Writers of Pro Football Prospectus 2008

Most Recent FO Features


» Four Downs: AFC West

There's a serious need for defensive help in Kansas City, Los Angeles, and Oakland. In Denver, meanwhile, the Broncos must determine whether or not Case Keenum can really be a long-term solution at quarterback.

06 Nov 2017

OFI: Bedlam in the Big Ten

by Chad Peltier

Last week's playoff picture was a mess, with four undefeated Power 5 schools and nine one-loss teams. But the first November games brought some clarity to both Playoff and conference races, thanks to Ohio State and Penn State both getting upset and Bedlam living up to its name.

Let's start with a few notes about Bedlam:

  • Oklahoma's Baker Mayfield set a school record for passing yards in a half with 387 before halftime. He finished with 598 passing yards, averaging 16.6 yards per pass (but with two interceptions).
  • At halftime, the two teams had combined for 857 yards and were tied at 76 points. The Vegas over/under for the game was 76.5. Things slowed down some after that, as the teams would only score 38 combined second-half points.
  • The teams had 30 total drives and created scoring opportunities on 21 of them, averaging 5.17 and 5.78 points per scoring opportunity for the Sooners and Cowboys, respectively.

This was peak Bedlam -- very little defense to speak of, just touchdowns and turnovers. Seriously, out of 30 drives, there were only five punts, but six turnovers and 15 touchdowns. In a rivalry game that also served as a likely Playoff and conference title race eliminator, two senior quarterbacks lived up to the Bedlam hype.

Both teams had top-4 S&P+ offenses, top-12 S&P+ passing attacks, and were top-13 in explosiveness (via overall IsoPPP), so we knew it was going to be high-scoring. But Oklahoma State had previously ranked a respectable 33rd in defensive S&P+ and 15th in passing S&P+, so Mayfield's 24-of-36, 598-yard passing day is all the more impressive. He had a 64 percent passing success rate with nine passes of 25-plus yards (including one three-pass stretch in the second half where he completed passes of 36, 43, and 77 yards).

Oklahoma now holds wins over Ohio State and Oklahoma State for one of the best resumes in college football and the co-lead in the Big-12 race. Next week, the Sooners face the co-leaders, TCU, for control of the Big 12. That one is an important game, as it not only solidifies the winner at the top of the conference, but likely eliminates the loser from Playoff contention due to two losses. If the Big 12 is going to make the Playoff this year, then they have to hope that the winner of next week's matchup wins out, even though TCU and Oklahoma are likely to get a rematch in the Big 12 Championship Game in just a few more weeks.

The Big Ten also saw its list of Playoff contenders quickly shrink from three to one as Penn State lost to Michigan State and Ohio State fell to Iowa. Looks like last week's comeback thrillers were body blows for both teams!

Ohio State was beaten on both sides of the ball. Iowa averaged 1.16 more yards per play, had a 5 percent higher explosiveness rate (17 percent!), averaged 1.2 more points per scoring opportunity, and -- most of all -- went plus-4 in turnover margin.

Looking at the box score alone, you'd think that Ohio State lost only due to the four J.T. Barrett interceptions (after he'd only thrown one the rest of the year!), but that wouldn't really be accurate. Two of the interceptions came in the fourth quarter when Ohio State was in all-pass mode and down by 28 points. Iowa used the two earlier interceptions to get 14 points (including a pick-six on the first play of the game), but Ohio State just looked lost on both sides of the ball. Ohio State's offense had just a 22 percent drive efficiency and a 37 percent passing success rate while the game was in non-garbage time.

But the bigger problems were on defense, where Ohio State was theoretically far superior. Despite being one of the best teams in the country at stopping the run, and holding Saquon Barkley to nearly nothing last week, Ohio State allowed a 55 percent rushing success rate and 118 yards on 20 carries to Akrum Wadley, who to that point had had a disappointing year behind an underperforming offensive line. Iowa was 103rd in offensive stuff rate, but only allowed a four percent havoc rate to Ohio State's vaunted defensive line, which managed just three total tackles for loss all game. And with a steady run game, Iowa's Nathan Stanley completed 65 percent of his passes for 226 yards and five touchdowns as Ohio State's linebackers, safeties, and second and third cornerbacks were routinely beaten in pass coverage.

