Blog Archives

Scuzz Model: Coming Apart at the Seams

#B1GCats:

Acknowledging the fact that Saturday’s game was probably less painful for me because I was not there in person… that was one of the least enjoyable 2nd halves in recent memory. For me it felt just like 2011 when Persa and co. jumped out to nice halftime leads on Michigan & Penn State, and then failed to score in the 2nd half of those games. It was, however, a phenomenal 1st half — our offense had it’s best half (by scoring efficiency) since the 2nd half against Cal. Not coincidentally we threw 30% of our passes over the middle. In the 2nd half, only 10% of passes went over the middle and the offense stalled like crazy.

I won’t belabor the point this week and will get right to the visuals – I’ve plotted Nebraska on our efficiency-vs-middle-of-the-field chart, based on the full game. Note if we plotted just the first half, it would be a full bar to the right of Penn State, and of course the 2nd half would be at zero, way off to the left.

Pass vs Eff

I know the entire world is calling for the backup QB, but I find it hard to believe anyone else could succeed given the in-game coaching right now. Some of this certainly falls on Trev, some on the OL, some on the WRs, and some is just the talent of the players we play against. But the OC and WR coaching seems to have gotten progressively worse in the past two seasons, and I believe are at the heart of everything befalling our offense right now.

We’re back to very little margin for error in the quest for bowl eligibility… luckily the opponents standing in the way of that are Iowa, Michigan, Purdue, and Illinois, all of whom are extremely beatable. Michigan is very much another Penn State, Iowa is a lesser version of MN, Purdue is somewhat of an enigma – their speed has kept them competitive – and Illinois is just fun to watch, unless you are an Illini fan. There is still a lot to play for this season and to watch for as an NU fan – it just will continue to be frustrating & not particularly pretty at times. Let’s enjoy it for the potential bowl and to watch the stunning beast-mode play from guys like Justin Jackson.

Win Proj

Game by Game

This Week’s Picks:

This year’s stats:

Straight up: 278-113 (71.1%)
ATS: 183-203 (47.4%)
Blog Picks: 12-27 (30.8%)

Here are this week’s picks:

Auburn (-17.5) vs South Carolina: USC is 0-6 vs the spread this year. Auburn is a beast at home. This looks like a run-away type game in the 2nd half. Model likes the Tigers by a lot.

Michigan (+17) @ Michigan State: Everything says that the Spartans should beat Michigan by 7 TDs here, but I just feel like coming off a bye, the Wolverines dig deep and find some pride to fight back in this game. They do have a defense (unlike IU) and should be able to keep MSU from running away with it. 2 TDs feels about right to both me and the Scuzz Model (and if we’re wrong, the ensuing #BradyHokeFace will be fun too).

TCU (-21) vs Texas Tech: After last week’s beatdown of OK-State, I am a believer in TCU. 5-0 vs the spread, and facing a very weak Texas Tech team at home this week. Model likes the Frogs by 26.

Mississippi (-3) @ LSU Ole Miss is boasting a defense that is reminiscent of LSU’s 2012 effort… but has to play in Baton Rouge at night this week. This could be exciting, but the fact is LSU’s weak offense is going to get stonewalled by this D. Unless they can outscore Ole Miss on defense and special teams alone, I like the Rebels to stay unbeaten and win by more than 3. Scuzz model has Ole Miss by 9.

Minnesota (-6) @ Illinois: This line is clearly low due to MN’s close call vs Purdue last week, the Illini’s solid play vs Wisconsin two weeks ago and their bye last week. However, I fully believe Jerry Kill was all over his Gophers after they let down on defense last week. Next week is their bye and I think they avoid the look-ahead to Iowa on 11/8 and roll through IL without pausing to take in the Champaign scenery. Model has MN by 11.

Other Notables:

Miss St (-14) @ Kentucky
Maryland (+11.5) @ Wisconsin
KState (-10) vs Texas
Virginia (-6.5) vs UNC
North Texas (+15) @ Rice
PSU (+13.5) vs OSU

Finally Obsolete BCS Championship Hunt – Thundering Toward an 8-Team Playoff?

