Writers of Pro Football Prospectus 2008

Most Recent FO Features

Harris-Brady.jpg

» Week 12 DVOA Ratings

Denver remains No. 1 in the Football Outsiders DVOA ratings, but New England moves up to No. 2 and has taken over as our Super Bowl favorite.

29 Sep 2011

SDA: For Real

by Brian Fremeau and Robert Weintraub

We’ve been blessed as college football fans with some great football over the first few weeks, and the top teams in the country have looked every bit as good as we expected them to. LSU certainly has the nation’s best resume to date, and Alabama and Oklahoma both have marquee wins themselves. There are more than a few other undefeated teams that have dominated the first month of the season without having faced a significant challenge. It’s time for those teams to make the same statement against a top opponent.

The Florida Gators, 2-0 in SEC East play, face their biggest test of the year by welcoming the Crimson Tide to the Swamp. The biggest game in the Big Ten conference season comes in the first week of conference play when Nebraska travels to Camp Randall to take on Wisconsin. Clemson looks to pull off a third straight victory over a ranked opponent in a road trip to Blacksburg against Virignia Tech. Who is for real, and which teams are in for a reality check?

Previews

No. 16 South Florida (-2) at Pittsburgh (Thursday, 8:00 PM ET, ESPN)

OVERALL When USF
Has the Ball ...
When PIttsburgh
Has the Ball ...
Category USF
(4-0)
Pitt
(2-2)
USF
Off
Pitt
Def
USF
Def
Pitt
Off
2011 F/+ Rk 21 28
2011 FEI Rk 16 25
2011 S&P+ Rk 36 38 30 38 50 44
2011 Rushing S&P Rk 11 63 28 65
2011 Passing S&P Rk 18 48 60 79
2011 Std. Downs S&P Rk 19 82 23 79
Run-Pass Ratio
(Std. Downs)
61.0% Run
(55th)
58.9% Run
(63rd)
2011 Pass. Downs S&P Rk 25 46 15 68
Run-Pass Ratio
(Pass. Downs)
27.7% Run
(85th)
23.3% Run
(107th)

The Big East didn’t get any love at the beginning of the year in the national polls, but inevitably someone stepped up with a solid September to carry the tattered banner for the rest of the league. South Florida rocketed out of the gate against Notre Dame and held on to win, then followed it up with blowout wins over three weaklings. Padding the offensive stats against Ball State, Florida A&M (745 yards!) and UTEP made for a nice ego boost and has positioned the Bulls as the toast of the Big East. The betting public is fully on board too, swinging a line that was originally in Pitt’s corner to be confidently in South Florida’s earlier in the week. Pitt’s defense, however, may be able to disrupt the rhythm of Bulls quarterback B.J. Daniels as it has done in previous meetings with South Florida. If Pitt running back Ray Graham (eighth nationally in yards per game) can get going, they’ll be able to hang with South Florida and win at home.

No. 14 Texas A&M (-3) vs No. 18 Arkansas (Saturday, 12:00 PM ET, ESPN)

OVERALL When Texas A&M
Has the Ball ...
When Arkansas
Has the Ball ...
Category A&M
(2-1)
Arkansas
(3-1)
A&M
Off
Arkansas
Def
A&M
Def
Arkansas
Off
2011 F/+ Rk 14 16
2011 FEI Rk 14 21
2011 S&P+ Rk 13 16 14 32 11 8
2011 Rushing S&P Rk 6 31 46 31
2011 Passing S&P Rk 29 82 46 26
2011 Std. Downs S&P Rk 21 52 46 22
Run-Pass Ratio
(Std. Downs)
53.5% Run
(91st)
50.3% Run
(99th)
2011 Pass. Downs S&P Rk 15 34 31 43
Run-Pass Ratio
(Pass. Downs)
28.6% Run
(82nd)
30.6% Run
(71st)

