Writers of Pro Football Prospectus 2008

30 Sep 2010

SDA: Rolling into October

by Bill Connelly, Brian Fremeau, and Robert Weintraub

Can Alabama survive this brutal stretch of schedule? Is Stanford for real? Can Jordan Jefferson hang onto the starting quarterback job at LSU? Can someone else sneak into the Big 12 South race? We will begin to find out the answers to quite a few questions this weekend. To prepare for a fun slate of games, check out both the podcast and the previews below.

Podcast

This week's guest on the SDA podcast is ESPN's Bruce Feldman, one of the elite college football writers in the country. Feldman and Bill Connelly walk through the week's biggest games and discuss which teams have been the best and the most consisten. They also discuss recruiting and the role it should (or shouldn't) play in the Football Outsiders college projections.

Here is the .mp3 of this podcast for download.

We thank Feldman for coming on, and we hope to have him on again sometime.

Previews

Texas A&M +3.5 at Oklahoma State (Thursday, 7:30 p.m. ET, ESPN)

OVERALL When A&M
Has the Ball ...
When OSU
Has the Ball ...
Category A&M
(3-0)
OSU
(3-0)
A&M
Off
OSU
Def
A&M
Def
OSU
Off
2010 F/+ Rk 40 28
2010 FEI Rk 58 31
2010 S&P+ Rk 23 31 62 60 59 27
2010 Rushing S&P+ Rk 72 92 61 81
2010 Passing S&P+ Rk 117 40 74 35
2010 Std. Downs S&P+ Rk 107 37 32 87
Run-Pass Ratio
(Std. Downs)
61.8% Run
(53rd)
50.9% Run
(107th)
2010 Pass. Downs S&P+ Rk 42 65 110 14
Run-Pass Ratio
(Pass. Downs)
27.6%
(89th)
35.6% Run
(54th)

With Oklahoma and Texas looking less than invincible, the opportunity exists for a third team to enter the Big 12 South race, a la Texas Tech in 2008. The most likely candidate will be the winner of this Thursday night battle in Stillwater, the land of Eskimo Joe's and beer barns. There are interesting matchups aplenty in this one. A hot-and-cold A&M offense will face an Oklahoma State defense that has both made and allowed an inordinate amount of big plays; the 'Pokes gave up 799 yards against Tulsa and Troy but forced seven turnovers. Will they get torched by A&M's talented quarterback, Jerrod Johnson, or will they pick him off four times like Florida International did? The most interesting matchup could come in the booth when Oklahoma State has the ball. Oklahoma State offensive coordinator Dana Holgorsen and Texas A&M defensive coordinator Tim DeRuyter faced off three times when the former was at Houston and the latter was at Air Force. Air Force picked off Case Keenum six times last year in a 47-20 romp, but Keenum wasn't sharing a backfield with Kendall Hunter. In just three games, Hunter has 473 yards rushing (7.8 yards per carry) and six touchdowns.

No. 16 Miami -3.5 at Clemson (Saturday, 12 p.m. ET, ESPN2)

OVERALL When Miami
Has the Ball ...
When Clemson
Has the Ball ...
Category Miami
(2-1)
Clemson
(2-1)
Miami
Off
Clemson
Def
Miami
Def
Clemson
Off
2010 F/+ Rk 3 19
2010 FEI Rk 11 18
2010 S&P+ Rk 2 21 2 65 4 22
2010 Rushing S&P+ Rk 6 74 11 28
2010 Passing S&P+ Rk 2 42 4 36
2010 Std. Downs S&P+ Rk 51 89 1 49
Run-Pass Ratio
(Std. Downs)
59.5% Run
(63rd)
66.4% Run
(28th)
2010 Pass. Downs S&P+ Rk 45 79 103 66
Run-Pass Ratio
(Pass. Downs)
24.6%
(101st)
39.0% Run
(38th)

