Writers of Pro Football Prospectus 2008

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» Catch Radius: The Bigger, the Better?

Our season finale of catch radius focuses on the growing size of Josh McCown's talented receiving duos, including breakout stud Alshon Jeffery. Also: Anquan Boldin's incredible year.

21 Sep 2012

SDA: Saturday Afternoon Dead

by Matt Hinton

For diehard college fans who grew up feasting on all-day, noon-to-night smorgasbords, Saturday's lineup looks like a potential blockbuster. Four games featuring a matchup of two ranked teams, including early benchmarks in the ACC, Big 12 and Pac-12, as well as the always-entertaining collision of Michigan and Notre Dame in South Bend. On almost any other Saturday for the past two decades, that would mean a full day's worth of meaningful, top-shelf viewing that allowed fans in every region to get at least a glimpse of every game.

On this Saturday? All four games are slated to compete against one another in prime time, not only forcing viewers to miss multiple games they would have watched otherwise, but also leaving both the noon and afternoon slates needlessly barren of compelling content. If you're a dedicated, captive viewer, all you have to look forward to over the first two-thirds of the day are inexplicable upsets and other random oddities. If you're a more casual, non-captive viewer, you have no reason to get yourself sucked in for the sake of West Virginia-Maryland on FX.

Meanwhile, three of the four marquee games –- Michigan-Notre Dame, Kansas State-Oklahoma and Clemson-Florida State -– will kick off within a half-hour of one another from 7:30 p.m. to 8 p.m. ET, and all will still be going strong when Arizona and Oregon kick off at 10:30 p.m. That's a lot of quality to pack into such a small window, which should make for an appropriately wild, interesting (and for those of us working, very late) night. But the first rule of sports viewing applies here, as ever: If you're watching more than one game at a time, you're not really watching any.

Virginia (+17.5) at No. 17 TCU (Saturday, 12 p.m. ET, ESPN)

OVERALL When Virginia
Has the Ball ...
When TCU
Has the Ball ...
Category Virginia
(2-1)
TCU
(2-0)
Virginia
Off
TCU
Def
Virginia
Def
TCU
Off
2012 F/+ Rk 70 12
2012 FEI Rk 80 14
2012 S&P+ Rk 62 15 59 30 55 10
2012 FPA 116 11
2012 Rushing S&P Rk 83 12 83 64
2012 Passing S&P Rk 62 33 52 2
2012 Std. Downs S&P Rk 80 15 103 13
Run-Pass Ratio
(Std. Downs)
53.9% Run
(97)
63.6% Run
(37)
2012 Pass. Downs S&P Rk 33 6 78 5
Run-Pass Ratio
(Std. Downs)
21.2% Run
(112)
53.8% Run
(6)

Virginia was run out of the stadium last week by Georgia Tech's patented triple option attack, which used ten different rushers to roll up 461 yards on the ground in a 56-20 massacre. TCU doesn't have nearly as many options: the Horned Frogs lost leading rusher Waymon James to a season-ending knee injury, after losing reliable veteran Ed Wesley to transfer during the offseason. More immediately, the Frogs have to clear up a bad case of Butterfingers after losing four fumbles last week inside the Kansas 25-yard line, allowing the Jayhawks to hang around in a game that could have been (and probably should have been) a rout.

TCU won comfortably there, 20-6, but will find that kind of generosity much more costly against Virginia. However, the only way the Cavaliers make a serious go of an upset, on the road, against a defense that's yet to allow a touchdown in its first two games, is with a cheapie or two off a Horned Frogs mistake.

Missouri (+10) at No. 7 South Carolina (Saturday, 3:30 p.m. ET, CBS)

OVERALL When Missouri
Has the Ball ...
When South Carolina
Has the Ball ...
Category Missouri
(2-1)
S.C.
(3-0)
Missouri
Off
S.C.
Def
Missouri
Def
S.C.
Off
2012 F/+ Rk 41 17
2012 FEI Rk 46 17
2012 S&P+ Rk 30 20 80 14 16 60
2012 FPA 60 53
2012 Rushing S&P Rk 82 4 30 69
2012 Passing S&P Rk 102 36 53 74
2012 Std. Downs S&P Rk 77 10 20 68
Run-Pass Ratio
(Std. Downs)
55.1% Run
(93)
61.5% Run
(49)
2012 Pass. Downs S&P Rk 89 43 55 13
Run-Pass Ratio
(Std. Downs)
40.5% Run
(31)
35.9% Run
(49)

Missouri and South Carolina are both returning starting quarterbacks Saturday from nagging shoulder injuries that kept them on the bench last week, and of the two, I'd be more concerned about Missouri's James Franklin making it through the afternoon intact. Franklin has already been victimized by one of the SEC's best pass rushers, Georgia's Jarvis Jones, who had two sacks in UGA's win in Columbia two weeks ago and almost singlehandedly put the Bulldogs over the top by forcing a pair of fourth quarter turnovers that led directly to decisive touchdowns. This time, the menace is Carolina's edge-rushing monster, Jadeveon Clowney, who had two sacks and seven tackles for loss against UAB last week as part of a well-balanced breakfast.

