With the non-Big Ten portion of the season officially over, this is the last week we have to stare at a 0-0 team topping the SP+ rankings. Ohio State gets underway in six days, and we'll finally get to find out if Ryan Day's Buckeyes are as good as SP+ seems to think they'll be. If they aren't, they'll cede control of the rankings to two teams in a hell of a battle at the moment.
Clemson and Alabama have traded off the No. 2 and No. 3 spot in the rankings for a few weeks now, and after two impressive performances -- Alabama pulled away from No. 4 Georgia in the second half for an easy headliner win, while Clemson could have scored 100 on poor Georgia Tech if it really wanted to -- they are basically in a tie. Among teams that have played thus far, Clemson is the only one with a top-5 offense and defense, while, ho hum, Alabama only has an offense that grades out even better than Joe Burrow and LSU last year.
It's early, and things can and will shift, but the Crimson Tide hanging 564 yards and 41 points on what is still easily the top defense in the country pushed them into lofty territory. For comparison, they managed 83 more yards, four more points and 0.9 yards per play more than what Joe Burrow and LSU did to Georgia last year. And this Georgia defense is more experienced and, on paper, better.
Alabama's current offensive SP+ rating of 48.0 adjusted points per game grades out in the 99.8 percentile. In the last 15 years, only the 2017 and 2018 Oklahoma offenses have graded out better. (LSU was at 99.6.) We'll see if the Tide can continue to clear this incredibly high bar, but what they've done so far this season is incredible.
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.