Clemson has had two weeks to lick its wounds after losing a violent encounter at Auburn. Now they get to tangle with as hard-hitting and feral a defense as exists in the country -- Miami, who pummeled Pittsburgh last Thursday. Clemson has shown good balance and a rushing attack that didn't miss C.J. Spiller one iota, thanks to sophomore Andre Ellington, who is averaging 7.4 yards per carry. Quarterback Kyle Parker took a vicious shot to his back in the Auburn game. Assuming he's 100 percent, Parker will need to establish a passing game against the eighth-ranked pass defense (131 yards per game) in the country. On the other side, Jacory Harris will look to shake his reputation for coming up small in big games, especially road games. The four-interception debacle in Columbus still resides in a prominent spot in Harris' frontal lobe. Avoiding interceptions is crucial in Death Valley, especially with All-American safety DeAndre McDaniel lurking downfield. These two teams have played overtime in each of their three matchups since The U joined the ACC, so don't be shocked if 60 minutes can't decide this one.

Navy +9.5 at Air Force (Saturday, 2:30 p.m. ET, Versus)

OVERALL When Navy
Has the Ball ...
When Air Force
Has the Ball ...
Category Navy
(2-1)
Air Force
(3-1)
Navy
Off
Air Force
Def
Navy
Def
Air Force
Off
2010 F/+ Rk 56 57
2010 FEI Rk 42 55
2010 S&P+ Rk 74 65 83 114 115 50
2010 Rushing S&P+ Rk 82 115 103 43
2010 Passing S&P+ Rk 105 99 110 96
2010 Std. Downs S&P+ Rk 100 114 116 45
Run-Pass Ratio
(Std. Downs)
89.3% Run
(1st)
84.1% Run
(4th)
2010 Pass. Downs S&P+ Rk 61 95 114 58
Run-Pass Ratio
(Pass. Downs)
63.8% Run
(4th)
78.5% Run
(2nd)

Since a 41-point loss at Air Force in 2002, Navy has won 15 straight armed forces teams (eight versus Army, seven versus Air Force). The Midshipmen are looking for their eighth straight Commander-in-Chief's Trophy. Both streaks are in serious jeopardy this week, as the Midshipmen are 9.5-point underdogs this weekend in Colorado Springs. Navy scored just 27 points combined in their first two games against Maryland and Georgia Southern (needless to say, the underground "Ricky Dobbs for Heisman" campaign has withered away), but they are coming off of their best effort of the season, a 37-23 win at Louisiana Tech. Meanwhile, the Air Force Falcons have their own tricky running game, and they sandwiched a near-upset of Oklahoma with an easy win over BYU and a tough road triumph over Wyoming. These two teams might not combine for 20 passes. If Navy's dominance over Army and Air Force is going to come to an end anytime soon, Saturday is as likely a day for that as any.

Virginia Tech -3.5 at No. 23 N.C. State (Saturday, 3:30 p.m. ET, ABC)

OVERALL When Va. Tech
Has the Ball ...
When N.C. St.
Has the Ball ...
Category Va. Tech
(2-2)
N.C. St.
(4-0)
Va. Tech
Off
N.C. St.
Def
Va. Tech
Def
N.C. St.
Off
2010 F/+ Rk 15 32
2010 FEI Rk 6 25
2010 S&P+ Rk 24 39 47 82 24 45
2010 Rushing S&P+ Rk 36 50 82 69
2010 Passing S&P+ Rk 48 114 8 69
2010 Std. Downs S&P+ Rk 30 64 50 64
Run-Pass Ratio
(Std. Downs)
77.2% Run
(7th)
51.0% Run
(103rd)
2010 Pass. Downs S&P+ Rk 79 102 31 46
Run-Pass Ratio
(Pass. Downs)
41.1% Run
(25th)
38.4% Run
(40th)

