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Michigan Rises to #1 in S&P+ Rankings after Bye Week

Even when Michigan doesn’t take the field, the computers love them some Wolverines, particularly that defense.

NCAA Football: Wisconsin at Michigan Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

Even on a bye week, Michigan’s excellence is appreciated by the computers.

So much so that the Wolverines have taken the top spot in the S&P+ rankings, rising from No. 2. This is the second time this season that Michigan has been ranked No. 1 in the S&P+ rankings. The Wolverines were there for only one week earlier this season, but they have fluctuated throughout the top three. The rest of the top five consists of Ohio State at No. 2, Alabama at No. 3, Washington at No. 4, and Clemson at No. 5.

The S&P+ rankings are a college football ratings system that is derived from play-by-play data, eliminates garbage-time possessions, and adjusts for the strength of a team’s opponents. It is a predictive model, so it utilizes data from previous games to project how a team will perform in future games. Until this week, S&P+ had incorporated preseason projections to provide a large enough sample to produce reliable rankings. However, those projections have been phased out completely now.

So, based entirely on data from this season only, Michigan has been the nation’s best.

Michigan’s move to No. 1 despite having the week off is related to the preseason projections phasing out and the rise from its opponents. Wisconsin, Penn State, and Colorado — three teams that the Wolverines beat earlier this season — have exceeded expectations, and all are ranked in the S&P+ top 25 (#13 Wisconsin, #19 Penn State, and #24 Colorado). The Badgers and the Buffaloes each had strong surges this week after they took Ohio State to the wire and dominated Arizona State, respectively, and those movements very likely improved Michigan’s profile, pushing them to the top.

What S&P+ loves so much about Michigan is its defense. Not only are the Wolverines first in many major defensive categories, they are clearly the best defense in the country according to S&P+. S&P+ projects that an average FBS team would score 0.0 points against Michigan and 11.4 points against Clemson — S&P+’s No. 2 defense. Essentially, the Wolverines have been perfect defensively, and S&P+ recognizes that.

Here is how the rest of the Big Ten stacks up in this week’s S&P+ rankings: