Stats & Info: NCF

Georgia, USC benefit big in Week 1

August, 31, 2014
Aug 31
For more information on the rankings here, check out the Football Power Index and Dean Oliver's primer on this metric used by the Stats & Information analytics team.

What were the top analytical and statistical storylines from Week 1 of the college football season?

Georgia is the new favorite in the SEC
Georgia’s chances of winning the SEC greatly improved in Week 1.

The Bulldogs’ win over Clemson and South Carolina’s loss to Texas A&M combined to raise Georgia’s chances of winning the SEC East from 29 percent (in preseason) to 62 percent and its overall chance of winning the SEC from 11 percent to 31 percent, via ESPN’s FPI rating.

The Bulldogs jumped from 14th to sixth in the rankings. That was the third-biggest FPI ranking jump of any Top-25 team after Week 1, behind Nebraska (up 13 spots to 28) and Texas A&M (up eight spots to No. 8).

South Carolina’s probability of winning the SEC East plummeted from 41 percent to 11 percent and its chance of winning the SEC fell from 19 percent to four percent.

Clemson and South Carolina had the two biggest drops in FPI rankings among teams in the Top 25, with Clemson falling 17 spots (to 30th) and South Carolina slipping 13 (to 20th). They were followed by North Carolina, which dropped 12 spots to 31 despite beating Liberty, 56-29.

North Carolina’s win against Liberty may have seemed dominant based on the 56-29 final score, but the Tar Heels trailed Liberty early in the second half before scoring 28 straight points. Their average in-game win probability ranked 29th out of 59 teams that won on Saturday.

USC rises in Pac-12
USC jumped from No. 9 to No. 5 in FPI after defeating Fresno State on Saturday. Conversely, UCLA dropped in FPI from No. 4 to No. 7 after its offense struggled on the road against Virginia.

USC now has the second-best chance to win the Pac-12 behind Oregon and the No. 1 chance to win the Pac-12 South.

USC travels to Stanford on Saturday in a game with conference implications. The Football Power Index gives the Trojans a 51.6% chance to win the game, and it is projected to be the closest Pac-12 game of the year.

Comeback of the week: LSU over Wisconsin
LSU came back from a 17-point second-half deficit to defeat Wisconsin 28-24. Not only was that the largest comeback of the week, but LSU had the lowest average in-game win probability (35 percent) of any team that won on Saturday. The Tigers had an above-average chance to win on only 16 percent of their plays.

LSU’s win probability dipped to six percent early in the third quarter after Wisconsin took a 24-7 lead. The Tigers went on to score 21 straight points to win the game.

Unlikeliest wins of Week 1
Based on ESPN’s FPI projections, UTSA’s win against Houston was the most unlikely win by an FBS team against another FBS team in Week 1. FPI gave UTSA a 19 percent chance to win entering the game.

Other significant upsets included Temple (30 percent chance to win) over Vanderbilt, Colorado State (34 percent chance to win) over Colorado and Rutgers (34 percent chance to win) over Washington State.


Top Stats to Know: Saturday night thrillers

August, 31, 2014
Aug 31
Neither of Saturday night's spotlight games was settled until late in the fourth quarter, with one team needing a thrilling comeback and one team hanging on to avoid a major upset. Florida State, the reigning national champion and preseason No. 1, survived two Jameis Winston interceptions and no rushing attack to speak of to beat Oklahoma State 37-31. The Seminoles gave up 26 points combined in its first three games last season. LSU scored three unanswered touchdowns to come back from a 17-point third-quarter deficit in a 28-24 win against Wisconsin. Here's what you need to know about Saturday night's amazing games.

Winston’s new favorite target

With the loss of Kelvin Benjamin and Kenny Shaw to the NFL, Jameis Winston targeted Rashad Greene 20 times, Greene’s career high. Greene averaged eight targets and 81 yards per game last season. Winston didn’t target another receiver more than six times.

Seminoles rushing attack sputters
Florida State had 106 rush yards Saturday against Oklahoma State, its second-lowest total since the beginning of last season. The Seminoles ran for 203 yards per game last season, third in the ACC.

Karlos Williams is the feature back for the Seminoles this year after the departure of Devonta Freeman and James Wilder Jr., but he averaged less than 3 yards a rush. Williams was also contacted at or behind the line of scrimmage on more than half of his rushes (12 of 23). He was hit at or behind the line on 22 rushes last season (24 percent). The Seminoles averaged 117 yards before contact last season when rushing but had only 30 yards before contact against the Cowboys.

Close call for preseason No. 1
This was the closest call in a season opener by a preseason No. 1 in over two decades. The last preseason AP No. 1 to lose a season opener was Miami in 1990. Until Saturday, every preseason No. 1 since then had won its season opener by more than two touchdowns.

LSU unfazed by late deficits

LSU came back to win after trailing in the fourth quarter for the 22nd time under Les Miles. LSU now has a winning record under Miles after trailing in the fourth quarter. The Tigers’ 22 such wins are the most in FBS since he took over in 2005, and they are the only FBS program with a winning record in such games.

