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Saturday, September 21, 2013

Week 4 - Saturday Preview: The Early Games (12-3)

Apologies if you were looking forward to a weekday games preview.  I'm sure I would have predicted Clemson to struggle and Fresno to edge Boise by a point.  Take my word for it.  This week's preview is again divided into three posts: one detailing the games starting 12-3, one for games 3:30-6:30, and one for games 7:00 and later.  It worked well last week, and it will probably be the norm.  Let's delve right in, with EPA details for the nationally televised matchups.

North Carolina (1-1) at Georgia Tech (2-0), 12:00, ESPN

UNC rush O (.02) vs. Tech rush D (-.129)
UNC pass O (.11) vs. Tech pass D (-.437)
Tech rush O (.33) vs. UNC rush D (.020)
Tech pass O (.97) vs. UNC pass D (.037)
Georgia Tech ranks 1st in EPA per pass, for two big reasons - they only throw 19.1% of the time (122th in the country), and they've played bad teams so far.  UNC's defensive numbers don't look great, but they played one really good team (South Carolina).  The feeling I get here is that Tech isn't nearly as good as the EPA stats suggest, and North Carolina probably isn't quite as bad.  Evening the teams out means this should still be a good game, a potentially key one in the ACC Coastal race.  The two teams combined for 118 points in regulation last year.  EPA star to watch:  Georgia Tech QB Vad "The Impaler" Lee (27.9).

FIU (0-3) at #7 Louisville (3-0) - Every FIU preview for this entire season shall mention Mario Cristobal.  So, Mario Cristobal.

Vanderbilt (1-2) at Massachusetts (0-3) - Is ESPNews a national broadcast?  Technically, yes, but let's pretend it's not just so we don't have to analyze this.  All we should think about going into this one is that no matter how much James Franklin talks up Vanderbilt and how much their fans think they're moving into the upper echelon of the SEC, they're still taking road trips to Massachusetts.

San Jose State (1-1) at Minnesota (3-0), 12:00, ESPN2

SJSU rush O (.08) vs. Minn. rush D (-.141)
SJSU pass O (-.02) vs. Minn pass D (.051)
Minn rush O (.26) vs. SJSU rush D (-.030)
Minn pass O (.03) vs. SJSU pass D (.073)
Both defenses have done well against the run but struggled against the pass, with the Gophers faring better overall.  The Gopher running game also stands out, while both passing games have been fairly average.  SJSU will, however, be the best opponent Minnesota has faced all year.  The same can't be said from SJSU's perspective, as they played well but lost to Stanford last week.  It should be entertaining.  I'm going to pick SJSU to win, but this is the game where I could become a believer in 2013 Minnesota.  The first 3 opponents were warmups.  SJSU is a solid opponent.  Also worth watching - David Fales, seen by many as a 1st round prospect, needs to get his season rolling.  It's hard to scrutinize his stats too much, when one game was a never really in doubt affair against an FCS team and the other against an excellent Stanford defense, but it's week 4 and we haven't really heard much from one of the better QBs in the country.  Minnesota's defense could be the opponent he needs to make some noise.  EPA star to watch: Minnesota QB Philip Nelson (11.8).  

Florida A&M (1-2) at #4 Ohio State (3-0) - For all the Louisville schedule bashing, the Buckeyes' schedule is pretty awful as well.  Then again, A&M could surely whip FIU, because MARIO CRISTOBAL.

