We’ve got only two more Saturdays until the Big Ten begins its late-fall football campaign, and only two more after than until the entire Power Five is involved and active. With so many top teams having yet to kick off — eight of the current SP+ top 16, in fact — it’s hard to see much movement atop the rankings just yet.
Clemson and Alabama are doing a little dance for the No. 2 spot, however.
Bama started second, fell to third after falling asleep in the second half against Missouri and jumped back to second after a dominant win over A&M. But while Bama was giving up record points and yards in a shootout win over Ole Miss, Clemson looked phenomenal in a 42-17 win over Miami. That was enough to push the Tigers back to second.
(Ohio State, meanwhile, remains first. Sorry, unbeaten Ohio State remains first. That sounds better.)
What is SP+? In a single sentence, it’s a tempo- and opponent-adjusted measure of college football efficiency. I created the system at Football Outsiders in 2008, and as my experience with both college football and its stats has grown, I have made quite a few tweaks to the system.
SP+ is intended to be predictive and forward-facing. That is important to remember. It is not a résumé ranking that gives credit for big wins or particularly brave scheduling — no good predictive system is. It is simply a measure of the most sustainable and predictable aspects of football. If you’re lucky or unimpressive in a win, your rating will probably fall. If you’re strong and unlucky in a loss, it will probably rise.
Here are the full numbers.
This week’s movers
Ten teams moved up at least eight spots from last week, most coming in the No. 70-90 range that is generally very clustered together.
Houston (up 15 spots, from 60th to 45th)
Duke (up 12 spots, from 86th to 74th)
Liberty (up 12 spots, from 89th to 77th)
Troy (up 11 spots, from 79th to 68th)
Charlotte (up 11 spots, from 100th to 89th)
Kentucky (up nine spots, from 42nd to 33rd)
Georgia State (up nine spots, from 80th to 71st)
Arkansas State (up nine spots, from 90th to 81st)
Georgia Tech (up eight spots, from 56th to 48th)
ECU (up eight spots, from 119th to 111th)
Georgia Tech is one of the season’s early volatility leaders — the Yellow Jackets started out 52nd in the preseason projections, jumped to 38th following their upset of FSU (which has since been determined not to be all that much of an upset), slipped to 63rd two weeks ago, then jumped back into the top 50 with Friday’s emphatic late run and 46-27 win over Louisville.
A few teams also moved down quite a bit.
Temple (down 18 spots, from 72nd to 90th)
Army (down 11 spots, from 47th to 58th)
Texas Tech (down 10 spots, from 76th to 86th)
Mississippi State (down eight spots, from 46th to 54th)
Miami (down eight spots, from ninth to 17th)
As one might expect, both Houston and Temple saw pretty significant movement after their long-awaited season debuts. The Cougars allowed two defensive touchdowns but still hammered Tulane, while Temple underachieved against projections in losing to a Navy team that’s been awfully wobbly in 2020.
Meanwhile, as one might expect, Mississippi State and Miami also saw solid stumbles. MSU was 47th in the preseason, jumped to 38th after beating LSU, then dropped past its preseason spot to 54th after two straight feckless losses.
Who wants to be a top-10 team?
Last week, Miami jumped six spots to ninth while on a bye week — just about everyone directly above the Hurricanes either lost or looked terrible. Because of this, Oklahoma managed to fall to only 10th after losing its second straight game. For you to drop out, someone has to climb in.
Miami’s blowout loss to Clemson assured that the Canes would fall this week (they’re now 17th), but Oklahoma’s anything-but-dazzling win over Texas again kept the Sooners in the top-10, and Miami was replaced by another ACC mate: North Carolina. Despite a mid-game lull, the Tar Heels looked mostly awesome in disposing of Virginia Tech. They’re now fifth on offense and ninth overall, just ahead of OU and a trio of Pac-12 teams that will remain inactive for a few more weeks.
Who wants to play defense in the SEC?
The Alabama-Ole Miss, Florida-Texas A&M and Missouri-LSU games averaged 92 combined points and 1,127 yards per game between them, and even the Tennessee-Georgia game hit 65 combined points. Granted, Kentucky’s 24-2 win over Mississippi State evened the tables a bit overall, but offenses have been mostly prolific in the land of defense and field position.
While preseason projections still carry heavy weight when you’ve only played three games — which is why we see Missouri still with a top-30 defense and bottom-30 offense — we’re definitely seeing a slow role reversal in the SP+ rankings as well.
Ole Miss’ defense has fallen 24 spots, from 41st in preseason defensive SP+ to 65th
Florida has fallen 17 spots, from third to 20th
Auburn has fallen 11 spots, from seventh to 18th
Vanderbilt has fallen 13 spots, from 53rd to 66th
LSU has fallen 12 spots, from 25th to 37th
Missouri has fallen 12 spots, from 15th to 27th
South Carolina has fallen 10 spots, from 13th to 23rd
Georgia remains first for pretty obvious reasons, and both Arkansas and Mississippi State have risen slightly. But even with conservatism baked into the numbers, that’s a pretty stark shift. One top-10 unit for the conference that thinks it invented defense!