Ball-Hawking Hawkeyes

A massive Big Ten showdown, plus UGA's historical defensive pace and the Red River Rivalry's latest chapter


*Game being played at the Cotton Bowl in Dallas, TX

Line: Sooners -3.5, Total: 63.5


  • Familiar Opponents

The Texas-Oklahoma rivalry is one of the best in the sport of college football. And in its recent history, it has been one of the closest, too. Seven of the last eight games in this series have been decided by one possession (all but the 2018 Big 12 Championship won by Oklahoma, 39-27), which is the most one-possession games in an FBS series since 2014. This season, OU has played mostly tight games, as four of their five wins have come by seven points or less (tied for the most in FBS with Kentucky). Texas, on the other hand, played its first single-digit difference game of the year last week, beating TCU 32-27.

These teams are also used to playing one another while both are among the country’s best; this will be the 42nd time these two teams meet while both are ranked in the AP Top 25. The only series with more occurrences is Ohio State-Michigan (46). These teams are nearly split evenly over the last 60 meetings -- the Sooners own a 29-28-3 record over that span. The average margin of victory in those games is just over a field goal at 3.2 points. If Texas can even that margin on Saturday, it would be in line with a recent trend. This is the fifth time since 2013 that Oklahoma will enter this matchup undefeated, and the Longhorns have handed the Sooners their first loss of the season in three of the last four instances.


  • Texas’ Recent ATS Dominance

Although Oklahoma has had far more national success, it’s been Texas that has had the advantage in this rivalry recently, at least when it comes to betting. Dating back to 2013, Texas is 7-2 against-the-spread facing Oklahoma overall. The spread numbers come despite Texas being 3-6 straight-up in the last nine against OU. Texas is used to being an underdog in this matchup; Oklahoma has been favored in each of the last 12 meetings (Saturday will mark 13). The Longhorns haven’t been favored over the Sooners since 2009.

  • Line Movement and Public Betting

For books that waited to open this line until this week, there hasn’t been much movement. Most books opened around Sooners -3, with some slight half-point movement throughout the week. However, for books that opened this game before last Saturday, we have seen more fluid action. For example, Draft Kings opened the action on September 29th and the line was set at Oklahoma -5. But after a weekend in which Texas got a win over TCU and Oklahoma struggled to its third consecutive one-score win over an unranked conference opponent, it had already moved to OU -3.5 points.

The public has been fairly split on this matchup with Texas garnering 61% of the tickets and 55% of the money. It appears that the early money was on Texas when the number was higher, but has shifted to Oklahoma as we got to the -3.5 number. Action Network is also reporting sharp action (pro bettors) on the Sooners.


  • Unstoppable Force vs. Immovable Object

If you’re the type of fan who enjoys seeing a matchup between two teams who have opposing strengths, this is the game for you. Texas has one of the most potent rushing attacks in the country, led by Bijan Robinson, their supremely-talented sophomore running back. Robinson is averaging an FBS-best 163.8 yards per game from scrimmage this season. His 819 yards from scrimmage through the first five games are the most by a Texas player since 2004 (Cedric Benson, 909). But he’ll now face an Oklahoma defense that is allowing just 83.6 yards per game (8th-best in FBS). The Sooners also haven’t allowed a 100-yard rusher in 12 straight games; the last to do it was Texas QB Sam Ehlinger last season in the Texas 53-45 loss in four overtimes.

OU’s defense gets to the ball carrier quickly, allowing just 52 rushing yards before contact this season (4th-best in FBS). Sooners’ opponents are averaging 0.34 yards before contact; which equates to one foot gained before the runner is hit. The Sooners haven’t faced a player like Robinson this season, though. No one has forced more missed tackles this season than Robinson with 50. Will OU be up to the task? So far this season, the Sooners lead FBS in completing tackles; they miss on only 3.6% of tackle attempts, the lowest mark in the nation.

Unstoppable force, Robinson, meets immovable object, Sooner defense.


Line: Bulldogs -15, Total: 46.5


  • Speaking of Immovable Objects…

The dominance of the Georgia defense this season cannot be overstated. We’ll start with this: the defensive unit has scored more touchdowns (2) than it has allowed (1). The Georgia offense has allowed as many touchdowns (1, a pick-six surrendered against UAB) as the defense. Only one team has scored on Georgia prior to the fourth quarter (South Carolina in Week 3, also the only team to score an offensive TD). Georgia has faced two Top-10 opponents this season and allowed a combined 3 points in those two games. The Dawgs haven’t allowed a score in over 130 minutes of game time; the last was a South Carolina TD with 10:55 left in the fourth quarter. Since then, UGA has shut out Vanderbilt and Arkansas. Opponents are averaging 4.6 points per game overall (best in the country), but if you take out the pick-six, that number drops to 3.2 points per game surrendered by the defense. Opponents are averaging 177.8 yards per game (lowest in the country) and Georgia has allowed just 3.1 yards per play to opponents, which is a full yard less than the next best teams (Iowa State and Clemson are both at 4.1).

Thanks to the top defense in the country, Georgia also has the highest percentage chance to make the College Football Playoff according to the Allstate Playoff Predictor at 87% (just ahead of Alabama at 86%). And, since it’s impossible to put out a college football STAT Stack without mentioning the Crimson Tide, it’s worth noting that UGA and Alabama give the SEC a 76% chance of having two teams make the CFP, which is a higher chance than any conference except the Big Ten has to send even one team to the dance.


