Thursday, September 29, 2016

Previewing week 5 in the Big 12

There are three worthwhile games taking place this week in the Big 12 and they are probably going to clear up the Big 12 title race in a major way.

You've got Texas on the road vs Oklahoma State, Kansas State on the road vs West Virginia, and Oklahoma on the road vs TCU. The stakes in each game are actually pretty considerable.

Oklahoma State is probably not contending for the Big 12 title this year, they're just not there in terms of athleticism on defense and are a virtual lock to get burned a few times over the course of the season. That said, Mike Gundy and his staff are doing a pretty good job trying to make the most of this roster and they know how to attack a team that has a tendency to kill itself with mistakes as Texas has done this year. The Longhorn team that lost at Cal probably can't beat Oklahoma State on the road, so unless Texas fixed something from their bye week then they're going to continue their fourth consecutive season without a road win over a top-half Big 12 quarterback.

The oddsmakers have it at Oklahoma State -2.5, which is indicative of a Texas team that people don't trust on the road. Read a more in-depth preview FOR FREE HERE but I'll say this, if Texas plays a clean game on defense and is successfully aggressive throwing the deep ball then they should blow this Oklahoma State team away, but I'm not sure either of those things will happen.

West Virginia apparently hasn't beaten Kansas State in a very long time and have lost all four contests since they joined the Big 12. Collin Klein shredded their Geno Lewis team in 2012 and Jake Waters ripped them apart in 2013. In the last two games the Mountaineers lost 26-20 and 24-23, mostly because they gave up a special teams TD in each game.

The oddsmakers have it at West Virginia -3.5, which tells you that people are buying West Virginia as the darkhorse of the Big 12, unless they just believe Kansas State is bad.

The Wildcats have spent the last three weeks licking their wounds from the Stanford loss and tuning up their offense, which flickered some life at the end of the game against the Cardinal but was inept for much of the first half. This team is primarily a spread passing team that is going to rely on Ertz's mobility and a receiver corps that can put multiple athletes (particularly Dominique Heath) on the field and tear you up with yards after the catch.

They still have their typical single-wing running game but with a exceptionally young OL and lack of truly fearsome runners it's not up to the standards of say the Daniel Sams, Collin Klein, or Daniel Thomas attacks of years past. Their also kinda shaky in pass protection and Ertz can and will make mistakes, but he'll also evade a rusher now and then and hit Heath running free in your secondary.

The Mountaineers are more of a spread-running team with a really sturdy OL, a variety of good backs, and then Skyler Howard who's tough enough, quick enough, and accurate enough to be a pretty good all-around spread QB. If you put a sound, athletic defense on the field against this unit, as K-State will, I doubt they'll be lighting up the scoreboard.

If the Wildcat defense is the most dominant unit in this game I think Snyder will win this game and establish K-State as the "hey, don't look now but this squad may make some noise in the Big 12 this season" squad. If not, perhaps it'll end up being West Virginia.

Finally we have the early season showdown between the two teams most commonly picked to win the Big 12 in the preseason, TCU and Oklahoma.

The line here is OU -3.5, it seems people are having trouble letting go of Oklahoma as a top 25 team and favorite in the Big 12 as that line indicates they'd be favored -6.5 playing in Norman. Normally you'd NEVER EVER bet against Big Game Bob in a game of this magnitude with the season on the line. A loss here and Oklahoma is 1-4 going into the Red River Shootout against a Texas team that has physically whipped them in the last three rivalry games, so Oklahoma has every incentive to show up in a big way and redeem their season.

But the problem is that you'd have expected that two weeks ago at home against Ohio State as well, yet the Sooner defense frequently looked confused and lackadaisical. So are they going to be hyped for a road trip to Ft Worth two weeks later? Maybe, but I don't think cautious Mike has the trust of his charges.

TCU has had two main weaknesses this year for the Sooners to try and exploit this game. The first is that Kenny Hill has thrown early interceptions in almost every game this season and four on the year. He's tended to dominate afterwards and is averaging 8.3 yards per pass and 5 yards per carry so far but there's no better way to win on the road than to pick off the QB early and build a quick lead to take the crowd out.

Their other big weakness is something I detailed over at Football Study Hall, they haven't got the kind of cornerback play that their scheme relies on this year. Oklahoma needs to put sophomore WR A.D. Miller on the field early and throw to him often in this game because if they can't attack the Frogs on the perimeter then Gary Patterson is going to load up his defense to take away the Oklahoma run game and he can probably do it.

If Oklahoma wasn't 1-2 going into this game I'd think that TCU +3.5 at home was a really obvious play, but people are surely assuming that the Sooners are going to do everything they can off a bye week to win this game and right the ship. We'll see, my own suspicion is that this cautious Mike defense is just cooked.

Let's talk about the Aggies

They're quite good this year, and you know a Longhorn fan isn't going to run to that conclusion even if they seek objectivity over homerism.

I've got a post on how their revamped offensive staff has been doing a surprisingly good job building out a really strong spread-option run game around Trevor Knight's limited but very effective skill set. You can find it on SB Nation here.

He's basically Dr. Bo with a stronger arm and less accuracy, or Chad Kelly with better decision-making and less accuracy. Trevor Knight is sort of a throw back to triple option football of the past, he'd have been dominant in the wishbone. He's just good enough throwing the ball to make it work in the spread-option concept Noel Mazzone is running and Josh Reynolds and Ricky Seals-Jones are big, easy targets that are hard to miss. I'm happy for him, Trevor Knight was always a stand-up guy, even if he's tended to use his powers for evil (Oklahoma, Texas A&M).

Anyways, combine a legit rushing attack with this Chavis defense and you have a pretty nice team. Alabama will probably stomp them into the dust but whatever, that's no great mark of shame. They'd do the same to most everyone else as well.

