1. J.T. Barrett is slinging the ball
We rarely get to know a quarterback’s limitations as well as we have with Ohio State’s Barrett. He has seemingly been around forever.
- When he threw three interceptions in a 2014 loss to Virginia Tech, the first Guardians of the Galaxy had just come out.
- When he caught fire in the proceeding weeks, leading the Buckeyes to 47.4 points per game and 10 straight wins, Black-ish and How to Get Away with Murder were debuting on ABC.
- When he suffered a season-ending injury late in a win over Michigan, "Shake It Off" was the biggest song in the country.
That feels like a damn decade ago. And since then, the Barrett plot lines have only continued: the 2015 QB battle with Cardale Jones, the 2015 upset loss to Michigan State, the en-fuego start to 2016 (here’s your reminder that he had 23 touchdowns to four picks 10 games into the year), the abysmal finish to 2016, the early-2017 loss to Oklahoma.
Rarely has a quarterback had this many career benchmarks. And because of whom he plays for, we remember every loss he’s been a part of.
The entire list: 2014 Virginia Tech, 2015 Michigan State, 2016 Penn State, 2016 Clemson, 2017 Oklahoma. That’s it. He’s won every other game he’s played in, and since this year’s limp defeat to OU, he has pulled a 2014.
Barrett's last five games were against Army, UNLV, Rutgers, Maryland, and Nebraska, yes. Those teams don’t have impressive defenses, no. So what I'm about to write falls firmly in the "if you want to scream, 'ain't played nobody,' then I can't stop you" category.
Barrett's passing numbers over these five games: 99-for-137, 1,351 yards, 18 touchdowns, no interception. That's a passer rating of 198.5. That would be tremendous if he were playing against FCS opponents. He was an absurd 27-for-33 for 325 yards and five touchdowns at Nebraska on Saturday. He also rushed for two touchdowns.
Among power conference quarterbacks, he is now third in passer rating (173.8) behind only Oklahoma juggernauts Baker Mayfield (OU) and Mason Rudolph (OSU). He's laps ahead of all the other quarterbacks with better name brands — Washington's Jake Browning (154.7), Penn State's Trace McSorley (154.2), Louisville's Lamar Jackson (151.3), UCLA's Josh Rosen (149.4), USC's Sam Darnold (141.5), etc. — most of whom haven’t exactly faced brutal schedules either.
Is Barrett’s supporting cast better than theirs? In most cases, yes. Is he steering the Ohio State ship toward the Playoff once again? So far.
Ohio State has at least a 71 percent chance of winning in each of its final five games. If the Buckeyes beat Penn State on Oct. 28 (OSU’s on bye this week, while PSU hosts Michigan), they will be huge favorites to win the Big Ten East, maybe the most difficult division in the country. If they win out in Big Ten play, he will finish 29-2 in conference games Barrett’s been a part of.
Barrett is going to end up one of the most accomplished quarterbacks of the 2000s, at one of college football's premier programs. And I don't think a single one of us appreciates him as much as we should.
2. Run the dang ball, Lane
Remember how when Lane Kiffin was offensive coordinator at Alabama, he would occasionally tinker too much and mix in too much passing instead of just running the dang ball with the Tide’s incredible set of running backs? Remember how Nick Saban would want him to just sit on the ball, but the OC would insist on trying to keep defenses honest (and have some fun)?
Under Kiffin’s guidance, Derrick Henry ran to the Heisman, so this was a little bit overblown, but Lane does like those horizontal passes quite a bit.
Regardless, this isn’t currently an issue for Kiffin. As FAU head coach, he is overseeing one of the most prolific ground attacks in the country.
Backs Devin Singletary and Gregory Howell Jr. combined for 50 carries and 303 yards in the Owls’ 58-28 win over Old Dominion on Saturday, and they combined for 284 yards against Bethune-Cookman and 221 yards against MTSU as well. When Howell missed the Buffalo game (an incredibly unlikely loss, as we’ll see below), Singletary and Kerrith Whyte Jr. combined for 228.
FAU began 1-3 in non-conference play, but the Owls have won their first two Conference USA games by a combined 48 points, and per S&P+, they’re favored in each remaining game, including road trips to WKU and Louisiana Tech.
Granted, they’re narrow favorites in each of the next four contests and probably won’t win all of them. But behind a run game that ranks seventh in S&P+ (which is adjusted for opponent!), FAU is running the dang ball well, and the Owls are in great position to win the C-USA East because of it.
3. Let's just say regression to the mean has struck
Jim McElwain has been the master of the close win during his five-and-a-half years as a head coach. He was 8-3 in one-possession games at Colorado State from 2012-14, and he won nine of his first 10 such games at Florida from 2015 to present. But while some coaches are better than others at maneuvering in tight spaces, a 17-4 record in one-score games is probably too good to be sustainable.
