Big Ten: ESPN Stats & Info

Alabama isn't invincible, stats show

December, 10, 2014
Dec 10
1:02
PM ET

Wire photosNick Saban’s Alabama team has areas of vulnerability Urban Meyer’s Buckeyes can attack.
If Ohio State is looking for a weakness in its Sugar Bowl opponent, it might have trouble finding one.

Alabama can win games with its defense. It has three wins in which it scored 25 or fewer points; only Missouri (four) has more this season. The Crimson Tide can also win with their offense. They have an SEC-high seven wins in which they scored more than 40 points, including a 55-44 win against Auburn in the Iron Bowl.

According to ESPN’s team efficiency rankings, Alabama's offense ranks fourth in the nation and its defense is 12th. TCU is the only other team in the top 12 of the FBS in both stats.

Yet, as its loss to Ole Miss indicates, Alabama is not invincible. Below, we look at some areas in which the Crimson Tide excel and others were they might be vulnerable.

Offense
Under first-year offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin, Alabama is on pace to finish with its highest offensive efficiency in the eight years under coach Nick Saban. The Crimson Tide rank 10th in the FBS in yards per play and points per drive, even though they have played seven of the top 20 teams in defensive efficiency.

T.J. Yeldon and Derrick Henry have led the way on the ground. Yeldon and Henry have both rushed for more than 800 yards, averaged more than 5.0 yards per carry and scored at least 10 rushing touchdowns. The only other FBS school with two such running backs this season is Arkansas with Alex Collins and Jonathan Williams.

Blake Sims has been the facilitator for the passing game. He has posted an 88.4 Total QBR this season, second-best in the FBS behind Oregon’s Marcus Mariota. Since 2004, two SEC players have had a higher Total QBR in a season than Sims (Cam Newton and Johnny Manziel). Both won the Heisman in those seasons.

As good as Sims has been, Amari Cooper has been better. Cooper leads the FBS in receiving yards (1,656) and receptions (115) and is tied for second in receiving touchdowns (14).

Yet, if the Buckeyes are able to take away Cooper, Alabama might be in trouble. Cooper has 100 more targets and 1,217 more receiving yards than any other player on the team. DeAndrew White is second on the team in receiving, and on one play – his 58-yard touchdown against Missouri – he gained more yards than he had in all but two games this season entering the SEC Championship.

When Sims is throwing to Cooper this season, he is completing 71.0 percent of his passes, averaging 10.2 yards per attempt and has 14 touchdowns and one interception. To put that into perspective, Mariota is the only other FBS quarterback averaging more than 10 yards per attempt this season. When Sims is not passing to Cooper, he completes 60.5 percent of his passes and averages 7.9 yards per attempt. The FBS averages are 60.0 percent and 7.3 yards per attempt.

Defense
Defense is where Alabama has always hung its hat under Saban. For instance, the Crimson Tide are allowing 16.6 points per game this season, fourth-fewest in the FBS. Yet, that is on pace to be the most they have allowed since 2007, Saban’s first season in Tuscaloosa.

Led by defensive tackle Johnathan Allen and linebacker Reggie Ragland, Alabama is as good as it gets against the run. The Crimson Tide have allowed three rushing touchdowns, five fewer than any other FBS school. They really buckle down around the goal line. On goal-to-go rushes, their opponents have run for minus 16 yards and have scored a touchdown on two of 24 carries (8%). That is on pace to be the second-best percentage in the last 10 seasons, behind Notre Dame in 2012.

If there is one area in which Alabama has not been as strong on defense this season, it is against the pass, especially the last few games. The Crimson Tide are allowing 223.7 passing yards per game, on pace to be their most since they allowed 227.8 in 2003. Big plays have been a big issue. Opponents have 39 completions of 20 yards or more, the most Alabama has allowed in at least the last 10 seasons.

Downfield passes have been the main culprit of late. On passes thrown 25 yards or longer downfield, the Crimson Tide have allowed an SEC-high 16 completions. In their last three games, opponents were 12-of-21 on such throws, compared with 4-of-30 to start the season.

Special teams
Even though Alabama has 2014 first-team all-SEC punter JK Scott and 2013 SEC special teams player of the year Christion Jones on its roster, the Crimson Tide have been below average on special teams this season, ranking 101st in efficiency. How has special teams play affected Alabama this season? Look no further than its 23-17 loss to Ole Miss. In that game, Jones had a fumble in the fourth quarter on a kickoff, which set up the game-winning score, and kicker Adam Griffith missed 46-yard and 51-yard attempts. This season, Alabama has made 64 percent of its field goal tries this season, 93rd in the FBS. Dating to the start of the 2011 season, Alabama has lost five games. In those five games, its kickers are 5-of-16 on field goals, including 2-of-11 from 40 yards or longer.

Combining offense, defense and special teams efficiency, Alabama ranks second behind Oregon in overall efficiency. There are holes, as noted above, that Ohio State can exploit. The Buckeyes, with Cardale Jones at quarterback, scored three touchdowns on passes thrown 25 yards or longer in the Big Ten Championship Game, their most in a game this season. On special teams, they rank second in average starting field position and lead the nation in opponents’ average starting field position. If Ohio State can continue to play well in these areas during the Sugar Bowl, it may well be the difference in the Buckeyes pulling off the upset of No. 1 Alabama.

