Morning Tailgate Mailbag: Title Scenarios, Future Coaches, And The Unbearableness Of Pants

BOULDER, CO - OCTOBER 22: Head Coach Chip Kelly of the Oregon Ducks leads his team on to the field before taking on the Colorado Buffaloes at Folsom Field on October 22, 2011 in Boulder, Colorado. (Photo by Justin Edmonds/Getty Images)

This week's mailbag focuses on title game scenarios (and a possible LSU-Oregon rematch), Kansas' woeful defense, the best future coach in college football (who looks awfully similar to the best present coach) and Pitt's Big East chances without Ray Graham.

Let's answer some questions while we quietly brace ourselves for Mizzou's ultimate Lucy-and-Charlie-Brown moment.

if lsu is #1 and only undefeated, and ORE beats stan and has 1-loss could we get rematch for champ game?

-and-

If OK beats OKSt and Clemson loses at some point, who do you see getting 2nd bcs champ spot: 1-loss ORE or boise?

-and-

Pac-12 Question: Why is Oregon getting more love and Stanford less love in the F/+ numbers this season?

We always fall into the trap of playing the "if" game while we are still miles and miles away from the end of the regular season. We can try to figure out what will happen "if" this or that happens, but as Saturday night taught us with Wisconsin's Hail Mary loss and Oklahoma's first home loss since 2001, for all the scenarios we discuss, an unforeseen scenario is the one that tends to play out.

That said, to address the specific scenarios given...

If LSU is the only remaining undefeated BCS conference team, and Oregon is sitting there at one loss, I do think there is a very good possibility that the two teams meet for a rematch in the national title game. My vote, of course, would go toward an undefeated Boise State team (one of these years, they will get a shot), but you probably knew that already. If the options are between 13-0 LSU, 12-1 Oregon and 12-0 Boise State, I think Boise gets left out. Perhaps the more interesting scenario would be if 11-1 Alabama were also involved. I hate the idea of a conference rematch in the title game, but is that really any worse than a rematch of a September non-conference game?

As for why Oregon's Football Outsiders ratings are so much higher this year than last, a commenter at Football Study Hall actually already handled this one pretty well: statistically, Oregon more or less fought LSU to a draw back on Labor Day weekend. The major difference, of course, was turnovers; in a game the Bayou Bengals won by 13, they held a plus-17.0 equivalent point (as defined here) advantage. Turnovers are not very predictive and are therefore not factored heavily into S&P+ projections, so the result is that Oregon is given serious credit for hanging so tightly with LSU.

Basically, Oregon's 2011 schedule, then, is of roughly the same strength of their 2010 slate, only they have replaced New Mexico with LSU. Add that to the fact that they are, as a whole, starting faster this year (last year they had the tendency to dilly-dally against iffy teams long enough to hurt their ratings, then hit the accelerator), and there you go: higher ratings. That they have continued to improve despite the loss of running back LaMichael James for two games (and counting) and quarterback Darron Thomas for one is incredibly impressive.

Stanford, meanwhile, is about where one would expect. They are playing at a Top 10 level despite having played one of the weakest schedules in college football. They are efficient from the opening snap, and they typically do not waste time putting games out of reach. They finished fourth with a +27.9% F/+ rating a year ago, and they are currently at +24.6% this year. They may be ranked lower, but they're doing just fine; and they will have more than enough opportunity to give their ratings a bit of a bump with upcoming games versus USC, Oregon and Notre Dame.

What's a stat that will surprise me about KU's defense this year? I'd assume there'd be a few to choose from.

The single most surprising tidbit I could find about Kansas this year actually comes on the offensive side of the ball: they are, somehow, ranked 11th in Off. Passing S&P+ right now. They rarely pass, choosing instead to hammer away with one of their four different young running backs, but in treating the pass as such a delicacy, they have done it well. As soon as Jordan Webb is asked to put the ball in the air more frequently, their effectiveness drops quickly, but it's still interesting.

As for the defense ... it is difficult to find something that stands out when an overall unit is this bad. Kansas currently ranks 117th in Def. F/+, ahead of just Army, Navy and New Mexico. (Think about that for a moment: that means it ranks worse than New Mexico State, Memphis, Tulane, etc.) They are, surprisingly, only barely the worst BCS defense -- No. 116 Washington State, No. 113 Colorado and No. 107 Minnesota are hot on their heels.

