The 2019 college football regular season has come and gone. We know who the top teams are according to the College Football Playoff committee, but which teams over and under performed relative to expectations?
To answer this question, we can look at closing spreads from the betting markets. Closing lines are considered to be the best representation of a team’s true odds to win a given game. Using this data as a baseline, we can see who (and by how much) outperformed relative to expectations.
Teams that cover the closing spread by a wide margin are considered “under rated” by the betting markets. For example:
On September 28th, Ohio State played at Nebraska. The closing spread for this game was Ohio State -17.
Ohio State beat Nebraska by a score of 48-7, meaning that Ohio State not only covered the closing spread of -17, but they covered the spread by 24 points (48 – 7 – 17 = 24).
Using the cumulative value of points over/under the spread (24 in this example), we can see which teams were over and under rated this season.
Let’s dive in:
2019 College Football Team Cumulative Performance Against the Spread
To give some context on where teams fall, see the chart below that shows every team’s cumulative performance against the spread by week.
This chart is very difficult to read in aggregate, however you can click on team(s) you are interested in on the legend (colors). This will highlight the selected team.
A few things stand out to me:
Ohio State was dominant all year. After Week 4, Ohio State was head and shoulders above the rest of the country in terms of beating the spread. They consistently blew teams out (covering by 13 points on average, best in the country) despite having the third highest average spread at -25.1 points per game.
Akron :/ – Akron didn’t win a game straight up all year, and their lone cover was against Miami (OH) in the second to last week of the season.
What happened at Maryland? Maryland was the most erratic team in the country. Through Week 4, they had the best cumulative cover number in the country. They finished the year ranked 108th (out of 130 teams).
Virginia Tech finished strong. The Hokies were as low as 126th in cumulative cover rank through Week 9. The final 5 weeks of the season were highlighted by 4 consecutive weeks of covering big: at Notre Dame +16.5, vs. Wake Forest +21.5, at Georgia Tech +39, and vs. Pitt +24.5. The season finale at Virginia (-10.5 cover) put a damper on things a bit.
Michigan post Penn State game Michigan was getting a lot of coverage for their performance after the 1st half of the Penn State game. It seems the books didn’t properly adjust to this change as Michigan was ranked 109th after the Penn State game (and as low as 129th, 2nd most overrated, through Week 4). They climbed all the way up to 26th through Week 13 before the beat down against OSU pushed them down to their final ranking of 43rd.
See below for cumulative cover rankings by week in both table and chart form. In the table, hover to over cells to get more info on each game.
It is interesting that both the best (Ohio State) and worst (Akron) teams in the country were also the most under rated and over rated in the country.
Most Under Rated College Football Teams in 2019
Without further ado, here are you most under rated teams of the 2019 college football season:
As you can see, Ohio State was head and shoulders above the rest of the country relative to expectations.
Central Michigan came in at #2, despite a 61-0 loss at Wisconsin in Week 2 (failing to cover by a season high 26 points). CMU finished the season ranked 83rd in overall SP+, by far the lowest ranking among the “under rated” teams above.
Louisiana Ragin’ Cajuns finished the season ranked 33rd in SP+, one spot above Navy, the next most under rated team this season.
Most Over Rated College Football Teams in 2019
The flip side of this analysis reveals the most over rated college football teams of 2019:
Akron led the way in terms of being the most “over rated” team this year. This probably says more about Akron being so bad that the market didn’t adjust properly. Akron finished the season ranked 129th (2nd to last in SP+), while the runner up, UMass, finished dead last in SP+.
Michigan State was the highest ranked team in SP+ (42nd) to show up in the over rated bucket, indicating that they may be the biggest real disappointment this season.
College Football Playoff Teams: Over or Under Rated?
Looking at the four teams in the College Football Playoff, we can see how well each team performed against the spread:
As you can see above, Ohio State has been vastly underrated so far this year. The interesting part about this chart is how over rated Oklahoma has been this season. Oklahoma finished the season ranked 95th in cumulative cover, worst in the Big 12.
LSU (18th) and Clemson (31st) finished with similar season ending ranks. It will be interesting to see if the market changes after QB Joe Burrow won the Heisman trophy. Clemson had the highest average spread in the country this year at -32 points per game.
Current College Football Playoff semifinals spreads currently sit at: LSU (-13) vs. Oklahoma and Clemson (-2) vs. Ohio State. Based on all of the numbers above, I don’t know if you can go wrong with OSU…
Performance by Conference
See the chart below for teams grouped by conference. You can change the conference in the drop down and also highlight a given team by clicking on their name in the legend. Hover over the graph to show information about each game.
Performance by Team
Didn’t see your team in the charts above? Use this viz to filter to the specific team you are interested. You can click on specific points to show more details about that game.
Data Source: The excellent CollegeFootballData.com. Data is for regular season games only through 11/30 (sorry Army/Navy). Lines are consensus lines, which include data from sportsbooks like FanDuel, DraftKings, PointsBet, and more.
What do you think? Where does your team fall? Please leave any questions or comments below.