Every week, we complain that the college football slate isn't that impressive, only to get really excited when eight to 10 games turn out incredible. Well, Mizzou's bye week happens to coincide with a weekend we don't even slightly have to talk ourselves into. Saturday features three heavyweight battles in the SEC West, two tricky road trips for Big 12 favorites, a Big Ten battle that might actually be entertaining (Michigan State-Nebraska), a Notre Dame-Stanford game that is meaningful ... if also perhaps unwatchable. Anyway, settle in! And fine, check baseball scores if you have to.
And if you need help getting prepared for the Saturday ahead, here are some of the pieces I wrote this week.
With all of the huge games on the horizon, the SEC race might be decided by the number of not-so-huge games. When you've got so many teams bunched together, the odds will tell you that everyone will beat up on each other. What could determine the SEC race, then, is who has the most easy games.
And that is why a Mississippi State vs. Missouri SEC title game is a distinct possibility.
So basically, the East is Michigan State vs. Ohio State (as expected), with Maryland creeping to within 1.5 projected wins of the leader. Meanwhile, Wisconsin has a little work to do to fend off both Nebraska and Minnesota, and both Northwestern and Iowa are lingering as darkhorses.
The Big 12 has quality and potential. But there are still two names at the top.
If that's going to change, then we will understand that within the next couple of weeks. The Red River Shootout looms (and before you scoff at the idea of Texas beating Oklahoma, remember that you scoffed heading into last year's game, when Texas won by 16), as does a TCU visit to Waco. But this week, both Oklahoma and Baylor must head to hostile territory; Baylor visits Austin, while Oklahoma goes to Fort Worth.
Between Oklahoma-TCU and Baylor-Texas, which home underdog is more likely to win?
(The short answer is, "the former." But you want to read the long answer, right?)
I'm having some fun with the picks this week, however. I didn't really like the pace adjustments I added to the numbers last year (and hadn't been using them this year), and I've tweaked them a bit, but the numbers you see below now once again take pace into account. For projected scoring margin, that's important. For projected scores, it's a crap shoot. So because of some ridiculously high tempos, you get really fun picks like Oregon 67, Arizona 40, and Tennessee 47, Florida 44. I can't imagine those actually come true -- it would be awesome if it did -- but if they help me to make the predicted margins more correct, I'll live with it. The margins are all that really matter.
It makes the below list more entertaining to read, anyway. Average points per team below is something like 41 points, so ... that's probably off. If only.
Two weeks ago, I watched as my alma mater, Missouri, suffered what felt like an inexplicable home loss to Indiana. Really, it was quite easy to explain. A two-touchdown favorite, the Tigers were disastrous on offense early, marred by drops, false starts, blocking struggles, and the occasional poor pass. The Tigers figured things out offensively, scoring twice in the fourth quarter. But a defense that had held its own faltered; Indiana went 75-yards in a two-minute drill and stole a win, 31-27.
Granted, Oregon is better than Missouri, and Arizona is better than Indiana. But Thursday night, the home-team Ducks, national title contenders and owners of one of the season's most impressive wins (the eventually easy home win over an excellent Michigan State squad), suffered a version of the same affliction, 31-24. Early offensive struggles set up late defensive letdowns.
As fans, we frequently and willfully ignore a complicated lesson: it's not just about our team. The other team has great athletes and well-paid, talented (in most cases) coaches, too. And as Oregon was working to fix its first-half issues, Arizona gave the Ducks a completely different set of problems in the second half.
I love, love Ole Miss' defense, and I don't say that simply because I'm terrified of it. The Rebels play angry on that side of the ball; they're second in the country in Defensive S&P+ at the moment, and I think it's justified. Their raw numbers are almost untouchable -- they're one of just three defenses that are in the top 10 in both raw Success Rate (seventh) and IsoPPP (first). No, they haven't played good offenses yet, but the ones they have played certainly looked much worse than normal against the Rebels. Memphis gained 469 yards (5.8 per play) and scored 35 points against UCLA, then gained 104 yards (1.7 per play) and scored three points against Ole Miss. Vanderbilt gained 379 yards (6.9 per play) and scored 34 points against South Carolina but gained 167 (3.3 per play) and scored three points against Ole Miss. So from an opponent-adjusted perspective, the Rebs are faring just fine so far.
Unfortunately, I've also seen Ole Miss' offense play.
