by Rafid Farjo (@rafid_313)
The first installment of the College Football Playoff Rankings was supposed to install order. Of course, at this point, it is abundantly obvious that there is no place for order within college football, especially at the hands of the selection committee.The only thing left to do for both contending and non-contending teams is to play the games to solidify standing, and that is exactly what we will do this week.
The Game: Utah @ Stanford
The Play: Utah -7 (-121)
Why: Utah football has been tremendous as of late and has emerged as the principle, and maybe only, challenger to Oregon for the Pac-12 title. Stanford on the other hand, are losers of 4 out of 5, and seem to be in free fall. The Utes come into the game middling in most EPA metrics, but have shown strength in rushing the ball with an EPA of 0.146 per play, ranking 20th. This just so happens to be the most significant weakness of the Cardinal, who are 118th in defense EPA/play against the rush at 0.197. As of recent, Utah has also been better through the air behind a QB switch to Cam Rising. Rising owns a 6 TD:1 INT ratio, also rushing for 7.9 YPC (even more impressive as NCAA rushing numbers include sacks) and the team has been 4-1 in his starts. Although as mentioned Utah’s defense is very average, Stanford does nothing particularly well either. SP+ is again in support of this decision, projecting a 14 point Utah win. The Utes are rolling and the Cardinal’s porous rushing defense shouldn’t be a threat.
The Game: Liberty @ (16) Ole Miss
The Play: Ole Miss 1H -5 (-108), Over 67 total points (-110)
Why: Just as Ole Miss seemed to be getting back on their feet, former Head Coach Hugh Freeze comes to town. Freeze was let go as a part of both personal and NCAA violations while at Ole Miss and has since found a home at Liberty, impressively bringing them to relevance. With Freeze contending that he was unjustly treated on his way out of Oxford, there will undoubtedly be bad blood in this game. Both teams are led by potential Top 2 QB draft prospects in Matt Corral and Malik Willis, but the supporting cast of Corral is far superior. Corral ranks 2nd in the nation in total rusher EPA at 53.45 and Ole Miss as a team ranks 1st in EPA/rush at 0.219. Liberty on the other hand ranks 56th in EPA against the rush and Ole Miss should find success against this, especially early.
While Corral is second in rushing EPA, Willis ranks 1st with 58.64 rushing EPA, but an SEC defense will be a large step up in competition. In Liberty’s lone other game against a Power 5 opponent, Willis only mustered 2.9 YPC against a Syracuse defense similar in standing to that of Ole Miss. The Liberty defense also allowed nearly 5 YPC in that matchup. This is a maximum motivation spot for Ole Miss against the coach who recruited many of them, and I expect them to come out fast, with a game plan oriented around rushing the ball. While Ole Miss will certainly try, containing Willis for 4 quarters will be impossible, and Liberty should break through, especially later in the game. With all these factors considered, the best bets are Ole Miss 1H (-5) and the over.
The Game: Nebraska @ (5) Ohio State
The Play: Over 64.5 total points (-113)
Why: The Buckeyes offense has been a juggernaut this season. They rank 1st in SP+ and 2nd in offensive EPA/play with 0.358. In their last 5 outings they have scored 52.8 PPG and in these games are 4-1 towards the over of the points total. Led by QB CJ Stroud and RB TreVeyon Henderson, the Buckeyes have shown a propensity to score and do so in a hurry. They lead the nation with 8.1 yards per offensive play and have also scored defensive touchdowns in 3 out of their last 4 outings, an easy source of quick points, especially against Nebraska QB Adrian Martinez who has turned the ball over 6 times in the Huskers last 3 games. The Buckeyes offensive issues should be few and far between as Nebrasks ranks 82nd in defensive adjusted success rate.
While Martinez does turn the ball over, Nebraska’s offense is certainly not weak. They rank 22nd in EPA/pass with 0.274 and are 25th in adjusted passing success rate. The Buckeyes defense has shown improvement since they were trashed earlier in the year and forced to demote Defensive Coordinator Kerry Coombs, yet still rank 55th in EPA against the pass at 0.091. Both teams should move the ball well, and at the rate Ohio State is doing so, it would not be surprising to see them clear the 50 point marker by their lonesome.
The Game: Navy @ Notre Dame
The Play: Notre Dame -20.5 (-113)
Why: Notre Dame needs to make a statement (and copious amounts of luck) in order to crash their way into the playoff, and that campaign has to start this week against Navy. Although playing slightly better of late, this is by no means the Navy team of the recent past. The Midshipmen rank 108th in EPA/play (-0.067), unsurprisingly rank dead last in EPA/pass, but more shockingly rank 119th in rush EPA. Quite simply, Navy cannot move the ball, only surpassing 25 points once this season. Due to Notre Dame’s slow offensive start, their offensive EPA numbers are strikingly low, ranking in the mid 80s to 90s. But, they have shown tremendous improvement in their last 3 outings, scoring over 30 points in each against Power 5 foes. SP+ strongly corroborates this outcome as well, and has the Irish favored by 27.7 points in this game. Barring huge surprise, the Irish will handle business, and should have the will to do so convincingly.
The Game: Clemson @ Louisville
The Play: Clemson -4 (-113)
Why: It is time to trust in Clemson’s defense once again. At least SP+ believes in Clemson, projecting a 12.2 point victory. The Tigers rank 9th in defensive EPA/play (-0.1) but an absurd 127th (-0.112) in offensive EPA/play. Could this be the week their offense gets back on track? Maybe. Even if not, the defense should be enough to carry Clemson to covering a 4 point spread. Louisville ranks 87th in total defensive EPA and shouldn’t provide much resistance even for a talented, but again, abysmal, Clemson offensive. Regardless, the Tigers defense is steadfast and a Louisville team that ranks 45th in offensive EPA/play (0.128) may not have much to exploit. No opponent has surpassed 27 points against Clemson, and as long as the offense capitalizes on forced turnovers (Louisville averages nearly 2 turnovers per game while Clemson forces 1.6 fumbles per game), the Tigers should have no problem.