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» FEI Week 8: What's With A&M?

Brian Fremeau explains why his rating system remains unimpressed with Texas A&M.

19 Oct 2012

SDA: Manziel Mania Meets Its Match?

by Matt Hinton

Of the many footnotes accompanying Johnny Manziel's emergence as one of a very small handful of must-watch players in college football, begin with the fact that almost no one watching Texas A&M's spring practices expected him to be the Aggies' starting quarterback. No, by all accounts at the time, that job was Jameill Showers' to lose. It was Showers, the reports said, who possessed the arm, the experience, and the poise. Manziel? Talented kid, sure, but too green. Too erratic on the field and off. This is all on the record.

Through six games, Showers has yet to attempt a meaningful pass and the myth of Manziel -– also known as "Johnny Football," a born natural -– is already taking root. How could it not? The Aggies have been outrageously good on offense, most notably in the process of nuking Arkansas for 716 yards on more than nine yards per play on Sept. 29, in the game that saw Manziel set a new SEC record for total offense in just his second SEC start. Last week, they dropped 678 yards and 59 points on Louisiana Tech, and Manziel broke his own record. In between, they rallied from 10 points down in the fourth quarter to beat Ole Miss on a pair of late touchdowns. Manziel is the most productive all-purpose quarterback in the conference, his top five receivers average nearly 15 yards per catch with a dozen touchdowns and the offensive line is anchored by a pair of future first-rounders on either end.

None of which is necessarily relevant Saturday against LSU. The only defense Manziel has seen that remotely resembles the Tigers -- athletically or on paper -- is Florida's, which took a couple quarters to figure the Aggies out in the opener but shut them down completely in the second half once it did, allowing the Gators offense to rally out of the halftime hole for the win. As prolific as A&M has been offensively, the Tigers have been equally stingy, setting up shop right behind Alabama (again) in the national rankings for total defense.

Historically, this is the time of year that surprise "September Heisman" types -– see also: Jacory Harris in 2009, Denard Robinson and Taylor Martinez in 2010 –- tend to run head-first into reality, and it doesn't get much realer than LSU's defense. If Manziel is more than that, we're all about to find out.

No. 6 LSU (-3.5) at No. 18 Texas A&M (Saturday, 12:00 p.m. ET, ESPN)

OVERALL When LSU
Has the Ball ...
When Texas A&M
Has the Ball ...
Category LSU
(6-1)
A&M
(5-1)
LSU
Off
A&M
Def
LSU
Def
A&M
Off
2012 F/+ Rk 10 13
2012 FEI Rk 18 9
2012 S&P+ Rk 8 11 33 19 5 15
2012 FPA 6 26
2012 Rushing S&P+ Rk 21 7 17 1
2012 Passing S&P+ Rk 70 31 3 46
2012 Std. Downs S&P+ Rk 11 21 22 34
Run-Pass Ratio
(Std. Downs)
70.6% Run
(14)
56% Run
(82)
2012 Pass. Downs S&P+ Rk 65 40 4 4
Run-Pass Ratio
(Std. Downs)
27% Run
(93)
35.9% Run
(42)

This time last year, LSU was cruising toward an apocalyptic, winner-take-all collision with Alabama, ranked No. 1 with seven consecutive victories by an average margin of nearly four touchdowns. Through seven games this year, the 2012 Tigers are actually generating more yards per game (395.7) and allowing fewer (219.6) than their 2011 counterparts, but they also seem to have hit a wall. In three SEC games, the offense has twice as many turnovers (six) as touchdowns (three), and failed to crack the end zone at all in a sobering loss at Florida. (For the season, the current outfit has already turned the ball over a dozen times, four more giveaways than the 2011 edition committed in the entire regular season.) After back-to-back, top-ten slugfests with the Gators and South Carolina -– and with Alabama only a bye week away –- the Tigers aren't looking for any style points. Saturday is only about getting out of College Station in one piece, with SEC and BCS championship goals intact.