Now the realities of the playoff are coming home to roost for the general college football fanbase.  Two SEC teams again? Yep, we warned you – it’s not only possible, but probable at this point unless the committee explicitly stops it.  Assuming FSU and the SEC champ get in, I personally think Oregon holds the trump card (a thumping of MSU) to secure the 1st one-loss spot.  After that, who will you pick? The Big 12 champ? (who by the way lost to Auburn at home) The Big 10 champ? (who by the way got destroyed by Oregon) Notre Dame? Very possible, though they need some help… I just don’t see them getting in over a 2nd SEC team, unless that conference completely devours itself, which means they need Oregon and pretty  much everyone else to lose another game. Regardless, the “rematch” potential in the playoff is very high – 2 SEC teams, or FSU + Notre Dame, or even Oregon + MSU should crazy things occur. At this point, can you even rule out 3 SEC teams? I think the playoff has a stipulation for that or at least should… Rule 36.2-B: don’t screw the rest of the county by picking only teams in the Southeast.

Current Playoff Teams:

FSU, Mississippi State, Mississippi, & Oregon

Playoff

Scuzz Model: Stuck in the Middle or The Gopher Bites

#B1GCats:

It was ultimately a frustrating three hours at “The Bank” last Saturday, leaving the Cats to ponder ‘what-if’ after another close loss. This was really just par for the course in the NU-MN series, dating back several years now. There is one game in this series during the Fitz era with a margin larger than one score – the Cats’ 28-13 victory in 2011. Consider also, that this 2014 version is easily the best Minnesota Gopher team of the last ten years. For these reasons, I am not very upset about this loss – NU went into this game with a plan: stop their run, don’t turn it over. You can see that plan in the way we aligned personnel with the situation on defense – rarely did we substitute the pass-rush in on 2nd or 3rd and medium type plays. We also didn’t throw a single pass to the middle of the field until after Minnesota’s big kick return. Reading much of the commentary post-game, however, made me feel like losing was some big aberration, as if we went against an inferior opponent and crapped the bed. Overall, this was a well played game – NU had a game plan, stuck to that plan, and almost pulled out a win on the road against a quality opponent. There were gaffes but the most egregious of which never ended any drives.

I wrote last week about our running success vs Wisconsin: “For me that is a concern going against the Gophers… in the past, this staff has been bullheaded about running, and I fear us opening the game against MN lowering our head and barreling into the line over and over again… part of the key against PSU and Wisc was using the passing game to open up the run – we must continue to throw to ball!”

Well, we didn’t go into as much of a shell as I feared from a run-pass perspective, but we re-tooled our passing game to be ultra conservative. Trevor is getting better at the nice back-shoulder throw to the sidelines, but his best work (in my opinion) this year has been down the seam…. And we didn’t throw a single seam-pass this game. Against UW, we used the WR screen to open that seam up, and when the safety shifts to cover it, it opens up the 8-10 yard up-and-in routes that our outside receivers run; instead, we ran a lot of shallow crosses against MN and threw a ton of balls in the flat – these plays can be successful, but they don’t attack the D and force play in the same way. I’ve been saying since last year, this offense is at its best when attacking the middle of the field – it’s what we did against Cal in the 2nd half and it’s what we did against Penn State. Looking at the passing breakdowns from my charting, the Minnesota game represented a big outlier in percentage of passes thrown over the middle – only 12%, when we have been above 30% in our other games. Not coincidentally, it was also our 2nd worst scoring output based on points-per-possession (the worst being NIU, where we all know we left multiple TDs on the field w bad drops… add 10 points to that score and it’s our best offensive performance to date). Bottom line, to be effective this offense has to get back to attacking the middle of the field, be it a coaching / scheme emphasis during the week, or a play-calling / QB focus during the game.

Pass vs Eff

All that being said, Trevor didn’t make any big mistakes (despite being a bit off in his accuracy again – that ankle continues to be a real issue for him), was again good about throwing the ball away, and the Cats almost won this game. I have some other concerns around the red-zone and our scripting coming out of halftime, but I believe the middle of the field is where we can make big inroads.

Win Proj

Game by Game

Not surprisingly, NU’s outlook has dropped a bit, due to the poor offensive showing this week. The model still sees NU in a 50:50 situation vs Nebraska this week. The simulation is honing in on 6-7 wins for the season for the Cats, with this Nebraska game being the real pivot point.

