Writers of Pro Football Prospectus 2008

17 Nov 2011

SDA: Breather

by Brian Fremeau and Robert Weintraub

Unless there are some shocking upsets, it doesn't seem like there are any national championship storylines to focus on this week. After back-to-back Saturdays with the BCS hanging in the balance, this week everyone's taking a breather. In the SEC, four teams are playing FCS opponents in what are, for all intents and purposes, tune-ups before rivalry week. There are dozens of other weak conference games being played across the college football landscape, and our collective expression when surveying the best ten matchups of the weekend was "meh."

There are a couple of games featuring top opponents. USC's trip to Autzen Stadium, where they'll face a rejuvenated Oregon side, ought to be interesting. The Big 12 battles between Oklahoma-Baylor and Texas-Kansas State are a nice appetizer before the Thanksgiving feasts that await next week. Nebraska and Michigan have the potential to put on a very entertaining show if the offenses come alive a bit. The lack of major games also allowed us to dip our toes into Conference USA and the WAC, so Week 12 has that going for it.

Previews

North Carolina (+10.5) at No. 9 Virginia Tech (Thursday, 8:00 PM ET, ESPN)

OVERALL When N. Carolina
Has the Ball ...
When Virginia Tech
Has the Ball ...
Category UNC
(6-4)
Va. Tech
(9-1)
UNC
Off
Va. Tech
Def
UNC
Def
Va. Tech
Off
2011 F/+ Rk 40 14 30 17 48 22
2011 FEI Rk 37 16 38 18 22 32
2011 S&P+ Rk 35 10 38 9 36 35
2011 FPA Rk 103 32
2011 Rushing S&P+ Rk 60 38 33 61
2011 Passing S&P+ Rk 15 4 43 27
2011 Std. Downs S&P+ Rk 27 27 38 46
Run-Pass Ratio
(Std. Downs)
61.1% Run
(53rd)
66.2% Run
(27th)
2011 Pass. Downs S&P+ Rk 29 3 53 78
Run-Pass Ratio
(Std. Downs)
32.4% Run
(64th)
40.8% Run
(19th)

Another Thursday evening encounter for the Hokies, following last week's "What passes for an Ice Bowl in Atlanta" victory over Georgia Tech. Logan Thomas, the enormous Tech quarterback, came of age against the Jackets, accounting for five scores in the game; three passing and two rushing. Perhaps his most impressive play was the most prosaic: the rarely-seen quarterback sneak that means to get one yard, and instead gets ten. Such is Thomas' power that he repeatedly carried multiple tacklers with him in the game. A win over the Heels, combined with a Virginia loss, would wrap up the Coastal Division and send Tech to Charlotte. A victory would also give VaTech its eighth-straight ten-win season, the longest such streak in the nation. North Carolina's run defense is the key to this game. The unit is third in the conference and 18th nationally, giving up 108 yards per game, but VaTech back David Wilson averages 136 yards per (third in the nation), and is the nation's leading rusher. He put up 175 on the Yellow Jackets last week. Stopping Wilson and his excellent backup Josh Oglesby, along with Thomas, will be priority one. Even if they do that, however, the UNC offense may not be able to take advantage. The Heels were shut out by N.C. State last time out, and Bryn Renner was knocked from the game with a concussion. Renner may be a bit jumpy as he tries to avoid a second one -- he's been sacked 22 times this season, and 14 times in the last five games.

No. 17 Nebraska (+3.5) at No. 20 Michigan (Saturday, 12:00 PM ET, ESPN)

OVERALL When Nebraska
Has the Ball ...
When Michigan
Has the Ball ...
Category Nebraska
(8-2)
Michigan
(8-2)
Nebraska
Off
Michigan
Def
Nebraska
Def
Michigan
Off
2011 F/+ Rk 13 16 23 22 29 20
2011 FEI Rk 13 15 24 16 49 11
2011 S&P+ Rk 20 12 40 25 19 14
2011 FPA Rk 12 29
2011 Rushing S&P+ Rk 39 24 36 5
2011 Passing S&P+ Rk 42 24 12 41
2011 Std. Downs S&P+ Rk 44 13 37 20
Run-Pass Ratio
(Std. Downs)
74.4% Run
(ninth)
72.3% Run
(13rd)
2011 Pass. Downs S&P+ Rk 35 57 18 15
Run-Pass Ratio
(Std. Downs)
44% Run
(12th)
40.5% Run
(20th)

