Pac-12: Independents

Do you believe in these early stories?

September, 11, 2014
9/11/14
11:52
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There are a number of hot on-field topics through the first two weeks of the college football season, subjects that have inspired a bit of debate among fans this week.

Let's look at these from the perspective of "buy" or "sell" and provide the statistical arguments for each.

USC as a national championship contender

The Trojans are 2-0 with a win against Stanford. They have won eight of nine games. Are you buying them as a national title contender?

Buy:
Defense wins championships. Led by All-American candidate Leonard Williams, USC leads the Pac-12 in points per drive (1.4) allowed since the start of last season.

The metrics like them. According to ESPN’s Football Power Index, USC is the eighth-best team in the FBS and has a 23 percent chance to win the Pac-12, second to Oregon. Of the seven teams ranked ahead of USC in FPI, four are from the SEC, which means at least three of those teams will lose at least once this season.

Kessler is playing well. USC is 8-1 in its last nine games, including two wins against Stanford. During that time, Cody Kessler has a Total QBR of 80.6, 13th-best in the FBS (min. 5 starts).

Sell:
Schedule is too tough. According to ESPN’s Football Power Index, USC has a two percent chance of winning out. The Trojans have the 18th-most difficult schedule remaining in the FBS, including all four teams that defeated them last season.

Too many turnovers. USC has had at least two turnovers in three of its last four games. In the last five seasons, FBS teams lose 60 percent of the time when they have two or more turnovers. The Trojans are 14-13 in such games.

Cannot sustain drives. USC has converted 38 percent of its third downs during the last two seasons, 83rd in the FBS.

Tennessee is back
Tennessee is 2-0 and has won both games by at least 15 points. Are you buying Tennessee as a team that can win 10 games this season?

Buy:
Vols have been playing some D. Tennessee has held its last four opponents to fewer than 20 points per game, tied for the longest active FBS streak. In those four games, the Volunteers have allowed 3.6 yards per carry and opponents have failed to gain yards on an SEC-best 31 percent of their rushes.

Sell:
We saw this last year and the two years before that. In each of the previous three seasons, Tennessee has started 2-0 and then lost to a ranked team by at least 10 points in its third game. In those three losses, the Volunteers were outgained by an average of 218 yards and allowed almost 8 yards per play (7.9).

The Vols travel to Norman to take on No. 4 Oklahoma Saturday night (8 ET/ABC).

Vols cannot throw the ball. In SEC play last season, Tennessee threw eight more interceptions (13) and was sacked seven more times (12) than it had passing touchdowns (5). The Volunteers had a Total QBR of 46.1 in SEC play, 11th in the conference.

Everett Golson as a Heisman candidate
Notre Dame is 2-0 and Everett Golson has been responsible for eight touchdowns. Are you buying him as a Heisman trophy candidate?

Buy:
He is right where he needs to be. Golson ranks fifth in the FBS in Total QBR this season. Each of the past five quarterbacks to win the Heisman Trophy was ranked in the top five of Total QBR in the season he won the award.

Heisman voters like touchdowns. Golson has been responsible for eight touchdowns this season, tied for third in the FBS. Starting with Tim Tebow in 2007, every quarterback who won the Heisman Trophy ranked in the top six of the FBS in touchdowns responsible for.

They also like exciting plays. Golson has completed 6-of-9 passes thrown 20 yards or longer this season, including three touchdowns. He had four such touchdowns and 16 such completions during the 2012 season.

Sell:
The Irish are too one-dimensional. Notre Dame had its fewest rushing yards (54) and averaged its fewest yards per rush (1.7) in any game the last two seasons last week against Michigan. The Irish finished the game with 12 yards before contact on 31 rushes. If Notre Dame cannot run the ball, it could put Golson in difficult situations to manage, such as third and long.

Lot of tough defenses on the schedule. Notre Dame still has to play four teams who rank in the top 15 in defensive efficiency since the start of last season. Which means Golson could have a difficult time compiling the stats needed to impress voters.

Texas A&M’s defense will hold up

Texas A&M is 2-0 and has allowed 31 points in two games this season. Are you buying that the Aggies defense will hold up and make them a title contender?

Buy:
Holding up is relative. Since Kevin Sumlin took over as head coach, Texas A&M has averaged the third-most points per game (45.6) in the FBS and the Aggies have the highest offensive efficiency in the nation.

They are getting off the field. Texas A&M is allowing opponents to convert 21 percent of their third downs this season, tied with Florida for 11th in the FBS.

They are tackling better. Texas A&M has allowed 36.5 rushing yards after contact per game this season, fewest in the SEC. Last season, the Aggies allowed an SEC-high 98.9 such yards.

Sell:
No offense can cover their blemishes. Texas A&M has allowed 30.0 points per game since the start of last season (15 games), including 35.6 in SEC play. Florida State was the only FBS team to score at least 30 points in every game last season, and no team in the last 50 years has scored more than 35 points in every game during a season.

They give up way too many big plays. Texas A&M has allowed 13 touchdowns on plays that gained 40 yards or more the last two seasons, most in the SEC and tied for 10th-most in the FBS. The Aggies allowed two such touchdowns in Week 1 against South Carolina.

UCLA’s line will cost the Bruins the Pac-12 championship

UCLA is 2-0, but it has been sacked nine times. Are you buying that UCLA’s offensive line will cost the Bruins a national title?

