Finally, October. September typically goes how teams want it to go. You set yourself up with early cupcake games to pad the win column and ease into your season, or you take a risk on some early tough matchups to harden yourself for the season ahead. October is the month, however, that really tells us what the season will be. Conference games are everywhere, with hardly any FCS squads to be found. In September, you find out what teams want to be. In October, you find out what they are.
Take the Florida Gators, for example. Their schedule has ramped up a little each week. Started with a 61-13 win over New Mexico State, easily one of the worst FBS programs in the land. Then they hosted East Carolina, a decent mid-major who gave them a test with significantly less talent, a test the Gators passed 31-24. Next was a road trip to Kentucky; Kentucky is hardly a cupcake, but as far as conference openers, I think most SEC squads would happily start with UK, and UF came out with a 14-9 win. The difficulty progressed last weekend, as the Gators hosted Tennessee, winning 28-27. We still don’t have a great handle on any of these teams (other than NMSU – they are definitively bad at football). By the end of October, we will. Back to Florida’s schedule:
October 3 – vs. Ole Miss
October 10 – at Missouri
October 17 – at LSU
October 24 – bye
October 31 – vs. Georgia
First, I’m not championing Florida’s October schedule as the toughest in the country (although, after some cursory glancing, I think it might be). They get a bye, and they also get a so-far pretty disappointing Missouri team. This is just an example of October schedules in general. In short, October’s always a better month than September. Bigger stakes and better matchups lead to better Saturdays. Let’s get to it.
The Ten Closest Matchups of Week 5
- Kansas State at Oklahoma State – ESPN’s FPI and Football Outsiders’ F/+ disagree on the better team, and that’s not often the case. This isn’t a huge matchup, but one of these schools seemingly always makes some noise in the Big XII, at the very least being a thorn in the side of the national contenders from the conference. The Big XII has given us some good football so far, and this one shouldn’t be an exception.
- Vanderbilt at Middle Tennessee – Boy, it’s hard to figure this one out. SEC teams don’t often hit the road and visit CUSA stadiums. But then again, “hitting the road” in this case means a 57 minute ride down I-24 to Murfreesboro. And in this case, the CUSA stadium, Red Floyd Stadium, is only 11 years younger and 10,000 capacity smaller than Vanderbilt Stadium. Vandy has been a little more consistent this year, with MTSU having lower lows and higher highs. It should be a pretty important game, with regard to local recruiting, for both schools, but I like Vanderbilt here if I have to choose. Either way, should be close.
- Notre Dame at Clemson – I really wish we could watch this game with a completely healthy Notre Dame, but this isn’t the year for that. Clemson’s at home, Clemson has the best rush defense in the country so far, and they bring that rush defense into a game that might be affected by torrential downpours from Hurricane Joaquin – something that leads to more rushing – and the brain says Clemson has the edge. But Notre Dame is battle-tested. The Irish have looked like a title contender more often than Clemson this year, even if the overall stats don’t suggest so. Their arguably worst game so far was the only other road game, so maybe there’s something to that, which again points the needle towards Clemson. This one is must-watch viewing on Saturday night.
- Louisville at NC State – NC State is doing an excellent job winning the ground game this year, ranking 13th in success rate (53%) and 12th in success rate allowed (27.4%). When you are successful on the ground nearly twice as often as your opponents, that’s a big ingredient to winning games. They need that to continue, because Louisville has been very efficient running the ball so far, ranking 1st nationally in rushing S&P+. That’s not exactly vintage Bobby Petrino, which is too bad for Louisville, because vintage Bobby Petrino would be exactly the right fit to beat NC State, who ranks 115th in S&P+ against the pass. The Pack are giving up big plays through the air, and if Louisville’s passing attack is ever going to get off the ground, it needs to in this game. All in all, it should make for a very good ACC matchup.
