Stats & Info: NCF

Division rankings: SEC West way ahead

September, 22, 2014
Sep 22
10:35
AM ET
The top of the conference power rankings remained relatively unchanged with the SEC holding a 12-point lead over the Pac-12, which has an eight-point advantage over the Big 12.

After a dismal start to the season, the Big Ten was the biggest mover of the week, rising four points and leapfrogging the ACC for fourth in the rankings. The Big Ten went 12-1 against non-conference opponents in Week 4, including 4-1 against other Power Five teams. Indiana (at Missouri), Maryland (at Syracuse) and Iowa (at Pittsburgh) all took care of business on the road against solid competition.

Besides the Big Ten’s rise and ACC’s minor fall, there was not a lot of movement in the conference power rankings.

Instead of delving into many of the same storylines as in weeks past, we decided to take another angle: What conference division is the strongest and weakest in the nation?

Using the same methodology for the conference power rankings (equally weighing The Associated Press Poll and FPI), we ran the numbers for our inaugural Power Five divisional power rankings. Since the Big 12 is the only Power Five conference without divisions, we decided to treat it as one large division, as the formula accounts for the number of teams in each.

Not surprisingly, the SEC West dominated the division power rankings. The SEC West recorded a rating of 99.3 on a 0-100 scale, which is 33 points more than any other division.

Consider the stats below on the SEC West:

• The SEC West is 22-0 against teams not in the SEC West and is winning those games by an average margin of 34 points.

• All seven of the SEC West’s teams rank in the top 20 of the Football Power Index, which is more teams than the Big 12, Big Ten and ACC have combined.

• Six of the SEC West’s seven teams are ranked in the top 20 of the AP Poll. Arkansas is the only team that is not ranked, and the Razorbacks have won their last three games by 41.7 points per game.

The two divisions in the Pac-12 are basically neck-and-neck in the divisional rankings. The Pac-12 North has two teams ranked in the AP Top 25 (Oregon and Stanford), while the Pac-12 South has three (UCLA, Arizona State, USC). A team from the Pac-12 North has won the conference in each of the past five seasons, but the Pac-12 South appears to be catching up this season.

The most surprising result might be that the SEC East ranks fifth behind both Pac-12 divisions and the Big 12. The SEC East is the only division from a Power Five conference without an undefeated team. The division is 12-6 against opponents not in the SEC East, including 0-3 against the SEC West.

The ACC Coastal is the weakest of the Power Five conference divisions. The Coastal division is the only Power Five division without a team ranked in the top 25 of the AP Poll, and its top team in FPI is Pittsburgh at No. 31. The stark difference between the ACC Coastal and ACC Atlantic is similar to the divide in the Big Ten.

The Big Ten West is 17.4 points below the Big Ten East, as the bottom five Big Ten teams in FPI all come from the Big Ten West. As a reminder, Wisconsin and Nebraska are the favorites in the West, and Michigan State, Ohio State and Penn State are the favorites in the East. By virtue of having the easiest path to the Big Ten Championship game because of its division, Wisconsin has the best chance to win the Big Ten (40 percent), according to FPI.

This week there will be plenty of divisional battles with the chance to shape the conference championship races. Texas A&M takes on Arkansas in the SEC West, UCLA travels to Arizona State in the Pac-12 South, Stanford faces Washington in the Pac-12 North, and Missouri tries to bounce back against South Carolina in the SEC East.


Tags:

NCF

Top stats on Alabama’s dominant win

September, 20, 2014
Sep 20
8:27
PM ET

AP Photo/Brynn AndersonAmari Cooper's three touchdowns gave him 20 receiving TDs in his career, a school record.


Alabama beat Florida 42-21 Saturday in its SEC opener and did so with an uncharacteristically dominant passing attack. We tell you what you need to know about Alabama’s awesome offense and some ignominious Florida records.

Alabama piles up yards
Alabama had 645 yards of total offense, its second-most under Nick Saban behind last season’s 668 yards against Duke in a 48-7 win. It’s also the most ever allowed by Florida in a single game, topping the 629 allowed to Nebraska in the 1996 Fiesta Bowl.

Blake Sims’ rare Tide QB performance
Alabama quarterback Blake Sims threw for 445 yards, the second Alabama quarterback to ever top 400 yards in a game. The school record is held by Scott Hunter, who threw for 484 against Auburn in 1969. It’s also the third-most by an opponent against the Gators and most since Peyton Manning threw for 492 yards in 1996. Sims threw four touchdown passes, the fifth Alabama quarterback to do so.

Amari Cooper sets school record
Amari Cooper’s three receiving touchdowns helped him set the school record for most career touchdown receptions with 20. Cooper became just the fourth Alabama player to have 200 receiving yards in a single game. This leaves him just 532 yards shy of tying DJ Hall’s school record for most receiving yards in a career (2,923). Cooper has 655 yards receiving this season, more than halfway to the school single-season record of 1,133 set by Hall in 2010.



Is Cooper the next Julio Jones?
Cooper has more receptions, receiving yards, 100-yard receiving games and touchdowns through the first 29 games of his career at Alabama than Julio Jones. Jones would finish his Alabama career with 179 catches, 2,653 yards and 15 TD.
Tags:

NCF

Buy or sell: Is Miami-Nebraska relevant?

