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DVOA has finally climbed on board the Wentz Wagon! The Eagles move into the No. 1 spot, but they aren't the only strong, well-balanced team in the NFL this year. New Orleans, Pittsburgh, and the Los Angeles Rams make this one of the best seasons ever for multiple teams over 30% in DVOA, and Minnesota isn't far behind.

15 Sep 2016

Seventh Day Adventure: Week 3

by Ian Boyd

Week 2 of college football was fantastic, which was shocking given the lack of high-profile matchups. But that's what this sport offers on a regular basis: crazy stuff happens. The S&P projections held up well, particularly with the Arkansas +7.5 pick that proved instead to be an outright win for the Razorbacks.

The Big 12 had a tough week with potential conference contender TCU dropping that game to the Razorbacks, while Baylor looked lackluster early against SMU before eventually coming to life and putting the Mustangs down.

Marquee games of Week 3 include conference games in both the SEC Western division and the ACC Coastal division that will impact the playoff race in a major way. The night ends with a cross-divisional showdown between Stanford and USC that could significantly impact the Pac-12 race.

Preseason heavyweights like Oklahoma, Ohio State, Alabama, Ole Miss, Florida State, Stanford, USC, and Oregon are all featured in premier games in Week 3, so be ready for a wild Saturday.

All times are listed as Eastern.

Florida State (-3.5) at Louisville -- 12 p.m. Saturday (ABC/ESPN3)

Overall Florida State Louisville
2016 Proj. F/+ 5 19
When Florida State has the ball Offense Defense
2016 Projected S&P+ 9 20
2015 S&P+ 21 23
2015 FEI 25 55
2015 IsoPPP+ 15 25
2015 Rushing S&P+ 9 7
2015 Passing S&P+ 30 51
When Louisville has the ball Defense Offense
2016 Proj. S&P+ 18 27
2015 S&P+ 10 49
2015 FEI 25 55
2015 IsoPPP+ 5 45
2015 Rushing S&P+ 33 24
2015 Passing S&P+ 5 60

Much like Oklahoma's opening date with Houston, this game may prove to be more exciting than it appeared when originally scheduled. ESPN College GameDay is coming to Kentucky for this contest, and it may prove to shape the ACC playoff battle.

This is just the first of three king-slaying opportunities for the Cardinals, who also face Clemson and Houston this year, but this is perhaps their best chance to win, for three key reasons. The first is that it's a home game for them, and the first major road game for Noles freshman quarterback Deondre Francois. This is the time of year you want to face this Seminoles offense.

The second is that Louisville's star quarterback Lamar Jackson is still healthy heading into the game. The sensational sophomore already has 318 yards and six touchdowns on the ground this year, to go along with 692 passing yards and another seven touchdowns with only two games under his belt. He's absolutely terrifying when running in the open field, and the Cardinals have been able to get him there either through designed runs or by green-lighting his scrambling. Later in the year there'd be a greater chance that he'd be nursing an injury.

Finally, the Seminoles' own athletic freak, Derwin James, is going to be out for this game. James would have been the perfect weapon for silencing a problem like Lamar Jackson. On standard downs he plays free safety for Florida State, utilizing his excellent range and tackling ability to limit the damage from plays like a Lamar Jackson scramble. On passing downs they like to bring him down into the box where he can blitz or spy the quarterback. Without him, Florida State will have to make do with the rest of their defense playing smart, disciplined football.

The Louisville defense has been quite solid this year but handling Dalvin Cook and a potent passing game is a task beyond most college defenses, so this could be an exciting shootout.

Watch for:

  • Can Florida State tackle Lamar Jackson in the open field?
  • How well does Deondre Francois handle the pressure of trying to win the game if the Cardinals can control Dalvin Cook?
  • What's the early game atmosphere like in Kentucky?
  • Team discipline from the Seminoles: have they prepared for this game as though it were a season-defining contest?

