Big 12: ACC
College wide receivers who gain 1,000 yards in a season are rarer than you’d expect.
Only 37 players in the the Power 5 conferences reached that milestone in 2014, compared to 57 who reached 1,000 yards rushing. Some schools have surprisingly long droughts without such a receiver and low numbers of players who have reached that season milestone.
Nebraska and Virginia Tech -- which have a combined 248 years of football between them -- were the most surprising. They’re the only Power 5 teams to never officially have a player reach 1,000 yards receiving, although they can thank the old rule that didn’t count bowl stats as official until 2002. (The Hokies’ Andre Davis finished with 1,070 yards after the bowl in the 1999 season, but he’s credited with 962. Nebraska’s leading single-season receiver, Johnny Rodgers, had 1,013 yards in 1972 -- but 71 yards came in the bowl game.)
The third-longest drought came from the SEC, where Mississippi State last produced a 1,000-yard receiver in 1978, when current head coach Dan Mullen was 6 years old. No Power 5 team reached the milestone in each of the last five years.
Conference-wide, the Pac-12 fared the best by producing such a receiver at a 38.3 percent clip over the last five seasons. Both the Pac-12 and the Big 12 also led the way by having half their teams reach the mark in 2014.
At the bottom? Once again, when it came to the attack through the air, the Big Ten languished behind the other conferences. It produced a Power 5-low 20 percent rate over the last five seasons. Both the Big Ten and SEC also had only three teams finish with 1,000-yard receivers last season.
Last week, we discovered the Pac-12 is tied for tops when it comes to producing 1,000-yard rushers.
Well, turns out it's more of the same with passing.
Sixty-five passers reached the 2,500-yard mark last season, and more came from the Pac-12 than anywhere else in the Power 5. It wasn't even close. Seventy-five percent of Pac-12 teams boasted a passer who reached that milestone. Compare that to the next-best conference, the Big 12, which saw six out of 10 teams meet the criteria.
The Pac-12's dominance wasn't a one-year anomaly, either. Over the past five seasons, the conference has produced 41 such passers in 60 attempts. Compare that to the ACC, which was second by producing those QBs at a 55.7 percent clip, or the Big 12, which was right behind at 54 percent.
The worst conference? Maybe it shouldn't come as a surprise that it's the one with a reputation for its ground-and-pound style, the Big Ten. No conference had fewer passers reach 2,500 yards last season -- the Big Ten had only five -- and no conference had fewer passers reach that plateau over the past five seasons.
Among individual teams, triple-option Georgia Tech has gone the longest without a 2,500-yard passer at 14 years. Eight teams -- including three in the Pac-12 -- boasted a 2,500-yard quarterback in each of the past five seasons.
Here's an overall look, by Power 5 conference, of each team and its most recent 2,500-yard passer:
No Deshaun Watson? No problem for Clemson. The Tigers, playing without their star quarterback, had no trouble demolishing Oklahoma in the Russell Athletic Bowl, scoring early on a long touchdown and utterly frustrating the Sooners' offense behind a smothering defensive effort to secure a 40-6 win, Clemson's third straight bowl victory.
How the game was won: Clemson's defense entered the game as the No. 1 unit in the nation, and Oklahoma quickly found out why. Vic Beasley, Grady Jarrett & Co. were dominant, utterly baffling Trevor Knight throughout and largely stifling freshman tailback Samaje Perine until the game was out of hand. But credit the Tigers' undervalued secondary, which helped create five turnovers in the game. Oklahoma racked up some yards as Clemson waited for the clock to run out, but the Tigers' 40-0 lead through the first three quarters was built on the back of a stellar defensive effort.
Game ball goes to: Cole Stoudt. It's hard not to feel good for a guy who had as tough a season as perhaps any quarterback in the country. Stoudt won the starting job at the end of the spring, but after a 1-2 start to the year, he was supplanted by Watson. When Watson went down with an injury, Stoudt was forced back into action and struggled badly while dealing with both a shoulder injury and confidence issues. His past two performances against Power 5 foes were dreadful, but he stepped up against Oklahoma, tossing a 65-yard touchdown on his first throw and never letting off the gas. Stoudt finished the game 26-of-36 for 319 yards with four total touchdowns and no turnovers. The future remains Watson's, which offers ample optimism for Clemson fans, but Stoudt's bowl win was an appropriate sendoff for a quarterback that had given his career to the Tigers.
