Solon gives you the Meat Lover's edition today--oh, and you like it, you sick pig, you. Among other things, he tackles the issue of the Big East's surprising goodness, especially re: its gambling friendly tendencies. Enjoy.--O.
A question for everyone this week--why is there some sort of question regarding whether an undefeated Big East Champion should go the title game?
If you look at what each of the conferences have done this season, there are 3 BCS conferences that seem to have established themselves as the cream of the crop--the SEC, the Pac 10, and, yes, the Big East. It's pretty complex as to why, but suffice it to say that based on historical trends, home/road, and scheduled non-conference opponents, I predicted each conference's W-L record in non-conference games for the season, and came up with the following expected records (actual records thus far are in parentheses):
ACC: 36-12 (26-12)
Big East: 27-13 (32-8)
Big 10: 34-11 (29-11)
Big 12: 37-11 (33-15)
Pac 10: 21-10 (18-8)
SEC: 36-12 (29-7)
Georgia fans, you have to resort to Rainierism here: Ze goggles, zey do nothing!
As you can see, the Big East has outperformed expectations substantially. They haven't done it cheaply, either; they are 11-7 against BCS opponents, despite playing 10 of the 18 games on the road. And, you'll note that's almost 1/2 of their non-conference games against somewhat legitimate opposition.
The advantage of the Big East relative to the other conferences, at least this season, is its depth; UConn is a bad team (although they were still able to beat Big 10 equivalent Indiana on the road), but outside of them there are no dogs in the conference. Cincinnati and South Florida are not especially good teams, but they played Louisville and Rutgers tough (respectively); Cincinnati led Va Tech on the road in the 4th quarter of their game. Syracuse is in the bottom half of the conference, but they played Iowa even (yes, I know Tate didn't play)--and Iowa is the 4th best team in the Big 10, at worst--and, Syracuse crushed Illinois on the road. And, as far as Louisville and West Va, no non-conference opponent has even come close to beating either of them. Obviously, the Big East has had some bad results (Pitt losing to Michigan State, for example)--but hasn't every conference?
I'm not arguing the Big East is the best conference, just that running through the conference slate undefeated in the Big East is worthy of a Championship game bid. If Clemson had beaten BC, and went on to run the table, would anyone doubt their fitness for the Championship game? Well, if you look at their schedule and look at Louisville's, for example, there's little difference.
Also, in terms of conference schedules, if you look at that of Louisville and you look at that of Ohio State--who misses Wisconsin this season--I also don't think there's a lot of difference. OSU plays NW, Indiana, Illinois, and Minnesota--those are 4 pretty easy wins. No Big East team plays 4 conference games against teams as bad as those. Louisville has no game as tough as Michigan, but the next toughest conference game for OSU is the game against Iowa or against Penn State--both of whom look like a marginal Top 25 teams, at best, at this point. One could certainly make the argument that playing West Va/Rutgers is at least as difficult as playing Michigan/Iowa.
And, yes--I know Ohio State played at Texas, and also played Cincinnati (a tougher game for them than Mich State or Indiana was, by the way) which changes things a bit--but the argument against the Big East teams isn't with regard to their non-conference scheduling, it's with regard to the conference being so weak that winning it undefeated is of so little import that a 1-loss team should be placed in the championship game ahead of them. And that assumption does not appear to be backed up by anything other than that people assumed the Big East wasn't going to be good this season.
All right, rant finished. Any thoughts?
On another note, for all of you who took my preseason advice and bet Florida State to go under 9 1/2 wins this season--go cash your tickets. Didn't take too long, really. You're welcome.
My selections last week went 7-4, leaving me at 47-32 for the season, a winning percentage of 59.5%. Hopefully I can keep it going this week.
Here are this week's selections.
Clemson (-4) v. VIRGINIA TECH
I have been high on Clemson all season--believing them in the preseason to be the best team in the ACC, which now seems to be the conventional wisdom--and I see no reason to get off them now if the lines are going to be this short.
