STAT SURPRISES IN COLLEGE FOOTBALL
One of the marquee TV games in the first week of the 2011 college football season was BYU at Ole Miss. BYU was supposedly returning to prominence as a college football power (that's the way ESPN told the story anyway…seeing as they had just signed a big contract to show BYU games), and Ole Miss was supposedly going to be better than defending National Champion Auburn this year (many pundits picked Auburn to fall from first to sixth, which drops them behind Ole Miss).
When BYU and Ole Miss went to battle, it was an evenly matched game that certainly had a lot of drama. BYU ultimately rallied for a 14-13 win. It wasn't clear at the time if the game was a hardfought battle of top 25 caliber teams…or a hardfought battle of bad teams enjoying too much media hype.
The picture is clearer now!
The next time the teams took the field, BYU struggled badly on offense in a 17-16 loss at Texas. They were gifted a lead because Texas was playing the wrong quarterback for the first half. Once the Longhorns FINALLY benched their interception-throwing machine…BYU would lose the second half 14-3 (the equivalent of a 28-6 full game loss).
Ole Miss won its second outing…but was largely outplayed by unheralded Southern Illinois in a non-board game. As we reported to you last week…Ole Miss was outgained 420-315…and lost yards-per-play 6.2 to 5.3. How could that happen to an SEC team against somebody nicknamed the 'Salukis?'
We had two very offensively challenged teams in BYU and Ole Miss…and now evidence suggested that neither one was very good. Ole Miss was outplayed at the point of attack by Southern Illinois. BYU couldn't establish in the numbers that they were much better than Southern Illinois unless the opposing quarterback was throwing passes to them.
Then…last week…we had this stunning combination of events.
Mississippi (-2.5) lost at Vanderbilt 30-7
BYU (-4) lost to Utah 54-10
Whoa!! Two FAVORITES got obliterated! Ole Miss missed the spread by 24.5 points…and were never in the game despite supposedly being the better team (Vandy was picked in the Preseason to be the very worst team in the SEC by the way). BYU missed the spread by almost 50 points! Playing at home against a longtime rival!
Both Ole Miss and BYU self-destructed while trying to play from behind. The Rebels turned the ball over 5 times. BYU lost it an amazing 7 times. But, it's not like these were turnover losses. Both teams were crushed at the point of attack.
Vanderbilt 5.5, Ole Miss 3.8
Utah 7.0, BYU 4.5
Great job ESPN! Way to sign a contract with a new independent that would be one of the worst teams in any major conference. And, let's get off the Houston Nutt bandwagon for awhile too.
This is why stats are important. There's always going to be pollution in any data sampling handicappers put together. But, if you focus on what's important, work through the process, and let the numbers speak…you'll find that stats aren't meaningless. They aren't BS. They're often telling you when a disaster is about to happen. Southern Illinois was meaningful. Garrett Gilbert of Texas provided some temporary pollution. What happened in Ole-Miss/Vandy and Utah/BYU has now helped everyone see things more clearly.
Often on Tuesdays this year in the Notebook we're going to isolate misleading final scores from the prior Saturday to help you clean up pollution that may have been caused by scoreboard reading. Some weeks there are a lot of those. This past week, only a handful.
Most important to us was Michigan State-Notre Dame. The Irish won 31-13, and the networks were enthusiastic about showing the highlights because Notre Dame is such an important part of the future TV schedule. It was a nice win…and helped make up for the loss at Michigan. Just be aware that:
*Michigan State won total yardage 358-275
*Yards-Per-Play was a virtual dead heat
*Notre Dame was helped by a kickoff return TD
*Notre Dame DIDN'T solve their turnovers troubles, losing the ball 3 more times
Michigan State wasn't as bad as the final score made it sound. Notre Dame wasn't as good. In fact, a combination of 275 offensive yards and 3 giveaways is usually a recipe for disaster. We expect turnovers to continue to be an issue for the Irish. Coach Brian Kelly plays aggressive football. His offensive skill position players aren't experienced enough yet to do that mistake free.