Conference races gaining clarity

November, 18, 2014
Nov 18
9:09
AM ET

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.

ACC
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.

Big 12
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.

Pac-12
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.

Big Ten
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.

SEC
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.

Breaking down the conference races

November, 10, 2014
Nov 10
10:04
AM ET
After a weekend that featured six matchups between ranked teams, we have emerged with newfound clarity in the conference races.

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.

ACC
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.

Big 12
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.

Pac-12
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.

Big Ten
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.

SEC
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.

Stats to know: Six ranked CFB games

November, 6, 2014
Nov 6
12:23
PM ET
Saturday, there will be six games between teams ranked in the top 20 of the latest College Football Playoff rankings. Below are the stats you need to know heading into each game.

(4) Oregon at (17) Utah, Saturday 10 ET
FPI projection: Oregon 67 percent chance to win

Matchup to watch: Utah’s pass rush versus Oregon’s pass protection – Utah leads the FBS with 39 sacks and has had at least four sacks in an FBS-high six games. In the two games that Oregon allowed more than four sacks, the Ducks lost to Arizona and played a close game against Washington State. Not coincidently, those were the two games that left tackle Jake Fisher was sidelined with a knee injury. Fisher vs Utah DE Nate Orchard will be a specific matchup to watch as Orchard is tied for second in the FBS with 12 sacks.

Player to watch: How can Heisman candidate Marcus Mariota not be the player to watch? Mariota leads the nation in Total QBR (91.2) and touchdowns responsible for (34) and is averaging the second-most yards per pass (10.3) in the nation.

Stat to know: Oregon is 31-0 since the start of the 2012 season when it scores at least 30 points. Utah has held its last nine opponents, dating to last season, to fewer than 30 points, tied for the longest active streak in the FBS.

(5) Alabama at (16) LSU, Saturday 8 ET
FPI projection: Alabama 60 percent chance to win

Matchup to watch: LSU rushing offense against Alabama rushing defense - LSU has run the ball on an SEC-high 67 percent of its plays this season. The Tigers are 6-0 this season when they rush for at least 150 yards and 1-2 when they do not. They will have a tough test against an Alabama defense that has allowed the second-fewest rushing yards per game (78.1) and fewest rushing touchdowns (2) in the FBS.

Player to watch: Amari Cooper had a school-record 224 receiving yards in his last game, a 14-point win at Tennessee. Cooper has been responsible for 49 percent of Alabama’s receiving yards this season, the highest percentage for any FBS player. He also leads the nation with 20 receptions that have gained 20 yards or more and ranks second in receiving yards per game (141.5).

Stat to know: LSU has an FBS-high 24 come-from-behind fourth-quarter wins since Les Miles was hired in 2005. No other SEC school has more than 15 such wins.

(7) Kansas State at (6) TCU , Saturday 7:30 ET
FPI projection: TCU 36 percent chance to win

Matchup to watch: TCU’s big-play offense vs. Kansas State’s disciplined defense – TCU leads the Big 12 with 57 plays of 20 yards or longer. Those plays have gained 247.5 yards per game, second-most in the FBS behind Marshall. Conversely, Kansas State is tied for the second-fewest plays (22) and fourth-fewest yards (86.9) allowed on plays of 20 yards or longer.

Player to watch: Last week, Tyler Lockett passed Jordy Nelson for second on Kansas State’s all-time receiving yards list. He needs 156 more yards to pass his father, Kevin, for most in school history. He will likely be matched against TCU’s Kevin White, who helped shut down one of the top receivers in the nation, West Virginia’s Kevin White, last week.

Stat to know: Kansas State has seven turnovers this season (T-seventh in the FBS), four of which were of little harm because they came with the Wildcats leading by 24 or more points. TCU leads the nation with 26 turnovers forced and is one of two teams (Oregon) that has forced at least two turnovers in every game this season.

(14) Ohio State at (8) Michigan State, Saturday 8 ET
FPI projection: Ohio State 52 percent chance to win

Matchup to watch: Ohio State run game vs Michigan State run defense - Since its loss to Virginia Tech, Ohio State is averaging 295.3 rushing yards per game, fifth-most in the FBS. Michigan State ranks sixth in the FBS in rush yards per game allowed and has held five of its eight opponents under 100 rushing yards.

Player to watch: Jeremy Langford has rushed for at least 100 yards in 12 straight conference games, tied for the longest streak in the last 10 seasons with Arizona’s Ka’Deem Carey. Last season against Ohio State, Langford gained 93 of his 128 rush yards after contact, the most yards after contact that Ohio State has allowed to a player in the last two seasons.

Stat to know: J.T. Barrett has been responsible for 29 touchdowns, tied for third-most in the FBS and on pace to break Braxton Miller’s school record of 36 set last season. Barrett has been responsible for at least four touchdowns in four of eight games this season. Michigan State has not allowed a player to account for four touchdowns since Taylor Martinez scored four in Nebraska’s win in East Lansing on Nov. 3, 2012.

(10) Notre Dame at (9) Arizona State, Saturday 3:30 ET
FPI projection: Notre Dame 52 percent chance to win

Matchup to watch: Everett Golson against Arizona State pressure package - Arizona State sends five or more pass rushers on 55 percent of opponents’ dropbacks, the second-highest percentage for a Power 5 team. On such plays, the Sun Devils rank third among Power 5 defenses in both yards per play (2.9) and sacks (16).