What it means: It's another nice feather in the cap of the ACC, which has picked up a number of marquee wins this season. It's also a big win for Dabo Swinney, who has often taken a backseat to his high profile offensive coordinator in recent years. Chad Morris left earlier in the month for SMU, but Clemson's offense didn't miss a beat. It's also the 10th win of the season for Clemson, which marks the fourth straight year the Tigers have reached double digits. Only Alabama and Oregon have longer active streaks among Power 5 programs. It's also Clemson's third straight bowl win, all against teams that opened the season in the top 5.
Best play: The tone for the game was set early, when Stoudt hit Artavis Scott for a 65-yard touchdown on Clemson's first offensive play of the game. The Tigers never looked back, and Stoudt turned in the best game of his career in his final game.
Will Clemson send out its dominant senior class of defenders on a high note, or will Oklahoma turn in another breakthrough performance in a bowl game? Here are the storylines to watch in the Russell Athletic Bowl:
Stoudt back at the helm: Cole Stoudt steps in once again as the Tigers quarterback after Deshaun Watson elected to have surgery on his injured knee. Given that Stoudt’s last two games against Power 5 competition included four picks and zero touchdowns, that opens some significant questions about whether Clemson can put up points. Adding more intrigue is the coaching situation for the Tigers. Offensive coordinator Chad Morris departed for the head-coaching job at SMU, which means Tony Elliott will get his first crack at calling plays.
Healthy Oklahoma: When the Sooners fell to Oklahoma State in the regular-season finale, they were without starting QB Trevor Knight and lost star tailback Samaje Perine in the third quarter to a sprained ankle. Both players have had time to heal and should be on the field against Clemson, which certainly makes Oklahoma’s offense far more dangerous.
Perine vs. Clemson rush D: Despite sitting out the final quarter of the Oklahoma State game, Perine racked up 791 yards and 10 rushing touchdowns in his final three games of the season, making Oklahoma’s ground game one of the most explosive in the nation. On the flip side, Clemson’s D surrendered just 2.8 yards per carry this season -- the best in the nation -- and allowed just 10 touchdowns all year. While it does seem like a strength-on-strength matchup, it’s worth mentioning that when the Tigers played Georgia’s prolific running game in the opener, they allowed 328 yards and five touchdowns on the ground.
Getting to Knight: Clemson’s pass rush has been among the best in the nation the past two years. The Tigers had 44 sacks this season, which ranked fifth nationally, and Vic Beasley, Grady Jarrett & Co. tormented opposing quarterbacks all season. To have that same success against Oklahoma won’t be easy, though. The Sooners surrendered just eight sacks all year, the second fewest in the country.
Gallman on the ground: He didn’t exactly finish the year with as much of a bang as Perine did at Oklahoma, but Wayne Gallman helped transform the Clemson offense down the stretch by finally giving the Tigers a consistent threat on the ground. Gallman had 516 yards rushing in Clemson’s last five games, and the Tigers’ ground game, which had averaged just 3.8 yards per rush in the first seven games of the season, upped that average to 4.8 over the final five. A strong game by Gallman and the rushing attack could take a lot of pressure off Stoudt.
AP PhotosTrevone Boykin, Bryce Petty and Jake Waters lead the Big 12's top three teams
The SEC was 0-4 in its SEC-ACC rivalry games, marking the first time since 2000 that Georgia, Florida and South Carolina each lost to its major in-state rival. The SEC is 5-6 (.455 win pct) in non-conference games against other Power 5 opponents, which ranks third among Power 5 conferences.
The race for No. 1, however, is basically a tie between the Big 12 and SEC. The Big 12’s rating is based largely on its strength at the top of the conference, which is measured by the Associated Press poll. The Big 12 has three teams – TCU, Baylor and Kansas State – in the top 10 of the AP poll, the most of any conference. Two of those teams will face off this weekend in Waco, Texas.
