Rivalry week is upon us as we head into the waning weeks of college football. Week 13 saw two more teams suffer losses, which all but eliminated them from the playoff race. The top three appear set while questions abound about the fourth and final position in the College Football Playoff bracket. We should gain a bit more clarity after this weekend, with conference title weekend providing the last slate of information with which to round out the playoff race and bowl series. Before we wrap up the regular season with rivalry week, 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.
Top 25 Rankings:
Clemson utilized one final week of rest before it heads into a regular-season showdown against South Carolina. The Gamecocks figure to provide as much resistance as the eventual winner of the ACC Coastal, with Clemson four-touchdown favorites this weekend and most likely opening close to four-touchdown favorites against either Virginia or Virginia Tech in the ACC title game. It has been a path of little resistance for Clemson, which we would make slight favorites on a neutral site against the other two teams that sit atop our current rankings.
LSU wraps up its regular season at home against one of the most overlooked teams in the SEC. The spread has moved slightly toward LSU, with Greenline finding little value in the current -18 line. LSU has struggled to cover in recent weeks and sits at just 6-5 overall against the spread. Because of the likely Heisman winner Joe Burrow, this offense gets a significant amount of accolades. Our opponent-adjusted metric has LSU's offense ranked eighth overall, but its defense deserves quite a bit of credit as well, ranking at eighth in the country. We have been high on Georgia all season and would make the SEC conference title game closer to a field goal spread when looking ahead to next week.
3. Ohio State
It was an uncharacteristically low-scoring game for the fifth-best offense in college football. They held onto win but failed to cover against the Nittany Lions in Week 13. Justin Fields had his third-lowest passing game grade of 2019, with only his second game having more turnover-worthy plays than big-time throws. Fields again took a back seat to J.K. Dobbins, who had 107 yards after contact with seven forced missed tackles along with a 33% first down or touchdown rate. We would be remiss if we didn’t mention Chase Young, the only player capable of catching Joe Burrow in the Heisman race at this point. Young returned to action and registered five total pressures, bringing his season total to 41. In the Big Ten title game, the Buckeyes should open over two-touchdown favorites against Minnesota, with a spread closer to 10.5 if they end up facing off against Wisconsin.
Granted it was against Western Carolina, but Mac Jones was perfect in returning to the starting role for the Tide. He will get one shot this weekend to showcase why Alabama belongs in the four-team playoff race. The betting market is taking the cautious approach, printing Alabama as 3.5-point road favorites in the Iron Bowl against Auburn. This is a spot Greenline loves, as this offense is still capable of sitting close to the .52 EPA per pass attempt they have generated so far in 2019. They should continue to get quality quarterback play, which is more than can be said about their rival Auburn. Greenline would make this closer to a six-point spread, with Alabama covering the -3.5 56.2% of the time.
It was another grind it out victory for the Bulldogs, who once again relied on their defense to get the late stops required to secure a victory. Jake Fromm was once again middling, posting a 72.7 passing grade with four big-time throws on only 23 attempts. His 56.5% adjusted completion percentage was less than encouraging as he missed a few receivers on throws he is capable of making. Georgia has the playmakers to give LSU a scare in the SEC title game, but the team has rarely lived up to its potential in recent weeks. Outside of pass-blocking and run-blocking, Georgia has very little grading edge when compared to LSU’s 2019 production. If removing quarterback play, LSU would open close to a pick-em on a neutral site. Quarterback play is obviously the most important metric when predicting future team success, and with that variable included, we make LSU slightly over a field-goal favorite in the SEC title game.
Shea Patterson finally put forth a quality passing performance that this team has been desperately waiting for. His 88.0 passing grade was his highest posted grade since Week 1 as he threw for six big-time throws, finally making his big-time throw to turnover-worthy play ratio positive. Most encouraging was his ability down the field, as he has posted an elite level grade on throws 10 or more yards downfield over his past four games. It is the perfect time for Michigan to be hitting its stride as the Buckeyes come to town for rivalry week. The Buckeyes continue to be bet out again this week, with Greenline giving the current nine-point spread a 53.9% cover probability for the home dogs.
The second lowest-ranked team with a shot at the College Football Playoff, the Sooners have failed to impress in recent weeks, seeing their stock as a national title contender drop in the process. Even if they impress over their remaining two games, they face an uphill battle to get into the four-team bracket. It needs to start this weekend with a covered victory on the road against a banged-up Oklahoma State squad. They should then open around 8.5-point favorites on a neutral site to a Baylor squad that almost knocked them out two weeks ago. If they impress, they still may need help from teams above to find their way back to the promised land.
