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20 Oct 2014

OFI: Don't Make Saban Angry

by Chad Peltier

It seems like the year of the one-loss teams, but it certainly is not Oklahoma's or Stanford's year. The Sooners and Cardinal were ranked seventh and fourth respectively in the final preseason F/+ projections, but Oklahoma is now saddled with two losses and Stanford with three, all but certainly eliminating them from national championship contention. That of course says nothing of South Carolina (4-3, but with a win over Georgia) or LSU (6-2, with a victory over Wisconsin) who had already dropped out of consideration.

Contrast that group with the overachievers like Ole Miss, Mississippi State, and TCU, who were all in the top five of last week's F/+ rankings after beginning the season at the margins of being ranked at all. The two Mississippi squads are fairly balanced teams, with Ole Miss tilting more towards the defensive side of the ball. TCU was lit up in the loss to Baylor, but retained a top-20 Defensive F/+ ranking even after that pummeling. In fact, of the top defensive teams in the country, only Missouri, Penn State, and Virginia Tech are truly mediocre teams overall.

What's certain is that the playoff will have a maximum of two undefeated teams (since Mississippi State and Ole Miss have the Egg Bowl looming), so the questions left are whether Florida State can avoid a loss when they will be F/+ favorites in each remaining contest, and which one-loss teams can avoid becoming two-loss teams. Alabama and Auburn will seek to eliminate the other (and Auburn has games against Ole Miss and Georgia left, while Alabama has Mississippi State and LSU as well). Kansas State still has a shot at both TCU and Baylor. Georgia has Auburn, Florida, and an SEC Championship opponent. The Big Ten Two have a November 8 meeting. Actually, all we really need is November 8, when we have Alabama vs. LSU, Oregon vs. Utah, Notre Dame vs. Arizona State, Kansas State vs. TCU, Baylor vs. Oklahoma, and Ohio State vs. Michigan State. It's like the one-loss playoff elimination round.

Until then, however, each team will just look to survive and advance, because style points won't be necessary.


  • During ESPN's College Gameday, everyone's best dressing analyst Desmond Howard argued that "You can't hitch your team to Nick Chubb." This was very, very wrong. Even without Todd Gurley, Georgia raced Alabama to pile on the most points in a half against an SEC West opponent. Chubb, a true freshman making his second career start after injuries or suspensions wiped out the three Georgia running backs ahead of him, ran for 202 yards on 30 carries. Chubb broke out for 143 yards last week against Missouri, but his 3.8 yards per carry still left some doubters. After averaging 6.7 yards per carry and 55 percent efficiency against the Arkansas defense (which held Alabama to 66 total yards on 32 attempts last week), maybe Howard and others will believe that Georgia will keep running no matter who lines up behind Mason. Georgia raced off to a 38-6 halftime lead through field position, a lack of turnovers, and balancing Chubb's running with an efficient performance from Hutson Mason. After ranking first in Field Position Advantage entering the game, the Bulldawgs' average starting field position was close to the 41-yard line, while Arkansas began on their own 26. Four Razorback turnovers (Georgia didn't turn the ball over and has just four turnovers all season) contributed to the excellent field position and led to 21 points. Georgia coasted in the second half with three three-and-outs, but it seemed like the Dawgs were content to ride out clock. The Dawgs now have a week to rest before taking on Florida and their 28th-ranked Rushing S&P+ defense.
  • There were 43 teams between Baylor and West Virginia in the previous F/+ rankings, but the Mountaineers dominated on offense and defense and overcame three turnovers (to Baylor's none) to win by two touchdowns. Sure it helps to have a kicker in Josh Lambert who is consistently solid from 50-plus yards (he is the FBS leader with four 50-plus-yard field goals) and the nation's leading receiver in Kevin White, but the Mountaineers shut down the Baylor rushing game (including just 24 yards in the first half) and shut them out in the fourth quarter to seal the win. Most studies comparing penalties to game outcomes fail to find a correlation, but there is no doubt that Baylor's 18 penalties for 215 yards were devastating. Seven of those 18 penalties were pass interference flags, and four of those seven were by Baylor cornerback Xavien Howard, who was tasked with covering Kevin White.
  • Most would just as soon forget that Missouri-Florida even happened at all. The winning quarterback had just 20 yards passing while the Gators averaged under three yards per rush and had six turnovers. The Florida defense only allowed one touchdown as Missouri scored on kick and punt returns as well as an interception and fumble return. The Gators defense played well, but at 54th in the Defensive F/+ rankings, that likely says as much about the Missouri offense (which has managed just 13 points in the past two games) as it does about the Gators themselves.
  • Florida State has established itself as an elite team again this season after gritty wins over Clemson and Notre Dame. Their place among the best teams in the country is assured as long as Jameis Winston is under center. However, if you're looking for weak points, it's hard to look past the Seminoles rushing game. The Seminoles actually had a narrow advantage in rushing over the Fighting Irish according to Rushing S&P+, but the aggressive Irish defense held Karlos Williams and Dalvin Cook to just 50 total rushing yards on 26 attempts with a long of ten yards. On the season the Seminoles average just 126 yards rushing per game. However, the Seminoles weren't that bad in rushing efficiency, with a 42 percent success rate. The blame lies less with the running backs and more with the offensive line, where the Seminoles averaged just a 26 percent Opportunity Rate, which was below their season average of 39 percent. Probably the only team on Florida State's remaining schedule that might be able to take advantage of this weakness is the Seminoles' next opponent -- Louisville -- which is ranked 20th in Defensive Rushing S&P+.

