Pac-12: NCF

How Hundley, Price handle pressure

November, 15, 2013
11/15/13
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Ezra Shaw/Getty ImagesDespite facing heavy pressure, Brett Hundley has led UCLA to a 7-2 record this season.

Washington heads to Pasadena to take on the UCLA Bruins at 9 p.m. ET Friday on ESPN2 in a matchup of two quarterbacks looking to thrive under pressure.

Since the start of last season, UCLA’s Brett Hundley has been sacked an FBS-high 72 times, while Washington’s Keith Price ranks second with 60.

Even when opponents don’t sack Hundley and Price, they have been able to pressure the quarterbacks. Among BCS AQ (automatic-qualifying) quarterbacks, Price has been pressured (hurried or knocked down) more than any other player since the start of last season. Hundley ranks third with 192 total pressures in that time.

UCLA and Washington have struggled to win when they can’t protect their quarterbacks. The two teams are 8-11 when they allow opponents to pressure their quarterbacks at least 10 times.

When Price and Hundley were pressured on fewer than 10 dropbacks in a game, they have a combined 21-5 record.

How Hundley and Price have adapted
Hundley has countered the pressure by becoming a threat to run. He has 685 rush yards on scrambles since the start of last season, the second most of any AQ quarterback behind only Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel. Hundley has averaged 7.0 yards per carry on such runs and has 22 rushes that gained at least 10 yards.

Price has used play action to slow opposing pass rushers, who must be wary of the Pac-12’s rushing leader, Bishop Sankey. Price is completing a Pac-12 best 78.9 percent of his play-action passes and 12 touchdowns, second most of any AQ quarterback behind Oregon State’s Sean Mannion.

When Price has time to pass, he has been productive, with a 71.2 opponent-adjusted QBR this season compared to a 48.3 opponent-adjusted QBR in 2012.

USC’s improved offense under Coach O

November, 13, 2013
11/13/13
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Matt Cashore/USA TODAY Sports
USC has improved offensively since Ed Orgeron took over for Lane Kiffin as head coach.
In an interview with ESPN Pac-12 blogger Kevin Gemmell, USC RB Javorius “Buck” Allen described USC’s transition to interim coach Ed Orgeron, “It hasn't been difficult. We all love Coach (Orgeron). He's a player's coach. He loves us, and he wants to see us happy and have fun. We really play off of that, and we want to win for him.”

USC is 4-1 under Coach Orgeron and its offense seems to have found an identity. USC has turned to its run game, led by Allen and Silas Redd, which has opened up the passing game for Cody Kessler and the Trojans.

Orgeron’s return to the run
USC is averaging 181.2 rush yards per game under Ed Orgeron, which is comparable to its average in the first five games of the season under Lane Kiffin. However, the Trojans are running more often on early downs and finding success in doing so.

In their past five games, the Trojans have run on 70 percent of their first-down plays, an increase of eight percentage points from their first five games. They have averaged 5.8 yards per rush and gained a first down on 22 percent of their first-down rushes in those games.

Success on first down has resulted in increased efficiency on third down. USC ranked 112th in the FBS through its first five games with a 28 percent third-down conversion rate. With Orgeron at the helm, the Trojans have increased that rate to 36 percent, including 52 percent in their past two games.

Buck Allen’s emergence
The biggest difference in USC’s running game has been the emergence Javorius “Buck” Allen. According to sources, Allen was one of USC’s most productive backs in training camp, but he did not get many carries at the start of the season. Those carries went to Tre Madden and Justin Davis, who were both productive, but recently went down with injuries.

Even before the injuries to Madden and Davis, Allen was given a chance by Ed Orgeron. In five games under Orgeron, Allen has gained 327 yards, including at least 130 in each of his past two games. He is averaging 8.8 yards per rush and has added an element of speed that complements the bruising style of Silas Redd.

Allen’s speed has allowed him to turn the corner on opposing defenses. He is averaging 11.4 yards per carry outside the tackles and seven of his 23 rushes have gained at least 10 yards. Overall, he leads the Trojans with seven rushing touchdowns, including four outside the tackles, despite ranking fourth on the team with 51 carries.

Improved QB play
Under Orgeron, USC is attempting more passes per game and its average pass distance is one yard farther downfield than when Lane Kiffin was the head coach.

Orgeron and new play caller Clay Helton have cut back on USC’s bubble screens, which were a staple of Lane Kiffin’s offense. After attempting more than five screens per game under Kiffin, USC has attempted just nine screens in five games (1.8 per game) under Orgeron and have relied more heavily on the arms of their quarterbacks.

Cody Kessler has responded to the increased responsibility by posting a 65.5 opponent-adjusted QBR in his past five games. He completed 81.6 percent of his passes and averaged 11 yards per attempt in his past two games against Oregon State and California.

The most noticeable difference for USC’s quarterbacks is on third down. In their past five games, they have converted a first down on 32 percent of their passing plays (pass attempts + sacks) and have a 54.1 Total QBR on third down. In comparison, they converted 22 percent of their passing plays and had an 11.1 third-down Total QBR in the first five games of the season.

USC’s quarterbacks will be challenged on Saturday against Stanford’s stout defense. The Cardinal rank seventh in adjusted defensive efficiency and are coming off of a game in which they held Oregon’s Marcus Mariota to a season-low 46.5 Total QBR.

