Stats & Info: College Football

Hundley leads Pac-12 South favorites

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stanford, Hogan lose first game of season

October, 12, 2013

AP Photo/Rick Bowmer
Stanford entered the day with the second-longest active win streak in the country

It wasn’t in the cards for the Cardinal on Saturday as the fifth-ranked team in the nation lost 27-21 at Rice-Eccles Stadium. It was Stanford’s first meeting with Utah since 1996, a game Stanford also lost by one score. The loss snapped Stanford’s 13-game winning streak, which was the second-longest active streak in the FBS.

Utah last beat a team ranked in the Top-5 of the AP Poll in 2008, when the Utes upset fourth-ranked Alabama in the Sugar Bowl. It was Utah’s first regular-season win over an AP Top-5 team in the regular season, and its first home win against Stanford all-time.

Kevin Hogan lost his first game since he took over as Stanford’s starter last year. Through his first four games this season, Hogan had the sixth-highest Total QBR in the nation (88.8). In his last two games, Hogan has posted a QBR below 40, dropping his season rating to 70.8. Hogan was 15-of-27 passing, completing less than 60 percent of his passes for the first time in his career.

Utah QB Travis Wilson averaged a season-low 10.2 yards per completion, but he took care of the ball. Wilson had the fifth-most interceptions in the FBS entering the game (9), but threw just one Saturday – Utah’s only turnover of the game. Bubba Poole rushed for 111 yards on 22 carries in his second career game.

The lone bright spot for Stanford was the play of Ty Montgomery who set career highs in receptions (8) and receiving yards (131). It was the most receiving yards in a game by a Stanford wide receiver since Chris Owusu had 165 against Arizona in 2010.

But Montgomery didn’t just make an impact on offense. He became only the third player in Stanford history to have a 100-yard kick return for a touchdown and the first since Damon Dunn in 1994.

Utah’s victory capped a wild night in college football. So far in Week 7, four unranked teams have beaten ranked teams. Overall, seven ranked teams lost Saturday, the most in a week this season. Stanford's loss today was the only game this season where a top-10 team lost to an unranked opponent.

QBs the story in college football this fall

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Numbers to know from signing day

February, 7, 2013
1 – Alabama’s class rank. Every year that head coach Nick Saban has had a full season to recruit (since 2008), the Crimson Tide have had a top-three class. No other school has even had a top-10 class each of the past six years. Alabama received commitments from three of the top-10 running backs, plus Derrick Henry (No. 9 in ESPN 300, No. 1 Athlete), the leading rusher in high school football history.

3 – Number of Ole Miss’s recruits ranked in the top 20 of the ESPN 300. Since ESPN recruiting rankings were introduced in 2006, Ole Miss had never had a single top-20 recruit. Head coach Hugh Freeze received letters of intent from two of the top five recruits, including the top ranked player in the ESPN 300, DE Robert Nkemdiche.

7 – Number of players since November who have decommitted from USC, and all were in the ESPN 300. USC’s class was ranked No. 1 for more than three months between July and November, but now it's ranked 14th. Two of those decommits, Eldridge Massington (No. 172 in ESPN 300, No. 21 WR) and Kylie Fitts (No. 86 in ESPN 300, No. 8 DE) flipped their commitments to rival UCLA. The Bruins finished the day with the 12th-ranked class, the first time since 2006 they finished ahead of their crosstown rival.

7 – The number of top-10 recruiting classes Urban Meyer has had since 2006, and not one of those classes ranked lower than sixth. The only other coach with seven top-10 classes is Mack Brown. This year, Meyer and Ohio State scored the No. 3 recruiting class, headlined by CB Eli Apple (No. 11 in ESPN 300, No. 3 CB).

7 – The number of top-five recruiting classes Florida has had since 2006, most among all schools. Entering National Signing Day, the Gators had the top-ranked class before finishing the day second. Florida is one of three schools with multiple five-star recruits this year (Ole Miss and Notre Dame).

12 – The number of four-star recruits Vanderbilt has received letters of intent from. The past two seasons, James Franklin has recruited 15 players with a grade of 80 or better. In the previous four seasons, Vanderbilt didn’t recruit a single such player.

14 - The number of SEC schools with top-40 recruiting classes. All 14 schools have top-40 classes, with none lower than 36th (Kentucky). Six of those schools are ranked in the top 10, the most any conference has had since 2006.

15 – Texas’ class rank, the Longhorns' lowest since 2006. Texas had been the only school with a top-10 class every year since 2006. Texas still had the highest ranked recruiting class in the Big 12.

15 – Number of players in the ESPN 300 that have yet to sign letters of intent. Eleven have yet to commit to any school while four have yet to sign their letters of intent for various reasons.

16 - The number of states Notre Dame’s 23 recruits reside in. Notre Dame has the No. 4 class this season, the highest ranked class it has had since 2006. It’s Notre Dame’s sixth top-10 class and third straight under Brian Kelly.

