by Rafid Farjo (Twitter: rafid_313)
Just 3 weeks away from the season’s inaugural playoff rankings, the college football landscape is starting to take form. Georgia and Alabama have perhaps distanced themselves from all other competitors with respective blowout wins over top 15 teams in Week 5 and Cincinnati seems to have secured the Group of 5’s first playoff berth so long as they win out (ESPN’s FPI favors the Bearcats in all remaining games). The Big Ten looks strong, with 5 teams ranked in the top 11, 4 of whom are in the Big Ten East, but the question looms over whether the strength of these teams will knock one another out of playoff contention. Going into Week 6, we look ahead to some of our best predictions using lines acquired from Barstool Sportsbook.
The Game: Houston @ Tulane
The Play: Houston -5.5 (-113)
Why: Houston has been the much better team of late, rebounding off an opening week loss against Texas Tech by winning 4 straight games. The Cougars boast an 1.47 EPA/play on offense , ranking 7th in the country. This is backed mostly by their team defensive EPA/play of -1.53, ranking 10th against the rush and 19th against the pass. Houston’s strength in defense will likely force Tulane to be one-dimensional, as the Green Wave rank 118th in the country with a -1.63 EPA/rush, but do fairly well through the air with a EPA/pass of .326 that ranks 21st. Considering the Cougars all-around defensive acumen, Tulane may be challenged to move the ball. Prospects don’t look much better for the Green Wave on the defensive side of the ball either. Tulane is allowing 547 YPG which ranks 127/130 in the country, and has a defensive EPA/play of .256, 121st in the nation, with particular struggle against the pass (EPA/play of .356). Houston is led by veteran QB Clayton Tune, who has completed passes this season at a 71.3% clip and has a dynamic weapon on the outside in WR Nathaniel Dell who has averaged 84.8 receiving YPG this season, who may be in for a strong performance. The Cougars should dispatch the Green Wave considering their favorable defensive matchup and the strength of their own defense, and should be able to do so comfortably.
The Game: Wisconsin @ Illinois
The Play: Wisconsin -9.5 (-118)
Why: The Badgers offense and defense couldn’t have had much more opposing 2021 campaigns thus far. Wisconsin ranks 127th in offensive EPA this season with a -0.182 EPA/Play. As a consolation to their anemic offense, Wisconsin ranks 4th in defensive EPA (-0.171) and possesses the nation’s number 1 rush defense both in total yards and EPA/play. Illinois is by no means strong on either side of the ball, being rated 90th by F+ 110th in net EPA/play, but their strongest relative suit is their rushing attack, which yet remains a measly 59th in EPA/play. In consideration of the Badgers strength in stopping the run, who held the nation’s former number 1 rushing attack in Michigan to 180 yards below their season average last week, Illinois will likely be forced to pass the ball. Passing likely won’t come easy to the Illini though, as they rank 93rd in EPA/pass, and are embroiled in a QB controversy between Brandon Peters and Artur Sitkowski. While Wisconsin’s offense is certainly weak, an Illinois defense that ranks 118th in EPA/play (0.23) may allow the Badgers to move the ball. Wisconsin has played a hard schedule thus far and will be looking to impose their will with a dominant win and Illinois very well may be the cushion to pad their 1-3 record.
The Game: (14)Notre Dame @ Virginia Tech
The Play: Under 48 total points (-120)
Why: This may end up being the best game of the week. Notre Dame goes into a raucous Virginia Tech environment that was too much for the likes of Sam Howell and North Carolina, and aims to get their season back on track. In order to do so, the Fighting Irish are going to have to play high quality defense, as they have thus far this season. Notre Dame ranks 14th in defensive EPA/play and 15th in DF+. While the Irish have struggled offensively with a -0.054 EPA/play, good for 108th in the country, their defense has kept them afloat to a record of 4-1 against quality competition. Virginia Tech resembles the Irish in these aforementioned qualities. The Hokies have only allowed 15.25 PPG this season on their way to a 3-1 record, and total point unders are 4-0 ATS in those games. Like Notre Dame, their offense hasn’t been as impressive, ranking 77th in EPA/play, but the defense has kept the team stable. In a Pick ‘Em primetime game, both teams will likely continue to need to rely on their strength in defense and hope to limit offensive mistakes, with the game being decided by just a few points.
Football Outsiders F+