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If Maryland and Rutgers are really this improved, the Big Ten East might be as deep as the SEC West

Your weekly dive into college football’s most interesting numbers includes Penn State, Oklahoma State, South Carolina, Tennessee, Purdue, Colorado State, and more.

NCAA Football: Maryland at Texas John Gutierrez-USA TODAY Sports

We overreact to what happens in bowl season in part because it’s the last thing we see for eight months.

Then we overreact to first-week performances for nearly the same reason: it’s the first thing we’ve seen in eight months. Just as Texas A&M’s Kenny Hill didn’t win the Heisman in 2014, and just as Texas wasn’t BACK!! after 2016’s Week 1 win over Notre Dame, these impressions won’t last.

USC’s Sam Darnold isn’t OVERRATED!! simply because he threw two picks against Western Michigan. Michigan’s young squad isn’t a national title contender only because it looked mostly awesome against Florida. The Big 12 isn’t in for another miserable season just because Baylor and Texas looked bad.

We can still glean something from the week, however.

We might not know who’s officially good or bad, but we know who had a good or bad week.

My S&P+ picks were dominant in Week 1, going 24-15-1 (61.3 percent) against the spread. But they still missed on certain teams.

Let’s see what we can learn by seeing how each conference fared compared to S&P+ projections.

Week 1 overachievers & underachievers

Conference Games Performance vs. S&P+ (PPG) Biggest overachiever Biggest underachiever
Conference Games Performance vs. S&P+ (PPG) Biggest overachiever Biggest underachiever
Ind 6 8.29 Army (+47.5) BYU (-10.3 in 2 games)
Big Ten 14 6.51 Maryland (+27.7) Minnesota (-15.3)
MWC 15 4.68 Fresno State (+51.6) Utah State (-24.8)
Pac-12 13 4.42 Oregon (+28.8) Arizona State (-12.6)
SEC 14 3.84 Miss. St. (+23.8) Florida (-13.9)
Big 12 10 3.26 Texas Tech (+28.8) Baylor (-31.0)
Sun Belt 12 1.7 ULM (+13.3) Georgia State (-29.4)
MAC 12 1.69 Ohio (+44.5) CMU (-14.2)
AAC 12 -0.42 UCF (+32.8) ECU (-29.6)
ACC 14 -0.49 Duke (+29.7) Louisville (-18.7)
Conf USA 13 -2.89 North Texas (+35.0) FIU (-32.8)
Why don’t these positives and negatives balance out? Because there have been 47 games against FCS teams, and on average, FBS teams slightly exceeded projections in those games.

Top 10 overachievers vs. FBS competition:

  1. UCF (plus-32.8 points vs. FIU)
  2. Maryland (plus-27.7 vs. Texas)
  3. Wisconsin (plus-24.8 vs. Utah State)
  4. Navy (plus-19.5 vs. FAU)
  5. Stanford (plus-18.7 vs. Rice)
  6. Purdue (plus-18.7 vs. Louisville)
  7. Notre Dame (plus-17.5 vs. Temple)
  8. Oklahoma State (plus-16.8 vs. Tulsa)
  9. Buffalo (plus-15.3 vs. Minnesota)
  10. Colorado (plus-14.8 vs. Colorado State)

Compared to expectations, the Big Ten was the conference with the best opening weekend.

Nine of 14 teams overachieved their projections, all by at least a touchdown, and Indiana’s underachievement came at the expense of overachieving conference mate Ohio State.

And yes, because the divisions weren’t imbalanced enough already, six of seven Big Ten East teams overachieved, while only four of seven Big Ten West teams underachieved.

Divisions are dumb. But if Maryland and Rutgers are both better than projected, and Indiana is as solid as it looked in the first 2.5 quarters or so against Ohio State, then the Big Ten East might challenge the SEC West as the best of the dumb divisions. (Of course, five of seven SEC West teams also overachieved.)