September, 19, 2014
Sep 19
11:47
AM ET
Is Miami (FL) vs Nebraska still relevant?

Miami (FL) heads to Lincoln to take on No. 24 Nebraska (Saturday, 8 p.m. ET on ESPN2). The two teams have met in five January bowl games, but their most recent meeting was the Hurricanes’ 23-point win in the 2002 Rose Bowl. Are you buying that this game is still relevant?

Buy:
The winner usually wins it all. In four out of the last five matchups between these teams, the winner won the national championship. The one game in which the winner did not win the national championship was the 1989 Orange Bowl when Miami (FL) finished second to Notre Dame.

Two great running backs. Since the start of last season, Ameer Abdullah ranks second in the Big Ten in rushing yards per game (130.4), while Duke Johnson ranks second in the ACC (108.8). Johnson has eight runs of 50 yards or longer since his freshman season, tied for the most in the FBS.

Sell:
The teams cannot even win their conferences. Since Miami (FL) moved to the ACC in 2004 and Nebraska moved to the Big Ten in 2011, neither school has won its conference.

No longer top-tier programs. The last time Miami (FL) finished in the top 10 of the AP poll was the 2003 season. Nebraska has not finished in the top 10 since the 2001 season.

Is Kenny Hill the best QB in the SEC?

Texas A&M's Kenny Hill is 3-0 as a starter and became the first player in school history to throw for 1,000 yards in the first three games of a season. Is Hill already the best quarterback in the SEC?

Buy:
Total QBR sees all. Total QBR accounts for all of a quarterback’s contributions, and Hill ranks third in the FBS and first in the SEC with a 92.9 Total QBR.

Hill is a TD machine. Hill has thrown 11 touchdowns and no interceptions in 117 passes. Every other SEC quarterback with at least 50 passes has thrown at least one interception. Hill’s plus-11 touchdown-to-interception ratio leads the FBS.

Sell:
Three games is a small sample. Hill may lead the SEC in Total QBR through three games, but dating back to last October, Nick Marshall leads the nation in Total QBR.

His receivers deserve some credit. Texas A&M has gained 585 yards after the catch, the most of any team in the SEC. On three of Hill’s touchdown passes, Texas A&M’s receiver gained at least 20 yards after the catch.

Will the Big Ten rebound this weekend?

The Big Ten has won 63 percent of its games this season, the lowest winning percentage for any Power Five conference. With one weekend left before we get into the heart of the Big Ten schedule, are you buying that this is the weekend the Big Ten rebounds?

Buy:
There is a chance. According to ESPN’s Football Power Index, the Big Ten has more than a 50 percent chance to win in three of its five matchups against other Power Five schools this weekend.

Sell:
Did you see the Big Ten last week?. The Big Ten lost all five of its games against other Power Five schools last week. In fact, since Rutgers defeated Washington State on Thursday, Aug. 28, the Big Ten has lost 10 straight games to other Power Five schools.

They still have not beaten anyone good. The Big Ten is 0-9 against non-conference opponents currently ranked in the top 50 of the Football Power Index.

The only conference with a worse record in non-conference games against Power Five opponents is Conference USA, which is 0-16 in such games.

Should Oklahoma be on upset alert in West Virginia?

Oklahoma is 3-0 and is winning by an average margin of 33.7 points. The Sooners are facing a West Virginia team that put up a good fight against Alabama. Are you buying that West Virginia has a good chance to upset the Sooners?

Buy:
West Virginia’s done it before. According to ESPN’s Football Power Index, the Sooners have a 77 percent chance to win at West Virginia, its third-lowest likelihood of winning of the season. Last season the Mountaineers pulled a similar upset by defeating No. 11 Oklahoma State at home.

Clint Trickett is a different QB. Clint Trickett may be the most improved quarterback in the nation. He ranks third in the FBS with 1,224 passing yards and has raised his Total QBR rank from 85th in 2013 to 15th in 2014.

Sell:
Oklahoma has been dominant. The Sooners have had the fifth-highest average in-game win probability in the FBS. They have led by an average of 24 points by halftime.

The Sooners’ defense is for real. Oklahoma ranks third in ESPN’s defensive efficiency ratings and has allowed the third-lowest Total QBR in the nation. The Sooners have been a nightmare for opposing quarterbacks, leading the Big 12 with 40 total pressures (hurries + knockdowns + sacks).

Nick Marshall makes the right read

September, 18, 2014
Sep 18
3:53
PM ET

AP Photo/Butch DillQB Nick Marshall is the key to Auburn's potent running game.
Since the start of the 2013 season, Auburn ranks in the top three in the FBS in rushing yards, rushing touchdowns and yards per rush.

The Tigers have had an FBS-high four players with at least 800 rushing yards during that time, including three players currently on their roster (Nick Marshall, Cameron Artis-Payne and Corey Grant).

Quarterback Nick Marshall has been the key to Auburn’s rushing success. With him under center, the Tigers are averaging 6.2 yards per rush and scoring a rushing touchdown once every 15 carries. The FBS averages are 4.5 yards per rush and a touchdown every 20 carries.

It took head coach Gus Malzahn a few games to adjust to Marshall’s strengths.

The Tigers passed on at least 40 percent of their plays in two of their first four games last season, including their 14-point loss at LSU on Sept. 21.

