SDA Week 7: Pitt, Tennessee, Texas Chasing Conference Championships

SDA Week 7: Pitt, Tennessee, Texas Chasing Conference Championships Preston Pack 15 Oct 2021, 02:27 pm

Tennessee Volunteers QB Hendon Hooker

While the College Football Playoff chase is, as ever, the main talking level this season–particularly with a chaotic start to the year that has left playoff places wide open–plenty of conference races are gathering intrigue. Alabama’s shocking upset at the hands of Texas A& M has left the SEC West in complete turmoil, with every crew having lost at least one game after playing no more than three apiece. The Big 12 is wide open, with two undefeated teams( Oklahoma and Oklahoma State) having combined for simply one win by more than 11 degrees. Clemson’s conflicts have shuffled the ACC deck, leaving Wake Forest as the lone unbeaten squad and North Carolina State, Pittsburgh, and Virginia Tech their only comrades with unblemished meeting records.

Not all of these battles will end up with playoff ramifications. Indeed, the surprises responsible for these free-for-alls make it less likely that squads will emerge with top-four cases intact. But as important as the postseason is, divide and seminar titles are a more realistic hope for many squads. Academies such as Texas A& M and Auburn generally have an Alabama-sized roadblock in the way, but the West is up for the taking if the Crimson Tide go down again–which is always a potential at Jordan-Hare Stadium. As for the ACC , nobody apart from Clemson and Florida State has won the conference since 2010, and nobody aside from those teams has won the Atlantic since 2008. These potential accolades may not be as prestigious as national championship glory, but slew of crews throughout college football would be pleased to take advantage of the opportunity to claim them.

This week, we’ll take a deep dive on six games with abundance of postseason load, even though they are their players are likely on the outside of the CFP chase. In the Big 12, Oklahoma State and Texas will duke it out to see who can stake a lead in the chase for the conference championship game, while Baylor will face off with future discussion rival BYU in hopes of securing bowl eligibility as they enter a difficult second half. Auburn and Arkansas will look to hang around the fringes of the top 25 — and the SEC West scramble–as they meet for the first time since last year’s officiating drama. Ole Miss, likewise afforded brand-new lifetime with Alabama’s loss, will look to outduel Tennessee, which is staring down a pivotal slate of plays( with races against Alabama, Kentucky, and Georgia coming up ). Pitt and Virginia Tech, both with a single win in conference play and thus the tenuous status of ACC Coastal leader, will look to solidify their conference standing in Blacksburg. And in the madhouse MAC, Kent State will attempt to maintain their position as the only spotless team in the East, while Western Michigan hopes to separate themselves from the five-strong pack of 1-1 teams chasing 2-0 Northern Illinois. As tumultuous as the playoff chase has become, this week’s plays serve as a reminder that even those who may come up short of ultimate glory still have plenty to play for in a variety of thrilling discussion battles.

All periods are listed as Eastern.

Oklahoma State at Texas( -4 )– Saturday, 12 p.m.( FOX)

Overall Oklahoma State Texas

2021 F+ 24 14

When Oklahoma State has the projectile Offense Protection

2021 F+ 57 56

2021 EPA/ pass 44 90

2021 EPA/ scoot 67 95

When Texas has the ball Protection Offense

2021 F+ 9 6

2021 EPA/ pass 28 25

2021 EPA/ scoot 57 43

With most squads having merely played two or three plays in Big 12 rival, it’s probably premature to attain sweeping conclusions about the chase for the championship game. Oklahoma, wins of six straight meeting names, are a near-certain lock to make it, even with their close-game strifes this season. But the second spot, as is often the occurrence, is open to a variety of challengers. Preseason favorite Iowa State has fallen off somewhat, but with only one conference loss and games against most contenders still to play, their footpath to the championship is still open. The same proceeds for Baylor, who delivered the Cyclones’ sole conference loss and recently reached 3-1 in the Big 12 with a dominant win over West Virginia. TCU, with their only loss coming at the hands of Texas, could leap into the forefront of the conversation with an disturbed of Oklahoma this week.