The ACC, on the other hand, had a forgettable first go-round.

Six of 14 teams in the reigning national champs’ conference overachieved, but two (BC and Georgia Tech) just barely did; of the eight underachievers, six missed the mark by at least nine points.

I was curious about how all the quarterback attrition would affect the conference, but only three of the six larger underachievers had new QBs. Florida State (minus-9.1 points), NC State (minus-10.3), and Louisville (minus-18.7) all boasted incumbents.

The best two conferences weren't actually conferences: powered by both Notre Dame and Army's dramatic overachievement (and despite BYU's lackluster play), independents have fared well thus far.

But the most surprising collection of teams was the service academies.

Army and Air Force destroyed Fordham and VMI, respectively, and Navy manhandled FAU. In all, the academies overachieved their projections by a cool 38.9 points per game.

They say that you want to play option teams in the first week of the year, when you’ve had extra time to prepare. These results, combined with Georgia Tech gaining 615 yards on Tennessee, would suggest otherwise.

16 gains of 20-plus yards for Oklahoma State and Penn State

NCAA Football: Tulsa at Oklahoma State
James Washington caught six balls for 145 yards against Tulsa.
Rob Ferguson-USA TODAY Sports

In my 2017 preview series, I basically called two teams the funnest in the country: Oklahoma State and Penn State. There’s an obvious common thread there: big plays. Both teams like to go long early and often. So I thought it would be fun in this Numerical to occasionally check in on this explosive duo.

  • In OSU’s 59-24 win over Tulsa, the Cowboys snapped the ball just 63 times but managed to rip off seven gains of 20-plus yards and six of 40-plus.
  • In PSU’s 52-0 win over Akron, the Nittany Lions snapped the ball 65 times and gained 20-plus yards nine times. Alas, only two of those gains went for 40-plus.

Advantage: Pokes.

Minus-544 yards, plus-8 points

NCAA Football: South Carolina at North Carolina State Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

The SEC scored a pair of nice wins over the ACC when South Carolina took down NC State, 35-28, and Tennessee defeated Georgia Tech, 42-41, in double overtime.

These wins were as confusing as they were useful. NC State more than doubled up South Carolina's yardage (504-246), and Georgia Tech nearly did the same to Tennessee (655-369). How do you gain 1,159 yards, allow just 615, and go 0-2? Very carefully.

For NC State, the oddity centered around ball control and blown chances. The Wolfpack scored touchdowns on drives of 14, nine, 10, and nine yards, while South Carolina needed just five plays to score twice early in the second half. The Gamecocks also scored on the game's opening kickoff, while State had scoreless drives end at the SC 10, 12, and 31. Allowing your opponent to punch itself out, then pouncing on mistakes: the Will Muschamp Way. The Gamecocks generated 20 yards in their final six possessions. Didn't matter.

For Tech, it was a similar story. The Yellow Jackets controlled the ball in the maddening way we're used to seeing from a Paul Johnson option team. They seemed to be killing Tennessee with a million paper cuts, but after taking a 21-7 lead in the third quarter, they lost a fumble at the Vols' seven and had a 36-yard field goal blocked at the end of regulation.

Tennessee did a better job of consolidating its successes. The Vols punted six times to Tech's three, and five of those were of the three-and-out variety. They only moved the ball more than 23 yards in three possessions; all three resulted in touchdowns.

None of this was even slightly pretty. And we'll see if it's replicable. But the SEC East claimed two wins it really needed all the same.

A 319.8 passer rating for Jesse Ertz

The Big 12 was all over the map, with lots of good (Texas Tech, Oklahoma State, TCU) and two awful (Texas, Baylor) performances. But one thing was certain: it was very Big 12.

Check out the top passers in the country per passer rating. Four of the top seven and five of the top 11 are Big 12 quarterbacks*. Branding is important.

