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29 Sep 2014

OFI: Running Wild

by Chad Peltier

A few quality teams slipped up in their pursuit of playoff berths this week, with Arizona State and South Carolina falling, while Florida State, Georgia, and Texas A&M all had close calls against conference opponents. This begs the question of whether good teams can slip up against bad teams and still be considered contenders for the playoff. Already this season, Southern Cal was run over by Boston College, Missouri was shocked by Indiana, and Ohio State was blitzed by two-loss Virginia Tech. What if undefeated Nebraska had lost to McNeese State or reigning champion Florida State dropped their matchup with NC State this weekend? Would the media drop them out of contention like they did with the former three?

BCS history suggests that September losses will be long forgotten by the time bowl season rolls around. Late-season losses, however, have often been insurmountable. If the College Football Playoff Selection Committee continues this trend, a one-loss Buckeye team or the Pac-12 champion Trojans could be ripe for the picking, despite losing early games to unranked and less talented teams. Of course, "less talented" is a difficult statement itself -- does that refer to subjectively-determined recruiting rankings, the "eyeball test," other transitive property-influenced wins, or advanced stats like FEI and S&P+?

Those previous examples don't even take into account the quality statistical teams that have lost to other top teams this season, like Georgia losing to South Carolina, Wisconsin dropping their SEC matchup with LSU, South Carolina losing to Texas A&M and Missouri, or Arizona State being undone by big UCLA plays. Finding quality wins on undefeated teams is hard enough, but the job is almost impossible when adding "quality losses" into the mix.

It all boils down to what kind of resume you want your champion to have. Imagine choosing between a team that is undefeated, but has had ugly, comeback wins against second-rate competition (i.e. 2012 Ohio State, 2012 Notre Dame, 2002 Ohio State), and a one-loss team that has dominated every other opponent on the schedule (i.e. 2013 Auburn or Alabama, 2012 Alabama, or 2011 Alabama)? It's rare that there is such a clearly dominant team like Florida State last season.

Advanced statistics do a great job generally separating the wheat from the chaff. We can debate the intricacies of strength of schedule adjustment methodologies and the like, but ultimately efficiency, explosiveness, field position, and other new wave variables will significantly help us to sort through the one-loss and undefeated-but-untested muck at the end of the season. But next week's six games between ranked teams don't hurt, either.


  • For much of the NC State vs. Florida State game, it was difficult to tell who the better quarterback was between reigning Heisman trophy winner Jameis Winston and Florida transfer Jacoby Brissett. With nearly identical completion percentages and total passing yards, Winston tossed one more touchdown but two more interceptions than Brissett as the Seminoles escaped for the second week in a row. We knew that NC State had a solid offense going into the game, since they ranked 20th in Offensive S&P+ and 4th in Offensive FEI. The Wolfpack have excelled on offense so far by maintaining a high success rate and winning standard downs. They proved that these opponent-unadjusted numbers weren't a fluke by scoring 41 points on the Seminoles, including scores on their first four possessions. The Wolfpack only had a single three-and-out, scored 13 points off of turnovers, and averaged 31 yards per possession. Without the two fumbles and settling for field goals twice despite starting with the ball in the Seminoles red zone both times, NC State might have beaten the incumbent national champions yet again.
  • Entering the Tennessee game, Georgia led the country in Field Position Advantage, gaining excellent starting field position while never giving opponents short field drives. This was due to a quarterback who had yet to turn the ball over, an offense that had lost only a single fumble, and a punter who averaged a solid 42 yards per punt. The kickoff and punt return teams have been respectable as well with Todd Gurley already taking one kickoff to the house and freshman Isaiah McKenzie making his presence known on punt returns. However, the Dawgs largely lost their field position advantage over Tennessee, compounding the problems in the passing game and limiting the team's overall effectiveness. While the Dawgs still started with an average field position of the 30-yard line (compared to the Vols' 28-yard line average), the Volunteers used a short field to score two touchdowns in the fourth quarter. Otherwise the Volunteers were only able to put two long drives together. In addition to the regression of their extreme field position advantage and passing problems, third downs were an issue for the Dawgs, as they converted just one of ten opportunities with an average of 8.2 yards to go. The Dawgs didn't face a single third down on their four touchdown drives.
  • Speaking of Georgia, many Dawg fans believed that former defensive coordinator Todd Grantham was to blame for last year's defensive woes. However, Louisville held the (admittedly terrible) Wake Forest offense to ten points, 100 total yards, and -22 rushing yards, while ranking fifth in Defensive FEI and second in Defensive S&P+. The Cardinals are second in Defensive Success Rate and third on standard downs. However, these are just opponent-unadjusted rankings and Louisville was tenth overall in Defensive F/+ last season. But I think many still expected a dropoff in Louisville's defense after Grantham's hire.
  • UCLA entered the weekend with a 37.7 percent Offensive Success Rate and ranking 97th in IsoPPP. However, the Bruins unleashed their potential with 62 points, 355 passing yards from Brett Hundley, and two players average over nine yards per carry rushing. With five plays of 80-plus yards, a 50 percent third-down conversion rate, and 15.4 yards per pass attempt, those rankings should change significantly for next week. Adding in a 95-yard interception return for a touchdown and a 100-yard kickoff return for a touchdown by Ishmael Adams, as well as two lost fumbles for the Sun Devils, and you have an overwhelming statement win by the Bruins.