Wisconsin blows big lead
Wisconsin led LSU by 17 points with 8 minutes to go in the third quarter, 24-7. The last time the Badgers blew a 17-point lead that late was on Sept. 27, 2008, at Michigan. The Badgers led 19-0 with under 3 minutes to play in the third quarter before Michigan reeled off 27 straight points.


Top Stats to Know: Yeldon, Henry lead way

August, 30, 2014
Aug 30

Kevin C. Cox/Getty ImagesAlabama rushed for 158 yards in the second half

Alabama won its season-opener on the strength of its running game and a smart passing game plan. However, its defense left something to be desired. Here’s a look at what you need to know about the Tide’s opening game.

Second-half rushing surge

Alabama returned to its bread and butter in the second half, pounding the ball up the middle with T.J. Yeldon and Derrick Henry, who combined for 152 yards in the final 30 minutes. Alabama rushed for 109 yards between the tackles in the second half against West Virginia, slightly better than the 106 yards per game the school averaged on such rushes last season.

Yeldon and Henry each rushed for over 100 yards in this game, the first time those two rushed for 100 yards in the same game. Alabama only had two games last year in which it had two rushers crack the century mark.

Sims keeps it simple
Blake Sims completed 73 percent of his passes in his first career start for Alabama. Offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin kept the game plan simple, with just four of Sims' 33 pass attempts traveling 15 or more yards downfield.

Sims also relied heavily on Amari Cooper. He was 12 of 15 for 130 yards when targeting Amari Cooper and 12 of 18 for 120 yards when targeting everyone else.

Unlikely defensive struggles for Alabama
West Virginia's Clint Trickett threw for 365 yards against Alabama, the third-most passing yards allowed by the Tide in the Nick Saban era and over double what it allowed per game last season (180.3 yards). The only quarterback to throw for more yards against a Nick Saban-coached Alabama team was Texas A&M's Johnny Manziel, who threw for 464 yards against the Tide last season. Big plays also hurt Alabama as the Mountaineers had 17 completions of 10 yards or more, the most the Tide allowed since the 2009 Sugar Bowl.


Top Stats to Know: Hackenburg & Barrett

August, 30, 2014
Aug 30
The first Saturday of the college football season saw a record-setting day in Ireland and an impressive debut in Columbus. Here’s a look at what you need to know from Saturday’s early games…

J.T. Barrett & Ohio State struggle early, rebound late to win vs Navy
Ohio State trailed Navy late in the 3rd quarter, but outscored the Midshipmen 21-3 down the stretch to secure the win. A big reason was J.T. Barrett who completed all four of his passes in the second half including a pair of touchdowns.

In the first half, Barrett threw no touchdowns and an interception with only 96 passing yards as he posted a 30.4 QBR. His big second half saw him post a QBR of 99.9 which is the highest possible number a quarterback can get.

Christian Hackenburg sets a Penn State record
Last year’s Big Ten Freshman of the Year Christian Hackenberg became the first player in Penn State history to throw for at least 400 yards in a single game as he and the Nittany Lions defeated UCF at Croke Park in Dublin, Ireland.

Geno Lewis (173) and DaeSean Hamilton (165) each posted 100-yard receiving games. It was the first time Penn State had multiple receivers with at least 100 yards receiving in the same game since November 22, 2008 vs. Michigan State (Deon Butler and Jordan Norwood).

Devin Gardner’s big day paces Wolverines revenge
Michigan’s Devin Gardner attempted only 14 passes in the win, but he completed 13 of them including three touchdown passes to TE Devin Funchess. Gardner’s 92.9% completion percentage was the second-highest in Michigan history by a player with at least 10 attempts. Michigan fans have to hope Gardner’s career finishes better than the man who owns that record – Tate Forcier.

All three Funchess touchdowns in Saturday’s win came in the first half making him the first Wolverine to do that since Mario Manningham at Notre Dame in 2006.

Note to FBS schools – Stop scheduling North Dakota State

North Dakota State – three-time reigning FCS champion and No. 1 in the preseason FCS coaches poll – routed Iowa State in Ames, 34-14. It’s the second straight year that Iowa State lost to an FCS opponent (2013 vs N. Iowa) and the fifth straight year NDSU knocked off an FBS foe with all five wins coming on the road.



Top stats to know: Hill's epic debut

August, 28, 2014
Aug 28
The precedent has been set for Texas A&M to do big things in 2014.
Kenny Hill made Texas A&M fans turn the page from Johnny Manziel with a debut to remember on Thursday night.

Hill completed 44 passes for 511 yards, both school records. Texas A&M gained 680 yards, the most by any team against South Carolina in school history as it ended the Gamecocks' 18-game home winning streak. The 52 points A&M scored are also the most ever scored by a road team against a Steve Spurrier-coached team and fourth-most overall.

We take you inside the numbers on this record-setting night in Columbia.

