The top teams in college football continue to separate themselves from the rest of the pack with seven teams a tier above the rest vying for playoff berths. Week 8 saw Wisconsin fall out of the top 10 after losing on the road to a last-second field goal. Five teams in our previous top 25 lost, and Clemson gained enough ground to take back the number one spot after an underwhelming Alabama performance. Let’s take a close look at each team in our top 25 as we march down to 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 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 regain the top spot in our rankings after an impressive road victory that saw them in complete control throughout. Clemson’s defense has the third-best EPA allowed per pass play in the FBS and the second-lowest percentage of positive EPA pass plays allowed. Right now, they are a team predicated on defense and rushing with a talented quarterback who has yet to put forth his best performance of 2019. Trevor Lawrence has reverse splits when clean vs. under pressure, with a lower pass grade and almost twice as many turnover-worthy plays to big-time throws when clean. His play has been concerning, but there are plenty of opportunities to fix this passing offense before any real test emerges in 2019.
The story emerging from Week 8 is Tua Tagovailoa's loss and subsequent surgery, as he is tentatively expected to return for the LSU game in Week 11. After regressing Alabama’s quarterback play with the loss of Tua, we see the Tide’s playoff and national championship odds drop over 5%, respectively, from what we had them last week. Alabama still holds the second-best EPA per pass play in the country, thanks largely to their quartet of wide receivers. Mac Jones should be able to deliver the ball in rhythm with any of these receivers capable of generating large chunk plays after the catch. If Tua misses only one game, then the Tide’s postseason ambitions are still very much within reach.
LSU is by far the biggest beneficiary of Alabama’s dropoff in playoff and national title expectations. A couple books have posted limited betting lines on Week 11’s showdown with Alabama. Currently, LSU is 9.5 point dogs in these markets, but the expectation is that number drops as we move closer to game time, with Tua most likely carrying a questionable tag throughout the week. LSU’s offense gets all of the attention, but their coverage unit has quietly graded as the 20th best in the nation. LSU has a neutral EPA allowed per pass play with the sixth-best forced incompletion rate in the FBS.
4. Ohio State
It was another dominating performance for the Buckeyes on Friday night, covering both the spread and total on the road. They now draw their toughest regular-season matchup to date against an upset Badger squad coming off a brutal loss in Week 8. The Buckeyes have lost the opening hook and are at two-touchdown favorites over Wisconsin. Greenline gives the Buckeyes an 82% win probability. Ohio State is firmly in control of their own destiny, having almost a 45% shot of making the playoffs despite a tough remaining schedule with three of five games against top-25 teams.
The Sooners have the number one overall offense from both our opponent-adjusted metric and EPA generated per pass play. Jalen Hurts is coming off the best passing grade we have given so far in 2019, with a perfect passer rating and 94% adjusted completion percentage. The completion percentage is even more impressive when taking into account his 14.7 aDot. Currently, Oklahoma is on the outside looking in for the four-team playoff race. But with the third best odds of making it, the expectation is that the Sooners high-flying offense has a say in who is crowned National Champion in 2019.
6. Penn State
Despite not covering, Penn State clearly controlled the game in their 28-21 victory over Michigan. Their playoff odds rose by over 8% after Week 8’s victory. The Nittany Lions have three tough road tests remaining against teams in our Top 25. Outside of quarterback play, if Penn State wants to run the table in the Big Ten, they will need to continue to generate pressure. Right now they have the third-best pass-rush win rate in the FBS and have applied pressure at the seventh-highest rate.
Georgia’s defense flashed their capabilities in a dominating shutout performance against an overmatched Kentucky team. The Bulldogs head into their bye still in control of their own destiny. Following that, they have what is essentially the play-in game to the SEC title game, with a neutral-site matchup against Florida. Jake Fromm now has back-to-back questionable performances, with our NFL draft scouting notes beginning to question his NFL capabilities if he's not able to turn it around after the bye.
