Week 7 of College Football has arrived. Check out our picks here. Here are five questions we have entering this weekend’s games.
Are the Arkansas Razorbacks Any Good?
Arkansas is the nation’s No. 22 ranked team. Looking at the Razorbacks’ résumé, it’s not apparent why they are valued that high. Arkansas began the season ranked No. 10, in the “others receiving votes” category. They lost those votes entirely, barely beating Louisiana Tech 21-20 in week one. Arkansas moved into the Top 25, after beating then No. 15 TCU in overtime.
Since, the Razorbacks have hung around, despite three-score losses to Texas A&M and Alabama. They receive the benefit of the doubt, yet they still have not beaten a Power 5 team in regulation. Their entire argument rests on that TCU win. It’s not clear how good the Horned Frogs are. If Kenny Hill had been a bit more trill after scoring a touchdown, the Razorbacks could be winless against P5 teams.
Perusing Arkansas’ stats, there’s not much reason for optimism. This isn’t the solid team of year’s past hampered by a demanding schedule. The Razorbacks are bad defending the pass, really bad defending the run, and can’t stop opponents on third down. That vaunted Bret Bielema running game? It ranks 13th in the SEC vs. FBS teams.
We should find out where Arkansas should be valued after the next four games. They face Ole Miss, Florida, and LSU at home, with a road trip to Auburn, before closing the season at Mississippi State and at Missouri.
Could This Be Urban Meyer’s Best Ohio State Team?
Urban Meyer’s Ohio State teams have tended to start slowly. Last year’s historic Buckeye talent pool struggled with Northern Illinois and Indiana. The 2014 national title team lost to Virginia Tech. Meyer’s undefeated 2012 team skated through with six one-score wins. Ohio State’s 2016 team has started right off dismembering teams. No one has come close to them.
The Buckeyes have curb-stomped opponents by an average margin of 42.4 points. Ohio State may have a top 10 offense and defense. Oklahoma in Norman was the toughest road test of Meyer’s tenure. The Buckeyes smoked the Sooners by three touchdowns. The most commendable performance against Ohio State thus far was probably Indiana, only losing by three touchdowns at home and holding the Buckeyes under 40.
Wisconsin may be the best mid-season bellwether for Ohio State. The Badgers may be the only team able to give the Buckeyes a game before Michigan. Having just played the Wolverines, they will also offer a better comparison for the two rivals than Rutgers did.
Does the Alabama vs. Tennessee Result Even Matter?
Alabama heads to Tennessee as a 13-point favorite. It’s a rivalry game. It’s one of the season’s most anticipated matchups. It may end up not even mattering much, at least within the SEC, as both teams look bound for Atlanta.
Even factoring in the anticipated loss this weekend, Tennessee would still be in a strong position to win the SEC East at 6-2. They hold the head-to-head tiebreakers over Florida (4-1) and Georgia (4-2). The Gators will make up their game with LSU. The Vols’ toughest game after Alabama is…Missouri at home?
If the Crimson Tide win as expected, it’s hard to see how they lose the SEC West. Texas A&M could beat Alabama and run the table. But, we don’t know how good the Aggies are, really. They escaped UCLA and Tennessee in overtime at home after blowing leads. As we mentioned before, the win over Arkansas may not mean that much. Everyone else in the division has two losses. If Alabama gets through the next two weeks, they could withstand a loss to Auburn or LSU and still be well placed for the division, the conference title, and the inevitable playoff spot.
Let’s say Tennessee does pull off the shock upset. The Vols still win the SEC East, with less doubt. Alabama uses up its margin for error. But, is still favored to run the table the rest of the way and win the West. Avenging a Tennessee loss in the title game, the Tide would still be a playoff shoo-in at 12-1.
Is It Too Early To Trust the Advanced Metrics?
We live in a math-centric society. Algorithms control our existence. Advanced efficiency metrics, for many, carry definitive weight. But, it’s worth remembering, at this stage of the season, the sample is small, the numbers are volatile, and one game can have a strong effect. Here are two examples from this week’s S&P+ rankings.
Penn State had a strong win over Maryland. The Nittany Lions’ offense sprang some big plays and ran over the Terrapins on the ground. They played solid defense. It was their best win of the season. This win rocketed Penn State up 21 places, to No. 17 in the country. That’s eight places ahead of Wisconsin who fell seven places taking the week off. That ranking feels discordant for anyone who watched those two teams play Michigan.
Notre Dame fell 10-3 to N.C. State in brutal, hurricane conditions. But, the 2-4 Irish jumped 13 spots to No. 30 during that game. Presumably, this happened because playing N.C. State in a hurricane dramatically improved Notre Dame’s defensive success rate. The Irish, per S&P+, now have the nation’s No. 32 ranked defense.
That’s not to say there’s anything wrong with S&P+. But, the metrics are only as good as the input. Teams have played few games, even fewer against reputable opponents.
Which Preseason Ranked Disappointment Will Show Signs of Life?
Stanford, Notre Dame, and Michigan State began the season ranked in the Top 12. Oregon began in the Top 25. All four have been rank (and ranked) disappointments in 2016.
Excluding games between themselves, the Irish, Spartans, and Ducks have two Power 5 wins between them, against Virginia and Syracuse. The Cardinal, albeit plagued by injuries, were just outscored 86-22 by the State of Washington. Six of those points came on a meaningless touchdown at the gun against the Cougars.
Notre Dame and Stanford play each other in South Bend. The Irish are a (-3) favorite at home, which means Vegas views those teams as dead even on a neutral field. If Stanford wins, they are 4-2. Injuries. Tough schedule. New quarterback. Down year. It’s all reasonable. A loss would not be so devastating. The bigger issue could be Notre Dame falling to five losses, with Miami, Navy, VT, and USC still to play.
Michigan State, despite three losses in a row, is still getting “respekt” from the public. They opened as a home favorite against Northwestern. Bettors have taken that line all the way to (-6.5).