The only conferences that still have regular games to play are the Big 12 and the Sun Belt, while the other eight FBS leagues prepare for championship games that will determine a definitive team at the top of the respective standings for 2015. Army and Navy still have their traditional shootout in two weeks in Philadelphia, and then all that will be left are 40 bowl games and a play-in championship to crown the nation’s best team of the year.
After claiming the Big 12 title, Oklahoma sits atop this week’s Pigskin Rating System calculations. Their average adjusted margin of victory sits at 17.7 points per game, far better than any other team. (#3 Ohio State is second in adjusted margin of victory, a full field goal lower at 14.6 points per game.) That speaks of otherworldly performance, further rendering the Red River Shootout an aberration where Texas caught the Sooners at just the right time. Like the Buckeyes last year, Oklahoma could be poised for a major run.
While Ohio State is still in the top four in these numbers, #20 Michigan State will be the team representing the Big Ten East in the championship game at Indianapolis. There they will take on #21 Iowa, as the PRS rankings continue to undervalue the Spartans and Hawkeyes despite a combined 23-1 record. Ohio State and Michigan by comparison are ranked third and seventh, putting into question the schedule strength component and the need for offseason adjustments to that area of the system.
One wonders whether coaching calculations might deserve a sliding scale element on a rotating five-year window, where recent successes weigh heavier than past glories. Longevity alone does not guarantee success, after all, or Frank Beamer would annually be in the playoff hunt. This will of course merit offseason review, and any changes in methodology for the 2016 season will also be reviewed retroactively as a test case against what we saw in 2015.
Just a few games remain before the final and authoritative College Football Playoff selection committee poll comes out and we know which teams actually made the four-team field and the rest of the New Year’s Six games. For now, here are a few random thoughts about the Power Five conferences and the Group of Five based around this week’s PRS numbers:
- ACC — Clemson continues to be shot down by the PRS rankings, dropping another spot from fifth to sixth this week despite winning against South Carolina on the road to close out a 12-0 regular season. Their opponent in the ACC championship game, on the other hand, continues to surge up the charts. North Carolina vaulted four spots into eighth, claiming the last spot in a hypothetical eight-team playoff bracket. Florida State was one of the biggest movers in the top 25 this week, jumping nine spots to ninth after taking care of business against SEC East champion Florida in their annual rivalry game. With three teams in the top 10, the ACC is respected but incredibly top-heavy; the next team after FSU is NC State in 38th position.
- BIG 12 — The Big 12 still has games to play to round out its regular season, but it is already guaranteed of a decisive conference champion to put up against the other leagues in front of the selection committee. Oklahoma rebounded from that Texas loss to roll off seven straight conference victories, all but the TCU win coming by double digits. Baylor’s continued hovering in fourth, the Horned Frogs’ short fall from 13th to 14th (despite besting Baylor), and Oklahoma State and West Virginia’s continued presence in the top 20 is representative of one of the deepest leagues in the Power Five. There is no way the Sooners are likely to get shut out of the playoff.
- BIG TEN — Michigan State and Iowa, as we already discussed, are massively undervalued by the PRS calculations. Even if Iowa wins to go 13-0, there is no indication they would vault significantly up the chart; the same goes for the Spartans. Instead the system continues to overrate Ohio State and Michigan, two teams that will be sitting at home next weekend ruing the opportunity missed. The Buckeyes could ostensibly still get selected for the playoff, but the likelier situation is that the committee views the Hawkeyes and Spartans in far higher esteem and puts the winner of the championship game into the four-team field
- PAC-12 — Stanford defeated Notre Dame, and dropped two spots. Southern Cal knocked off UCLA and fell one spot. The two will meet in Santa Clara next Saturday with the Pac-12 championship on the line, and little more than the league’s spot in the Rose Bowl beyond that. Both teams entered the season as playoff hopefuls, but league attrition prevented both of them from emerging on the other side of the regular season unscathed. Washington was the biggest leaper of the week, jumping 26 spots all the way to 12th in the Week 13 rankings on the strength of a demolition of Washington State in the Apple Cup that seriously boosted adjusted margin of victory. No other league teams factor in the top 25; UCLA dropped from 19th to 28th after losing to their crosstown rival, and Oregon hangs on the edge of the top 40.
- SEC — Alabama sits logically in second position, secure in the knowledge that winning the SEC championship against Florida next weekend will ensure a spot in the playoff field. Florida is not nearly in the same boat, sitting in 22nd in the PRS after losing to Florida State over the weekend. The SEC West is far more respected, with Ole Miss all the way up to fifth after winning the Egg Bowl. The reality is that the SEC in general does not look nearly as good this year as it has in seasons’ past. Bama and the Rebels are the only two West teams in the top 25, and the East features only Florida at 22nd and Georgia in 25th. Tennessee, LSU, Texas A&M, Mississippi State, and Arkansas are all bunched up between 26th and 32nd, but that speaks to depth and parity more than any hierarchy of excellence behind Nick Saban’s crew.
- GROUP OF FIVE — The Access Bowl Power Rankings break the teams in the hunt for the automatic mid-major New Year’s Six berth far more thoroughly, but let’s look quickly at the PRS rankings of these leagues. AAC championship host Houston is actually down a spot to 15th despite beating Navy over the weekend, while C-USA East champ Western Kentucky vaulted a dozen spots to creep right up behind the Cougars in 16th. Bowling Green, the favorite in the MAC championship game in Detroit, sits behind both of those teams in 17th. WKU ostensibly has the best title game opponent in #23 Southern Miss, though the committee will likely consider the AAC championship game between Houston and Temple as the de facto play-in game for the Access Bowl.
FINAL FOUR PREDICTIONS: #1 Oklahoma (Big 12 champion), #2 Alabama (SEC champion), #6 Clemson (ACC champion), #20 Michigan State (Big Ten champion)
You can scroll through the full rankings below, including the breakdown of each category calculated in the Pigskin Rating System. To brush up on the methodology used in the rankings, click here.