Each week, I’ll sort the Saturday games into three categories to help you decide which games you will spend time watching.
Sneaky Good Bill Snyder Game: A game that you wouldn’t typically tune into, but if you are in front of the TV you should highly consider putting on. These games will be high scoring and/or competitive. This category is a tip of the cap to Bill Snyder, who has provided the college football world with more sneaky good teams than I
Butt Diaco Game: A game that is going to SUCK. Don’t watch this. Unless you have money on the game, there are 10 bajillion better things you could do with your time. This category is a tip of the cap to Bob Diaco, the buttiest of all butt coaches in college football history.
Before we start, I wanted to define a few of the advanced stats I’ve been using in these previews. The best stats I have found when analyzing this beautiful sport have come by Bill Connelly, who writes for SB Nation. You can find the glossary/Q&A for all of his stats he uses here and here, but here is a spark notes of the main stats I predominantly use.
Success Rate: How successful/efficient are you as a team in staying on track to move the chains. A successful play is defined as getting at least 50% of the necessary yards of first down, 70% on second down, and 100% on third or fourth down.
IsoPPP: Isolating points per play on only successful plays. This statistic aims to look at how consistently successful you are and when you are successful how explosive are you?
Standard Downs: 1st down, 2nd-and-8 or less, 3rd-and-5 or less, 4th-and-5 or less
Passing Downs: 2nd-and-8 or more, 3rd-and-5 or more, 4th-and-5 or more.
Adjusted Line Yards: A statistic that separates the strength of the offensive line and the ability of the RB. Just because you have a great RB doesn’t mean you have a great line.
Adjusted Sack Rate: An opponent-adjusted rate of a sack rate, which is sacks divided by (sacks plus passes).
If you have any questions on these stats, shoot me a DM/Tweet @JackMacCFB.
Aint Come To Play School Games:
Penn State (-9, O/U 47.5) @ Michigan State, 12:0o PM ABC:
Talk about a bad spot for Penn State. A win against a physical Michigan and a heartbreaking loss against Ohio State only to have to play in East Lansing at Noon the next week? BRUTAL. This Big Ten battle will be our first game of a jam-packed day. Covering nine points on the road against an in-conference opponent, which is ranked in S&P+’s top 25, is going to be a tough, tough task for Penn State.
Michigan State is coming off a tough 3 OT loss to Northwestern, but this team has been one of the surprises of the 2017 season. Coming into the season losing a bunch of talent due to graduation and a sexual assault scandal, Sparty’s outlook on the season wasn’t looking too hot. I was low on them, but Mark Dantonio proved my dumb ass wrong. Sparty is a talented team that still controls their own destiny to get to the Big Ten championship game. East Lansing will be buzzing on Saturday for meaningful November football thanks to the lack of it last year.
As I mentioned in the opening paragraph, Penn State suffered a heartbreaker last week, but how close was their game against Ohio State really? They were outgained by 220 yards and Saquon Barkley was held to under 50 yards rushing and 25 yards receiving outside of his kick return TD. Looking at the stats alone, Penn State had a win expectancy of just 3% but only lost the game by 1 point. PSU-OSU is a great example of why looking at final scores does not tell the full story of a game. Now the question stands whether that performance was because Ohio State is that good or is Penn State not as good as we thought? Time will tell on that one, but this weekend doesn’t seem to be the time that you should be laying nine points on the road with them.
Most of Penn State’s strengths on offense will be masked by Michigan State’s 6th ranked defense. PSU ranks 17th in explosive plays when MSU ranks 2nd in stopping them. PSU 8th ranked rushing attack will have no serious advantage against MSU’s 7th ranked rush defense. If Penn State wants to put up big numbers it will have to be achieved through the air, where they rank 8th and Sparty ranks 44th.
Why I won’t make Michigan State a play is their lack of offense. Ranking 95th overall on offense and going up against Penn State’s 14th ranked defense is going to be tough. They do have a decent QB in Brian Lewerke, who leads the 6th ranked passing offense according to S&P+ and has the 19th best QBR in the country. The problem for Lewerke on Saturday will be Penn State brings in the 9th best pass defense in the country.
It’s going to be tough for Michigan State to keep up with the Nittany Lions if they allow McSorley to put up 14-21 points in the first half. I could see this game going a bunch of ways, hence why I am staying away. Enjoy this game, it’s one of the best noon games will get all year.
