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19 Oct 2015

OFI: Crazy Endings and a Mid-Season Review

by Chad Peltier

There's only one way to start a weekend review article this week, and it's in the Big House, with Michigan falling to Little Brother with no ticks left on the clock. You've seen the play dozens of times by now, read about how ESPN gave Michigan State a 0.2 percent win probability at that point in the game, and analyzed just how many things had to go wrong (or right, for the Spartans) for Michigan to lose with their botched punt. It will undoubtedly go down as one of the greatest college football game endings of all time.

But beyond Michigan-Michigan State, I see a couple of trends emerging in the first seven weeks of this football season. First, while it's tough to repeat or be a playoff contender year-in and year-out, most of the same teams from last season are back at the top right now. Ohio State is undefeated and seemingly getting better each week. Baylor is fielding the best version of its offense that it ever has and likely won't be challenged until the TCU game on November 27. TCU has fought through monumental losses on defense while maintaining its offensive efficiency behind Heisman contender Trevone Boykin. Florida State hasn't had consistent production from Everett Golson, but Dalvin Cook and the defense have made up for that. Alabama has gotten its early loss out of the way and now looks like one of the top two or three teams in the country, yet again.

There have been a few surprises, however. Stanford looks like the best team in the Pac-12 amid the collapses at USC and Oregon, while UCLA looks like a team with a lot of young, promising talent (yet again). Clemson's Deshaun Watson isn't much of a surprise, but the Tigers defense absorbed the loss of its best players from last season and is likely the ACC favorite. Another group of Tigers in Baton Rouge is undefeated on the back of Leonard Fournette, the far-and-away Heisman leader.

Still, besides Clemson, LSU, and Stanford, the top teams we expected are still there more than halfway through the season. It's difficult to repeat a championship, but there's nonetheless a lot of continuity from last season.

Second, how about the rise of the Group of 5? With Memphis upsetting Ole Miss, Temple taking down Penn State, and Houston taking down Louisville, all three of those schools are undefeated and ranked in the AP top 25, with a signature win over a Power 5 team on their resumes. Looking at the F/+ rankings following this weekend, Houston is at 33rd, Temple at 41st, and Memphis is 26th. So what happens if any of these teams go undefeated? Memphis plays Houston in mid-November and Temple the following week, but if any of these teams make it through the season unscathed, then they are likely to also rank in the F/+ top ten or so and should be seriously considered for a playoff spot.

Third, how about the quick turnarounds at Florida and Michigan? While Florida took their first loss and Michigan their second this weekend, Jim Harbaugh and Jim McElwain both stepped into situations where there was already significant talent on both sides of the ball, but they seemed to be a quarterback away from contending for at least conference championships. Jake Rudock has a limited ceiling, even under Jim Harbaugh, but Florida's offense seems solid with either Treon Harris or Will Grier under center (it's the running game that needs work in Gainesville). Florida is now just outside the F/+ top ten at No. 12, but Michigan only dropped a single spot to fourth after their upset loss to the Spartans.

Finally, graduate transfer quarterbacks -- a big topic of offseason conversation -- have been a real mixed bag. Jake Coker has been an effective game manager when he's not asked to do too much. Georgia's Greyson Lambert has as big a difference between his floor and ceiling as anyone in the country. Everett Golson has somehow still not thrown an interception, Jake Rudock is competent when the ground game is the offense's focus. And Vernon Adams has been a capable starter (and easily the best quarterback in Eugene) when he has been healthy.


