Stats & Info: Big East

Breaking down the conference races

November, 10, 2014
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 each 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 with the most likely conference winners.

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, if they get there.

Duke is in the driver’s seat in the Coastal Division, one game ahead in the loss column over Miami and Georgia Tech. The Blue Devils hold the head-to-head tiebreaker versus Georgia Tech, and although they lost to Miami, 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 Baylor’s win against Oklahoma, the Bears' chances 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 chance 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 4 percent chance to win the Big 12 because of its schedule. The Wildcats have to go on the road to face West Virginia and Baylor, but things could get interesting if the Cats beat Baylor in the final week of the season.

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 the 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 at 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 two teams finish with the same record, UCLA owns the head-to-head tiebreaker and would face Oregon in the Pac-12 championship game -- a game the Ducks would have at least a 70 percent chance to win, per FPI.

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. Ohio State not only 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 also 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 prime position to win the division and to likely face Ohio State in the Big Ten championship game.

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 three teams -- Alabama, Georgia and Mississippi State -- have a 15 percent chance or better 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 will 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.

SEC extends lead in Power Rankings

September, 2, 2014

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.

Chelf, Wisconsin rate among best of week

November, 19, 2013

Clint Chelf/USA TODAY SportsClint Chelf rated the best of any quarterback last week.

Week 12 featured some of the craziest endings of the year. Auburn completed a 73-yard touchdown with 25 seconds remaining to defeat Georgia, UCF scored 10 points in the final 2:04 to beat Temple, and Michigan slid its way to a game-tying field goal and eventual win against Northwestern.

With the help of ESPN’s new college football metrics (see explanations here), ESPN Stats & Information takes a look back at the best performances of Week 12 and ahead to next week’s matchup between Baylor and Oklahoma State.

Best Individual Performances
Clint Chelf had a season-high 97.3 opponent-adjusted QBR in Oklahoma State’s 38-13 win at Texas, with his rushing proving critical. Chelf ran for a career-high 95 yards and six first downs against the Longhorns.

Jameis Winston had a 95.0 opponent-adjusted QBR in Florida State’s 59-3 win against Syracuse. It was his seventh game with an opponent-adjusted QBR of 90 or higher, most in the FBS this season. Winston completed his first 10 passes of the game and threw for 277 yards and two touchdowns in the first half.

Blake Bortles posted a 89.0 Total QBR against Temple, but when adjusted for the strength of Temple’s defense that number falls to 70.7. Bortles led UCF on a game-tying and game-winning drive in the final two minutes of the game. In the fourth quarter, he threw for 202 yards and two touchdowns and had a 96.6 Total QBR.

Best Team Performances
OffenseWisconsin added 33 expected points to its net scoring margin on offense in its win against Indiana despite having a below average (negative EPA) passing offense. The Badgers ran for 554 yards and six touchdowns, the most rush yards by an FBS team in a game since last season, when Wisconsin had 564 rushing yards, also against Indiana.

DefenseBoise State added 25.7 expected points on defense in its 48-7 win against Wyoming. Entering the game, Wyoming averaged 33.6 points and 492 yards per game but was held to seven points and 210 yards against the Broncos. They had four turnovers and three failed fourth-down attempts in the game.

Special TeamsMichigan State added 9.3 expected points on special teams in its 41-28 win at Nebraska. Michigan State’s average drive started on its own 43 yard line, which was 21 yards closer to the goal line than Nebraska’s average starting field position. Michigan State punter Mike Sadler had three punts downed inside of the 10 yard line, and Michigan State forced a fumble in the second quarter on another punt.

Looking ahead to Week 13
Baylor heads to Stillwater (8 ET, ABC) in a matchup of top-10 opponents looking to grab a hold of the Big 12.

The biggest question heading into this game is whether Oklahoma State can slow Baylor’s offense. The Bears are averaging 61.2 points and 684.8 yards per game; they 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.

In terms of offensive efficiency, Baylor is on pace to have the highest offensive efficiency in the past 10 seasons.