The Big 12 has a lower average Football Power Index ranking than the SEC and Pac-12, meaning that despite its strength at the top of the conference, it is not particularly deep. The Big 12 has four teams below 60th in the Football Power Index, which is as many as the Pac-12 and SEC have combined.
Nonetheless, Baylor, TCU and Kansas State are in the midst of strong seasons, and in a 10-team league, that has vaulted the Big 12 to the top of the rankings. In four of the first five College Football Playoff rankings, the Big 12 has been on the outside looking in, but the conference should have a strong argument for inclusion with Tuesday’s release.
The biggest riser in the Conference Power Rankings this week was the ACC. After sweeping the SEC-ACC rivalry games Saturday, the ACC rose 7.0 points to nearly pull even with the Big Ten. Georgia Tech, Clemson and Louisville each rose at least three spots in the AP poll and continued to climb in the Football Power Index.
It has been an up-and-down year for many conferences. The Big Ten was buried early in the year before bouncing back, particularly against the ACC, in Weeks 4 and 5. The ACC was having a down year before it swept the SEC-ACC rivalry series in Week 14. Conference strength will play a role in the College Football Playoff selection, but just as there is not a dominant team this year, there also may not be a dominant conference.
Of the coaches that voted in ESPN’s poll, 44 percent want an eight-team playoff compared to 29 percent for the current four-team model, and 17 percent want a 16-team playoff.
Of the 128 FBS coaches, 102 participated in this week’s poll, conducted by ESPN’s Brett McMurphy.
Most of the coaches who want an eight-team playoff believe it should consist of the conference champions from the Power 5 leagues plus the next three highest-ranked at-large teams or the top-ranked Group of 5 champion and the two highest-ranked at-large teams.
This week, ACC commissioner John Swofford said that in terms of the number of teams, an eight-team playoff “would probably be ideal.”
This is the first year of a 12-year contract with ESPN to have the four-team College Football Playoff. CFB Playoff executive director Bill Hancock said they are committed to only four teams for the next 12 years and “there has been no discussion of expanding.”
Still, the coaches’ voting shows they already want an eight-team playoff – six weeks before the inaugural four-team playoff begins on Jan. 1.
Nearly 20 percent of the coaches favored a 16-team playoff. One Group of 5 conference coach suggested taking the eight highest-ranked conference champions (from the 10 FBS leagues) and the next eight highest-ranked at-large teams.
This coach even went as far to suggest the first-round and second-round games could be played at neutral sites, including cold-weather sites, with cities bidding to host the games like the NCAA basketball tournament regional model.
Four percent of the coaches are not in favor of a playoff, while two percent voted for a six-team and a 12-team playoff. One coach wants a 32-team playoff, another coach a 64-team playoff.
More than half of the coaches (53 percent) from the Power 5 conferences (ACC, Big 12, Big Ten, SEC and Pac-12) that voted chose an eight-team playoff, compared to 33 percent for the four-team model.
The coaches from the Group of 5 conferences (American, Conference USA, Mid-American, Mountain West, Sun Belt) that voted also preferred an eight-team playoff (39 percent). However, 25 percent of the Group of 5 coaches want a 16-team playoff, slightly below the 26 percent that voted for a four-team playoff.
One Power 5 conference coach said: “four is good” but “eight would be perfect.”
Swofford said he doesn’t think “all the controversy [of the four-team field] is going to go away.”
“You have four teams that get a chance to play for the national championship, which is twice as many as before,” Swofford said. “But whoever's fifth or sixth is not going to be happy. There will be some [Power 5] conferences that won't have a team in the playoff.”
Swofford is a member of the College Football Playoff management committee.
American Athletic Conference commissioner Mike Aresco said an eight-team playoff “increasingly will be a topic of conversation. But each FBS conference would want to take the temperature of its membership on something as significant as this.”
Ronald Martinez/Getty ImagesMelvin Gordon and the Wisconsin Badgers have won five straight games to take the Big Ten West lead.
After another week of games with conference championship implications, the conference races are gaining clarity.
The Wisconsin Badgers took hold of the Big Ten West, and the Alabama Crimson Tide control the SEC West after significant divisional wins Saturday.