  • Baylor had 13 drives against West Virginia and scored touchdowns on eight of them. In ten trips inside the West Virginia 40, they averaged 5.6 points. This kind of drive efficiency is incredible and doesn't even include one explosive Baylor touchdown on a Seth Russell pass to Jay Lee that was outside of the Mountaineers' 40. Baylor may rank 72nd in defensive S&P+, but the offense is explosive and finishes drives on the way to a top overall ranking in offensive S&P+.
  • We're underrating Alabama nationally. Alabama is currently eighth in the AP poll following their dominant victory over Texas A&M, but "just" a top-ten ranking doesn't take Alabama's recent dominance in to account. The Ole Miss loss looks a little worse following the Rebels' upset loss to Memphis, but Alabama has a habit of enduring surprising early-season losses to become the best team in the country later on. Part of the deal here is that Lane Kiffin identified this year's playmaker and reluctantly admitted it's not a wide receiver. Kiffin's offenses have always relied on feeding the ball to his top playmaker over and over again, but this year that playmaker is Derrick Henry, who carried the ball 32 times against A&M for 236 yards. While the story of the game was undoubtedly the Aggies' turnovers -- three pick-sixes! -- Henry and the offensive line have to be the second thing mentioned. Henry had a 50 percent success rate, but nine of his first ten carries were efficient -- that's both how fast he started and how much better the Aggies got throughout the course of the game. But besides Henry's efficient performance, the Alabama secondary should have everyone else concerned. Minkah Fitzpatrick is the young star here, snagging two pick-sixes.
  • Ohio State seems to be getting better. Maybe it is simply J.T. Barrett receiving more playing time as he began taking Cardale Jones' snaps in the red zone last week against Maryland and continued that -- and took over midway through the third quarter against Penn State. Maybe it is the offensive line beginning to come together like they did last season (despite only losing one starter from a year ago). Or maybe the play calling has steadily improved as first year co-offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Tim Beck continues to work with promoted offensive coordinator Ed Warriner. Whatever it is, the offense has become steadier and steadier, with a 54 percent rushing success rate and seven explosive runs against Penn State while converting 45 percent of third downs and averaging 5.4 points per scoring opportunity (which they had on 64 percent of their total drives). Barrett was a perfect 4-of-4 throwing the ball and became Ohio State's second rusher to cross the hundred-yard mark in the game. Ohio State is one of just three teams in the S&P+ top 25 whose offense and defense both rank in the S&P+ top 20 (at 16th and 14th, respectively). If there's any reason to worry for Ohio State fans, it appears to be allowing explosive plays. Almost exactly 50 percent of Penn State's total offensive production came on just three plays -- two long passes to Chris Godwin and a long run by Saquon Barkley. Without Barkley's combination of explosive running and efficiency, Penn State might not have scored a touchdown in this game.
  • Michigan may have two losses now, but the Wolverines are still playing like the best team in the Big Ten. Are there still reasons for concern? First, Michigan State entered the game with the 35th-best rushing S&P+ defense, but held Michigan's De'Veon Smith to 2.4 yards per carry with a long of just 8 yards. The question is whether Ohio State's defense -- which allowed Penn State's Saquon Barkley to run for 198 yards -- can limit De'Veon Smith and others to prevent explosive plays even if the Wolverines' rushing offense isn't all that efficient. Second, while the Spartans' rushing offense wasn't great either (the team as a whole averaged 1.8 yards per carry), Connor Cook looked like the best player on the field overall despite completing less than half of his passes. But with six explosive passes of more than 25 yards, the Wolverines' explosive pass defense may be the defense's only weakness. But the Wolverines still look more than capable of beating Ohio State, particularly if the Buckeyes can't be more consistent through the air.
  • At this point Leonard Fournette looks capable of gaining 150 rushing yards against any defense, even Alabama's. The question was whether Brandon Harris and the passing game would be enough against Florida. While Florida's secondary is one of the best in the country, they do seem to allow explosive plays. Looking at Harris' box score stat line – 13-of-19 for 202 yards at 10.6 yards per attempt and no interceptions -- you'd think Harris was on fire. But he had just a 37 percent success rate and was aided significantly by explosive receivers like Malachi Dupre. Even if Harris isn't efficient, an explosive passing game can really complement the efficient run game -- but that passing game might collapse if Fournette struggles against the Crimson Tide run defense.


  • Christian McCaffrey, RB, Stanford. McCaffrey was incredibly explosive against UCLA, exploiting the Bruins' personnel losses and averaging nearly ten yards per carry. He had an insane 76 percent rushing success rate and returned a kick for 96 yards. With McCaffrey averaging a 47 percent success rate over the year and 5.6 highlight yards per carry, the Stanford offense enters the top 25 in rushing S&P+ and sixth in overall S&P+.
  • Corey Coleman, WR, Baylor. Like Leonard Fournette on the ground, Corey Coleman deserves a place on the Honor Roll every week as the top receiver. With 199 yards against a stout West Virginia pass defense, Coleman has a 72 percent catch rate and averages more than 21 yards per catch.
  • Derrick Henry, RB, Alabama. Henry didn't have the most efficient final three quarters, but that was fine following his record-setting first quarter. As mentioned above, nine of his first ten carries were successful as he hit a career best 236 rushing yards.


  • Minkah Fitzpatrick, CB, Alabama. The secondary was supposed to be the main weakness for the Crimson Tide, but Minkah Fitzpatrick has turned that around for an Alabama pass defense now ranked as the best in the country in passing S&P+ defense.

Posted by: Chad Peltier on 19 Oct 2015

3 comments, Last at 20 Oct 2015, 4:02pm by gomer_rs


by erniecohen :: Tue, 10/20/2015 - 9:34am

"Stanford looks like the best team in the Pac-12 amid the collapses at USC and Oregon..."


by Chad Peltier :: Tue, 10/20/2015 - 2:45pm

Right, I'm arguing Stanford looks better than Utah.

by gomer_rs :: Tue, 10/20/2015 - 4:02pm

Stanford clearly has a more explosive offense but do they have a more consistent offense? How about the back third for both teams?

I remember when they were the Sea-chickens.