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Ask LGHL: Is Ohio State the best team in college football?

You ask, we answer. Sometimes we ask, others answer. And then other times, we ask, we answer.

Syndication: The Columbus Dispatch Kyle Robertson/Columbus Dispatch / USA TODAY NETWORK

Every day for the entirety of the Ohio State football season, we will be asking and answering questions about the team, college football, and anything else on our collective minds of varying degrees of importance. If you have a question that you would like to ask, you can tweet us @LandGrant33 or if you need more than 280 characters, send an email HERE.


As we head into the final Saturday without an Ohio State game until December, I figured this would be an appropriate Ask LGHL question for today. Thank you to William (or “my boy Bill” as we musical theatre fans know him) for sending in the question. If you have something you want me to take a stab at answering, check out the details above.

So, I am an admitted Ohio State homer, so if I was just going to answer this from my personal perspective, I would just say “Yes” and end the article. But, I don’t think that would be all that helpful, so I’m going to go through a bunch of different metrics from polls to stats to betting odds to advanced analytics to try and see if we can boil down who the best team is.

At this point in the season, we are really only talking about three contenders, Ohio State, Alabama, and Georgia. Could someone else (Clemson, Tennessee, USC, UCLA, TTUN, Ole Miss, Oklahoma State, Penn State, etc.) insert themselves into the conversation? Sure, but for now I’m going to stick to the three presumptive top three teams in the country.

Obviously, at this point in the season, a lot of how teams are viewed by pollsters, oddsmakers, and computer models is based on the opponents that teams have played. So, while the general consensus is likely that “Those big bad SEC teams have played such difficult schedules that piddly little Ohio State has an unfair statistical advantage because they are in the Big Ten and play garbage teams.”

In the words of the Sunshine Scooter himself, “Not so fast, my friend.” According to college football royalty Phil Steele, Ohio State has the No. 14 strength of schedule through Week 6, higher than both the Crimson Tide and Bulldogs:

So, let’s get down to business. Let’s start with the absolute least important staff, solely because William mentioned it. I honestly don’t care about college football polls for anything other than marketing fodder. They are an antiquated measurement toll that we have long since moved passed.

Whether it is media or coaches, none of the voters have the ability to properly analyze the whole of college football on a given week considering that they are, you know, doing their jobs when all of the teams are playing. So, the rankings are the rankings, and they don’t really mean much of anything, but they are instructive, I suppose, to ascertain the base-level reputation that a team has built for itself thus far.

College Football Poll Rankings

Team AP Rank 1st Place Votes Points Coaches Rank 1st Place Votes Points
Team AP Rank 1st Place Votes Points Coaches Rank 1st Place Votes Points
Georgia 1 32 1535 2 18 1516
Ohio State 2 20 1507 3 10 1477
Alabama 3 11 1489 1 35 1540

I know that for some sports fans “analytics” has become a bad word, but if taken with a grain of salt, I do find that they can generally point you in the right direction of comparing teams. Most computer models factor in data from previous seasons, returning production, recruiting rankings, etc. before the season starts, but as more actual on-field information is collected, those data points become less and less important.

The actual game results become the most heavily weighted pieces of information, so it is interesting to see that for the first time this season, the Buckeyes are the No. 1 team in Bill Connelly’s industry-leading SP+ rankings. The former SB Nation, now ESPN, college football analyst has the Buckeyes No. 1 in team and offensive rankings, and at a very exciting No. 8 on defense.

The other analytics that I’ve included here are ESPN’s Football Power Index (FPI) and Football Outsiders’ F+. I’ll get more into some Football Outsiders’ data in a bit.

College Football Analytic Rankings

Team SP+ Ranking SP+ Offense SP+ Defense FPI Ranking F+ Ranking F+ Offense F+ Defense
Team SP+ Ranking SP+ Offense SP+ Defense FPI Ranking F+ Ranking F+ Offense F+ Defense
Ohio State 1 1 8 2 1 1 8
Georgia 3 5 3 3 2 2 1
Alabama 2 4 2 1 3 4 3

If we’re being honest, the only people we really need to consult on who the best team is are the oddsmakers out in the desert. According to the fine folks at DraftKings Sportsbook, the Buckeyes are the betting favorites to win the national title at +180. That means that if you put $100 on them to win the College Football Playoff and they do, you would take home $280 for a $180 profit (not to brag, but I got the Buckeyes at +350 over the summer!).