Buy:
Was Hundley just sacked again? UCLA has been sacked 97 times since the start of the 2012 season, tied for second-most in the FBS, including nine times this season. Brett Hundley has been sacked 51 times in his career on plays in which opponents have sent four or fewer pass rushers, the most for any Power Five quarterback in the last three seasons.

They don’t open any holes in the running game. UCLA is averaging 71.0 yards before contact per game this season, second-worst in the Pac-12 behind Washington State.

They give up too many pressures. UCLA’s quarterbacks have been pressured (hurried or knocked down) on a Pac-12-high 24 percent of their dropbacks the last two seasons.

They allow too many negative plays. The Bruins have 130 plays the last two seasons that have lost yards, third-most in the FBS.

Sell:
Hundley can cover up for their mistakes. Hundley has had 546 rushing yards on scrambles the last two seasons, second-most for any Power Five quarterback behind Johnny Manziel.

The team has overcome its line before. Despite the pressures and sacks, UCLA has averaged 36.7 points per game the last two seasons. The Bruins have an FBS-high 10 touchdowns on drives in which they were sacked at least once since the start of last season.

USC has history of handing ND first loss

November, 21, 2012
11/21/12
3:30
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Kirby Lee/US PresswireNotre Dame is one win from playing for the BCS championship for the first time.
Saturday will be the 84th meeting between the Notre Dame Fighting Irish and the USC Trojans and the 21st time that the Fighting Irish will enter the game undefeated, but the first time since 1993.

Which raises the question: How many times has USC ended a Notre Dame unbeaten season?

Six times, with four of those wins coming in Los Angeles, when the game was the finale on Notre Dame's regular-season schedule. Twice the Irish were ranked No. 1 and once No. 2. The last time came in 1980, Dan Devine’s final year as Notre Dame head coach. In 1980, USC was ranked 17th with a roster that included Ronnie Lott and a future Heisman Trophy winner, Marcus Allen.

Unranked USC beating No. 1 Notre Dame
Only once has a No. 1-ranked Notre Dame team played USC when it was unranked. The result was an agonizing one for the Fighting Irish.

In 1964, Ara Parseghian’s first year as head coach, the Irish were 9-0 with one game left on the schedule: a game against the 6-3 Trojans, a team with losses at Michigan State and Ohio State and at home to Washington.

Notre Dame was led by the 1964 Heisman Trophy winner, quarterback John Huarte, a Los Angeles native who went to Mater Dei High School. That school will be eagerly watching this week’s game because it's the alma mater of current USC quarterbacks Matt Barkley and Max Wittek, not to mention 2004 Heisman winner and former USC quarterback Matt Leinart.

Notre Dame had a 17-0 halftime lead, but the Trojans mounted a comeback to win 20-17 on a pass from Craig Fertig to Rod Sherman with 1:35 to play. A possible national title in Parseghian’s first season was dashed. Notre Dame fell to No. 3 in the poll, and the Alabama Crimson Tide went on to win the national title.

Top-ranked in this rivalry
Notre Dame has been the country’s top-ranked team heading into this game seven times, going 5-2. In five of those games, USC was also a top-10 team.

The shoe has been on the other foot, too. USC has been ranked No. 1 against Notre Dame five times, and the Trojans are a perfect 5-0 in those meetings. That includes the famous 2005 “Bush Push” game.

Has there ever been a No. 1 vs. No. 2 in this rivalry? Just once. Lou Holtz and his No. 1 Notre Dame team beat No. 2 USC 27-10 in 1988 in Los Angeles. The Irish went on to beat West Virginia in the Fiesta Bowl to claim the national championship.

Irish could be No. 1 for 1st time since 1993

November, 18, 2012
11/18/12
1:25
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Thanks to upset victories by Baylor and Stanford, Notre Dame is in position to become No. 1 in the BCS standings for the first time ever.

The Fighting Irish haven’t been No. 1 in the Associated Press poll since November 1993.

Within minutes of each other, Baylor finished off its upset over No. 1 Kansas State and Stanford won in overtime over No. 2 Oregon.

This is the first time since 2007 that the team atop the BCS standings has lost in consecutive weeks.

That week, LSU lost to Arkansas on Nov. 23 and Missouri lost to Oklahoma on Dec. 1.

This is the third time in BCS history that the top two teams both lost on the same weekend.

Both previous instances happened in 2007. Missouri and West Virginia lost on Dec. 1 after LSU and Kansas lost the previous weekend (LSU lost on Friday, Kansas on Saturday on Thanksgiving weekend).

Kansas State's 28-point loss at Baylor is tied for the largest loss by a team ranked No. 1 in the BCS standings. Oklahoma lost to Kansas State by 28 points in 2003.

Kansas State is the fifth team ranked No. 1 in the BCS to lose to an unranked opponent. The Wildcats are the first BCS No. 1 to lose to a team with a losing record heading into the game.

How did Kansas State lose?

The Wildcats allowed 16 rushes of at least 10 yards against Baylor and three touchdowns on those rushes. Entering Saturday's game, Kansas State had not allowed more than six rushes of at least 10 yards in a single game and had not allowed a touchdown on rushes of at least 10 yards all season.

How did Oregon lose?

Oregon scored just 14 points against Stanford, its fewest points in a game since Sept. 3, 2009 against Boise State (lost 19-8).

Outside of Marcus Mariota’s 77-yard scramble in the first half, Stanford was able to limit Oregon on the ground. The Ducks had four rushes that gained 10 or more yards and did not make it past the line of scrimmage on 10 of their 43 rushes. It was the second straight game that the Ducks did not gain 200 yards after averaging 341.2 rushing yards per game in their first nine games.

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