Hot Reads: What Ohio State Lost with the CFP Rankings Flip
Photo Credit: Eric Francis

Hot Reads: What Ohio State Lost with the CFP Rankings Flip

December 09, 2019

I come from a root-for-the-conference family, not a screw-those-guys family. Not advocating for one approach over the other, just letting you know where I'm coming from. My dad always wanted to see fellow conference teams do well––rising tide and all that––so I probably lean that way too.

It was an interesting frame of reference for Sunday's College Football Playoff rankings reveal. The Big Ten wasn't getting shutout this year, but there was a ton of intrigue about which team, LSU or Ohio State, deserved to be No. 1 and it was uniquely important because Clemson was sitting there at No. 3. The difference in difficulty was significant.

The Tigers and Buckeyes both had compelling cases. Ohio State was a little more dominant over the course of the entire season, but LSU had bigger wins early in the year and it had the most impressive performance most recently by smacking Georgia. It wasn't a huge surprise then that the Tigers did jump Ohio State.

If you want an idea of the impact that decision had, here you go. LSU opened as about an 11-point favorite over Oklahoma, meanwhile Ohio State opened at +2 against Clemson. Both lines surprised me a bit based on the projected margin SP+ has for these games. LSU was a heavier favorite than SP+ projects and Ohio State, well, Ohio State is favored over Clemson based on those rankings.

Using those projected SP+ margins and converting them to win probabilities, you can put some numbers to just what the Buckeyes lost by being moved to No. 2. Had Ohio State faced Oklahoma, it would've been about a 9.5-point favorite with a 75.5% win probability. Against Clemson, per SP+, it's still a 6-point favorite with 66.4% win probability.

SP+ projects a 6-point line for LSU against Oklahoma with a 66.4% win probability. Had the Tigers faced the other Tigers, it's LSU -2.5 with a 54.3% win probability. Here's the change in win probability for all four, based on what is versus what might have been with Ohio State No. 1:

LSU: +12.1 percentage points
Ohio State: -11.1
Clemson: -12.1
Oklahoma: +9.1

Are we splitting hairs here? Absolutely. Winning a national title is hard no matter how you do it. This one, however, got a little more difficult for Ohio State and Clemson. (And desite the win-probability change favoring LSU, I might make the case that Oklahoma is the biggest winner of all.)

As for the rest of the Big Ten's bowl lineup, there are a couple of interesting matchups here (USC-Iowa, Auburn-Minnesota). Four of the conference's teams were favorites on the opening line per Vegas Insider. You can find those below along with the projected SP+ margin for each of the Big Ten's bowl games (lines refer to the Big Ten team).

Mich. St. v. Wake Forest Pinstripe (12/27) -3.5 -4.5
Iowa v. USC Holiday (12/27) -2.5 -1.5
Penn St. v. Memphis Cotton (12/28) -7.5 -4.5
Illinois v. California Red Box (12/30) +4 -4.5
Michigan v. Alabama Citrus (1/1) +7 +11
Minnesota v. Auburn Outback (1/1) +8 +4.5
Wisconsin v. Oregon Rose (1/1) -3 -3
Indiana v. Tennessee Gator (1/2) NL -4


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