Oklahoma State ranks 10th in defensive efficiency and has been one of the top teams at creating turnovers. The Cowboys have forced 26 turnovers, tied for seventh most in the FBS, and have at forced at least one turnover in all 10 of their games.

Oklahoma State’s opponents have a 27.2 Total QBR this season, seventh lowest in the FBS. Yet, Oklahoma State has not faced an opponent who ranks in the top 20 in QBR. Bryce Petty ranks second in the FBS with a 89.9 Total QBR and has a Big-12 high 84.7 QBR in conference play.

Power rankings: Fresno State has BCS edge

November, 18, 2013
The BCS Selection Process is clear:

The champion of Conference USA, the Mid-American Conference, the Mountain West Conference or the Sun Belt Conference (the "non-AQ group") will earn an automatic berth in a BCS bowl game if either:

A. Such team is ranked in the top 12 of the final BCS Standings, or
B. Such team is ranked in the top 16 of the final BCS Standings and its ranking in the final BCS Standings is higher than that of a champion of a conference that has an annual automatic berth in one of the BCS bowls.

However, no more than one such team from the non-AQ group will earn an automatic berth in any year, unless non-AQ teams finish both No. 1 and No. 2 in the final BCS Standings. If two or more teams from those conferences satisfy the provisions for an automatic berth, then the team with the highest finish in the final BCS Standings will receive the automatic berth.

This season, No. 15 Fresno State of the Mountain West Conference and No. 16 Northern Illinois of the Mid-American Conference are in prime positions to earn an automatic berth to a BCS Bowl game. Both teams rank in the top 16 of the BCS Standings and are ranked higher than No. 18 UCF, the highest-ranked team in the American Athletic Conference.

Only one non-AQ team will earn an automatic berth, so when evaluating the résumés of these two schools, conference strength is an important factor.

ESPN Stats & Information’s Conference Power Rankings can provide an objective measure of conference depth. According to these rankings, the Mountain West Conference is the strongest non-AQ conference from top to bottom.

The Mountain West has seven teams (out of 12) that are .500 or better, and is 18-8 against non-AQ opponents (including independent and FCS). Unlike other non-AQ conferences, the Mountain West does not have many weak teams.

The lowest ranked team in ESPN’s Football Power Index (FPI) from the Mountain Conference is No. 106 Air Force. In comparison the MAC and Conference USA each has at least six teams ranked below 106 in the FPI.

However, when looking at the top teams of each conference, the MAC has the most teams (5) and highest percentage of team (38 percent) with at least seven wins. Northern Illinois, Ball State, Bowling Green, Buffalo and Toledo are all bowl eligible and have at least seven wins.

When comparing Fresno State and Northern Illinois, voters will have to account for the strength of each team’s conference, their out-of-conference schedules and their dominance in their wins. Using ESPN’s new ratings systems, one can see that Northern Illinois has played a tougher schedule, but Fresno State has been more dominant in its games. It is up to the voters to decide which conference they believe is stronger and how much that affects their thinking.

This week, the MAC will be on display on Tuesday and Wednesday with three games on the ESPN family of networks -- Buffalo heads to Miami (OH) on Tuesday (8 ET, ESPNU), Kent State travels to Ohio on Tuesday (8 ET, ESPN2) and Northern Illinois will look to remain unbeaten at Toledo on Wednesday (8 ET, ESPN2). On Thursday and Friday, the Mountain West and Conference USA will have their time in the spotlight as Rice, UAB, UNLV, Air Force and San Jose State are all in action.

Big Ten rises in conference rankings

November, 4, 2013
After a fairly uneventful weekend, ESPN Stats & Information’s Conference Power Rankings remained relatively unchanged, other than a slight gain by the Big Ten.


The SEC continued to build upon its lead in the rankings after five of its top teams rose in the AP Poll. The SEC now has six teams ranked in the top 13 of the poll. No other conference has more than two teams in the top 13. 11 of the SEC’s 14 teams (79 percent) are also ranked in the top 50 of the FPI, the highest percentage of any conference.

