Writers of Pro Football Prospectus 2008

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26 Nov 2009

SDA: A Heaping Helping of Pink Slips

by Bill Connelly, Brian Fremeau, and Rob Weintraub

Turkey, beer, and (once those pesky pro games are out of the way) a long weekend of college football rivalry games. Does life get any better?

This Week's Games

(Editor's Note: Teams are listed according to BCS ranking.)

No. 3 Texas (-21) at Texas A&M (Thursday, 8:00 p.m. EST, ESPN)

In a week full of heavily favored teams playing lesser rivals, Texas A&M gets the first opportunity at an earth-shattering upset when they take on Texas tonight on ESPN. The Aggies have been at the top of the "Figure them out, I dare you" list for a while. They followed a blowout loss at Kansas State with an easy win at Texas Tech. They easily disposed of a salty Iowa State team, then lost to Colorado. Quarterback Jerrod Johnson has quietly put together gaudy numbers (2,875 yards, 59.4% completion rate, 24 TD, 5 INT), but they haven't faced a defense like Texas', which has given up over 20 points just once this season. Besides, can the Aggies slow down a Texas offense that has been in fifth gear most of the last month, having scored at least 35 points in every game since their 16-13 win over Oklahoma. After almost completely eliminating himself from consideration early in the season, Colt McCoy has re-entered the Heisman race with a bang, and it will take some unexpected heroics (and a jarring letdown) for A&M to pull a monumental upset.

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

No. 2 Alabama (-10) at Auburn (Friday, 2:30 p.m. EST, CBS)

You can keep your Michigan-Ohio State and USC-Notre Dame—for 365-days-every-year intensity, nothing approaches Alabama-Auburn. And when one team is unbeaten, the Iron Bowl goes to eleven, like adding Red Bull to your Jolt Cola. Actually, the “Iron Bowl” label is passé since the game moved from Birmingham, but it’s too cool to die. ‘Bama’s defensive dominance and powerhouse running attack have made short work of the SEC, but don’t expect a beatdown similar to last year’s 36-0 debacle. The home team is third in the conference in total offense, and Gus Malzahn’s impact on the Tigers spread has been profound. While the Tide is still superior in almost every facet, this series has seen upsets with far more talent disparity, so Nick Saban will have his angry glare set to high beam at the first sign of slacking by his team. Look for Bama to wear down War Eagle and put the game away late, as has been its M.O. for much of the season.

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

No. 9 Pittsburgh (PK) at West Virginia (Friday, 7:00 p.m. EST, ESPN2)

It’s the “Backyard Brawl”, the rivalry with the highest couch-arson casualty rate in the nation. Pitt has had the upper hand the last couple of years, but hasn’t won three straight in the series since 1980-82 and hasn’t been favored in the game since Dave Wannstedt took over at Pitt. The Panthers have been lurking outside of the spotlight for most of this year, and win or lose this weekend, will still have a shot at the Big East championship against Cincinnati on December 5th. Pitt’s solid senior quarterback Bill Stull (No. 4 nationally in QB Rating) and stud freshman running back Dion Lewis (No. 4 nationally in yards/game) are shamefully unknown stars. West Virginia’s Noel Devine burst into everyone’s consciousness late in his freshman season, too, but is still seeking a breakout performance against Pitt. He’s rushed for only 28 yards on 19 carries in his first two opportunities in the rivalry.

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

Nevada (+13.5) at No. 6 Boise State (Friday, 10:00 p.m. EST)

Rather quietly, Nevada has moved from being one of September's biggest disappointments to becoming the offense everybody thought they could be. After a turnover-plagued and defensively deficient 0-3 start, the Wolf Pack have been unbelievable during an eight-game winning streak that has seen them score over 60 points four times. They have rushed for at least 312 yards every game in the streak and have gone over 450 yards five times. Can Colin Kaepernick and his merry men find daylight all over the blue field in Boise, or will they crash to the Smurf Turf and die like birds are rumored to do there from time to time? As hot as Nevada is, it is usually a bad idea to bet against Boise's Broncos in their own backyard. Whether it is the disorienting turf or the insanely good product on the field, BSU finds ways to not only win, but dominate, and there is no evidence that they are likely to slip up any time soon.

