November 3rd has been circled on the calendars of college football fans for nearly a year. Unfortunately, the two biggest games of the day — Alabama/LSU and Oregon/USC — will compete for the eyeballs of the nation. The Ducks and Trojans kick off at 7PM on the East Coast, with the Crimson Tide stealing our attention one hour later. Making matters worse, the #3 team in the country will be playing in the 8PM time slot, too, as Kansas State hosts Oklahoma State. So with a lot of interesting games this weekend, I thought I’d take a look at my thoughts on each game involving an eligible, undefeated team on Saturday in relation to two key metrics: the SRS ratings and the Vegas lines. I’ll also make heavy use of the Game Scores page, which lists every game from this season for all FBS teams.
Temple at Louisville, 12PM (all times Eastern)
Louisville SRS: 43.7
Temple SRS: 31.5
Projected SRS line: Louisville -15.2
Actual line: Louisville -16.5
Temple had been respectable early this year (minus an ugly home loss to Maryland) but has been miserable the last two weeks, likely driving this line up. The Owls were up 10-0 at halftime being being routed 35-10 by Rutgers at home two weeks ago, and then last week lost by 30 at a terrible Pittsburgh team. Louisville is not great, but they should be able to handle Temple with ease. No thoughts on the point spread, though, which seems right to me.
Pittsburgh at Notre Dame, 3:30PM
Notre Dame SRS: 63.1
Pittsburgh SRS: 37.5
Projected SRS line: Notre Dame -28.6
Actual line: Notre Dame -16.5
Why is this line the same as Louisville-Temple? The only explanations I can think of are: (1) Pittsburgh just played its best game of the week (SRS score of 57.0) in a win over Temple and (2) Notre Dame hasn’t earned the public’s trust just yet. But with the exception of a squeaker over Purdue in week two, the Fighting Irish have been very good each week. They beat Michigan State by 17 (SRS score of 67.5), Michigan by 7 (58.2), Miami by 38 (73.0), Stanford by 7 (60.8), BYU by 3 (51) and Oklahoma by 17 (82.9). Maybe some of those scores are a little inflated — the Hurricanes have several drops and an injured quarterback, the Stanford game was in overtime, the Oklahoma game was closer than the score — but that’s picking nits, in my opinion. This is a ridiculously good defense playing a Pittsburgh team that scored 20 points in its last road game, which was at Buffalo. The Panthers were horrrrrrrrible with probably more Rs than that the first two weeks of the season, losing to FCS Youngstown State and Cincinnati by a combined 38 points. But even if we threw those games out, the SRS would still say the Fighting Irish should be favored by at least three touchdowns.
The pick: Notre Dame -16.5
Oregon at USC, 7PM
Oregon SRS: 65.9
USC SRS: 53.9
Projected SRS line: Oregon -9.0
Actual line: Oregon -8.0
Many feel the Trojans fail to “get up” for easier games; if true, the SRS would underestimate their chances against Oregon. As you can imagine, I think that explanation is hogwash. USC has actually been one of the most consistent teams in the country this year, with an SRS score between 46.8 and 58.1 each week. The worst three games according to the SRS were against the two best teams they faced sandwiched around their weakest opponent: 52.9 in a loss in Arizona, 49.4 in a blowout win at home against Hawaii, and 46.8 in a road loss to Stanford. Southern Cal hasn’t faced an offense that’s anything like Oregon’s this year, and the Ducks might have the toughest defense USC has faced so far, too.
I love Oregon in this game. USC won in Eugene last year, but that doesn’t matter much to me. Let’s take a look at Oregon’s SRS grades in each game to understand why they’re at 65.9. Against FCS Tennessee Tech, Oregon got a score of 49.0 for winning 63-14; against Arkansas State, the Ducks scored a 56.2 for the 57-34 victory. But against Tennessee Tech, Oregon led 49-7 with 25 minutes left and against Arkansas State, the Ducks were up 50-3 with 37 minutes left in the game. Against Colorado Oregon led 56-0 at halftime, but their SRS score for the season dropped after that game.
Oregon may not be Alabama, but they are much better than Southern Cal right now. I don’t think USC is going to match up all that well with Oregon, and I expect the Ducks’ fast pace to be a problem for a Trojans defense that lacks depth.
The pick: We’re not watching this game in the 3rd quarter. Oregon -8.0
Alabama at LSU, 8PM
Alabama SRS: 71.3
LSU SRS: 55.4
Projected SRS line: Alabama -12.9
Actual line: Alabama -8.5
Despite LSU getting 4.4 more points than the SRS would project, this actually makes some sense. The Tigers are coming off of a bye and Tiger Stadium has a reputation for being treacherous in night games. Les Miles usually has some tricks up his sleeve in these big games, too.
On the other hand, it’s not hard to see why the SRS doesn’t love LSU, ranking the Tigers 11th in the country. The two games really dropping LSU are the ugly 38-22 win over Towson (SRS score of 41.6) and the 12-10 victory in Auburn (42.5). LSU in fact has just one game this year — the 41-3 win over Washington (73.6) — where the Tigers have a single game SRS score as high as Alabama’s average SRS score. LSU fans can convince themselves that the Tigers didn’t get up for the FCS game (throw it out!) and LSU’s second and third best games of the season were its last two games, victories over Texas A&M and South Carolina.
Alabama has been incredibly consistent. In fact, every game this year the Crimson Tide have produced a single-game SRS score that is higher than LSU’s average. The worst game of the year was a 55.5 point score against Florida Atlanta, a 40-7 win. If anything, Alabama is underrated by the SRS, as they have a history of going less than full throttle in the second half of many games this year. As Matt Hinton noted: “Six of the seven touchdowns Bama has allowed this season have come with the Crimson Tide already leading by at least 17 points.”
From a talent standpoint, these teams aren’t far apart, and let’s not forget that LSU won in Tuscaloosa last year and frankly, was the best team in the country in 2011. With a full week off, I’d stay away from picking this game, as who knows what version of LSU shows up. But I feel very confident in saying the Tide will win this game, and would certainly take Alabama is forced to take a side.
Oklahoma State at Kansas State, 8PM
Kansas State SRS: 66.3
Oklahoma State SRS: 52.5
Projected SRS line: Kansas State -16.8
Actual line: Kansas State -9.5
Oklahoma State is without starting quarterback J.W. Walsh, although starter-turned backup-turned starter Wes Lunt played reasonably well against TCU last weekend. The Cowboys have only played three good teams this year and lost to two of them (Arizona/Texas). And winning at home against Iowa State is a far cry from winning in Manhattan, Kansas against the #3 team in the country.
I am surprised by this line because I don’t think Oklahoma State is capable of playing with K-State for very long. Even last year the Cowboys struggled against Collin Klein and the Wildcats, narrowly winning 52-45 on this same weekend in 2011 (which was also overshadowed by LSU-Alabama). In that game, Klein ran for 144 yards and 3 touchdowns and I expect a similar showing on Saturday. Kansas State has only one sub-par performance this season, a 35-21 win over North Texas. The Wildcats have recorded an SRS score of at least 58.8 in every other game, and Bill Snyder’s team doesn’t strike me as likely to let up now.
The pick: Kansas State -9.5