College football Week 3: Key stats, observations, huge line swings

PJ_Fleck

Teams across the college football landscape have played two games, and in some cases, three.

While most analysts love to make bold proclamations about what we’ve seen from the teams thus far, I tend to be more patient, and actually feel that this is a great time to analyze factors that might NOT be what they seem. In other words, find overreactions and benefit from them.

With that in mind, let’s take a look at some key statistics, observations, injuries and huge line swings that might not be telling an accurate story.

Strength of opponents tells a big story

Again, it’s early, but after two games, some teams have put up incredible numbers against inferior foes, leading to rather easy point-spread victories as well as climbs up the polls. Other teams that have tested themselves with quality opposition, and have paid for it, either in suffering losses, or perhaps not looking as strong as thought a few weeks ago. In both situations, teams’ power ratings, and hence, their game lines can be affected.

Since this past Saturday, I have been inundated with stories ripping the Big Ten West Division, and rightfully so, as several of the teams have gotten off to rough starts. One of the teams, Nebraska, even fired its coach already, it’s been that bad. That said, there have been some teams in the Big Ten that have gotten off to fantastic starts, but unfortunately, they have not been tested. These are four teams I will have my eye on for the next few weeks in analyzing how they fare against some tougher opposition.

Maryland: The Terps have played the FBS nation’s 19th-easiest two- game slate to date. They have put up some huge numbers offensively, which I will detail in a bit. The program is clearly in a positive growth pattern, but I’m not sure wins over Buffalo and Charlotte will have prepared them for SMU, at Michigan, Michigan State, and Purdue over the next month.

Michigan: The Wolverines were in the CFB Playoff last season, and because of a lot of defensive losses to the NFL, a lot like Georgia, many experts wrote off their chances to return to greatness in 2022. Instead, Michigan has exploded offensively with 53.5 PPG in the first two contests. The problem? Those efforts came against two Mountain West teams that have combined for 0-5 SU and 1-4 ATS records. It’s safe to say we don’t have any idea how good (or great) this team is as it gets ready for the start of conference play in two weeks.

Michigan State: The Spartans have been impressive in two early blowouts of MAC teams, outscoring Western Michigan and Akron by an 87-13 margin. Starting with a game at Washington, where they are an underdog, this team’s next six games are brutal.

Minnesota: The two teams that Minnesota has faced in the early going have been the 4th easiest pair of opponents. The Gophers have taken advantage, outscoring those teams 100-10. They have also put up some ridiculous video game numbers, and have 12 rushing TDs versus just one through the air. In fact, they have run the ball on 69 percent of their plays. When the going gets tough against Power 5 foes the rest of the way, will this team be adequately prepared?

Ridiculous stats

If you would have told me that Kansas would be the nation’s top-scoring team after two games, I’m sure I could have thought of a few expletives for you. However, the Jayhawks are one of eight teams currently averaging more than 50 points per game. Furthermore, I’m not sure any of the eight would have been expected to be on this list:

1. Kansas – 55.5 PPG

2. Michigan – 53.5 PPG

T-2. James Madison – 53.5 PPG

T-2. USC – 53.5 PPG

5. Georgia Southern – 52 PPG

6. North Carolina – 51.3 PPG

7. Minnesota – 50 PPG

T-7. Miami – 50 PPG

The best Offensive Yards per Play teams are also a bit of a surprise, with Maryland leading the way, and the much-maligned Clemson offense also ranking highly:

1. Maryland – 8.65 YPP

2. USC – 8.62 YPP

3. TCU – 8.41 YPP

4. Michigan – 8.36 YPP

5. Clemson – 8.28 YPP

The best defensive teams in the country in terms of Yards per Play have also been truly unexpected. In fact, not counting head coach Deion Sanders’ top-ranked Jackson State FCS team at 2.41 yards per play, the top two FBS teams have been:

1. Toledo – 2.79 YPP

2. Tulane – 2.83 YPP

These are crazy numbers, but again, by no means season defining. Neither of those teams has faced a quality foe yet, and in fact, both share a common opponent – Massachusetts.