No. 20 Stanford (-2.5) at California (Saturday, 3 p.m. ET, Fox)

OVERALL When Stanford
Has the Ball ...
When California
Has the Ball ...
Category Stanford
(4-2)
Cal
(3-4)
Stanford
Off
Cal
Def
Stanford
Def
Cal
Off
2012 F/+ Rk 15 43
2012 FEI Rk 14 45
2012 S&P+ Rk 19 34 37 25 13 35
2012 FPA 12 42
2012 Rushing S&P+ Rk 42 24 20 41
2012 Passing S&P+ Rk 33 29 10 41
2012 Std. Downs S&P+ Rk 55 24 9 25
Run-Pass Ratio
(Std. Downs)
61% Run
(57)
58.2% Run
(70)
2012 Pass. Downs S&P+ Rk 21 30 22 60
Run-Pass Ratio
(Std. Downs)
27.3% Run
(90)
35.6% Run
(44)

The "Big Game" comes much earlier than usual this year, just as Cal –- a loser in four of its first five –- seems to have found their footing in wins over UCLA and Washington State. Stanford, on the other hand, is flirting with serious disappointment: since upsetting USC on Sept. 15, the Cardinal have dropped two of their last three to Washington and Notre Dame, respectively, and barely escaped an overtime shootout with Arizona in between. Given the opportunity in front of them after knocking off the Trojans, there's not much solace in their standing as the best two-loss team in the nation.

Sans Andrew Luck, most of the attention at Stanford these days goes to their workhorse tailback, Stepfan Taylor, and the huge, athletic tight ends, Zach Ertz and Levine Toilolo, whose versatility allows the offense to line up in pretty much anything from old-school power sets to four-wide spread formations without changing personnel. The Cardinal's real strength, though, is the front seven on defense, which is also manned by a handful of future draft picks and ranks among the top ten nationally in rushing defense and tackles for loss. They've also recorded 14 sacks in the last four games, which is pretty much the last thing a quarterback who's been hit as often as Cal's Zach Maynard has this season wants to hear.

BYU (+13.5) at No. 5 Notre Dame (Saturday, 3:30 p.m. ET, NBC)

OVERALL When BYU
Has the Ball ...
When Notre Dame
Has the Ball ...
Category BYU
(4-3)
Irish
(6-0)
BYU
Off
Irish
Def
BYU
Def
Irish
Off
2012 F/+ Rk 23 6
2012 FEI Rk 39 6
2012 S&P+ Rk 15 7 62 6 8 27
2012 FPA 59 48
2012 Rushing S&P+ Rk 43 6 3 23
2012 Passing S&P+ Rk 66 7 14 28
2012 Std. Downs S&P+ Rk 50 7 10 12
Run-Pass Ratio
(Std. Downs)
58.9% Run
(69)
62.7% Run
(45)
2012 Pass. Downs S&P+ Rk 73 12 25 18
Run-Pass Ratio
(Std. Downs)
33.5% Run
(58)
41% Run
(22)

Before last week, the Cougars' trip to South Bend was shaping up as a race to the first safety. Between them, neither Notre Dame nor BYU had allowed an offensive touchdown since September 15, a remarkable streak spanning 25 consecutive quarters over nearly a month. For the Fighting Irish, the streak survives intact, albeit by the narrowest possible margin following last week's controversial goal-line stand to beat Stanford in overtime. For BYU, on the other hand, the facade came tumbling down all at once in a 42-24 rout at the hands of Oregon State, whose backup quarterback, Cody Vaz, lit the Cougars up for 332 yards and three touchdown passes in his first career start.

Redshirt freshman Everett Golson isn't going to do that kind of damage as a passer, and Notre Dame isn't going to ask him to. Assuming there's no hidden dimension to BYU's middling offense the Cougars have been waiting eight weeks to unleash, just keeping the defense out of unnecessary trouble should be more than enough to get the Irish to 7-0.

Nebraska (-6.5) at Northwestern (Saturday, 3:30 p.m. ET, ESPN2)

OVERALL When Nebraska
Has the Ball ...
When Northwestern
Has the Ball ...
Category Nebraska
(4-2)
NW'ern
(6-1)
Nebraska
Off
NW'ern
Def
Nebraska
Def
NW'ern
Off
2012 F/+ Rk 33 35
2012 FEI Rk 53 43
2012 S&P+ Rk 27 51 8 52 54 49
2012 FPA 121 43
2012 Rushing S&P+ Rk 4 66 48 56
2012 Passing S&P+ Rk 14 50 72 51
2012 Std. Downs S&P+ Rk 10 38 57 46
Run-Pass Ratio
(Std. Downs)
71.3% Run
(12)
62.5% Run
(46)
2012 Pass. Downs S&P+ Rk 55 81 16 61
Run-Pass Ratio
(Std. Downs)
33.7% Run
(55)
47.6% Run
(11)

The last time we saw Nebraska, the Cornhuskers were being ripped for 498 yards (371 rushing) and 63 points in a wipeout loss at Ohio State. On their only other road trip this season, the Huskers were gashed for 653 yards (344 rushing) in a 36-30 loss at UCLA. On their last road trip of 2011, they were gashed for 518 yards (238 rushing) in a 45-17 loss at Michigan. On the road, against competent, versatile offenses fueled by athletic quarterbacks, Nebraska's defense has been routinely reduced to mincemeat.

