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).

01 Oct 2009

7th Day Adventure: We Love the 80's

by Bill Connelly, Brian Fremeau, and Rob Weintraub

With the Big Ten starting its conference season this week and the Big 12 a week away from the same, this is an interesting transition week in college football. You've got plenty of solid rivalry games (Michigan-Michigan State, LSU-Georgia, USC-Cal, Air Force-Navy) with a few former rivalries added to the mix. Arkansas and Texas A&M meet at Jerry World, their first battle since 1991, which was the Razorbacks final year in the Southwest Conference. These teams had a series of stout, defensive battles in the 1980s, though it is unlikely defense will play much of a role this time around. Meanwhile, Miami and Oklahoma meet for just the second time since the mid-1980s. From 1985 to 1987, Oklahoma went 0-3 versus Miami ... and 33-0 against everyone else. Seeing these two teams playing in South Florida will likely give viewers flashbacks, but don't expect to see Dana Carvey and Jan Hooks on Saturday Night Live after the game.

This Week's Games

Colorado (+17.5) at West Virginia (Thursday, 7:30 p.m. EST, ESPN)

Picked as a Big 12 North sleeper for seemingly the fourth consecutive season under Dan Hawkins, Colorado started this year as flat as could be, losing to Colorado State, then losing badly to Toledo (Aaron Opelt had 109 rushing yards?). They rebounded against Wyoming, shutting out the Cowboys 24-0, but they still have an infinite amount to prove. For that matter, so does West Virginia, a team that has put up ridiculous statistics in the backfield -- quarterback Jarrett Brown has 798 passing yards and a 151.2 passer rating, and Noel Devine is Noel Devine -- but fell in its only BCS conference game thus far, a 41-30 shootout loss to Auburn. Can Colorado's safeties and linebackers, burned so terribly against Toledo, keep up with the Mountaineers? Can West Virginia steal some of the attention directed Cincinnati's way?

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

No. 22 Michigan (+2) at Michigan State (Saturday, 12:00 p.m. EST, Big Ten Network)

Wolverines freshman quarterback Tate Forcier has spearheaded comeback victories over Notre Dame and Indiana this year, earning "legendary" praise from Michigan fans and broadcast announcers to go with his already very healthy self-image. He'll face a Michigan State team that has yet to record a victory over another FBS opponent, but has come excruciatingly close. Behind quarterback Kirk Cousins and a strong receiving corps, the Spartans boast the strongest passing offense in the Big Ten. Michigan's defensive backs have been picked on more than once this year and will be tested for the first time away from the Big House. The key to the game will be whether Forcier and, more importantly, running back Brandon Minor, can control the line of scrimmage against Michigan State.

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

No. 4 LSU (+3) at No. 22 Georgia (Saturday, 3:30 p.m. EST, CBS)

A.J. Green might be the best receiver in the SEC, if not the country. His performance Saturday (8 catches for 153 yards and a touchdown, plus a critical blocked field goal) was so good it made you sorry Larry Munson, the longtime, just-retired radio voice of the Bulldogs, wasn’t around to call it. Though LSU brings in a more complete pair of wideouts, Brandon LaFell and Terrance Toliver, quarterback Jordan Jefferson has been erratic in getting his stud receivers the ball. LSU travels between the hedges as the No. 4 team in the nation, a distinction not a single Tiger fan will tell you is earned. Georgia is still recovering from its opening day beat down in Stillwater, but has shown serious huevos in gutting out tight wins against South Carolina, Arkansas, and ASU. Georgia fans will tell you its team is better than its national profile. So something has to give, perception-wise, in Athens.