It’s still possible for Michigan State to choke in one of its last two games and open the door for Michigan or Nebraska in the Big Ten title race, but for all intents and purposes, the Cornhuskers and Wolverines are fighting it out for second in the Legends division. A dream scenario for this game would be for quarterbacks Taylor Martinez and Denard Robinson to run wild in a back-and-forth showcase of their unique talents. Instead, we may see each try, though struggle, to find consistency in the passing game, and we’ll be left wondering if they were underutilized. It has been Michigan’s defense that has provided one of the biggest surprises of the season, as they’ve held opponents to only 15.5 points per game, fifth-fewest in the nation. They’ve managed to thwart explosive drive opportunities and collect a few opportunistic turnovers in the process. Nebraska has the capacity to dominate, but they haven’t played a crisp, clean game for 60 minutes in a while.

Cincinnati (-3) at Rutgers (Saturday, 12:00 PM ET, ESPNU)

OVERALL When Cincinnati
Has the Ball ...
When Rutgers
Has the Ball ...
Category Cincy
(7-2)
Rutgers
(7-3)
Cincy
Off
Rutgers
Def
Cincy
Def
Rutgers
Off
2011 F/+ Rk 27 32 25 24 45 59
2011 FEI Rk 20 28 13 5 32 71
2011 S&P+ Rk 32 61 31 17 39 108
2011 FPA Rk 21 10
2011 Rushing S&P+ Rk 16 30 18 114
2011 Passing S&P+ Rk 62 13 69 104
2011 Std. Downs S&P+ Rk 35 18 99 116
Run-Pass Ratio
(Std. Downs)
61.1% Run
(51st)
57.3% Run
(75th)
2011 Pass. Downs S&P+ Rk 22 17 10 80
Run-Pass Ratio
(Std. Downs)
36.1% Run
(38th)
24.3% Run
(105th)

Cincinnati seemed poised to win the Big East and get back to another BCS game until the disaster at home against West Virginia, when the Bearcats lost on a last-second blocked field goal and lost starting quarterback Zack Collaros for the season. Cincy can still get the big payday, but now needs to win three in a row with backup QB Munchie Leguax at the helm. Now, it's impossible to root against anyone named Munchie Legaux, who by all rights should be returning kicks for LSU with that name. Can he get the job done? Remember, Collaros got his first action when Tony Pike was injured in 2009, and played well in steering the 'Cats to the Big East title. Munchie isn't nearly the passer Collaros is, yet, but he also looked like Denard Robinson in busting a 65-yard run against the Mountaineers, so Rutgers will have to prepare for plenty of running between Munchie and Isaiah Pead. The Scarlet Knights can get to the top of the standings themselves with a home win. Cincy's defense is weak against the pass (last in the conference and 118th nationally), which should have Rutgers star wideout Mohamed Sanu drooling. Rutgers very quietly has a strong defense as well, though it's schedule is partly responsible for the Knights allowing just 18 points per game.

Miami (-1) at South Florida (Saturday, 3:30 PM ET, ESPNU)

OVERALL When Miami
Has the Ball ...
When South Florida
Has the Ball ...
Category Miami
(5-5)
USF
(5-4)
Miami
Off
USF
Def
Miami
Def
USF
Off
2011 F/+ Rk 26 30 5 27 88 36
2011 FEI Rk 26 31 1 27 80 39
2011 S&P+ Rk 37 29 13 50 72 18
2011 FPA Rk 63 38
2011 Rushing S&P+ Rk 22 42 43 4
2011 Passing S&P+ Rk 6 73 108 51
2011 Std. Downs S&P+ Rk 7 58 79 30
Run-Pass Ratio
(Std. Downs)
60.6% Run
(57th)
60.2% Run
(59th)
2011 Pass. Downs S&P+ Rk 23 28 59 60
Run-Pass Ratio
(Std. Downs)
38.9% Run
(25th)
28.2% Run
(87th)