Stanford's résumé deserving of title shot

November, 13, 2013
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In ESPN’s new Championship Drive Ratings, Stanford is rated No. 2 after an enormous win over Oregon last Thursday night. Despite having one loss, the Cardinal are just behind Alabama but ahead of everyone else, including undefeated Florida State (No. 3), Ohio State (No. 4), and Baylor (No. 8). Before you go screaming your head off about how biased or unfair or (other words not fit for print) these ratings are, keep in mind their intent: to measure the strength of a team’s résumé based on what it has done to date.

The calculations here are based on how difficult it is for an average FBS team to achieve the team’s results (primary W-L, but also average in-game win probability) given its schedule. It’s relatively easy to be undefeated if you play lower-quality opponents each week – people intuitively understand this, otherwise Northern Illinois and Fresno State would be ranked in the Top 10 this week. The flip side is that it can be quite hard to go through a much tougher (e.g. Pac-12 or SEC) slate with only a couple of losses – harder than it is for a lot of teams to go undefeated vs their own schedule.

Stanford has played an extremely tough schedule, one that is rated seventh-hardest in the Championship Drive system, and done quite well against it. The Cardinal have played six Top-50 opponents and beaten five of them, more than any other FBS team.

Their three wins over opponents currently in the Top 10 are two more than anyone else. The four BCS AQ unbeatens have played one such game combined (Ohio State over Wisconsin).

Only the San Jose State and Army games on Stanford’s schedule would be easy wins for an average FBS team. Compare that to the three or four “gimmes” on the others’ schedules.

Yes, Stanford lost the one game at Utah and that hurts, but looking at the entirety of Stanford’s schedule shows that suffering just one loss over all those tough games is still quite impressive (an average team would have less than three wins). Utah is not the one loss you’d expect, but it makes sense that with so many tough games, at least one loss would occur somewhere.

A quick digression about Utah: The Utes are MUCH better than their record indicates. Their 4-5 record is heavily influenced by having played the hardest schedule in the country. Instead of evaluating an opponent solely by its W-L, this system looks through all games and gets a better indication of every team’s true quality. This is how it knows that beating 7-2 UCLA is more impressive than beating 9-1 Ball State, for example.

Utah has high-quality wins against Stanford and BYU, and had close losses vs Oregon State, UCLA and Arizona State. Based on Championship Drive ranking (where Utah is 31st), the Utes would be the second-hardest opponent on Ohio State's or Baylor’s schedule to date (behind Wisconsin and Oklahoma, respectively); they are only the fourth-hardest opponent on Stanford’s schedule so far.

Put it all together and we can see that Stanford’s record given its schedule is the most unlikely in the country when compared to everyone else’s. The Cardinal fall behind Alabama in the final rating because of the average in-game win probability component, which favors the Tide for having dominated most of their opponents.

Keep in mind that the Championship Drive Rating is simply about comparing résumés, and does not imply that Stanford would beat Florida State, Ohio State or Baylor. There’s another rating system for that, called the Football Power Index, which shows the Cardinal currently a couple of points behind the Seminoles, Bears and Tide, just ahead of the Buckeyes.

Of course, this is how the résumés stack up now, and the ratings are clearly subject to change in the final month of the season. Stanford has some more solid opponents coming up in Notre Dame and USC, along with a potential Pac-12 Championship Game.

Alabama will face a good test at Auburn and its own conference title game. Baylor still has to face most of the tougher Big 12 teams. Florida State and Ohio State have what likely are the toughest games on their schedules behind them but can continue to take care of business and see what happens to the others.

But as it stands right now, Stanford’s résumé is definitely deserving of consideration along with the major-conference unbeatens for a top ranking.

Why Stanford can stop Oregon again

November, 7, 2013
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AP Photo/Don RyanStanford caused all sorts of trouble for Marcus Mariota the last time they faced him.
Since the start of last season, Oregon is 20-1 and has averaged an FBS-high 51.9 points per game. The Ducks’ only loss during that stretch was a 3-point loss to Stanford. They scored 14 points in that game, their lowest since scoring eight against Boise State in the 2009 season opener in Chip Kelly’s first game as head coach.

The Cardinal held Oregon to 198 rushing yards last season. Since Chip Kelly’s first year as the head coach, the Ducks are 5-5 when they were held to fewer than 200 rushing yards, including 0-3 when rushing for fewer than 100 yards.

This season, Oregon is 8-0 and is outscoring opponents by an average of 38.8 points per game, the second-highest margin in FBS. The Ducks are the fourth team in the last 100 seasons to start the season by scoring at least 42 points in every game. The running game has been key, with the Ducks leading the nation in yards per rush (6.9) and ranking second in rushing yards per game (331.5)

Can the Cardinal slow down Oregon’s offense for the second straight season? Let’s take last season’s game as the blueprint.

Slow Oregon’s designed runs
Oregon is averaging 6.9 yards per designed run this season, second most by a team from an automatic-qualifying conference (behind Wisconsin). The Ducks have gained at least 150 yards on designed runs in every game during the last two seasons except one, the loss to Stanford.

In that game, Stanford held Oregon to 122 yards, one touchdown and four first downs on designed runs, all were season lows.

The key was that Stanford did not let Oregon get outside. The Ducks had 13 designed runs outside of the tackles for a total 24 yards. It was their fewest yards and yards per carry on such runs in any game during the last two seasons. Their longest run outside the tackles gained 9 yards and they lost yards on four of the 13 runs.

Stanford is allowing a Pac-12-low 113.8 yards per game on designed runs this season.

