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The Numerical: Don't ever tell Will Muschamp the odds

The weekend's best numbers! Tennessee's Josh Dobbs led some unexpected performances from young quarterbacks. Meanwhile, the AAC race is getting silly, out-of-nowhere teams are making bowl runs, and Texas A&M's offense has disappeared like a set of keys.

Sam Greenwood


There have been 15,723 possessions in 594 FBS games this season. Only 62 drives (0.4 percent) have ended via fumble at or inside the opponent's 6. The chance of two of these instances happening in back-to-back possessions is around 0.002 percent, or one in about 62,500. Have this happen in the fourth quarter of a close, important game, and you're maybe looking at one in between half a million and a million. Or, as Auburn fans are beginning to call it, "November."

One can guess that the odds of this event also including the season-ending injury of an elite team's best offensive player are ... well ... let's just stop there.

Ole Miss fans have suffered enough already. Get well soon, Laquon Treadwell. And get better soon, Ole Miss fans. Maybe there is perverse comfort in the fact that you didn't just suffer a gut-wrenching loss; you suffered one of the most gut-wrenching losses ever.

(And yes, Auburn fans, your team played really well -- the Tigers are the No. 1 team in the F/+ rankings, after all -- and very well could have come back and won the game even if Ole Miss had scored on both fourth-quarter fumble drives. But this is getting absurd.)


UL-Monroe has a pretty salty defense. The Warhawks currently rank 65th in Def. F/+ and are easily one of the nation's better mid-major Ds.

Still, it was fair to expect a bit more out of Texas A&M's offense than 21 points and 3.5 yards per play. With freshman quarterback Kyle Allen starting in place of the suspended/usurped Kenny Hill, the Aggies gained 75 yards in 13 plays (5.8 per play) on their opening drive, then gained just 168 in 56 plays (3.0) the rest of the way. Allen completed 13 of 28 passes for 106 yards, a touchdown, an interception, and three sacks. Yards per attempt, including sacks: 2.5. Meanwhile, running backs Brandon Williams and Tra Carson combined for 118 rushing yards on 32 carries, 3.7 per tote.

This is a pretty awesome collapse by the A&M offense. In their first five games, the Aggies averaged 51.2 points per game and 8.0 yards per play. In their next two, they averaged 25.5 and 5.4, respectively. In their last two, they've averaged 10.5 and 3.3. Yes, the competition has increased. But it didn't on Saturday, and the fade continued.

By the way, A&M's next three games come against the No. 10 (Auburn), No. 11 (Missouri), and No. 14 (LSU) defenses, according to Def. F/+.


Thanks to two upsets -- UConn over UCF and Temple over ECU -- we now have a delightful mess on our hands in the American. Houston, ECU, Memphis, Cincinnati, and UCF are all currently 3-1 in conference play, Temple is 3-2, and USF is 2-3. That's a five-way tie with 64 percent of the conference within 1.5 games of the lead. The AAC might not be a major conference anymore, but it has entertaining teams (and USF), and its title race could be the least certain of any FBS conference.


Last season against Stanford, Oregon created scoring opportunities (first downs inside the opponent's 40) on four of eight drives but turned the ball over on downs once and lost two fumbles. Blown chances allowed Stanford to define and dictate an eventual 26-20 Cardinal win.

The tables turned in 2014. Stanford has gone to creative lengths in figuring out how not to score when it has the chance this season, and that trend very much continued on Saturday in Eugene. Both Oregon and Stanford created seven scoring opportunities. In Oregon's seven, the Ducks scored six touchdowns and kicked a field goal. In Stanford's seven, the Cardinal scored one touchdown, kicked three field goals, turned the ball over on downs twice, and threw an interception. The total yardage was similar, and the opportunities were identical. And Oregon won, 45-16.

In 2013, Stanford outgained Oregon by just 65 yards, and the narrative ended up being, "Stanford PHYSICALLY DOMINATES Oregon!"

In 2014, Oregon outgained Stanford by just 97 yards, and the "domination!" meme pulled a perfect 180. This is a sport of pretty small margins, isn't it?


