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The Numerical: Oklahoma has the country’s best Playoff odds ... after Bama, of course

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A review of the best in college football stats after Week 2 also includes notes on Auburn, Kansas State, UCLA, Virginia Tech, and more.

Oklahoma v Ohio State Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

1. The new stat profiles are here!

This year’s Football Study Hall statistical profiles for all 130 FBS teams are up and running! Just two weeks into a long season, here are some of the things the profiles can tell us.

2. Oklahoma is in the catbird seat (non-Bama division)

The top four teams in the latest AP poll — Alabama, Oklahoma, Clemson, and USC — all have significant hurdles in their College Football Playoff journeys. The Crimson Tide survived Florida State in Week 1, while the latter three (Oklahoma over Ohio State, Clemson over Auburn, USC over Stanford) won some of the most losable games on their schedules in Week 2.

The Sooners faced the most losable game, however, and now the Sooners have it pretty easy compared to their CFP contender brethren.

Using S&P+ win probabilities, you can use the stat profiles to find a team’s odds of finishing with a given record. For the teams in the current AP top 20, here are the odds of each finishing with one or fewer losses in the 2017 regular season:

  • Alabama (62.5 percent chance of finishing 11-1 or better)
  • Oklahoma (36.6 percent)
  • USC (34.3 percent)
  • Wisconsin (32.9 percent)
  • Clemson (30.8 percent)
  • Penn State (28.1 percent)
  • Washington (25.1 percent)
  • Michigan (18.4 percent)
  • Louisville (16.1 percent)
  • LSU (15.7 percent)
  • Ohio State (14.0 percent)
  • Oklahoma State (10.5 percent)
  • TCU (6.8 percent)
  • Miami (6.3 percent)
  • Stanford (5.3 percent)
  • Georgia (5.0 percent)
  • Virginia Tech (4.8 percent)
  • Florida State (3.4 percent)
  • Kansas State (1.2 percent)
  • Auburn (1.1 percent)

Obviously the Crimson Tide remain on a different plane of existence (they’re the only team with a better than 10 percent chance of finishing the regular season undefeated: 24 percent there) but Oklahoma is in an enviable spot. Its 11-1-or-more odds were under 25 percent when the season began; win your hardest game, and things improve quickly.

The Sooners still have games against three other AP top 20 teams (OSU, TCU, KSU), but everybody has big games remaining. OU’s got almost as good a chance as anyone of cashing in.

3. Josh Rosen is UCLA’s efficiency

NCAA Football: Hawaii at UCLA
Josh Rosen
Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

UCLA’s defense ranks 88th in passing success rate allowed and 116th in rushing success rate allowed at the moment, and the Bruins run game hasn’t shown a ton of early improvement over last year’s dismal campaign: They still rank 104th in rushing success rate.

But there’s Rosen, completing 68 percent of his passes and dragging the Bruins to a No. 17 ranking in passing success rate.

He began the season 6-of-17 for 35 yards. Since then: 51-of-67, 785 yards, nine touchdowns.

4. Alabama’s got a one-man receiving corps

Through two games, Alabama quarterbacks Jalen Hurts and Tua Tagovailoa have combined to target nine different players at least twice and only one more than four times. Calvin Ridley has been targeted with 17 passes, a full 13 more than No. 2 target Cam Sims.

It’d be one thing if those 17 targets were racking up massive yards. But despite a long touchdown against FSU, Ridley is averaging just 10.6 yards per catch and 7.5 yards per target. He’s steady, but things are going to have to open up a bit. Bama currently ranks a dismal 129th in passing-downs success rate; granted, most of that is because of FSU’s awesome defense, but even against Fresno State, Bama’s PD success rate was just 25 percent.

5. Auburn’s Jarrett Stidham is getting hit a lot

Auburn’s quarterback situation is pretty solid — if Stidham were to get hurt, backup Sean White is in place. White was fine when healthy a year ago.

Still, that doesn’t mean you should try to get Stidham hurt. Not only was he sacked an incredible 11 times in 35 attempts against Clemson last week (maybe the highest sack rate I’ve ever seen in a non-FCS game), but he also got sacked three times in 27 attempts against Georgia Southern in Week 1’s blowout win. That’s a cool 22.6 percent sack rate over two games; as a frame of reference, anything above about 8 percent is pretty bad.