Don’t blitz
South Carolina attempted to blitz Hill on over 40 percent of his dropbacks on Thursday night, but Hill was not rattled by the pressure. He completed 72 percent of his passes and threw two touchdowns when facing added pressure compared to 74 percent and one touchdown against no blitz.

Johnny who?
Hill’s debut far surpassed Manziel’s debut against Florida in 2012. Manziel passed for 173 yards and no touchdowns in a 20-17 loss. Manziel did rush for 60 yards and a touchdown in that game.

Catch and run
The Aggies gained 278 of their 511 passing yards after the catch Thursday, including 106 by Malcome Kennedy. Last season, Texas A&M averaged an SEC-high 179.8 yards after the catch per game.

Curtains for South Carolina?
Despite tonight’s big loss for the Gamecocks, their season is far from over. Four teams have reached the SEC championship game after losing their season opener and six teams have done so after losing their SEC opener.

The most recent team to do both was Georgia in 2011, which reached the SEC title game after losing its opener to Boise State and its SEC opener to South Carolina.



How will life after Manziel & Clowney go?

August, 28, 2014
Aug 28
In two years with Johnny Manziel, no SEC team accumulated more yards than Texas A&M. In three years with Jadeveon Clowney, no SEC team forced more turnovers than South Carolina. With both stars having left for the NFL, both sides have a lot of questions to answer this season, starting in tonight’s season opener in Columbia (6 ET on SEC Network).

Texas A&M’s Offense: Life after Manziel
A youth movement is underway in College Station, as the Aggies replace three first-round draft picks: Johnny Manziel, Mike Evans and Jake Matthews. But through Kevin Sumlin’s recruiting and offensive track record, Texas A&M’s offense should remain very talented and dangerous.

Sophomore quarterback Kenny Hill was just a three-star recruit, but so was the man he is replacing, Manziel. In very limited time last season, Hill was effective, completing 16 of 22 passes for 183 yards and a touchdown in parts of four games. He also offers mobility, rushing for 37 yards on six carries.

Hill will be surrounded by young talent in the skill positions and experience up front. In the last three recruiting classes, Texas A&M signed 10 offensive players ranked in the top 100 of the ESPN 300. Only Alabama signed more players in that span.

And despite losing back-to-back top-six draft picks at offensive tackle, the Aggies return four offensive line starters, including tackle Cedric Ogbuehi, who is the second-ranked player on Mel Kiper’s 2015 Big Board.

But Aggies fans' best reason for optimism is Sumlin’s offensive track record. Since he took the Houston job in 2008, his teams have finished in the top 11 in total offense every season. Including his career as Oklahoma offensive coordinator, he has started five freshmen or sophomores at quarterback, and three finished in the top seven in QBR in FBS.

South Carolina’s Defense: Life after Clowney
Just as Texas A&M loses the face of its offense, South Carolina’s defense loses its most well-known star in Clowney. The top pick in the NFL draft was not as productive last season, recording just three sacks. But a closer look at the numbers shows the impact he and the rest of the defensive line had, and how it may be difficult for South Carolina to replace.

Clowney said last offseason that opposing quarterbacks were scared of him, and the numbers support that. South Carolina’s defense allowed an SEC-low 21.9 QBR, largely due to forcing 30 turnovers. Quarterbacks also averaged just 6.2 air yards per pass attempt against the Gamecocks, shortest among Power 5 conference teams.

However, despite Clowney’s presence, South Carolina’s defense has actually trended down. Each of the past two seasons, it has allowed more yards per game and per play than the year prior. Last year, the Gamecocks allowed 5.5 yards per play, ninth in the SEC.

For South Carolina to not fall off without Clowney and company, it must prove that it can either continue to force turnovers at a similar rate or that it can slow offenses down without them.


SEC leads tight race in Power Rankings

August, 25, 2014
Aug 25

Joe Faraoni/ESPN ImagesWith a new college football postseason format comes a new trophy for the national champion
With the dawn of the college football playoff, conference strength will be examined more closely than ever before.

As the selection committee has noted, strength of schedule will be a factor in their decision making process. That means that both out-of-conference and in-conference schedules will be examined.

Tom Osborne, former Nebraska coach and a member of the selection committee, noted, “A lot of teams are going to be at the mercy of the strength of their conference.”

After all, at least one of the Power Five conferences will not have a team selected into the playoff.

Given the increased importance of conference strength, it is time to bring back ESPN Stats & Information’s conference power rankings.

What are the Conference Power Rankings?
Over the past few years ESPN Stats & Information has published weekly rankings of the FBS conferences during the college football season. The formula was originally crafted by then-Analytics Specialist Albert Larcada and has been adapted over the years.

In 2014, the formula is an equal blend of the rankings from the AP Poll (including the others receiving votes section) and ESPN's Football Power Index (FPI).

The AP Poll will not only add a human element to the rankings, but it will also measure the relative strength of the top schools in each conference. Conversely, the Football Power Index will measure the relative strength of every team in the country to determine conference power from top to bottom. For more information on FPI, click here.

