Each week at Football Study Hall, I post the picks generated by our Football Outsiders F/+ rankings. I am still attempting to figure out the best way to make the picks successful, of course (season win percentage: 52), but to me, the picks still serve a clear purpose: they tell us how each game would play out if teams played at their previously established levels, and they tell us which teams and conferences under- or overachieved in a given week. I wouldn't use these picks to bet thousands of dollars just yet, but let's use them to make some evaluations.
Week Four's Big Winner: Temple
Week Four's Big Loser: The ACC
It is not unheard of for a team to get good press all week, then lay an egg on the field. Does it work that way for an entire conference as well? Only three ACC teams even slightly overachieved their projections (Clemson, Duke and North Carolina), and two of those did so at the expense of other ACC teams. Meanwhile, four teams underachieved by significant margins against non-conference opponents.
Underachiever: Maryland (Projected Margin: +17.0 | Actual Margin: -31). Temple's 38-7 win was just a manhandling. Temple outgained the Terps by 185 yards (425 to 240), and the only reason it was that close is because Maryland's last drive went 80 yards in eight plays. Before that drive, the Terps managed just 160 yards in 52 plays (3.1 per play). Including sacks, quarterback Danny O'Brien's 36 pass attempts averaged just 3.5 yards each (17-for-33, 153 yards, 1 INT, 3 sacks). Yuck. The numbers liked Maryland because they played great against Miami and pretty well against West Virginia. I think they used up all of their statistical goodwill, eh?
Underachiever: N.C. State (Projected Margin: -2.2 | Actual Margin: -30). Since projections are still playing a bit of a role in the rankings as a whole, and since recent history is part of the projections formula, you can say that Russell Wilson was part of the reason N.C. State was given a chance at Cincinnati on Thursday night. But Wilson wouldn't have been able to do much better than new quarterback Mike Glennon, not with the running game generating seven pre-sack rushing yards, not with a defense allowing 503 yards, and not with Cincy averaging 57.7 net yards per punt. Forget Russell Wilson: Philip Rivers couldn't have helped N.C. State in this 44-14 loss.
Underachiever: Miami (Projected Margin: +17.2 | Actual Margin: -4). Miami averaged 7.1 yards per play and registered eight tackles for loss to Kansas State's one. They made the most explosive plays, but KSU made the most important. The Hurricanes were gashed by the KSU backfield -- quarterback Collin Klein and running back John Hubert combined for 286 rushing yards on 36 carries -- and allowed 28 points to a team that scored just 10 points and gained just 303 yards versus Eastern Kentucky. Sean Spence had a nice game (11.0 tackles, 2.5 TFL, 1 FF), but he needed help.
Underachiever: Virginia Tech (Projected Margin: +31.4 | Actual Margin +20). The Hokies were never really challenged in their 30-10 win over Marshall -- they gained 444 yards, 207 of which came via the legs of David Wilson (132) and Josh Oglesby (75). Marshall backs Tron Martinez and Travon Van, meanwhile, managed just 18 yards in 16 carries. The margin (Tech 30, Marshall 10) wasn't quite what was projected, but one gets the impression Frank Beamer's team could have won by more if they wanted to.
I wrote at Football Outsiders that the Big 12 was looking excellent so far this season, and that Kansas State had a chance to make them look even better. Mission accomplished in that regard, eh? The conference may be falling apart off the field, but on the field, conference play this season could be incredibly fun.
Overachiever: Kansas State (Projected Margin: -17.2 | Actual Margin: +4). The numbers will continue to be slow to accept K-State after their atrocious performance against Eastern Kentucky, but wow, did they raise their game when they needed to. Next up: fixing the passing game. For his rushing prowess, Klein still managed to get sacked four times in just 22 pass attempts, resulting in a per-attempt passing average of just 4.8 yards. He will probably need to improve in that regard with Baylor coming to town this weekend.
Underachiever: Texas Tech (Projected Margin: +15.8 | Actual Margin: +1). Nevada got trounced by Oregon and barely hung on to beat lowly San Jose State ... but they nearly pulled an upset in Lubbock. Tech won, 35-34, on a fourth-and-goal pass with 36 seconds remaining. Tech was evidently caught off-guard by part-time Nevada quarterback Cody Fajardo, who completed four of six passes for 59 yards and, more importantly, rushed for 139 yards and two touchdowns in just ten carries. Tech took a while to get going, averaging just 4.4 yards per play in the first half, but to their credit, they sucked it up in the second half, gaining 267 yards (7.6 per play) and scoring touchdowns in all five trips inside the Nevada 10. Including sacks, Seth Doege averaged just 5.4 yards per pass, but Eric Stephens (134 rushing yards, 30 receiving yards) went off.