6. Kansas State looks awfully “peak Collin Klein” Kansas State

As is Bill Snyder’s preference, the Wildcats have begun with tuneups. They outscored Central Arkansas and Charlotte by a combined 110-26, showing flashes of their best run game since Klein was behind center.

Yes, you should be able to push UCA and Charlotte around, but the Wildcats are second in the country in opportunity rate (frequency of rushes of at least five yards), third in success rate, and ninth in stuff rate. Quarterback Jesse Ertz is averaging 6.5 yards per carry, and top backs Alex Barnes and Dalvin Warmack are averaging 5.7. You’d love to see a little more explosiveness, but right now that’s coming from the passing game: Ertz is completing 70 percent of his passes at 19.7 yards per completion.

KSU doesn’t move backward and connects on deep passes. That’s a lovely combination. But something will have to give when the Wildcats face Vanderbilt this weekend, because ...

6. The Commodores are knocking you backward

Alabama A&M v Vanderbilt
Dare Odeyingbo (34)
Photo by Frederick Breedon/Getty Images

That Vandy is 2-0 isn’t a total surprise, but the way the Dores have accomplished it is.

Despite all-world linebacker Zach Cunningham, they ranked just 55th in havoc rate (tackles for loss, passes defensed, and forced fumbles per play) in 2016.

Early in 2017, they are an easy No. 1 in havoc right now at 31 percent. Hell, their front seven alone (20.8 percent) would rank in the top 30 overall.

Linebacker Charles Wright and end Dare Odeyingbo each has 4.5 TFLs already, and corner Tre Herndon has broken up three passes. A havoc rate of over 30 percent is unsustainable, but we’ve seen clear signs of improved aggression here, and that makes Saturday’s visit from Kansas State maybe the most underrated game of Week 3.

7. Defense and special teams is the recipe for Colorado

The Buffaloes offense hit some stumbling blocks against Colorado State and Texas State. They are just 77th in success rate thus far and 113th in finishing drives.

You probably haven’t noticed, though, because they have still outscored opponents by a combined 48 thanks to a flexible defense (second in finishing drives), decent big-play prevention (35th in defensive explosiveness), and dynamite special teams. They are tied for first in kickoff success rate and ninth in punting success rate, and freshman kicker James Stefanou has made four of five field goals. That’s good for an early No. 2 ranking in Special Teams S&P+.

8. Missouri’s got the tempo thing down

Under second-year offensive coordinator Josh Heupel, the Tigers are averaging a play for every 18.4 seconds of possession: fastest in the country.

But that’s not the whole story — they are doing this despite running the ball quite a bit. Arkansas State (second at 18.7) has thrown more than 75 percent of the time, and Indiana (third at 19.3) has thrown 65 percent. Throwing more equals more stoppages.

When you factor in run-pass rates, Missouri’s expected seconds per play is around 25.8, a difference of 7.4 seconds, which dwarves other high-tempo teams like USF (6.1), Tulsa (5.9), and Memphis (5.9).

Now the Tigers just need to make more of those plays. After scoring 72 points against Missouri State, they managed just 13 against South Carolina.

9. Your best special teams coverage guy: BC’s Isaac Yiadom

A new addition to this year’s profiles: special teams tackles. I thought it would be interesting to track who’s making stops on special teams and where they’re doing them.

Thus far, eight FBS players have made at least four tackles of opposing return men, and Boston College’s Yiadom has made maybe the most valuable tackles — he’s made two stops on punt returns, and those returns have averaged just 3 yards each; he’s made two stops on kick returns, and they’ve averaged just 19 yards.

10. Kansas’ Joe Dineen, stuffs machine

Kansas suffered a disappointing 45-27 loss to Central Michigan on Saturday; any hope of showing major improvement in 2017 sort of went out the window. But don’t blame Dineen. The junior linebacker has already recorded 23.5 tackles this season and has contributed to a nation-leading eight run stuffs (stops at or behind the line of scrimmage, another new stat profile feature this year).

