Week 9 hit every key point to deliver a perfect Saturday of college football. A Sooners squad with national title aspirations suffered an upset, with two other teams in our top 10 losing in showcase games. The carnage was everywhere, as nine of our top 25 lost, meaning the four teams on byes moved up in our rankings. Week 10 should officially be renamed bye week as four of our top five have byes and Clemson essentially is on a bye playing FCS Wofford. Twelve of our top 25 are off, meaning after a week of heavy fluctuation things should remain stable heading into Week 11. Right now, new names can be found everywhere — so let’s get reacclimated to each team in our top 25 as we move toward the final weeks of regular season play.
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 PFF ELO values alone has been able to explain over three-fourths of the variance in the closing Vegas line. Check back to pff.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:
Appearing to hit their stride at the right time, the Tigers have now rattled off three straight cover victories. They stay at home to take on Wofford in a game they will look to break their record for number of unique players receiving a snap. Both Wake Forest and South Carolina have fallen off after looking formidable merely two weeks ago. Clemson is settling into cruise control through the ACC, winning 90% of the time. With other losses in the top five, the prospect of Clemson in the playoffs grows by the week, with our odds currently at 96.6%.
The Crimson Tide offense barely skipped a beat, with the receiving unit averaging 8.3 yards after catch per reception. That sits slightly below their season average of 9.7, which is first in the FBS and almost a full yard further than the next closest unit. Mac Jones had an above-average passing grade of 75.5, which was enough to let the other Tagovailoa get a few mop-up reps behind center in the absence of his brother. The Tide are officially prepping for LSU, who looked beatable for the first time in 2019 this week. The news on Tua is still questionable but if things sound positive, the expectation is Alabama opens as two, maybe even plus, touchdown favorites in Week 11.
3. Ohio State
After a slow-moving first half, the Buckeyes proved they are a step above the rest of the Big Ten, decimating Wisconsin in the second half. With Justin Fields under pressure on 40% of his dropbacks and taking five sacks, the offensive unit turned into the J.K. Dobbins show. Dobbins had 92 yards after contact with 40% of his rush attempts accounting for a first down or touchdown. Chase Young was finally introduced on the national stage despite being in our Heisman rankings for weeks. He forced pressure on 35% of his pass-rush snaps while his 97.6 pass-rush grade is the highest we have had in the PFF college era among players with at least 100 pass-rush snaps.
LSU survived a pesky Auburn squad who had success containing the LSU Tiger offense throughout. Joe Burrow was held to his lowest yards per attempt and adjusted completion percentage in 2019. He was under pressure on 37% of his dropbacks, resulting in three sacks and five scrambles. Burrow has made a living on deep passes in 2019 but Auburn held him to a 50% adjusted completion percentage on throws targeted 10 or more yards downfield, which is the first game he has been under 70%. The Tigers finally looked beatable but have a week off to prepare for the most anticipated regular-season matchup of the season.
5. Penn State
Penn State did more than enough to roll past the Spartans on the road. Michigan State continues to be a disaster offensively with the 100th-ranked offense in the FBS. The Nittany Lions head into their bye with two marquee Big Ten matchups on the horizon. Penn State is one of the most balanced teams in the nation with the eighth-ranked offense and second-ranked defense. They are well-positioned to survive their remaining schedule, with our simulation giving them a 30% chance at reaching the playoffs.
Georgia heads out of their bye still very much in control of their own playoff destiny. Simply put, they need to win the SEC East and knock off an LSU or Alabama squad on a neutral site in the SEC championship game. The path toward the promised land starts this weekend in another neutral site matchup against Florida. Georgia currently sits as 4.5-point favorites, with the line movement heading in their direction. Greenline gives the Bulldogs a 69% win probability with the expectation they cover 6.5 points 51.3% of the time.
Another week, another upset for a team in the top 10, with the Sooners unable to keep pace with Kansas State. Oklahoma played a frantic fourth quarter to catch up but had a nearly insurmountable task being down 48-23 after a Wildcat touchdown with 12:54 remaining. After a 45% chance of making the College Football Playoff last week, their odds drop to 22%. It would come down to the committee's decision, but it appears unlikely a one-loss Oklahoma team would get in over a one-loss SEC or Big Ten champion. Our conference adjusted rankings had the Big-12 as the fourth-best conference preseason and still have it significantly behind both the SEC and Big Ten.
Michigan got a much-needed win in the rain-soaked Big House on the back of their rushing unit. Shea Patterson was surprisingly effective passing, completing 50% of his 12 attempts while accounting for two passing touchdowns. It was the Wolverines' ability to generate yards after contact, as 199 if their 332 rushing yards came this way. Michigan still has just a 5% chance of making the playoffs, needing a big upset victory against Ohio State and some chaos to ensue at the top of our rankings to squeak in.
