Stats & Info: NCF

College football: Midyear disappointments

October, 21, 2014
Oct 21

Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images
Stanford leads a trio of disappointing teams heading into the second half of the season.
The Stanford Cardinal and South Carolina Gamecocks have fallen out of the AP Poll after starting the season in the top 15. The Michigan Wolverines did not start the season in the AP Poll, but they are 1-4 against Power Five opponents and are 17 point underdogs against instate rivals, the Michigan State Spartans.

Why I have these teams not lived up to expectations?

Stanford: running game/protecting QB

Stanford is allowing the second-fewest points per game (12.3) in the FBS this season. Yet, it has lost three games, tied for its most in four seasons under David Shaw.

One reason has been the running game. The Cardinal rank 92nd in the FBS in rushing yards per game and have not rushed for 200 or more yards in a game this season. Last season, they had six such games. Their efficiency on running plays (-2.5), which measures how many net points per game their running game contributes to their final scoring margin, ranks 109th in the FBS. They were 31st last season.

Stanford has struggled protecting Kevin Hogan. He has been sacked 14 times in seven games, matching his total from 14 games last season. All but three of the sacks have come when opponents have sent five or more pass rushers on a play. That is one more sack against the blitz than Hogan suffered in his first two seasons combined.

Michigan: offense

Michigan has been solid on defense. It ranks 14th in the FBS in yards per play and fifth in yards per rush. Yet, in five games against other Power Five teams, Michigan has been outscored by an average of 12 points per game.

The offense has been the main reason. According to ESPN’s efficiency rankings, the Wolverines offense has contributed -2.7 points per game toward their scoring margin, 92nd-best in the FBS.

Turnovers have been the main culprit. Michigan has 16 turnovers, tied for fourth-most in the FBS. The Wolverines have allowed at least three points off turnovers in every game and only Illinois (7.9) has allowed more per game (7.3) in the Big Ten.

Another issue has been production in the passing game. Michigan has thrown the most interceptions in the Big Ten and has the second-fewest touchdown passes. Three of its six passing touchdowns came in the season-opener against Appalachian State. The Wolverines rank 112th in the FBS in efficiency on passing plays. Meaning, given the same circumstances (down, distance, yard line) that Michigan passed on, the average FBS team would have scored about five more points per game than Michigan scored on its passes this season.

South Carolina: defense

Entering the season, ESPN’s Football Power Index projected that South Carolina had the best chance to win the SEC East and the second-best chance to win the SEC. These projections were partly based on a defense that was historically efficient and had recruited to replace stars such as Jadeveon Clowney and Kelcy Quarles.

Replacing those players, however, has not come easy. South Carolina ranks last in the SEC in defensive efficiency, which measures the points a defense contributes to the team’s scoring margin and adjusts for the offenses faced.

South Carolina has struggled getting pressure on opposing quarterbacks. The Gamecocks have recorded a sack on 3.3 percent of their opponents’ passing plays, almost two percentage points lower than any other SEC team. They are on pace to record their fewest sacks in a season since 2004, when they recorded 12 sacks in 11 games.

Big plays have also been an issue for South Carolina. The Gamecocks have allowed the most plays of 20 yards or longer (37) in the SEC and are the only team in the conference that has allowed 20 such passes and 10 such runs.

By The Numbers: College Football Playoff

October, 21, 2014
Oct 21

Joe Faraoni/ESPN ImagesThe quest for the College Football Playoff National Championship Trophy is well underway.
Using ESPN’s Football Power Index (FPI) to project the rest of the season, let’s take the College Football Playoff by the numbers:

1. There is a 61 percent chance that every Power 5 team will have at least ONE loss entering bowls.

2. There cannot be more than TWO undefeated teams from a Power 5 conference prior to the playoff selection (Ole Miss plays Mississippi State in the Egg Bowl on Nov. 29).

3. The Pac-12 is the most likely conference (34 percent) to have a champion with THREE or more losses.

4. There are FOUR remaining undefeated teams -- Florida State, Mississippi State, Ole Miss and Conference USA's Marshall. FPI projects that Marshall is the most likely team to win out (57 percent chance) and Mississippi State is the least likely (4.4 percent chance).

5. The SEC currently has FIVE teams with one loss or fewer, the most of any conference. There is a 26 percent chance that every team in the SEC will have at least two losses entering bowls.

6. Right now there are SIX teams -- the four undefeated teams, Ohio State and TCU -- with at least a 24 percent chance to finish with one loss or fewer this season.

7. The SEVEN teams in the SEC West have been the most dominant in the country -- going 28-1 against anyone not in the SEC West. The division is about to beat up on each other, however, resulting in a 36 percent chance that all seven teams finish with two or more losses.

Bonus: The most likely outcome (30 percent) is that there will be three Power 5 teams that finish with one or fewer losses. Assuming that Marshall is left out of the playoff, that means a two-loss team will make it. Let the debate begin.

Top stats to know: FSU 31, Notre Dame 27

October, 19, 2014
Oct 19
Jameis Winston remains unbeaten and has top billing on this list.
The Notre DameFlorida State matchup was billed as one of the best games this season.

It lived up to its billing in a big way, and once again, Florida State prevailed.

The teams were never separated by more than one score, and Florida State got the last and decisive score to win 31-27.