Marshall (2-1) at Virginia Tech (2-1), 12:00, ESPNU

Marshall rush O (.12) vs. VT rush D (-.190)
Marshall pass O (.28) vs. VT pass D (-.399)
VT rush O (.00) vs. Marshall rush D (-.376)
VT pass O (-.08) vs. Marshall pass D (-.112)
Teams that rank in the top 40 in terms of passing % (that's % of plays called) that have a below average EPA per pass:
Central Michigan: 60.5% passes (15th), -.06 per pass, -.05 per rush
Connecticut: 61.9% passes (12th), -.12 per pass, -.14 per rush
Hawaii: 64.3% passes (6th), -.30 per pass, -.29 per rush
Louisiana Tech: 53.7% passes (30th), -.18 per pass, -.04 per rush
ULM: 60.5% passes (14th), -.03 per pass, .02 per rush
Massachusetts: 54.9% passes (26th), -.11 per pass, -.20 per rush
Purdue: 55.0% passes (25th), -.11 per pass, -.17 per rush
San Diego State: 67.1% passes (3rd), -.33 per pass, -.02 per rush
San Jose State: 63.3% passes (10th), -.02 per pass, .08 per rush
SMU: 70.7% passes (2nd), -.01 per pass, .21 per rush
Southern Miss: 63.6% passes (8th), -.31 per pass, -.21 per rush
Temple: 52.4% passes (34th), -.18 per pass, .18 per rush
Toledo: 54.9% passes (27th), -.19 per pass, .06 per rush
Tulsa: 54.7% passes (28th), -.06 per pass, -.13 per rush
UNLV: 52.1% passes (38th), -.12 per pass, -.04 per rush
Virginia Tech: 52.2% passes (37th), -.08 per pass, .00 per rush
Western Kentucky: 55.7% passes (22nd), -.04 per pass, .06 per rush
Western Michigan: 59.0% passes (17th), -.24 per pass, .01 per rush
When looking at that list, the common thing you'll see among many is losing.  They're not all losing because they throw the ball a lot, but the opposite - they're throwing the ball a lot, and more predictably, because they're losing in early season games.  Also, many are bad at running the ball too.  Let's instead isolate the teams that are not below average running the ball, and haven't been outmatched by vastly superior talent (we're talking about Toledo playing an SEC schedule for two weeks and San Jose State taking half their snaps against Stanford).  That leaves us with:
SMU, Virginia Tech, and (arguably) Western Kentucky.  These teams aren't throwing the ball a lot because they're always trailing in the 4th quarter.  SMU's is, for better or worse, the nature of the offense.  Western Kentucky, under Bobby Petrino, is the same.  That leaves Virginia Tech as the one odd team that loves to throw despite the following conditions:
- not having an offense that revolves around constant passing
- not being any good at passing
- being actually ok at rushing
It's bizarre, and it's why, like ECU last week, we can't completely count out Marshall, or anyone for that matter, against VT.  EPA star to watch: Marshall QB Rakeem Cato (46.0, 10th in the country).

Wake Forest (1-2) at Army (1-2) - Don't these teams play every week?

Toledo (1-2) at Central Michigan (1-2) - Find out if Toledo's early SEC trials pay off.  They did against Eastern Washington last week, and the Rockets should get back to .500 Saturday.

Middle Tennessee (2-1) at Florida Atlantic (1-2) - Carl is no longer the most talked about Pelini.  He's grateful.  Raiders win.

Western Michigan (0-3) at Iowa (2-1) - Hawkeyes will win.  Also, Fleck/Ferentz jokes could happen.

Louisiana Tech (1-2) at Kansas (1-1), 12:00, Fox Sports 1

LT rush O (-.04) vs. Kansas rush D (.088)
LT pass O (-.18) vs. Kansas pass D (-.345)
Kansas rush O (.03) vs. LT rush D (-.052)
Kansas pass O (-.19) vs. LT pass D (.015)
The winner in this game is still a grease fire, but one partially absorbed by the other, bigger grease fire that loses.  Why, FS1, are you making us watch this?  EPA star to watch: None.

North Texas (2-1) at #8 Georgia (1-1) - Despite a bye week, 2 games against top-10 teams, and a half of a game missed due to an injury, Todd Gurley ranks 14th in EPA.  In other words, sorry, North Texas.

Pittsburgh (1-1) at Duke (2-1) - Might be the battle for the Coastal basement.

Tulane (2-1) at Syracuse (1-2) - No pair of records tell a better cautionary tale about how misleading early season records can be.

Ball State (2-1) at Eastern Michigan (1-2) - Cardinals should roll.

Austin Peay (0-3) at Ohio (2-1) - Bobcats are the easy pick here.

Jacksonville State (3-0) at Georgia State (0-3) - Probably another FCS loss for Georgia State.

Northwestern State (2-1) at UAB (0-2) - Blazers should get their first win.

Houston (2-0) at Rice (1-1) - Rice already knocked off one team from an automatic qualifying conference, and are looking to do it again.

Idaho State (2-0) at #17 Washington (2-0) - Washington gets to continue sneaking toward the top 10.  I'm not buying the Huskies just yet, but they won't lose Saturday.

Brent Blackwell compiles the EPA rankings for  Follow Brent on Twitter by mashing the pretty button below.

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