Have the Hokies recovered from the Boise State letdown that clearly affected them in the "Whaaaa?" loss to James Madison? It appeared so Saturday, as Virginia Tech looked like the team we know in shutting out hapless Boston College. Do it against the Wolfpack, and we'll be believers. N.C. State quarterback Russell Wilson has 11 touchdown passes, second in the country behind USC's Matt Barkley, and the Pack have been extremely lively on offense. Virginia Tech was supposed to have a top-flight rushing attack behind Ryan Williams and Darren Evans, but it's only been so-so, averaging 180 yards per game. The Wolfpack were seemingly gashed by Georgia Tech's triple option last week, but they got stops when they needed them, and forced Tech to throw 18 times by getting ahead. Hokies quartebrack Tyrod Taylor is good, but N.C. State's best chance is to force Virginia Tech to match score for score.

No. 11 Wisconsin -2 at No. 24 Michigan State (Saturday, 3:30 p.m. ET, ABC)

OVERALL When Wisconsin
Has the Ball ...
When Michigan St.
Has the Ball ...
Category Wisconsin
(4-0)
Mich. St.
(4-0)
Wisconsin
Off
Mich. St.
Def
Wisconsin
Def
Mich. St.
Off
2010 F/+ Rk 27 30
2010 FEI Rk 41 38
2010 S&P+ Rk 19 27 19 92 113 24
2010 Rushing S&P+ Rk 41 106 89 87
2010 Passing S&P+ Rk 55 70 108 43
2010 Std. Downs S&P+ Rk 10 85 117 56
Run-Pass Ratio
(Std. Downs)
71.4% Run
(17th)
63.7% Run
(41st)
2010 Pass. Downs S&P+ Rk 70 89 96 44
Run-Pass Ratio
(Pass. Downs)
36.7% Run
(47th)
33.9% Run
(63rd)

Spartans head coach Mark Dantonio will be in the booth for the Big Ten opener against the Badgers, two weeks after suffering a mild heart attack after the Notre Dame victory on September 18. Both Michigan State and Wisconsin feasted on FCS cupcakes last weekend, winning by a combined score of 115-10. Delicious. Both teams have leaned heavily on a strong rushing game this season, Wisconsin in particular. The Badgers are the only team without a rushing quarterback ranked in the top 10 in rushing yards per game. Both defenses have been stout against the run this season, so which passing game has the advantage? MSU's Kirk Cousins has been improving each game, but Wisconsin's Scott Tolzien ranks second in the nation in completion percentage (76.2) and has been more consistent throughout his career. He's also got Lance Kendricks, the nation's leading tight end in receiving yards per game.

No. 21 Texas +3.5 vs. No. 8 Oklahoma (Saturday, 3:30 p.m. ET, ABC)

OVERALL When Texas
Has the Ball ...
When Oklahoma
Has the Ball ...
Category Texas
(3-1)
Oklahoma
(4-0)
Texas
Off
Oklahoma
Def
Texas
Def
Oklahoma
Off
2010 F/+ Rk 23 18
2010 FEI Rk 14 12
2010 S&P+ Rk 36 26 81 38 70 40
2010 Rushing S&P+ Rk 85 14 94 33
2010 Passing S&P+ Rk 83 95 38 59
2010 Std. Downs S&P+ Rk 75 9 80 54
Run-Pass Ratio
(Std. Downs)
60.8% Run
(57th)
58.4% Run
(69th)
2010 Pass. Downs S&P+ Rk 113 59 47 31
Run-Pass Ratio
(Pass. Downs)
22.8% Run
(107th)
19.4% Run
(116th)

Texas may have taken a serious tumble in the rankings after last week's debacle of a loss to UCLA, but for the 10th time in 11 meetings, both Texas and Oklahoma are ranked for this Red River Rivalry battle. Both teams have shown far more vulnerability than was expected, but they are still favorites for the Big 12 South crown (the last time a team not named Oklahoma or Texas won the South: 1998). With Colt McCoy's magic gone, the Longhorns have struggled mightily on passing downs, and they have faced more passing downs than normal because of their ongoing struggles running the ball. This is bad considering Oklahoma has had one of the better standard downs defenses in the country -- the odds of the Longhorns facing a multitude of passing downs is quite high. It is therefore up to the Texas defense to limit an Oklahoma offense that has been solid, but less than magnificent through four games. The running game rates well, but DeMarco Murray is still averaging only 4.2 yards per carry for the Sooners. Injuries have changed Murray from a burner to a plow-you-over back.

