Thursday, October 7, 2010

Undefeated ... but for how long?

There are 120 teams in Division I-A football, and after 5 weeks there are 18 teams that remain undefeated. Some are legitimate title contenders, others are teams that will probably escape with one loss, and still others are skating by on a combination of luck and good scheduling. We'll take a look at their odds of winning out the rest of the regular season and break them up into title contenders, second-tier hopefuls, long shots, and absolute phonies.

Note that these odds only take into account scheduled games against known opponents as of today (October 6th). Conference title games do not factor in here, but we will revisit these odds a few weeks down the road when the picture has cleared up some.

Legitimate Title Contenders

Boise State Broncos
Record: 4-0
Odds of going undefeated: 1 in 1.6
Toughest remaining game: November 26, at (32) Nevada.
The (3) Broncos are extremely likely to wake up on December 5th with a 12-0 record. What's less clear is what this will mean to them. TFG's opinion on where they should go is entirely dependent on how they win the next eight games. Earlier this season the system wasn't entirely sold on the Broncos, a reversal of earlier years where the stats placed Boise in the top 5 but the voters put them just inside the top 10. With wins over (8) Virginia Tech and (28) Oregon State, however, the computers are starting to warm to the Broncos.

TCU Horned Frogs
Record: 5-0
Odds of going undefeated: 1 in 1.8
Toughest remaining game: November 6, at (15) Utah.
The (2) Horned Frogs face a marginally more difficult road to a 12-0 record than Boise Stats, but we'll have a better sense of where TCU stands by November 7th. With only two games after their visit to Utah -- one at home against (86) SDSU and the other on the road against (117) New Mexico -- TCU will have the luxury of sitting back and waiting for one of their title rivals to trip up.

Alabama Crimson Tide
Record: 5-0
Odds of going undefeated: 1 in 2.3
Toughest remaining game: November 6, at (11) LSU. *
Keep in mind that these odds are only based on known remaining regular season games; i.e., the (1) Tide still has to worry about the SEC title game. Until then, however, they have a comfortable ride to the SEC Championship. They host (19) Auburn on November 26th in what could be a dangerous game. The Tigers will almost certainly hope to catch Alabama looking past their season finale and towards the title game. But even assuming the Tide is a 50.1% favorite in the title game, their odds of going undefeated will be around 1 in 4.6.

Second-Tier Hopefuls

Oklahoma Sooners
Record: 5-0
Odds of going undefeated: 1 in 5.2
Tougest remaining game: October 23, at (29) Missouri.
The (9) Sooners aren't as loved by TFG as they were last year, but they remain at the top of the "best of the rest" category when it comes to going undefeated. They've picked up about 1 PPH on the offensive side from last year, but lost about 1.5 PPH on the defensive side. Their three biggest challenges -- Missouri, (25) Oklahoma State, and (44) Texas A&M -- will all be on the road, but spaced out. These odds, however, don't take into account the Big XII title game, a likely showdown between the Sooners and (10) Nebraska. Assuming the Sooners win out, though, they could be a potential spoiler to Boise or TCU.

Oregon Ducks
Record: 5-0
Odds of going undefeated: 1 in 5.2
Toughest remaining game: November 26, vs (13) Arizona.
The (7) Ducks are like last year's squad, but with a +4 PPH on the offensive side and a slightly more stingy defense. Yes, you read that correctly: the Ducks actually have a defense. It's just harder to find because Oregon's offense is so ridiculously quick; at nearly 185 plays per game, Oregon's opponents simply have more opportunity to score than if they were playing a more deliberate opponent. Oregon shut down (14) Stanford in the second half and held the Cardinal to their lowest point total all year, and held (47) Tennessee to fewer points than the Volunteers run up on either (11) LSU or (6) Florida. The Ducks have the added bonus of not playing in a conference with a title game, meaning if they can win out the rest of their regular season games, they'll be set come December 5th.

Ohio State Buckeyes
Record: 5-0
Odds of going undefeated: 1 in 5.5
Toughest remaining game: November 20, at (4) Iowa.
Undefeated (5) Ohio State may have that zero in the loss column, but TFG gives a slight edge to the (4) Hawkeyes when the Buckeyes visit Iowa. That's right; the team widely expected to join Alabama in the National Championship game will be an underdog before the season is out. This could lead to a situation in which Alabama, Boise, TCU, and Oregon are all undefeated come December 13th, with one-loss Ohio State and Iowa looking in from the outside, and (to add insult to injury) the Hawkeyes hold the head-to-head tiebreaker. If Ohio State does win out, though, I fully expect them to be in the title game; they just have significantly less room for error than their fellow title contenders.