The Big Ten

The Big Ten gained 3.9 points in the conference rankings after its top teams won on Saturday. Michigan State held Michigan to -48 rushing yards and confirmed that it has an elite defense. As a result, the Spartans rose six spots in the AP Poll and eight spots in the FPI. Michigan State’s emergence is important for the Big Ten because there is a perception that Ohio State is the only elite team in the conference.

The Big 12

The Big 12 fell 3.7 points in the rankings after Texas Tech lost its second straight game. The Red Raiders have fallen 15 spots in the AP Poll in the past two weeks, including 10 spots after their 18-point loss to Oklahoma State. There are now four teams in the Big 12 with no more than one loss in conference play. Each of those teams plays at least two games against the other three teams to end the season. That chaos at the top of the Big 12 will begin on Thursday night when Oklahoma travels to Baylor.

Next Week’s Slate of Games
Next week features seven different games that will shape conference races:

--SEC: LSU travels to Alabama on Saturday in a game that could eliminate LSU from the race for the SEC West.

--Pac-12: Oregon heads to Stanford on Thursday (9 pm ET, ESPN) in a game that will likely determine the winner of the Pac-12 North.

--Big 12: As mentioned above, Baylor hosts Oklahoma on Thursday in its first major test of the season.

--ACC: Miami (FL) will look to bounce back against Virginia Tech on Saturday in a game that could go a long way towards determining the winner of the ACC Coastal division.

--Big Ten: Nebraska heads to Michigan on Saturday in a must-win game for the Cornhuskers if they want to keep pace with Michigan State in the Big Ten Legends division.

--American: UCF hosts Houston on Saturday (7 pm ET, ESPN2)in a matchup of the only two undefeated teams in AAC play. If UCF wins, it will have beaten Louisville and Houston, the two 7-1 teams in the American Athletic Conference heading into this weekend.

--MAC: Ohio travels to Buffalo on Tuesday (8 pm ET, ESPN2) with first place up for grabs in the MAC East.

These games may not necessarily have a major impact on the conference rankings, but they will help determine the strength of the best teams in each conference.

For a refresher on the formula for the conference power rankings, click here

Rising stock of Teddy Bridgewater

June, 28, 2013
Crystal LoGiudice/USA TODAY SportsNFL teams will have their eyes on Teddy Bridgewater leading up to the 2014 NFL Draft.
The 2013 college football season has the potential to be one of the greatest quarterback classes ever. Eight of the top 10 teams in last year’s final AP Poll return their starting quarterbacks, and every conference except the Big 12 returns either their first- or second-team quarterbacks from last season.

In preparation for the 2013 season, ESPN Stats & Info will take a deeper look at the top QBs entering the fall. Friday, we look at Teddy Bridgewater.

A Look Back at 2012

Bridgewater led the Louisville Cardinals to an 11-2 record last season, and earned MVP honors in a 33-23 victory over the third-ranked Florida Gators in the Allstate Sugar Bowl. According to Mel Kiper Jr. and Todd McShay, Bridgewater is the top quarterback prospect for the 2014 NFL Draft.

How did Bridgewater go from an unknown freshman in 2011 to the No. 1 quarterback prospect?

Downfield passing: Bridgewater completed a pass of 15 or more yards on 20 percent of his attempts in 2012, up from 16 percent in 2011. Bridgewater averaged 8.9 yards per attempt last season, seventh-best in FBS among quarterbacks with at least 200 pass attempts.

Ball protection: As a sophomore in 2012, Bridgewater threw an interception once every 52.4 pass attempts. During his freshman season he threw a pick once every 24.7 pass attempts, the ninth-worst rate in FBS out of 115 qualifying quarterbacks.

Third-down passing: Bridgewater excelled on third downs last season. When he threw a pass, it resulted in a first down 50.9 percent of the time, second-best in FBS behind Johnny Manziel (51.9 percent). Only three players in FBS last season had more completions of 15 yards or more on third down than Bridgewater, who completed 27 such passes.

What’s Ahead for 2013?

The biggest obstacle for Bridgewater and the Cardinals in 2013 might be pass protection, or the lack thereof. In two seasons at Louisville, Bridgewater has been sacked 61 times, ninth-most in FBS. In the Cardinals final three games last season, Bridgewater was sacked 12 times, including five in the Sugar Bowl.

