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» Scramble for the Ball: With All the Fixings

An idiot's (two idiots'?) guide to Thanksgiving football, prepped and primed for the monsters-in-law who only watch these three games in a year.

29 Oct 2015

SDA: A Deep Week of Games

by Chad Peltier

This is one of those weeks in the college football season with a lot of depth, but not a ton of star power. College GameDay had to choose a location between Stanford at Washington State and Notre Dame at Temple. But what it lacks in terms of matchups between elite teams (a significant portion of the top ten F/+ and AP Poll schools are on bye weeks), the week more than makes up for in watchability. Take North Carolina vs. Pitt and West Virginia against TCU, which are both on Thursday night. Only a Mountaineers upset over the Horned Frogs really has national playoff implications, but the matchups are between teams ranked within ten spots of one another in the F/+ rankings. And even in the matchups between teams without as much parity, like Stanford-WSU and Oklahoma State at Texas Tech, there are likely to be a lot of points scored, making for an exciting couple of matchups that are evenly spaced throughout the week.

In terms of national implications, all eyes will be on Notre Dame and Temple, two schools with long-shot odds on a playoff spot (Notre Dame obviously with shorter odds than Temple), but Stanford and TCU both have playoff potential and face teams that are talented enough to get the upset. Finally, don't count out the Georgia-Florida rivalry, which should go a long way in determining the SEC East winner this season.

North Carolina (-3) at Pittsburgh -- Thursday 7 p.m. (ESPN)

Overall North Carolina Pitt
F/+ 30 38
When North Carolina has the ball Offense Defense
S&P+ 23 39
FEI 19 48
Success Rate 9 27
IsoPPP 17 90
Rushing S&P+ 44 98
Passing S&P+ 26 7
When Pittsburgh has the ball Defense Offense
S&P+ 61 52
FEI 60 22
Success Rate 101 46
IsoPPP 3 94
Rushing S&P+ 116 49
Passing S&P+ 74 55

If not for seven total points against Iowa and South Carolina, we'd be talking about a matchup between two undefeated ACC teams in Pittsburgh and North Carolina. As it stands, the 6-1 teams are nonetheless surprisingly decent if only just top-50 S&P+-ranked teams. Their strengths are somewhat opposite -- the Tar Heels are offense-focused, while former Michigan State defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi's Panthers lean on their defense. So we're likely to have a close, low-scoring game between the pair of ACC challengers.

North Carolina's offense has been fueled by the emergence of sophomore running back Elijah Hood, a former blue-chip back who now averages 6.5 yards per carry and a 45 percent opportunity rate. Hood's efficiency has made quarterback Marquise Williams even more deadly on the ground, as he averages a ridiculously efficient 57 percent opportunity rate. The Tarheels are ranked just 44th in rushing S&P+, likely due to the quality of their defensive competition thus far, but those insane numbers put them 12th in unadjusted success rate and 15th rushing IsoPPP. This might be the single biggest disparity between the two teams: The Pitt pass defense is one of the best in the country (seventh in passing S&P+ and unadjusted success rate, and 14th in adjusted sack rate), so even though Williams has been efficient (26th in passing S&P+), the North Carolina offensive line is liable to allow a few sacks, and Williams has had issues with turnovers (seven interceptions). That's not to say that Williams doesn't have receiving options, with four receivers totaling over 300 yards this season and two of those four averaging more than 17 yards per reception, but Narduzzi's efficiency-based cover-four pass defense should make North Carolina fairly one-dimensional. Between Williams and Hood, expect North Carolina to have its best success on the ground, with more than a few explosive runs between the two backs.