I struggled with the thought of Tennessee tearing off quarterback Josh Dobbs' redshirt in the eighth game of the season last week when Tennessee played Alabama. Call it a gag reflex, after I was long ago scarred by something similar; in 1999, a desperate Larry Smith pulled the redshirt off of Missouri freshman quarterback Justin Gage in an attempt to breathe life into an offense that had been dead for weeks. Gage predictably struggled, then moved to wide receiver the next season. As it turned out, he was an excellent receiver, one Missouri could very much have used on its 2003 squad. But he was out of eligibility by then.

So yeah, I may just have an aversion to late-season redshirt removals. Still, playing Dobbs over Nathan Peterman against Alabama just meant that Tennessee lost to Alabama by a smaller margin and didn't actually help toward a win.

The next week, however, Dobbs led them toward a win. Dobbs was incredible late against South Carolina, completing 12 of his last 17 passes in regulation for 154 yards, leading three consecutive scoring drives, wiping out a 14-point deficit in the final two minutes, and, with help from an increasingly impressive pass rush, defeating the Gamecocks, 45-42, in overtime.

Dobbs finished with 301 passing yards, 166 rushing yards, and five combined touchdowns, with no sacks and one interception. That's phenomenal. And Tennessee is now within striking distance of bowl eligibility because of it. So maybe my reflexes will be proven incorrect here ... though one has to wonder just how sketchy Dobbs must have been in fall camp to have earned a redshirt in the first place. This version of Josh Dobbs is certainly quite a bit better than Justin Worley, who began the year as starter.

Week 10 was pretty good at showing us how hard it is to figure out what you've got at quarterback. Redshirt freshman Johnny McCrary, Vanderbilt's fourth quarterback of the season, was awesome in a 42-28 win over Old Dominion; yes, ODU's defense is lacking, but let's just say that Wade Freebeck, Stephen Rivers, and (maybe) Patton Robinette hadn't shown the potential for going 20-for-29 for 281 yards and five touchdowns against any FBS defense. (If McCrary indeed seizes control of the job for the foreseeable future, poor Robinette will end up the odd man out. He showed some potential against UMass and South Carolina before suffering a concussion and missing quite a bit of time.)

Meanwhile, out west, Utah State freshman Kent Myers lit up Hawaii. With Chuckie Keeton, Darrel Garretson, and Craig Harrison all injured, Myers, a freshman from Rowlett, Texas, went 14-for-15 for 186 yards and three scores in a 35-14 win. Thanks to another solid defense, Utah State is 6-3 overall despite a revolving door of shaky quarterbacks; Keeton never really found his footing after last year's knee injury (and then suffered another one), and Garretson got hurt the moment he started to look pretty good. But Myers passed his first test with flying colors.

November is a cruel month, and sometimes the future comes before you're ready for it to begin. But for Tennessee, Vanderbilt, and Utah State, the future at quarterback suddenly looks a little brighter than it did a couple of weeks ago.


Louisiana Tech defensive coordinator Manny Diaz has had an interesting career. His stock exploded when his 2009 MTSU defense leaped to 33rd in Def. F/+. Dan Mullen hired him at Mississippi State, and his 2010 MSU defense improved from 50th to 20th. After just one season in Starkville, he ended up as part of Mack Brown's new-look staff, and his first Texas defense improved from 31st to sixth in 2011. But it fell to 40th in 2012, and he was fired/scapegoated just two games into the 2013 season.

The rapid rise was matched by the pace of his descent, and five years after coaching in Murfreesboro, he once again shares a conference with MTSU. But if he's bitter about the way things went down in Austin, it's not showing in his performance. Last year, Louisiana Tech's defense ranked 104th in Def. F/+; through 10 weeks in 2014, it's up to 45th. Tech destroyed Western Kentucky, 59-10, on Saturday and stands 1.5 games clear of everybody else in Conference USA West with just three games to play.

Diaz has played a role in the Bulldogs' surge, and if you dial down to the Def. S&P+ ratings (S&P+ makes up half of F/+), you find a little bit of poetry. Louisiana Tech is 30th in Def. S&P+; Texas is 29th, 0.2 points ahead.


Air Force's 23-6 win over Army gave Troy Calhoun's Falcons their sixth win of the season. That they are bowl eligible isn't really much of a story -- this will, after all, be the seventh time in the eight-year Calhoun tenure that they go bowling. Still, it marks a rather remarkable turnaround from not only last year's 2-10 collapse, but also four consecutive years of overall regression.

