Stats & Info: NCF

Bowl's 55-48 score wasn't all about offense

December, 23, 2014
Dec 23

Steve Mitchell/USA TodayPaxton Lynch accounted for 7 TD, but the Miami Beach Bowl wasn’t that much of an offensive show.
Memphis defeated BYU in double overtime in Monday’s Miami Beach Bowl, winning by a final score of 55-48. The 103 total points is tied for the third-most in any bowl game ever.

It might seem as if 55-48 has to represent an offensive shootout with little to no defense, but if you look at what happened in the game, it’s clear that the high scoring is not necessarily indicative of good offense.

  • The teams combined for nine turnovers. One was a fumble lost by Memphis’ special teams, but each offense had three interceptions and one fumble lost. Turnovers are huge negatives for offense and huge positives for defense, negating a lot of yardage in terms of their effect on point margin (erasing points and setting up the opponent to score).
  • Both teams had more than 400 yards of offense (Memphis 480, BYU 425), but some of that has to do with how many possessions there were in this game. Partly due to the scoring and partly due to overtimes, each team had 21 drives in the game. So if you look at it in terms of average yards per drive, it’s less than 23. Compare that to the FBS average this season of about 31 yards per drive, and it’s not that great.
  • The teams combined for 15 punts (BYU nine, Memphis six). Combining punts and offensive turnovers, 10 more drives ended with defensive stops (23) than offensive touchdowns (13).
  • The defenses did a great job setting up the offenses to score. In addition to the defensive touchdown (BYU’s pick-six in the fourth quarter), the offenses had 11 combined drives where they started on the opponent’s side of the field. BYU’s five such drives resulted in two touchdowns, two field goals and one turnover; Memphis had six such drives, resulting in four touchdowns, one field goal and one missed field goal.
  • In the first overtime, both offenses moved backward, losing yards. But both kickers stepped up, nailing 45- and 54-yard field goals to force double overtime. Memphis scored a touchdown on its possession in the second overtime, but the game was in fact sealed by another big defensive play – a game-ending interception by Memphis.
Expected points added
Put it all together using expected points added, and the final totals look like the chart to the right (before opponent adjustment, just looking at this game in isolation).

In other words, once you look at all the offense and defense did to contribute to the scoring margin across all plays, Memphis’ offense was slightly above average, and BYU’s offense was actually fairly below average. The 55-48 final score is misleading in terms of how productive the offenses really were: The high point totals were actually more of a result of defenses setting up the offenses and the number of drives in the game.

ESPN's Football Power Index: A look back

December, 18, 2014
Dec 18

Wire service photosAmari Cooper, left, and Marcus Mariota helped their teams meet preseason FPI projections.
With the regular season complete and bowl matchups set, it’s time to look back at the 2014 college football season. Just as teams reflect on their seasons to evaluate their performance, ESPN Stats & Information will do the same for its Football Power Index.

Below is a breakdown of how FPI performed throughout the year. Which preseason projections were correct? How accurate was FPI at predicting games? This is designed to be unfiltered and informative, so if you have questions, feel free to ask them in the comments section below and we will do our best to answer.

As a quick reminder, ESPN’s Football Power Index is a forward-looking system designed to order each FBS team by which is most likely to beat an average team on a neutral field. FPI is intended to measure team strength, not evaluate a team’s résumé for the playoff, to best predict future performance. Once team strength is captured, FPI can be used to go through each team’s remaining schedule to produce game and season projections (expected W-L, chance to win conference, chance to win out, etc.).

Preseason information
FPI was improved this season to allow for preseason projections. Factored into the preseason ratings were prior years’ efficiencies (offensive, defensive and special teams), recruiting data, coaching tenure and information on returning starters.

Where FPI was correct in the preseason
• Preseason top 3: The top three teams in preseason FPI -- Florida State, Oregon and Alabama -- performed as expected. Ohio State was ranked sixth until days before the season when Braxton Miller injured his shoulder and returning starter information was adjusted. The Buckeyes dropped to 12th.

• Preseason W-L projections: Team strength must be weighed with the difficulty of a team’s schedule to accurately predict win totals. The teams ranked fourth through sixth in preseason FPI -- UCLA, Auburn and Stanford -- had some of the toughest schedules in the nation. Therefore, FPI predicted that they would lose more than three games on average (and they did). The five teams that FPI projected for the highest win totals were the only five teams in the nation with 12 or more wins. Similarly, the top five teams from Power 5 conferences in projected win total finished the season as the top five teams in the final CFP rankings.

Along those same lines, FPI projected that Florida State had a 38 percent chance to enter bowls undefeated and no other FBS team had more than a 10 percent chance to win out. The Seminoles are the only undefeated FBS team. The second-most likely team to go unbeaten in the preseason -- Marshall -- had a great chance to accomplish that feat through 11 games.

• Conference projections: Seven of the 10 preseason FPI favorites to win a conference went on to do so, including four of the six that were given the highest chances. The three FPI favorites that didn’t win were in the Big 12 (Oklahoma), Sun Belt (Louisiana-Lafayette) and American (Houston). In the case of the Big 12, Oklahoma (35 percent) and Baylor (33 percent) were very close in the preseason. The Big Ten is an interesting case. FPI favored Ohio State to win the conference without Miller, despite most of the public picking Michigan State.

Where FPI was incorrect in the preseason
• Teams FPI underestimated: Georgia Southern, TCU and Georgia Tech

Sun Belt champion Georgia Southern was transitioning to the FBS, and FPI underestimated the explosiveness of its offense, which finished 23rd in offensive efficiency. FPI projected that the Eagles would finish about 4-8, but they ended the year with a 9-3 record.

After finishing 4-8 last year, TCU’s improvement in 2014 was a surprise to many. FPI had the Horned Frogs 36th in its preseason rankings, which was higher than most but still significantly below their current fifth-place ranking. FPI was high on TCU’s defense (seventh in the preseason) but did not envision its offensive improvement after it ranked 99th in offensive efficiency in 2013. Overall, FPI projected that the Horned Frogs would enter bowls with around seven wins, and they have won 11 games.

Georgia Tech lost 11 starters, including its quarterback, from last year's seven-win team. In the preseason, FPI projected that the Yellow Jackets would win about six games and had a 5 percent chance to win the ACC Coastal Division. Instead, Georgia Tech reached 10 wins for the first time since 2009, and the Yellow Jackets seek their first Orange Bowl win since 1951.