As good as North Carolina is on the ground, the run defense has been correspondingly poor. They rank 116th in run defense and 117th in adjusted line yards, which should likely give freshman Pitt running back Qadree Ollison plenty of running room. Ollison is an interesting running back. For most running backs there is a high correlation between explosiveness and efficiency, but Ollison is far more explosive than he is efficient at this point in his career, averaging 7.5 highlight yards per opportunity but only a 34 percent opportunity rate. But North Carolina has held six of their seven opponents to 17 points or less despite poor rushing efficiency, and that's due to new defensive coordinator Gene Chizik's excellent red zone defense, which ranks ninth in finishing drives (holding opponents to an average of just 3.4 points per trip inside the Carolina 40-yard line). So unless Ollison can break a long run or two from outside the red zone, Pitt offense's efficiency may not necessarily translate into points. The Pittsburgh passing offense, led by junior Nate Peterman, is less predictable. While he has protected the ball well, completing two-thirds of his passes with only three picks, he has been sacked on 8 percent of his dropbacks (104th in adjusted sack rate) and is reliant on almost a one-man receiving corps in Tyler Boyd. Boyd commanded a similarly large focus in the Pitt passing offense a year ago, but he was more explosive in 2014 (he averages 9.2 yards per catch this season, down from 16.0 a year ago). North Carolina's job is simple: lock down Boyd with double coverage and devote most of the defense's attention to stopping Ollison in the run game.

Watch for:

  • The most critical matchup of the game might be how Pitt handles the strong North Carolina rushing attack. The Panthers should limit the Tar Heels' efficiency through the air, but Marquise Williams and Elijah Hood lead an incredibly efficient rushing offense.
  • Will Pittsburgh's offense be stymied in the red zone or can Ollison break off a long run or two?

F/+ Outright Pick: Pittsburgh

West Virginia (+14.5) at TCU -- Thursday 7:30 p.m. (FOXS1)

Overall West Virginia TCU
F/+ 22 13
When West Virginia has the ball Offense Defense
S&P+ 17 59
FEI 50 82
Success Rate 45 56
IsoPPP 47 91
Rushing S&P+ 27 70
Passing S&P+ 15 60
When TCU has the ball Defense Offense
S&P+ 24 2
FEI 8 10
Success Rate 7 2
IsoPPP 126 12
Rushing S&P+ 5 45
Passing S&P+ 11 2

It has been a strange year for both these teams. The Mountaineers and Horned Frogs are neck-and-neck in the S&P+ rankings despite West Virginia losing three in a row to the other three best teams in the Big 12 besides TCU. The Horned Frogs are holding on to an undefeated record with excellent offensive play that has made up for personnel losses on defense. West Virginia began the year with three-straight 90 percent-plus S&P+ performances, but has averaged a 46 percent performance in the three losses since. Besides TCU this week, the remaining schedule is favorable for the Mountaineers -- but this run of four games has been brutal for Dana Holgorsen and company. So can they avoid a four-game skid and hand the Horned Frogs their first loss? The answer will hinge on their ability to create explosive pass plays and defend both explosive passes and rushes.

Two players make the Mountaineers offense tick: Receiver Shelton Gibson and running back Wendell Smallwood. Smallwood leads the 27th-overall rushing S&P+ offense that is far more efficient than it is explosive. Smallwood has a 50 percent opportunity rate and is far more consistent than Rushel Shell, with whom he splits carries (38 percent opportunity rate). With Smallwood and the offensive line's consistency -- they are also 17th in adjusted line yards -- the Mountaineers have enough of a run game to open up big plays in the passing game, where sophomore Shelton Gibson is the driving force in this explosive group. The passing game is only moderately efficient (50th in unadjusted success rate), but is very explosive, ranking 18th in IsoPPP behind Gibson's third-leading average of 23.5 yards per catch. Like with Smallwood in the run game, the Mountaineers have other receiving targets that are targeted nearly as frequently, but none are as dangerous as Gibson is. This is important because the Horned Frogs defense has been susceptible to two main issues: efficient running backs (107th in rushing success rate) and explosive passes (124th in passing IsoPPP). As you might expect, the Horned Frogs will likely need to win a shootout.

But the Mountaineers' defense might give the Horned Frogs opportunities to turn this into that shootout. The Mountaineers defense is very solid overall -- 24th in defensive S&P+ and eighth in defensive FEI -- but is far worse in allowing explosive plays than in being mostly successful. For instance, they are 11th overall in defensive passing S&P+ and 18th in success rate, but 122nd in passing IsoPPP. Trevone Boykin and leading receiver Josh Doctson have put up incredible numbers through the air: Doctson averages nearly 18 yards per catch and has a 78 percent catch rate for a total of 1,067 yards this season. With thirty percent of the team's targets through the air, West Virginia's defensive priority will be trying to just limit Doctson's yards after the catch. Shutting him down will be close to impossible, but limiting the Horned Frogs' explosiveness should be the highest priority of the Mountaineers in this probable shootout.