Neither of these Sunshine State squads has been particularly impressive or consistent in 2011. Both teams are a win shy of bowl eligibility. The Hurricanes lost last week's game at rival Florida State in typically maddening fashion, outgaining and outplaying the 'Noles for large stretches but losing by four thanks to a -3 turnover margin. The Bulls got healthy last Friday, snapping a three-game losing streak by dominating Syracuse up front, especially on defense. The South Florida run defense is in the top-20 nationally, but will face a tough test in Lamar Miller, who has fallen off a little but is still averaging 111 yards per game. If Miami can run it efficiently, they have a good shot at avenging last season's overtime loss to the Bulls. B.J. Daniels has had a very similar season to his Miami quarterback counterpart, Jacory Harris. The quarterback who best avoids mistakes on Saturday is likely to walk off into the setting sunshine the winner.

No. 21 Penn State (+6.5) at Ohio State (Saturday, 3:30 PM ET, ESPN/ABC)

OVERALL When Penn State
Has the Ball ...
When Ohio State
Has the Ball ...
Category PSU
(8-2)
OSU
(6-4)
PSU
Off
OSU
Def
PSU
Def
OSU
Off
2011 F/+ Rk 19 25 62 15 3 60
2011 FEI Rk 25 23 75 10 3 66
2011 S&P+ Rk 14 45 74 18 4 79
2011 FPA Rk 28 8
2011 Rushing S&P+ Rk 52 16 7 47
2011 Passing S&P+ Rk 82 16 3 111
2011 Std. Downs S&P+ Rk 91 15 3 80
Run-Pass Ratio
(Std. Downs)
62.6% Run
(42nd)
77.5% Run
(seventh)
2011 Pass. Downs S&P+ Rk 31 21 8 43
Run-Pass Ratio
(Std. Downs)
39.2% Run
(24th)
44% Run
(12th)

No matter what happens in this game, the Big Ten Leaders division won’t likely be decided until the Nittany Lions travel to Madison to take on Wisconsin. After an emotional weekend and loss to Nebraska, and the ongoing turmoil in Happy Valley, it remains to be seen whether Penn State can bounce back on the gridiron. Both the Nittany Lions and Buckeyes have played exceptional defense this season, and this game has all the makings of a low-scoring slugfest that may be won on special teams and field position. Ohio State has the edge in those categories, and home field in their favor. Penn State has the edge in generating turnovers though. The pressure exerted by defensive lineman Devon Still (four sacks, 16.5 tackles for loss) and the rest of the veteran front seven will be a huge challenge for Ohio State to handle. The Buckeyes have allowed 33 sacks this season already (fourth most nationally) and the version of Braxton Miller that pops up under duress has been a pretty ineffective Buckeyes quarterback this year.

SMU (+19.5) at No. 11 Houston (Saturday, 3:30 PM ET, FSN)

OVERALL When SMU
Has the Ball ...
When Houston
Has the Ball ...
Category SMU
(6-4)
Houston
(10-0)
SMU
Off
Houston
Def
SMU
Def
Houston
Off
2011 F/+ Rk 59 23 76 82 34 4
2011 FEI Rk 70 35 82 73 58 7
2011 S&P+ Rk 44 25 43 88 42 5
2011 FPA Rk 95 30
2011 Rushing S&P+ Rk 18 113 50 35
2011 Passing S&P+ Rk 71 92 29 11
2011 Std. Downs S&P+ Rk 55 94 45 21
Run-Pass Ratio
(Std. Downs)
42.7% Run
(118th)
42.8% Run
(117th)
2011 Pass. Downs S&P+ Rk 82 113 31 9
Run-Pass Ratio
(Std. Downs)
26.7% Run
(95th)
28.3% Run
(83rd)

The Cougars are undefeated and can qualify for a BCS bowl game if they don’t trip up, but Houston still has Conference USA landmines ahead. Tulsa and Southern Miss await, but first the Cougars need to deal with SMU. Case Keenum has dealt with them fine in his career, throwing for more than 900 yards combined in three previous meetings, all Houston victories. This year’s SMU season started strong, but has run off the rails in the last four weeks, a stretch in which the normally potent attack has twice been held under 10 points. Interceptions plagued the Mustangs’ losses to Southern Miss, Tulsa, and Navy, and Keenum will make SMU pay if the same mistakes crop up again. But if quarterback J.J. McDermott can keep things under control, SMU can move the ball (6.4 yards per play, 19th nationally). SMU doesn’t offer much resistance to Houston’s offense, however, and you have to like the Cougars' odds in a shootout.