[+] EnlargeKliff Kingsbury
Michael C. Johnson/USA TodayNo defense in the Power 5 had a lower efficiency than that of Texas Tech and coach Kliff Kingsbury.
• Teams FPI overestimated: Michigan, Texas Tech and South Carolina

Michigan was returning 15 starters, including quarterback Devin Gardner, to a team that had four of its six losses come by a combined 11 points last season. The Wolverines were ranked 18th in preseason FPI and were projected to have the 16th-best defense in the country. FPI projected that the Wolverines would have about four more wins than they actually did, marking its biggest miss this year.

Texas Tech was supposed to have a top-10 offense this year, but injuries and turnovers stymied the Red Raiders' air attack. And no Power 5 team finished the regular season with a lower defensive efficiency than Texas Tech. It’s safe to say that preseason FPI whiffed on four-win Texas Tech.

South Carolina was ninth in the preseason Associated Press poll, so FPI was not alone in its overestimation of the Gamecocks. Since South Carolina had a favorable divisional schedule, FPI projected that it had the best chance to win the SEC East and the second-best chance to win the SEC. The Gamecocks finished with three conference wins, four fewer than SEC East champion Missouri.

In-season projections
While the preseason ratings served as the basis for FPI, an important part of the system is that it learns from each game during the season and adjusts appropriately as teams play better or worse than expected. This mechanism allows FPI to be fluid as the season goes on, which improves prediction accuracy from week to week.

The team FPI favored won 77 percent of FBS-only games this season, which is better than the win percentage of the Vegas closing-line favorite. There were 50 games in which FPI and the Vegas line differed on the favorite; FPI went 28-22 (56 percent) in those games, including 17-10 in the final eight weeks.

Interestingly, FPI exceeded expectations in games involving teams that finished the season ranked in the CFP Top 25. Most systems would be expected to correctly predict about 66 percent of such games, but the FPI favorite was 34-12 (74 percent), including 18-2 in the final five weeks.

There were certain teams that FPI had a grasp on and others that baffled the system. There were 10 teams, including Michigan State, Clemson, Washington, Florida State and Texas Tech, for which FPI correctly predicted all of their FBS versus FBS games. Add in another 28 teams for which FPI correctly predicted all but one game and the system had a very good understanding of about a third of the FBS.

Texas Tech is a great example of how FPI adjusts as the season progresses. As noted above, FPI was high on the Red Raiders in the preseason but quickly learned of their flaws and adjusted its in-season projections accordingly. FPI correctly identified the favorite in all 11 of Texas Tech’s FBS games.

On the other end, there were five teams -- Virginia Tech, South Carolina, Akron, Utah and Air Force -- where the FPI favorite lost in more than half of the games. Missouri and Texas A&M also were tough to predict with their fluctuating performances.

We have been able to retroactively apply FPI to the past 10 seasons. Since 2005, FPI has correctly predicted 75 percent of FBS games. It is on pace to have its second-best pick percentage in a season but will finish the year far from its 79.5 correct-pick percentage in 2013.

For those looking for a little bowl advice, FPI projects that Marshall (79 percent), Stanford (79 percent) and Georgia (77 percent) are the most likely teams to win their bowl games, and Navy (60 percent) is the Vegas underdog most likely to win.

Mariota's numbers add up to Heisman

December, 13, 2014
Dec 13

Steve Dykes/Getty ImagesMarcus Mariota has led Oregon to a Rose Bowl berth.
Marcus Mariota was arguably the second-best quarterback in college football in each of the previous two seasons.

This year, he has not only been recognized as the best quarterback, but the sport’s best player as well.

Mariota easily won the Heisman Trophy on Saturday night, topping Melvin Gordon and Amari Cooper. Mariota had 2,534 total points, including 788 first-place votes. He received 90.9 percent of the possible points, the second most in the trophy’s history. Gordon earned 1,250 points, and Cooper 1,023.

The history
Mariota is the first Heisman winner in Oregon history and the only Ducks player to finish first or second in the voting.

He’s the eighth player to win the Heisman in a season in which a previous Heisman winner at the same position (in this case, Jameis Winston) also played.

He’s the first winner from a school in the Pacific Northwest (encompassing Oregon, Idaho and Washington) since Terry Baker of Oregon State in 1962.

Mariota became the ninth quarterback to win the Heisman Trophy, Maxwell Award and Davey O’Brien Award in the same season, the third to do so in the past eight seasons, joining Tim Tebow (2007) and Cam Newton (2010).

Mariota and Winston will meet in the Rose Bowl on Jan. 1. It will be the fourth time two players with Heismans will have faced each other in a game. The last instance was in the BCS National Championship Game in January 2009, when Tim Tebow and Florida defeated Sam Bradford and Oklahoma.

Quarterbacks have won each of the past five Heismans and 13 of the past 14 (excluding Reggie Bush's vacated award).

What Mariota does best
One of Mariota’s most lauded traits is his ability to find the end zone without turning the ball over. He has been responsible for 53 touchdowns this year and has committed five turnovers, the second-best margin (plus-48) by any Power 5 player over the past 10 seasons. Tebow (plus-49 in 2007, including plus-4 in the Citrus Bowl) is the only player with a better differential in that span.

Two of Mariota's 372 passes have been intercepted this year, just a shade above half a percent. If he can maintain that in the College Football Playoff, he would break the FBS single-season record (minimum 350 passes) that Kellen Moore set in 2009, when three of his 431 passes (0.7 percent) were intercepted.

Mariota does this and still throws the deep pass accurately. His 54 completions on throws 15 or more yards downfield are the most among Power 5 players. He completes 56 percent of those throws, a mark that ranks second.

'Total value' stat shows Mariota as No. 1

December, 12, 2014
Dec 12

Phil Ellsworth/ESPN ImagesIn terms of total value, Marcus Mariota is miles ahead of other quarterbacks.
Marcus Mariota has been “Super Mariota” this season. The Oregon redshirt junior has been responsible for a Pac-12 record 53 touchdowns, leads the FBS in Total QBR (91.9) and has five turnovers in 489 passing and running plays.

We often point to Total QBR as an all-encompassing measure of quarterback success.

After all, the leader in Total QBR has won the Heisman Trophy in four of the last seven seasons.

There is another metric, however, that may be an even better gauge of a quarterback’s value to his team.

Quarterback points above average (PAA) accounts for both efficiency AND the number of the plays in which a quarterback is involved in (Total QBR accounts only for efficiency).

Total production

So, while QBR is based on per-play efficiency, QB PAA measures the total production of a quarterback.

In other words, QBR is similar to yards per attempt (a rate stat) and QB PAA is similar to total yards (counting stat), while both account for efficiency and defenses faced.

