There are six games on the college football schedule this weekend between ranked opponents, three of which are battles among contenders in the SEC West. All six games may have an impact on the College Football Playoff picture, but the non-SEC matchups this weekend may prove to be the most important.
It is too early to definitively eliminate any one-loss teams from playoff contention, and depending on how upsets shake out over the course of the season, several two-loss teams may have strong arguments for consideration as well at the end of the year. That said, several games this weekend feel like must-win matchups in the sense that the loser might have too high a mountain to climb if they fall. Notre Dame, Nebraska, Oklahoma and TCU each have fewer ranked future opponents than the SEC West contenders; Michigan State and Stanford are already saddled with a loss apiece and probably can't afford another one.
Based on our opponent-adjusted drive efficiency ratings, we compared each of these matchups with every FBS-vs.-FBS game played from 2004 to 2013 to identify team similarities and the likelihood of victory. Not surprisingly, these games project to be closely contended, and the outcome of each may come down to a few key efficiency measures.
Overall FEI win likelihood: Stanford (58.3 percent)
We might see a similar a game Saturday. Stanford and Notre Dame are two of the three FBS teams that have not allowed more than 17 points in a game this season. The other is Ole Miss.
Although both teams rank in the top five of the FBS in scoring defense, they used different methods to get their results. Stanford has conceded almost nothing this season, whereas Notre Dame has taken more of a bend-but-don-t-break approach.
Despite losing several starters from last season, including Trent Murphy, Shayne Skov, Josh Mauro and Ben Gardner, Stanford might be better on defense. The Cardinal are allowing the fewest points per game (6.5) in the FBS, including shutouts against their two non-Pac-12 opponents.
They have allowed 0.39 points per drive, second-fewest in the FBS behind TCU (0.31). For some perspective, the fewest points per drive allowed by a defense in the previous 10 seasons was 0.54 by Alabama in 2011.
How good has Stanford’s defense been? Well consider these stats:
• The Cardinal are the only FBS defense allowing less than 200 yards per game and are on pace to allow the fewest passing yards per game (74.0) of any team in the last 15 seasons.
• Opponents have failed to gain a first down or score a touchdown on 55 percent of their drives against Stanford this season. Only TCU (60 percent) and Louisville (59 percent) have been better.
• Stanford has allowed the fewest plays (5) and completions (2) of 20 yards or more in the FBS this season.
• Stanford has allowed a Power Five-low 36 yards after the catch per game and has allowed three receptions of 10 or more yards after the catch, which is three fewer than any other Power Five defense.
Notre Dame also appears to have reloaded on defense after some key departures. The Irish lost Stephon Tuitt, Louis Nix III, Prince Shembo and Bennett Jackson to the NFL Draft and their coordinator, Bob Diaco, to UConn as head coach. Yet, they are allowing 11.5 points per game, fourth fewest in the FBS and became the first team since 1984 to shut out Michigan.
The Irish have bent this season, but rarely broke. They rank 49th in the FBS in yards per play (5.2), but sixth in points per drive (0.8). Opponents have scored on 20 percent of their drives after gaining an initial first down against the Irish, fourth best in the nation and 23 percentage points lower than the FBS average.
What has made the Irish successful?
The Irish have forced 2.5 turnovers per game this season, tied for 16th most in the FBS.
Getting off the field on third down
Notre Dame is holding opponents to a 33 percent third-down conversion rate, down from 42 percent last year.
Notre Dame has committed five defensive penalties this season, tied for 10th fewest in the FBS. Of those five penalties, three resulted in a first down, which is seventh-fewest.
"I'll have the pancakes in the Age of Enlightenment please."
It's depth-chart Wednesday. As we do every week, here are the links to the teams playing this week followed by any significant notes. Washington is on bye this week, so we'll update the Huskies next week. The other 11 teams are in action. UCLA is the only team that doesn't do a weekly depth chart. Enjoy!