But it’s fair to say that the winner of video games between Oklahoma State( 2-0 in the Big 12) and Texas( 2-1 ), will have a significant lead in the chase. Neither squad was really shaped it to Arlington since 2018, when the Sooners drew away to defeat competitor Texas 39 -2 7, but the two have levitated around the front of the tournament throughout the last decade, and without an upstart like 2019 Baylor or 2020 Iowa State to steal their thunder, they’re the frontrunners in the chase as it stands. That attains this week’s meeting critical not just to the conference race, but also to bowl possibilities and perhaps even CFP hopes.

The matchup to watch, naturally, will be the Texas offense against the Oklahoma State defense. The Longhorns have scored some 44.5 points per play, grading fifth in the nation, and the advanced stats back up their impressive performance. Texas has created the 13 th-most EPA per play-act of any offense, in big component due to their ninth-ranked passing performance led by star quarterback Casey Thompson( 10.0 gardens per strive, 14 TD, 3 INT ). Their play-to-play success rates( 46.3%, 42 nd overall) drags a bit, but the Longhorns make up for it with an unbelievably explosive offense, capable of breaking off large-scale plays behind the third-highest passing explosiveness in the commonwealth. Thanks to a rushing attack headlined by Heisman contender Bijan Robinson( 789 hastening yards, 6.3 yards per carry, 8 TD ), they gain the 24 th-most line gardens per carry. And when they get downfield, they consistently cash in, averaging 4.84 points per scoring opportunity( 14 th ). Simply set, they’re good at just about everything and simply to do better, averaging 548 gardens of total offense across the last four games.

If there are any concerns with all that Texas firepower, it’s their strength of planned. While the Longhorns have put up amounts against good opposings such as Louisiana, TCU, and Oklahoma, the majority of members of them have been similar, offense-first teams. The Ragin’ Cajuns give up chunk plays in critical situations( 116 th in foe EPA on passing downs ), the Horned Frogs can’t stop anything up front( 130 th in opposing pipeline yards per carry, 129 th in opposing second-level yards per carry ), and the Sooner are susceptible to large-hearted play-acts if they can’t get their foe off schedule( 130 th in opposing explosiveness on standard downs ). These defenses aren’t frightful, but they all have clear shortcomings that the well-rounded Longhorns offense exploited in order to run up the score.

Oklahoma State represents a different challenge. Across EPA/ play-act, success rates, and explosiveness, broken down by down( standard or extending) and by play-act( hastening or extending ), the Cowboys’ defense grades among the top 50 in 10 of 12 situations. If Texas is defined by doing everything well on offense, Oklahoma State is defined by doing the same on protection. While not exceptional in many particular aspects–ranking top-1 0 in just one of those measures mentioned before, namely EPA per play on passing downs–the Cowboys are equipped to handle almost anything a defense sheds at them.

When the Longhorns go through the air, they’ll tangle with a secondary that has allowed merely 0.09 EPA per pass, 14 th nationally. Should they take to the ground, they’ll be up against a front seven that has allowed simply 2.74 pipeline gardens per carry( 32 nd) and a minuscule 0.70 second-level gardens per carry( fifth ). In either occurrence, they’ll go up against one of the best red zone defenses in the country, with Oklahoma State permitting only 2.63 phases per opportunity( eighth ). The Cowboys have playmakers at all levels, with Malcolm Rodriguez( 54 tackles, 5 TFL) and Devin Harper( 29 tackles, 2.5 TFL, two fumble recuperations) inducing football’s 24 th-highest havoc rate in the front seven while Kolby Harvell-Peel( 27 tackles, two interceptions) and Jarrick Bernard( 21 tackles, five pass breakups) aid limit production through the air with the 14 th-lowest EPA per pass.

To secure the upper hand in the Big 12 ‘s championship chase, the Longhorns will need to identify and exploit what weaknesses the Cowboys’ defense does possess–most notably, the nation’s 100 th-ranked havoc rate in the defensive back corps. Strength will meet strength in Austin as both Texas, moving into the second half of Steve Sarkisian’s first season, and Oklahoma State, changing to an uncharacteristic defense-focused formula, enter brand-new and unfamiliar eras.

Watch for 😛 TAGEND

Will Jaylen Warren’s high-flying form( 552 total gardens, four touchdowns in the last three games) continue against a susceptible Texas defensive path? Can Spencer Sanders bounce back from a miserable three-interception day against Baylor? Despite the heavy load of 125 rushing attempts( including 55 in the last two weeks ), will Bijan Robinson continue to excel?

