Writers of Pro Football Prospectus 2008

30 Aug 2012

Seventh Day Adventure: Orientation Week

by Matt Hinton

Welcome to a new season of Seventh Day Adventure, our weekly opportunity to class up the joint with the refined but accessible taste of the college game. I'll be your host this year, taking the reins from Brian Fremeau and Robert Weintraub, but the basic ingredients are the same: A lot of hard numbers courtesy of our resident stat gurus, Bill Connelly and Brian Fremeau, and a humble effort by yours truly to do them justice with some brief but trenchant analysis. And if that fails, a lot of jokes about Nick Saban being a highly efficient but ultimately joyless cyborg secretly constructed by the U.S. military during the Cold War, whose only wish is to someday experience what we humans refer to as a "smile."

To the picks:

No. 9 South Carolina (-6.5) at Vanderbilt (Thursday, 7 p.m. ET, ESPN)

OVERALL When South Carolina
Has the Ball ...
When Vanderbilt
Has the Ball ...
Category S. Caro.
(0-0)
Vanderbilt
(0-0)
S. Caro.
Off
Vanderbilt
Def
S. Caro.
Def
Vanderbilt
Off
2011 F/+ Rk 21 46 26 28 12 59
Projected 2012 F/+ Rk 17 50 26 40 16 58
2011 FEI Rk 13 45 43 48 7 42
2011 S&P+ Rk 19 37 41 28 13 59
2011 Rushing S&P+ Rk 29 45 49 10
2011 Passing S&P+ Rk 51 24 4 80
2011 Std. Downs S&P+ Rk 33 18 12 79
Run-Pass Ratio
(Standard Downs)
68.4% Run
(21st)
65.3% Run
(29th)
2011 Pass. Downs S&P+ Rk 33 42 33 12
Run-Pass Ratio
(Passing Downs)
39.6% Run
(25th)
39.7% Run
(24th)

It's been a rough half-century or so for Vanderbilt football, so Vandy fans can be forgiven a little offseason optimism for a change in the wake of just their second bowl appearance in 30 years. Our standards are a tad higher, however, and these are the facts: Despite a couple of tantalizingly close calls at midseason, the Commodores were 0-6 in 2011 against teams that finished with a winning record, including a 21-3 loss at South Carolina in which the Vandy offense was held to 128 total yards, earned only five first downs and failed to capitalize on four interceptions by the defense. The Commodores' only points came at the end of a "drive" that netted negative yardage following a Gamecockz turnover.

On paper, the biggest difference in that game and this one is the absence of South Carolina's wild card quarterback Stephen Garcia, who was responsible for all four of the Gamecocks' giveaways that night and wound up getting booted from the team for good a few weeks later. (The win over Vandy was Garcia's last.) From there, Connor Shaw assumed the job and proved much more adept at taking care of the ball, despite the absence of All-America tailback Marcus Lattimore over the final six games. With Lattimore back at full speed, the talent gap is still too wide for Vanderbilt to cross just yet.

Washington State (+12.5) at BYU (Thursday, 10:15 p.m. ET, ESPN)

OVERALL When Washington St.
Has the Ball ...
When BYU
Has the Ball ...
Category Wazzu
(0-0)
BYU
(0-0)
Wazzu
Off
BYU
Def
Wazzu
Def
BYU
Off
2011 F/+ Rk 100 37 64 33 118 51
Projected 2012 F/+ Rk 100 39 73 31 117 50
2011 FEI Rk 89 46 55 51 93 61
2011 S&P+ Rk 104 34 83 29 109 54
2011 Rushing S&P+ Rk 118 18 71 53
2011 Passing S&P+ Rk 57 64 111 53
2011 Std. Downs S&P+ Rk 51 34 106 56
Run-Pass Ratio
(Standard Downs)
47.8% Run
(108th)
58.0% Run
(67th)
2011 Pass. Downs S&P+ Rk 111 49 83 42
Run-Pass Ratio
(Passing Downs)
24.6% Run
(103rd)
32.1% Run
(69th)

Speaking of exciting offseasons! Mike Leach might be better off if his never ends: As giddy as Washington State fans are to have college football's reigning pirate king on as their new head coach, it may be a while still before the high-flying, giant-killing Cougars they've been seeing in their sleep since last December become a reality.