Louisiana Tech (+7) at Nevada (Saturday, 4:05 PM ET, 0)

OVERALL When Louisiana Tech
Has the Ball ...
When Nevada
Has the Ball ...
Category La. Tech
(6-4)
Nevada
(6-3)
La. Tech
Off
Nevada
Def
La. Tech
Def
Nevada
Off
2011 F/+ Rk 44 73 73 76 21 53
2011 FEI Rk 44 87 83 91 36 44
2011 S&P+ Rk 55 46 88 45 23 45
2011 FPA Rk 4 114
2011 Rushing S&P+ Rk 74 86 17 58
2011 Passing S&P+ Rk 100 22 30 56
2011 Std. Downs S&P+ Rk 87 33 39 64
Run-Pass Ratio
(Std. Downs)
59.5% Run
(61st)
72.1% Run
(15th)
2011 Pass. Downs S&P+ Rk 106 63 7 47
Run-Pass Ratio
(Std. Downs)
33.3% Run
(58th)
25.1% Run
(103rd)

Two teams that are happily enjoying Boise State's move to the Mountain West meet for what should be the deciding contest in the WAC title race. The Wolf Pack haven't lost since opening the season with four straight road games, and are unbeaten in conference play. Cody Farjado hasn't made anyone forget Colin Kaepernick in Reno, but he's been efficient enough. Rishard Matthews has been the team's main weapon. He leads the WAC with 104 yards receiving per game and is fourth in the nation in punt returning at 15.3 yards per crack. On defense, Brett Roy is in the top-ten in tackles for loss -- if only the rest of Nevada's defense were as able. The Bulldogs struggle to stop the pass, ranking 103rd in the nation, so look for Nevada to put down the Pistol and avoid the run, where Louisiana Tech is far better on defense, leading the WAC with only 105 YPG allowed. Tech first-string running back Lennon Creer limped off the field against Ole Miss Saturday, and his health will be a big factor in the Dogs' chances of pulling out a road win.

No. 5 Oklahoma (-15) at No. 25 Baylor (Saturday, 8:00 PM ET, ABC)

OVERALL When Oklahoma
Has the Ball ...
When Baylor
Has the Ball ...
Category Oklahoma
(8-1)
Baylor
(6-3)
Oklahoma
Off
Baylor
Def
Oklahoma
Def
Baylor
Off
2011 F/+ Rk 6 55 7 99 6 14
2011 FEI Rk 5 55 8 104 7 3
2011 S&P+ Rk 6 23 11 67 3 7
2011 FPA Rk 3 93
2011 Rushing S&P+ Rk 15 58 4 27
2011 Passing S&P+ Rk 22 63 7 7
2011 Std. Downs S&P+ Rk 14 89 4 9
Run-Pass Ratio
(Std. Downs)
51.9% Run
(100th)
56.7% Run
(78th)
2011 Pass. Downs S&P+ Rk 10 41 11 6
Run-Pass Ratio
(Std. Downs)
15.3% Run
(120th)
33.1% Run
(61st)

The Sooners don’t have an explanation for why they fell to Texas Tech a few weeks back, but with the poll carnage working in their favor lately, they may not need to. A berth in the BCS championship game is still possible, and a December date with Oklahoma State is when it might be decided. Oklahoma simply needs to avoid overlooking Baylor and Iowa State beforehand -- and when the Sooners have been focused, they’ve been ruthlessly dominant. They rank fourth nationally in forcing three-and-outs defensively, and they avoid three-and-outs offensively at the 15th best rate in the nation. That’s helped them win the field position battle in every single game this year. Baylor has the offensive weaponry to make it interesting, with Robert Griffin III still slinging it at a 74.2 percent completion rate for more than 340 yards per game. Baylor doesn’t stand a chance to stop Oklahoma on defense though, and they are also saddled with the fourth worst special teams efficiency in college football. Oklahoma’s on a mission, and Baylor’s just a speed bump along the way.

