We don’t really acknowledge it much on QBList, but there is some football that goes on in between Thursday Night Football and Sunday. It’s called college football, and it is just as much, if not more, fun than NFL football. And, college football ends up feeding 99% of the NFL’s roster on any given Sunday, Monday, and Thursday (and Saturdays in December). So, I thought it would be a good idea to give you, the faithful reader, a quick little guide to the discourse around college football, some bowl projections, and a little prediction model by yours truly. See below for an explanation of how the model is structured, what factors it considers, and how to use it for betting. If you have any questions, feel free to drop them in the comments below or reach out to me on Twitter (@MrAdster99).
A Quick Primer on the 2021-22 NCAA Football Season
The top teams at the beginning of the year, Georgia and Alabama, both came from the Southeastern Conference (SEC). They were the betting favorites to appear in the SEC Championship game and in the 4-team College Football Playoff. Georgia has held up its end of the bargain, winning each of its first 7 games. Georgia has a fairly light remaining schedule and, barring any upsets, should appear in the SEC Championship Game, which would more or less cement their spot in the 4-team Playoff. Alabama, however, dropped an SEC in-conference game to Texas A&M (a fine team, but not Georgia-caliber), which caused them to plummet down the Associated Press Poll for a few weeks, but Alabama has since regained its stride and is still on course for a matchup with Georgia in the SECCG. The winner of that game will cement their spot in the 4-team playoff, but if Georgia defeats Alabama, Alabama will likely not reach the playoff, whereas the opposite does not hold true for Georgia.
The other top teams at the beginning of the year, Oklahoma and Ohio State, have faced some issues of their own. Oklahoma has barely escaped some far inferior opponents due to aggressively mediocre QB play. Oklahoma remains undefeated, and that is why they are ranked among the top handful of teams in the country, but they haven’t faced a ton of challenging teams just yet. An Oklahoma loss may derail their Playoff hopes entirely. They may have alleviated some of those concerns with a 52-point outburst against Texas Tech last week, but it’s one thing to hang 52 points on Texas Tech and another to beat ranked teams in Oklahoma State, Baylor, and Iowa State in three straight weeks. If Oklahoma can emerge from the gauntlet unscathed and win the Big 12, they will be a lock for the Playoff.
Ohio State has already picked up what NCAAF fans call a “quality loss.” A quality loss is generally considered a close loss to a good team. Ohio State fell to the PAC-12 conference leader, Oregon, in an early-season clash of juggernauts. Ohio State must win the rest of their remaining games, including the Big Ten (or B1G) Conference Championship Game, to have a chance of reaching the playoff. However, they will have to face undefeated Michigan State in just a few weeks, immediately followed by a rivalry game against Michigan in Ann Arbor, presenting a very tough challenge for the Buckeyes to remain undefeated.
Oregon, who fell to Stanford in Palo Alto in Week 5, needs to win the rest of their remaining games to have a shot at the Playoff. They escaped a tough UCLA game with a win two weeks ago on a last-minute interception but blew out Colorado last week and will have one more shot at a quality win when they face Utah in a few weeks.
Other teams have risen from early-season obscurity to have an outside shot at the Playoff. Cincinnati, the darling of the NCAAF’s “lower class” of football conferences (known as the Group of 5), has a strong(ish) opportunity to reach the Playoff and become the first Group of 5 (G5) team to ever play in a real-life playoff game if they can remain undefeated, win the American Conference, and continue to win convincingly over their remaining opponents. Michigan State remains unbeaten thus far and will be in the Playoff if they can navigate a tough schedule for the rest of the season. Michigan State has already overcome a very tough Michigan squad, but two big tests still loom in Ohio State and Penn State to close out the season. If Michigan State could pull off a win over Ohio State, the ramifications for the playoff could be immense, and I’m not ready to rule out a big Michigan upset over Ohio State either.
Wake Forest is in a tough spot: they need to win their conference and get some help from the teams in front of them. Wake is undefeated thus far, but their conference (the Atlantic Coast Conference) has produced some very weak teams, and Wake has benefitted from being able to destroy some of those lesser teams en route to an 8-0 record. In college football parlance, that’s called a “weak resume.” Their biggest tests are on the horizon, as Wake will have to face NC State in Winston-Salem and then travel to Death Valley to face Clemson a week later.
There are, of course, other things to play for in the NCAAF world besides the 4-team playoff. A significant portion of the teams left outside the Playoff hunt will look for bids to bowl games, which serve as a source of income and pride for the schools in them. A trip to a bowl game generally leaves a team happy heading into offseason workouts and their school becomes a couple hundred thousand dollars richer. My full bowl projections are below.
