Writers of Pro Football Prospectus 2008

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» Scramble for the Ball: Quarter Pole Projections

Mike and Tom weigh the chances of this year's class of receivers, running backs and tight ends who are on pace to break the magical 1,000-yard mark for the first time.

20 Oct 2011

SDA: Is It Upset Saturday Yet?

by Brian Fremeau and Robert Weintraub

Big games and big point spreads are on the docket this week. The nightcap on Saturday features Wisconsin's trip to Spartan Stadium to take on a real live defense for the first time this year. Russell Wilson and company have made it look easy, but Sparty is a mean machine on defense. (Really mean). In South Bend, Notre Dame is turning on the lights for a primetime kickoff for the first time since 1990. (They'll be blinged out for the occasion as well). Oklahoma State travels to Missouri and Stanford hosts Washington, two games worth keeping an eye on for the undefeated Cowboys and Cardinal.

Meanwhile, the big boys are all expected to crush their respective opponents. Oklahoma, LSU and Alabama are favored by a combined 80 points against Texas Tech, Auburn, and Tennessee this weekend, and Boise State is favored to roll over Air Force by 31. Is this weekend going to be full of yawners, or might we be surprised with some fight from the underdogs?

Previews

UCLA (+4) at Arizona (Saturday, 9:00 PM ET, ESPN)

OVERALL When UCLA
Has the Ball ...
When Arizona
Has the Ball ...
Category UCLA
(3-3)
Arizona
(1-5)
UCLA
Off
Arizona
Def
UCLA
Def
Arizona
Off
2011 F/+ Rk 65 66
2011 FEI Rk 73 80
2011 S&P+ Rk 55 44 36 73 74 26
2011 FPA Rk 60 73
2011 Rushing S&P+ Rk 27 43 63 55
2011 Passing S&P+ Rk 24 61 62 20
2011 Std. Downs S&P+ Rk 20 48 61 13
Run-Pass Ratio
(Std. Downs)
69.5% Run
(19th)
40.9% Run
(118th)
2011 Pass. Downs S&P+ Rk 44 90 54 16
Run-Pass Ratio
(Std. Downs)
38.1% Run
(28th)
10.9% Run
(120th)

The third straight Thursday night ESPN stage for the Pac-12 takes us to the desert, where one coach is already buried, and the visiting coach may be left behind. Just a year ago, Arizona beat UCLA to improve to 7-1, and Mark Stoops was a Coach of the Year possibility. That was also the last time the 'Cats beat an FBS school, unfortunately, and Stoops was canned by Arizona last week. Interim head man Tim Kish has had the bye week to prepare for UCLA. The Bruins have an embattled coach of their own -- Rick Neuheisel. The 3-3 Bruins will have Kevin Prince back at the helm to start after Richard Brehaut hurt his leg against Missouri. Prince won that one in relief, but will be looking over his shoulder at prized recruit Brett Hundley, who is from Arizona. Either way, UCLA will look to run it against a defense ranked last in the conference in stopping the ground game. UCLA isn't strong in that department themselves, giving up 182 running yards per game. If they were to fall against this team and its new coach, Neuheisel may be looking for a new job next year.

No. 6 Oklahoma State (-6.5) at Missouri (Saturday, 12:00 PM ET, FX)

OVERALL When Oklahoma State
Has the Ball ...
When Missouri
Has the Ball ...
Category OSU
(6-0)
Missouri
(3-3)
OSU
Off
Missouri
Def
OSU
Def
Missouri
Off
2011 F/+ Rk 8 40
2011 FEI Rk 10 43
2011 S&P+ Rk 9 33 9 59 9 15
2011 FPA Rk 10 47
2011 Rushing S&P+ Rk 2 47 26 17
2011 Passing S&P+ Rk 43 85 5 23
2011 Std. Downs S&P+ Rk 19 83 35 7
Run-Pass Ratio
(Std. Downs)
45.8% Run
(112th)
65% Run
(30th)
2011 Pass. Downs S&P+ Rk 23 16 4 21
Run-Pass Ratio
(Std. Downs)
25.8% Run
(99th)
33.6% Run
(49th)

