By the Numbers: UGA still right in middle of Playoff race
Georgia football fans can get their statistical fix each week with By the Numbers — a stats-based look at how UGA coach Kirby Smart is doing in his attempt to keep the Bulldogs on top of the SEC and continue the program’s pursuit of a national championship. This week’s edition of By the Numbers looks at the release of the first College Football Playoff top 25 Tuesday night.
Georgia was ranked No. 1 when the first College Football Playoff top 25 was announced last season. That’s not expected to occur again when the selection committee releases its first poll for this season Tuesday night, but the metrics behind the rankings suggest UGA’s still a big part of the Playoff race.
There are likely to be at least five teams rated ahead of the Bulldogs — including uneaten Alabama, Notre Dame and Clemson, as well as one-loss LSU and Michigan. UGA could be as high as No. 6 though, and could soon make a case to climb even higher.
Case in point, two of the teams likely ranked ahead of Georgia — Notre Dame and LSU — are actually listed below UGA on the S&P+ ratings published at Football Study Hall. UGA’s No. 5 in those rankings, ahead of the Fighting Irish (No. 6 in S&P+) and the Tigers (13th). The S&P+ rankings are based on what stats guru Bill Connelly calls the “five factors” that contribute most to wins — efficiency, explosiveness, field position, finishing drives and turnovers. It’s a comprehensive measurement in other words, and it suggests UGA’s a legitimate national championship contender.
That isn’t the only stat that reflects favorably on Georgia.
ESPN tracks the so-called “strength of record” as a part of its Football Power Index. The Bulldogs’ strength of record is sixth-best in the country — despite the fact some ESPN writers have weirdly criticized UGA’s schedule this year. UGA’s record strength places it above Michigan, which could matter if there’s a debate between the two teams in December.
Reading that advanced stats favor UGA might be surprising for some Georgia fans. There has been a lot of criticism of the Bulldogs this season. In fact, there’s been so many complaints, the team and coaches haven’t been able to ignore it.
“This group of men is as tough as they come. They’re very resilient,” UGA coach Kirby Smart said of his team after beating Florida Saturday. “They had to listen for two weeks about everything that was wrong with them — everything they did wrong, and everything they hadn’t done right.”
Smart’s mention of resiliency is in reference to the response from the Bulldogs loss to LSU on Oct. 13 and the dissatisfaction that emerged from some corners of DawgNation in the aftermath. Plenty of fans called on the team to make a quarterback switch from starter Jake Fromm, who struggled vs. the Tigers, to Justin Fields — the heralded freshman.
The thinking went that if a team such as Clemson could be a Playoff contender while leaning on a freshman quarterback, why couldn’t Georgia? However, Fromm may have provided an emphatic answer to that question with his performance vs. the Gators. Fromm completed 17 of his 24 passes for 240 yards and three touchdowns.
All the sudden, the Clemson offense — led by Trevor Lawrence — doesn’t compare quite as favorably to the UGA attack captained by Fromm. The FEI ratings published at Football Outsiders has UGA’s offense at No. 3 this season, and the Tigers well below that at 19th.
This might be a rare case where the unemotional mathematicians actually are a little more impressed with Georgia than some of its most-ardent fans.
However, as the Playoff debate heats up Tuesday night, hopefully DawgNation will quickly come to realize that the Bulldogs are still among the nation’s elite, and a true threat to put together a postseason run once again.