Writers of Pro Football Prospectus 2008

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» Catch Radius: Best of the NFC

Part I of our catch radius season finale spotlights the NFC kings of double coverage (Calvin Johnson), the sideline (Jordy Nelson), the drag route (DeSean Jackson) and the red zone (Dez Bryant).

22 Oct 2009

7th Day Adventure: Pay the Refs

by Bill Connelly, Brian Fremeau, and Rob Weintraub

Injuries, suspensions, and iffy officiating have dominated the conversation in the 2009 season. That did not change after a Week 7 in which Sam Bradford re-injured his shoulder less than 15 minutes into the Oklahoma-Texas game, and an Arkansas-Florida game that featured four curious calls (or no-calls) all going against the underdog Hogs in the fourth quarter. One call was bad enough to get the game's crew suspended. This week, the nation's eye turns to the cradle of mid-majordom for excitement and intrigue and the biggest game of the week -- No. 8 TCU's trip to Provo to face No. 16 BYU. It is this week's only game pitting two ranked teams against each other in a Saturday otherwise dominated by road favorites and curious conference battles.

This Week's Games

(Teams are listed according to BCS ranking.)

Florida State (+2.5) at North Carolina (Thursday, 8:00 p.m. EST)

It’s a primetime battle of injury-ravaged units. FSU’s defense has been an ultra-permeable membrane this season, ranking near the bottom in total defense and points allowed. The Seminoles, the alma mater of Deion Sanders, Myron Rolle, and a never-ending stream of great defensive backs, is allowing more than 18 yards per pass completion -- easily the most in the nation. Unfortunately, the Heels are ill-equipped to take advantage. Their offensive line has likewise been wracked with injuries, leading to a complete shutdown of the running game. In two ACC contests thus far, the Heels have managed a total of 56 running yards. On the other hand, both FSU’s offense and UNC’s defense are at the top of the league, so this part of the game should be entertaining, at least.

The Picks -- Rob: FSU | FEI: FSU | S&P+: FSU

No. 12 Georgia Tech (-5.5) at Virginia (Saturday, 12:00 p.m. EST)

After giving up 75 points in road wins over Mississippi State and Florida State, questions arose about Georgia Tech's ability to defend Virginia Tech. Consider that a test passed. The Yellow Jackets did give up 23 points and 334 yards to the Hokies, but they more than got the job done, taking a 21-10 lead into the fourth quarter and running out the clock for a huge conference win. Now Paul Johnson's squad is as likely as any in the country to win out. They travel to Charlottesville to take on a Virginia team learning to win without moving the ball. After an 0-3 start, the Cavaliers have won three in a row with defense, giving up a combined 16 points to North Carolina, Indiana and Maryland, and once again looking like they may save Al Groh's job. Believe it or not, this is a battle for first place in the ACC Coastal Division, and if the Cavs can make Josh Nesbitt throw the ball as much as possible, they might become the least likely division champion ever.

The Picks -- Rob: Ga. Tech (LOCK) | FEI: Ga. Tech | S&P+: Virginia (LOCK)

South Florida (+6.5) at No. 20 Pittsburgh (Saturday, 12:00 p.m. EST)

The South Florida Bulls didn’t perform in the spotlight of last week’s nationally-televised showdown with Cincinnati, turning the ball over and marching themselves backward 12 times on penalties. Freshman quarterback B. J. Daniels ran himself ragged -- and too often in his own backfield -- trying to escape pressure both in passing situations and when calling his own number in the spread option. Next up? Pittsburgh, and its nation-leading 29 sacks. Offensively, the Panthers have shown good balance in the passing attack led by Bill Stull and the rushing spark provided by freshman Dion Lewis. Balance has been sufficient, but Pittsburgh is still searching for a breakthrough offensive game. It isn’t likely to arrive this week, though -- South Florida boasts the No. 5 defense according to Defensive FEI and has held pedestrian offensive opposition largely in check.