Trevor Knight is probably going to put Texas A&M out of the Tom Herman sweepstakes so it'll be interesting to see how Sumlin regroups this team after next offseason when they lose Knight, Josh Reynolds, both offensive tackles, DEs Daeshon Hall and Myles Garrett, and safeties Armani Watts and Justin Evans. That's a huge chunk of the core of their team.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

North Dakota State beat Iowa...what does it mean?

I wrote up some of the big takeaways from the Bison's most recent achievement, a road win in Iowa. Check it out at Football Study Hall.

Breaking down how basic D took down the Sooners

Read about it at SB Nation!

You'll notice in the article that while Oklahoma did a better job against this style of defense than Notre Dame did against Michigan State, they didn't really get after the Buckeyes with as precise an attack as I would have liked were I a Sooner fan.

Perhaps the real crime though was on the part of "big game Bob" for allowing "cautious Mike" to putting such an unaggressive and poorly prepared defense on the field to defend his legacy and the Sooners' home field.

This play says it all...
That's Ohio State's favorite play on 3rd and 5 or less and not only were the Sooners poorly lined up to stop it, they didn't even seem ready at the snap. It was obvious to me what play was coming and it clearly wasn't at all obvious to the players.

Urban Meyer had Oklahoma out of sorts all day long with his formations, particularly a trips set that featured an H-back motioning around and one of the receivers lined up in such a way that made him an ineligible receiver. You have to know Ohio State is running the ball from that set yet Oklahoma couldn't stop it.

No more of this, Oklahoma fans, cautious Mike has got to go...

Monday, September 19, 2016

Monday check-up on the Big 12

It was another tough week in the Big 12 with presumptive frontrunner Oklahoma getting predictably pasted by Ohio State, TCU losing star skill player Kavontae Turpin, and Texas failing their first road test in dramatic fashion.

My expectation all offseason was that the Big 12 would be competitive and lack an elite team that would make the playoffs...that may have been an understatement. The league looks WIDE open right now and none of these teams seems remotely likely to make the playoffs.

Ian's pick: Baylor -30 over Rice. Wrong

The Bears only won by 28 points against the always sound and sturdy Owls, who gashed Baylor on the ground but were helpless when throwing the ball.

Interesting notes from this game seem to be the continued ascendance of JaMycal Hasty (14 carries, 105 yards) and Seth Russell continuing to work his way back into shape.

Ian's pick: Memphis +19.5 over Kansas. Vindicated

Montell Cozart played terribly in this game and was replaced by Ryan Willis, who performed better. I think Beaty needs to accept that his best chance to win is with the less mobile pocket passer than the better athlete who struggles to throw the ball. Otherwise, they may not win another game.

Ian's pick: TCU -24 against Iowa State. Wrong

The Frogs came close but couldn't quite cover the spread against the Cyclones. Interesting notes from this game include the fact that Turpin was lost for the year, TCU ran the ball pretty well, and TCU locked down Allen Lazard.

I didn't watch the game so I don't know how they achieved that result but either they fixed their cornerback issue already or they kept him bracketed for the entire game. I'm guessing the latter.

The Frogs now get a sort of respite with SMU next up and then they take on the 1-2 Oklahoma Sooners in what will be a YUGE Big 12 opener.

Ian's pick: KSU doesn't cover -22.5 vs Florida Atlantic. Wrong

I don't feel bad, who knows anything about Florida Atlantic? The Wildcats interestingly seemed to focus on their run game in this one with eight different guys getting carries. They didn't suffer any major injuries (that I'm aware of) and they had a chance to practice some stuff they'll need later in the year.

I already feel confident that this will be a 7-8 win team that has an impact on the Big 12 race, whether or not they can actually improve enough to contend for the B12 will be hard to discern until they play another good team.

Ian's pick: Pittsburgh +6.5 over Oklahoma State. Totally wrong.

I thought Pitt's clever, pro-style offense would give the Cowboys fits while I questioned whether OSU was effective enough in the run game to really get after the Panthers' brand of press-quarters.

The 'Pokes definitely got ripped by the Panther offense, but they in turn destroyed Narduzzi's defense in the air and on the ground. Surely Pat is re-evaluating some of his anti-spread tactics at this point after surrendering over 100 rushing yards to Rennie Childs. Right?

James Washington amusingly had 296 receiving yards in this game. Talk about padding stats.

Ian's pick: Tech covers 10.5 against La Tech. Vindicated

The Raiders gave up 45 points though and had to score 59 to cover the spread. Wowzas. The Bulldogs did basically whatever they wanted on offense while Mahomes did all that and more.

Kingsbury is going to need to look in the mirror this offseason and ask why his teams are so wretched on defense. You can't count on scoring 60 points every week in the Big 12.

Ian's pick: tOSU covers 2.5 and beats the Sooners. Vindicated

Haven't had a chance to break this game down yet but I will in the coming days. I don't know how OU approached the Ohio State run game but whatever they tried didn't work. It may have been a simple issue of the Buckeyes simply having a superior team though, I was never buying this Oklahoma team as being on that talent level.

A Sooner victory was going to have to come as a result of superior experience and planning on both sides of the ball, the latter is hard to pull off against an Urban Meyer team.

The Sooners get TCU and Texas after a bye week. They could conceivably start the year 1-4. It's hard to believe that Stoops would ever allow that to happen, but it's not like Patterson and Strong are just sitting on their hands right now either.

Ian's pick: Texas covers -8 against Cal. Wrong

Should have been the case, but Texas shot themselves in the foot a few times and Cal ended up taking over in the fourth quarter after looking like they were going to be murdered on the field early in the game.

More on Texas' defensive woes and their solution can be found here.