For one thing, the offense is already pretty well accustomed to big passing stats: Wazzu finished second in the Pac-12 and ninth nationally last year with 322 yards per game through the air, despite starting three different quarterbacks over the course of the season. Two of them, Jeff Tuel and Connor Halliday, are back, as is their top target, junior Marquess Wilson, who is very likely to wind up as the most productive receiver in the Pac-12 in Leach's "Air Raid." But then, so is much of a defense that languished at the bottom of the conference throughout the dismal tenure of Leach's predecessor, Paul Wulff, and is not nearly as well-equipped to climb out of the hole. For his part, Leach may not be particularly well-equipped to lead them there: For all of the offensive fireworks his teams generated at Texas Tech, they usually needed every ounce of it against competent opponents to overcome consistently wretched defenses. BYU's offense is not quite the bombs-away show it used to be, but it is more than capable of hanging a big number on a D with an F/+ projection of 117 out of 124.

Tennessee (-3.5) vs. N.C. State (Friday, 7:30 p.m. ET, ESPNU)

OVERALL When Tennessee
Has the Ball ...
When N.C. State
Has the Ball ...
Category Tennessee
(0-0)
N.C. St.
(0-0)
Tennessee
Off
N.C. St.
Def
Tennessee
Def
N.C. St.
Off
2011 F/+ Rk 57 67 60 73 45 57
Projected 2012 F/+ Rk 27 53 33 61 29 47
2011 FEI Rk 57 50 77 25 32 58
2011 S&P+ Rk 43 77 43 57 47 98
2011 Rushing S&P+ Rk 59 76 38 115
2011 Passing S&P+ Rk 10 45 49 74
2011 Std. Downs S&P+ Rk 46 52 45 108
Run-Pass Ratio
(Standard Downs)
57.7% Run
(71st)
56.2% Run
(80th)
2011 Pass. Downs S&P+ Rk 13 48 47 60
Run-Pass Ratio
(Passing Downs)
26.9% Run
(97th)
23.5% Run
(104th)

While college fans are contemplating which head coach is more likely to lose his job at the end of the year – Derek Dooley and Tom O'Brien are both fixtures on offseason "Hot Seat" rankings – draftniks can get a little advanced scouting in on one of the best one-on-one match-ups of the entire season: Tennessee wide receiver Justin Hunter vs. N.C. State cornerback David Amerson. Both are considered virtual locks for the first round next spring, and UT quarterback Tyler Bray (a scout favorite in his own right) has already vowed to give Amerson a proper workout, telling reporters this week, "We're going to treat him just like any other DB. We're not going to shy away from him. We're going to go at him."

For the record, Amerson set ACC and N.C. State records last year with 13 interceptions, including four games with multiple picks and two run back for touchdowns. So… you know, good luck with that, Tyler.

No. 24 Boise State (+6.5) at No. 13 Michigan State (Friday, 8 p.m. ET, ESPN)

OVERALL When Boise State
Has the Ball ...
When Michigan State
Has the Ball ...
Category Boise St.
(0-0)
Mich. St.
(0-0)
Boise St.
Off
Mich. St.
Def
Boise St.
Def
Mich. St.
Off
2011 F/+ Rk 4 10 9 13 5 21
Projected 2012 F/+ Rk 26 24 19 15 47 40
2011 FEI Rk 8 11 23 6 21 41
2011 S&P+ Rk 3 12 7 8 3 48
2011 Rushing S&P+ Rk 31 8 5 83
2011 Passing S&P+ Rk 7 11 5 32
2011 Std. Downs S&P+ Rk 19 5 11 58
Run-Pass Ratio
(Standard Downs)
58.3% Run
(64th)
59.0% Run
(59th)
2011 Pass. Downs S&P+ Rk 15 6 18 37
Run-Pass Ratio
(Passing Downs)
27.2% Run
(94th)
30.9% Run
(77th)

Boise State has been here before, having kicked off each of the last three seasons with opening day wins over well-regarded editions of Oregon (2009), Virginia Tech (2010) and Georgia (2011), respectively, the latter two in "neutral sites" in the Hokies' and Bulldogs' backyards. But the Broncos haven't made a true road trip into a "Big Six" conference stadium since 2008, and even if they had, that was an entirely different set of Broncos: Besides decorated quarterback Kellen Moore, owner of more wins as a starter than any other QB in the history of college football, Boise must replace an incredible 16 regular starters from 2011, including its leading rusher, its leading receiver, four starting offensive linemen, nine of its top ten tacklers on defense and all eight of its All-Mountain West Conference picks. The result is an opening day lineup that looks greenerthan Michigan State's home jerseys.