Golson has thrown four of his seven interceptions this season against a blitz, including both of his picks against Florida State. Golson has averaged 5.9 yards per attempt against the blitz this season, 1.2 less than the average for a Power 5 quarterback.

Player to watch: Golson has been responsible for 29 touchdowns this season, tied with Ohio State’s J.T. Barrett for third-most in the FBS and on pace to break the Notre Dame record for a season (39 in 13 games by Brady Quinn in 2006). In the Irish’s win last week against Navy, Golson became the first player in Notre Dame history to pass and rush for at least three touchdowns in the same game. Oklahoma’s Trevor Knight is the only other FBS player to accomplish that feat this season (vs Iowa State).

Stat to know: Notre Dame is 12-0 since the start of last season when it has one or fewer turnovers and 4-5 when it has two or more, including the Irish’s loss to Florida State this season. Arizona State is 4-0 this season when it has forced multiple turnovers.

(12) Baylor at (15) Oklahoma, Saturday 12 ET
FPI projection: Oklahoma 66 percent chance to win

Matchup to watch: Baylor’s pass offense vs Oklahoma’s pass defense - Baylor has a Power 5-high 17 touchdowns on passes thrown 20 yards or longer. Oklahoma has allowed the most touchdowns in the Big 12 on such passes but also is tied for the conference lead with four interceptions. Zach Sanchez has three of those four interceptions and will be matched up against one of Baylor’s explosive wide receivers. The Bears have four receivers who have gained 300 yards and are averaging more than 16 yards per reception.

Player to watch: Trevor Knight had his best statistical game of the season last week against Iowa State, accounting for a career-high 376 yards of total offense and six touchdowns. The Sooners probably will need another big game from Knight to match Baylor’s high-powered offensive numbers. Last season, with Blake Bell at quarterback for Oklahoma, Baylor won by 29 and held the Sooners to a 3.5 raw QBR, their lowest in a game since the 2005 season.

Stat to know: Baylor has never beaten Oklahoma in Norman in 11 games dating to the first meeting in 1974.

Power rankings: Big 12 solidly second

October, 13, 2014
Oct 13
9:19
AM ET

Tom Pennington/Getty ImagesBryce Petty and kicker Chris Callahan survived TCU. The teams are part of the top-heavy Big 12.
The “hot” debate entering the season was whether the Pac-12 could surpass the SEC as the top conference in the nation. The Big 12 was rarely mentioned as a top conference, however, despite returning the majority of its starting quarterbacks and having two of the top five defenses in ESPN’s preseason defensive efficiency rankings.

Five of the Big 12’s 10 teams are in the top 15 of The Associated Press poll, tied with the SEC (which has 14 teams) for the most top-15 teams in the nation. Baylor, TCU, Oklahoma, Kansas State and Oklahoma State all have one or fewer losses and a legitimate shot at the College Football Playoff.

All of those teams will not finish the season with one loss, but it’s worth noting that two of their losses came in close games against the teams that played for the 2014 BCS National Championship (Auburn defeated Kansas State and Florida State defeated Oklahoma State).

The bottom of the Big 12, however, is not as strong as that of the Pac-12 or SEC. The Big 12’s average FPI ranking, which is designed to measure a conference’s depth, ranks below that of those two conferences.

The SEC remains at the top of the conference power rankings. It has the top team in the AP poll (Mississippi State) and in the FPI (Auburn), the two components of these power rankings. The SEC West remains unbeaten against any team not in the SEC West as the Magnolia State has catapulted to the forefront of the college football world.

The Pac-12 will rise in the conference rankings if its top teams can continue to win. Last week, we discussed how the Pac-12 is missing an elite team. Oregon looked strong against UCLA, and the defenses of Stanford and Washington defenses looked solid against explosive offenses in Week 7. The issue is that the Pac-12 does not have a team in the top eight of the AP poll.

In other conference action, next week is a big one for the ACC as Notre Dame heads to Florida State. The Seminoles are the best team in the ACC, but if they lose to Notre Dame at home, the conference could take a big hit in perceived strength and in the College Football Playoff race.


Can Spartans stop Huskers run game?

October, 2, 2014
Oct 2
9:32
AM ET

Eric Francis/Getty ImagesAmeer Abdullah ran for 123 of Nebraska's 182 yards vs Michigan State last season.
At 5-0, Nebraska enters its matchup against Michigan State as the only unbeaten team in the Big Ten. Led by Heisman candidate Ameer Abdullah, the Cornhuskers have been fueled by a potent rushing attack, while the Spartans have made their mark by stopping the run.

Something has to give on Saturday when these two teams square off in East Lansing (8 ET on ABC).

A matchup of strengths
Nebraska ranks in the top three in the FBS in rushing yards per game, yards per rush and rushes of 10 yards or longer.

The Cornhuskers are averaging a Power Five-high 4.4 yards before contact per rush and have made it at least five yards past the line of scrimmage before first contact on 32 percent of their runs (best in the Big Ten).

Against Illinois last week, Nebraska had five rushing touchdowns, one more than Michigan State has allowed all season.

The Spartans rank in the top five in the FBS in rushing yards allowed per game and yards per rush.

They have allowed 92 TOTAL rushing yards before contact, fourth best among Power Five schools. Nebraska has rushed for 1,136 yards before contact in five games this season, most among Power Five schools.