To derive the “above average” part of PAA, a quarterback’s performance is compared to that of an average quarterback (average = QBR of 50).

It makes sense that a quarterback who is both efficient and involved in a lot of plays would receive greater consideration for the Heisman Trophy. Five of the past six Heisman Trophy-winning quarterbacks led the FBS in QB PAA before bowls.

Signs point to Heisman

According to QB PAA and based on recent history, Mariota is in a strong position to win the Heisman Trophy.

Entering bowl season, he leads the FBS in QB PAA by more than 35 points.

That means that over the course of the season, Mariota has added 35 more points to his team’s net scoring margin than any other FBS quarterback, when compared to the baseline of an average quarterback.

Trevone Boykin, the No. 2 quarterback on ESPN’s Heisman watch, doesn’t rank in the top 10.

As Mariota continues to lead the most efficient offense in the nation, remember that he not only is operating at top-level efficiency, but he also is involved in a large number of plays, pushing his value higher.

This may be good omen for Mariota.

The last four quarterbacks who were the most efficient (No. 1 in Total QBR) and most productive (No. 1 in QB PAA) entering bowls went on to win the Heisman Trophy fairly easily.

Matchups to watch: Ohio State vs. Alabama

December, 12, 2014
Dec 12
Jason Mowry/Icon SportswireEzekiel Elliott is capable of gaining big yardage regularly for Ohio State.

The Sugar Bowl will feature two of the most storied programs and winningest coaches in college football history. What matchups may help decide the game?

Ezekiel Elliott vs Alabama rush defense

First-year starter Ezekiel Elliott has improved as the season progressed. He has run for at least 100 yards in four of his last five games after reaching the 100-yard mark in just three of his first eight.

Elliott’s improvement reached its peak in the Big Ten Championship Game, where he gained a career-high 220 yards and averaged 11 yards per carry.

In those last five games, Elliott excelled rushing between the tackles. He averaged 10.1 yards per rush up the middle, third-best among Power 5 running backs during that time.

Alabama ranks second in the FBS in rush yards allowed per game (88.7) and first in touchdowns allowed (3). The Tide are the only FBS team that has not allowed a player to run for more than 90 yards this season, and Elliot has eclipsed that mark eight times. On runs inside the tackles, Alabama has allowed a Power 5-low two touchdowns and an SEC-best 3.6 yards per rush.

Elliott has had multiple rushes of 10 yards or longer in each of his last 11 games, including a career-high 81-yard touchdown against Wisconsin. It will be interesting to see if he can break a long run against an Alabama team that has allowed the fewest 10-yard runs (34) in the nation.

Cardale Jones vs Alabama secondary

Cardale Jones made his first career start in the Big Ten Championship game, and Ohio State did not miss a beat. He threw for 257 yards and three touchdowns and averaged 15.1 yards per attempt as the Buckeyes rolled to a 59-0 victory.

Jones’ deep-ball accuracy was on display. He completed three-of-five passes thrown at least 30 yards downfield, and all three completions resulted in Devin Smith touchdowns. Jones had more completions and touchdowns on such throws in the Big Ten Championship than J.T. Barrett had in any game this season. The Buckeyes now have nine touchdowns on 30-yard throws this season, which trails only Baylor among Power 5 teams.

The Crimson Tide have looked uncharacteristically vulnerable on deep balls lately. In their last two games, against Auburn and Missouri, the Tide allowed nine completions and two touchdowns on passes of 30 or more yards. They had allowed three such completions and one touchdown in their first 11 games.

Alabama offensive line vs Ohio State pass rush

Alabama has allowed 13 sacks this season (tied for 11th in the FBS) and has not allowed three sacks in a game this season. Blake Sims has been under duress on 17 percent of his dropbacks, including 14 percent of his dropbacks against four or fewer pass rushers. The Power 5 average for duress percentage is 20 percent.

Ohio State has been among the most disruptive pass defenses this season. The Buckeyes are tied for seventh in the FBS with 40 sacks and have recorded at least three sacks in nine of 13 games. Their opponents have been under duress on 27 percent of their dropbacks, including 26 percent against a standard pass rush.

The Buckeyes are led by Bednarik Award finalist (Defensive Player of the Year) Joey Bosa, who leads the Big Ten and is in the top five in the FBS in sacks (13.5) and tackles for loss (20.0). If Bosa and teammate Michael Bennett can get to Sims, it could go a long ways toward slowing Amari Cooper and the Tide’s explosive passing game.

Matchups to watch: FSU vs Oregon

December, 12, 2014
Dec 12
AP Photo/Mark WalheiserRashad Greene makes a big impact when he catches the ball.
The Rose Bowl will feature two of the most prolific quarterbacks in recent memory. But what matchups, besides the quarterbacks, may decide the game?

Rashad Greene vs Oregon's secondary

Jameis Winston has targeted Rashad Greene 123 times this season, 56 more than any other Florida State player. Winston is averaging 9.5 yards per attempt and has gained a first down on 43 percent of his passes that target Greene. He is averaging 8.0 yards per attempt and has gained a first down on 35 percent of plays when targeting any other player.

With news of Oregon All-American CB Ifo Ekpre-Olomu’s season-ending knee injury, the rest of Oregon’s secondary will be called upon to slow Greene, FSU’s single-season and career leader in receptions.

CB Troy Hill and S Erick Dargan will likely be matched against him. Hill has 16 pass breakups this season, tied for third-most in the FBS, and Dargan leads the team in tackles (82) and interceptions (six).

Keep an eye on if Oregon’s depleted secondary can slow Greene on downfield passes. Winston has targeted Greene on 20 of his 51 passes thrown 20 yards or longer, and Greene has a team-high eight receptions on such passes.

Although Oregon leads the Pac-12 in touchdowns allowed (two) and interceptions (four) on throws of 20-plus yards, Ekpre-Olomu was their strongest corner against deep throws. According to Stats LLC., teams had completed one-of-eight passes when targeting Ekpre-Olomu on such passes and 11-of-34 passes when targeting any other player.

Oregon zone read vs FSU rush defense

Oregon ranks fifth in the FBS in rushing efficiency, adding about nine points per game to its net scoring margin on rushing plays.

Conversely, Florida State ranks 39th in defensive efficiency on rushing plays but has struggled against top rushing offenses.

The Seminoles have faced four FBS teams that rank in the top half of the nation in rushing efficiency. In those games, they allowed 227 rushing yards per game and 4.9 yards per rush. Against the bottom half of the FBS, the Seminoles allowed 115 rush yards per game and 3.2 yards per rush.