FEI Outright Pick: Texas by 6.9

Auburn at Arkansas( -4. 5 )– Saturday, 12 p.m.( CBS)

Overall Auburn Arkansas

2021 F+ 21 27

When Auburn has the ball Offense Protection

2021 F+ 43 25

2021 EPA/ pass 81 21

2021 EPA/ rush 41 51

When Arkansas has the ball Protection Offense

2021 F+ 20 34

2021 EPA/ pass 67 46

2021 EPA/ rushed 41 33

Arkansas wouldn’t rank highly( or, for many devotees, at all) on Auburn’s list of contenders, but there will be no love lost between the two teams when they meet in a rematch of a dramatic, controversial 2020 showdown. Going into that play, the Tigers had won six of their last-place seven against Arkansas by at least 18 degrees, but a blatantly missed fumble in the final time proved the difference as Auburn won with a subsequent field goal. Both teams, after transcending preseason expectancies during September, are coming off a pair of letdown performances–losses to Georgia( 37 -0) and Ole Miss( 52 -5 1) for the Razorbacks, a narrow win over LSU( 24 -1 9) and loss to Georgia( 34 -1 0) for the Tigers. Both are 4-2 and mired in the middle of the wild SEC West, and both participate this play with a lot to prove.

There’s no better example of that than Auburn quarterback Bo Nix, who has struggled to approach the numbers he put up earlier in the season( 9.8 gardens per attempt, 5 TD against Akron and Alabama State ). Nix has just one extending touchdown in the last four games, a span in which the Tigers have lost to Penn State and Georgia and subsisted Georgia State and LSU after trailing in the fourth quarter. He’s averaging 5.6 yards per strive in that stretch with a 101.1 extending efficiency rating, which would put him fourth-worst among all players with at least 100 endeavors in that stat. Even with his early twinklings of success, Nix grades 88 th among 105 such passers. Suffice it to say that even with the occasional highlight play-act, he has struggled.

What stirs Nix such a frustrating musician, for Auburn and neutral devotees alike, is the obvious potential underlying his subpar concerts. That single touchdown pass in the last four weeks was an absolute gem, an unlikely scramble in which Nix scaped six tacklers across 12 seconds before delivering a perfectly placed pass while falling out of binds. The junior is fantastically athletic and can make pinpoint hurls. Even his speaks, the most frequently criticized ingredient of his play, is the ability of stirring him look like a veteran. But the highlight-reel plays aren’t frequent enough to offset the rest of Nix’s play. The potential has always been there for him to turn the corner, but he hasn’t yet.

This game may not be the pivotal moment of Nix’s career, but a solid performance against the treacherous Arkansas pass defense would go a long way towards inspiring confidence in his role as the starter. The Razorbacks have been dominant against the pass, allowing only 0.12 EPA per pass and a 35.5% success rate through the air. Arkansas has boosted its bag rate significantly as well, from last year’s 3.5%( 116 th) to 7.1%( 49 th) this season. That combination shapes them deadly on long downs, grading second in FBS in EPA per play-act and adversary success rates on passing downs.

Absurdly athletic free security Joe Foucha and physical cornerbacks Montaric Brown and Jalen Catalon form the core of a strong secondary, but the key to the Razorbacks’ elite pass defense lies up front, with a trio of grad deliveries on the line and a pair of defensive presidents in the linebacker corps. Bumper Pool( 61 tackles, 4.5 TFL) and Grant Morgan( 50 tackles, 4.5 TFL) are among the best players and prospects Arkansas has, and the two have contributed three combined pass breakups in addition to often interrupting resisting quarterbacks.

However, as up-and-down as Nix is in the passing game, he has been consistently adept at avoiding sackings. Auburn has suffered only seven bags in six plays, tied for the 18 th-lowest rate in FBS, and their rates of sacks allowed per dropback( 2.9%) grades ninth nationally. While Nix has passed out of the pocket more this season–with six hastening attempts per game, compared against 9.8 last year–he still clearly has a knack for clambering, as that superb play against LSU demonstrates. If he can stay on his feet and let plays develop, as is his usual style, the Tigers could gain the upper hand against a relentless Razorbacks defense.