This Week’s Picks:

This year’s stats:

Straight up: 240-99 (70.8%)
ATS: 156-179 (46.6%)
Blog Picks: 11-23 (32.4%)

Here are this week’s picks:

Washington (+21) @ Oregon: The Ducks are at home and have always had Washington’s number, but 21 seems like a lot against a good D and a coach who has taken you down in the past (as opposed to Sark who can’t seem to beat Oregon). Model likes Nike U by 14.

Baylor (-9.5) @ WVU: Everything says that the Mountaineers should cover here and give Baylor a scare… after all, the Bears are coming off a huge comeback win, they haven’t looked great on the road, and WVU is a tough place to play. If this game were a 7pm kickoff, I’d be hesitant to go with the Scuzz Model, but for a ho-hum Noon game? Baylor all the way (model says by 4 TDs.)

Iowa (+3.5) @ Maryland: Will be very interesting to see what happens in this game… Iowa’s rugged grind vs Maryland’s big WRs. The model has been high on Iowa all year – this week will really answer some questions about how good they can be. Model likes Terrapins only by 1.

Kansas State (+10) @ Oklahoma Would feel a lot better about this if it were in Manhattan, but KState absolutely has what it takes to knock off this Oklahoma team, or at least keep it close. The Sooners got beat by TCU, looked marginal against TX, and may be feeling down about their Big 12 and Playoff hopes at this point. Have seen what KState did to Auburn, I really like their chances of keeping OU in check. Model has Sooners by 6.

Tennessee (+17) @ Mississippi: Ole Miss is on top of the world after two huge wins in a row. And now they host the lowly Volunteers. Can you say letdown? Tennessee has played a number of SEC teams tough, and will likely lose, but Ole Miss winning by 17 seems high. Model has Rebs by 15.

Other Notables:
Northwestern (+7) vs Nebraska
Rutgers (+22) vs Ohio State
Stanford (-3.5) @ ASU
Clemson (-7.5) @ BC
Florida State (-12.5) vs Notre Dame

Finally Obsolete BCS Championship Hunt – Thundering Toward an 8-Team Playoff?
More carnage and we are left with a scant six undefeated teams… shockingly two of which hail from the state of Mississippi. We’re guaranteed to have at least one 1-loss team in the playoff, as ND/FSU and the Egg Bowl will reduce our undefeated pool by two (and let’s face it – Marshall isn’t getting in over a 2-loss team.) I’m very excited for the prospect of two SEC teams and Notre Dame making the cut and upsetting the entire world all over again in the inaugural playoff.

Current Playoff Teams:

FSU, Baylor, Mississippi State & Mississippi

Playoff

Scuzz Model: The Best Day Since….

#B1GCats:

It’s hard for me to describe Saturday’s gargantuan win over Penn State. Joy, relief, redemption… all these words apply, but they do not really begin to describe the impact of that win. I contend that was this NU fan’s best day since Jan 1, 2013. We talked about it briefly on this week’s pod – while this was a great win and a desperately needed win, it was not necessarily an important win. We are all hopeful this will represent a turning point in the season and signal that NU is moving in the right direction again (even a loss this weekend to Wisconsin will not derail that, IMO)… but this was not a program defining win, like the Gator Bowl was, or like a victory against OSU last season would’ve been.

This is not meant to undercut the impact of winning that game, which I believe is different. The dominant way the Cats finished this game stood out in terms of outcomes that were not in doubt prior to the final whistle. Yes, we blew out Syracuse last year, and Illinois in ‘12, but the combination of the opponent, the location, and the way we finished make this performance one of the top three in the entire Fitz era, save the Gator bowl and perhaps 2009 at Iowa (the Wooten-Stanzi game.)

Ultimately, Penn State may prove to be a middling Big Ten team. We may end up 4-8. But to me, this game is step 3 in the process that began against Michigan State in 2012. After letting leads against PSU, Neb, & Michigan slip away that year (albeit leads were we closer and closer to maintaining), the Cats shut down a potential game-tying drive from the Spartans to finally finish a game against a tough opponent. Six weeks later, they improved on that effort against Mississippi State. This Penn State game was a natural extension of that “learning to win” process, which was derailed by last year’s brutal combo of injuries, OSU-induced malaise, and loss of confidence.