The history
Florida State won its school-record 23rd straight game and its sixth in eight meetings with Notre Dame.

Florida State has won three straight games versus AP top-five teams for the first time since 1999-2000.

This was the first time Notre Dame lost a game it entered unbeaten and was playing in the regular season against the defending national champ (4-1-2 in those games all time).

The loss snapped an eight-game Notre Dame winning streak in games decided by six points or fewer.

The Fighting Irish fell to 2-6 all time against Florida State, their worst record against any team they’ve played at least five times.

Winston does it again
After a rather unimpressive first half, Jameis Winston was fantastic in the second half, completing 15 of his 16 pass attempts for 181 yards and a touchdown.

Winston was 2-of-6 on throws of 10 or more yards downfield in the first half, 9-of-9 on those passes in the second half.

Winston improved to 20-0 as a starting quarterback with the win.

That’s the longest win streak to start a career for any FBS quarterback in the past 15 seasons, one better than Alabama’s Greg McElroy.

Lose the yardage battle, win the game
Notre Dame outgained Florida State by 147 yards, the worst yardage margin for Florida State in any game under Jimbo Fisher (since the start of the 2010 season). Losing the yardage game is generally not a recipe for success in college football, but the Seminoles are 3-2 under Fisher when getting outgained by at least 100 yards.

One of the reasons Notre Dame outgained Florida State by so much was the play of quarterback Everett Golson.

Golson had his third game this season with at least 300 passing yards (he’d had only one prior to this season). He threw two touchdowns to Corey Robinson, who’d never had a multi-touchdown game before Saturday.

The Irish offense was slowed in the second half, scoring only three points in the final 22 minutes. Notre Dame had the potential game-winning touchdown wiped out by a penalty in the final seconds.

Golson fell to 16-2 as a starting quarterback. This was the first regular-season loss of Golson’s career.


First to 70: Baylor vs West Virginia

October, 17, 2014
Oct 17

Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images
Bryce Petty (14) leads the No. 4 Baylor Bears into what could be a high-scoring matchup with the West Virginia Mountaineers
Flashback #1: Sept. 29, 2012: The West Virginia Mountaineers, powered by 656 passing yards and eight passing touchdowns, defeated the Baylor Bears 70-63. That game tied the FBS records for combined touchdowns (19) and touchdown passes (13) by two FBS opponents and came three points shy of tying the FBS record for combined points in a game, set by Navy and North Texas in 2007.

Flashback #2: Oct. 5, 2013: Baylor, fueled by 476 rushing yards and eight rushing touchdowns, defeated West Virginia 73-42. The Bears (872 yards) smashed the Big 12 record for yards in a game set by West Virginia in their previous matchup.

When the Bears and Mountaineers meet on Saturday – expect offense.

Baylor scores 70 in its sleep

Including its 73-42 win against West Virginia last season, Baylor has scored at least 70 points in five games since the start of last season. No other FBS team has reached that mark more than once during that time.

This season, the Bears have continued their quick-strike offensive success of seasons past. They have scored an FBS-high 24 touchdowns on drives of 2 minutes or less, including six such touchdowns against a previously formidable TCU defense. Since the start of last season, the Bears have 16 more 2-minute touchdown drives and 17 more 1-minute touchdowns drives than any other FBS team.

The quick touchdown drives are often the result of Baylor’s big plays. The Bears have led the FBS in 30-yard touchdowns in each of the previous three seasons, and they again lead the nation with 15 in 2014. It is one of the reasons Baylor has 72 touchdown drives of three plays or fewer since the start of the 2011 season, 15 more than any other FBS team in the last four seasons.

Many of these touchdowns have come on deep passes from Bryce Petty, who leads the FBS with 11 touchdowns on passes thrown 20 yards or longer. Including six such touchdowns against TCU, Petty has 30 touchdowns and one interception on such throws in his career.

West Virginia’s offense has potential to explode

Like Baylor, West Virginia is one of the fastest teams in the country. The Mountaineers are averaging 20.5 seconds per play (7th in the FBS), and only Baylor is averaging more plays per game.

The Mountaineers rely on quick, short passes that allow their receivers to run after the catch. They lead the Big 12 and rank second among Power Five offenses in yards after the catch per game (212.5).

Clint Trickett, who has improved his Total QBR by 15.2 points this season, leads the West Virginia passing attack. Trickett has faced two ranked opponents this season – Alabama and Oklahoma - and exceeded 350 pass yards against both. No other quarterback has reached that threshold against either team.

Like with Baylor, big plays are a big part of West Virginia’s passing offense. Trickett leads the Big 12 and is tied for seventh in the FBS with 31 completions of 20 yards or more. His primary target, Kevin White, has 14 receptions of this distance, tied for second-most in the FBS.

White leads the FBS in receiving yards per game (148.0) and has the longest active streak of 100-yard receiving games in the nation (6).

Last week, Baylor allowed its most points (58) since allowing 70 points at West Virginia in 2012. Another poor defensive performance by the Bears could result in another high-scoring, exciting game in Morgantown.

First team to 70, wins!