Next week's Oklahoma State vs Baylor game is looking like it may reveal a lot about how wide open the Big 12 is this season. The Bears seem an ominous threat to contend for the league title, which would probably infuriate everyone outside of Waco.

Friday, September 16, 2016

Breaking down TCU's problems on defense

Read up on what I found over at Football Study Hall.

On the TCU run defense, I just didn't see much to give me a lot of pause. For every play where there were errors and breakdowns there were others in which their DL made some plays, the linebackers flashed athleticism, or the safeties ran guys down on the perimeter.

For instance, here's TCU struggling with "power" from the Jackrabbits.

You see the Jackrabbit RB nail the cutback lane left open by the pulling guard and TCU doesn't fill it very aggressively, leading to some nice space.

Here's how the play was supposed to work for TCU:

The backside end is looking to keep the QB contained, the nose is working over into the new backside A-gap, the linebackers are fast flowing to the point of attack where the double team and lead block are, and the weakside safety is supposed to drop down and defend the cutback lane.

As you saw on the clip though, weakside safety Nick Orr was late to fill that assignment and since the Jackrabbits stacked up the strong side of their formation to the boundary the RB had a LOT of space to work in when he cleared the first level.

Later on that drive, the Jackrabbits ran power again:

This time the Jackrabbits get into a similar formation where the strength is loaded into the boundary again via motion. Nose tackle Joseph Broadnax doesn't get over into the new A-gap properly this time, perhaps because he's wary of giving up the cutback. Field cornerback Ranthony Texada and weak safety Nick Orr both rush to fill that cutback lane in the B-gap this time and get too deep to recover when the RB instead plunges into the A-gap.

What you're seeing here isn't really a failure in which players are being over-matched or unable to fulfill their assignments though. It's just missed assignments and mental busts that lead to costly mistakes.

I'm very confident that Gary Patterson can clean that up, and indeed the following week they were fairly solid against the Arkansas run game. The cornerback issues in coverage I broke down at Football Study Hall on the other hand...those might be bigger issues that linger into the season.

One stop shop for Texas coverage

Crazy things are happening with Texas football. Well they're sort of normal, in a way. All of the talent that the program is regularly able to bring to campus is being deployed in a way such that the players' strengths can overlap, build on each other, and bring devastation as a result.

I'm not at all convinced that Texas is ready to win the Big 12 (though plenty of other Texas writers are, naturally) but another convincing win against Cal would be a good indicator. You can read my Cal preview FREE by following this link.

What's more, Inside Texas is offering a promotional opportunity in which you can get all of our content FREE up till the OU game by signing up now. Options include a $9.99 a month deal, $99.99 for a full year, or the current "free for 17 days, then $9.99/month" deal.

If you want regular, nearly 24/7 access to my own thoughts on Texas as well as those of Eric Nahlin, Justin Wells, Joe Cook, or Scipio Tex then this is the way to go.

How good or bad are the Vols on offense, really?

That seems to be the biggest question in the SEC East and the stakes are really quite high. If Tennessee won the SEC East with 1-2 losses and then managed to win the SEC title by some fluke or another, they'd be in the playoffs for sure.

If they took down an Alabama team that had bad luck with turnovers, was missing a player to injury, etc and who had thrashed the Vols earlier in the year (very likely) then what? Then maybe we have two SEC teams in the playoffs.

Regardless of all that, Tennessee is a big part of the story of 2016 and it's been a struggle to get a good handle on what part they are going to play. They look like the over-hyped team that "Clemsons" hard but then they haven't actually lost yet.

Over at SB Nation I break down what's up with their offense and whether it can be good enough to achieve something meaningful and interesting this season.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Breaking down Texas' 3-4 package and victory over UTEP

Texas showed a fun 3-4 package against UTEP that could come up again later this year I've dubbed "Hager is coming..." and is proving that some of the whiplash hype on the team may be warranted.

Read about it at Inside Texas.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Big Game Bob vs cautious Mike

Earlier in my week three picks I posited a wild, speculative theory that Oklahoma's defense has two different masters with two very different approaches to gameplanning.

One is Big Game Bob, an aggressive tactician that loves to go for the throat, throw punches, and see what happens. The other is cautious Mike, who's scared to death of anything that would set his secondary up for trouble or result in a bad beat.

I don't think the theory is totally insane, although much of it is speculative, so I'm going to lay out my reasons for believing there is at least some validity to the idea of a splintered philosophy in Norman.

First let's go back to 2012. The Sooners had just been beat by Tech at home and Ok St and Baylor on the road in a disappointing season that resulted in the unthinkable, a Cowboy Big 12 championship. The play of the secondary had been a central point of contention and after deposing the secondary coach (Willie Martinez, now at Tennessee) Bob got a chance to bring back his brother Mike who'd just been fired from Arizona after several lackluster seasons.

The only problem was that Brent Venables, the linebacker coach, had gotten used to being the sole defensive coordinator (aside from the oversight of Big Game Bob himself, of course) and had been doing an excellent job of it. I've never heard anything that would confirm this to be true but it's hard not to believe that having to share the job with Mike again led Venables to cut out on his own and head to Clemson.

There he's continued to craft aggressive, versatile defenses that virtually always rank in the top 10 in S&P at the end of the year. But I'm not looking to pour salt in that wound, let's move on to what happened under Mike's direction at Oklahoma.

The Sooners made two major changes in year one under "cautious" Mike. First, they converted the DL technique up front to a two-gapping, read and react style of play comparable to what Pellini was teaching at Nebraska. Secondly, they began playing dime personnel against four-wide formations so that they could play tight cover four or pure man-free coverage. That left them with five in the box more often than not unless they dropped down Tony Jefferson or Javon Harris into the box, which they did at times.

