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Denver: great team, or the greatest team? Would you be satisfied with "one of the ten greatest teams?" Plus: hard times in the NFC South, where defense goes to die.

06 Oct 2011

Seventh Day Adventure: Spoiled

by Brian Fremeau and Robert Weintraub

After consecutive weekends that featured major undefeated matchups, we grew a little bit spoiled with our weekend buffets. Things appear to be swinging back in the direction of ho-hum, with only a couple of matchups of top-25 teams this week, all three of which feature double-digit spreads. Are we in for a boring weekend, or does this have the makings of one of those epic upset-filled BCS-blasting Saturdays that seem to come out of nowhere?

The marquee game is the annual Red River Rivalry in Dallas, this year featuring an undefeated powerhouse in Oklahoma that might have a chip on their shoulder since they keeps slipping in the polls. Texas is undefeated too, though not as impressively, and will need to step up in a big way to knock off the Sooners and join the elite ranks. Arkansas and Auburn clash in this week’s SEC West Game of the Week, and a wounded Florida team travels to LSU to face one of the nation’s best for the second week in a row.

Previews

California (+24) at No. 9 Oregon (Thursday, 9:00 PM ET, ESPN)

OVERALL When California
Has the Ball ...
When Oregon
Has the Ball ...
Category Cal
(3-1)
Oregon
(3-1)
Cal
Off
Oregon
Def
Cal
Def
Oregon
Off
2011 F/+ Rk 65 10
2011 FEI Rk 85 15
2011 S&P+ Rk 49 7 69 17 38 4
2011 Rushing S&P Rk 104 43 72 5
2011 Passing S&P Rk 57 19 52 7
2011 Std. Downs S&P Rk 98 26 7 1
Run-Pass Ratio
(Std. Downs)
57.8% Run
(70th)
63.5% Run
(35th)
2011 Pass. Downs S&P Rk 102 35 91 44
Run-Pass Ratio
(Pass. Downs)
27.6% Run
(85th)
43.0% Run
(15th)

The team that best slowed Oregon's monster spread attack in 2010 wasn't Auburn in the BCS title game, but Cal several weeks before. The Bears hammered Darron Thomas and LaMichael James and held Oregon to 15 points -- which still was enough to pull out a two-point win. Stopping James is still the priority, and something Arizona was singularly unable to do in Oregon's last game. James rushed for 288 yards, which is only 25 fewer yards than Cal's stingy run defense has given up all season. How the Bears do offensively will determine if they can make a run at the Pac-12 North title. Transfer Zach Maynard has been effective -- if unspectacular -- so far, and his failure to get Cal into the end zone at the end of their conference opener against Washington crimps the Bears chances at a division title. Oregon's defense doesn't frighten anyone, even with Cliff Harris manning one cornerback spot. The home field, on the other hand, does; the Ducks have won 18 straight at Autzen Stadium, which is sure to be vibrating for the midweek, nationally televised game.

No. 3 Oklahoma (-10) vs. No. 11 Texas (Saturday, 12:00 PM ET, ABC)

OVERALL When Oklahoma
Has the Ball ...
When Texas
Has the Ball ...
Category Oklahoma
(4-0)
Texas
(4-0)
Oklahoma
Off
Texas
Def
Oklahoma
Def
Texas
Off
2011 F/+ Rk 2 23
2011 FEI Rk 3 23
2011 S&P+ Rk 3 23 9 11 4 44
2011 Rushing S&P Rk 11 57 17 37
2011 Passing S&P Rk 33 12 3 44
2011 Std. Downs S&P Rk 15 32 5 49
Run-Pass Ratio
(Std. Downs)
58.6% Run
(64th)
76.3% Run
(eighth)
2011 Pass. Downs S&P Rk 6 16 3 67
Run-Pass Ratio
(Pass. Downs)
13.5% Run
(119th)
35.6% Run
(39th)