8. Notre Dame
The Fighting Irish are playing like one of the best teams in the country after their come-from-behind victory over Virginia Tech four weeks ago. Both Michigan and Virginia Tech have turned out better than expected after matchups with Notre Dame when this team was all but written off. Bettors are buying in, with Notre Dame pushing out past a two-touchdown spread on the road against Stanford. Greenline thinks this should be a relatively easy victory for Notre Dame with Stanford trotting out backup Davis Mills for an offense that ranks just 49th in the country. At the current 16.5-point spread, Greenline gives Notre Dame a 54.9% cover probability.
9. Penn State
The offensive production for Penn State failed to materialize against an Ohio State defense we have ranked as the sixth-best in the country. Sean Clifford was replaced by Will Levis, who posted a 25.7 passing grade with five turnover-worthy plays but was somehow an improvement over Clifford. Thankfully, Penn State covered — but this game was never in doubt for the Buckeyes, who appeared to be toying with the Nittany Lions' offense throughout. Penn State gets a laugher to close out its regular season and is most likely headed for a New Year's Day bowl game depending on how close the Big Ten title game plays out.
Is a repeat of the 2017 Iron Bowl in the works this weekend with Auburn again at home facing off against a backup quarterback for Alabama? Bettors seem to be buying in initially, with this spread the closest we have seen since the 2010 matchup that also saw Auburn emerge victorious. Greenline leans heavily toward the road favorite, with too much weight placed on the drop in quarterback production from Tua Tagovailoa to Mac Jones. The matchup within the game will be Bo Nix against the best opponent-adjusted defense in the country. Alabama has allowed the 16th lowest EPA per pass attempt and could run away with this game quickly if Bo Nix has a few untimely turnover-worthy plays.
Wisconsin opened as 2.5-point road favorites against Minnesota in the showdown for the Big Ten West. The winner gets its shot in the Big Ten title game at the class of the conference. Greenline gives the Badgers a 56.3% win probability in a game that should see more points than what the market currently dictates. The Gophers bring forth the much better quarterback while averaging .33 EPA per pass attempt. Wisconsin is one of only a handful of teams in the country to average a positive EPA on both pass and rush attempts. The Gophers rank just 104th in EPA allowed per rush attempt, and the weather could potentially have a huge impact on offensive production in this outdoor matchup.
Florida utilized a late bye week to prep for its rivalry matchup against Florida State. It is the battle for the great state of Florida in what could quickly turn into a laugher for the Gators. The Gators' 19th-ranked defense figures to have its way with the Seminoles' 109th-ranked offense. Kyle Trask should have no troubles against the Florida State secondary, which ranks just 85th in unit coverage grade.
The Utes have emerged as the clear favorite in the Pac-12 after rattling off seven straight against-the-spread victories following their Week 4 loss to USC. The Pac-12 title game loses some of its appeal with Oregon failing to maintain its perfect conference record. Utah currently sits with the seventh-best odds of reaching the College Football Playoff, with our simulation giving them a 19% chance at getting in. If Georgia and Oklahoma lose in their conference title games and Alabama fails to impress against Auburn, then the Utes have a legitimate case for the coveted fourth spot in the College Football Playoff race. It is tough to model human behavior, though, as the committee could lean toward the Utes even without the above scenario playing out.
Justin Herbert’s turnaround in 2019 came to a screeching halt in Week 13 in a road loss to Arizona State. Herbert had by far his lowest passing grade of the season at 42.3 while accounting for six turnover-worthy plays. Johnny Johnson III did everything in his power to keep the Oregon dream alive, posting a 91.4 receiving grade on 15 targets with 10 receptions and 207 yards — 118 of which came after the catch. He had a ridiculous 6.27 YPRR but couldn’t overcome the abysmal play of his quarterback. Their coverage unit, which was grading as one of the best in the country, posted a 50.7 coverage grade while allowing .374 EPA per pass attempt and 73.3% completion percentage. It was a painful performance for the Ducks at the most inopportune time. They are still locked into the Pac-12 title game, though, with our projection making them 4.5-point dogs on a neutral site to Utah.
