Writers of Pro Football Prospectus 2008

06 Oct 2014

OFI: They All Fall Down

by Chad Peltier

The most anticipated weekend of college football yet lived up to its billing and then some, with five of the top eight AP teams and 11 AP-ranked teams losing in the same week. In fact, the only ranked teams "supposed to" win and emerged victorious were Auburn, Florida State, Baylor, Notre Dame, Michigan State, Georgia, Ohio State, Oklahoma State, East Carolina, and Kansas State. If you're looking at the F/+ predictions, then you can add Ole Miss and Mississippi State to the list.

However, it obviously isn't the end of the season for most of the 11 losers. Even in the BCS era, one loss, especially in early October, rarely mattered by bowl selection time. There aren't many undefeated teams left, and many still have difficult schedules left to play. For instance, Baylor has TCU next, followed later by Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, and Kansas State. Notre Dame and Florida State have each other. And all of the SEC West teams have one another as well.

Some of the best teams have one loss to other elite teams (Alabama, Texas A&M, Michigan State, Kansas State, Oklahoma State), and others have losses to not-so-great teams (Georgia, Ohio State, Missouri). There are even a few two-loss teams that could be on the edge of the top ten again this season like Stanford, Clemson, and maybe LSU. Like Urban Meyer against Virginia Tech, don't you imagine that Dabo Swinney would give just about anything to have another shot against Florida State this season now that he has elevated Deshaun Watson to the starting spot?

This weekend's chaos gives second life to the Big Ten, even. Between Michigan State and Ohio State, the conference has two legitimate contenders that are head and shoulders above the rest of their conference. The closest other Big Ten teams in the F/+ rankings, Wisconsin and Nebraska, were both exposed this weekend. The winner of the Spartans-Buckeyes matchup in November has a great chance to win out, while the rest of college football beats up on one another during their own conference schedules.

Out of all of the one-loss teams in the country, you have to imagine that Alabama's loss hurt the least. The Tide only dropped to seventh in the AP Poll, for one. But this is familiar territory for Saban and a program that doesn't lose often: in 2011 and 2012 Alabama lost one regular season game before making the BCS championship, and now with the College Football Playoff, Alabama likely needs to just worry about winning out the rest of the way. In both 2011 and 2012, Alabama not only won the national championship, but finished with an extremely large margin ahead of the second-place F/+ team (LSU and Oregon). As Trevor Knight said Saturday to both his teammates and the bevy of one-loss teams, "This isn't the defining moment of our season. There's a lot of football left. Who knows what's down the road? It's early in the season, a one-loss team can still make it."

TOEDRAGS

  • How good are Notre Dame, TCU, and Arizona? All three are undefeated and the latter two vaulted in to the AP top ten after wins over Oklahoma and Oregon. FEI's strength of schedule has TCU with the 54th most difficult schedule, Arizona with the seventh, and Notre Dame with the 21st. While those are fairly good schedule strength ranks, each team has only had the single game against a top opponent so far -- TCU, for instance, gets Baylor this coming weekend followed by Oklahoma State the next, with Kansas State on the horizon. Likewise, Arizona faces USC this coming weekend, and Notre Dame takes on Florida State in two weeks. So while I understand the optimism that AP voters have after these teams' victories this weekend, the real tests are yet to come.
  • Todd Gurley, your leading Heisman candidate, ran for 163 yards in the win over Vanderbilt, but it was his passing that stole the headlines on Saturday. Gurley's 50-yard wobbling heave to freshman Jeb Blazevich was Georgia's longest completion of the season. Also worth noting was his final appearance in a drive spanning the third and fourth quarters: Gurley ran ten times for 78 yards -- that's every play on the drive -- taking more than five minutes off the clock. That has been part of offensive coordinator Mike Bobo's strategy all season: unleash a rested Gurley against tired defense at the end of each game. He has run 26 times for 275 yards in four fourth quarters that he's played in this season, including four runs of 20-plus yards. He has his highest average yards per carry during the fourth quarter, as well as his greatest number of explosive runs. Part of Bobo's strategy is predicated on resting Gurley during the middle of each game, allowing Nick Chubb and formerly Sony Michel to carry the burden. Now that Michel is injured, Chubb will need to stay healthy for the strategy to continue to be effective.
  • I looked for a common thread in the biggest upsets (Arizona, Ole Miss, TCU, and Mississippi State) of the weekend, but couldn't find very much. Almost all of the upsets this weekend were by a touchdown or less except for Mississippi State's shutdown of the Aggies. Some of the underdogs had positive turnover margins over their opponents, but none of the four had more than a +1 margin and TCU actually lost the turnover battle. Each loser did have a critical turnover in the fourth quarter, though (Marcus Mariota's fumble; Blake Sims' interception in the back of the end zone; Trevor Knight's interception with six minutes left and then turnover on downs with under three remaining; and Kenny Hill's interception to start the fourth quarter). The two other closest common threads were that the upsetting teams had the better Field Position Advantage, and three of the four had better Defensive Passing S&P rankings. Field position certainly played a role in the Alabama loss, as the Rebels' average starting field position was the 31-yard line while Alabama was over a full ten yards further back (20.6, to be precise). Likewise, all four of the losing starting quarterbacks seemed to have off days, with Knight completing only 40 perccent of his passes including two picks, Sims not throwing a touchdown, and Hill throwing three interceptions.
  • In the Big Ten, Maryland and Wisconsin were both knocked off in large part because of their -4 turnover margins. Even Melvin Gordon and his 259 rushing yards couldn't overcome four interceptions and an average of 4.6 yard per pass. Northwestern, to its credit, scored ten points off of those turnovers. Maryland was unlikely to win against Ohio State anyway, but its four turnovers, including three in the second half, allowed the Buckeyes to score two touchdowns on the ensuing drives.