Since that game, Auburn has passed on 28 percent of its plays and has not had a game above 36 percent. During that time, Marshall has had the highest Total QBR in the FBS.

Marshall and the zone read
What sets Marshall apart is his ability to implement Auburn’s zone read. The Tigers have run zone read on 41 percent of their rushing plays since the start of last season. On such plays, they are averaging 7.1 yards per rush and have a Power Five-high 28 rushing touchdowns.

When Marshall keeps the ball on the zone read, he is averaging 8.0 yards per rush and leads all active Power Five players since the start of last season with 948 rushing yards.

His ability to make the right read has also translated to success for his teammates. Running backs Cameron Artis-Payne (7.8) Corey Grant (8.5) and Tre Mason (5.4) all have averaged more than five yards per carry on zone-read plays with Marshall at quarterback.

Why K-State might be able to slow Auburn’s run game
Auburn’s run game is predicated on its ability to find space, both when running the zone read and in standard run plays.

The Tigers are averaging 210.5 rushing yards per game before first contact this season, which is on par with their numbers from last season.

To put that into perspective, since the start of last season 99 FBS teams do not average 212 total rushing yards per game.

However, in a small sample size, Kansas State has been among the nation’s best at limiting opponents’ yards before contact.

On designed runs, only Alabama (20.3) is allowing fewer yards before contact per game than the Wildcats (22.5) this season.

Kansas State has also been able to stop the zone read the past two seasons, allowing 3.7 yards per rush on such plays, which ranks second among Big 12 defenses behind TCU.

The number to watch on Thursday night is 200. Kansas State is 21-2 when it allows fewer than 200 rushing yards in the last three seasons and 0-5 when it does not.

Alabama offense more efficient with Sims

September, 18, 2014
Sep 18
3:42
PM ET

Marvin Gentry/USA TODAY SportsBlake Sims (left) and Jake Coker (right) are still competing to be named Alabama's starting QB.
Alabama is off to a 3-0 start for the eighth time in eight seasons under Nick Saban. The offense is a big reason. The Tide are averaging 42 points per game and rank seventh in offensive efficiency.

Blake Sims has started all three games for the Tide and has the sixth-best Total QBR (86.6) in the FBS, ahead of players such as Jameis Winston and Everett Golson.

Sims is one of 12 quarterbacks who are averaging more than 10 yards per attempt. Yet, he has not been officially named Alabama’s starting quarterback.

"Jake (Coker) needs to play and he needs to develop confidence. I think we're going to have to make a decision on a week-to-week basis on what gives us the best opportunity to win.” Saban said in his postgame news conference on Saturday. “Right now, Blake probably is a little more confident. If that remains that way, he's probably going to start the game.”

Sims should be confident as the offense has been more efficient with him at quarterback.

The Tide have scored a touchdown on 11-of-22 drives with Sims under center compared with 3-of-9 with Coker.

They have lost yards on six of Sims’ 151 snaps (four percent), the second-lowest percentage for any Power Five quarterback with at least 150 plays (behind Duke’s Anthony Boone, three percent).

Why has the offense been successful with Sims?

Accuracy
Sims has been extremely accurate. He has thrown 64 passes this season: 48 were caught, one was thrown away, three were dropped, four were broken up by the defense and eight were off-target.

His eight off-target passes are the fewest for any Power Five quarterback with at least 50 attempts and as many as Jake Coker has had in 33 fewer attempts.

Sims’ accuracy has allowed him to hit receivers in stride and let them run after the catch.

Look no further than his 22-yard touchdown pass to Amari Cooper in the first quarter against Southern Miss, in which he hits Cooper on a short crossing route over the middle and Cooper gains 20 yards after the catch for a touchdown.

Great on 3rd down
Sims has been excellent on third down, leading all FBS quarterbacks in completion percentage (91.7 percent), conversion percentage (75 percent) and Total QBR (99.9). Amari Cooper has been his favorite target, catching six of Sims’ 11 third-down completions.

One reason for Sims’ success on third down is that he has been in manageable situations. The Tide’s average distance to go on third down has been 4.7 yards, shortest in the FBS. This has allowed Alabama to have the entire playbook available.

For instance, the Tide have run on almost half (49 percent) of their third-down plays, including six rushes by Sims, which have resulted in four first downs. Last season, Alabama passed on 65 percent of its third-down plays, which is on par with the FBS average (64 percent)

Where can Sims get better?
Sims has struggled throwing the ball downfield. He has completed 1-of-6 passes thrown 20 yards or longer, including his only interception of the season.

His completion occurred last week against Southern Miss on a 27-yard pass to Cooper in the third quarter with the Tide up 19 points. Coker, on the other hand, has the reputation of having a strong arm, but he has not fared much better on such passes, completing 2-of-7 attempts.

For now, Sims is expected to get the nod Saturday when Florida heads to Tuscaloosa. It will be a major step up in competition for Sims. The Gators rank fifth in the FBS in points per drive allowed (0.67) this season and lead all Power Five defenses with three interceptions on passes thrown 20 yards or longer. If Sims rises to the challenge, he just may end up being declared the full-time starter.