Win third downs
Oregon has converted 46 percent of its third downs since the start of last season. On third and 3 or less, the Ducks have converted 72 percent of their third-down plays, which ranks sixth in the FBS. When they have longer than three yards to go for a first down, Oregon’s third-down conversion rank falls to 33rd in the FBS.

Against Stanford, the Ducks converted on 4-of-17 (24 percent) third downs, their lowest-conversion percentage since the start of last season. Oregon’s average third-down distance against the Cardinal last season was 7.6 yards.

Stanford averaged only 5.7 defenders in the box on third down and sent four or fewer pass rushers on 9-of-12 third-down dropbacks.

The Cardinal are allowing opponents to convert on 34 percent of their third downs this season, 23rd best in the FBS, and have held each under 45 percent.

Get to Mariota
Marcus Mariota has thrown all 20 of this touchdowns and is averaging over 10.5 yards per attempt on plays in which he was not pressured (hit or knockdown) this season. When he is pressured, Mariota completes less than half of his passes and averages 6.8 yards per attempt.

Against Stanford, Mariota was pressured on a season-high 10 dropbacks, including nine when the Cardinal sent four or fewer pass rushers. Oregon gained a total of 19 yards on those plays. Mariota was forced to throw a career-high four passes away and he tied a career-high by being sacked three times.

Since the start of last season, Stanford has an FBS-high 84 sacks, including 62 when it sends four or fewer pass rushers, which is 15 more such sacks than any other AQ program.

Limit the space
Oregon has been one of the most productive teams in space in the last two seasons. The Ducks are averaging 7.2 yards after the catch per reception since the start of last season, fifth among AQ conference teams, and have 31 receptions in which they gained at least 20 yards after the catch.

Against Stanford, Oregon averaged 4.8 yards after the catch per reception, and did not gain more than 20 yards after the catch on any of its 21 receptions.

On designed runs, Oregon is also averaging an AQ-high 6.4 yards per rush since the start of last season, including 4.2 yards before first contact per rush.

Against Stanford, the Ducks averaged 2.3 yards before first contact and were contacted in the backfield on 10 of their 33 rushes. The Cardinal held Oregon to season lows in yards (122), touchdowns (1) and first downs (4) on designed running plays.

If Stanford can again slow Oregon’s designed runs, win on third down, pressure Mariota and limit the Ducks in the open field, it will have a chance to win two straight games against Oregon and shake up the BCS Title race.

Stats to know: Baylor & Oregon are amazing

November, 7, 2013
11/07/13
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Icon SMIMarcus Mariota and Bryce Petty have racked up points and stats all season.
Oregon and Baylor will each try to remain undefeated on Thursday night. Below are 15 need-to-know stats in preparation for their games.

1-- Baylor is averaging an FBS-high 63.9 points and 718.4 yards per game. The Bears are on pace to break the FBS records for points (56.0) and yards (624.9) per game that were set by Army in 1944 and Houston in 1989, respectively

2-- Oregon has scored at least 42 points in each of its first eight games this season. The Ducks are the fourth team in the last 100 years to start a season with at least 42 points in eight straight games.

3-- Baylor has scored 22 touchdowns in drives lasting one minute or less, eight more than any other FBS team this season. In the last 10 seasons, there have only been six teams that have scored more than 22 touchdowns in one minute or less in an entire season.
4-- Oregon has an FBS-high 59 offensive touchdowns, including 41 in two minutes or less. The Ducks’ 41 touchdown drives in two minutes or less is four fewer than all of last season when they led the FBS with 45 such touchdowns.

5-- Baylor is averaging more points in the first half (42.1) than 115 FBS teams average for a game. In the first half, the Bears average a FBS-low 15.9 seconds per play and their average touchdown drive lasts 1 minute, 19 seconds.

6-- Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota has thrown an FBS-high 225 pass attempts without an interception this season. Dating back to last season, Mariota has thrown a Pac-12-record 293 passes without an interception.

7-- Baylor quarterback Bryce Petty is averaging 13.9 yards per pass attempt, on pace to be the highest rate for a qualified quarterback in the last 10 seasons. The deep ball has been key for Petty. He has 19 completions and 10 touchdowns (both the most of anyone in an automatic-qualifier conference) on passes thrown 25 yards or longer.

8-- Oregon averages an AQ-high 7.5 yards per rush on zone-read plays, including 5.2 yards before first contact. On such plays, Mariota is averaging 13.7 yards per rush and has six touchdowns.

9--Petty leads the FBS with a 95.3 opponent-adjusted QBR. The leader in opponent-adjusted QBR in three of the last six seasons went on to win the Heisman, including Johnny Manziel last year.

10-- Oregon is the only team in the FBS that ranks in the top five in ESPN’s new offensive and defensive efficiency. The Ducks have ranked in the top five in offensive efficiency each of the last three seasons.

11-- Baylor is on pace to have the highest offensive efficiency in the last 10 years. Offensive efficiency measures an offense’s contributions to its team’s opponent-adjusted scoring margin per game.

Through seven games, Baylor’s offense is adding about seven more expected points towards its net scoring margin, more than any other offense has for an entire season since 2004 (as far back as our data goes).

12-- Oregon quarterback Mariota has posted a Total QBR of 90 or higher in six of his eight games, tied with Petty for the most such games in the FBS.

13-- Baylor running back Lache Seastrunk is averaging 9.1 yards per rush, second in the FBS behind Mariota. Seastrunk has made it at least five yards past the line of scrimmage before first contact on 39 percent of his rushes, the highest percentage among AQ running backs with at least 75 carries.