Ameer Abdullah leads the way
Last week against Illinois, Abdullah ran for 208 yards and three touchdowns.

That was his FBS-leading third game with 200 rushing yards and 18th straight game with at least 100 yards from scrimmage. No active running back has a streak of more than 10 such games.

Abdullah has been able to get his yards in chunks, gaining at least 10 yards on 25 percent of his carries. He leads the nation with 29 rushes of 10-plus yards.

Abdullah has gained 546 of his FBS-leading 833 yards before contact. He has 39 rushes in which first contact was not made until five yards past the line of scrimmage, the most by any Power Five player.

What does Michigan State do well?
Despite losing six defensive starters from last season, Michigan State is allowing eight fewer rushing yards per game than it did last season, when it ranked second in the FBS in rushing defense.

Like last year’s squad, the Spartans have not allowed their opponents to get going. They have contacted opposing rushers at or behind the line of scrimmage on 63 of their 111 rushes (57 percent), the highest percentage for any Power Five defense.

They lead the nation in percentage of opponents’ rushes that do not gain yards (39 percent).

The Spartans also have been great at wrapping up opponents. They have only nine missed tackles on opponents’ rushes (tied for second in the Big Ten) and lead the conference with 55.3 rushing yards allowed after contact per game this season.

Looking toward Saturday
Last season, Michigan State beat Nebraska 41-28 in Lincoln. It was the Spartans’ first win against the Cornhuskers in eight tries.

However, the 182 rushing yards allowed were the second-most Michigan State has surrendered over the last two seasons, with 123 coming from Abdullah. The Spartans were helped by five Nebraska turnovers and an inefficient Nebraska passing game.

This year, if Michigan State allows Abdullah to again rush for that many yards the results may be different. In the last four years, Nebraska is 18-3 when Abdullah runs for at least 100 yards, and Michigan State is 6-5 during that time when allowing a player to rush for 100.

Ameer Abdullah sets pace for Cornhuskers

September, 17, 2014
Sep 17
12:28
PM ET

AP Photo/Nati HarnikAmeer Abdullah has run for 41 percent of Nebraska's rushing yards this season.
Ameer Abdullah might have already had his “Heisman Moment.” With Nebraska tied with McNeese State late in the fourth quarter in their Week 2 game, Abdullah took a three-yard pass, broke three tackles and ran 55 yards for a 58-yard catch-and-run touchdown.

Not only did that reception give Nebraska the lead with 20 seconds remaining, but it also gave Abdullah more than 100 yards from scrimmage, something he has done in every game since the start the 2013 season.

Abdullah has a streak of 16 games with at least 100 yards from scrimmage, the longest active streak in the FBS and fourth-longest streak for a running back in the last 10 seasons.

Given Abdullah’s streak, it should not be surprising that he leads all FBS players with 2,423 yards from scrimmage since the start of last season.

During that time, he has had the second-most offensive touches (368) in the FBS and is averaging 6.6 yards per touch, the 12th-best average in the FBS (min. 200 plays).

What has made Abdullah successful?
Abdullah has been the catalyst for this offense.
Nebraska ranks eighth in the nation in rushing yards per game (324.3) this season and second in yards per rush (7.4).

He has been responsible for 43 percent of the team’s carries and 41 percent of the Cornhuskers' rushing yards.

Abdullah is one of the most versatile running backs in the nation.
He is the only Power Five running back with at least 900 rushing yards both inside and outside the tackles since the start of last season.

During that time, Abdullah has gained 1,135 rushing yards outside the tackles, fourth-most in the FBS.

Abdullah is productive and consistent.
Since the start of last season, Abdullah is averaging 130.4 rushing yards per game, seventh-most in the FBS.

He leads all FBS players with 13 100-yard rushing games.

Abdullah finds the correct running lane.
He has 83 rushes in which first contact was not made until 5 yards past the line of scrimmage, tied with Washington’s Bishop Sankey for the most by any Power Five player.

That said, this week could be a challenge for Abdullah with Miami (FL) coming to Lincoln. The Hurricanes have allowed 2.0 yards per carry this season, fourth-best in the FBS.

If Abdullah can have a big game against one of the best rushing defenses in the FBS on national TV, it could vault him up the Heisman Watch list.

Big Ten plummets in conference rankings

September, 8, 2014
Sep 8
11:25
AM ET
The Big Ten’s struggles in Week 2 have been well documented. The conference lost all four of its games against opponents ranked in the top 50 of the Football Power Index, and its top win according to FPI came when Minnesota defeated No. 73 Middle Tennessee at home.

The next tier of Big Ten teams struggled too, as Nebraska, Iowa, Maryland, and Illinois all were tested into the fourth quarter against teams they were favored to beat.

The Big Ten is now 11-7 against non-conference FBS opponents, by far the lowest win percentage (61 percent) of any Power Five conference. Against other Power Five teams and Notre Dame, the Big Ten is 1-5 with an average point margin of -12 points per game.

The Big Ten’s difficulties begin at the top of the conference. The highest ranked Big Ten team in the Football Power Index is No. 22 Michigan, who lost 31-0 at Notre Dame on Saturday. Every other Power Five conference has at least two teams in the top 20 of the FPI, and the SEC has nine teams.

In the AP Poll, the other component of the conference power rankings, three of the four Big Ten teams ranked in the poll last week fell at least six spots.