FSU not as dominant in 2014

October, 16, 2014
Oct 16
If there was one word to describe Florida State entering the 2014 BCS National Championship, it was dominant. The Seminoles won every pre-bowl game by at least 14 points, and their average margin of victory (plus-42.3) was on pace to be the highest since Army set the FBS record in 1944 (plus-52.1).

This season, the Seminoles rank 17th in scoring margin (plus-18.3) and have two wins by seven or fewer points. They have trailed in the second half of two games (against Clemson and NC State) after never trailing in the second half in any of their 13 pre-bowl games last season. Florida State’s second-half dominance ended against Auburn in the BCS National Championship, and the Seminoles have continued to play closer games into the 2014 season.

A deeper dive into their lack of dominance
ESPN’s new metric, game control, measures how a team controls its games from start to finish, given its schedule. It uses a concept called average in-game win probability and adjusts for the strength of opponents faced. Heading into its bowl game last season, Florida State had an average in-game win probability of 84 percent across all of its plays, the highest for a Power 5 school in at least the last 10 seasons. The Seminoles’ game control led the FBS by a wide margin in 2013 and was the fourth-highest since 2005.

For a visual of what average in-game win probability captures, below is a chart showing Florida State’s chance of winning against NC State throughout their game in 2013. The Seminoles jumped out to a 35-0 lead in the first quarter and were in control of the game. They had an average in-game win probability of 95 percent throughout all of their plays, the most dominant win in the last five seasons.

Below is the win probability chart for Florida State against NC State in 2014. The Seminoles fell behind 24-7 in the first quarter before taking their first lead late in the third quarter. As you can see, Florida State’s chance of winning was below 50 percent for most of the game, and its average chance to win throughout was 44 percent (meaning they were more likely to lose than win for the majority of the game).

These visuals show the extremes of Florida State’s ups and downs the last two seasons. Game control, however, captures Florida State’s lack of dominance this season as the Seminoles rank just 17th in the nation.

The biggest question is: Why the lack of dominance? Their main issues have come on defense and in the run game.

Florida State loses dominant defense

Florida State lost five starters from a defense that allowed the fewest points per game (12.1) in the FBS. Those starters were not just contributors. All five -- cornerback Lamarcus Joyner, linebacker Christian Jones, defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan, linebacker Telvin Smith and safety Terrence Brooks -- were selected first- or second-team All-ACC last season.

The loss of these defensive leaders, the departure of defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt, and injuries to some defensive starters (such as DT Nile Lawrence-Stample) have resulted in an overall decline in Florida State’s defensive efficiency.

The Seminoles have allowed four of their six opponents to gain at least 350 yards. Only two opponents reached that mark last season.

Third-down defense has been a constant struggle. The Seminoles are allowing their opponents to convert 44 percent of their third-down plays, 94th in the FBS and 12 percentage points higher than last season. Without Jernigan and Lawrence-Stample plugging the middle, they rank 10th in the ACC in percentage of opponents’ third-down rushes that gain a first down.

Running game not the same
Led by Heisman-winning quarterback Jameis Winston, Florida State’s passing game received the bulk of the attention last season. The Seminoles, however, were one of the most balanced offenses in the nation: They were one of three FBS teams that averaged 200 rush yards and 300 pass yards (Baylor and Indiana were the others).

After the Seminoles lost Devonta Freeman and James Wilder Jr., Karlos Williams was supposed to step up as Florida State’s main back. Williams has been injured for part of the season, but when he's played, he has ran for more than 70 yards only once. He did that five times last season when splitting carries with two other backs. As a whole, the team has struggled to run, averaging 138.5 rushing yards per game, second-worst in the ACC.

The main issue for Florida State has been running between the tackles. The Seminoles are averaging 3.6 yards per rush inside the tackles, third-worst in the ACC and 2.6 yards fewer than their average last season, when they ranked second among Power 5 schools.

Can Florida State return to its dominant ways against Notre Dame?
Florida State has shown signs of dominance against its last two opponents, Wake Forest and Syracuse, but Notre Dame is a much tougher test. The good news for the Seminoles is that Notre Dame is the only undefeated team that ranks lower than they do in game control (18th), so the Irish have not been particularly dominant, either. The game could come down to turnovers; Notre Dame has 10 turnovers in its last three games (tied for second-most in the FBS in the last three weeks), and Florida State has forced eight during that time (tied for eighth-most in the FBS).

Is Golson taking too much of the load?

October, 15, 2014
Oct 15

Robin Alam/Icon SportswireEverett Golson has had a lot of pressure on him in 2014.
Everett Golson quarterbacked the Notre Dame Fighting Irish to the national championship game during his freshman season, but few would argue that he was the driving force behind the Irish’s success.

Even Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly downplayed his contributions to that team in his season-opening news conference when he said, “I would argue that Everett rode the bus to the championship.”

Kelly did 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 85th 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 Boilermarkers and Stanford Cardinal). In both games, Tommy Rees rallied Notre Dame to a victory to keep the Fighting Irish’s undefeated season alive.

This year has been a different story. Golson has already been responsible for two more touchdowns (20) than he had all of 2012, and the Irish have relied upon him to pull out victories late in games. Look no further than his game-winning 23-yard touchdown pass with 61 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter against Stanford -- a situation he may have watched from the bench in 2012.