The Playoff ranking system is determined by a group of administrators called the CFP Selection Committee, which is comprised of former coaches and student-athletes, current athletic directors, school presidents, and professors (and, the organizer of all things college football, ESPN, likely has a say too). Thankfully, Selection Season is finally here, as the Selection Committee released its first round of official playoff rankings on Tuesday, providing some much-needed clarity after 9 long weeks of AP polling and even more confusion for fans of teams who thought those teams should have been included in the Top 25.
Top 25 Rankings
Here’s how the Top 25 teams in football shake out, according to the Playoff Committee:
My take: The Committee’s selections this week were all-around confusing. The main reason that this list as a whole continues to confound me is because, in terms of “Strength of Schedule” (the quality of the team’s opponents), “Quality Wins” (the quality of the team’s wins over good opponents), and “Quality Losses” (the quality of the teams that the team has lost to and the manner of their loss), which are all terms that the Committee has coined or parroted during the CFP era, the list is maddeningly inconsistent. There are teams with 1 quality win (Ohio State) or more than a few non-quality losses (Iowa, Wisconsin) sitting on this list, while teams that have looked very strong and haven’t suffered any losses (UTSA) languish behind them.
Overall, though, the list doesn’t match with the Committee’s rhetoric about head-to-head competition and “re-evaluating everyone’s resume every week” and shows a heavy bias towards the richest conferences in college football by excluding or denigrating the “little guys” from the Group of 5 conferences, like Cincinnati, UTSA, and Coastal Carolina. The Committee threw some G5 teams on this list (well-deserved choices, by the way) in Fresno State and San Diego State, but the inclusion of some 3-loss teams and some teams with 2 awful losses over some dominant G5 teams is frustrating.
Before you write me off as an angry ranter, here are some thoughts about the disservice to Cincinnati from other, smarter people:
Cincinnati beat the committee’s No. 10 ranked team and a Big Ten team. They’re currently undefeated. What else can they do? I never get upset by these rankings bc they’ll change, but I hate that.
— Tom VanHaaren (@TomVH) November 2, 2021
Cincinnati has a top-10 win on the road, and the committee is treating them like they should just be happy to be mentioned with the big boys.
— Nicole Auerbach (@NicoleAuerbach) November 2, 2021
"Who has Cincinnati beaten other than Notre Dame?”
I mean, who has Michigan State beaten other than Michigan? Ohio State’s best win is apparently a Minnesota team that lost to Bowling Green. Oregon beat OSU and a 5-4 UCLA team.
— Chris Vannini (@ChrisVannini) November 2, 2021
It’s not implausible (not the most likely argument, but a respectable one) to think that the Committee might be tilting the rankings in certain teams’ favors to boost TV ratings and pad viewership for big games down the final stretch of the season. But it’s quite disheartening for me, as I’m sure it is for many of the college football fans hoping to see a little variety in the Playoff, to see the same historically-good teams remain entrenched in the Top 10 of the CFP rankings despite not doing much to deserve those spots.
Now that I’ve gotten my rant over with, here’s how the Top 25 teams in football shake out, according to my updated model rankings:
Games to Watch This Week
One of the very best reasons to watch college football is the CHAOS! You’ve heard the phrase “Any Given Sunday.” Now, imagine that instead of 16 games with the potential for chaos… there are 60 or so games with the potential for chaos. And, these athletes aren’t NFL-caliber athletes, so they’re bound to have more than the occasional off-day or are liable to make more mistakes than you’re accustomed to seeing from even the worst NFL teams, which means even more CHAOS!
Why is chaos so fun, you might ask? In the right hands and on the right day, the perfect amount of chaos can alter the very course of the college football season, even more so than your average NFL upset. One loss could ruin a team’s chance at playing in their conference championship game. One loss could ruin a team’s bright and shiny Playoff hopes (Wake Forest, perhaps?), provided it comes at the right time. And, one team’s loss is another team’s gain. For example, one Oklahoma loss could open up playoff hopes for a lot of teams, including Alabama, Ohio State, and Oregon. There are only 12 games in a season and, if a team is lucky, the Committee will give them one free loss, provided they blow out other teams or win games against quality opponents. Some teams don’t get that kind of leeway, so every Saturday, they’re playing for their playoff lives.
Unless you’re a fan of one of these Playoff-oriented teams, I would always suggest rooting for Team CHAOS. It’s just more fun that way to see teams like little ol’ Kansas give the goliath Oklahoma a real scare in the first three quarters of the game. I’ve picked a few games that have chaos implications (the pickings are quite slim this week; most of the highly-ranked teams are playing matchups that my model has deemed pretty likely wins) or otherwise should be considered fun games:
Oklahoma State vs. West Virginia: Barring a minor miracle, Oklahoma State will probably not be in the Playoff conversation, but a win over West Virginia in Morgantown would help them stay on target for a matchup with Oklahoma that might decide the Big 12 conference.