The Picks -- Rob: Nevada | FEI: Boise St. (LOCK) | S&P+: Boise St.

No. 12 Oklahoma State (+9.5) at Oklahoma (Saturday, 12:30 p.m. EST, FSN)

What was that, Oklahoma? Despite offensive struggles associated with youth up front and injuries to just about everybody, the Sooners' defense had held things together rather nicely. And then they traveled to Lubbock and got dismantled by Texas Tech's ... running game? A complete team letdown led to a 41-13 loss, OU's first truly inexcusable effort in a disappointing 6-5 season (their four other losses were to ranked teams, away from home, by a touchdown or less). So how do they respond? If history is any indication, they will be just fine welcoming Oklahoma State to Owen Field on Saturday. The Sooners have lost just two home games in Bob Stoops' tenure in Norman (hence why they are still almost a double-digit favorite), but the Cowboys represent a unique test. They are fighting for a BCS at-large bid, and a win over the still-reputable Sooners in hostile territory would be a nice boost; plus, their offense is balanced enough to give Oklahoma trouble. If the Cowboys play defense more like they did against Texas Tech (they gave up only 17 points to the potent Red Raiders) than against Colorado (28 points is unacceptably high, even if one of those touchdowns was on a kickoff return), they will give themselves a chance in this Bedlam battle.

The Picks -- Rob: Oklahoma | FEI: Okla. St. | S&P+: Oklahoma (LOCK)

Florida State (+24) at No. 1 Florida (Saturday, 3:30 p.m. EST, CBS)

The Gators have scored 90 points in the last two meetings with their fierce rivals to the northwest, and have won five straight against the ‘Noles. Even Bobby Bowden has said that FSU is unlikely to beat Florida until Tim Tebow passes through the campus gates for the final time. Mr. Touchdown has one more home game left, and it’s Senior Day, so expect the waterworks to appear on Tebow and Urban Meyer’s manly cheeks. The lone bright spot in Tallahassee this season has been QB Christian Ponder, but he’s done for the year with a separated shoulder. Redshirt freshman E.J. Manuel is similar to Virginia Tech’s Tyrod Taylor (both hail from the Tidewater region) in that he can make plays with his feet and throws well on the move. He may be running for his life from the fearsome Gators pass rush for much of the afternoon, but the learning experience will come in handy next year, when FSU may finally have a shot at taking down the Gators.

The Picks -- Rob: Florida | FEI: Fla. St. | S&P+: Florida

No. 21 Utah (+7.5) at No. 19 BYU (Saturday, 5:00 p.m. EST, CBS College)

The Holy War has helped determine the Mountain West conference championship often lately, but this season BYU and Utah are fighting for second place. They’ll meet in Provo to share war stories of their beatings at the hands of TCU before getting down to business. Cougars quarterback Max Hall has been outstanding (70.3 percent completion, 294 yards per game) and has been spreading the wealth – ten BYU players have caught a touchdown pass this year. Utah’s nine wins have come almost anonymously. Running back Eddie Wide has six 100-yard rushing games. Freshman quarterback Jordan Wynn took over midseason. They’ll anchor the offense, but the defense will need to lead the way if the Utes are victorious. Utah has given up 17 points or fewer in every victory this year, and aside from TCU, has held its opponents on average under 300 yards of total offense.