"We're number two!" That's the chant in Stillwater, as the potent Cowboys offense is second in the nation in points, yards, and passing yards, even after Texas' secondary gave Brandon Weeden fits in "holding" OSU to 38 points. Weeden and the Cowboys will score, but whether their defense can continue its turnover pace to balance the fact that they give up yards by the bushel is a key element to a potential upset here. The Cowboys have won eight straight road games, but Mizzou is tough at Faurot Field, winning ten straight at home. The Tigers are plenty potent themselves, putting up almost 500 yards and 35 points each time out. Quarterback James Franklin is still answering questions about his tete-a-tete with Georgia coaches and players last Saturday ... oh wait, that was the other James Franklin. This is the one holding his own in the passer rankings in a conference stacked with big-name quarterbacks like Weeden, Landry Jones, and Ryan Tannehill. Running back Henry Josey leads the Big 12 in rushing, and after Texas demolished OSU on the ground, look for Missouri to establish Josey early and often.

North Carolina (+10.5) at No. 8 Clemson (Saturday, 12:00 PM ET, ESPN)

OVERALL When North Carolina
Has the Ball ...
When Clemson
Has the Ball ...
Category UNC
(5-2)
Clemson
(7-0)
UNC
Off
Clemson
Def
UNC
Def
Clemson
Off
2011 F/+ Rk 23 18
2011 FEI Rk 23 7
2011 S&P+ Rk 22 40 17 60 40 25
2011 FPA Rk 63 48
2011 Rushing S&P+ Rk 33 90 19 52
2011 Passing S&P+ Rk 11 63 60 17
2011 Std. Downs S&P+ Rk 22 60 38 21
Run-Pass Ratio
(Std. Downs)
62.1% Run
(40th)
62% Run
(41th)
2011 Pass. Downs S&P+ Rk 15 52 53 18
Run-Pass Ratio
(Std. Downs)
34.5% Run
(44th)
30.8% Run
(70th)

Fans attending the game at Death Valley need only follow Sammy Watkins' drool of anticipation to find their way to the stadium. The electrifying Sudden Sammy will face a back seven that has been torched for 248 yards per game. Miami killed North Carolina with slants and screens last Saturday in defeating the Heels, and if Watkins gets the ball in space, look out. UNC continues to run far fewer plays than their opposition, so Clemson's quick strike attack may actually allow the Heels to get some tempo for once. With Bryn Renner, Gio Bernard, and Dwight Jones (whose eight touchdowns is tied with Watkins to lead the ACC), the Heels are potent offensively. And just last week, Maryland ran through the Tigers like they were papier mache. They probably aren't enough to spring the upset on their own, though, so it will be up to the Quinton Coples-led Heels defense to stop Chad Morris' attack once in a while.

No. 19 Auburn (+22.5) at No. 1 LSU (Saturday, 3:30 PM ET, CBS)

OVERALL When Auburn
Has the Ball ...
When LSU
Has the Ball ...
Category Auburn
(5-2)
LSU
(7-0)
Auburn
Off
LSU
Def
Auburn
Def
LSU
Off
2011 F/+ Rk 44 3
2011 FEI Rk 34 1
2011 S&P+ Rk 52 4 49 2 54 28
2011 FPA Rk 3 2
2011 Rushing S&P+ Rk 51 3 51 47
2011 Passing S&P+ Rk 58 3 66 9
2011 Std. Downs S&P+ Rk 38 1 47 30
Run-Pass Ratio
(Std. Downs)
73.4% Run
(11th)
76.2% Run
(seventh)
2011 Pass. Downs S&P+ Rk 38 7 66 7
Run-Pass Ratio
(Std. Downs)
37.3% Run
(32nd)
37.5% Run
(31st)

The tradition of this rivalry amounts to low scores and bruised flesh. The 7-3 contusion-fest from 2006 remains the standard for good old-fashioned slobberknocking. Last season, Cam Newton wrote a new chapter by outrunning LSU superstar Patrick Peterson to the end zone in a 24-17 win. It only feels like LSU hasn't allowed a touchdown since then. The Tigers' defense has only given up nine touchdowns in 2011, and just under 12 points per game. Those numbers seem likely to drop, as for the third straight week, LSU will face a replacement quarterback. Sophomore Clint Moseley is in for the ineffective Barrett Trotter. Tyrann Mathieu won't be available due to a suspension, but the rest of the Tigers defense will happily welcome Clint to SEC football. Auburn's defense got to face a new quarterback themselves last week, and the unit responded by shutting down Florida. Unfortunately for them, this week Auburn will face two effective quarterbacks: starter Jarrett Lee and rehabilitated replacement Jordan Jefferson.