Watch for:

  • This should be a shootout, with the explosive Shelton Gibson at wide receiver against the 124th-ranked TCU passing IsoPPP defense and Josh Doctson as his TCU counterpart.
  • The Mountaineers defense has been solid overall but has been susceptible to explosive plays -- can a few stops and three-and-outs be the difference?

F/+ Outright Pick: TCU

Georgia (+3) vs. Florida -- 3:30 p.m. (CBS)

Overall Georgia Florida
F/+ 36 12
When Georgia has the ball Offense Defense
S&P+ 43 13
FEI 35 12
Success Rate 59 18
IsoPPP 11 94
Rushing S&P+ 21 19
Passing S&P+ 10 22
When Florida has the ball Defense Offense
S&P+ 30 37
FEI 43 39
Success Rate 10 48
IsoPPP 82 63
Rushing S&P+ 25 40
Passing S&P+ 80 20

The annual World's Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party is the opposite matchup relative to what we thought during the preseason: a highly-ranked Florida taking on an unranked Georgia. Neither offense had a set quarterback through most of fall camp, while both defenses were supposed to be solid. But Georgia had Nick Chubb and Sony Michel, so the best guess was that the Georgia running game could overwhelm the stout Florida defense. Now, minus Nick Chubb due to a season-ending knee injury and with the passing games trending in opposite directions for Georgia and Florida, the advantage might lay with first year head coach Jim McElwain and the Gators.

Prior to his injury, Nick Chubb dueled with Leonard Fournette for the SEC's top running back spot, and the Georgia rushing offense was incredibly efficient and explosive because of Chubb's consistency and both his and Michel's explosiveness. But Georgia lost not only a great player, but potentially its efficient rushing offense when Chubb went down. Chubb averaged a 47 percent opportunity rate to complement 8.7 highlight yards per opportunity. Sony Michel, who starts in Chubb's absence, is also an incredible back (and the higher-rated of the two according to many scouts coming out of high school), but is much less efficient. Michel has a 30 percent opportunity rate while averaging 9.0 highlight yards per opportunity, meaning that the Georgia offense is without its primary efficiency driver -- and has no clear answer to replace him unless Michel becomes more of a workhorse or another back (Keith Marshall maybe?) picks up the efficiency component of the Georgia offense. But the benefit for Georgia is that Florida is much worse allowing explosive runs relative to rushing efficiency, ranking 94th in rushing IsoPPP and 21st in rushing success rate. Interestingly, the Georgia passing offense might replace some of the work on Georgia's standard downs. Anyone who watched Greyson Lambert against Alabama, Tennessee, or Missouri would balk at Georgia's passing offense being ranked tenth in overall passing S&P+, but there's a good reason why that's a little deceiving: Georgia is actually 74th in passing downs S&P+ and 106th in passing downs success rate. That is, Lambert excels at efficient passing on standard downs, but really struggles in obvious passing situations. Florida has one of the most efficient passing defenses in the country, but is prone to allowing big plays (82nd in passing IsoPPP). Expect Georgia offensive coordinator to at least consider throwing more often on standard downs to try and break a big pass or two to Terry Godwin or Malcom Mitchell.

The Florida offense was one of the biggest surprises of the year, as they rank 20th in passing S&P+ and 39th in overall offensive FEI despite not having a clear starter at quarterback to start the season. They eventually settled on Will Grier, who was then suspended for a year due to performance enhancing drugs. Now Treon Harris is back as the Gators' starter, but he's looking better than ever thanks to McElwain's tutelage. But the Florida offensive line is a liability (110th in adjusted sack rate) and Harris likely makes it worse (9.2 percent sack rate), so this is Georgia's likely play -- be aggressive with the pass rush (where the Bulldogs rank 45th in adjusted sack rate) and try to contain Harris when he runs the ball. Harris has a 58 percent opportunity rate (albeit on only 17 carries) and might be more of a danger to the Georgia defense than starting running back Kelvin Taylor. The Georgia run defense has been largely effective (25th in rushing S&P+ and sixth in success rate) but it tends to allow big plays on the ground, particularly to running quarterbacks like Tennessee's Josh Dobbs (they are 113th in rushing IsoPPP). So that spells Florida's likely strategy: win with defense and Treon Harris running the ball, and have Harris throw on the move.