Watch for 😛 TAGEND

Can Arkansas’ middling operate prevention handle the one-two combo of Auburn rushers Jarquez Hunter( 465 yards, 9.9 gardens per carry) and Tank Bigsby( 458 gardens, 5.5 gardens per carry )? Will K.J. Jefferson be able to generate big play-acts against Auburn’s shutdown defense, which leads the commonwealth in preventing explosiveness? Arkansas has struggled to capitalize on successful drives, grading 104 th in phases per opportunity; can Auburn, allowing the 39 th-highest scoring average, take advantage?

FEI Outright Pick: Arkansas by 0.7

Pittsburgh( -5) at Virginia Tech–Saturday, 3:30 p.m.( ESPN2)

Overall Pittsburgh Virginia Tech

2021 F+ 19 43

When Pittsburgh has the projectile Offense Protection

2021 F+ 22 36

2021 EPA/ pass 32 23

2021 EPA/ hasten 7 98

When Virginia Tech has the ball Defense Offense

2021 F+ 27 55

2021 EPA/ pass 61 66

2021 EPA/ hurry 18 101

Of all the teams to developed in partnership an elite offense, Pitt wasn’t on the radar of many before the season. The Panthers scored a mere 29 phases per play last year, with Kenny Pickett looking average( 7.3 gardens per endeavor, 13 TD, 9 INT) and simply one rusher, Vincent Davis, clearing 300 yards on the soil in the team’s 11 games. But fast forward a year and Pickett has been turned into one of college football’s best quarterbacks. Through five plays, he’s comfortably outdoing his previous high-pitcheds across four seasons as the starter in completion rate( 72.0% to 61.6% ), gardens per strive( 10.3 to 7.3 ), touchdowns( 19 to 13 ), and interceptions( one to six ). He’s even hastening better than ever, averaging 3.6 gardens per carry after sitting below 2.0 in each of the previous three seasons. The Panthers are fourth nationally in EPA per pass, third in success rate on passing plays, and first in all of FBS in degrees per scoring opportunity–and per game.

What has led to this renaissance, the first season with better offensive than defensive concert at Pitt since the working day of Nathan Peterman? Part of the secret lies behind Pickett’s increased scrambling prowess: he’s playing lighter on his paw, adjusting delicately in the pocket and burning without amply setting ahead. A much-improved offensive line, which produced the 16 th-fewest line yards per carry and allowed the 14 th-highest success rate last year, has helped build that mode readjustment a successful one. Experience and confidence have come together well for Pickett, who has demonstrated an impressive ability to induce play-acts under challenging situations. The Panthers have some of the most striking divides between standard and extending downs–a drop in success rate in exchange for a rise in explosiveness–and that’s no coincidence. The fifth-year senior has demonstrated a knack for establishing high-risk, high-reward plays when the situation requires them.

Enter Virginia Tech, which presents an intriguing defensive contrast. While Pitt love generating big-hearted plays on long downs, the Hokies do well to prevent simply that: they grade 38 th in opponent success rates and merely 62 nd in opposing explosiveness on standard downs, but those amounts swap on extending downs, when they accepted a plummet to 57 th in success rates while hopping to 44 th in explosiveness. To put it briefly, Virginia Tech get much better at preventing explosive play-acts when an opponent’s offense most direly needs them.

The Hokies prevent such plays as well thanks in big part to a chaotic defensive strike. Virginia Tech creates spate of havoc in both the front seven( 14.6% of play-acts, 21 st in FBS) and the secondary( 7.7%, 19 th ), producing an 8.6% sack rate( 26 th) and 1.8 interceptions per play( second behind simply Iowa ). Deep post groups, in both cases, have helped produce such amounts, but the best exemplars of the Hokies’ havoc are linebacker Dax Hollifield( 38 tackles, 4.5 TFL, three bags) and defensive back Jermaine Waller( 27 tackles, four interceptions, two pass breakups ). For a team that has endured its fair share of strivings, losing plays to West Virginia and Notre Dame and dancing with tragedy against Richmond, the defense’s significant improvement from 2020 has been a bright spot.