Northwestern doesn't strike as much fear in anyone's heart as the Buckeyes, Bruins or Wolverines -- at least athletically speaking -- but the Wildcats are 6-1 on the strength of a competent, versatile offense fueled by arguably the most versatile quarterback in the country, Kain Colter. Colter will line up anywhere -- quarterback, tailback, receiver -- on any given play. Between them, Colter and tailback Venric Mark are averaging more than 200 yards per game from scrimmage, better than any other rushing/receiving combo in the Big Ten, and Mark can flip the field in a flash as the league's most dangerous punt returner. At the very least, an upset in Evanston won't be nearly as shocking as last year's ambush in Lincoln, which eventually kept the Cornhuskers out of the Big Ten Championship Game.

No. 17 Texas Tech (-1.5) at No. 23 TCU (Saturday, 3:30 p.m. ET, ABC/ESPN2)

OVERALL When Texas Tech
Has the Ball ...
When TCU
Has the Ball ...
Category Tech
(5-1)
TCU
(5-1)
Tech
Off
TCU
Def
Tech
Def
TCU
Off
2012 F/+ Rk 5 29
2012 FEI Rk 10 16
2012 S&P+ Rk 4 50 9 37 7 75
2012 FPA 62 15
2012 Rushing S&P+ Rk 28 33 18 93
2012 Passing S&P+ Rk 9 69 5 40
2012 Std. Downs S&P+ Rk 18 25 4 92
Run-Pass Ratio
(Std. Downs)
45.1% Run
(119)
63.5% Run
(40)
2012 Pass. Downs S&P+ Rk 5 32 11 30
Run-Pass Ratio
(Std. Downs)
32% Run
(61)
41.5% Run
(21)

The line on this game has been volatile, opening in TCU's favor before shifting a full five points in the direction of Texas Tech, suggesting many more gamblers caught the Red Raiders' resounding 49-14 upset over West Virginia than caught TCU's equally resounding 49-21 upset at Baylor. Both wins served as unexpected affirmations on the heels of disappointing losses on October 6. Yes, Texas Tech's defense may actually be as good as the numbers suggest, after all, and yes, TCU can survive a Big 12 shootout in the absence of starting quarterback Casey Pachall. At precisely the point that their seasons could have begun to careen out of control, the Raiders and Frogs were both at their best.

The bigger challenge this week is for Texas Tech to take that show on the road, where historically the Raiders have not been nearly the threat they are in Lubbock. On the same note, TCU has been stellar in Fort Worth, where its record stands at 40-4 since 2005. Either way, the winner gets to hold on to pretensions of a serious Big 12 title run for at least another week.

Michigan State (+9) at Michigan (Saturday, 3:30 p.m. ET, Big Ten Network)

OVERALL When Michigan State
Has the Ball ...
When Michigan
Has the Ball ...
Category State
(4-3)
Michigan
(4-2)
State
Off
Michigan
Def
State
Def
Michigan
Off
2012 F/+ Rk 19 18
2012 FEI Rk 27 47
2012 S&P+ Rk 16 9 90 22 4 7
2012 FPA 71 80
2012 Rushing S&P+ Rk 96 28 1 12
2012 Passing S&P+ Rk 61 13 12 3
2012 Std. Downs S&P+ Rk 90 19 3 13
Run-Pass Ratio
(Std. Downs)
59.4% Run
(65)
73.6% Run
(8)
2012 Pass. Downs S&P+ Rk 78 8 20 2
Run-Pass Ratio
(Std. Downs)
26.3% Run
(99)
39.4% Run
(27)

Michigan State has relished its recent ownership of Michigan, in part because the series has been historically dominated by the state's "Big Brother," and in part because the Spartans have had the pleasure of delivering their rival's annual wake-up call. Each of the last three years, the Wolverines have rolled into the mid-October matchup with MSU boasting an undefeated record, and each of the last three years, they've limped out with their sense of optimism badly bruised. The last two years, dynamic Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson has been made to look very mortal en route to a pair of double-digit defeats.