The Picks -- Rob: Pitt | FEI: USF | S&P+: USF

Oklahoma (-7.5) at No. 25 Kansas (Saturday, 3:30 p.m. EST)

In one of Wilco's best songs, Jeff Tweedy wails, "Happenstance has changed my plans." That lyric probably hits a lot closer to home for Bob Stoops than it did about two months ago, as happenstance has taken away both Heisman quarterback Sam Bradford and Mackey Award favorite Jermaine Gresham, and Oklahoma has dragged its shoulder to a 3-3 start. Granted, they have only lost by a total of five points to three ranked teams (BYU, Miami, and Texas, all away from Norman), but Sooners fans' plans have changed from hoping for a return trip to the BCS Championship Game to checking out rates for late-December flights to San Diego and San Antonio. Meanwhile, Kansas, with their two best receivers ever (Dezmon Briscoe and Kerry Meier) and a supposed dark-horse Heisman contender in quarterback Todd Reesing have just played their two most winnable Big 12 games ... and finished 1-1. Last week's turnover-riddled loss at Colorado leaves the Jayhawks facing a murderous closing stretch -- Oklahoma, at Texas Tech, at Kansas State, Nebraska, at Texas, Missouri in Kansas City -- needing about four wins to have a shot at their first Big 12 North title. In the "I Have No Idea How This Happens Bowl," both teams need wins in the most desperate of ways.

The Picks -- Rob: Kansas | FEI: Kansas | S&P+: Oklahoma

No. 11 Oregon (-8.5) at Washington (Saturday, 3:30 p.m. EST)

No matter who is playing quarterback for Oregon, no matter whether Washington is scoring 30 points in a loss or 16 points in a win, one thing seems rather certain: If a game involves the Huskies, you may want to stick around until the ending. Four of Washington's last five games have include heart-stopping endings, from a last-second field goal in a win over USC, to an overtime loss to Notre Dame, to a startling "15 points in 19 seconds" comeback win over Arizona, to a jaw-dropping loss to Arizona State, in which they gave up a 50-yard touchdown pass with five seconds left. Bowl chances for the Huskies potentially hinge on this weekend's home battle with the team 280 miles south on Interstate 5. Since the startling season-opening loss to Boise State, Oregon has done nothing but win. After knockout victories over Washington State and California, the Ducks settled for just getting by at UCLA. Backup Ducks quarterback Nate Costa was adequate in substituting for injured starter Jeremiah Masoli, who it appears is 50-50 for Saturday's game.

The Picks -- Rob: Oregon | FEI: Washington | S&P+: Washington

No. 13 Penn State (-4.5) at Michigan (Saturday, 3:30 p.m. EST)

The Nittany Lions venture out of Happy Valley for only the second time this season on a trip to their personal house of horrors, Michigan Stadium. The Wolverines have won five straight home games against Penn State, and nine of the last 10 head-to-head matchups in the series. Penn State has become a rather forgotten team after losing to Iowa earlier this month, and their strength of schedule outside of that particular game has been especially forgettable. Strong performances against Michigan, Ohio State and Michigan State down the stretch could really boost their BCS bowl resume. Michigan feasted on FCS cupcake Delaware State last Saturday, playing quarterback Denard Robinson significantly more than the ailing Tate Forcier and setting the stage for a likely dual quarterback effort this weekend. The Wolverines rank third nationally in rushing touchdowns; Penn State ranks fourth nationally in fewest rushing touchdowns surrendered.

The Picks -- Rob: PSU | FEI: Michigan | S&P+: PSU

Tennessee (+15.5) at No. 2 Alabama (Saturday, 3:30 p.m. EST)

Now that Lane Kiffin is officially getting paid like a top coach, he’s buttering up the opposition like one, too. Lane has seldom missed an opportunity to rip Florida, but he says Alabama is unquestionably No. 1 -- as they are ranked in the AP Poll. The defense certainly is worthy of a national champ. The Tide have allowed a sickly 11.6 points per game, and lead the SEC with 21 sacks, among other numbers. It adds up to a formidable challenge for Volunteers quarterback Jonathan Crompton, who finally showed a little ability in routing Georgia. The Vols have had two weeks to come up with some ways to move the ball. When Alabama has the rock, look out for some epic collisions between running back Mark Ingram and Tennessee safety Eric Berry, who might just be the nation’s two best players.