  • The Dawgs are better than the Cats

Georgia has dominated this head-to-head matchup over the past decade, winning nine of the past 11 games since 2011, including four straight. The spread hasn’t come into play in any of those contests; Georgia won and covered in each of its nine victories and Auburn won and covered in the other two. The one saving grace for Auburn might be Jordan-Hare Stadium; both games that the Tigers have won in that span have been at home. Another interesting trend: in each of those nine UGA wins, the under hit. In the two Auburn victories, it was the over that cashed.

The public seems to be aware of the trends. So far, according to Action Network, 80% of the tickets have been on the Bulldogs and 71% of the money has followed. But there has been some sneaky money on the over; despite the under seeing 53% of the bets, the over has attracted 67% of the money according to Action. That money has pushed this number up from 45 at open to 46.5 or 47 currently, depending on the book.


  • What Else Are You Gonna Talk About?

Of course, the focus is going to remain on Georgia’s defense -- the unit has a chance to be historically special. The 23 points the team has allowed is the least through five games since the 1993 Florida State Seminoles, and we’re currently in the highest-scoring era in college football history. Plus, those 23 points include the pick-six that Georgia’s offense surrendered. No team has allowed less than 10 points per game since 2011-2012 Alabama.

Why is the Bulldogs defense so good? Because they have good players, duh. But to put a finer point on it, we turn to Pro Football Focus. According to PFF, Georgia has two interior defensive linemen rated in the Top-15 in the FBS (Devonte Wyatt at 87.6 and Jalen Carter at 85.1). The “weak” spot of the defense is at edge rusher, where UGA’s highest-graded player is “only” the 19th-best player at his position (Nolan Smith, 85.1). At linebacker, the team has the 3rd-best player in the FBS, Nakobe Dean at 87.8. What about the secondary? Glad you asked. Their cornerbacks, Latavious Brini (83.4) and Kelee Ringo (76.6) are both in the Top 20 at the position and safety Lewis Cine (85.0) is the highest-rated FBS player at the position. Oh, and their other safety Christopher Smith (77.9) is also in the Top 20. Add it all together, and eight of Georgia’s defenders rank in the Top 20 at their position, according to PFF.

We shouldn’t ignore the talent on the other side of the field, though. Auburn has some difference-makers on both sides of the ball. Running back Jarquez Hunter, and his whopping 10.6 yards per carry, is the highest-graded RB across all of college football at 90.8. Cornerback Roger McCreary is the 6th-rated CB (84.0) and defensive linemen Marquis Brooks (90.3) and Colby Wooden (89.5) rank 5th and 6th, respectively, as interior defenders in the FBS.


Line: Hawkeyes -1.5, Total: 41


  • Not Ohio State & Michigan?

Generally, when two Top 5 teams meet from the Big Ten, it can mean only one thing: Michigan vs. Ohio State. But that’s not the case this week. When #4 Penn State and #3 Iowa meet on Saturday, it will be the first regular season matchup between Top 5 Big Ten teams since 1997 where the opponents weren’t Michigan AND Ohio State (#2 Penn State lost to #4 Michigan in 1997).

This game will represent a bit of uncharted territory for both schools; Iowa has played in only one Top 5 Big Ten matchup since 1990 and that was in the 2015 Big Ten Championship Game (Iowa lost to Michigan State, 16-13). Penn State hasn’t played in any matchups between Top 5 teams since 1999. Neither Penn State, nor Iowa, has won a Top 5 matchup since the 2000s began and Penn State has been outscored by 100 points in AP top-five matchups, worst all-time.


  • Bettors Backing Iowa

Penn State is a team that generally draws a lot of public interest, but not this week. According to Action Network, 69% of both the tickets and the money are on Iowa -- and that includes sharp action on the Hawkeyes. Despite the heavy lean, this line hasn’t moved much. If anything, it has moved towards Penn State, starting around Iowa -2, -2.5 to the current number of -1.5, though many books are still at Iowa -2.


  • If You Love Interior Line Play…

Then boy do we have the game for you! Iowa’s interior offensive line has been arguably the best in the country. Center Tyler Linderbaum is PFF’s highest-graded C in all of college football at 90.5 -- the next closest is Boston College’s Alec Lindstrom at 81.1, nearly 10 points worse. The Hawkeyes also have a pair of guards, Connor Colby (82.0) and Justin Britt (80.7) who are ranked 5th and 7th in the FBS, respectively. In fact, PFF has only 10 offensive guards who grade out at 80 or higher -- and Iowa has two of them.

On defense, the Hawkeyes are most-known for their … ball-hawking. Sorry, we had to. This Iowa defense leads the nation in interceptions with 12 and has more than twice as many interceptions as any other team in the Big Ten: 3 by Riley Moss, 2 of which are Pick-sixes, 2 each by Dane Belton and Matt Hankins and one each by five others. Six different Hawkeyes intercepted a pass last week against Maryland, tying a school record initially set against Wisconsin in 1982. Iowa has 76 interceptions since 2017, the most in the country. The analytics back them up, too. Hankins (87.1) is the second-highest graded CB in the FBS, while Moss (83.0) is eighth. Their linebackers can cover, too. Jestin Jacobs’ 77.4 coverage grade is 17th best among FBS LBs and Jack Campbell’s 72.9 mark is also in the Top 35. Penn State quarterback Sean Clifford threw two interceptions against this unit last season (Iowa won 41-21), while completing 59% of his passes -- one of only two games on the season where he was below 60%.