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Man versus Metric: Can Texas A&M avenge Alabama rout?

Have you ever watched a game and thought: "That team is way better than the score suggests"? Or the opposite: "Geez, I cannot believe that team is unbeaten."

Of course you have. It's the eternal battle of eye test versus stat sheet or, as we're calling it, man versus metric. ESPN Stats & Information analytics writer Sharon Katz takes a run through some of the more debatable data, and then ESPN senior writer Mark Schlabach offers his take.

Let's just say they agreed to disagree ... but their conversation is worth reading.

Alabama at Texas A&M

Sharon Katz: If this game were played on a neutral field with all else equal, ESPN's Football Power Index (FPI) would give Alabama a 57 percent chance to win. But the game is not at a neutral field -- it is in College Station -- and Texas A&M had an extra week to prepare (game site, distance traveled and rest are factored into FPI's game predictions). Those factors combine to give the Aggies the FPI edge (56 percent chance to win). Many will point to Alabama's 59-0 thrashing of Texas A&M last year, but this is a completely different Texas A&M team with a new quarterback, a revamped defense and a game-changing threat on the outside, wide receiver Christian Kirk. Alabama's defense is elite (No. 1 in FPI's defensive projections), but its offense and quarterback Jake Coker have been inconsistent. Texas A&M has the type of up-tempo, big-play offense that has historically given Alabama problems, so don't be surprised if this game resembles the close ones we saw between these teams in 2012 and 2013.

Mark Schlabach: Texas A&M might be playing with a lot of confidence, but it's difficult for me to ignore what happened to the Aggies in Tuscaloosa last season. The Crimson Tide completely dominated. It was their most lopsided win since a 62-0 defeat of Tulane in 1991 and their biggest win over an SEC opponent since a 66-3 victory over Vanderbilt in 1979. The Aggies had no answer for Alabama's menacing defense, finishing with eight first downs, 31 rushing yards and 172 yards of total offense. It wasn't even close. Texas A&M's spread offense has given Alabama's defense problems in the past, but the Tide are playing with a massive chip on their shoulder after losing to Ole Miss 43-37 on Sept. 19. Alabama knows it can't lose again if it's going to win the SEC West, and it looks like the best team in the division to me.


Michigan State at Michigan

Katz: FPI projects that Michigan has a 73 percent chance to beat Michigan State on Saturday, more than twice the chance it gave the Wolverines in the preseason (34 percent). At first glance, that percentage may seem high, but if you had no preseason knowledge of either team, the case could be made that the Wolverines should be favored by even more. Michigan is coming off three straight shutouts -- the first team to accomplish that feat since Kansas State in 1995 -- and ranks 39 spots higher than Michigan State in ESPN's defensive efficiency ratings. Although the Spartans have the edge at quarterback, they have struggled to beat the teams they should (0-6 against the spread), so what evidence is there to believe they will rise to the occasion against the Wolverines in the Big House?

Schlabach: There's no question Michigan is playing better than anyone else in the Big Ten and as well as any team in the country. What Jim Harbaugh has accomplished in his first season at his alma mater is impressive. It's hard to argue that the Wolverines shouldn't be big favorites over the Spartans at the Big House on Saturday. But we learned last week that spreads, trends and computer formulas don't mean much when it comes to rivalry games. Who would have picked struggling Texas to defeat No. 10 Oklahoma 24-17 in the Red River rivalry game? Michigan State hasn't played well in its first six games, but it has owned this in-state rivalry since former Wolverines running back Mike Hart made his infamous "little brother" comment about the Spartans in 2007. Since that loss, the Spartans have defeated the Wolverines in six of seven games, including a 35-11 victory in East Lansing last season. While the Spartans have been pretty underwhelming so far this season, they're more than capable of pulling off an upset.


Florida at LSU

Katz: According to Florida defensive back Jalen Tabor, this game pins the "best defense in the country against the best player in the country." Although the matchup between Florida's defense and LSU's offense will receive most of the headlines, the key differentiator when it comes to FPI's projection is on the other side of the ball. Florida's offense ranks 37th in efficiency, and FPI projects that the Gators may struggle to score on LSU's defense. Add in the fact that the game is in Death Valley at night, where LSU is 47-5 in such games under Les Miles, and FPI projects that the Tigers have a 63 percent chance to win. Even with a loss, however, Florida will likely remain one of the favorites in the SEC because of its path to the SEC championship game through the SEC East.

Schlabach: Florida QB Will Grier's one-year suspension for taking performance-enhancing drugs reduces the Gators' chances to beat LSU on Saturday night and greatly tests their chances of winning the SEC East. I can't see the Gators beating LSU in Death Valley at night, especially without Grier leading the offense. Then again, I didn't think Florida would beat Ole Miss at home two weeks ago, and the Gators walked away with a 38-10 rout. The good news for UF? Backup quarterback Treon Harris has started games in the past and played well at times. First-year coach Jim McElwain is one of the best at getting quarterbacks ready to play. Beating LSU on the road -- at night -- is going to be a tall order, though.