down to the wire but emerged on the right side in Week 12, outlasting Texas at home. Brock Purdy continues to struggle with turnover-worthy plays, throwing 10 over his past four games. Iowa State struggled to move the football for how bad the Texas defense has played recently. Iowa State has two winnable games to round out its regular-season schedule but is all but eliminated from the Big-12 conference title game.
Pittsburgh provided some Thursday-night magic in an overtime victory over the Tar Heels. Pittsburgh is still very much alive in the ACC title race, with our simulation giving them a 23% chance of getting in through the Coastal division. It starts by getting an upset victory over Virginia Tech this weekend as four-point road dogs. Greenline leans toward Pittsburgh, giving them a 52.6% cover probability and winning outright 41.4% of the time.
25. Boise State
Boise State remains the class of the Mountain West Conference, with our simulation giving the Broncos a 93% chance at the conference title game and walking away victorious on 67% of simulations. They have been outstanding in coverage, as they are tied for the 16th best overall coverage grade at 91.0. They have allowed a successful pass from an EPA standpoint on just 39% of attempts. They are looking like an intriguing bowl matchup for a one-loss team that is left out of the College Football Playoff.