Other stuffs leaders:

  • 8: UMass’ Bryton Barr
  • 7: BGSU’s Nate Locke, Hawaii’s VIane Moala, NIU’s Jawuan Johnson and Sutton Smith
  • 6: Idaho’s Tony Lashley, NC State’s Bradley Chubb, Oregon State’s Jonathan Willis, SJSU’s Frank Ginda

11. Your return man is going to be bored playing Virginia Tech

Hokie kicker Joey Slye has attempted 12 kickoffs this season. All 12 resulted in touchbacks.


Big play watch

NCAA Football: Oklahoma State at South Alabama
OSU’s Marcell Ateman
John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports

It’s your weekly check-in on the nation’s two funnest teams: Oklahoma State and Penn State. OSU won its Week 1 big-play battle with PSU, recording six gains of 40-plus yards to the Nittany Lions’ two. On the boxing scorecard, the Cowboys took Round 1, 10-9.

Round 2: a 10-0 tie. Both teams had four gains of 20-plus and one gain of 40-plus. PSU was nearly given the round due to degree of difficulty — the Nittany Lions played Pitt while OSU went to South Alabama — but, um, I’m not sure how much more difficult playing the Pitt defense is at the moment.

By the way, in the Fun Teams watch:

  • Oregon leads the country with 20 gains of 20-plus yards. (Missouri and Stanford are second at 18.)
  • Maryland leads with eight gains of 40-plus yards. (OSU and West Virginia are second at seven.)

Overachiever watch

In last week’s Numerical, I looked at the teams and conferences that over- and underachieved the most compared to their S&P+ projections. Thanks primarily to Maryland and Wisconsin, the Big Ten was your overachievement leader. Let’s check in again after Week 2.

FBS conferences in order of performance vs. S&P+ projection

  1. Big 12 (19 games, plus-3.8 points per game)
  2. MWC (26 games, plus-2.9 points per game)
  3. Big Ten (28 games, plus-2.6 points per game)
  4. Pac-12 (25 games, plus-1.0 points per game)
  5. MAC (24 games, plus-0.3 points per game)
  6. AAC (20 games, plus-0.0 points per game)
  7. Conference USA (27 games, minus-0.2 points per game)
  8. SEC (27 games, minus-0.6 points per game)
  9. ACC (26 games, minus-0.9 points per game)
  10. Sun Belt (20 games, minus-1.1 points per game)

It would make sense that the SEC and ACC would underachieve a bit since they began the season on the top of the pack. But the Big 12’s early performance is impressive, considering it features the biggest S&P+ underachiever in the country so far.

S&P+ underachieves (min: 2 games)

UTSA v Baylor
Matt Rhule left Temple for Baylor last season. Thus far, both Temple and Baylor are struggling.
Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images
  1. Baylor (minus-28.0 points per game)
  2. ECU (minus-26.3)
  3. FIU (minus-22.3)
  4. Temple (minus-18.1)
  5. WKU (minus-18.0)
  6. Oregon State (minus-17.9)
  7. Northwestern (minus-17.5)
  8. Bowling Green (minus-16.3)
  9. Texas A&M (minus-15.5)
  10. Kent State (minus-14.4)

When people see something like LSU ranking No. 2 in S&P+, they assume recruiting rankings are skewing projections. They are part of the projections, however, only because they are solid statistical predictors of success.

The biggest source of early skew, however: coaching changes. Four of the top five underachievers are in Year 1 of a new regime, and, well, the fifth team in that group (ECU) probably shouldn’t have changed coaches in 2016.

Meanwhile, the biggest overachiever also has a new coach.

S&P+ overachievers (min: 2 games)

  1. Fresno State (plus-31.2 points per game)
  2. Duke (plus-26.6)
  3. Mississippi State (plus-24.6)
  4. Maryland (plus-24.2)
  5. Purdue (plus-19.9)
  6. SMU (plus-18.9)
  7. Wake Forest (plus-18.7)
  8. Army (plus-17.7)
  9. TCU (plus-17.0)
  10. Oregon (plus-16.1)

Mississippi State a major overachiever, eh? With LSU coming to Starkville this week, eh?