Our goal is to convey the statistical picture that teams have painted for themselves to inform readers of their relative strength as the march to the CFP continues. The in season weekly rankings show is merely TV programming, as the rankings themselves have no bearing on the final rankings. Further, the committee often contradicts itself week-to-week to rationalize the current order before a TV audience and will have a different rationale for the final ranking. The reality is that the committee doesn’t select the four best teams. It tries to select the best four P5 teams with one or less loss. There have only been two instances where the committee left out one loss P5 conference champions (2014 TCU and 2018 Ohio State). Most importantly, the games usually resolve many of the hypotheticals.
In that vein, we had little doubt that the top four would be as ranked as they were. Given the focus on the number of losses seemingly remains the committee’s primary criteria, it is easy to see why TCU’s ranking last week was seemingly adjusted this week. Rather than debate criteria or spend words running through scenarios let’s just look at facts of what the 1-loss contenders and TCU face from here on out.
Among the five teams where there was the most discussion, TCU faces the most difficult but also “resume” enhancing regular season from an opponent standpoint over the last three weeks. Texas underlying NYPP metrics suggest its better than its three losses and ranking. Despite its record, Baylor is well-coached, gives consistent effort, and boasts a top 25 NYPP.
How do the conferences stack on a Net YPP Basis?
It comes as no surprise to anyone who follows CFB that what the B12 lacks in elite teams is offset by the fact that it boasts the highest percentage of quality teams of any conference. Of the P5 conferences, the B12 has the highest percentage (60%) of its teams in the top half of the NYPP and in the top 20 teams. The average B12 team has a P5 NYPP of 0.22, which is the highest among the P5 conferences. The SEC is the most top heavy, as just 36% and 29% of its teams are in the top 50% and Top 20, respectively. That said, thanks in no small part to UGA, the SEC’s good teams have the highest average NYPP of any league. The ACC is predictably at the bottom of the average NYPP of its teams that reside in the top 50% of P5, the percent of conference teams in the top 20, and the overall Avg NYPP of its teams.
What does it all mean?
The conventional wisdom and narrative that a loss eliminates TCU is dead wrong. If TCU wins the B12 with one loss or fewer, it will be ranked higher than Tennessee and the loser of Michigan/Ohio State.
UCLA is much better positioned than has been discussed. Their statistical profile is as strong as any (discussed below) If they can avoid trouble with Arizona and Cal and beat USC, they will get a neutral site rematch with Oregon team that will face three competitive games in Washington, Utah, and Oregon St.
Tennessee unquestionably has the easiest path to winning out in the regular season. That said, we their destiny is in the hands of TCU, UCLA, USC, and Oregon.
The path to the CFP for the OSU/Michigan loser requires help from P12/B12. Tennessee is going to block the loser’s path. Further, the conventional wisdom that a close loss to OSU will be viewed positively for Michigan isn’t going to solve the fact that their only “quality” win is likely to be PSU. Beating an Illinois team that has feasted on the dregs of B10 West isn't going to overcome the impact of a potential loss on Michigan's resume. That said, unless OSU protects CJ Stroud better, that loss probably isn't coming.
Week 10 Update
First, we added back LSU to the analysis, as they are presumptive favorite to win the SEC West at this point. While we could easily see LSU dropping a game to either Arkansas or A&M, Mississippi would still have to beat Bama, Arkansas, and MSU to win the SEC West. While that combination is possible, it certainly isn’t probable. So, welcome back to the analysis LSU. Goodbye, Illinois. Bama is almost certainly eliminated from the CFP, but they remain valuable as a reference point. As much as we accuse the media of not being able to “quit” Bama, we have to admit that we can’t either!
Led by an amazing defensive performance, UGA produced a 54% relative YPP% against Tennessee, which included a garbage time TD enabled by Arian Smith’s drop of a long pass that killed the prior UGA drive. What is noteworthy is that figure is consistent with what the P5 relative YPP% season total would be if we eliminated just three plays (52%), the misplayed gap/poorly called edge run blitz against Mizzou, Malaki’s inexplicable coverage bust against UF, and Tykee’s and Everette’s missed tackle against Auburn, and UT’s garbage time long pass TD. To be clear, we are NOT trying to massage numbers to make UGA look good. We are simply demonstrating how high UGA’s ceiling is when it isn’t beating itself. The UT performance was notable for how dominant it was in face of leaving tons of points on the field. Hopefully, the focus carries to Starkville.
Tiers have emerged among contenders
Net YPP and Relative Net YPP
Again, UGA has opened a significant gap over all others in NYPP against P5 competition. Among contending teams, Michigan has the biggest gap between its NYPP and relative NYPP. Keep an eye on UCLA these last three weeks. We are trying to reconcile whether they have just succeeded against bad team and whether the Oregon game is indicative of major flaws or simply facing the wrong team, at the wrong time in the wrong place. (Think UGA vs. South Carolina 2012).
Strength of Schedule Movements
Facing Tennessee gave UGA’s opponent Net YPP a significant boost, and MSU and UK should also contribute to improving numbers. Otherwise, there wasn’t a ton of noteworthy movement. Tennessee can take solace in the fact that UGA significantly boosted its opponent Net YPP. Bama’s Opponent Net YPP got worse in a losing cause. Rutgers had a bit of an impact of Michigan’s numbers, but the OSU game is the only thing that really matters.
Combined Relative NYPP%
While the weather no doubt contributed to Ohio State’s struggles on offense, Northwestern outgained Ohio State on total yardage basis.
As conference play continues, there are three tiers that have emerged among CFP contenders. UGA and Ohio State stand well above the group statistically, and the groups of teams that will engender the bulk of the CFB debate are all tiered between 18%-26%. Then there is Clemson, USC, and Ole Miss whose number suggest a loss is coming. We will be very interested to see how “season goals unattainable” Bama performs this week, as this is the earliest time in the season that Bama’s has been eliminated from the national championship race.
UCLA has quietly become a very good team statistically. We were surprised at the degree to which they struggled against Oregon. Their statistical profile is closer to Tennessee than many realize.
Michigan continues to remain statistically strong as it continues to dispose of the dregs of the Big 10 East. That said, Saturday’s final score probably overstated its win over Rutgers. Michigan broke the game open with a 28-point third quarter, which included three INTs (one pick 6) and a total of 16 plays for 99 yards. That’s not sustainable. That said, let’s not pretend a game with Rutgers tells us much about Michigan either way. It is very simple, if Michgan runs the ball on OSU and generate pressure Stroud, no one is going to care about Rutgers or its strength of schedule. As an aside, CJ Stroud isn’t just bad when he faces pressure. He is awful. Keep an eye on that.
Oregon and TCU trended slightly down on relative basis, but we wouldn’t read too much into the results.
Offense/Defense Scatter Plot
Of the second tier teams, Michigan, UCLA, and Tennessee are the most balanced, and Oregon and TCU are heavily reliant on their offensive performance. USC and Mississippi are simply not good on defense. As for the remaining teams UGA faces, MSU should not present a significant challenge nor should Kentucky, as both are well below teams with better statistical profiles that UGA dominated….but Mizzou and Cowbells…so feel free to worry!
Edited by MDC-NYC