Possibly the closest Super Bowl matchup in history also poses the question: how much does it mean when certain aspects of an NFL team improve dramatically in the second half of the season?
09 Nov 2010
by Bill Connelly
The 2010 college football season has become known for its shake-ups at the top of the rankings. Even though none of the nation's top four teams (Oregon, Auburn, Boise State, and TCU) lost, last weekend could have been the craziest yet in a pretty damn crazy year.
ACC Atlantic leaders Florida State, N.C. State, and Maryland all suffered late losses. Oklahoma got thumped around, and Texas got smoked. Missouri got upset, and Nebraska was one wind gust away from the same. Nick Saban got outcoached by Les Miles. Illinois and Michigan combined for 132 points, while Iowa was saved by a dropped pass. UCLA somehow completed a 12-yard pass in three seconds to set up a game-winning field goal over Oregon State, while USC beat Arizona via blocked-and-returned PAT. Plus ... New Mexico won a game! New Mexico State almost did too! Washington State almost won a Pac-10 game! Tennessee scored 40 points ... in a half! Oh yeah, and Colorado blew a 28-point, fourth-quarter lead to Kansas.
Nothin made sense on the field, and little made sense in the box score. It was fantastic.
With College Gameday in town and a capacity Black Out crowd in attendance, Utah welcome TCU to town for a huge battle. TCU turned it into a statement game.
TCU 47, Utah 7
|Close %||100.0%||STANDARD DOWNS|
|Field Position %||55.6%||3.9%||Success Rate||57.1%||40.0%|
|Close Success Rate||60.0%||21.4%||Success Rate||56.3%||18.2%|
|Close Success Rate||40.0%||16.7%||Turnover Pts||5.4||13.3|
|Close PPP||0.16||0.04||Turnover Pts Margin||+7.9||-7.9|
|Line Yards/carry||2.89||1.60||Q1 S&P||1.622||0.270|
|Close Success Rate||86.7%||22.7%|
|Close PPP||1.17||0.07||1st Down S&P||1.153||0.478|
|Close S&P||2.040||0.295||2nd Down S&P||0.730||0.486|
|SD/PD Sack Rate||0.0% / 0.0%||0.0% / 5.3%||3rd Down S&P||1.532||0.230|
|Projected Pt. Margin: TCU +39.2 | Actual Pt. Margin: TCU +40
Honestly, these numbers are about what you would expect ... if TCU were playing Utah Valley. But these weren't the UVU Wolverines (who, incidentally, don't actually have a football team) -- this was the fifth-ranked Utes. Yes, Utah was probably a bit overrated (S&P+ had them 19th, FEI 24th heading into the game), but this was an absolute, devastating, pick-your-score massacre.
Among the most amazing tidbits:
TCU plays at one of the slower paces in the country, and it has probably hurt the Horned Frogs' comparisons to other teams with iffy schedules and multiple blowouts on the résumé (Boise State and, to an extent, Oregon). This was one of the most impressive wins by any team in 2010, and as we will see below, it vaulted the Horned Frogs into the S&P+ top three. In one of the stranger, most unexpected weekends of the season, the Horned Frogs laid the wood to a talented, soon-to-be former rival.
Those who have kept up with the "Ten Notable Games" feature (and other games on Twitter) this season have probably noticed that the "EqPts Plus Turnover Points" combination nails down quite a few games. Often, the projected and actual scores are within a point or two of each other; a vast majority are within probably six to eight points. This week was all over the place.
No. 1 Oregon 53, Washington 16
EqPts: Oregon 36.6, Washington 12.9
T/O Pts: Washington +10.6
Oregon > Washington +13.1
Once again, Oregon ended up feasting on a lesser opponent by a huge margin and dropping in the S&P+ rankings. Their tendency to hold steady for 50 plays or so before destroying their opponents' will hurts them in a formula that values efficient, tidy destruction. It also makes them vulnerable if they ever play a team with a good defense and a ball control offense that can hold them to as few plays as possible. All that said, the Ducks are still so much fun to watch. They're also undefeated and very much in control of their own destiny.
No. 4 Boise State 42, Hawaii 7
EqPts: Boise State 43.8, Hawaii 9.5
T/O Pts: Hawaii +14.7
Boise State > Hawaii +19.6
As with Oregon against Washington, turnovers did not have an impact on Boise State as the numbers suggest they would have. The Broncos fumbled inside the Hawaii 10 on their opening drive and only scored on three of six first-half possessions (it is only "only" three of six to offenses like that of Boise State), but Boise quarterback Kellen Moore completed his first three passes of the third quarter for a cool 174 yards, and the rout was on.
No. 10 LSU 24, No. 6 Alabama 21
EqPts: LSU 23.5, Alabama 18.2
T/O Pts: LSU +9.7
LSU > Alabama +15.0
This was another game in which the projected and actual scores were far apart. LSU beat Alabama in terms of EqPts gained and benefited considerably from turnovers, but the Bayou Bengals and their grass-chomping leader won by only a field goal. I somehow doubt that the team or its fans care too much about the margin, however. This was an awesome, ballsy win, and it officially knocked the Tide out of BCS title contention.
