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 3 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. Ohio State has already picked up what NCAAF fans call a “quality loss.” 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 any hope of reaching the playoff. Oregon, who fell to Stanford in Palo Alto in Week 5, needs to win the rest of their remaining games and the teams in front of them need to lose for the Ducks to have a shot at the Playoff.
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 golden opportunity to reach the Playoff and become the first G5 team to ever play in a real-life NCAAF playoff game if they can remain undefeated, win the American Conference, and continue to win convincingly over their remaining opponents. Michigan remains unbeaten thus far and will be in the Playoff if they can navigate a tough schedule for the rest of the season, which includes 7th-ranked Michigan State, Penn State, and of course, Ohio State. Wake Forest is in the same spot as Oregon: 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 a 7-0 record. In college football parlance, that’s called a “weak resume.”
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). The Committee’s rankings take precedence over any other poll or ranking, but until the Committee releases its first official rankings on November 2, the AP poll serves as the factor for determining which teams have legitimate playoff hopes.
Here are the AP’s Top 10 teams before action starts in Week 9:
- Ohio State
- Michigan State
- Ole Miss
Team Rankings and Schedule Projections
After years of watching an absolute metric ton of college football each Saturday, I decided to dig a little deeper into what makes a college football team good. Luckily, smarter people had already done some very good research on it and shared their findings with the public, so I’m sharing that information with you here. Essentially, the best way to measure the strength of a college football team is through what Bill Connelly calls the “Five Factors”: Explosiveness, Efficiency, Field Position, Finishing Drives, and Turnovers. If you’re familiar with college basketball’s “Four Factors” system, this is quite similar.
It was found that a significantly high percentage of the outcome of games could be measured by various stats included in these Five Factors, including Points Per Play (how many points a team can score divided by the number of offensive plays run), which was found to be 71% successful at predicting the outcome of games, and Success Rate (measuring the total efficiency of the offense), which was found to be 70% successful as a predictor. The logic behind it is simple: if you are able to string together explosive plays with ease (think the 2019-2020 Kansas City Chiefs) or build a hyper-efficient offense that moves the chains often, but doesn’t rely on huge, game-breaking plays (maybe the 2020-2021 Tampa Bay Buccaneers?), then your offense should be able to carry you through most of your games. If your defense can limit explosive plays and forces teams to play “behind the sticks,” then your defense should be able to win you a few extra games as well.
This is the basis behind my ratings system, which takes into account the Five Factors and tries to adjust a little bit based on tempo and some other factors. The team ratings describe teams as if they were playing at a neutral site, so when comparing regular-season matchups, be sure to take that into account. I found that playing at home can increase a team’s rating by approximately 1 point in my system. Other systems, like Connelly’s SP+ system, require about a 2 point advantage to the home team.
Here are the top 10 teams by rating (not by Playoff chances, by my rating) and the bottom 10 teams by rating:
Players to Watch this Week
1. Kayvon Thibodeaux, DE, Oregon
We’ve reached the point in the season where we have a better idea of which teams are good and which teams are not as good, and that means we have some players to watch for NFL Draft season. The industry favorite for the #1 overall pick, Kayvon Thibodeaux, plays for Oregon, and made UCLA’s offensive line look quite silly last week:
Our top prospect in the 2022 Draft:
Kayvon Thibodeaux 🔥pic.twitter.com/g2OVchNdDv
— PFF (@PFF) October 23, 2021
They will host Colorado this week in what projects to be a home blowout. Thibodeaux should get a sack or two at a minimum. While Thibodeaux isn’t going to directly affect anyone’s fantasy football championship next year, adding him to a defense like Detroit or Philadelphia could be quite interesting for next year’s fantasy defense rankings.
2. Malik Willis, QB, Liberty
Some experts have considered Willis one of the top QBs in the 2022 class, although that doesn’t really mean much, as this QB class is considered to be quite weak, relative to other years. So, even if the Lions go 0-17, there is a chance that they don’t replace Jared Goff. Or, if you’re not a Jalen Hurts believer, the Eagles could choose to go after Willis with one of their two projected top-10 picks. Willis and Liberty will take on a putrid U Mass squad at home this week. Expect Willis to have his way with this unbelievably bad U Mass defense. Willis, if selected by the Eagles, would step into an intriguing role in the offense, with Devonta Smith and Dallas Goedert serving as nice offensive weapons to support him. Ditto for Willis if he fell all the way to the Giants, who would be able to support him with guys like Saquon Barkley, Kenny Golladay, and Evan Engram.
— Liberty Football (@LibertyFootball) October 23, 2021
3. Matt Corral, QB, Ole Miss
The other high-ish-rated QB in this class, Corral is situated on a much more exciting team in a much more exciting offense. Ole Miss is led by former USC and Florida Atlantic HC Lane Kiffin, who has turned Ole Miss into an SEC contender that can probably beat everyone except Alabama and Georgia. Corral has completed almost 68% of his passes, for 1900 yards, 15 TDs, and just 1 INT this season. Sheesh. Corral and Ole Miss take on a solid (but rather unspectacular) Auburn team this week.
Matt Corral: big DIY guy. pic.twitter.com/5W37aP3ZqO
— Ole Miss Football (@OleMissFB) October 23, 2021
4. Chris Olave, WR, Ohio State
Olave is the highest rated WR in this class, but the industry doesn’t seem to be as high on Olave as they were on some of the WRs from last year’s class. You may remember Olave from last year’s CFP semifinal game:
JUSTIN FIELDS WHAT A DIME! DERION KENDRICK CAN HOLD CHRIS OLAVE’S NUTS 😍 pic.twitter.com/9nMEDRAo5F
— Barstool OSU (@BarstoolOSU) January 2, 2021
He’s second on the team in total receptions thus far and could be an intriguing pairing with Justin Fields if the Bears can manage to draft Fields at an appropriate position (second coming of Burrow/Chase?). They seemed to have a strong connection last year, linking up for TD after TD.
5. Garrett Wilson, WR, Ohio State
Funny enough, the team leader in receptions and yardage is actually projected to go behind Olave in several mock drafts, albeit within just a few picks of each other. And you can see why industry professionals are high on Wilson, when he can make plays like these:
Garrett Wilson made this unreal catch as a TRUE freshman 🤯 pic.twitter.com/x0hh5l7l4F
— ESPN College Football (@ESPNCFB) May 27, 2020
Wilson has 36 catches for 605 yards this season. Olave, Wilson, and Ohio State take on Penn State this week in a highly touted matchup of Big Ten powerhouses.
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 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.”
The second prize, for many teams, are the “New Year’s Six” games, which pit highly-ranked teams that miss the playoff against others in typically very exciting matchups. The Rose Bowl game and the Sugar Bowl have direct tie-ins with certain conferences, as the Rose Bowl always takes a PAC-12 team and a Big Ten team (except in years where the Rose Bowl is a playoff semifinal game), and with Oregon projected to make the semifinals, the Rose Bowl draws the second-place team in the Pac-12.
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 next week). 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.