Writers of Pro Football Prospectus 2008

08 Sep 2011

SDA: Redemption Week

by Brian Fremeau and Robert Weintraub

College football is off to an exciting start and most of the preseason favorites looked great in the opening weekend. Of course, most weren’t tested, and the cupcake truck is still rolling for many top-25 teams. Mother Nature was a big winner last weekend as well, suspending play in a handful of games, two of which ultimately resulted in a truncated final score. That's less football than we were promised, and that's not right. Here's hoping for fewer disruptions in the second week.

There are no top-ten team matchups and only one game between two nationally ranked teams, No. 3 Alabama at No. 23 Penn State, but we'll manage somehow. Five of the ten games in the SDA preview below feature road favorites, the first real tests for teams with a lot to prove this year. TCU and Notre Dame were both upset last week and face daunting challenges in unfriendly opponent venues that could put both programs on a surprise tailspin. Plus, early-season conference tests in the SEC and Pac-12 will be critical for division races that won’t be fully decided for another two months.

Previews

Arizona (+13.5) at No. 9 Oklahoma State (Thursday, 8:00 PM ET, ESPN)

OVERALL When Arizona
Has the Ball ...
When Oklahoma St.
Has the Ball ...
Category Arizona
(1-0)
OSU
(1-0)
Arizona
Off
OSU
Def
Arizona
Def
OSU
Off
2010 F/+ Rk 36 14 36 29 39 11
2011 F/+ Rk 36 19
2010 FEI Rk 44 17 28 23 53 19
2010 S&P+ Rk 27 12 37 30 20 7
2010 FPA Rk 79 27
2010 Rushing S&P+ Rk 63 16 15 16
2010 Passing S&P+ Rk 31 44 28 8
2010 Std. Downs S&P+ Rk 44 18 16 6
2011 Run-Pass Ratio
(Std. Downs)
39.1% Run
(112th)
58.0% Run
(76th)
2010 Pass. Downs S&P+ Rk 21 70 41 16
2011 Run-Pass Ratio
(Pass. Downs)
6.3% Run
(118th)
16.7% Run
(106th)

Oklahoma State’s offense didn’t appear to miss a step after the departure of Dana Holgorsen. The Cowboys rolled to 61 points in a beatdown of Louisiana-Lafayette that was only competitive due to a pair of Brandon Weeden interceptions run back for touchdowns. Oklahoma State did benefit heavily from field position though, starting five drives in opponent territory, and they may not be given such a generous gift from Arizona. Weeden and all-world receiver Justin Blackmon are totally in sync and running back Joseph Randle racked up 129 yards last week as well. The weaponry is just as impressive on the other sideline. Arizona quarterback Nick Foles tallied 412 yards and five touchdown while completing 81 percent of his passes last week. The Wildcats didn’t need it, but they didn’t have much of a running game to speak of (75 yards on 20 attempts) in their demolition of FCS Northern Arizona. The over/under on the game is 67 points, and the quarterbacks are already ranked first and second in the nation in passing.

No. 21 Missouri (+7.5) at Arizona State (Friday, 10:30 PM ET, ESPN)

OVERALL When Missouri
Has the Ball ...
When Arizona St.
Has the Ball ...
Category Mizzou
(1-0)
ASU
(1-0)
Mizzou
Off26
ASU
Def
Mizzou
Def
ASU
Off
2010 F/+ Rk 16 38 26 33 16 55
2011 F/+ Rk 22 30
2010 FEI Rk 14 37 21 36 3 65
2010 S&P+ Rk 17 40 18 35 24 51
2010 FPA Rk 46 55
2010 Rushing S&P+ Rk 7 8 56 78
2010 Passing S&P+ Rk 34 71 6 47
2010 Std. Downs S&P+ Rk 28 31 13 69
2011 Run-Pass Ratio
(Std. Downs)
65.8% Run
(40th)
62.5% Run
(53rd)
2010 Pass. Downs S&P+ Rk 15 43 49 50
2011 Run-Pass Ratio
(Pass. Downs)
40.0% Run
(36th)
31.3% Run
(66th)