No. 20 Georgia Tech (+2.5) at Miami (Saturday, 3:30 PM ET, ESPN)

OVERALL When Georgia Tech
Has the Ball ...
When Miami
Has the Ball ...
Category Ga. Tech
(6-1)
Miami
(3-3)
Ga. Tech
Off
Miami
Def
Ga. Tech
Def
Miami
Off
2011 F/+ Rk 13 34
2011 FEI Rk 18 21
2011 S&P+ Rk 17 45 10 87 38 16
2011 FPA Rk 12 101
2011 Rushing S&P+ Rk 14 81 75 26
2011 Passing S&P+ Rk 14 97 9 12
2011 Std. Downs S&P+ Rk 17 98 91 4
Run-Pass Ratio
(Std. Downs)
87.1% Run
(third)
60.3% Run
(53rd)
2011 Pass. Downs S&P+ Rk 26 84 17 29
Run-Pass Ratio
(Std. Downs)
64.5% Run
(second)
38.1% Run
(28th)

Tech's surprise start came to a thudding halt in a loss at Virginia Saturday. Now it's on to a far tougher road test in South Beach. Tech coach Paul Johnson has been highly critical of his squad in the last couple of weeks, and now that the Jackets have lost, it will take a solid coaching job to keep that from turning into three or four straight defeats. Tevin Washington put up mind-boggling numbers against marshmallows, but has taken a step back, with mistakes ranging from turnovers to poor option reads. The Hurricanes defense hasn't lived up to its advance billing, but Sean Spence has been out of his mind the last few weeks, and his outside linebacker position is crucial to stopping the triple option attack. UVA roughed up Tech's defense on the ground, and Lamar Miller is among the nation's best backs (118 yards per game), so The U will likely ride the run until Tech proves they can stop it.

Tennessee (+29) at No. 2 Alabama (Saturday, 7:15 PM ET, ESPN2)

OVERALL When Tennessee
Has the Ball ...
When Alabama
Has the Ball ...
Category Tennessee
(3-3)
Alabama
(7-0)
Tennessee
Off
Alabama
Def
Tennessee
Def
Alabama
Off
2011 F/+ Rk 32 2
2011 FEI Rk 45 2
2011 S&P+ Rk 21 2 11 4 47 3
2011 FPA Rk 92 11
2011 Rushing S&P+ Rk 44 1 34 1
2011 Passing S&P+ Rk 3 36 40 7
2011 Std. Downs S&P+ Rk 49 4 49 2
Run-Pass Ratio
(Std. Downs)
58% Run
(68th)
60.5% Run
(50th)
2011 Pass. Downs S&P+ Rk 2 10 45 4
Run-Pass Ratio
(Std. Downs)
24.2% Run
(104th)
41.8% Run
(18th)

Halfway to a probable 0-6 start in conference play, Tennessee is looking for a glimmer of hope. Any will do. The Volunteers have fallen to Florida, Georgia and LSU to start conference play. Once Alabama crushes them this week, South Carolina and Arkansas are next in line. Are we jumping the gun a bit with the Tide? This is the final tune-up for Alabama before a bye week layoff to prepare for the LSU game. Our friend Bill Connelly outlined the plan to beat Alabama, and Tennessee probably doesn’t have the pieces to do so. If they want to show any success, they’ll have to make something happen with turnovers and special teams, neither of which is likely. The Tide rank 11th in field position advantage and have only given up seven turnovers on the year. Alabama has only scored 41 of its 278 points this season on drives begun at or inside their own 20. Make them go the distance and you can at least keep yourself in the ballgame.

