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The Numerical, Week 9: Road wins and defense? WVU is unrecognizable

The computers are evidently loaded with SEC bias, Michigan's and Texas Tech's losses could have been so much worse, Kansas State made every play it needed to make, South Carolina did not, and ... Pitt was playing with a greased ball, right? It's the only explanation.


F/+ projections have been pretty good at determining win probabilities this year. Through nine weeks, teams given a 90-percent or better chance of winning a game are 95-5, right on track. But those teams are 0-2 against North Carolina, which has now won two games in a row and is threatening to pull a second-half rally just like it did last year.

The UNC defense was an absolute nightmare over the first seven weeks of the season, which was a direct cause for the Heels being given a 7.9 percent chance of beating Georgia Tech in Week 8 and an 8.9 percent chance of beating Virginia in Week 9. The odds of winning both of those games, then, were 0.7 percent, but they did so. They're now 4-4 overall and 2-2 in conference, and they're single-handedly keeping alive the dream of a seven-way 4-4 tie in the ACC Coastal.


In the end, even with State's late touchdown, the final score of Michigan State 35, Michigan 11 was kind to the losing team. The Spartans doubled the Wolverines on a per-play basis (6.6 yards to 3.3) and more than doubled them up in total yardage (446 to 186). And the game was played at a snail's pace, too (125 total plays) -- even an average pace would have resulted in a Spartan win of 30-plus points.

Actually, I'll just stop there. I could go on about how Michigan has been surpassed by its "little brother" in every possible way, and how Brady Hoke's tenure is going to come to a merciful end before the calendar year, but you already know all of that. Michigan had no chance in this game even before the stupid "planting a stake in the ground" thing.

I mean, hey, at least it looked like Michigan players were excited and optimistic at some point on Saturday. That's probably more you can say about the Wolverines' fans.


Since the start of the 2012 season, West Virginia had won three true road games -- 48-45 over Texas in 2012, 31-24 over Iowa State in 2012, and 30-27 over TCU in 2013. The Mountaineers have now won three in three tries in 2014. They narrowly survived trips to Maryland and Texas Tech earlier in the season, and on Saturday they pummeled Oklahoma State, 34-10, in Stillwater.

Granted, it was only a pummeling on the scoreboard; WVU was only plus-12 in total yardage and basically relied on turnovers and an extreme difference in drive finishing ability (points per scoring opportunity: WVU 5.4, OSU 2.5) to do the deed. Regardless, West Virginia is 3-0 on the road, 6-2 overall, and still very much in the thick of the Big 12 race after an ugly 2013. According to F/+, they've got a top-20 offense and a top-40 defense. This has been one hell of a turnaround by head coach Dana Holgorsen.


It's typically the case in Penn State games at this point, both because of the Nittany Lions' awesome defense and patchy offensive line, but Saturday's Ohio State-Penn State game featured some of the least efficient passing you'll ever see.

Penn State's Christian Hackenberg: 31-for-49, 224 yards, one touchdown, two interceptions, five sacks for a loss of 35 yards. Yards per attempt (including sacks): 3.5.

Ohio State's J.T. Barrett: 12-for-19, 74 yards, one touchdown, two interceptions, three sacks for a loss of 19 yards. Yards per attempt (including sacks): 2.5.

Combined, that's a net total of 244 yards in 76 pass attempts, 3.2 yards per attempt. It comes as no surprise, then, that the offenses combined for just 48 points in 29 possessions (with another seven coming on a pick six), including four overtime possessions that started at the opponent's 25.

Meanwhile, in Fort Worth, TCU's Trevone Boykin netted 422 yards in 41 pass attempts, and that's including two sacks. Average: 10.3 per attempt. TCU scored 82 points in 16 possessions, and it could have been so much worse. TCU settled for four field goals, including three in a row in the middle of the game. With no defensive touchdowns, TCU scored 14 times on Saturday.

In only six Week 9 games (Boise State-BYU, Oregon-Cal, Georgia Southern-Georgia State, Georgia Tech-Pitt, ODU-WKU, Arizona-Washington State) did two teams combine for what TCU scored against Tech. Just go ahead and pack it up for the year, Red Raiders.


