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13 Oct 2016

Seventh Day Adventure: Week 7

by Ian Boyd

There's nothing better than conference play to provide perspective on teams. Every team recruits and develops its own roster with its conference opponents in mind, and no one knows a team better than its immediate competitors around the league.

In the instance of Oklahoma, getting out of non-conference play and taking on the Big 12 has been a welcome change in scenery. The Sooners are 2-0 thus far after winning shootouts against TCU and Texas. They are starting to rally around their own potent offense and a defensive identity that could allow them to keep winning shootouts.

In the SEC, Tennessee finally ran out of lives on the road against Texas A&M, who's still undefeated with battles against Alabama and Ole Miss looming ahead. The Crimson Tide still haven't had their annual SEC West defeat, but they are in great shape to repeat as SEC champions and playoff entrants.

Washington faced a test in the Pac-12 going to Eugene to play Oregon after struggling to put away a similar opponent in Arizona two weeks prior, but it rose to the occasion with a 70-12 thumping of the Ducks. The Huskies are now clear frontrunners out west and a likely playoff contender.

In the east, Florida State stopped its skid and kept Miami at bay with a narrow 20-19 victory, fueled by a gritty effort from quarterback Deondre Francois and the typical explosiveness of Dalvin Cook. Indiana gave Ohio State some issues, and the end-of-year battle between the Buckeyes and Michigan Wolverines is looking more crucial every week.

Week 7 has several good games and a few landmines for some of the national contenders, but there are certain things that won't be settled until we reach rivalry week at the end of the year.

All times are listed as Eastern.

Kansas State at Oklahoma (-14) -- 12 p.m. (ESPN)

Overall Kansas State Oklahoma
F/+ 43 19
When Kansas State has the ball Offense Defense
S&P+ 67 54
IsoPPP+ 99 39
Rushing S&P+ 45 17
Passing S&P+ 114 35
When Oklahoma has the ball Defense Offense
S&P+ 26 6
IsoPPP+ 60 3
Rushing S&P+ 22 5
Passing S&P+ 69 7

The Sooners have some great athletes at defensive back and the Big 12's most dangerous pass-rusher in outside linebacker Obo Okoronkwo (five sacks on the year), so as a result they are finding ways to make enough stops on defense to allow S&P's second-ranked offense to win shootouts against Big 12 opponents.

Kansas State is not a typical Big 12 team, though, so these normal rules don't apply. The path to beating the Wildcats isn't to win a shootout, but to avoid the kinds of mistakes that head coach Bill Snyder has designed his team to feast on. Kansas State has a very good defense that plays a "bend don't break" brand of quarters coverage and is happy to sit back, keep the ball in front, and pounce on mistakes when they can be found. Snyder places a tremendous emphasis on special teams, and Kansas State regularly flips field position or even generates scores with its return teams. The Wildcats offense is designed to maintain drives, run clock, and turn games into contests of which team can be more efficient with limited possessions. Because of their team discipline in all three phases of the game, they tend to come out ahead in that formula.

The route that the Sooners have followed to previous victories over K-State has generally involved either overwhelming the Wildcats defense or shutting down their offense. Since Bill Snyder came back to Kansas State the Sooners have beaten the Wildcats four times in six games. The wins were all blowouts; the losses came by scores of 31-30 (2014) or 24-19 (2012), and strangely enough, both occurred in Norman, Oklahoma.

For the Sooners to defend their home field and avoid a third consecutive loss to the Wildcats, they're going to need to find a way to crack that defense. Since running back Samaje Perine and wide receiver Dede Westbrook have regained their health, the Sooners have really been rolling as an offense and will be looking to overstress the Kansas State defense with a run/pass balance. If they fail to do so, it'll be thanks to the play of Wildcats safeties Dante Barnett and Kendall Adams, who provide a lot of range on the back end, and due to their defensive line and linebackers holding up well enough against the run game to allow those safeties to play with depth.

On the other side of the ball, the Wildcats have a very young offense that is still finding its way under young quarterback Jesse Ertz. Their offensive line includes multiple underclassmen and could be vulnerable to Oklahoma's pressure packages and Okoronkwo. It's possible that the Kansas State defense will hold up well, but that the offense will simply be shut down.

Watch for:

  • Can the young Kansas State offensive line protect quarterback Jesse Ertz from the Sooners blitz package?
  • Sooners running back Samaje Perine and wide receiver Dede Westbrook are healthy and may be ready to unleash a stretch of dominant play on the Big 12.
  • Big plays on special teams often have a major impact on Kansas State games.
  • Can the Kansas State passing game pick on Oklahoma's youth at the left cornerback position? That's their path to scoring enough to hang around.