The Red River Rivalry has some of the same buzz as it has had in years past. ESPN Gameday is in town to feast on fried-everything at the Texas State Fair, and the rivalry has taken on a bit of extra off-the-field interest with the conference realignment crisis and the Longhorn Network straining the relationship to new levels of antagonism. But the game is the thing, hopefully, and though both outfits are undefeated, only Oklahoma appears capable of remaining a powerhouse throughout the whole year. Texas is improving, however, with quarterbacks Case McCoy and David Ash splitting time and throwing for a combined five touchdowns and no interceptions against UCLA and Iowa State in the last couple of weeks. The problem is that their offense hasn't faced a defense of the Sooners' quality yet (third in S&P+, third in forcing three-and-outs, eighth in defensive points per drive surrendered). Oklahoma’s offense will pressure Texas to keep up as well -– the Sooners have cleared the 590 mark in total yards three times in four games this year and they bunch touchdown drives to jump on defenses quickly as well as any offense in the country.

Air Force (+14.5) at Notre Dame (Saturday, 3:30 PM ET, NBC)

OVERALL When Air Force
Has the Ball ...
When Notre Dame
Has the Ball ...
Category AFA
(3-1)
Irish
(3-2)
AFA
Off
Irish
Def
AFA
Def
Irish
Off
2011 F/+ Rk 85 9
2011 FEI Rk 100 16
2011 S&P+ Rk 55 5 40 6 78 16
2011 Rushing S&P Rk 68 2 68 15
2011 Passing S&P Rk 52 17 113 20
2011 Std. Downs S&P Rk 36 3 94 4
Run-Pass Ratio
(Std. Downs)
83.3% Run
(fourth)
49.8% Run
(99th)
2011 Pass. Downs S&P Rk 114 29 117 3
Run-Pass Ratio
(Pass. Downs)
60.8% Run
(fourth
31.1% Run
(63rd)

Our numbers are really, really high on Notre Dame, and don’t think much of the Falcons at all. That would be especially reassuring for Irish fans if they didn’t still have visions of Navy’s triple option doing whatever it pleased last season in a rout. Defensive coordinator Bob Diaco has a very athletic and physical front seven this year and the Irish have been excellent defending the run (No. 2 in rushing S&P+, No. 3 in yards per game). It’s Air Force's trickeration that might cause them problems, led by senior quarterback Tim Jefferson and multiple other backfield weapons that can spring for big yardage. The big key if the Falcons pull the upset is team discipline. Notre Dame has proven it can lose only if it beats itself with turnovers, and the academies have a pretty good reputation of making otherwise superior teams pay dearly for mistakes. The Irish at their best will win going away. Let’s see if they can be at their best two games in a row.

No. 17 Florida (+13.5) at No. 1 LSU (Saturday, 3:30 PM ET, CBS)

OVERALL When Florida
Has the Ball ...
When LSU
Has the Ball ...
Category Florida
(4-1)
LSU
(5-0)
Florida
Off
LSU
Def
Florida
Def
LSU
Off
2011 F/+ Rk 12 3
2011 FEI Rk 14 1
2011 S&P+ Rk 9 6 15 3 8 35
2011 Rushing S&P Rk 3 3 24 64
2011 Passing S&P Rk 18 8 7 16
2011 Std. Downs S&P Rk 7 2 14 41
Run-Pass Ratio
(Std. Downs)
70.0% Run
(18th)
73.3% Run
(13th)
2011 Pass. Downs S&P Rk 45 15 56 25
Run-Pass Ratio
(Pass. Downs)
40.6% Run
(19th)
36.0% Run
(36th)

Yes, that was Jordan Jefferson in a cameo appearance for LSU a week ago. With his charges reduced, Jefferson was reinstated, and scored a rushing touchdown in the blowout of Kentucky. Jarrett Lee, who has been solid in the starting role, isn't likely to give up the gig barring injury. Look for Jefferson to assume a Tim Tebow-like role against the Gators. Florida would love to trade for JJ, given its own quarterback situation. Jeff Brantley was knocked from the lineup by Alabama last Saturday, leaving Jeff Driskel with the unenviable task of following his relief appearance against the nation's most punishing defense with a start against the nation's most athletic defense. In Death Valley to boot. Florida will certainly try to establish some sort of rushing attack, behind Chris Rainey and Jeff Demps, but the Tigers are allowing a mere two yards per rush and sixty yards per game on the ground. Plus, cornerback Tyrann Mathieu is always lurking, looking to boost his dark horse Heisman campaign.

