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The Cardinals had a winning record with backup quarterbacks last year thanks in large part to their high-profile edge rusher who terrorized opposing offenses. We look at defeat leaders for every position, as well as overall leaders over the past few seasons.

28 Sep 2015

OFI: Big Game Blowouts Out West

by Chad Peltier

The big college football games were all out west last week. But there was a stark difference between the big games in the Pac-12 and elsewhere around the country: the Pac-12 games were defined by blowouts. Utah upset Oregon, UCLA did whatever it wanted against Arizona, and the Trojans avenged their loss to Stanford with a dominating win over Arizona State. It was a bad weekend for the Arizona teams, who lost by a combined 54 points. But all of the other big games around the country were close, last-second wins. Texas A&M needed overtime to take down now 1-3 Arkansas. Tennessee allowed two touchdowns to Florida in the last five minutes to lose another big game. TCU narrowly avoided an upset after a crazy tipped pass reception in the end zone with under 30 seconds left. And Oklahoma State kicked a field goal over Texas after a dropped, then shanked, Longhorns punt.

Some of these teams with narrow losses actually look like quality teams. Tennessee, for instance, lost another game thanks to their opponents coming back in the fourth quarter. Butch Jones has recruited extremely well and has the Vols in the top 25 in both the F/+ and S&P+, but they struggle to close out games, ranking 86th in fourth-quarter S&P+ after ranking 32nd in first-quarter S&P+. Texas, at 56th in the S&P+, hasn't exactly looked good, but the Longhorns look better after changes at quarterback and in play calling. Judging by projected S&P+ win probabilities, things are going to get worse before they get better for Charlie Strong's team, but if you're looking for positives, then you could note that special teams errors have cost the Longhorns two wins -- and 3-1 would look a lot better than its opposite.

But we learned the most thanks to the decisive outcomes in the Pac-12 last week. It wasn't supposed to be a big week, but UCLA, Utah, and USC all made enough noise to make the national radar. Utah has wins over Michigan (a surprising tenth in the S&P+ this week) and Oregon (which has fallen to 52nd), while UCLA has wins over Arizona and BYU, with three 90-plus percent performances thanks to a strong running game, quarterback Josh Rosen, and a defense that has played well despite all of the personnel losses. Finally, even though they lost predictably to a more physical Stanford team, the Trojans actually lead the Pac-12 in S&P+, with the third-ranked S&P+ offense in the country. With the 47th-ranked defense, USC will likely have to win a shootout over Notre Dame, but the outlook is still extremely positive for the Trojans and their balanced passing offense. Now two of the Pac-12 preseason favorites, Oregon and Arizona State, are both 2-2 and ranked 52nd and 48th in the S&P+. The conference is wide open, though there is some stratification between Stanford in the north, and UCLA, USC, and Utah in the south.


