Ohio State was projected fourth in the preseason SP+ ratings, 5.2 points from No. 1 Alabama. The Buckeyes had some key players to replace on both sides of the ball, and a defense that had been shaky at times in 2020 was projected just 27th overall.
Two weeks into the season, after a frustrating win over Minnesota and a loss to Oregon, the Buckeyes had fallen only to fifth, but their defense was down to 39th, and they were nearly eight points away from No. 1. They were still clearly good -- especially on offense, where they still had more upside than anyone in FBS -- but in a conference that featured three other top-10 teams, their odds of winning out weren't great. They were teetering in the national title race.
Fast-forward six more weeks. The Buckeyes have looked utterly spectacular for four straight games. Granted, they played the teams currently ranked 33rd, 56th, 65th and 127th in SP+, but they beat them by an average score of 58-11. They are an easy No. 1 in offensive SP+ -- the second-place offense is 4.5 points behind theirs -- and their defense has rebounded to 20th.
This, combined with the second-best special teams unit in the country, has driven a change atop this week's overall SP+ ratings. Despite Georgia's overall dominance, the advantage the Buckeyes have crafted over the field on offense has pushed them to No. 1. On a neutral field, SP+ would favor them by 0.6 points over Kirby Smart's 7-0 Dawgs. Can't imagine many of us saw that coming as Oregon was putting away that Week 2 win.
What is SP+? In a single sentence, it's a tempo- and opponent-adjusted measure of college football efficiency. I created the system at Football Outsiders in 2008, and as my experience with both college football and its stats has grown, I have made quite a few tweaks to the system.
It is, as always, important to note that SP+ is intended to be predictive and forward-facing. It is not a résumé ranking that gives credit for big wins or particularly brave scheduling -- no good predictive system is. It is simply a measure of the most sustainable and predictable aspects of football. If you're lucky or unimpressive in a win, your rating will probably fall. If you're strong and unlucky in a loss, it will probably rise. It is a look at how teams should likely perform moving forward.