Tennessee +16 at No. 12 LSU (Saturday, 3:30 p.m. ET, CBS)

OVERALL When Tennessee
Has the Ball ...
When LSU
Has the Ball ...
Category Tennessee
(2-2)
LSU
(4-0)
Tennessee
Off
LSU
Def
Tennessee
Def
LSU
Off
2010 F/+ Rk 50 13
2010 FEI Rk 53 8
2010 S&P+ Rk 50 17 68 30 47 37
2010 Rushing S&P+ Rk 51 13 22 31
2010 Passing S&P+ Rk 45 54 82 80
2010 Std. Downs S&P+ Rk 22 31 35 35
Run-Pass Ratio
(Std. Downs)
56.7% Run
(77th)
72.8% Run
(15th)
2010 Pass. Downs S&P+ Rk 63 4 56 98
Run-Pass Ratio
(Pass. Downs)
24.7% Run
(100th)
44.4% Run
(19th)

Is this Jordan Jefferson's last shot? The LSU quarterback is less popular than BP in Louisiana because of his erratic play, and he is perceived as single-handedly holding down an athletic team with the capability of competing for the SEC West title. Certainly, he's been the poorest quarterback in the conference, making Tennessee signal-caller Matt Simms look like his old man, if not Peyton Manning. Simms threw a career-high three touchdown passes, including the game-winner, in a thrilling win over ... UAB. This is a step up in class, especially with Heisman Trophy winner (if there were justice in the world) Patrick Peterson leading an airtight LSU pass defense. The run defense is even better -- tops in the SEC allowing fewer than 75 yards per game. Tennessee has been gashed for 141 yards per game by contrast, which means Jefferson can get some critics off his back by turning and handing off to Stevan Ridley early and often. The junior runner has piled up more than a 100 yards a game so far.

No. 9 Stanford +7 at No. 4 Oregon (Saturday, 8 p.m. ET, ABC)

OVERALL When Stanford
Has the Ball ...
When Oregon
Has the Ball ...
Category Stanford
(4-0)
Oregon
(4-0)
Stanford
Off
Oregon
Def
Stanford
Def
Oregon
Off
2010 F/+ Rk 5 6
2010 FEI Rk 7 3
2010 S&P+ Rk 5 13 3 48 10 35
2010 Rushing S&P+ Rk 88 16 10 45
2010 Passing S&P+ Rk 8 90 57 97
2010 Std. Downs S&P+ Rk 27 49 38 67
Run-Pass Ratio
(Std. Downs)
68.6% Run
(23rd)
66.3% Run
(29th)
2010 Pass. Downs S&P+ Rk 21 19 112 104
Run-Pass Ratio
(Pass. Downs)
37.1% Run
(45th)
54.2% Run
(5th)

It doesn't seem right that what appears to be the biggest game of the Pac-10 season is taking place on October 2. Oregon and Stanford have each exploded out of the gate this year, dominating plays and possessions home and away against decent competition. They've almost instantly transformed what was likely a five or six team competition for the conference crown into a two-horse race. Chip Kelly's point-a-minute offense has reloaded once again in Eugene, with Darron Thomas looking more comfortable each week at quarterback and LaMichael James and Kenjon Barner turning out highlight reels out of the backfield. Stanford has been exceptional on both sides of the ball. Quarterback Andrew Luck's stats were modest against Notre Dame last weekend, but the Cardinal were 11 of 16 on third down, mostly due to Luck's poise and pass efficiency. And the defense, led by linebacker Owen Marecic, has surrendered only two non-garbage opponent drives to reach the red zone.