Watch for:

  • Where will Georgia find consistent efficiency in Nick Chubb's absence -- from Sony Michel (who averages a 30 percent opportunity rate), Keith Marshall, or the passing game on standard downs?
  • Can Georgia contain Treon Harris when he runs, and can the pass rush take advantage of a poor pass blocking Florida offensive line?

F/+ Outright Pick: Florida

Oklahoma State (-3) at Texas Tech -- 3:30 p.m. (ESPN)

Overall Oklahoma State Texas Tech
F/+ 18 55
When Oklahoma State has the ball Offense Defense
S&P+ 31 121
FEI 42 110
Success Rate 61 127
IsoPPP 44 74
Rushing S&P+ 115 117
Passing S&P+ 56 69
When Texas Tech has the ball Defense Offense
S&P+ 33 3
FEI 25 8
Success Rate 7 50
IsoPPP 18 10
Rushing S&P+ 57 5
Passing S&P+ 13 42

This is Texas Tech's latest shot at a big upset after falling to the conference's best in TCU, Baylor, and Oklahoma. Oklahoma State is undefeated, but it's difficult to judge just how good the Cowboys are, given that they have faced only one team ranked higher than 63rd in the S&P+ rankings (their schedule is back-loaded similarly to Baylor's, with TCU, Baylor, and Oklahoma all in November).

Like most Big-12 teams, Oklahoma State's success and failure is primarily through the air -- ranking 56th in offensive passing S&P+ and 13th in defensive passing S&P+ -- and this matchup might come down to how well Texas Tech is able to contain Mason Rudolph and the Oklahoma State passing game. Rudolph has been efficient apart from seven interceptions, but the Oklahoma State passing offense isn't the most explosive apart from leading receiver David Glidden (who averages 16 yards per catch). Texas Tech's defense has been predictably poor in passing efficiency (69th in passing S&P+ but 125th in passing success rate), so expect Rudolph to pick apart the Red Raiders' defense. It would be fine if Texas Tech allowed that kind of passing efficiency so long as it also had some kind of red zone defense, but they allow an average of 5.4 points per scoring opportunity (115th) too, so expect the Cowboys to take advantage of most scoring chances.

Surprisingly, for Texas Tech to match Oklahoma State score for score, they're likely to have a ground-heavy game. For one, Oklahoma State's defense is 13th in passing S&P+, shutting down explosive pass plays with a fierce pass rush led by Emmanuel Ogbah and his eight sacks this season (the defense as a whole is 18th in adjusted sack rate). The strength of the Cowboys defense is definitely against the pass as they are 57th in rushing S&P+. That matches up well with Texas Tech, who is fifth in offensive rushing S&P+ and top-ten in both opportunity rate and adjusted line yards. While it's true the Red Raiders only run on 47 percent of standard downs, that percentage might rise for this matchup so leading rusher DeAndre Washington can continue his efficient season. The Red Raiders' top three rushers all average more than 6 yards per carry and above a 43 percent opportunity rate, indicative of a solid offensive line no matter who the ballcarrier is. The main question will be whether they will be able to have some balance through the air as well.

Watch for:

  • Can a typically pass-heavy Red Raiders offense lean on the run to take advantage of matchups against an Oklahoma State defense that is much better against the pass?
  • How balanced will the Red Raiders be on offense? Will Emmanuel Ogbah and the Cowboys' pass rush negate any efforts by Patrick Mahomes and the passing game?
  • Can Oklahoma State continue to be as effective through the air and take advantage of the 125th-ranked passing success rate Texas Tech defense?