- Arizona State (page 15 of the game notes, though it's still listed as of Sept. 22)
- California (page nine of the game notes)
- Oregon (page 9 of the game notes)
- Oregon State (page 23 of the game notes)
- USC (page 15 of the game notes)
- Utah (page 11 of the game notes)
- Washington State (page 11 of the game notes)
- At Arizona, despite being listed the first four weeks as a potential starter at strong linebacker, Makani Kema-Kaleiwahea is officially off the depth chart after announcing his transfer. He didn't record a tackle in the first four games (depth charts are so awesome!).
- At Cal, Y receiver Stephen Anderson has dropped the "or" next to his name with Darius Powe.
- At Colorado, Jimmie Gilbert moves into the starting spot at right defensive end.
- At Oregon, it looks like there are two scenarios for whether Jake Fisher returns this week. It's either Fisher at LT, or Tyrell Crosby. If Crosby moves, Matt Pierson moves from left to right tackle. In special teams, Thomas Tyner is listed as the first kick returner and Charles Nelson is listed first at punt returns.
- At Oregon State, Siale Hautau moves in at left tackle for the injured Jalen Grimble (see story below). And it looks like Trevor Romaine is back to full-time kicking status.
- At Washington State, Sulaiman Hameed moves up to start at strong safety, while Darius Lemora moves to free safety.
The Heisman Pundit has released its weekly straw poll. As always, it is made up of 10 anonymous Heisman voters. And despite a bye week, Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota hasn't slipped a bit. Here are the results of this week's poll. Mariota received seven of the 10 first place votes.
- Marcus Mariota, QB, Oregon -- 23 (7)
- Todd Gurley, RB, Georgia -- 18 (3)
- Kenny Hill, QB, Texas A&M -- 7
- Amari Cooper, WR, Alabama -- 5
- Ameer Abdullah, RB, Nebraska -- 4
- Melvin Gordon, RB, Wisconsin -- 2
- Jameis Winston, QB, Florida State -- 1
Yours truly joined ESPN Radio 1080 The Fan in Portland last night if you're aching for some pod.
- The Daily Star guys discuss the Arizona-Oregon showdown.
- A closer look at some of ASU's defensive woes.
- Cal's pass defense better figure things out quickly.
- Sefo Liufau and Nelson Spruce have quite the chemistry.
- Oregon's defense must be ready against Arizona.
- Defensive tackle Jalen Grimble is out three to four weeks for the Beavers.
- Stanford looking to get its offense moving before Notre Dame trip.
- Some post-practice video of Jim Mora.
- Tre Madden's recovery has been frustrating.
- What to expect from Utah-UCLA.
- Chris Petersen isn't pulling the plug on Cyler Miles.
- Some more Halliday for Heisman love.
USA Today wants to know which team has the best helmets? ASU and Oregon are in the discussion.
Speaking of the Ducks, their unis for this week.
Montgomery goes bowling
Every wonder what it’s like to be a human blocking sled? Well, Washington sophomore defensive back Trevor Walker discovered that on Saturday as Stanford receiver Ty Montgomery literally bowled him into the end zone. One defender approached Montgomery around the 8-yard line. He collided with Montgomery and flew out of bounds (that’s not how tackling is supposed to happen). Then Walker met up with Montgomery at the 5-yard line before being bulldozed into the end zone. I think we can all agree -- that’s how linemen and some fullbacks play. Wide receivers? Nah. Unless your name is Ty Montgomery.
Washington State mounted a surprising comeback in the second half against Utah after going down 21-0 early and still training by 17 at the half. But an 81-yard touchdown by Washington State receiver Vince Mayle tied everything up in Salt Lake City (the extra point gave the Cougars their final margin for victory). With just about five minutes left in the game, QB Connor Halliday hit Mayle on the slant. Mayle got by one defender before a fellow receiver threw a perfect block to spring him, untouched, another 55 yards into the end zone.
Call me Ishmael
With UCLA leading by just three points and the first half nearly coming to a close, UCLA defensive back Ishmael Adams managed to pick off Arizona State quarterback Mike Bercovici at the 5-yard line and returned it 95 yards for the score. Later in the game Adams would return a kick off 100 yards for a score, which is also ridiculous, but, the Bruins already had a hefty lead at that point and the Pac-12 writers decided to give the edge to the pick-six that totally deflated the ASU team before heading into the half.