Lean: Michigan State +9
Clemson (-7.5, O/U 51.5) @ NC State, 3:30 PM ABC:
I keep hearing about this “scary” NC State defensive line. Don’t get me wrong, I love me some Bradley Chubb, but this defensive line isn’t as good as every talking head leads you to believe. Let’s look at the stats: 24th in adjusted line yards, 20th in stuff rate, 75th in sack rate, and 41st in havoc rate. That is an above average defensive line, but nothing “scary.” If you are Clemson and have the 4th ranked offensive line in adjusted line yards and 20th in stuff rate, are you that scared? Maybe if NC State were better than 75th in sack rate, Clemson’s 108th ranked OL in sack rate would be losing sleep. That stat should scare any Clemson fan, but this game they may give them a chance to get back on track.
I really like Clemson this weekend. NC State’s defensive line has led them to an average rush defense, ranking 43rd overall and 54th in success rate. Clemson is bringing in the 11th ranked rush offense that also ranks in the top 20 of success rate on the ground. A player that helps them on the ground, Kelly Bryant, will also help Clemson excel through the air against the 42nd ranked pass defense. Bryant looked healthy against Georgia Tech and the QB with the 13th best QBR in the country will have his opportunities to pass on a subpar NC State defense. What I love most about this Clemson offense is their success on 3rd down, where they rank 5th in 3rd down S&P+! NC State ranks 53rd in that stat on defense.
I have vouched for Ryan Finley, who ranks 11th in QBR, in the past but going up against Clemson’s #1 ranked pass defense is going to be a nightmare. I don’t see any advantage for NC State on offense. They rank 17th in passing, but Clemson ranks 1st. 56th running the ball, but Clemson ranks 10th. Also, good luck to their 61st ranked 3rd down offense if they get into long 3rd down situations against Clemson’s top 10 ranked 3rd down defense.
A loss for Clemson may not have been the worse thing in the world. If they win out, they’ll still win the ACC and find themselves in the CFP, and a loss has refocused them. There is no room for a fuck up anymore. Some teams may fold under that pressure (cough, cough USC cough, cough), but those teams don’t have Dabo Swiney. Clemson rolls on Saturday because they have a point to prove to the country that they are still the defending champions who are looking to make it back-to-back come January 2018.
Pick: Clemson -7.5
Oklahoma @ Oklahoma State (-2.5, O/U 76.5), 4:00 PM FOX:
Ooooooh am I GIDDY for this one!
I saw this clip from a Baker Mayfield press conference this week and had one thought: BET THE FARM ON OKLAHOMA.
As much as I wanted to actually go and do that, I stopped for a moment and decided to take a longer look at this game. I found out S&P+ has Oklahoma State winning this game by 6 points. ESPN’s FPI has Oklahoma State by 2. 71% of the money is on Oklahoma. Fading the public isn’t my favorite strategy (they are right sometimes!), but my stomach roars when I go into a big-time game siding with the public. My heart has me on team Baker, but all the signs point to Oklahoma State.
Here is why Oklahoma isn’t liked by the guys in the desert and most analytical systems: the Sooner’s defense. According to S&P+, Oklahoma has the 27th worst defense in the country. ESPN’s FPI is a bit more conservative, ranking them 69th in the country. However way you put it, this defense is subpar and will be facing the 4th ranked offense on Saturday. Where the Sooners should be most concerned will be stopping OSU’s 11th ranked explosiveness. The Sooners have struggled with allowing big plays all year, ranking a disgusting 104th.
The good news for Oklahoma is the rumblings about Mason Rudolph’s injured shoulder having him at less than 100%. Teams have been dropping two safeties 20 yards deep on every play recently, which has taken away the Cowboys explosive play the past two weeks (below average in this category against Texas & WVU). Many have observed that Rudolph hasn’t been throwing the deep ball because of this new strategy and a weak shoulder.
On Offense, Oklahoma will be able to put up a bunch of points, but Oklahoma State’s defense continues to be underrated. You can look at the 39 points allowed last Saturday, but 14 of those were allowed on a pick-six and a blocked punt recovered in the end zone. Gundy’s defense faced 76 plays but allowed just 25 points. They kept the 7th ranked offense in the country to a 33% success rate. WVU wasn’t Oklahoma State’s first success on defense, they held Texas and Baylor to a combined 26 points leading up to the game in Morgantown. Yes, Baker Mayfield’s #1 ranked pass offense will put up 28-35 points, but they won’t come as easy as they had in years past because of this #33 ranked defense.
Lean: Oklahoma State -2.5
LSU @ Alabama (-21, O/U 48.5), 8:00 PM CBS:
I know their competition has been poor, but I continue to believe that we fail to understand how good this Alabama team really is. Saturday’s game will most likely be a blowout, but it will still give us a better look at where Alabama is on offense.