The good news for Boise State is the ongoing stewardship of head coach Chris Petersen, who had the program the national map before Kellen Moore ever set foot on campus. Boise's success at this point is very much a machine-like, assembly line operation. Under any circumstances, though, a road date against arguably the best defense in the Big Ten is a severe trial by fire for mere mortals.

Notre Dame (-15.5) vs. Navy (Saturday, 9 a.m. ET, CBS)

OVERALL When Notre Dame
Has the Ball ...
When Navy
Has the Ball ...
Category Irish
(0-0)
Navy
(0-0)
Irish
Off
Navy
Def
Irish
Def
Navy
Off
2011 F/+ Rk 13 81 22 116 15 36
Projected 2012 F/+ Rk 14 65 22 105 18 41
2011 FEI Rk 15 67 26 115 18 5
2011 S&P+ Rk 10 85 19 111 14 33
2011 Rushing S&P+ Rk 8 108 4 24
2011 Passing S&P+ Rk 34 115 31 76
2011 Std. Downs S&P+ Rk 11 118 13 13
Run-Pass Ratio
(Standard Downs)
53.1% Run
(93rd)
88.1% Run
(second)
2011 Pass. Downs S&P+ Rk 20 74 29 96
Run-Pass Ratio
(Passing Downs)
27.5% Run
(93rd)
64.1% Run
(second)

First of all, note the kickoff time here, folks: The Irish and Midshipmen will be off and running Saturday at the ungodly hour of 9 a.m. ET – that's 6 a.m. for you Pacific slackers – thanks to the time difference from Dublin, Ireland. Why are Notre Dame and Navy playing in Dublin, Ireland? Unless the game is part of an international effort to spread the gospel of the triple option, there is no good answer to that question. But here we are.

All of the standard caveats about defending Navy's slippery, deceptively effective offense apply, and Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly added a couple more last week by a) Handing the reins of the offense over to a brand new quarterback, redshirt freshman Everett Golson, and b) Suspending the Irish's top tailback, Cierre Wood, for the first two games. But barring a complete meltdown by Golson in his first collegiate action, the standard caveats are still no match for the standard talent gap that has made this one of the most lopsided rivalries in existence.

Marshall (+24.5) at No. 11 West Virginia (Saturday, 12 p.m. ET, FX)

OVERALL When Marshall
Has the Ball ...
When West Virginia
Has the Ball ...
Category Marshall
(0-0)
WVU
(0-0)
Marshall
Off
WVU
Def
Marshall
Def
WVU
Off
2011 F/+ Rk 87 23 90 52 68 13
Projected 2012 F/+ Rk 88 20 91 53 68 8
2011 FEI Rk 85 17 98 35 67 4
2011 S&P+ Rk 88 28 101 49 66 15
2011 Rushing S&P+ Rk 113 80 51 13
2011 Passing S&P+ Rk 61 60 46 17
2011 Std. Downs S&P+ Rk 94 56 66 23
Run-Pass Ratio
(Standard Downs)
56.9% Run
(76th)
46.9% Run
(110th)
2011 Pass. Downs S&P+ Rk 93 67 57 2
Run-Pass Ratio
(Passing Downs)
35.4% Run
(39th)
27% Run
(95th)

Technically, this will be West Virginia's first game as a member of the Big 12 after two decades in the Big East, but the transition really began last year, when the Mountaineers promoted offensive coordinator Dana Holgorsen to head coach. He was hired the previous winter specifically to remake West Virginia's nondescript offense in the image of the prolific "Air Raid" attacks he helped assemble at Texas Tech and Oklahoma State, and he gave them a hit: WVU led the Big East in passing, total and scoring offense en route to its first conference title since 2007, punctuated by a 589-yard, nine-touchdown incineration of Clemson's defense in the Orange Bowl.