Tanner Morgan returned from concussion protocol to secure a covered victory for Minnesota on the road. Their rivalry matchup has added intrigue, with the winner securing the Big Ten West and a date with Ohio State in the conference title game. It could be a cold and wintery Saturday of football with snow and rain in the forecast. In that type of environment, the lean has to side heavily with the Badgers, who have the fifth-best EPA generated per rush attempt in the country. The Gophers have turned into a productive passing offense in 2019 but may need to go back to the ground and pound attack if the elements call for it. Whoever emerges victorious will be a big dog to Ohio State the following week.
The Hawkeyes won in typical Iowa fashion, securing a 19-10 victory over Illinois at home. They now travel to Nebraska as 5.5-point favorites with the betting market continuing to push the spread in their direction. It may continue to move, but right now Greenline gives Iowa a 53.5% cover probability at the 5.5-point spread. Points will be at a premium, with neither team averaging a positive EPA when passing or rushing.
Memphis won a laugher over USF setting up a potential two-game showdown against Cincinnati for the AAC conference title. Memphis sits as 11-point home favorites in a game they must win to play again for the AAC conference crown. Greenline leans slightly toward the Bearcats to cover but isn’t taking into account motivation or a lack thereof for Cincinnati. The Bearcats are locked into the title game next week but may be motivated with the ability to play the title game at their home stadium with a win. On a neutral site with two motivated teams, we would project this spread to be closer to a field goal favorite for the Memphis Tigers.
Baylor coasted to a convincing victory against an overmatched Texas squad. The Bears draw another relatively light opponent, locked in as two-touchdown road favorites against Kansas. Greenline leans heavily toward Baylor, giving it a 55.4% cover probability and 88.7% win probability. With little incentive to play a full four quarters, this isn’t a great spot to target from a betting perspective. Baylor should open between 8.5-10.5 point dogs to Oklahoma for a Big-12 championship game being played at AT&T Stadium in Dallas.
19. Texas A&M
The Aggies have one final difficult matchup to wrap up their 2019 regular-season schedule, where they are 18-point dogs to LSU on the road. Outside of South Carolina, no team has faced off against the quality level of opponents that the Aggies have played in 2019. They are bowl eligible and 7-4 against the spread. They will prove to be a difficult test for whichever team gets the misfortune of facing off against them come bowl season.
20. Boise State
Boise State is locked into a Mountain West championship game against Hawaii. We should see another full game from Jaylon Henderson with little incentive to play Hank Bachmeier in Week 14. Our look ahead line would make the Broncos over two-touchdown favorites against Hawaii in the conference title game. How healthy they become leading up to that game will go a long way toward deciding a fair line and if they cover the expected wide spread.
USC climbed two spots after an offensive outburst from Kedon Slovis and this air raid offense. Slovis had a ridiculous 88.9% adjusted completion percentage on 47 attempts. He was a near-perfect 12-of-16 with three big-time throws on targets 10 or more yards downfield. USC is on a bye this week and needs a Colorado victory over Utah to play in the Pac-12 title game.
22. Iowa State
Iowa State edged Kansas and now heads that direction to take on Kansas State in its regular-season finale. The Cyclones have caught quite a bit of backing from betting markets — after opening as a field goal favorite, they have quickly moved out to 5.5-point favorites. This may have been an overcorrection, with Greenline siding with the Wildcats at this current price.
One of the most disappointing teams of 2019 is still lingering around the bottom of our top 25 as they continue to grade well in key facets of play. This makes their 2019 season all the more frustrating, as both their quarterback and pass coverage have flashed the ability to play with anyone in the country. They have struggled with costly mistakes at crucial times, with Jacob Eason now grading well below average over his last three games. The pieces are in place for a bounce-back season in 2020.
The Friday kickoff to a full college football weekend pits the two teams from Virginia in a battle for the ACC Coastal crown. This line has moved sharply against the Cavaliers after opening with them as one-point favorites. Bettors are buying into the recent performance of the Hokies, instilling them as 2.5-point road favorites. This may be too much of a correction related to recency bias, with Greenline giving Virginia a 47.6% win probability. In a look ahead line, Virginia would be facing a slightly lower spread than their in-state rival in a conference title matchup against Clemson next weekend.
25. Virginia Tech
It was an impressive performance for the Hokies, who have just the 10th-ranked defense in the ACC but were able to completely shut out Pittsburgh in Week 13. Bettors are buying the Hokies with open arms, flipping them into almost a field goal road favorite. We expect this game to be close throughout, with the Hokies given a 52.4% chance at winning the ACC Coastal division. Much like Virginia, they would be close to four-touchdown dogs to Clemson on a neutral site next weekend.