Ameer Abdullah sets pace for Cornhuskers

September, 17, 2014
Sep 17
12:28
PM ET

AP Photo/Nati HarnikAmeer Abdullah has run for 41 percent of Nebraska's rushing yards this season.
Ameer Abdullah might have already had his “Heisman Moment.” With Nebraska tied with McNeese State late in the fourth quarter in their Week 2 game, Abdullah took a three-yard pass, broke three tackles and ran 55 yards for a 58-yard catch-and-run touchdown.

Not only did that reception give Nebraska the lead with 20 seconds remaining, but it also gave Abdullah more than 100 yards from scrimmage, something he has done in every game since the start the 2013 season.

Abdullah has a streak of 16 games with at least 100 yards from scrimmage, the longest active streak in the FBS and fourth-longest streak for a running back in the last 10 seasons.

Given Abdullah’s streak, it should not be surprising that he leads all FBS players with 2,423 yards from scrimmage since the start of last season.

During that time, he has had the second-most offensive touches (368) in the FBS and is averaging 6.6 yards per touch, the 12th-best average in the FBS (min. 200 plays).

What has made Abdullah successful?
Abdullah has been the catalyst for this offense.
Nebraska ranks eighth in the nation in rushing yards per game (324.3) this season and second in yards per rush (7.4).

He has been responsible for 43 percent of the team’s carries and 41 percent of the Cornhuskers' rushing yards.

Abdullah is one of the most versatile running backs in the nation.
He is the only Power Five running back with at least 900 rushing yards both inside and outside the tackles since the start of last season.

During that time, Abdullah has gained 1,135 rushing yards outside the tackles, fourth-most in the FBS.

Abdullah is productive and consistent.
Since the start of last season, Abdullah is averaging 130.4 rushing yards per game, seventh-most in the FBS.

He leads all FBS players with 13 100-yard rushing games.

Abdullah finds the correct running lane.
He has 83 rushes in which first contact was not made until 5 yards past the line of scrimmage, tied with Washington’s Bishop Sankey for the most by any Power Five player.

That said, this week could be a challenge for Abdullah with Miami (FL) coming to Lincoln. The Hurricanes have allowed 2.0 yards per carry this season, fourth-best in the FBS.

If Abdullah can have a big game against one of the best rushing defenses in the FBS on national TV, it could vault him up the Heisman Watch list.

SEC extends lead in conference rankings

September, 15, 2014
Sep 15
10:00
AM ET
It is beginning to sounds like a broken record, but for a third-straight week the SEC rose in the conference power rankings as other major conferences stumbled.

The SEC went 8-1 in non-conference games in Week 3 with it only loss being Tennessee at at No. 4 Oklahoma. The SEC is now 27-2 in non-conference games with an average margin of victory of 27.6 points per game.

Even more amazing is that the SEC West is 18-0 against every other team not in the SEC West.

The SEC now has 10 of the top 25 teams in the Football Power Index; the Big 12, ACC and Big Ten have a combined seven teams in the FPI top 25.

The ACC had an up-and-down week, but ultimately losses by Virginia Tech and Louisville hurt the conference in the power rankings. The issue for the ACC is that it has one or two top teams, but there is a big drop off after that.

After Virginia Tech upset Ohio State in Week 2 and Louisville looked strong in its first two wins, there was a perception that the middle of the conference was catching up to the top. But losses by those two teams on Saturday dropped them out of the AP Top 25, leaving just two ACC teams ranked in the poll.

The Big Ten’s struggles continued in Week 3, as its teams lost all five of its games against Power Five opponents. The Big Ten has lost its last 10 games against non-Big Ten Power Five teams, including losses to West Virginia (by Maryland), Iowa State (by Iowa), TCU (by Minnesota), Washington (by Illinois) and Notre Dame (by Purdue) on Saturday.

The only conference with a worse record in non-conference games against Power Five opponents than the Big Ten is Conference USA, who is 0-16 in such games.

The Big 12 is gaining ground on the Pac-12 for the second-best conference in the FBS. This season the Big 12 is winning with defense, with four of the top eight teams in ESPN’s defensive efficiency metric. Baylor and Oklahoma are looking like national title contenders, and the middle-tier teams of the conference – Kansas State, Oklahoma State, TCU and West Virginia – are all off to strong starts.

Six Big 12 teams have byes in Week 4, but the conference will have a chance to make a statement on a national stage as Kansas State hosts Auburn on Thursday (7:30 ET, ESPN). Other enticing non-conference Week 4 games include: Utah at Michigan (3:30 ET, ABC/ESPN2), Indiana at Missouri (4 ET, SEC Network) and Miami (FL) at Nebraska (8 ET, ESPN 2).

The conference power rankings are a formula that equally weighs the rankings from the AP Poll and ESPN’s Football Power Index (FPI) in order to determine the best and worst conferences in the country. For more information on the rankings and FPI, click here and here.



Jonathan McDonald and Jason Starrett also contributed to this post

Top Stats to Know: Offense Rules Friday

September, 13, 2014
Sep 13
12:35
AM ET

AP Photo/Bill WippertBryce Petty has thrown at least two touchdown passes in 15 straight games

There were 176 combined points in Friday night's two FBS games with Baylor and Cincinnati each claiming big wins. Here's what you need to know about another dominant Bears win and a record-setting night from Cincinnati's Gunner Kiel.