The AP Poll and FPI will be weighed equally and the results will be calculated on a 0-100 scale in order to determine the best and worst conferences in the FBS.

SEC Leads Preseason Rankings
It should not be surprising that the SEC leads the conference power rankings after finishing at the top of these rankings in all four years of their existence.

The SEC begins the season with eight teams ranked in the preseason AP Poll, including five teams ranked in the top 13.

After having the most players selected in the NFL Draft for an eighth straight year, the SEC is ready to reload with more ESPN 300 players signed in the past two years (235) than the next two conferences combined.

However, the Pac-12 is gaining ground. After finishing last year in a distant second (14.1 point differential), the Pac-12 begins the 2014 season just 4.1 points behind the SEC as the top conference in the FBS.

USA TODAY SportsHeisman hopefuls Marcus Mariota (left) and Brett Hundley (right)

A lot of the Pac-12’s strength is based on the projected strength of its offenses. Ten of 12 starting quarterbacks from the Pac-12 return in 2014, including Heisman favorites Marcus Mariota and Brett Hundley.

In comparison, only six of the SEC’s 14 starting quarterbacks from a year ago return, which leaves gaping holes for top teams such as Alabama, Georgia, LSU and Texas A&M.

Some believe that this is the first time in years that the Pac-12 makes a legitimate run at the SEC for the top conference in the nation.

Elsewhere in the rankings, the Big 12 comes in as the third-best conference in the country, largely because of its depth in comparison to the Big Ten and ACC.

Many would expect the Big Ten to slide in the rankings after the news of Braxton Miller's injury. The conference actually did not take too big of a hit because Ohio State remained in the top 15 in FPI even when accounting for its new starting quarterback.

However, the component of these rankings that measures the AP Poll remained unchanged. To give an idea of what a drop in the AP Poll would mean: if Ohio State falls to 10th in the AP Poll, the Big Ten would lose an additional three points in the conference power rankings.

Among Power Five conferences, the ACC is considered the weakest by both the AP Poll and FPI. That means that if the top four conferences place a team in the playoff, it would leave the ACC on the outside looking in. Yet, there is a lot more that goes into those decisions, including the fact that the ACC has the clear No. 1 team in the country. Florida State received 57 of 60 first place votes in the AP Poll and has by far the best chance (39 percent) to finish the season undefeated according to ESPN’s Football Power Index.

However, what if Florida State loses a conference game? Does the relative strength of the ACC come into play? Similarly, what if Marshall from Conference USA or Houston from the American Athletic Conference finish the season undefeated? Does the fact that they played in weaker conferences exclude them from the playoff?

All of these questions may arise throughout the season. Stay tuned after an exciting Week 1 of non-conference matchups that could significantly impact the conference power rankings going forward.

What does Leonard Fournette bring to LSU?

August, 21, 2014
Aug 21

AP Photo/Gerald HerbertLeonard Fournette ran for 7,619 yards and scored 88 rushing TDs in his high school career
In January, LSU landed the top recruit in the ESPN 300, running back Leonard Fournette. The New Orleans product was the first running back to top our rankings since Joe McKnight in 2007.

Fournette should be relied upon right away after the team lost lead back Jeremy Hill, who was drafted in the second round of the 2014 NFL Draft by Cincinnati. Last season Hill ran for 1,401 yards while averaging a school-record 6.9 yards per carry (minimum 200 carries). However, given Fournette’s size, speed and pedigree, he should be able to step right in to fill Hill’s role, even as a true freshman.

Examining Fournette’s Role
Fournette’s upside was described this way by “If he can land in a downhill, two-back offense, we see big-time production at the next level.”

If that description is accurate, Fournette landed in the right place. No BCS-AQ (automatic qualifying) team ran more often in a two-back set than LSU last season.

LSU was also fourth among BCS-AQ teams in rushing yards between the tackles (136.4 yards per game).

Hill excelled in LSU’s downhill running scheme. He led all BCS-AQ backs, averaging 105.9 yards per game in two-back sets, and his average of 7.9 yards per carry between the tackles led BCS-AQ backs (minimum 50 carries).

With Hill gone, 203 carries have been freed up, with Fournette expected to take the majority of them. Physically, the two are very similar. At 6-foot-1, 230 pounds, the freshman is listed at one inch shorter and six pounds lighter than Hill. Yet Fournette has elite speed to go with that size. Last year, he ran a 10.68-second 100-meter dash to win Louisiana’s 4A regional title.

How Successful Can He Be?
Fournette will have help in the trenches. LSU returns four starters from an offensive line that carved big holes up the middle. Last season, the Tigers’ average of 3.9 yards before contact per carry on designed runs between the tackles was second-best among BCS-AQ teams.

Les Miles isn’t afraid to use freshmen running backs either. Two years ago, Hill led the team in rushing and set a school freshman record in touchdowns with 12. As the schedule got tougher, Miles rode his freshman more. In LSU’s last seven games – five against ranked opponents - Hill averaged 19.5 carries per game.

