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  • Writer's pictureRob Bowron @Beta_Rank_FB

Dangerous Flaws: The Weaknesses of the CFB Contenders

It's time to take a look at who might survive the college football stretch run to the playoff and what their biggest issues are. Sure, if any of these teams get upset by an inferior team it is still likely to be turnovers that are the main culprit, but each of these teams (except maybe Georgia) have flaws that teams have been able to exploit this season. Some of these teams will face opponents down the stretch that are built to find success in just these areas of weakness.

#26 Michigan State

#47 Offense

#16 Defense

#44 Special Teams

The Problem(s):

Offensive Drive Efficiency and Negative Drives

The Spartans defense is pretty good under DC Scottie Hazelton, but the offense is lagging a bit, falling into bad Power 5 offense territory. The problem is two fold: they struggle to put together long drives to put up points and they are allowing too many 3 and Outs, turnovers, and negative plays. The offense does a pretty good job in creating explosives and they do well on yards per play in Play Efficiency, but if you can get them on a long field and limit explosives then they could be in trouble. If they find themselves playing against a top 5 offense they could be in a lot of trouble with field position compounded by middling special teams.

#21 Oregon

#13 Offense

#62 Defense

#21 Special Teams

The Problem:

Defensive Drive Efficiency

Man the Ducks just struggle to get off the dang field. They are giving up 2.16 points per drive currently; an unadjusted metric. The defense does a good job in tackling, we saw this in the Ohio State game where they largely limited the Buckeyes big play machine, but you can absolutely put drives together against this Oregon squad and some really mediocre offenses have had some pretty good days against them; including Arizona, Stanford, Cal and UCLA. Oregon has to find a way to keep what they do really well, limiting explosives and yards per play and mix in more plays where they finish off the opposing offense

#18 Oklahoma

#5 Offense

#79 Defense

#8 Special Teams

The Problem:

Defensive Effective Pass

Look I get that there are significant injuries and that as those players return; the defense should improve, but still, even at full strength this is a bad defense. It appeared last season the defense had made some strides, but that now appears to be a mirage of the weird '20 season. How much can the pass defense improve when the injured players come back? Even a large improvement leaves them a bad Power 5 pass defense; likely paired with a bad Power 5 run defense. Given that the Sooners offense is showing real improvement the defense should have plenty of field to work with to keep opponents out of the end zone.

#12 Oklahoma State

#50 Offense

#3 Defense

#88 Special Teams

The Problem:

Offensive Effective Pass

The offense hasn't really worked in Stillwater in years; going back to the previous OC. It is still surprising to see a Mike Gundy offense unable to get it done though. The problem is the passing game. The Cowboys run the ball a fair amount, sometimes to kill time since their excellent defense keeps them ahead. They are by no means a really good rushing team though. Spencer Sanders does add something in the run game and that is worth considering, but he doesn't complete passes at the clip you need to in the modern game and it's not like he's only taking deep shots. I feel like it's too soon to judge OC Kasey Dunn yet, but so far the offense is still a mess.

#10 Baylor

#19 Offense

#14 Defense

#43 Special Teams

The Problem:

Defensive Effective Pass

Baylor is actually a much more balanced team between offense and defense than the others we have covered, but there are some warts hiding under the pretty good overall numbers. The biggest being that you can absolutely get passing yards against this team. It helps that they have mostly played teams that are not great throwing the ball up to this point; their best opponent passing the ball was BYU (#18 in Offensive Effective Pass) and the Cougars got 11 per pass against them, but with Oklahoma (#8 in Effective Pass) looming this could be more of a problem for the Bears. If they run into a team that isn't committed to running the ball they could give up points.

#8 Cincinnati

#23 Offense

#6 Defense

#73 Special Teams

The Problem:

Offensive Negative Drives

Cincy's offense has really fallen back to earth of late and that is a problem for a Bearcats team that needs to be piling up points on AAC competition. Cincinnati is taking too many 3 and Outs, turnovers, and going backwards on the field relative to some pretty middling defensive competition outside of their game against Notre Dame. They have also really fallen off in the passing game and Explosive Drives, but their biggest weakness remains that they can be really ineffective in the first set of downs when they come off the bench. They have to clean this up so they can stay in rhythm.

#6 Wake Forest

#4 Offense

#56 Defense

#18 Special Teams

The Problem:

Defensive Explosive Drives

Unadjusted, the Wake Defense might not look terrible. They are allowing 1.97 points per drive against FBS competition, but that is only against the 57th hardest slate of offenses and they get great starting field position to work with due to their offense and special teams. The biggest problem here is that they give up so many big plays. As we saw against Army, when Wake faces a competent opposing offense, they are going to have to win a shootout, but it gives you almost no margin for error. A big part of the offensive increase since 2017 is on explosives so if they face a top tier offense they are in trouble. Watch out for UNC this weekend; Phil Longo loves big plays.

#4 Michigan

#7 Offense

#20 Defense

#2 Special Teams

The Problem:

Defensive Explosive Drives

The Wolverines defense isn't bad like Wake's. They are a pretty good P5 defense. The raw metrics 1.36 points per drive, 26% disruptive plays, allowing 33% on third down look pretty good, but that is against the 78th toughest slate of FBS offenses and they also benefit from great field position. The problem in particular is the big plays. Michigan is very good at using the long field to their advantage and finding ways to get off the field and the solid run defense sets them up well to create 3rd downs, but they are just giving up too many big plays. This is a real watch out as they head towards the end of season matchup with Ohio St and their big play offense.

#3 Ohio St

#2 Offense

#31 Defense

#13 Special Teams

The Problem:

Defensive Effective Pass

The Buckeyes have certainly improved since switching to Matt Barnes as defensive playcaller, they are no longer stubbornly calling man and sitting in single high safety all game, but the pass defense is still pretty leaky. Penn St has a good, but not great offense and they chose to attack Ohio St through the air and they were successful at it. Given the way the Big Ten shakes out this season this may not be a problem in the regular season or Big Ten championship game; only Purdue (#15 in Effective Pass is a real danger throwing the ball), but you don't want to be heading into the playoff with a suspect pass defense. The lack of a dominant pass rusher hurts too.

#2 Alabama

#1 Offense

#12 Defense

#10 Special Teams

The Problem:

Defensive Drive Efficiency

First off the Bama defense is pretty good, but it does have some weaknesses. The main problem is that you can sustain drives against them, the secondary problem is that you can throw on them, Defensive Effective Rush/Pass is calculated at the margin so this is not some product of Bama mostly playing ahead and teams throwing to catch up. Bama knows teams are throwing to catch up and isn't good at stopping them or getting off the field. The are excellent at preventing explosives and using the long field their offense and special teams give them, but they have only faced the 38th toughest slate of FBS offense and those offense could move the ball.

#1 Georgia

#3 Offense

#1 Defense

#1 Special Teams

The Problem:

Offensive Negative Drives

This feels nitpicky, but I have to pick something. Georgia's offense is very good. It's not at Alabama or Ohio St levels, but their defense is so good that having the offense at #3 makes them the best team we've measured this year. They haven't done it against air either; they have played the 11th toughest slate of FBS defenses. Their issue is too many 3 and outs. They are not allowing many Disruptive Plays, only 13.2% of plays, so the Negative Drives number is mostly driven by the offense stalling when they come off the bench a little too often. You can also nitpick that the passing offense isn't great, and that is true, but Bennett has been good overall.

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