Kiel's big debut
Cincinnati’s Gunner Kiel made his FBS debut on Friday was certainly one to remember, throwing for 418 yards and six touchdowns in a 58-34 win over Toledo. He became just the 7th player in school history to throw for 400 yards in a game and his six touchdown passes tied Tony Pike’s single-game school record. He also became the first player in FBS history to throw six touchdown passes in his career debut.

Baylor wins big again
Baylor beat Buffalo 63-21 to round out its non-conference schedule for the season. Baylor won its three non-conference contests by a combined score of 178-27 and the +151 scoring differential is more points than any FBS team has scored this season.

Petty continues streak
Baylor’s Bryce Petty threw for 416 yards and four touchdowns, his second career 400-yard passing game. He also threw at least two TD passes for the 15th-straight game, the longest active streak in FBS.

Baylor loves non-conference games
Baylor extended its regular season non-conference winning streak to 13 games dating back to 2010. Over the last four seasons, Baylor is 14-1 against non-conference opponents and outscores them by 33 points per game, compared to a +12 scoring margin against the Big 12.
Tags:

NCF, Big 12

FPI-based must-see TV for Week 3

September, 12, 2014
Sep 12
5:21
PM ET

Scott Cunningham/Getty ImagesEntering this week, Georgia has a 52 percent chance to win the SEC East, according to FPI.
Matchup quality is a metric that ranks games (on a 0-100 scale) based on how good each team is and how close the game is expected to be.

The games ranked highest in matchup quality will be competitive games between two highly ranked teams in Football Power Index. Based on this metric, here are the top four games for Week 3.

Georgia at South Carolina: 90.5 Pregame Matchup Quality
In the only matchup of ranked teams this week, the Football Power Index gives No. 6 Georgia a 62 percent chance to beat No. 24 South Carolina in Columbia.

Because of that, the Bulldogs have a significantly higher chance than the Gamecocks to win the division and the conference.

South Carolina began the season with a 41 percent chance to win the SEC East, but defensive breakdowns (106th in defensive efficiency) have hurt the Gamecocks in the projections.

South Carolina has allowed 832 yards passing in its first two games (122nd in pass defense).

Tennessee at Oklahoma: 84.4 Pregame Matchup Quality
In the first regular season meeting between these schools (which are both in the top 10 in the FBS in all-time wins), FPI gives Oklahoma an 87 percent chance to win the game.

Tennessee has jumped from 47th to 34th in FPI after wins against Utah State and Arkansas State. Arkansas, up 21 spots to 29th, is the only SEC team that has moved up more spots in FPI since the preseason.

Since the start of the 2013 season, Tennessee is 1-6 when it allows more than 200 rushing yards and 6-1 when it does not. During that time, Oklahoma has rushed for more than 200 yards in nine of 15 games.

UCLA vs Texas: 84.0 Pregame Matchup Quality
FPI says UCLA has a 77 percent chance of winning this game, the seventh all-time between the schools. Texas and UCLA have split the previous meetings, with UCLA capturing three of the last four. Texas won the last meeting, which was Case McCoy’s first career start.

Texas has allowed the fourth-most rushing yards (777) in the FBS to opposing QBs since the start of last season.

Excluding sacks, Brett Hundley has run for the sixth-most yards by a quarterback (1,057) during that time.

Texas has allowed the fifth-most rushing yards per game in the FBS to quarterbacks since the start of last season, including 99 yards last week by BYU’s Taysom Hill.

Kentucky at Florida: 80.9 Pregame Matchup Quality
Florida - with an 84 percent chance to win, according to FPI – has won 27 straight games over Kentucky, the longest current win streak for one team over an opponent in an uninterrupted series. Kentucky has not defeated Florida since 1986.

Florida opened the season (against Eastern Michigan) with its most dominant win (as measured by win probability) since it beat Charleston Southern 62-3 in 2009. Throughout all of its plays, the Gators had a 92 percent chance to win.

Jeff Driskel set his career high in completions (31) and attempts (45) last week against Eastern Michigan. Driskel’s passes traveled an average of 6.7 yards, second-shortest among SEC quarterbacks in Week 2.

Kentucky hasn’t won an SEC opener since 2007. In fact, the Wildcats have not had success in SEC openers over the years. Since 1988, they are 2-24 in conference openers.

Gurley, South Carolina on collision course

September, 11, 2014
Sep 11
12:42
PM ET

Dale Zanine/USA Today SportsTodd Gurley rolled over Clemson, but South Carolina’s defense has kept him bottled up
Todd Gurley made an early statement in Week One, setting a Georgia record with 293 all-purpose yards against Clemson. This week, however, he returns to the site of the worst game of his career, Williams-Brice Stadium in Columbia, South Carolina.

Two years ago, Gurley had career lows in rushing yards (39) and yards per carry (3.0) as Georgia lost 35-7. In two games against the Gamecocks, Gurley has averaged 4.0 yards per carry, his worst against any opponent.

This South Carolina defense isn’t the same, however. It ranks last in the SEC in points per game, yards per game and yards per play.

Below is a breakdown of how South Carolina has slowed Gurley and why the Gamecocks might not be able to replicate that success in Saturday’s matchup.

How South Carolina has stopped Gurley
One of Gurley’s strengths is his ability to run between the tackles.

In Week One against Clemson, Gurley ran for a career-high 131 yards between the tackles on nine carries.