14-- Oregon has forced 23 turnovers and scored 100 points off of its opponents’ turnovers this season. Since the start of last season, Oregon leads the FBS with 63 takeaways and ranks second with 288 points off turnovers.

15-- Baylor has had an average in-game win probability of 86 percent across all of its plays this season, best in the FBS. Oregon ranks third with an 83 percent average in-game win probability.

Mannion's improvements keying success

October, 24, 2013
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After losing its season opener to FCS opponent, Eastern Washington, Oregon State has won its last six games and is No. 25 in the first BCS standings of the season. The Beavers are one of two Pac-12 teams without a conference loss.

Sean Mannion has not looked back since winning the starting quarterback job over Cody Vaz before the season.

He leads the nation in both passing yards (2,992) and touchdown passes (29), and he has thrown only three interceptions in 334 attempts.

Mannion came into the season with 31 touchdowns and 31 interceptions in his career.

His FBS-leading 29 touchdown passes are already tied for the school record. Mannion has thrown for at least 350 yards in all seven games; no other Beavers’ quarterback had more than four such games in a season.

Oregon State has started 6-1 despite the absence of a legitimate rushing game. The Beavers average 73.7 yards rushing per game, second-to-last in the FBS.

As a result, the Beavers have gained 85.7 percent of their total offense through the air, second in the FBS behind Washington State.

Faced with a meager rushing game, the Beavers use screen passes as an extension of their run game. Mannion leads all automatic-qualifying conference quarterbacks with 574 yards on screen passes. The Beavers have 10 plays of 20 or more yards on such passes, six more than any other AQ program.

Mannion has made tremendous strides against extra pressure. He has thrown 15 of his 29 touchdown passes against five or more pass rushers, six more than any other AQ quarterback.

Only 17 other FBS quarterbacks have thrown as many as 15 touchdowns this season against all types of pressure. Mannion has 35 more completions and 300 more yards against the blitz than any other AQ quarterback.

Mannion has also improved his downfield passing. His 52 completions on passes thrown 15 yards or longer leads all AQ quarterbacks this season.

Mannion increased his completion percentage on such throws by 25 percentage points from last season. He has thrown one interception on 86 such attempts, compared with six interceptions on 56 attempts last season.

The passing game has thrived even after Oregon State career receptions leader Markus Wheaton moved on to the NFL. Brandin Cooks has become Mannion’s top target in 2013.

Cooks leads the FBS in receptions (76), receiving yards (1,176) and receiving touchdowns (12) this season. Mannion has completed almost 80 percent of his passes with no interceptions when targeting Cooks.

This week, Mannion and the Beavers have their toughest test yet, with No. 6 Stanford coming to Corvallis, a week after the Cardinal stymied then-No. 9 UCLA.

The Cardinal have allowed a Pac-12-low 18.3 points per game and lead the FBS with 76 sacks over the last two seasons.

Winston, Florida State among best of week

October, 22, 2013
10/22/13
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Joshua S. Kelly/USA TODAY Sports
Jameis Winston threw for a career-high 444 yards in Florida State's blowout win over Clemson.
Week 8 featured upsets and surprises as nine ranked teams lost, including five at the hands of an unranked opponent. Louisville, Texas A&M and Georgia all had more than a 90 percent chance of winning midway through the third quarter before blowing double-digit leads. Conversely, Clemson, LSU, UCLA and Florida never held a lead Saturday.

With the help of ESPN’s new college football metrics (see explanations here), ESPN Stats & Information takes a look back at the Week 8 action.

Best individual performances
Marcus Mariota had a 97.4 opponent-adjusted QBR in Oregon’s 63-28 win against Washington State. He completed 10-of-12 passes and ran for a touchdown in the first quarter. As a result, his Total QBR never fell below 95 in the game. Mariota leads the nation with a 96.6 opponent-adjusted Total QBR this season.

Jameis Winston posted a 97.0 opponent-adjusted QBR after throwing for a career-high 444 pass yards and accounting for four touchdowns in Florida State’s 51-14 win at Clemson. Entering the game, Clemson’s opponents had a Total QBR of 27, ninth-best in the FBS. Winston is the first player in the last 10 seasons to throw for at least 300 pass yards and three touchdowns in each of his first four conference games.

Bryce Petty had a 96.3 opponent-adjusted QBR in Baylor’s 71-7 win against Iowa State. He has posted an opponent-adjusted Total QBR of 75 or higher in all of his games this season. No other player in the FBS can make that claim (minimum five games played).

AJ McCarron posted a season-high 95.3 opponent-adjusted QBR in Alabama’s 52-0 rout of Arkansas. McCarron completed 71 percent of his passes with three touchdowns and no interceptions, and his Total QBR never dipped below 85 in the game.

Explaining Jordan Lynch’s Total QBR:
Northern Illinois’ Jordan Lynch set the FBS single-game record for rush yards by a quarterback (316), but his Total QBR was ONLY a 85.5. Why? QBR is a rate stat, meaning it measures efficiency.

Lynch gained 471 yards of total offense, but he was involved in 62 passing or rushing plays (7.6 yards per play).

To put that into perspective, Mariota, the nation’s leader in opponent-adjusted QBR, is averaging 10.3 yards per play this season. Furthermore, Lynch threw a costly interception from the Central Michigan 15-yard line with the score tied. That interception decreased Northern Illinois’ win probability by 12 percentage points and took 3.5 expected points off the board.