Marshall has a little bit of firepower of its own in the passing game, courtesy of receiver Aaron Dobson, who is more than capable of making up in pure spectacle what he lacks in consistency. But like almost everyone else West Virginia will play this year, the most pressing question for the Thundering Herd is whether they'd rather be carved up by senior receiver Tavon Austin out of the slot or burned by acrobatic junior Stedman Bailey downfield. Really, Holgorsen and quarterback Geno Smith are perfectly fine either way.

Southern Miss (+20) at No. 17 Nebraska (Saturday, 3:30 p.m. ET, ABC/ESPN2)

OVERALL When Southern Miss
Has the Ball ...
When Nebraska
Has the Ball ...
Category So. Miss
(0-0)
Nebraska
(0-0)
So. Miss
Off
Nebraska
Def
So. Miss
Def
Nebraska
Off
2011 F/+ Rk 20 26 42 41 16 28
Projected 2012 F/+ Rk 49 23 59 30 36 25
2011 FEI Rk 25 31 72 53 20 31
2011 S&P+ Rk 25 29 49 24 15 46
2011 Rushing S&P+ Rk 74 29 20 48
2011 Passing S&P+ Rk 46 15 25 39
2011 Std. Downs S&P+ Rk 71 42 22 40
Run-Pass Ratio
(Standard Downs)
60.9% Run
(50th)
75% Run
(seventh)
2011 Pass. Downs S&P+ Rk 34 14 52 65
Run-Pass Ratio
(Passing Downs)
32.4% Run
(68th)
43.3% Run
(15th)

You wouldn't guess it, but Southern Miss has more than held its own in its only two trips to Lincoln, pushing the Cornhuskers to the limit in a close, 20-13 loss in 1999 and later coming away with a 21-17 upset in 2004. Unlike either of those teams, though, the 2012 Eagles arrive with a brand new coaching staff and a brand new quarterback, Chris Campbell, who has never taken a significant snap in college and is still trying to fend off a pair of freshman contenders for the job. All three could see the field Saturday, which brings us to the most basic equation in football: Three quarterbacks equals zero quarterbacks.

On the other side, Nebraska is facing no such questions. There are still plenty of doubts about Taylor Martinez's progress as a passer, but they shouldn't come into play here unless he's throwing the ball to the wrong team. Otherwise, the combination of Martinez and Rex Burkhead in the running game and the Cornhusker defense against a USM attack just hoping to find a little footing should be more than enough to overwhelm a two-touchdown underdog.

Auburn (+3.5) vs. No. 14 Clemson (Saturday, 7 p.m. ET, ESPN)

OVERALL When Auburn
Has the Ball ...
When Clemson
Has the Ball ...
Category Auburn
(0-0)
Clemson
(0-0)
Auburn
Off
Clemson
Def
Auburn
Def
Clemson
Off
2011 F/+ Rk 52 36 55 76 64 20
Projected 2012 F/+ Rk 22 21 29 51 25 10
2011 FEI Rk 66 32 47 50 92 22
2011 S&P+ Rk 58 48 34 69 75 20
2011 Rushing S&P+ Rk 22 82 60 47
2011 Passing S&P+ Rk 31 65 80 12
2011 Std. Downs S&P+ Rk 20 80 70 25
Run-Pass Ratio
(Standard Downs)
74.3% Run
(11th)
57.1% Run
(74th)
2011 Pass. Downs S&P+ Rk 22 31 88 19
Run-Pass Ratio
(Passing Downs)
35.0% Run
(43rd)
25.4% Run
(100th)

At the time, Clemson's 38-24 win over Auburn last September seemed most notable for the end of the defending BCS champions' 17-game winning streak, the longest in the country. In retrospect, though, the afternoon may go down as the coming-out party for Clemson freshman Sammy Watkins, who broke onto the national scene in a big way with 199 total yards and two touchdowns in just his third college game; by year's end, Watkins was a on a fide star with a limitless future. That still holds, generally, but not for Saturday's rematch in the Georgia Dome, which Watkins will miss as part of a two-game suspension in penance for a spring arrest.