LSU did not sign a single running back in last year’s recruiting class primarily because of its pursuit of Fournette, so the Tigers should ride their freshman heavily. Over the last two seasons, four different SEC freshmen have rushed for 1,000 yards.

Only one Tiger freshman has rushed for 1,000 yards in a season, Justin Vincent in 2003. That year, Vincent was named most valuable player of LSU’s BCS Championship Game victory over Oklahoma. LSU hopes that Fournette can have a similar impact this season.

"We decided not to take a tailback," LSU head coach Les Miles said at his signing day press conference in February. "We will need a great one, one of those guys who has great speed, and ball skills and can run with power, and I'm thinking of him right now."

How Miller's injury impacts Ohio State

August, 19, 2014
Aug 19

Greg Bartram/USA TODAY SportsOhio State will have a huge void to fill with QB Braxton Miller out for the season.
ESPN and media reports indicate that Ohio State quarterback Braxton Miller is out for the 2014 season after re-injuring his right shoulder in practice Monday.

Miller was one of several early favorites to win the Heisman Trophy. He was tied for third with Georgia running back Todd Gurley on the most current Heisman Watch on behind only Marcus Mariota and Jameis Winston.

How valuable was Miller?
Miller was the only Big Ten quarterback to rank in the top 35 in Total QBR last season (he ranked 13th). He had the seventh-highest QBR among returning FBS quarterbacks (91.3).

Miller has been among the elite rushing quarterbacks in FBS over the past two seasons. His 2,339 rushing yards ranked second in FBS (Jordan Lynch of Northern Illinois ranked first with 3,735 yards), nearly 200 yards more than Johnny Manziel in that same time.

A knee injury in Week 2 against San Diego State hindered Miller early in the season, but he averaged 131.6 rushing yards per game in the last five games.

Miller improved incrementally as a passer from 2011 to 2013 as the chart on the right shows.

He led the Big Ten in touchdown passes and ranked second in completion percentage and yards per attempt.

Miller and Drew Brees are the only players to win Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year multiple times.

Potential replacements
Senior backup Kenny Guiton graduated after last season, leaving Ohio State without an experienced backup behind Miller.

Redshirt freshman J.T. Barrett is listed as the team’s top backup. He was a four-star recruit in the Class of 2013, and was ranked the No. 11 dual-threat quarterback in that class.

Barrett’s senior season in high school was cut short by a torn ACL.

Redshirt sophomore Cardale Jones (two career pass attempts, both against Purdue) is the only quarterback other than Miller on the Ohio State roster who has attempted a pass in an FBS game.

Jones has played a total of 39 snaps against three opponents (Florida A&M, Penn State and Purdue).

Other losses
Losing Miller would be one extra thing the Buckeyes' offense will need to replace.

The team is dealing with a near total makeover up front.

Gone are second-team All-American left tackle Jack Mewhort, first-team Big Ten center Corey Linsley, first-team Big Ten left guard Andrew Norwell and right guard Marcus Hall.

The Buckeyes' backfield stud, Carlos Hyde, is also gone. He was a second-round draft pick by the 49ers.

Hyde had a little more than 138 rushing yards per game, which was fifth in FBS last season. Over 57 percent of his rushes went for five or more yards, second best in FBS.

Miller was already looking for a new favorite weapon. Corey Brown led Ohio State in every major receiving category last season.

His 63 catches, 771 yards and 10 touchdowns were all best on the team. He was targeted 87 times in 2013, 14 more than any other wideout.

Ohio State’s schedule
Ohio State was favored in each game in the ESPN Football Power Index, with only one of its 12 opponents ranked in the preseason AP Top 25 (at Michigan State).

Before Miller’s injury, FPI projected the Buckeyes with a 41 percent chance to win the Big Ten, nearly twice as likely as the next-closest team (Wisconsin, 22 percent).

Top 10 rank does not portend playoff spot

August, 17, 2014
Aug 17
There were no surprises near the top of the AP preseason college football poll. It’s the same group of teams we’ve been discussing on the Internet and the airwaves for at least the last six months.

So now is a good time for a history lesson.

As much as we may have convinced ourselves that the top teams in this poll will probably still be there at the end of the season, recent years tell us otherwise. If you look at the AP’s top four teams to end the regular season – because those would theoretically have been the picks of a selection committee – more of them since 2007 came from outside the preseason top 10 than from within it.

In fact, there has been only one year in the last seven (2011) in which more than two of the preseason top-10 teams finished the regular season ranked in the top four.

Taking it a step further, over the last two seasons, three of the eight teams to finish the regular season in the AP top four were unranked in the preseason poll; only two of the eight were ranked in the preseason top 10 (Alabama in 2012 and 2013).

So take another look at the current preseason top 10 and try to imagine only one of those teams reaching the inaugural College Football Playoff.

Recent history is telling us that’s more likely than three of them making it.

