The tops of the totem poles haven’t changed that much two weeks into 2018. But the middles have changed significantly.
I tweaked this year’s S&P+ rankings to be more sensitive to early results. I did this primarily because weeks 3-6 are typically when S&P+ has a harder time predicting final scores. The ratings start off well against the spread (and at 57 percent through two weeks, that has been the case again this year), fall into a slump, and rally in November. Through tinkering and experimentation, I found that making the ratings a little bit more reactive in the short-term could help a bit.
We’ll see! But as the preseason projections begin to phase out, I thought now would be an interesting time to see how much college football’s landscape has changed over the first two weeks.
Below are updated win probabilities — conference totals and overall totals — for each FBS team, arranged by conference.
While acknowledging that S&P+ has probably been too sensitive in reaction to some teams’ performances, let’s see how things have changed so far.
First things first: here are the nine teams still projected at 10 wins or higher. Minimal surprises here.
Boise State (11.2 projected wins)
Ohio State (11.1)
So not much has changed at the top.
A lot has changed in the middle, though.
Note: Because we don’t know for sure which games will and won’t be made up — and because no conference games have been affected at press time — I have not yet removed from the projections the Week 3 games affected by Hurricane Florence.
Changes at the top? Nope. Alabama could slip up once in SEC games and still be comfortable, and UGA could maybe slip up twice.
Biggest mover (good): Vanderbilt simply handled business against MTSU and Nevada. Look the part early, and you’ll move up. The Dores looked the part last year, and then had their souls destroyed by Bama, but Bama isn’t on the schedule this year.
Biggest mover (bad): Arkansas fell asleep and blew a double-digit lead against an otherwise bad Colorado State. The Hogs now have to score an upset or two in SEC play to get back on the right side of bowl projections. That’s possible if the defense comes around a hair.
Who’s falling back to earth? Vanderbilt. I mean, it has to be the Dores, right? They’ve risen a little too far for beating teams in the lower half of Conference USA and the Mountain West.
Changes at the top? Yep! Clemson is still the favorite, but Miami’s struggles against LSU dropped the Hurricanes enough to make the Coastal race blurry. Now four teams — Georgia Tech, Miami, Virginia Tech, and Duke — are within 0.4 projected conference wins of each other.
Biggest mover (good): BC. The Eagles have risen quite a bit from beating up on UMass and Holy Cross. Treating bad teams like bad teams is a better predictor than you think, but we’ll find out a heck of a lot more this weekend at Wake Forest.
Biggest mover (bad): UNC. I tried to bake UNC’s suspensions into the projections a bit, but the effects have been worse than imaginable. Losing at Cal by a touchdown isn’t shameful … but getting your doors blown off by ECU is. The good news: a few suspended players are back, and everyone else will be soon.
Who’s falling back to earth? BC. Quite a few people were high on the Eagles, and with last season’s late improvement, it wasn’t too hard to see why. But let’s just say I’m not quite trusting top-15 good.
Changes at the top? Nope. Ohio State’s got a projected advantage of 1.8 conference wins over the East, and Wisconsin’s still more than two B1G games up on the West.
Biggest mover (good): Minnesota. The Gophers’ minimal returning offensive production dragged their numbers down, but the lost production has turned out to be replaceable so far. Freshman Zack Annexstad has produced just a 55 percent completion rate and 123.8 passer rating, but some Gopher fans are proclaiming him UM’s best QB in a generation … and they might not be wrong.
Biggest mover (bad): Purdue. The good news: simply a couple of dumb defensive penalties from a 2-0 start. The bad news: they shouldn’t have been a single penalty from losing to EMU. Those preseason top-40 projections are looking like ancient history, but they’ve got a chance to turn things around against Missouri.
Who’s falling back to earth? No one. There isn’t an obvious overreaction here — the teams whose totals have changed the most are Minnesota, Maryland, and Indiana, and all are merely projected around the 7-5 mark.
Changes at the top? Nope.
Biggest mover (good): WVU manhandled Tennessee (which might or might not be impressive) and Youngstown State. As long as depth holds up, WVU’s a conference title game contender.
Biggest mover (bad): Iowa State. Effects of a small sample size. The Cyclones have played only once, and they lost a dreary battle against Iowa. I expect at least a little rebound.
Who’s falling back to earth? Oklahoma State. From an S&P+ perspective, the Cowboys are still the favorite for the title game slot opposite Oklahoma. But QB Taylor Cornelius has thrown three picks, and I won’t trust the Pokes until I see what they do against Boise State this weekend.
Changes at the top? Yep! Washington is still the clear favorite in the North, even if the Huskies’ projected advantage has shrunk. But with USC’s loss at Stanford — and the offensive issues associated with that loss — the South has become a free-for-all. Utah is your momentary favorite with 5.9 projected conference wins, but ASU (5.4) isn’t far behind. USC (4.8) is a prime “improve as the season goes” candidate, and Colorado (4.4) has been all sorts of impressive.