TOP 25

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

Just missing the cut were Arizona State and East Carolina. Week 1 and 2 head-to-head matchups took a back seat to F/+ comparisons and more recent games in this week's rankings. For instance, Stanford ranks far above USC despite losing their head-to-head game. Likewise, Boston College isn't above USC (or even ranked). Next week should give some more clarity when twelve ranked teams face each other.

At the top of this week's 25, Florida State took a slight decline due to two weeks of subpar play. Texas A&M is threatening to decline due to their defensive struggles against Arkansas, but Arkansas is just outside of this top 25 and one of the top offenses in the country. Likewise, even though Georgia struggled to shake off Tennessee, the Vols remain just outside the top 25 and more talented than often given credit for.


  • Todd Gurley, RB, Georgia. The SEC Nation crew talked about the difference between the nation's most valuable player and the best player in college football last Saturday, but this discussion should begin with Gurley. He has 23 percent of Georgia's scoring offense and 35 percent of the Dawgs' total yardage after setting a career high with 208 yards and two touchdowns.

  • Ameer Abdullah, RB, Nebraska. If the MVP award doesn't go to Gurley, then it has to head to Abdullah. Equaling Gurley's 208 yards rushing, he sat out most of the second half and finished with just 22 touches.
  • Deshaun Watson, QB, Clemson. Clemson decided to give Deshaun Watson his first career start against North Carolina, and the former blue-chip recruit delivered by completing 75 percent of his passes for 435 yards and a record six touchdowns with just one interception.
  • Everett Golson, QB, Notre Dame. Everett Golson is putting together an excellent year for Notre Dame heading in to their matchup with Stanford. Though he threw two interceptions against Syracuse, he also passed for 362 yards and tired the FBS record with 25 completed passes in a row.


  • Michigan and Brady Hoke. The offense alone is deserving of a semi-permanent demerit spot (the Hoke Chair for Offensive Ineptitude sounds decent?) since it just finished its first red zone trip against a Power Five opponent, but this demerit is more for failing to properly handle an obviously concussed starting quarterback. First time starter Shane Morris received a jarring helmet to the chin and was visibly shaken afterwards, needing a lineman to stand on the field. "Not seeing the stumble" and saying that Morris is tough is no excuse. Even if Hoke didn't see the stumble live, he has enough people in the booth that could have told him over his headset…oh, wait.


There were a lot of quality individual defensive performances this weekend, so narrowing the Lowsman list to just four was difficult.

  • Tylor Harris, DE, Wake Forest. Harris set a national record with three fumble recoveries in a single game. One of Harris's recoveries was a strip-sack and fumble recovery in the end zone for a touchdown.
  • James McFarland, DE, TCU. It feels wrong to hand out awards for anyone playing SMU right now, but I can't deny McFarland's three-sack, three-forced fumble, and one-pass breakup performance. When do we start classifying defensive ends as skill players if they keep racking up these kinds of numbers?
  • Duke Thomas, CB, Texas. The Longhorns have had little to smile about so far this season, but Thomas led the way for Texas's defense with two of their four interceptions as well as a pass breakup on fourth-and-goal.
  • Peter Kalambayi, LB, Stanford. Stanford once again has one of the premier defenses in the country (topping last week's Defensive S&P+) and managed to hold Washington to 179 yards of total offense. Kalambayi was a big reason for this with six tackles and three sacks.

Posted by: Chad Peltier on 29 Sep 2014

1 comment, Last at 29 Sep 2014, 6:21pm by Danimal


by Danimal :: Mon, 09/29/2014 - 6:21pm

Fear Ameer!!!