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

Washington at Notre Dame (Saturday, 3:30 p.m. EST, NBC)

Notre Dame has been living on the edge lately, escaping the Big Ten portion of its schedule with two wins in three down-to-the-wire games. Jimmy Clausen's turf toe kept him on the sidelines for big stretches against Purdue, though he did rally and lead the game-winning drive. While he was out, the Irish rushing attack showed signs of life, a good sign for Irish partisans since Washington has been gashed on the ground by USC and Stanford in the past two weeks. On the other side of the ball, Huskies quarterback Jake Locker is experienced, gritty, talented, and, under the tutelage of head coach Steve Sarkisian, improving. Washington has never earned a win in seven matchups with Notre Dame, though each of the last three games have featured historically bad Huskies teams.

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

Air Force (+3.5) at Navy (Saturday, 3:30 p.m. EST)

There won't be any television coverage for this one. Is that because nobody cares about the academies, or because the networks wouldn't be able to sell commercials for a 2.5 hour game? The Falcons and Midshipmen both rank among the top rushing teams in the country and are ranked No. 1 and No. 2, respectively, in rushing attempts per game. Air Force is keeping it on the ground on average 66 times per game and might not surpass 66 total pass attempts on the season until November. Navy has owned the Commander-in-Chief trophy for several years and appears poised to turn in another eight-win bowl-bound season. The Falcons sit atop the Mountain West Conference standings, but have yet to face a formidable opponent.

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

UCLA (+6) at Stanford (Saturday, 3:30 p.m. EST, ABC)

While USC, Oregon and California are seen as the main players in the race for the Pacific 10 title, the winner of this battle could be a dark horse. UCLA and Stanford are a combined 6-1. Stanford has ridden Toby Gerhart's 129 rushing yards per game to a 3-1 record, coming off of a 20-point win over USC conqueror, Washington. They have used a physical running game and a good offensive line (best in the country in sacks allowed) in breaking in redshirt freshman quarterback Andrew Luck. Meanwhile, UCLA has controlled games with a conservative, efficient offense and a defense that is one of the best in the country on passing downs. They will come after Luck, and the winner of the battle in the trenches will start October with a big conference win.

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

Texas A&M (-1) vs. Arkansas in Dallas (Saturday, 7:30 p.m. EST, ESPN2)

The line for this game has wung back and forth a couple points each way this week, and justifiably so. Who can make heads or tails out of either one of these teams right now? Arkansas has faced only an FBS team (Missouri State) and two top SEC teams (Georgia, Alabama). Texas A&M, meanwhile, has proved nothing in routs of New Mexico (0-4) and UAB (1-3) and a tight, eight-point victory over Utah State (1-2). A&M has averaged 45 points per game, but can they score on a real defense, especially without leading wide receiver Jeff Fuller? And does Arkansas have a real defense when not facing receivers like A.J. Green and Julio Jones? After last week's retro-SWC battle of Texas Tech and Houston produced undying levels of yards and entertainment, this sequel, pitting two of the former conference's prouder programs, has pretty big shoes to fill.

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

Auburn (+2) at Tennessee (Saturday, 7:45 p.m. EST, ESPN)

Sometimes it’s hard to remember that there is another new coach in the SEC, one that is having considerably more success than media black hole Lane Kiffin is in Knoxville. Gene Chizik was hardly a popular choice to replace Tommy Tuberville, but he and offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn have the Tigers offense churning like the good old days, when Cadillac and Ronnie were rolling up the points. Both the Tigers and Vols feature a dynamite veteran/freshman running combo. Ben Tate and Onterio McCaleb of Auburn have been better than Montario Hardesty and Bryce Brown of Tennessee, but have played weaker defenses, too. Whichever pair can better establish themselves Saturday will determine the outcome. The Malzahn-Monte Kiffin battle of “genius” coordinators is worth the price of admission -- which is zero when you watch on TV.

