CFP Focus Sharpens
After the Pac 12’s terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day, the path for a P5 non-champion has expanded considerably. As we noted last week, the seemingly difficult conflicts (i.e., Tennessee vs Oregon) usually seem to work themselves out. We remain highly confident (90+% confidence interval) that a one loss B12 champion TCU and one loss P12 champ USC would be in the CFP over any one loss P5 non-division winner (i.e., Tennessee, OSU-Michigan loser).
TCU's path is clear. Win one of two from Baylor and Iowa State in the regular season and beat Kansas State in the B12 title game. Whether or not they will do it remains to be seen. Baylor played its worst game of Dave Aranda’s tenure on Saturday, and given the unpredictable nature of the B12, it wouldn’t be stunning if TCU lost this week. That said, if they rebounded to beat Iowa St and win the B12 championship game, all will be forigiven.
Again, in the unlikely event that USC is able to win its last two regular season games and the P12 championship, they would be one of the four teams selected. We think there is <20% chance that USC finishes as a one loss P12 champ.
That said, assuming USC loses, the real question of the fourth spot is going to between Tennessee, OSU-Michigan loser, and a potentially one loss ACC champion. We have not included UNC in our sample, as it is hard to believe the committee is taking them seriously. UNC’s statistical profile is almost identical to Clemson. UNC boasts neither the reputational advantage nor the playoff track record that Clemson does, and the committee has seemingly tepid interest in Clemson. Is it possible that a win over UNC changes that perception? Maybe, but it doesn’t seem likely, which sets the table for Tennessee.
What does it all mean, revisited ?
Last week: 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.
This week: Still true
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.
This Week: No longer true - they didn't avoid trouble with Arizona.
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.
This week: Still true but Oregon and UCLA have already done their part of UT and are no longer relevant.
The path back 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 feasted on the dregs of B10 West isn’t going carry much weight.
This week: Still true
Week 11 Update
First, we removed Oregon, UCLA, and Mississippi from the analysis.
UGA produced a 30% relative YPP% against Miss State. The performance was marginally dilutive to UGA’s resume, which combined with movements by UGA’s prior opponents, reduced UGA’s relative NYPP % from 44% to 41%. Among UGA fans, we would note that Florida’s NYPP has improved since 10.28 and is likely to continue to improve as they face Vandy prior to a rivalry game with FSU that has become more interesting to us and should be worth watching on Black Friday night.
Tiers have emerged
Net YPP and Relative Net YPP
Thanks to a 9+ ypp offensive performance against Indiana, Ohio State improved its Net YPP to 2.96. Seemingly every time OSU struggles, one of the dregs of the B10 shows up to right the ship statistically. Again, UGA still has gap over all others in relative NYPP against P5 competition. Among contending teams, Michigan still has the biggest gap between its NYPP and relative NYPP. Michigan plays Illinois and Ohio State the next two weeks, which should close that gap as its NYPP likely declines, and its relative NYPP improves. That said, the gap tells us that among contending teams, Michigan’s NYPP is aided most by its schedule.
Strength of Schedule Movements
As one might expect as the sample size grows, the weekly movement in Opponents Net YPP were not particularly significant. Consistent with the above point , Michigan’s opponents Net YPP is the lowest, but facing Illinois and Ohio State will bring it back up. That said, it does raise some questions about how likely they are to beat OSU. Many in the pundit class have begun to extrapolate the 2021 results and 2022 season to predict a repeat of last year, which is certainly possible. The current odds list OSU as a 6.5 point favorite. We will have a full preview on that game next week. Bear in mind that this looks at P5 only game and doesn’t include Michigan's September OOC schedule, which will have scrutiny should they lose to OSU.
As a result of its 59% relative YPP% against Indiana combined with UGA’s 30% performance against MSU, Ohio State is now the leader in relative net YPP%. OSU’s domination of weaker teams while statistically struggling against its best opponents is not a new theme. That said, it had rarely mattered until 2021. What was new in 2021 and seemingly remains true today is that they will face a Michigan team with a clear identity and gameplan. Michigan disrupted OSU’s rhythm and ability to string successful plays together in 2021, and if we were Ryan Day, we would spread the field with extreme tempo. Ohio State should attack Michigan on the perimeter with its WRs and employ a similar inside running scheme as Tennessee aimed at staying on schedule to merely facilitate to be able to take vertical shots on Michigan’s secondary before its pass rush can arrive. As always, these things are easier typed than executed!
As a result of some stat padding, Tennessee separated itself from the upper bounds of the TCU and Michigan. UGA and Ohio State stand well above the group statistically, followed by Tennessee, a Michigan/TCU tier, and Clemson and USC.
Michigan continues to remain statistically strong as it continues to dispose of the dregs of the Big 10. This week’s opponent was national punchline Nebraksa, so once again, we really don’t know much about Michigan’s ceiling. Further, each week brings another game where JJ McCarthy continues to struggle with vertical passing, which continues to be irrelevant given its running game and competition. In fact, even Michigan die-hards have begun to acknowledge that they haven’t demonstrated a competent passing game. That said, few have been willing to point the finger at McCarthy and continue to express the idea that Michigan’s vertical passing game is a play calling switch that can be flipped. History suggests it isn’t. Nonetheless, as we noted last week, if Michigan runs the ball on OSU and pressures Stroud, no one is going to care about its strength of schedule or inability to pass the ball vertically.
TCU’s win over 18% relative YPP% against Texas combined with other movements of teams on its schedule pushed its combined Relative YPP% up a click.
How do they do it?
Georgia remains the most balanced team, with an equally good offense and defense. Across 8 P5 games or 16 unit performances, UGA has had only one negative relative ypp% game, which was the defense against Mizzou at -15%. Notably, not one of the contenders is within 10% of UGA’s defense. Ohio State and Tennessee remain heavily weighted to offense with statistically competent defenses overall. That said, Tennessee’s defense’s relative YPP% was negative against the three best offenses it faced. Ohio State hasn’t had any great performances on defense but also has only had two negative performances. Of the second tier teams, Michigan, is the most balanced, with negative unit performances in only 2 (out of 14) instances across its 7 P5 games.
TCU remains statically driven by their offensive performance, but last week’s 47% beatdown of Sarkisian and Ewers was impressive. USC is good, but not great, on offense and simply bad at defense, which is in line with a Riley/Grinch led team.
As for the remaining teams UGA faces, Kentucky has collapsed offensively and surrendered a negative 39% performance to Vandy’s offense. LSU is not good offensively, but Harold Perkins has made them a decent defensive team, albeit on the backs of a 34% performance against Arkansas without KJ Jefferson. For all intents and purposes, a win over Kentucky will secure a birth in the CFP as the path to 12-0 seems secure because a rejuvinated Ga Tech just lost to a Miami team that had seemingly quit. Enjoy the week everyone.
Edited by MDC-NYC