College football SP+ rankings after Week 5: Alabama surpasses Clemson for No. 2


Sometimes it’s better not to play, apparently. Miami ranked 15th in last week’s SP+ ratings and took a bye week before this Saturday’s big game against Clemson. Of the teams ranked just above them …

  • UCF lost to No. 71 Tulsa

  • Texas lost to No. 45 TCU

  • Oklahoma lost to No. 41 Iowa State

  • North Carolina narrowly beat No. 58 Boston College

  • Auburn got absolutely walloped by No. 4 Georgia

Combined with some slight shifts in the weighting of opponent adjustments, Miami was able to move up to ninth in this week’s rankings without lifting a finger. Now that’s efficiency.

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.

Here are the full numbers.

(Note: UMass was added to the mix this week. I should have added the Minutemen last week, but they slipped my attention with all of the other additions. Apologies to the Minutemen.)

This week’s movers

With opponent- and conference-level adjustments getting a little stronger for some teams, and with a few programs hitting the four-game mark (which is generally where preseason projections start getting filtered out at a more rapid clip), we had a good amount of movement in the middle of the rankings.

Moving up

Eight teams moved up at least 12 spots from where they were last week.

  • Air Force (up 35 spots from 101st to 66th)

  • Army (up 21 spots from 72nd to 51st)

  • Georgia State (up 17 spots from 92nd to 75th)

  • Liberty (up 16 spots from 97th to 81st)

  • Wake Forest (up 13 spots from 93rd to 80th)

  • Georgia Southern (up 13 spots from 96th to 13th)

  • Appalachian State (up 12 spots from 42nd to 30th)

  • UAB (up 12 spots from 64th to 52nd)

A lot of these teams are from the Sun Belt, which, as you might expect, has benefited significantly from the aforementioned conference-level adjustments with its strong showing against bigger leagues. And of course, Air Force’s season debut was a nearly BYU-level knockout of Navy, which gave them a hefty boost.

Moving down

Six teams moved down at least 10 spots this week as well.

  • Baylor (down 18 spots from 21st to 39th)

  • Missouri (down 17 spots from 48th to 65th)

  • UCF (down 15 spots from 13th to 28th)

  • East Carolina (down 14 spots from 105th to 119th)

  • South Carolina (down 10 spots from 34th to 44th)

  • Texas A&M (down 10 spots from 19th to 29th)

Baylor was a bit artificially high after destroying Kansas, and the Bears’ underlying stats against West Virginia suggested they were a bit lucky to get the game to overtime. So they drop back near where they started the season. And three SEC teams that lost to higher-ranked foes by a combined 65 points all fell accordingly.

The SEC’s hierarchy seems to be establishing itself

Two weeks in, we’re basically looking at four well-defined tiers within the league.

Tier 1 (SP+ rating of 21 to 29)
2. Alabama (28.5)
4. Georgia (25.6)
8. Florida (21.0)

SP+ is a little slow to warm on Florida for reasons I will explore on Monday, but the Gators are still a few steps ahead of the rest of the pack at the moment.

Tier 2 (10 to 15)
15. Auburn (14.9)
20. LSU (13.7)
22. Tennessee (13.6)
29. Texas A&M (10.3)

Auburn and LSU have each looked fine once and bad once, Tennessee regained the ground it lost with last week’s narrow win over South Carolina, and Texas A&M is … moving in the wrong direction pretty quickly.

Tier 3 (5 to 7)
42. Kentucky (6.6)
44. South Carolina (6.1)
45. Ole Miss (5.9)
47. Mississippi State (5.4)

Kentucky and Ole Miss played a wonderfully nip-and-tuck game on Saturday that suggested they are indeed on even ground, while Mississippi State has beaten a second-tier team and lost to a fourth-tier team. Ahh, the Mike Leach Experience.

Tier 4 (below 1)
65. Missouri (0.2)
68. Arkansas (-0.7)
115. Vanderbilt (-12.7)

If we’re being honest, Vandy is in a fifth tier to itself, but that seems mean, so we’ll go with this.

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