UTSA vs. UTEP: We’re way out of the Power 5 teams here, but UTSA is now 8-0 and ranked 16th in the AP Poll heading into Week 10, which is a huge accomplishment for the Roadrunners (or basically any team. A lot of teams would kill to be 8-0 and ranked 16th) Even if UTSA keeps winning, they won’t be in the conversation for a Playoff berth, but another highly-ranked Group of 5 team would be great news for the G5 conferences.
Auburn vs. Texas A&M: Yes, Auburn is 6-2 and ranked in the CFP Top 25. But, they haven’t really played… anybody? Auburn’s list of ‘quality wins’ this year read as follows:
Ole Miss (6-2)
That’s it! That’s the list! Auburn’s other wins are over a horrendous Akron team, a bad Georgia State team, a very middling LSU team, and an FCS squad. Auburn couldn’t beat Penn State and they certainly couldn’t beat Georgia. Auburn, in my opinion, is simply ranked too high. Meanwhile, Texas A&M is on a roll. They went into their Week 9 bye after a shellacking of South Carolina and will be well-rested for an Auburn team that is coming off of a dogfight with Ole Miss. This game should be quite good, and a convincing win by one of these teams will help the CFP rankings settle themselves out a bit.
Liberty vs. Ole Miss: The return of Hugh Freeze to Oxford (Mississippi) should be exhilarating. Here’s a quick and simplified primer on Hugh Freeze, Liberty’s current Head Coach:
(1) Made several calls to various escort services around Oxford during his tenure as head coach. He claimed he called the “wrong numbers.”
(2) Continually paid large sums of money to players to commit to Ole Miss (The NCAA football community is full of unpaid labor, but that is a story for a different article; the point is, this is blatantly illegal under NCAA rules).
(3) Beat Alabama twice. That may not seem like a big deal, but since 2010, Alabama has gone 144-12. 12 total losses in 156 games! And two of them came from Hugh Freeze!
Because of his actions from (1) and (2), which don’t really seem that bad in the real world (Imagine paying your employees sums of money to work for you!) but are big no-no’s in college football, Freeze was fired from his position as Head Coach at Ole Miss and took up a job at Liberty, a school ‘famously’ known as being accommodating of extra-marital affairs. Freeze has turned Liberty’s program around in the last few years and has them looking quite good heading into Vaught-Hemingway Stadium in Mississippi. With a win over Ole Miss, Liberty would enter the AP Top 25.
Ole Miss’s now-unofficial record with Freeze at the helm: 39-25, which is quite good! However, the NCAA’s arcane punishments now render Ole Miss’s official record as 12-25 during Freeze’s tenure.
The other reason this matchup is so intriguing is that it pits two of the ‘top’ QB prospects of the 2022 NFL draft class against each other: Liberty’s Malik Willis, who absolutely shredded U Mass’s defense last week for 307 yards and 4 TDs, and Ole Miss’s Matt Corral, who had a mediocre game against Auburn last week, but still ranks 15th in passing yards among all qualified college QBs.
Players to Watch This Week
TreVeyon Henderson, RB, Ohio State
Henderson ran all over Penn State’s defense last week, taking 28 carries for 152 yards and a TD. And, it’s really not hard to see why, thanks to this beauty of a run:
97% of TreVeyon Henderson's runs have gone for positive yardage
Highest rate in College Footballpic.twitter.com/OLcpRTfcqz
— PFF College (@PFF_College) November 1, 2021
Henderson and Ohio State get the pleasure of taking on Nebraska, a team on one heck of a downslide. The Cornhuskers have won just one game since beating Buffalo at home in Week 2, and it came against a bad Northwestern squad. Henderson should roll.
Kenneth Walker III, Michigan State, RB
Speaking of running all over defenses, Kenneth Walker absolutely shredded Michigan in a historically-good performance last Saturday. Forget draft pick positions, let’s think about Walker’s Heisman campaign!
Kenneth Walker III was turning heads in a Heisman-level performance against Michigan.
🟢 5 TD
🟢 197 YDS
— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) October 30, 2021
Just video game numbers.
Before Week 9, Michigan was allowing roughly 117 yards per game, a mark that would put them in the Top 25 rushing defenses. After facing Kenneth Walker, Michigan has fallen to 35th in yards per game. He’s that good.
Walker currently ranks as the RB with the second-most yards in FBS. He’s about 80 yards behind Syracuse’s Sean Tucker, albeit with 26 fewer carries. Walker is averaging 6.8 YPC, while Tucker averages 6.3 YPC. BYU’s Tyler Allgeier is not far behind Walker, although Allgeier’s YPC is just 5.7. I realize that these numbers are absolutely comical for those used to the NFL’s average yards per carry, but college football is a different beast.
And, Walker gets to face Purdue this week, which allows 140 yards per game to running backs and approximately 4 yards per rush, which is uh, not good for them. Walker should roll, just like Henderson.