Using projections by ESPN’s Football Power Index, let’s break down how each of the Power 5 conferences are projected to finish, starting with the most likely conference winners.
FPI’s projected winner: Florida State Seminoles (75 percent), Duke Blue Devils (15 percent), Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets (10 percent)
After Miami’s loss to Florida State, there are three remaining potential conference champions in the ACC. Florida State has already clinched the ACC Atlantic, and FPI projects the Seminoles have a 75 percent chance to beat the ACC Coastal winner in the championship game.
Despite its loss Saturday, Duke remains the most likely ACC Coastal champion (69 percent) because of its schedule and the head-to-head win over Georgia Tech on Oct. 11, but FPI projects Georgia Tech, which is ranked 11 spots ahead of Duke in the FPI rankings, would give the Seminoles a tougher test.
Potential clinching scenarios this week: Georgia Tech clinches with a Duke loss.
FPI’s projected winner: Baylor Bears (74 percent), TCU Horned Frogs (22 percent), Kansas State Wildcats (4 percent)
FPI projects Baylor has a 68 percent chance to win out, best among the one-loss Power 5 teams. If the Bears win out (including a win over Kansas State on Dec. 6), they own the head-to-head tiebreaker over TCU and would be the Big 12 champion. Based on these facts, FPI projects Baylor has a 74 percent chance to win the Big 12.
Potential clinching scenarios this week: None.
FPI’s projected winner: Oregon Ducks (69 percent), UCLA Bruins (15 percent), USC Trojans (9 percent), Arizona State Sun Devils (5 percent)
Oregon clinched the Pac-12 North division before last week’s games, but the South might be the most interesting division in the FBS. There are currently four teams in the Pac-12 South with two conference losses. FPI projects UCLA has the best chance to win the division because of its strength (highest ranking in FPI) and schedule. The Bruins have already beat Arizona State and Arizona, so if they beat USC on Saturday, they would be in great position to win the South. If USC defeats UCLA, however, the Trojans would become the favorite and would clinch the division with a loss by Arizona State earlier in the day. FPI projects UCLA has a 59 percent chance to beat USC at home.
Potential clinching scenarios this week: USC clinches with win AND Arizona State loss.
FPI’s projected winner: Ohio State Buckeyes (61 percent), Wisconsin (36 percent), Minnesota Golden Gophers (1 percent)
Ohio State and Wisconsin are in control of their respective divisions. Ohio State has to win one of its remaining two games -- versus Indiana and versus Michigan -- to win the Big Ten East without the help of a Michigan State loss. FPI projects Ohio State has a 99 percent chance to win one of those games. The Big Ten West is a little more interesting, with Wisconsin still to face Minnesota. FPI projects Wisconsin has an 87 percent chance to win the division, but Minnesota, Iowa and Nebraska are all still alive.
Potential clinching scenarios this week: Wisconsin clinches a berth in the conference championship game with win AND a Minnesota loss. Ohio State clinches a berth in the conference championship game with win OR a Michigan State loss.
FPI’s projected winner: Alabama (46 percent), Georgia Bulldogs (39 percent), Ole Miss Rebels (8 percent), Mississippi State Bulldogs (4 percent), Missouri (2 percent)
The SEC remains the most wide-open Power 5 conference. Alabama’s win against Mississippi State added some clarity; if the Tide defeat Auburn on Nov. 29, they will win the SEC West (they can also clinch via losses by Ole Miss AND Mississippi State). FPI projects the Tide have a 76 percent chance to win the West, followed by Ole Miss (14 percent) and Mississippi State (10 percent). In the SEC East, Georgia would win the head-to-head tiebreaker over Missouri, but the Tigers currently have a one-game lead in the loss column. Georgia has completed its conference schedule, and Missouri has two remaining SEC games, so if Missouri loses at Tennessee or versus Arkansas, Georgia wins the division. FPI projects Missouri has an 85 percent chance to lose either of those games.
Potential clinching scenarios this week: Georgia clinches division with Missouri loss. Alabama clinches division with losses by Mississippi State AND Ole Miss.
