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 on 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 about these stats, shoot me a DM/Tweet @JackMacCFB.
Aint Come To Play School Games:
Michigan State @ Ohio State (-17, O/U 53.5), 12:00 FOX:
Ohio State is confusing. One week they come out and play like they did against Penn State, the next week they go and get blown out in Iowa.
Last weeks loss to Iowa was not your typical upset. I can’t remember the last time an unranked team dominated a top-10 team like that. There was almost no point in the second half that Ohio State threatened to get back in the game.
Now Ohio State comes into the weekend as a 17-point favorite against a team that controls their own destiny to find themselves in the Big Ten Championship game. If you are surprised by that, you aren’t alone, here was Mark Dantonio’s reaction earlier in the week:
If you’ve been reading my previews this season you know I’m a big fan of handicapping with advanced stats. My favorite advanced stats are through the S&P+ system done by Bill Connelly and the stats currently have Ohio State as the second best team in America. The same goes for Vegas, as they power rate Ohio State as a top 5 team. ESPN’s FPI has them second. That’s why this game is at 17.
Football is, of course, more than stats when two teams go at it on a Saturday, but the advanced stats aren’t just made up out of the blue. The basics of football are shown through advanced stats hence why I, and others, love them. For example, I love to use success rate when handicapping. Success rate is 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 on first down, 70% on second down, and 100% on third or fourth down. If you’ve played any form of football, you’ve probably had a football guy coach who has preached “if we get three yards on every play nobody will be able to stop us.” Although a little different, success rate is the same thing.
What do the stats say about Saturday? I mentioned Ohio State’s top 5 standing in most advanced analytics systems, Michigan State currently is 22nd in S&P+ and 35th in ESPN’s FPI. I still like Michigan State in this one, though.
Sparty’s best attribute is their defense, which ranks ninth in S&P+. Ohio State’s 4th ranked offense will be a test, but MSU matches up well. Their ranked 6th in overall rushing, 12th in rushing success rate, and 3rd in rushing IsoPPP. They struggle more in the secondary, ranking 38th overall, but don’t allow explosive plays, ranking third in IsoPPP. Their rush defense will even out Ohio State’s rushing attack with JK Dobbins and Mike Weber, so the game will come down to JT Barrett. I have been on JT Barrett island all season, but I decided to sell all my real estate after last weeks performance.
Michigan State’s offense has struggled all year, but Brian Lewerke has proven to be the best QB Dantonio has had since Kirk Cousins. Lewerke currently ranks 17th in QBR and is a part of the 3rd best passing offense according to S&P+. Ohio State’s defense ranks 35th overall defending the pass and 70th in success rate. Lewerke & Co. will produce enough on Saturday to keep Michigan State close.
17 is just too much. The last time the home team won a game in this series was 2007. Dantonio loves the underdog role and this season is just another example of him being one of the best coaches in this era of CFB. Ohio State wins a close one.
Pick: Michigan State +17
Georgia (-2.5, O/U 47) @ Auburn, 3:30 PM CBS:
Ooooooooooohhhhh BOY! The south’s deepest rivalry is a DOOZY this year.
In terms of storylines, the biggest aspect of this game is whether or not Georgia can handle their big DAWG status. Nobody on this team has been in a situation against a very good team where they are expected to win. Some could point to the Notre Dame game, but Georgia was a 4-point underdog in that one. Everybody is expecting Georgia to go into this game and come out with a victory. All the pressure is on them and second-year head coach Kirby Smart. Auburn doesn’t have “nothing to lose” because Guz Malzahn’s seat is still a little warm, but they are the team playing as an underdog with a lot less to lose at home. Don’t get me wrong, Georgia is very talented, but there aren’t any stats that quantify how a team of 18-23-year-olds play in a pressure-packed situation like this one.
Looking at the stats, we see a defensive matchup. Georgia’s defense ranks 8th while Auburn’s defense ranks 5th. Both of these defenses are dominant and their counterparts offense will struggle to put up big points. Georgia runs the ball the 13th most in the country on standard downs and the 16th most on passing downs. How will that 14th ranked rushing offense do against Auburn’s fourth-ranked rushing defense? If they can’t get going, will true freshman Jake Fromm be able to get anything done through the air? Fromm ranks in the top 10 of quarterbacks across the country in QBR, but Auburn’s 3rd ranked pass defense will be lurking. Fromm has always had Sony Michel and Nick Chubb as a get out of jail free card, but if Auburn shuts them down will he be able to win the game for Georgia by himself?