During his year off from football, Golson spent time with quarterback guru George Whitfield to improve his mechanics. The work appears to have paid off. Golson has increased his Total QBR by 8.3 points from 2012, and his two 300-yard passing games this season are one more than he had his freshman season.

One area in which Golson has made strides is with his downfield passing. He is completing 40.7 percent of his passes thrown 20 yards or longer, seven percentage points better than the Power Five average. His five touchdowns on such throws is on pace to more than double his total from 2012.

Too much of a good thing?
He is improved, but is Notre Dame relying on him too much?

Golson has been responsible for 71 percent of Notre Dame’s yards, fifth-most by a Power Five player this season. The four players ahead of Golson are on teams with a combined 10-15 record, and the player who is sixth, Colorado's Sefo Liufau, is on a 2-4 team that has not had a winning record since 2005.

In the previous five seasons, there were 21 Power Five quarterbacks who accounted for at least 70 percent of their team’s offense; only Johnny Manziel in 2012 played for a team that won at least 10 games. The average for those 21 teams was six wins a season. (well, at least they were bowl eligible).

Notre Dame has had to rely on Golson in part because they have struggled to run the ball. The team has run on 49 percent of its plays. Yet, 37 percent of its yards are accrued on the ground, five percentage points lower than the FBS average. Golson is the team’s second-leading rusher and leads the team in rushing touchdowns. His 11 runs of 10 yards or more are five more than any of his teammates. When considering rushes only by running backs, the Irish rank 100th in the FBS in yards per rush (4.2).

The increased workload on Golson has had a downside, despite the Irish’s 6-0 start. Golson has been responsible for nine of Notre Dame’s 11 turnovers this season.

His nine turnovers are tied for fourth-most among Power Five players and his five lost fumbles are more than 73 FBS teams.

The Irish are 11-0 since the start of last season when they have one or fewer turnovers and 4-4 when they have two or more.

Golson will need to protect the ball and get some help on offense if the Irish are going to be the first team to defeat Florida State in the last two seasons.


Mississippi State’s dominance unmatched

October, 14, 2014
Oct 14
Mississippi State became the fifth team in the AP Poll era (since 1936) to win three straight regular-season games against AP Top 10 opponents and the first to do so since Auburn in 1983.

Given that feat, it is not surprising that the Bulldogs lead the nation in Strength of Record, which evaluates how hard it is for an average Top 25 team to achieve a team’s record given its schedule.

According to Strength of Record, an average Top 25 team would have a 6.5 percent chance to go 6-0 against Mississippi State’s schedule.

What makes Mississippi State’s record even more impressive is the way that it has won.

The Bulldogs have had an average in-game win probability of 83 percent this season, including an 87 percent chance to win across all of its plays against Auburn.

Game Control accounts for average in-game win probability and adjusts for the strength of competition faced. Mississippi State leads the nation in Game Control by a wide margin.

That means that adjusting for opponents faced, the Bulldogs have the most impressive W-L mark (Strength of Record) and have controlled its games better than any other team in the country (Game Control).

For more information on Strength of Record and Game Control, click here.


Power rankings: Big 12 solidly second

October, 13, 2014
Oct 13

Tom Pennington/Getty ImagesBryce Petty and kicker Chris Callahan survived TCU. The teams are part of the top-heavy Big 12.
The “hot” debate entering the season was whether the Pac-12 could surpass the SEC as the top conference in the nation. The Big 12 was rarely mentioned as a top conference, however, despite returning the majority of its starting quarterbacks and having two of the top five defenses in ESPN’s preseason defensive efficiency rankings.

Five of the Big 12’s 10 teams are in the top 15 of The Associated Press poll, tied with the SEC (which has 14 teams) for the most top-15 teams in the nation. Baylor, TCU, Oklahoma, Kansas State and Oklahoma State all have one or fewer losses and a legitimate shot at the College Football Playoff.

All of those teams will not finish the season with one loss, but it’s worth noting that two of their losses came in close games against the teams that played for the 2014 BCS National Championship (Auburn defeated Kansas State and Florida State defeated Oklahoma State).

The bottom of the Big 12, however, is not as strong as that of the Pac-12 or SEC. The Big 12’s average FPI ranking, which is designed to measure a conference’s depth, ranks below that of those two conferences.

The SEC remains at the top of the conference power rankings. It has the top team in the AP poll (Mississippi State) and in the FPI (Auburn), the two components of these power rankings. The SEC West remains unbeaten against any team not in the SEC West as the Magnolia State has catapulted to the forefront of the college football world.

The Pac-12 will rise in the conference rankings if its top teams can continue to win. Last week, we discussed how the Pac-12 is missing an elite team. Oregon looked strong against UCLA, and the defenses of Stanford and Washington defenses looked solid against explosive offenses in Week 7. The issue is that the Pac-12 does not have a team in the top eight of the AP poll.

In other conference action, next week is a big one for the ACC as Notre Dame heads to Florida State. The Seminoles are the best team in the ACC, but if they lose to Notre Dame at home, the conference could take a big hit in perceived strength and in the College Football Playoff race.

Baylor offense slowed by top defenses

October, 10, 2014
Oct 10

Sue Ogrocki/AP ImagesBaylor has struggled against some of the top defenses, like Oklahoma State, over the last 2 seasons.
Since the start of the 2013 season, Baylor leads the nation in per game averages for points (52.0), yards (610.9) and touchdowns (6.5). The Bears have scored at least 60 points in eight games during that time, four more than any other FBS team.