- Colorado State at Utah State – Both these teams have disappointed me this year. I suppose that might be my fault, because I unabashedly root for success for CSU HC Mike Bobo, CSU WR Rashard Higgins, and 12th year Senior USU QB Chuckie Keeton. But it’s not going great for either. CSU has looked worse in each successive game. Lucky thing they had UTSA on the schedule last week, because the effort likely wouldn’t have beaten most FBS teams. CSU needs to turn things around quickly or bowl eligibility might be seriously at risk. Utah State hasn’t progressively gotten worse, but that’s only because they started so poorly. A year or two ago, Keeton was one of the most exciting players in the sport. Now he’s averaging 5.1 yards per dropback, with 5 interceptions in 101 throws. USU still has the strong run defense built by Gary Andersen in his time here, but everything else has fallen off drastically. Back to CSU, most of the issues seem to be defensive – Bobo’s passing offense is 32nd in S&P+, and sophomore QB Nick Stevens (7.4 ypp, 59.6%, 9:4) seems to be benefiting from Bobo’s presence, not mention that of Higgins, who is picking the team up 10.1 yards per target.
- FIU at Massachusetts – Yeah, it’ll be close. But it won’t be fun.
- South Carolina at Missouri – Ugh. I might rather watch FIU/UMass, come to think of it.
- Minnesota at Northwestern – The last time Minnesota played a top 20 team, they came within 6 points of beating TCU. That was also the last time Minnesota played a top 70 team. This will be their first real test in a month, against a team that is actually pretty similar. Both offenses are pretty below-average and boring, but both defenses do a nice job of making opponents look below-average and boring as well. Minnesota held TCU to 23 points. Northwestern lulled Stanford into a 6 point afternoon. The Wildcats in particular have done an excellent job of shutting down drives in their territory. When opponents cross the 40, they’re averaging just 2.19 points per drive against Northwestern, the 2nd best rate in the country. This should be a good, close game in the old style of Big Ten matchups. Something like a 21-19 slugfest wouldn’t surprise me.
- Air Force at Navy – Military rivalry! Worth watching for that and the similar styles of offense (without being the same, really), I think Navy has the edge thanks in part to their excellent starting field position advantage so far (+13.0 yards).
- Houston at Tulsa – Both these teams are better than you probably think they are. Should be fun. But hell, all of Saturday should be fun.
Hour by Hour Viewing Guide
(due to late publishing, we’ll omit Thursday)
Our weekly guide to helping you and your remote’s recall button plan your weekend.
7:00 – Memphis at USF on ESPN 2 is the primary game, with Temple at Charlotte on CBS SN as the backup. But if you’ve got other stuff to do, please do that instead. You need Saturday free, so this is solid errand time.
10:15 – Uconn visits BYU on ESPN 2. Again, no real need to watch this one closely. Just keep an eye on the score every half hour or so, or download the Thuuz app and just have it let you know when and if this game becomes one that needs watching.
12:00 – It’s the best noon lineup of the year so far. Houston/Tulsa on CBS SN, SC/Missouri on SEC Network, Pitt/VT on ESPN 3, Minnesota/Northwestern on the Big Ten Network, and Iowa/Wisconsin on ESPN are all likely to be underrated matchups. Texas/TCU, Michigan/Maryland, and Purdue/Michigan State shouldn’t be close games, but they all feature a watchable top 25 team. So this is one hell of a toss up. Well, let me specify that the toss up is for your backup game, because you should be watching West Virginia at Oklahoma on FOX. Guys, West Virginia has been GOOD this year. Granted, they haven’t played anyone like Oklahoma yet, but you shouldn’t gloss over any team that shuts out Georgia Southern. Here’s a quick list of Power 5 teams that have scored at least 40 points in every game this year:
And here’s a list of teams that have yet to give up 20 points in a game:
North Carolina (yes, really)
Now, September is still a pretty small sample, and I realize I kind of cherry-picked some things here, but the point I’m illustrating is valid – West Virginia has played better than you or I probably realized. Winning in Norman used to be a Herculean task, but the Sooners have dropped 5 home games in the last 3 years. Don’t get me wrong, I expect Oklahoma to win, but it’s a matchup of two top 20 teams at noon. Watch it. As for the backup, I’ll probably go with Iowa-Wisconsin, which comes at the perfect time. We are very close to the point where we have to start talking about and acknowledging undefeated Iowa, and that really should only be the case if they have beaten someone of note. If Iowa wins, at least the discussion will be worthy. If Wisconsin wins, I can happily go back to ignoring Iowa.
12:30 – Louisville at NC State, ESPN 3. I prefer this to the backup games from noon. For years I’ve thought NC State was a program that could blow up given the right coach, and I think Dave Doeren could be the right coach, given plenty of time. I won’t mind pulling for the Wolfpack, who should find great success in 3rd-and-Grantham situations. Keep watching the Big XII on FOX, but consider this one as the backup.