Can the Hokies successfully restriction Pickett and turn his opportunistic spectacles into the occasional disaster in the backfield? That’s a tall order; by the numbers, Pickett is having a significantly better season than any quarterback Virginia Tech has faced thus far. But there’s reason to believe he’s overachieving to some extent, especially with the relative absence of pressure he’s faced. The only teams to hold Pitt under 50 degrees this year both created abundance of disturbance. Against the Panthers, Tennessee made 10 tackles for loss, Western Michigan attained eight, and Pitt’s other three antagonists had three, four, and two. Tennessee and Western Michigan both hurried Pickett five times and sacked him twice; the other teams combined for seven hastes and four sackings. Attaining gains against this dynamic offense isn’t easy, but there’s a clear blueprint to be followed, and the Hokies are a good is suitable for that design. They’ll need to deliver the pressure and key-play production in order to draw an upset–and take the lead of the ACC Coastal in the process.

Watch for 😛 TAGEND

How much of an effect will the Hokies’ special crews, comprising opposings to the ninth-worst field position, have against Pitt, averaging the 28 th-best? Will Braxton Burmeister’s relatively disappointing start to the season continue, or can he break out against an average Pitt pass defense? Can any member of Pitt’s three-strong stable of running back( Vincent Davis, Israel Abanikanda, and Rodney Hammond Jr .) emerge as a clear top rusher?

FEI Outright Pick: Virginia Tech by 1.1

BYU at Baylor( -6 )– Saturday, 3:30 p.m.( ESPN)

Overall BYU Baylor

2021 F+ 34 23

When BYU has the projectile Offense Protection

2021 F+ 16 17

2021 EPA/ pass 36 36

2021 EPA/ hurry 59 77

When Baylor has the projectile Protection Offense

2021 F+ 52 45

2021 EPA/ pass 60 42

2021 EPA/ haste 76 9

BYU’s defense faces 6.73 play-acts per drive, the second-most in college football. That, on paper, seems bad–it puts them in company with defenses such as those of Western Kentucky( 123 rd in EPA/ play ), Ohio( 104 th ), Kent State( 93 rd ), and Illinois( 121 st ). But the Cougars have already been been decently effective on this side of the projectile, grading 69 th in EPA per play-act and 41 st in defensive FEI. How has BYU weathered these long drives and come out ahead so often?

One key, naturally enough, is ensuring their foes start as far downfield as is practicable. Thanks to a solid offense, plus superb punter Ryan Rehkow( 50.3 gardens per punt, 39 th in FEI punting efficiency ), BYU’s foes median a starting realm stance just shy of their own 25, the 18 th-best mark by any special crews unit. When it comes to the defense itself, the Cougars rank a little below average in most situational metrics, but one number stands out: opposings have averaged merely 1.30 EPA per successful pass, devoting BYU the 20 th-best rank in antagonist explosiveness on passing plays. That’s a surprising performance from a secondary that has otherwise been unremarkable( 48 th in EPA per pass, 80 th in passing success rate) and has allowed 7.0 gardens per antagonist attempt, up from 6.2 last year.

The defense’s step back from last-place season, when they held adversaries to 15.3 degrees per game( fourth nationally) and helped cause an 11 -1 season, is understandable. After all, BYU lost starrings at all levels, from nose tackle Khyiris Tonga to linebacker Isaiah Kaufusi to safeties Zayne Anderson and Troy Warner. The Cougars’ defensive structure is built around experience and versatility, and losing the most experienced and versatile players from 2020 was bound to be a blow. Throw in a tougher planned and it was reasonable to expect a pedestrian concert. But the basic and advanced stats concur: BYU has been decent defensively, perhaps even good. With the offense yet to top 35 phases in a game, it’s the defense that has keyed their 5-1 start, maintaining four opposings to 20 phases or fewer–among them, then-ranked Utah and currently ranked Arizona State.

Given these numbers, one might be inclined to turn the initial question on its head: if BYU’s defense is generally solid, why have opponents been able to move the ball so effectively? The answer is relatively simple: third-down stops simply haven’t been there for the Cougar. They have allowed a 41.8% changeover rate, 85 th overall, and their 69.2% conversion rate allowed on fourth downs( 97 th) isn’t much good either. The defense has constructed stands later in drives, allowing only 3.55 points per scoring opportunity, but letting crews move that far downfield typically results in some ratings, and it’s no surprise that BYU is one of the nine crews to allow at least two field goals per play. Still, the Cougars have performed well on the whole in spite of their third-down conflicts, and they’re coming off an excellent play in the loss to Boise State–the Broncos’ sole touchdowns came on short areas of life 24 and 23 yards, and they were forced to settle for four field goals and nothing more when the defense had chamber to work.