Bridgewater struggled most when opponents sent extra pressure. He was sacked on 9.2 percent of designed pass plays when blitzed and threw an interception once every 24 pass attempts. On designed passing plays when opponents sent four or fewer rushers, Bridgewater was sacked 4.7 percent of the time and threw a pick once every 169 pass attempts.

If Bridgewater can continue to improve in his junior season and handle pressure more effectively, the possibilities are endless - first quarterback selected in the 2014 NFL Draft, an undefeated season (Louisville has the 90th-toughest schedule in FBS this season based on 2012 records) and maybe even Louisville's first Heisman Trophy winner.

QBs the story in college football this fall

May, 20, 2013
The 2013 college football season could showcase one of the best college quarterback classes ever. Here are five reasons why:

Each of the top six teams in last season’s final AP poll returns its leading passer. The last time that happened was entering the 1982 season. That 1982 group led to the famed 1983 NFL draft class that boasted six quarterbacks chosen in the first round -- including Hall of Famers John Elway, Jim Kelly and Dan Marino.

Each of the top five and 10 of the top 11 quarterbacks in terms of passing efficiency return to school. In all, seven players with a passing efficiency of at least 160 last season are coming back, more than in the previous three seasons combined.

This class is expected to produce a number of NFL starting quarterbacks. Four of Todd McShay’s top 15 prospects in the 2014 draft are quarterbacks (Louisville’s Teddy Bridgewater, Clemson’s Tajh Boyd, Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel and Alabama’s AJ McCarron).

Yet, showing how deep this class is, Brock Huard ranks Georgia's Aaron Murray, Oregon's Marcus Mariota and Ohio State's Braxton Miller ahead of either McCarron or Manziel on his quarterback draft board.

The SEC is in prime shape to win its eighth straight national title with 11 of 14 starting quarterbacks from last season returning to school. Among the 11 are the starters of the top three teams in each division including Manziel, Murray and McCarron.

Last season, Manziel set the SEC record for total offense with 5,116 yards. Murray is on pace to set conference records for most career passing yards and total offense, and McCarron is the two-time BCS national champion.

The SEC isn’t the only conference returning elite quarterbacks. The Big Ten, Mountain West and MAC each return their first- and second-team quarterbacks from last season. So would Conference USA and the WAC if realignment hadn’t altered those conferences. The Big 12 is the only conference that doesn’t return either its first- or second-team quarterback.

Among the returnees, Boyd could challenge the ACC record for total offense in a career, Troy’s Corey Robinson is on pace to shatter the Sun Belt’s career record for total offense, and Jordan Lynch returns after leading Northern Illinois to its first ever BCS bowl game last season.

Bridgewater's comeback ability huge

April, 15, 2013
Crystal LoGiudice/USA TODAY SportsQuarterback Teddy Bridgewater is Louisville's center of attention entering 2013.
With the college basketball season in the books, College Football Live embarks on its Spring Bus Tour, visiting eight schools over two weeks. Today we take a trip to check out the Louisville Cardinals.

Louisville started last season 9-0, with its best win a 34-31 overtime triumph over Cincinnati. The Cardinals lost their next two games, to Syracuse and Connecticut but beat Rutgers to win the Big East (via four-team tiebreaker) and earn a BCS bowl berth.

They validated that with a 33-23 win over No. 3 Florida in the Sugar Bowl.

Looking to 2013, what would it take for the Cardinals to be considered a BCS title contender in the American Athletic Conference?

Louisville returns 12 defensive players who started at least three games last season and though running back Senorise Perry may not return immediately due to a torn ACL, quarterback Teddy Bridgewater returns with some Heisman buzz.

The last Heisman winner from the Big East was Geno Torretta from Miami (FL) in 1992, and the last Big East player invited to New York for the Heisman ceremony was Larry Fitzgerald in 2003.

