by Bill Connelly
With most of the initial Varsity Numbers concepts introduced and too much going on from week to week during the season to develop anything new, it's time to set up a week-to-week format to get us through the rest of the season. With the below format, you will find game analysis for last week's games, a look ahead to the weekend, movers and shakers in the world of S&P+, and as many random thoughts as you can stomach. So without further ado, let's get started.
Box Score of the Week
Each Friday, we will take a look at the previous week's most interesting game in the Varsity Numbers Box Score format. This week, there was a pretty obvious top candidate.
LSU 30, Mississippi State 26
So what happens when a team barely wins a game it had every reason and cause to lose? Is it a shot in the arm for future success? Is it a massive red flag that something bad is on the way? With LSU, the answer will reveal itself quickly, as they play Georgia and Florida in the next two weeks. Let's take a look at the VN Box Score for the Bayou Bengals' tight win over Mississippi State to see what it might say about the next two weeks.
|Field Position %||27.1%||38.4%|
|Close Success Rate||35.6%||38.4%|
|Close Success Rate||24.1%||47.8%|
|Close Success Rate||46.7%||27.5%|
|SD/PD Sack Rate
||10.5% / 0.0%||0.0% / 0.0%|
|Turnover Pts Margin
|1st Down S&P||0.864||0.625|
|2nd Down S&P||0.665||0.607|
|3rd Down S&P||0.377||0.935|
|Projected Pt. Margin
|Actual Pt. Margin
- Is there any wonder why college football is so fascinating? In terms of what was gained on offense and defense, Mississippi State justifiably should have won, and, taking turnovers (including an interception return for a touchdown), a punt return touchdown, and a goal-line stand into account, LSU should have won easily.
- As badly as Chad Jones' magnificent 93-yard punt return hurt Mississippi State, special teams actually benefited Mississippi State the rest of the game, keeping LSU pinned in bad field position -- LSU's 27.1 field position percentage (which signifies that only 27.1 percent of LSU's offensive plays were run in Mississippi State field position) was about as bad as you will see in a conference battle.
- The other reason LSU's field position was so poor? No rushing effectiveness whatsoever. Keiland Williams and Charles Scott combined for 40 yards on 15 carries, LSU managed just a 0.356 S&P, and the team's leading rusher was backup quarterback Russell Shepard with all of 26 yards. Unadjusted for strength of schedule, Mississippi State's rushing defense has been a bit more successful than Georgia's. Including the LSU game, they have allowed a 0.576 S&P this season, while Georgia, against better offenses, has allowed a 0.627 S&P. But even if LSU has more success running against Georgia, they will be hard-pressed finding success against Florida and their 0.439 rushing S&P allowed (third-best in the country).
- Passing Downs absolutely killed LSU. They were almost completely incapable of making something good happen once leveraged out of Standard Downs. Once again, this is a terrible sign against Florida, as the Gators have allowed just a 0.295 S&P in Passing Downs, second best in the country behind Virginia (yes, Virginia).
- In all, Georgia's defense might allow LSU a few more opportunities, but consider two things: First, the Georgia offense is infinitely more talented than that of Mississippi State; second, LSU has not proven they will be even remotely capable of moving the ball against Florida.
Biggest Movers of the Week
This is the first season for week-to-week S&P+ rankings. Let's examine which teams are rising and falling, and why.
Tennessee (28 spots, from 75th to 47th)
Florida is so far ahead of anybody else in the S&P+ rankings that anybody who has played Tennessee has seen a mighty bump in the S&P+ strength of schedule adjustments. Florida's completely dominant performance against Kentucky (the game was no longer "close" by the end of the first quarter, and only close-game plays are taken into account in the S&P+ rankings) actually gave Tennessee a significant boost. Lord knows that had more to do with Tennessee's rise than anything the Volunteers did on the field against Ohio last week.
Washington (18 spots, 64th to 46th)
The most likely cause of Washington's rise could be the slow phasing-out of the preseason S&P+ projections. The Huskies were projected to improve in 2009, but not as much as they have. Their 34-14 loss to Stanford was a predictable setback, but their body of work has been respectable.
Toledo (18 spots, 96th to 78th)
Beating a Florida International squad heavy on strength of schedule (FIU's other losses were to Alabama and Rutgers) gave Toledo a bit of a bump.
Ohio (18 spots, from 105th to 87th)
If Tennessee rose despite an iffy showing against Ohio, it would make sense that Ohio would rise for playing well against the Vols.
Marshall (17 spots, 79th to 62nd)
With wins over Bowling Green and Memphis, Marshall is establishing itself as a dark horse in a Conference USA East Division without a favorite, especially after UAB's upset of Southern Miss last night.
Purdue (11 spots, 62nd to 51st)
Purdue was a baffling coaching decision (Really? You're going to call timeout for Notre Dame with 30 seconds left?) away from potentially knocking off Notre Dame. This gives the Boilermakers three somewhat respectable outings on the year, along with a two-point road loss to Oregon (ask California about Autzen Stadium) and a sound beating of Toledo. The Northern Illinois loss still hangs over their heads, however.
