Below is the third installment of our weekly PFF ELO rankings for college football. Like all ELO systems (including our version for the NFL), PFF ELO 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 PFF ELO rating system measures the former using our unique offensive, defensive and special teams grades, while the latter is determined by the PF FELO 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 PFF ELO rating and a similarly-small decrease in the defeated team’s, but if an upset were to happen, the visiting team would see their PFF ELO rating rise substantially, and the home team’s see a similarly-sized drop.
With two weeks of exciting college football under our belts, we are excited to be barreling towards conference play. Two highly-ranked teams (USC and South Carolina) fell in Week 2, and their PFF ELO rating reflects this. Clemson, after a scare against Texas A&M, is a team that we have lower than most, coming in at sixth going into Week 3.
Sometimes in football, the best team does not win, and PFF ELO 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. 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 on our site for weekly college spread picks using this model (as well as other information) and check out PFF Greenline for our NFL version of the product.
The PFF ELO College Power Rankings are brought to you by Eckrich, the Official Smoked Sausage of the College Football Playoff.
Rank: 1 / Week 1 Ranking: 1st (no change)
Another week another Roll Tide victory. This team looks unbeatable through two weeks, grading better than originally advertised. Over the course of their respective Alabama careers, Tua Tagovailoa has been twice as likely as Jalen Hurts to make a big-time throw and just as likely to make a negatively-graded throw. Expect to see Tagovailoa heavily featured due to the upside he offers.
Alabama’s pass defense has allowed a passer rating of 60.3 through the first two games. Combined with the fact that they allow a successful rush play allowed only 29 percent of the time on early-down plays and this defense has completely shut down opposing offenses. They play two teams in the Top 50 of our PFF ELO rankings in the next two weeks so we should start to see a picture of just how good this team is before they enter the tough part of their schedule down the stretch.
Rank: 2 / Week 1 Ranking: 2nd (no change)
Wisconsin dismantled New Mexico in the second half after starting off sluggish at home on Saturday. Alex Hornibrook has been impressive to start 2018 with an expected points added (EPA) per dropback of 0.30. It is a small sample size but almost 50 percent of Hornibrook’s throws have been positively graded. Jonathan Taylor was the key to the Badgers offensive performance in the second half and in two games, he has forced 13 missed tackles and has averaged 4.7 yards after contact per attempt.
The Badgers defense has allowed a successful play on 45.9 percent of early-down pass attempts and has contested 20 percent of pass attempts thrown their way. Wisconsin continues to be the most balanced and deepest team outside of Tuscaloosa.
Rank: 3 / Week 1 Ranking: 3rd (no change)
Georgia took care of South Carolina on the road, riding an early pick-six to a dominating 41-17 victory. South Carolina crept into our Top 25 before this matchup but offered little resistance to Georgia. Jake Fromm has cemented himself as the quarterback when possessions matter for this offense with Justin Fields relegated to mop up duties in Week 2. Fromm has been productive from a clean pocket, posting a passer rating of 148.4. He has only four attempts that traveled 20 or more yards downfield and as their schedule hits the brunt of the SEC, Fromm will need to attack more downfield.
When in coverage, the safety duo of Richard Lecounte and J.R. Reed has allowed just three yards after the catch. As a whole coverage unit, the Bulldogs have allowed a successful pass on 33.3 percent of early-down pass attempts.
Rank: 4 / Week 1 Ranking: 5th (+1)
The Sooners battled through some early pains at home but ultimately overpowered UCLA. They do have some residual bumps to attend too as Rodney Anderson is out for the season after tearing his ACL in the first quarter. They have 22 missed tackles on defense and their pass coverage continues to spring holes on crucial downs by allowing an 82.4 passer rating on third downs. Fortunately, Kyler Murray is one of the most dynamic players in college football. He has an EPA per drop back of 0.68 and contributed a successful pass play on 57.5 percent of early-down attempts.
CeeDee Lamb and Marquise Brown have dominated the Sooners target market share with a combined 50 percent of attempts. They’ve combined to see a passer rating of 145.6 and their average depth of target is greater than 16 yards downfield. Just like last year for the Sooners, it may come down to just how far the most dynamic quarterback in college football can take them.
Rank: 5 / Week 1 Ranking: 6th (+1)
Ohio State decimated Rutgers in all aspects of the game replacing starting QB Dwayne Haskins early in the third quarter when the game was already out of reach. They remain neutral in our PFF ELO rankings heading into a matchup against 19th-ranked TCU on the road. As a passing unit, the Buckeyes lead the Big Ten with an EPA generated of 0.62. as 70.27 percent of their early-down passes have been successful from an EPA standpoint.
Nick Bosa has now double-dipped our PFF Defensive Team of the Week. He headlines what is undoubtedly the most talented pass-rushing unit in the nation with a pass-rushing win percentage of 17.9 percent.