TOP 25

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

The top 13 seem fairly iron clad -- if not the order, then the group itself. It's the elite one-loss club plus the three remaining undefeated teams in the country. Those SEC West teams will sort themselves out in the end, but things start getting more complicated when you begin to sort through the remaining one-loss teams. Ohio State and Michigan State play each other November 8, thankfully, but I would want to see the end of season F/+ data before making a call between Oregon, Notre Dame, the Big Ten winner, Georgia, and TCU for a final spot or two in the playoff. After that, it's a crapshoot in picking between the two-loss programs. For instance, Louisville, Clemson, and UCLA are all F/+ darlings, but it would be difficult to sort out a clear leader from the group.


  • Cody Kessler, QB, USC. In just 26 attempts, Kessler broke a Trojan record with seven total touchdown passes in a game, breaking Matt Barkley's record of five. That means that 27 percent of his passes went for a touchdown.
  • Josh Doctson, WR, TCU. This could just as easily go to his quarterback, but the Horned Frogs wide receiver had the most receiving yards in the country with 225.This total includes catches of 77 and 84 yards.
  • Tyrone Swoopes, QB, Texas. With performances like this, Longhorns faithful have reason to believe they have finally found a quarterback around whom they can build a program. His 321 passing yards and 95 rushing helped Texas slip by Iowa State. As impressive as his total yardage were his back-to-back passes of 39 and 29 yards with under 30 seconds left in the game to take the lead.


  • Oklahoma Sooners versus their projections. The Sooners began the season ranked seventh in the preseason projected F/+ rankings and were actually ranked fourth in the F/+ going in to the game against Kansas State. That was after dropping the matchup with TCU two weeks ago and then barely getting by a clearly rebuilding Longhorns squad last week. Now the Sooners have fallen for the second time in three weeks, this time to Bill Snyder's Kansas State Wildcats. After last season's Sugar Bowl win over Alabama and Trevor Knight's play to finish the season, many penciled in the Sooners for a playoff spot, but that seems extremely unlikely with two conference losses already. More and more, the win over Alabama looks more like an aberration than the beginning of a trend.
  • Texas A&M. Where do you even go from here (when here means 59-0)? We talked about the possible beginnings of a new rivalry in the SEC West, but then this happened. The Crimson Tide scored on every possession of the first half, including 35 points in the second quarter, and it's fair to ask where the Aggies can go from here as they rebuild during the bye week. Kenny Hill averaged just 5.3 yards per attempt and the running game managed just 31 total yards. The Aggies had an astounding seven three-and-outs and only created two scoring opportunities all game.


  • Cedric Thompson, DB, Minnesota. Coach Jerry Kill has this surprising Gophers team playing quality football, led by a good-enough defense and a powerful rushing offense. This week Thompson stepped up in the secondary with two interceptions, including the game clincher, to beat Purdue and improve Minnesota to 6-1.
  • Marquis Haynes, DE, Ole Miss. This Lowsman Watch mention should go to the entire Ole Miss defensive line, which combined for nine sacks and held Tennessee to zero rushing yards. The Ole Miss defense has now scored almost as many touchdowns (four) as they have given up (six). Haynes was the leader this week with 2.5 sacks, a forced fumble, and a fumble recovery.
  • Ben Heeney, LB, Kansas. Kansas may be the doormat of the Big 12, but Heeney is playing at an all-conference level. This week the Jawhawk totaled 21 tackles and an interception in the loss to Texas Tech.
  • Shaquille Riddick, DE, West Virginia. The transfer has excelled since arriving in Morgantown with five tackles, four tackles for loss, and three sacks in the win over Baylor.

Posted by: Chad Peltier on 20 Oct 2014