S&P+ Outright Pick: Oklahoma

Nebraska (-8) at Indiana -- 3:30 p.m. (ABC)

Overall Nebraska Indiana
F/+ 16 61
When Nebraska has the ball Offense Defense
S&P+ 26 35
IsoPPP+ 47 55
Rushing S&P+ 76 31
Passing S&P+ 16 46
When Indiana has the ball Defense Offense
S&P+ 36 54
IsoPPP+ 52 10
Rushing S&P+ 71 70
Passing S&P+ 53 3

At this point Indiana is basically serving as the litmus test for greatness in the Big 10. Michigan State couldn't pass muster, but Ohio State was able to get over the bump and put the Hoosiers away. Next up is undefeated West division leader Nebraska.

The Cornhuskers have been on their undefeated track thanks to a very solid defense that finds ways to bring safety help against the run without leaving their coverage out to dry and enjoys very stout, fundamental play from the defensive line and linebackers. On offense they still aren't strong enough up front to really get head coach Mike Riley's preferred "inside zone" running game going, but quarterback Tommy Armstrong has thrown for 1151 yards at 8.92 yards per pass with nine touchdowns to two interceptions.

When they really want to get the ground game going they'll feature Armstrong with some quarterback run schemes that are very difficult to stop without crowding the line of scrimmage. Of course doing so makes a defense more vulnerable to that passing attack.

Indiana has been very explosive on offense this year in its own right, and quarterback Richard Lagow is averaging 9.42 yards per pass but has thrown seven interceptions this season already. The Hoosiers will be hard pressed to make hay against Nebraska's defense without coughing up the ball against a secondary that's ranked 29th in the country on passing downs.

If Nebraska wins this game it could be on its way to having a chance to earn a trip to the playoffs by dominating the Big 10 West and then winning the playoff battle with the East division champion.

Watch for:

  • How does Indiana limit quarterback Tommy Armstrong in both the run and pass game?
  • Can Indiana push the ball down the field against Nebraska's bend-don't-break secondary without committing turnovers?
  • Nebraska's defensive line has been surprisingly good after replacing multiple starters, but is it good enough to dominate a game against a strong opponent?
  • Cornhuskers wideout Jordan Westerkramp is a go-to player who's capable of making some acrobatic catches.

S&P+ Outright Pick: Nebraska

Alabama (-8) at Tennessee -- 3:30 p.m. (CBS)

Overall Alabama Tennessee
F/+ 1 13
When Alabama has the ball Offense Defense
S&P+ 8 17
IsoPPP+ 20 28
Rushing S&P+ 7 43
Passing S&P+ 44 34
When Tennessee has the ball Defense Offense
S&P+ 5 27
IsoPPP+ 3 12
Rushing S&P+ 2 18
Passing S&P+ 3 4

As we suggested could happen last week, Tennessee ran out of juice trying to pull off another miracle in College Station, Texas, and ultimately fell to the Texas A&M Aggies. Now it has to try and regroup to avoid incurring a second conference loss when the Crimson Tide come to Knoxville this weekend.

The Tide have been mashing opponents in their traditional fashion, with a dominant running game featuring a special athlete in Damien Harris who has 478 rushing yards on the year at 8.7 yards per carry. Quarterback Jalen Hurts has managed to avoid interceptions (only two on the year) while learning the Alabama passing game. Lead receiver Calvin Ridley has been his main target with 34 catches for 412 yards and four touchdowns. When Alabama really needs to turn up the juice they can run the ball with Hurts, who has five rushing touchdowns this year already.

It's a lot to handle, and the Volunteers have lost several defensive starters who would have been useful as they sought to control this offense, including star linebacker Jalen Reeves-Maybin.

The Volunteers have been improving on offense thanks to quarterback Joshua Dobbs landing more shots in the passing game and increased carries for explosive running back Alvin Kamara, who got 18 carries against A&M with starting running back Jalen Hurd out and produced 127 rushing yards, 161 receiving yards, and three touchdowns in his opportunity.

Alabama has been playing very well on defense, as always, and is usually less vulnerable to the run. Where teams have hurt the Tide this year is in the passing game. Arkansas threw for 400 yards at 8.3 yards per attempt while Ole Miss threw for 421 at 10.5 yards per attempt. Joshua Dobbs and the Tennessee passing game haven't shown that kind of consistency and will need to produce in a major way to allow the Volunteers to cover for their beat-up defense and keep pace with Alabama.