The most important thing for the Aggies will be to avoid "Welcome to the SEC"-type headlines, which a loss to the Hogs would certainly engender. A&M suffered a tough loss to Oklahoma State Saturday, and a game with not-as-explosive-but-still-dangerous Arkansas is a tricky one with which to bounce back. On the other hand, a win in the Southwest Classic will be a recruiting boon in the fertile Dallas region. The second half collapse to OSU obscured a strong performance by quarterback Ryan Tannehill, who will need to be good again to outscore Arkansas, who are sure to be enjoying playing anyone but Alabama. The Tide punished Arkansas for 60 long minutes Saturday. The Aggies don't offer the same sort of blunt force trauma, but the pass rush has accumulated 14 sacks in three games, which is tops in the nation per game. Tyler Wilson will have to be quick and decisive with his reads for the Razorbacks to prevail.

Air Force (+3) at Navy (Saturday, 12:00 PM ET, CBS)

OVERALL When Air Force
Has the Ball ...
When Navy
Has the Ball ...
Category AFA
(2-1)
Navy
(2-1)
AFA
Off
Navy
Def
AFA
Def
Navy
Off
2011 F/+ Rk 90 33
2011 FEI Rk 99 22
2011 S&P+ Rk 73 45 54 78 88 23
2011 Rushing S&P Rk 8 111 90 12
2011 Passing S&P Rk 10 22 94 51
2011 Std. Downs S&P Rk 3 109 75 10
Run-Pass Ratio
(Std. Downs)
83.2% Run
(fourth)
94.1% Run
(first)
2011 Pass. Downs S&P Rk 63 37 96 69
Run-Pass Ratio
(Pass. Downs)
59.5% Run
(fourth)
68.0% Run
(second)

The Falcons only have played one FBS opponent through the first four weeks of the season, so our numbers are still curious about their 2011 identity. The loss to TCU was familiar territory -– Air Force has firmly held second-tier status in the Mountain West over the last few seasons and hasn’t been able to have a breakthrough league victory despite a few close calls. They did break a streak last year with a narrow victory over Navy (their first since 2002) and there are plenty of reasons to believe the Falcons can perennially own the Commander in Chief trophy. Both teams feature a triple option attack and both have had significant success when the opponent doesn’t have enough time to prepare. In this case, neither team should be caught off guard and it will all come down to execution. If our numbers are right, Navy’s more patient offense rules the day, but if not, the execution edge goes to senior Falcons quarterback Tim Jefferson. Air Force didn’t capitalize, but they were able to avoid three-and-outs against TCU -- which is the whole ballgame against a team like Navy.

Michigan State (+3) at Ohio State (Saturday, 3:30 PM ET, ABC/ESPN)

OVERALL When Michigan St.
Has the Ball ...
When Ohio St.
Has the Ball ...
Category Mich. St.
(3-1)
Ohio St.
(3-1)
Mich. St.
Off
Ohio St.
Def
Mich. St.
Def
Ohio St.
Off
2011 F/+ Rk 32 34
2011 FEI Rk 36 32
2011 S&P+ Rk 28 33 25 16 34 62
2011 Rushing S&P Rk 28 45 20 55
2011 Passing S&P Rk 48 27 5 78
2011 Std. Downs S&P Rk 56 42 9 65
Run-Pass Ratio
(Std. Downs)
62.8% Run
(43rd)
72.2% Run
(15th)
2011 Pass. Downs S&P Rk 44 5 1 51
Run-Pass Ratio
(Pass. Downs)
24.1% Run
(101st)
39.7% Run
(23rd)

The Spartans defense has been playing very well through the first part of the season, but can we trust the results? In addition to the spectacular S&P numbers listed above, Michigan State ranks first in forcing three-and-outs (63.2 percent of opponent possessions) and second in available yards (giving up only 19 percent of yards measured from starting field position to end zone). They’ve kept everything in front of them too, surrendering only a single play all season of more than 30 yards. That’s a good recipe for success against a Buckeyes offense that lacks explosiveness itself. Ohio State does boast the nation’s No. 1 field position advantage through the early part of the year, a hallmark of Jim Tressell’s teams and apparently one that new head coach Luke Fickell has been able to maintain. They’ve lost their swagger, though, and Michigan State is a program that has struggled to take the next step. Win a Big Ten opener in Columbus, and they’ll be right in the hunt for a division title.