VT is not VT, if that makes any sense--they have dropped substantially relative to previous seasons; if the GT game only suggested this, the BC game stated it definitively. Even with a win over Southern Miss--by far, the best team they have beaten this season--they have shown little to suggest that they can compete with Clemson. The VT O is poor; despite playing probably the two worst teams in the ACC, they are only averaging 311 ypg on O against BCS opponents. They have run up against some halfway decent defenses--GT, BC, even Cincy--but the only one of the class of the Clemson D is BC, who held VT to 181 yards, forced 4 turnovers, and allowed only a FG. VT's O is decidedly average; they intend to use QB Whitaker this week in addition to QB Glennon, but I doubt it will change things for them. QB Glennon has had one particular good game this season, against ACC doormat Duke; against other 1-A opponents, he has averaged 168 ypg and 6.09 ypp with a 3-4 ratio, and even those very modest numbers are skewed by a 339 yard performance against GT where they were more than happy to trade yards for time after amassing a large lead. QB Whitaker is intended to give the VT O a running threat at the QB position, but I doubt he will make too much difference against a Clemson D that held mobile GT QB Ball to 8 yards on 12 carries last week. No opponent has been able to do anything particularly well against Clemson this season, and it I do not think it is likely that the VT O will get on track against them this week. Clemson's O has good and bad news; while TE Hunter is doubtful, it looks like WR Stuckey will play (although his effectiveness may be compromised due to the cold weather); RB Davis is also questionable with a stinger. Despite what people might think, RB Davis' presence is very important--without him, the Clemson running game will be severely compromised; RB Spiller is at his best in spurts, as a change of pace, which is why he is so effective as a receiver; having to play the majority of the game will lessen his effectiveness. The VT run D is pretty good, but outside of BC and GT--who went for an average of 121 ypg and 3.54 ypc--they haven't faced anyone who could run the ball (note that So Miss RB Fletcher was out last week); and, of course, Davis and Spiller are both better than GT RB Choice, who went for 105 yards on 18 carries against VT. The VT pass D is all right, but the only legitimate QB they have faced is BC QB Ryan, who was 16-29, 174 yds, 2-0. Those are not great numbers, but with Stuckey back I expect Clemson QB Proctor to at least come close to that level of production, and combined with Clemson's strong running game they should score enough points to get a relatively comfortable win here. VT, as they usually do, will have a large special teams edge, but I do not think it will be large enough to make VT competitive.
CINCINNATI (-6.5) v. Syracuse
Cincinnati has gotten better as the season has worn on; primarily, this is due to the emergence of their running game, which has stepped it up after getting stuffed by Ohio State. Since that game, they have averaged 192 ypg, despite playing Louisville, South Florida, and Va Tech, all of whom are legitimate, if not great, run defenses. Much like last season, Syracuse has a strange imbalance in their D; they are strong against the pass, but weak against the run. In Big East play, Syracuse has given up 296 ypg and 7.85 ypc, with West Virginia gaining a staggering 443 yards on 44 carries. Even Wyoming's very modest running game gained 147 yards--their second highest total of the season--against Syracuse. Syracuse QB Patterson has improved tremendously this season, and I have a lot of respect for the Syracuse passing game--but if you look more closely, he has only gone over 200 yards twice--against Louisville (not a strong pass D), and Pitt. The Pitt performance is impressive, but you'll note that his 20-29, 233 yard performance only resulted in only 11 points, largely because of Syracuse's inability to run the ball. Cincinnati has a strong D; they held Louisville to 23 points, and nearly shut out USF last week. Cincy struggled against RBs Pittman and Ore, but they seem to have gotten it together lately, stuffing Louisville's stable of backs and USF RB Ponton. Cincinnati's only really poor game against the pass was against Pitt, but that was a little deceptive as Pitt completed 2 long TD passes, and one of them was pretty clearly offensive pass interference, although it was not called; against Louisville QB Brohm and Ohio State QB Smith, Cincinnati gave up 8.41 ypp with a 3-1 ratio; considering the competition, these are not bad numbers. Against QBs Grothe, Getsy, and Glennon, Cincy gave up an average of 5.41 ypp with a 3-2 ratio; Patterson is arguably better than those QBs, but his numbers will probably not be too much better. In any event, it is highly unlikely he will be able to produce at the level of Brohm and Smith. I expect Cincy to control the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball, and while Syracuse may produce some points I do not think they will be able to keep up with the Cincy O.