No. 16 Kansas State (+9.5) at Texas (Saturday, 8:00 PM ET, FX)

OVERALL When Kansas State
Has the Ball ...
When Texas
Has the Ball ...
Category KSU
(8-2)
Texas
(6-3)
KSU
Off
Texas
Def
KSU
Def
Texas
Off
2011 F/+ Rk 33 20 35 8 53 58
2011 FEI Rk 18 41 37 19 21 69
2011 S&P+ Rk 64 17 61 10 60 53
2011 FPA Rk 14 46
2011 Rushing S&P+ Rk 46 5 39 28
2011 Passing S&P+ Rk 76 10 40 88
2011 Std. Downs S&P+ Rk 61 17 36 56
Run-Pass Ratio
(Std. Downs)
72.5% Run
(12nd)
73.5% Run
(10th)
2011 Pass. Downs S&P+ Rk 77 2 55 61
Run-Pass Ratio
(Std. Downs)
44.9% Run
(11th)
32.3% Run
(65th)

The Wildcats have given up 160 points in the last three weeks and have two losses and a four-overtime victory to show for it. Quarterback Collin Klein has been generating some Heisman buzz due to his 10 touchdown passes and 24 touchdowns on the ground. Klein accounts for nearly 70 percent of Kansas State’s total offense all on his own, and his success in calling his own number against Texas will tell the whole story on Saturday. Klein had a big day against Texas last season (25 rushes, 127 yards, two touchdowns) and will be a point of focus this weekend. The Longhorns defense ranks among the best in the nation at defending the run, and though they were able to contain dual threat James Franklin of Missouri a bit last week, it was only after the Tigers struck first with a couple of long scoring drives. There’s also the question of whether Texas has enough healthy bodies to get much going themselves offensively -- they’ll be without top performers at running back and receiver.

No. 18 USC (+15) at No. 4 Oregon (Saturday, 8:00 PM ET, ABC)

OVERALL When USC
Has the Ball ...
When Oregon
Has the Ball ...
Category USC
(8-2)
Oregon
(9-1)
USC
Off
Oregon
Def
USC
Def
Oregon
Off
2011 F/+ Rk 15 4 12 5 42 2
2011 FEI Rk 11 4 12 9 37 16
2011 S&P+ Rk 24 3 20 7 37 2
2011 FPA Rk 16 36
2011 Rushing S&P+ Rk 30 27 48 3
2011 Passing S&P+ Rk 25 5 27 5
2011 Std. Downs S&P+ Rk 23 6 48 2
Run-Pass Ratio
(Std. Downs)
51.1% Run
(105th)
68.1% Run
(21st)
2011 Pass. Downs S&P+ Rk 38 16 34 27
Run-Pass Ratio
(Std. Downs)
35.2% Run
(43rd)
49.3% Run
(sixth)

No time for celebrating in Eugene after the big whipping the Ducks put on Stanford and Andrew Luck last week -- the Trojans come to town playing their best ball of the season. With sanctions keeping them from a postseason trip, this and the UCLA game take on bowl game proportions for Matt Barkley and his offense, which is on fire since October. In that 5-1 stretch (the only loss was in overtime to Stanford), Barkley has a 19-3 touchdown-to-interception ratio and has thrown for over 1,600 yards. Oregon, as shown Saturday, can play better defense than it is generally given credit for, even if they don't quite have the fabled SEC speed. This matchup, over the last couple of years, has turned Oregon's way because the Trojan defense had no answer for the Ducks' running game. LaMichael James is healthy, leading the nation in yards per game, and could come from behind in the Heisman race with a big game. He has gone for 422 yards and four scores in the last two games against SC. The Trojans have lost five straight in the state of Oregon, a streak Lane Kiffin will no doubt drum into his players skulls before they take the field at Autzen Stadium.

