So the F/+ picks struggled this week. Or as I like to put it, they earned themselves a moral victory. Through yesterday's 3:30 PM ET games, the picks were an incredible 9-15; they rallied late to make it respectable, going 12-8-1 in the later games. Final tally for the week: 21-23-1. This is the most dangerous part of the year for the projections, as I'm slowly phasing out the preseason projections and figuring out the best way to phase in opponent adjustments that don't have any opponent adjustments to make yet. I hit an epic slump this time last year, so I'm trying something new this year. A .478 win percentage isn't bad, but it's not catastrophic.
But I'll get more into that during Thursday's picks post. For now, let's look at who overachieved in comparison to their projections and who underachieved. The F/+ ratings seem to have the SEC figured out pretty well, with six of 10 teams falling into the "just about right" category. If anything, the SEC is being underestimated, with both Tennessee and Vanderbilt vastly overachieving their projections against non-conference opponents.
(As we'll see in future posts, the Big Ten and Big East dramatically underachieved.)
Tennessee (Proj. Scoring Margin: -0.6 | Actual Scoring Margin: +22 | Diff: +22.6)
I was wary of the Cincinnati upset projection, as mentioned in Varsity Numbers, and while it was close for a while, Tennessee's offense was just too good. They averaged 7.0 yards per play (531 yards in all), finding decent success on the ground and strong success through the air. If you're a Vols fan, you've got to like seeing what Justin Hunter and Da'Rick Rogers did versus an admittedly iffy Cincy secondary -- 20 catches on 24 targets, 256 yards (10.7 per target), 3 TD. That's, uh, a pretty good line. The Tennessee defense was vulnerable to Isaiah Pead's running (14 carries, 155 yards), but they held Zach Collaros to 5.9 yards per pass attempt. Strangely, 23 different Vols made or assisted in at least one tackle, with none registering more than 4.5.
Vanderbilt (Proj. Scoring Margin: -9.5 | Actual Scoring Margin: +3 | Diff: +12.5)
My cable provider doesn't carry ESPN3, and though I spent about three fruitless hours attempting to sneak in ESPN3's back door, it didn't work. This was regretful in some ways (for one thing, Mississippi State-Auburn was inexplicably not televised in mid-Missouri ... but Central Michigan-Kentucky was), but it was potentially saving me from myself. If I'd seen one second of Vandy's 24-21 win over UConn, I may have begun to question my career choice. The Commodores and Huskies combined for just 452 yards (Vandy 259 yards at 4.4 per play, UConn an egregious 193 at 3.0) and seven turnovers. Including sacks, UConn's Johnny McEntee (10-for-27, 99 yards, 3 INT, 4 sacks) averaged 2.6 yards per pass attempt, Vandy's Larry Smith (12-for-24, 140 yards, 1 TD, 2 INT, 7 sacks) a whopping 3.0. Yuck, yuck, yuck. Vandy won because their turnovers were less costly (they were +9.7 in terms of Turnover Points), and because they were able to run the ball a bit; Jerron Seymour and Zac Stacy combined for 128 yards over 18 carries. Vandy's Rob Lohr had four tackles, all for loss.
Mississippi State (Proj. Scoring Margin: -19.3 | Actual Scoring Margin: -7 | Diff: +12.3)
At some point in their future, a good Auburn team is going to go 4-8, losing every game by two points. Their charmed life of 2010 has continued, as they are 2-0 ... winning one game with an onsides kick and last-ditch touchdown, and winning 41-34 yesterday by "stopping" Mississippi State at the goalline as time expired. Vick Ballard may have scored diving at the pylon in the game's second-to-last play, but it is almost impossible to tell. And Chris Relf was definitely stopped short on the final play. MSU was the betting favorite, but thanks to Auburn's preseason projections, they were heavy underdogs according to F/+. They technically overachieved in that regard. They played keep-away against AU, outgaining the Tigers 531-381 despite a per-play disadvantage (6.5 per play for Auburn, 5.5 for MSU). Chris Relf had 195 yards passing (5.6 per attempt) and 110 rushing (4.2). Vick Ballard, meanwhile, had 135 yards rushing (6.4 per carry) despite a long of just 19 yards. He is steady, consistent and efficient, though he came, at most, inches short of tying the game at the end.