In the first half alone, Baylor has averaged 31.3 points per game during the last two seasons, more than 73 teams average for an entire game.

Two staples of the Bears’ offense have been a fast pace and an ability to gain yards in chunks. Since the start of last season, Baylor has run a play every 19.8 seconds, the second-fastest behind Texas Tech (19.5). However, in the first half, the Bears have been faster, averaging a play every 16.9 seconds, 1.8 seconds faster than any other team.

No team has had more “explosive” plays the last two seasons than Baylor. During that time, the Bears lead the nation in plays per game of 20 yards or more (7.9) and have 11 more touchdowns that covered at least 30 yards than any other FBS school.

Quarterback Bryce Petty has been one of the driving forces behind Baylor’s success. Since becoming the starter before last season, Petty has thrown 37 more touchdowns than interceptions and ranks third in the FBS in yards per attempt (9.9). He has had seven starts with a Total QBR of 90 or more, tied for second-most among FBS quarterbacks behind Marcus Mariota.

…but not the same against top defenses
Since the start of last season, Baylor has played six games against teams that finished last season ranked in the top 40 of ESPN’s defensive efficiency or are currently ranked in the top 40: TCU, Kansas State, Oklahoma State, Texas (twice) and Oklahoma.

Defensive efficiency measures how many points a defense contributes to its team’s scoring margin, adjusting for the strength of opposing offenses faced. All six of those teams held Baylor to fewer than 42 points, whereas Baylor scored at least 42 in each of its 12 other games.

In those six games, Baylor put up numbers more closely aligned with the FBS averages than an offensive juggernaut. The Bears’ 32 points per game is two more than the FBS average and their 437.5 yards per game is 22 more.

Yards after the catch has been a big difference for Baylor against the better defensive teams. The Bears are averaging 106.7 yards after the catch against top-40 defenses compared with 202.0 against all other teams. It comes out to about 2.1 fewer yards after the catch per reception. The average for a Power Five team is 126 yards after the catch per game.

Another difference has been a lack of explosive plays. Four of Baylor’s FBS-high 25 plays of 50 yards or more since the start of last season have come against a top-40 defense. Three of those four plays occurred against Kansas State, which finished the season ranked 38th in defensive efficiency last season.

This week, Baylor faces its first ranked opponent and second top-40 defense of the season in TCU. The Horned Frogs have kept their opponents to an average of 3.8 yards per play this season, third-lowest in the FBS. The last time the Bears were held below four yards per play was by Texas in the 2009 season.

Stats to Know: Todd Gurley

October, 9, 2014
Oct 9

Kevin C. Cox/Getty ImagesGeorgia's Todd Gurley has been among the nation's best runners this season.
Georgia tailback Todd Gurley has been indefinitely suspended by the school during an ongoing investigation into an alleged violation of NCAA rules. Here’s what made Gurley one of the leading candidates to capture the 2014 Heisman Trophy, and the impact his absence will have on the Georgia offense.

•  Gurley leads the SEC and ranks third in the FBS in rush yards per game this season and he’s gotten the yards in big chunks. Only Nebraska’s Ameer Abdullah (29) has more 10-yard rushes than Gurley (27) and only Wisconsin’s Melvin Gordon (8.3) averages more yards per rush than Gurley (8.2) among FBS players who’ve carried at least 75 times.

•  He also leads all SEC running backs with 3.9 yards after contact and his eight touchdown runs are tied for first with Arkansas' Jonathan Williams.

•  Gurley is responsible for 36 percent of the Bulldogs’ offense this season. That’s the largest chunk of any running back in the SEC, and is tied for third among all Power Five running backs.

•  Among SEC running backs with at least 400 career rushes, only Auburn’s Bo Jackson averaged more yards per rush during his career than Gurley.

•  Gurley had been steadily climbing Georgia’s all-time rushing lists. He currently stands 85 yards behind Garrison Hearst’s 3,232 career yards for second-place. In addition, he's one touchdown shy of tying Lars Tate for second in school history in career touchdowns.

•  Should Gurley miss this week’s game against Missouri in Columbia, it would be the second straight season he’s sat against the Tigers, one of three games he missed last October due to an ankle injury.

•  In those three games Gurley missed, Georgia went 1-2 and its scoring average dropped more than 10 points per game (39.4 with Gurley, 29.0 without Gurley).

Alabama's run D vs Arkansas' run O

October, 9, 2014
Oct 9

AP Photo/Tony GutierrezJonathan Williams helps lead one of the most effective running games in the nation.
Perhaps overshadowed by the games involving teams from the state of Mississippi, the SEC West has another big game Saturday when Alabama heads to Arkansas (6 ET on ESPN).

A key matchup in the game with be Alabama’s run defense against Arkansas’ run offense.

The Crimson Tide lead the SEC in rush defense (64.0 YPG), and Arkansas leads the conference in rush offense (316.6 YPG).

Alabama rushing defense
Alabama's average of 64.0 rushing yards allowed per game is third-fewest in the FBS. They have allowed one rushing touchdown, tied for the fewest among FBS teams.