Storylines of the Week

Robert Weintraub: Is Kansas State quarterback Collin Klein the best player in college football? You could certainly make that argument. He's Tebowing it with 34 touchdowns so far, 10 through the air and 24 on the ground, the latter of which places him second in the nation. Many of the ground touchdowns have been bullrushes that utilize his 6-foot-5, 225-pound frame. The Wildcats are the season's unlikeliest big conference success story, and still have an outside shot at the BCS. It's not like Klein has anywhere near the talent around him that Brandon Weeden or Landry Jones has. Klein almost single-handedly made Alabama's day by nearly knocking off Oklahoma State in Stillwater, and was amazing in last weekend's four-overtime thriller against Texas A&M. With winnable games at Texas and hosting Iowa State left, Klein, who wasn't named the starter until late summer, could have a 10-2 record and 40 or so touchdowns on his resume. He's no less a renaissance man than the George Costanza of Stanford, Andrew Luck, who loves to pretend he's an architect. According to Klein's K-State bio, he likes to relax by playing the violin, piano, and mandolin. If only he were a member of the tribe...

Brian Fremeau: I get to harp on this subject about once a season, so here we go again. I know there are practical reasons for teams to schedule a cupcake the week before a big rivalry game: Rest some starters, work out a few kinks, avoid playing a behemoth, and pretty much guarantee a win and momentum heading into one of the biggest games of the year. But FCS games drive me nuts. There are 120 FBS teams to play, including plenty of lesser conference opponents that might pose not much more difficult a challenge than a lower division opponent. There have been 93 FBS vs FCS games this year, and the SEC-FCS challenge this weekend will bring the total up to 97, the most ever. We only cleared the 90 threshold four years ago. From 1991 to 2000, we ranged between only 43 and 55 annual FBS vs. FCS games. We need more connectivity in college football, not less, and at the dawn of the superconference era, I’m concerned about how much further we’ll take it.

Picks

The Picks
(* - "Fred Edelstein Lock of the Week")
Visitor Spread Home Rob F/+
N. Carolina +10.5 Va. Tech Va. Tech* N. Caro.
Nebraska +3.5 Michigan Michigan Nebraska
Cincinnati -3 Rutgers Rutgers Rutgers
Miami -1 S. Florida S. Florida S. Florida
Penn State +6.5 Ohio State Ohio St. Penn St.
SMU +19.5 Houston Houston SMU
La. Tech +7 Nevada Nevada La. Tech*
Oklahoma -15 Baylor Oklahoma Oklahoma
Kansas St. +9.5 Texas Kansas St. Kansas St.
USC +15 Oregon Oregon USC
Season-long Results
("Fred Edelstein Lock of the Week" record in parentheses)
Last Week Season Total
F/+: 5-5 (1-0) 54-55-1 (5-6)
Rob: 8-2 (1-0) 60-49-1 (6-4-1)

Posted by: Brian Fremeau on 17 Nov 2011

3 comments, Last at 20 Nov 2011, 2:09am by Tom Gower

Comments

1
by Jonadan :: Thu, 11/17/2011 - 8:43pm

Question: shouldn't we really be describing the USC team as "rejuvenated"? IMO Oregon's been the class of the PAC-xx for a couple years now.

---
"When you absolutely don't know what to do any more, then it's time to panic." - Johann van der Wiel

2
by Tom Gower :: Thu, 11/17/2011 - 8:44pm

Picks: UNC, Michigan, Cincinnati, Miami, Ohio State, Houston, Nevada, Oklahoma, Kansas State, and Oregon. Counter-consensus choices are Cincinnati and Miami, and I'll go with the Hurricanes as my Edelstein lock.

3
by Tom Gower :: Sun, 11/20/2011 - 2:09am

This week: 5-5 (1-0), 1-1 counter-consensus, all consensus picks 2-2.
Last week: 4-4-1 (0-1), 0-2 counter-consensus, all consensus picks 3-1. Didn't Nebraska -3 push last week?

YTD I am now 54-48-2 (4-7), 10-12 counter-consensus, all consensus picks 29-25.