F/+ Outright Pick: Oklahoma State

Notre Dame (-11) at Temple -- 8 p.m. (ABC)

Overall Notre Dame Temple
F/+ 6 33
When Notre Dame has the ball Offense Defense
S&P+ 6 6
FEI 6 26
Success Rate 17 6
IsoPPP 13 67
Rushing S&P+ 1 21
Passing S&P+ 13 27
When Temple has the ball Defense Offense
S&P+ 37 85
FEI 29 82
Success Rate 29 91
IsoPPP 121 65
Rushing S&P+ 41 98
Passing S&P+ 17 71

College GameDay couldn't resist the opportunity to follow another non-Power 5 team around -- and this time it's Temple, as the Owls welcome Notre Dame to Philadelphia. The Owls are undefeated at 7-0 and are right outside of the top 25 in both the S&P+ and FEI rankings. While 6-1 Notre Dame is favored, the Owls should give the Fighting Irish a stiff test defensively, as the sixth-ranked Irish offense will take on the sixth-ranked S&P+ Temple defense.

The Temple offense hasn't been great at too much -- just efficient enough on offense to take advantage of the top overall average starting field position in the country -- so Temple's run to 7-0 has been built on a defense that limits scoring opportunities and is very efficient. Temple has the fifth-ranked defensive rushing success rate in the country, and what may be most impressive is that they win critical run defense situations, at eighth in power success rate (47 percent). Notre Dame surprisingly has the top overall rushing S&P+ spot this season, with C.J. Prosise leading a balanced efficient and explosive rushing attack (17th and 11th in success rate and IsoPPP, respectively). The former receiver and backup during preseason has had a 52 percent opportunity rate -- and the second- and third-leading rushers quarterback DeShone Kizer and freshman running back Josh Adams have been roughly as efficient as Prosise. That's a testament to the offensive line -- though it's worth pointing out that the Irish are 83rd in power success rate -- which is the Temple run defense's strength. But when Temple allows explosive runs (99th in IsoPPP) and Prosise averages 7 highlight yards per opportunity, it's fair to expect big plays from the Notre Dame rushing offense. And that's not to mention the Irish passing offense, with Will Fuller averaging 22 yards per catch this season.

Temple is better on defense compared to offense, but running back Jahad Thomas might find some opportunities for big gains (averaging 6.8 highlight yards per opportunity) against a Notre Dame run defense that is 120th in rushing IsoPPP. The Irish have been hurt by injuries on defense but been solid otherwise, holding opponents to under four points in scoring opportunities. Temple is moderately explosive through the air -- P.J. Walker has been solid, if unspectacular this season -- but Notre Dame's defense has been susceptible to big pass plays (116th in passing IsoPPP). So watch for whether senior receiver Robby Anderson can turn some of his frequent targets to big gains.

Watch for:

  • Can Temple take advantage of the one weakness of the Notre Dame run game -- its short-yardage situations, where the Owls have dominated? Or will the Owls allow too many big plays through the air and on the ground?
  • Can Temple break a few explosive runs and passes -- where Notre Dame is weakest on defense?

F/+ Outright Pick: Notre Dame

Stanford (-10.5) at Washington State -- 10:30 p.m. (ESPN)

Overall Stanford Washington State
F/+ 9 53
When Stanford has the ball Offense Defense
S&P+ 10 93
FEI 3 64
Success Rate 3 107
IsoPPP 100 45
Rushing S&P+ 29 85
Passing S&P+ 1 73
When Washington State has the ball Defense Offense
S&P+ 42 28
FEI 63 32
Success Rate 25 5
IsoPPP 61 110
Rushing S&P+ 23 64
Passing S&P+ 40 89

All of a sudden Stanford looks like one of the best teams in the country. After an embarrassing 16-6 loss to Northwestern to start the year, the Stanford offense has scored at least 31 points in every other game this year, including a combined 97 points against USC and UCLA (12th and 17th in the S&P+ overall rankings) and now is third in offensive FEI. The Pac-12 North favorite seems to have its offense under control thanks to the emergence of do-everything running back Christian McCaffrey -- the team's leading receiver -- and Kevin Hogan's efficient play. But the defense has not been quite as effective as in previous years, ranking 42nd in defensive S&P+, and that could be an issue against an efficient Washington State offense that has racked up three straight conference wins.