BYU’s opposings haven’t capitalise well–not just against BYU, but all season. Arizona ranks 126 th in levels per scoring opportunity, Utah 54 th, Arizona State 30 th, USF 111 th, Utah State 94 th, and Boise State 69 th. Baylor is another story wholly, averaging some 4.65 points per opportunity( 21 st ). The Bears have generated 2.28 EPA per drive, sixth-highest in FBS, behind a terrifying two-pronged rushing attack and the skillful occur of breakout quarterback Gerry Bohanon. Abram Smith( 597 gardens, 7.7 yards per carry, 7 TD) and Trestan Ebner( 401 yards, 6.1 yards per carry) has already led the Bears to 0.43 EPA per rushed, the second-best mark in college football. Meanwhile, Bohanon( 9.2 gardens per strive, 11 TD, 0 INT, 6 rushing TD) has added to the field game while also putting up 0.42 EPA per pass( 34 th) and a 48.1% extending success rates( 23 rd ).

That’s an intimidating force for any defense to deal with, but like BYU, the Bears have a glaring weakness–and interestingly enough, it’s in the same area. Baylor has converted only 34.4% of third downs this season, 90 th overall. The Bears don’t get off schedule very often, with the 36 th-lowest rate of extending downs faced by any offense, but when they do, they have fought. On such downs, Baylor medians only 0.30 EPA ( 85 th ), a 30.8% success rates( 79 th ), and 1.75 EPA per successful play-act( 103 rd ), all well below the average for FBS squads in such situations. To come away with a key non-conference win and punch their bid to the postseason, both BYU and Baylor will have to overcome their third-down woes and translate their success this season into critical play-acts when it matters most.

Watch for 😛 TAGEND

Can either crew make chaos in the secondary against quarterbacks who have astutely avoided defensive back havoc thus far? Baylor is at their best when Bohanon gets the ball to top receiver Tyquan Thornton( 463 gardens, 17.1 gardens per catch, 5 TD ); will BYU be able to limit his impact? Will the aptly called Baylor Romney( 11.0 gardens per attempt, 5 TD, 0 INT) take over from BYU starter Jaren Hall( 7.1 yards per try, 8 TD, 3 INT) if the latter’s struggles continue?

FEI Outright Pick: Baylor by 3.2

Kent State at Western Michigan( -7 )– Saturday, 3:30 p.m.( ESPNU)

Overall Kent State Western Michigan

2021 F+ 99 79

When Kent State has the projectile Offense Defense

2021 F+ 69 90

2021 EPA/ pass 104 65

2021 EPA/ rushed 44 66

When Western Michigan has the projectile Defense Offense

2021 F+ 116 51

2021 EPA/ pass 59 49

2021 EPA/ haste 114 48

For a player from the unrenowned MAC, the expectations placed on the shoulders of Kent State quarterback Dustin Crum ought to have staggering. An unregarded two-star recruit from northern Ohio, Crum joined the Golden Flashes in 2017, won the starting job in 2019, and promptly shed 20 touchdowns with merely two interceptions. In 2020, facing a four-game conference-only schedule, his numbers rose still further, as he improved from 8.4 to 10. 5 gardens per try while throwing 12 touchdowns and two interceptions. That put him fifth nationally in gardens per endeavor and adjusted yards per attempt and fourth in passer rating, an incredible performance in his senior season.

Crum has received plenty of much-deserved media attention for his impressive concerts, which has already led the Golden Flashes into a golden age and threw them in the hunt for their first discussion name since 1972. But while Crum was garnering honors and NFL speculation, another MAC quarterback with glittering amounts was matching him blow-for-blow from beyond the spotlight. Over in Kalamazoo, Western Michigan had insured Kaleb Eleby develop into one of the nation’s most prolific passers. During that same pandemic-shortened season, Eleby stepped into the starting role for the Broncos after redshirting in 2019, and the results were spectacular. The sophomore averaged 11.2 gardens per attempt, extending for 18 touchdowns and two interceptions. Those numbers placed him second in yards per try, just behind Alabama’s Mac Jones, and first in adjusted gardens per attempt–not to mention second in college football record, a hair behind Kyler Murray in 2018.