For a full list of Total QBR leaders for the season and Week 8, click here.

Best team performances
Offense-- Florida State gained 565 yards of total offense and scored 51 points Saturday against Clemson. The Seminoles’ offense added 25.3 expected points in the game, meaning they contributed about 26 net points towards their 37-point victory. Adjusted for the strength of Clemson’s defense, which had allowed 16.2 points per game entering Saturday, Florida State had the highest opponent-adjusted offensive EPA of Week 8.

Defense—Baylor’s average margin of victory this season is a ridiculous 48.5 points per game, and both its offense and defense deserves credit. On Saturday, Baylor held Iowa State to seven points and 174 total yards (2.9 yards per play). As a result, its defense added 27.5 expected points, the most for any defense in Week 8. Overall, the Bears lead the nation in both offensive and defensive expected points added this season.

Special Teams—Alabama blocked a field goal and forced a fumble on the opening kickoff of the second half of its 52-0 win against Arkansas. The Tide’s special teams unit contributed 12.1 expected points, the most of any team in Week 8. Alabama is averaging 5.8 expected points added per game on special teams this season, most of any team in the FBS.

Looking ahead to Week 9

Oregon hosts UCLA (7 PM ET, ESPN) on Saturday in a game that will feature one of the top offenses in the nation looking to continue its success against one of the Pac-12’s best defensive units.

Oregon has scored at least 45 points in each of its first seven games of the season. They are the first major college football program to do that since Harvard in 1887. UCLA, which has the second-best scoring defense in the Pac-12 (19.2 PPG), hasn’t allowed more than 27 points in a game this season.

Tune in on Saturday to see of the Bruins can slow the Ducks offensive pace and jump back into the BCS discussion.

Stat your case: Mariota or Winston?

October, 22, 2013
10/22/13
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AP Photo, Getty ImagesMarcus Mariota and Jameis Winston have been nearly flawless in 2013.
With his dominant performance against Clemson, Jameis Winston has jumped into Heisman contention.
SportsNation

After 8 weeks, which QB deserves to win the Heisman more?

  •  
    44%
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    56%

Discuss (Total votes: 11,027)


In the latest ESPN Heisman Watch, Winston and Marcus Mariota are the top two Heisman candidates.

After eight weeks, who deserves to win the Heisman?

Why Mariota should win the Heisman
Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota is averaging 363 yards of total offense and has accounted for 28 touchdowns this season. He ranks in the top five of most statistical categories without even attempting a pass in the fourth quarter in five of Oregon’s seven games.

Mariota is a threat on the ground and through the air; he is the only player in the FBS that is averaging at least 10 yards per rush and 10 yards per pass attempt. Similarly, he is the only player that has at least 15 pass touchdowns and seven rush touchdowns.

When passing the ball, Mariota does not turn the ball over. He has an FBS-high 197 pass attempts without an interception. In comparison, Winston has thrown three interceptions in 157 attempts. Dating back to last season, Mariota has thrown a Pac-12-record 265 passes without an interception.

When running, Mariota implements the zone read to perfection. The Ducks have called a zone-read play on 56% of their carries and have averaged 7.5 yards per rush on such plays. When Mariota keeps the ball, Oregon averages 13.7 yards per rush and has six touchdowns. It is unfair to compare Winston to Mariota on this type of play because Florida State rarely runs a zone read. However, it is important to note that Winston is averaging 3.1 yards per rush and has three rush touchdowns compared to 10.1 yards per rush and nine rush touchdowns for Mariota.

As a result of his offensive efficiency noted above, Mariota leads the nation in opponent-adjusted QBR (96.6). The leader in opponent-adjusted QBR in three of the last six seasons went on to win the Heisman, including Johnny Manziel last year.

-Sharon Katz

Why Winston should win the Heisman
Heisman winners generally play well in their teams’ most important games, and Jameis Winston has had his two best games of the season against top-25 opponents.

Against No. 3 Clemson and No. 25 Maryland, Winston averaged 418.5 pass yards per game and accounted for nine total touchdowns. Florida State won by a combined 100 points in those games.

He is averaging 380.8 pass yards in four career ACC games with 16 touchdowns and two interceptions. He is the first player in the last 10 seasons to pass for at least 300 yards and three touchdowns in each of his first four conference games.

Winston makes crowd-pleasing plays. He averages 5.7 completions per game of at least 20 yards, the fourth most in the FBS. He completes an AQ-high 61.8 percent of his passes thrown 20 yards or longer. That is about 12 percentage points higher than Mariota and at least 11 percentage points higher than each of the last three Heisman winners during their Heisman-winning seasons.

Winston also does not get rattled by pressure. He is completing 71.2 percent of his passes when opponents send five or more pass rushers, the fourth-highest percentage among BCS AQ quarterbacks. Winston ranks second among AQ quarterbacks in yards per attempt (12.5) and touchdowns (9) on passes against the blitz.

-- Rob Nelson

These quarterbacks will have several chances to separate themselves the rest of the season. Mariota will face back-to-back top-15 opponents as Oregon faces No. 12 UCLA and No. 6 Stanford in its next two games. Winston will take on North Carolina State, which handed the Seminoles their first loss of the season last year, followed by No. 7 Miami.

What's wrong with the Stanford offense?

October, 16, 2013
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Stanford scored a season-low two offensive touchdowns in its 27-21 loss to Utah. It was the second straight week that the Cardinal set a new season low for offensive touchdowns. They have had nine three-and-out drives in their last two games, matching their total from their 4-0 start.