Missouri had an uncomfortable afternoon last weekend, allowing Miami (OH) to hang around all day while the Tigers offense struggled to sustain drives. New starting quarterback James Franklin distributed 17 completions to eight different targets, but only five of those passes went for more than ten yards. Missouri averaged better than ten such pass plays per game a year ago. Sun Devils linebacker Vontaze Burfict will be the best player on the field, as he's a one-man wrecking crew that will be intent on disrupting the rhythm of the Missouri offense and harassing Franklin all day. Arizona State is one of this year’s big mysteries. They only racked up four victories against FBS competition last season, but they have the perceived talent to contend for the Pac-12 South title in 2011. It can’t just be excitement over their new uniforms, right? Quarterback Brock Osweiler looked good in spurts last year and faces a Missouri defense that must remain a strength for the Tigers if they expect to win.

No. 16 Mississippi State (-6.5) at Auburn (Saturday, 12:21 PM ET, ESPN3)

OVERALL When Miss. State
Has the Ball ...
When Auburn
Has the Ball ...
Category MSU
(1-0)
Auburn
(1-0)
MSU
Off
Auburn
Def
MSU
Def
Auburn
Off
2010 F/+ Rk 26 1 76 31 7 1
2011 F/+ Rk 37 7
2010 FEI Rk 27 1 66 6 10 1
2010 S&P+ Rk 33 4 68 36 10 1
2010 FPA Rk 34 40
2010 Rushing S&P+ Rk 74 21 10 1
2010 Passing S&P+ Rk 55 42 21 1
2010 Std. Downs S&P+ Rk 41 37 7 1
2011 Run-Pass Ratio
(Std. Downs)
54.2% Run
(86th)
64.7% Run
(45th)
2010 Pass. Downs S&P+ Rk 77 22 14 1
2011 Run-Pass Ratio
(Pass. Downs)
57.1% Run
(seventh)
30.0% Run
(70th)

Last year, Auburn's dream season was almost smothered in its crib in the second game, when they needed a late stop to turn back Mississippi State on a Thursday night in Starkville. Auburn was so off the radar then that the ESPN recap still referred to the Tigers quarterback as "Cameron Newton." Now comes the return match on the Plains. How the context has changed. Now Auburn is the defending champ -- albeit a very shaky one -- while MSU looks like it could be this year's Auburn, led by a punishing, plus-sized quarterback and a spread guru calling the plays. Chris Relf tore up admittedly feeble Memphis in the opener, while running back Vick Ballard may explode on the national scene this season if he can put up stats like the 166 rushing yards and three TDs he did Saturday. Auburn was pushed around by Utah State, to the tune of four scoring drives that went 14 or more plays, yet managed to pull the game out with two scores at the death. Needless to say, the Bulldogs will try to run right at Auburn, and if they are successful, Auburn will be hard pressed to repeat last week's miracle and extend its winning streak to 17. The winner earns a lifetime exemption from any Cam Newton recruitment fallout.

No. 3 Alabama (-10) at No. 23 Penn State (Saturday, 3:30 PM ET, ABC)

OVERALL When 'Bama
Has the Ball ...
When PSU
Has the Ball ...
Category 'Bama
(1-0)
PSU
(1-0)
'Bama
Off
PSU
Def
'Bama
Def
PSU
Off
2010 F/+ Rk 3 50 4 40 11 73
2011 F/+ Rk 1 27
2010 FEI Rk 3 56 4 49 16 77
2010 S&P+ Rk 2 42 3 38 7 62
2010 FPA Rk 6 54
2010 Rushing S&P+ Rk 3 34 11 68
2010 Passing S&P+ Rk 4 34 7 54
2010 Std. Downs S&P+ Rk 4 45 4 37
2011 Run-Pass Ratio
(Std. Downs)
53.8% Run
(87th)
72.5% Run
(19th)
2010 Pass. Downs S&P+ Rk 6 20 3 56
2011 Run-Pass Ratio
(Pass. Downs)
25.0% Run
(84th)
47.1% Run
(17th)