Now, it's not that the Rebels' offense is bad; it very much is not. The Rebels are 12th in Offensive S&P and have averaged at least 6.2 yards per play in three of four games, and even though it sometimes takes them a while to get rolling, they have been outstanding in the second half this year. Quarterback Bo Wallace has a 68 percent completion rate, six touchdowns, and six interceptions in the first half this year; he has a 77 percent completion rate, five touchdowns, and no picks in the second half. His fourth-quarter passer rating thus far: 297.1. (Yes, that's in just 14 passes over two games.)
Still, he has six first-half interceptions. He looked like a nightmare for most of three quarters against Boise State, and while he was fine late, his passer rating ws just 122.8 (60 percent, two touchdowns, two interceptions) last week against Memphis. When he finds his rhythm, he's outstanding. But when he loses it, it takes him a while to find it again.
Oh yeah, and Ole Miss is currently 89th in Rushing S&P.
So what do you figure the odds are of Wallace catching fire and Ole Miss living up to what are some pretty lofty projections against Alabama this weekend? Yeah, same here.
|Saturday, Oct 4, 2014||Time (ET)||TV|
|Ball State @ Army||12:00 PM|
|(20) Ohio State @ Maryland||12:00 PM||ABC|
|Florida @ Tennessee||12:00 PM||SECN|
|Purdue @ Illinois||12:00 PM||ESPN2|
|(6) Texas A&M @ (12) Mississippi State||12:00 PM||ESPN|
|Iowa State @ (21) Oklahoma State||12:00 PM||FS1|
|Marshall @ Old Dominion||12:00 PM||FSN|
|Southern Miss @ Middle Tennessee||12:00 PM||AMSN|
|Southern Methodist @ (22) East Carolina||12:00 PM||ESPNU|
|Virginia Tech @ North Carolina||12:30 PM||ESPN3/ACCN|
|Eastern Michigan @ Akron||2:00 PM||ESPN3|
|North Texas @ Indiana||2:30 PM||BTN/BTN2|
|Massachusetts @ Miami (OH)||2:30 PM||ESPN3|
|Tulsa @ Colorado State||3:00 PM|
|North Carolina State @ Clemson||3:30 PM||ESPNU|
|Wake Forest @ (1) Florida State||3:30 PM||ABC/ESPN3|
|(14) Stanford @ (9) Notre Dame||3:30 PM||NBC|
|(17) Wisconsin @ Northwestern||3:30 PM||ESPN2|
|(3) Alabama @ (11) Mississippi||3:30 PM||CBS|
|(4) Oklahoma @ (25) TCU||3:30 PM||FOX|
|(7) Baylor @ Texas||3:30 PM||ABC|
|Navy @ Air Force||3:30 PM||CBSS|
|New Mexico @ Texas-San Antonio||3:30 PM||AMSN|
|Buffalo @ Bowling Green||3:30 PM||ESPN3|
|Ohio @ Central Michigan||3:30 PM||ESPN3|
|Vanderbilt @ (13) Georgia||4:00 PM||SECN|
|Kansas @ West Virginia||4:00 PM||FSN|
|Oregon State @ Colorado||4:00 PM||PAC12|
|Kent State @ Northern Illinois||5:00 PM||ESPN3|
|South Alabama @ Appalachian State||6:00 PM||ESPN3|
|Michigan @ Rutgers||7:00 PM||BTN|
|(15) LSU @ (5) Auburn||7:00 PM||ESPN|
|Texas Tech @ (23) Kansas State||7:00 PM||ESPNU|
|UTEP @ Louisiana Tech||7:00 PM||FCS|
|UAB @ Western Kentucky||7:00 PM|
|Hawaii @ Rice||7:00 PM||AMSN|
|Toledo @ Western Michigan||7:00 PM||ESPN3|
|Louisiana-Monroe @ Arkansas State||7:00 PM||ESPN3|
|Georgia State @ Louisiana-Lafayette||7:00 PM||ESPN3|
|Idaho @ Texas State||7:00 PM||ESPN3|
|Memphis @ Cincinnati||7:00 PM||CBSS|
|Miami (FL) @ Georgia Tech||7:30 PM||ESPN2|
|South Carolina @ Kentucky||7:30 PM||SECN|
|Pittsburgh @ Virginia||7:30 PM||ESPN3|
|Arizona State @ (16) USC||7:30 PM||FOX|
|(19) Nebraska @ (10) Michigan State||8:00 PM||ABC|
|UNLV @ San Jose State||8:00 PM||ESNN|
|Georgia Southern @ New Mexico State||8:00 PM||ESPN3|
|Utah @ (8) UCLA||10:30 PM||ESPN|
|California @ Washington State||10:30 PM||PAC12|
|Boise State @ Nevada||10:30 PM||CBSS|