The Picks -- Rob: Utah | FEI: Utah | S&P+: BYU

Georgia (+7.5) at No. 7 Georgia Tech (Saturday, 8:00 p.m. EST, ABC)

My, how the worm has turned in this arch-rivalry, and so quickly, too. As late as halftime of last year’s game, the Bulldogs were considered the state’s top, um, Dawg. But then Tech’s option attack trampled UGA in the second thirty en route to victory, and this season the Jackets have been far superior, losing only once and headed for the ACC title game. GT coach Paul Johnson gets plaudits for masterful in-game adjustments and outstanding motivational technique. Georgia coach Mark Richt is under fire for remaining loyal to underperforming assistants and not yelling enough at his team (seriously). Since the Bulldog defense has been atrocious this season, and Tech has pounded the rock on everyone but Miami and Clemson, the Dawgs will need to win a scoring duel, or face a cheesy bowl game and a long offseason of angry questions. Sorry, Dawg Nation—it’s off to the PapaJohns.com Bowl for you!

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

Notre Dame (+10) at Stanford (Saturday, 8:00 p.m. EST, ABC)

This has to be it, right? Following a three-game November skid against Navy, Pitt, and Connecticut, Notre Dame’s athletic director has pulled Charlie Weis from his usual post-season recruiting trip and an irate fan coldcocked quarterback Jimmy Clausen outside a South Bend bar. With a regime change imminent, will the Fighting Irish rally together to send their coach out a winner? We’re pretty sure Stanford couldn’t care less about the melodrama. Heisman-hopeful Toby Gerhart leads the nation in rushing touchdowns and ranks third in yards per game, and he’ll be looking for style points against a defense that has been gashed on the ground in each of its last three losses. The Cardinal has lost seven straight to Notre Dame, and eight of the last ten. But the Stanford teams that did win the annual match-up in that span were the only ones with winning records in the last decade.

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

UCLA (+13) at USC (Saturday, 10:00 p.m. EST, FSN)

Southern Cal controls its own Holiday Bowl destiny. Looking up at other Pac-10 teams for the first time in recent memory is a bitter pill for the Trojans. They can take out some of the frustration on their rivals from up the I-10, UCLA. The Bruins have been epically streaky—winning three, losing five, winning three more—but are playing their best ball of the season, especially on defense. The Bruins lead the conference in scoring defense, and lead the vaunted Men of Troy in most statistical categories on that side of the ball. They’ll be coming after freshman no-longer-a-sensation Matt Barkley, who has been exposed to the harsh realities of college ball after a hot start. USC is still a little better, but injuries and a zap to their confidence after recent pummellings tightens this one up. It may not approach the 1967 classic featuring O.J. and Gary Beban, but it should be close in the final fifteen.

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

Storylines of the Week

Rob Weintraub: If the rumors are true (and as Sydney Pollack informed Tim Robbins in “The Player,” the rumors are always true), we are about to lose roughly 1,000 pounds of coach in Mark Mangino of Kansas, Notre Dame’s Charlie Weis, and Maryland’s Ralph Friedgen. Leaving aside the aesthetic realities the head coach of a BCS program now faces, it’s a sudden, surprising fall for all three men, especially the Fridge. Not long ago, Maryland was ascendant, Ralph was 31-8 in his first three seasons in College Park, and Athletic Director Debbie Yow raced to give Friedgen a lucrative extension before he could be snagged by another program. Now, the Terps are 2-9, and are struggling to recruit in a pro-sports dominated region, just as every Maryland coach has, including Bear Bryant and Bobby Ross. All three fat bastard coaches will find work again, but unless one drops about a hundred EllBees, none will hold a major head job again.

Brian Fremeau: FEI loves the ACC for the second straight year, and for those paying attention, the reasons aren’t too difficult to understand. FEI rewards competitive, narrow losses, and top-to-bottom, ACC games are more competitive than other conferences. On top of that, the league has posted strong performances in non-conference games. Florida State romped over BYU, North Carolina State posted the only victory over Pittsburgh, Clemson gave TCU its closest game of the year, and even Virginia Tech hung with Alabama in terms of possession efficiency way back in September. This weekend, Georgia Tech (hosting Georgia), Clemson (at South Carolina) and Miami (at South Florida) are all favored in non-conference games, while Florida State is a heavy underdog at Florida. These are the kinds of weeks when fan base bragging rights are claimed, and these are the kinds of weeks that college ratings systems feast on valuable cross-connected data.