In terms of specific units, Air Force's defense has pulled off a course reversal I wouldn't have thought possible. The Falcons ranked 122nd (of 125 teams) in last year's Def. F/+ rankings; they're 34th this year, 50th in overall F/+. Thirty-fourth! Fiftieth! Returning nine defensive starters was going to help, but this was unforeseen, especially considering Calhoun didn't bring in a new coordinator.

The Falcons are unapologetically aggressive -- they're 14th in success rate and 112th in IsoPPP, meaning they give up huge but infrequent successful plays. Because of the random big plays, their per-play yardage figures aren't impressive (5.6 for the season, 6.4 against New Mexico, 6.6 against Utah State, etc.), but they've shut down some pretty good offenses. Boise State (40th in Off. F/+) scored just 14 points, and Navy (12th) scored just 21.

Air Force's march to bowl eligibility, along with that of Western Michigan (6-3 in P.J. Fleck's second season after going 1-11 in an extreme youth movement*) headlines our annual Unlikely Bowl Eligibility Watch. Quite a few unexpected teams at least still have a puncher's chance. Remaining schedules:

  • Tennessee (4-5, 37th in the F/+ rankings): Kentucky, Missouri, at Vanderbilt.
  • Memphis (5-3, 47th): at Temple, at Tulane, USF, UConn.
  • California (5-4, 48th): at USC, Stanford, BYU.
  • N.C. State (5-4, 58th): Georgia Tech, Wake Forest, at North Carolina.
  • Kentucky (5-4, 63rd): Georgia, at Tennessee, at Louisville.
  • Temple (5-3, 77th): Memphis, at Penn State, Cincinnati, at Tulane.
  • Akron (4-4, 83rd): Bowling Green, at Buffalo, UMass, at Kent State.
  • South Alabama (5-3, 85th): at Arkansas State, Texas State, at South Carolina, Navy.
  • Illinois (4-5, 88th): Iowa, Penn State, at Northwestern.
  • UAB (5-4, 92nd): Louisiana Tech, Marshall, at Southern Miss.
  • FIU (3-6, 94th): at Old Dominion, MTSU, at North Texas.
  • FAU (3-6, 100th): at North Texas, at MTSU, Old Dominion.
  • UTEP (5-3, 102nd): at Western Kentucky, North Texas, at Rice, MTSU.
  • Texas State (5-3, 114th): Georgia Southern, at South Alabama, Arkansas State, at Georgia State.

(Yes, Illinois has a reasonable path to 6-6 despite ranking 88th.)

Others -- Purdue, Indiana, Southern Miss, and New Mexico, for example -- have not been eliminated, but the odds are long.

* But seriously, what a job by young Coach Fleck. WMU's most recent two-deep features 27 freshmen, redshirt freshmen, and sophomores, and the Broncos have won four in a row and are a half-game out of the lead in the MAC West.


I called football "a sport of pretty small margins" above. There was nothing small about the margins in Appalachian State's 44-0 win over Georgia State. In snowy Boone, N.C., the Mountaineers pulled off a level of improbable domination that ... well, I can't describe it any better than the numbers can.

  • Total yards: Appalachian State 567, Georgia State 62.
  • Yards per play: Appalachian State 7.1, Georgia State 1.4.
  • First downs: Appalachian State 26, Georgia State 6.
  • Third/fourth down conversion rate: Appalachian State 61%, Georgia State 23%.
  • Time of possession: Appalachian State 38:40, Georgia State 21:20.
  • Sacks: Appalachian State 4, Georgia State 0.
  • Fumbles: Georgia State 5, Appalachian State 1.
  • Punts: Georgia State 7, Appalachian State 1.
  • Kickoffs: Appalachian State 7, Georgia State 1.

You're just not going to see a performance more dominating than this one. You might want to figure this playing-in-snow thing out at some point, GSU. You're going to be making regular trips to Boone.


Teams given at least a 90 percent chance of winning by the F/+ win probabilities are now 106-6 for the season, a win percentage of 94.6 percent.

Georgia was given a 95.2 percent chance, basically 19-in-20, of beating Florida on Saturday in Jacksonville.

Georgia did not beat Florida on Saturday in Jacksonville.

Losing a game like this, when the numbers are this sure you're going to win, is rare. Losing badly (the Gators were up 31-7 early in the fourth quarter and eventually won, 38-20) and doing so while allowing 418 rushing yards to a team that had 414 rushing yards in its last three games? Well, at least you get some creativity points, Dawgs.