Brigham Young (-8) v. AIR FORCE
I'm not sure how it happened, but BYU's O is a tremendous machine. Their QB play has been stellar all season--they even threw on Tulsa, leading to one of my early-season defeats--and, they are averaging 303 ypg and 9.28 ypp, with a 17-4 ratio. And, with the exception of Utah State, I would rate all of the pass defenses they have faced in the top half of CFB, and even if you limited their statistics to those gained against BC and Tulsa--both of whom I would rate among the top 20 pass defenses in the nation--they averaged 8.35 ypp with a 4-2 ratio. AFA's pass D this season has been deplorable; not only did Tennessee and Colorado State--the only teams they have faced with good QBs--tear them up to the tune of 308 ypg and an amazing 11.83 ypp, all of their opponents--other than UT and CSU, a very modest bunch--have averaged 9.11 ypp against them. Given all of this, it is unlikely that the BYU running game will need to be a factor, but they have shown the ability to get the job done on occasion, running for 232 yds v. Tulsa and for 310 yds last week v. UNLV. AFA has been much better against the run, but, except for Navy (who ran for over 300 yds), they have yet to face a strong rushing attack; the best of the lot, SDSU, went for 151 yds last week against them in an upset victory. As for the AFA O, they will get their yards; no one has slowed them down this season with the exception of Navy, which has the advantage of facing the option on a regular basis. BYU, at least, tends to make them work; last year they held AFA to 200 rushing yds, and the season prior held them to 213. While BYU does not have the strongest rush defense this season, they have held their opponents--admittedly, a largely pedestrian bunch--to 109 ypg and 3.68 ypc this season. No one has really gone off on them, and I expect them to make some stops this weekend. I would argue that the BYU Ds margin for error is considerably greater than that of the AFA D, and while I expect AFA to score some points I do not expect that they will be able to keep up with the BYU O.
Also, I just have to say--because it's been floating around my head for a while, and this is the first time I'm betting on BYU--that if there were an unofficial porno film for CFB 2006, it would have to star Sam Swank, Colt McCoy, and Mitch Mustain, and be directed by Bronco Mendenhall.
TULANE (-5.5) v. Army
I have a lot of respect for Bobby Ross, and the fact that this Army team has cobbled together 3 wins is a testament to just how good a coach he is. That said, I think he is overmatched this week. Army's O is poor; in particular, their passing game is among the worst in the nation, not prolific and not efficient. Army makes a change at QB this week--Carson Williams is now the starter for David Pevoto--but I do not think it will make much difference. Army outscored TCU 14-0 in the second half last week with Williams at QB, but the scores were on a 50-yard run on a reverse, and on a 10 yard drive after a fumble; his 12-18, 110 yard performance did not have any real impact on that scoreline. Tulane's pass D has given up a lot of yards, but when you consider the quality of the opposition (Houston, LSU, Auburn, UTEP) their numbers (257 ypg and 7.46 ypp with a 15-3 ratio) look a little better. In any case, the Army passing attack, which has been averaging 128 ypg and 4.78 ypp with a 3-14 ratio, will provide a welcome respite for the Tulane pass D despite the QB change. The Army running game provides little relief for the passing game, only averaging 113 ypg and 3.33 ypc; Tulane was run over by the Auburn backups last week, and previously struggled with the poor UTEP running game, but this Army team has too little going for it on O to present a challenge. Tulane's strength is its O; they have a particularly potent passing game, and are averaging 272 ypg and 7.14 ypp despite playing BCS powers LSU and Auburn. Against the passing attacks with a pulse that Army has faced--A&M, Baylor, Rice, and TCU--Army has given up 211 ypg and 7.72 ypp, with a 8-1 ratio. Tulane can also run the ball a little bit, averaging 99 ypg despite having played 3 SEC defenses on the road, and having rushed for -36 against SMU, in a game where they were behind from the jump and abandoned the running game in favor of the pass, resulting in multiple sacks; if that game is ignored, they have averaged 121 ypg and 4.46 ypc despite 1/2 of the games coming against SEC teams. Army is very poor against the run, giving up 182 ypg and 4.91 ypc, and only holding pass-happy Baylor and Rice to less than 184 yards; 1-AA VMI even ran for 170 yards on the Army D. I think Tulane will win this one handily.