At least if he finds himself in trouble, South Carolina's Connor Shaw can always hand off to blue-chip workhorse Marcus Lattimore. If Mizzou falls behind, Franklin will be wearing a target as big as the trippy new Tiger logo on the side of his helmet.

Oregon State (+7) at No. 19 UCLA (Saturday, 3:30 p.m. ET, ABC/ESPN2)

OVERALL When Oregon State
Has the Ball ...
When UCLA
Has the Ball ...
Category Ore. St.
(1-0)
UCLA
(3-0)
Ore. St.
Off
UCLA
Def
Ore. St.
Def
UCLA
Off
2012 F/+ Rk 42 38
2012 FEI Rk 36 34
2012 S&P+ Rk 49 40 116 36 11 42
2012 FPA 94 7
2012 Rushing S&P Rk 122 84 14 26
2012 Passing S&P Rk 101 24 14 45
2012 Std. Downs S&P Rk 124 45 13 28
Run-Pass Ratio
(Std. Downs)
49% Run
(104)
61.4% Run
(52)
2012 Pass. Downs S&P Rk 35 19 4 64
Run-Pass Ratio
(Std. Downs)
15.4% Run
(121)
28.8% Run
(82)

No team in America is running the ball more effectively through the first three weeks than UCLA, home of an astonishingly effective ground game that defies a solid decade of mediocrity and worse. Senior tailback Johnathan Franklin went over 200 yards against both Rice and Nebraska and currently leads the nation in rushing on more than eight yards per carry. UCLA's offense is all the more effective when you factor in the lethal run-pass efficiency of quarterback Brett Hundley, who has yet to look like a redshirt freshman just getting his feet under him. On the other side, Oregon State did effectively throttle Wisconsin's vaunted running game two weeks ago in a 10-7 upset over the defending Big Ten champs, a major leap forward for a defense that finished 2011 as the worst in the Pac-12 against the run. But considering Wisconsin's vaunted running game was subsequently throttled by Utah State, as well, the jury is still out on the Beavers.

If only Oregon State had a non-statue option at quarterback: In consecutive weeks, UCLA has allowed opposing QBs Taylor Martinez of Nebraska and David Piland of Houston to score on runs of 92 yards and 86 yards, respectively, and also gave up a 40-yard run in the opener to Rice's Taylor McHarge, who went over 100 yards rushing for the game. Alas, 6-foot-5, 220-pound Beaver quarterback Sean Mannion will be running for office in Corvallis before he runs from the pocket.

California (+16.5) at No. 13 USC (Saturday, 6 p.m. ET, Pac-12)

OVERALL When California
Has the Ball ...
When USC
Has the Ball ...
Category California
(1-2)
USC
(2-1)
California
Off
USC
Def
California
Def
USC
Off
2012 F/+ Rk 44 16
2012 FEI Rk 50 15
2012 S&P+ Rk 45 19 39 32 46 19
2012 FPA 14 24
2012 Rushing S&P Rk 46 60 73 57
2012 Passing S&P Rk 64 44 88 55
2012 Std. Downs S&P Rk 45 41 93 63
Run-Pass Ratio
(Std. Downs)
57.2% Run
(83)
48% Run
(107)
2012 Pass. Downs S&P Rk 55 85 72 53
Run-Pass Ratio
(Std. Downs)
29% Run
(80)
24.7% Run
(102)

Emotionally, Cal and USC are in very different places. In Berkley, the Golden Bears are enjoying a renewed sense of confidence after effectively outplaying Ohio State in a near-upset in Columbus, where quarterback Zach Maynard delivered arguably the best game of his career and unsung tailback Brendan Bigelow emerged as a potential star. Meanwhile, USC is smarting mentally and physically from a bruising loss at Stanford, where quarterback Matt Barkley was hassled into arguably the worst night of his career. Most of the attention in L.A. this week was on identifying scapegoats and discerning the bizarre behavior of the head coach.