With the Cardinal taking on No. 9 UCLA, we take a look at what is wrong with their offense.

Stanford’s offense posted minus-0.9 expected points toward its scoring margin in its loss at Utah and minus-2.0 in its 31-28 win against Washington the previous week. (Expected points added are defined as the difference between the number of points a team scores in comparison to the points an average offense is expected to score given the same circumstances, such as number of drives, down and distance, field position, etc.) With a minus-2.9 EPA in those two games combined, it marks the first time the Cardinal have had a negative EPA in back-to-back games since David Shaw became the head coach in 2011.

This is the same Stanford offense that averaged 41 points and had a plus-12.5 EPA in its 4-0 start.

Where is Stanford struggling on offense?

Running game
One difference has been the running game. In their first four games, the Cardinal averaged 218 rushing yards and 5.3 yards per carry. They gained 41 percent of their rush yards after contact.

In the last two games, Stanford has averaged 161 rushing yards and 4.6 yards per carry. The Cardinal gained 27 percent of those rushing yards after contact, the second-lowest percentage by a Pac-12 team in the last two weeks, behind Oregon State (25 percent). They had season lows in rushing yards, yards after contact and runs of 10 yards or more in the loss at Utah.

On average, the Cardinal faced 7.5 defenders in the box on their running plays in the last two games. There were 32 runs on which the defense had eight or more defenders in the box. That is more such plays than eight Pac-12 teams have faced all season.

Secondary target
Ty Montgomery leads Stanford in receptions (31), receiving yards (514) and touchdowns receptions (5) this season. In the last two games, he has accounted for 54 percent of Stanford’s receiving yards but only 36 percent of its targets. During that stretch, Kevin Hogan is averaging 11 yards per attempt when targeting Montgomery and 5.3 when targeting any other player.

During Stanford’s 4-0 start, Hogan averaged 8.6 yards per attempt when targeting any player other than Montgomery, and he completed 60 percent of such attempts.

Looking ahead
Hogan will face UCLA for the third time in his career. In his previous two games (both wins), Hogan targeted his tight ends on 41 percent of his passes and his running backs on 27 percent. He averaged more than 8 yards per attempt throwing to both.

This season, Hogan has thrown a total of nine passes to his tight ends (7 percent of his targets) and 18 to his running backs (13 percent of his targets). He has 54 fewer yards targeting tight ends and running backs this season than he had in his two games against UCLA.

If he can find another target, it could go a long way toward Hogan continuing his success against UCLA.

Special teams carry the day for Stanford

October, 8, 2013
10/08/13
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Stephen Lam/Getty ImagesTy Montgomery returning the opening kickoff 99 yards for a score vs Washington Saturday.
Week 6 featured several exciting games. Georgia needed overtime and a fumble in the end zone to beat Tennessee, Ohio State came back from a 10-point second-half deficit to defeat Northwestern, and Jameis Winston continued his brilliance in his first game against a ranked opponent.

With the help of ESPN’s new college football metrics (see explanations here), ESPN Stats & Information looks back on Week 6 and ahead to this weekend’s matchup between Oregon and Washington.

We first look at how Stanford's special teams were the difference in its three-point win against Washington.

The Cardinal posted a +15.3 special teams EPA (expected points added is the contribution of each unit to team’s net points in a game) Saturday, the highest for any team in a game this season.

They returned the opening kickoff for a touchdown and made their only field goal attempt. Additionally, Ben Rhyne punted six times for a career-high net average of 42 yards.

As a result, the Huskies’ average drive start was their own-23 yardline, almost 15 yards farther than the Cardinal’s average drive start. It was Washington’s worst starting field position differential of the season.

With a -2 and a -10.2 offensive and defensive EPA, respectively, Stanford would have lost to Washington by about 12 points if the Cardinal had an “average” special teams unit.

Best Individual Performances
Bryce Petty (97.1 Total QBR) has now posted a Total QBR of at least 90 in each of Baylor's first four games. Petty threw for 342 yards in the first half against West Virginia, as Baylor scored an FBS-high 56 points before halftime for the second time this season.

AJ McCarron (97.0 Total QBR) matched his career high with four touchdowns against Georgia State, all coming in the first half. McCarron only had one incompletion on 16 passes and led the Crimson Tide to touchdowns on all five of the drives that he quarterbacked.

Derek Carr (97.0 Total QBR) threw for 390 yards in the first half against Idaho, the most passing yards in a half by an FBS quarterback during the last two seasons. Carr threw five touchdowns, extending his FBS-leading streak of 25 games with a touchdown pass.

Connor Shaw (96.2 Total QBR) posted a Total QBR of at least 90 for the first time this season, despite playing with a shoulder injury that knocked him out of the UCF game the previous week. Shaw completed 17-of-20 (85 percent) passes against Kentucky, his third-highest completion percentage in 25 career starts.

For a full list of Total QBR leaders for the season and Week 6, click here.

Best Team Performances
Offense: Baylor. In a 73-42 rout of West Virginia, the Bears added 40.6 expected points on offense, which means if Baylor had an average offense, it would have actually lost by almost 10 points.

The Bears’ output was the most offensive expected points added in a single game against any FBS opponent this season. Baylor now holds the top two offensive EPA performance against an FBS opponent this season.

Defense: Texas Tech. The Red Raiders defense added 31.3 expected points on defense in a 38-point victory over Kansas. Texas Tech forced four fumbles (three lost), sacked the Jayhawks four times and held them to 3-for-16 on third downs.