Ross: why'd he leave Ryan Stewart like that? WHYYYYY???
OHIO STATE (-27) v. Minnesota
Much like Michigan, one of Ohio State's most impressive qualities this season has been how workmanlike and methodical their wins have been. Outside of a tricky game in a heavy rain against Penn State, OSU has yet to be challenged by any of their opponents late, and the closest of these wins was a 17-point victory away to the 5th best team in the nation. Amazingly, they have only given up more than 7 points twice, and are giving up an average of just 8 ppg. On tap this week is a Minnesota O that is a pale imitation of previous editions. Their once-powerful running game is no more; other than a 184 yard effort against Purdue, they have managed to hit 100 yards against BCS opposition only once, a 112 yd effort against Cal that required 32 carries ( 3.5 ypc). If confirmation was needed of the relegation of their running game to second-tier status, it came last week in the form of an 87-yard effort against 1-AA North Dakota State. I think Ohio State is vulnerable to the run--at least moreso than they are to the pass--but Minnesota will not be able to take advantage. Texas, NIU, BG, and Penn State all moved the ball on the ground against the Buckeyes--between them, averaging 156 ypg and 4.54 ypc--but this year's Minnesota squad is not in the class of any of these teams and will not be able to do as well; and, you'll note, none of those teams produced much end product, scoring 3 TDs between them. Minn QB Cupito has been decent this season, but he has not been prolific enough to pick up the slack; he had a good game against Penn State--really, a good 4th quarter and OT, where he threw for 176 of his 348 yards--but he has otherwise been average, passing for 181 ypg and 7.08 ypp--and those totals include games against Kent, Temple, and North Dakota State. The Ohio State pass D is among the best in the nation, giving up 5.69 ypp with a 5-14 ratio--and only Cincinnati and Iowa have gone for as many as 200 yards against them. Despite all of this, it is on the other side of the ball where OSU's real advantage lies; Minnesota's D is deplorable, giving up an average of 455 ypg to BCS opponents; and, it is safe to say that with the possible exception of Cal--who scored 42 points and gained 531 yds--this will be the best O that Minnesota has faced thus far. QB Smith should have a field day, as his 8.68 ypp and 13-2 ratio against BCS teams--which becomes 9.47 ypp and 12-0 ratio if you eliminate the Penn State game, played in inclement weather--will be going up against a pass D that is even worse than Smith is good, as they have given up 9.58 ypp and an astonishing 15-1 ratio against BCS opponents this season. Even when Tressel decides to call of the jam OSU will still produce, as the Minnesota run D is nearly as bad as their pass D, having given up 194 ypg and 5.03 ypc this season against BCS opponents. Ohio State has yet to really bust out on O this season, but their D is so good that they are still getting ahead of the number, and I think they will do the same this week.