- In Week 6, the Gators lost 17-16 to LSU. Against LSU, their postgame win expectancy — in which I toss the key stats from a game into the air and say, "With these stats, you could have expected to win this game X percent of the time" — was 76 percent.
- This past Saturday, they lost 19-17 to Texas A&M. Against A&M, their postgame win expectancy was 94 percent.
A&M won the field position battle against Florida...and that was pretty much it. The Gators dwarfed the Aggies in success rate (41 percent to 21 percent), yards per play (5.5 to 4.2), points per scoring opportunity (5.7 to 3.2), and expected turnovers (based on national fumble recovery rates and INT-to-breakup ratios, the turnover margin should have been UF plus-0.5 or so).
However, A&M recovered the game's only fumble, and while both teams defensed four passes, the Aggies picked two off to Florida's one. Toss in a 43-yard Christian Kirk punt return, which set up the game-winning field goal, and you've got yourself a custom-made Unlikely Win.
It wasn’t the least likely win of the weekend, however.
4. Ten least likely wins of 2017 so far (per postgame win expectancy)
- UConn 28, Temple 24 — postgame win expectancy 1.9%
- Marshall 31, Miami (Ohio) 26 — 2.0%
- Howard 35, UNLV 32 — 2.4%
- San Diego State 20, NIU 14 — 4.5%
- Texas A&M 19, Florida 17 — 5.7%
- Kentucky 24, Southern Miss 17 — 6.8%
- UL-Lafayette 51, SE Louisiana 48 — 7.6%
- Utah State 40, BYU 24 — 10.1%
- Buffalo 34, FAU 31 — 12.6%
- Arizona State 37, Oregon 35 — 14.2%
UConn was beaten drastically in field position, yards per play, and success rate in Saturday's road win over Temple, but the Huskies recovered two of three fumbles, took an interception back for a touchdown, and stopped Temple on downs three times in UConn territory.
5. Big play watch
As we reach the midpoint of 2017, 16 FBS offenses have registered fewer than nine gains of 30-plus yards thus far. Twenty-three defenses have allowed fewer than nine as well.
Oklahoma State had nine gains of 30-plus yards on Saturday against Baylor.
- Q1: Marcell Ateman 38-yard reception, James Washington 45-yard reception
- Q2: Justice Hill 79-yard run, Ateman 33-yard reception, Ateman 40-yard reception, Washington 43-yard reception
- Q3: Washington 58-yard reception, Washington 68-yard reception
- Q4: Taylor Cornelius 40-yard run
The Cowboys won, 59-16, and it could have been worse. Jalen McCleskey muffed a punt in the first quarter, and Washington fumbled at the end of his 58-yard catch. With better bounces, those unlucky Cowboys could have won by 50. Life is hard.
6. What happens when you have explosiveness and nothing else?
OSU’s offense is terrifying, but adjusting for opponent, the Cowboys currently only have the seventh-most explosive offense in the country. Using IsoPPP+ (an opponent-adjusted look at the magnitude of a team’s successful plays), here’s your top 10:
- Ole Miss
- Ohio State
- Notre Dame
- Oklahoma State
- Fresno State
- Texas Tech
Against Kentucky and Georgia, Missouri scored on plays of 27, 50, 58, 63, 63, and 75 yards. Emanuel Hall, recipient of three of those long touchdowns, is averaging a cool 28.8 yards per reception this year.
Unfortunately for the Tigers, they aren’t nearly as efficient as OSU and other names in that top 10. They also don’t have even the slightest hint of a defense.
7. 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 seven weeks:
- WMU’s Alex Grace still leads the nation with nine special teams tackles, though he didn’t add to his total in Sunday’s rain-postponed upset loss to Akron. He has been particularly strong on kick returns (of which there weren’t many on Sunday).
- South Alabama’s Deonta Moore is now second in the country with 8.5 ST tackles. He’s taken part in three punt return stops (average return: 8 yards) and seven kick return stops (average return: 17 yards).
- Alabama’s Daniel Wright is moving up on the list (and it will be very annoying if a Bama player wins this thing): he’s got seven overall ST tackles, and he’s been involved in 10 kick return stops. Opponent average when he comes flying in: 15 yards per return.
- Maryland’s Jake Funk is up to 7.5 tackles and has been well-rounded, contributing to two punt return stops (7.5 yards per return) and six kick return stops (18.5). He has also scored three touchdowns on offense (two rushing, one receiving).
- USF’s Nate Ferguson and BC’s Isaac Yiadom, stalwarts on this list since the beginning of the season, remain among the leaders. Ferguson has eight ST tackles (he’s contributed on three punt returns and seven kick returns), while Yiadom is holding steady at seven.