Auburn, breaking in two new coordinators and a new starting quarterback, sophomore Kiehl Frazier, would love to keep the pace at a low simmer and avoid getting dragged into another shootout. As a whole, though, the 2012 Tigers have significantly more game experience under their belts than the 2011 edition did at the start of the season, when they swaggered in with the greenest lineup in the SEC. They also have a proven defensive coordinator, ex-Georgia/Atlanta Falcons hand Brian Van Gorder, who inherited nine returning starters. With Watkins out, and Clemson being Clemson – that is, inherently unstable and prone to collapse at any time – Auburn strikes me as one of the most solid underdog picks of the weekend.

No. 2 Alabama (-14) vs. No. 8 Michigan (Saturday, 8 p.m. ET, ABC)

OVERALL When Alabama
Has the Ball ...
When Michigan
Has the Ball ...
Category Alabama
(0-0)
Michigan
(0-0)
Alabama
Off
Michigan
Def
Alabama
Def
Michigan
Off
2011 F/+ Rk 1 12 7 25 1 14
Projected 2012 F/+ Rk 1 16 6 32 1 11
2011 FEI Rk 3 9 11 16 1 9
2011 S&P+ Rk 1 14 8 35 1 10
2011 Rushing S&P+ Rk 3 37 1 4
2011 Passing S&P+ Rk 3 35 1 15
2011 Std. Downs S&P+ Rk 1 25 2 9
Run-Pass Ratio
(Standard Downs)
60.5% Run
(53rd)
74.3% Run
(10th)
2011 Pass. Downs S&P+ Rk 10 55 1 8
Run-Pass Ratio
(Passing Downs)
45.1% Run
(11th)
40.2% Run
(21st)

Alabama is replacing six starters from last year's homicidal defense, all of whom are currently on NFL rosters, and those who do return have never faced a running threat at quarterback anywhere near the caliber of Denard Robinson. But all of the questions ahead of Saturday's blockbuster in Cowboys Stadium are on Michigan's offense, and on its dynamic senior quarterback, in particular. Does Robinson have the arm to seriously challenge the Crimson Tide's new cornerbacks? Does he have the muscle up front to make a dent in their impenetrable front seven? Will he have All-Big Ten tailback Fitzgerald Toussaint at his disposal to reduce the target on his own back? Can his speed and athleticism create opportunities against a defense known not only for its talent, but also for its punishing discipline? In the past, the answers where Robinson is concerned have always varied; where Nick Saban's defense is concerned, they have not.

When Alabama the ball, on the other hand, the situation is somewhat clearer. Between seniors Barrett Jones and Chance Warmack and junior D.J. Fluker, the Tide come in with three potential first-round draft picks who have combined for 84 career starts on the offensive line, and will also be introducing their oversized heir apparent, Cyrus Kouandjio, at left tackle. On the other side, Michigan is breaking in an entirely new rotation of defensive tackles in the middle of the line, and may be relying heavily on a true freshman, Ondre Pipkins, in his first college game. Surprise: Alabama aims to pound, pound and pound some more.

Georgia Tech (+7.5) at No. 16 Virginia Tech (Monday, 8 p.m. ET, ESPN)

OVERALL When Georgia Tech
Has the Ball ...
When Virginia Tech
Has the Ball ...
Category Ga. Tech
(0-0)
Va. Tech
(0-0)
Ga. Tech
Off
Va. Tech
Def
Ga. Tech
Def
Va. Tech
Off
2011 F/+ Rk 48 22 23 21 62 25
Projected 2012 F/+ Rk 30 18 20 10 57 35
2011 FEI Rk 43 27 16 31 61 35
2011 S&P+ Rk 33 18 16 11 62 44
2011 Rushing S&P+ Rk 11 27 101 51
2011 Passing S&P+ Rk 25 9 43 37
2011 Std. Downs S&P+ Rk 24 23 93 53
Run-Pass Ratio
(Standard Downs)
86.9% Run
(third)
65.1% Run
(30th)
2011 Pass. Downs S&P+ Rk 17 4 79 54
Run-Pass Ratio
(Passing Downs)
61.5% Run
(third)
40.3% Run
(20th)