Tennessee (-4.5) v. SOUTH CAROLINA
Perhaps the most amazing thing about Tennessee's wins over SEC rivals Georgia and Florida the last two weeks is that they have won those games despite being an incredible -7 in turnovers. He has to mean Alabama here. Because Tennessee lost to Florida. Because they're evil, and they suck. Thank you.--ed. So long as they do not put themselves in such a position again this week, I think they will win this game handily. Even without RB Coker--by far UT's best RB--the Vols will still produce something against a weak S Car run D. The only teams S Car has held under 100 yds rushing were the non-existent running games of Kentucky and Mississippi State; Georgia's rather modest running game went for over 200 yards against them, and 1-AA Wofford nearly went for 300. Do not misunderstand, I am not contending that the Tennessee running game will be a determining factor in the team's success this week, just that they will provide enough balance for QB Ainge to do his thing; 263 ypg and 7.73 ypg against BCS opponents, all of whom, with the possible exception of Georgia, bring to the table much stronger pass defenses than South Carolina's. South Carolina has yet to face a QB in Ainge's class this season, and the only ones that come close--Auburn QB Cox and Kentucky QB Woodson--combined for 235 ypg and 9.38 ypp. South Carolina has been great against the other QBs they have faced, but if you look who they were--e.g., Georgia QB Stafford and Miss St QB Rutland, both coming into the game after injuries to starters, and each seeing their first significant game action--it is clear that S Car's performance in those games is not operative here. On the other side of the ball, there is little doubt that the change to QB Newton has improved the S Car O; he is not only a better passer than QB Mitchell or QB Smelley, he also provides a running threat that the others do not possess. Without a doubt, though, there is a clear delineation in his performances; he has looked great against Wofford, Florida Atlantic, and Kentucky (220 ypg and 8.79 ypp passing, 49 ypg and 4.2 ypc rushing), while looking considerably less stellar against Auburn and Vandy (187 ypg and 7.04 ypp passing, 42 ypg and 3.0 ypc rushing). UT has one of the more accomplished pass defenses in the nation--even if narrowing your focus to the elite QBs they have played--Cal QB Longshore, Florida QB Leak, and Alabama QB Wilson--Tennessee has held these teams to 210 ypg and 6.55 ypp, with a 4-3 ratio. For my money, all of these QBs are superior to Newton. S Car RB Boyd has had a couple of good games against UK and Vandy, but while UT's run D is much better than those, and while they have been a little bit vulnerable this season other than AFA no one has gone for 150 yards against them. South Carolina will probably run the ball a little bit, but it is unlikely that their production will be enough to make a difference in this game.
The endzone is that way--David Cutcliffe taught me that.
Kentucky (-1) v. MISSISSIPPI STATE
Kentucky's D is not good, but MSU's O is even worse. UK has been particularly exploitable through the air; 237 ypg and 8.92 ypp with a 9-3 ratio against BCS teams--and this does not include a 410 yard effort by Central Michigan. Fortunately for them, the MSU passing game is especially poor; 2 passing TDs this season (against 8 interceptions), and only 6.12 ypp. MSU has been reduced to starting Henig at the QB position--and he is not especially accomplished, throwing for 6.81 ypp with a 0-4 ratio this season. While he will probably have his best game yet, I suspect that the UK D will be able to improve substantially on their numbers regardless. Kentucky is also poor against the run; only 1-AA Texas State was held under 100 yards, and their other opponents have gone for 214 ypg and 5.51 ypc. Part of their problem stems from their inability to handle opposing QBs, who have gone for more than 50 ypg against them. MSU QB Henig, though, provides no running threat whatsoever; 35 carries for -104 yards for his career. MSU's RBs are not much more accomplished either, and as a team they have hit 100 yards only once (against UAB), and they are averaging 61 ypg and 2.01 ypc in 5 games against BCS opposition. Once again, MSU will probably improve on those stats, but they will not blow up. The key matchup in this game is the strong UK passing attack against MSU's weak pass D. Kentucky is averaging 243 ypg and 7.26 ypp with a 12-3 ratio, and there is little doubt that every pass D they have faced this season--with the exception of Ole Miss--is better than that of Miss State. Also note that UK has played what I rate as the two best pass defenses in the nation--Florida and LSU--and, if you take out those games, their numbers improve to 271 ypg and 8.81 ypp with an 11-2 ratio. MSU has been lit up this season through the air; in all games, they have given up 8.93 ypp with an 11-7 ratio. Against the established QBs they have faced--Auburn, Tulane, LSU, and West Va--those numbers are 11.69 ypp with a 9-1 ratio. I expect Kentucky QB Woodson to have a good day, and for the UK O to score plenty of points and to win this game with ease.