USC (+8.5) at Notre Dame (Saturday, 7:30 PM ET, NBC)

OVERALL When USC
Has the Ball ...
When Notre Dame
Has the Ball ...
Category USC
(5-1)
Irish
(4-2)
USC
Off
Irish
Def
USC
Def
Irish
Off
2011 F/+ Rk 46 7
2011 FEI Rk 44 13
2011 S&P+ Rk 43 6 35 8 55 6
2011 FPA Rk 19 81
2011 Rushing S&P+ Rk 68 2 74 7
2011 Passing S&P+ Rk 32 26 59 13
2011 Std. Downs S&P+ Rk 25 6 68 3
Run-Pass Ratio
(Std. Downs)
49.7% Run
(105th)
50.2% Run
(104th)
2011 Pass. Downs S&P+ Rk 50 29 65 3
Run-Pass Ratio
(Std. Downs)
35.3% Run
(42nd)
30% Run
(75th)

For the first time in 21 years, Notre Dame is hosting a night game. And for the first time in 15 years, the Irish are more than a touchdown favorite against archrival USC. The supposed resurgence in the Fighting Irish program over the last four weeks will be under scrutiny in primetime against a Trojans program that is drifting a bit under Lane Kiffin and the burden of NCAA sanctions. A decisive win won’t guarantee a championship in Brian Kelly’s future, but it would be the first significant example that things might be different. In terms of our F/+ numbers, it ought to be a decisive win. The only thing slowing down the Irish offense thus far was early season turnovers. The passing game is productive and the rushing attack is averaging six yards per attempt. In their last game against Air Force, Notre Dame mixed in sophomore quarterback Andrew Hendrix in situations to take advantage of his zone read scampering ability. USC’s best hope is to play for field position advantage through superior special teams play, and to attack the susceptible Irish secondary through the prolific connection of Matt Barkley to Robert Woods (60 receptions, 783 yards, six touchdowns).

No. 22 Washington (+20.5) at No. 7 Stanford (Saturday, 8:00 PM ET, ABC)

OVERALL When Washington
Has the Ball ...
When Stanford
Has the Ball ...
Category UW
(5-1)
Stanford
(6-0)
UW
Off
Stanford
Def
UW
Def
Stanford
Off
2011 F/+ Rk 37 6
2011 FEI Rk 20 9
2011 S&P+ Rk 53 8 29 7 86 13
2011 FPA Rk 76 15
2011 Rushing S&P+ Rk 65 5 69 60
2011 Passing S&P+ Rk 15 12 88 27
2011 Std. Downs S&P+ Rk 16 11 82 27
Run-Pass Ratio
(Std. Downs)
61.8% Run
(44th)
57.9% Run
(70th)
2011 Pass. Downs S&P+ Rk 28 14 106 74
Run-Pass Ratio
(Std. Downs)
31.6% Run
(61st)
33.3% Run
(50th)

Andrew Luck’s Heisman campaign ought to keep rolling against the Huskies. Only four teams have been torched for more yards in the air per game than Washington and Luck (18 touchdowns, 9.5 yards per attempt) should be able to attack it with ease. Luck has had plenty of practice against bad defenses so far, but unlike most of the other teams Stanford has faced, Washington can get it going offensively too. Quarterback Keith Price ranks fifth in Division 1-A quarterback rating, only a few ticks behind Luck, and has been similarly efficient. Plus, Washington has been more explosive than the Cardinal, averaging at least ten yards per play on 25 percent of their possessions, the sixth highest rate in the country. Stanford’s defense will be the key to keeping this game from being a shootout. It isn't just Luck that the Cardinal have won nine straight games by at least 26 points -– it’s because the defense isn’t giving up anything themselves. The schedule has helped too, of course, and Washington has had a few fast starts this year. If they can jump out early, they can keep enough pressure on Stanford to at least hang around.