The Picks -- Rob: Tennessee | FEI: Alabama | S&P+: Tennessee

Auburn (+7.5) at No. 9 LSU (Saturday, 7:30 p.m. EST)

These two rivals have played some close, violent contests in the past few years, and while the defenses in Baton Rouge and Auburn aren’t of 2006 vintage (when the Bayou Tigers beat the Plains Tigers 7-3), this should still be a tight affair. Both teams are looking to regain their footing after hot starts, especially Auburn, who lost at home to Kentucky last Saturday. Quarterback Chris Todd was superb in the season’s first month, but has been inefficient of late, and last year’s benching in favor of Kodi Burns might have moved from the back to the front of his mind. LSU quarterback Jordan Jefferson was horrendous against Florida two weeks ago, but he should find the going easier against Auburn. Also struggling for LSU is Charles Scott and the LSU ground game -- the team is averaging only 3.5 yards per carry this season.

The Picks -- Rob: LSU | FEI: LSU | S&P+: LSU

No. 8 TCU (-2.5) at No. 16 BYU (Saturday, 7:30 p.m. EST)

It’s the only match-up of Associated Press top-25 teams this weekend, and ESPN’s College Gameday has rubber-stamped it as the game of the week, sending their Big & Rich convoy up the freeway to put a little zang in Provo’s ying-yang. The Horned Frogs, Cougars and Utah Utes all stand undefeated in the Mountain West, so let the round-robin elimination games begin! TCU’s lockdown defense (fourth nationally in yards allowed per game) versus BYU’s high octane offense (seventh nationally in yards per game) is the unit match-up everyone will have their eyes on. TCU hasn’t yet faced an offense ranked in the top 60 according to FEI, though, and BYU’s sixth-ranked Offensive FEI unit was able to move the ball sufficiently against Oklahoma’s vaunted defense way back in September. Just as intriguing is TCU’s underrated offense -- nearly 500 yards of total offense last week against Colorado State -- versus the Cougars’ suspect defense.

The Picks -- Rob: TCU | FEI: TCU (LOCK) | S&P+: TCU

Oregon State (+20.5) at No. 7 USC (Saturday, 8:00 p.m. EST)

You remember last season’s meetup between these two squads, I’m guessing? The Beavers shocked then-No. 1 USC on a Thursday night to alter the BCS landscape permanently. For the Trojans to have any shot at the title, they must get a little payback. Oklahoma hasn’t walked off the Coliseum grass victorious since President Kennedy was still in office -- 1963, to be exact -- a spell of 21 games. That said, the Beavers ended a 16-game winless streak at Arizona State earlier this season, and with the Rodgers Brothers doin’ work, Oregon State has a shot. Running back Jacquizz Rodgers has been sensational, building on his coming out on that Thursday night last year when the Trojans couldn’t tackle him. Wide receiver James Rodgers has been merely excellent. USC’s usually-mighty defense has been shaky in spots, and it will need to corral the siblings to exact revenge. OSU quarterback Sean Canfield may have a bit of vengeance on his mind too -- he was knocked out of the 2007 USC game by a late hit, a blow that cost him the job in 2008 when sub Lyle Moevao took over. Canfield is back at the helm and has been solid when not on his back -- he’s been sacked 19 times in six games, a number the Trojans hope to increase.

The Picks -- Rob: OSU | FEI: OSU | S&P+: OSU

Storylines of the Week

Rob Weintraub: The SEC is no doubt sending a large fruit basket to umpire Tim McClelland, whose brutal gaffes in Game 4 of the ALCS has taken the spotlight off the dubious maximus officiating seen in Gainesville on Saturday. Naturally, all the talk in these parts is about a conspiracy to ensure Florida meets Alabama in the SEC Championship Game as No. 1 and No. 2. Leaving aside the nonsense (they are sure to meet regardless, and the winner will be in the title game even with a loss), the contretemps does raise an important point. The SEC is raking in an unholy amount of money, a pile that reached Everest heights with the ESPN deal this past winter. But the league officials make boopkus -- around $750-800 per game. Now that's nothing to sneeze at in this economy, but given the huge cash surrounding the league, the programs, and the boosters -- it’s peanuts. Until there is more of a financial incentive to up the quality for the refs, we’ll continue to see games and seasons turn on shoddy calls like the ones last Saturday.

Brian Fremeau: It has been a recurring theme in the weekly SDA “Storylines” section, but when are the nation’s elite teams going to step up and dominate? Florida and Texas have conspicuously flirted with narrow escapes after pummeling most of their opponents last year by healthy margins. Even the games that have concluded comfortably in favor of undefeated Alabama, Iowa or Cincinnati haven’t really been the kind of behind-the-woodshed beatdowns that make everyone sit up and marvel at the aura of invincibility on display. If we’re supposed to be on a trajectory for a pre-destined BCS national championship, I want to know what the Crimson Tide, Gators and Longhorns are truly capable of first. I don’t think we’ve seen it yet. If we have, I don’t expect those three teams to remain unblemished.