Missouri (-3) at No. 20 Kansas State (Saturday, 3:30 PM ET, ABC)

OVERALL When Missouri
Has the Ball ...
When Kansas St.
Has the Ball ...
Category Mizzou
(2-2)
K-State
(4-0)
Mizzou
Off
K-State
Def
Mizzou
Def
K-State
Off
2011 F/+ Rk 33 44
2011 FEI Rk 28 32
2011 S&P+ Rk 37 63 18 54 69 65
2011 Rushing S&P Rk 24 46 42 83
2011 Passing S&P Rk 17 37 100 87
2011 Std. Downs S&P Rk 6 52 87 79
Run-Pass Ratio
(Std. Downs)
63.8% Run
(34th)
72.0% Run
(15th)
2011 Pass. Downs S&P Rk 13 39 40 106
Run-Pass Ratio
(Pass. Downs)
36.4% Run
(33rd)
48.4% Run
(eighth)

Kansas State is finding a way to win, whether it be on a defensive goal line stand against Miami or taking advantage of a critical turnover late against Baylor. The Wildcats don’t really have the profile to be considered a contender for the Big 12 crown yet, but Missouri isn’t lighting the world on fire this year either. This is the kind of game that will decide middle-of-the-conference bowl pecking order at the end of the year. The battle comes down to the quarterbacks, sophomore James Franklin for the Tigers and junior Collin Klein for the Wildcats. Kansas State was victimized by the all-world big-play passing attack of Robert Griffin, but Missouri doesn’t have quite the same weapon at its disposal. The numbers like this game to be close throughout and field position will be at a premium. Kansas State has the edge in both home field and field position advantage (.550 to .518) and that ought to be the difference in an otherwise even matchup.

Miami (+7.5) at No. 21 Virginia Tech (Saturday, 3:30 PM ET, ABC/ESPN)

OVERALL When Miami
Has the Ball ...
When Virginia Tech
Has the Ball ...
Category Miami
(2-2)
Va. Tech
(4-1)
Miami
Off
Va. Tech
Def
Miami
Def
Va. Tech
Off
2011 F/+ Rk 43 18
2011 FEI Rk 43 27
2011 S&P+ Rk 46 14 38 7 64 47
2011 Rushing S&P Rk 29 27 102 78
2011 Passing S&P Rk 50 2 102 84
2011 Std. Downs S&P Rk 20 8 97 68
Run-Pass Ratio
(Std. Downs)
62.0% Run
(44th)
65.9% Run
(25th)
2011 Pass. Downs S&P Rk 38 1 104 91
Run-Pass Ratio
(Pass. Downs)
37.7% Run
(27th)
40.2% Run
(21st)

Virginia Tech was gashed by Clemson, and lost its best tackle, Antoine Hopkins, in the process. Now the Hurricanes and its sizable offensive line and tough back Lamar Miller (6.7 yards per carry) come to Blacksburg. Miami quarterback Jacory Harris continues to frustrate, but the Hurricanes might not need much offense, given the struggles of the Hokies on that side of the ball. Logan Thomas is still a work in progress at quarterback, and the running game that thrived against lesser opposition wilted against Clemson, who like Miami were statistically poor in run defense. Despite all the top recruits (including safety Ray-Ray Armstrong, back from suspension), the U has been ripped apart on the ground: Even Bethune-Cookman put up 219 yards rushing on them. But with Tech's passing threat non-existent, Miami can load up to stop David Wilson. The loser will be 0-2 in conference play and a long shot to reach the title game in Charlotte.