No. 7 Florida +9 at No. 1 Alabama (Saturday, 8 p.m. ET, CBS)

OVERALL When Florida
Has the Ball ...
When Alabama
Has the Ball ...
Category Florida
(4-0)
Alabama
(4-0)
Florida
Off
Alabama
Def
Florida
Def
Alabama
Off
2010 F/+ Rk 4 2
2010 FEI Rk 2 1
2010 S&P+ Rk 6 3 25 44 17 1
2010 Rushing S&P+ Rk 38 113 25 9
2010 Passing S&P+ Rk 39 22 31 7
2010 Std. Downs S&P+ Rk 38 13 10 20
Run-Pass Ratio
(Std. Downs)
63.4% Run
(44th)
62.2% Run
(50th)
2010 Pass. Downs S&P+ Rk 59 17 11 5
Run-Pass Ratio
(Pass. Downs)
40.7% Run
(27th)
32.8% Run
(68th)

This has been the game of the year in each of the past two seasons. With Tim Tebow gone and Alabama dominant, this year's matchup has lost a bit of juice, but folks rooting against the Tide going unbeaten again may have their best chance at fulfillment here. Alabama showed some weakness against Arkansas, particularly in pass defense, but Florida hasn't been nearly as efficient in the passing game as the Hogs. The Gators found a little something against Kentucky, namely freshman athlete Trey Burton, who scored six times in the game. Urban Meyer will probably aim for an offense similar to the one that one the BCS Title in 2006, with John Brantley in the traditional quarterback role played by Chris Leak, and with Burton as Tebow. Whether that will be enough against Alabama, the team giving up the fewest points in the nation (9.8) and scoring nearly 40 per game, in Tuscaloosa, is questionable. You know about the running game led by Mark Ingram and Trent Richardson. Quarterback Greg McElroy continues to be underrated despite never losing a game in red, and his poise was notable in the fourth quarter while Ryan Mallett was throwing critical interceptions. A primetime game against Florida won't be too big for him -- it isn't likely that you can say the same about Florida's youngsters.

No. 22 Penn State +7 at No. 17 Iowa (Saturday, 8:05 p.m. ET, ESPN)

OVERALL When Penn St.
Has the Ball ...
When Iowa
Has the Ball ...
Category Penn St.
(3-1)
Iowa
(3-1)
Penn St.
Off
Iowa
Def
Penn St.
Def
Iowa
Off
2010 F/+ Rk 36 11
2010 FEI Rk 29 16
2010 S&P+ Rk 40 9 75 51 42 12
2010 Rushing S&P+ Rk 57 3 54 53
2010 Passing S&P+ Rk 87 97 51 18
2010 Std. Downs S&P+ Rk 52 33 71 26
Run-Pass Ratio
(Std. Downs)
65.9% Run
(32nd)
61.8% Run
(52nd)
2010 Pass. Downs S&P+ Rk 69 20 37 92
Run-Pass Ratio
(Pass. Downs)
31.8% Run
(72nd)
39.7% Run
(34th)

We anticipated big things for the Big Ten at the start of the year, and Iowa and Penn State join four other conference mates in the Associated Press Top 25 at this point. But six other Big Ten teams are undefeated through Week 4, while the loser of this one will already be dealing with a disappointing two-loss start. Penn State has had the tougher slate, losing in Tuscaloosa and having to make the trip this weekend to Iowa City. The Nittany Lions have been struggling to put points on the board, too, and Iowa's 12th-ranked scoring defense isn't particularly penetrable. Offensively, the Hawkeyes have been strong. Ricky Stanzi ranks among the nation's leaders in quarterback rating and touchdown-to-interception ratio (9-1). Penn State's defense hasn't been torched yet this year, but it did give up 7.1 yards per play against Alabama.