Do not lump me in with those who are describing this as Fitz finally winning the Fitz way – i.e. with defense. Frankly, he has been doing that since 2006 when he took over. Yes, CJ Bacher and Dan Persa were prolific in running the spread, but when this team has been at its best (’09, ’12) it has been because the defense was stout, and the offense could control the ball. The difference on Saturday, in the Gator Bowl, and in ‘12 against MSU is that the defense was excellent in critical situations. The other side of that coin is the offensive performance – to continue winning this season we will need that offense to keep progressing.

As has been discussed ad nauseum, the Cats must throw the ball to win this year. On Saturday, just as we predicted last week, the Cats opened up the offense through the air. Unlike the Cal game, the WRs  (Tony Jones in particular) flashed great hands. Unlike the NIU game, the O-line played well and kept Trevor protected, even when PSU brought extra pressure. Trevor continues, in my opinion, to play at a decent level – he is missing passes but is clearly more in sync with Shuler & Vitale, and is more comfortable with his security blanket (Jones) back on the field.

The seam pass to Trevor’s left is one of the best he throws, and the coaches are doing a good job scheming options to play seam passes, slants, bubble screens & flat passes off one another. All that activity has given Trev some real opportunities downfield as well. Generally, based on the last three game charts, Trev is much more comfortable throwing to the left side of the formation – be it that seam, or when he throws the deep ball 30+ yards downfield (those have almost all been to the left.) If his percentages on boundary throws improve, that will really elevate this offense – that was where he had a lot of success against NIU, but perhaps the bigger faster corners in the Big Ten will ultimately foil those passes; he hit two early against PSU, but was not able to connect after those first two drives. Here is the passing chart for the PSU game:

NIU-Pass Chart

NIU-Pass LIst

NU’s stats improved dramatically last week, buoyed in part by the utter collapse in Ann Arbor. The simulation now gives NU a 54% chance of getting to 6 or more wins and becoming bowl eligible.

Win Proj

Game by Game

This Week’s Picks:

This year’s stats:
Straight up: 167-65 (72.0%)
ATS: 111-120 (48.1%)
Blog Picks: 8-17 (32.0%)

Little by little the model finds its way, and I figure out which teams not to bank on. I really shouldn’t have bet against the model on Arkansas, but so it goes. Here are this week’s picks in a banner early season CFB week:

Mississippi State (-1.5) vs Texas A&M: A&M won a tough game against Arkansas last week in a neutral (though really tilted-in-their-favor) location. This week they travel to resurgent Starkville to face the surprising Bulldogs. If that LSU win had come last week, I would be wary of the post-win letdown, but MSU has had a week off to reset for this tough A&M team. The Bulldogs also have a much better defense that Arkansas. The model has MSU by 15.

Maryland (+7.5) vs Ohio State: Last week’s pick against the Buckeyes didn’t go well, but Maryland has a much better defense than Cincinnati, and I just don’t believe in Ohio State yet. Model likes Maryland to pull-off the upset.

Michigan State (-8.5) vs Nebraska: In the matchup of Big Ten powers (cause there aren’t any others) the model thinks MSU has the edge on the Huskers. I agree wholeheartedly for two reasons – 1, Nebraska is a one-dimensional team, and MSU has shown in the past it can shut down their run game… that was also before Neb turned over 4/5s of their oline. 2, I don’t think Nebraska has the horses on defense to keep MSU off the scoreboard – my only real evidence is that they gave up more points to Miami than Duke did. Model has Spartans by 13.

Michigan (+3.5) @ Rutgers: Much like my Iowa pick against Pitt a few weeks back, this is all about vengeful karma. The model thinks Michigan can win this game. Most everyone thinks they will lose. And as a result, I win either way. Truly, I expect Michigan to play better this week, and Rutgers’ QB is still Gary Nova (plus they no longer have their best player, RB Paul James). Model has Michigan by 4.

USC (-11) vs ASU: Who remembers what happened in this game last year? We pretty much all remember the aftermath on the tarmac in Phoenix, but I bet the USC players remember that 2nd half vividly. Given that QB Kelly is likely to miss this game (or will have limited mobility if he plays) I expect the Trojans to romp. Model has them by 25.