Call it conference solidarity: a show of support for ACC mate Virginia Tech, which lost fumbles on three consecutive possessions against Miami on Thursday night. Regardless of the motivation, Pitt was in an incredibly giving mood on Saturday in a 56-28 loss to Georgia Tech. The Panthers lost fumbles on their first five possessions of the game, then fumbled twice more (losing one) later on.

Seven times. Pitt fumbled seven times. The Panthers fumbled five times in their first 13 plays. Pardon the use of italics, but ... wow.

  • Pitt's second play: Chad Voytik was stripped at the Pitt 36 after a seven-yard run.
  • Pitt's third play: James Conner was stripped at the Georgia Tech 1 after a 74-yard run, fumbling through the end zone for a touchback.
  • Pitt's fifth play: Isaac Bennett was stripped in the backfield at the Pitt 16.
  • Pitt's sixth play: Tyler Boyd was stripped at the Pitt 36 after an 11-yard completion.
  • Pitt's 13th play: Voytik fumbled at the line of scrimmage at Tech's 30.

Thanks both to repeatedly handing Tech good field position and taking points off of their own side of the scoreboard, the Panthers found themselves down 28-0 just five minutes into the game. They played the last 55 minutes of the game even and averaged 8.0 yards per play for the game, but believe it or not, spotting your opponent four touchdowns isn't an effective way to win a conference game.


In the decade between 1994-2003, Bill Snyder's heyday, Kansas State pitched 16 shutouts, six against major-conference teams (and three against major-conference teams not named Missouri). They had three shutouts each in 1995, 1999, and 2002.

Since Snyder's return to the Bill Snyder Family Stadium sidelines in 2009, KSU had allowed a goose egg just once, in 2011 against Kent State. We're using past tense here because the Wildcats did it again on Saturday, allowing 196 total yards (3.8 per play) and cruising to a 23-0 win over Texas.

KSU has employed more of a bend-don't-break style than a suffocate-you-completely style since Snyder's de-retirement, and it has paid off in the offense-crazy Big 12. And while Texas had its scoring opportunities, the Wildcats always made a play when they needed to.

  • First quarter (6-0 KSU): Will Geary and Dante Barnett stopped Jaxon Shipley for a gain of one on third-and-4 from the KSU 45, forcing a punt.
  • Second quarter (6-0 KSU): After a holding penalty forced a third-and-19 from the KSU 26, Elijah Lee sacked Tyrone Swoopes for a 10-yard loss, forcing a punt instead of a field goal.
  • Second quarter (6-0 KSU): From the 50, Barnett broke up a third-and-5 pass intended for Geoff Swaim, forcing a punt.
  • Second quarter (13-0 KSU): On first down from the KSU 45, Ryan Mueller sacked Swoopes for a loss of eight, then Barnett broke up a pass to Shipley, forcing another punt.
  • Third quarter (13-0 KSU): Valentino Coleman (real name) fell on a D'Onta Foreman fumble at the KSU 49.
  • Fourth quarter (16-0 KSU): Barnett and Jonathan Truman helped to stuff Johnathan Gray for no gain on fourth-and-1 from the KSU 14.

That'll do it.

Photo credit: Scott Sewell-USA TODAY Sports


There were 17 minutes left in the game when South Carolina tied Auburn at 35-35 and recovered a surprise onside kick. The Gamecocks had scored touchdowns on their last three full possessions (not including a clock-killer at the end of the first half), and quarterback Dylan Thompson was enjoying one of his best career passing days.

The Gamecocks had three possessions to either take the lead or, later on, tie the game. But Thompson was picked off in the end zone following the onside kick. Then Thompson threw incomplete on fourth down from the Auburn 19. Then, on a Hail Mary attempt from the Auburn 41, he was picked off again as the clock expired. (Granted, there should have been one more snap from the 35.) In a game symbolic of South Carolina's season, the Gamecocks showed extreme promise but couldn't ever get the stop they needed and couldn't score when they had to. Auburn 42, South Carolina 35.

17, again

Colorado has now lost 17 straight games to teams ranked in the AP poll. But if you're looking for signs of progress, and the Buffaloes' No. 75 F/+ ranking (their highest since 2010) doesn't do it for you, Saturday provided a few of them. After losing their last 15 games against ranked teams by an average score of 47-14, Colorado fell to No. 25 UCLA in overtime, 40-37, at Folsom Field in Boulder.

