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Five different teams from last year's DVOA top eight rank in the bottom half of the league through four weeks of 2014. What can we learn from other teams with similar starts in the past?

13 Oct 2011

Seventh Day Adventure: Flawless

by Brian Fremeau and Robert Weintraub

We’re only a few days away from the debut of the first BCS standings and there are more than a few teams in action this weekend that could impress voters. If they can topple the Spartans, Michigan may be positioned as the biggest surprise contender for a BCS bowl. Illinois is also undefeated and faces wounded Ohio State. Clemson looks to rough up Maryland on the road and Kansas State takes its undefeated record to Texas Tech. Might all four of these teams be top-10 BCS contenders next week, or will the dreams die this weekend?

Meanwhile, some of the expected contenders will be tested as well. Oklahoma State brings their high-flying offense to Austin to face a Texas defense reeling from last weekend's Red River Rivalry game. Arizona State and Oregon are in the second tier of one-loss teams with the capability of putting together a second-half run, and will square off in Eugene on Saturday night in what might be a precursor to the Pac-12 championship. We cover these games and more in this week's Seventh Day Adventure.

Previews

USC (-3) at California (Thursday, 9:00 PM ET, ESPN)

OVERALL When USC
Has the Ball ...
When California
Has the Ball ...
Category USC
(4-1)
Cal
(3-2)
USC
Off
Cal
Def
USC
Def
Cal
Off
2011 F/+ Rk 53 67
2011 FEI Rk 59 74
2011 S&P+ Rk 45 60 32 50 67 73
2011 Rushing S&P+ Rk 57 66 80 98
2011 Passing S&P+ Rk 39 39 76 58
2011 Std. Downs S&P+ Rk 39 7 76 97
Run-Pass Ratio
(Std. Downs)
48.2% Run
(107th)
51.4% Run
(97th)
2011 Pass. Downs S&P+ Rk 20 88 82 88
Run-Pass Ratio
(Std. Downs)
34% Run
(43rd)
28.5% Run
(83rd)

The Trojans may be 4-1 but they haven’t been particularly impressive so far. Transitive property junkies have had a field day with USC’s two-point victory over Minnesota to open the season –- the Gophers have since been beaten by an FCS opponent and torched by Michigan and Purdue (!). After surrendering 84 points in their last two games, USC’s defense is under scrutiny. The Trojans have had trouble getting opponents off the field (105th in the NCAA in forcing three-and outs). Cal’s attack isn’t very crisp though, and Bears quarterback Zach Maynard is only completing 51 percent of his passes. USC’s Matt Barkley has been one of the nation’s most efficient passers, and they have this game’s best pass weapon in receiver Robert Woods, who has caught at least eight passes in every game this year. Last week, Woods exploded for 255 yards receiving and two touchdowns against Arizona in Mike Stoops' last hurrah. If this game mirrors that one, the Trojans have the edge. Victory for Cal will hinge on whether running back Isi Sofele can extend drives.

No. 11 Michigan (+1.5) at No. 23 Michigan State (Saturday, 12:00 PM ET, ESPN)

OVERALL When Michigan
Has the Ball ...
When Michigan St.
Has the Ball ...
Category Michigan
(6-0)
MSU
(4-1)
Michigan
Off
MSU
Def
Michigan
Def
MSU
Off
2011 F/+ Rk 11 18
2011 FEI Rk 6 23
2011 S&P+ Rk 12 17 5 11 43 38
2011 Rushing S&P+ Rk 4 29 21 40
2011 Passing S&P+ Rk 16 20 50 41
2011 Std. Downs S&P+ Rk 7 12 16 37
Run-Pass Ratio
(Std. Downs)
74.2% Run
(11th)
61.4% Run
(44th)
2011 Pass. Downs S&P+ Rk 15 8 71 66
Run-Pass Ratio
(Std. Downs)
44.3% Run
(14th)
25.2% Run
(100th)