3:30 – If you are considering anything other than CBS at this time, you are following the wrong sport. As for a backup game, I don’t hate Ohio State/Indiana on ABC/ESPN 2, Air Force/Navy on CBS SN, Texas Tech/Baylor on the other end of that ABC/ESPN 2 split, or North Carolina/GT on ESPN U. The military matchup should be the best but least important game. I think Baylor will be able to just outscore TTU all day, which leaves me keenly interested in the unbeaten Buckeyes playing the unbeaten Hoosiers, just because UNBEATEN HOOSIERS, as well as the ACC matchup. Gene Chizik has done a pretty nice job so far with the Tar Heel defense, so seeing what they can do against GT’s stalling-of-late offense seems like a fun option as well. The nice thing about 3:30, like the noon slate before it, is that you’ve got options. But seriously, thanks to CBS, you won’t need them.
4:00 – Kansas State/Oklahoma State on Fox Sports 1 seems like a lovely matchup, but you can wait until later in the game to tune in. It’s something to start keeping track of, at least.
4:02 – Nebraska/Illinois. Don’t watch this game. I’m just listing it because they have a 4:02 kickoff. Nebraska, this is why BYU happens, and this is why your coach quit on you, Illinois. Because you start games at 4:02.
7:00 – Assuming 3:30 games are done, and if KSU/Oklahoma State isn’t living up to its billing, 7:00 gives us a pair of decent SEC matchups: Ole Miss at Florida on ESPN and Arkansas at Tennessee on ESPN 2. Prioritize them in that order.
7:30 – Mississippi State at Texas A&M on SEC Network. This should take priority over that Ark/Ten matchup, and might be as good as the Gator game. These are top 25 teams. Arizona State visits UCLA on FOX, but I wouldn’t do more than keep an eye on the score.
8:00 – Your main game is now Notre Dame/Clemson on ABC. Let the Aggie game or the Gator game serve as the backup.
10:00 – Oregon at Colorado on ESPN. The Ducks are only favored by 7.5 points, which is quite a statement on their season so far. I think it’s a bit of an overreaction, but if there’s really a problem with Oregon, we’ll find out in this one. Even the just good Oregon teams win this game by 20+ points.
10:30 – Arizona at Stanford on the Pac 12 Network. I don’t have the Pac-12 Network, but if I did, I’d probably prefer this to Oregon/Colorado.
The Full Slate
A quick explanation of a couple of columns. I’ve dropped S&P+, which is already factored into F/+, and I’ve added ESPN’s FPI:
F/+: F/+ is Football Outsiders’ method of ranking team strength. It’s presented as a percentage and all set against an average FBS team. So, if Team X has a F/+ rating of 12.3%, that means that, by this metric, they’re 12.3% better than the average FBS squad. It encompasses many things that make teams successful, like drive success, explosiveness, and efficiency, all weighted for quality of opponent, but it isn’t an end-all, be-all metric. There’s no such thing. It’s just a far more helpful metric than the collected votes of a bunch of middle-aged beat writers. For the first 4 weeks of the season, they mesh 2015 results with the preseason projections.
FPI: Provided by ESPN, FPI bases everything around Expected Points Added, which measures how much each play contributes to scoring points. A touchdown isn’t just the product of the scoring play, but rather all the plays that led to it. By awarding expected points based on what the average team does at the same field position and down/distance, a point value can be placed on each individual play based on the changes from the old ball spot to the new. FPI is opponent-adjusted, and focuses on predicting outcomes, which it did better than Vegas handicappers last year.