While Penn State wasn't embarrassed like Ohio State was, they still showed some hangover effects from their loss to Ohio State last week, losing on a last-second field goal to the Spartans. The Nittany Lions had three big problems. First, Saquon Barkley was slowed again, with just 14 carries for 63 yards and a long of 36. Second, Trace McSorley threw three interceptions. Finally, Michigan State quarterback Brian Leweke threw for 400 yards on 33-of-56 passing with just one interception. After posting back-to-back 400-yard passing days (and with a 31-of-51, 340-yard passing day against Notre Dame earlier this year), are the Spartans a passing team now? And should Ohio State be scared for their matchup next week? (Answers: Yes, and very.)

Wisconsin is now the sole playoff contender from the Big Ten. If Wisconsin is upset, or beaten in the Big Ten Championship Game, then that opens the door for two SEC teams, a one-loss Notre Dame, the Pac-12 champ, etc. This playoff race could still get crazy just because of the glut of teams with similar resumes.


  • The Trojans had a nice, if somewhat overlooked, 49-35 win over Arizona late Saturday night. Arizona's Khalil Tate still managed 161 rushing yards on 26 carries, but the USC defense managed to slow his passing to just 4.7 yards per attempt and two interceptions (and a lost fumble). USC's Sam Darnold was efficient despite an interception, recording just five other incompletions and averaging 12 yards per attempt. But the biggest star was Ronald Jones II, who ran for 194 yards on a bell-cow 27 carries.
  • Last year nearly everyone made fun of the poor records of Michigan State (3-9), Notre Dame (4-8), TCU (6-7), and to a lesser extent, Georgia (8-5). But thankfully for those teams, the 2016 season looks like a one-year aberration as the four are now a combined 32-4 and in the hunt for the playoff (Notre Dame, TCU, and Georgia), or conference championship (Michigan State).
  • Speaking of the Bulldogs, they clinched the SEC East for the first time since 2012 (when they lost to Alabama on a failed last pass) due to their 24-10 win over South Carolina and Kentucky's loss to Ole Miss. The Bulldogs are likely to stay at the top of the College Football Playoff rankings ahead of Alabama, who also won 24-10, and beat LSU. Both teams still have to face 7-2 Auburn to remain undefeated on their paths to the SEC title game.


  • Karan Higdon and Chris Evans, RB, Michigan. The Wolverines have fallen out of the spotlight since picking up their second loss, but they handily beat Minnesota 33-10 thanks to a strong defensive effort and a powerful run game. Karan Higdon and Chris Evans combined for an incredible 391 yards on just 29 carries, with both players recording a 65-plus-yard run. Higdon's first play of the game was a 47-yard run, which was followed by a 58 percent rushing success rate performance and seven explosive runs.
  • Brian Lewerke, QB, Michigan State. Ohio State's J.T. Barrett also carved up the Penn State defense last week, but Brian Lewerke's 400 yards (7.1 yards per attempt) included a number of explosive passes, with five different receivers recording a 15-plus-yard reception. Wide receiver Felton Davis III recorded 12 catches for 181 yards.
  • Baker Mayfield, QB, Oklahoma. We have already gone deep into the Sooners' performance against the Cowboys, but Baker Mayfield deserves praise not only for sheer yardage, but also for doing it against a decent defense, unlike what the Sooners have. His 598 passing yards displayed both efficiency and explosiveness.


  • Josh Jackson, CB, Iowa. Josh Jackson not only made one of the most athletic interceptions very few people saw in a blowout win over Ohio State, but also recorded two more to now rank second in the country in interceptions and first in passes defended per game (2.22).

Posted by: Chad Peltier on 06 Nov 2017

1 comment, Last at 07 Nov 2017, 4:56pm by Pat


by Pat :: Tue, 11/07/2017 - 4:56pm

That's the second blowout loss that OSU's had. At this point it's hard to argue that Michigan State (and Penn State for that matter) wouldn't be favored on a neutral field over Ohio State, but Ohio State just needs to win a home game versus Michigan State to have the driver's seat to the Big Ten championship game.