Overachiever: Missouri and Underachiever: Oklahoma (Projected Margin: OU +22.3 | Actual Margin: OU +10). In OU's 38-28 win, Mizzou started and finished beautifully: their first three and last two drives of the game racked up 308 yards on just 30 plays (10.3 per play). The problem, of course, was that in the nine drives in between, they averaged just 4.4 yards per play and scored zero points. Some quick Mizzou possessions allowed the Oklahoma offense to get a step on the MU defense, and when Jaz Reynolds (7 targets, 5 catches, 93 yards) got going, so did Oklahoma. For the game, Mizzou had a better per-play average (7.1 to 6.8) and won the turnover battle, but the drought was, to say the least, devastating. Ryan Broyles (16 targets, 13 catches, 154 yards, 3 TD) was very Broylesy, and running back Dom Whaley (16 carries for 68 yards, five catches for 82 yards) looked great in the open field. Mizzou running back Henry Josey (14 carries for 133 yards, one catch for 12 yards) probably needs to be touching the ball more.
Overachiever: Baylor (Projected Margin: +14.8 | Actual Margin: +25). Baylor's defense (the primary cause of Baylor's low overall ratings) still has some work to do, but it was good just long enough for Baylor to build a huge lead and coast to a 56-31 win over Rice. Rice's first four drives netted just 61 yards in 16 plays (3.8 per play) and zero points; they gained 355 yards (5.8 per play) after that, but they were already down 20+. Baylor coasted to 673 yards (7.9 per play), riding both Robert Griffin III's near-perfect arm (29-for-33, 338 yards, five touchdown) and the legs of Terrance Ganaway, Glasco Martin and Jarred Salubi, who gained 220 yards in 31 carries against the outgunned Owls.
The numbers had a nice read on the Big East, with only two teams deviating too far from their projected results.
Overachiever: Cincinnati (Projected Margin: +2.2 | Actual Margin: +30). Football Outsiders' Aaron Schatz is a regular contributor on ESPN's new Numbers Never Lie show. It's mostly NFL-oriented, but he asked me for a quick blurb last week in preparation for that night's Cincy-N.C. State game. I told him N.C. State had a chance, and that Cincy was "all offense, no defense." Aaron's never going to ask me for help again. The Bearcats dominated in just about every facet of the game. They sacked Mike Glennon five times and picked him off twice; they ended up with a ridiculous 13 players registering at least 0.5 tackles for loss, and as mentioned, they wiped N.C. State's running game off the stat sheet. Meanwhile, Zach Collaros averaged 7.3 yards per pass attempt, and Anthony McClung (8 targets, 6 catches, 94 yards) continued to emerge as a nice, complementary weapon next to D.J. Woods.
Underachiever: West Virginia (Projected Margin: -8.4 | Actual Margin: -26). West Virginia actually outgained LSU by a 533-366 margin (+167), but they just got massacred by turnovers and special teams. In terms of turnover points (as defined here), the Mountaineers were minus-18.9 points (they underachieved by 17.6 ... coincidence?), they were consistently pinned deep by LSU punter Brad Wing, and they allowed a kick return touchdown the moment they cut LSU's lead to six. That isn't a recipe for beating a top-10 team.
The numbers also had a nice read on the Big Ten.
Overachiever: Michigan State (Projected Margin: +23.5 | Actual Margin: +38). Michigan State just suffocated Central Michigan in their 45-7 win, allowing just 112 yards (2.2 per play) and outgaining the Lefevourless Chippewas by 369 yards. CMU's first nine drives ended in either a punt (five) or interception (four). Kirk Cousins (13-for-22, 213 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT) averaged 9.7 yards per pass attempt, a very healthy total.
Underachiever: Illinois (Projected Margin: +16.1 | Actual Margin: +3). This one almost got away from the freshly-ranked Illini, who beat Western Michigan by just a 23-20 margin. No. 24 in the AP poll heading into the weekend, Illinois trailed at halftime and needed huge games from running backs Troy Pollard and Donovonn Young (26 carries, 233 yards), some super-human defense from cornerback Terry Hawthorne (8.5 tackles, 1 INT, 3 PBU) and four drives of 10+ plays to fend off the Broncos in the second half. The game wasn't quite as competitive as the score would suggest (yards: Illinois 463, WMU 341), but ... that doesn't really matter if the score doesn't also favor you, eh?
Two Pac-12 games strayed pretty far from expectations, due primarily due to turnovers.