As a result of the Big Ten’s dreadful weekend, the conference fell 17.3 points in the conference power rankings, the largest single-week plunge of any conference in the last three years.

On the flip side, the ACC rose by 7.2 points and jumped over the Big Ten for fourth place. The ACC went 11-0 in non-conference games in Week 2, bringing its non-conference win percentage to 87 percent in the first two weeks. Only the SEC (95 percent) has a higher non-conference win percentage.

The Pac-12 barely budged in the conference rankings, but Oregon's win against Michigan State may end up being the biggest win for a conference in terms of national perception this season. The Ducks showed that they could play a physical style of football against one of the toughest defenses in the nation.

Next week is a big one for the Big 12 as the conference has seven non-conference games against Power Five opponents. Oklahoma hosts Tennessee (8 ET, ABC), Iowa State travels to Iowa (3:30 ET, ESPN) and Texas Tech faces off with Arkansas (3:30 ET, ABC) in games that could help solidify the conference as the third-best in the nation.

The conference power rankings are a formula that equally weighs the rankings from the AP Poll and ESPN’s Football Power Index (FPI) in order to determine the best and worst conferences in the country. For more information on the rankings and FPI, click here and here.


Adjustment helped ease Barrett into QB role

September, 3, 2014
Sep 3
5:03
PM ET

AP Photo/Patrick SemanskyOhio State's improved blocking in the second half helped open things up for QB J.T. Barrett in Week 1.
Ohio State was a different offense in the second half of its season-opening win over Navy, due in part to the play of its offensive line and the adjustments its coaching staff made in playcalling.

The Buckeyes ran on 21 of their 25 second-half plays. They averaged 3.8 yards before contact per rush in the second half, two more yards than they averaged in the first half.

Barrett’s average pass in the second half traveled 18.3 yards downfield, including 36 yards on his 80-yard touchdown to Devin Smith. All four of his second-half passes were off play action.

Ohio State's offense struggled in the first half. The Buckeyes had their fewest points (6), yards (162) and averaged their fewest yards per play (5.4) in the first half of a game in the last two seasons. As a result the Midshipmen took a one-point halftime lead.

One of the main reasons for Ohio State’s struggles was its offensive line.

The Buckeyes had their fewest rushing yards (66) in the first half of a game in the last two seasons and tied for their most rushes (6) that failed to gain yards.

Ohio State’s inability to block factored into the play calling. J.T. Barrett was eased into the game with eight of his first nine passes coming at or behind the line of scrimmage. His average pass in the first half traveled just 2.8 yards and all but six of his 96 passing yards in the half came after the catch.

Will it be enough against Virginia Tech?
Ohio State will face Virginia Tech on Saturday, a team that brings in one of the best rushing defenses in the nation. Since the start of last season, the Hokies rank ninth in the FBS in opponent rushing yards per game (108.4) and eighth in opponents yards per rush (3.2).

If Ohio State cannot run the ball, it will put Barrett into a position to make plays on third down - something he did not do against Navy. He attempted two third-down passes against the Midshipmen with neither resulting in a first down.

For the game, the Buckeyes ran on six of their eight third downs, despite the fact that their average distance to go was 6.9 yards. They ended up converting on 25 percent of their third downs, their fewest conversions in any game that they won under Urban Meyer.

This could be an issue Saturday, as Virginia Tech has allowed opponents to convert 28 percent of their third downs the last two seasons, second best in the FBS behind Louisville (25 percent).

FPI likes the Buckeyes
According to ESPN’s Football Power Index, Ohio State has an 80 percent chance to win Saturday. FPI is a predictive look at overall team strength. FPI ranks every FBS team by the likelihood that it would beat an average team on a neutral field.

The Buckeyes will need to play like they did in the second half against Navy if FPI’s projection is going to be correct.

SEC extends lead in Power Rankings

September, 3, 2014
Sep 3
9:47
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AP Photo/Tony GutierrezSEC teams went 8-1 in Week 1 as the race for the national championship trophy began.
A quick refresher: Last week, ESPN Stats & Information released its preseason conference power rankings, a formula that equally weighs the rankings from the AP Poll and ESPN’s Football Power Index (FPI) in order to determine the best and worst conferences in the country. For more information on the rankings and FPI, click here and here.

After an exciting slate of non-conference games in Week 1, the SEC proved why it was considered the top conference in the nation entering the season. The SEC went 8-1 in non-conference games, the best winning percentage of any FBS conference.

Ole Miss, Georgia and LSU all beat opponents ranked in the top 50 in the preseason Football Power Index, while Tennessee and Alabama took care of business against improved FBS teams. What may be surprising is the way that some of these SEC teams won the games, though.

The SEC was not nearly as dominant in its wins as some may have expected. LSU had the lowest average in-game win probability (34%) of any team that won this weekend, and Alabama, Ole Miss and Georgia were all in one-score games in the second half.

Nonetheless, the SEC pulled out these wins and jumped 1.4 points in the conference power rankings. The strength of the top of the conference (six teams in top 15 of the AP Poll) is unmatched by any other conference.

Big Ten falls despite strong Week 1
The Big Ten had the second-best winning percentage in non-conference games of any of FBS conference. Notable wins include: Rutgers beating Washington State in Seattle, Penn State defeating UCF in Ireland, and Ohio State outlasting Navy in Baltimore.