South Carolina has been better against Gurley than its Palmetto State rival.

Last season, it limited Gurley to 2.4 yards per carry between the tackles. The Gamecocks have held him to 1.4 yards after contact per rush, his lowest average against any opponent.

Although 6.4 percent of Gurley’s career rushes have been for at least 20 yards, Gurley has not run for more than 19 yards on one carry against South Carolina.

Why Saturday might be different
But South Carolina hasn’t shown it can stop a running game.

Opposing runners average 4.0 yards before contact per rush, the most against any Power Five team this season.

On runs between the tackles, South Carolina allows 4.8 yards before contact per carry – a yard worse than any other SEC team.

There have been two causes to the issues: a lack of experience up front and respect for opponents’ passing games.

First, the losses of stars Jadeveon Clowney, Kelcy Quarles and Chaz Sutton have led to a less experienced front. The Gamecocks have missed 24 tackles this season, most among Power Five teams.

Second, the combination of personnel losses in the secondary and prolific passing opponents has prompted South Carolina to take defenders out of the box.

The Gamecocks averaged at least 6.8 defenders in the box each year from 2011 to 2013. This year, having faced the pass-heavy offenses of Texas A&M and East Carolina, they average 6.1 defenders in the box, second-fewest in the SEC.

South Carolina has keyed on Gurley, who has faced an average of 7.0 defenders in the box in their two meetings. If the Gamecocks are to avoid falling to 0-2 in the SEC, they will probably need to key in on Gurley again and not let him get to the second level unimpeded.

Do you believe in these early stories?

September, 11, 2014
Sep 11
11:52
AM ET
There are a number of hot on-field topics through the first two weeks of the college football season, subjects that have inspired a bit of debate among fans this week.

Let's look at these from the perspective of "buy" or "sell" and provide the statistical arguments for each.

USC as a national championship contender

The Trojans are 2-0 with a win against Stanford. They have won eight of nine games. Are you buying them as a national title contender?

Buy:
Defense wins championships. Led by All-American candidate Leonard Williams, USC leads the Pac-12 in points per drive (1.4) allowed since the start of last season.

The metrics like them. According to ESPN’s Football Power Index, USC is the eighth-best team in the FBS and has a 23 percent chance to win the Pac-12, second to Oregon. Of the seven teams ranked ahead of USC in FPI, four are from the SEC, which means at least three of those teams will lose at least once this season.

Kessler is playing well. USC is 8-1 in its last nine games, including two wins against Stanford. During that time, Cody Kessler has a Total QBR of 80.6, 13th-best in the FBS (min. 5 starts).

Sell:
Schedule is too tough. According to ESPN’s Football Power Index, USC has a two percent chance of winning out. The Trojans have the 18th-most difficult schedule remaining in the FBS, including all four teams that defeated them last season.

Too many turnovers. USC has had at least two turnovers in three of its last four games. In the last five seasons, FBS teams lose 60 percent of the time when they have two or more turnovers. The Trojans are 14-13 in such games.

Cannot sustain drives. USC has converted 38 percent of its third downs during the last two seasons, 83rd in the FBS.

Tennessee is back
Tennessee is 2-0 and has won both games by at least 15 points. Are you buying Tennessee as a team that can win 10 games this season?

Buy:
Vols have been playing some D. Tennessee has held its last four opponents to fewer than 20 points per game, tied for the longest active FBS streak. In those four games, the Volunteers have allowed 3.6 yards per carry and opponents have failed to gain yards on an SEC-best 31 percent of their rushes.

Sell:
We saw this last year and the two years before that. In each of the previous three seasons, Tennessee has started 2-0 and then lost to a ranked team by at least 10 points in its third game. In those three losses, the Volunteers were outgained by an average of 218 yards and allowed almost 8 yards per play (7.9).

The Vols travel to Norman to take on No. 4 Oklahoma Saturday night (8 ET/ABC).

Vols cannot throw the ball. In SEC play last season, Tennessee threw eight more interceptions (13) and was sacked seven more times (12) than it had passing touchdowns (5). The Volunteers had a Total QBR of 46.1 in SEC play, 11th in the conference.

Everett Golson as a Heisman candidate
Notre Dame is 2-0 and Everett Golson has been responsible for eight touchdowns. Are you buying him as a Heisman trophy candidate?

Buy:
He is right where he needs to be. Golson ranks fifth in the FBS in Total QBR this season. Each of the past five quarterbacks to win the Heisman Trophy was ranked in the top five of Total QBR in the season he won the award.

Heisman voters like touchdowns. Golson has been responsible for eight touchdowns this season, tied for third in the FBS. Starting with Tim Tebow in 2007, every quarterback who won the Heisman Trophy ranked in the top six of the FBS in touchdowns responsible for.

They also like exciting plays. Golson has completed 6-of-9 passes thrown 20 yards or longer this season, including three touchdowns. He had four such touchdowns and 16 such completions during the 2012 season.

Sell:
The Irish are too one-dimensional. Notre Dame had its fewest rushing yards (54) and averaged its fewest yards per rush (1.7) in any game the last two seasons last week against Michigan. The Irish finished the game with 12 yards before contact on 31 rushes. If Notre Dame cannot run the ball, it could put Golson in difficult situations to manage, such as third and long.