On the other side, Auburn runs the ball the 23rd most in the country on standard downs, but similar to Georgia’s offensive situation, the Tigers will be facing the 2nd best rushing defense in the country. Auburn will also be at a disadvantage as they are still adjusting to life without RB Kamryn Pettaway, who is out for the season. The same goes for Jarrett Stidham, who ranks 19th in QBR, and the 18th ranked passing attack who will be facing a Georgia secondary who has allowed next to nothing all season (they rank 5th in passing S&P+).
Jordan-Hare will be rocking on Saturday. Going to a Georgia-Auburn game when both teams are in playoff contention should be on every college football fans bucket list. This game smells of a 17-13 final. Forty-seven is too much. Take the under and enjoy the game.
Pick: Under 47
Alabama (-13.5, O/U 50.5) @ Mississippi State, 7:00 PM ESPN:
Last week was a quiz, but Saturday we finally get to see Alabama get a test. Yes, Mississippi State struggled last week with ZooMass, but this team presents a challenge that Saban has been waiting for.
I want to take Dan Mullen’s squad. Stark Vegas is going to be buzzing by game time under the lights. The public is all over Alabama. Nick Fitzgerald fits the Johnny Manziel mold of a QB that has haunted Nick Saban during his reign as the king of college football. All the signs point towards taking the home underdog, but I just can’t do it.
Alabama’s defense is just too damn good. The #2 ranked defense has every advantage imaginable. Their rush defense is better, as is their pass defense. Their 4th ranked 3rd down defense won’t allow a Mississippi State squad to stay on the field. Nick Fitzgerald is possibly the best QB in the SEC, but he has struggled against top-notch defenses. Against Auburn & Georgia this year he is 27-62 for just 240 yards and four interceptions.
What interests me most about this game is Jalen Hurts. Last week, Alabama had just a 30% success rate through the air as Jalen Hurts was 11-24 against LSU’s defense. Saturday won’t be much easier for Hurts as Mississippi State’s defense has the 9th best passing defense in the country and ranks fourth in passing success rate. Can Jalen rebound from a bad performance last week? Alabama still comes in with a top 10 passing attack, but Hurts 13th ranked QBR is dropping by the week. Keep an eye on this, as Jalen Hurts performance will be the difference between a deep run in the CFP for Alabama and a non-CFP appearance or loss in the semifinals.
Lean: Mississippi State +13.5 (if you are to play this wait to see if this number gets to 14)
Notre Dame (-3, O/U 58) @ Miami, 8:00 PM ABC:
Wait….we get Auburn-Georgia THEN Notre Dame-Miami?
Miami isn’t a sports town. That’s a fact that everybody knows, but you know what Miami is? Miami is an event town and #3 Notre Dame against #7 Miami is more than just an event. The Hard Rock will be ROCKING come 8:00 PM and the college football world couldn’t be more excited.
I have been bullish on both these teams all season. I know the entire world loves the turnover chain, but I truly believe I am in the top 1% of turnover chain lovers. Last week, Tex asked me if Mark Richt offered me a position as the “turnover chain holder” would I transfer from my current school and accept the position. I would stop my time at Barstool and put my time as a college student on hold while I work strictly as the man who carries the turnover chain on the Miami sideline during games and practices. Most people would immediately respond no, but I haven’t been able to get that question out of my head. This would never happen, but in a hypothetical world what would I answer? I’m not too sure.
As much as I love Miami, I think the U’s train stops here. Notre Dame’s run offense is going to be too much for Miami. Josh Adams, who still remains not mentioned as a Heisman candidate, is leading the #2 rush offense in America. Miami has struggled against the run all season, ranking 82nd in rush defense and 58th in success rate. Brandon Wimbush will have himself a challenge against the Miami’s 27th ranked pass defense, but this bet comes down to me trusting Wimbush more than I trust Malik Rosier. The Miami QB throws a few interceptable balls every game and I don’t see how he escapes Notre Dame’s 13th ranked turnover defense and 2nd ranked passing defense without throwing one or two costly interceptions.
Miami is an event town and as I mentioned above, this game is an event, so Hard Rock will be packed on Saturday night. Does the stadium being full necessarily mean a huge home-field advantage for Miami? I don’t think so. Going into a packed Hard Rock versus a packed Big House are two different animals. Take Notre Dame.
Pick: Notre Dame -3
TCU @ Oklahoma (-6.5, O/U 61.5), 8:00 PM FOX:
The Heisman is Baker Mayfield’s to lose at this point in the season. Mayfield is what’s great about college football, a guy who comes back for his senior year and leads his team to playoff contention late in the season. Every time I watch Mayfield scramble around the pocket only to find a receiver deep down the field, I think to myself, “damn, I am going to miss watching this guy.”
