Have you ever watched a game and thought: "That team is way better than the score suggests"? Or the opposite: "Geez, I cannot believe that team is unbeaten."
Of course you have. It's the eternal battle of eye test versus stat sheet or, as we're calling it, man versus metric. ESPN Stats & Information analytics writer Sharon Katz takes a run through some of the more debatable data, and then ESPN senior writer Mark Schlabach offers his take.
Let's just say they agreed to disagree ... but their conversation is worth reading.
Michigan vs. Northwestern
Sharon Katz: Northwestern is undefeated and ranked five spots higher than Michigan in the Associated Press poll, but the Football Power Index projects that the Wolverines have a 73 percent chance to win Saturday. Both teams have elite defenses (each ranks in the top three in the Big Ten in efficiency), but FPI sees a major disparity when evaluating the two teams' offenses. Northwestern has scored a touchdown on 17 percent of its offensive drives this season, the second-worst mark of any Power 5 offense behind Minnesota -- the team it shut out in Week 5. Michigan is by no means the 2005 USC Trojans on offense, but the Wolverines have been above-average, particularly when running the ball (233 YPG, 12 TDs over the past four games). Northwestern's defense has been more effective against the pass (leads the nation in opponent QBR) than the run (44th in yards per rush), which could be the difference in Ann Arbor.
Mark Schlabach: Don't get me wrong: I've been as impressed as anyone else with how the Wolverines are playing. Going into the season, I thought Jim Harbaugh had a chance to lead his team to five or six victories this season, and any more than that would be gravy. Now Michigan could be playing like the best team in the Big Ten. However, I'm not sure I'm ready to call the Wolverines a 73 percent favorite over Northwestern. The Wildcats are playing defense as well as any other team in the country. Northwestern has already posted two shutouts and gave up more than 10 points in only one of its first five games (19 to Ball State). Sure, the Wildcats are a little bit challenged offensively, but Michigan hasn't exactly lit up the best defenses it has played. The Wolverines still have problems throwing the ball, and they can't be one-dimensional against Northwestern's defense.
Is Florida the FPI favorite in the SEC?
Katz: Sure, FPI gives Florida a 23 percent chance to win the SEC, but if you look closely at the projections, you'll see that the conference is wide-open. FPI projects five other teams to have at least an 8 percent chance to win, including four from the SEC West. FPI is not saying that Florida is the best team in the conference; in fact, five other teams project to be stronger going forward. The key is that Florida has a favorable schedule (hosting Georgia) and a clear path to the SEC championship game through the SEC East. A team must win its division before competing for the conference championship, and because the Gators are nearly twice as likely to win their division as compared to any of the contenders from the crowded SEC West, they are the likeliest to have a chance to take home the title.
Schlabach: Like Michigan, the Gators have been one of the country's biggest surprises under first-year coach Jim McElwain. We knew the Gators would be really good on defense, but their vast improvement on offense has been mind-boggling. The Gators struggled to score under former coach Will Muschamp, but they're averaging nearly 400 yards of offense and 34 points per game this season. That being said, Florida has some potential roadblocks on its schedule, starting with Saturday's trip to Missouri. The Gators play at No. 7 LSU on Oct. 17 and face No. 19 Georgia in Jacksonville -- a so-called neutral site -- on Oct. 31. Florida has made big improvements, but I think it's too early to call it the SEC favorite. The Gators might be in the driver's seat in the SEC East, but I think Alabama, LSU and Texas A&M might be better bets to win an SEC title. Sure, those teams will play more difficult schedules in the SEC West. But even if Florida wins the East, it might have to play one of the aforementioned teams in the SEC championship game in Atlanta.
Utah the favorite in the Pac-12?
Katz: Utah is off to arguably the most impressive start of any team in the country. Based solely on what the Utes have done to this point, they deserve to be ranked first in ESPN.com's Power Rankings and fifth in the AP poll. Going forward, if Utah were to play USC or Stanford or even UCLA on a neutral field, how confident would you be that the Utes would win? Even after accounting for Utah's strong start (Utah has risen 22 spots since the preseason, from No. 41 to No. 19), FPI projects that each of those teams is stronger going forward. In a conference defined by parity, it is unlikely that Utah will remain unbeaten, and with road games against Pac-12 South rivals USC and Arizona, FPI projects the Utes will lose about 2.5 more games. Will that be enough to win the Pac-12? Maybe, but FPI still projects that USC and Stanford are likelier Pac-12 champions. Of course, all of that can change if Utah keeps winning.
Schlabach: I love what the Utes have done so far this season, and they're obviously getting a ton of mileage out of their 42-point win at Oregon. But will beating the Ducks really mean that much at the end of the season? Oregon obviously misses quarterback Marcus Mariota, and its rebuilt defense isn't holding up. Utah is going to get a stiff test from No. 23 Cal in Salt Lake City on Saturday night, and it still plays road games at No. 17 USC, Washington and Arizona. I'll be honest: I have no idea how the Pac-12 is going to shake out. The Pac-12 South looks a lot like the SEC West, where seemingly everybody can beat anybody. Utah looks like the best team for now, but Stanford, UCLA and USC seem just as capable of winning the league.