This weekend's most important game is undoubtedly Mississippi State-Alabama, but that game will be broken down a lot of other places by analysts better than myself. Instead, this post will focus on two other games that on paper appear competitive despite the pairings having vastly different ramifications. First, the Georgia Bulldogs host the Auburn Tigers after curb-stopping Kentucky last week. Georgia has little leeway for error as Missouri appears poised to win the East. Auburn meanwhile looks to avoid a second straight home loss, and keep its dim hopes for winning the West alive.
Second, the Kentucky Wildcats head to Knoxville to take on the Tennessee Volunteers for the "Battle of the Rebuilds." The two schools have played 109 times, stretching back to 1893. Both programs are in their second seasons with a new coaching staff, and both programs play a lot of young players who are the result of recent recruiting successes. Tennessee has inarguably faced a tougher schedule this campaign, but Kentucky has arguably hit a higher ceiling at times this year. It could be a good game worth watching for all the college football hipsters who eschew the Alabama-Mississippi St. game going on at the same time.
The Fremeau Efficiency Index (FEI) considers each of the nearly 20,000 possessions every season in major college football. All drives are filtered to eliminate first-half clock-kills and end-of-game garbage drives and scores. A scoring rate analysis of the remaining possessions then determines the baseline possession expectations against which each team is measured. A team is rewarded for playing well against good teams -- win or lose; and is punished more severely for playing poorly against bad teams than it is rewarded for playing well against bad teams.
The S&P+ Ratings are a college football ratings system derived from both play-by-play and drive data from all 800+ of a season's FBS college football games (and 140,000+ plays). There are four key components to the S&P+
If interested, here is a glossary for additional use.
Lastly, the F/+ percentage ratings measure every team against a perfectly average team. So, if the F/+ rating of a team is 0 percent, that team is considered perfectly average by this rating system.
Georgia and Auburn Rankings
|F+ Overall||13 (24.3%)||5 (32.9%)|
|F+ Offense||9 (16.8%)||1 (22.6%)|
|F+ Defense||43 (4.8%)||19 (-0.3%)|
|F+ Special Teams||11 (2.8%)||80 (0.7%)|
|S&P+ Rushing Offense||1||11|
|S&P+ Rushing Defense||71||10|
|S&P+ Passing Offense||13||1|
|S&P+ Passing Defense||45||30|
The stats indicate that Auburn's offense will put up quite a few points on Saturday. Georgia's 71st ranked rushing defense will be challenged by Auburn's 11th ranked rushing offense. When Auburn's top-ranked passing game looks to throw the ball Georgia's secondary will be strained. Last week, Kentucky's 33rd and 54th ranked rushing and passing rankings put up 250 total yards against Georgia in the first half. Cameron-Artis Payne and Nick Marshall have better wheels than any player in UK's backfield.
Texas A&M's defense is ranked 30 slots behind Georgia's, and "held" Auburn's offense to 38 points with the help of three turnovers. If Georgia can replicate that turnover success it stands a chance, and Georgia has been pretty good about causing turnovers while Auburn has had issues with ball security.
Georgia's offense hasn't missed a step the last few weeks when its star player was suspended, but this weekend "Gurley's Comin" which may be enough for Georgia to maintain possession and keep pace with Auburn. Georgia's top-ranked rushing offense should find success even against Auburn's 10th ranked rushing defense. Meanwhile, Georgia's passing offense has a distinct advantage versus Auburn's secondary. Hutson Mason has had a great year throwing 15 touchdowns and only three interceptions.
It's also worth noting that Georgia holds a big advantage in special teams, and returner Isaiah McKenzie could have a second great game in a row. If Georgia is able to break-off some big runs and improve its field position, it's already strong offense will be even harder to stop.
This game is giving every indicator that it will be a fun, high-scoring affair.
Tennessee and Kentucky Rankings
|F+ Overall||38 (9.1%)||77 (-6.3%)|
|F+ Offense||70 (-2.2%)||67 (-1.9%)|
|F+ Defense||17 (11.3%)||74 (-2.1%)|
|F+ Special Teams||72 (0.0%)||110 (-2.2%)|
|S&P+ Rushing Offense||61||33|
|S&P+ Rushing Defense||21||54|
|S&P+ Passing Offense||40||62|
|S&P+ Passing Defense||9||55|
Kentucky's inconsistent offense faces a tough Tennessee defense on Saturday. Kentucky's young offense has looked pretty good at times this season, but has yet to perform well when its faced strong defenses. Bad news for UK fans: Tennessee's defensive rankings looks similar to the Missouri defense that held Kentucky to 10 points and 260 yards two weeks ago.
Kentucky may have some success running the ball, but will be hard-pressed to pass against Tennessee's pass rush and secondary. Kentucky's line will be challenged by A.J. Johnson, Derek Barnett, and Jalen Reeves-Maybin; meanwhile, UK's receivers, who have had issues against physical defensive backs this season, will have a hard time getting open against Cameron Sutton and company. If the Kentucky offense that showed up against Mississippi State (9th rushing defense and 20th passing defense) heads to Knoxville Mark Stoops stands a shot at getting his first SEC road win.
Tennessee's offense is similarly ranked with Kentucky's, and looks to have scored roughly the same amount of points as Kentucky against common foe's defenses. Tennessee's offense has several outstanding play-makers in Jalen Hurd and Marquez North. Upperclassmen Pig Howard and Von Pearson are also legitimate threats. Mobile quarterback Joshua Dobbs played excellent last week against South Carolina's struggling defense, and may play even better within the comfy confines of Neyland Stadium. Dobbs already beat UK last season, so jitters won't be an issue. The offensive line, previously the offense's weak point, is also playing better.
Kentucky's defense isn't as bad as it showed last week against Georgia, but will nonetheless be challenged by the bevy of Tennessee play-makers. Tennessee probably finds the offensive and defensive success required for beating Kentucky barring turnovers which UT had a tendency to commit last month.