In a lower profile TV game with a misleading score, Illinois beat Arizona State 17-14 despite getting outplayed much of the day. Arizona State won total yardage 362-240 (more than 100 yards better!), and yards-per-play 4.6 to 4.0. Turnovers were even at three apiece, so it's not like Illinois was the sharper of the two sides. They managed to win a slopfest, possibly because ASU was feeling a hangover from the previous week's overtime win over Missouri.
In a game only Las Vegas gamblers would be monitoring…Wyoming upset Bowling Green thanks to a turnover gift. Well, maybe SIX of them. Wyoming was outgained 514-396, but won the turnover category 6-1 in a 28-27 victory. Note that Bowling Green scored a TD in the final seconds that was going to send the game into overtime…but they missed the extra point! Another gift. Be careful giving Wyoming too much credit for this road upset. Much of their success was standing idly by while Bowling Green kept shooting themselves in the foot.
We've devoted some time this year to monitoring which teams couldn't 'score the spread' in a given week…meaning they were so overrated they couldn't even score what Vegas thought they'd win by. That becomes less common later in September because the lines get better and offenses find their rhythm. Examples, or 'near' examples this past week in the colleges were:
Michigan (-30) beat Eastern Michigan 31-3
UAB (-13) scored only 10 points in a loss to Tulane.
Texas A&M (-36) beat Idaho 37-7
Hawaii (-18) scored only 20 points in a stunning loss to UNLV
Virginia Tech (-24) beat Arkansas State 26-7
Central Florida (-7) only scored 10 points in a loss to Florida International
Alabama (-47) beat North Texas 41-0
Oregon (-57) beat Missouri State 56-7
Fresno State (-26) beat North Dakota 27-22
We're not too concerned with the likes of Texas A&M, Alabama, or Oregon. Sometimes coaches call off the dogs instead of running up the score. Plus, the Aggies were coming off a bye week and may have been a bit rusty. And, Michigan had every reason in the world to be flat off the Notre Dame game. That leaves:
*UAB is horrible this year…and the market hasn't fully punished them yet.
*Hawaii? That loss deserves some more study. Undersized teams are often inconsistent, particularly when travel is involved.
*Virginia Tech has a great defense, but their lack of offense this year may kill them in terms of covering the pointspreads that are usually associated with their spot in the national pecking order.
*Central Florida is a team we generally like. We think that result was a case of Florida International being underrated. They've come along way under this coach. Two big wins in a row for that program (Louisville and Central Florida).
*Fresno State was horrible in the season opener at California. They hung tough at Nebraska (which may be a strike against Nebraska at this point), but looked awful here in a tight win over one of the feisty Dakota teams. Fresno State barely scored the spread, and was outgained in this late finish.
Back with your Wednesday to look for hidden keys in the numbers from the NFL slate. We're currently planning to follow this Tuesday-Wednesday format for stat reviews through the season over the 'bridge' days from one week to the next that get you ready to pick winners once everyone takes the field again. We may have a little hiatus during the baseball postseason because playoff and World Series reports have to go on Tuesdays or Wednesdays when football is so prominent on the legal sports gambling landscape. Otherwise…these will be the days where the NETWORK NOTEBOOK helps clear up some pollution!
If you're a football only player, that sport resumes Thursday with NC State/Cincinnati on ESPN. If you like winning money in Vegas seven days a week, log in today for some BASEBALL here at the website. Among the series we're paying most attention to:
Tampa Bay at NY Yankees
Baltimore at Boston
LA Angels at Toronto
Texas at Oakland
Atlanta at Florida
NY Mets at St. Louis
San Francisco at LA Dodgers
Pittsburgh at Arizona
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Back with you tomorrow for more news and notes. Now…hook up with JIM HURLEY'S NETWORK for some more BIG JUICY WINNERS!