Both Crum and Eleby, of course, playing in a tournament of a demonstrably worse caliber than the likes of Jones and Murray. But there’s no denying that their numbers are impressive, and it’s not as if Kent State and Western Michigan have a massive knack advantage over the MAC field otherwise. Neither quarterback is likely to start in the NFL, and naturally neither has any chance of resulting their team to the playoff. But there are still records to be specified, names to be won, and wins to be cherished. Kent State is chasing their first championship in virtually 50 times; Western Michigan is hoping to secure their second in the last three decades. The high honors pursued by elite quarterbacks such as Matt Corral, Bryce Young, Kenny Pickett, and Grayson McCall aren’t within the reach of these MAC starrings, but they still have the opportunity to enshrine their names in college football history.

Crum’s relative conflicts early in the season meant he wasn’t in kind to knock off Texas A& M, Iowa, or Maryland, but he rebounded dramatically against Buffalo. The Bulls’ defense is nothing special( 113 th in opponent EPA per pass ), and Crum cheated it for 407 gardens on 36 moves, three touchdowns, and no interceptions( plus 72 hastening yards and two more touchdowns on the floor ). Eleby, by comparison, has striven with efficiency throughout the season–he’s averaging simply 7.7 yards per try, only vanquishing 8.5 gardens per endeavor in his game against Illinois State. However, he has grew spate of gardens and touchdowns, extending for 337 gardens and three ratings in a dramatic upset win over Pitt. Last-place week’s game against Ball State, the defending MAC champion who narrowly evaded falling target to the Broncos’ 15 -lateral touchdown in 2020, was a letdown for Eleby; he threw his first two interceptions of the season, and the Cardinals piled on four touchdowns in the last 20 minutes to pull away and win 45 -2 0. Nevertheless, Western Michigan has most of the season ahead of them and still has a chance to knock off MAC West commander Northern Illinois.

Both Kent State( 51 st in adversary EPA per pass, 75 th in opponent success rates on passing plays) and Western Michigan (8 0th and 34 th, respectively) have middling pass defenses, so it’s likely this game will come down to which of two brilliant quarterbacks can outduel their opposite number. With Crum and Eleby looking to cap their vocations with an ever-elusive conference championship, who will lead their team to a key win as the battle royale in the haywire MAC approaches the final stretching?

Watch for 😛 TAGEND

Will the one-two punch of Broncos rushers Ladarius Jefferson( 435 yards, 4.1 yards per carry, 8 TD) and Sean Tyler( 414 gardens, 5.2 gardens per carry, 2 TD) be enough against Kent State’s mediocre led protection? With the Golden Flashes having stepped up from among FB’S worst to simply below-average on protection, can Western Michigan successfully deliver on scoring opportunities? Will Kent State start to incorporate stellar senior Keshunn Abram( 315 gardens, 18.5 yards per carry) in the passing game more often?

FEI Outright Pick: Western Michigan by 9.6

Ole Miss( -2. 5) at Tennessee–Saturday, 7:30 p.m.( SECN)

Overall Ole Miss Tennessee

2021 F+ 16 22

When Ole Miss has the ball Offense Protection

2021 F+ 3 37

2021 EPA/ pass 4 80

2021 EPA/ rush 19 37

When Tennessee has the projectile Protection Offense

2021 F+ 84 20

2021 EPA/ pass 119 76

2021 EPA/ rushed 116 7

You couldn’t write a much better script for Lane Kiffin’s return to Knoxville. Over a decade after Kiffin’s outrageous one-year stint at Tennessee, the offensive mastermind has been in and out at USC, helped piece together an nobility offense at Alabama, conducted FAU to two C-USA titles with a 5-7 season in between, and is now structure Ole Miss into a competitor in the SEC West. Drama has never been too distant, but nowadays, things are a little more tame. The most exciting elements of Kiffin’s tenure with the Rebels have come on the field, as he has built an advanced offense captained by Heisman contender Matt Corral.