This bodes well for among others, No. 18 Michigan, which we've noted in this piece, could get off to a hot start this season.
And if you believe in unlucky numbers, here’s a trend to give any Oregon fan nightmares. In the 16-year BCS era, the preseason No. 3 team in the AP poll never finished the regular season ranked in the top four. But Florida State fans shouldn’t rest easily either. Only once in the last seven years has the AP preseason No. 1 team been in the top four to finish the regular season (Alabama in 2013).


Winston has tough road for Heisman repeat

August, 12, 2014
Aug 12

Kelly Kline/Getty ImagesJameis Winston was the third Florida State player to win the Heisman Trophy.
Jameis Winston won the Heisman Trophy in dominant fashion a year ago, winning by the fifth-largest margin in terms of percentage points in the last 50 years (32 percent).

Winston -- entering his sophomore season of eligibility -- is the odds-on favorite to win again in 2014.

Repeating is rare
There have been 13 players who returned to college football the year after winning the Heisman Trophy, and only one -- Archie Griffin in 1975 -- was able to repeat.

Billy Sims in 1979 finished second, while Tim Tebow (2008), Matt Leinart (2005), Jason White (2004), Ty Detmer (1991) and Doak Walker (1949) all finished third in the voting.

The issue for many of these players is that they were unable to replicate or improve their production and team success from their Heisman-winning seasons.

Of those 13 Heisman winners who came back to school, two (Leinart and Walker) accounted for more yards of total offense in the season after winning the award. On average, these players accounted for almost 650 fewer yards of total offense the next year.

Similarly, only Tebow in 2008 and Griffin in 1975 played on teams that increased their win total the season after the player won the Heisman (three others matched their win total). On average, repeat Heisman winners lost 1½ more games the year after winning the award.

Decline of overall production
Winston set national freshman records in passing yards (4,057) and passing touchdowns (40), but these numbers may be difficult to replicate considering the talent that he lost on offense.

A lot of Winston’s success last season was predicated on his deep ball; he gained more yards on passes traveling 15 yards or longer than any other AQ quarterback.

This season, Winston will be without his top two deep threats from 2013, Kelvin Benjamin and Kenny Shaw, who both moved onto the NFL.

Without these players, Winston will have to rely on Rashad Greene and an inexperienced group of receivers and running backs to match his production from a season ago.

Undefeated or bust for Florida State
Florida State should enter the 2014 season as the preseason favorite in The Associated Press poll (the Seminoles are No. 1 in the Coaches Poll), and anything but perfection may be seen as a failure in the eyes of Heisman voters.

Since 1980, only two teams that were ranked preseason No. 1 in the AP poll finished the season undefeated, the last being USC in 2004.

That group of preseason favorites averaged two losses and had an average final rank of sixth in the AP Poll.

Duplicating its undefeated season may be difficult for Florida State because of a tougher nonconference schedule.

The Seminoles have added Oklahoma State and Notre Dame this year, in place of Nevada and Idaho. Additionally, they should face an improved Florida team in their final regular-season game.

Petty will be challenged to stay among best

August, 8, 2014
Aug 8

Ronald Martinez/Getty ImagesBryce Petty helped lead Baylor last year to the most PPG (52.4) since Houston averaged 53.5 in 1989.
Jameis Winston, Marcus Mariota, Brett Hundley and Bryce Petty are all being talked about as potential first-round NFL draft picks, while Braxton Miller and Everett Golson have the chance to solidify their places in their respective school’s storied histories.

In preparation for the 2014 season, and in conjunction with interviews conducted by ESPN CFB analyst Kirk Herbstreit, ESPN Stats & Info will take a deeper look at the top QBs entering the fall. Today we examine Baylor's Bryce Petty.

A Look Back at 2013
In his first season as Baylor’s starting quarterback, Petty led the Bears to a school-record 11 wins, their first Big 12 Championship and first outright league championship since they won the 1980 Southwest Conference title.

Petty was the central piece in the Bears’ hurry-up offense, which averaged 52.4 points per game last season, the most since Houston averaged 53.5 in 1989.

Petty recorded stats comparable to those of fellow Baylor quarterback Robert Griffin III in his Heisman Trophy-winning season.

One thing that set Griffin apart from his competitors in 2011 was his success with the deep ball. RG III led AQ quarterbacks in touchdowns on passes thrown 20 yards or longer (21) with two interceptions. Petty also led AQ quarterbacks on such passes in 2013 (18) with just one interception.

With such high numbers, it’s not surprising that Petty threw for at least 200 yards and two touchdowns in every game last season. No other quarterback from a Power Five conference has accomplished that feat in at least 10 seasons.

A Look Ahead to 2014
The Bears’ one regular-season loss in 2013 produces a big question about their chances this season.

Through its first seven games, Baylor was on pace to break FBS records for points (56.0) and yards (624.9) per game, which were set by Army in 1944 and Houston in 1989, respectively.

However, the Bears did not play one team ranked in the top 25 in defensive efficiency in those games. Oklahoma finished the season 21st in defensive efficiency, sacked Petty three times (including a safety) and held him to 50 percent passing. But the Bears still managed a 41-12 win over the Sooners in Baylor’s eighth game.