Ohio State, Baylor, Oregon and Alabama each beat a top-20 opponent on Saturday and now controls its own destiny in conference races.
Using projections by ESPN’s Football Power Index, let’s break down how each of the Power 5 conferences are projected to finish, starting the with most likely conference winners.
FPI’s Projected Winner: Florida State (75 percent), Duke (19 percent)
Florida State has the best chance of any Power 5 school to win its conference. FPI projects that the Seminoles have a 99 percent chance to win their division and a 77 percent chance to beat the winner of the ACC Coastal division in the ACC Championship Game, should they get there.
Duke is in the driver’s seat in the Coastal division, one game ahead in the loss column over Miami (FL) and Georgia Tech. The Blue Devils hold the head-to-head tiebreaker versus the Yellow Jackets, and although they lost to Miami (FL), the Hurricanes still have Florida State left on their schedule.
FPI’s Projected Winner: Baylor (72 percent), TCU (24 percent), Kansas State (4 percent)
After its win against Oklahoma, Baylor’s chance of winning the Big 12 rose from 27 percent to 72 percent. By most measures, TCU has a more impressive résumé than Baylor, but the Bears hold the head-to-head tiebreaker after defeating the Horned Frogs on Oct. 11 in an unlikely 21-point fourth-quarter comeback.
TCU (68 percent) and Baylor (67 percent) have the best chances among Power 5 one-loss teams to win out. If both teams run the table, Baylor will be the Big 12 champion.
FPI projects that Kansas State, which also has one conference loss, has a four percent chance to win the Big 12 because of its schedule. The Wildcats have to play West Virginia and Baylor on the road, but if they beat Baylor in the final week of the season, things could get interesting. FPI projects that there is a 29 percent chance that Baylor, TCU and Kansas State win their other remaining games, resulting in a three-way tie.
FPI’s Projected Winner: Oregon (71 percent), Arizona State (13 percent), UCLA (10 percent)
Oregon has already clinched the Pac-12 North, so its only barrier to a conference championship will come in that Pac-12 Championship Game. Arizona State, which is one of nine remaining one-loss teams, has a 51 percent chance to win the Pac-12 South, according to FPI, followed by UCLA (30 percent).
The Sun Devils have three remaining conference games, including a tough road test against rival Arizona on Nov. 28, while the Bruins have two. If these teams were to finish with the same record, UCLA owns the head-to-head tiebreaker, and would face Oregon in the Pac-12 Championship game – a game that FPI projects the Ducks have more than a 70 percent chance to win.
FPI’s Projected Winner: Ohio State (65 percent), Wisconsin (22 percent), Nebraska (11 percent)
Ohio State’s win against Michigan State on Saturday may have been the biggest win of the weekend in terms of conference championships. Not only did Ohio State put itself in a great position to win its division (FPI projects the Buckeyes have a 98 percent chance to win the Big Ten East), but it knocked its greatest competition out of the race.
One of the biggest games of this upcoming weekend in terms of divisional races features the top two teams in the Big Ten West – Wisconsin and Nebraska.
Because the game is in Madison, FPI projects that Wisconsin has a 64 percent chance to win. Whichever team wins will put itself in a prime position to win the division and likely face Ohio State in the Big Ten Championship Game.
FPI’s Projected Winner: Alabama (36 percent), Georgia (27 percent), Mississippi State (19 percent)
The SEC is the most wide open conference. FPI projects that there are three teams – Alabama, Georgia and Mississippi State – with more than a 15 percent chance to win the conference. No other Power 5 conference has more than two such teams.
In the SEC West, FPI projects that Alabama has a 50 percent chance to win the division, largely because it hosts its two biggest competitors – Mississippi State and Auburn – in the next few weeks.
On Saturday, Mississippi State heads to Tuscaloosa in a game with conference and playoff implications. The winner of this game will control its own destiny in the vaunted SEC West and have a great chance to play the SEC East champion in the conference championship game.
Like the SEC West, the East is also quite unsettled.
Although Georgia is currently behind Missouri in the SEC East standings, FPI projects that the Bulldogs have a 60 percent chance to win the division because Missouri has three difficult remaining conference games, while Georgia has one.