8. Notre Dame
The Fighting Irish head out of their bye into the Big House, where they are one-point dogs to a Michigan squad trying to turn their season around. Highlighted as one of our games of the week, betting markets have backed Notre Dame since the open, pushing this spread from -2.5 down to -1. Greenline gives Notre Dame a 46.5% win probability but leans toward Michigan in what is essentially turning into a pick-em game. The last difficult matchup for Notre Dame is not living up to the hype, with Michigan suffering two losses in Big Ten play. A win on the road would not be enough to vault Notre Dame back into the playoff discussion.
Kyle Trask continues to put the Gators in position to succeed, giving this offense a much-needed boost after losing Feleipe Franks for the season. Trask’s 61.2% accuracy percentage is 24th in the nation. He has a respectable 9.4 aDot with almost 60% of his yards coming through the air. After their bye, Florida has the chance to play in the SEC title game if they can upset Georgia on a neutral site in Week 10. Georgia has looked less than impressive recently, with early lines establishing Florida as four-point dogs — which is very much a winnable scenario for the Gators.
Although it's definitely not time to crown Bo Nix yet, he definitely has flashed moments of high quarterback play along with some extremely low moments in his freshman campaign. He has an overall passing grade of 60.2, which is fitting since he has four games graded below 60.0 and three games graded at or above 79.0, with nothing in between. He appears to be the definition of a boom-or-bust quarterback on any given week. Auburn now draws their toughest challenge yet in a road matchup against LSU. Bettors seem to be backing Nix a bit, with this line opening at +11 but dropping down to +10 in some spots for Auburn. With two of the top three defenses in the SEC, the total of 58.5 could be a nice spot to play the under if Auburn's defense can keep Heisman hopeful Joe Burrow somewhat in check.
The Badgers fell short one week earlier than expected, with Illinois upsetting them on a last-second field goal. Wisconsin now heads into a road matchup against the class of the Big Ten. We harp on it constantly, but teams predicated on defense and rushing are more susceptible to have letdowns than teams capable of generating offensive production through the air. Passing is so much more valuable and stable than rushing, which is why teams that focus on the latter tend to be ranked lower in our ranking system. Greenline thinks the +14 spread is right in line with where we would handicap this matchup. The expectation is that the Badgers' defense is unable to slow Ohio State's offense, making the over 50.5 the spot to target if looking for action in this matchup.
After a rocky start, Shea Patterson did enough to keep their matchup against Penn State competitive but was unable to pull off the upset in Happy Valley. It was more likely the defense for the Wolverines, which stopped Penn State enough times for the Michigan offense to catch up. Michigan’s pass rush has the third-best grade in the FBS, the second-best win percentage and third-best pressure percentage. Michigan is slight favorites in their home matchup against Notre Dame. If they can keep Ian Book under pressure, this could be a signature win that the Wolverines desperately need at this point in their season.
The Utes turned in another impressive performance highlighted by the play of their defense. With Oregon clearly in control of the Pac-12 North, the Utes need USC to experience one more conference loss before getting into the title game from the South. Tyler Huntley had by far his lowest graded passing game of 2019, with two turnover-worthy plays that crushed his FBS leading big-time throw to turnover worthy play ratio. Only 13.5% of Huntley's attempts have been targeted 20 or more yards downfield and he has only 12 completions on such throws.
Quickly turning into the class of the Pac-12, Oregon grinded out a come-from-behind victory on the road against Washington. It was the Ducks' first signature win of 2019, as they have had just the 40th most difficult strength of schedule up to this point. They close out their season with zero matchups against teams in our top 25, giving them the 50th most difficult strength of schedule remaining. We have them strolling to the Pac-12 title game barring an epic collapse, with their odds currently at 97%.
It was an old-fashioned Texas shootout, at least in the fourth quarter, with Texas needing a late field goal to survive at home against Kansas. The Longhorns opened as one-point road favorites to TCU this weekend. With just the ninth-best offensive ranking in the Big 12, TCU looks a bit overrated according to betting markets. Greenline thinks this is an opportunity to buy low on Texas, giving them a 54.7% cover probability. They need this victory to keep their Big 12 title hopes alive — right now, they have a 27% chance of reaching the conference title game.