S&P Outright Pick: Florida State

Alabama (-9.5) at Ole Miss -- 3:30 p.m. (CBS)

Overall Alabama Ole Miss
2016 Proj. F/+ 1 7
When Alabama has the ball Offense Defense
2016 Projected S&P+ 23 27
2015 S&P+ 25 21
2015 FEI 11 18
2015 IsoPPP+ 26 30
2015 Rushing S&P+ 13 18
2015 Passing S&P+ 28 30
When Ole Miss has the ball Defense Offense
2016 Proj. S&P+ 1 8
2015 S&P+ 1 9
2015 FEI 1 5
2015 IsoPPP+ 1 2
2015 Rushing S&P+ 1 23
2015 Passing S&P+ 1 2

Ole Miss has had Alabama's number in recent years, beating them in 2014 in Tuscaloosa and then again in 2015 at home in Oxford. In each instance the Crimson Tide struggled with the Ole Miss passing attack and defense. The 2015 defeat was also marked by Alabama's five turnovers, many of which gave the Rebels the ball deep in Tide territory.

However, the 2016 Alabama defense is probably the most well engineered Nick Saban defense yet in terms of stuffing spread offenses. Besides featuring a blistering pass rush highlighted by outside linebacker Tim Williams, the Tide also have a loaded secondary and an atypical (for them) athlete at weakside linebacker in Rashaan Evans, who can make plays in coverage you don't normally see from an inside linebacker.

Still, the Ole Miss Rebels offense is a difficult assignment. An athletic Florida State defense gave up 313 passing yards to Rebels quarterback Chad Kelly in Week 1, although they also picked him off three times.

On the other side of the ball Alabama is relying on a true freshman quarterback in Jalen Hurts against an Ole Miss defense known for speed and disguise. Because of that factor, there is some potential for another high-turnover performance from the Tide that combines with Kelly and the Ole Miss offense to give the Rebels another puncher's chance.

Western Kentucky had some surprising success bottling up the Alabama run game and forcing the Tide to beat them through the air (which they did), so there's some interesting potential here for a game where Ole Miss' defense successfully puts the game on Jalen Hurts' shoulders.

Watch for:

  • Alabama linebacker Rashaan Evans working against the Rebels' spread-option attack.
  • Can Ole Miss force Jalen Hurts to beat them with his arm?
  • How well does Chad Kelly navigate a speedy Alabama defensive backfield?
  • Does the team that runs the ball better finally win this game? Ole Miss has won its last two contests without leaning on the run.

S&P Outright Pick: Alabama

Oregon (-3) at Nebraska -- 3:30 p.m. (ABC)

Overall Oregon Nebraska
2016 Proj. F/+ 11 22
When Oregon has the ball Offense Defense
2016 Projected S&P+ 4 53
2015 S&P+ 6 57
2015 FEI 20 40
2015 IsoPPP+ 6 84
2015 Rushing S&P+ 4 36
2015 Passing S&P+ 19 78
When Nebraska has the ball Defense Offense
2016 Proj. S&P+ 52 15
2015 S&P+ 36 2
2015 FEI 116 60
2015 IsoPPP+ 87 25
2015 Rushing S&P+ 110 43
2015 Passing S&P+ 61 25

The Ducks have been chugging along somewhat under the radar thus far in 2016. They blew out their first two opponents, but Nebraska will be their first major test. It'll also be the first real test for the Ducks' starting quarterback and FCS transfer Dakota Prukop. Oregon's new signal-caller played for a struggling young program in high school and then played higher-level FCS football at Montana State, but has never experienced an atmosphere like what he'll face in Lincoln against the "blackshirts" defense.

Of course the Nebraska defense isn't playing at a level comparable to that of better Bo Pellini units, much less the legendary units that dominated the 1990s. Still, Nebraska has played well on defense thus far despite having to replace multiple linemen from their 2015 unit with youth and inexperience.

The Oregon defense has been working on its own rebuild under new defensive coordinator Brady Hoke and will also be facing its sternest test yet from the Cornhuskers offense and quarterback Tommy Armstrong, Jr. Nebraska has leaned on a quick-strike passing game that Oregon will have to bottle up if it wants to avoid playing a shootout in enemy territory.