Tanner Mordecai, QB, SMU
Mordecai has been lighting up scoreboards while under center for the Mustangs this year. Mordecai ranks 7th in FBS in passing yardage, 2nd in TD passes, and 7th in QB Rating. Basically, he’s very good.
— ✯✯✯✯✯ (@FTBVids_YT) October 30, 2021
Mordecai threw for 300+ yards and 3 TDs last week against Houston, but SMU ultimately fell to the Cougars, thanks to Houston’s last-minute, 100-yard kickoff return for a TD. Mordecai should do more than just fine against a Memphis defense that is very average.
Also, keep an eye out on the Houston QB who actually outdueled Mordecai last week, Clayton Tune. Tune threw for 400 yards against SMU and gets to play against a South Florida defense this week that ranks among the worst in the nation. Both Tune and Mordecai should put up eye-popping numbers this week.
And, obviously, keep an eye on the matchup between Matt Corral and Malik Willis.
*Made prior to Tuesday and Wednesday’s MAC-tion; projections do not reflect results from those games.
The good (or bad, depending on your fandom and expectations) part of the college football season is that many schools beyond the selected Playoff schools get to end their seasons in a bowl game. These bowl games (many of which are owned and operated by ESPN) often pay the schools large amounts of money to come play in all kinds of places across the country. Many bowl games are played in nice climates in the Southeast or closer to the West Coast, where the weather is nicer and teams can get a little “vacation.” And, of course, there are some teams that unfortunately accept bids to games in the Northeast and get a nice cold-weather game.
Keep in mind that these are based on my own projections for each team’s record at the end of the season, as well as some estimation of what the College Football Playoff Selection Committee might do when it comes down to “Selection Sunday.”
First, my picks for the College Football Playoff. These are, of course, subject to change, but I’m basing these on what I think the Committee is going to ultimately do. These are important for the New Year’s Six and the rest of bowl season because each conference sends teams to various bowl games based on the number of “ties” it has with bowl games and the number of teams it has available for those “ties.” Losing teams to the Playoff reduces the number of teams available for bowl “ties.”
Even though the Committee has come out with its first set of rankings, these bowl projections are an estimate of how the rest of the season will shake out and how I think the Committee will ultimately slot various teams at the end of the season.
First, we begin with the CFP Semifinal projections. The playoff selections have a huge impact over bowl season, so any change here alters the rest of the bowl schedule quite dramatically, depending on the teams selected.
I’ve got Ohio State ultimately squeaking into the Playoff as the final team by virtue of a potential conference championship. It’s hard to pick between a 1-loss Power 5 champion (Oregon) another 1-loss Power 5 champion (Ohio State) if one of them has a head-to-head win over the other. Thus, Ohio State draws the short straw. That being said, a Michigan State or a Michigan win over Ohio State could make things very interesting in terms of playoff chaos.
You may have also noticed that Ohio State is in and Alabama is not. That’s because I have Georgia finally defeating Alabama in the SEC Championship Game and Wake Forest losing to Pittsburgh in the ACC Championship Game, eliminating two potential “bubble” teams, while opening the door for a 1-loss conference champion to sneak in.
The teams that don’t end up in the Semifinal usually get a nice trip to a New Year’s Six bowl game. They’re typically in warm and sunny places, the teams get paid handsomely for appearing, and it makes every college football fan’s day a whole lot better when you can watch exciting matchups all day long to celebrate the New Year.
Unfortunately for Utah, they will have to play what will be a very talented Big Ten team (Possibly Iowa, Michigan State, or Michigan) in almost-prime-time, as Oregon’s selection to the CFP opens a spot for the second-best PAC-12 team to take on the second-best Big Ten conference member. That game might get ugly. The same might also go for Oklahoma State, who will have to play the 2nd-most talented team in the country (assuming they lose to Georgia in the SECCG), assuming they lose their conference championship game to Oklahoma. The other games get quite interesting, though. At the moment, I have Wake Forest (admittedly, I’m not much of a Wake believer this year) and Pittsburgh on the outside, looking in. That could very well change in future CFP Committee rankings, as the Committee ultimately picks the New Year’s Six matchups based on their Top 25 rankings. Keep an eye on that in the coming weeks.
And, finally, now that we’ve gotten the best six bowls out of the way, here are the remainder of the bowl games (of course, subject to change, based on the CFP Committee’s rankings). Teams typically need to win 6 games (a .500 winning percentage) to reach a bowl game, but ESPN will occasionally take teams that are 5-7 to fill in extra bowl games. And, since ESPN organizes nearly half of the bowl games, they have a lot of discretion over what teams are in what bowl games and can choose teams to “stand-in” for conferences that can’t meet all of their bowl ties.
Note: As you scan the list of bowls, take a look at the conferences involved and check out the bowl payouts. That should give you a really good idea of the monetary disparity between various conferences.