Watch for:

  • Can Joshua Dobbs attack Alabama down the field in the passing game without committing turnovers?
  • How disciplined is the Alabama defense as it looks to play sound fronts against Tennessee's option run game?
  • Alvin Kamara has a chance to be an X-factor for Tennessee with his explosiveness in the open field if the Volunteers can get him the ball on the perimeter.
  • Has Tennessee recovered its health and fire after a brutal stretch of difficult, dramatic games?

S&P Outright Pick: Alabama

North Carolina at Miami (-6.5) – 3:30 p.m. (ABC)

Overall North Carolina Miami
F/+ 39 12
When North Carolina has the ball Offense Defense
S&P+ 20 12
IsoPPP+ 6 12
Rushing S&P+ 20 24
Passing S&P+ 12 9
When Miami has the ball Defense Offense
S&P+ 68 31
IsoPPP+ 66 23
Rushing S&P+ 95 78
Passing S&P+ 67 40

Miami came so very close to toppling Florida State and making a case as the top ACC team in the Sunshine State and the frontrunner for the Coastal division crown. In fact, if not for Florida State blocking an extra point in the final minutes of the game, that contest might have gone to overtime. Now Miami has to regroup for a three-game stretch that will pit it against Coastal division rival North Carolina, take it on the road to Notre Dame, and then conclude with a road trip to the current Coastal division leader Virginia Tech.

For now, there's a lot at stake in this Tar Heels-Hurricanes matchup. The winner of this contest will have a chance to topple Virginia Tech and earn its way to that ACC division championship game, while the loser will probably be too far off the pace with two conference losses holding it back.

North Carolina has been living and dying with the play of its quarterback, Mitch Trubisky. In its four victories he has thrown for 11.5 yards per pass with 13 touchdowns and zero interceptions, but in its two losses he has thrown for 2.9 yards per pass with zero touchdowns and two interceptions. As you might guess from that massive discrepancy, the Tar Heels were not particularly competitive in their two defeats.

This makes the game plan pretty straightforward for Miami's defensive coordinator Manny Diaz. If he can pressure and bother Trubisky, then the Hurricanes can probably expect to roll over the Tar Heels in this game. Miami has been solid at generating pressure this year and is ranked 10th in the country in defending passing downs. It should be a stern test for the inconsistent North Carolina offense.

The Tar Heels challenge will be in limiting Miami's explosiveness, which is really brought to bear when quarterback Brad Kaaya is hitting receivers downfield off play-action. North Carolina has struggled with run defense this year, ranking only 95th nationally, after replacing both starting linebackers from a year ago. If it can't improve its play up front and limit the Miami running backs, then it will likely struggle to prevent Kaaya from burning them later in the game when its secondary starts peeking into the backfield.

Watch for:

  • Can North Carolina protect quarterback Mitch Trubisky from the Miami pass-rush?
  • How disciplined can the North Carolina safeties be in pass defense if its front starts to give ground to the Miami run game?
  • Does either team have a significant athletic advantage, or are they both in the league's second tier in terms of sheer talent?

S&P Outright Pick: Miami

Ole Miss (-6.5) at Arkansas -- 7 p.m. (ESPN)

Overall Ole Miss Arkansas
F/+ 8 41
When Ole Miss has the ball Offense Defense
S&P+ 23 47
IsoPPP+ 5 108
Rushing S&P+ 11 120
Passing S&P+ 37 80
When Arkansas has the ball Defense Offense
S&P+ 55 22
IsoPPP+ 29 65
Rushing S&P+ 53 72
Passing S&P+ 33 35

Arkansas has had a very tough and very out-of-character season this year. Its normally stout defense has been consistently shredded by the league's top offenses, while its own offense, which used to run opponents over with a physical rushing attack, is now dependent on the passing game to generate scores.

The bright side for bizarro Arkansas is that its new style may be suited to winning a shootout at home against the Ole Miss Rebels. The Razorbacks' defense is better suited this season to handling a spread passing attack than to holding up against the league's better running teams, while their own firepower in the passing game may just give them a chance to keep pace with the Rebels.

Arkansas quarterback Austin Allen gave a game effort against Alabama, nearly overcoming his three interceptions with a 400-yard, three-touchdown performance throwing the ball. Junior wideout Jared Cornelius had his third consecutive 100-yard receiving game, and the Razorbacks wideout corps as a whole has rarely looked better.

The Rebels are strong in their own right on pass defense, ranking 33rd currently per S&P, and would doubtless welcome a shootout with the Razorbacks however well Allen and the Arkansas wideouts are playing.