The Tide have held four of their five opponents to fewer than 75 yards rushing, tied with Louisville and Boise State for the most such games by an FBS defense.

Excluding sacks, opponents have not gained yards on 28 percent of their carries against Alabama, the third-best rate for a defense in the FBS and nine percentage points better than the FBS average.

The Tide rarely give up big plays in the running game. They have allowed an FBS-low nine runs of 10 yards or longer.

A key has been not allowing opponents to set the edge. The Tide have allowed a Power Five-low 2.5 yards per designed run outside the tackles and are one of four Power Five defenses that have not allowed a touchdown on such a run.

Arkansas rushing offense
Not only does Arkansas run more often (68 percent of plays) and for more yards (316.6 per game) than any other SEC team, but it also is efficient in doing so.

The Razorbacks are averaging 6.9 yards per rush and lead the nation in rushing efficiency, which measures an offense’s contribution to a team’s scoring margin on rushing plays. Arkansas is contributing an FBS-high 16 points per game to its scoring margin on rushes.

What makes the Razorbacks so efficient is their ability to gain ground on first and second down. The Razorbacks are averaging 6.9 yards per rush on first or second down and gaining a first down on an FBS-high 30 percent of those plays.

That leads to Arkansas avoiding third downs (sixth-fewest in the FBS), which is a factor that has been shown to correlate with winning by ESPN’s production analytics team.

Running backs Jonathan Williams and Alex Collins have led the way for Arkansas. They have combined for 1,107 rush yards and 14 rushing touchdowns, which is the third-most rushing yards and most rushing touchdowns of any running back duo in the nation.

A lot of their success can be attributed to a line that has been able to open holes.

The Razorbacks are averaging an SEC-high 4.2 yards before contact per rush and have gained at least five yards on an FBS-best 54 percent of rushes.

As noted above, Alabama has been great at limiting opponents outside the tackles, but that area is a strength for the Razorbacks. They lead the SEC in yards per rush (8.1) and touchdowns (nine) on designed runs outside of the tackles.

Something has to give
Arkansas has gained at least 150 rushing yards and is averaging four yards per rush in each of its games this season. Alabama has not allowed any of its opponents to run for 150 yards or average four yards per rush in a game.

We may know how this game will play out after the first 15 minutes. Arkansas is averaging 8.4 yards per rush and 99.6 rushing yards in the first quarter. If Alabama can slow Arkansas’ ground attack early, it may go a long way toward determining this game.

Determining the 'most deserving' teams

October, 7, 2014
Oct 7
AP Photo/Gerald HerbertDak Prescott has helped Mississippi State to the top of ESPN’s résumé metrics
If college football were like pro sports, this whole “playoff” thing would be pretty easy: Just take the teams with the highest win percentages. Or take only conference champions, like division winners in the NFL. Why do you need a committee to pick teams when you could just use the conference standings and the “only stat that matters” – the win column?

As you know, selecting teams for a college football playoff is different. Level of competition can vary dramatically across teams and conferences, so performance has to be evaluated in the context of the schedule played. And with each team playing a dozen or so games each, how teams look in achieving their results – “style points” – can also help separate teams beyond their records.

To help determine the “most deserving” teams for the College Football Playoff, ESPN’s Stats & Information Group has developed some in-depth analytical tools to evaluate résumés. These metrics look “backward” at what a team has accomplished to date and are therefore categorically different from our Football Power Index. FPI is a forward-looking system that evaluates who is “most powerful” and helps predict specific matchups as well as the rest of the season. Some of ESPN’s own break down the difference between “best” (which we measure using FPI) and “most deserving” (where the résumé metrics come in) here.

As we get further into the season and the true playoff contenders start to come into focus, the two main metrics we’ll be using to rate teams’ résumés are Strength of Record and Game Control. These metrics are uniquely designed to evaluate how each team’s accomplishment stacks up against what everyone else has done to the same point in the season.

Strength of Record
Aptly named by “College GameDay” coordinating producer Lee Fitting, Strength of Record (SOR) measures how strong a team’s record is, given its schedule. It’s based on the chance of an average Top-25 team having the team’s record or better, given the opponents the team has played (and where they played) to date. A higher Strength of Record indicates a more impressive accomplishment – it means that the team’s W-L record was more difficult to achieve.

It should be fairly obvious that going 5-0 vs Marshall’s schedule is much easier than going 5-0 vs Mississippi State’s or Auburn’s schedule. That’s exactly the type of thing Strength of Record helps separate: Marshall ranks 26th; Mississippi State and Auburn are first and second. Several teams with one loss have a “stronger” record than Marshall’s 5-0, with each of the Thundering Herd’s wins coming against opponents ranked worse than 85th in FPI.

Strength of Record captures a team’s “quality wins” and “bad losses” from an opponent-strength perspective, but it’s not concerned with the team’s point margin or other ways of measuring dominance or luck. This particular metric doesn’t care if you had the game "in hand" but lost to your rival in a historically flukish way, or if you scored 36 points in the fourth quarter to squeak out a win on a Hail Mary – just whether you won or lost.

Game Control
But to some, it’s not just about winning and losing, but how you looked – again, “style points.” Final scores have often been used for this purpose, but those can be misleading.

