As the start to the 2022 college football season edges closer, it is time to continue this year’s mathematical preview. In the first two installments in this series, I summarized the methodology that I use to make the calculations that I am about to show, and I analyzed Michigan State’s schedule and the Big Ten race overall. Today, I turn my focus to the remaining four Power Five conferences.
Let’s jump right into the data with a summary of the Southeastern Conference.
Table 1 below shows the win distribution matrix for the SEC. Table 2 below summarizes the consensus preseason ranking of each team, expected win total, projected records, strengths of schedule, and the overall odds to win the division, conference, make the College Football Playoff and win the national title.
As mentioned previously, this data is based on the results of a 240,000 Monte Carlo simulation where the historical uncertainty of the preseason rankings is taken into account. In addition, I also make two separate total record predictions based on scenarios where 1.) all the favored teams win (the “most likely” scenario) and 2.) a historically accurate number of home upsets are assumed (the “disruptive” scenario).
As a general rule, the overall season odds and expected wins totals are the most accurate. That said, the most likely and the disruptive simulations give some insight as to some of the more interesting scenarios that could play out.
There is a lot of data to unpack in Tables 1 and 2, but a couple of things stand out immediately. First, Georgia and Alabama are both preseason top-three teams and as a result, that pair is heavily favored to meet in the SEC Championship game. Second, the SEC East is significantly weaker than the SEC West. In fact, the lowest-ranked team in the West, No. 27 Auburn, would be the fourth-best team in the East, assuming the preseason rankings are accurate.
Furthermore, my calculations have Georgia with the easiest conference schedule in the entire SEC, in large part because the Bulldogs face No. 25 Mississippi State and No. 27 Auburn as their West division crossover opponents. Georgia’s toughest games will likely be a “neutral field” game against Oregon (in Atlanta) to open the season, and a pair of late season road games at No. 22 Kentucky and at Mississippi State.
In the disruptive simulation the Kentucky Wildcats are able to steal that home upset win over the Bulldogs. However, Kentucky has a tricky road schedule itself in 2022, including trips to No. 31 Florida, No. 18 Tennessee and No. 21 Ole Miss. The Wildcats would likely need to win two of those three games in order to have a shot to contend in the East.
The Tennessee Volunteers have the second-best odds in the East. However, with road games at Georgia and at LSU, and a home game versus Alabama, it is hard to imagine a scenario where Tennessee unseats the Bulldogs at the SEC East Champions.
In the SEC West, Alabama does have a tougher road than Georgia does in the East. But the Crimson Tide drew the projected second-based team in their division (No. 7 Texas A&M) at home this year. As long as Alabama can avoid a second-straight loss to the Aggies, the Crimson Tide seems like a safe choice to advance to the SEC Championship game.
That said, the disruptive simulation puts the Tide on upset alert for road trips to Tennessee and Ole Miss this year. If Alabama were to somehow lose both, and if Texas A&M could survive its toughest road tests at Mississippi State and at Auburn, the East race could get interesting.
In the final analysis, however, I project Alabama to defeat Georgia in the SEC Championship game. The only real question is if both teams would qualify for the College Football Playoff (again). I will tackle this question a little later in this series.
Big 12 Preview
Similar to the analysis above for the SEC, Table 3 and 4 below summarize the win distribution matrix and the season odds and other data from the Big 12 conference.
Note that in the current format of the Big 12, there are no divisions. Therefore, the odds given in the “Div Title” column of Table 4 are the odds for each team to make the Big 12 Championship game by finishing either first or second at the close of the regular season.
Based on the preseason rankings, the top-two teams in the Big 12 appear to be No. 9 Oklahoma and No. 11 Oklahoma State. As a result, both teams have about a 50-50 chance or better of reaching the Big 12 Championship game. That said, No. 19 Baylor and No. 23 Texas both have about a 30 percent chance to advance to the title game.
The rest of the conference has between a four and 10 percent chance to reach the title game, with the exception of No. 103 Kansas, which is projected to play its typical role as conference doormat.
A closer look at the conference schedule and the disruptive simulation highlights the idea that the conference is once again Oklahoma’s to lose. The Sooners have the conference’s easiest schedule as they face the projected three next-best conference teams (Oklahoma State, Baylor and Texas) either at home or at a neutral site. Even in the disruptive simulation, the Sooners run the table at 12-0 in the regular season.
The only potential curveball that the disruptive simulation identifies is that there is a solid chance that Baylor will upset Oklahoma State at home and end up in a second-place tie with the Cowboys in the final regular season standings. Baylor would then advance to the Big 12 Championship.