While rumors of Urban Meyer taking over for Joe Paterno in the near future fly around State College, Meyer's biggest coaching rival, Nick Saban, brings his Crimson Tide to Penn State with a team and scheme JoePa can relate to -- an old school blend of powerful running and unyielding defense. Last season, Bama back Trent Richardson subbed for an injured Mark Ingram and gashed State for 144 yards. Richardson had three casual touchdown runs (though only 37 yards total) in last week's blowout of Kent State. The Nittany Lions will prove a tougher test, led by a solid set of linebackers. Meanwhile, Alabama held Kent to -9 rushing yards, and there isn't a soft spot in the unit. Much will depend on whether Silas Redd, who looked good in his debut taking over from Evan Royster as PSU's feature runner, can get any traction against the Tide D. If he can't, Paterno's lousy record of late against elite teams (3-11 against Top 10 teams since 2000) will get worse. Neither team has a reliable quarterback yet, which could turn this one ugly in a hurry.

No. 25 TCU (-2) at Air Force (Saturday, 3:30 PM ET, FX)

OVERALL When TCU
Has the Ball ...
When Air Force
Has the Ball ...
Category TCU
(0-1)
Air Force
(1-0)
TCU
Off
Air Force
Def
TCU
Def
Air Force
Off
2010 F/+ Rk 6 46 15 53 4 43
2011 F/+ Rk 25 54
2010 FEI Rk 10 42 14 47 12 39
2010 S&P+ Rk 5 53 14 53 3 45
2010 FPA Rk 4 49
2010 Rushing S&P+ Rk 10 79 17 45
2010 Passing S&P+ Rk 17 41 1 29
2010 Std. Downs S&P+ Rk 19 65 6 47
2011 Run-Pass Ratio
(Std. Downs)
62.0% Run
(58th)
93.0% Run
(second)
2010 Pass. Downs S&P+ Rk 9 65 1 46
2011 Run-Pass Ratio
(Pass. Downs)
25.9% Run
(82nd)
53.8% Run
(10th)

What happened to the vaunted Gary Patterson TCU defense? After three straight seasons leading the nation in yards allowed, the Horned Frogs were whipped by Robert Griffin III and the Baylor Bears, who torched them for big pass plays from start to finish. As linebacker Tank Carder and company lick their wounds, they’ll at least get to focus on the ground game against Air Force, a team eager to replace TCU as a perennial Mountain West contender. The Falcons up-tempo triple-option tallied 391 yards on the ground against FCS South Dakota, all without a 100-yard rusher. They were held to their lowest rushing total last season by TCU, who thumped them 38-7. The Horned Frogs’ offense turned it on late against Baylor. New quarterback Casey Pachall led the comeback and looks poised and ready to grow into Andy Dalton’s shoes over the next few years. TCU’s kickoff return team was a big boost last week as well and will need to be strong again in order to control field position and let the Horned Frogs young offense and defense get settled.

Cincinnati (+6) at Tennessee (Saturday, 3:30 PM ET, ESPN2)

OVERALL When Cincinnati
Has the Ball ...
When Tennessee
Has the Ball ...
Category Cincy
(1-0)
Tennessee
(1-0)
Cincy
Off
Tennessee
Def
Cincy
Def
Tennessee
Off
2010 F/+ Rk 54 58 28 56 88 62
2011 F/+ Rk 31 45
2010 FEI Rk 54 59 38 50 68 62
2010 S&P+ Rk 57 59 22 49 100 57
2010 FPA Rk 109 85
2010 Rushing S&P+ Rk 19 73 58 89
2010 Passing S&P+ Rk 27 39 113 43
2010 Std. Downs S&P+ Rk 11 39 97 45
2011 Run-Pass Ratio
(Std. Downs)
76.8% Run
(ninth)
67.9% Run
(33rd)
2010 Pass. Downs S&P+ Rk 44 64 81 81
2011 Run-Pass Ratio
(Pass. Downs)
40.0% Run
(36th)
38.9% Run
(40th)

Tennessee is usually good for an interesting early season non-conference test, and the Bearcats qualify. Quarterback Zach Collaros and tailback Isaiah Pead can put up points on anyone (including overmatched Austin Peay last week, to the tune of 72-10), and the Vols defense looked iffy despite whipping Montana in its opener. With Tennessee quarterback Tyler Bray throwing to fleet targets Da'Rick Rogers and Justin Hunter, this one should be won by the team that makes more big plays. The Vols need to get a running game going, a weakness that UCLA exploited two seasons ago in a similar-feeling game at Neyland Stadium. With the SEC East in flux, an improved UT could thrust itself into the race to Atlanta, and a strong showing here would set the Vols up for next week's showdown with Florida.

