1. Big play watch: Bryce Love edition
Each week, I compare Oklahoma State’s and Penn State’s big-play output, a 12-round battle that OSU has thus far won. But since the Pokes were on bye this week (and, conveniently, the Nittany Lions are this week), we’ll use the Big Play Watch space to say a word about Bryce Damn Love.
Stanford has 41 gains of 20-plus yards this year, second-most in FBS behind SMU, and the Cardinal have the most gains of 30-plus (26), 40-plus (16), and 50-plus (11). I’ll give you one guess as to why.
Bryce Love, the Cardinal’s junior running back, is responsible for:
- 20 of Stanford’s 24 20-yard rushes (meaning he has more than 126 of 129 other entire FBS teams),
- 16 of 18 30-yarders (only Notre Dame has more than Love),
- 10 of 12 40-yarders (only Notre Dame has equaled Love),
- eight of nine 50-yarders (again, only Notre Dame can match Love),
- and five of six 60-yarders (Notre Dame tops Love here, by one).
In case that wasn’t impressive enough, I’ll put it this way: Love has rushes of 75, 69, 68, 62, 61, 59, 53, 51, 47, 43, 39, 39, 32, 31, 31, 30, 27, 25, 21, and 20 yards. In six games. My God.
He leads the country in yards from scrimmage by 23.1 yards per game despite only catching four passes. His 1,240 rushing yards through six games would’ve ranked No. 35 for 2016’s entire season.
Love is human dynamite, and while most college football fans have probably caught wind of his name by this point, that’s not enough. Time to do some studying.
Love merely had 20 carries for 152 yards in Stanford’s 23-20 win over Utah on Saturday. That dreadful performance dropped his season average to only 10.5 yards per carry. We’ll see if he can emerge from this wretched slump this weekend against Oregon.
Seriously, though, as fun as Penn State’s Saquon Barkley, Oklahoma’s Baker Mayfield, Louisville’s Lamar Jackson, Oklahoma State’s James Washington, etc., may be, Love has been the most ridiculous offensive player in the country thus far.
If he keeps this up, his numbers might be so gaudy that Heisman voters don’t have a choice but to vote for him ... even if they can’t stay up late enough to actually watch him play. Hey, Gordie Lockbaum finished third in the Heisman voting in 1987, and Stanford’s TV deal isn’t any worse than Holy Cross’s ... I think...
2. The Bryce Love of quarterbacks
Arizona sophomore quarterback Khalil Tate has completed an efficient 17 of 22 passes for 195 yards, a touchdown, and an interception in 2017. That makes for a solid 157.6 passer rating for the four-star true sophomore, who played against Colorado on Saturday after missing the previous two games with a shoulder injury.
You like how I understated that? He didn't just play against Colorado.
Fourteen carries, 327 yards.
FOURTEEN CARRIES, THREE HUNDRED TWENTY-SEVEN YARDS.
Oh yeah, and he was 12-of-13 passing.
Colorado came in allowing 18 points per game and 5.2 yards per play. The Wildcats posted 45 points and 10.1 yards per play in a shootout win.
Arizona entered the season having lost 13 of 18 games, and it was just assumed that this would be Rich Rodriguez’s last year in Tucson. Granted, things can change, but Zona is now 3-2 with only narrow losses to 4-1 Houston and 4-1 Utah marring the record. They are projected favorites in four of their seven remaining games.
If Washington State’s Mike Leach doesn’t run away with Pac-12 Coach of the Year honors, Rodriguez should get serious consideration. A few more games like this from Tate, and Rodriguez might run away with it himself.
3. Overachiever watch
With a majority of FBS teams having played either five or six games in 2017 (there are still a few sitting at four, thanks to September weather), the S&P+ ratings are mostly based on 2017 data instead of preseason projections now. There’s still some more filtering out to go (once you’ve played seven games, your data is all 2017), but it’s certainly late enough in the year to reflect on who the S&P+ projections missed on.
As a whole, the preseason projections did their job with aplomb. Even after a couple of merely decent weeks, S&P+ is sitting at 54 percent against the spread for the year, and its absolute error (the amount it misses each game, on average) is better than it’s been in a couple of years, which means it’s been dialed in pretty well.
That said, there are always misses, some good, some bad. Nature of the game and whatnot.