Louisville fell behind in nine of its 13 games last season, but Bridgewater fared well when his team was trailing, leading the Cardinals to victory in seven of those nine instances.
Bridgewater had a plus-11 touchdown-to-interception differential when trailing, tied for third-best in FBS.

Bridgewater has been even better when trailing late in games, leading the Cardinals to three come-from-behind victories in the fourth quarter or overtime. He completed two-thirds of his passes with five touchdowns and one interception when trailing in the fourth quarter or overtime last season.

Bridgewater also converted 63.6 percent of his third-down passes against Florida in the Sugar Bowl, which was the highest percentage allowed by a Florida defense since the 2009 SEC Championship game.

Third-down efficiency is nothing new for Bridgewater. He converted 50.9 percent of his third-down passes in 2012, the highest percentage in FBS.

In the end, the biggest thing working against Bridgewater and the Cardinals is their schedule in the first year of the American Athletic Conference.

The toughest game on it is at Cincinnati to end the year, and the toughest game in non-conference may end up being at Kentucky.
It is no surprise that the SEC finished the season atop ESPN Stats & Info’s Conference Power Rankings after winning its seventh straight BCS National Championship on Monday.

It’s impossible to deny the SEC’s dominance. The conference has won seven more BCS titles than any other conference and ended the 2012 season with five of the top 10 teams in the AP poll.

In its bowl games, the SEC went 6-3 -- the best record of any AQ conference -- and outscored its opponents by a combined 85 points. It was the 10th straight season the SEC finished .500 or better in its bowl games, by far the longest such streak in the nation.

Next season, the SEC does not look to be getting any weaker. Quarterbacks AJ McCarron, Aaron Murray, Connor Shaw and Heisman-winner Johnny Manziel return to the conference with their eyes on an eighth straight BCS title for the conference.

In the race for second-best, The Big 12 narrowly edged the Pac-12 despite an average bowl season. The biggest difference between the two conferences was depth. The Big 12 had nine of its 10 teams play in bowl games compared to eight of 12 teams for the Pac-12.

In head-to-head bowl games, the Big 12 won two of three games against Pac-12 opponents, including Baylor’s 49-26 victory over Pac-12 South champion UCLA. Yet, Oregon ran past Kansas State in the conferences’ only BCS Bowl matchup.

The Big Ten continued to struggle in bowl games (2-5 record), while the ACC surged during bowl season (4-2).

The Big Ten is a combined 4-13 in January bowl games in the past three seasons and has been outscored by a combined 193 points (11.4 per game) in those 17 games. The ACC turned around its dismal bowl record, putting together its first winning bowl season since 2005.

In its final season as an FBS conference, the WAC finished the season as the top non-AQ conference in the nation. The WAC went 2-0 in bowl games and finished the season with Utah State and San Jose State ranked in the AP Poll. Additionally, Louisiana Tech and UTSA finished the season at least four games above .500 but did not play in bowl games.

Conference USA finished at the bottom of the conference rankings despite going 4-1 in its bowl games for the second straight season. The conference could not overcome the weakness of its non-bowl members who were ranked low by the computers.

With 2012 in the books, it is not too soon to start looking ahead to next season. Conference realignment will continue to change these rankings significantly. Pittsburgh and Syracuse will join the ACC, while the fate of the Big East remains uncertain. Utah State and San Jose State will join the Mountain West Conference while four of the remaining WAC teams will head to Conference USA. How will this impact the conference rankings? Check back next season to see how it turns out.

Stats to know: West Virginia vs Syracuse

December, 28, 2012
Tim Heitman/US PresswireGeno Smith will try to close out his season with a Pinstripe-Bowl win.
Five stats to know on the New Era Pinstripe Bowl between the West Virginia Mountaineers and Syracuse Orange at Yankee Stadium on Saturday afternoon (ESPN, 3:15 ET)

1. Expect a busy scoreboard in this one. West Virginia is seventh nationally in scoring and has gone over 40 points six times this season. The Mountaineers needed to in order to balance out a poor defense that allowed over 38 points per game and ranks 114th in FBS.

2. West Virginia has allowed 63 completions of 20 yards or longer this season, the most in a season in the last four years. Syracuse led the Big East with 49 completions of 20-plus yards and have at least one such completion in every game this season.

