by Brian Fremeau
For the third straight weekend, one of the top contenders for the College Football Playoff was upset in stunning fashion. In Week 7, South Carolina defeated Georgia, then No. 4 in FEI and a 20.5-point favorite. In Week 8, Illinois defeated Wisconsin, then No. 3 in FEI and a 28.5-point favorite. And this past Saturday, Kansas State took down Oklahoma, then No. 6 in FEI and a 23.5-point favorite. We aren't experiencing 2007-level chaos with multiple top-10 opponents falling flat on a nearly weekly basis, but every top team needs to watch its back down the stretch.
Each of the upsets has had a significant impact on expectations for the top contenders in the race for the College Football Playoff, picking off previously undefeated teams to narrow the list of teams in control of their own destiny. But each time a new team falls short of perfection, the door opens a bit more for teams seemingly eliminated earlier this year to step back into the playoff picture.
Georgia and Oklahoma can't be written off yet. Each has an elite efficiency profile on one side of the ball. The Bulldogs have the nation's third-ranked defense in opponent-adjusted efficiency, allowing a touchdown on only 8.2% of opponent drives (third nationally), giving up only 29.2% of available yards (fourth nationally), and allowing explosive drives (earning an average of 10 or more yards per play) on only 1.6% of opponent possessions (second nationally). The Sooners fell short of a comeback after spotting Kansas State a big fourth-quarter lead, but Oklahoma's offense still ranks first in explosive drives (44.9%) and second in available yards (72.5%), touchdown rate (53.6%), and overall offensive efficiency.
Georgia has a 28% likelihood to win all of its remaining regular-season games, beginning with a tough rivalry matchup with Florida in Jacksonville this weekend and following that up in two weeks on the road at Auburn. Oklahoma has a 22% likelihood to win all of its remaining regular-season games, including a road trip to currently undefeated Baylor on November 16. Those aren't the greatest odds to bet on Oklahoma or Georgia working their way back into the playoff, but they're more likely than all but three of the currently undefeated teams (Clemson, Ohio State, and Alabama) to win out.
The two teams to keep an even closer eye on to disrupt the playoff race are out west. Oregon lost to Auburn on the opening weekend of the season -- not an elimination game by any stretch, but one that put the Ducks on the playoff backburner right out of the gate. Utah stubbed its toe against USC in Week 4, a game that many considered to be a nail in the coffin of Pac-12 playoff hopes. But Oregon and Utah have kept winning ever since, and they're currently in a better position than either Oklahoma or Georgia to win out the remainder of the regular season. For each, their biggest remaining obstacle is coming up this weekend. Oregon travels to USC and Utah travels to Washington on Saturday, November 2. Neither the Trojans (FEI No. 28) nor Huskies (FEI No. 33) will be easy outs, but both Oregon and Utah have stingy defenses that can frustrate their opponents into defeat. Utah is allowing only 31.3% of available yards on opponent offensive drives, the sixth-best rate nationally. Oregon is forcing three-and-outs (or worse) on 41.0% of opponent possessions, the eighth-best rate nationally.
The table below lists the teams currently projected to lose the fewest remaining regular-season games (PRL) along with their respective percentage likelihood to win all of their remaining regular season games (WO). Projected losses and weekly win distribution projections are provided for all teams here.
The playoff race isn't going to play out linearly, and every favorite isn't going to win. The top national championship contenders may have created some separation as of this week, but the path for Utah or Oregon (or other teams to step in if they falter) to find their own way into the playoff field is on the table. November is here, and the national championship race has only begun.
2019 FEI Ratings (through Week 9)
The Fremeau Efficiency Index (FEI) is a college football rating system based on opponent-adjusted possession efficiency, representing the per possession scoring advantage a team would be expected to have on a neutral field against an average opponent. Unadjusted possession efficiency (PE) is calculated as a function of offensive, defensive, and special teams game splits. Schedule strength is represented by each team's average per possession opponent adjustment (OA). Opponent-adjusted offense ratings (OFEI), opponent-adjusted defense ratings (DFEI), and opponent-adjusted special teams ratings (SFEI) are calculated in a similar manner as overall FEI ratings. Team records against all FBS opponents (W-L) and against opponents ranked in the FEI top 10 (v10), top 20 (v20), top 30 (v30), top 40 (v40), and top 50 (v50) are also provided.
Ratings and supporting data are calculated from the results of non-garbage possessions in FBS vs. FBS games.