I have touched briefly upon Minnesota and the offensive numbers the Golden Gophers have put together. Even though they have been a run-first type of team in the early going, they have been extremely efficient. In fact, they are No. 3 in the country currently in Yards per Pass Attempt, behind Army and high-scoring USC:

1. Army – 17.5 YPA

2. USC – 11.77 YPA

3. Minnesota – 11.67 YPA

On the other side of the equation, there are two teams averaging fewer than 4.0 yards per pass attempt:

130. Iowa – 3.87 YPA

131. UMass – 2.32 YPA

The Third Down Conversion Percentage can be a telling story, as often this is decided by circumstance rather than skill. Against weaker opponents, there are fewer 3rd-and-long conversion situations, thus leading to a higher percentage. However, the top-ranked team in this stat, with a ridiculous 74 percent, just pulled a mammoth upset against a quality opponent. There are three teams right now converting better than 2/3 of their 3rd down chances

1. Kansas – 74 percent 3rd down conversion

2. Minnesota – 68 percent

3. Georgia Southern – 66.7 percent

Turnovers need to be considered when analyzing the strengths of any team’s individual wins or losses. So far in 2022, these teams have had the best luck in terms of Turnover Differential:

1. USC: + 4.0 TO Diff/game

2. Western Kentucky: + 3.5

T-2. LA Lafayette: + 3.5

On the other side of the coin, these teams have suffered the worst turnover luck so far:

1. Stanford: -3.5 TO Diff/game

2. E Michigan/Navy/UConn/Temple/Hawaii: -2.5

Turnover luck can change across the time of a game, month or season, so it’s something you want to watch closely.

Pace guides totals

A lot of bettors get confused in how totals get set, assuming it’s just the raw scoring statistics of teams that gets considered. In my past experience, that’s only half of the equation. The other is predicated upon the pace that a team plays offensively. The best statistic to measure that is in Plays per Minute. These are the “fastest” offenses in the country, and keep in mind, this is a statistic that doesn’t figure to change a whole lot, as this is the strategy/system that each team has chosen to employ:

1. Indiana: 3.144 plays per minute

2. Florida International: 3.141 PPM

3. Ole Miss: 3.05 PPM

Interestingly, Indiana and FIU have scored just 29.and 25.0 PPG, respectively, and could be due for some more explosive scoring games in the near future, if not themselves, their opponents. On the other hand, the following two teams have put up good point totals despite running the “slowest” offenses and we could see some UNDERs for them upcoming:

130. Minnesota – 1.87 PPM

131. Clemson – 1.65 PPM

Quarterback injury troubles

Without a doubt, quarterback injuries can cause some of the biggest line swings from week-to-week. If you don’t catch these adjustments made by oddsmakers, you will essentially be betting a bad number. Be sure to stay on top of the injury reports running on VSiN.com or on the scroll at the bottom of some our live programs. If you haven’t been paying attention, here are some of the QB injuries affecting teams already in 2022:

Akron: DJ Irons injured his leg after a pretty good start versus Michigan State and never returned to the game. His status is in question for this week at Tennessee.

Charlotte: Chris Reynolds was injured in Game 1 of the season three weeks ago and although he returned to the field in that contest, he hasn’t played since, and the 49ers have been awful without their senior starter.

Hawaii: Starter Brayden Schager was injured in his 4-interception games against Western Kentucky but was thought to be available last week versus Michigan. He didn’t play.

Liberty: Transfer QB Charlie Brewer is going to be out another month or so with a thumb injury, although the Flames did pull a nice upset win over UAB without him last week.

Miami Ohio: Junior Brett Gabbert was rocked by Kentucky and suffered an injury to his non-throwing shoulder in the season opener. He will be out for several weeks.

Notre Dame: After winning the job in fall camp, Tyler Buchner wasn’t exactly sharp in the Irish’s first two games, both losses. He was injured versus Marshall and has been declared out for the season. Drew Pyne takes over.