Washington State (+1.5) V. UCLA
Before the season I was high on WSU, and I was happy to see them finally win a game against a legitimate opponent last week. I think they will continue their success here; UCLA has a good D, but they have limitations on the offensive side of the ball. WSU is facing serious problems on the DL--in fact, they are even considering switching to a 3-4 this week to deal with their injuries at DT--but I still think they will bring enough to the table to handle the UCLA O. Despite both starting DT going out last week in the 1Q against Oregon, they still held the powerful Oregon rushing offense to 107 yards on 30 carries, and they held super RB Stewart to 28 yards on 11 carries. UCLA went off for over 300 yards rushing against Rice, but otherwise they have been unproductive on the ground, averaging 99 ypg against BCS opponents, culminating in a 26 yard effort against a weak ND run D last week. It is unlikely they will do too much against a WSU run D that has been fairly strong this season, only struggling against Auburn RB Irons and Cal RB Lynch; those 2 RBs averaged 7.44 ypc, but all other RBs faced by WSU this season have only averaged 3.90 ypc. It is safe to say that while UCLA RB Markey has some quailty, he is not in the class of those backs. At QB, while Cowan is not a severe dropoff from Olson, he is not the sort of QB that wins games single-handedly; WSU has held their own against much stronger passing attacks--USC, Oregon State, Cal, and Oregon--all with QBs much better than Cowan (or Olson, for that matter)--only averaged 7.19 ypp with a 5-6 ratio against the WSU D. UCLA has a strong D--despite the fact that Tennessee OC Cutcliffe will almost certainly win the Broyles award, UCLA DC Walker has done the best job of any assistant this season--but I think they are vulnerable against the pass, and that is going to be problematic against WSU's strong passing game. WSU has averaged 245 ypg and 7.01 ypg with a 7-5 ratio in Pac 10 play; these are not great numbers but there is little doubt that WSU will produce yards throwing the ball. WSU also has a legitimate running game; they are averaging 144 ypg and 4.23 ypc in Pac 10 play, and while UCLA has been very strong against the run, Oregon lit them up for over 250 yards. The only good rushing team they have really handled is Washington; given this, it is certainly possible that WSU will produce on the ground as well as through the air. Bottom line--I think WSU will run the ball and pass the ball better than UCLA, and given that they rarely turn the ball over that should be enough to win this game outright.
East Carolina (+5.5) v. SOUTHERN MISSISSIPPI
I've always liked Southern Miss, who I probably view the way people viewed Florida State 20 years ago; exceptionally bold schedulers who always give an honest effort, and, more often than not, scare the hell out of the big boys. Plus, Southern Miss grad SMQ is one of my favorite writers in the college football blogosphere. Still, I think ECU will have their measure this week. ECU's running game is pretty average but their passing game is excellent; QB Pinkney has been very prolific, throwing for over 200 yards in every game with the exception of the Tulsa game (and, as regular readers know, I rate the Tulsa pass D as ridiculously strong); for the season, he has averaged 7.43 ypp with a 7-4 ratio, despite facing the strong Ds of West Va, UVa, and Tulsa. Southern Miss has been pretty average against the pass in ConfUSA play; they have given up 7.78 ypp, and while Pinkney is not nearly as good as Tulsa QB Smith, or Houston QB Kolb, he is comparable to those two and should have good production on Saturday. The ECU D is pretty strong; no doubt along with Tulsa they are the two best in ConfUSA. ECU has given up 337 ypg in ConfUSA play, and only gave up 311 ypg to BCS teams UVa and West Va. Since the opener against Navy, ECU has been particularly strong against the run, giving up 136 ypg and 3.68 ypc despite facing strong rushing attacks in Tulsa and West Virginia--who they held to 130 rushing yards. So Miss RB Fletcher returns this week, and he is quality--but his only especially prolific game was against NC State, and his production usually tops out at just over 100 yards. So Miss has the same problem at the QB position, Young is a decent player but he is not especially productive; as a team, So Miss has thrown for 163 ypg and 5.56 ypp, and they have yet to throw for 200 yards in any single game. Southern Miss just does not have a very prolific O; other than the game against NC State, when the 'Pack was in full meltdown mode, So Miss has only gone over 300 yards on O once in 5 games (325 yds, Houston), and they are averaging 270 ypg; given that they are going up against a pretty good D this week I think the spread is too large for them to cover and I think ECU is a good bet with the points.