The result was the nation's 2nd best passing defense by S&P but a porous run defense. In 2013 they adjusted to play more two-linebacker sets and with Aaron Colvin and nickel/dime defenders Gabe Wilson and Julian Wilson returning they were able to play a 4-2-5 nickel set that could play cover 1 and protect the linebackers more. It was this year that they discovered they had a blitzing fiend in Eric Striker but he was often playing on the edge against big-bodied opponents.

In 2014 they converted to the 3-4 defense, which meant playing three "read and react," defensive tackle-sized D-linemen and then mixing in big blitzes and plenty more man coverage. They also moved Eric Striker out to the "nickel" or space-backer position.

This year featured my favorite cautious Mike gameplan, against the Baylor Bears. Bryce Petty and the Bears had recently lost a game against West Virginia in which Tony Gibson had utilized what I call the "all or nothing" approach to stopping the veer and shoot.

The idea is to embrace the extremes of the veer and shoot scheme by matching it with extreme responses. The Mountaineers were either bringing zero blitzes or playing max coverage and bracketing all of the Bears' option routes. This totally befuddled Bryce Petty and their offense and led to a big West Virginia upset. The following week, the Bears beat Kansas 60-14, because Kansas, and then Bryce Petty had the following presser:

That's the kind of bravado you normally associate with Oklahoma. As it turned out, Petty and the Bears were ready for OU.

Mike Stoops tried to match the "all or nothing" gameplan to stop Petty but did so with off coverage on his zero blitzes rather than press-man as Tony Gibson had done. That led to an interesting result...

The previous drive to this one the Bears had busted out their empty formation and found the Sooners bringing the "all or nothing" tactics they'd seen against West Virginia but with off coverage. The Bears punished it with a TD drive, but then uncorked this wonderful drive coming out of halftime:

What you sadly miss in that drive is in exchange in which right cornerback Julian Wilson, whom you see picked on here mercilessly, went over to the sideline to yell at Mike Stoops in the middle of the game.

This all led to the hire of DB coach Kerry Cooks and the banishment of frustrated, cautious Mike up to the press box.

The following year the Sooners had a much better gameplan for the Bears, albeit one that benefitted from facing a freshman quarterback, and they won the conference despite getting whipped again by Texas in the Red River Shootout. They did it in an unorthodox fashion, keeping extra linebackers on the field but then using them to protect the secondary and allow them to bracket Baylor's biggest threats. Normally you use 3-4 OLBs to protect your secondary via the blitz but hey, it worked!

The second Mike Stoops era in Okahoma has been characterized by block-catching, read and react, conservative play up front that is totally contrary to how the team played when Venables had more input on the philosophy. They're still aggressive on the back end, mixing in lots of man coverage, man blitzes, and trying to teach their DBs to attack routes and tendencies, but Mike Stoops protects his secondary every chance he gets.

He's trying to win games with his defensive backs, who in a given year may or may not be up for it, and he tends to protect them whenever he can. Just the other week he was bringing only two or three pass-rushers against Greg Ward in a fruitless effort to shield his secondary from harm.

I think Mike Stoops, or second era Mike Stoops at least, lacks the confidence to play with the kind of aggression that once characterized Stoops/Venables defenses. His imprint on the Sooner philosophy has been one of restraint and caution, which I think clashes with Big Game Bob's own preferences and occasionally results in some overly conservative game plans.

Perhaps the problem is that they just don't teach and develop cornerbacks well enough for Mike to justify a more aggressive approach. Perhaps there's no difference between what Big Game Bob wants and what cautious Mike thinks is best but there are real schematic differences between Brent Venables and Mike Stoops. Either Venables was responsible for the aggression or Big Game Bob has a soft spot for his little brother. Given how Bob likes his offense to play (aggressively) I'm guessing it's the latter.

But it used to be that Oklahoma defensive failures would look like the king leading a sortie to drive the defenders away from the castle and going down fighting in front of the walls. Now it looks like opponents tearing down the walls and dragging the king screaming out of his keep.

Which response will we see on Saturday night? Will Big Game Bob come roaring out of the gates on horseback?


Or will cautious Mike be directing the defense from the highest tower?


Picking Big 12 games against the spread: Week 3

It's not looking like a very good year for the Big 12. My Big 12 pick, the TCU Horned Frogs, have struggled against a couple of big, physical offensive teams while everyone else's favorite pick, the Oklahoma Sooners, got pasted in week one by Houston.

Texas Tech's darkhorse legitimacy took a big hit when they allowed Arizona State RB Kalen Ballage to score seven touchdowns on 13 carries. That offense is everything we expected but until they play defense at a top 60 level it's not going to matter.

Oklahoma State looks like a team that had to replace their only functioning rushing attack (JW Walsh) and the three best athletes on their defense. Baylor looks pretty frisky but also vulnerable along the lines. If they can't run the ball forcefully then their system loses a lot of potency.

Kansas State is WAY under the radar after getting beat by Stanford in Palo Alto and then sitting out in week two. I don't think they can get their stuff together in time to really contend in 2016 but they'll be interesting to watch.

Then there's Texas, who is plugging along in an impressive fashion and looks like they're at about the level of the 2015, Stidham-led Baylor offense, or perhaps just a bit off that pace. Things are getting interesting in Austin, which is nice for someone that covers the team and has been watching mediocre football every Saturday for five years.

Here's what week three is confronting the league with:

Baylor -30 at Rice

The Bears' actually look reasonably good on defense this season. Moving Orion Stewart to cover safety to make room for Davion Hall has been nice and will probably pay big dividends later in the year as Hall grows increasingly comfortable. Moving Taylor Young to full time Jack linebacker has also paid off in a big way.

For their part, the Rice Owls are replacing the dude that played QB for them a year ago with a guy who's thrown 1 TD to 3 INTs and is averaging 5.63 yards per attempt. I think Seth Russell is going to have a chance to continue to shake off more rust in this game.