Looking ahead to Week 7
Oregon is traveling north to face Washington. In addition to hosting the Ducks, the Huskies will also host College GameDay.

Oregon, primarily known for its offense, has added the most expected points on defense among FBS schools (99.7). Opposing quarterbacks have a Total QBR of 23.3 against the Ducks this season, sixth lowest in the FBS.

Washington quarterback Keith Price has a Total QBR of 73.5 this season, up from 40.9 in 2012. Price will look to continue his improvement against an Oregon team that held him to a career-worst 10.1 Total QBR last season.

In the next week, ESPN Stats & Information will be releasing two new team ratings: the Championship Drive Rating and the Football Power Index (FPI). You will find an explanation of these ratings here.

The Championship Drive Rating will attempt to answer the question, “which teams deserve to be in the playoff based on what they have accomplished this season?” by focusing more on their résumé than who would win head-to-head.

The Football Power Index looks to answer the question, “if two teams were to meet at a neutral site, who has the advantage?” This metric is based on all facets of the team and adjusting it for the strength of its opponents.

QB play could determine Pac-12 battle

October, 4, 2013
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USA TODAY Sports, Getty ImagesQuarterbacks Kevin Hogan (left) and Keith Price will be the focus Saturday night in Palo Alto.
Stanford will have revenge on its mind Saturday against Washington (10:30 p.m. ET/ESPN) since the Huskies dealt the Cardinal their only Pac-12 loss last season.

The focus on this year’s game will be on the quarterbacks as Stanford’s Kevin Hogan leads a much improved downfield passing game while Washington’s Keith Price has been getting better protection in the pocket.

Here’s a breakdown of both quarterbacks.

Kevin Hogan
Hogan would be hard-pressed to improve his team’s record. Since he took over the starting job last season against Oregon State, the Cardinal are 9-0.

That hasn’t been enough -- yet -- to earn Hogan regard among elite quarterbacks in the country, but it might soon be hard to leave him out.

First there are the statistical improvements. Stanford’s completion percentage, yards per passing attempt and third-down conversion rate through the air have all been boosted.

But the most impressive part might be the slate of opponents he’s run through. Five ranked opponents in those nine games (5-0 record), and that doesn’t even count Stanford’s Rose Bowl opponent last year, the Wisconsin Badgers, who weren’t ranked for that game.

Hogan has been superb against that tougher competition, posting a well-above-average QBR (at least 69 in each game, with a QBR of 50 considered average) except for the win against Oregon.

Keith Price
Through five weeks, Price has a Total QBR of 81.2, which is 40.3 points higher than last season. Price has the highest completion percentage in the Pac-12 and is one of four qualified quarterbacks in the FBS to improve their Total QBR from 2012 by more than 40 points.

One reason for Price’s improved numbers rests on the health of his offensive line. After injuries forced Washington’s projected starters to miss a combined 40 starts last season, the same unit has started every game together in 2013.

With continuity on the offensive line, Price has been sacked only three times this season, after taking 37 sacks in 2012, sixth most in the FBS.

Price has been under pressure (hurried, knocked down or sacked) 25 times in four games this season. In 2012, Price was pressured 114 times in 13 games, third most among AQ conference quarterbacks.

With the better protection, opponents are not getting to Price when they blitz, and he has been able to take advantage. Price has completed 82.1 percent of his passes against the blitz this season, the highest percentage among AQ quarterbacks (minimum 20 attempts).

The Huskies’ line has a tough test this week against Stanford, which has one of the nation’s best defensive units.

The Cardinal lead the nation in sacks (66) and percentage of rushes that gained zero or negative yards (33.7 percent) since the start of last season. They have 196 total pressures during that time, most among AQ defenses, and have had at least seven pressures in every conference game.

Don't discount Matt Barkley on deep throws

March, 27, 2013
3/27/13
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Jonathan Moore/Getty ImagesHe doesn't have the strongest arm, but Matt Barkley has similar numbers to Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III when it comes downfield throws.
USC Trojans quarterback Matt Barkley was a projected top-five pick if he had entered the 2012 NFL draft. The third-ranked QB in the 2012 draft class behind Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III, Barkley decided to return for his senior season.

There are several reasons Barkley’s draft stock has supposedly dropped: arm strength, lack of athleticism, struggles when pressured. However, what do the numbers say about these perceived deficiencies?

Arm Strength
Since the start of the 2011 season, Barkley threw 24 touchdowns and only two interceptions on passes 20 yards or longer (in 120 attempts). When Barkley missed his receivers on those deep passes, he was four times more likely to overthrow his target than underthrow.

In fact, Barkley put up comparable numbers to what Luck and Griffin III did on passes of 20 yards or longer in their final two seasons.

And, Barkley’s completion percentage actually improved on throws of this distance from 2011 (39.7 percent) to 2012 (42.3).

Athleticism
Barkley may not be able to outrun defenders, but he has shown the ability to throw on the move. When outside the pocket, Barkley completed more than 65 percent of his passes with 23 touchdowns -- including 16 touchdowns on designed rollouts -- and just three interceptions.

Passing Under Pressure
Scouts have pointed to Barkley’s struggles with pressure in his face. The numbers show that Barkley consistently has been able to read defenses and hit his hot read when opponents send extra pass rushers. Barkley threw 44 touchdowns and just six interceptions when opposing defenses blitzed.