3. West Virginia quarterback Geno Smith is 0-2 in his career as a starter against Syracuse. In both starts, Smith completed less than 60 percent of his passes and threw at least two interceptions.

Added defensive pressure was a big reason why Smith struggled. He completed 45 percent of his passes and had three interceptions when the Orange sent five or more pass rushers.

That matches Smith’s interception total against the blitz in his 36 other games as a starter.

4. Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey lead all receiving duos with 35 receiving touchdowns, 216 receptions and 2,760 receiving yards this season.

They have been targeted on 55 percent of West Virginia’s pass attempts and have gained over two-thirds of the Mountaineers’ receiving yards.

Austin has 909 yards after the catch this season, most among players from AQ schools.

5. Syracuse started 2-4 in its first six games, committing 15 turnovers and only forcing five. In its last six games, the Orange committed only five turnovers and forced 14.

Rutgers, Virginia Tech try to get offensive

December, 28, 2012

Icon SMIKyle Flood leads Rutgers against Frank Beamer and Virginia Tech in the Russell Athletic Bowl.
Don’t expect a lot of offense in the Russell Athletic Bowl on Friday when Rutgers battles Virginia Tech (5:30 ET on ESPN).

Here are the most important things to know in advance of the game:

• Both teams have struggled on offense this season. Virginia Tech is ninth in the ACC in passing and total offense. Rutgers is seventh in the Big East in both rushing and passing offense.

Neither team is in the top 75 in the country in scoring this season.

• Rutgers quarterback Gary Nova has put up unimpressive numbers in each of his past five games. The sophomore has thrown at least one touchdown in every game this season, but he’s been finding the wrong color jersey a lot as well (see chart on right).

• The Virginia Tech offense hasn’t scored more than 30 points in five straight games. The strength of the Rutgers defense for most of the season has been keeping opponents out of the end zone. The Scarlet Knights have allowed just one team to score more than 30 points this season and rank fourth nationally in scoring defense.

• The Scarlet Knights enter on a five-game bowl winning streak. That’s tied with Mississippi State and Auburn for the longest active streak in FBS (entering bowl season).

• Virginia Tech has lost two straight and four of its past six bowl games, but is 2-0 against Big East teams in bowl games since joining the ACC in 2004. The Hokies did beat Louisville in the Gator Bowl in the 2005 season, and beat Cincinnati in the Orange Bowl in the 2008 season.

• At 6-6, the Hokies need a victory to keep an impressive streak going. A win here would make it 20 consecutive winning seasons in Blacksburg. The last time the Hokies failed to own a winning ledger was 1992.

• These old Big East foes are meeting for the first time since 2003. Virginia Tech has owned Rutgers in their head-to-head matchups, winning the last 11 meetings. That last time the Scarlet Knights beat the Hokies was in 1992.

• It’s quite a contrast in coaching experience here. Rutgers coach Kyle Flood is in his first bowl game, while Frank Beamer is appearing in his 20th (8-11 record). He will join a select group of coaches to appear in at least 20 bowl games.

ACC, Big East fall in latest power rankings

November, 26, 2012
The SEC remains far ahead of the other conferences in ESPN Stats & Info’s college football conference power rankings after going 4-0 in non-conference games this weekend.

All four of the SEC’s wins came against ACC opponents, including wins over No. 10 Florida State and No. 11 Clemson. Overall, the SEC won its four non-conference games by a combined 87 points and won every game by double digits. On the season, the SEC is 48-8 in non-conference games, second to the Big 12.

The only conference that had a worse weekend than the ACC was the Big East, who lost 11.1 points in the conference power rankings this week. The Big East’s top two teams, Rutgers and Louisville, lost to unranked conference opponents.

As a result, Rutgers and Louisville both fell out of the AP top 25, leaving the Big East without a team ranked in the AP Poll for the first time this season. The WAC and MAC were the beneficiaries of the Big East’s rough weekend as both conferences passed the Big East in the conference power rankings.