This time around, the Wolverines have already taken hits to the loss column courtesy of Alabama and Notre Dame, dropping Robinson's stock to an all-time low on the heels of two of the worst games of his career. On the other side, Michigan State remains as imposing as ever on defense, still leading the Big Ten in both yards and points allowed. But that hasn't meant much opposite the Spartan offense, which has failed to top 16 points in any of the team's three losses. For once, Robinson doesn't have to be a human highlight reel: Just string together a couple solid drives, take care of the ball, and let the defense do the rest.

No. 7 South Carolina (+3.5) at No. 2 Florida (Saturday, 3:30 p.m. ET, CBS)

OVERALL When South Carolina
Has the Ball ...
When Florida
Has the Ball ...
Category S.C.
(6-1)
Florida
(6-0)
S.C.
Off
Florida
Def
S.C.
Def
Florida
Off
2012 F/+ Rk 12 7
2012 FEI Rk 13 2
2012 S&P+ Rk 10 5 26 9 11 16
2012 FPA 24 23
2012 Rushing S&P+ Rk 55 5 15 6
2012 Passing S&P+ Rk 8 11 9 39
2012 Std. Downs S&P+ Rk 15 5 6 30
Run-Pass Ratio
(Std. Downs)
66.3% Run
(27)
72.1% Run
(10)
2012 Pass. Downs S&P+ Rk 19 5 59 6
Run-Pass Ratio
(Std. Downs)
40.6% Run
(23)
48.2% Run
(9)

South Carolina was facing long enough odds in the Swamp before half the starting lineup fell victim to what appears to be a voodoo curse: by midweek, the injury list included All-SEC tailback Marcus Lattimore (hip), top pass rusher Jadeveon Clowney (foot), veteran defensive tackle Kelcy Quarles (shoulder), and a half-dozen others reportedly suffering through the flu. Lattimore and Clowney both returned to practice on Thursday, but their status and effectiveness for Saturday is in the air.

At any rate, this is the point in the season at which postseason math begins to loom over every significant game, and it can still add up in South Carolina's favor: with a convincing win over Georgia in the books and no remaining SEC heavies over the final six weeks, a road upset over the nation's No. 1 team according to the BCS computers would clear the Gamecocks' path to the SEC Championship Game, and therefore to a shot at the BCS Championship Game. If there's any chance of that, though, they need their resident blue-chips in the fold. And, as we saw in last week's late fade at LSU, they also need more role players to assume a greater share of the burden. Where Lattimore's touches are concerned, that goes double.

No. 1 Alabama (-20) at Tennessee (Saturday, 7:00 p.m. ET, ESPN)

OVERALL When Alabama
Has the Ball ...
When Tennessee
Has the Ball ...
Category Alabama
(6-0)
Tenn.
(3-3)
Alabama
Off
Tenn.
Def
Alabama
Def
Tenn.
Off
2012 F/+ Rk 1 32
2012 FEI Rk 1 32
2012 S&P+ Rk 1 35 10 49 1 21
2012 FPA 2 20
2012 Rushing S&P+ Rk 3 61 2 29
2012 Passing S&P+ Rk 16 43 1 17
2012 Std. Downs S&P+ Rk 19 64 2 20
Run-Pass Ratio
(Std. Downs)
65.1% Run
(30)
60.5% Run
(60)
2012 Pass. Downs S&P+ Rk 1 27 1 22
Run-Pass Ratio
(Std. Downs)
48.5% Run
(8)
25.2% Run
(105)

Alabama and Tennessee have been playing one another basically forever, at a roughly equal clip, and soon enough the tide in the rivalry will turn (no pun intended) back toward the Volunteers. You know, eventually. For now, the Vols are 0-5 in the series since Nick Saban took over as Alabama's head coach, Bama remains the immovable object atop the SEC standings and every major poll in the land, and Tennessee is just another also-ran in search of its first conference win. Barring a miracle, all the Vols are going to find Saturday is an 0-4 start in SEC play for the second year in a row.