Nebraska Cornhuskers
Record: 4-0
Odds of going undefeated: 1 in 7.2
Toughest remaining game: October 23, at (25) Oklahoma State.
The favorites to win out the Big XII North, the Cornhuskers also have a potential conference title game between them and the National Championship. Realistically the 'huskers have about a 1 in 15 shot of finishing the season undefeated, but potentially could be stuck in line behind Ohio State, Boise, TCU, and Oregon.

Long Shots

Now we've come to the section where these teams could theoretically go undefeated, but in order for them to actually get into the National Championship game (or even one of the BCS bowls) it will take a bit of luck.

Utah Utes
Record: 4-0
Odds of going undefeated: 1 in 26
Toughest remaining game: November 6, vs (2) TCU.
The (15) Utes are the second-best team in the Mountain West, but will have to face TCU, (24) Air Force, and (35) Notre Dame all on the road over a three-weekend span. TFG says that with a lucky bounce they get two out of those three.

Arizona Wildcats
Record: 4-0
Odds of going undefeated: 1 in 29
Toughest remaining game: November 26, at (7) Oregon.
The (13) Wildcats took down (4) Iowa, but are going to need a lot of luck to handle (7) Oregon and (16) Stanford. They face each of those teams on the road, but fortunately don't have to do so until November, when -- statistically speaking -- home field advantage is less of a boost than it is earlier in the year. Even taking this into account, though, the Wildcats only have a 1 in 5.9 shot of escaping Eugene and Palo Alto with a 2-0 record.

Nevada Wolfpack
Record: 5-0
Odds of going undefeated: 1 in 34
Toughest remaining game: November 26, vs (3) Boise State.
The (32) Wolfpack are the last, best hope to stop the (3) Broncos from going 12-0, but face a serious uphill struggle if they want to surpass Boise as the top team in the WAC. Not only will they have to beat Boise -- which they can at least attempt at home -- but defeat (58) Fresno State and (78) Hawaii on the road. And when there are serious questions about your ability to defeat the 78th-best team in division I-A, don't expect to be in the BCS discussion.

LSU Tigers
Record: 5-0
Odds of going undefeated: 1 in 56
Toughest remaining game: November 6, vs (1) Alabama.
The (11) Tigers aren't as bad as the rap they've been getting in the press lately. Even eventual champion Alabama had to survive a last-minute FG against Tennessee in a 12-10 nailbiter last year. They will, however, have to face clear favorites Alabama next month, and also-not-as-bad-as-everyone-suspects (6) Florida this weekend. The Tigers really need to pick up their offense, because as it stands they've got a 1 in 13.6 shot of escaping those two games with wins. The Tigers then get to visit (19) Auburn and (18) Arkansas. TFG says the Tigers finish the season 8-3.

Auburn Tigers
Record: 5-0
Odds of going undefeated: 1 in 96
Toughest remaining game: November 26, at (1) Alabama.
The (19) Tigers will likely be the last major barrier between the Crimson Tide and an undefeated regular season. Only (11) LSU has better odds of taking down the Tide, but that doesn't say much. Auburn has to hope they catch Alabama looking past then and forward to the conference and national title games (see: USC/UCLA in 2006).

Absolute Phonies

Now we're down to teams that are undefeated largely by virtual of not having played anyone mentioned in the previous sections.

Missouri Tigers
Record: 4-0
Odds of going undefeated: 1 in 248
Toughest remaining game: October 30, at (10) Nebraska.
The (29) Tigers go on the road against (10) Nebraska and (31) Texas Tech, while hosting (9) Oklahoma. Throw in some other close games, and Missouri will finish at either 8-4 or 9-3.

Oklahoma State Cowboys
Record: 4-0
Odds of going undefeated: 1 in 257
Toughest remaining game: November 27, vs (9) Oklahoma.
Another Big XII team, another team to run the (10) Nebraska and (9) Oklahoma gauntlet, another team to finish 8-4 or 9-3.

Michigan State Spartans
Michigan Wolverines
Record: 5-0 (each)
Odds of going undefeated: 1 in 519, 1 in 769 (respectively)
Toughest remaining game: October 30, at (4) Iowa; November 27, at (5) Ohio State (respectively).
We've grouped these teams together because they're playing each other on Saturday, so with 100% certainty we will be removing one of them from the list of unbeatens. Whichever one makes it past this weekend, though, will have to visit one of the top two teams in the Big Ten. Both teams still have to face (14) Penn State, although we'll see if the Nittany Lions have worked out their problems on offense. Either way, these teams are good but clearly second-tier.

What are YOU doing here??

Seriously? These teams are still undefeated?

Kansas State Wildcats
Record: 4-0
Odds of going undefeated: 1 in 778
Toughest remaining game: Right now, vs (10) Nebraska.
First quarter and they're already down 7-0. This should be over quickly.

Northwestern Wildcats
Record: 5-0
Odds of going undefeated: 1 in 1418
Toughest remaining game: November 13, vs (4) Iowa.
It's ok. It'll be over soon.