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

No. 8 Oklahoma (-7.5) at No. 17 Miami (Saturday, 8:00 p.m. EST, ABC)

Will he or won’t he? Oklahoma quarterback Sam Bradford’s presence under center is the key element to this clash in Land Shark Stadium. If the defending Heisman holder, last seen getting squashed by a BYU defender in the opener, can go, the Sooners will get a major boost. Fill-in Landry Jones performed admirably against weak competition (even tossing six touchdowns in a game, something Bradford has never done), but the difference will be noticeable, especially if both play, as has been rumored. Miami’s defense is still prone to over-aggression, leaving itself vulnerable to Sooners' cutback runners Chris Brown and DeMarco Murray. Hurricanes quarterback Jacory Harris was fantastic for two games in Florida, but suffered a nightmarish business trip to Virginia last week. Back in sunny climes, he’ll have to be back at his best for Miami to outscore the Sooners.

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

No. 7 USC (-5) at No. 24 California (Saturday, 8:00 p.m. EST, ABC)

A few weeks ago, this clash was earmarked as a de facto Pac-10 championship game. And now, after both USC and California stumbled out of the gate in league play? The loser is probably out of the running for the conference crown altogether. Even in victory last week against Washington State, the Trojans looked disinterested and uninspired. And after power running back Stafon Johnson suffered a freak weight-lifting accident this week, will USC be distracted or focused Saturday? The Bears are still licking their wounds after a nightmarish trip to Oregon last week. They couldn't run or stop the run -- two areas USC has the potential to exploit.

The Picks -- Rob: California | FEI: USC | S&P+: USC

Storylines of the Week

Rob Weintraub: Last week in this space I noted the absence of any really good teams, a plotline that has only gained velocity since last weekend’s top-10 bloodbath. This week, let’s dig deeper, and go after the players. Here we are, in what was supposed to be the most fantastic Heisman race ever assembled, and no one has stood out. You know the big three -- Tebow, McCoy, Bradford -- have either been hurt, good but not great, or both. (Is Tim OK? Please Jesus make it so!) But what’s amazing is how few have stepped up to challenge for the stiff-armer. Jacory Harris let his chances slip down the storm drain in Blacksburg. Jahvid Best is probably wondering when the Oregon game starts. Darryl Clark, Max Hall, Zac Robinson -- one preseason favorite after another has been feh. Hopefully, this is the season for a non-quarterback or non-running back to slip and take the big prize. Cincinnati wide receiver Mardy Gilyard, anyone? ... Anyone?

Brian Fremeau: We're already one third of the way through the 2009 season, and some teams still haven't played a road game. Two in particular -- Auburn and Michigan -- have kicked off somewhat surprising undefeated campaigns in dynamic fashion, but each will be tested in a hostile environment for the first time Saturday. In the current Associated Press top 25, nine of top 13 ranked teams who have lost went down on the road. Tennessee (hosting the Tigers) and Michigan State (hosting the Wolverines) have taken their lumps, but will both be dangerous foes. If Auburn and Michigan pass these tests with flying colors, conference championship contention (or more) will be well within reach.

Bill Connelly: Moment of silence, please. While most of the country was focusing on one particular quarterback's harrowing injury, a small portion of Big 12 country was mourning the loss (for the season) of a quarterback/athlete every bit as unique as Tim Tebow. Robert Griffin III tore his ACL in the first drive of Baylor's 68-13 embarrassment of Northwestern State. He says he is thinking about trying to play through it, but ... no. He'll have surgery and be ready to scare the daylights out of these twelve teams next fall. One other thing bears mentioning, however: Griffin completed 11 of 14 passes for 201 yards and three touchdowns after his injury Saturday. And he carried three times for 16 yards. With a torn ACL. See you next year, Mr. Griffin.