Florida State will be tested against Oregon’s zone read.

The Ducks lead all Power 5 schools in touchdowns (15) and 20-yard rushes (14) on such plays despite ranking sixth in total zone-read rushes. The Ducks are averaging 6.9 yards per rush on zone reads, including 10.7 when Marcus Mariota keeps the ball.

Royce Freeman will be the player to watch in this matchup. Since the start of Week 7, he leads the Pac-12 in rushing yards (953), rushing touchdowns (11) and 10-yard runs (28). He is averaging a conference-high 2.8 yards after contact per rush during that time as he has added a level of physicality to Oregon’s offense.

Dalvin Cook vs Oregon’s run defense

The emergence of freshman running back Dalvin Cook has filled a hole in Florida State’s offense. Cook has received more carries the last two games, in part due to Karlos Williams’ concussion, and has averaged 160.5 rushing yards, including seven runs of 10 yards or longer.

Cook is at his best when he can get to the outside. He is averaging 8.8 yards per rush outside the tackles, second-best among Power 5 running backs behind Melvin Gordon (minimum 50 carries), and has gained at least 100 yards on such runs in each of his last two games.

Oregon has allowed 73 rushing yards per game outside the tackles, which is in line with the Power 5 average. In its one loss, however, the Ducks allowed a season-high 156 yards on such runs.

If Oregon takes the lead, watch out for Cook. He is averaging 9.6 yards per rush when Florida State is trailing, best in the FBS (minimum 30 carries).

This post was updated on Dec. 18 after news of Ifo Ekpre-Olomu's injury.

NCF, ACC, Pac-12

Inside the matchup: Mariota vs. Winston

December, 11, 2014
Dec 11
Getty ImagesMarcus Mariota and Jameis Winston are two of the best college quarterbacks in recent memory.
The Rose Bowl will match two of the most prolific quarterbacks – and likely the two most recent Heisman winners – in one national semifinal.

Marcus Mariota leads the FBS in Total QBR and yards per attempt, and set the Pac-12 record for touchdowns responsible (53) this season. Jameis Winston led the nation in Total QBR and yards per attempt while setting the ACC record for touchdown passes (40) in his Heisman-winning season last year.

Both players rank in the top five in career Total QBR and have been prolific winners.

Mariota’s school-record 35 wins are the most of any active FBS quarterback. Winston’s 26-game win streak is the longest by an FBS quarterback since Matt Leinart won 34 straight from 2003-05 at USC (some wins were later vacated).

Among active FBS quarterbacks with at least 15 starts, Winston and Mariota have the highest career winning percentages.

What makes Mariota and Winston so great? Below is a breakdown of their strengths and a matchup to watch in the Rose Bowl.

Marcus Mariota:


Touchdown machine -- Mariota has been responsible for a Pac-12 record 53 touchdowns and has five turnovers. That is the best touchdown-to-turnover differential (+48) for a player entering bowls within the last 10 seasons.

Does not throw interceptions -- Mariota has thrown two interceptions in 372 passes this season (0.5 percent), the lowest percentage for a qualified quarterback. In his career, Mariota has 12 interceptions and a 1.1 interception percentage. To put that in perspective, Winston has thrown 12 interceptions in his last seven games.

Downfield threat -- Mariota is completing 56 percent of his passes thrown 15 yards or longer, third-best among Power 5 quarterbacks this season and 18 percentage points higher than the Power 5 average. He has 19 touchdowns and one interception on such passes.

Runs zone read to perfection -- With Mariota at quarterback, Oregon is averaging 7.3 yards per rush when running the zone read, including 10.7 yards per rush when Mariota keeps the ball.

When he decides to pull the ball down and throw, he leads all Power 5 players in touchdowns (29), completions of 20 or more yards (45) and first downs (109) on play-action passes.

Matchup to Watch vs FSU:

Florida State sends four or fewer pass rushers on 67 percent of its opponents’ dropbacks and has more interceptions (9) than touchdowns allowed (8) when sending standard pressure.

Mariota has gone more than 300 pass attempts against four of fewer pass rushers without an interceptions (last such interception was Week 14 of 2013) and has 27 touchdowns this season against such pressure.

Jameis Winston:


Wins close games -- In games decided by seven points or fewer, Winston is 7-0 in his career with a 75.4 second-half QBR.

Third down -- Winston has a 91.6 third-down Total QBR, best of any active player who has started more than one year. He has converted 51 percent of his third-down passing plays during that time (49 percent this season), 15 percentage points higher than the FBS average.

Big plays -- Winston has 120 completions of 20 or more yards in his career, tied with Mariota and Colorado State’s Garrett Grayson for the most in the FBS since the start of last season.

Matchup to Watch vs Oregon:

Winston has thrown 15 of his 17 interceptions on passes of 10 yards or longer. No other Power 5 player has more than 11 interceptions on such passes.

Among ACC quarterbacks, however, Winston is tied for second with 12 touchdowns. Oregon leads the Pac-12 in interceptions (9) and touchdowns allowed (5) on passes of this distance.

Stat to know

If Mariota wins the Heisman Trophy, this will be the fourth time that two players who already won the Heisman meet.

In two of the previous three, the most recent winner took home the title. However, it should be noted that Doak Walker did not play in that 1949 game against Leon Hart and Notre Dame due to injury.

NCF, ACC, Pac-12

Alabama isn't invincible, stats show

December, 10, 2014
Dec 10

Wire photosNick Saban’s Alabama team has areas of vulnerability Urban Meyer’s Buckeyes can attack.
If Ohio State is looking for a weakness in its Sugar Bowl opponent, it might have trouble finding one.

Alabama can win games with its defense. It has three wins in which it scored 25 or fewer points; only Missouri (four) has more this season. The Crimson Tide can also win with their offense. They have an SEC-high seven wins in which they scored more than 40 points, including a 55-44 win against Auburn in the Iron Bowl.

According to ESPN’s team efficiency rankings, Alabama's offense ranks fourth in the nation and its defense is 12th. TCU is the only other team in the top 12 of the FBS in both stats.

Yet, as its loss to Ole Miss indicates, Alabama is not invincible. Below, we look at some areas in which the Crimson Tide excel and others were they might be vulnerable.

Under first-year offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin, Alabama is on pace to finish with its highest offensive efficiency in the eight years under coach Nick Saban. The Crimson Tide rank 10th in the FBS in yards per play and points per drive, even though they have played seven of the top 20 teams in defensive efficiency.