Hail Mary 2.0
After Arizona beat Cal last week on a Hail Mary, USC threw one of its own against Oregon State. With the clock expiring before halftime and the Trojans only leading by four points, USC quarterback Cody Kessler scrambled around the pocket for a bit before he launched a 48-yard pass to the end zone where it found the hands of sophomore wide receiver Darreus Rogers. USC would go on to win the game by 25 points, but this play was certainly deflating for a the Beavers, who had shown signs of possible upset material early in the game.
Let’s go Lasco
Cal junior running back Daniel Lasco recorded the first “receiving” touchdown of his career on Saturday, though most of his work was put in on the ground. He snatched a pass from Cal QB Jared Goff before taking off down field. Before he even reached the 20-yard line there was a point in which there were five Colorado defenders circling in on him. He plowed through that group somehow before outrunning another two guys and finding the end zone. Not only was it ridiculously impressive to beat seven defenders head-to-head in a single play, it was also record setting -- the 92-yard receiving touchdown was the longest passing play for a TD in Cal football history.
USC's impact visitor list, Stanford's statement in the Evergreen State, UCLA's major opportunity and a sophomore quarterback at his best under the bright lights are a few of the highlights from the recruiting weekend in the Pac-12 conference.
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College football has been a well-kept secret so far, as it has been hiding the true identities of teams. Not this week. It's time to play or go home. There are six games between ranked teams. Of the 17 undefeated teams remaining, eight play against each other this week. It's the most relevant weekend the sport has had in regard to the new College Football Playoff.
Here are the games you can't miss, ranked from least to most likely to affect the playoff:
No. 14 Stanford at No. 9 Notre Dame -- Stanford already has one loss, and this is the second straight road trip for the Cardinal. If Stanford loses again, its playoff hopes will be in serious jeopardy but not over, given that it could still win the conference. This game should reveal more about Notre Dame's place in the playoff, as it will be the first ranked opponent for the Irish.
No. 4 Oklahoma at No. 25 TCU -- ESPN's Football Power Index gives Oklahoma a 64 percent chance to win and predicts this to be Oklahoma's hardest remaining game -- slightly more difficult than Nov. 8 against Baylor. If the Sooners can't handle TCU, they'll be on the outside looking in.
No. 15 LSU at No. 5 Auburn -- LSU gave Auburn its only regular-season loss the past year, but LSU has already lost to Mississippi State, which put the Tigers behind in the SEC West race. Considering the rest of LSU's schedule -- and the hole it's already in -- this is a must-win. For Auburn, this is a chance to erase some doubts and make a push from the bubble into the top four.
No. 6 Texas A&M at No. 12 Mississippi State -- Two terrific quarterbacks will be on display in the Aggies' Kenny Hill and the Bulldogs' Dak Prescott, who both rank in the top 10 in total QBR. A&M's stock dropped a bit this past week after it needed overtime to beat Arkansas, but it could be a top-four team if it can survive the state of Mississippi the next two weeks.
No. 3 Alabama at No. 11 Ole Miss -- This is the most interesting matchup of the day. Alabama ranks third in offensive efficiency, and Ole Miss ranks second in defensive efficiency. Neither team has played a ranked opponent, so there is still some margin for error, but the Tide have a chance to separate from the crowded West.
No. 19 Nebraska at No. 10 Michigan State -- Surprise. The game with the biggest playoff implications is not in the SEC West. This Big Ten matchup could knock Sparty out of the playoff entirely. It's one thing to lose to Oregon; it's another to try to make the four-team playoff with two losses and your best win coming over Nebraska in the Big Ten title game. Conversely, a win in East Lansing could vault the Huskers into the playoff conversation. They're the only undefeated team left in the Big Ten, and the toughest game left on their schedule is against No. 17 Wisconsin. If Nebraska pulls off the upset, it's time to take it seriously as a playoff team.