Picks

While the F/+ rankings might be calibrated closely to full-year success, they have yet to distinguish themselves against the spread. Week 4 was just another opportunity for a near-.500 record and a whiff on the Fred Edelstein Lock. Meanwhile, Rob continued his dramatic turnaround, moving to 4-0 on Locks and maintaining his overall lead.

The Picks
(* - "Fred Edelstein Lock of the Week")
Visitor Spread Home Rob F/+
Texas A&M +3.5 Oklahoma St. Okla. St.* Okla. St.
Miami -3.5 Clemson Clemson Miami*
Navy +9.5 Air Force Air Force Navy
Virginia Tech -3.5 N.C. State N.C. St. Va. Tech
Wisconsin -2 Michigan St. Wisconsin Michigan St.
Texas +3.5 Oklahoma Oklahoma Texas
Tennessee +16 LSU LSU LSU
Stanford +7 Oregon Stanford Stanford
Florida +9 Alabama Alabama Alabama
Penn State +7 Iowa Iowa Iowa
Season-long Results
("Fred Edelstein Lock of the Week" record in parentheses)
Week Three
Season Total
Rob: 5-5 (1-0) 20-18-2 (.525) (4-0)
F/+: 4-6 (0-1) 18-20-2 (.475) (0-4)

Posted by: Bill Connelly on 30 Sep 2010

10 comments, Last at 01 Oct 2010, 2:46pm by Kevin from Philly

Comments

1
by Portmanteur :: Thu, 09/30/2010 - 5:53pm

It's the only logical conclusion.

9
by robwein (not verified) :: Fri, 10/01/2010 - 1:59pm

Maybe I sold it LAST year, in exchange for something more valuable than a winning record picking college football games.
Regardless, looks like Beelzebub let me down, killing my lock last night with that pesky half-point.
RW

10
by Kevin from Philly :: Fri, 10/01/2010 - 2:46pm

If it makes you feel better, I got Okie State -2'. Nice! Especially after the first half debacle.

2
by Tom Gower :: Thu, 09/30/2010 - 7:43pm

6-4 (0-1) last week, as I picked the wrong one of my three counter-consensus picks. Now 20-16-2 (1-3) on the year. All Rob-F/+ consensus picks are 11-11, while I'm 5-4 going against them.

This week I'll take Oklahoma State, Miami, Air Farce, VaTech, Wisconsin, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Oregon, Florida, and Iowa. Tennessee, Oregon, and Florida are my counter-consensus selections, and I'll take the Florida Gators as my Edelstein lock because they have to win for my preseason prediction of one-loss Alabama in the BCSCG while one-loss Florida misses out to be true.

3
by zlionsfan :: Thu, 09/30/2010 - 8:36pm

sigh. 7-3-0 (1-0) last week, 23-14-2 (3-0) overall.

Miami, Air Force (lock), Virginia Tech, Wisconsin, Texas, Tennessee, Oregon, Florida, and Penn State.

4
by Alexander :: Thu, 09/30/2010 - 10:17pm

Is there a way to Download the podcast...to put it on an MP3 Player.

5
by Bill Connelly :: Thu, 09/30/2010 - 11:01pm

Good idea. I added an MP3 link for download under the embedded player.

6
by Alexander :: Fri, 10/01/2010 - 12:20am

Thanks Bill, now I don't need to carry my laptop to listen to it while I jog!

7
by killabe7 :: Fri, 10/01/2010 - 9:31am

Bill, did you give up on posting the BTBS projects on RMN after the "struggles" of the past few weeks?

8
by Bill Connelly :: Fri, 10/01/2010 - 10:02am

I'm horribly behind this week, but I still hope to get to it later today. And yeah, tweaking the formulas has killed any sort of ATS mojo I had going. Might turn this season's picks into a grand experiment instead of anything reliable.