No. 15 Baylor (-3.5) at Kansas State (Saturday, 3:30 PM ET, ABC/ESPN)

OVERALL When Baylor
Has the Ball ...
When Kansas St.
Has the Ball ...
Category BU
(3-0)
KSU
(3-0)
BU
Off
KSU
Def
BU
Def
KSU
Off
2011 F/+ Rk 49 46
2011 FEI Rk 81 33
2011 S&P+ Rk 19 66 7 59 48 66
2011 Rushing S&P Rk 45 16 56 49
2011 Passing S&P Rk 2 25 50 87
2011 Std. Downs S&P Rk 4 14 71 62
Run-Pass Ratio
(Std. Downs)
60.5% Run
(56th)
72.5% Run
(14th)
2011 Pass. Downs S&P Rk 3 16 54 102
Run-Pass Ratio
(Pass. Downs)
40.4% Run
(21st)
52.2% Run
(eighth)

By now you’ve heard this stat line repeated over and over again: Baylor all-purpose quarterback Robert Griffin III has thrown more touchdown passes through the first four weeks of the season than he has thrown incompletions. At some point, that ridiculousness has to stop, but will Kansas State be up to the task? Point in their favor: defensive back Nigel Malone ranks fourth nationally in interceptions (three). Point against: Kansas State struggles to get offenses off the field (112th in forcing three-and-outs), and Griffin and company are more than capable of dinking and dunking down the field if the big pass play isn’t available. Kansas State’s offense runs through its quarterback too. Though Wildcats quarterback Collin Klein isn’t nearly as prolific as Griffin throwing the ball, he calls his own number running the ball more frequently than any other quarterback in the country (22 attempts per game, 4.7 yards per attempt) and can extend drives to keep it out of Baylor’s hands. The Bears defense can be susceptible to long drives and if Kansas State can keep from turning the ball over, it will be in good shape.

Auburn (+10.5) at No. 10 South Carolina (Saturday, 3:30 PM ET, CBS)

OVERALL When Auburn
Has the Ball ...
When S. Carolina
Has the Ball ...
Category Auburn
(3-1)
S. Caro.
(4-0)
Auburn
Off
S. Caro.
Def
Auburn
Def
S. Caro.
Off
2011 F/+ Rk 38 15
2011 FEI Rk 48 12
2011 S&P+ Rk 27 22 12 19 57 21
2011 Rushing S&P Rk 32 74 86 19
2011 Passing S&P Rk 49 43 93 93
2011 Std. Downs S&P Rk 67 57 73 69
Run-Pass Ratio
(Std. Downs)
64.8% Run
(35th)
70.3% Run
(19th)
2011 Pass. Downs S&P Rk 11 61 114 42
Run-Pass Ratio
(Pass. Downs)
31.5% Run
(59th)
29.9% Run
(75th)

The resistible force against the movable object. Auburn's defense is unrecognizable from it's championship unit last year, which could be gashed but had playmakers. The 2011 Tigers simply can't tackle, or cover. The team is giving up 477.5 yards per game, good for 110th in the nation, down among the Northern Illinois' and Middle Tennessees of the world. Gene Chizik and defensive coordinator Ted Roof are hearing it from every nook and cranny of War Eagle Nation after the disaster at Clemson was followed by Saturday's poor showing against punchless Florida Atlantic, which managed to roll up over 300 yards on Auburn, over three times its average afternoon (Auburn did win 30-14). At least they held FAU to only 66 snaps -- over its first three games, Auburn's D was on the field for an average of 91 plays per contest! Meanwhile, Steve Spurrier actually apologized for the offensive impotence his Cocks showed against Vandy. Stephen Garcia continued his bipolar play with four picks. South Carolina can run it with Marcus Lattimore, at least (or at most), and he figures to roll up some yardage, and perhaps retake the national rushing lead from LaMichael James (Lattimore trails by two yards, although on 42 more attempts). The Carolina defense was in impenetrable mode last week, with an overpowering rush line led by freshman Jadeveon Clowney, who is only beginning to sense his powers.