This scenario is the one that I will use in my official prediction, which is that Oklahoma will defeat Baylor in the Big 12 Championship game with a final record of 13-0. In this scenario were to come to pass, the Sooners would be a lock for the playoffs.
ACC (and Notre Dame) Preview
Table 5 and 6 below summarize the win distribution matrix and the season odds and other data from the Atlantic Coast Conference.
A quick glance at the data in Table 6 suggests that the situation in both the Atlantic and Coastal Divisions of the ACC is very similar. Both divisions have a clear favorite (No. 4 Clemson and No. 10 Miami), a potential spoiler (No. 14 North Carolina State and No. 17 Pittsburgh, and a dark horse candidate (No. 30 Wake Forest and No. 36 North Carolina). The rest of the teams in the ACC have less than a seven percent chance to win their division.
In the Coastal Division, Miami has a clear schedule advantage, as the Hurricanes get to host both Pittsburgh and North Carolina this year. If Miami can protect field home turf in both of those games, it is a safe bet to win the division. That said, the Canes do travel to Clemson this year in a division crossover game. Miami also travels to face Texas A&M on the road in a key early-season non-conference game. Any more than 10 regular season wins for Miami seems challenging.
In the Atlantic Division, Clemson hosts N.C. State this year, but also must travel to Wake Forest. As long as the Tigers can handle the Wolfpack at home, the disruptive simulation suggests that a return to the ACC Championship game is likely. When all of this data is taken together, it suggests that Clemson will defeat Miami to claim the ACC title.
However, Clemson is not projected to finish the season undefeated. This is due to the fact that the Tigers have a road game in early November in South Bend against No. 6 Notre Dame. The Fighting Irish project as the winners in that contest, which could set up an interesting debate in the College Football Playoff Selection Committee.
I do not show the data for Notre Dame in any of the tables above, but the simulations both project an 11-1 overall record for the Golden Domers, with an expected win total of 9.51 and a 31 percent chance to make the playoffs.
The only game Notre Dame is expected to lose is the Week One opener in Columbus against Ohio State. If Notre Dame can beat Clemson at home, its next most difficult game is projected to be the regular season finale at USC.
If Notre Dame finishes the season at 11-1 with a win over Clemson (12-1 and ACC Champions) the committee might view the head-to-head result as a type of playoff play-in game. In large part this will depend on how many losses the other conference champions accumulate.
Finally, Table 7 and 8 below summarize the win distribution matrix and the season odds and other data from the Pacific 12 Conference.
Our friends on the West Coast decided to ditch divisions for 2022, so similar to the situation in the Big 12, the “Div Title” column of Table 8 indicates the odds for each team to reach the Pac-12 Championship game. In this case, however, there is a bit more apparent separation between the preseason top-two teams (No. 8 Utah and No. 13 Oregon) and the rest of the conference. As a result, the Utes and the Ducks are heavy favorites to square off for the conference title.
Utah and Oregon are scheduled to face each other in Eugene on the second-to-last weekend of the season. The Ducks are favored to steal that home victory. Other than that, both Utah and Oregon project to win all of their other conference games in both the “most likely” and “disruptive” simulations. On a neutral field, I project Utah to be able to edge Oregon and win the Pac-12 Championship.
If there is to be a potential dark horse spoiler, UCLA appears to be the most likely candidate. The Bruins will host both USC and Utah this year. UCLA also faces Oregon on the road. So, the opportunities will be there. Both simulations have UCLA losing to the conference’s two best teams, but if the Bruins can steal a win at home versus Utah, they could perhaps replace the Utes in the Pac-12 Championship game. In this scenario, Oregon would emerge as the likely conference champion.
Will the eventual Pac-12 Champion be able to sneak into the playoffs? Oregon will have a chance in Week One to measure itself against the defending champions, Georgia. Similarly, Utah will have a shot to score a (somewhat) big win at Florida on the first weekend. A win over Georgia would obviously turn a lot of heads. But would a win over Florida be enough of a resume-builder for the Utes? Once again, that largely depends on the results in the other Power Five conferences.
Before putting the pieces together in order to make my final New Year’s Six and College Football Playoff predictions, there is one more stop remaining. While it is easy to focus on the Power Five, one Group of Five team, Cincinnati, was selected to participate in the playoffs in 2021. Will the Bearcats or another Group of Five team be able to repeat this accomplishment in 2022? That is the subject of the next installment of this series. Stay tuned.