But the really important facts have not changed: USC is still a much more talented, complete team than Cal in virtually every phase. The last time the Golden Bears were in the L.A. Coliseum, in 2010, Barkley hung five touchdown passes in the first half alone of a 48-14 thrashing. Barkley, his receivers, and the offense as a whole are better than the 2010 edition, which cannot be said for Cal's defense.

No. 2 LSU (–20.5) at Auburn (Saturday, 7 p.m. ET, ESPN)

OVERALL When LSU
Has the Ball ...
When Auburn
Has the Ball ...
Category LSU
(3-0)
Auburn
(1-2)
LSU
Off
Auburn
Def
LSU
Def
Auburn
Off
2012 F/+ Rk 4 59
2012 FEI Rk 5 59
2012 S&P+ Rk 4 56 21 40 3 72
2012 FPA 4 34
2012 Rushing S&P Rk 6 106 2 75
2012 Passing S&P Rk 76 70 11 110
2012 Std. Downs S&P Rk 8 91 11 88
Run-Pass Ratio
(Std. Downs)
74.2% Run
(8)
72% Run
(13)
2012 Pass. Downs S&P Rk 51 73 2 106
Run-Pass Ratio
(Std. Downs)
26.2% Run
(93)
37.7% Run
(44)

Through three games, LSU leads the SEC and/or ranks among the top 20 nationally in scoring offense, scoring defense, total defense, rushing offense, rushing defense, pass efficiency, pass efficiency defense, and turnover margin; the Tigers are outscoring opponents by 38 points per game. In the blue corner, Auburn ranks last or next-to-last in the conference in total offense, total defense, scoring offense, scoring defense, passing offense, pass efficiency, pass efficiency defense and turnover margin. One set of Tigers does virtually everything well; the other Tigers do nothing well, with the possible exception of returning kicks. Spot 'em a big return, and Auburn still isn't going to make it to double digits on the scoreboard.

No. 18 Michigan (+5) at No. 11 Notre Dame (Saturday, 7:30 p.m. ET, NBC)

OVERALL When Michigan
Has the Ball ...
When Notre Dame
Has the Ball ...
Category Michigan
(2-1)
Irish
(3-0)
Michigan
Off
Irish
Def
Michigan
Def
Irish
Off
2012 F/+ Rk 24 8
2012 FEI Rk 49 6
2012 S&P+ Rk 12 14 3 12 65 38
2012 FPA 110 30
2012 Rushing S&P Rk 19 21 98 42
2012 Passing S&P Rk 25 20 56 79
2012 Std. Downs S&P Rk 20 19 77 47
Run-Pass Ratio
(Std. Downs)
65.1% Run
(29)
57% Run
(85)
2012 Pass. Downs S&P Rk 39 18 69 61
Run-Pass Ratio
(Std. Downs)
33.3% Run
(59)
39.7% Run
(32)

Michigan has broken Notre Dame's heart in three consecutive seasons with improbable game-winning touchdown drives in the final minute, each one a little more unlikely and more devastating than the last. The last two years, the dagger has been wielded by Wolverine quarterback Denard Robinson, owner of both the most prolific stat line (502 total yards, 3 touchdowns, 0 turnovers) ever recorded against a Notre Dame defense in 2010 and the most dramatic comeback, a three-play, 80-yard drive for the winning touchdown with less than 30 seconds on the clock last September. No player in college football in the last decade has inflicted quite as much pain on a single rival over multiple seasons as Robinson has on the Fighting Irish.

That said, Notre Dame dominated the first three quarters of last year's matchup in Ann Arbor, and blew multiple chances to put the lead out of reach prior to Denard's late heroics. Early returns also suggest the 2012 edition could be significantly improved -– especially the defense, last seen holding Michigan State out of the end zone entirely on the Spartans' own field, pushing the Irish to 3-0 for the first time since 2002. Of course, Michigan State notably lacks anyone resembling Robinson on offense, but the last time the Wolverines saw a defense with numbers that look like Notre Dame's, it did not go well.