You’ll also see a new column on the far right: Unadjusted Spread. This is my calculation of the point spread without an adjustment for home field advantage. Just listing it so we can have a look back at it later.
|Visitor||ESPN FPI||F/+||Home||ESPN FPI||F/+||Favorite||Time||TV||Unadj. Spread|
|Miami||11.7 (32nd)||17.6% (33rd)||Cincinnati||1.4 (64th)||-7.2% (76th)||Miami (-6.5)||Thursday - 7:30||ESPN||Miami (-11.5)|
|Temple||5.1 (57th)||12.2% (46th)||Charlotte||-16.8 (118th)||-38.8% (118th)||Temple (-22.0)||Friday - 7:00||CBS SN||Temple (-23.5)|
|Memphis||6.3 (50th)||0.5% (64th)||USF||-7.1 (95th)||-22.9% (101st)||Memphis (-8.5)||Friday - 7:00||ESPN 2||Memphis (-12.5)|
|Connecticut||-10.6 (109th)||-22.7% (99th)||BYU||7.1 (46th)||17.0% (34th)||BYU (-18.0)||Friday - 10:15||ESPN 2||BYU (-19.0)|
|UCF||-7.6 (98th)||-15.7% (86th)||Tulane||-11.7 (111th)||-27.3% (105th)||UCF (-3.0)||Saturday - 12:00||ESPN News||UCF (-5.0)|
|Houston||4.1 (59th)||4.9% (57th)||Tulsa||-2.5 (80th)||1.4% (62nd)||Houston (-7.0)||Saturday - 12:00||CBS SN||Houston (-4.0)|
|South Carolina||6.9 (47th)||15.3% (41st)||Missouri||6.2 (51st)||5.4% (55th)||Missouri (-2.5)||Saturday - 12:00||SEC Network||SC (-3.0)|
|Pittsburgh||6.0 (53rd)||10.5% (50th)||Virginia Tech||11.0 (33rd)||18.4% (31st)||VT (-4.5)||Saturday - 12:00||ESPN 3||VT (-4.5)|
|Army||-13.6 (115th)||-29.1% (109th)||Penn State||7.4 (44th)||16.4% (39th)||PSU (-25.0)||Saturday - 12:00||ESPN U||Penn St (-22.0)|
|Kansas||-13.9 (116th)||-50.7% (127th)||Iowa State||0.3 (70th)||-6.5% (75th)||ISU (-17.0)||Saturday - 12:00||ISU (-18.0)|
|West Virginia||18.7 (13th)||29.4% (20th)||Oklahoma||20.5 (11th)||44.6% (8th)||OU (-7.0)||Saturday - 12:00||FOXS1||OU (-4.5)|
|Texas||7.4 (44th)||1.7% (61st)||TCU||21.8 (8th)||36.7% (15th)||TCU (-15.0)||Saturday - 12:00||ABC||TCU (-16.0)|
|Michigan||15.0 (21st)||35.2% (16th)||Maryland||-4.2 (85th)||-13.4% (82nd)||Mich (-14.5)||Saturday - 12:00||Big Ten Network||Mich (-21.5)|
|Purdue||-3.7 (84th)||-15.8% (87th)||Michigan State||15.6 (20th)||40.7% (13th)||MSU (-21.5)||Saturday - 12:00||ESPN 2||MSU (-23.5)|
|Minnesota||2.9 (63rd)||17.8% (32nd)||Northwestern||8.0 (41st)||21.0% (26th)||NW (-4.0)||Saturday - 12:00||Big Ten Network||NW (-3.5)|
|Iowa||8.9 (38th)||13.2% (42nd)||Wisconsin||13.4 (27th)||29.4% (19th)||Wis (-7.0)||Saturday - 12:00||ESPN||Wisc (-6.5)|
|Louisville||8.0 (40th)||20.2% (27th)||NC State||12.9 (28th)||7.2% (53rd)||NCSt (-4.0)||Saturday - 12:30||ESPN 3||UL (-1.0)|
|Ohio||-0.7 (72nd)||-4.9% (73rd)||Akron||-9.5 (105th)||-24.1% (103rd)||Ohio (-2.5)||Saturday - 2:00||ESPN 3||Ohio (-9.0)|
|Toledo||6.4 (49th)||10.7% (49th)||Ball State||-4.3 (86th)||-7.2% (77th)||Toledo (-7.0)||Saturday - 3:00||ESPN 3||Toledo (-10.0)|