No. 15 Auburn (+10) at No. 10 Arkansas (Saturday, 7:00 PM ET, ESPN)

OVERALL When Auburn
Has the Ball ...
When Arkansas
Has the Ball ...
Category Auburn
(4-1)
Arkansas
(4-1)
Auburn
Off
Arkansas
Def
Auburn
Def
Arkansas
Off
2011 F/+ Rk 45 15
2011 FEI Rk 56 12
2011 S&P+ Rk 38 20 20 42 60 8
2011 Rushing S&P Rk 43 25 53 4
2011 Passing S&P Rk 68 73 93 32
2011 Std. Downs S&P Rk 54 37 48 13
Run-Pass Ratio
(Std. Downs)
70.9% Run
(16th)
46.8% Run
(109th)
2011 Pass. Downs S&P Rk 31 14 97 23
Run-Pass Ratio
(Pass. Downs)
31.8% Run
(55th)
30.4% Run
(66th)

Auburn's swiss cheese defense firmed up against the one-dimensional "attack" of South Carolina, but Arkansas' passing game poses a more difficult test. The Tyler Wilson-to-Jarius Wright combo isn't as heralded as some others around the nation, but the two dominated Texas A&M during the big comeback victory in Dallas Saturday (281 of Wilson's 510 passing yards went to Wright), a win the Hogs desperately needed after getting beaten down by Alabama. Statistically, Auburn is better against the pass than the run, but in general, Ted Roof's defenses are better suited to stopping offenses that revolve around pro-style running games -- witness the way the Tigers handled Marcus Lattimore (the rep may have helped, as Lattimore only got 17 carries). If Auburn can force four turnovers again, and keep the ball themselves (the Tigers have yet to lose a fumble this season), they might pull a second road upset in a row. Otherwise, Auburn's best chance is to win a shootout, which will be tough -- Arkansas is averaging about 40 points per game even with the beating by the Tide.

Georgia (-2) at Tennessee (Saturday, 7:00 PM ET, ESPN2)

OVERALL When Georgia
Has the Ball ...
When Tennessee
Has the Ball ...
Category Georgia
(3-2)
Tenn.
(3-1)
Georgia
Off
Tenn.
Def
Georgia
Def
Tenn.
Off
2011 F/+ Rk 27 17
2011 FEI Rk 35 18
2011 S&P+ Rk 19 16 22 28 19 12
2011 Rushing S&P Rk 81 18 29 46
2011 Passing S&P Rk 3 50 30 4
2011 Std. Downs S&P Rk 23 50 33 61
Run-Pass Ratio
(Std. Downs)
58.8% Run
(63rd)
58.0% Run
(67th)
2011 Pass. Downs S&P Rk 55 42 5 2
Run-Pass Ratio
(Pass. Downs)
52.9% Run
(sixth)
24.4% Run
(103rd)

Fans of Larry Munson, UGA's legendary, longtime radio broadcaster, will know that this is the tenth anniversary of the famous "hobnail boot" game. In 2001, the Dawgs scored with seconds to play to stun UT, leading to one of Munson's most famous, if bizarre, calls: "We just hit them in the face with a hobnail boot!" A decade later, Georgia returns to Neyland Stadium with whatever a hobnail boot is after a most fruitful Saturday. SEC East rivals South Carolina and Florida went down in flames, while Georgia won for the third straight week, 24-10 over Mississippi State. The game in Knoxville becomes a virtual elimination game -- the loser is pretty much out of the race for the division title. Georgia's secondary, which has improved since a horrid opener, will be tested by Taylor Bray and a receiving corps that has stepped up in the absence of Justin Hunter. Da'Rick Rogers spurned Georgia for the Vols in an ugly bit of 'crootin shenanigans, and has starred for the Orange, averaging 110 yards per game to go with his six touchdowns. UGA must score in bunches to come away with the victory, and freshman running back Isaiah Crowell (103 yards per game) has begun to emerge as a feature back worth building an offense around. Georgia will need him to continue his coming out party to walk away with this one.