With play-by-play data for all games, we can go much more in depth and look at each team’s chances of winning on every play of every game based on the score, time remaining and other parts of the game situation. By looking at those chances across all plays, we can calculate a team’s average in-game win probability, a measure of how exactly it went about winning (or losing) throughout games that goes beyond just the 12 or 13 final results.

As with going from basic W-L to Strength of Record, each team’s average in-game win probability gets translated to Game Control based on how hard it would be for a top team to achieve it, given the schedule. Game Control also ends up on a 0-to-100 scale, measuring how well a team controlled games from start to finish, accounting for the difficulty of the games it has played to date.

An interesting case from the early part of this season is Florida State, who had the highest Game Control last season. Although the Seminoles are undefeated again through five games, they have fallen behind and really struggled a couple of times, needing rallies to win against Clemson and North Carolina State. Game Control sees this and ranks the defending champs 21st in the nation so far.

Both Strength of Record and Game Control will become more informative as more games are played. Given the relatively few games in a college football season, the rankings should be pretty fluid from week to week. Check the Playoff Picture for the most updated résumé rankings along with FPI, AP Poll and Playoff Committee rankings (once they are available) throughout the season.

The Debate: Best vs Most Deserving

October, 7, 2014
Oct 7

AP Photo/Tony GutiThe selection committee will have work to do figuring out the 4 best teams to play for the title.
When looking at the teams in the College Football Playoff race, we often hear terminology such as “best” and “most deserving.” These are two distinct ways to evaluate teams. Look no further than this clip of ESPN’s analysts addressing this exact question.

The 2012 season is a great example of the difference between these two concepts. Before the BCS National Championship game, few would have argued that Alabama was not the best team. But Notre Dame – which won each game on a difficult schedule – was widely thought to be most deserving of playing for the title, even though by many measures (such as Las Vegas point spreads) the Tide and a few other teams were better than the Irish.

By the beginning of October, the argument begins to shift from who is the best team going forward to which team is the most deserving when looking backwards. ESPN has created separate metrics to help answer each of them.

Best Going Forward
ESPN’s Football Power Index (FPI) is designed to answer the question, “Which team is best on a neutral field?”

A team’s FPI rating represents how many points above or below average a team is compared to an average FBS team on a neutral field.

Auburn currently leads the nation in FPI by 3.2 points, meaning the Tigers are on average more than three points better than any other FBS team on a neutral field.

The Tigers are the only team in the FBS that rank in the top 10 in offensive and defensive efficiency (the components that make up FPI).

Most Impressive Record Looking Backwards
ESPN’s Strength of Record metric is designed to answer the question, “Which team has the most impressive record?”.

As we all know, all 5-0 records are not created equal; one team could beat five lower-tier teams and another could take down two Top-10 teams and three other average opponents.

After back-to-back wins against Top-10 opponents – something that had never been done in its program’s history – Mississippi State has the most impressive record to date.

An average Top 25 team would have an 18 percent chance to go 5-0 against Mississippi State’s schedule.

No. 1 in FPI vs No. 1 in SOR
On Saturday, the No. 1 team in FPI (Auburn) will travel to the No. 1 team in Strength of Record (Mississippi State) in a game with playoff implications.

Like Notre Dame of 2012, Mississippi State has a record worthy of a playoff team at this point in the season. Not only did the Bulldgos beat LSU and Texas A&M in back-to-back games, but they did so in a dominant fashion with an average in-game win probability of at least 82 percent in each of those games.

Auburn’s No. 1 ranking in FPI can be thought of as the Alabama of 2012. They are strong in all facets of the game and would be favored against any other FBS team on a neutral field. Because FPI is designed to predict a team’s future chance of winning – and Strength of Record is not – Auburn has a 59% likelihood to win in Starkville against the 10th-ranked team in FPI.

The winner of this game, however, will take another step towards having the most impressive record in the nation. Each team would have three wins against teams currently ranked in the Top 20 of FPI, a claim that very few other teams in the nation would be able to make.

Power rankings: Pac-12 pain, Big 12 gain

October, 6, 2014
Oct 6

Brandon Wade/AP PhotoTrevone Boykin and TCU bolstered the Big 12 with Saturday's win over Oklahoma.
Once conference play begins, there generally is not a lot of movement in the conference power rankings. After a historic weekend, however, when five of the top eight teams in The Associated Press poll went down, there was more shuffling than usual. The Big 12 jumped over the Pac-12 for second in the rankings, and the ACC overtook the Big Ten for fourth among Power Five conferences.

Many may question why some conferences gained points and others lost them when their top teams lost in conference play. The answer has to do with the half of the conference power rankings that factors in the AP poll.

As a reminder, the conference power rankings are an equal blend of the AP poll and ESPN’s Football Power Index (FPI). The AP poll measures strength at the top of the conferences, and FPI measures the conferences’ depth.

When three ranked teams in the Pac-12 lost to unranked opponents in Week 6, the top of the conference took a major hit in the AP poll. The SEC also had three of its top teams lose, but those losses came against other ranked opponents. This did not have a major impact on the section of the rankings that measures the AP poll, because the winning teams moved up in the poll as the losing teams moved down (for example, Ole Miss beat then-No. 3 Alabama and is now ranked third in the AP poll).