Vanderbilt (+16) at No. 5 Georgia (Saturday, 7:45 p.m. ET, ESPN2)

OVERALL When Vanderbilt
Has the Ball ...
When Georgia
Has the Ball ...
Category Vandy
(1-2)
Georgia
(3-0)
Vandy
Off
Georgia
Def
Vandy
Def
Georgia
Off
2012 F/+ Rk 60 9
2012 FEI Rk 52 11
2012 S&P+ Rk 66 9 105 28 31 6
2012 FPA 29 10
2012 Rushing S&P Rk 103 19 61 16
2012 Passing S&P Rk 103 55 23 11
2012 Std. Downs S&P Rk 60 28 22 11
Run-Pass Ratio
(Std. Downs)
67.2% Run
(25)
59.2% Run
(66)
2012 Pass. Downs S&P Rk 71 41 24 48
Run-Pass Ratio
(Std. Downs)
35.8% Run
(50)
46.2% Run
(16)

Georgia has taken five straight and 16 of the last 17 against Vanderbilt, so by all means, the Bulldogs should be favored to beat the Commodores at home. But the 16-point spread here strikes me as an unusually wide one. If nothing else, Vandy knows how to keep it close: out of seven SEC losses under second-year coach James Franklin, the last five have all come by six points or less, including legitimately close calls last year against Georgia, Arkansas, Florida, and Tennessee. And they picked up this year right where they left off in 2011 with a tight, 17-13 loss against South Carolina in their opener. Meanwhile –- Jarvis Jones notwithstanding –- Georgia has shown a little vulnerability on defense in each of its first three games. If Vandy's not to the point of actually winning a road game against one of the division's heavy hitters, it's proven more than worthy of keeping the score within two touchdowns.

No. 15 Kansas State (+14) at No. 6 Oklahoma (Saturday, 7:50 p.m. ET, Fox)

OVERALL When Kansas State
Has the Ball ...
When Oklahoma
Has the Ball ...
Category K-State
(3-0)
Oklahoma
(2-0)
K-State
Off
Oklahoma
Def
K-State
Def
Oklahoma
Off
2012 F/+ Rk 29 5
2012 FEI Rk 13 2
2012 S&P+ Rk 47 6 17 4 80 55
2012 FPA 15 62
2012 Rushing S&P Rk 18 22 39 32
2012 Passing S&P Rk 7 1 71 37
2012 Std. Downs S&P Rk 12 3 53 14
Run-Pass Ratio
(Std. Downs)
74.1% Run
(9)
58.3% Run
(71)
2012 Pass. Downs S&P Rk 10 17 45 12
Run-Pass Ratio
(Std. Downs)
45.5% Run
(17)
23.1% Run
(105)

Based strictly on these teams' performances in 2012, Kansas State has by far the best effort to date: a thorough, 52-13 thumping of Miami. Oklahoma has the worst: a 24-7 escape from UTEP in which the Sooners led just 10-7 entering the fourth quarter. Historically, though, it's impossible to ignore just how untouchable Oklahoma has been at home under Bob Stoops. In 14 years, the Sooners have lost in Norman three times; since 2007, they've dispatched visitors from the Big 12 by an average of 26.9 points per game, and ranked visitors by 27 points per game. Last year in Manhattan, Kan., OU spoiled the Wildcats' 7-0 start with extreme prejudice in a 58-17 blitzkrieg.

That game may have been the last time the Sooners looked like bona fide national contenders, due in large part to the barrage of injuries that's afflicted the lineup ever since. Last year, the key loss down the stretch was record-breaking wide receiver Ryan Broyles; this year, the void is on the offensive line, where senior mainstays Ben Habern and Tyler Evans were both ruled out for the season in August. Their absence was felt at UTEP -– literally, for quarterback Landry Jones, who was sacked three times and spent much of the night under heavy assault –- and remains the most glaring question mark for Oklahoma. If Jones has time, though, he has more than enough weapons to reenact last year's bombing campaign. In that sense, K-State's best defense will be its offense, whose first priority will be to play the tortoise to Oklahoma's hare by assembling long, clock-killing drives that relegate Jones and company to the sideline for as long as possible.

No. 10 Clemson (+14.5) at No. 4 Florida State (Saturday, 8 p.m. ET, ABC)

OVERALL When Clemson
Has the Ball ...
When Florida State
Has the Ball ...
Category Clemson
(3-0)
FSU
(3-0)
Clemson
Off
FSU
Def
Clemson
Def
FSU
Off
2012 F/+ Rk 22 3
2012 FEI Rk 18 3
2012 S&P+ Rk 27 3 18 5 52 4
2012 FPA 47 1
2012 Rushing S&P Rk 24 15 54 1
2012 Passing S&P Rk 23 3 42 12
2012 Std. Downs S&P Rk 39 1 29 2
Run-Pass Ratio
(Std. Downs)
55.4% Run
(91)
60.1% Run
(56)
2012 Pass. Downs S&P Rk 22 1 54 4
Run-Pass Ratio
(Std. Downs)
41.4% Run
(25)
39.1% Run
(35)

Two touchdowns is quite the spread for Florida State, which has benefited greatly in the box scores and the polls from spending the first quarter of the season feeding on the weak and sick. Clemson is an entirely different beast: the same bunch of Tigers beat FSU head-to-head in 2011, won the ACC championship, and return the core of the conference's best offense in quarterback Tajh Boyd, running back Andre Ellington and wide receivers Sammy Watkins and DeAndre Hopkins, both of whom burned the 'Noles deep last year. (Watkins alone had touchdown receptions of 24 yards and 62 yards, the latter proving to be the game-winner.) With the exception of tight end Dwayne Allen, essentially the entire arsenal that put up 35 points on 443 yards of total offense in that game is back, against largely the same FSU defense.

