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Florida's defense should still carry the Gators to the SEC East title, but losing Will Grier hurts

Losing Will Grier to suspension probably hurts Florida's national title chances, but the Gators will likely remain the SEC East favorite because of a dominant defense. Plus: Oregon might lose seven games, and TCU is playing with fire.

Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports


A 140 passer rating is decent. It would get your team ranked in the top 50 in FBS. It is likely confirmation of at least a 60 percent completion rate, 7.5 or 8 yards per pass, and at least a 2-to-1 TD-to-INT ratio. It is not amazing, but if you've got that and a ferocious defense, you can do some things. You can lead the SEC East, for example.

Through six games, Florida's Will Grier had posted at least a 140 passer rating three times. He did it in the Gators' wins over New Mexico State (203.0) and East Carolina (160.5), and after a couple of shaky performances, he did it again in their incredible blowout of Ole Miss (206.8). His season rating was 145.4.

Florida had been so starved for offense in recent years, however, that a 140 rating felt like 200. The Gators topped 140 in only six of 24 games in 2013-14 (and two of three in 2013 were against Eastern Michigan and Eastern Kentucky) and in only 12 of 39 games in the three seasons before that. Despite blue-chip recruiting and a history of success, Florida had been bereft of a truly solid passing game since at least 2011 (John Brantley was no more than solid but did post a 140.8 rating).

Grier was suspended for the rest of the season (and probably longer) for use of performance-enhancing drugs. Assuming no vacated wins, he bequeaths to new starter Treon Harris a 1.5-game lead over Kentucky and a two-game lead over Georgia in the division.

Harris, it should be noted, isn't bad. In limited action against NMSU and ECU this year, he completed 70 percent of his passes with two touchdowns (rating: 178.5). And while he was up and (quite) down as a part-time freshman starter last year, he brings an element of mobility to the table: He has rushed nine times (not including sacks) for 63 yards this year and averaged 5.4 yards per non-sack carry last season. Most importantly, Harris will still have a killer defense on his side. The Gators probably wouldn't be 6-0 without it.

Even if Florida loses at LSU this coming weekend, a Halloween win over Georgia would basically seal the SEC East title for the Gators, an accomplishment that seemed nearly impossible at the beginning of the season. One figures the Grier suspension is likely to eventually knock Florida from the national title race, but a place in the SEC title game in Jim McElwain's first season would still be a rather remarkable accomplishment.


If a 140 passer rating is decent, what's a 201.8? That's what WKU's Brandon Doughty posted in the Hilltoppers' 58-28 win over MTSU on Saturday. He completed 28 of 36 passes for 359 yards, five scores and a pick, a line nearly identical to the one he posted against Rice a week earlier (28-for-38, 409 yards, 4 TD, 0 INT).

Since the tough, 14-12 win over Vanderbilt in Week 1, WKU's offense has erupted. The Hilltoppers averaged 48 points per game over the last five contests, and honestly, that's a pretty misleading average. They led Miami (Ohio) 49-7 at half, led Rice 35-10 and led MTSU 52-14. If they wanted to score 80 in those games, they'd have scored 80.

Doughty, meanwhile, has posted a 187.4 rating for the season, second in the country to Baylor's Seth Russell. Projected over 14 games, he's on pace for 5,500 passing yards, 47 touchdowns and just seven picks. And again, that's including a game against Vandy's salty pass defense and minimal second-half action. It's also without senior running back Leon Allen, who was leading the Hilltoppers in rushing before a season-ending injury in Week 2.

After easing by Louisiana Tech in Week 2 and falling in a shootout to Indiana in Week 3, WKU has cruised. And if they win out, the Hilltoppers could become a force in the race for the Group of 5's major bowl slot.