T.J. Yeldon and Derrick Henry have led the way on the ground. Yeldon and Henry have both rushed for more than 800 yards, averaged more than 5.0 yards per carry and scored at least 10 rushing touchdowns. The only other FBS school with two such running backs this season is Arkansas with Alex Collins and Jonathan Williams.

Blake Sims has been the facilitator for the passing game. He has posted an 88.4 Total QBR this season, second-best in the FBS behind Oregon’s Marcus Mariota. Since 2004, two SEC players have had a higher Total QBR in a season than Sims (Cam Newton and Johnny Manziel). Both won the Heisman in those seasons.

As good as Sims has been, Amari Cooper has been better. Cooper leads the FBS in receiving yards (1,656) and receptions (115) and is tied for second in receiving touchdowns (14).

Yet, if the Buckeyes are able to take away Cooper, Alabama might be in trouble. Cooper has 100 more targets and 1,217 more receiving yards than any other player on the team. DeAndrew White is second on the team in receiving, and on one play – his 58-yard touchdown against Missouri – he gained more yards than he had in all but two games this season entering the SEC Championship.

When Sims is throwing to Cooper this season, he is completing 71.0 percent of his passes, averaging 10.2 yards per attempt and has 14 touchdowns and one interception. To put that into perspective, Mariota is the only other FBS quarterback averaging more than 10 yards per attempt this season. When Sims is not passing to Cooper, he completes 60.5 percent of his passes and averages 7.9 yards per attempt. The FBS averages are 60.0 percent and 7.3 yards per attempt.

Defense is where Alabama has always hung its hat under Saban. For instance, the Crimson Tide are allowing 16.6 points per game this season, fourth-fewest in the FBS. Yet, that is on pace to be the most they have allowed since 2007, Saban’s first season in Tuscaloosa.

Led by defensive tackle Johnathan Allen and linebacker Reggie Ragland, Alabama is as good as it gets against the run. The Crimson Tide have allowed three rushing touchdowns, five fewer than any other FBS school. They really buckle down around the goal line. On goal-to-go rushes, their opponents have run for minus 16 yards and have scored a touchdown on two of 24 carries (8%). That is on pace to be the second-best percentage in the last 10 seasons, behind Notre Dame in 2012.

If there is one area in which Alabama has not been as strong on defense this season, it is against the pass, especially the last few games. The Crimson Tide are allowing 223.7 passing yards per game, on pace to be their most since they allowed 227.8 in 2003. Big plays have been a big issue. Opponents have 39 completions of 20 yards or more, the most Alabama has allowed in at least the last 10 seasons.

Downfield passes have been the main culprit of late. On passes thrown 25 yards or longer downfield, the Crimson Tide have allowed an SEC-high 16 completions. In their last three games, opponents were 12-of-21 on such throws, compared with 4-of-30 to start the season.

Special teams
Even though Alabama has 2014 first-team all-SEC punter JK Scott and 2013 SEC special teams player of the year Christion Jones on its roster, the Crimson Tide have been below average on special teams this season, ranking 101st in efficiency. How has special teams play affected Alabama this season? Look no further than its 23-17 loss to Ole Miss. In that game, Jones had a fumble in the fourth quarter on a kickoff, which set up the game-winning score, and kicker Adam Griffith missed 46-yard and 51-yard attempts. This season, Alabama has made 64 percent of its field goal tries this season, 93rd in the FBS. Dating to the start of the 2011 season, Alabama has lost five games. In those five games, its kickers are 5-of-16 on field goals, including 2-of-11 from 40 yards or longer.

Combining offense, defense and special teams efficiency, Alabama ranks second behind Oregon in overall efficiency. There are holes, as noted above, that Ohio State can exploit. The Buckeyes, with Cardale Jones at quarterback, scored three touchdowns on passes thrown 25 yards or longer in the Big Ten Championship Game, their most in a game this season. On special teams, they rank second in average starting field position and lead the nation in opponents’ average starting field position. If Ohio State can continue to play well in these areas during the Sugar Bowl, it may well be the difference in the Buckeyes pulling off the upset of No. 1 Alabama.

Top stats to know: Heisman finalists

December, 8, 2014
Dec 8
The finalists for the 80th annual Heisman Trophy were announced on Monday night, and each skill position had one premier representative. The winner will be announced Saturday night at 8 p.m. ET (ESPN) in New York City.

Here are the numbers to know about each of the three contenders.

Amari Cooper, WR | Alabama
Amari Cooper leads the FBS in receiving yards (1,656) and receptions (115) and is tied for second in receiving touchdowns (14).

Cooper needs 85 yards in the Allstate Sugar Bowl to break the SEC record for receiving yards in a season, set by LSU's Josh Reed in 2001.

Reed was the last SEC player to win the Biletnikoff Award (most outstanding receiver).

Cooper has been responsible for an FBS-high 43 percent of the Crimson Tide's receptions and 45 percent of their yards, second most in the nation behind Pittsburgh's Tyler Boyd (52 percent). Cooper has 26 receptions of 20 yards or more, second most in the FBS and nine more than any other SEC player.

He has an FBS-high three 200-yard receiving games this season, including a school-record 224 yards against Tennessee, which he then tied with the same number against Auburn in the Iron Bowl.

Cooper is trying to become the second Crimson Tide player to win the award in the past six seasons. The last was running back Mark Ingram in 2009.

Melvin Gordon, RB | Wisconsin
Gordon set the Big Ten record for rushing yards in a season with an FBS-best 2,336. He was the quickest FBS player ever to reach 2,000 rushing yards, crossing that mark on his 241st carry.

Gordon led the FBS this season in rushing touchdowns (26) and 200-yard rushing games. He also had more rushes of 20 yards or longer (31) than 117 FBS teams.

Gordon led Power 5 players with 942 rushing yards after contact and had four more rushes of 20 yards or more outside the tackles (21) than any other FBS player had total such runs.

Two Badgers have previously won the award. Both were running backs: Alan Ameche in 1954 and Ron Dayne in 1999.

Marcus Mariota, QB | Oregon
Mariota has been responsible for an FBS-high and Pac-12-record 53 touchdowns this season. The previous Pac-12 record for touchdowns in a season was 41 by USC’s Matt Barkley in 2011.

The last time an FBS player was responsible for more than 53 touchdowns in a season was 2008, when Rice's Chase Clement (57) and Oklahoma's Sam Bradford (55) topped that mark.

Mariota leads the FBS in Total QBR this season after ranking second in each of the last two seasons.