Auburn’s defense held tough on the road with two fourth-down stops and an interception to keep their matchup against LSU within reach. It was once again the offense that fell short, averaging -.166 EPA per offensive play and grading below average in all offensive facets. Surprising few at this point, Bo Nix struggled throughout, completing only two passes that traveled 10 or more yards in the air. His 52.3 overall passing grade was his third lowest of the season and falls well below the 70 point threshold used to identify average quarterback play. Matchups at home against Georgia and Alabama loom with the calls for Joey Gatewood only growing louder by the week.
In the marquee Week 10 matchup, the Gators face off against the Bulldogs in the game that will decide who plays in the SEC title game. Right now, Florida has a 51% chance of getting to the conference title game with a 30% chance of winning against Georgia this weekend. Georgia ranks third in pass coverage grade in the FBS at 93.3 overall. How well Kyle Trask performs throwing into tight windows will go a long way toward deciding if Florida can pull off the upset. On the season, Trask has just a 55.5 passing grade when targeting throws to a receiver in tight coverage.
11. Notre Dame
The Fighting Irish were routed in the Big House, unable to keep pace with the Wolverines in the rain. It was a death blow for Notre Dame’s playoff chances, as they could easily find themselves on the outside looking in at any relevant bowl game. This game was definitely an outlier from a weather perspective, making it impossible to draw conclusions related to performance from this one game. The Fighting Irish had nine missed tackles in run defense and allowed a successful average EPA on rush attempts. In contrast, their own running game forced zero missed tackles while having an EPA per rush attempt of -.445. In a game with few pass attempts, it was the run defense and running game that failed to produce enough quality plays to keep the Irish close.
It’s only been two weeks, but Wisconsin feels far removed from being a relevant contender in the playoff discussion. They now face an uphill battle to get to the Big Ten title game, with just a 7% chance according to our latest simulation. They peaked at ninth in our rankings with an ELO rating of 1722 but have fallen off considerably to No. 12, dropping 21 ELO points. They head into their bye needing to win out to stay relevant in this college football season.
The Utes continued on in their dominating ways with a convincing win, showing all the reasons why this Utah team is for real. It was a showcase of Zack Moss, who utilized five forced missed tackles to 65 yards after contact. Moss has forced a missed tackle on 45% of his rush attempts, which is the third-highest rate in the FBS. A clearly tender Tyler Huntley was thankfully not asked to do too much as he limped around the field with a troublesome leg injury. The Utes will be the biggest fan of the Oregon Ducks, as they need USC to suffer one more conference loss to sit alone atop the Pac-12 South. A showdown with that Ducks squad could be coming into focus if Utah survives their road test against the Huskies this weekend. After opening as one-point road favorites, the Utes have been bet out, with Greenline giving them a 44.5% chance of covering the current -3.5 spread. Our simulation still leans with the Utes, giving them a 55.8% chance of winning this weekend and a 47% chance of getting to the Pac-12 title game.
Row-the-boaters moved to 8-0 after demolishing Maryland at home. They are a well-balanced team, with their overall offensive EPA at .12 per play. Their passing unit ranks ninth in the FBS, according to EPA per attempt, while their rushing unit ranks 43rd. They have the ninth-best coverage grade as a unit and climb up to fifth on EPA allowed per pass play. The Gophers have a week off before three of the biggest regular-season matchups in program history. They need to survive three tough tests in Iowa, Penn State and Wisconsin but are not required to win all of them to get to the Big Ten title game. They have the third most difficult strength of schedule remaining after playing just the 75th toughest schedule to this point. Right now, our simulation gives them a 74% chance of getting to the coveted Big Ten title game.
Iowa rode an exceptional defensive performance to a shutout road victory against Northwestern. Nate Stanley had an above-average passing grade for the fourth time this season. He now has 13 big-time throws to only six turnover-worthy plays. Iowa is off this week before facing off with a reeling Wisconsin team at Camp Randall. With matchups still to come against the teams at the top of the Big Ten West, the Hawkeyes have a chance of squeezing into the conference title game, with our simulation seeing it occur almost 18% of the time.