Group of 5 F/+ rankings after 6 weeks
27. Navy (4-1)
28. Boise State (5-1)
29. Western Kentucky (5-1)
35. Toledo (5-0)
45. Louisiana Tech (4-2)
46. Temple (5-0)
50. Houston (5-0)
54. Ohio (5-1)
56. Memphis (5-0)
59. East Carolina (3-3)

We're still focused on the undefeated teams (Houston, Memphis, and Temple in the AAC, Toledo in the MAC) and Boise State right now, but WKU's win over Vandy and solid non-conference strength of schedule will possibly catch the committee's collective eye.

It will take quite a bit for the Hilltoppers to get to the G5 peak -- among other things, they play LSU on Oct. 24, which is both a potential marquee upset and a likely second loss -- but WKU has potentially been the best team in the mid-major universe over the last few weeks and has turned into a legitimate top-30 or top-40 team.


That's a 0.667 win percentage! Simple math says that if Wake Forest simply kneeled on the ball and punted on each offensive possession, the Demon Deacons would finish about 5-3 in the ACC. It would be irresponsible to try anything else, Dave Clawson.


In most circumstances, the teams that play in the national title game -- whether we're talking about the BCS Championship or playoff finals -- tend to be national powers. And in college football, one year's powers are the next year's, too. But there are exceptions. On four occasions, a title game participant lost four games the next year (2001 Florida State, 2005 Oklahoma, 2007 Florida, 2013 Notre Dame), and on four occasions one has lost five (2008 LSU, 2009 Oklahoma, 2011 Auburn, 2014 Auburn).

The standard bearers for sudden downfalls, however, come from the once and present Big 12. In 2002, Nebraska fell from 11-2 to 7-7. The Huskers were 11-0 at one point in 2001, lost their last two games of the season by a combined 99-50, then proceeded to tumble all the way to an Independence Bowl loss the next year.

The more recent, lasting example, however, is Texas. The Longhorns went 13-1 in 2009, losing star quarterback Colt McCoy early in the BCS Championship and falling to Alabama. In 2010, following the graduation of McCoy and countless other difference makers, the hungover ''Horns suffered their first losing season of Mack Brown's tenure, going 5-7 and losing three games by at least 17 points.

I think you know why I bring this up.

Date Opponent Opp. S&P+ Rk Win
Proj. Wins
17-Oct at Washington 23 38% L -5.3 24.8 - 30.1 3.38
29-Oct at Arizona State 37 34% L -7.3 28.2 - 35.5 3.72
7-Nov California 49 58% W 3.3 34.7 - 31.4 4.29
14-Nov at Stanford 10 12% L -19.9 22.2 - 42.2 4.42
21-Nov USC 6 19% L -15.2 28.0 - 43.2 4.61
27-Nov Oregon State 85 68% W 8.2 34.0 - 25.8 5.29

Following 2014 national runner-up Oregon's stunning, unlikely overtime loss (at home) to Washington State on Saturday, the Ducks are just 3-3 with one win over a power-conference team (Colorado, if that counts). They are 64th in the S&P+ rankings and 55th in F/+, and future win probabilities suggest that they might struggle to avoid a 5-7 fate.

Following Texas' 2010 collapse, Brown attempted to clean house, bringing in new offensive and defensive coordinators. But while much has been made of Oregon's offensive struggles -- three different quarterbacks have thrown at least 14 passes this year as the attempt to replace Heisman winner Marcus Mariota has hit more than a few bumps -- offense still isn't the problem in Eugene. The Ducks rank a decent 27th in Off. S&P+, which might not clear their own bar but is still better than most. No, the reason Oregon is wobbling is because the defense ranks 97th in Def. S&P+.

Oregon's defense has been woeful in Don Pellum's second season as defensive coordinator, and one assumes a new man will be leading the unit pretty soon. This is a change Mark Helfrich will probably want to make, but never mind want -- he'll need to make a change considering the temperature of his own seat, ice cold just a few weeks ago, is probably getting a little warmer than he'd prefer.


In last week's S&P+ picks post, I noted that we were due a few huge upsets. As wild as this season has felt so far, we hadn't seen many outlandish results -- teams given at least a 90 percent chance of winning were actually 95-1, slightly better than projected.

