5 College Football Week 13 Mismatches Bettors Can Exploit: Ground Games
Mark Zerof-USA TODAY Sports. Pictured: Kentucky quarterback Terry Wilson and running back Benny Snell
- Examining some of the biggest Week 13 rushing mismatches where bettors can gain an advantage.
- I'll focus on three in-state rivalries in addition to one of the most glaring mismatches of the season.
- I'll start with a Thursday night SEC matchup and finish with another on Saturday night.
As we head into Week 13 of the college football season, we have a robust data set to analyze the relative strengths and weaknesses of all 130 FBS teams. Whether you want to look in the trenches, at the skill positions or even on special teams, bettors must identify and be cognizant of glaring unit mismatches each week.
Power ratings should serve as your handicapping starting point, but situational angles and matchup analyses should help refine your final wagers.
Each week, I highlight five noteworthy unit mismatches, which will hopefully help you make more informed betting decisions. I will point out a major discrepancy in a standard statistic and then provide supporting evidence that the underlying metrics back up.
After analyzing all of the mismatches early in the week, I decided to highlight five specific rushing matchups in Week 13. There is nothing more demoralizing than dominating the ground game in November.
And I won’t even bother getting into Fresno’s top 25 rush defense taking on a San Jose State offense that averages an FBS-worst 2.0 yards per carry. That’s historically bad.
The first mismatch comes on Thanksgiving night in the Egg Bowl, so let’s get to it.
Mississippi State vs. Ole Miss
- Line: Mississippi State -13
- Over/Under: 62.5
- Thursday, 7:30 p.m. ET, ESPN
Ole Miss struggles to defend the run, allowing 5.0 yards per carry (106th nationally). That spells trouble against an elite Mississippi State rushing offense that ranks 14th in the country at 5.7 yards per rush.
The advanced metrics tell a similar story, as Mississippi State ranks No. 3 in both overall S&P+ Rushing Offense and Opportunity Rate. Meanwhile , the Ole Miss defense ranks 116th and 115th in those two categories, respectively. The Bulldogs should get five yards a carry in their sleep.
If Mississippi State can establish the run, passing lanes will open for quarterback Nick Fitzgerald. Fitzgerald can be pressured into mistakes through the air, but Ole Miss doesn’t generate much pressure on the quarterback. The Bulldogs should have no issues moving the ball.
It’s also worth noting that Mississippi State excels at defending the pass (No. 4 in S&P Pass Defense), which is critical against the explosive Ole Miss passing attack. This is simply a plus-matchup for Mississippi State on both sides of the ball.
Michigan State vs. Rutgers
- Michigan State -27
- Over/Under: 37
- Saturday, 4 p.m. ET, FOX
Michigan State has showed us countless times this year that it can defend the run as well as any team in the country. The Spartans have allowed a minuscule 2.6 yards per carry this season, which ranks fourth nationally. Don’t expect that to change against an anemic Rutgers offense (one of only two teams that averages fewer than 14 points per game) that ranks 98th in yards per rush at 3.8.
If Rutgers can’t get anything going on the ground, it will have to rely on its passing offense, which is one of the worst in all of college football. The Scarlet Knights average 4.4 yards per pass (129th in country) and rank last in overall passing offense, per S&P+.
Not only does Michigan State have the No. 2 overall S&P+ Rush Defense, its defense also ranks No. 2 overall on passing downs, which Rutgers should face all day long in East Lansing.
I’m not sure how Rutgers will score in this one.
Kentucky vs. Louisville
- Kentucky -17.5
- Over/Under: 52
- Saturday, 7 p.m. ET, ESPN2
Kentucky running back Benny Snell could go off in the annual Governor’s Cup battle with in-state rival Louisville, which has allowed 5.9 yards per rush (124th nationally) this season and ranks 127th in overall S&P Rush Defense.
As ugly as those numbers are, the story gets even uglier if you focus on Louisville’s last six games (all losses by an average margin of just under 35 points):
Yes, Louisville has allowed 7.1 yards per rush on 300-plus carries over its past six games. How bad is that? Only Connecticut’s historically poor run defense has allowed more than 7.0 yards per carry this season.
From an advanced metrics perspective, UK’s rushing attack ranks in the top 25 in both Opportunity Rate and Stuff Rate, while Louisville sits in the bottom 15 in both metrics. Kentucky should routinely pick up five yards a pop without much resistance.
Expect the Wildcats to move the chains with ease behind Benny Snell, avenge their blowout home loss to Louisville last season and break the 15-15 tie in this heated rivalry.
Clemson vs. South Carolina
- Clemson -26
- Over/Under: 58.5
- Saturday, 7 p.m. ET, ESPN
Nobody can argue against the fact that Clemson has an ELITE rush defense. The Tigers allow only 2.1 yards per carry, which leads the nation.
The advanced metrics even better demonstrate the level of dominance, as the Tigers rank No. 1 in the country in the following Rush Defense statistics, per S&P:
- Overall S&P+ Rush Defense
- Marginal Explosiveness
- Marginal Efficiency
- Opportunity Rate
In case you’re wondering, here are South Carolina’s rush offense ranks in the four above categories from top to bottom: 82, 71, 92 and 70.
On the other side of the ball, Clemson averages 6.6 yards per carry, which ranks second in the nation. Its backs should churn out yards against a South Carolina defense has struggled against the run, allowing 4.5 yards per rush (79th). The Gamecocks rank 119th nationally in defending Rush Efficiency and Opportunity Rate.
This is just a nightmare ground matchup for South Carolina on both sides of the ball. Clemson should roll to its fifth straight victory in the Palmetto Bowl, matching SC’s winning streak between 2009-13.
Texas A&M vs. LSU
- Texas A&M -3
- Over/Under: 47.5
- Saturday, 7:30 p.m. ET, SECN
LSU has struggled to run the ball all season, averaging just 4.1 yards per carry (85th). It will face a Texas A&M defensive unit that is one of only seven teams in FBS that allows 3.0 yards per rush or fewer. The Aggies allow a stingy 80.8 rushing yards per game, which ranks second overall.
The advanced metrics back me up here, as LSU owns the 94th ranked Rushing S&P offense, while Texas A&M has a defense that ranks seventh in that same category.
LSU also struggles to protect the quarterback, which will come into play if it can’t establish the run. The Tigers rank 89th overall in Adjusted Sack Rate, including 92nd on Passing Downs. Texas A&M’s defense can certainly take advantage of that weakness, as it ranks 28th in Adjusted Sack Rate and 21st on Passing Downs.
Not only will Texas A&M generate pressure on passing downs, LSU simply doesn’t have an aerial attack that can exploit the Aggies’ primary weaknesses: defending the pass and stopping explosiveness.
The Aggies can stymy the LSU ground game and contain quarterback Joe Burrow, who is only completing 56.4% of his passes this year with a 2:2 touchdown-to-interception ratio on the road. I think Texas A&M pulls out a win, ending its seven-game losing streak to the Bayou Bengals.