Only 14 undefeated teams remain among the 127 full FBS members, and four of those are mid-major schools that are often going to be undervalued relative to the competition. While winning is hardly the only determinant for the real quality of a team in a given season, it certainly does play a major role in how we value these teams.
In this week’s Pigskin Rating System breakdown, what is most interesting is not the inclusion of undefeated teams among the top 16, but rather the fact that eight of those 14 — and all four Group of Five schools — are excluded from those lofty heights. Let’s look at the octet one by one:
- 6-0 Houston (#17, 6.4 PRS) is not even the highest-ranked of the Group of Five schools. That honor goes instead to a Boise State team that suffered its second loss of the season in a blowout by Utah State that threatened the Broncos’ chances of even winning the Mountain West.
- 6-0 Utah (#18, 6.3 PRS) sits 12 spots below a Michigan team it defeated on opening day. Further, this is a Wolverines squad that already has two losses to its name after falling to Michigan State on a wild finish in the Big House on Saturday yet dropped only two spots.
- 6-0 LSU (#19, 6.3 PRS) is the only undefeated team left in the SEC at the midway point of the season. Yet three division rivals with four losses between them are situated higher in the rankings, as is the Florida team that LSU beat head-to-head on Saturday.
- 6-0 Oklahoma State (#20, 6.3 PRS) garners less respect than its state rival in Norman, despite the fact that the Sooners have already suffered a loss within the conference. The Cowboys at least have the excuse of a weak non-conference schedule that dampens that facet of the DOCTS score.
- 6-0 Toledo (#26, 6.1 PRS) has statement Power Five wins over Arkansas and Iowa State, but they can’t even crack the top 25 of this week’s PRS rankings. The Rockets are pipped, even, by two Group of Five schools with worse records (Boise State and Western Kentucky).
- 6-0 Temple (#33, 5.9 PRS) had a hard time on Saturday before pulling away for a two-touchdown victory over hapless UCF, justifying in some ways the team’s five-spot drop in the PRS this week. Still, the Owls find themselves below Appalachian State and Utah State in the rankings.
- 7-0 Michigan State (#40, 5.7 PRS) is ludicrously ranked 34 spots behind the Michigan team that they upset on Saturday, and only 11 spots ahead of the 4-3 Oregon team they defeated in September. The Spartans have mainly suffered from small margins of victory (four wins within one score, no win bigger than 20.)
- 6-0 Memphis (#44, 5.6 PRS) upset Ole Miss in the Liberty Bowl, yet they fell the same three spots in the rankings as the Rebels they defeated — and sit 39 spots behind. There are nine other Group of Five schools ostensibly ranked ahead of the Tigers, though they remain my favorite for the Access Bowl.
I hesitate to tinker too much with the system, though the offseason might justify some minor tweaks to see how they might affect this disparity. These examples illustrate that there is no perfect way to assess team quality in a widely disparate field of schools, and that our best-laid plans rarely give the result we might expect.
Still, the rankings can certainly tell us much about the viability of any team’s case for a playoff berth, or a New Year’s Six invite, or a bowl selection of any sort. We can determine which teams seem like the most viable candidates to take their conference titles, and which are merely pretending to be contenders.
Here are some other notable snippets about this week’s rankings:
- Who gets left out in a four-team playoff this week? Baylor remains entrenched in the top spot, with its otherworldly offense showing no signs of stopping this season. Alabama moved up a spot thanks to its victory over Texas A&M and the Ole Miss loss at Memphis. Oklahoma’s big win over Kansas State vaulted the Sooners up 11 spots into third place. And after weeks outside the top quartet, defending national champion Ohio State is back in the playoff picture after its win over Penn State. Hovering right on the cusp are a pair of teams, Ole Miss and Michigan, that have little justification for griping after both lost on Saturday.
Here is how the first round would look if a 16-team playoff was seeded off the pure numbers, with higher seeds hosting games on campus:
- #16 Clemson (ACC/6-0, 6.4 PRS) at #1 Baylor (Big 12/6-0, 8.3 PRS)
- #15 Iowa (Big Ten/7-0, 6.4 PRS) at #2 Alabama (SEC/6-1, 8.1 PRS)
- #14 Florida (SEC/6-1, 6.4 PRS) at #3 Oklahoma (Big 12/5-1, 7.6 PRS)
- #13 Boise State (MWC/5-2, 6.6 PRS) at #4 Ohio State (Big Ten/7-0, 7.5 PRS)
- #12 Texas A&M (SEC/5-1, 6.6 PRS) at #5 Ole Miss (SEC/5-2, 7.5 PRS)
- #11 Florida State (ACC/6-0, 6.6 PRS) at #6 Michigan (Big Ten/5-2, 7.3 PRS)
- #10 Notre Dame (IND/6-1, 6.9 PRS) at #7 TCU (Big 12/7-0, 7.1 PRS)
- #9 USC (Pac-12/3-3, 7.0 PRS) at #8 Stanford (Pac-12/5-1, 7.1 PRS)
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.