There is much to say about Virginia Tech's mastodon of a quarterback, 6-foot-5, 250-pound Logan Thomas, and will be for years to come. But the rest of the Hokie offense is as blank a slate as you're going to find – the heart of last year's attack left with All-ACC tailback David Wilson and four veteran starters on the offensive line, and took both of Thomas' favorite receivers along for good measure – and anyway, Virginia Tech under Frank Beamer has always, always been first and foremost about the defense. On that front, this looks like a vintage Beamer outfit, featuring nine returning starters from a unit that returned to the top ten nationally last year in both total and scoring defense. The front seven, in particular, returns completely intact, and has had an entire offseason to prepare specifically for the Yellow Jackets' triple option.

Picks

The Picks
(* - "Fred Edelstein Lock of the Week")
Visitor Spread Home Matt F/+
South Carolina -6.5 Vanderbilt S. Carolina S. Carolina
Washington St. +12.5 BYU Wazzu BYU
Tennessee -3.5 N.C. St. Tennessee Tennessee
Boise St. +6.5 Michigan St. Boise St. Boise St.
Notre Dame -15.5 Navy Navy Notre Dame
Marshall +24.5 W. Virginia Marshall W. Va.
Southern Miss +20 Nebraska So. Miss So. Miss
Auburn +3.5 Clemson Auburn Auburn
Alabama -14 Michigan Michigan Alabama
Ga. Tech +7.5 Va. Tech Ga. Tech Va. Tech

Posted by: Matt Hinton on 30 Aug 2012

10 comments, Last at 01 Sep 2012, 4:20pm by bigtencrazy

Comments

1
by Will Allen :: Thu, 08/30/2012 - 8:20pm

Does Fred Edelstein's residence these days feature turrets?

2
by Aaron Brooks Go... :: Thu, 08/30/2012 - 10:44pm

Vandy's never gonna win if they can't start getting some clear pass interference calls. Maybe they should stop teaching and start buying athletes, like the other SEC schools do.

3
by ClemsonMatt (not verified) :: Fri, 08/31/2012 - 8:17am

Now now, we can't have Vandy actually winning a game they deserve to based on play if it removes a mighty SEC team from championship contention this early in the season.....

What's the over/under on Connor Shaw games missed to injury?

4
by Aaron Brooks Go... :: Fri, 08/31/2012 - 9:09am

3 for Vanilla Vick

5
by trueparallels (not verified) :: Fri, 08/31/2012 - 9:36am

I would have loved for Vandy to beat SC as much as anyone, but they've still got to go half the field to win the game even with a PI call. It's not like Vandy's offense was setting the world on fire.

6
by Russell Levine :: Fri, 08/31/2012 - 1:36pm

It thrills me to see this column live on, now entering its 10th season. Welcome Matt Hinton. Look forward to you upholding the proud name of Fred Edelstein in this space each week.

7
by Flounder :: Sat, 09/01/2012 - 8:32am

Well, I was only able to listen on the radio, but relieved that my Spartans were able to pull it out. You don't often win when committing four turnovers. The defense appears to be as good as advertised, and I can only hope that Maxwell learns to put some touch on the ball, and the receivers learn to catch a ball even if it's thrown a little too hard.

Between Bell and the defense, though, they have the pieces to be in every game.

8
by bigtencrazy (not verified) :: Sat, 09/01/2012 - 4:13pm

I always look at special teams first because poor special teams play can kill a season plus Wisconsin has a history of being inept.

The first few special teams efforts have been acceptable. We shall see

9
by bigtencrazy (not verified) :: Sat, 09/01/2012 - 4:18pm

Also very pleased that Penn State lost.

I am sorry for the players as their hands are clean in the debacle.

But I think the fan base needs some 2-10 seasons to get a sense of what matters. So I am rooting for several ugly seasons as a form of therapy.

10
by bigtencrazy (not verified) :: Sat, 09/01/2012 - 4:20pm

Wisconsin defensive line generating a pass rush. This is surprising.

Last year's team fought uphill as the d-line just couldn't disengage from blocks on passing downs.