Looking at the Cougars, there aren't many more efficient offenses in the country. Quarterback Luke Falk leads the fifth overall offense in success rate. But for as efficient as they might be, they struggle to generate big plays, ranking 110th in overall IsoPPP and 118th in passing IsoPPP. But when you are able to pass efficiently, and no one passes more often than you do (Washington State runs less often than any offense in the country, just 33 percent of the time on standard downs and on nine percent of passing downs), then your offense is probably largely successful. Stanford's pass defense has been good, but not great, ranking 40th overall, possibly due to being second-to-last in their ability to pressure the quarterback. If the Cardinal can't hurry throws out of Luke Falk, the Cougars might be able to drive the field on Stanford's defense. The second major concern for Stanford's defense is their poor red zone efficiency, ranking 96th in opponent points per trip inside their 40-yard line (allowing nearly five points per trip). That's not to dismiss Stanford's defense -- which been very successful this season -- but it has allowed excellent quarterbacks like Josh Rosen and Cody Kessler to have big nights.

The Stanford offense has steamrolled opponents since being flummoxed by the Wildcats in the season opener. The third-most efficient team in the country and 11th in turning scoring opportunities in to touchdowns, Stanford looks like it can score consistently on any defense -- never mind Washington State's 93rd-overall S&P+ unit. Christian McCaffrey has been the centerpiece of this offensive resurgence, with his high rushing efficiency (47 percent opportunity rate) and consistency as a receiver out of the backfield (78 percent catch rate and the most targeted receiver on the team). It's a vintage Stanford offense when a running back and tight end are the two leading receivers on the team. This should get ugly for Washington State's defense, which is 93rd overall in S&P+ and 64th in defensive FEI. The best bet for Washington State will be to be extremely aggressive -- they currently have the fifth-most havoc-raising linebacker corps in the country, while Stanford's offensive line seems to miss Andreus Peat, judging by their 69th-ranking in adjusted sack rate.

Watch for:

  • Can Stanford correct poor red zone defense after allowing nearly five points per scoring opportunity through seven games?
  • Will Stanford's poor pass rush allow Luke Falk to be as efficient as he was against lesser competition?

F/+ Outright Pick: Stanford

OTHER GAMES

Minnesota vs. Michigan: This is Minnesota's first game after Jerry Kill's surprising retirement due to health concerns, so it's fair to expect the team to try and win one for their former coach. It has been a tough year for the Golden Gophers offense, and it will be tough for that to change against the Michigan defense.

Ole Miss vs. Auburn: Auburn has looked better under Sean White, but faces a steep challenge against Ole Miss, particularly on defense. The Auburn run game lacks explosiveness and Ricardo Louis seems to be the only receiving threat, making this a tough matchup for the Tigers.

F/+ PICKS: WEEK 9

Favorite Spread Underdog F/+ Pick F/+ vs. Spread Pick
North Carolina 3 at Pitt Pitt Pitt
at TCU 14 West Virginia TCU West Virginia
Ole Miss 7.5 at Auburn Ole Miss Ole Miss
Florida 3 Georgia Florida Florida
Oklahoma State 3 at Texas Tech Oklahoma State Oklahoma State
Michigan 14 at Minnesota Michigan Michigan
Notre Dame 10.5 at Temple Notre Dame Temple
Stanford 12 at Washington State Stanford Washington State

College football picks against the spread last week: 4-4
College football picks straight up last week: 8-0

Posted by: Chad Peltier on 29 Oct 2015

3 comments, Last at 30 Oct 2015, 1:04am by Vincent Verhei

Comments

1
by gomer_rs :: Thu, 10/29/2015 - 9:25pm

Go COUGS!!!
_______

I remember when they were the Sea-chickens.

2
by dwest718 :: Thu, 10/29/2015 - 10:30pm

Can you please make sure to get this posted before the games kickoff? Fortunately F/+ didn't get the pick right for either of the games tonight, but tough to tail / use as part of the systems if 25% of the picks are posted after the games start.

3
by Vincent Verhei :: Fri, 10/30/2015 - 1:04am

That is on me. We will get it up on time next week.