Just About Right
Arkansas (Proj. Scoring Margin: +54.6 | Actual Scoring Margin: +49 | Diff: +5.6)
I avoided watching much of this game, simply because I feel so sorry for New Mexico fans. The Lobos are just hopeless right now, and though they kept things close for a little while thanks to an interception and a missed Arkansas field goal, it was just a matter of time. Arkansas' first three drives produced 159 yards but just seven points; their next four drives: 34 plays, 256 yards (7.5 per play), 24 points. Total yardage: Arkansas 632 (7.8 per play), New Mexico 297 (4.5). I'm still a bit concerned about the Hogs' defense (4.5 per play is actually pretty good for UNM, as was quarterback Tarean Austin's 5.8 yards per attempt), but the offense is just fine. Ronnie Wingo, Jr., and Brandon Mitchell combined for 132 yards on 17 carries, and Cobi Hamilton was the big-play threat du jour, with five catches for 132 yards on nine targets.
Florida (Proj. Scoring Margin: +34.8 | Actual Scoring Margin: +39 | Diff: +4.2)
Somehow this was Florida's first shutout since 2006. Not sure how that's possible, but there it is. They've held 10 opponents to six points or less since then, but never zero. UAB's a semi-interesting team, but quarterback Bryan Ellis (15-for-28, 141 yards) never really got going. I'm surprised the Gators didn't manage at least one sack. The Gators' offense, meanwhile, was fabulous. Chris Rainey (16 for 119), Mike Gillislee (11 for 79) and Trey Burton (6 for 46) all averaged at least seven yards per carry, and Jeff Brantley averaged 10.3 yards per attempt in 19 passes. Jeff Demps got hurt, but the Gators appear deep in the skill position department right now.
South Carolina (Proj. Scoring Margin: +0.4 | Actual Scoring Margin: +3 | Diff: +2.6)
I do hate that Uga-SC immediately becomes about Richt. This was a helluva game. SC just made one more play.
There were just so damn many huge, exciting plays in South Carolina's 45-42 win over Georgia. It was perhaps my second-favorite game of the young season behind (of course) TCU-Baylor. In the end, South Carolina won because their two turnovers (worth 7.0 EqPts) were infinitely less costly than Georgia's three (worth 23.8). Georgia outgained South Carolina, both on a cumulative (436 to 395) and per-play (6.5 to 5.9) basis, but the 'Cocks won thanks to your standard solid game from Marcus Lattimore, some timely catches by Alshon Jeffery (five catches for 85 yards on seven targets, a huge 3rd-and-13 catch, and an even bigger 4th-and-3 catch), and one of the most unique games ever from defensive lineman Melvin Ingram (a 68-yard touchdown on a fake punt, a fumble return touchdown, and an onsides kick recovery). The projections got this game about right, but obviously there was no projection for the excitement level. With road wins basically equating to broken serves, S.C. is now the favorite in the SEC East, but they've got some defensive issues to work on. If they're not making big plays, they're allowing them.
Kentucky (Proj. Scoring Margin: +13.6 | Actual Scoring Margin: +14 | Diff: +0.4)
Projections also didn't account for just how awful Kentucky's first six quarters (or so) of 2011 offense would be. They finally got rolling, scoring 24 consecutive points against Central Michigan after falling behind, 13-3, but they were outgunned yet again. Central Michigan gained 383 yards to UK's 344, but most of that came at the beginning -- the Chippewas gained 228 yards (6.2 per play) in their first three drives and just 155 (3.9) after that. Danny Trevathan had 9.0 tackles, 3.5 TFL, an interception and a PBU. Offense, though, is still quite hit-or-miss. They allowed 4.5 TFL to CMU's John Williams, Shamari Benton and Kenny McClendon, and running back Josh Clemons averaged just 3.0 yards on 13 of his 14 carries. That his other carry went for 87 brilliant yards and a touchdown saved the day.
