VN: Let's Hear It for Some Upsets
by Bill Connelly
We'll say this for Florida State: they might not be as good as they used to be (okay, they clearly aren't as good as they used to be), but any game in which they play will probably be all sorts of exciting. Not Washington exciting, but still fun. They've played six games (out of seven) decided by 10 points or less. And the only blowout they've played was a road win over a top-10 team (BYU). They threatened to lay a giant egg last night, but they pulled it together and knocked North Carolina off in the fourth quarter. Figure them out, we dare you.
As is the case in this space, let's take one last look at last weekend, then move on to this weekend.
Box Score of the Week
When is a win only a win and not a sign of great things to come?
Colorado 34, Kansas 30
In last week's Varsity Numbers, this game was picked as a potential upset simply because Kansas had been getting by without actually playing like a top-25 team. Last Saturday night in Boulder, they outgained Colorado by a relatively significant margin (7.2 EqPts) and still found a way to lose thanks to two gift-wrapped turnovers and blown opportunities.
|Field Position %||49.3%||38.2%|
|Close Success Rate||43.3%||42.7%|
|Close Success Rate||37.5%||42.5%|
|Close Success Rate||45.1%||42.9%|
|SD/PD Sack Rate
||8.3% / 9.1%||20.0% / 0.0%|
|Turnover Pts Margin
|1st Down S&P||1.196||0.749|
|2nd Down S&P||0.487||0.722|
|3rd Down S&P||0.501||0.712|
|Projected Pt. Margin
|Actual Pt. Margin
- First of all, the repercussions of this game for Kansas are rather devastating. They have now played the two most winnable games of their Big 12 slate -- a home game against Iowa State and a road game against Colorado. Due to a rough South schedule (Oklahoma at home, at Texas Tech, at Texas), the Jayhawks almost needed to win out against their own division to have a chance at the Big 12 Championship Game. Instead they barely held on to beat Iowa State and then gave the game away against Colorado.
- How does a team perform 11.2 points below their projected value? Easy: blown opportunities. As fun as it is to tear a game down and build it back together with EqPts, a team still has to execute when given the opportunities the numbers say they have. When they handed Colorado the ball deep in their own territory with two turnovers, the Buffaloes scored two touchdowns. When Colorado did the same for Kansas, the Jayhawks settled for two field goals. And when they twice advanced the ball inside the Colorado 20 in the last five minutes, they came away with zero points, turning the ball over on downs the first time and running out of time the second.
- A lot is being made of the performance of Tyler "Don't Call Me Taylor" Hansen, who stepped in for ineffective-for-two-years Cody Hawkins at quarterback for Colorado. While he extended a series of plays with evasive maneuvers, and while the Buffs caught fire for 24 points in the second quarter (14 of which were set up by Kansas turnovers), there is not a lot here that suggests long-term success for Hansen and the Buffaloes offense. Kansas rode into Boulder having given up over 1,300 yards in three games against Duke, Southern Miss and Iowa State. Colorado managed 322, and while it was enough to win, it was still below average considering the standard Kansas has set on defense this year. He may have given the Buffaloes a nice change of pace, but odds are that defenses will figure him out and pen him in, just like they did last year when he played this exact same change-of-pace role.
- Kansas' remaining six games: the three aforementioned South battles, plus a home game against Nebraska, a trip to Kansas State, and a border battle with Missouri at Arrowhead Stadium. Not a gimme win in the bunch. The Jayhawks' North title chances may indeed have evaporated Saturday.
- The Big 12 North really might be terrible.
S&P+ Top 25
We are almost to the point of getting S&P+ data updated weekly on Football Outsiders, honest. But for one more week, let's take a quick look at the updated Top 25. Once again, these rankings are quite volatile and heavily-dependent on strength of schedule. The current mix is 80 percent 2009 figures, 20 percent preseason projections. Again, the decision was made to phase the projections out of the equation very slowly because of the ratings' overall volatility.
|S&P+ Top 25 (After Seven Weeks)|
|4||Penn State (6-1)||256.4||8||+4||118.2||15||138.2||5|
|13||Ohio State (5-2)||238.4||9||-4||112.0||25||126.4||15|
|15||Boise State (6-0)||235.5||21||+6||108.9||34||126.7||14|
|18||Virginia Tech (5-2)||232.1||12||-6||116.0||20||116.1||23|
|24||Fresno State (3-3)||223.3||22||-2||121.5||10||101.8||43|
Biggest Movers of the Week
The rises and falls were not quite as significant as they were last week, but some teams did still manage rather significant movement.
