With the College Football Playoff two and a half months away, Saturday is shaping up to be the biggest week of the season (at least so far), with two games pitting top 10-ranked teams and heightened attention on the Michigan-Michigan State game.
Stats & Info examines the key statistics for Saturday’s biggest games.
This will mark the first time since 2003 the schools have played with both ranked in top 15 of the The Associated Press poll.
Since Mike Hart’s “little brother” comments after Michigan’s 28-24 win in 2007, the Spartans have owned the rivalry. They have won six of the past seven matchups, and a victory Saturday would give them their most wins during any eight-game stretch in the series.
Michigan’s defense has fueled its five-game winning streak. The Wolverines have shut out their past three opponents and are the first FBS school since Kansas State in 1995 with three shutouts in succession.
Two of those shutouts came against ranked opponents, and the Wolverines scored at least 28 points in each of those games.
Michigan has allowed an FBS-low six drives to reach the red zone -- none during its past three games. The Wolverines have forced 32 three-and-out drives, tied with Alabama for the most in the FBS.
Michigan has blitzed on 34 percent of opponents’ dropbacks during its shutout streak compared with blitzing on 20 percent in the first three games of the season. The pressure has worked for Michigan, allowing a Big Ten-best 2.3 yards per dropback when blitzing.
Michigan’s defense should get a test from Connor Cook. He leads the Big Ten in Total QBR (82) and has been great against the blitz, throwing 17 touchdowns and no interceptions against five or more pass rushers the last two seasons.
ESPN’s Football Power Index projects Michigan as the favorite in each of its remaining six scheduled regular season games, including Saturday and against Ohio State on Nov. 28. Coach Jim Harbaugh’s team is nearly 15 times more likely to win the Big Ten now (29 percent likely) compared with its chances at the beginning of the season (2 percent likely).
Michigan State’s likelihood of winning the Big Ten has fallen from 15 percent after Week 3 to 6 percent heading to Saturday’s game.
The Aggies will look to avenge last year’s 59-0 thrashing at the hands of the Crimson Tide, but coach Nick Saban has thrived in this kind of game at Alabama. The Tide are 15-6 in matchups with top 10 teams since Saban was hired in 2007. The 15 wins in such games are seven more than any other coach has over that span.
What has been the impact of first-year Aggies defensive coordinator John Chavis? Last season, Texas A&M surrendered more than 450 yards per game, which ranked last in the SEC and 57th of 65 Power 5 schools.
This season, the Aggies:
- have earned three-and-outs on nearly 43 percent of their opponents’ drives, which ranks 10th in the Power 5 (they ranked 57th last season at 27 percent)
- have forced eight fumbles, tied for third-most in the Power 5 (they forced four fumbles last season, second-fewest in the Power 5)
- have recorded 3.8 sacks per game, which is fourth in the FBS (2.7 per game last season, tied for 21st in the FBS).
Expect two freshman receivers to get a lot of attention in this matchup: Texas A&M's Christian Kirk and Alabama's Calvin Ridley. Kirk is also a nightmare on special teams. He leads the SEC in punt return yards (190) and ranks second in all-purpose yards (958) behind LSU’s Leonard Fournette.
Ridley has been on the receiving end of three touchdowns from Alabama quarterback Jake Coker in the Crimson Tide’s past three games after having no touchdown catches in the first three games. He has 298 receiving yards the past three games after totaling 42 in his first three.
This game will mark the fifth time in the past 10 years these schools have met when both were in the AP Top 10. That’s tied for the most such meetings over the past 10 seasons (Alabama and LSU is the other rivalry).
LSU is bidding for its third straight win over Florida. The Tigers haven’t won three consecutive meetings against the Gators since they won four in a row from 1977 to 1980.
Florida coach Jim McElwain is the first SEC coach to win the first six games of his tenure since Houston Nutt, who started 8-0 at Arkansas in 1998.
LSU’s Leonard Fournette rushed for 158 yards – a season low – and a touchdown last week. He has seven consecutive games rushing for 100 yards, the second-longest streak in LSU history behind Charles Alexander, who recorded nine consecutive games in 1977 and 1978. Fournette is the 10th player in FBS history to rush for 1,000 yards in his first five games of a season.
Florida’s defense ranks sixth in the FBS over the past two seasons in yards per rush (3.1) and has allowed 13 rushing touchdowns, third-fewest in the FBS over that span. Entering games Thursday this season, the Gators rank first in the SEC in sacks (21) and are tied for first in forced fumbles (eight) and red zone touchdown percentage (33.3 percent).
With Will Grier suspended, Treon Harris will probably start at quarterback for the Gators. Harris has shown himself as less accurate than Grier, completing 53.6 percent of his passes (to Grier’s 65.8 percent) and having a 22.8 percent off-target percentage (to Grier’s 10.2 percent).
Florida running back Kelvin Taylor, son of former NFL running back Fred Taylor, could be a difference-maker. This season, Taylor became the first Gators running back to record four consecutive games with a rushing touchdown since Ciatrick Fason in 2004 (five games in succession for Fason).
Five of Taylor’s seven rushing touchdowns this season have come with eight or more defenders in the box. Alabama’s Derrick Henry and Fournette are the only SEC players who have more (six).