This is one of those games that get numbers geeks excited. An elite offense in Michigan versus an impenetrable defense in Michigan State, and a rivalry that has been fiercely contended even when it doesn’t mean much in the conference or national championship race. It's a pretty big deal this season, what with the edge for the Legends division race hanging in the balance. The Spartans have won three straight against the Wolverines, and the last two were against undefeated Michigan teams that would skid to a lackluster second half of the season from that game forward. Michigan State ranks first defensively in a slew of drive efficiency categories –- forcing three and outs on 61 percent of opponent possessions, surrendering only 18 percent of available yards, and allowing zero explosive drives on the season. Denard Robinson has yet to be contained this year, however, and Michigan has a defense that can hold their own as well (11th in offensive points per drive, 13th in defensive points per drive). If the game is close, give the edge to the Spartans and their respectable special teams, a liability for Michigan.

No. 20 Baylor (+9.5) at No. 21 Texas A&M (Saturday, 12:00 PM ET, FX)

OVERALL When Baylor
Has the Ball ...
When Texas A&M
Has the Ball ...
Category Baylor
(4-1)
A&M
(3-2)
Baylor
Off
A&M
Def
Baylor
Def
A&M
Off
2011 F/+ Rk 36 12
2011 FEI Rk 62 15
2011 S&P+ Rk 19 13 4 20 68 12
2011 Rushing S&P+ Rk 19 8 77 7
2011 Passing S&P+ Rk 2 27 69 30
2011 Std. Downs S&P+ Rk 5 21 97 13
Run-Pass Ratio
(Std. Downs)
60.9% Run
(48th)
60.6% Run
(49th)
2011 Pass. Downs S&P+ Rk 6 27 59 3
Run-Pass Ratio
(Std. Downs)
38% Run
(28th)
29.9% Run
(75th)

The conference realignment contretemps adds some more juice to what should be an electrifying Battle of the Brazos. Baylor is the school that dropped the lawsuit that temporarily halted the Aggies move to the SEC. Any residual anger on the A&M sideline needs to be channeled into fixing it's pass defense, as they are dead last in the country against the pass, allowing 348 yards per game. Enter the Waco Wonder, Robert Griffin III, with 19 touchdowns against just one interception this year, completing 80 percent of his passes along the way. The Bears added a running component to the attack against Iowa State, piling up 391 yards, 107 of which came from Griffin. A&M will need a big game from Ryan Tannehill, Cyrus Gray and company merely to keep pace. Tannehill surprisingly only has seven TD passes, but Gray has seven on the ground, and Christine Michael six, which gives a glimpse into the Aggies' red zone strategy.

Miami (+3) at North Carolina (Saturday, 12:30 PM ET, ESPN3)

OVERALL When Miami
Has the Ball ...
When North Carolina
Has the Ball ...
Category Miami
(2-3)
UNC
(5-1)
Miami
Off
UNC
Def
Miami
Def
UNC
Off
2011 F/+ Rk 45 19
2011 FEI Rk 43 18
2011 S&P+ Rk 43 21 15 46 88 14
2011 Rushing S&P+ Rk 18 23 90 24
2011 Passing S&P+ Rk 13 58 116 4
2011 Std. Downs S&P+ Rk 4 54 103 12
Run-Pass Ratio
(Std. Downs)
63.2% Run
(37th)
65.4% Run
(30th)
2011 Pass. Downs S&P+ Rk 9 69 115 17
Run-Pass Ratio
(Std. Downs)
37.2% Run
(32nd)
34% Run
(44th)

A pair of talented but nationally unheralded backs go at it in Chapel Hill. Miami's Lamar MIller has surpassed 100 yards in each of his five games this season, and is putting up 6.7 yards per carry. At 135 yards per game, he trails only LaMichael James and Ray Graham nationally. His fourth quarter shredding of Virginia Tech's defense almost led the Canes to a road upset. For the Heels, Gio Bernard is very quietly at 110 YPG and 6.4 YPC. With quarterback Bryn Renner and wideout Dwight Jones, the Heels seemingly have a set of triplets that can torture any defense. So why is UNC's offense not ranked higher than 72nd in the nation? Probably due to the fact that they have run a mere 57 plays per game, last in the nation among teams that have played six games. In the last three games, UNC has had 25 drives of three minutes or less. And the defense, loaded with NFL prospects, hasn't performed anywhere close to preseason expectations, which hasn't helped. Miami's defense is badly weakened by injury, so points should be plentiful on Tobacco Road this Saturday.