Washington controlled most of the game but allowed three touchdowns in the second half, with their offense stalling out in an eventual loss at home to Oregon. It was a deathblow to the Huskies' postseason aspirations, as they are now a long long shot to make the Pac-12 title game. With a projected win total of 7.5, Washington is headed for an irrelevant bowl bid in 2019.
The Gophers find themselves as one of only 10 undefeated college football teams through Week 8. They have covered in their last four victories and currently have a 66% chance of reaching the Big Ten title game. After Minnesota opened as 15-point home favorites, bettors are buying into them, pushing the Gophers out to the key number 17. Greenline leans slightly toward Maryland but gives the Gophers an 86% win probability this Saturday.
Despite his perceived struggles, Nate Stanley has the fifth-best passing grade in the Big Ten. He has dealt with 15 drops, which is the second-highest in the Big Ten. His 2-to-1 ratio on big-time throws to turnover-worthy plays is fourth among currently starting conference quarterbacks. He hasn’t been exceptional, but the Hawkeyes are very capable of playing spoiler to either Minnesota or Wisconsin in the Big Ten West.
19. Iowa State
The Brock Purdy hype train is hitting full speed, with Purdy now 10th in the nation in overall passing grade. His 93.3 passing grade on throws targeted 10 or more yards downfield is tied for 12th in the FBS. He also ranks ninth on throws not targeting his first read, which highlights his ability to read defenses despite being only a sophomore. He has jumped into our Heisman rankings with the potential for signature victories against Texas and Oklahoma looming after their bye.
Despite being undefeated, Baylor has gotten little love and even closed as four-point dogs against Oklahoma State last week. Their early-season victory over Iowa State looks more impressive each week as they head into their bye with showdowns against Oklahoma and Texas looming. As a receiving unit, Baylor has the 16th best grade in the FBS and has accounted for 51 explosive pass plays. Their .204 EPA generated per pass play is 19th in the nation. With their offense hitting on all cylinders, they have the potential to knock off Texas or Oklahoma over their remaining Big 12 schedule.
21. Texas A&M
No rest for the weary as the Aggies continue on their SEC schedule before a small reprieve against UTSA next week followed by their bye. Texas A&M wraps up their season at Georgia and at LSU, giving them the 17th most difficult strength of schedule remaining. The Aggies have held strong as 10.5 point favorites over Mississippi State, but Greenline expects this game to play closer than the spread dictates. Right now, we have these two teams separated by only two places in our SEC ELO ranking, with A&M expected to cover only 46.4% of the time.
Missouri suffered a crushing road defeat to Vanderbilt, wiping away any hope the Tigers had of playing for an SEC conference title. Kelly Bryant had his worst-graded passing game of the season, posting a lousy 42.2 game grade. Bryant was under pressure on 42% of dropbacks and completed only one pass when under pressure. With matchups against Georgia and Florida remaining, Missouri needs to get back on track if they want to play spoiler to the teams atop the SEC East.
Virginia put forth a convincing win against Duke and sits alone atop the ACC Coastal. With a 45.2% chance of reaching the ACC title game, the hope is the Cavaliers can prove to be a worthy opponent to Clemson. Bryce Perkins has just a 50.0 overall passing grade, which ranks him 131st out of 140 qualifying quarterbacks. That hope may be short-lived if he cannot provide adequate quarterback play throughout their remaining schedule.
The Panthers are the other team vying for a bid to the ACC title game from the Coastal region. Our simulation gives them around a 33% chance of facing off against Clemson for the conference crown. Virginia has the 69th most difficult remaining strength of schedule, with the Panthers at 54th.
25. Michigan State
It has been an ugly couple of weeks for the Spartans, who hopefully righted the ship over their bye week. They now take on an undefeated Penn State squad as 6.5-point dogs at home. Greenline would make this game a touchdown or greater spread, with the Spartans given only a 30% win probability. Ranked 13th out of 14 Big Ten teams in opponent-adjusted offensive output, the Spartans needed to correct numerous issues on their bye week if they want to stay relevant in the second half of their season.