No. 13 Clemson (+7) at No. 11 Virginia Tech (Saturday, 6:00 PM ET, ESPN2)

OVERALL When Clemson
Has the Ball ...
When Virginia Tech
Has the Ball ...
Category Clemson
(4-0)
Va. Tech
(4-0)
Clemson
Off
Va. Tech
Def
Clemson
Def
Va. Tech
Off
2011 F/+ Rk 17 10
2011 FEI Rk 5 18
2011 S&P+ Rk 42 6 51 2 37 22
2011 Rushing S&P Rk 76 5 68 25
2011 Passing S&P Rk 15 2 87 45
2011 Std. Downs S&P Rk 47 2 79 43
Run-Pass Ratio
(Std. Downs)
64.1% Run
(38th)
66.5% Run
(24th)
2011 Pass. Downs S&P Rk 23 4 70 32
Run-Pass Ratio
(Pass. Downs)
30.7% Run
(67th)
41.0% Run
(19th)

Rolling up the points on Auburn and Florida State was one thing -- if Clemson can do it against Bud Foster's typically snarling defense in Blacksburg, perhaps we should be considering the Tigers as strong candidates for their first conference title in 20 years (if not its first national title in 30). The Hokies have given up all of ten points per game, and are fourth in total defense nationally. But they haven't seen the likes of Tahj Boyd, Andre Ellington, and Sammy Watkins either. The Tiger Triplets have Clemson up over 500 yards per game, and have captured the imagination of small textile towns everywhere. Tight end Dwayne Allen is also a threat, and if the Hokies traditionally have a weakness, it is covering athletic tight ends. While the Clemson offense vs. Tech defense will get the bulk of the attention, the reciprocal battle will probably decide the game. Neither unit has impressed much. Logan Thomas is still in the teething stage at quarterback, and Clemson stud defensive lineman Andre Branch has been schemed away from with success. The Hokies will try to control clock with the David Wilson-led running game, and how well it does so will decide its fate.

Washington (+7) at Utah (Saturday, 7:00 PM ET, FSN)

OVERALL When Washington
Has the Ball ...
When Utah
Has the Ball ...
Category UW
(3-1)
Utah
(2-1)
UW
Off
Utah
Def
UW
Def
Utah
Off
2011 F/+ Rk 74 36
2011 FEI Rk 85 27
2011 S&P+ Rk 55 47 38 33 77 68
2011 Rushing S&P Rk 78 9 91 86
2011 Passing S&P Rk 24 72 95 86
2011 Std. Downs S&P Rk 32 27 87 83
Run-Pass Ratio
(Std. Downs)
61.4% Run
(53rd)
59.8% Run
(60th)
2011 Pass. Downs S&P Rk 38 19 115 81
Run-Pass Ratio
(Pass. Downs)
31.0% Run
(61st)
26.1% Run
(95th)

The Utes took last Saturday off, which is a distinct advantage. They haven't lost a game after a bye week since 2002. Certainly, the team must have enjoyed poring over the films of their destruction of BYU. Now they pursue the school's initial Pac-12 victory, but Washington and quarterback Keith Price won't be an easy scalp. Price has been superb so far, with a 14-to-3 TD-INT ratio and 8.8 yards per attempt. His most impressive display came in the Huskies' lone loss, when Price took everything Nebraska threw at him and kept his team in the game by slinging it all over the Blackshirts. Turnovers have been a key for Utah -- they lead the nation in fumble recoveries, and have 12 takeaways in three games, for a plus-9 turnover margin. Once they get it, the Utes should be able to move it against Washington's 108th-ranked defense.