However, the other nine wins for the Big Ten were against six FCS teams and three lower-tier FBS opponents.

The main reason that the Big Ten fell in the ratings, however, is that last week’s numbers were based off of the preseason AP Poll that did not account for Braxton Miller’s injury.

Ohio State struggled in the first half against Navy without Miller, and as a result, the AP voters dropped the Buckeyes from fifth to eighth despite a win. That was the second largest drop in AP ranking for a team that won last weekend (UCLA went from 7 to 11).

ACC falls further behind rest of Power Five
The ACC dropped five more points in the conference power rankings after Wake Forest lost to Louisiana-Monroe, Syracuse almost lost to Villanova, North Carolina struggled against Liberty and Florida State played a closer-than-expected game against Oklahoma State.

Clemson's loss to Georgia also significantly affected the ACC in the ratings because the top of the ACC is considered even weaker than when it began the season.

Florida State is the only team from the ACC ranked in the top 20 of the AP Poll; every other Power Five conference has at least three top-20 teams.

In terms of the bottom of the ACC, Syracuse, Boston College, North Carolina State and Wake Forest all have an FPI below zero (zero is considered an average FBS team by FPI). No other Power Five conference has more than two such teams.

Big Week for Big Ten/Pac-12
Week 2 is a big week to prove conference superiority. Highlighted by Michigan State traveling to Oregon, the Big Ten is a part of three marquee games next weekend.

Michigan will look to build upon a strong Week 1 at Notre Dame and Ohio State will look to prove it can be successful without Braxton Miller as it hosts Virginia Tech.

In the Pac-12, Oregon likely needs to win at home against Michigan State in order for it to stay alive in the playoff.

Also out west, USC and Stanford will meet in one of the top Pac-12 games of the season.

Ohio State's Braxton Miller back for 2014

August, 5, 2014
Aug 5
1:33
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Jonathan Daniel/Getty ImagesBraxton Miller could become Ohio State's all-time leader in wins.
The 2014 college football season has the potential to showcase one of the most talented groups of quarterbacks in recent memory. Jameis Winston, Marcus Mariota, Brett Hundley and Bryce Petty are all being talked about as potential first-round NFL draft picks, while Braxton Miller and Everett Golson have the chance to solidify their place in their respective school’s storied histories.

In preparation for the 2014 season and in conjunction with interviews conducted by ESPN CFB analyst Kirk Herbstreit, ESPN Stats & Info will take a deeper look at the top QBs entering the fall. Today, we take a look at Ohio State quarterback Braxton Miller.


A look back at 2013
Braxton Miller had an outstanding junior season, becoming the first player in Big Ten history (since 1990 when the award was first given) to win the Offensive Player of the Year award in consecutive seasons. He was the only Power Five conference quarterback to throw for at least 2,000 yards and rush for 1,000 yards last year. If Miller can accomplish that feat again, he will join Colin Kaepernick and become the second FBS quarterback in the past 10 years to reach those thresholds in three seasons.

Miller has rushed for at least 100 yards in 14 games since the start of 2011, second most among FBS quarterbacks. He had five such games last season, which tied for fourth among FBS quarterbacks. Miller has always been a prolific rusher, but he’s also improved as a passer every year at Ohio State. Miller’s completion percentage, passing yards and touchdowns have increased every season.

He was more willing to operate from the pocket last year. He attempted 85 percent of his passes from the pocket, nearly 20 percentage points higher than in 2012. His 19 touchdown passes from inside the pocket were tied for the most in the Big Ten with Indiana’s Nate Sudfeld and Penn State’s Christian Hackenberg.

A look ahead to 2014
With another 11-win season, Miller will pass Art Schlichter for the most wins in school history (36). Assuming Miller stays healthy, he has a good chance of passing Schlichter.

According to the ESPN Football Power Index, Ohio State has the best chance (41 percent) of winning the Big Ten, nearly 20 percentage points better than Wisconsin, and is projected for between 10 and 11 wins heading into bowl season. The Buckeyes have won 24 consecutive regular-season games, four shy of tying the Big Ten conference record.

The Buckeyes have big shoes to fill. They must replace six of 11 starters on offense, including league-leading rusher Carlos Hyde and four starters from an offensive line that combined for 135 starts.

Miller might have to shoulder more of the load. In the past, he has stepped up when his team needed him. Miller enters 2014 with six career game-winning drives in the fourth quarter or overtime, including three last season. The six career game-winning drives are the most among returning FBS quarterbacks and five more than any other returning quarterback in the Big Ten.

One area in which Miller needs to get better is on third down. He ranked in the bottom third of the FBS in Total QBR (47.1) and completion percentage (50.9) on third down. Only Michigan’s Devin Gardner and Purdue’s Danny Etling were sacked more on third down than Miller (12) among Big Ten quarterbacks. Only two of the past 10 national championship quarterbacks have had a third-down QBR less than 70 in the season they won the title.

Is Wisconsin CFB's most underrated team?

November, 21, 2013
11/21/13
9:30
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AP Photo/Morry GashWisconsin's RB duo of Melvin Gordon and James White have had a lot to celebrate this season.
Wisconsin heads to Minnesota on Saturday with Paul Bunyan’s Axe on the line. The Badgers enter the game ranked 19th in the latest BCS Standings, but the argument can be made that they are the most underrated team in the country.