No. 12 South Carolina (-3) at Georgia (Saturday, 4:30 PM ET, ESPN)

OVERALL When S. Carolina
Has the Ball ...
When Georgia
Has the Ball ...
Category S. Caro.
(1-0)
UGa
(0-1)
S. Caro.
Off
UGa
Def
S. Caro.
Def
UGa
Off
2010 F/+ Rk 11 29 13 44 18 27
2011 F/+ Rk 15 23
2010 FEI Rk 16 34 7 55 28 33
2010 S&P+ Rk 7 28 13 33 6 27
2010 FPA Rk 22 16
2010 Rushing S&P+ Rk 21 39 3 36
2010 Passing S&P+ Rk 9 32 20 22
2010 Std. Downs S&P+ Rk 18 30 8 31
2011 Run-Pass Ratio
(Std. Downs)
64.0% Run
(47th)
50.0% Run
(97th)
2010 Pass. Downs S&P+ Rk 12 36 15 23
2011 Run-Pass Ratio
(Pass. Downs)
46.7% Run
(19th)
30.8% Run
(68th)

All summer the buildup to the Georgia season focused on a worst-case scenario -- what if UGA loses it's first two games? Sure, the schedule lightens up afterward, but will two early losses cause the team to quit on coach Mark Richt, thus hastening his firing? After Boise State embarrassed UGA in the Georgia Dome Saturday night, we are 60 minutes from finding out. First, Steve Spurrier must coax a repeat performance from his bete noire, quarterback Stephen Garcia, who starred in relief last week against East Carolina. Garcia sparked a comeback that led the Gamecocks from being down 17-0 to winning by 19 points. The key matchup between the hedges is likely to be Carolina's defensive front, featuring super-duper recruit Jadeveon Clowney and suddenly overshadowed stud Devin Taylor, against Georgia's offensive line, which allowed six sacks to Boise's pass rush last week. Richt called out his linemen midweek, saying the pass protection in practice hasn't improved. If it doesn't, Richt might be an offensive coordinator in Conference USA next season.

BYU (+7) at No. 24 Texas (Saturday, 7:00 PM ET, ESPN2)

OVERALL When BYU
Has the Ball ...
When Texas
Has the Ball ...
Category BYU
(1-0)
Texas
(1-0)
BYU
Off
Texas
Def
BYU
Def
Texas
Off
2010 F/+ Rk 53 65 91 21 30 106
2011 F/+ Rk 44 47
2010 FEI Rk 66 72 96 31 43 104
2010 S&P+ Rk 43 56 84 23 25 98
2010 FPA Rk 30 64
2010 Rushing S&P+ Rk 70 38 33 733
2010 Passing S&P+ Rk 86 11 12 107
2010 Std. Downs S&P+ Rk 83 28 43 86
2011 Run-Pass Ratio
(Std. Downs)
51.1% Run
(9th)
71.2% Run
(21st)
2010 Pass. Downs S&P+ Rk 76 8 10 93
2011 Run-Pass Ratio
(Pass. Downs)
27.3% Run
(75th)
25.0% Run
(84th)

Current independent BYU travels to Austin to face future independent Texas? Or is it future Big 12 conference mates meet? Or is this a future Pac-16 vs. Big East matchup? It’s getting hard to keep things straight. BYU’s independence got off to a great start last week by stealing a victory away from Ole Miss in the fourth quarter in Oxford. They follow that trick up with a trip to Texas to face the Longhorns, who are still on the road back from an embarrassing 2010 campaign. They’ve got a chance to build some momentum in the next few weeks before midseason throwdowns against the Big 12 heavyweights, and they started the push by dispatching Rice with relative ease. Quarterback Garrett Gilbert needs to get the completion percentage up a bit and protect the ball. Turnovers doomed the Longhorns last year and Gilbert’s youth can’t be an excuse this fall. BYU struggled to move the ball against the Rebels and will face a much tougher challenge this week.