Perhaps the most interesting thing about Kansas' defense is the way their weakness takes shape. On Standard Downs, they are actually decent against the pass; they rank 53rd in Passing S&P+ and 47th in Passing Success Rate+ on these downs despite ranking dead last in Adj. Sack Rate. Unfortunately, they cannot stop the run -- they are 105th in Standard Downs Rushing S&P+. When they do (rarely) leverage an opponent into a passing down, however, they break down; they rank 113th in Passing S&P+ on these downs (and, strangely, 59th against the run). You are more likely to run on standard downs and pass on passing downs, and Kansas cannot actually stop you from doing either. But if you go off-script and get creative in your play-calling, they might slow you down. Odd.

You may choose any school and any coach in America for the next five years. Who, as they say, ya got?

This answer is boring (as boring as his team's style of play, really), but it has to be Nick Saban and Alabama, doesn't it? He showed up in Tuscaloosa in 2007, suffered through an awkward transition year, and has gone 44-5 (with two of five losses coming to eventual national champions) since then. He is only 59, so he has at least five more good years in him, and I would have to go with that.

If the purpose of the question was more of a "who is a great, young, up-and-comer," then Boise State's Chris Petersen is only 47, so I would say he counts. And if we're going far off the rails with the answer, then I'll just say I'm strangely, irrationally attached to Arkansas State's Hugh Freeze. But no. Saban. Every time, Saban.

Via email: Can Pitt win the Big East without Ray Graham?

It would be very easy to simply answer "Yes, Pitt can overcome Ray Graham's season-ending knee injury because the Big East is semi-awful," but I won't.

In recent years, few teams have had better backup running backs than Pittsburgh. In 2007-08, you had LaRod Stephens-Howling (now of the Arizona Cardinals) backing up LeSean McCoy. In 2009-10, you had Ray Graham backing up (and, last year, almost surpassing) Dion Lewis. This year, however, that is not the case; or at least, it might not be. Graham leads (led?) the Panthers with 958 yards in 164 carries; he was carrying a heavy load of over 20 carries per game and averaging almost six yards per carry, and he was 23rd in the country with a +13.0 Adj. POE, meaning he was a good two touchdowns better than an average running back in the carries he had received. His backup, Zach Brown, has been much less impressive. For the season, the senior has 41 carries for 129 yards (3.1 per carry). He had 12 carries for 30 yards in Graham's absence Wednesday night. So the initial impression is that he will represent a pretty significant drop-off.

Brown does, however, have a track record. He put together three decent years at Wisconsin, rushing for 568 yards in 2007 before falling victim to running back depth; he fell behind the likes of John Clay, P.J. Hill, James White and Montee Ball and elected to transfer to Pitt. He would have been a better fit for Dave Wannstedt's offense than Todd Graham's, but he has at least shown something in the past.

It would behoove both him and his Panthers if he began to do so again soon. The Panthers host new conference leaders Cincinnati next Saturday, then face a stretch run of @Louisville-@WVU-Syracuse. Pitt could absolutely win three of four to finish and win a tie-breaker at 5-2 (meaning they would get to a BCS bowl at a smoking 7-5; or to put it another way, they can overcome Graham's injury because the Big East is semi-awful), but losing Graham obviously puts quite a bit more pressure on quarterback Tino Sunseri, who has been getting sacked at break-neck rates this year.

The good news, I guess, is that Pitt was already winning games despite its offense (the Panthers rank 77th in Off. F/+, 27th in Def. F/+); they will just have to do so a little more now.

Help a girl out? Start Newton or Vick?

Newton's facing Minnesota and Vick's facing Dallas, which immediately makes me lean toward Newton. I'll be honest, however: I haven't played fantasy football in three years, and I'm pretty sure at this point college football occupies about 94 percent of my sports brain power. Between my preoccupation with college and the fact that I live in Missouri (and am therefore saddled with Chiefs and Rams games each week -- my favorite moment was this past Sunday, when Fox pulled away from Lions-Falcons as the Lions were driving with under two minutes left so that I could see Rams-Cowboys in its entirety ... thanks, Fox!), I am the last person that should be giving FFL advice.

(That said, I've watched enough NFL to know that Newton has been so, so much more impressive right out of the gates than I anticipated. Kudos.)

Don't you hate pants?

Haven't worn 'em in weeks.

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