No. 7 Nebraska 31, Iowa State 30
EqPts: Iowa State 22.5, Nebraska 18.5
T/O Pts: Nebraska +6.9
Nebraska > Iowa State +2.9
This one stayed close to its projections. Last year Nebraska easily outgained the Cyclones but lost because of an amazing eight turnovers, but this year the Huskers turned the tables. Limited offensively without either starting quarterback Taylor Martinez or his backup, Zac Lee, Nebraska alternated between their normal offense and a Wildcat look led by running back Rex Burkhead. Their defense showed some holes, but in the end, a win is a win.
Texas A&M 33, No. 8 Oklahoma 19
EqPts: Oklahoma 23.0, Texas A&M 21.7
T/O Pts: Oklahoma +6.6
Oklahoma > Texas A&M +7.9
This game featured one of the more absurd projected-to-actual differentials you will see. Oklahoma was handed approximately seven points off turnovers and outgained the Aggies in terms of EqPts, but an unforced safety, a kickoff return touchdown, and incredible red-zone difficulties doomed the Sooners. They ran 38 plays inside Texas A&M's 25 (Texas A&M ran only nine inside Oklahoma's 25) but could manage only a 34 percent success rate and turned the ball over on downs an amazing three times inside the A&M 5. How do you win the projected battle by eight and lose the game by 14? That's how.
No. 13 Stanford 42, No. 15 Arizona 17
EqPts: Stanford 35.9, Arizona 22.3
T/O Pts: Stanford +4.7
Stanford > Arizona +18.3
TCU stole most of the "Blowout!" headlines this week, but Stanford's pummeling of Arizona (in front of a less-than-capacity crowd of 43,506) ties for runner-up status with the next couple of games on the list. The Cardinal averaged almost seven yards per play and wore down the Wildcats. They are the second-highest ranked one-loss team in the BCS standings, and it is hard to argue with that. This is a really good team. Now they just need to fill the stands.
No. 17 Oklahoma State 55, No. 21 Baylor 28
EqPts: Oklahoma State 46.7, Baylor 23.4
T/O Pts: Oklahoma State +12.7
Oklahoma State > Baylor +36.0
Although defenses have improved at stopping or slowing down the spread, nobody in 2010 has figured out how to stop Oklahoma State. Under first-year offensive coordinator Dana Holgorsen, the Cowboys are just getting better and better. Baylor's defense is possibly the worst among all BCS conference teams, so it was easy to see Oklahoma State having a big day. But "725 yards and 36 first downs" big? The biggest surprise was probably the fact that they only scored 55. They missed an easy field goal, and Justin Blackmon (who, by the way, is averaging an other-worldly 160 receiving yards per game) dropped a touchdown pass on fourth down in the first half. That's how close they were to 65.
No. 18 Arkansas 41, No. 19 South Carolina 20
EqPts: Arkansas 29.1, South Carolina 13.1
T/O Pts: Arkansas +4.9
Arkansas > South Carolina +20.9
As the author of a ratings system that has given South Carolina major love all season, I assumed when I first saw this score that South Carolina had won by 21. I didn't realize until the next day that I had it wrong. Arkansas' Knile Davis out-dueled South Carolina's Marcus Lattimore, and the Razorbacks dominated both the field position (Field Position Percentage: Arkansas 60.3, South Carolina 43.3) and leverage (Arkansas 72.1, South Carolina 65.0) battles on the way to a surprisingly easy win in Columbia. They were rewarded with quite a leap in the S&P+ rankings.
Michigan 67, Illinois 65 (3 OT)
EqPts: Michigan 45.3, Illinois 42.5
T/O Pts: Illinois +12.9
Illinois > Michigan +10.1
The less one tries to analyze this game, the better. Michigan's Roy Roundtree hauled in 246 receiving yards and two touchdowns, and Illinois' Mikel Leshoure went for 172 total yards and five touchdowns, and somehow one of them had to lose. This was an incredible way to start Saturday. And once again, the projected and actual margins were quite far apart.
Virginia Tech 28, Georgia Tech 21
EqPts: Georgia Tech 23.1, Virginia Tech 20.1
T/O Pts: Virginia Tech +6.3
Virginia Tech > Georgia Tech +3.3
Illinois-Michigan started Saturday with a bang, but the fun really began on Thursday night. Georgia Tech's Josh Nesbitt looked as good as he had all season until he broke his forearm going for a tackle after throwing an interception. His backup, Tevin Washington, struggled for a while, and Virginia Tech fought back from a two-touchdown deficit to take the lead. Washington responded with a touchdown drive of his own, and it looked like we might see overtime in this one. Then Virginia Tech's David Wilson ripped off one of the most exiting plays in football: a late-game kickoff return touchdown. Washington almost led the Yellow Jackets back down for the tie, but he was picked off in the end zone.