UGA is at +220 and Bama is at +230. Now, keep in mind, that Vegas is factoring in the likelihood that the two SEC teams will have to face each other in their conference title game to make it to the CFP, so that is weighing down their odds.

So, the fact that the bookies have the Buckeyes as the best bet doesn’t mean that they necessarily think that they are the best team, just that they have the best path to the title.

So, I told you that I would come back to some Football Outsiders’ advanced analytics. So for this one, we are looking at overall, offensive, and defensive efficiency with the Fremeau Efficiency Index (FEI) — even though I errantly thought FEI stood for Football Efficiency Index.

My feeble little mind can’t possibly properly explain how this works, so I will let Football Outsiders do it:

Fremeau Efficiency Index ratings (FEI) are opponent-adjusted possession efficiency data representing the per-possession scoring advantage a team would be expected to have on a neutral field against an average opponent. Offense ratings (OFEI) and defense ratings (DFEI) are opponent-adjusted drive efficiency data representing the per-drive scoring advantage a team unit would be expected to have against an average opponent unit.

So, essentially, it is just measuring how many points a team (or unit) accounts for on a per-drive basis against an average team. So, the higher the score, the better.

College Football FEI Rankings

Team FEI Ranking FEI Grade Offense FEI Ranking Offense FEI Defense FEI Ranking Defense FEI
Team FEI Ranking FEI Grade Offense FEI Ranking Offense FEI Defense FEI Ranking Defense FEI
Ohio State 1 1.44 1 2.42 12 0.81
Georgia 2 1.33 2 1.56 1 1.31
Alabama 3 1.25 6 1.23 2 1.22

If advanced analytics aren’t really your thing, I wanted to also take a look at the more traditional statistics. These are the data points that are most influenced by opponent and by coaching decisions. While most good analytical models factor out garbage time, the raw numbers do not. So, Ryan Day essentially never looking to score in the fourth quarter and putting in the third-string defense will definitely impact Ohio State’s standings in these departments.

However, I think we can all be pretty happy with where the Buckeyes sit on both sides of the ball.

College Football Offensive Rankings

Team Total Offense Scoring Offense Rushing Offense Passing Offense
Team Total Offense Scoring Offense Rushing Offense Passing Offense
Ohio State 2 | 543.7 ypg 1 | 48.8 ppg 14 | 228.0 ypg 14 | 315.7 ypg
Georgia 5 | 517.8 ypg 19 | 39.5 ppg 29 | 197.5 ypg 12 | 320.3 ypg
Alabama 8 | 504.0 ypg 5 | 44.3 ppg 4 | 257.5 ypg 69 | 246.5 ypg

College Football Defensive Rankings

Team Total Defense Scoring Defense Rushing Defense Passing Defense
Team Total Defense Scoring Defense Rushing Defense Passing Defense
Alabama 6 | 250.8 ypg 6 | 12.5 ppg 8 | 84.5 ypg 11 | 166.3
Ohio State 7 | 253.5 ypg 15 | 15.7 ppg 15 | 93.2 ypg 7 | 160.3 ypg
Georgia 8 | 263.2 ypg 4 | 10.7 ppg 12 | 89.7 ypg 14 | 173.5

The last (and almost certainly least) set of information that I am going to lay out comes from Pro Football Focus. What they do is grade every play and player in every game and come up with cumulative grades for each. The thing is, I have no idea who they have giving out these grades and some of their conclusions are incredibly and wildly incoherent.

Like, neither the Buckeyes, Tide, or Dawgs is currently No. 1 in PFF’s rankings. Nor is Clemson, USC, TTUN, Oklahoma State, Ole Miss, Penn State, or anyone else with even the slimmest legitimate claim on that crown. So, who does PFF has as the highest-graded team in the country?

4-1 Minnesota who lost to Purdue 20-10. So, take these with a whole lot of skepticism.

College Football Pro Football Focus Rankings

Team PFF Rank PFF Grade PFF Offense Grade PFF Defense Grade
Team PFF Rank PFF Grade PFF Offense Grade PFF Defense Grade
Ohio State 2 96.8 94.4 90.9
Alabama 5 94.7 82 93.5
Georgia 6 94.4 87.3 90.1

So, having compiled all of this information and ran it through my own computer model — the Woodygofor3000 — I can now definitively say that yes, Ohio State is the best team in college football. You’re welcome, American.

Odds/lines subject to change. T&Cs apply. See for details.