Baylor (20 spots, 49th to 69th)
Duke (18 spots, from 93rd to 111th)
Syracuse (17 spots, from 68th to 85th)
The lesson: No matter how handily you beat your FCS opponent, your rating is going to fall this early in the season.
Temple (15 spots, from 88th to 103rd)
This one seems to have more to do with Temple's previous losses (to FCS Tier 1 team Villanova and a Penn State team that was upset last week) than the Owls' own 37-13 crushing of defending MAC champion Buffalo.
Northwestern (14 spots, from 58th to 72nd)
As the 2009 projections fade away, Northwestern's lackluster performance in 2009 gets rid of whatever benefit of the doubt they may have had.
Pittsburgh (12 spots, 38th to 50th)
The Panthers lost to North Carolina State, while their previous opponents -- Buffalo, Navy, and a low-tier FCS team in Youngstown State* -- all looked lackluster.
* As a reminder, for S&P+ purposes FCS opponents are broken into six tiers, and their results are aggregated to count as one "opponent." For instance, instead of Baylor beating Northwestern State, the database says they beat "FCS Tier 4."
Random Golf Clap
A tip of the cap to Idaho. Three years ago, the Vandals thought they had found the man to bring them up the ladder in the WAC. That man: Dennis Erickson. Erickson's first head coaching job was at Idaho in the early 1980s, and after two failed stints in the NFL, he was looking for a rebound. He stayed less than a year in Moscow before leaving for Arizona State. Robb Akey replaced him, and Idaho was absolutely terrible in 2007 and 2008. They finished 119th (out of 120) in S&P+ in both years. But in Akey's third year, Idaho is 3-1 with wins over New Mexico State, San Diego State, and Purdue conqueror Northern Illinois. With remaining home games against Hawaii and Utah State, the Vandals are potentially one more upset win away from bowl eligibility. Even if they don't get it, they are playing competitive ball this year and deserve plaudits for that.
Tim Tebow traveled separately from the rest of his team because of a respiratory illness, and his team was up 31-0 after one quarter against Kentucky in Lexington. There were about five minutes left in the third quarter when he was sacked by Taylor Wyndham, hitting his head on a lineman's knee on the way down and ending up with a concussion. Nevermind whether he should have been in the game that late in the third quarter; why was he even in the game in the second quarter?
Random Top 10
On the back of yesterday's 7th Day Adventure theme, here are the only ten songs from the '80s (more or less) that are still any good:
1. About a Girl (Nirvana)
2. Dead Man, Dead Man (Bob Dylan)
3. Everybody Wants to Rule the World (Tears for Fears)
4. Express Yourself (N.W.A.)
5. I Know What I Know (Paul Simon)
6. It's Tricky (Run-DMC)
7. Louder Than a Bomb (Public Enemy)
8. Never Talking to You Again (Hüsker Dü)
9. Rockin' in the Free World (Neil Young)
10. When Doves Cry (Prince)
According to S&P+ projections, here are some potential upsets to look out for this weekend.
Boston College over Florida State (S&P+ Projection: BC by 3.3). Making any prediction of a Florida State game is a bad idea right now, but then again the same goes for Boston College. The schizophrenic Seminoles are taking on a BC offense that could gain anywhere between 50 and 500 yards without really surprising anybody. The projections say BC, but don't bet too much money on this one either way.
Virginia over UNC (S&P+ Projection: UVa by 0.3). Thanks to solid defensive play, Virginia has managed a respectable S&P+ rating. That does not explain or excuse why they are projected to win outright in Chapel Hill. If it happens, remember that it was predicted here. If it doesn't, pretend you didn't read this at all.
Washington over Notre Dame (S&P+ Projection: ND by 1.6). Notre Dame has used some late luck and clutch play to beat Big Ten mediocrities Michigan State and Purdue. Meanwhile, Washington has beaten a USC team ranked 2nd in S&P+. Can they hop two time zones and take out the Irish? The projections say no, but it could come down to the wire.
Idaho over Colorado State (S&P+ Projection: CSU by 2.6). Can the Vandals keep the positivity going?
Watching Saturday night's ridiculously fun Houston-Texas Tech game, it was hard not to reminisce about the Southwest Conference and realize that today's iteration of SWC teams would be pretty fun to watch on the late game every Saturday night. Texas Tech, Houston, and SMU run unabashed, unashamed, fifth-gear spread offenses. Baylor and Rice are not far behind. Texas A&M is opening things up, while Texas is talented and athletic enough to be offensively strong no matter what they run. That would leave TCU as the only defense against all-out assault of over-sized Texas offenses. Who wouldn't be entertained by weekly late-night battles of Tech-Houston, SMU-Rice, Baylor-A&M? Nobody. We all remember the reasons for the SWC's collapse: the scandals of the 1980s, the departure of Arkansas to the SEC, the rise of super-conferences, et cetra. But that doesn't mean we can't play the "What If" game.