No. 6 Oklahoma State (-7.5) at No. 22 Texas (Saturday, 3:30 PM ET, ABC/ESPN)

OVERALL When Oklahoma St.
Has the Ball ...
When Texas
Has the Ball ...
Category OSU
(5-0)
Texas
(4-1)
OSU
Off
Texas
Def
OSU
Def
Texas
Off
2011 F/+ Rk 9 25
2011 FEI Rk 8 36
2011 S&P+ Rk 9 18 13 15 9 28
2011 Rushing S&P+ Rk 8 17 12 25
2011 Passing S&P+ Rk 44 18 7 24
2011 Std. Downs S&P+ Rk 32 28 37 33
Run-Pass Ratio
(Std. Downs)
45.6% Run
(111th)
73.9% Run
(12th)
2011 Pass. Downs S&P+ Rk 33 13 2 64
Run-Pass Ratio
(Std. Downs)
27.7% Run
(89th)
29.1% Run
(78th)

Playing consecutive games against elite opponents hasn’t been kind to teams this year. Florida was bludgeoned in a one-two punch against Alabama and LSU and now Texas faces the explosive Cowboys only a week after getting burned in the Red River Rivalry against Oklahoma. Oklahoma State spent their Saturday laying a 70-point pasting on a pathetic Kansas defense. Quarterback Brandon Weeden ranks second in the country in completion percentage (75.8) and yards per game (376) and that production is a result of spreading the ball around to weapons beyond superstar wideout Justin Blackmon. The Cowboys run a lot of plays, but can stand to improve their consistency. Oklahoma State ranks fourth in points per drive (3.8) but only 25th in avoiding three-and-outs. If the Longhorns can pull off the upset, it will be because they were carried by their defense and the offense didn’t turn the ball over. If they lose the turnover battle, say hello to another blowout like last week.

Ohio State (+4) at No. 16 Illinois (Saturday, 3:30 PM ET, ABC/ESPN)

OVERALL When Ohio State
Has the Ball ...
When Illinois
Has the Ball ...
Category Ohio St.
(3-3)
Illinois
(6-0)
Ohio St.
Off
Illinois
Def
Ohio St.
Def
Illinois
Off
2011 F/+ Rk 40 22
2011 FEI Rk 42 35
2011 S&P+ Rk 33 15 67 8 17 40
2011 Rushing S&P+ Rk 52 10 13 59
2011 Passing S&P+ Rk 80 14 25 28
2011 Std. Downs S&P+ Rk 78 11 10 48
Run-Pass Ratio
(Std. Downs)
72.2% Run
(15th)
69% Run
(22nd)
2011 Pass. Downs S&P+ Rk 52 40 23 26
Run-Pass Ratio
(Std. Downs)
37% Run
(34th)
48.6% Run
(seventh)

You know, this Ron Zook thing at Illinois is just crazy enough that it might work. After flirting with the hot seat for the last three seasons, Zook has the Illini rolling to an undefeated start and positioned as contenders for the Big Ten Leaders division crown. They might be pretenders, having won three games this season by a field goal, and they might be set up for exposure when they play road games in three of their final five down the stretch, but they have a great chance to roll to 7-0 with the reeling Buckeyes coming to town. Ohio State gave up four second-half touchdowns in a wilting effort against Nebraska last week, and are staring down the barrel of an 0-4 Big Ten start with a trip to Wisconsin coming up in two weeks. The Buckeyes aren’t doing much of anything particularly well on offense and the defense, though solid, isn’t winning games on their own. One edge they may be able to exploit is their consistent ability to generate field position advantages, a weakness for Illinois.