I noted this on Twitter, but I should do so here, too: You owe it to yourself to take a good, hard look at the fourth-quarter play-by-play from Saturday's Colorado-Kansas game. Kansas had scored 40 points in four previous Big 12 contests and trailed 45-17 early in the fourth quarter. Then the Jayhawks ripped off 35 unanswered points for the most improbable win of the season. How does that happen? Exactly how you would imagine. Surprise on-side kick? Check. Fumble return for a touchdown? Check. Inexplicable interception? Check. Amazingly, Kansas actually ran the ball on 15 of 23 fourth-quarter plays. It was an incomprehensible collapse on Colorado's part. I have no idea how Dan Hawkins was still the Colorado head coach when the team's plane landed in Boulder that night (the Denver Post shared some theories on that topic), but he was out by Tuesday morning, which is good enough.
Full rankings here:
|S&P+ Top 25 (After Ten Weeks)|
|S&P+ Top 25 (After Ten Weeks)|
|S&P+ Top 25 (After Ten Weeks)|
North Carolina (14 spots, from 53rd to 39th). The Tar Heels benefited from two botched fourth-quarter field goals to pull off the win, but they would have risen in the rankings regardless. Their level of performance has varied from week to week (this is somewhat understandable given the fluctuating nature of their roster this season), but they looked good in moving to 6-3.
BYU (14 spots, from 73rd to 59th). Yes, UNLV is awful, but the Cougars still pummeled the Runnin' Rebels worse than the average team has this year in Saturday's 55-7 win. Star freshman quarterback Jake Heaps had what was easily the best passing performance of his career. He was thrown into the fire when Riley Nelson was lost for the season to injury, but the Cougars might be better off down the line for it.
Arkansas (11 spots, from 20th to ninth). As mentioned above, the Hogs were surprisingly dominant and deserved the steep move.
LSU (11 spots, from 35th to 24th). It makes sense, really, if you think about it. Considering LSU's propensity for sleep-walking through lesser games and toeing the line between wins and epic disaster, it stands to reason that a play-by-play measure would not think too highly of the Tigers. But they rose rather sharply this weekend with the big win over the Tide. Now, they have to avoid pitfalls (or pratfalls?) the next two weeks against Louisiana-Monroe and Ole Miss.
Other Rises: Rutgers (97th to 85th), Navy (71st to 61st), Iowa State (72nd to 62nd), Indiana (90th to 80th), Arkansas State (94th to 84th).
Southern Miss (19 spots, from 60th to 79th). In terms of projected scores, Southern Miss was outgained by Tulane, 25.4 to 22.4, and the team lost the turnover points battle by 1.9 points. That's how you fall 19 spots in a 46-30 win.
Virginia (12 spots, from 62nd to 74th). It's poetic, really. Both Virginia and Duke fell this week ... after playing each other.
California (11 spots, from 34th to 45th). Losing by 34 to USC and 28 to Oregon State? That's one thing. But only beating Washington State by seven? The rankings apparently find that unforgivable.
Texas (10 spots, from 42nd to 52nd). Texas offensive coordinator Greg Davis is "disappointed in the job [he's] done" this season. That's probably the first call he's made all year with which Texas fans agree in unison.
Other Tumbles: East Carolina (38th to 48th), Duke (64th to 73rd), Colorado (54th to 63rd).
Late in the first half of a tie game against Nebraska on Saturday, Paul Rhoads sent embattled kicker Grant Mahoney out to attempt a 57-yard field goal with the wind. Mahoney has made about 50 percent of his field goals on the season, and a miss would have given the Huskers very good field position. Plus, he had just missed a similar kick earlier in the quarter. But he drilled this one with probably 10 yards to spare (it was a strong wind), and Rhoads celebrated like coaches rarely do. He did everything but charge the field. It was an awesome moment.
We know how the game ended, of course. In the first possession of overtime, Iowa State matched a Nebraska touchdown, and Rhoads called for a fake PAT. He was going for the win, and the tight end broke open on the fake. Unfortunately for the Cyclones, Daniel Kuehl's pass was rudely swatted down by the wind and intercepted by Eric Hagg, giving Iowa State a 31-30 loss. But Rhoads proved once again that he is the perfect coach for a "small market" team like Iowa State in a major conference. You have to bring a unique approach to the table if you are going to win big at a place like Iowa State, Vanderbilt, or Indiana, and Rhoads does that. It is why I wanted Vanderbilt to hire either Mike Leach or Navy's Ken Niumatalolo this summer. (The coach they did hire clearly isn't lacking for personality, but that's an entirely different matter.) To win at an underdog school, you have to embrace an underdog mentality, and Rhoads has done that. For all we know, the Cyclones will be perpetual seven-game winners and nothing more, a team that loses quite a bit but claims a new heavyweight's scalp each season. We have yet to see if he can recruit at a level to compete with Big 12 powers over the course of a full season. But they are salty, and Rhoads is very easy to like.
12 comments, Last at 10 Nov 2010, 3:31am by Kal