Since 2007, every player who has led the nation in Total QBR is either a Heisman winner or a current starting NFL quarterback.

Good things happen when Mariota throws the football. He leads the nation in yards per attempt (10.2) and interception percentage (1 percent) and ranks second in touchdown percentage (10 percent).

Mariota is trying to become the first Ducks player to win the Heisman. The only player to win the award playing for a school in the state of Oregon is Terry Baker of Oregon State in 1962.

No. 2 Conference left out of playoff

December, 8, 2014
Dec 8

USA TODAY Sports Big 12 co-champions Baylor and TCU are both left out of the College Football Playoff, despite the Big 12 ranking second in ESPN's College Football Power Rankings.
According to ESPN Stats and Information’s Conference Power Rankings, the second-best conference was left out of the initial College Football Playoff.

The Big 12 enters bowls ranked second in the Conference Power Rankings, largely because of its strength at the top. It has three teams ranked in the top 11 of the AP Poll and four in the top 20 of the Football Power Index (FPI).

When looking at conference depth, the Big 12 ranks third behind the SEC and Pac-12 with an average FPI ranking of 41.6.
The Big Ten, which grabbed the final spot in the College Football Playoff, ranks last among Power 5 conferences in the Conference Power Rankings. Three of its 14 teams – Ohio State, Michigan State, and Wisconsin – are ranked in the top 25 of the Football Power Index.

The Conference Power Rankings are not designed to endorse one team over another; each team’s full body of work must be weighed separately. It does, however, put into perspective the difficulty of achieving a team’s record given its conference schedule.

According to FPI’s projections, it is nearly as difficult (though not quite equal) to achieve an 8-1 record with a Big 12 schedule as it is an 8-0 record with a Big Ten schedule. This does not account for non-conference scheduling, which may have been a deciding factor in the CFP committee’s decision.

Elsewhere, the SEC moved back to No. 1 in the Conference Power Rankings. The SEC has nine teams ranked in the top 25 of FPI and seven ranked in the top 25 of the AP Poll. Twelve of its 14 teams will be playing in bowl games, including three in New Year’s Six Bowls.

We will learn a lot more about conference strength during bowl season as the top conferences face each other. In the last five seasons, the SEC has a .625 win percentage in bowl games, best among Power 5 conferences. The Big Ten ranks last with a .385 win percentage over that time. These two conferences will face off in four bowls this season, including the Allstate Sugar Bowl (Alabama vs Ohio State) with the national title on the line.

The conference power rankings are 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.

Top stats to know: Saturday's late games

December, 7, 2014
Dec 7
The three teams playing late Saturday night with hope of making the College Football Playoff didn’t make the selection committee’s job any easier. No. 4 Florida State won the ACC Championship Game, No. 5 Ohio State rolled to victory in the Big Ten Championship Game, and No. 6 Baylor held off No. 9 Kansas State in a Big 12 game. Here are the top stats to know from each game.

Florida State outlasts Georgia TechNo. 11 Georgia Tech became the first team this season to score a touchdown on its first three possessions against Florida State. With their triple-option offense, the Yellow Jackets appeared capable of wearing down the Seminoles after crafting three scoring drives of 10 or more plays. Florida State had allowed five such drives entering the game.

A key for Georgia Tech was rushing outside the tackles. Through three quarters, the Yellow Jackets averaged 7.97 yards a carry outside the tackles and gashed the Seminoles for 239 yards and three touchdowns on 30 rushes. In the fourth quarter, though, Georgia Tech had three rushes outside the tackles for five yards. Overall, Georgia Tech had 54 rushes for 322 yards through three quarters and five rushes for nine yards in the fourth.

Florida State, conversely, did its damage inside the tackles. Dalvin Cook, who set career highs in carries (31) and rushing yards (177) for the second week in a row, got 149 of his rush yards inside the tackles. The Seminoles averaged 49.8 yards per game inside the tackles coming into the game -- third worst among Power 5 teams.

As usual, Jameis Winston predominantly targeted Rashad Greene and Nick O’Leary. Those two combined to catch all three of the sophomore quarterback’s touchdown passes. Winston averaged 14.7 yards per attempt when targeting them and 5.9 yards when targeting anyone else. He had his first game without an interception since Oct. 11 at Syracuse.

Greene finished the game with seven receptions for 123 yards. With 3,771 career receiving yards, he broke the ACC record of Duke’s Conner Vernon (3,749, 2009-12).

Ohio State dominates Wisconsin
The Buckeyes' shutout victory over Wisconsin was not only the biggest shutout in a Power 5 conference championship game but also the only shutout in such a contest.

Cardale Jones, Ohio State’s third-string quarterback, did a first-rate job in leading the Buckeyes to a dominant win over Wisconsin. On throws of 10 or more yards, Jones completed five of seven passes for 167 yards and three touchdowns. His counterpart, Joel Stave, was 3-of-14 with two interceptions on passes of 10 or more yards.

Wisconsin’s Melvin Gordon gained 76 yards on 26 rushes. His longest rush was 13 yards; for the first time this season, he didn’t have a rush of at least 20 yards. Gordon raised his season total to 2,336 rushing yards, but he remained fourth on the single-season rushing list. He is six yards behind USC’s Marcus Allen, who gained 2,342 yards in 1981.

Gordon had his record for rushing yards in a Big Ten Championship game broken by Ezekiel Elliott, who rushed for 220 yards. Gordon rushed for 216 in 2012.

Baylor takes care of businessThe Bears seemed to have an answer for Kansas State quarterback Jake Waters. On designed runs inside the tackles, Baylor held Waters to 1.5 yards per rush, compared with his 6.2-yard average entering the game. Waters threw an interception in the fourth quarter, which effectively ended the Wildcats’ hopes. It was his third interception in his past four games, after he threw three in the Wildcats’ first eight games.

The Wildcats’ Tyler Lockett caught his 27th career touchdown pass and broke the school record held by his father, Kevin.

Baylor's Bryce Petty excelled when given time Saturday and completed a season-high 31 passes when not under duress. He completed 91.2 percent of his passes for 376 yards when not under duress.

The loss continued Kansas State coach Bill Snyder’s winless run against teams in the top 10 of The Associated Press poll. Snyder is 0-11 against AP Top 10 teams.

Top stats to know: Alabama beats Missouri

December, 6, 2014
Dec 6
The Alabama Crimson Tide held the Missouri Tigers to their second lowest point total of the season Saturday in the SEC Championship Game, but the Crimson Tide’s offense might have turned in the best performance of any Alabama unit. The two most statistically dominant players were quarterback Blake Sims and receiver Amari Cooper.