Biggest (good) differences between projection and reality:
- UCF (49 spots between No. 73 projection and current No. 24 ranking)
- Ohio (41 spots between No. 108 projection and current No. 67 ranking)
- SMU (40 spots between No. 83 projection and No. 43 ranking)
- Purdue (40 spots between No. 92 projection and No. 52 ranking)
- New Mexico (40 spots between No. 111 ranking and No. 71 projection)
- Southern Miss (37 spots between No. 86 projection and No. 49 ranking)
- FAU (36 spots between No. 97 projection and No. 61 ranking)
- North Texas (35 spots between No. 115 projection and No. 85 ranking)
- Texas Tech (34 spots between No. 69 projection and No. 35 ranking)
- Wake Forest (33 spots between No. 67 projection and No. 33 ranking)
If the S&P+ ratings were based entirely on 2017 play, UCF would be ranked second in the country. You can scoff at that if you want, but the Knights have been untouchable. They beat FIU by 44 in Week 1 (before Hurricane Irma rolled in), Maryland by 28 (a margin only Ohio State can top), and Memphis by 27, and last Saturday, they played only three quarters against Cincinnati and still won by 28.
The Knights are scoring 48 points per game and allowing 16. They’re averaging eight yards per play and allowing five. They are converting 45 percent of third downs and allowing 33 percent conversion. Their defense is solid, and their offense is terrifying.
Biggest (bad) differences between projection and reality:
- BYU (-56 spots between No. 48 projection and No. 104 ranking)
- Oregon State (-53 spots between No. 64 projection and No. 117 ranking)
- Pitt (-50 spots between No. 36 projection and No. 86 ranking)
- Cal (-43 spots between No. 53 projection and No. 96 ranking)
- North Carolina (-42 spots between No. 37 projection and No. 79 ranking)
- Baylor (-42 spots between No. 27 projection and No. 69 ranking)
- Missouri (-41 spots between No. 47 projection and No. 88 ranking)
- Ole Miss (-41 spots between No. 23 projection and No. 64 ranking)
- Temple (-36 spots between No. 62 projection and No. 98 ranking)
- Northwestern (-35 spots between No. 38 projection and No. 73 ranking)
In fairness, BYU’s offense is also terrifying but not quite in the same way. Despite a defense that is preventing big plays and keeping opponents out of the end zone reasonably well, the Cougars are now 1-5 (their only win a meek, 20-6 showing against FCS Portland State) thanks to an offense that is beyond dreadful.
BYU ranks 115th in success rate and 127th in explosiveness. The Cougars' only reasonably efficient weapon is freshman running back Ula Tolutau, who provides no big-play threat whatsoever. Freshman tight end Matt Bushman is the only player with more than 15 catches, but he's averaging just 10.7 yards per catch. The top four targets are averaging a combined 5.6 yards per target. Poor Tanner Mangum, so intriguing in 2015, has nowhere to go with the ball, and offensive coordinator Ty Detmer has no idea how to make things any easier for him at the moment.
In my 2017 BYU preview, I was concerned about the overall talent reset at the skill positions, but I figured Mangum and an experienced offensive line would be enough to get by. I was woefully incorrect.
4. Gunner of the Year watch
Out of pure curiosity, I’ve been tracking special teams tackles this year. Maybe we’ll give a pretend award out to whomever has the most of them at the end. Winner of the award gets it named after him.
Your fake award watch list through six weeks:
- WMU LB Alex Grace became the first person to reach nine special teams tackles in the Broncos’ seven-overtime (!) win over Buffalo on Saturday. He’s been involved in stopping five punt returns (opponents are averaging 7.4 yards per return on those five) and five kick returns (17.4 average), and he’s done this despite playing a position besides DB, RB, or WR (the most common positions for special teams tacklers).
- If you’re into size, actually, the 6’3, 215-pound Grace has nothing on quick riser Gabriel Luyanda of UCF. The 6’5, 250-pounder is up to 6.5 special teams tackles, all on kickoffs. Opponents are averaging just 18.3 yards per kick return when he’s involved, too.
- USF’s Nate Ferguson remains a steady presence here, even though he didn’t add to his season total of 7.5 ST tackles last week. (It’s hard to add to your total when your team is on a bye.)
- BC’s Isaac Yiadom is the best punt return stopper in the country. He made a fourth tackle on a punt return against Virginia Tech; those four returns have gained a total of 4 yards.
- Alabama’s Daniel Wright, a four-star freshman (naturally), may be the best kick return stopper in the country. He’s been involved in stopping nine KRs (he has six total tackles — three solos and six assists), and those nine returns have averaged just 15 yards.