The Picks
(* - "Fred Edelstein Lock of the Week")
Visitor Spread Home Rob FEI S&P+
Colorado +17.5 West Virginia W. Va.* W. Va.* Colorado
Michigan +2 Michigan State Michigan Michigan Michigan
LSU +3 Georgia Georgia Georgia LSU
Washington +13.5 Notre Dame Washington Notre Dame Washington
Air Force +3.5 Navy Navy Navy Navy*
UCLA +6 Stanford UCLA UCLA UCLA
Arkansas +1 Texas A&M Arkansas Arkansas Arkansas
Auburn +2 Tennessee Auburn Auburn Tennessee
Oklahoma -7.5 Miami Miami Miami Miami
USC -5 California California USC USC
Season-long Results
("Fred Edelstein Lock of the Week" record in parentheses)
  Last Week Season Total
S&P+: 5-4-1 (1-0-0) 24-15-1 (3-1-0)
FEI: 7-2-1 (1-0-0) 20-19-1 (2-2-0)
Rob: 6-3-1 (0-1-0) 14-25-0 (0-4-0)

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

Posted by: The Outsiders on 01 Oct 2009

29 comments, Last at 04 Oct 2009, 1:12pm by bird jam

Comments

1
by Tom Gower :: Thu, 10/01/2009 - 4:24pm

4-6 (0-1) last week, for 19-21 (1-3) on the year. It's the second week in a row I've been hesitant to go up against the S&P/FEI/Rob consensus with my Edelstein, and the second week in a row that's cost me. No more!

This week, I'll take West Virginia, Michigan, LSU, Washington, Navy, Stanford, Arkansas, Auburn, Miami, and USC, and, in a fit of pique likely to come back to haunt me, make the Cardinal, rather than the Wolverines, my Edelstein lock of the week.

2
by bird jam :: Thu, 10/01/2009 - 4:35pm

"Sometimes it’s hard to remember that there is another new coach in the SEC, one that is having considerably more success than media black hole Lane Kiffin is in Knoxville."

I hate to constantly play the role of easily-irritated, over-sensitive Vol fan, but when you say "considerably more success" are you simply referring to being able to score points against teams like Ball State? And yes, I realize that Tennessee would struggle to score points against ANYBODY right now, but when you include Tennessee's showing against Florida as well as the recruits Kiffin et al have already lined up in this year's class, I don't see how Chizik is having "considerably more success" than Kiffin at this point.

S&P+ seems to agree - I am guessing schedule strength factors in there.

3
by An Onimous (not verified) :: Thu, 10/01/2009 - 5:23pm

Auburn is 4-0. Tennessee is 2-2. Auburn has a quality non-conference win against West Virginia, and their thrashing of Mississippi State looks better after Miss. State gave LSU all they could handle. Tennessee's best "win" so far was a 10 point loss that wasn't as close as the scoreboard might have indicated. Say all you want about Ball State, but at least Auburn beat them by 24- Tennessee had to scrap out an 11 point win against Ohio University. This, despite the perception that Auburn was a much worse team coming into the season. Yeah, he's been a lot more successful.

Point to the recruiting rankings all you want, but recruiting rankings are a crapshoot. Charlie Weis repeatedly pulled down top recruiting rankings, yet he still can't field a talented team (speaking of Weis, he's a good cautionary tale about coaches whose best win was a loss). Virginia Tech's next top-25 class will probably be their first, yet they're still beating everybody where it counts (on the field). In my mind, "success" in college football is measured in wins, not recruiting championships.

5
by TXNiner :: Thu, 10/01/2009 - 5:36pm

OK, you can't think that a recruiting class will have an immediate effect, it takes a couple of years to develop all of the incoming talent. And a quick check to rivals.com (http://rivals100.rivals.com/teamrank.asp) will tell you Virginia Tech has had a top 25 recruiting class in 3 of the past 5 years, with a high of 14 in 2005 (I left out the 2010 ranking of 14 since that recruiting is not finished). I think recruiting carries a heck of a lot more weight than you are wanting to put on it. Look at the top teams in the listings, they are consistently teams that show up high in the polls. No, not every team that recruits well is going to show it on the field, but more often then not, winning a recruiting war is a strong indicator of success in the near future.