Pick: Baylor covers.

Kansas + 19.5 at Memphis

I don't know much about how Memphis is coming along but I know that they have parts left over by Justin Fuente, which are pieces safely beyond what Beaty has been able to assemble in Lawrence to this point.

Pick: Memphis covers.

Iowa State +24 at TCU

Watch for TCU to get back on track in a big way with a huge, blowout win over the struggling Cyclones. Something to watch will be how well the Frogs cover big Allen Lazard after struggling with big receivers against both the Jackrabbits and the Razorbacks.

Pick: TCU covers.

Florida Atlantic +22.5 at Kansas State

I guess Florida Atlantic is pretty bad this year. The interesting thing to watch for in this game is how well the Wildcats get their passing game going. They have a ways to go after missing Pringle all night against the Cardinal while surrendering eight sacks but there's definitely potential.

I think they might miss the cover while using this game as a glorified scrimmage to work out their timing and protections.

Pick: K-State wins, doesn't cover.

Pittsburgh +6.5 at Oklahoma State

Wow, this line is total rubbish. The Panthers just unveiled a fun, RPO-based pro-style attack against the Nittany Lions and blew their defense out of the water. Now they bring that and a very physical defense, albeit one that is vulnerable to the spread passing game, into Stillwater to play a team that struggled to get going against Central Michigan.

As much as it gives me pause to pick Pittsburgh against a team that is all about the passing game, I think the Panthers are going to knock the Cowboys around on Saturday.

Pick: Pittsburgh beats OSU and the spread.

Louisiana Tech +10.5 at Texas Tech

I'm going to assume that Tech can be counted on to drop 50 points against the likes of La Tech, so even if the Bulldogs can score I doubt they hang tight with Mahomes for four quarters.

Pick: Tech covers.

Ohio State -2.5 at Oklahoma

Here's our marquee game. It looks like Vegas took a lot of notes during that Houston game and knocked the Sooners down a bit off their preseason hype wagon. Evidently if this game was in Columbus the line would be Ohio State -8.5, which sounds about right.

The Buckeyes are definitely the more talented team, the advantage the Sooners were supposed to have was a more established identity. However, in week one the Sooners looked like they thought their identity was centered around Mayfield and the passing game rather than their loaded backfield and you have to wonder how they'll fare running the ball against the Buckeyes after what the Cougar fronts did to them.

Additionally, the Sooners defense got picked on badly and looked unaggressive. I'm starting to become suspicious that games where they play aggressive were largely crafted by Bob while games where the Sooner defense looks to be more risk-averse were Mike gameplans. Just a wild, speculative theory. If it's true, this would probably be more of a Bob gameplan given the game's importance in the Sooner season and the fact that it's taking place in Norman.

So if my wild theory is accurate, that should give Sooner fans some hope of a smart, aggressive plan for stopping the Buckeye offense. In particular, they need to keep Curtis Samuel bottled up. The Sooners need this one bad, they DO NOT want to be 1-2 facing an opening Big 12 slate of @TCU and then into the Red River Shootout with the surging Longhorns.

In an instance like this, you usually like to bet on Big Game Bob. But it's Urban Meyer on the other sideline and J.T. Barrett in a warm weather game...

Pick: Ohio State covers.

Texas -8 at California

Last year a similarly woeful Cal defense partnered with a potent offense led by Jared Goff came within a missed PAT of going to overtime with a horrible Texas team. This Longhorn team is literally twice as good as the one they faced last year, if not better, while the Bears are subbing in Davis Webb and a few new faces for Goff and co.

I like Webb and this will be an interesting test of how far along the young Texas LBs and S's are coming along, but this probably shouldn't be that close.

Pick: Texas covers.

Monday, September 12, 2016

Monday morning check-up

This last weekend was a very interesting one for the Big 12, which many are now perceiving to be WIDE open. I'm not as convinced, personally, but certainly the league is looking very interesting.

Let's take a look at how I saw the weekend going down and then what we learned from what actually happened.

Ian pick: OSU covers +20.5 over Central Michigan. Totally wrong

Looking back, I don't know why I picked OSU to cover 20.5 points. My main interest from the game was of course whether the Cowboys would be able to run the ball at all on what I figured would probably be a fairly stout Chippewa front. They could not and hardly even tried.

However, they didn't throw the ball that well either, nor did they stop Central Michigan. Obviously the Chippewas got lucky getting that final play as the (poor) rule should have allowed Oklahoma State to run out the clock. No sympathy from this Texas fan though, I doubt K-State fans have much sympathy in their hearts either.

Clearly Oklahoma State is a worse team without JW Walsh, Emmanuel Ogbah, Jimmy Bean, and Kevin Peterson, as I expected. They haven't loaded up with as many athletes in recent classes and no longer have the kind of talent they did back when they were competing for the Big 12 title in the early years of this decade.

Ian pick: Baylor beats SMU but doesn't cover 31.5 point spread. Wrong

It really looked like I'd be vindicated here but young Ben Hicks and the Mustang offense just couldn't capitalize on a clearly rusty Seth Russell and Bear offense.

However, it was clear that Baylor was struggling to control the line of scrimmage, especially on offense, which bodes poorly for them in Big 12. Their defense is actually looking pretty solid. Ira Lewis is a pretty athletic nose and Taylor Young is an excellent DE/OLB hybrid on the edge. I'm curious to see how their 3-techniques will hold up to stouter run games and the secondary isn't amazing but this could be a pretty good unit.

I've currently got Baylor higher than OSU in my power rankings.

Ian pick: TCU wins, fails to cover 7.5 point spread. Wrong

Wrong again, although I was pretty close. Kenny Trill showed a continued propensity for early game (and late game) mental errors that definitely cost TCU this football game. He also had like 500 yards of offense and did extensive damage in the QB run game, particularly on the goal line.