Baylor faced an even tougher test Nov. 23 in Stillwater against Oklahoma State, which finished the season fourth in defensive efficiency and served Petty and the Bears their only loss, 49-17, during the regular season.

But in 2014, Baylor will face four top 25 defenses, according to ESPN’s Efficiency Rankings: Oklahoma (4), TCU (5), Oklahoma State (15) and Texas (22).

According to ESPN’s Football Power Index (FPI), Baylor has the sixth-best chance of all FBS teams to go undefeated, at 5.3 percent, and the second-best chance in the Big 12 (Oklahoma has a 6.2 percent chance).

If Petty can lead Baylor to a second consecutive Big 12 title, he could end up in the Heisman race as well as the inaugural College Football Playoff. It will likely come down to Week 11 when Baylor faces Oklahoma in Norman.

Golson returns, brings winning history

August, 7, 2014
Aug 7
AP Photo/Joe Raymond
Everett Golson is back at the helm for Notre Dame.
The 2014 college football season has the potential to showcase one of the most talented groups of quarterbacks in recent memory. Jameis Winston, Marcus Mariota, Brett Hundley and Bryce Petty are all being talked about as potential first-round NFL draft picks, while Braxton Miller and Everett Golson have the chance to solidify their places in their respective school’s storied histories.

In preparation for the season, and in conjunction with interviews conducted by ESPN college football analyst Kirk Herbstreit, ESPN Stats & Information will take a deeper look at the top QBs entering the fall. With Everett Golson returning for the 2014 season, here are the stats to know regarding the Notre Dame quarterback.

He's a winner
Golson is 10-1 as a starter with the loss coming against Alabama in the BCS Championship. In the past four seasons, only two other quarterbacks (Winston and Mariota) had at least 10 wins as a starter in their first 11 career games. Note: Golson did not start in Notre Dame’s 41-3 win against Miami (FL), but he did take almost two-thirds of the snaps.

Golson won, but he was not the focus
Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly recently said, “I would argue that Everett rode the bus to the championship,” when asked how Golson could not be the obvious starter, given that he took a team to the BCS title game.

Kelly does have a point. The 2012 Notre Dame team led the FBS in scoring defense (10.3 PPG) during the regular season. Golson, on the other hand, finished the 2012 season tied for 86th in touchdown passes (12), 73rd in passing yards (2,405) and 36th in Total QBR (67.2). In addition, Golson was subbed out in the fourth quarter with his team trailing in the final minutes of two games (Purdue and Stanford). In both games, Tommy Rees was able to rally Notre Dame to a victory, keeping the Fighting Irish’s undefeated season alive.

Golson got better as the season went on
Golson increased his Total QBR in every month during his sophomore season, and his 80.0 Total QBR after Nov. 1 ranked in the top 20 of the FBS. One reason for his improvement was that he got better in the pocket. Golson threw four touchdown passes from the pocket in his last four games, after having two in the first eight games.

Golson also improved his downfield passing. He completed 35 passes thrown 10 yards or longer in the last four games of the season, matching his total from his first eight games.

Golson adds a running threat
Golson had 220 rushing yards on scrambles and averaged 7.6 yards per attempt. Rees had a total of 5 rushing yards on scrambles the past two seasons. Golson also had six passing touchdowns on throws from outside the pocket, twice as many as Rees during the past two seasons.

How much can we expect Golson to improve this season?
On average, a player’s QBR increases about 7.5 points between his first and second seasons as a starter. Even the top players generally have their QBRs rise in their second seasons. Golson had a 67.2 Total QBR during his sophomore season. If he had increased his QBR by 7.5 points last season, he would have ranked 26th in the FBS.

Hundley leads Pac-12 South favorites

August, 6, 2014
Aug 6
Charles Baus/CSM
Brett Hundley causes problems for opponents with his arm and his legs.
The 2014 college football season has the potential to showcase one of the most talented groups of quarterbacks in recent memory. Jameis Winston, Marcus Mariota, Brett Hundley and Bryce Petty are all being talked about as potential first-round NFL Draft picks, while Braxton Miller and Everett Golson have the chance to solidify their place in their respective school’s storied histories.

In preparation for the 2014 season, and in conjunction with interviews conducted by ESPN CFB analyst Kirk Herbstreit, ESPN Stats & Info will take a deeper look at the top QBs entering the fall. Today, we take a look at Hundley.

A Look Back at 2013
Hundley led UCLA to its first 10-win season since 2005 behind efficiency on the ground and in the air. Hundley was one of seven FBS quarterbacks who led their respective teams in passing and rushing last season as he combined for 3,819 total yards.

Hundley improved his passing efficiency by increasing his completion percentage, yards per attempt and third-down conversion percentage. His Total QBR rank jumped from 40th to 11th from his freshman to sophomore seasons.

Hundley also improved his rushing efficiency, particularly by cutting down on sacks. Hundley was sacked 35 times in 2013, which put him among the top five most-sacked quarterbacks. This was better than his freshman season in 2012, when he was sacked 52 times, 13 more than any other player in the nation.