Texas Tech (15 spots, from 56th to 41st). The fun part about a volatile system like this is how it rewards some teams for winning more than it punishes others for losing (or vice versa). Case in point: Texas Tech thoroughly humbles Nebraska in Lincoln, and while the Cornhuskers only drop four spots, from 4th to 8th, in the standings, the Red Raiders make a pretty hefty jump. Tech looked excellent in making the plays to fluster the Nebraska offense, building the lead with just enough offensive firepower, and running out the clock with a more conservative offensive approach. They are only 41st due to some severe issues in the running game during the first month of the season, but they have looked outstanding for consecutive weeks now.
Clemson (13 spots, from 29th to 16th). Clemson's 38-3 win over Wake Forest was statistically domination in almost every facet. They averaged almost 8 yards per pass and 6 yards per rush, and they held the Demon Deacons to 178 total yards, 3.7 per pass and 1.8 per run. They built a crushing 31-3 halftime lead and coasted home. If they continue to play like that, they are easily the best contender for the ACC Atlantic Division and could await a worn-out winner of the Miami-Georgia Tech-Virginia Tech battle royale in the ACC Coastal.
South Carolina (13 spots, from 47th to 34th). Strength of schedule is a mighty thing. The Gamecocks remained mostly competitive with Alabama (Mark Ingram's "Hello, world" rushing aside), and they are benefiting from having played four SEC conference games while conferences like the Big Ten and Big 12 are only now in full conference swing.
Georgia Tech (12 spots, from 58th to 46th). Paul Johnson's team looked outstanding in their win over Virginia Tech, but they still have quite a way to go to impress the S&P+ formulas.
Other major rises: San Diego State (74th to 53rd), Akron (102nd to 85th), Ohio (98th to 84th), Notre Dame (66th to 55th), Iowa State (94th to 83rd).
North Carolina State (14 spots, from 64th to 78th). A week after losing to Duke by 21 (at home!), the Wolfpack looked listless in allowing 480 yards and 52 points to a Boston College offense that managed 217 yards combined against Clemson and Virginia Tech earlier this year. Ouch.
Texas A&M (14 spots, from 40th to 54th). However, for losing by 48 points to a previously listless Kansas State team, you the honorary rank of 120th.
Pittsburgh (12 spots, from 62nd to 74th). Pittsburgh actually got punished for Rutgers' weak schedule. The Scarlet Knights are hovering low in the S&P+ rankings thanks to a series of poor showings and the presence of two terribly weak FCS teams on the schedule, and Pitt only beat them by a score of 24-17 last week.
BYU (10 spots, from 13th to 23rd) . TCU fans salivating at a chance to get on ESPN College Gameday would have been awfully upset if BYU had messed around, lost to San Diego State, and watched as Gameday headed to Starkville, or Tuscaloosa, or Columbia instead. The Cougars ended up winning relatively comfortably, 38-28, but it takes a much bigger win than that over the Aztecs to impress the ratings.
Other major falls: East Carolina (93rd to 107th), Louisiana-Lafayette (101st to 114th), Kansas (46th to 59th), Wake Forest (60th to 72nd), Baylor (79th to 90th).
Random Golf Clap
To Joe Posnanski, for writing the best Joe Paterno profile ever written. Joe Poz has been just about the best sports writer in the game for a while now, and he hammered home something that could have easily been too cheesy to enjoy. Joe Pa is such a unique figure, and this profile captures all of his contradictory features in loving detail. Hiring Posnanski was the smartest thing Sports Illustrated has done in a long time. And that's saying something considering they hired a former roommate of yours truly.
And a brief golf clap to Kansas State. They may only be leading the Big 12 North because they had the luxury of playing Iowa State and Texas A&M, two of the Big 12's three worst teams (along with Baylor), but it is rare that a team goes from losing by 52 points (66-14 to Texas Tech) to winning by 48 (62-14 over Texas A&M), and it deserves at least brief applause. Texas A&M now plays Texas Tech. Surprisingly, the Vegas line is not Tech minus-100. The transitive property fails us again.
Can we please get replay officials bigger monitors? Twice during Saturday night's Missouri-Oklahoma State game, fumble calls were challenged. First, Missouri's Jasper Simmons appeared to fumble a third-quarter kickoff. The replay showed pretty conclusively that Simmons' knee was down, and the ground aided in causing the fumble. The review upheld the fumble call. Then, late in the game, with Oklahoma State up comfortably, Keith Toston appeared to get stripped as he was falling to the ground. ESPN's replay showed the ball was coming loose before he hit the ground. Ruling on the field: He was down. Ruling from the replay booth: He was down. Neither made a significant impact on the game itself (two killer drops in the first half did Missouri in), but during both reviews, cameras showed the poor, lonely replay official in his booth, looking at replays on a monitor that could not have been more than 12-16 inches. This is 2009. You can find a ridiculous deal on 40-inch high-definition televisions. If you are going to have an instant replay system, which is highly recommended, you need to make sure your official has the necessary tools to make the replay worth your while. Don't waste everybody's time if the poor guy can't actually see well enough to make the correct call.