The WAC is the first non-AQ conference to rank in the top 6 of the conference rankings this season. Four of the WAC’s seven teams have at least eight wins this season, including 10-2 Utah State, who is currently ranked 20th in the AP Poll.

Each of the WAC’s top three teams came within a few points of beating an AQ school that would have boosted the conference rating even further; Utah State lost by two to Wisconsin, San Jose State lost by three to Stanford and Louisiana Tech lost by two to Texas A&M.

The MAC conference trails the WAC by 3.2 points, but it is not the fault of the teams at the top of the conference. Kent State Golden Flashes and Northern Illinois are both 11-1 and ranked in the top 20 of the AP Poll.

The winner of the MAC championship game has a chance to represent the conference in a BCS Bowl game if it moves into the top 16 of the BCS standings and remains ahead of an AQ conference champion (the Big East champion).

The only reason that the MAC is not ranked ahead of the WAC is because it has three teams with 10 or more losses, including two of the three lowest ranked teams by the computers, Akron and Massachusetts.

Yet, the MAC remains ahead of the Big East because of the strength of the top of its conference. Overall, the MAC is 4-3 in head-to-head games against the Big East, including Kent State’s win over 7-0 Rutgers and Toledo’s win over 5-0 Cincinnati.

Next weekend is conference championship weekend. Look for many of these championship games to shape the bowl picture and impact the college football postseason.



Big East tumbles in conference rankings

November, 12, 2012
The SEC remains atop the ESPN Stats & Info Conference Power Rankings despite its top team, Alabama, losing to Texas A&M on Saturday.

Alabama’s loss barely fazed the SEC in the rankings because of the depth of the conference. The SEC now has five teams ranked in the AP Top 10 and six teams with two or fewer losses. No other conference has more than one team ranked in the AP Top 10 or four teams with two or fewer losses.

Unlike the SEC, the Big East was greatly impacted in the conference rankings after its top team, Louisville, lost to Syracuse on Saturday. There are two reasons for the Big East’s drastic fall.

First, the Big East only has eight teams, so a loss by any of its top teams has a greater marginal impact than a loss by a top team in a conference with 14 members. Additionally, the Big East has just three teams that are currently above .500, so the conference relies on those three teams to carry it in the rankings.

Louisville was ranked 11th in the AP Poll last week after a 9-0 start. The Cardinals dropped to 20th in that poll after its loss, resulting in the Big East losing 454 AP points from last week. There is a very real possibility that the Big East will not be able to fill all six of its bowl tie-ins with three teams currently bowl eligible and 11 games remaining.

One conference that will fill its bowl tie-ins is the WAC. The WAC is its final football season as a conference and is finishing strong with three teams battling for its conference title. Louisiana Tech is ranked 20th in the BCS Standings and has a chance to play in a BCS Bowl game if it finishes 16th or higher and ahead of a conference champion from an AQ conference.

If San Jose State can beat BYU Cougars next weekend to move to 9-2, there is a chance that the WAC also could pass the Big East in the conference power rankings.

Elsewhere in the rankings, the Big Ten continues to rebound from a slow start largely because of Ohio State ’s 10-0 record. The Buckeyes are not bowl eligible this season, but they are accounted for in the conference power rankings because they are receiving votes in the AP Poll and the computers. If Ohio State and Penn State were excluded from the formula, the Big Ten would rank below the ACC in the conference power rankings.

Next week there are plenty of games with conference title implications. Rutgers travels to Cincinnati in the Big East, Louisiana Tech hosts Utah State in the WAC, Duke takes on Georgia Tech in the ACC, Toledo travels to Northern Illinois in the MAC and USC takes on rival UCLA in the Pac-12. All of these games will shape conference title races and impact the bowl season.

Close race for 2nd in conference rankings

November, 5, 2012

AP Photo/Dave EinselThe SEC continues to lead the conference power rankings, but the battle for second heats up.
It should be no surprise that the SEC sits atop ESPN Stats & Info’s Conference Power Rankings after 10 weeks of football.

The SEC has five of the top 12 teams in the AP Poll, including No. 1 Alabama. No other conference has more than two teams ranked in the AP Top 12.