Arkansas State (-8) v. FLORIDA ATLANTIC
Picking Sun Belt games is always tricky, but I think I have a read on what is a--for the Sun Belt--very good Arkansas State squad. For the most part, there is a lot of parity among Sun Belt teams, but this season ASU--last year's Sun Belt champion, by the way--seems to have separated themself from the pack. They dominated Florida International and North Texas, and while they only beat Louisiana-Monroe by the score of 10-6, that final was a bit deceptive as ASU controlled the contest. In addition, they have defeated ConfUSA side Memphis on the road; Memphis is not too great this season but there is little doubt that it would be difficult for any other team in the Sun Belt to duplicate that feat. The recipe for Arkansas State's success is the same as always--they run the ball well, and teams have trouble passing against them. ASU is averaging 229 ypg on the ground in conference play this season, and while Fla Atl is giving up a respectable 125 ypg in conference play (to decent La-Laf and La-Mon rushing attacks), I do not think they will be able to handle the ASU running game. In addition, Arkansas State made a change at QB a few weeks back and it has paid off well for them; new QB Leonard has stepped in for old QB Hewitt and they can now count on offensive balance; since becoming the full-time starter, Leonard has averaged 9.67 ypp and the team has averaged more than 200 ypg passing the ball. Fla Atl's D is not too bad, but they have yet to face a team that can both run and pass, and I think they will struggle this week. On the other side of the ball, Florida Atlantic is not especially good on O, and they were shut out at home against a weaker La-Lafayette D. They had a decent game against Louisiana-Monroe--21 points and 333 yards--but the Arkansas State D is much stiffer; for the season, they are giving up 260 ypg, and they held a strong Oklahoma State passing game to 167 yards. ASU is somewhat vulnerable against the run, but Fla Atl has only run the ball well against La-Mon this season, and I rate them as the 117th best rush D in the nation, and I do not think they will do the same to Arkansas State. ASU has already beaten Florida International and Memphis on the road this season, and I do not think they will have too much trouble getting ahead of the number here.
RUTGERS (-18.5) v. Connecticut
Even though they are 7-0, I am still not sure I believe in Rutgers--their O is way too one-dimensional to be considered a serious player on the national scene--but they are going up against the worst team in the Big East this week and their limitations will not be exposed by UConn. Rutgers' running game is no joke--they are averaging over 200 ypg on the ground, and the UConn run D is ill-equipped to deal with them. West Va's 259 yd, 41 carry performance last week is typical--they also gave up over 200 yards to South Florida (playing without RB Ponton), and Navy amassed an incredible 461 yds on the ground against the Huskies. Even if QB Teel has his usual 125 yd performance, as long as he does not throw the ball too often Rutgers will be in good shape. And, as good as the Rutgers running game has been, their D is their strength this season; opponents are averaging less than 9 ppg against Rutgers, and since the opener only South Florida has gained as many as 250 yards against them, and USF only gained 322. I think Rutgers might be vulnerable to the pass--they have a strong 4-8 ratio, and while they shut down Pitt, USF QB Grothe had a decent game against them, as did UNC QB Sexton. Their pass D might be exploited by Louisville, Cincinnati, or Syracuse, but not by Connecticut, whose numbers for the season are 143 ypg and 4.86 ypp with a 4-7 ratio. UConn can run the ball a little, but the Rutgers run D is among the best in the nation; opponents are averaging 81 ypg and 2.65 ypc. They held Navy--albeit, without their starting QB--to less than 100 yards rushing; even with the injury to QB Hampton, this is an incredible accomplishment. They also stuffed a strong Illinois rushing game--which is averaging 189 ypg and 4.85 ypc in Big 10 play--to 66 yards on 28 carries. Also, as noted last week, UConn abandons the run when they fall behind, which is something that will work in Rutgers' favor if they can jump out to an early lead. Rutgers will want to impress their home crowd, and being on national television will ensure their focus despite their next scheduled game being against Louisville; I like them to get a big win in this spot.