This is also probably rant-worthy, but we'll pass. It's extremely well-covered territory.
Random Reasons to Love College Football
Another reason: Some time in late-December, Idaho will be playing a football game, likely in a place like Albuquerque, Honolulu, or Boise. They will be playing a team like Air Force, Southern Miss, East Carolina, or UTEP. And they could not be more excited. Keep the playoff talk coming -- it probably would be a great thing for college football. But do not get rid of the bowls. They are one of the things that make college football so uniquely great.
Random Top 10
This section is in honor of the 1,420,934 autumn leaves currently residing in this writer's driveway (after we raked on Sunday).
"Ashes in the Fall" by Rage Against the Machine
"Autumn Sweater" by Yo La Tengo
"Dead Leaves and the Dirty Ground" by The White Stripes
"Fall" by The Watson Twins
"Falling Free" by David Gray
"My Cosmic Autumn Rebellion" by Flaming Lips
"November Has Come" by Gorillaz
"November Rain" by Guns N' Roses (you knew that one was coming)
"October" by U2
"October Song" by Amy Winehouse
We only nailed one of three upset picks last week -- Colorado over Kansas. That brings the three week total to 7-5, which is still a pretty stout record. This week's major upset possibilities:
Maryland over Duke. Spread: Maryland +5.5 | S&P+ Projection: Maryland by 7.8.
Virginia over Georgia Tech. Spread: Virginia +5.5 | S&P+ Projection: Virginia by 8.5.
As jarring as it may be to see Duke favored over any conference team by more than five points, this one is relatively justifiable. Their last two times out, they took Virginia Tech to the wire before losing by eight, and they trounced N.C. State by 21 in Raleigh. They are hosting a 2-5 Maryland team who, in the last two weeks, has managed to give up 42 points to Wake Forest, then score less than 10 against Virginia. Only a strange upset of Clemson is giving them any chance of a rebound this year. But from start to finish, the Terps have still played a bit better than Duke, and since the S&P+ projections do not factor momentum into the equation, the Terps are still projected to come out on top. Meanwhile, Virginia's "Who needs offense?" resurgence faces a pretty tall task against a Georgia Tech team coming off of its best win of the year. But hey, the S&P+ projections saw Virginia's October comeback coming, so who's to question it now?
South Florida over Pittsburgh. Spread: USF +6.5 | S&P+ Projection: USF by 2.4.
A series of teams are taking turns positioning themselves to take on Cincinnati atop the Big East. South Florida, Connecticut, West Virginia, and Pittsburgh have all looked good enough to be the primary challenger at one time or another. Thanks to Pittsburgh's drop in the ratings (explained above), USF now gets the nod in a battle that contains two of the more interesting freshmen in the country, Pitt's Dion Lewis and South Florida's B.J. Daniels.
UCLA over Arizona. Spread: UCLA +8.5 | S&P+ Projection: Arizona by 4.3.
It wouldn't be an upset watch without at least one Pac-10 game. If you can figure out what to do with either of these teams, you are ahead of the S&P+ ratings. Arizona appears to be putting things together. They moved to 2-1 in conference last week by taking Stanford down in a 43-38 track meet. Sophomore Nick Foles completed 78 percent of his passes for 415 yards and three touchdowns. Meanwhile, UCLA's defense looked strong until last week's 45-26 shellacking at the hands of California (a game which included this ridiculous run). This appears to be a strength vs. strength (Arizona offense vs. UCLA defense) and weakness vs. weakness (UCLA offense vs. Arizona defense) matchup.
To reiterate what I mentioned in yesterday's 7DA, this year does seem to have stabilized a bit in terms of huge upsets, but there really is almost no way that all nine of the BCS Top 15 teams playing on the road tomorrow come back home with wins. There are a ton of road favorites this week, and at least one of them is going down. And honestly, I kind of hope quite a few of them do. It's time for college football itself to steal the spotlight back from officiating and injuries, and a rash of upsets is the best way to do just that. So, to Mississippi State, Tennessee, Michigan State, Washington, Virginia, Baylor, and (of course) Missouri, I say ... go team!