Saturday presents an interesting situation for Oklahoma. Every year, Bedlam has been the final game of the year for Oklahoma & Oklahoma State. With the new schedule due to the Big 12 adding a championship game, both teams have to play the always emotional and physical Bedlam game and then play another game the next week. For Oklahoma, that test is against the 6th ranked TCU Horned Frogs.
I love this situation for TCU and Gary Patterson. Bedlam was not only an emotional game for Oklahoma but a 62-52 game that must have taken so much out of them physically. Waiting for Oklahoma is the 3rd ranked defense in the country. That’s right, the Big 12 has the 3rd ranked defense in their conference….it’s 2017, anything is possible. TCU’s 1st ranked rush defense and 13th ranked pass defense will do enough to slow down Mayfield and Co.
I got burned by Kenny Hill two weeks ago in Ames, Iowa. The old Trill came out of Kenny and he threw multiple head-scratching interceptions that led to a 14-7 loss in a game they had a 65% win expectancy in. This week I will be back on the Trill Hill train and I bought my ticket a bit more confident this time because of the 115th ranked defense he will be going up against. Oklahoma’s defense remains very, very, very bad. They rank 64th in passing defense, 50th in rushing defense, and 104th in 3rd down defense. TCU doesn’t have the most prolific offense in the country, but their 35th ranked success rate and 4.83 points per trip inside their opponents 40 (this ranks them 30th) will be enough to score on Oklahoma’s defense.
Gary Patterson is one of my favorite coaches in the country. The man is going to have his team ready to play as an underdog as he has time and time again. Last year’s game ended within one possession with a much less talented TCU team and I see a similar outcome in this one.
Pick: TCU +6.5
Wild Card Games
Florida Atlantic (-4.5, O/U 70.5) @ Louisiana Tech, 3:30 PM Stadium:
CHOO! CHOO! The Lane Train is COMING THROUGH!
Louisiana Tech has been a disappointment this season and it won’t get any easier this Saturday with the Lane Train coming to town. LT’s biggest struggle this year has come defending against the run, they rank 127th overall in S&P+ rushing defense and dead last in rushing success rate. That’s good news for Lane’s rolling Owl’s who rank 6th in rushing S&P+ and 7th in rushing success rate.
FAU are still adjusting to Kendal Briles spread attack while throwing the ball, but that hasn’t stopped the rush offense the past month or so. Louisiana Tech will put up a few points on the scoreboard, but Devin Singletary will be too much for the Bulldogs. Stay away from the rat poison and take #THEfaU:
Pick: FAU -4.5
Duke (-3, O/U 49) @ Army, 12:00 PM CBSSN:
We are at the point in the season where gaging teams motivations is incredibly important when looking at games you want to potentially put money down on. When 18-23-year-olds don’t have a lot to play for they turn out to be not that motivated, but if you put a potential bowl game in front of them the motivation light turns back on. Identifying teams that are playing for postseason play and a trip to a destination they’ve never been to before to play on national TV can give you an edge this time of year.
One of those teams is Duke. After starting their season 4-0, Duke lost 5 straight going into a bye. With three games remaining on their season with games against Army, Georgia Tech, and Wake Forest, Duke still has a chance to get to bowl eligibility. That starts this week against Army, who has already earned bowl eligibility. Army is a special case because they already know exactly what bowl they are going to (accepted invitation to Armed Forces Bowl in Dallas) and don’t have a conference championship to play for. Army has one thing on their mind and that’s getting another win against Navy on December 9th. A loss for Duke would be devastating for their bowl chances, while a loss for Army wouldn’t mean too much for how they will look back on their season as a success or failure.
David Cutcliffe remains one of the most underrated coaches in the country. His team is coming off a bye and 6-0 ATS against service academies and Georgia Tech in their last six games. Duke’s rush defense could be better as they rank 58th in rushing S&P+ and 41st in rushing success rate, but they do rank 37th in opportunity rate, 42nd in power success rate, and 15th in power stuff rate. Those three stats are incredibly important when going up against a triple-option team like Army.
This is more a play on Cutcliffe and the situation than pure numbers. Duke will be ready off a bye, something you can’t underestimate when preparing for a triple-option team. Roll with the Blue Devils.
Pick: Duke -3
Official #JackieGambling Picks Of The WEEK:
Overall: 44-31-1, 58.7%
Last Week: 2-2-1
Michigan State +15.5
Notre Dame -3
Georgia/Auburn Under 47