16
by Muldrake (not verified) :: Thu, 10/01/2009 - 11:56pm

Your Virginia Tech recruiting argument might have a little more weight if FSU and Miami didn't rank higher than them every year...even in VT's high water mark year of #14 Miami was #7 and FSU was #2. Recruiting matters but not as much as good coaches and good systems. As for who has been more successful, I have to go with Auburn here because while the Vols are who we thought they were coming into the season (good D and bad QB play), I don't think I'm the only one who thought the Chizik experiment would end badly, especially with Chris Todd at the helm. Todd wasn't much better than Crompton last year and Chizik/Malzahn have gotten him to produce in a way Crompton very much hasn't yet.

6
by bird jam :: Thu, 10/01/2009 - 5:56pm

West Virginia is a "quality" non-conference win? Shouldn't a "quality" non-conference win have to come from a "quality" conference? I keed, I keed...

I will say all I want about Ball State. Tennessee ran it up on Western Kentucky but I don't think that really proves anything just like I don't think Auburn running it up on Ball State proves anything.

I'll give you the 4-0 record. Auburn has won all the games they were supposed to win. Which is one more than Kiffin has won at Tennessee (the UCLA game is the only game he has lost that he shouldn't have.)

And I'll even give you "more successful" so far. I just don't think it is "considerably" so.

The proof will be in the pudding on Saturday. If Auburn wins, I will admit that Chizik has had considerably more success than Kiffin so far. Right now I would say he has had slightly more success.

15
by t.d. :: Thu, 10/01/2009 - 11:56pm

ignoring the UCLA game... Other than that, how was the play, Mrs Lincoln?

18
by An Onimous (not verified) :: Fri, 10/02/2009 - 6:13am

Auburn's offense was #104 in the nation last year. Auburn's offense is #3 in the nation this year.

Tennessee is pretty much exactly what it was last year- a great defense shackled to a terrible offense. Auburn, however, is substantially improved. Chizik didn't take a great unit and keep it great, he took an abysmal unit and made it amazing. That's considerable success, any way you slice it.

28
by Fourth :: Sun, 10/04/2009 - 12:28am

Also, look at that! Tennessee DOES have a hurry-up offense! Why didn't they use that against Florida again? In just about the EXACT same situation (down 10 in the 4th)? :D

29
by bird jam :: Sun, 10/04/2009 - 1:12pm

I stand corrected. Chizik has been "considerably more successful" than Kiffin. Good win for the Tigers, although I still don't think they've faced a quality opponent yet, Vols included.

4
by kevinM (not verified) :: Thu, 10/01/2009 - 5:36pm

ND certainly has elite talent on offense...

The defense is another matter.

7
by Packerpalooza (not verified) :: Thu, 10/01/2009 - 6:05pm

Big Ten teams played one another played last week. How is this week the Big Ten opener?

By the way, Michigan State did not do anything of substance via passing until the final minutes of the WI-MSU game when the Badgers goofed on coverage and gave up a 91 yard TD pass. Cousins has the usual flaws of a college qb and his second is the standard "I'm a runner not a passer" doof.

And Wisky's defensive secondary ain't much.

So no, Michigan State's passing "attack" is in name only. They have faced bad defenses. Which means this weekend they will likely look ok.

But against the real deal, say Iowa or OSU, Michigan State will be exposed for not being all that and a bag of chips.

I am really surprised that writers from FO would not look past the superficial.

Really, really suprised. I thought the Barnwell Overlord kept y'all in line....

8
by Tom Gower :: Thu, 10/01/2009 - 6:36pm

For the record, Air Force-Navy will be on TV, on CBS College for those of us who get that. See this great site for all the CFB action on TV every week.

9
by Fourth :: Thu, 10/01/2009 - 7:12pm

It's not quite a great site, I'm afraid. Two things hold it back: attacking my screen with purple, and the use of central time. Eastern time is God's time, all other times are the devil.

(Ok fine it's a great site. But that purple really is painful).