Bill Connelly: Speaking of cross-connected data, hopefully whatever happens will finally convince the S&P+ ratings to bump Oklahoma down a few notches. The Sooners fell to just seventh in this week's S&P+ rankings despite a blowout loss in Lubbock, and while the rest of their record is rather excusable, they are simply ranked too high. As a bitter Missouri fan who watched Oklahoma get in Mizzou's way for most of the Chase Daniel era, they are now making me doubly bitter for messing with my numbers, and they need to cut it out. Thanksgiving is about happiness, not petty bitterness.

The Picks
(* - "Fred Edelstein Lock of the Week")
Visitor Spread Home Rob FEI S&P+
Texas -21 Texas A&M Texas Texas Texas
Alabama -10 Auburn Alabama Alabama Alabama
Pittsburgh PK West Virginia Pitt Pitt WVU
Nevada +13.5 Boise State Nevada Boise State* Boise State
Oklahoma State +9.5 Oklahoma Oklahoma Okla. St. Oklahoma*
Florida State +24 Florida Florida FSU Florida
Utah +7.5 BYU Utah Utah BYU
Georgia +7.5 Georgia Tech Ga. Tech* Ga. Tech Georgia
Notre Dame +10 Stanford Stanford Stanford Notre Dame
UCLA +13 USC UCLA USC UCLA
Season-long Results
("Fred Edelstein Lock of the Week" record in parentheses)
  Last Week Season Total
S&P+: 5-5 (0-1) 67-50-3 (6-6-0)
FEI: 6-4 (0-1) 57-60-3 (4-7-0)
Rob: 3-7 (0-1) 48-69-3 (1-11-0)

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

Posted by: Bill Connelly on 26 Nov 2009

13 comments, Last at 30 Nov 2009, 3:58pm by Jeff Fogle

Comments

1
by sethburn :: Thu, 11/26/2009 - 3:36pm

FEI hearts ACC! ACC vs. the world this weekend. If Florida St. knocks off Florida, I'm sold. :)

2
by mytm.gt.yourtm (not verified) :: Thu, 11/26/2009 - 5:17pm

NO!

Rob CANNOT pick the Ramblin' Wreck for his lock! Take it back! Take it back now!

3
by t.d. :: Thu, 11/26/2009 - 7:18pm

hook 'em

4
by strannix (not verified) :: Fri, 11/27/2009 - 12:48am

Leaving aside the aesthetic realities the head coach of a BCS program now faces, it’s a sudden, surprising fall for all three men, especially the Fridge.

Sudden? For all three guys? Maybe Mangino's fall has been "sudden," but I don't know how anyone could describe Weis's downfall that way. This drama has been playing out in slo-mo for three whole years! Where have you been?

And Maryland has been basically out of competition for the ACC title since the conference split. Seems like there's been rumblings about his tenuous job security for years now.

Next up: ruminations on how Al Groh's firing "really came out of nowhere?"

5
by AnonymousA (not verified) :: Fri, 11/27/2009 - 1:31am

Gooooo Rob! Smash those puny computers! While FEI is looking very much like "no information beyond the spread", it'll be interesting to see if Rob and S&P can keep up their information content down the stretch. Certainly, it's unlikely Rob's locks will end up anywhere near 50/50...

6
by Antique Furniture (not verified) :: Fri, 11/27/2009 - 1:45am

I don't know why, but this edition of SDA really tickled me pink... I loved the subtlety of the lines, especially couch burning!

7
by Tampa Bay Mike (not verified) :: Fri, 11/27/2009 - 1:26pm

So it looks like the S&P-Inverse Rob Locks are:

WVU
Boise State
BYU
Georgia
Notre Dame

8
by Jeff Fogle :: Fri, 11/27/2009 - 4:17pm

Wanted to ask about the ACC comments:

"On top of that, the league has posted strong performances in non-conference games. Florida State romped over BYU, North Carolina State posted the only victory over Pittsburgh, Clemson gave TCU its closest game of the year, and even Virginia Tech hung with Alabama in terms of possession efficiency way back in September."