Utah (+9.5) at USC (Saturday, 7:30 PM ET, Vs.)

OVERALL When Utah
Has the Ball ...
When USC
Has the Ball ...
Category Utah
(1-0)
USC
(1-0)
Utah
Off
USC
Def
Utah
Def
USC
Off
2010 F/+ Rk 32 27 49 47 25 21
2011 F/+ Rk 40 21
2010 FEI Rk 47 27 72 59 35 32
2010 S&P+ Rk 19 35 31 46 17 26
2010 FPA Rk 33 5
2010 Rushing S&P+ Rk 58 49 1 18
2010 Passing S&P+ Rk 19 45 49 37
2010 Std. Downs S&P+ Rk 14 49 21 15
2011 Run-Pass Ratio
(Std. Downs)
68.2% Run
(31st)
37.0% Run
(115th)
2010 Pass. Downs S&P+ Rk 61 61 47 48
2011 Run-Pass Ratio
(Pass. Downs)
35.3% Run
(52nd)
42.1% Run
(30th)

It is hard to top the 2008 Sugar Bowl rout of Alabama as a signature win, but if Utah can go to the Coliseum in its Pac-12 debut and best the storied Trojans, the Book of Mormon may need to add an extra chapter in celebration. Certainly, Southern Cal looks beatable. They needed a late pick to hold off also-ran Minnesota at home last week, and aside from the uncoverable Robert Woods (17 grabs, a school record, and three TDs), few Trojans stood out -- it's the least talented USC team in recent memory. Oh, and the NCAA scholarship restrictions haven't even kicked in yet. Utah quarterback Jordan Wynn appeared to have some trouble with his surgically repaired shoulder last week, so it is still an issue. He got little zip on the ball and only threw for 105 yards in the opener against Montana State. However, Juco transfer John White put up 150 yards on the ground in his debut, so the Utes will likely try to sledgehammer USC. Utah has an exceptional pair of tackles, Tony Bergstrom and John Cullen (back from concussion), with which to pummel USC's defense.

Notre Dame (-3.5) at Michigan (Saturday, 8:00 PM ET, ESPN)

OVERALL When Notre Dame
Has the Ball ...
When Michigan
Has the Ball ...
Category Irish
(0-1)
Michigan
(1-0)
Irish
Off
Michigan
Def
Irish
Def
Michigan
Off
2010 F/+ Rk 17 42 37 115 9 3
2011 F/+ Rk 17 20
2010 FEI Rk 23 55 42 108 25 2
2010 S&P+ Rk 11 30 29 86 4 5
2010 FPA Rk 57 89
2010 Rushing S&P+ Rk 35 86 13 2
2010 Passing S&P+ Rk 35 90 5 5
2010 Std. Downs S&P+ Rk 33 70 5 3
2011 Run-Pass Ratio
(Std. Downs)
38.3% Run
(114th)
68.8% Run
(27th)
2010 Pass. Downs S&P+ Rk 60 110 17 13
2011 Run-Pass Ratio
(Pass. Downs)
22.2% Run
(95th)
57.1% Run
(seventh)

It’s the first night game in Michigan Stadium history, and the first time Notre Dame will don shamrocks on their helmets in 50 years. Both the Wolverines and Irish will be decked out in throwback uniforms in honor of an era during which they did not play. It’s the 20th anniversary of Desmond Howard’s Heisman-launching reception … and it is of course just another game between unranked Michigan and Notre Dame teams years removed from actually contending in the national championship race. Notre Dame coughed up five turnovers in an excruciating defeat against South Florida even as it dominated between the 10-yard lines. Michigan looked to be in good shape in their storm-shortened victory over Western Michigan. The primary interest for both programs in this one is Denard Robinson in a new offense against a living, breathing strong defense. Robinson torched the Irish last year with his feet, but he is expected to be an effective pocket passer this year as well under Brady Hoke. Notre Dame’s defense has only surrendered two non-garbage touchdowns in their last six games. The offense hands the starting job to Tommy Rees, who performed admirably in relief last weekend and is undefeated as a starter.