Additionally, Stats & Information’s video tracking data has Barkley completing 41.3 percent of his passes when under duress in 2012, slightly above the average for all quarterbacks tracked (40.5 percent).

Even Barkley admits he tried to do too much in 2012, but USC’s offensive struggles went well beyond its quarterback play.

The Trojans' offensive line struggled after the departure of left tackle Matt Kalil to the NFL and the injury to center Khalid Holmes early in the season. Barkley was sacked six more times in 2012 (14) than 2011 despite playing one fewer game.

USC’s receivers dropped 27 balls in 2012, including eight on passes of 20 yards or longer. In 2011, USC had just 14 drops, four of which were on deep throws.

Also, USC’s running game struggled to gain first downs in key running situations, converting a first down on 11 of 21 third-down rushes with 2 yards or fewer to go. The Trojans’ 52.4 third-down conversion percentage in those situations ranked 103rd in FBS.

USC averaged 7.6 rushes per touchdown in the red zone -- only six FBS teams had a lower red zone rushing touchdown percentage last season.

10 Fiesta Bowl stats you need to know

January, 3, 2013
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The Tostitos Fiesta Bowl matches two of the top offenses in the nation in Oregon and Kansas State. While both teams are ranked in the top 10 in scoring offense, their respective styles of play could not be more different.

Oregon runs a quick-strike offense that is built off of speed and big plays. Kansas State’s scoring is more methodical and a result of overall team efficiency and discipline.

Kansas State’s Team Efficiency/Discipline

1. Kansas State averages 10.1 fewer points per game than Oregon this season, but that does not mean its offense is any less efficient. Kansas State scored a touchdown on 40 percent of its offensive drives and is averaging 3.5 points per drive, tied with Oregon for the second-most in FBS.

2. Kansas State’s average drive starts at its own 41; their opponents at their own 27. The Wildcats’ plus-14 field-position differential is 4 yards better than any other FBS school.

3. The Wildcats are tied with Kent State for the best turnover margin (plus-21) in FBS this season. They had not allowed a point off of a turnover until Week 11 against TCU.

4. Kansas State is committing 3.5 penalties per game, second-fewest in FBS.

5. Oregon leads the nation in first-half scoring margin, but Kansas State has been the best second-half team in the nation (plus-12.8) largely because of its ability to force turnovers. The Wildcats have forced 16 turnovers in the second half that have led to an FBS-best 98 points off turnovers.

Oregon’s Speed/Scoring

1. Oregon is averaging one point every 32.9 seconds of possession, twice the rate of the average FBS team (65.8 seconds per point).

2. The Ducks are averaging a touchdown every 11.8 plays this season, the best rate in FBS. Kansas State is third in the nation, averaging 12.8 plays per touchdown.


3. Oregon leads the FBS in offensive touchdown drives that lasted one minute or less (22) and two minutes or less (44) this season. The Ducks are averaging 2 minutes, 7 seconds per touchdown drive and are in the top three of FBS in points per game for the third straight year.

4. Oregon averages more points in the first half (31.3) than 72 FBS teams average in a game. The Ducks’ average halftime lead is 22.3 points, and the only time that they trailed after halftime was after the last play of overtime in their loss to Stanford.

5.
The Oregon Duck mascot does push-ups every time Oregon scores, with the number of push-ups equaling the number of points Oregon has at that point in the game. The Duck has done 2,735 pushups this season and is averaging over 225 push-ups per game. With four scores on Thursday, the Duck will probably exceed its previous high of 2,790 push-ups done in 2010.

Taylor gains tough yards in Rose Bowl win

January, 1, 2013
1/01/13
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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.

Hogan has turned Stanford offense around

January, 1, 2013
1/01/13
9:30
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Ezra Shaw/Getty ImagesKevin Hogan has made a huge impact for Stanford.

Kevin Hogan took over for a struggling Josh Nunes early in Stanford’s Week 10 game against Colorado.

From that point forward, Stanford’s offense was transformed. The Cardinal won their final five games, including four against ranked opponents, by an average margin of more than 15 points per game.

Hogan was at the center of their turnaround, outperforming former starter Nunes in the red zone, on third down and against the blitz.

Hogan showed the ability to make plays with his arm and his legs. He’s attempted 24 percent of his passes from outside of the pocket and has thrown five of his nine touchdown passes when on the move.

He’s also scrambled for 150 yards and one touchdown when forced out of the pocket. That is more than twice as many scramble yards as Nunes had in Stanford’s first eight games (73).

Hogan’s athleticism and accuracy elicit thoughts of former Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck.

Like Luck, Hogan has also found a connection with his tight ends. Stanford tight ends have combined for 527 receiving yards and five touchdowns while catching 78 percent of the passes thrown to them in their last five games, primarily with Hogan under center. In their first eight games, they had six combined touchdowns and caught 47 percent of their targets.

Hogan has been at his best with two or more tight ends in the formation. He has completed 22 of 27 pass attempts when Stanford lines up with this personnel, including 19 of 22 passes when targeting a tight end. Since the start of the 2011 season, Stanford has thrown 24 touchdowns and no interceptions in 165 pass attempts out of two tight-end sets.

After an extra month of practice, Stanford fans are hoping for an even greater improvement from Hogan. But, as Brad Edwards notes here, freshmen often struggle after the long layoff.

Whether or not Hogan leads the Cardinal to their first Rose Bowl victory since 1972, Stanford appears to have found its quarterback of the future and replacement for Luck.

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