  • Texas A&M is undefeated, Kyle Allen looks excellent with another 358 passing yards, and Myles Garrett added another sack and tackle for loss against Arkansas. Are the Aggies a threat in the SEC West when Ole Miss, Alabama, and LSU look elite as well? In a division, and really a conference, without much quarterback play, they are the exception thanks to Allen and an absolutely loaded group of receivers. Christian Kirk, the blue-chip freshman, was this week's star with eight receptions for 173 yards, but Josh Reynolds also crossed the hundred-yard mark, as defenses are unable to double-cover Kirk without leaving another blue-chipper wide open. Yes, the run game looks fairly anemic with Tra Carson totaling just 28 yards on eight carries, but he actually had a 50 percent success rate -- many of his carries were just near the goal line or unexplosive. And while Arkansas has fallen out of the F/+ top 25 (29th), they are nonetheless a formidable statistical opponent that just hasn't won many games. But with Alabama, LSU, and Ole Miss currently ahead of the Aggies in the S&P+ rankings, it's a little premature to expect them to challenge for the SEC title yet. We'll know much more in three weeks after consecutive games against Alabama and Ole Miss.
  • Georgia Tech lost its second game in a row, providing additional support for The Solid Verbal's theory from last week that it's bad news when Georgia Tech has to pass a lot in a game -- it usually means the Yellow Jackets are headed for a loss. This week quarterback Justin Thomas completed six of 21 attempts for 143 yards; all but one completion was an explosive pass , but the passing success rate was the same as the completion rate: 29 percent. Duke didn't play exceptionally well (quarterback Thomas Sirk tossed two interceptions and averaged just 4.6 yards per pass), but they were able to score three consecutive touchdowns to start the game, then the Duke defense managed to force three three-and-outs and four turnovers on downs (two of which were on scoring opportunities!). Low overall efficiency -- and terrible drive efficiency especially -- did Tech in for the second week in a row.
  • After a 31-0 beatdown of BYU -- the Wolverines' third-straight 97-plus percent performance and 100 percent win expectancy -- the advanced stats love Jim Harbaugh's Michigan team. This has happened before in Ann Arbor -- Brady Hoke and Rich Rodriguez were no strangers to September love in the computer and human polls. But it's difficult to deny the progress that Harbaugh's team has made since the season opening loss to the Utes. Speaking of which, that loss looks better and better given Utah's recent demolition of Oregon. The Wolverines' defense, which is currently fourth in the country, has held its last three opponents to two total touchdowns. S&P+ is forecasting that the Wolverines win out (including over Ohio State!). Michigan beat BYU thanks to smothering defense that took away big plays (Tanner Mangum averaged two yards per passing attempt!) and a strong rushing attack from the line and De'Veon Smith. Smith wasn't terribly efficient, with just a 36 percent success rate, but he broke a few very big runs that turned out to be difference makers for the offense. It also helped that Rudock didn't turn the ball over at all. If Michigan can continue its run of great defense, good enough rushing, limiting turnovers, and playing excellent field position (currently 23rd in average field position on offense, 15th on defense), then Michigan can certainly upset both Michigan State and Ohio State in Harbaugh's first season.
  • Arizona State and Auburn have been two of the biggest disappointments of the season so far with a combined 4-4 record. While both schools had to replace quarterbacks, the presumed starters both had starting experience from last season. Arizona State's Mike Bercovici threw for nearly 1,500 yards last season with a 3:1 touchdown to interception ratio. This season, the junior has completed under 60 percent of his passes for just 6.8 yards per attempt. Auburn's Jeremy Johnson was replaced by Sean White last week against Mississippi State due to his 6.6 average yards per attempt and six interceptions in three games. But in 2014, the junior completed nearly 76 percent of his passes at 11.8 yards per attempt and no interceptions filling in for Nick Marshall. Both quarterbacks were seen as sure things during the preseason due to their prior experience filling in for injured or suspended starters last year, but have underwhelmed so far this year. Bercovici has plenty of time to turn things around, and Auburn has plenty of other issues to account for their underwhelming start, but surprisingly poor quarterback play is in common for both teams.


  • Christian Kirk, WR, Texas A&M. Kirk has been the most impressive wide receiver so far for Texas A&M even though the school is loaded with Josh Reynolds, Speedy Noil, and Ricky Seals-Jones. Kirk had eight catches for 173 yards and a 40-yard punt return.
  • Leonard Fournette, RB, LSU. We might just need to add an "Honorary Leonard Fournette Honor Roll Member of the Week" this season as Fournette continues his insane rushing totals every week. With another career best at 26 carries for 244 yards against the 46th-best rushing S&P+ defense, Fournette suggested that his Auburn explosion wasn't an aberration. While this career-best performance didn't have as many SportsCenter top-10 highlights, he nonetheless had a 58 percent success rate with four explosive runs despite LSU quarterback Brandon Harris only passing for 157 yards and a 50 percent completion rate. Fournette essentially is the LSU offense.
  • Mitch Trubisky, QB, North Carolina.Trubisky came off the bench late in the first half to relieve Marquise Williams, who was ineffective against Delaware on Saturday. He turned things around for the Tarheels, completing 17-of-20 passes for 312 yards, four touchdowns, and no interceptions. He also averaged 6.5 yards running the ball.


  • Shilique Calhoun, DE, Michigan State.Calhoun had a monster day against Central Michigan, totaling three tackles for loss, a pass breakup, 2.5 sacks, and four quarterback hurries. And all that from a defensive end who is well known enough to be frequently double-teamed.
  • Emmanuel Ogbah, DE, Oklahoma State. The All-American candidate recorded 2.5 tackles for loss and two sacks, with the latter coming on the Longhorns' final drive, against Texas last weekend. Ogbah is now tied for sixth in the country in sacks.

Posted by: Chad Peltier on 28 Sep 2015