Florida State has two counterpoints: a) A healthy starting quarterback, E.J. Manuel, who missed last year's loss with a shoulder injury, and b) A ferocious pass rush that has no intention of giving Boyd time to find open receivers downfield. Forget the competition to date; against anyone, bookends Bjoern Werner and Cornelius "Tank" Carradine are disruptive forces capable of deep-sixing an entire game plan. If FSU can rekindle the spark it got from the running game in last week's win over Wake Forest, it would much rather turn the game into a grind than attempt to run up and down the field again with Watkins.

No. 22 Arizona (+21.5) at No. 3 Oregon (Saturday, 10:30 p.m. ET, ESPN)

OVERALL When Arizona
Has the Ball ...
When Oregon
Has the Ball ...
Category Arizona
(3-0)
Oregon
(3-0)
Arizona
Off
Oregon
Def
Arizona
Def
Oregon
Off
2012 F/+ Rk 34 2
2012 FEI Rk 32 8
2012 S&P+ Rk 36 2 44 2 33 9
2012 FPA 17 69
2012 Rushing S&P Rk 30 7 66 3
2012 Passing S&P Rk 29 5 30 8
2012 Std. Downs S&P Rk 26 69 42 7
Run-Pass Ratio
(Std. Downs)
56.3% Run
(88)
62.8% Run
(42)
2012 Pass. Downs S&P Rk 18 14 44 45
Run-Pass Ratio
(Std. Downs)
32.9% Run
(61)
52.1% Run
(8)

Arizona is fourth nationally in total offense at a little over 600 yards per game, and has already managed to outgun the prolific, up-tempo attack of Oklahoma State in a 59-38 upset in Tucson. But nothing can quite prepare a young team for the neon blur of Oregon's offense in Autzen Stadium, where West Coast defenses go to die. The Ducks have only lost once at home in 24 games since Chip Kelly was promoted to head coach in 2009, and their last 16 wins there have all come by at least two touchdowns.

Kelly's warp-speed philosophy has shown no signs of rust in the hands of its new handler, redshirt freshman quarterback Marcus Mariota, and no signs of slowing down on the legs of the new headliners in the backfield, Kenjon Barner and De'Anthony Thomas, who between them are averaging 271 all-purpose yards per game with 13 touchdowns -– and neither has put in a full night's work. As prolific as Arizona's own offense has been, the Wildcat defense hasn't given any indication that its suddenly equipped to deal with that.

Picks

The Picks
(* - "Fred Edelstein Lock of the Week")
Visitor Spread Home Matt F/+
Virginia +17.5 TCU Virginia TCU
Missouri +10 S. Carolina Mizzou Mizzou
Oregon St. +7 UCLA UCLA OSU
California +16.5 USC USC Cal
LSU -20.5 Auburn LSU Auburn
Michigan +5 Notre Dame Michigan Irish
Vanderbilt +16 Georgia Vandy Georgia
Kansas St. +14 Oklahoma OU* OU
Clemson +14.5 Florida St. Clemson FSU*
Arizona +21.5 Oregon Arizona Oregon
Season-long Results
("Fred Edelstein Lock of the Week" record in parentheses)
Last Week
Season Total
F/+: 9-1 (1-0) 20-10 (2-0)
Matt: 5-5 (1-0) 12-18 (1-1)

Posted by: Matt Hinton on 21 Sep 2012

3 comments, Last at 22 Sep 2012, 1:23pm by cfn_ms

Comments

1
by usedbread doesnt remember his password (not verified) :: Sat, 09/22/2012 - 7:17am

TCU's Ed Wesley entered the supplemental draft, so not a transfer case.

2
by Curious (not verified) :: Sat, 09/22/2012 - 12:03pm

Why did F/+ pick Auburn?

3
by cfn_ms :: Sat, 09/22/2012 - 1:23pm

it's ATS not straight up. And 20.5 is a boatload of points.