On one hand, the 2019 college football season has played out as we would or should have expected. Alabama, Clemson and Georgia, the top three teams in the preseason, are unbeaten, as are heavyweights Ohio State, Oklahoma and LSU. Wisconsin is looking like Wisconsin, Penn State is pummeling lesser teams with minimal remorse. All is normal.
There's some oddity brewing behind the scenes, though. As was the case in 2016, Clemson is taking its sweet time shifting toward fifth gear, Wisconsin is more Wisconsin than normal, LSU is riding a high-flying offense, and Ohio State wasn't supposed to be this good, this quickly, with a new quarterback and new head coach.
That makes the SP+ ratings -- which are currently hitting 58% against the spread this season -- a pretty good guide for us to reference at the moment. The polls will probably still feature Bama and Clemson in the top two spots, but SP+ is not required to show respect to the defending national champion. After six weeks, with opponent and conference adjustments playing a heavier role in the ratings (and preseason projections continuing to slowly get phased down), it views 2019 performances a bit different than pollsters.
1. It sees Bama and Ohio State as equals thus far. Alabama, the preseason SP+ No. 1 team, holds an advantage of just 0.1 adjusted points per game over the Buckeyes. They are both nearly 4 points per game ahead of the rest of the field.
2. It is waiting on Clemson to be Clemson. Knowing that the Tigers have seemingly mastered the art of peaking in November (even when that opens the door for potential early-season upsets), it's hard to worry too much about Dabo Swinney's squad. After all, even last year they were just sixth in SP+ heading into Week 7; no one stayed within 20 points of them from that point forward. They take their time finding themselves, but allow these ratings to remind us that they indeed need to find themselves.
3. Missouri? In Week 1 at Wyoming, Missouri got outscored 27-3 in the second quarter, committing two fumbles that directly cost them 17 points (one was returned for a TD, the other came as they were about to score a TD and was returned far enough to set up an immediate, end-of-half FG) in an eventual six-point upset loss. That game is looking like even more of an upset now because in the four games since, Mizzou has outscored opponents by an average of 41-8. They are up to seventh in defensive SP+, and they are currently the highest-rated one-loss team in the ratings.
Of course, they are also one of many teams awaiting news on their injured quarterback. Kelly Bryant (whose current team is just two spots behind his former team at the moment) left the game with a lower-body injury late in the first half of Mizzou's win over Troy. To say the least, it would be difficult for the Tigers to maintain this rise without him.
Note: 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.
SP+ is intended to be predictive and forward-facing. That is important to remember. 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.