Other Notables:

Northwestern (+9.5) vs Wisconsin
TCU (+5) vs Oklahoma
Mississippi (+6) vs Alabama
South Carolina (-5) @ Kentucky
East Carolina (-39.5) vs SMU
Auburn (-8) vs LSU

Finally Obsolete BCS Championship Hunt – Thundering Toward an 8-Team Playoff?

Our first big elimination week has arrived! Marshall, Florida State, & BYU are probably safe… but everyone else has a huge match up this week. The Scuzz Model thinks the MSU-Alabama game is the closest, giving Bama slight edge to win (55%) – most others on the list are around 80% likely to win.

Current Playoff Teams:
FSU, UCLA, Baylor & Bama

Playoff

Scuzz Model: 2014 Kickoff

#B1GCats:

Cat fans, it’s time to dust ourselves off and get back up for the next round of the fight. Last year was plain awful to go through as a fan; but if you squint (and you don’t need to squint very hard), that 5-7 record turns into 7-5 or even 8-4 very very quickly. Note that NU achieved that record with the Marknado missing, 2 injured quarterbacks, and some really bad play-calling tendencies. Well, one of those things won’t be fixed in 2014… one will pretty much be up to the football gods, and the o-line to some degree… but the last really should improve this year for a litany of reasons (check out our most recent podcast for the details).

The Scuzz model sees NU as a middle of the road team this year, and that is without any impact from our expectations around play-calling and offensive rhythm. There are some pretty low expectations out there for NU, but this model sees the Cats as a 6 or 7 win squad, even with the big losses on offense. “Last Week” below is truly the projection from a couple weeks back, before adjusting for the losses of Venric, Christian Jones, and Sean McEvilly. Overall, their loss is worth a decrease of about 0.5 expected wins. Contrast that to Braxton Miller departure which bleeds OSU of 2.5 expected wins. How is that possible you ask? Well the fact is, that NU’s numbers last year were reasonably good, even without Mark. Again, they were 3 plays from being 8-4! And, they did that with an offensive efficiency (unadjusted) that was well below the NCAA average, and was 30% below NU’s stats in 2012. I realize that sounds overly optimistic, and maybe stats are for losers, but these stats think NU will be bowling and should the other two things that killed the Cats last year get fixed (QB health & play calling), we should see some seriously improved offensive efficiency and that give NU a chance to make some legitimate noise in the West. In fact, if NU’s offensive efficiency gets back to 2012 levels (approx 7 addl pts per game), the model pegs the Cats at 9-3 on the year.

Win Proj

Game by Game

P.S. the thing you should take away from above, is that neither Wisconsin nor Nebraska are looking as strong as many outlets believe them to be… particularly Nebraska, who I think is due for a bad year…. That said, even if NU does have a big jump up this year, we will have a tough time beating out Iowa for the division crown given their insanely favorable schedule.

This Week’s Picks:

Last year’s stats:

Straight up: 564-172 (76.6%)
ATS: 401-303 (57.0%)
Blog Picks: 40-23 (63.5%)

Last year ended up being the best year for the Scuzz Model yet, and a solid year for the weekly blog picks as well. We’re back at it this year. Note the record for the blog picks is based on my 5 “games of the week”, which I choose based on how my predictions vary from the published lines and the general status of each team. There are occasions where I can’t find a 5th game that I feel comfortable about, but I always include some extra picks based on the model that I think look reasonable, or are just interesting to me (i.e. Big Ten games).
Here are this week’s picks:

Rice (+21) @ Notre Dame: So many things with this game. ND’s disarray, Golsen layoff, inflated ND lines, and then there’s last year’s opener, when Rice made Texas A&M look bad. With all the turnover on ND’s defense, particularly the loss of their entire D-line, Rice should be able to run and stay in this. The model favors the Irish by only 13.

Bowling Green (-7.5) @ W. Kentucky: BGU was an incredible team last year, particularly in their run game and defense. They may drop off a little having lost some defenders, but the Hilltoppers lose a lot more, including their coach. I like BGU to really roll in this game – the model favors them by 33.

Washington State (-8) vs Rutgers: If teams are getting lines like this against Rutgers, it’s gonna be a fun year. We’re all waiting for Wazzou to really put the Mike Leach offense together, and I think at the very least they continue to progress in ‘14. Rutgers, as we’ve discussed on the podcast, is in trouble this year on defense. The Scuzz Model favors WSU by 19.