Hundley has shown an ability to make plays with his legs, which may not be clear when looking at his sack numbers. When protection broke down, Hundley gained the most scramble yards over the last two seasons of all returning Power Five Conference quarterbacks (879).

All of Hundley’s improvements culminated at the Sun Bowl, when he accounted for four touchdowns and was named the Most Valuable Player in the Bruins’ blowout victory over Virginia Tech. Hundley rushed for 161 yards and two scores on 10 carries against a Hokies defense that allowed the sixth-fewest yards per attempt in the nation (3.0) heading into the Sun Bowl.

A Look Ahead to 2014
The Bruins’ offense returns four starters along the offensive line. This experience and stability should improve protection for Hundley and lead to fewer sacks this season. UCLA has allowed the fourth-most sacks in the nation (88) since the start of the 2012 season.

Tailback Jordon James returns after an injury-shortened season in 2013, which should take pressure off Hundley to be the primary ball carrier. Hundley was forced to carry the load rushing after an injury to James. Hundley finished last season leading the team in carries (160) and yards (748).

Devin Fuller will look to fill the void left by Shaquelle Evans, Hundley’s favorite target from a year ago. Evans led the team in targets, receiving yards, touchdowns, and first downs. Fuller is the most accomplished returner among Hundley’s projected targets.

One specific area in the passing game in which Hundley can improve is downfield passing. This becomes more clear when we look at how successful he was in the short passing game. On throws traveling less than 15 yards through the air, Hundley led the Pac-12 in completion percentage (73.0), yards per attempt (7.6) and 20-yard plays (24).

If everything comes together for Hundley and UCLA they could contend for the Pac-12 Championship and possibly a spot in the College Football Playoff.

Ohio State's Braxton Miller back for 2014

August, 5, 2014
Aug 5
Jonathan Daniel/Getty ImagesBraxton Miller could become Ohio State's winningest quarterback since 1960.
The 2014 college football season has the potential to showcase one of the most talented groups of quarterbacks in recent memory. Jameis Winston, Marcus Mariota, Brett Hundley and Bryce Petty are all being talked about as potential first-round NFL draft picks, while Braxton Miller and Everett Golson have the chance to solidify their place in their respective school’s storied histories.

In preparation for the 2014 season and in conjunction with interviews conducted by ESPN CFB analyst Kirk Herbstreit, ESPN Stats & Info will take a deeper look at the top QBs entering the fall. Today, we take a look at Ohio State quarterback Braxton Miller.

A look back at 2013
Braxton Miller had an outstanding junior season, becoming the first player in Big Ten history (since 1990 when the award was first given) to win the Offensive Player of the Year award in consecutive seasons. He was the only Power Five conference quarterback to throw for at least 2,000 yards and rush for 1,000 yards last year. If Miller can accomplish that feat again, he will join Colin Kaepernick and become the second FBS quarterback in the past 10 years to reach those thresholds in three seasons.

Miller has rushed for at least 100 yards in 14 games since the start of 2011, second most among FBS quarterbacks. He had five such games last season, which tied for fourth among FBS quarterbacks. Miller has always been a prolific rusher, but he’s also improved as a passer every year at Ohio State. Miller’s completion percentage, passing yards and touchdowns have increased every season.

He was more willing to operate from the pocket last year. He attempted 85 percent of his passes from the pocket, nearly 20 percentage points higher than in 2012. His 19 touchdown passes from inside the pocket were tied for the most in the Big Ten with Indiana’s Nate Sudfeld and Penn State’s Christian Hackenberg.

A look ahead to 2014
With another 11-win season, Miller will pass Art Schlichter for the most wins (36) on record at Ohio State (the school first kept such records in 1960). Assuming Miller stays healthy, he has a good chance of passing Schlichter.

According to the ESPN Football Power Index, Ohio State has the best chance (41 percent) of winning the Big Ten, nearly 20 percentage points better than Wisconsin, and is projected for between 10 and 11 wins heading into bowl season. The Buckeyes have won 24 consecutive regular-season games, four shy of tying the Big Ten conference record.

The Buckeyes have big shoes to fill. They must replace six of 11 starters on offense, including league-leading rusher Carlos Hyde and four starters from an offensive line that combined for 135 starts.

Miller might have to shoulder more of the load. In the past, he has stepped up when his team needed him. Miller enters 2014 with six career game-winning drives in the fourth quarter or overtime, including three last season. The six career game-winning drives are the most among returning FBS quarterbacks and five more than any other returning quarterback in the Big Ten.

One area in which Miller needs to get better is on third down. He ranked in the bottom third of the FBS in Total QBR (47.1) and completion percentage (50.9) on third down. Only Michigan’s Devin Gardner and Purdue’s Danny Etling were sacked more on third down than Miller (12) among Big Ten quarterbacks. Only two of the past 10 national championship quarterbacks have had a third-down QBR less than 70 in the season they won the title.