10:30 AM ET
Bill ConnellyESPN Staff Writer
- Bill Connelly is a staff writer for ESPN.com.
After the first full college football slate of the season — or at least, what constitutes “full” in 2020 — the SP+ rankings haven’t seen much movement at the top. That’s to be expected when few of the top teams have played, of course.
Therehasbeen movement down below, however, and it’s worth talking about. So let’s look at this week’s rankings.
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.
Note: The previous rank column below refers to where teams ranked in the preseason projections among only teams scheduled to play this fall at the moment. So while Alabama and UTEP wereoriginally projected second and 128th, respectively, their previous rankings below are first and 77th because the teams above Bama and below UTEP aren’t scheduled to play.
Without further ado,here are the updated numbers.
Despite all the turnover and uncertainty of the offseason, and despite the fact that lots of teams are down double-digit players because of coronavirus protocols at the moment, SP+ has started the season performing quite well. It’s 12-6 against the spread so far (67%) and 13-5 on over-unders (72%), so it’s safe to say it’s got a pretty good lay of the land.
It still didn’t have quite a proper read of certain teams out of the gates, however. Let’s walk through the teams that have quickly moved up or down quite a few spots.
Seven teams have moved up at least 10 spots so far:
Army (up 22 spots from 61st to 39th)
West Virginia (up 13 spots from 46th to 33rd)
Coastal Carolina (up 13 spots from 67th to 54th)
Pitt (up 12 spots from 27th to 15th)
BYU (up 12 spots from 33rd to 21st)
Marshall (up 12 spots from 48th to 36th)
Louisville (up 10 spots from 28th to 18th)
Army is the best 2-0 team on the planet at the moment. (The Black Knights are theonly2-0 team, but let’s not get caught up in minor details.) After last year’s injury-addled stumble to 5-8, it appears Jeff Monken’s squad has gotten back up to speed, beating its first two opponents by a combined 79-7. No, MTSU and ULM probably aren’t very good, but as I say early in a given season each year, blowing out bad teams is still a tell. It hints at what you’re capable of about as well as anything else early on.
Meanwhile, seven teams have moved down at least nine spots.
Navy (down 18 spots from 40th to 58th)
Florida State (down 14 spots from 18th to 32nd)
Georgia Southern (down 13 spots from 53rd to 66th)
Kansas State (down 13 spots from 36th to 49th)
Western Kentucky (down nine spots from 37th to 46th)
Texas Tech (down nine spots from 39th to 48th)
Southern Miss (down nine spots from 58th to 67th)
In 2018, Army went 11-2 and Navy went 3-10. In 2019, Navy went 11-2 and Army went 5-8. And just two weeks into 2020, the two service academies have almost perfectly switched places in the SP+ rankings. Every year is “Freaky Friday” for the academies, apparently.
A familiar underachiever
Florida State is stuck in its own movie of sorts, but it’s more of the horror flick or “Groundhog Day” variety. The Noles somehow lost theirfourth straightseason opener on Saturday, this time to Georgia Tech. Geoff Collins’ Yellow Jackets defense was as feisty as expected, but any potential hoped-for growth from FSU quarterback James Blackman or an offensive line that has dramatically underachieved for years was unseen. Under another new coach and another new offensive coordinator, FSU’s offense looked as stagnant as ever.
ACC rival Miami’s offense, however, showed a spark. Against a UAB defense that ranked in the defensive SP+ top 30 last year, the Hurricanes put up 495 yards (6.3 per play) while the defense allowed just one drive of over 35 yards. The 31-14 score flattered the Blazers a bit, and the Canes hopped from 15th to 12th in SP+. They’re up to 28th on offense among fall teams, fourth on defense.
A wild start for special teams units
It seemed every close game on Saturday turned because of special teams oddities, from Louisiana scoring on two return touchdowns to pull ahead of Iowa State to Texas State missing a PAT and a chip-shot field goal to foil a comeback against UTSA. This has been a theme so far, even going back to the Week 0 Austin Peay-Central Arkansas showcase game, which turned in part because of a pair of wild punt snaps.
As you see here, though, early-season special teams ratings are not designed to carry much weight. It’s such a small-sample exercise that it takes a while for anything predictive to come from special teams data, even when seemingly every punt or kick attempt is even more of an adventure than normal. So the most any team has gained or lost from special teams so far boils down to about 0.2 adjusted points per game. That spread will obviously increase over time.
The Sun Belt’s big week
The #FunBelt had one of its best weeks ever. Louisiana beat a ranked team (Iowa State) for the first time since 1996 and might soon find itself ranked by the AP for the first time ever. Arkansas State came from behind to win at Kansas State, as well, and Coastal Carolina won at Kansas for the second straight year. Sun Belt 3, Big 12 0.
How does that translate in the numbers? The conference’s average SP+ rating went from minus-9.3 (basically in between the average for the MWC and the MAC) to minus-7.6, basically a Mountain West level of play. The East’s average is now the best among non-AAC Group of 5 divisions, and the West’s rose slightly, too. Among fall teams, Appalachian State (which survived a tough fight from Charlotte) and Louisiana are now in the top 30 as well.
That’s pretty good movement for a single week, yeah?