Bill Connelly: This week, nine of the top 15 teams (according to BCS standings) play on the road, eight against unranked opponents. In 2007, road losses claimed top-ranked team after top-ranked team, and though the remaining contenders seem to have stabilized things the last couple of weeks, with this many road trips, there is no way we're heading into Week 9 without at least one major upset. Who will it be? Urban Meyer's former offensive coordinator finding the magic to lead Mississippi State over No. 1 Florida? Boise State tripping up after a 4,000 mile trip to Honolulu? Iowa's run ending in East Lansing against an improving Michigan State team? Washington over Oregon? Virginia over Georgia Tech? So many upset candidates, so few upset predictions.

The Picks
(* - "Fred Edelstein Lock of the Week")
Visitor Spread Home Rob FEI S&P+
Florida State +2.5 North Carolina FSU FSU FSU
Georgia Tech -5.5 Virginia Ga. Tech* Ga. Tech Virginia*
South Florida +6.5 Pittsburgh Pitt USF USF
Oklahoma -7.5 Kansas Kansas Kansas Oklahoma
Oregon -8.5 Washington Oregon Washington Washington
Penn State -4.5 Michigan PSU Michigan PSU
Tennessee +15.5 Alabama Tennessee Alabama Tennessee
Auburn +7.5 LSU LSU LSU LSU
TCU -2.5 BYU TCU TCU* TCU
Oregon State +20.5 USC Ore. St. Ore. St. Ore. St.
Season-long Results
("Fred Edelstein Lock of the Week" record in parentheses)
  Last Week Season Total
S&P+: 4-5-1 0-1 38-30-2 (4-3-0)
FEI: 4-5-1 0-1 31-37-2 (2-5-0)
Rob: 2-7-1 0-1 26-42-2 (0-7-0)

Remember to discuss games all weekend long on our new college football discussion board.

Posted by: The Outsiders on 22 Oct 2009

24 comments, Last at 24 Oct 2009, 1:15am by bird jam

Comments

1
by Kal :: Thu, 10/22/2009 - 6:11pm

After knockout victories over Washington State and California, the Ducks settled for just getting by at UCLA. Backup Ducks quarterback Nate Costa was adequate in substituting for injured starter Jeremiah Masoli, who it appears is 50-50 for Saturday's game.

A 14-point win on the road is 'just getting by'? The defense held UCLA to 3 points. I'm kinda confused how that's getting by, though I guess a 2-TD win isn't quite the same as a 6-TD blowout.

And FEI and S&P are both predicting...what? A Washington win, or a Washington spread win?

4
by BHW (not verified) :: Thu, 10/22/2009 - 7:02pm

Well, the Oregon offense only scored 10 points against UCLA, 7 of which came on one big play immediately following a turnover.

18
by Kal :: Fri, 10/23/2009 - 1:01pm

Even so, that's a 10-3 win on the road; I'd think holding any offense to 3 points would be a fairly convincing win.

Not saying that it was a shellacking of UCLA, but watching the game - Oregon really dominated defensively. UCLA couldn't get much of anything going at all, and they had enough good offensive plays that I think they would have been fine.

13
by NY expat :: Fri, 10/23/2009 - 2:57am

All predictions are made against the spread

2
by AnonymousA (not verified) :: Thu, 10/22/2009 - 6:37pm

Rob, with a DECISIVE reclamation of the information lead, makes Virginia an *unassailable* pick for the week.

Go Rob go! Crush those puny computers!

3
by Danish Denver-Fan :: Thu, 10/22/2009 - 6:52pm

Thats an outrage! Every crew is risking being put under this much scrutiny (sp?), for what radierjoe spends on SierraNevada in a week, is just silly. That's some serious pressure for a shitty pay. It's incredible that anybody is willing to do it.

What happens if there's a NCAA-wide ref-strike?

Besides, as we know from studies of south american policemen, a well-paid ref. is a lot harder to buy, than poorly compensated one... Not saying, just saying.