Lotta question marks out there now about the TCU defense, but they held up reasonably well in this game playing an Arkansas-specific package that most of the Big 12 won't see. Incidentally, their decision to play Travin Howard at SS and Denzel Johnson at WS was one I predicted on Twitter.

The big question mark is whether Ranthony Texada, who was expected to be a lockdown guy, can handle bigger receivers. SD St's Chris Wieneke and most everyone at Arkansas gave him some real problems. On the other hand, how many big receivers are there like that in the Big 12?

If TCU has a problem this year it'll be poor judgment from Kenny Hill or their corners getting abused on the sidelines by big, athletic receivers. I doubt those concerns are made to matter consistently in Big 12 games. TCU is still my frontrunner.

Ian pick: Texas covers 29.5 vs UTEP. Vindicated

I'll have more on this over at Inside Texas. What was interesting is that Texas achieved this result playing back-ups at TE and four out of five OL positions. The rest of the Big 12 is probably starting to get pretty anxious about this Longhorn team.

Ian pick: Iowa beats Iowa St, but fails to cover +15. Totally wrong

I didn't watch this game but the box score seems to indicate that the Hawkeyes beat the crap out of the Cyclones. Allen Lazard had a nice day, everyone else seemed to get smoked.

Ian pick: Tech beats State and the 2.5 point spread. Wrong

This looked pretty good when I fell asleep but evidently Arizona State kept pouring on the points throughout the game. Gotta note that the Devils ran the ball 53 times for 301 yards. So that Tech defense...still not there.

If this is another soft, porous Tech defense then it's going to be hard to see this team being better than the 2015 squad. They can play with anyone because they score so much, but their own defense has to get at least a few stops or turnovers.

I wonder if a better approach on defense for them than Gibbs shifting, disguising defense would be a simpler, execution-based approach like what Kansas State uses. It's too early to say, the problem might be more cultural. Kingsbury has to figure out how to support his defensive coaches or his offensive brilliance will continue to be wasted.

Current Big 12 Power Rankings

I'm aiming to not overreact to early results and stick with my preseason guesswork as much as I can since I think those judgments were probably better than the kinds of judgments you make after a few initial games.

1. TCU Horned Frogs
Offense is as good as I told everyone it would be, defense is probably much better than it looks. Arkansas is a tough draw for a Big 12 team.

2. Oklahoma Sooners
Losing to Houston isn't a capital offense in my book. I think they may be about to start the year 1-2 though.

3. Texas Longhorns
They could definitely creep up this list.

4. Baylor Bears
Pending injuries that force them to a thin bench.

5. Kansas State Wildcats
That spread passing attack is going to come together over the next few weeks and the defense looks good.

6. Oklahoma State Cowboys
They still have a nice passing attack and a defense that probably won't be terrible. They could slip in coming weeks though.

7. Texas Tech Red Raiders
Still not totally counting out the possibility that the Raiders will have a top 60 defense by the time Big 12 play rolls around.

8. West Virginia Mountaineers
Still not totally buying this defense, though it looks solid, nor Skyler Howard. They may end up as high as fourth in a few weeks though in a few possible futures I can foresee.

9. Iowa State Cyclones
They may have to fight to hold onto this spot this year.

10. Kansas Jayhawks
Still a dreadful team but now no longer totally incompetent.

Friday, September 9, 2016

Film study on how Texas beat Notre Dame

It's up at Inside Texas!

Included in that article is:

-A macro view of how Notre Dame tried to beat Texas and why it failed.

-A spotlight on how Texas is using Malik Jefferson to redefine the middle linebacker position in the spread era.

-A spotlight on Texas' 18-wheeler package, featuring Tyrone Swoopes.

Check it out if you're a fan of Big 12 football, there's even a reference to the Snyder vs Briles tactical match-ups of the last few years.

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Breaking down Houston's beat down of Oklahoma

Over at Football Study Hall I broke down a three and out where I believe Houston established the tone for the game. Check it out here.

Every time I go to media days I'm always a little surprised to hear opposing players talk up Oklahoma as the biggest, baddest dog on the block. After all, Texas has physically beaten up the Sooners in the last three Red River Shootouts (losing one thanks to special teams and turnovers) and Clemson has smashed them up in the last few bowl games.

Seeing Houston beat them down was further confirmation that this Sooner team isn't quite the intimidatingly physical team that the Big 12 makes them appear to be at times.

DeShone Kizer and the Irish offense

At SB Nation I explained how DeShone Kizer unlocks the full potential of the Brian Kelly offense and why he's the right man for the Irish as they try to recover from their opening loss to Texas.

Picking B12 games against the spread: Week 2

Since week one was fun and didn't completely discredit this blog, let's go ahead and aim at week two? I have a theory that my expectations for the season that are developed from an offseason of meditation tend to be fairly accurate while my ability to process and react to everything during the actual season is less amazing.

So I'm going to try and stick closer to my preseason guesswork but if I get off track it'll be evidence of my theory, or that picking against the spread and predicting the future is difficult...

I've got statistical/analytical breakdowns of the big six games in college football that you can find in my new weekly column at Football Outsiders so check that out for the national perspective.

Here's week two's lines and where I see things heading...

Central Michigan +20.5 at Oklahoma St

Like I noted last week, Central Michigan will probably have some stout DL and LBs that know how to fit the run and have the size to fight blocks. The outcome of interest here is whether the Cowboys can run the ball on this lot or not.

Pick: OSU covers

SMU +31.5 at Baylor

You can see the breakdown for this one in my Football Outsiders column. SMU should be pretty dang good on offense this season and this will be much more of a test for the young Bear defense than their scrimmage against Northwestern State last weekend.