No. 3 Alabama (-3.5) at No. 12 Florida (Saturday, 8:00 PM ET, CBS)

OVERALL When Alabama
Has the Ball ...
When Florida
Has the Ball ...
Category Alabama
(4-0)
Florida
(4-0)
Alabama
Off
Florida
Def
Alabama
Def
Florida
Off
2011 F/+ Rk 1 9
2011 FEI Rk 3 8
2011 S&P+ Rk 1 12 1 8 1 20
2011 Rushing S&P Rk 24 3 1 14
2011 Passing S&P Rk 22 12 1 27
2011 Std. Downs S&P Rk 12 4 1 33
Run-Pass Ratio
(Std. Downs)
58.7% Run
(64th)
71.9% Run
(16th)
2011 Pass. Downs S&P Rk 54 24 11 16
Run-Pass Ratio
(Pass. Downs)
32.2% Run
(53rd)
40.3% Run
(22nd)

This was the game of the year in 2008 and 2009. After a Tim Tebow-free year to let the rivalry mellow, it's back with an interesting matchup in the Swamp. 'Bama doesn't need much introduction. The Tide showed its considerable strengths in a mugging of Arkansas in Tuscaloosa last Saturday, hammering away with Trent Richardson and Eddie Lacy while garroting the Razorbacks offense. Florida has new offensive life under Charlie Weis' tutelage. The Gators will throw a top running back duo out there too -- Chris Rainey and Jeff Demps have been untouchable so far, and Weis has done a good job getting them in position to utilize their top-end speed. But they haven't faced a defense that can run with them, as Bama's can. And quarterback John Brantley, while likely to play, is still gathering himself after getting blasted by Danny Trevathan, Kentucky's sterling linebacker. Weis vows to throw the kitchen sink at Alabama, which could be effective -- while the Tide defense is busy ducking the deli platters and cheese wheels coming its way, perhaps the Gators can find some room to operate. Getting a lead and making Bama quarterback A.J. McCarron the decisive factor would behoove Florida, but can they do it?

No. 8 Nebraska (+10) at No. 7 Wisconsin (Saturday, 8:00 PM ET, ABC)

OVERALL When Nebraska
Has the Ball ...
When Wisconsin
Has the Ball ...
Category NU
(4-0)
Wiscy
(4-0)
NU
Off
Wiscy
Def
NU
Def
Wiscy
Off
2011 F/+ Rk 41 4
2011 FEI Rk 54 4
2011 S&P+ Rk 29 3 55 12 15 4
2011 Rushing S&P Rk 20 23 43 5
2011 Passing S&P Rk 65 13 26 3
2011 Std. Downs S&P Rk 15 22 59 6
Run-Pass Ratio
(Std. Downs)
77.1% Run
(eighth)
66.5% Run
(25th)
2011 Pass. Downs S&P Rk 76 8 35 1
Run-Pass Ratio
(Pass. Downs)
39.5% Run
(24th)
48.5% Run
(ninth)

The line seems way too big, right? Aren’t the Cornhuskers supposed to be an instant contender for the Big Ten championship? Then how come they are underdogs by more than a touchdown in their first conference game? Credit for that goes to the powerhouse offense in Madison led by quarterback Russell Wilson (11 touchdowns, one interception, second nationally in passer rating) and the dual-threat rushing attack of Montee Ball (360 yards, 5.7 per attempt) and James White (303 yards, 6.7 per attempt). Wisconsin leads the nation in offensive drive efficiency and avoiding three-and-outs (9.5 percent of non-garbage drives). 78 percent of the Badgers drives from their own territory reach at least the opponent’s 30-yard line, the best value drive percentage in the nation. The Cornhuskers defense has not been spectacular thus far, allowing Fresno State and Washington to rush for 350 combined yards and making both games closer than they could have been. Nebraska has not been as crisp this year offensively, either, but the potential to explode is always right around the corner with quarterback Taylor Martinez (second nationally among quarterbacks in rushing yards per game). If Wisconsin continues to dominate the line of scrimmage, we’ll wonder why we ever doubted the point spread at all.