Lot of tough defenses on the schedule. Notre Dame still has to play four teams who rank in the top 15 in defensive efficiency since the start of last season. Which means Golson could have a difficult time compiling the stats needed to impress voters.

Texas A&M’s defense will hold up

Texas A&M is 2-0 and has allowed 31 points in two games this season. Are you buying that the Aggies defense will hold up and make them a title contender?

Buy:
Holding up is relative. Since Kevin Sumlin took over as head coach, Texas A&M has averaged the third-most points per game (45.6) in the FBS and the Aggies have the highest offensive efficiency in the nation.

They are getting off the field. Texas A&M is allowing opponents to convert 21 percent of their third downs this season, tied with Florida for 11th in the FBS.

They are tackling better. Texas A&M has allowed 36.5 rushing yards after contact per game this season, fewest in the SEC. Last season, the Aggies allowed an SEC-high 98.9 such yards.

Sell:
No offense can cover their blemishes. Texas A&M has allowed 30.0 points per game since the start of last season (15 games), including 35.6 in SEC play. Florida State was the only FBS team to score at least 30 points in every game last season, and no team in the last 50 years has scored more than 35 points in every game during a season.

They give up way too many big plays. Texas A&M has allowed 13 touchdowns on plays that gained 40 yards or more the last two seasons, most in the SEC and tied for 10th-most in the FBS. The Aggies allowed two such touchdowns in Week 1 against South Carolina.

UCLA’s line will cost the Bruins the Pac-12 championship

UCLA is 2-0, but it has been sacked nine times. Are you buying that UCLA’s offensive line will cost the Bruins a national title?

Buy:
Was Hundley just sacked again? UCLA has been sacked 97 times since the start of the 2012 season, tied for second-most in the FBS, including nine times this season. Brett Hundley has been sacked 51 times in his career on plays in which opponents have sent four or fewer pass rushers, the most for any Power Five quarterback in the last three seasons.

They don’t open any holes in the running game. UCLA is averaging 71.0 yards before contact per game this season, second-worst in the Pac-12 behind Washington State.

They give up too many pressures. UCLA’s quarterbacks have been pressured (hurried or knocked down) on a Pac-12-high 24 percent of their dropbacks the last two seasons.

They allow too many negative plays. The Bruins have 130 plays the last two seasons that have lost yards, third-most in the FBS.

Sell:
Hundley can cover up for their mistakes. Hundley has had 546 rushing yards on scrambles the last two seasons, second-most for any Power Five quarterback behind Johnny Manziel.

The team has overcome its line before. Despite the pressures and sacks, UCLA has averaged 36.7 points per game the last two seasons. The Bruins have an FBS-high 10 touchdowns on drives in which they were sacked at least once since the start of last season.

FPI movers and shakers

September, 9, 2014
Sep 9
4:44
PM ET

Brett Davis/USA TODAY SportsCameron Artis-Payne (middle) and Auburn moved up to No. 1 in this week's FPI.
Two weeks of the college football season are complete, and we’ve already seen plenty of movement, specifically when talking about the Football Power Index.

For instance, after this weekend, Auburn overtook Florida State for the top spot in FPI as the Seminoles fell to fourth in the rankings, behind Oregon and Texas A&M.

The Tigers jumped into the top spot after defeating San Jose State 59-13 behind a dominant run game (six touchdowns on 358 yards rushing).

The Tigers are one of 21 Power Five teams to play two games against FBS opponents, and they have won those games by an average margin of 35 points with an average in-game probability of 84 percent (20th in the FBS).

FPI risers
After defeating Michigan 31-0, Notre Dame jumped from 18th to ninth in FPI. The Irish began the season 22nd in the FBS, but dominant victories over Rice and Michigan have vaulted them into the top 10.

The biggest difference has been Everett Golson, who ranks fifth in Total QBR after ranking 36th in 2012.

FPI fallers
After making the biggest positive jump in FPI of any AP Top 25 team last week, Nebraska fell the most spots after Week 2.

The Cornhuskers had an average win probability of 69 percent against McNeese State, the third-lowest of any team playing an FCS opponent on Saturday behind Miami (OH) and Connecticut.

However, they needed a 58-yard catch-and-run from Ameer Abdullah to stave off the upset bid.

Florida State, Alabama, UCLA and USC are FPI Top 10 teams that had their rank fall despite wins on Saturday.

The difference for these teams is that they have not been as efficient as had been projected to start the season.

Hill, BYU have chance at perfect mark

September, 9, 2014
Sep 9
12:17
PM ET

Quarterback Taysom Hill has helped BYU average 38.0 points in its first two games.
After BYU's demolition of Texas in Week 2 - the Longhorns’ worst home loss since 1997 - the Cougars jumped from 24th to 15th in ESPN's Football Power Index.

The Cougars now have the best chance to enter the bowl season undefeated, according to FPI, thanks to their 75th-ranked remaining schedule.

BYU’s toughest remaining game, according to FPI, is at Boise State on Oct. 24, in which the Cougars have a 72 percent chance to beat the Broncos.

With quarterback Taysom Hill at the helm combined with a manageable remaining schedule, the Cougars might just be a sleeper for the playoff.

Hill might be the player who most resembles the idea of a “dual-threat quarterback” in college football.