Kansas State's Jesse Ertz and OU's Baker Mayfield went a combined 29-for-36 passing for 662 yards, seven touchdowns, no interceptions. Overwhelmed opposition or not, that's impressive.

* Missouri’s Drew Lock is fourth on the list, and with the Tigers’ 72-43 win over Missouri State, it appears the Tigers are going to attempt quite the Big 12 tribute this fall. If you’ve ever wondered what it would be like if Texas Tech joined the SEC, now’s your chance to find out.

61 Purdue pass attempts??

NCAA Football: Louisville vs Purdue
David Blough
Jamie Rhodes-USA TODAY Sports

Purdue’s 35-28 loss to Louisville in head coach Jeff Brohm’s debut was encouraging. The Boilermakers not only went 0-13 against ranked teams in Darrell Hazell’s four-year tenure; they lost 10 of those 13 by double digits (and six by at least 20 points).

It was also encouraging in that we saw an identity taking shape. Sure, the Boilermakers were lucky to be within seven; they recovered four of the game's five fumbles, they were outgained by 180 yards, and they benefited severely from Louisville instability (three fumbles, all lost, plus 16 penalties). Still, they kept attacking, and on both sides of the ball.

They hit hard and hurried UL quarterback Lamar Jackson frequently. (Unfortunately, they could never quite bring him down behind the line of scrimmage.) Ja'Whaun Bentley forced two fumbles, T.J. McCollum had two QB hurries and a breakup, and Danny Ezechukwu had an interception and a breakup.

On offense, they passed. And passed, and passed, and passed. In all, they dropped back 61 times (with four sacks) to 17 intended rushes. Six players caught at least three passes, and Jackson Anthrop (seven catches, 82 yards, two scores) emerged as a solid possession guy.

Granted, things went awry. Starting quarterback David Blough threw two shaky picks in the second half and was replaced by Elijah Sindelar, and eventually the Boilermakers’ turnovers luck dissipated.

You have to start somewhere. And by defining the game -- nice run defense you've got there, Louisville; you're not going to get to use it today -- they're going to give at least a couple of solid opponents fits. One game into the Brohm era, and it seems like Purdue fans have a little bit of hope.

From 58 points to three

NCAA Football: Colorado State at Colorado
Colorado State fans did not enjoy their Friday night experience in Denver.
Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

Colorado lost its top three defensive linemen, three of its top four linebackers, two stud defensive backs, and a stud coordinator in Jim Leavitt. The Buffaloes' first game since was against a Colorado State offense that gained 525 yards and scored 58 points a week earlier against Oregon State.

Naturally, the Buffaloes allowed ... three points. There was a bend-don't-break aspect there -- CSU drove into CU territory six times and lost two turnovers inside the Buffs' 30. Still, they held CSU to 116 rushing yards (sans sacks) and allowed Nick Stevens just a 51 percent completion rate. Star receiver Michael Gallup caught just five of 11 passes for 67 yards. Isaiah Oliver and combined to defense seven passes.

That CU won wasn't a surprise; the game was a tossup on paper, and the Buffs have now won four of their last five against the Rams. That CU won this way, however, was jarring.

Runner up in the “You allowed how many points??” category: Vanderbilt. The Commodores were a slight favorite at MTSU and won, but the way they won was still a surprise. Against a Blue Raider offense that returned quarterback Brent Stockstill and receiver Richie James and gained 1,090 yards in two games against SEC opponents (VU and Missouri) last year, they gave up just 240 yards (4.2 per play) in a 28-6 win.

Granted, the Blue Raiders had some rebuilding to do on their offensive line, and they were without star running back I’Tavius Mathers as well, but this was dominant. James did his damage (12 targets, 10 catches, 112 yards, and two carries for 14 yards), but in the 43 snaps that didn’t involve James, MTSU gained just 114 yards. Without star linebacker Zach Cunningham, Vandy allowed less than half of the yards it allowed to MTSU in 2016. Consider that a nice start.