Storylines of the Week

Robert Weintraub: While the Pac-12 continues to probe the Big 12, pulling out Jenga sticks in hope of collapsing the conference and forming the first superconference, it might want to worry about what they got right now. Lots of ugly out west on the opening weekend, starting with USC's stinkbomb referenced above. Oregon was bumbling, Oregon State lost to Sacramento State (the Hornets!), Washington can't defend the pass, Colorado can't play on the road, Wazzou is plain awful. Stanford is great, but out of Luck after this season (see what I did there?), and Arizona State has talent that hasn't been backed by results yet, but right now the conference is not just weak, it's boring. Perhaps that's why Larry Scott is so busy commuting to Norman and Stillwater...

Brian Fremeau: It’s the week of the bounce back for me. For teams like TCU, Oregon, and Notre Dame, it’s an opportunity to get things back on track for what still could be a special season. How will teams that struggled against weak opponents respond after passing a too-close-for comfort test? USC, Missouri, and Auburn can prove the doubters wrong by winning this weekend and give their fan bases a change to elevate expectations again. We get pretty tied up by instant analysis that we sometimes overreact and miss the big picture. Well, for most of the teams I just mentioned, that big picture is blurry -- I’m looking for some focus.

Picks

Last week's picks began with a one-point miss when Wisconsin took their foot off of the accelerator and missed the spread by one in a 34-point win, and it ended with Maryland beating the spread with a pick six in the final minute against Miami. F/+ got 60 percent of overall picks correct, but only 40 percent of the ones that mattered.

The Picks
(* - "Fred Edelstein Lock of the Week")
Visitor Spread Home Rob F/+
Arizona +13.5 Okla. St. Okla. St. Arizona
Missouri +7.5 Arizona St. ASU Mizzou
Miss. St. -6.5 Auburn Auburn Auburn
Alabama -10 Penn St. Alabama Alabama*
TCU -2 Air Force TCU TCU
Cincinnati +6 Tennessee Cincy Cincy
S. Carolina -3 Georgia S.Carolina* Georgia
BYU +7 Texas BYU BYU
Utah +9.5 USC Utah USC
Notre Dame -3.5 Michigan ND Michigan
Season-long Results
("Fred Edelstein Lock of the Week" record in parentheses)
Last Week
Season Total
F/+: 4-6 (0-1) 4-6 (0-1)
Rob: 4-6 (0-1) 4-6 (0-1)

Posted by: Brian Fremeau on 08 Sep 2011

4 comments, Last at 11 Sep 2011, 12:28am by Tom Gower

Comments

1
by Tom Gower :: Thu, 09/08/2011 - 4:51pm

Last week 5-5 (0-1), 2-1 counter-consensus, while all consensus picks were 2-4.

This week: Oklahoma State, Arizona State, Mississippi State, Alabama, TCU, Tennessee, Georgia, BYU, USC, and Michigan. Mississippi State and Tennessee are the counter-consensus picks, and I'll go with the Bulldogs.

4
by Tom Gower :: Sun, 09/11/2011 - 12:28am

This week: 6-3-1 (0-1), 1-1 counter-consensus, with all Rob-F/+ consensus picks 4-1. Cumulative: 11-8-1 (0-2), 3-2 counter-consensus, with all consensus picks 6-5.

2
by cfn_ms :: Thu, 09/08/2011 - 4:56pm

who thinks Penn St has a reasonable upset shot? Big night game in Happy Valley, Penn St should be a top 25 team (or at least close), and we still don't know for sure about Bama. 3:1 on the dog sounds kind of good to me.

3
by Brian Fremeau :: Thu, 09/08/2011 - 5:25pm