The race for second in the rankings is heating up. The Pac-12 gained 2.7 points on the Big 12 this week to pull within 0.5 points of second place.

West Virginia’s fall from grace has hurt the Big 12. The Mountaineers ranked in the AP Top 5 four weeks ago, but three consecutive losses has West Virginia out of the AP Top 25 for the first time this season.

Similarly, USC’s fall from the top of the polls has hurt the Pac-12, but other teams have stepped up in the Trojans’ place. Oregon State, UCLA and Stanford have outperformed preseason expectations, resulting in four Pac-12 teams ranked in the AP Top 17. In comparison, the Big 12 has two teams ranked that high.

The Big 12 continues to hold an edge over the Pac-12 in non-conference games, posting an FBS-leading 26-4 record in games outside of its division, compared to a 24-10 record for the Pac-12.

Yet the Pac-12 has played a more difficult out of conference schedule with 13 of its 34 non-conference games against teams in BCS AQ conferences or major Independents (winning eight). The Big 12 has played 12 of its 30 non-conference games against this caliber of opposition (winning five).

Elsewhere in the rankings, the MAC moved up one spot to eighth place after wins by Kent State and Northern Illinois this weekend. The MAC has four teams with at least an 8-1 record, most of any conference. All four teams received votes in the AP Poll this week, which is as many teams as the ACC and Big East combined.

The Mountain West Conference fell to ninth after Boise State lost 21-19 to San Diego State on Saturday night. Boise State ranked 19th in the AP Poll entering the weekend, but dropped out of the poll and cost the Mountain West 395 AP points after its loss.

This weekend there are plenty of conference matchups with the potential to shake up the conference rankings and national title race. Alabama plays host to Texas A&M, Kansas State heads to TCU and Notre Dame faces Boston College in games that could have national title implications.

SEC pulling away in conference rankings

October, 29, 2012
The SEC takes its largest lead of the season in the ESPN Stats & Info Conference Power Rankings after multiple top teams in other conferences fell on Saturday.

In the Big 12, Oklahoma and Texas Tech lost to higher-ranked opponents, resulting in every team but Kansas State having at least two losses this season. In comparison, five of the SEC’s 14 teams have fewer than two losses.

In recent weeks the top of the Big 12 has shown weaknesses as Texas nearly lost to two teams that are a combined 0-9 in conference games, and West Virginia showed significant defensive weaknesses in its two losses.

Similarly, the top of the Pac-12 struggled this weekend with its second and third best teams entering the weekend losing on the road. As a result, USC and Oregon State dropped eight and six points in the AP Poll, respectively, with USC’s fall being the largest of any team.

As a results of these losses, SEC teams continued to rise in the AP Poll. The three largest rises in the poll this week were by SEC teams as Georgia, South Carolina and Texas A&M all rose at least five poll positions, more than compensating for a five-spot drop by Florida.

The Big East lost the most points in the conference power rankings this week after Kent State beat Rutgers on Saturday. It’s the second straight week that a team from the MAC has defeated a previously undefeated Big East opponent. Last week Toledo beat Cincinnati 29-23 at home.

Two weeks ago the Big East was ranked as the fourth best conference in college football. Losses by two of its top three teams the last two weeks hurt the conference as both teams fell out of the AP Top 25 and the conference fell to sixth in these rankings.

As mentioned above, the MAC has two victories over previously unbeaten Big East opponents. Four teams in the MAC received votes in the AP Poll this week. That is as many teams as the other four non-BCS conferences combined.

The MAC has four teams with fewer than two losses, which ranks second to the SEC. Yet, the MAC remains ninth in the conference power rankings because four of its 13 teams have seven or more losses, the most of any conference. The MAC is a prime example of how the conference rankings account for relative strength of a conference from top to bottom.

Next week is full of conference matchups, highlighted by Alabama at LSU and Oregon at USC. Last week five unbeaten teams lost, and many other favored teams faltered against conference opponents. Look for similar unpredictability next weekend that could impact the AP Poll and conference power rankings.