Week 12 sheds light on what teams still have a shot at the playoff race. Notre Dame, while ranked sixth, is likely out as they have nearly no path to the playoff. The victor of Michigan and Ohio State will have a crystal clear path to the playoff. Cincinnati became the first group of five team ever to be ranked in the top four. Oklahoma State winning out could help to build an argument for them to be in the playoff. Lastly, Alabama has a path IF they can win out. They’re ranked third for now but a loss to Georgia would be their undoing.
After Ohio State’s shredding of Michigan State this past weekend many fans wondered whether Michigan even has a shot going into rivalry weekend. Ohio State clearly has the best offense in the nation, many would think. I’m not 100% sold just yet. It has been known for a while that Ryan Day is one of the best coaches in the country at exploiting a defense’s weaknesses, Michigan in 2018 and 2019 just to name a few. Day did just that this past weekend. Michigan State’s pass defense ranked 92nd in EPA per pass allowed and Ryan Day called a game rivaling none other having Stroud going for 400 yards and 6 TD’s in the first half alone. Michigan State’s defense gives up 3.4 points per opportunity while 0.274 points per play through the air and Ryan Day took those stats and padded them a bit more. Ohio State will run into a bit more of a challenge this week facing a Wolverine defense that gives up just 2.8 points per opportunity and 0.092 points per play through the air which is drastically better than the Spartan defense. Knowing Ryan Day’s willingness and ability to find weaknesses let’s look at the rest of the Wolverine defense. Their defense ranks 13th in both EPA per play and EPA per pass while ranking 34th in EPA per rush. Michigan’s defense will be the best the Buckeyes have faced this season and it appears that if the Buckeyes will attack anywhere it will have to be on the ground. If Michigan can force the Buckeyes to the ground game it will largely be TreVeyon Henderson and the Wolverines will likely be able to get some stops on the ground if not on every drive. Michigan hasn’t won since 2011 but this does appear to be their best chance since 2016.
Overreaction: Michigan and Ohio State will be the closest spread the Buckeyes have had all season. Behind a raucous crowd and two potential top ten picks in Aidan Hutchinson and David Ojabo the Wolverines will push the Buckeyes the furthest since Oregon in Week 2.
The Iron Bowl
Alabama was pushed last weekend nearly past the limit by Arkansas who took the last spot in the committee’s rankings this week. Auburn ranks 28th in EPA per rush and while they are a measly 6-5 on the season the Alabama defense has struggled this season, showing more cracks than we’re used to seeing. Alabama ranks 1st in the country in EPA per rush allowed so likely negating the Tigers there, but they rank all the way back at 62nd in EPA per pass allowed. This means that while they will be a match for Auburn’s offense when other top teams beckon the Crimson Tide could be in trouble. Three of the other current top 5 teams (Georgia, Ohio State, Michigan) all rank in the top 21 in EPA per pass. What the Iron Bowl will likely come down to, if Alabama doesn’t run away from the Tigers early, is decision making from Auburn’s QB TJ Finley. If Finley can make some timely throws and convert third downs against a weaker Bama secondary the Auburn Tigers could have somewhat of a chance.
Overreaction: The Tide should roll past the Auburn Tigers in the Iron Bowl if not right away. While their defense will likely hold up against Auburn, Georgia is beckoning in the SEC Title and the blueprint has already been laid out by a victorious Texas A&M, and close losers Arkansas, LSU, and Florida.
The Egg Bowl
Lane Kiffin’s Ole Miss Running Rebels, led by once upon a time Heisman front-runner Matt Corral, has risen up the ranks into the top 10 of the committee’s rankings this week, the highest two loss team in the poll. What Ole Miss has done in the past two weeks has been different than their formula to win the majority of their games this season. Giving up just 17 points to Vanderbilt last weekend, 19 the week before against a ranked Texas A&M team that hung 41 on Alabama, and 14 the week before against Liberty. Defense has become much improved for Lane Kiffin’s team and this benefits them in their game this weekend against archrival Mississippi State. What the matchup to watch could be is the run offense of MSU vs the run defense of Ole Miss. Mississippi State’s rush offense gets just 0.083 points per play while Ole Miss’s rush defense allows 0.269 points per play. For Mississippi State to have a chance in this game to pull off the upset, they cannot go through the air as they normally would. A good game plan could be the key to Mike Leach’s team springing the upset in the Egg Bowl and his team ranking 70th in EPA per rush is going to have to be better if they want a chance.
Overreaction: This game will be a shootout but Ole Miss’s improved defense will string together a couple of stops and get the job done. The Running Rebels roll in The Egg Bowl.