No. 4 Wisconsin (-8) at No. 15 Michigan State (Saturday, 8:00 PM ET, ESPN)

OVERALL When Wisconsin
Has the Ball ...
When Michigan St.
Has the Ball ...
Category Wisconsin
(6-0)
Mich. St.
(5-1)
Wisconsin
Off
Mich. St.
Def
Wisconsin
Def
Mich. St.
Off
2011 F/+ Rk 5 11
2011 FEI Rk 4 11
2011 S&P+ Rk 5 12 1 6 16 52
2011 FPA Rk 7 35
2011 Rushing S&P+ Rk 12 20 31 58
2011 Passing S&P+ Rk 8 4 34 38
2011 Std. Downs S&P+ Rk 12 7 52 51
Run-Pass Ratio
(Std. Downs)
70.1% Run
(18th)
62.2% Run
(39th)
2011 Pass. Downs S&P+ Rk 12 1 22 57
Run-Pass Ratio
(Std. Downs)
43.1% Run
(15th)
29.8% Run
(78th)

It’s time for a real test. Wisconsin has been as dominant in its victories as an elite team should be, but they still have a lot to prove. The victory over Nebraska was nice, but the Cornhuskers have had defensive issues in other games and don’t rank among the top 40 in F/+ defense. Michigan State’s defense is the real deal: the first of four games down the stretch the Badgers will play against top-12 F/+ defenses. Can Russell Wilson remain the nation’s most efficient passer against a defense that ranks No. 4 against the pass according to F/+? Will Montee Ball be able to find running room against a defense that is surrendering a paltry 2.3 yards per carry to date? Can Wisconsin win even if they don’t? The Badgers defense has been almost as stingy as Michigan State’s in terms of value drives, allowing only 15 percent of opponent possessions to cross their own 30-yard line. This has the potential to be one of those low-scoring Big Ten classics. Or, Wisconsin’s offense could prove that it is really, really, special and keep up their ridiculous scoring pace (5.1 points per drive).

SMU (+3) at Southern Miss (Saturday, 8:00 PM ET, CBSSN)

OVERALL When SMU
Has the Ball ...
When Southern Miss
Has the Ball ...
Category SMU
(5-1)
So. Miss
(5-1)
SMU
Off
So. Miss
Def
SMU
Def
So. Miss
Off
2011 F/+ Rk 33 30
2011 FEI Rk 40 24
2011 S&P+ Rk 27 36 23 27 44 57
2011 FPA Rk 45 78
2011 Rushing S&P+ Rk 5 23 38 75
2011 Passing S&P+ Rk 52 76 48 50
2011 Std. Downs S&P+ Rk 29 81 51 56
Run-Pass Ratio
(Std. Downs)
42.8% Run
(117th)
61.7% Run
(45th)
2011 Pass. Downs S&P+ Rk 65 58 26 42
Run-Pass Ratio
(Std. Downs)
22.1% Run
(111th)
31% Run
(66th)

It’s a bit early to make any bold predictions about how Conference USA will ultimately shake out. We projected six teams at the beginning of the year to finish within a game of one another in the conference standings, and that’s well within reach. Nearly everyone is treading water. SMU and Southern Miss are the only teams aside from undefeated Houston to be above .500 overall on the year. After a slow start, both offenses have come alive recently. Southern Miss has scored 111 points in its last two games and SMU has scored 38 points or more in four straight weeks. Golden Eagles quarterback Austin Davis could do no wrong against Navy in his last outing (21-of-23 for 283 yards and three touchdowns), and SMU’s secondary has been torched a few times. They also have recorded only one interception on the year, which places them dead last among FBS teams.

Storylines of the Week

Robert Weintraub: So a pair of "Dig Me!" NFL coaches have a minor, bordering on fake contretemps after a handshake, and the world practically stops spinning on its axis. Meanwhile, there was nearly a brawl between Vandy coach James Franklin and Georgia defensive coordinator Todd Grantham, and you don't hear a thing about it. The main issue seemed to have a blue collar versus elitist tinge -- Franklin is desperately trying to change the Vandy image of having sand kicked in its face by the SEC musclemen, and when Georgia players talked trash after slipping by the 'Dores, Franklin went ballistic. Then Grantham, who is as calm and collected as the Tasmanian Devil, got behind his player. Complicating matters are allegations of Vandy chop blocking, UGA punching, fans and academic advisors getting into it with Grantham, and UGA coach Mark Richt calling one of his players a "dumbass" and Grantham's behavior "horse----" right at midfield when confronted by Franklin. Hovering over it all is Richt's lack of security in BulldogLand, in part because he is perceived as not being fiery enough. All in all, a tasty controversy that has gotten zero play nationally, thanks to a "too hard handshake."