The Ducks needed a last-second field goal to pull ahead of Washington State in a fantastic Pac-12 after-dark special. Offensively, the Ducks relied heavily on CJ Verrett — who forced a missed tackle on over 50% of his rush attempts. He earned 135 of his total yards after contact and he registered a first down or touchdown on 48% of attempts. Justin Herbert orchestrated the game-winning drive as the Oregon offense looks like the class of the Pac-12. Their coverage unit was less than impressive, allowing .268 EPA per pass attempt. This was their first game allowing over 50% of pass attempts to be successful from an EPA standpoint. They have had a rough two-game stretch, dropping to sixth in our overall coverage unit grades after ranking first a mere two weeks ago.
Washington comes out of their bye no longer alive to make any real noise in the Pac-12 title race. They will look to play spoiler against a Utah squad hoping to emerge out of the South. The betting market this week has moved significantly against the Huskies. The line has crossed over the key number three, dropping the hook on the Utes. Greenline and our model still rank the Huskies highly, and we expect them to cover the current 3.5-point line as road dogs 55.5% of the time.
18. Texas A&M
The Texas A&M offense lit up the scoreboard on Saturday, flashing the potential they have as a unit when not facing off against the best in the country. Kellen Mond has graded well from a clean pocket but has had few game-breaking throws, instead relying on steady positively graded throws to increase production. It helps that the A&M receiving unit is the 25th ranked unit in the country. Combined, Quartney Davis and Jhamon Ausbon have 29 explosive plays while accounting for 60 first downs and seven touchdowns. With the 12th most difficult schedule up to this point, things do not let up for the Aggies at all, as their remaining schedule ranks as the 11th toughest in the FBS.
It can officially be considered a disappointing season for the Longhorns, who have struggled to say the least since their loss to Oklahoma. They are now tied for third in the Big 12 with just a 14.5% chance of reaching the conference title game. It is tough to assign much blame to Sam Ehlinger, who is tied for eighth in the FBS with 17 big-time throws. He has dealt with 16 drops and ranks 10th in the FBS with 21 sacks taken. With what we are learning about quarterback pressure rates, it is worthwhile to note that Ehlinger has the 22nd highest sack rate on pressured pass snaps at 22.1%.
Coming out of their bye, Baylor finds themselves sitting alone atop the Big 12 after a string of upsets in Week 9. Baylor has both the second- and third-ranked teams in the Big 12 still on their schedule. Charlie Brewer has graded above average on the season but has struggled in his two most recent outings. With just a 73.5 passing grade when kept clean, Brewer seems to have been aided by the 18th best pass-catching unit in the FBS. With the Bears in control of their own destiny, our simulation loves their current Big 12 title chances, giving them a berth in the title game 83.7% of the time and winning the Big 12 on 32.7% of simulations.
It has been a quick fall from grace for the Missouri Tigers. They may not have been docked enough in our ranking system after two brutal road losses in subsequent weeks. They have limped into their bye, needing to recoup quickly as they face the two teams sitting atop the SEC East immediately following their bye. At one point appearing like the solution, Kelly Bryant now looks like the direct problem for the Tigers recently. Over his past three games, he has just a 57.1 passing grade when kept clean and has just as many turnover-worthy plays as big-time throws in that span. He has been under pressure on 31% of his dropbacks and has taken eight sacks over this same game span.
The Knights re-enter our top 25 after showcasing their game-breaking offense over the past two weeks. They are now tied for seventh in the FBS in EPA generated per pass play. Their pass-catching unit cracked our top-10 receiving corps rankings. After their loss to Cincinnati, they need some help to squeeze into the AAC title game, with our simulation giving them only 18.8% chance of doing so.
23. Iowa State
It was a dark day for the Brock Purdy faithful who saw the sophomore quarterback experience his worst-graded game of his college career. After tossing six turnover-worthy throws in Week 9, he doubled his season total to 12. Despite two conference losses already, the Cyclones have both Texas and Oklahoma remaining on their schedule. Iowa State would need to pull off upsets in both games, with our simulation giving them a 15% chance of getting to the conference title game.
USC re-enters our top 25 on the strength of two Pac-12 victories before their showdown with Oregon. The Trojans have looked like a completely new team over their past three games, with Kedon Slovis back at quarterback. In that span, Slovis has a 90.6 passing grade when kept clean. USC controls their own destiny in the Pac-12, with our simulation giving them a 49.1% chance of reaching the conference title game.
After starting the season as the 61st ranked team in our ELO rankings, the Tigers have finally clawed their way into the top 25. Memphis now has college gameday headed their way in a showdown against undefeated SMU. After opening as a field goal favorite, Memphis has been bet out to -5.5. Greenline has no play at that current price but gives Memphis a 66.3% win probability at home. Our spread picks column will feature a detailed breakdown of this game of the week matchup between two of the best teams in the Group of Five.