Watch for:

  • Dakota Prukop's first attempt at high-level football.
  • Can Nebraska's young defensive front handle the stress of Oregon's speed and spread-option tactics?
  • How close is Brady Hoke's rebuild of the Ducks defense to featuring a top level unit?

S&P Outright Pick: Oregon

Michigan State at Notre Dame (-7.5) -- 7:30 p.m. (NBC)

Overall Michigan State Notre Dame
2016 Proj. F/+ 20 15
When Michigan State has the ball Offense Defense
2016 Projected S&P+ 45 48
2015 S&P+ 27 35
2015 FEI 24 57
2015 IsoPPP+ 72 55
2015 Rushing S&P+ 98 51
2015 Passing S&P+ 30 36
When Notre Dame has the ball Defense Offense
2016 Proj. S&P+ 13 5
2015 S&P+ 12 8
2015 FEI 14 8
2015 IsoPPP+ 11 4
2015 Rushing S&P+ 21 3
2015 Passing S&P+ 10 8

This game will be a major test of whether the Michigan State Spartans are truly in "we don't rebuild, we reload" mode on offense, or whether their offensive success over the last few years was due to the brilliance of Connor Cook. If you look at their offensive numbers in 2015 and watch their tape, you realize that their lofty S&P ranking was largely the result of Connor Cook's ability to execute third-and-long from empty (five receiver) formations.

The Spartans are now relying on senior Tyler O'Connor, who was Cook's understudy for the last three years and had a nice debut in Week 1 against Furman. Michigan State also has a three-deep rotation of running backs and a few big, talented tight ends to help open up rushing lanes for them.

The Notre Dame defense across from them had a rough start when they gave up 237 rushing yards to Texas' power run game, but they followed that up by shutting down Nevada. They'll have a different challenge in the Spartans' cleverly designed, pro-style attack.

The battle between Notre Dame's explosive offense, now firmly under the command of quarterback DeShone Kizer, and Michigan State's always physical defense will be what really draws eyeballs to this game.

For the last few years the Spartans have really struggled to handle balanced spread offenses, with Baylor, Oregon, and finally Alabama taking advantage of their aggressive linebacker tactics with option passes to slot receivers and occasional deep shots in the seams. If they haven't adjusted their approach somewhat to handle the ways in which teams have learned to attack them, then this game could go Notre Dame's way in a big way. If they have, then we'll have a fun game competing for our attention on Saturday night.

Watch for:

  • Do the Spartans back off on the edges to control the spread-option?
  • How does Spartans quarterback Tyler O'Connor handle the Irish pressure packages?
  • Who controls the trenches in this contest between two teams that pride themselves on their size and physicality on the line?
  • DeShone Kizer testing the Spartans' "no fly zone" and top cornerback Vayante Copeland with deep tosses to wideout Equanimeous St. Brown.

S&P Outright Pick: Notre Dame

Ohio State (-1.5) at Oklahoma -- 7:30 p.m. (FOX)

Overall Ohio State Oklahoma
2016 Proj. F/+ 13 4
When Ohio State has the ball Offense Defense
2016 Projected S&P+ 19 21
2015 S&P+ 14 16
2015 FEI 13 2
2015 IsoPPP+ 17 3
2015 Rushing S&P+ 8 6
2015 Passing S&P+ 26 6
When Oklahoma has the ball Defense Offense
2016 Proj. S&P+ 17 6
2015 S&P+ 8 7
2015 FEI 9 12
2015 IsoPPP+ 4 8
2015 Rushing S&P+ 17 18
2015 Passing S&P+ 4 10

I've personally been very bearish on the 2016 Oklahoma Sooners, who started the season with a big thud when they went down hard against the Houston Cougars. The Buckeyes return a lot less than Oklahoma on both offense and defense after sending 12 players to the NFL and have consequently have put a lot of analysts in "wait and see" mode. However, while the Sooners were replacing a few key players on both offense and defense, the Buckeyes were returning a few key players and surrounding them with fresh, blue-chip talent.

Early results suggest that the Buckeyes' efforts to build another lethal Urban Meyer offense around returning quarterback J.T. Barrett and an athletic cast of skill players is going swimmingly. Meanwhile, their defense has taken off, with free safety Malik Hooker already at three interceptions after two games.