Overachiever: Arizona State and Underachiever: USC (Projected Margin: USC +0.3 | Actual Margin: ASU +21). USC underachieved by 21.3 points (Arizona State 43, USC 22) and committed 25.4 EqPts' worth of turnovers. They also allowed ASU running back Cameron Marshall to explode for 141 yards and three touchdowns, of course, but still ... turnovers defined this one. Yardage was basically even (USC 402, ASU 392), thanks mostly to USC's Marc Tyler (22 carries, 149 yards) and Robert Woods (12 targets, 8 catches, 131 yards), but USC scored 22 points in eight trips inside the 30-yard line, ASU scored 36 points in six trips of their own, and ... again, USC handed the Sun Devils almost four touchdowns' worth of turnovers.
Overachiever: UCLA and Underachiever: Oregon State (Projected Margin: OSU +12.4 | UCLA +8). UCLA took home a 27-19 road win over the suddenly terrible Beavers, thanks in part to both turnovers (OSU was -10.0 in terms of turnover points) and because those turnovers allowed UCLA to jump to a 21-3 lead OSU just couldn't overcome. When Sean Mannion (24-for-40, 287 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT) found Jordan Bishop for a 45-yard touchdown at the end of the third quarter, the Beavers had gotten to within 21-19, but they couldn't get any closer. The Bruins' Derrick Coleman rushed for 100 yards, and quarterback Richard Breheaut completed seven of 11 passes for 146 yards. It wasn't explosive, but it was still a road win.
Two weeks ago, the SEC overachieved like crazy. Last week, they were underwhelming. This week, they were simply all over the place in both directions
Underachiever: Auburn (Projected Margin: +43.0 | Actual Margin: +16). This was one of the least impressive major conference performances of the week, one that would have probably resulted in a loss against most teams. Luckily for Auburn, Florida Atlantic isn't most teams; the Owls played over their heads in holding Michael Dyer to 68 yards in 14 carries, and they racked up more tackles for loss (eight) than AU did (six), but they were done in by turnovers. AU won the turnover points battle by 12.3 points in a 16-point win.
Overachiever: Florida and Underachiever: Kentucky (Projected Margin: UF +18.3 | Actual Margin: UF +38). Florida scored three touchdowns over the course of seven first-quarter plays, and that was that. In the end, the Gators dominated in terms of yards (520 to 299), turnovers (+8.5 EqPts) and tackles for loss (8 to 3), and things got out of hand. Kentucky quarterback Morgan Newton once again played poorly, averaging just 3.3 yards per pass attempt including sacks. Kentucky's in trouble this year.
Overachiever: LSU (Projected Margin: +8.4 | Actual Margin: +26). Since I've already talked about this game above, in The Numerical, in the Morning Tailgate and in Study Hall, I'll just finish with this: Tyrann Mathieu is awesome. He's a stat collector, finishing Saturday night's game with 5.5 tackles, a forced fumble, a fumble recovery, an interception and a pass broken-up. If he'd managed a sack, he'd have had the whole set.
Underachiever: Mississippi State (Projected Margin: +17.1 | Actual Margin: +6). The numbers have not been particularly high on the Bulldogs, so their surprisingly close, 26-20 OT win over Louisiana Tech was not as indicative of underachievement as it may have seemed at the time. The Bulldogs were outgained, 359 to 340, in a game that featured two struggling quarterbacks. MSU's Chris Relf averaged 5.7 yards per attempt, a poor total that actually looked decent next to Louisiana Tech quarterback Nick Isham's 4.7. The difference in the game was probably that MSU's poor plays resulted mostly in incomplete passes, while Tech's ended in turnovers or sacks.
Overachiever: Temple (Projected Margin: -17.0 | Actual Margin: +31). Complete, utter domination.
Underachiever: Memphis (Projected Margin: -16.6 | Actual Margin: -25.4). In their 42-0 loss to SMU, the Tigers got the ball 14 times. Eight of those 14 possessions resulted in a three-and-out. Two did not result in punts.
Underachiever: Florida International (Projected Margin: +19.1 | Actual Margin: -24.1). UL-Lafayette beat the Golden Panthers, 36-31, thanks mostly to offensive success -- they gained 419 yards; Ragin' quarterback Blaine Gautier threw for 221 yards and ran for another 86. Still, it's hard to think FIU wouldn't have figured out a way to win this one had quarterback Wes Carroll (1-for-3, 8 yards) and T.Y. Hilton (4 targets, 3 catches, 32 yards) not both been dinged up.
Underachiever: New Mexico. I don't bother projecting FBS vs FCS games, so I don't know the exact number by which the Lobos underachieved in their loss to Sam Houston, but ... if your coach is fired before the end of September, you underachieved.