Sims prolific, precise
En route to setting a school record for passing yards in a season (3,250), Sims kept the chains moving for Alabama:
  • On passes thrown 5 yards or fewer, he completed 20 of 21 attempts for 155 yards and a touchdown. Those were his most completions and yards on such throws in a game in his career.

  • On third down, Sims was 6-of-6 passing and was sacked twice. Entering the game, he had converted an FBS-best 52 percent of his third-down passing plays.

  • On play action, Sims completed 10 of 11 passes for 132 yards and a touchdown for an average of 12.0 yards per pass. Without play action, Sims averaged 8.1 yards per attempt.
Alabama converted nine of 13 third downs (62 percent). That was even better than its pregame mark of 53 percent, which ranked fourth in the FBS.

Sims was 23-of-27 passing and set a completion percentage record for the SEC Championship Game (85.2 percent). The record was 77.1, set in 2004 by Auburn’s Jason Campbell.

Cooper delivers
Sims’ favorite target, as usual, was Amari Cooper. He had 12 catches after hauling in 13 passes in the Iron Bowl last week. Saturday’s game marked the second time this season that Cooper has had at least 12 catches in consecutive games. One other player in the FBS has had as many in one: Colorado's Nelson Spruce in September.

Cooper has the SEC single-season record for receptions (115).

Alabama's SEC dominance
The victory gave Alabama its 24th SEC title. That's 11 more than any other team. (Those totals include shared titles.) It was Alabama’s fifth SEC Championship Game win -- second to Florida, which has had seven victories in a game instituted in 1992.

On the other side of Alabama’s success was Missouri’s struggle. The Tigers are 0-4 in conference championship games, the worst record in FBS history.

How Arizona has slowed down Oregon

December, 5, 2014
Dec 5
Since the start of last season, Oregon boasts a 22-3 record, tied with Alabama for the fourth best winning percentage in the FBS.

The Ducks, however, have lost both of their games against Arizona in that time, and they were held to two of their three lowest scoring totals in those games. How have the Wildcats slowed the Ducks?

Stopping the run
Oregon’s offense is predicated on its ability to establish the run. An efficient running game opens up play-action and downfield passing for Marcus Mariota, which are two of his greatest strengths.

Against Arizona in the past two seasons, Oregon has been held to 171 rush yards per game, more than 80 under its average.

The Ducks did not score a rushing touchdown in either of those games. In 20 of their 23 other games during that time they had at least one rushing touchdown.

One area where Arizona has limited Oregon is outside the tackles. Since the start of last season, the Ducks rank in the top four among Power 5 schools in rush yards per game (141.9), yards per rush (7.8) and 10-yard rushes (130) outside the tackles.

On such runs against Arizona, Oregon has averaged 67.5 rushing yards, 4.4 yards per rush and 2.5 rushes of 10 yards or longer per game. All of those numbers are Oregon’s worst against any opponent during that time.

Slowing down Marcus Mariota
Although Mariota’s yardage totals are not significantly different against Arizona than against other teams, he has averaged 2 fewer yards per play against the Wildcats (7.1) than against other FBS opponents (9.2).

Turnovers have been another major issue. Last year, the Wildcats ended Mariota’s Pac-12 record of 343 consecutive passes without an interception with an amazing pick and then got him again later in the game.

This year, Arizona pressured Mariota and forced two fumbles. In his career, Mariota has had as many multi-turnover games against Arizona (three) as he has against all other Pac-12 opponents combined.

The Wildcats have also limited Oregon downfield and after the catch.

Since the start of last season, Mariota leads all Power 5 quarterbacks in completion percentage (58.2 percent) on passes thrown 15 yards or longer and ranks second behind Baylor's Bryce Petty in TD-Int differential (plus-24) on such throws.

Against Arizona, Mariota has completed 35 percent of his throws of this distance and has no touchdowns.

Without an effective deep ball, Oregon has turned to its quick screen passes, but Arizona has held the Ducks to 3.1 yards after the catch per reception in their past two meetings, their lowest against any opponent and 2 yards less than their average (5.1).

All of these factors have resulted in Mariota posting a 62.0 Total QBR in his past two games against Arizona. This season, Mariota’s 62.9 Total QBR in the game against the Wildcats is not only his season low, but is also 20.9 points lower than his second lowest Total QBR game.

Winning critical moments
Oregon has converted a first down on 39 percent of its third-down plays against Arizona in the past two seasons, almost 10 percentage points lower than its average in the past two seasons.

Conversely, Arizona has converted 61 percent of its third downs. Last season, the Wildcats converted 11 of 16 third-down attempts (68.8 percent) against Oregon, their highest percentage in the past four seasons.

The Wildcats have also been able to convert their red zone opportunities into touchdowns.

In the past two years, nine of their 11 red zone opportunities have resulted in a touchdown. The Ducks, on the other hand, have scored four touchdowns in eight red zone opportunities.

ESPN’s Football Power Index projects that Arizona has just a 26 percent chance of winning the Pac-12 championship game.

Despite the low percentages, Rich Rodriguez appears to have Oregon’s number. He is 2-1 in three meetings against Oregon while at Arizona, with those two wins against the Ducks when they were ranked in the top five. In neither of those games did FPI give the Wildcats more than a 25 percent chance to win.

Why FSU may struggle vs. Ga. Tech offense

December, 4, 2014
Dec 4
Florida State's school-record 28-game winning streak began with a 21-15 victory against Georgia Tech in the 2012 ACC championship game. Two years later, the Yellow Jackets get their first chance to end the streak that they helped start.

Based on Georgia Tech's run-heavy offense, ability to keep Florida State off the field and advantage in the turnover game, the Yellow Jackets may pose the greatest threat to Florida State this season.

Can FSU stop Georgia Tech's triple option?
Georgia Tech runs on 78 percent of its plays, the fourth-highest percentage in the FBS. Despite the fact their opponents know the run is coming, the Yellow Jackets rank in the top seven in the FBS in yards per rush, first downs per rush and percentage of rushes that gain at least five yards.

Florida State ranks 42nd in the FBS in rush yards per game allowed (145.8) but has not faced many top rushing offenses. The Seminoles have faced one rushing offense -- Boston College -- that ranks in the top 35 in rush yards per game, and they allowed 240 rush yards and 4.7 yards per rush to the Eagles. Against FCS team Citadel, which runs a triple option like Georgia Tech, Florida State allowed a season-high 250 rushing yards and 4.5 yards per rush.