Rank: 6 / Week 1 Ranking: 4th (-2)
Clemson survived a late charge from Texas A&M and left College Station victorious, yet still, sustain a small drop to sixth. Our previous PFF ELO ranking of fourth had them lower than consensus rankings (second) so we do seem a bit lighter on Clemson than the market right now. Their performance these first two weeks of the season has left a lot to be desired from a grading standpoint as Kelly Bryant has been adequate when kept clean with a passer rating of 102.1 but that ranks around the 50th percentile of current FBS quarterbacks. The Tigers offense has had a successful pass play on 45.6 percent of early-down dropbacks, which is eighth in the ACC. After seeing 16 snaps in Week 2, Trevor Lawrence could see an uptick sooner than expected.
Clemson applies pressure at the highest rate in the FBS at 53.5 percent of dropbacks. At a low blitzing rate of 22.4 percent, the Tigers have allowed a possibly unstable passer rating of 107.4 on plays where pressure is actually recorded.
Rank: 7 / Week 1 Ranking: 7th (no change)
After a lackluster Week 1 game, Penn State rolled through Pittsburgh on the road for a 51-6 victory. Trace McSorley had a down performance and on dropbacks this season, his EPA is -0.05 and 18.9 percent of his early-down attempts have received a negative PFF grade. With nine missed tackles forced it looks like the Nittany Lions are lucky enough to have back to back generational talents at the running back position with Miles Sanders entering stage right. Penn State has had a successful rushing play on 55.71percent of attempts, second in the Big Ten.
Rank: 8 / Week 1 Ranking: 8th (no change)
Auburn followed up their thrilling Week 1 win against Washington by overpowering a clearly outmatched Alabama State team. Not much can be gleaned from this 63-9 win as they received their tune-up game sandwiched between two brutal matchups. Jarrett Stidham has been productive when kept clean posting a passer rating of 120.9 but offensively they are struggling with a successful rush occurring only 30.6 percent of the time on early downs versus their loan Power-5 opponent, Washington, in Week 1.
The looming matchup with No. 11 ranked LSU offers an early showdown in the SEC. Auburn’s defense should be able to keep them in the game to give Stidham a chance to win at the end.
Rank: 9 / Week 1 Ranking: 14th (+5)
Stanford rode a dominant performance from their defense to upend USC at home. They picked up 23 PFF ELO points for their home victory and jumped from 13th to ninth in our rankings. In the smallest of small sample, sizes K.J. Costello to JJ Arcega-Whiteside has been electric when throwing deep to start 2018. On throws 20-plus yards downfield: 10 attempts, seven receptions, 255 yards and three touchdowns.
As a coverage unit, Stanford has allowed a passer rating of 56.75, only 36.1 percent of early-down pass attempts against have been successful. They have recorded pressure on 44.3 percent of attempts. These numbers add up to an absolutely stifling defense.
Rank: 10 / Week 1 Ranking: 11th (+1)
After taking care of business in Week 1 versus Michigan at home, the Fighting Irish held off a late rally from Ball State and emerged victorious for the second time this season. Questions emerged about the state of this offense as Brandon Wimbush graded poorly as 27.7 percent of his attempts have resulted in a negative passing grade. This offense will need to have Miles Boykin emerge as a threat after the catch in order to find success.
Tough games are on the horizon as Vanderbilt and Wake Forest matchup well with the Fighting Irish before a looming showdown with Stanford.
Mississippi State Bulldogs
Mississippi State firmly positioned itself inside the Top 25 with their dominating win over Kansas State moving from 22nd to 18th in our rankings. Kylin Hill and his 13 missed tackles forced highlights this offense as he made our PFF Offensive Team of the week. Jeffery Simmons has been dominant on the defensive side of the ball and their coverage unit has been lights out allowing a passer rating of 54.5.
In Week 1, they beat up on Tennessee-Martin. Week 2 provided their first real challenge and they handled Wyoming convincingly at home picking up 26 PFF ELO points. Drew Lock and Emanuel Hall have developed an early season deep passing rapport. On deep passes so far this season, they’ve combined for seven receptions on eight targets for 260 yards and three touchdowns, leading the nation in yardage.
They need to take care of Purdue on the road this week with a showdown at home against Georgia looming in Week 4.
Minnesota Golden Gophers
Minnesota made a huge defensive interception in the end zone to clinch a thrilling 21-14 win at home against Fresno State. They picked up 25 PFF ELO points and find themselves at 37th in our current rankings. This coverage unit has been exceptional allowing a 68.5 passer rating and applying pressure on 34 percent of dropbacks.
11. LSU (-2)
12. UCF (+3)
13. Oklahoma State (-)
14. Iowa (+4)
15. Washington (+2)
16. Boise State (-4)
17. USF (+7)
18. Mississippi State (+1)
19. TCU (-3)
20. USC (-10)
21. Virginia Tech (+8)
22. Michigan (+11)
23. NC State (-2)
24. Miami (-4)
25. Utah (+4)