Both Kiffin and his opposite number, first-year head coach Josh Heupel, have crafted excellent offensive onslaughts, but their modes are markedly different. Ole Miss doesn’t actually pass quite as often as you might expect, with the 37 th-highest rushing play rate in FBS, but no matter how they assault, it’s effective. Henry Parrish Jr.( 332 yards, 6.1 gardens per carry, 1 TD ), Snoop Conner( 247 gardens, 6.5 yards per carry, 7 TD ), and Jerrion Early( 206 gardens, 5.2 yards per carry, 1 TD) has already led a remarkably underrated rushing onslaught, which produces college football with 0.51 EPA per scoot and ranks fifth in explosiveness on hasten plays. Through the breath, of course, they rely on the preposterously good Corral( 10.3 gardens per strive, 12 TD, 0 INT ), who has the Rebels seventh in EPA per pass and fourth in passing explosiveness.

Tennessee hastens about as often as Ole Miss–they grade 33 rd in rushing play-act rate–but with Virginia Tech delivery Hendon Hooker( 9.5 gardens per endeavor, 13 TD, 1 INT) participate in the reins at quarterback, a significant chunk of that hastening has come from his clambers. A bevy of running backs have contributed for the Volunteer, with seven players toting the projectile at least 20 days, but two have gotten the bulk of the carries: Jabari Small( 231 gardens, 5.3 gardens per carry, 2 TD ), the original starting back, and Tiyon Evans( 482 gardens, 6.6 yards per carry, 6 TD ), who came out of nowhere with a 116 -yard debut against Bowling Green and soon took up the top spot. But an ankle injury to Evans will likely prevent him out of the game, temporarily reinstating Small as the first option. Small has been good–though not as good as Evans–but his status as a backup in the last two plays meant “hes taking” only three carries against Missouri and none against South Carolina.

Both teams have stunningly good offenses, but in a game that will likely be defined by rare stops rather than frequent scores, their lackluster defenses could be just as critical. Tennessee has been prone to lengthy stretchings of defensive instability; for example, Pitt scored 27 of their eventual 41 points against the Volunteers in the second quarter alone, and two plays later, the Florida game got out of hand as the defense hesitated. Ole Miss, by comparison, dedicates up lengthy scoring drives, preventing explosive play-acts but letting successful play after successful play–and often, their own ultra-explosive offense scores rapidly and hands the ball right back to their wearied defense.

Both offenses have a winnable mismatch in this game; the question is which group “re going to win” those mismatches more frequently. Tennessee has put up large-scale offensive numbers in the last two weeks, but as they participate the toughest stretch of their planned( Ole Miss, Alabama, Kentucky, and Georgia ), they still need to prove they can rating well enough to hang with top teams. Ole Miss proved that beyond any doubt last week, outlasting Arkansas 52 -5 1, but their defense has left much to be wanted. A pair of SEC upstarts hoping to establish offensive preeminence in college football’s top seminar, with a tutor constructing his return to a school he departed amidst chaos years ago? Well, in the words of Kiffin himself: get your popcorn ready.

Watch for 😛 TAGEND

With Navy transfer Jake Springer( 70 tackles, 16 TFL, eight sackings in 2019) finally getting on the field for the Rebels, can their protection take a major step forward? Can the dynamic Volunteers front seven, led by high-flying linebacker Jeremy Banks( 33 tackles, 7 TFL, 3.5 sackings ), continue to produce havoc against a stalwart Ole Miss offensive path? Will the Rebels target Velus Jones Jr.( 342 yards, 15.5 gardens per catch, 3 TD) on defense and attempt to limit Hooker to other options in the passing game?

FEI Outright Pick: Ole Miss by 0.8

FEI Picks: Week 7

Favorite Spread Underdog FEI Pick FEI Pick ATS Preston’s Pick ATS

at Texas -4 Oklahoma State Texas Texas Oklahoma State at Arkansas -4.5 Auburn Arkansas Auburn Auburn Pitt -5 at Virginia Tech Virginia Tech Virginia Tech Pitt at Baylor -6 BYU Baylor BYU BYU at Western Michigan -7 Kent State Western Michigan Western Michigan Western Michigan Ole Miss -2.5 at Tennessee Ole Miss Tennessee Tennessee

FEI’s picks ATS in Week 6: 5-1

FEI’s pickings ATS in 2021: 21 -1 5

Preston’s picks ATS in Week 6: 5-1

Preston’s picks ATS in 2021: 19 -1 7

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