No. 1 LSU (-16) at Tennessee (Saturday, 3:30 PM ET, CBS)

OVERALL When LSU
Has the Ball ...
When Tennessee
Has the Ball ...
Category LSU
(6-0)
Tennessee
(3-2)
LSU
Off
Tennessee
Def
LSU
Def
Tennessee
Off
2011 F/+ Rk 3 20
2011 FEI Rk 1 19
2011 S&P+ Rk 4 22 22 28 3 18
2011 Rushing S&P+ Rk 46 26 2 74
2011 Passing S&P+ Rk 9 29 6 6
2011 Std. Downs S&P+ Rk 29 44 1 66
Run-Pass Ratio
(Std. Downs)
74.5% Run
(ninth)
56.2% Run
(76th)
2011 Pass. Downs S&P+ Rk 16 33 11 1
Run-Pass Ratio
(Std. Downs)
37.2% Run
(31st)
23.1% Run
(107th)

Any shot the Vols had for a mega-upset seemingly is gone with quarterback Tyler Bray's broken thumb. The next man up is Matt Simms, who at least won't have his old man calling the game and spewing nonsense as LSU's top-five defense tears his kid limb-from-limb. Exacerbating matters is Tennessee's anemic running game, averaging a mere 84 yards per game (114th in the country) after managing negative 20 yards on the ground at home against Georgia. On paper, this seems like an opportunity for Les Miles to exercise his Jordan Jefferson jones and play his backup extended minutes. Of course, last year's game seemed a mismatch too, and it took a legendarily bizarre sequence of events for the Tigers to pull out a home win. That's why they don't play games on paper; they play them inside your TV set.

No. 8 Clemson (-8.5) at Maryland (Saturday, 7:00 PM ET, ESPNU)

OVERALL When Clemson
Has the Ball ...
When Maryland
Has the Ball ...
Category Clemson
(6-0)
Maryland
(2-3)
Clemson
Off
Maryland
Def
Clemson
Def
Maryland
Off
2011 F/+ Rk 21 55
2011 FEI Rk 11 64
2011 S&P+ Rk 41 46 36 26 53 71
2011 Rushing S&P+ Rk 65 36 86 72
2011 Passing S&P+ Rk 25 9 57 66
2011 Std. Downs S&P+ Rk 31 24 74 70
Run-Pass Ratio
(Std. Downs)
62.7% Run
(38th)
51.6% Run
(95th)
2011 Pass. Downs S&P+ Rk 32 16 31 41
Run-Pass Ratio
(Std. Downs)
31.6% Run
(60th)
37.4% Run
(30th)

Tahj Boyd's hip is good to go, so Clemson's drive for a BCS bid won't hit the skids. At least not due to injury, anyway. The Tigers can put Maryland out of the ACC Atlantic title race with a win at College Park. Which quarterback they will face is up in the air, thanks to Randy Edsall becoming the latest coach to not name a starter. A quarterback controversy at Maryland would have been unthinkable before the season, with Danny O'Brien coming off a conference Rookie of the Year award, but C.J. Brown sparked a mini-comeback against Georgia Tech with his wheels, leading to the possibility of a surprise start Saturday night. He's probably a better fit for Gary Crowton's offense than O'Brien. Clemson will have to prepare for both the pro look and the spread Brown would run, so the potential could pay dividends for the Terps, who will need every bit of help it can get to slow the Big Orange. Chad Morris' HUNH (Hurry Up No Huddle) attack has sliced up opponents to the tune of 472 yards and 35 points a game. Maryland is down five defensive starters to injury, which can only broaden Morris' smile.