5
by aster (not verified) :: Thu, 10/22/2009 - 7:22pm

Just as a heads-up, you guys referred to Oregon State as "Oklahoma" in the USC-OSU preview.

7
by Socalgng (not verified) :: Thu, 10/22/2009 - 8:04pm

In all fairness, Oklahoma hasn't won at the Coliseum in a while either.

8
by aster (not verified) :: Thu, 10/22/2009 - 8:36pm

And you know, 1963 is indeed Oklahoma's last victory at USC, as printed. Oregon State's was actually in 1960.

6
by BroncosGuy (not verified) :: Thu, 10/22/2009 - 7:45pm

There appears some suspicion that the FLA-ARK crew was paid generously, just not by the folks we would like them to be. This only reinforces the point. The NCAA, in all its wisdom, continues to dismiss the forest for the trees.

9
by c_F (not verified) :: Thu, 10/22/2009 - 9:03pm

Georgia Tech is favored by only 5.5 points at Virginia? I know the Cavaliers have improved a lot, but only 5.5 points? Still, if Rob has Tech as a lock and S&P has Virginia as a lock, it looks like the Cavaliers will cover.

(In the image) Why is TCU #48 just standing there while TCU #24 gets tackled by an SMU player?

10
by Tom Gower :: Thu, 10/22/2009 - 9:17pm

3-6-1 (1-0) last week, as the counter-consensus Edelstein lock of the Red Raiders came through again. That sort of pick has been money in the bank for me. This week I'll take FSU, Georgia Tech, USF, Oklahoma, Washington, Michigan, Alabama, Auburn, TCU, and USC. I'm tempted to take the Wolverines, powered by the return of David Molk, as the Edelstein, but will instead go with the counter-consensus and utterly confounding Auburn to win the Battle of the Tigers.

*For the record, I haven't checked FSU-UNC yet. I'll also have to confirm last week's record and add the cumulative one later.

12
by Fourth :: Fri, 10/23/2009 - 12:52am

If you had cheated on the FSU game and peeked at the score in the 2nd quarter, you would have gone with UNC. If only life always rewarded noble behavior...

15
by Tom Gower :: Fri, 10/23/2009 - 10:09am

Unclean living pays off! I checked the score after making my picks, saw FSU was down 17-3 at that point, and became very glad I have no money on these picks.

3-6-1 (1-0) confirmed for last week, so I'm at 33-35-2 (4-3) on the year.

20
by Will :: Fri, 10/23/2009 - 2:04pm

You are siding with Rob and taking Georgia Tech? Brave.

Will

11
by Porchmnky4life (not verified) :: Thu, 10/22/2009 - 9:32pm

The only thing that will end the bias calls are NON-conference affiliated refs.

14
by DaninPhilly (not verified) :: Fri, 10/23/2009 - 9:26am

How much do MLB umpires get paid? If the SEC matches that, then we won't get any more blown calls in critical games, right?

Oh, wait...

16
by billycurley :: Fri, 10/23/2009 - 10:15am

Maybe this is just a crazy alum talking, but why no love for the Iowa/MSU game? Top ten team (by ranking) going on the road as only a two point favorite ... seems to me to be a lot more interesting and meaningful than at least three of the games picked for extended previews.

17
by Rover (not verified) :: Fri, 10/23/2009 - 10:20am

Billy! Come watch at Blondies this weekend. You won't have to be stuck in the back room.

-Matt

19
by billycurley :: Fri, 10/23/2009 - 1:41pm

Hey Rover, been a while. I'm in Chicago now - guessing I'll be in NYC for one game. I thought it was Opal now, though?

21
by bird jam :: Fri, 10/23/2009 - 2:17pm

Which one of you wrote that "You Are My Face" is "one of Wilco's best songs"? I've never heard anyone say that. It is a great song, like all of Wilco's songs are, but I think it's a stretch to call it one of their best songs...

23
by Bill Connelly :: Fri, 10/23/2009 - 5:49pm

I will defend that comment to the death.

(Plus, it's a lot more interesting to call something great than to just quote "some song"...)

24
by bird jam :: Sat, 10/24/2009 - 1:15am

But notice how I called it great without calling it one of their best songs?

22
by bird jam :: Fri, 10/23/2009 - 2:19pm

Also, for my weekly Kiffin defense, if you will recall the week before the Florida game he sang their praises too.