|Northern Illinois||-0.8 (73rd)||8.0% (51st)||Central Michigan||-6.1 (93rd)||-14.2% (83rd)||NIU (-3.0)||Saturday - 3:00||ESPN 3||NIU (-8.0)|
|FIU||-5.7 (90th)||-21.1% (94th)||Massachusetts||-10.3 (106th)||-22.6% (98th)||UMass (-2.5)||Saturday - 3:00||ESPN 3||FIU (-2.5)|
|Ohio State||22.8 (7th)||52.6% (2nd)||Indiana||0.0 (71st)||-8.2% (78th)||OSU (-22.5)||Saturday - 3:30||ABC / ESPN 2||OSU (-26.5)|
|Air Force||0.6 (68th)||-1.7% (66th)||Navy||0.4 (69th)||12.9% (44th)||Navy (-6.0)||Saturday - 3:30||CBS SN||Navy (-3.5)|
|Wyoming||-20.7 (128th)||-44.8% (124th)||Appalachian State||3.8 (60th)||4.6% (58th)||ASU (-25.5)||Saturday - 3:30||ESPN 3||ASU (-24.5)|
|Bowling Green||-1.3 (75th)||-1.9% (67th)||Buffalo||-7.8 (99th)||-21.7% (95th)||BGSU (-8.0)||Saturday - 3:30||ESPN 3||BGSU (-8.0)|
|Miami OH||-18.8 (125th)||-42.7% (122nd)||Kent State||-12.2 (113th)||-22.6% (97th)||KSU (-11.0)||Saturday - 3:30||ESPN 3||KSU (-8.5)|
|Liberty||n/a||n/a||Georgia State||-17.1 (120th)||-42.3% (120th)||Saturday - 3:30||ESPN 3|
|Texas Tech||13.5 (26th)||10.8% (48th)||Baylor||26.0 (2nd)||39.0% (14th)||Baylor (-17.0)||Saturday - 3:30||ABC / ESPN 2||Baylor (-13.5)|
|Old Dominion||-18.2 (123rd)||-33.6% (115th)||Marshall||-1.1 (74th)||0.7% (63rd)||Marsh (-18.5)||Saturday - 3:30||Marshall (-17.0)|
|WKU||4.9 (58th)||16.6% (37th)||Rice||-5.9 (91st)||-35.7 (116th)||WKU (-7.0)||Saturday - 3:30||WKU (-18.5)|
|Boston College||1.7 (64th)||5.3% (56th)||Duke||8.3 (39th)||26.4% (22nd)||Duke (-7.0)||Saturday - 3:30||ESPN 3||Duke (-8.5)|
|Florida State||17.2 (17th)||47.3% (6th)||Wake Forest||-6.0 (92nd)||-17.6% (90th)||FSU (-20.0)||Saturday - 3:30||ESPN||FSU (-28.0)|
|North Carolina||11.7 (31st)||6.5% (54th)||Georgia Tech||16.7 (18th)||30.5% (18th)||GT (-7.5)||Saturday - 3:30||ESPN U||GT (-8.5)|
|Alabama||23.7 (5th)||70.8% (1st)||Georgia||23.7 (4th)||47.2% (7th)||UGA (-1.5)||Saturday - 3:30||CBS||Alabama (-6.0)|
|San Jose State||-4.4 (87th)||-17.4% (89th)||Auburn||10.8 (33rd)||13.0% (43rd)||Auburn (-20.0)||Saturday - 4:00||SEC Network||Auburn (-15.0)|
|Washington State||-4.4 (88th)||-21.7% (96th)||California||14.3 (24th)||10.9% (47th)||Cal (-17.5)||Saturday - 4:00||Pac 12 Network||Cal (-17.5)|
|Kansas State||9.9 (35th)||25.3% (23rd)||Oklahoma State||14.0 (25th)||16.8% (35th)||OK St (-7.5)||Saturday - 4:00||FOXS1||Pk|
|East Carolina||-2.9 (81st)||-2.0% (68th)||SMU||-9.1 (104th)||-33.3% (114th)||ECU (-6.0)||Saturday - 4:00||ESPN News||ECU (-11.0)|
|Nebraska||7.6 (42nd)||16.5% (38th)||Illinois||5.2 (57th)||3.5% (59th)||NEB (-7.0)||Saturday - 4:02||Big Ten Network||Nebraska (-4.5)|