We reeled in a couple of big, crazy results on Saturday. Flailing Rice, given only an 8 percent chance of winning at FAU (which seems wild until you notice just how poorly Rice had been performing of late), rallied from 12 down in the fourth quarter to win, 27-26.

Of course, the bigger result happened in the Cotton Bowl. Texas, given only a 5.9 percent chance of beating an Oklahoma team that was mastering the 'numbers' portion of the season test, perfected the underdog script. Utilizing an early game plan full of misdirection and, well, playing like an underdog should in a big rivalry game, Texas raced to a 14-0 first-quarter lead. It would score only 10 points the rest of the way, but the early cushion and a pass rush OU had no answers for eventually did the deed.

The Longhorns sacked Baker Mayfield six times in 34 pass attempts, and the early lead helped the Sooners forget they had Samaje Perine in the backfield too (though he did only gain 36 yards in his paltry 10 carries). OU found a little bit of a rhythm in the second half but still finished with only 17 points, and the Texas offense found just enough of a second-half burst -- a long field goal drive to start the second half, and an 81-yard D'Onta Foreman run that set up a short Caleb Bluiett TD -- to hold on for a 24-17 win.

It feels odd when a rivalry this storied produces such a lopsided projection, but it was pretty justifiable. Oklahoma had just put together a wonderful performance against a good WVU team and had scored a top-30 road win with its comeback against Tennessee. Meanwhile, after gut-wrenching home defeats against Cal and Oklahoma State (two good but not great teams), Texas had just gotten its doors blown off, 50-7, by a TCU team that is still trying to figure out how to play defense (points per game allowed against SMU, Texas Tech, and Kansas State: 44.7).

But rivalries have a way of giving you both great contests when teams are evenly matched and shocking contests when the matchups are lopsided. We'll see if this redefines either Oklahoma's or Texas' respective seasons, or if it's just a WTF result; either way, it made for a more thrilling early session of games than we expected.


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Texas' win over Oklahoma was unexpected in one way; TCU's over Kansas State was unexpected in another.

Per Matt Mills' win probability odds, when Kansas State took the ball to start the second half, up a shocking 35-17 over the Horned Frogs, the Wildcats all but had the game won. When quarterback Joe Hubener raced for 23 yards to the KSU 48, TCU's odds of winning were at only 2.3 percent. But then Derrick Kindred, a rare senior on this struggling young defense, picked off a Hubener pass and returned it 60 yards for a touchdown. And after a KSU punt, Aaron Green scored from eight yards out to make it 35-31. KSU stabilized and scored again, but two touchdown runs by Trevone Boykin -- one for 14 yards, another for 69 -- gave TCU a shocking lead. And after KSU tied the game with a field goal, Boykin found Josh Doctson for the game winner, a 55-yard pass with 1:10 remaining. Freshman Montrel Wilson sacked and stripped Hubener with 53 seconds left, and that was the ball game.

Just like Florida State did last year, TCU is playing with fire. The preseason No. 2 team in the country eased by Minnesota by just six in the season opener, needed a fluky, deflected touchdown in the final seconds to beat Texas Tech and were dead in the water in Manhattan on Saturday night before rallying. This routine is nearly impossible to keep up, especially considering the Frogs still have to go to Oklahoma State and Oklahoma and welcome West Virginia and Baylor to Fort Worth. (And this says nothing of a trip to Ames this coming weekend against an upset-starved Iowa State team that isn't amazing but is better than expected.) The Frogs' offense has been as good as advertised, but the defense, beaten down by both graduation and injury, has struggled. The odds of TCU going even 11-1 aren't great.

But the odds of TCU finishing Saturday night undefeated weren't great either. And it happened ... and with Gus Johnson in the booth, no less. Sometimes arguments about future downfalls distract us from enjoying the present. And in the present, TCU is playing some amazing, dramatic football games.