10
by Fourth :: Thu, 10/01/2009 - 7:17pm

Can I just say that I'm pretty upset with the schedule this week? Two of the three best games are on at the same time, and not only that...freakin ABC has the rights to both games, so I can't even flip back and forth? Oh well, maybe Auburn and Tennessee will be decent enough to be the alternate to OU - Miami.

11
by Bill Connelly :: Thu, 10/01/2009 - 7:59pm

...I apologize. I was scrolling down the screen and accidentally clicked "mark as spam". Complete accident. I'll see if I can undo.

12
by Bill Connelly :: Thu, 10/01/2009 - 8:04pm

.

13
by Bill Connelly :: Thu, 10/01/2009 - 10:53pm

Boo...a late TD gives WVU the likely cover (unless CU can miraculously move the ball with two minutes left). Thought I had this one in the bag.

14
by Bill Connelly :: Thu, 10/01/2009 - 11:01pm

Reverse jinx successful! Colorado scores and covers!

17
by Fourth :: Fri, 10/02/2009 - 2:11am

wooooooot!

19
by Darren (not verified) :: Fri, 10/02/2009 - 6:54am

As an occasional reader of this site, I know "FEI" stands for "Fremeau Efficiency Index" (or something like that, right?), but when you guys make your picks and list "S&P+", I have absolutely no idea who or what that is. Wouldn't it be a good idea to explain what your abbreviations stand for somewhere on the page you're using them (both for FEI and S&P+)?

20
by Bill Connelly :: Fri, 10/02/2009 - 7:33am

...on Friday afternoons. Doesn't draw many eyeballs. Quick explanations can be found on the FO glossary page. Will see about adding quick explanations to the 7DA template.

S&P+ = Success Rates, EqPts Per Play, and a "+" strength of schedule adjustment.

The fastest way to get to know S&P+ is to read the S&P entry here: http://footballoutsiders.com/info/glossary

Then read this Varsity Numbers column: http://www.footballoutsiders.com/varsity-numbers/2009/varsity-numbers-lo...

21
by Darren (not verified) :: Fri, 10/02/2009 - 8:27am

...but that still doesn't quite answer my question: who actually made the picks listed under "S&P+"? Were they done entirely via mathematical formula, or did someone (presumably yourself, given posts 13 and 14 above) tweak the formula to make your picks, or what?

22
by Bill Connelly :: Fri, 10/02/2009 - 8:47am

I take the S&P+ ratings and boil them down to approximate point values, apply a small home-field advantage, and make the picks that way. Maybe I should add a "C" (for Connelly) to the title of the rating. :-)

23
by Verifiably Unverifiable (not verified) :: Fri, 10/02/2009 - 11:35am

Based on the comment by Brian "In the current Associated Press top 25, nine of top 13 ranked teams who have lost went down on the road", perhaps it should be a big home field advantage?

24
by Bill Connelly :: Fri, 10/02/2009 - 11:43am

Home-field definitely means more in some games than in others, but on average it appears that it means about 4-6 points when all is said and done. I apply a four-point home field advantage right now, and that seems to be doing pretty well, though at some point I'll go up to six and see if that would have done any better.

25
by TV_Pete (not verified) :: Fri, 10/02/2009 - 12:18pm

What is the Home Field advantage worth for teams playing earlier in the week? It seems like it should be more (given travel having a greater relative affect on the visiting team).

Also, does Home Field advantage have a great affect for West Coast teams (against East Coast teams) visiting, especially for evening games? I remember a study of the NFL that suggested that was the case.

Similarly, I wonder if distance traveled has an affect.

27
by Bill Connelly :: Fri, 10/02/2009 - 1:54pm

All very good questions...one day I will have answers for them. :-) That is definitely something to look into...if not during the season, then after. This is my first stab at week-to-week projections, and I've already developed quite a to-do list for the offseason...

26
by Francisco (not verified) :: Fri, 10/02/2009 - 12:37pm

That Forcier website is pretty unbelievable. Odds that at least one of those kids goes complete Todd Marinovich: 1-2.