One of the dumber takes in the college football world at the moment is the lack of confidence in Jalen Hurts. Ever since he earned the starting job, all this guy has done is win. Yes, as a freshman he lost the national championship game on the final play to one of college football’s greatest players of all time. Yes, he was helped by a phenomenal Alabama defense. You can bring up all those points, which are full of holes, and I will point you to this play:
I will then point you to his 9th ranked QBR this season, which has improved drastically over last seasons which ended outside of the top-40. Hurts is a baller. There is no way around it and misinformed fans need to stop doubting him. He is 21-1 as a starter coming into this game and is only a sophomore. I want you to go and read that sentence again. Go ahead and say “my grandma could’ve gone 21-1 with that team” all you want, but this guy is slowly becoming one of the best college players ever.
Saturday will give us a good insight into how far Hurts has really come in new offensive coordinator Brian Daboll system. LSU 23rd ranked passing defense is the best feature of its defense that ranks 25th overall. If Hurts can pass for over 250 yards he can prove to everyone that Alabama is the front-runner for the national title yet again.
I don’t really like any side in this game. Twenty-one points are a lot to cover in a rivalry game. The under is the only play I see. LSU does rank 11th in success rate on offense, but their overall ranking of 50th tells a bigger story for Coach O’s offensive attack. Alabama has the best defense in the country for the 80th time in a row and will take away the Tigers rushing attack with Derrius Guice and dare Danny Etling to throw the ball.
Speaking of Derrius Guice, he has a shot to do something that Leonard Fournette never did as an LSU Tiger: find success against Alabama. Will he be able to do it? Probably not, but if he does we could find ourselves in a sneaky entertaining game.
Etling won’t be able to throw it if his life depended on it and if LSU can find a little success on defense, they can keep Alabama to 28-31 points. A 31-10 final is a score I could see happening, falling safely under the total.
Lean: Under 48.5
Virginia Tech (-2.5, O/U 50) @ Miami, 8:00 PM ABC:
I have been known to be a supporter of The U this year. If you follow me on Twitter, you know I have close to an orgasm every time I see the turnover chain. All I want for Christmas is for Santa to give me my own turnover chain. UConn will forever be my #1 team, but my squad is up for grabs every year and this year The U won me over with their swagger. I know it’s cliche to say it, but this team is the definition of swagger.
They bring the damn turnover chain in a Money In The Bank brief case!
Their swagger may hurt them down the road, but Saturday isn’t that time. Sitting at 7-0, Miami’s chip on their shoulder somehow had two MASSIVE growth spurts this week. First, Vegas set Virginia Tech as road favorites against them. Next, the playoff committee ranked them 10th, behind multiple teams with one loss. Miami notices these things and they aren’t happy about them. Miami has a point to prove on Saturday and are going to play mad. Sure, they may be a few personal foul penalties here and there, but that’s the cost of The U being back folks. So many people have called Miami overrated at this point they have become underrated. They aren’t the best team in the country, but they aren’t 5.5 points worse than Virginia Tech on a neutral field.
Miami is ranked ahead of VT in S&P+ and four spots behind them in ESPN’s FPI. These teams are even, but I don’t see many matchup advantages for Virginia Tech. Their 70th ranked offense will not have an easy time with the 31st ranked Hurricane defense. Where VT survives on offense is through the air, ranking 36th in passing S&P+ and 19th in explosive passing plays. Miami will have no problem shutting that attack down as they rank 25th in passing S&P+ and 12th in stopping explosive passing plays. Another huge advantage for the Hurricane defense will be stopping the Hokies once they are inside the 40. VT ranks 95th in the country in points scored per trip inside their opponents 40, while Miami ranks 8th in points allowed per trip inside their own 40. One of Miami’s points of struggle all season has been on 3rd down, where they rank 89th on defense, but Virginia Tech won’t be able to take advantage of this shortcoming as they too struggle on 3rd down on offense, ranking 85th!!
Miami’s 20th ranked offense will be up for a similar test against yet another great Bud Foster defense, which ranks 4th in the country! Virginia Tech’s one struggle on defense this year has been allowing explosive plays, a stat they rank 101st in (they rank in the top 10 in success rate, field position, and allowed points per trip inside the 40). That stat brings a smile to Miami’s face as they rank 7th in explosive plays. Virginia Tech’s biggest plays allowed all year have come through the air. There are 124 defenses in the country that rank higher in passing defense IsoPPP, which isn’t great news for the Hokies knowing that Miami’s passing offense is in the top-25 of passing IsoPPP.