The Badgers are 8-2 and have outscored their opponents by 24.5 points per game, seventh-best in the nation. They are ranked 10th in ESPN’s Championship Drive Ratings, a system that evaluates teams on the quality of their résumés based on game results, difficulty of schedule and ability to control games. Both of their losses, to Ohio State and Arizona State, came on the road against teams currently ranked in Top 5 of the Championship Drive Ratings.

Many argue that Wisconsin should have won at Arizona State. A controversial ending to the game prevented the Badgers from attempting a game-winning field goal as time expired. If the Badgers were able to attempt the field goal, they would have had about a 76 percent chance to win. For a detailed description of the play, click here.

If Wisconsin had won that game, it would be 9-1 and ranked fourth in the Championship Drive Ratings, slightly ahead of Ohio State and Baylor. That means that it would have been more difficult to go 9-1 against Wisconsin’s schedule than 10-0 against either of the other teams’ schedules.

Ranked outside of the top 20 for most of the season, Wisconsin’s historic rushing offense has not received as much attention as if the Badgers were more highly ranked.

Wisconsin is averaging 307.9 rush yards per game, sixth most in the nation and on pace to break the school record of 287.5 set in 1974. They have run for at least 200 yards in five straight games, including an FBS season-high 554 yards last week against Indiana.

The Badgers are also averaging an FBS-high 7.01 yards per carry, on pace to be the highest average in 125 years of Wisconsin football (current high is 5.52 in 1996). The only team that has averaged more yards per carry in the last 10 seasons was Nevada in 2009, who set the NCAA record for yards per rush (7.4) in a season with at least 500 carries.

The Badgers are able to create “explosive” plays in the run game. They gain at least 20 yards on an FBS-high 7.9 percent of their rushes, and have 14 rushing touchdowns of 20 yards or longer, tied with Oregon for the most in the FBS.

Wisconsin running backs Melvin Gordon (1,306) and James White (1,156) have combined for 2,462 rush yards this season, 337 more yards than any other pair of teammates. Additionally, Corey Clement has 515 yards and seven touchdowns. These three players have combined for 17 100-yard games, easily the most in the FBS (Auburn is second with 12) and one more than the Badgers had all of last season.

In the last 10 seasons, Gordon and White are the fourth pair of running backs from the same team to rush for at least 1,000 yards through their team’s first 10 games.

The offensive line deserves a lot of credit for Wisconsin’s success on the ground. The Badgers are averaging 4.3 yards per rush before first contact, most of any AQ team and 1.8 higher than the AQ average. One key has been their ability to set the edge. The Badgers average an AQ-high 9.4 yards per rush outside the tackles and have made it five yards past the line of scrimmage without being contacted on 33 percent of such carries.

On Saturday, Wisconsin will face a Minnesota defense that has recently struggled against the run. The Golden Gophers have allowed each of their past three opponents to rush for at least 185 yards and five yards per carry. Wisconsin, on the other hand, has averaged 333.7 rush yards per game and 7.2 yards per rush in its past three games.

If the Badgers can keep their running game going and win at a nationally ranked 8-2 opponent, they might finally get their due, in the form of a BCS bowl berth.

Spartans may boast best defense in nation

October, 30, 2013
10/30/13
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Michigan State is 7-1 with its lone loss coming at Notre Dame. The Spartans have been led by one of the best defenses in the nation. They are allowing 12.2 points per game, third fewest in the FBS, and have given up more than 17 points just once – a 42-28 win at Indiana.

Yards are tough to come by

Michigan State’s defense has allowed the fewest yards per play (3.5) and yards per game (215.0) in the FBS. The Spartans have held every opponent to their season low in yards per play except for Purdue.

One reason for Michigan State’s success is that it does not give up big plays. The Spartans have allowed 19 plays of 20 yards or more all season, second fewest in the nation. They allowed 16 of those 19 plays in the passing game. In the run game, Michigan State has allowed 10 carries to gain 10 yards or more, seven fewer than any other FBS team.

With yards coming at a premium against the Spartans, it should come as no surprise that Michigan State is the only FBS team that has not allowed a touchdown drive longer than 75 yards this season.

Spartans stuff the run

Michigan State is the only FBS team that has held every opponent to fewer than 100 rushing yards this season. The Spartans allow 2.1 yards per rush, on pace to be the lowest by an FBS defense since TCU allowed 1.7 during the 2008 season.

One key to the Spartans’ success is they have not allowed much room to run. In eight games this season, Michigan State has allowed a total of 71 rushing yards before contact. To put how good that is in perspective, the AQ average for rushing yards before contact allowed per game is 79.



Michigan State is able to stuff the run without loading the box. The Spartans have averaged 6.5 defenders in the box on running plays in conference games, second fewest in the Big Ten behind Ohio State.

Spartans get off the field

Michigan State has forced a three-and-out on 49 percent of its opponents’ possessions, tied for second-highest percentage in the FBS. The key has been forcing opponents into third down and long. Opponents have had at least 6 yards to go on 66 percent of their third downs against the Spartans, tied for sixth most in the FBS. As a result, opponents have converted a first down on 28 percent of their third downs against Michigan State, the third-lowest conversion rate in the FBS.

With Michigan State forcing opponents into a lot of passing situations on third downs, the Spartans have not conceded much on the ground. They have allowed an FBS-low six rushing first downs on third down. On 34 third-down carries this season, the Spartans have allowed a net of negative-1 rushing yard.

