- Brian Bennett, ESPN Staff Writer
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As our first Saturday full of games approaches, here are a few things to help you sound smarter at your tailgate party (thanks to our friends at ESPN Stats & Information for many of these nuggets):
Michigan State forced the most negative plays (125) in the FBS last season. In the Outback Bowl against Georgia, the Spartans forced 19 negative plays, the second-most negative plays in a game by any team last season. Michigan State also ranked sixth nationally in plays of 15 or more yards allowed, with 71.
Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron has not thrown an interception on a pass that traveled 20 yards or more in the air in 51 career attempts. Denard Robinson, on the other hand, has 12 interceptions on these throws in 107 attempts (11.2 percent). In 2011, McCarron had six touchdowns and no interceptions on such throws, while Robinson had six picks and only four touchdowns on the same type of pass attempts. The Crimson Tide allowed 15 completions that gained 20 yards or more last season, 10 fewer than any other FBS team. On passes that traveled 20 yards or longer in the air, the Tide had the same number of interceptions (7) as their opponents had completions.
Wisconsin's Montee Ball was not touched on 19 of his 33 rushing touchdowns last season. He was contacted in the backfield by the defense on only 26 of his 307 (8.5 percent) rushes last season. On 28.0 percent of his runs, first contact was not made until 5 yards past the line of scrimmage.
Nebraska's Taylor Martinez completes 40.4 percent of his throws of 15-plus yards for his career against BCS AQ opponents. Nebraska is 7-0 against AQ opponents when Martinez completes at least 50 percent of these passes over the past two seasons, and 1-5 when he completes less than a third of these passes.
After averaging 3.8 yards per rush on designed rushes in his first six games, Ohio State quarterback Braxton Miller averaged 8.2 yards per rush on designed runs in his final eight games. On passes of 10 yards or longer, Miller completed 32.1 percent of his passes from inside the pocket and 64.7 percent from outside the pocket.
Penn State is 92-19-2 all time in openers. Though if you follow the NCAA sanctions to a T, then technically the Nittany Lions are seeking their first victory of any kind since 1997.
Illinois coach Tim Beckman went 2-1 against Western Michigan while at Toledo. His Rockets beat the Broncos 66-63 in 2011 and 37-24 in 2010, but lost 58-26 in 2009.
Iowa plays Northern Illinois at Soldier Field; the Hawkeyes beat the Huskies 16-3 in their only other appearance in the stadium, in 2007. This season marks the fifth time in Iowa history its season opener will be played at a neutral site. The Hawkeyes also played Tennessee and NC State in the 1987 and 1992 Kickoff Classic at East Rutherford, N.J., respectively, and Kansas State in Kansas City in the 2000 Eddie Robinson Classic.
Indiana claims to be the youngest team in college football. The Hoosiers played 32 freshmen, half of them true freshmen in 2011. They have only eight seniors on the 2012 roster, which is tied for the fewest in the nation.
Northwestern has never lost an opener under Pat Fitzgerald. The Wildcats are a perfect 7-0 in their first game under Fitzgerald and have won 10 of their past 12 lid-lifters, including a 30-10 victory against this week's opponent, Syracuse, in 2008.
Purdue is the only FBS team with four players on its roster that have started at least one game at quarterback. No other FBS team has more than two players who have started at quarterback. The Boilermakers have Robert Marve (15 career starts between Purdue and Miami), Caleb TerBush (13 starts), Rob Henry (seven) and Sean Robinson (1), who's now a linebacker.
As our first Saturday full of games approaches, here are a few things to help you sound smarter at your tailgate party (thanks to our friends at ESPN Stats & Information for many of these nuggets): Michigan State forced the most negative plays (125) in the FBS last season.