Pac-12 and Big 12 swap spots
Week 6 was not a good week for the top of the Pac-12. No. 2 Oregon, No. 8 UCLA, No. 14 Stanford and No. 16 USC all lost; each of those teams fell at least 10 spots in the AP poll. Although Arizona (10th), Arizona State (20th) and Utah (24th) rose into the poll, the Pac-12 does not currently have an “elite” team. It is the only Power Five conference without a team ranked in the top eight of the poll.

What is most alarming for the Pac-12 is that without an elite team, its chances of being left out of the four-team College Football Playoff have risen significantly. According to FPI, there is an 85 percent chance that the Pac-12 champion finishes with two or more losses and a 47 percent chance that the champion has at least three losses.

The Big 12, on the other hand, has the best chance of any Power Five conference (22 percent) to have a champion with one or fewer losses. TCU’s win against Oklahoma hurt the Big 12’s highest-ranked team entering the week, but after the win, TCU rose to ninth in the AP poll and Oklahoma fell to 11th. The Big 12 has as many teams ranked in the top 11 of the poll as the ACC, Pac-12 and Big Ten have combined.

Looking at the conference rankings, the Pac-12 has a higher average FPI rating than the Big 12 but has taken such a big hit in the portion of the rankings that measures the top of the conference that it has fallen below the Big 12.

ACC reassumes fourth spot from Big Ten
The same narrative of the Pac-12 holds true for the Big Ten. Nebraska and Wisconsin, two of the top four teams in the conference entering the week, lost. Nebraska’s loss is forgivable, and the Cornhuskers fell two spots in the AP poll because of it. Wisconsin’s loss to unranked Northwestern, however, dropped the Badgers from 17th to 34th, expanding the rankings to the others receiving votes section.

As the top teams in the Big Ten fell, the best teams in the ACC rose. Georgia Tech remained undefeated with a win against Miami (FL), and Clemson was dominant in its 41-0 win against NC State.

There is a fine line between praising a conference’s parity and criticizing its lack of “elite” teams. The best conferences have a balance of both. We will learn a lot more about the strength at the top of the Pac-12 and Big 12 when Oregon heads to UCLA (3:30 ET) and Baylor hosts TCU (3:30 ET, ABC) on Saturday.

Which were the best wins of the week?

October, 5, 2014
Oct 5
As part of ESPN’s résumé ratings, each team is assigned a score for every game that it plays. Game score is a measure of game performance that accounts for where the game is played, opponent strength, the final result and how well a team controlled the game. It is on a 0-to-100 scale, where 100 is the best.

Using such a scale we can determine the “best” games of the week, in one of the wildest weeks of college football in recent memory.

Week 6 had five of the top eight game scores of the season.

Based solely on opponents’ FPI rank, Ole Miss’ win against Alabama was the best win of the season, but accounting for where the game was played and the winner’s average chance of winning throughout (aka dominance), a different game came out on top

Utah 30, (8) UCLA 28
Game Score: 97.1, Average win probability: 63 percent

Utah won at UCLA for the first time in seven tries and did so in a game that was not as close as the final score indicated. The Utes beat an AP Top 10 team on the road for the first time since 1961, thanks to 156 yards rushing from Devontae Booker.

Utah led by seven points at the end of the first quarter, 10 points at halftime and 10 again at the end of the third quarter. The Bruins led for 4 minutes, 34 seconds, on Eldridge Massington’s fourth-quarter touchdown catch.

(12) Mississippi State Bulldogs 48, (6) Texas A&M Aggies 31
Game Score: 96.7, Average win probability: 86 percent

Mississippi State led by multiple scores for nearly 40 minutes and rolled to a win over a team ranked sixth in the AP poll.

The Bulldogs have won eight straight games overall and have won multiple games against top-10 teams in one season for the first time in school history.

It marked the first time that Mississippi State won an SEC Top-15 matchup in six tries.

Dak Prescott tied his career high by being responsible for five touchdowns.

Arizona 31, (2) Oregon 24
Game Score: 96.4, Average win probability: 51 percent

Arizona pulled off an upset over the No. 2 Ducks in an extremely tight game, one in which the margin was within one score for nearly 57 of the 60 minutes.

Arizona has had a penchant to pull off big upsets over the last 10 seasons. The Wildcats have the third-most wins against AP Top 10 teams with seven, three coming against Oregon (2007, 2013 and 2014).

(25)TCU 37, (4) Oklahoma 33
Game Score: 95.5, Average Win Probability: 64 percent

TCU snapped Oklahoma’s eight-game winning streak in a game in which it trailed for 3 minutes, 12 seconds. TCU now has three wins over top-5 teams in the last five seasons, tied for the third most in that span.

The Horned Frogs are 7-7 versus AP Top-10 teams under Gary Patterson.

Trevone Boykin threw for 318 yards. He has two 300-yard games in four starts this season. He had one in 15 starts entering this season.

(5) Auburn 41, (15) LSU 7
Game Score: 94.8, Average Win Probability: 90 percent

Auburn picked up its 300th SEC win and racked up 566 yards of offense in a dominant win over LSU. It marked the school’s largest win ever against an AP Top-15 team.

The overwhelming nature of this win put it on the list. Auburn led by at least two scores for the final 52 minutes, 27 seconds.