Michigan State’s defense averages 14.4 EPA per game this season, third best in the FBS. That means Michigan State’s defensive unit has added an average of 14 points per game toward its net scoring margin by controlling field position, forcing turnovers and limiting its opponents’ scoring.

The Spartans will face interstate rival Michigan at home Saturday. The Wolverines’ offense is led by Devin Gardner who has a 42.9 Total QBR in two road games this season and an 88.4 at home. This will be Gardner’s first game at quarterback against Michigan State. If the Spartans can continue their defensive prowess, they should be in good position to get their fifth win in their last six games against the Wolverines, including its third straight in East Lansing.

Two-QB system working for Northwestern

October, 3, 2013
10/03/13
3:30
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Getty Images, USA TODAY SportsKain Colter (left) and Trevor Siemian (right) have split QB duties this season for Northwestern.
There is an old adage in football that when a team has two quarterbacks, it has none. Northwestern might be the exception. The Wildcats are off to a 4-0 start, during which they have utilized two quarterbacks, senior Kain Colter and junior Trevor Siemian.

The Wildcats have a balanced offense, gaining 51.6 percent of their yards on the ground and 48.4 percent through the air. They are the only Big Ten team that averages more than 225 yards passing and rushing.

Yet, Northwestern’s offense is drastically different dependent upon which quarterback is under center.

Colter (140 plays) and Siemian (141 plays) have split the team’s snaps. The Wildcats have run the ball 75 percent of the time with Colter under center, including 82 percent on first down.

With Siemian taking the snap, Northwestern runs on 50 percent of its plays, including 51 percent on first down.

In Northwestern’s season opener against California, Colter was injured after two plays. Since that game, he has taken almost 22 more snaps per game than Siemian.

The Wildcats have 52 offensive drives this season. The two quarterbacks have shared snaps on five. There have been only two drives on which they both took multiple snaps and one was in Week 1 against California when Colter was injured.


Colter is one the best running quarterbacks in the country. Excluding sacks, he averages 8.3 yards per rush, fourth most by any quarterback with at least 25 such attempts.

With him under center, Northwestern uses zone-reads on 60 percent of its running plays, compared to 28 percent with Siemian. The Wildcats average 7.4 yards on such plays with Colter and 5.3 with Siemian.

Siemian excels at the passing game. Colter does have a better completion percentage, but Siemian’s average pass travels 4.4 more yards downfield. Colter has recorded almost 75 percent of his pass yards after the catch, compared to 34 percent for Siemain.

Siemian has completed 50 percent (10-of-20) of his passes thrown 15 yards or longer. Colter has one such completion in eight attempts.

In addition, Siemian has taken one sack in 78 dropbacks, compared to Colter’s six in 51 dropbacks.

Northwestern will have a tough task against Ohio State's defense, which is allowing 17 points per game. The Buckeyes have one of the best run defenses, allowing just two rushing touchdowns all season. In addition, the Buckeyes are allowing the eighth-fewest rushing yards per game in the FBS.

Taylor gains tough yards in Rose Bowl win

January, 1, 2013
1/01/13
11:01
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AP Photo/David HoodSenior running back Stepfan Taylor and the Cardinal won their first Rose Bowl since 1972.
The Stanford Cardinal defeated the Wisconsin Badgers in the Rose Bowl Game Pres. by Vizio, their first Rose Bowl win since January 1, 1972. Below is a look at how the Cardinal won their eighth straight game and why the Badgers' loss continued a discouraging trend for the Big Ten:

• Stepfan Taylor gained 50 of his team-high 88 rush yards after first contact in the Rose Bowl, including 32 of his 39 yards in the fourth quarter. It was his most yards after contact in the fourth quarter of any game this season and thanks to his touchdown in the first quarter, Taylor scored on the ground in five of Stanford’s final six games of the season.

• Stanford allowed a season-high 119 yards on carries inside the tackles in the first half against Wisconsin (5.4 yds per rush), including 76 yards on inside runs by Montee Ball. The second half was a different story, however, as Wisconsin gained just 13 yards up the middle and averaged just 1.4 yards per carry including just eight yards by Ball.

• With the loss, Wisconsin became the third team all-time and the first since Michigan from 1976-78 to lose the Rose Bowl in three consecutive seasons. The Badgers’ run is part of a stretch that has seen the Big Ten lose nine of its last 10 Rose Bowl appearances. The only Big Ten team to win a Rose Bowl during that span was Ohio State on January 1, 2010 against Oregon.

• Stanford did much of its damage on first down against Wisconsin, gaining an average of 8.2 yards per play and scoring both of its touchdowns on first down in the game.

The 8.2 yards per play marked the second-highest first-down average for the Cardinal in a game this season (8.5 versus Arizona) and was the most allowed per play by Wisconsin in a game since it gave up 11.5 to Oregon in last season’s Rose Bowl.

• Ball’s performance was not forgotten in the defeat as he rushed for 100 yards for the 10th time this season (tied for second most in FBS) and scored the last of his FBS-record 83 career touchdowns.

The Rose Bowl marked Ball’s 26th-career game in which he rushed for at least 100 yards and scored a rushing touchdown, most in the FBS since his freshman year of 2009. With the score, Ball also became the first player in history to score a touchdown in three separate Rose Bowls.

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