Pick: Baylor wins, SMU covers

Arkansas +7.5 at TCU

Those South Dakota State Jackrabbits were no joke. Chris Wieneke was a for real receiver with size that's hard to move off routes and their QB was throwing with anticipation to spots that he could be counted on reaching.

I mean, check out this scramble by Jackrabbit QB Taryn Christion:

Now observe this throw to WR Chris Wieneke:

That's a big, coordinated receiver with nice hands that has an extra gear after the first several steps. He's probably a 4.7 guy (11.34 was his best HS time) but he's just hard to control for a little guy like Ranthony Texada.

Some of these FCS programs are no joke. Just look at Carson Wentz or what Dakota Prukop is doing at Oregon.

I think TCU is going to be just fine this year. There were problems here and there but Kenny Trill was totally calm, amused even, by his own mistakes and effortlessly dropped 60 on the SD St defense. You know that Gary Patterson will get his defensive house in order.

Pick: Frogs win, fail to cover

UTEP +29 at Texas

The Longhorns proved that they can operate the Veer and Shoot at a basic level and out-execute even talented defenses...that should be pretty horrifying for the rest of the Big 12.

UTEP is going to drop eight and make Texas work their way down the field with smaller gains while pounding the rock on the ground and running clock. I still think Texas covers.

Pick: Texas covers

LA Monroe +46 at Oklahoma

I don't know much about LA Monroe but the cover seems reasonable given how fired up Oklahoma is likely to be for this game.

Let's talk about that Houston game though. The Sooners got physically whipped. There was no doubt watching that game that the Cougars were the more physical team with enough moxie to counter what Mayfield brought to the game. Oklahoma's secondary got ripped throughout the game and had to cycle through some cornerbacks trying to find an answer opposite Jordan Thomas.

I'm still unsure on Oklahoma's ability to bring pressure and Houston didn't really test that with their RPOs, rollouts, and Ward scrambling around like a mad man. Certainly containment was an issue and I doubt Ward is able to escape as much if an athlete like Striker is pursuing him.

Sooner fans are surely terrified of what's going to happen on their home field when Urban's Buckeyes come to town.

Iowa State +15 at Iowa

Year one isn't going to be the time when Matt Campbell makes a statement in this rivalry game, I don't think. The Hawkeyes should be pretty good this year and the Cyclones are playing a ton of youngsters that are mistake prone. Iowa is designed to avoid mistakes and to out-execute their opponents. Fifteen points is a lot though, this will be a good test of whether the Hawkeyes are making  a leap in offensive explosiveness of the sort they'll need to make it back to the B1G championship game.

I'm really more interested in Iowa vs North Dakota State though, as is North Dakota State's biggest fan.

Pick: Iowa wins, Cyclones beat the spread

Texas Tech +2.5 at Arizona State

This is another really interesting game that will provide us with a lot of info about a potential darkhorse Big 12 contender. Todd Graham's Sun Devils are a 4-2-5 quarters team that blitzes like mad...that's probably not going to go too well against Kingsbury's screen-heavy offense and Patrick Mahomes' wizardry.

On the flip side though, ASU has put some pretty good smashmouth spread offenses on the field in recent years. They're losing their QB Mike Bercovici but new guy Manny Wilkins is a runner and they're going to test Tech's run defense.

Unless those blitzes get them behind 21-0 in a hurry and they have to give that up.

Pick: Tech beats the Devils and the spread

Sunday, September 4, 2016

Sunday morning check-up

I'm feeling pretty good about where I had things pegged after an offseason of rumination about the Big 12 and college football national landscapes. If you check out my previews of the big opening match-ups, you'll find that they were quite instructive in detailing how those contests were likely to play out.

K-State was a stiff test for McCaffrey and the Cardinal offense. Auburn made their game with Clemson competitive with defense despite a wretched offense. Bama put away USC once they had a QB out there that could bring back leverage with deep bombs or QB runs. It didn't really matter who Georgia played at QB because UNC couldn't stop Nick Chubb. The Wisconsin run game proved better than last year's numbers would have indicated and it allowed them to grind out a win against a mistake-prone QB in Brandon Harris that belongs in a spread, not a pro-style offense. A&M's DEs carried the day for them against Josh Rosen and Trevor Knight added enough on the ground to get the Aggies' offense going. Houston and the 3rd Ward factor (either their defense or Greg Ward) were much more up for the task of taking on overrated Oklahoma than people guessed.

Let's talk about the Big 12 and those picks.

Ian Pick: Baylor big over Northwestern St. Vindicated.

My guess was that Baylor would be just fine early on against the sacrificial lambs they brought in for Grobe. There was a lotta "football is going now, we can get those distractions behind us!" sentiments from Baylor but I don't think that's true. That offseason scandal, and the behavioral problems that won't quite go away, are going to dog the program for some time.

However, it'll be interesting to see what Baylor does in terms of replacing Briles for next season. That's when they can really start to turn the corner.

Ian Pick: Oklahoma wins but Houston beats the spread. Close.

The spread in this game was absurd, going as high as OU -12.5 before the game. As I shouted all offseason, the 2015 Sooners were NOT as strong as they looked. Their resume was bolstered by having played lots of headless Big 12 teams rolling with 2nd string quarterbacks. What's more, they've long demonstrated a particular vulnerability to running QBs.

The cover 3/1 schemes that Mike Stoops relies on can be vulnerable to getting out-leveraged either by QB runs OR by QB scrambles when in man coverage. Quarters coverage is more balanced and tougher to abuse in that fashion, even if it can be attacked in other ways. I knew that Oklahoma had shown a lot of weaknesses against QB run teams the previous year and while they seemed to shore some of that up in this game, they couldn't handle Ward's improvisations and eventually wore down.

