Pac-12: Northern Illinois Huskies

Was your team explosive in 2010?

February, 22, 2011
Coaches love talking about explosion plays. You want to get a lot of them and give up very few.

SEC blogger Chris Low queried ESPN Stats & Information about explosion plays -- defined as plays of 20 or more yards -- and ended up with a really cool spread sheet. Because Chris is a generous sort, he emailed the list over (He did force me to say "I love grits.")

First, we're going to look at explosion plays on offense. You know, the kind you want. Wednesday, we'll look at defense.

Not surprisingly, Oregon led the conference and ranked fifth in the nation with 82 plays of 20 or more yards. UCLA fans may want to cover their eyes. California fans, too.

The number to the left in national rank. The number to the right is the total number of explosion plays in 2010.

5. Oregon, 82
14. Stanford, 69
38. Arizona, 60
48. Utah, 58
57. Arizona State, 56
71. USC, 52
75. Washington, 50
75. Oregon State, 50
85. Washington State, 47
96. Colorado, 43
103. California, 39
116. UCLA, 31

Wow, the Pac-12 doesn't look very explosive. More teams rank in the bottom-half of the nation than in the top-half. By comparison, nine SEC teams ranked in the top-40.

But hold your horses. For one, the Pac-12 plays tougher nonconference foes, which means fewer patsies to pound for long gains with superior speed and size. Also, the conference plays nine nonconference games, so that means one more A-list defense.

Still, the numbers are a bit surprising. Perhaps they reflect some of the malaise in the conference last fall. In 2009, six teams (not including No. 40 Utah) ranked in the top 54, including four in the top 25.

Some other thoughts.
  • Oregon was tied for seventh in 2009 with 75 and was seventh in 2008 with 77. It was the only team to rank in the top 10 the past three seasons.
  • UCLA had just 29 explosion plays in 2008, which ranked 113th. It had 44 in 2009, which was much better but still ranked 93rd. Suffice it to say, Norm Chow and Rick Neuheisel didn't make beautiful music together.
  • Want to know a place where California regressed in 2010? Explosion plays. In 2009, it ranked 13th with 72, darn near double the 2010 total, and 23rd in 2008 with 65.
  • Non-AQ conferences produce plenty of explosion plays: Six of the top-10 teams were from non-automatic qualifying conferences the past two seasons.

But do explosion plays equate to winning? Short answer: yes. Here's the top-10 in 2010 with the team's record in parenthesis to the right.

1. Hawaii, 103 (10-4)
2. Auburn, 86 (14-0)
3. Tulsa, 85 (10-3)
4. Boise State, 83 (12-1)
5. Oregon, 82 (12-1)
6. Nevada, 81 (13-1)
7. San Diego State, 78 (9-4)
7. Arkansas, 78 (10-3)
9. Northern Illinois, 77 (11-3)
10. Tennessee, 75 (6-7)

That's only one losing team (Tennessee, which played in a bowl game), nine with nine or more wins and four that lost one or fewer times.

That said, explosion plays are not the be-all, end-all. Consider the 2011 Rose Bowl between TCU and Wisconsin. The Horned Frogs tied for 35th in the nation with 60 explosion plays, while the Badgers were 62nd with 54. Yet they finished ranked fourth (TCU) and fifth in the nation in scoring offense and combined for just two defeats (both by the Badgers).

Tune in Wednesday and we'll take a look at defense.

Pac-10 bowl projections

November, 29, 2009
UCLA (6-6) may slip into a bowl game but its situation is precarious.

This is the best primer I've seen on where things stand with potential at-large berths in bowl games. Bowling Green, Northern Illinois and Middle-Tennessee each have to be selected before the Bruins because they own winning records, and there appear to be only five open spots.

Because Stanford beat Notre Dame, the Gator Bowl will be a Big East game. That means all six bowl-eligible Big East teams will play in contracted bowls, so that's one less at-large team ahead of UCLA.

Ah, but that also puts the Fighting Irish (6-6) in the middle of this. Even with the likely firing of Charlie Weis, Notre Dame's national standing is appealing. The Irish likely would be picked ahead of the Bruins, but it's also possible Notre Dame would take a pass on a middling bowl game. This projection has UCLA going to the GMAC Bowl in Mobile, Ala, for that very reason.

A bowl can only select a 6-6 team for an at-large berth after all winning teams have been accounted for.

That means UCLA fans wanting a bowl berth should root for Wisconsin over Hawaii on Saturday.

And then cross your fingers.

As for our projections, there are no changes from last week. I'm sticking with UCLA in the Humanitarian Bowl because it seems like the most humane choice for the bowl, but know that it appears I am alone projecting this. So, I'm probably wrong.

Here's a handy bowl schedule. And other bowl projections.
  • Rose Bowl Game presented by Citi: Oregon vs. Big Ten
  • Pacific Life Holiday: USC vs. Big 12
  • Brut Sun: California vs. Big 12/Big East/Notre Dame
  • Emerald: Stanford vs. ACC
  • MAACO Las Vegas: Oregon State vs. Mountain West
  • San Diego County Credit Union Poinsettia: Arizona vs. Mountain West
  • Roady's Humanitarian: UCLA vs. WAC