Georgia (Proj. Scoring Margin: -0.4 | Actual Scoring Margin: -3 | Diff: -2.6)
The biggest challenge for Georgia moving forward: don't get distracted by the Mark Richt Hot Seat buzz. In terms of F/+ rankings, they rank higher than eight of their 10 remaining opponents, and they get one of the two higher-ranked opponents (Auburn) at home. They'll need South Carolina to slip up, and they'll absolutely need to beat Florida, if they want to have a chance at the East title after losing yesterday, but there's still quite a bit to like about yesterday's performance, which was very much at a Top 20 level. Isaiah Crowell gained 158 yards and scored twice in his 18 touches (he also had a killer fumble), and Brandon Boykin continued to serve as a high-quality, three-way threat with a 58-yard kickoff return, an interception, and 14 rushing yards. Georgia bounced back from about 15 tough plays yesterday ... they came up just one bounceback short.
Alabama (Proj. Scoring Margin: +18.8 | Actual Scoring Margin: +16 | Diff: -2.8)
I'll say this for A.J. McCarron: he trusts his arm. He tries to fit the ball into pretty tight windows, and it didn't backfire yesterday; he had a pretty clean line -- 19-for-31 for 163 yards. The Alabama offense still has some issues -- 5.3 per pass is very conservative, and Trent Richardson averaged only 4.3 yards over 26 carries (yes, he has scored five touchdowns, but his 3.8 yards per carry for the season are below where he should be). The defense, meanwhile, is phenomenal. Dee Milliner and Dre Kirkpatrick are an incredible pair of corners; Milliner broke up three passes, and Kirkpatrick forced two fumbles yesterday. Penn State quarterbacks Rob Bolden and Matt McGloin combined to complete 12 of 39 passes, and absolutely dreadful completion percentage of 31%.
Auburn (Proj. Scoring Margin: +19.3 | Actual Scoring Margin: +7 | Diff: -12.3)
You've got to like what Michael Dyer has done in about his last three halves or so. He went for 150 yards (8.3 per carry) and two touchdowns yesterday. Emory Blake was kind of a one-man show in the receiving corps -- he had seven catches for 108 yards in eight targets, while passes to all other Auburn receivers went 9-for-15 for just 38 yards. In all, I'm done questioning Gene Chizik just like I'm done questioning Les Miles. Until proven otherwise, they clearly have the karma edge against everybody they play. Chizik sold his soul for this streak; it's the only explanation.
Played an FCS Opponent
The Bayou Bengals gave their fans a week off in the drama department, beating state mates Northwestern State by a 49-3 margin. They outgained the Demons, 400 (6.1 per play) to 95 (1.7). Twelve Tigers had at least 0.5 TFL. Running backs Michael Ford, Alfred Blue, Jakhari Gore and Spencer Ware combined for 169 yards on 41 carries, a steady if unimpressive 4.1 per carry. The passing game was really the only interesting facet of the game -- Jarrett Lee (9-for-10, 133 yards, 1 TD, 0 INT, 1 sack) averaged 11.1 per pass attempt (including sacks), while celebrated junior college transfer Zach Mettenberger (8-for-11, 92 yards, 1 TD) averaged 8.4 in mop-up duty. Rueben Randle is really starting to become the five-star receiver he was billed to be: five catches for 121 yards in six targets.
My father-in-law's Southern Illinois Salukis actually outgained Ole Miss, 420-315, in the Rebels' 42-24 win, but SIU couldn't stop throwing interceptions. Ole Miss picked off four passes, worth 21.9 EqPts. They went up 21-0 early on, then held on. Running back Jeff Scott went for 118 yards (7.4 per carry) and three touchdowns in Brandon Bourbon's absence, which was a welcome sight, as the passing game was poor; Zack Stoudt averaged just 5.1 yards per pass attempt. That's not an awful total against Alabama; it's terrible against SIU.