Biggest mover (good): Arizona State. We all knew the Herm Edwards hire would reap immediate dividends, right? RIGHT? We don’t know how impressed to be with the UTSA and Michigan State wins yet, but there’s no question that the short-term outlook has improved dramatically.
Biggest mover (bad): Arizona. Only two teams have seen their projections fall by more than 3.8 wins: NMSU (minus-4.3) and Arizona (minus-5.6). They’ve gone from projected South darkhorse to 2-10 being their most likely record. Guh.
Who’s falling back to earth? Arizona State. Sorry. The Sun Devils are clearly better than we feared they might be, but trips to SDSU and Washington in the next two weeks will tell us a lot.
Biggest mover (good): Liberty beat down ODU in the season opener, and that was enough to change the Flames’ outlook a decent amount, even after losing to Army.
Biggest mover (bad): NMSU. We’ll always have 2017, Aggies.
Who’s falling back to earth? No one. Notre Dame still looks like an easy contender for double-digit wins despite struggling with Ball State. Army, Liberty, BYU, and UMass all look like teams that will skate the line of bowl eligibility for a while.
Changes at the top? Slightly. UCF is still your projected East favorite, but Memphis’ advantage in the West slid thanks to the loss to Navy. You’ve now got a two-team battle between the Tigers and Houston Cougars.
Biggest mover (good): Cincinnati. Luke Fickell’s Bearcats might be a year ahead of schedule. They played UCLA at the best possible time — when Chip Kelly didn’t know what he had yet — and won an upset, and they kept Miami (Ohio) at bay pretty easily.
Biggest mover (bad): Temple. Buffalo’s a potentially higher-end MAC team, and Villanova could be one of FCS’ best, now that the Wildcats are healthy again. Even acknowledging that, the Owls’ 0-2 start is incredibly disappointing.
Who’s falling back to earth? Cincinnati has risen a bit too far, I think, and I don’t see the Bearcats as East contenders yet. But with three home games and trips to UConn and Temple coming up, they’re staring at a potential 7-0 start all the same.
Changes at the top? Not really. Boise State has solidified its place atop the Mountain division, and Fresno State has distanced itself a bit from SDSU.
Biggest mover (good): Hawaii. S&P+ has been slow to warm to the Warriors, but they’ve still gone from a projected 3-9 to a projected 7-5 in just three games.
Biggest mover (bad): SJSU. I didn’t know it was possible for the Spartans’ projections to get worse, but after a loss to UC Davis and a shutout against Wazzu, here we are.
Who’s falling back to earth? Boise State, if only because the Broncos’ projections are almost too good. They’re projected with 7.7 conference wins, which suggests they’re nearly untouchable, but Wyoming and Air Force have been tricky in the past, and I really like Utah State. This is clearly the MWC’s best team, but I’m thinking 7-1 is still more likely than 8-0.
Changes at the top? Yep! Toledo is still far and away your favorite, but Ohio’s rough start against Howard has made Buffalo your current East favorite, with Akron on the Bulls’ heels.
Biggest mover (good): EMU romped over Monmouth, then upset Purdue, moving their projected win total to 8-4 and making them your official No. 2 contender in the West.
Biggest mover (bad): Ohio. As with Iowa State, the Bobcats have been cursed by a small sample size. But they labored against a Howard that turned around and got rocked by Kent State.
Who’s falling back to earth? Akron has been blessed by a small sample size, with just a 41-7 win over Morgan State to go on at the moment. I trust Buffalo a lot more in the East, and Ohio could still end up just fine, so I’m not naming Akron a prime contender yet.
Changes at the top? Very much so. We were looking at an App State vs. Arkansas State title game in the preseason, and at the moment, the most likely matchup is UL Lafayette vs. Georgia Southern. Didn’t see that coming (and don’t think it’ll hold up).
Biggest mover (good): UL Lafayette. Another team blessed by a small sample size. The Cajuns looked fine against Grambling, but that’s it so far.
Biggest mover (bad): Arkansas State. The Red Wolves didn’t handle SEMO quite as well as they should have, then got obliterated by Bama. That has hurt their numbers.
Who’s falling back to earth? UL. To say the least, I need to see more from the Ragin’ Cajuns. The same goes for Georgia Southern, which has handled its business against SC State and UMass but hasn’t, in my opinion, proved to be on Appalachian State’s or Troy’s levels yet.
Changes at the top? Yep! North Texas has eased ahead in the West, and thanks to FAU’s underwhelming start, Marshall is for now your favorite in the East.
Biggest mover (good): North Texas. In a conference desperate for good teams, Seth Littrell’s Mean Green have looked good, romping over SMU and doing what you’re supposed to do against Incarnate Word.
Biggest mover (bad): UTSA. It’s not that Frank Wilson’s Roadrunners lost to Arizona State and Baylor — it’s that they lost by a combined 59 points. That has altered their win projection from 6-6 to 3-9. And it’s distracted us from how disappointing other C-USA teams have been, like ODU or WKU.
Who’s falling back to earth? Marshall, I guess, if only because FAU still has a chance to find fifth gear and could roar back into the race. I like the Thundering Herd, but I think they’re only the second-best team in the East.