|North Texas||-18.6 (124th)||-44.8% (125th)||Southern Miss||-5.0 (89th)||-32.1% (112th)||USM (-16.5)||Saturday - 7:00||Southern Miss (-10.0)|
|Ole Miss||26.4 (1st)||51.6% (3rd)||Florida||14.4 (23rd)||16.7% (36th)||Ole Miss (-7.5)||Saturday - 7:00||ESPN||Ole Miss (-14.5)|
|Arkansas||12.7 (29th)||19.7% (29th)||Tennessee||18.5 (14th)||24.0% (24th)||Tenn (-7.0)||Saturday - 7:00||ESPN 2||Tenn (-4.0)|
|Eastern Michigan||-18.1 (122nd)||-42.3% (119th)||LSU||23.4 (6th)||50.7% (5th)||LSU (-45.5)||Saturday - 7:00||ESPN U||LSU (-44.0)|
|Vanderbilt||3.2 (62nd)||2.9% (60th)||Middle Tennessee||5.6 (55th)||-2.4% (69th)||MTSU (-3.0)||Saturday - 7:00||CBS SN||Pk|
|UL-Lafayette||-8.3 (101st)||-28.0% (106th)||Louisiana Tech||6.0 (52nd)||12.7% (45th)||LT (-16.5)||Saturday - 7:00||LT (-17.5|
|UNLV||-8.9 (103rd)||-29.6% (110th)||Nevada||-7.3 (96th)||-17.0% (88th)||Nevada (-7.0)||Saturday - 7:00||Nevada (-4.0)|
|Colorado State||-6.7 (94th)||-4.3% (72nd)||Utah State||-1.8 (78th)||-10.9% (80th)||USU (-4.0)||Saturday - 7:00||ESPN 3||USU (-1.0)|
|South Alabama||-19.7 (126th)||-42.5% (121st)||Troy||-12.2 (112th)||-32.8% (113th)||Troy (-7.0)||Saturday - 7:00||ESPN 3||Troy (-6.0)|
|Idaho||-19.9 (127th)||-49.6% (126th)||Arkansas State||-2.5 (79th)||-18.2% (91st)||Ark St (-21.0)||Saturday - 7:00||ESPN 3||Ark St (-16.5)|
|Georgia Southern||1.0 (65th)||-3.4% (71st)||ULM||-7.8 (100th)||-25.1% (104th)||Ga So (-6.0)||Saturday - 7:00||ESPN 3||Ga So (-10.0)|
|Mississippi State||14.8 (22nd)||23.2% (25th)||Texas A&M||20.6 (10th)||33.2% (17th)||A&M (-5.5)||Saturday - 7:30||SEC Network||A&M (-5.5)|
|Eastern Kentucky||n/a||n/a||Kentucky||7.1 (45th)||-2.6% (70th)||Saturday - 7:30|
|Arizona State||5.7 (54th)||20.0% (28th)||UCLA||19.6 (12th)||41.7% (12th)||UCLA (-13.0)||Saturday - 7:30||FOX||UCLA (-12.5)|
|Notre Dame||20.9 (9th)||43.6% (9th)||Clemson||17.7 (15th)||51.5% (4th)||Clemson (-2.0)||Saturday - 8:00||ABC||Clem (-0.5)|
|UTSA||-16.4 (117th)||-22.8% (100th)||UTEP||-17.9 (121st)||-56.5% (128th)||UTSA (-4.5)||Saturday - 8:00||UTSA (-9.0)|
|New Mexico State||-17.1 (119th)||-44.6% (123rd)||New Mexico||-10.4 (108th)||-31.1% (111th)||NM (-13.0)||Saturday - 8:00||NM (-6.5)|
|Oregon||10.7 (34th)||19.2% (30th)||Colorado||0.8 (66th)||-20.3% (93rd)||Oregon (-7.5)||Saturday - 10:00||ESPN||Oregon (-15.0)|
|Hawaii||-8.8 (102nd)||-29.0% (108th)||Boise State||12.4 (30th)||16.2% (40th)||BSU (-25.5)||Saturday - 10:15||ESPN 2||BSU (-22.0)|
|Fresno State||-13.3 (114th)||-28.1% (107th)||San Diego State||-7.5 (97th)||-19.2% (92nd)||SDSU (-8.5)||Saturday - 10:30||CBS SN||SDSU (-5.0)|
|Arizona||8.9 (37th)||7.5% (52nd)||Stanford||17.3 (16th)||42.7% (11th)||Stanford (-13.5)||Saturday - 10:30||Pac 12 Network||Stanford (-13.0)|