TOP 25

1. Florida State
2. Auburn
3. Mississippi State
4. Ole Miss
5. Baylor
6. Alabama
7. Notre Dame
8. Oklahoma
9. Georgia
10. Oregon
11. Michigan State
12. TCU
13. Texas A&M
14. Ohio State
15. Clemson
16. Stanford
17. Arizona
18. East Carolina
19. Oklahoma State
20. LSU
21. Missouri
22. Louisville
23. Kansas State
24. Arizona State
25. UCLA

The more things change, the more things stay the same. Auburn and Florida State have returned to the top of my poll, while I'll avoid the AP's Mississippi tie for third place. The good news is that the logjam of SEC West schools has to break after they all play one another. AP voters were wowed by Arizona, but I couldn't vault them into the top ten after ranking 42nd in the F/+ rankings before facing Oregon. Meanwhile, I also rate Clemson in the top 15 while they go unranked in the AP. With Deshaun Watson at quarterback it's difficult to pick out another loss on their schedule.

HONOR ROLL

  • Connor Halliday and Jared Goff, QBs, Washington State and California. Halliday epitomized Mike Leach's teams at Washington State -- set the FBS single-game record with 734 passing yards (including six touchdowns and no interceptions), while still losing the game. Opposing quarterback Jared Goff threw for 527 yards (also no interceptions), so the dueling air raid quarterbacks both get a mention on the honor roll.
  • Melvin Gordon, RB, Wisconsin. Melvin Gordon is in a four-way race among Big Ten running backs for the country's most rushing yards this season. His 27 carries for 259 yards against Northwestern were good enough to be 30 ahead of Tevin Coleman at Indiana, 7 behind Nebraska's Ameer Abdullah and 149 in front of Minnesota's David Cobb. The Big Ten may be short on out-of-conference wins, but it doesn't lack for quality running backs!
  • Trevone Boykin, QB, TCU. TCU's defense was all over Oklahoma in the upset win, but a big part was Boykin's terrific play. He had 395 total yards, contributing 318 passing and 77 rushing to out-duel Trevor Knight.
  • Ross Bjork, AD, Ole Miss.. The Ole Miss athletic director wasn't even a little mad about the field rush or goal post destruction after the Rebels' upset of Alabama. Instead, the AD wrote a good-hearted Tweet about early stadium improvements and then asked fans to save him and Coach Hugh Freeze a piece of the goal posts. Nice work preserving the college spirit, Mr. Bjork.

DEMERITS

  • Ameer Abdullah, RB, Nebraska. The Spartans weathered a fourth-quarter surge from the Huskers, but what won them the game was undoubtedly shutting Abdullah down completely. He finished with just 45 rushing yards on 24 carries (but with a 42 percent Running Back Success Rate, interestingly). Abdullah's line was blown out of the game, so the demerit is less about his performance and more about both his Heisman chances and his offensive line's performance.
  • The Wisconsin passing game. Wisconsin's abysmal passing game makes Melvin Gordon's production all the more impressive. Quarterbacks Joel Stave and Tanner McEvoy combined for just 138 yards and four interceptions, which equates to a combined 4.76 yards per attempt.

LOWSMAN WATCH

  • Ken Ekanem, DE, Virginia Tech. The Hokies may have two losses on the schedule, but that defense is something else. Ekanem brought the big plays this weekend, totaling six tackles, four tackles for loss, a quarterback hurry, and three sacks in the win over North Carolina.
  • Cole Luke, CB, Notre Dame. The cornerback played the best game of this career with two interceptions and a forced fumble for the Irish, who showed that Stanford isn't the only team that can play defense. Also an honorable mention to linebacker Jaylon Smith, the young star who totaled 14 tackles, a sack, and 2.5 tackles for loss.
  • Godwin Igwebuike, DB, Northwestern. A big reason the Wildcats took down Wisconsin -- the upset of the weekend that I don't think anyone expected -- was because of the Badgers' four interceptions. Igwebuike was responsible for three of them, which is good enough for the game ball in my book.

Posted by: Chad Peltier on 06 Oct 2014

4 comments, Last at 07 Oct 2014, 10:19am by zemzin

Comments

1
by Travis :: Mon, 10/06/2014 - 2:53pm

In fact, the only ranked teams "supposed to" win and emerged victorious [were] ... Notre Dame ..."

Notre Dame was a 2.5-point home underdog to Stanford despite being ranked higher in the polls.

2
by Bacchus44 :: Mon, 10/06/2014 - 3:58pm

FYI, there's a typo: UCLA is listed at 16 and again at 25 in your poll.

3
by big10freak :: Mon, 10/06/2014 - 4:01pm

Two of those interceptions were on throws where the ball was just fluttering in the air and the guy happened to be where they came down. There was no great break on the ball or instinctive play. YOu can give him credit for wrestling the ball away from the receiver if you wish.

Wisconsin really lost the game due to field position. Wisconsin started drivers inside their 20 I believe five times due due to the NW punter or penalties on returns.

NW also played the entire game at a fevered pitch. Fitz had those guys WOUND UP

Wisconsin executed poorly, were poorly prepared and the in-game decisions were bad. And with all that the team lost by six points on the road.

If Anderson could stop fiddling around with stupid things the team would be fine. But he seems determined to make this GARY'S team versus following the formula that has worked for now 20 years.

4
by zemzin :: Tue, 10/07/2014 - 10:19am

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