No. 24 Texas A&M (-9) at Texas Tech (Saturday, 7:00 PM ET, FX)

OVERALL When Texas A&M
Has the Ball ...
When Texas Tech
Has the Ball ...
Category A&M
(2-2)
Tech
(4-0)
A&M
Off
Tech
Def
A&M
Def
Tech
Off
2011 F/+ Rk 13 55
2011 FEI Rk 13 42
2011 S&P+ Rk 15 76 10 92 21 45
2011 Rushing S&P Rk 6 113 6 103
2011 Passing S&P Rk 29 105 41 73
2011 Std. Downs S&P Rk 14 101 21 88
Run-Pass Ratio
(Std. Downs)
58.1% Run
(66th)
52.5% Run
(93rd)
2011 Pass. Downs S&P Rk 1 93 30 70
Run-Pass Ratio
(Pass. Downs)
28.8% Run
(78th)
20.3% Run
(113th)

The best first-half team in college football right now is the Texas A&M Aggies. Quarterback Ryan Tannehill is crisper and more effective in the passing game. His rushing numbers (skewed a bit by a 65-yard scamper against Oklahoma State) are great in the first half, too. Running back Cyrus Gray averages an extra half-yard per attempt. The defense is creating first-half turnovers and everything is clicking. The last two second-half meltdowns aren’t entirely on A&M (the Cowboys and Razorbacks potency has something to do with it), but the concern is whether the psyche will be there to carry momentum forward the next time a big lead comes up. And this week, there’s every reason to believe A&M can jump all over the Red Raiders early and often. Against FBS competition, the Aggies are earning a first down on 87 percent of their offensive drives, the second best rate in the country. Texas Tech’s defense is allowing first downs on 77 percent of opponent drives, the 105th best rate in the country, and they’ve done so against a pretty weak slate to date.

Ohio State (+11) at No. 14 Nebraska (Saturday, 8:00 PM ET, ABC)

OVERALL When Ohio State
Has the Ball ...
When Nebraska
Has the Ball ...
Category Ohio St.
(3-2)
Nebraska
(4-1)
Ohio St.
Off
Nebraska
Def
Ohio St.
Def
Nebraska
Off
2011 F/+ Rk 35 38
2011 FEI Rk 37 48
2011 S&P+ Rk 30 28 67 20 12 55
2011 Rushing S&P Rk 57 37 7 42
2011 Passing S&P Rk 86 13 26 76
2011 Std. Downs S&P Rk 73 46 11 44
Run-Pass Ratio
(Std. Downs)
69.8% Run
(19th)
75.6% Run
(10th)
2011 Pass. Downs S&P Rk 60 10 12 103
Run-Pass Ratio
(Pass. Downs)
38.6% Run
(22nd)
41.0% Run
(18th)

Ohio State’s reign atop the Big Ten didn’t make it through the home opener last weekend against Michigan State. Our preseason projections thought the Buckeyes were in a good position to tread water at the top of a relatively down conference, but the complete ineffectiveness to move the ball in the Horseshoe last week doesn’t bode well for the remainder of the year. That’s especially troubling since wide receiver DeVier Posey and running back Daniel Herron, originally expected to come to the rescue this weekend after serving time for Tatgate, were sidelined again with additional sanctions. Nebraska’s inauspicious debut in conference play was a train wreck against juggernaut Wisconsin last weekend, but the path is clear for the Cornhuskers to build some momentum and contend for next-tier status over the remainder of the Big Ten season. The key is consistency with quarterback Taylor Martinez and the offense. Nebraska can score when they are within range, but three and outs have been an issue (30 percent of drives) and they’ve been unable to create methodical drives very effectively.

Storylines of the Week

Robert Weintraub: Moving the chains is the essence of the game, right? Akin to avoiding outs in baseball, it's what underlies this site and football metrics in general. The Georgia-Tennessee game should be fascinating within that context. The Vols are first in the nation (tied with Wisconsion) at converting on third down (36 of 58 for 62.07 percent). The Bulldogs are second overall in getting teams off the field on the money down (18 first downs in 71 tries for the opposition, or 25.35 percent). Sit forward in your chair every time the Vols come up to the line on third down. In case you were wondering, the other units aren't as dynamic. Tennessee is 41st in the nation stopping third downs from becoming first downs, Georgia's offense 70th at converting.