Before I look deeper, my initial impression is that if Houston was a problem for the Sooners then the Buckeyes will over power them.

Ian's pick: Stanford beats K-State, but fails to cover +16.5. Vindicated

This pick almost went south because K-State STRUGGLED to get any kind of offense going against the Cardinal. The run game lacks a dominant feature and the young O-line predictably struggled to block the Stanford fronts or pick up their nasty blitzes.

What we did see from that game though was some nice shiftiness from Jesse Ertz as well as the ability to throw with some touch on deeper routes. We also saw a very quick WR corps who had multiple guys that could thrive with Stanford's attention fixed mostly on Byron Pringle. I bet Pringle comes around as well, he was very close to blowing that game open as it was and got totally mauled a few times without drawing a flag.

I think Ertz is going to grow into another Jake Waters and then K-State's ceiling will be determined by whether they can get the run game going and how healthy the defense stays over the course of the year. The ceiling is definitely higher than what you might think, I think this team can win 8-9 games.

Missouri beats the -9.5 spread AND West Virginia. Completely wrong.

I figured West Virginia may have a slow start, Missouri would be better on offense and still good on defense. All of that may have been true but the Mountaineers really teed off with their run game and beat the still crappy on offense Tigers down.

Might have to take a closer look at this one to see if I need to re-evaluate my low expectations for the Holgo-warriors.

Pokes roll over SE Louisiana. Vindicated

I said the main thing to watch here was how well OSU was able to run the ball. Looks like they did fairly well but that'll be something to continue to monitor. They have a rematch with Central Michigan next week that I think will tell us more, the Chippewas have access to some sturdy midwestern D-linemen that know how to get low and fight you in the trenches. You can't blow them away in the run game unless you have real speed or real skill in the trenches.

Celebration in Lawrence! Yep.

I can't believe they started Montell Cozart though, I'll be curious to see how that goes.

About that TCU game...

My preseason take on TCU was that they were going to make a leap on defense, still be surprisingly good (to everyone else) on offense, and win the Big 12 conference. Well, after some early mistakes against the Jackrabbit blitz packages Kenny Trill ended up feasting on Coney before the night was over.

Their passing game was up to its normal's a really nasty scheme with a lot of midfield curl/flat stuff that is hard to stop if the timing is right and you can't confuse the QB or muck up his reads. Hill seems like he knows exactly what he's doing and he played with a sort of non-chalance about the early mistakes and the tipped ball that became a crucial Frog touchdown when it happened to flutter into the hands of Taj Williams. I think that's a good sign, although it probably drove Patterson nuts.

The obvious question is the TCU defense and whether it's actually as good as I expected it to be after getting ripped by an FCS team.'s concerning, but I don't bet against Patterson molding a good defense. I thought Texas had an opportunity to blow the Frogs' doors off last year and then Gary taught Travin Howard how to play linebacker, blew up Texas' scheme with corner blitzes, and managed to get Ridwan Issahaku up to speed on how to play weak safety and just buried the Longhorns.

So I'm saying don't assume that the weaknesses TCU showed on defense are going to maintain in Big 12 play. Also, the Jackrabbits were pretty dang good.

Texas vs Notre Dame should be interesting, I'll break that one down after it goes down over at

Friday, September 2, 2016

Texas' Veer and Shoot against the Irish

Notre Dame is playing a pair of big, sturdy veterans at safety against Texas this coming week. That's the kinda thing that teams gave up trying against Baylor long ago.

But is Texas ready to exploit that advantage the way we've all become accustomed to seeing from Baylor? We'll find out Sunday night. Here's how I think it might go down (free!).

Thursday, September 1, 2016

My 2016 playoff picks and new Football Outsiders column!

I'm going to be writing the "7th day adventure" column at Football Outsiders this year! This is a very interesting column, detailing the statistical breakdowns and match-ups of the six biggest games in college football every week.

If you want to keep track of the lines and major storylines across the league, this is the place to start.

Additionally, you can see my picks for the 2016 playoff contestants, Heisman, etc as well as the selections by the rest of the Football Outsiders staff here.

People may accuse me of regional bias since I live in southeast Michigan but I don't think so, there's a lot to like about this Michigan team if Harbaugh can make something of their QB roster. Repeat that last sentence aloud and you'll have to concede that the Wolverines look pretty good for 2016.

All my opening game previews in one place!!!!

It's the most wonderful time of the year!

Football is about to start, I'm planning to dive in starting tomorrow night with Stanford vs Kansas State. There are a ton of great games this opening weekend and I've got previews on many of them up at SB

Here's everything published so far (still got TX vs ND coming this week) for you to enjoy while pretending to work these next two days.


That'd be Stanford vs Kansas State if you're having trouble keeping track at home. I broke down why the Wildcats are likely to be solid on defense this year and a tougher challenge for the Cardinal then Vegas seems to think.

Georgia vs North Carolina

Remember when Baylor ran for like 6k yards on UNC? I bet new Dawg OC John Chaney does...

Auburn vs Clemson

I'm really bear-ish on Auburn having a good year or saving Malzahn's job unless John Franklin III can figure out their offense well enough to take over.

LSU vs Wisconsin

Dave Aranda + elite LSU athletes = ?

UCLA vs Texas A&M

Now would be a good time for Sugar Bowl Knight to make a reappearance. If not, perhaps Myles Garrett and Daeshon Hall can still pull this one out.

Ole Miss vs Florida State

Where I explain how Florida State is probably a major contender this year and why Ole Miss is probably facing a tough season.

USC vs Alabama

USC tries to prove they are playing big boy football again.

Houston vs Oklahoma

There's probably not an opening weekend game that will reveal more than this battle between the Sooners and Cougars. Naturally it's at noon on Saturday...