No. 4 Kansas State (+3) at No. 13 West Virginia (Saturday, 7:00 p.m. ET, Fox)

OVERALL When Kansas State
Has the Ball ...
When West Virginia
Has the Ball ...
Category KSU
(6-0)
WVU
(5-1)
KSU
Off
WVU
Def
KSU
Def
WVU
Off
2012 F/+ Rk 4 25
2012 FEI Rk 3 19
2012 S&P+ Rk 26 17 5 69 60 1
2012 FPA 3 76
2012 Rushing S&P+ Rk 18 36 40 13
2012 Passing S&P+ Rk 5 75 81 6
2012 Std. Downs S&P+ Rk 3 84 56 2
Run-Pass Ratio
(Std. Downs)
75.4% Run
(6)
45.8% Run
(118)
2012 Pass. Downs S&P+ Rk 8 37 60 16
Run-Pass Ratio
(Std. Downs)
46.5% Run
(12)
25.9% Run
(101)

There's a certain tortoise-and-hare aspect to this matchup, reputation-wise, which for once happens to be entirely accurate. In terms of the standard measures of total offense (yards per game) and scoring offense (points per game), K-State can barely begin to compete with West Virginia, which still ranks in the top ten nationally on both counts despite last week's setback at Texas Tech. The Wildcats aren't even in the top half of the Big 12 on either count. But that's mainly because they're just not interested in competing on those terms.

At Kansas State's speed, quarterback Collin Klein is the perfect combination of manager and workhorse. Adjusted for tempo, he's also every bit as productive within that context as his prolific counterpart, Geno Smith, is within the friendly confines of the "Air Raid." Though Kansas State averages fewer snaps per game than all but four other teams nationally, the average K-State play goes for 6.8 yards to West Virginia's 6.9, and the Wildcats requite slightly fewer yards or plays for every point they score. If they succeed in luring the Mountaineers into that pace -– as they did to Oklahoma in their first big road upset back in September –- the Big 12 title is theirs for the taking.

No. 14 Florida State (-21) at Miami (Saturday, 8:00 p.m. ET, ABC/ESPN3)

OVERALL When Florida State
Has the Ball ...
When Miami
Has the Ball ...
Category FSU
(6-1)
Miami
(4-3)
FSU
Off
Miami
Def
FSU
Def
Miami
Off
2012 F/+ Rk 8 81
2012 FEI Rk 7 72
2012 S&P+ Rk 6 63 14 78 12 50
2012 FPA 7 16
2012 Rushing S&P+ Rk 11 75 47 44
2012 Passing S&P+ Rk 31 74 8 56
2012 Std. Downs S&P+ Rk 14 62 15 43
Run-Pass Ratio
(Std. Downs)
57% Run
(77)
47% Run
(116)
2012 Pass. Downs S&P+ Rk 15 101 17 37
Run-Pass Ratio
(Std. Downs)
38.9% Run
(29)
31.2% Run
(69)

If that point spread seems suspiciously high for a traditionally neck-and-neck rivalry, blame Stephen Morris' ankle. Just three weeks removed from setting the single-game ACC passing record against N.C. State, the Canes' starting quarterback is unlikely to play on Saturday night, leaving backup Ryan Williams to take the controls for the first time. Williams does have starting experience from a previous life at Memphis, having served as the top quarterback for arguably the nation's worst offense in 2010. Opposite a supremely athletic FSU defense with the potential to make almost every offense if faces look like the nation's worst offense anyway, no wonder the smart money is abandoning Miami.

Picks

It should be noted that BYU was supposed to be last week's F/+ lock but wasn't documented. It was wrong, anyway. -– Bill Connelly.

The Picks
(* - "Fred Edelstein Lock of the Week")
Visitor Spread Home Matt F/+
LSU -3.5 Texas A&M LSU A&M
Stanford -2.5 California Stanford Stanford
BYU +13.5 Notre Dame BYU N.D.
Nebraska -6.5 Northwestern NW'ern NW'ern
Texas Tech -1.5 TCU TCU* Tech
Michigan St. +9 Michigan MSU MSU
S. Carolina +3.5 Florida Florida Florida
Alabama -20 Tennessee Alabama Alabama
Kansas St. +3 W. Virginia WVU KSU*
Florida St. -21 Miami FSU FSU
Season-long Results
("Fred Edelstein Lock of the Week" record in parentheses)
Last Week
Season Total
F/+: 6-4 (0-1) 42-28 (4-2)
Matt: 4-6 (0-1) 26-44 (2-4)

Posted by: Matt Hinton on 19 Oct 2012

1 comment, Last at 20 Oct 2012, 12:20am by undereducated_this_season

Comments

1
by undereducated_this_season (not verified) :: Sat, 10/20/2012 - 12:20am

just now found SMQ's new hangout - time to get my learn on