Ole Miss quarterback Chad Kelly has been doing about as good a job as one could expect from a player handling the challenging schedule that Ole Miss drew this season. He has thrown for more than 1,500 yards already at 9.17 yards per pass with 13 touchdowns and four interceptions, playing against a healthy Florida State defense, Georgia, and Alabama. Kelly apparently will play Saturday after running onto the field in a high school football game to help his brother in a brawl, and will have to be the focus of the Razorbacks' game plan. He has been quieter in the running game this year, having received only 29 carries but producing 183 yards and a touchdown in those limited opportunities.

Given Arkansas's struggles against the Alabama and Texas A&M running games, it's not a bad bet that Kelly may get more carries this week.

Watch for:

  • Does Hugh Freeze unleash Chad Kelly in the running game to put the Rebels over the top against Arkansas?
  • Can Arkansas shore up its defense and take away the Rebels' passing game?
  • Will Arkansas head coach Brett Bielema try to outscore the Rebels by throwing early and often, or does he first seek to establish the run?
  • How well does the Ole Miss defense manage the bizarro Arkansas offense?

S&P Outright Pick: Ole Miss

Ohio State (-9) at Wisconsin – 8 p.m. (ABC)

Overall Ohio State Wisconsin
F/+ 4 17
When Ohio State has the ball Offense Defense
S&P+ 11 6
IsoPPP+ 29 7
Rushing S&P+ 3 9
Passing S&P+ 46 15
When Wisconsin has the ball Defense Offense
S&P+ 7 100
IsoPPP+ 4 43
Rushing S&P+ 4 43
Passing S&P+ 5 13

While Nebraska is coasting through a schedule that allows it to dodge Big 10 East powers like Michigan, Michigan State, and Ohio State, Wisconsin has had to play two of those opponents on the road, and still has to travel to Columbus. It is 1-1 so far with a final date against the Buckeyes to navigate before it can return to beating up on easier opponents.

If the Badgers can win this game, they'll be in control of their own destiny when they draw the Cornhuskers at home in Madison with a chance to represent the Big 10 West in the conference championship game. Of course, the Buckeyes might very well be the best team that Wisconsin has yet faced.

Last week the Indiana Hoosiers were able to spotlight the sole chink in the Buckeyes' armor, their struggle to execute on obvious passing downs. The Buckeyes aren't horrendous in this regard, ranking 46th by S&P in passing offense and 48th on passing downs, but they aren't elite either. The challenge is forcing the Buckeyes into those situations when their running game is so good, their defense is great, and they are often happy to play it safe and punt the ball.

That said, Wisconsin is uniquely qualified to give the Buckeyes fits thanks to a phenomenal linebacker corps and pressure package that could allow them to outnumber that run game and confuse Buckeyes quarterback J.T. Barrett.

If the Badgers can't do this, they'll be in big trouble. The Buckeyes' defense has been absolutely phenomenal this year and the Wisconsin staff can't be overly confident that their own 100th-ranked offense is going to be the one that finally breaks through against the Ohio State defense.

The key to beating Ohio State's defense is to attack their safeties in space with run/pass options or play-action plays that suck in their aggressive linebackers and create opportunities for receivers to find open grass in the middle of the field. Wisconsin was able to do this some against a similar defense at Michigan State, and young quarterback Alex Hornibrook has shown promise, so there's a chance…

Watch for:

  • Can the Badgers generate turnovers against the Ohio State offense and create easy opportunities for their own offense to score?
  • Wisconsin linebacker T.J. Watt playing on the edge against Ohio State's brilliant ballcarriers.
  • How do the Badgers attack the Buckeyes down the field and relieve pressure off their struggling running game?

S&P+ Outright Pick: Ohio State

S&P+ PICKS: WEEK 6

Favorite Spread Underdog S&P Pick S&P Pick against the spread
at Oklahoma 14 Kansas State Oklahoma Oklahoma
Nebraska 8 at Indiana Nebraska Nebraska
Alabama 8 at Tennessee Alabama Alabama
at Miami 6.5 North Carolina Miami Miami
Ole Miss 6.5 at Arkansas Ole Miss Ole Miss
Ohio State 9 at Wisconsin Ohio State Ohio State

S&P+ Picks against the spread last week: 2-4

S&P+ Picks against the spread this year: 11-25

Posted by: Ian Boyd on 13 Oct 2016

2 comments, Last at 14 Oct 2016, 8:31am by shaundunlevy

Comments

1
by Greazypickle :: Thu, 10/13/2016 - 6:11pm

If you used realistic spreads, is the S&P Pick still Alabama and Ohio State?
Bama opened -10.5 and got bet up to -12.5....never -8.
Ohio St opened 10 and got bet to 11...never 9.

2
by shaundunlevy :: Fri, 10/14/2016 - 8:31am

spreads are constantly way off and the favorite is picked almost every game of every week.