No. 17 Kansas State (+3) at Texas Tech (Saturday, 7:00 PM ET, FSN)

OVERALL When Kansas State
Has the Ball ...
When Texas Tech
Has the Ball ...
Category KSU
(5-0)
Tech
(4-1)
KSU
Off
Tech
Def
KSU
Def
Tech
Off
2011 F/+ Rk 48 61
2011 FEI Rk 34 51
2011 S&P+ Rk 63 77 77 91 44 56
2011 Rushing S&P+ Rk 78 99 22 88
2011 Passing S&P+ Rk 105 87 32 69
2011 Std. Downs S&P+ Rk 84 96 38 69
Run-Pass Ratio
(Std. Downs)
74.4% Run
(10th)
49.7% Run
(104th)
2011 Pass. Downs S&P+ Rk 102 60 22 62
Run-Pass Ratio
(Std. Downs)
48.2% Run
(eighth)
18.9% Run
(115th)

Tommy Tuberville came to Tech promising more balance than the Pirate Administration, and while the Red Raiders are still chucking it (354 yards per game, No. 6 in the country), they are Guns Up on the ground as well (170 yards per game). Kansas State has been tough late in games, and a defense that ranked 106th in the nation last year is 17th this season. Texas Tech put a 66-14 beating on K-State last season, so this one in Lubbock will be a good test of how far that unit has come. The loss of leading Tech rusher Eric Stephens to a knee injury will help the cause. That swings the ground game edge to the purple gang, who will bring it with running back John Hubert and quarterback Collin Klein, both at 93 yards per game. The passing edge is solidly on Seth Doege's side -- his 17 touchdowns are behind only Robert Griffin nationally.

No. 18 Arizona State (+16) at No. 9 Oregon (Saturday, 10:15 PM ET, ESPN)

OVERALL When Arizona State
Has the Ball ...
When Oregon
Has the Ball ...
Category ASU
(5-1)
Oregon
(4-1)
ASU
Off
Oregon
Def
ASU
Def
Oregon
Off
2011 F/+ Rk 23 8
2011 FEI Rk 17 14
2011 S&P+ Rk 30 6 33 13 31 3
2011 Rushing S&P+ Rk 17 47 61 3
2011 Passing S&P+ Rk 48 11 31 8
2011 Std. Downs S&P+ Rk 28 31 40 1
Run-Pass Ratio
(Std. Downs)
54.2% Run
(89th)
66.3% Run
(24th)
2011 Pass. Downs S&P+ Rk 43 20 15 50
Run-Pass Ratio
(Std. Downs)
25.6% Run
(98th)
42.6% Run
(18th)

This may be a dress rehearsal for the Pac-12 championship game. Since that game will ultimately be hosted by the division winner with the best record, the outcome is all the more critical. In a total reversal from last season, S&P+ likes Oregon more than FEI does as our respective systems try to make sense of the Ducks explosive but sometimes slow-starting offense. Oregon is No. 1 in standard downs S&P+, but they only rank 57th in avoiding three-and-outs. Sun Devils linebacker Vontaze Burfict will be challenged when Oregon ramps up the tempo, but the Ducks will need to be consistent or they'll be susceptible to an upset bid. Arizona State has been strong in defending the red zone and value drives. The Sun Devils’ offense has been inconsistent as well, but if quarterback Brock Osweiler gets hot, they can be every bit as prolific as Oregon. A late Saturday kickoff in Eugene will certainly mean an electric, hostile environment for ASU.

Storylines of the Week

Robert Weintraub: Look around the NFL, and you see exceptionally athletic tight ends that are nightmarish mismatches for defenses -- young 'uns Jermichael Finley, Jimmy Graham, Jermaine Gresham, Aaron Hernandez, Vernon Davis, and the old standbys Tony Gonzalez and Antonio Gates. Where are their heir apparents in the college game? Over at Clemson, Dwayne Allen is ready to make some pro quarterback very happy. The other top prospects coming into the year, however, are having slow starts. Michael Egnew at Mizzou finally had a big game against Kansas State -- his eight catches doubled his season total. Orson Charles at Georgia has been iffy. Coby Fleener of Stanford is a red zone threat but has been slowed by a concussion. There is only one tight end in the top-100 receivers in yards per game -- Ryan Otten of San Jose State. The spread of the spread is killing the tight end in college ball, even as the position has practically displaced running back as an offensive prerequisite in the NFL.