OTHER GAMES OF NOTE:
Florida (-14) v. Georgia (Jacksonville, FL)
I actually came pretty close to giving this game "Bet of the Year" status, but a few things held me back. First off, it would be difficult to deal the cognitive dissonance--you'll note that in my two seasons posting on this site I've never bet against the Dawgs. The last time I bet against them was in 1994 (Georgia 17, Ole Miss (+8) 14), and it was excruciating even though the game wasn't on TV and I only saw scores over the ticker (and, you'll note that the game was a potential win/win, and, as it happened, it worked out since the Dawgs won the game and I won my bet--something that couldn't possibly happen if I bet against the Dawgs as a 'dog). So, while as a bettor I try to detach, it's sometimes damn near impossible. Second, and perhaps of more import to just about everyone else reading this, Florida just doesn't score a lot of points. Their point totals in SEC play are 21, 26, 28, 23, and 17. That's an average of 23 ppg with a max of 28 pts, and this will be nowhere near the worst D they have faced. And it's not as though the Gators are running up a bunch of yards and squandering a bunch of scoring opportunities--they are only averaging 327 ypg on O; take out the game against Kentucky and that number drops to 280 ypg. Of course, the Gator D is a monstrosity and this is where it gets tricky for the Dawgs. I've seen true freshmen who have otherwise had great seasons run up against voracious Ds and the results are not pretty; QB Stafford, of course, has had something other than a great season so far--6.82 ypp and a 2-7 ratio against BCS opponents--and this will be the best D he has yet faced. If QB Stafford can keep the turnover machine off, the Dawgs will keep this one close, and if he grows up quickly they may even have a shot to win it outright; the available evidence suggests this is highly unlikely, however, and I suspect it will be a long day for the Dawgs.
MIZZOU (-2.5) v. Oklahoma
It seems hard to believe that massively talented QB Brad Smith was holding the Tigers back but the evidence is too great to ignore. This year's Missouri team has balance on O, and they have been prolific, averaging 30 ppg. Oklahoma's D is solid but against the only truly legitimately balanced offenses they have faced--Washington, Oregon, and Texas--they gave up an average of 27 ppg and 380 ppg. I expect Missouri to put up numbers comparable to those averages, and I do not believe the Oklahoma O will be able to keep up. While OU rushed for a lot of yards against the strong Colorado D last week, they were not overly efficient; they amassed 166 yards, but reaching that total took them 49 carries. Mizzou does not have nearly as good a run D as Colorado, but I do not think OU is going to put up the same sorts of numbers post-Peterson, regardless of the opposition--and, anyway, Mizzou's run D is not too bad. Colorado and A&M ran Mizzou over, but between them they only averaged 4.34 ypc; I do not believe OU will have the same sort of proficiency. Bottom line is that I do not trust OU QB Thompson to do the job against the Mizzou pass D. Thompson has been decent this season--against BCS opposition, 191 ypg and 7.02 ypp, with a 6-3 ratio--but this will probably be the best pass D he has faced. Mizzou has held each opponent to less than 200 ypg, with the exception of Texas Tech, who threw for 378 yards on 61 passes (6.20 ypp). For the season, BCS opponents are only averaging 5.65 ypp with a 5-7 ratio. So, given all of this, why is this not an "official" play? Mizzou has yet to face a QB in a normal O as good as Thompson (Texas Tech presents a different sort of challenge altogether), and it's entirely possible that they will be exposed. I doubt this will happen, but it's likely enough that this game gets knocked down here, out of rotation order, relegated to "unofficial" status.