Florida State (-17.5) vs OSU: This one seems pretty straight-forward. OSU lost just about everyone, and FSU is the presumptive #1 team in the country. Great stat from Phil Steele – OSU lost 32 lettermen, and only returns 38… that is crazy, plus then the hype and pressure of the opening game in Jerry World against the defending champs. The biggest thing I noticed about Winston and FSU last year, was their ability to show up in big games and in the spotlight. This game checks those boxes… I think the model is spot on favoring the Seminoles by 32.

Auburn (-20.5) vs Arkansas: So apparently they are excited for year 2 of Bret Bielema in Arkansas. I can’t imagine why. Last year, the Razorbacks were decimated by everyone with a pulse and lost to Rutgers as well. They fell to Auburn by 18, and this year have to travel to Jordan-Hare to face an Auburn team that returns most of its big dogs, plus is entering year 2 with Malzahn at the helm. Many expect Auburn to drop off this year in wins, and I am no different… that’s based on how many close calls they had last year… a 35-17 bruising of Arkansas does not fall into that category, and both the model and I expect the Tigers to destroy Arkansas as a way to set the stage going into this season. Scuzz model favors Auburn by 31.

Bonus Picks:

North Texas (+25.5) @ Texas: I’m not comfortable making this an official pick, just cause Charlie Strong is an X-factor, and may impact a huge jump for Texas if he can get his players to play at potential (like he’s done everywhere else he’s coached). Strong’s impact may take time, however, and UT has been disappointing for a few seasons now while N. Texas looks to have a strong squad here. The Longhorns will win this game, but I like to think Mean Green pride keeps the score close. The model says NT can keep it within 3 TDs.

Utah State (+6) @ Tennessee: I can’t really pick this, cause the model sees it as a push, but I love Utah State in this game. Chuckie Keeton is back for this Aggie team that almost upset USC last year and Wisconsin & Auburn in the years before that. I think they finally reel in a big fish … the Vols have some good skill players, but have complete turnover on both lines.

Other Notables:

FAU (+21) @ Nebraska
Bama (-26) vs West Virginia
Wisconsin (+5) vs LSU
Purdue (-10) vs W. Michigan
Navy (+14) vs OSU
S. Car (-10.5) vs Texas A&M

Finally Obsolete BCS Championship Hunt – Thundering Toward an 8-Team Playoff?

The BCS is dead, gone, and long forgotten. The crystal football has been replaced by a steel football-shaped tube (at least on one end), and while the Florida State Seminoles reign supreme for now, their path to a repeat is much more difficult this year in having to go through 2 of the top 4 teams in CFB to win it all (although the ACC looks less daunting this season).

Despite the long years of the BCS telling us otherwise, going undefeated remains an important and impressive achievement, and coincidentally is the best way to book your ticket to a Playoff spot. Looking at the landscape laid out by the Scuzz model below, the teams with the best shot of making the playoff are FSU, Bama, Baylor, and Michigan State.

Undefeated

Will you look at that though? One of these pesky non-Power-Five schools may have the audacity to go undefeated in the first year of the Playoff, and make everyone lose their marbles! No doubt Marshall’s 2014 Thundering Herd is a stacked football team, but unfortunately their schedule is just the opposite… Phil Steele ranks it #125 in all of CFB (Houston plays somewhat more interesting competition as part of the Big East (AAC), but I have much less faith in them staying un-blemished, especially having to visit BYU). The 125th ranked schedule is bad, and it means that Marshall have no prayer of making the playoff over even 1-loss power-5 squads (unless Condi did a Randy-Moss-like-stint at Marshall and nobody knows about it). Now, if four 1-loss teams get in ahead of Marshall, you can bet that legislators from the great state of West Virginia will get up in arms (just like the senators from Utah & Idaho that have preceded them in CFB purgatory), and join the chorus of voices that will surely be demanding an 8-team playoff with one guaranteed non-power-5 spot. I bet you by 2018 we’ll have that format (or at least an NFL-style 6 team playoff), lest CFB risk its anti-trust status; who knows, between O’Bannon, Kesler, and CAPA, that ship may sail much sooner.

Regardless, it will be fun to see who can make this playoff in year one, and participate in one of the greatest money-making moments in college football history…. The games should be pretty damn fun as well.