Brian Fremeau: We’re on the eve of the release of the first BCS standings of the 2011 season. After a little bit of shuffling in the Associated Press and USA Today polls, last weekend fortified the rankings of the top contenders and you have to wonder if there will be much movement barring upsets going forward. I’m looking forward to this weekend as a chance for the FEI ratings to finally settle in, dump the preseason data entirely from the equation, and find out officially where the polls are missing the mark. Oregon, Auburn and Stanford ranked 1-2-3 in the FEI ratings when the BCS rankings debuted last season (those teams were ranked second, fourth, and 12th in the BCS at the time). It looks like this year, there will be much more agreement at the top. I’ll also be paying close attention to teams like Michigan and Oregon that have a chance to move up or down in the FEI ratings based on big games this weekend.

Picks

The Picks
(* - "Fred Edelstein Lock of the Week")
Visitor Spread Home Rob F/+
USC -3 California Cal Cal
Michigan +1.5 Michigan St. Michigan Michigan
Baylor +9.5 Texas A&M Texas A&M Texas A&M
Miami +3 N. Carolina Miami N. Carolina*
Oklahoma St. -7.5 Texas Oklahoma St. Oklahoma St.
Ohio State +4 Illinois Illinois Illinois
LSU -16 Tennessee LSU* Tennessee
Clemson -8.5 Maryland Clemson Clemson
Kansas State +3 Texas Tech Texas Tech Kansas St.
Arizona St. +16 Oregon Arizona St. Arizona St.
Season-long Results
("Fred Edelstein Lock of the Week" record in parentheses)
Last Week Season Total
F/+: 6-4 (1-0) 32-27-1 (4-2)
Rob: 3-7 (0-1) 27-32-1 (1-4-1)

Posted by: Brian Fremeau on 13 Oct 2011

5 comments, Last at 16 Oct 2011, 8:55am by Flounder

Comments

1
by Tom Gower :: Thu, 10/13/2011 - 10:36pm

Really disappointed I showed up too late to take USC as easy money counter-consensus.

This week: Michigan, Baylor, Miami, Oklahoma St., Illinois, Tennessee, Clemson, Kansas State, and Oregon. The Ducks and the Bears are the counter-consensus picks, and I'll go with Baylor as my Edelstein lock.

2
by ASmitty :: Fri, 10/14/2011 - 9:16am

Dwayne Allen is really, really good. He's also an example of how college spread-type attacks can utilise a TE effectively. Clemson didn't use him much at all in Morris's first few games as OC, but he's since completely blown up.

I don't think Clemson is a National Championship threat this year, but it's a real shame they can't combine this year's offense with last year's defense. Boyd, Allen, Ellington, Watkins and Hopkins on offense matched with Bowers, Jenkins, Branch, Thompson, Gilchrist and McDaniel on defense would be pretty nuts. That's a lot of guys who are/will be playing on Sundays. Especially for a program that really hasn't had much success in recent years.

3
by young curmudgeon :: Fri, 10/14/2011 - 9:25am

If Illinois is the leader of the Leaders race, does the winner of the Michigan-Michigan State game become the legend of the Legends race?

I'm curmudgeonly and thought the FBS/FCS/Division I/Division I-A etc. thing was really stupid, but the Legends and Leaders terminology surpasses even that.

5
by Flounder :: Sun, 10/16/2011 - 8:55am

But what else was it supposed to be?

4
by Boondoggle (not verified) :: Fri, 10/14/2011 - 2:29pm

Really looks hindered by that concussion.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tyWRmSDDvxo

Stanford has three dynamic Tight Ends, they account for 50% of the recieving yardage (not counting the fullback, who is a converted tight end)

The tight end is alive and well at the Farm, and a key part of the country's #7 scoring offense.