Storylines of the Week

Robert Weintraub: If one were to go all ESPN-ish and label this week's marquee matchups with one of those lame titles, my choice would be (Potential) Sequel Saturday. With Nebraska-Wisconsin, Clemson-Virginia Tech, and Alabama-Florida, this weekend offers a trio of games that could easily be replayed come December and conference championship time. Clemson still has a lot of work to do despite the FSU win, South Carolina is going to have a major say in the SEC East race, and of course Alabama has that LSU supercollider up ahead. Nothing is guaranteed -- well, OK, Nebraska-Wisconsin in the inaugural Big Ten title game is kinda guaranteed. But if you like the idea of getting the band back together, think of Saturday as the indoor arena tour before the big stadium shows during the summer. So let's hope the slate offers a reminder of the Godfathers I-II or Superman I-II, and not Rush Hour I-II.

Brian Fremeau: Who is the best 2-2 team in football? Our numbers say Notre Dame, Florida State, Georgia, Missouri, and Pittsburgh should all be part of the discussion, each losing games early on that very easily could have fallen their way. The Seminoles, Tigers, and Irish have each played a top-5 schedule to date according to FEI and for almost every team mentioned, the road down the stretch is easier than the one already navigated. This week doesn’t feature marquee games (FSU and Mizzou each have a bye, in fact), but several 2-2 teams have an opportunity to make a statement this weekend. Georgia hosts Mississippi State and can avenge a loss from last season. Notre Dame travels to Purdue for its first opportunity against a team it ought to dominate. Pitt has a chance to knock off undefeated South Florida and take a big step toward a Big East title. If none are impressive, it will be a bad omen for the remainder of the year. A big win could instill confidence that can carry each toward a strong second half of the season.

Picks

The Picks
(* - "Fred Edelstein Lock of the Week")
Visitor Spread Home Rob F/+
S. Florida -2 Pittsburgh Pitt Pitt
Texas A&M -3 Arkansas Texas A&M Texas A&M
Air Force +3 Navy Navy Navy*
Michigan St. +3 Ohio St. Mich. St. Ohio St.
Baylor -3.5 Kansas St. Baylor* Kansas St.
Auburn +10.5 S. Carolina S. Carolina S. Carolina
Clemson +7 Va. Tech Clemson Va. Tech
Washington +7 Utah Washington Utah
Alabama -3.5 Florida Alabama Alabama
Nebraska +10 Wisconsin Wisconsin Wisconsin
Season-long Results
("Fred Edelstein Lock of the Week" record in parentheses)
Last Week
Season Total
F/+: 6-4 (1-0) 22-17-1 (3-1)
Rob: 3-7 (0-1) 18-21-1 (0-3-1)

Posted by: Brian Fremeau on 29 Sep 2011

3 comments, Last at 02 Oct 2011, 1:08pm by bigtencrazy

Comments

1
by Anon (not verified) :: Fri, 09/30/2011 - 2:08pm

Hey, Rush Hour I was OK.

2
by Tom Gower :: Fri, 09/30/2011 - 11:34pm

Really disappointed I missed on the chance to jump at Pitt -2. I guess I'll take Texas A&M, Navy, Ohio State, Baylor, Auburn, Virginia Tech, Utah, Alabama, and Nebraska. Auburn and Nebraska are the counter-consensus picks, and I'll go with the Huskers as my Edelstein lock.

3
by bigtencrazy (not verified) :: Sun, 10/02/2011 - 1:08pm

Nebraska was able to get some pressure on Wilson but the Wisky defense surprised me. It also helped that the Huskers went pass happy with a kid who struggles to throw the ball.

Right now the next real test for WI is at MSU.