Brian Fremeau: One game not on our slate that is still worth a look is Michigan’s trip to Evanston to face Northwestern. It is the Wolverines first trip away from the Big House this year and a test for what has been one of the biggest surprises of the season. The Wolverines are F/+ darlings so far (No. 6) and there’s reason to believe they won’t fall flat as they have in recent seasons down the stretch. The biggest reason is on the defensive side of the ball where defensive coordinator Greg Mattison has the Wolverines bending (5.2 yards per play, 46th nationally) but not breaking (1.0 points per opponent drive, 10th nationally). Northwestern is hobbled at quarterback and running back, but if they catch early breaks might that force Michigan to press a bit without a home crowd behind their back?

Picks

The Picks
(* - "Fred Edelstein Lock of the Week")
Visitor Spread Home Rob F/+
California +24 Oregon Cal Oregon
Oklahoma -10 Texas Oklahoma Oklahoma
Air Force +14.5 Notre Dame Air Force Notre Dame*
Florida +13.5 LSU LSU Florida
Missouri -3 Kansas State Missouri Kansas St.
Miami +7.5 Virginia Tech Miami Va. Tech
Auburn +10 Arkansas Auburn Arkansas
Georgia -2 Tennessee Tennessee Tennessee
Texas A&M -9 Texas Tech Texas A&M Texas A&M
Ohio St. +11 Nebraska Nebraska* Ohio St.
Season-long Results
("Fred Edelstein Lock of the Week" record in parentheses)
Last Week
Season Total
F/+: 4-6 (0-1) 26-23-1 (3-2)
Rob: 6-4 (0-1) 24-25-1 (1-3-1)

Posted by: Brian Fremeau on 06 Oct 2011

6 comments, Last at 08 Oct 2011, 11:36pm by Tom Gower

Comments

1
by Thunderbolt of ... :: Thu, 10/06/2011 - 7:03pm

I'm curious to see what adjustments Ohio State's coaches make over the course of the last few games. I watched the MSU-OSU game and I agree that the offense looked completely inept, but there's no way they can be THAT bad on a consistent basis, can they? Given how crappy Nebraska looked last week, it looks like Vegas (and Rob) think OSU really is that bad.

4
by PHn (not verified) :: Fri, 10/07/2011 - 3:58pm

I watched about 1/2 of the Wisconsin-Nebraska game. I didn't come away thinking that Nebraska was that bad, but that the Badgers were that good. Other than those "what was he thinking?" Martinez interceptions, I thought the Huskers showed some competence (while avoiding anything resembling excellence).

2
by horn :: Thu, 10/06/2011 - 9:25pm

With Miami losing their starting OLB and top DL to injury this week, gonna be a tough day trying to stop the run. Vernon still suspended as well. RayRay coming back helps but not much against a tough run offense.

3
by zlionsfan :: Thu, 10/06/2011 - 9:26pm

You know, it's not like Ryan Field will be filled to the top with a raucous crowd cheering on the Wildcats at every turn. From what I understand, Michigan actually draws a pretty good "home" crowd there.

From everything I've read, Ohio State's offense really is that bad. If their defense is going to continue to drop pick-sixes, then I don't see how they're going to score enough points to beat anyone outside the bottom quartile (Minnesota, Indiana, Purdue; and they don't play Minnesota), at least until they get people back from suspension, and I don't see how they're going to get people back from suspension when they keep doing things to get suspended. (Gene Smith = Kevin Bacon in Animal House)

5
by Tom Gower :: Sat, 10/08/2011 - 12:08pm

Ah, Cal... no pick for the Thursday night game, as is the new norm. I'll take Texas, Notre Dame, LSU, Kansas State, Miami, Arkansas, Georgia, Texas A&M, and Nebraska. Texas and Georgia are the counter-consensus picks, and I'll take the Horns as my Edelstein lock.

6
by Tom Gower :: Sat, 10/08/2011 - 11:36pm

This week: 6-3(0-1), 1-0 counter-consensus non-Edelstein. Last week was a hideous 2-7 (0-1), 1-0 counter-consensus non-Edelstein.

All consensus picks: last week 3-3, this week 1-2.

YTD I am now 24-23-1 (1-4), 6-5 on counter-consensus picks, with all Rob-F/+ consensus picks 13-12.