Rice: Wiley Green was injured in the loss at USC and didn’t play last week. He is listed as questionable for Saturday vs. Louisiana.

Texas: Perhaps the biggest injury news to date, former top ranked recruit QB Quinn Ewers, who was off to a great start against Alabama before hurting a shoulder, will miss the next 4-6 weeks.

Texas Tech: Tyler Shough was injured in the season-opening win over Murray State and was expected to miss 3-6 weeks. However, backup Donovan Smith did lead the team to the big win over Houston.

UCLA: Bruins’ senior QB Dorian Thompson-Robinson injured his ankle last week versus Alabama State, and it’s unclear at this point as to when he will be ready to go. Judging by the line, which was 4 points different from my Power Rating line, I assume oddsmakers believe he won’t go this week against South Alabama. I removed him from my simulation numbers.

Huge 2-week line swings

One of the things I like to look for after a couple of weeks in both college and pro football is to look for games whose lines in Week 3 have swung huge amounts from what they would have been just a few weeks ago. In my opinion, many of these massive moves are overreactions to what we have seen in the early part of the season. In my experience, I have rarely moved teams more than 4 points up or down on my power ratings based upon any single game performance. I feel this opens the door for mistakes. With that in mind, here are seven games in which the line is 8.0 points or more different than it might have been two weeks ago, according to my power ratings:

1. (107) AIR FORCE at (108) WYOMING – line moved towards Air Force

After two impressive wins by Air Force to start the season, they have been installed as 16.5-point favorites at Wyoming, despite back-to-back wins from the Cowboys. Prior to the season openers for each club, I projected this to be only an 8-point line.

2. (123) OKLAHOMA at (124) NEBRASKA – line moved towards Oklahoma

This one isn’t surprising considering Oklahoma’s impressive 2-game start combined with Nebraska’s 0-2 opening leading to HC Scott Frost’s firing. However, back in August, with the hype surrounding the Cornhuskers, my numbers showed them as a 3-point dog, not 13. Is it too

much of a stretch? We’ll see.

3. (135) CALIFORNIA at (136) NOTRE DAME – line moved towards California

Obviously, this isn’t the start that HC Marcus Freeman had envisioned for his team, as the talented group is 0-2 and reeling from a loss to Marshall. The Irish have also lost their quarterback. However, does that warrant a 10-point move over two weeks towards California? Or is everyone souring of Notre Dame too early?

4. (147) COLORADO at (148) MINNESOTA – line moved towards Minnesota

I’ve mentioned Minnesota several times in this piece already, and head coach PJ Fleck’s team has put together a pair of good performances. However, before the wins over doormats New Mexico State and Western Illinois, I had the Gophers as 16-point favorites for this one against Power 5 Colorado. Now that number is 27 in actuality. Is that 11.5-point move warranted?

5. (167) MISSISSIPPI ST at (168) LSU – line moved towards Mississippi State

It was one loss, a very close one no less. Regardless, it seems the college football world has completely abandoned LSU and new coach Brian Kelly. If you didn’t know, the Tigers did rebound with a 65-17 win last week over Southern since that heartbreaking Florida State setback. A couple of weeks ago, this would have been a 6-point line in favor of LSU. Now they are a home dog, and at night to boot.

6. (171) AKRON at (172) TENNESSEE – line moved towards Tennessee

Yeah, I get it. Akron was bad in beating St. Francis and was clobbered at Michigan State. At the same time, Tennessee has rolled two opponents. Does that warrant the Volunteers being a 47-point favorite now, when it would have been 37 two weeks ago? There’s very few teams I would ever considering laying this big of a number with, and one that allowed 29 + PPG last season is not one of them.

7. (185) MICHIGAN ST at (186) WASHINGTON – line moved towards Washington

With Washington opening as a 3-point favorite over Michigan State this week, it’s almost as if the Huskies’ 4-8 season of a year ago was completely wiped off the books by their two early victories over Kent State and Portland State. The Spartans present a completely different challenge and have also played well in the first two games, continuing their run under HC Mel Tucker.

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