The Sooners will have to establish their running game against a very athletic and physical Buckeyes defensive front in order to avoid having to throw the ball on Hooker and the Ohio State secondary when they know what's coming. Meanwhile, the Sooners' own defensive front will need a strong showing against an Ohio State spread-option running game whose top two options (Mike Weber and Curtis Samuel) are each averaging better than 6 yards per carry.

Oklahoma had better answers for Greg Ward, Jr., and a similar offensive attack from Houston than they have had in the past, but were done in by the limitations of their own secondary. If they can bottle up Ohio State's run game and find another cornerback to pair with Jordan Thomas, then they should be able to defend their home field and make this a great game.

Watch for:

  • Who plays at cornerback for Oklahoma opposite Jordan Thomas and how often does Urban Meyer go after him?
  • Can Oklahoma establish its run game against the Buckeyes' defensive front?
  • Curtis Samuel is Urban Meyer's new Percy Harvin -- can the Sooners contain him?
  • Does the legend of Big Game Bob (Stoops) persevere?

S&P Outright Pick: Oklahoma

USC at Stanford (-6.5) -- 8 p.m. (ABC)

Overall USC Stanford
2016 Proj. F/+ 12 9
When USC has the ball Offense Defense
2016 Projected S&P+ 13 35
2015 S&P+ 15 41
2015 FEI 14 22
2015 IsoPPP+ 58 41
2015 Rushing S&P+ 34 65
2015 Passing S&P+ 38 57
When Stanford has the ball Defense Offense
2016 Proj. S&P+ 25 12
2015 S&P+ 42 5
2015 FEI 25 2
2015 IsoPPP+ 44 1
2015 Rushing S&P+ 35 21
2015 Passing S&P+ 41 7

It was obvious enough that Stanford's brilliant 2015 offense was built around Christian McCaffrey, so Kansas State did all they could in Week 1 to limit his impact. Despite their best efforts, he finished the game with 29 combined touches on offense for 166 yards and two touchdowns. Meanwhile, new Stanford starting quarterback Ryan Burns toasted the Wildcats through the air for 156 yards on 18 passes and gave the Cardinal an early lead that they would not relinquish.

The Trojans have a more talented defense than Kansas State, but you wonder if they'll be up to the task of trying to control a retooled Cardinal unit that hasn't seemed to miss a beat from 2015.

On the flip side, Stanford needed to make a leap on defense to make the most of the McCaffrey era, and will have an interesting opportunity against a Trojans offense that hasn't totally come alive yet. USC opened with Alabama, which fields what might be a historically great defense, and then followed that up with scrappy mid-major Utah State. If the Trojans can get their own running game rolling, that will ease some pressure off new quarterback Max Browne, who hasn't been firing on all cylinders yet.

Watch for:

  • How far does USC go to stop Christian McCaffrey?
  • Can the Trojans offensive line get some movement against a stout Cardinal defensive front?
  • What does Ryan Burns and the Stanford passing game look like against USC's athletes?
  • The Cardinal pass rush got eight sacks against Kansas State -- can it put similar pressure on USC?

S&P+ Outright Pick: USC

S&P+ PICKS: WEEK 3

Favorite Spread Underdog S&P Pick S&P Pick against the spread
Florida State 3.5 at Louisville Florida State Florida State
Alabama 9.5 at Ole Miss Alabama Ole Miss
Oregon 3 at Nebraska Oregon Oregon
at Notre Dame 7.5 Michigan State Notre Dame Notre Dame
Ohio State 1.5 at Oklahoma Oklahoma Oklahoma
at Stanford 6.5 USC USC USC

Posted by: Ian Boyd on 15 Sep 2016

2 comments, Last at 15 Sep 2016, 5:15pm by billycurley

Comments

1
by Aaron Brooks Go... :: Thu, 09/15/2016 - 4:41pm

Come on -- give us a breakdown of Iowa-NDSU.

2
by billycurley :: Thu, 09/15/2016 - 5:15pm

The bison have been hunted to extinction.

Hawks, 47-3.