Georgia Tech's triple option is at its best when its rushers can get to the outside. On designed runs outside the tackles, Georgia Tech leads the FBS with 23 rushing touchdowns and is averaging 7.0 yards per rush. This was a weakness for Florida State against Boston College and Citadel (102.5 rush YPG, 5.1 yards per rush) but a strength against all other opponents (46.5 YPG, 4.0 yards per rush).

Georgia Tech's offense is its greatest defense
Because of Georgia Tech's efficient running game, the Yellow Jackets have been able to keep their opponents off the field. Georgia Tech has gained an initial first down or a touchdown on 87 percent of its drives, on pace to be the highest on percentage in at least the past 10 seasons.

Initial first downs lead to clock-milking drives. Georgia Tech leads the nation in time of possession per drive (3:12), and its average drives gains an FBS-high 43.1 yards. All of these factors, in addition to the most efficient third-down offense in the nation, could keep Florida State's offense and Jameis Winston on the sideline.

Turnover advantage to Georgia Tech
Florida State has an ACC-high 27 turnovers, which is as many as Georgia Tech has forced this season. The Yellow Jackets lead the ACC with a plus-11 turnover margin, compared with a minus-4 margin for Florida State.

Not only has Georgia Tech been able to force turnovers, but it has also capitalized on its opponents' mistakes. This is something that Florida failed to do last week against Florida State. The Seminoles had four turnovers that resulted in the Gators beginning a drive on FSU's side of the field, yet Florida could muster only six points off Florida State's mistakes.

Georgia Tech has been much more opportunistic, ranking fourth in the FBS in points off turnovers and tied for second with six defensive touchdowns, including five pick-sixes. The Yellow Jackets should get an opportunity to run one back against Winston, who this season has thrown at least one interception in nine of his 11 games and is averaging the fifth-most interceptions per game in the FBS.

The Yellow Jackets appear to have all the factors necessary to keep it close -- they can control the clock, keep their opponent off the field and are opportunistic on defense. Close may be all the Yellow Jackets need, as they have the best fourth-quarter point differential among Power 5 teams. Then again, they are playing Florida State, which has an uncanny ability to pull out games late.

Stats to consider: Baylor vs. TCU

December, 3, 2014
Dec 3

Kevin Jairaj/USA TODAY SportsChris Callahan’s field goal lifted Baylor over TCU in their matchup in Waco, Texas.
Baylor defeated TCU 61-58 on Oct. 11 yet remains behind the Horned Frogs in the College Football Playoff rankings.

Is there precedent for the head-to-head result not being the deciding factor when comparing two teams with the same number of losses?

Yes, here are three:

• In 2008, Texas defeated Oklahoma on a neutral field. The Longhorns’ only loss was at No. 6 Texas Tech on a last-second catch by Michael Crabtree. Yet, Oklahoma was selected to play Florida in the BCS National Championship.

• In 2000, the Miami (FL) Hurricanes defeated Florida State at home. The Hurricanes’ only loss was at No. 15 Washington. Yet, Florida State was selected to play Oklahoma in the BCS National Championship.

• In 1993, Notre Dame defeated Florida State in South Bend, Indiana. The Fighting Irish’s only loss was against No. 17 Boston College. Yet, Florida State was voted the AP national champion and Notre Dame finished second.

If there is precedent for not using head-to-head, then how do the résumés stack up?

The résumés for No. 6 TCU and No. 3 Baylor are very similar. Both teams are 10-1, and they have the two best point-per-game differentials (Baylor +25.9, TCU +24.2) among Power 5 teams. Each team’s loss came against a conference opponent on the road.

They have played very similar schedules. Both have played eight other Big 12 opponents, SMU and an FCS opponent. The one non-conference difference is TCU hosted Minnesota and Baylor played at Buffalo. As a result, Baylor is last in the FBS in non-conference strength of schedule and TCU is 117th.

The big difference (other than head-to-head) is that Baylor has one fewer win against a team in the top 40 of FPI. Yet, that could change Saturday as the Bears host Kansas State and TCU plays Iowa State.

If the résumés are similar, then what about on-field performance?

Few teams can match Baylor’s offensive production. The Bears are averaging an FBS-high 49.8 points per game. They have scored at least 60 points in four games, including their win against TCU. No other FBS team has more than two such games.

Pace is a big factor in Baylor’s offensive success. The Bears average 20 seconds per play, third-fastest in the FBS. In the first half, they are even quicker, running a play every 18.2 seconds, best in the FBS. Not surprisingly, Baylor has an FBS-high 21 touchdown drives of 1 minute or less.

TCU’s offense is not too far behind. It is averaging 46.1 points per game, third-most in the FBS and on pace to break the school record of 41.6 set in 2010.

TCU is allowing 21.9 points per game, 26th-best in the FBS, which does not sound overly impressive. Yet, when you factor in the opponents and the impact the defense has had on games, few have been better than the Horned Frogs.


• TCU has forced an FBS-high 3.1 turnovers per game and is averaging 12.0 points off turnovers, second-best in the FBS behind Louisiana Tech Bulldogs (12.5).

• The Horned Frogs have held their opponents without a first down or touchdown on an FBS-high 51 percent of their drives this season. Not coincidentally, their average starting field position is their own 35-yard line, fifth-best in the FBS.

• TCU ranks fifth in the nation in third-down conversion defense (30 percent) and eighth in the percentage of opponents red-zone drives that end in a touchdown (45 percent).

Baylor has not been too far behind on defense, especially in the first half of games before it builds a huge lead: The Bears’ first-half point-per-game margin is an FBS-high +18.7.

So, with the teams so similar, it brings us back to head-to-head. Baylor defeated TCU by three points in Waco. How much does home field matter anyway?

According to ESPN’s Football Power Index, home field would play a role in projecting a winner in a matchup between these teams. For instance, if Baylor and TCU were to play this weekend on a neutral field, Baylor would have a 51 percent chance of winning. If the game were at Baylor, the Bears would have a 59 percent chance of winning, and if it were at TCU, the Horned Frogs would have a 57 percent chance of winning.

Maybe the best solution would be to have a Big 12 championship game, on a neutral field. If there were, and if the second matchup was anything like the first, then everyone would be in for some excitement.

In that game, Baylor became the only team in the last 10 seasons to overcome a 21-point (or more) fourth-quarter deficit against a ranked team. It was also the most combined points (119) for a game involving two top-10 teams in the Associated Press Poll.

--Information from Chris Fallica and Sharon Katz of ESPN Stats & Information was used in this post