Brian Fremeau: What's with the domination? According to folks tracking this sort of thing, the top 10 teams in college football aren't just winning, they're consistently beating the spread. Associated Press top 10 teams are 38-14 against the spread on the year and 16-1 in the last two weeks. We're still waiting on that "Upset Saturday" that always seems to come before the end of October. Instead, the top teams are winning by enormous margins and the spreads keep getting bigger and bigger. It's all going to come crashing down at some point. Will it be this week?

Picks

The Picks
(* - "Fred Edelstein Lock of the Week")
Visitor Spread Home Rob F/+
UCLA +4 Arizona UCLA UCLA
Oklahoma St. -6.5 Missouri Oklahoma St. Oklahoma St.
N. Carolina +10.5 Clemson Clemson N. Carolina
Auburn +22.5 LSU LSU LSU
Georgia Tech +2.5 Miami Miami* Georgia Tech
Tennessee +29 Alabama Alabama Tennessee
USC +8.5 Notre Dame USC Notre Dame*
Washington +20.5 Stanford Washington Washington
Wisconsin -8 Michigan St. Wisconsin Michigan St.
SMU +3 Southern Miss SMU So. Miss
Season-long Results
("Fred Edelstein Lock of the Week" record in parentheses)
Last Week Season Total
F/+: 5-5 (0-1) 37-32-1 (4-3)
Rob: 6-4 (1-0) 33-36-1 (2-4-1)

Posted by: Brian Fremeau on 20 Oct 2011

8 comments, Last at 24 Oct 2011, 8:28pm by Jeff Fogle

Comments

1
by Kal :: Fri, 10/21/2011 - 1:13am

Wow, was the spread on the UCLA game bad. Oops.

3
by horn :: Fri, 10/21/2011 - 10:49pm

Just because a team covers easily doesn't mean the spread was wrong.

2
by tretretrtret (not verified) :: Fri, 10/21/2011 - 10:30pm

UCLA, huh? God, you guys suck.

4
by Tom Gower :: Sat, 10/22/2011 - 12:08pm

Fudge, actually got to the column before posting the comment and taking Thursday's counter-consensus in a week where I don't like many of those. Yes, that's an easy claim in hindsight, but c'mon, UCLA?

Picks: Oklahoma St, Clemson, Auburn, Miami, Tennessee, USC, Stanford, Wisconsin, and SMU. Tigers and Cardinal are the counter-consensus picks, and I'll take Stanford as my Edelstein lock.

5
by tsmonk (not verified) :: Sun, 10/23/2011 - 11:39am

Why yes, I do believe it was an Upset Saturday. They have these every year, and every year the NCG picture takes shape. And every year there is a clear determination of who the top 2 teams are. And every year all the caterwauling for a playoffs format looks a little sillier.

6
by TomKelso :: Mon, 10/24/2011 - 9:44am

Hmmm... losses by two teams make this an Upset Saturday? And the system works EVERY year? Do you do everything prematurely?

7
by tsmonk (not verified) :: Mon, 10/24/2011 - 12:30pm

two Top 5 teams that had a collective Vegas spread of, what, -35? Yeah, call me crazy, I think that qualifies.

8
by Jeff Fogle :: Mon, 10/24/2011 - 8:28pm

Three of the top six in S+P fell, as ND (#6) lost to #43 USC (outgained 443-267).

Three others in the top 25 of S+P fell:
17 Georgia Tech lost to 45 Miami of Florida
22 North Carolina lost to 40 Clemson (will Clemson ever catch ND in S+P?)
23 Illinois lost to 72 Purdue

A couple of additional top 20 teams in FEI fell:
8 West Virginia lost to 63 Syracuse (outgained 443-408)
17 Rutgers lost to 62 Louisville