The Buffs controlled the ball and the clock against a potent UCLA offense, gaining 500 yards in 91 plays and holding the ball for 35:05 in regulation. Michael Adkins II and Tony Jones combined for 175 yards in 34 carries, and Colorado scored the last 17 points in regulation after trailing 31-14 heading into the fourth quarter.

Alas, CU couldn't punch the ball into the end zone. They had to settle for a field goal with 36 seconds left in the fourth quarter, then stalled on both overtime possessions. That Will Oliver made all three of his field goal attempts gave the Buffs a chance, but UCLA's Brett Hundley scored from eight yards out in the second overtime to give UCLA a three-point win.


Marshall is 8-0, beating opponents by an average margin of 29.4 points (45.9 to 16.5). The Thundering Herd have performed at a top-25 level according to the F/+ rankings, and they are pretty easily the class of this year's mid-major conferences.

Top 10 Non-Power teams (according to F/+)
22. Marshall (8-0)
31. Boise State (5-2)
34. Colorado State (7-1)
41. BYU (4-4)
46. East Carolina (6-1)
47. Memphis (4-3)
50. Georgia Southern (6-2)
51. Air Force (5-2)
55. Navy (4-4)
57. UCF (5-2)

When the College Football Playoff committee releases its first official rankings this evening, perhaps one of the most interesting things to watch might be where Marshall is placed. Marshall ranks 23rd in the AP poll, and since the committee is basically serving as a Poll With Gravitas, perhaps the Herd will basically slide right in at the same spot. But if they're higher, it could be a sign that pure wins and losses trump all; if they're unranked, it could be a sign that the committee really is prepared to reward or punish you for your scheduling intent.

Marshall has yet to play a team ranked higher than 81st in F/+. That they rank where they are is a function of how well they've played against their opponents -- they've beaten bad teams like the No. 22 team in the country should, basically. Still, of their four remaining opponents, only No. 77 Western Kentucky ranks in the top 85, and the likely CUSA title game opponent looks like Louisiana Tech, No. 73.

Marshall has scheduled plenty of power-conference opponents in recent years -- Virginia Tech in 2009, 2011, and 2013, West Virginia from 2006-12, Purdue in 2012, Louisville in 2011 -- and until 2013, Conference USA at least provided some top-60 competition. But a one-year void of power teams (Purdue is on the schedule for 2015, Louisville and Pitt for 2016, N.C. State for 2017) and the depletion of CUSA has left Marshall with, intentional or not, one of the weakest schedules you'll ever see. And it's a shame because the Herd are damn strong, but we're left with reason to wonder if they'll even get the Group of Five's major bowl slot, or whether the Committee will go with a Colorado State or ECU team that has at least played somebody.


The Massey rankings composite currently collects 101 rankings, including some polls and a whole lot of computers, from Brian Fremeau's to Jeff Sagarin's to something called Kislanko ISOV. There are indeed a few polls involved, sure, but this massive composite, culled mostly from various hard drives and excel files, ranks Mississippi State No. 1, Ole Miss No. 2, Alabama No. 3, and Auburn No. 4. Georgia is No. 7, LSU is No. 9. I talk a lot about the F/+ ratings, and with very good reason (I play a large role in them, and I like them a lot), but even if you ignore my own output, everyone else's basically says what mine does.

If you want to debate how good Arkansas and Texas A&M are, if you want to talk about how much the SEC East might be dragging the conference down, if you want to point out that the SEC isn't the best conference in the land every year (I agree!), or if you want to talk about the general ethics of the biggest company in sports owning a network specifically for the SEC and its fans, go for it.

But while the pro-SEC vs. anti-SEC argument becomes duller, dumber, louder and more political every year -- it even has its own Glenn Beck now! -- it's not the best year to pretend like the quality of the SEC's top teams is somehow overstated. Ignore everyone's biased eyes if you want, but rarely will you see computers with this level of consensus too. Depending on where you draw the line, either the SEC's top four, five, or six teams are all of a caliber high enough to compete for the national title. The top tier in the nation's top conference is large and fantastic. And at this point, to both the eyes and computers, the four best teams in the country (thus far! it could change!) all play in the SEC West. Cry BIAS!! all you want. It won't change that.