Florida State did look great at mid-major BYU. They lost at home to South Florida 17-7 (FEI #64) when SF had to start their backup QB (granted a talented backup). Don't that loss and the near miss vs. Jax State kind of cancel out the BYU win?

NC State did upset Pitt. Jury's still out a bit on where the Big East contenders really stand in the big picture. NC State couldn't score a TD at home against South Carolina (FEI #50).

Clemson did give TCU a close game. Favored on their home field.

Virginia Tech was outgained by Alabama 498-155. Tough for the ACC to hang their hat on that game no matter what possession efficiency was. They were dominated at the point of attack...outrushed 268-64. On a neutral field. Tech's only other non-conference game against a BCS conference was the last second win at home against Nebraska (FEI #31) where they were outgained 343-278. So, Tech's two "testers" outside the league were yardage losses of 498-155 vs. FEI #1 and 343-278 vs. FEI #31. Neither was a road game.

It's been a long season, with other highlights (Miami over Oklahoma, Wake over Stanford looks better now than it did at the time) and other lowlights (a lot the lower you get in the ACC standings...but that may not be fair because all leagues have ugly losses at the bottom of the standings).

"This weekend, Georgia Tech (hosting Georgia), Clemson (at South Carolina) and Miami (at South Florida) are all favored in non-conference games, while Florida State is a heavy underdog at Florida."

Tech is hosting FEI #43, Clemson is visiting FEI #50, Miami is visiting FEI #64. So it's possible to be better than those teams but not as high as FEI rates the ACC teams currently. FSU is +25 at Florida, which is a huge spread for a "true" #21 team (FSU is #21 in FEI).

If we're going to use Vegas stuff as a bit of a yardstick...

LAS VEGAS SPORTS CONSULTANTS
Georgia Tech 10th
Clemson 13th
Virginia Tech 15th
Miami 22nd
(Nobody else in top 30)

FEI
Georgia Tech 5th
Virginia Tech 7th
Clemson 8th
North Carolina 11th
Miami 12th
Florida State 21st
Boston College 26th

Is it possible that the ACC deserves something more like a "B" on the report rather than an "A?" And, that all the competitive games they play against each other are happening in a "B" caliber conference instead...which is polluting the strength of schedule stuff in a way that multiplies itself over internally?

I guess I'm not seeing the blockbuster ACC results externally that would suggest they have five teams in the top 12. Maybe they'll change my mind this weekend.

If there was something like an ACC-SEC challenge (similar to the ACC-Big 10 challenge they have in hoops), would the ACC dominate all the way down the ladder? FEI only has two SEC teams in the top 22 (the top two). Would be fun to watch this year in particular given the depth of talent in both leagues. Tough to visualize ACC dominance in that kind of showdown.

9
by Brian Fremeau :: Fri, 11/27/2009 - 11:44pm

Trust me, I know where you're coming from on this. I try not to take the results for granted, and try to understand where its coming from. And there kind of is an ACC-SEC challenge -- certainly more games between these conferences than most others (except maybe Big Ten vs. MAC).

I'm not sure the ACC has posted any kind of "blockbuster" out of conference results, but which conference has? It isn't enough to just say ACC teams are overrated -- which conferences are slighted? And why? I think that's a tough question. This weekend and bowl season will probably sort things out. (Last year ACC teams went 8-2 against the spread in bowl games, btw).

11
by peachy (not verified) :: Sun, 11/29/2009 - 12:22am

Well, the early results are in for the ACC, and... they're not good.

12
by Brian Fremeau :: Sun, 11/29/2009 - 12:43am

Indeed. Pretty ugly all around for the ACC.