Miami has struggled since the injury to Mark Walton, but their defensive advantage will be too much on Saturday. Points are going to be hard to come by in this game and I’m surprised the total is all the way up at 50. If Miami finds a way to continue their success in the explosive plays department, I could easily see them running away with this game. Is there anything better than a combination of home underdog points and The U? Nope. Take those points and enjoy every time the turnover chain comes out.
Pick: Miami +2.5
Rice @ UAB (-10.5, O/U 51.5), 3:00 PM C-USA TV:
One of the best stories of the 2017 season has been UAB. After having their football team shut down last year, UAB came into this season just happy to be strapping up the pads in the fall again. It soon turned out that they wanted more than just a few W’s. Bill Clark has coached up this young Blazers team to a 5-3 record and will be taking them to a bowl game, something that most thought wasn’t going to happen until next year at the earliest.
Rice is in a completely different boat, one that is not full of excitement, but disappointment. As I’ve mentioned before, this team STINKS. They are the fourth worst team in the country according to S&P+ and the 7th worst according to FPI. They rank in the bottom 30 of almost every statistical category.
UAB is a team that likes to run the ball. On standard downs, they run the ball the 37th most of any team in the country while on passing downs they run the ball the 20th most. Good news for UAB is Rice can’t stop a nosebleed let alone the 89th ranked rush offense (this is good for a C-USA squad) which success rate on the ground ranks them 55th in the nation.
Every statistic favors UAB in this one. 10.5 points seems incredibly short. Almost too short, but I don’t want to overthink this one. You could see UAB taking this one easy, but why? This team wants to secure their spot in a bowl game and what’s a better way to do that than running over a conference opponent?
Pick: UAB -10.5
Georgia State (-4, O/U 51.5) @ Georgia Southern, 3:00 PM ESPN3:
Rice is the 4th worst team in the country according to S&P+, 4 spots above the worst team: Georgia Southern.
The Eagles transition to FBS has not gone to plan. The once FCS power sits at 0-7 in 2017 and Saturday will be just the second game without their fired head coach Tyson Summers. Statesboro isn’t a happy place at the moment and the days of dominating with the triple-option seem to be in the rearview mirror. Saturday is against Georgia State, their hated rival, so go ahead and say “it’s a rivalry game! THROW OUT ALL THE STATS!” all you want, but are you sure it really applies to this awful team?
Georgia State will enter this game winning four of five. Their 74th ranked defense, which is phenomenal for a Sun Belt team, will yield nothing to Georgia Southern. The only positive Georgia Southern has on offense is their 98th ranked rushing attack, but Georgia State will be waiting for the triple-option with their 24th ranked rush defense. Similar to UAB, Georgia State outranks Georgia Southern in all major stats. Georgia State ranks 31st in 3rd down offense and 65th in 3rd down defense. Georgia Southern ranks 129th and 112th in those stats. Georgia State has a 48.5% success rate while passing the ball, ranking them 12th in the nation. Georgia Southern ranks 103rd in success rate when facing the pass.
All signs are pointing towards Georgia State. All the money coming in on the Panthers does worry me a bit, but as I said before, sometimes you have to ride with the public.
Pick: Georgia State -4
BYU @ Fresno State (-12, O/U 48), 10:45 PM ESPN2:
I don’t get it. Why do people keep believing in BYU? What magical corner is this team going to turn, because I don’t see one anywhere in sight. Every week, the Cougars continue to be overrated. Fresno State took a tough loss against UNLV last week, but they still rank 25th in S&P+ and 65th in ESPN’s FPI, while BYU is barely in top 100 of FPI and ranks 111th in S&P+! What points us towards thinking Fresno State is just a 12 point favorite in this game?
I think we are getting phenomenal value on Fresno State here. Last weeks loss isn’t good for their MWC title hopes, but it drops them from over a two-touchdown favorite to now all the way down at 12! Those points matter in a game with a total of just 48. As you see by their overall rankings, Fresno State is expected to dominate this game. From their 9th ranked success rate on offense going up against BYU’s 95th ranked defensive success rate to their 3rd ranked rushing success rate going up against the 98th ranked rush defense in the same stat, the advantages are up and down the board for Fresno State. Points have been hard to come by for BYU all season (their 127th ranked offense averages just 15 points per game) and that will continue against Fresno’s 27th ranked defense. This is a mismatch. Fresno will get back on track and show yet again how overvalued BYU is just because of their iconic name.
Pick: Fresno State -12
Official #JackieGambling Picks Of The WEEK:
Overall: 42-29, 59.2%
Last Week: 2-4
Georgia State -4
Fresno State -12