He began as a situational player when he returned from his LDS mission to Sydney, Australia, in 2012. But since he took over as starter in 2013, he has been a pleasant surprise for the Cougars.

Making plays in the ground game
Hill is best-known for making big plays with his feet. His career average of 89.3 rush yards per game ranks third among FBS quarterbacks in the last 10 seasons.

Last season, Hill finished with six 100-yard rushing games, tied for second-most by an FBS quarterback, and rushed for the third-most yards (1,344) in a season in BYU history. He is already BYU’s all-time leading rusher among quarterbacks.

Since the start of last season, Hill has the most rushes of at least 10 yards (69) among FBS players, 42 on designed runs. Almost half of Hill’s designed runs have been zone-read plays, on which he averages almost nine yards per rush.

Like former BYU great Steve Young, Hill has improvisation skills, as he trailed only Johnny Manziel in scramble yards per game (41.5) last season.

Hill's passing has improved
Hill’s passing game should not be overlooked. He completed 58.3 percent of his passes from inside the pocket last season; in two games (against Connecticut and Texas) this season, he has completed 78.8 percent of such passes.

Hill’s increased accuracy can be attributed to shorter passes. This season, Hill’s passes have traveled an average of 6.7 yards downfield, 3.5 yards per attempt shorter than last season. He has thrown six passes that traveled more than 15 yards downfield this season. He averaged 7.2 such passes per game in 2012.

Hill has posted a Total QBR of more than 80 in both of BYU’s games this season, one of seven qualified FBS quarterbacks to do so. This group includes Jameis Winston, Marcus Mariota, Everett Golson and Trevor Knight. Hill had only three games with a Total QBR of at least 80 in 2012.

Is it too early to question Florida State?

September, 8, 2014
Sep 8
3:31
PM ET

AP Photo/Tony GutierrezDespite two wins, Florida State has dropped from 1st to 4th in ESPN's FPI rankings.
Florida State began the season with by far the best chance to enter bowl season undefeated, but a slower-than-expected start and the better-than-projected performances by many of its opponents have dropped Florida State to the third-best chance to run the table behind BYU and Oklahoma.

As noted, many of Florida State’s opponents have improved in FPI; Louisville, Notre Dame and Florida all jumped at least seven spots in the FPI rankings through two weeks.

In addition, the Seminoles had a 94 percent and 93 percent chance of beating Notre Dame (Oct. 18) and Louisville (Oct. 30), respectively, in the preseason. But after two weeks, that percentage is down to 66 against the Irish and 76 against the Cardinals.

Last season, Florida State won by an average margin of 39.5 points per game and had the highest average in-game win probability in the nation.

This season, Florida State has the 44th-best scoring margin (+15.5) and ranks 17th in average win probability.

Defense has been the biggest issue.

According to ESPN’s defensive efficiency, which measures how many points a defense contributes to its team’s net scoring margin and adjusts for the strength of opposing offenses, Florida State has been a below-average defense (85th in the FBS) this season after leading the FBS in defensive efficiency in 2013.

Big Ten plummets in conference rankings

September, 8, 2014
Sep 8
11:25
AM ET
The Big Ten’s struggles in Week 2 have been well documented. The conference lost all four of its games against opponents ranked in the top 50 of the Football Power Index, and its top win according to FPI came when Minnesota defeated No. 73 Middle Tennessee at home.

The next tier of Big Ten teams struggled too, as Nebraska, Iowa, Maryland, and Illinois all were tested into the fourth quarter against teams they were favored to beat.

The Big Ten is now 11-7 against non-conference FBS opponents, by far the lowest win percentage (61 percent) of any Power Five conference. Against other Power Five teams and Notre Dame, the Big Ten is 1-5 with an average point margin of -12 points per game.

The Big Ten’s difficulties begin at the top of the conference. The highest ranked Big Ten team in the Football Power Index is No. 22 Michigan, who lost 31-0 at Notre Dame on Saturday. Every other Power Five conference has at least two teams in the top 20 of the FPI, and the SEC has nine teams.

In the AP Poll, the other component of the conference power rankings, three of the four Big Ten teams ranked in the poll last week fell at least six spots.

As a result of the Big Ten’s dreadful weekend, the conference fell 17.3 points in the conference power rankings, the largest single-week plunge of any conference in the last three years.

On the flip side, the ACC rose by 7.2 points and jumped over the Big Ten for fourth place. The ACC went 11-0 in non-conference games in Week 2, bringing its non-conference win percentage to 87 percent in the first two weeks. Only the SEC (95 percent) has a higher non-conference win percentage.

The Pac-12 barely budged in the conference rankings, but Oregon's win against Michigan State may end up being the biggest win for a conference in terms of national perception this season. The Ducks showed that they could play a physical style of football against one of the toughest defenses in the nation.

Next week is a big one for the Big 12 as the conference has seven non-conference games against Power Five opponents. Oklahoma hosts Tennessee (8 ET, ABC), Iowa State travels to Iowa (3:30 ET, ESPN) and Texas Tech faces off with Arkansas (3:30 ET, ABC) in games that could help solidify the conference as the third-best in the nation.

The conference power rankings are a formula that equally weighs the rankings from the AP Poll and ESPN’s Football Power Index (FPI) in order to determine the best and worst conferences in the country. For more information on the rankings and FPI, click here and here.


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