10
by Jeff Fogle :: Sat, 11/28/2009 - 1:59am

Covers.com has it a bit different. Georgia Tech, Clemson, and BC all lost outright as favorites (to LSU, Nebraska, and Vandy respectively). They show NC State as a push at +6 in the 29-23 loss to Rutgers. I'm sure NC State supporters shopped for an edge. 6-3-1 ATS or 7-3 ATS is surely nothing to sneeze at. But, 4-6 straight up doesn't really justify overall strength as a conference in terms of how they rate nationally. Results like that would suggest Vegas had underrated them in the pointspreads...but beating Nevada, Navy, Wisconsin, and Cincinnati while losing to LSU, Nebraska, Vandy, West Virginia, Cal, and Rutgers doesn't really suggest a league about to launch itself to national dominance.

What were the final 2009 FEI's of the four victims...and of the six teams who beat ACC teams outright?

Agree that it's a tough question to determine for sure who's slighted. I'd probably settle for a compromise that had the ACC, SEC, Pac 10, and Big 12 all kind of sprinkled amongst each other in a way that didn't cluster so dramatically in favor of the ACC. Tough for me to swallow LSU and Ole Miss being a dozen spots behind NC for example.

S&P has:
5 SEC teams in the top 20
4 Big 12 teams in the top 20
3 ACC teams in the top 20
1 Pac 10 team in the top 20

LVSC has:
5 Big 12 teams in the top 20
4 SEC teams in the top 20
3 ACC teams in the top 20
3 Pac 10 teams in the top 20

FEI has:
5 ACC teams in the top 20
5 Pac 10 teams in the top 20
2 SEC teams in the top 20
1 Big 12 team in the top 20

Pretty extreme differences...suggesting a compromise just slots everyone with nobody jumping out (lol). Given the lack of consensus from reasonable attempts to slot everyone...hard to endorse five ACC teams in the top 12.

Probably not a year where the information really exists to have confidence in any one approach. Non-conference schedules are so lame these days. Agree that bowls will help us get a much better sense of everything. Last year's 4-6 straight up, 7-3 ATS bowl record for the ACC may have been more about Vegas having the league too low rather than the need to consider them as a true powerhouse conference. Some room for compromise in there. You can be better than Vegas thought but not so good that you should have five teams in the top dozen...if that makes sense.

Will be fun to see how things play out. Enjoy the weekend...

13
by Jeff Fogle :: Mon, 11/30/2009 - 3:58pm

Went back and looked at the bowl stuff from last year from the FEI perspective.

ACC'S WINS (rankings are last year's final FEI)
9 Virginia Tech beat 25 Cincinnati
10 FSU beat 57 Wisconsin
18 Wake Forest beat 37 Navy
49 Maryland beat 79 Nevada

Average victim 49.5 in the rankings...and obviously not a murderer's row

ACC'S LOSSES
31 NC State lost to 22 Rutgers (only time ACC had the inferior ranking)
6 North Carolina lost to 21 West Virginia
13 BC lost to 42 Vanderbilt
17 Georgia Tech lost to 35 LSU
24 Clemson lost to 59 Nebraska
33 Miami lost to 34 California

Average opponent 35.5, not a single opponent in the top 20...though that's a bit tougher than it seems because the ACC inexplicably had so many of the top 20 spots themselves.

To the degree bowl results helped sort things out...they seem to establish very clearly that the ACC was over-ranked within the FEI process. They had superior rankings in 9 of 10 meetings, yet went just 4-6 straight up. Losses included rankings "advantages" of 15, 29, 18, and 35 spots.

Think it's dangerous to point to last year's bowl ATS record as evidence justifying the process (particularly if you really thought the record was 8-2!). Vegas looks to have underrated the ACC (6-3-1 or 7-3 ATS), but FEI was an extreme in the other direction (4-6 straight up when positioned as "FEI Favorites" in 9 of 10 games).

Hope you'll consider more tinkering. You've obviously put a ton of high quality work into the effort already. Think two years of possible misreads with the ACC are a red flag that can't be ignored. Something's not quite right...