Ground games on display in St. Pete

December, 20, 2012

AP Photo/John RaouxLatavius Murray led Conference USA with 103.5 rush yards per game this season and has scored at least one rushing touchdown in eight straight games.
The Ball State Cardinals take on the UCF Knights in the fifth annual Beef ‘O’ Brady’s Bowl in St. Petersburg on Friday night (7:30 p.m. ET on ESPN). It will be the fourth all-time meeting between schools (Ball State leads 2-1) and the first since a come-from-behind win by the Cardinals in 2004.

UCF will be making its fifth bowl appearance in program history (1-3) and its second trip to the Beef ‘O’ Brady’s bowl. The Knights fell to Rutgers in the 2009 Beef ‘O’Brady’s Bowl and earned the school’s only bowl win the following season in the 2010 Liberty Bowl against Georgia. The win over the Bulldogs was also its last bowl appearance.

This season, UCF went 9-4 and won its fourth C-USA East Division title since joining the league in 2004. The nine wins give the UCF senior class 33 for their careers (33-19), tied for the most in school history. A win Friday would give them one more than the 2010 class that went 33-20.

On the other sideline, Ball State is still searching for its first bowl win, having lost each of its five previous bowl appearances. The five straight losses are tied for the third-longest active bowl losing streak, trailing only Georgia Tech (7) and Northwestern (9).

Despite the bowl struggles, Ball State comes into the game having won six straight to end the regular season and its three losses in 2012 came against teams that are a combined 33-5 (Clemson, Kent State and Northern Illinois).

Friday’s matchup at Tropicana Field will be highlighted by a pair of running backs: Ball State’s Jahwan Edwards and UCF’s Latavius Murray. Each player is averaging over 100 rush yards per game, making this contest one of just six bowls with opposing backs averaging more than 100 yards per game this season.

Edwards ranks fifth in the MAC in rush yards per game in 2012 (110.1) and has rushed for at least 100 yards in five of his past six games. In his only sub-100 yard game during the stretch, Edwards rushed for 98 yards and tied his career high with three touchdowns in a 31-24 win over Miami (OH) on November 23.

For the Knights, Murray has been equally effective of late. Along with his C-USA-high 103.5 rush yards per game, he has rushed for at least one score in each of his past eight games. Since October 13, only Louisiana Tech RB Kenneth Dixon (19) and Kansas State QB Collin Klein (15) have scored more touchdowns on the ground than Murray (13).

Elsewhere for UCF, Quincy McDuffie has provided a spark in the return game. McDuffie is tied for second in the FBS with three kickoff return touchdowns and leads all FBS players with 34.2 yards per kickoff return this season.

If McDuffie can pad those numbers Friday, he will have to do it against a stout kickoff return coverage unit. Ball State has allowed only one kickoff return for touchdown the past five seasons.

Pac-12 closes gap in latest Power Rankings

October, 22, 2012
After eight weeks, it should be no surprise that the SEC sits atop the ESPN Stats & Info conference power rankings.

The SEC has seven teams ranked in the AP Top 25, including three of the top six teams in the poll. The SEC leads all conferences with three undefeated teams and five teams with one or fewer losses.

The gap between second and third in the conference rankings is closing as the Pac-12 gained 3.2 points on Big 12 this week. With the Kansas State jumping over Oregon the BCS Standings, it raises the question -- Is the Big 12 or Pac-12 the stronger conference?

According to the conference rankings, the Big 12 remains ahead of the Pac-12, but the race is the closest that it’s been all year.

The Pac-12 has the advantage in the AP Poll with three teams ranked in the AP Top 10, which is one more than the Big 12. Both conferences have four teams ranked in the AP Top 25, but the Pac-12’s teams are ranked comparatively higher than the Big 12’s.

The Big 12 is favored by the computers with nine of its 10 teams ranked in the top 50 (out of 124) by the computers. In comparison, eight Pac-12 teams are ranked in the top 50.

Additionally, the Big 12 has a better non-conference record than the Pac-12. The Big 12 is 26-3 in games outside of the conference, which is the best record of any conference in FBS. The Pac-12 is 24-10 in games outside of its conference, but has played a more challenging schedule.

Thirteen of the Pac-12’s 34 non-conference opponents have been from a BCS AQ or Independent conference. In comparison, just six of the Big 12’s 29 non-conference opponents have been in these conferences.

Losses by West Virginia, TCU, Baylor and Iowa State this past weekend hurt the Big 12. The Mountaineers are now 25th in the AP Poll after ranking in the top five two weeks ago. TCU, Baylor and Iowa State were all left out of the rankings after losing close games.

Wins by Oregon, USC, Stanford and Oregon State this past weekend helped the Pac-12 as the top of the conference demonstrated its ability. Those four teams won by a combined 98 points resulting in a significant rise in the rankings.

Elsewhere in the conference rankings, the Big East fell below the Big Ten after Cincinnati lost for the first time this season to Toledo (MAC).

The MAC now has four teams with one or fewer losses, including 7-0 Ohio, which is ranked 23rd in the AP Poll. The Big East, in the other hand, has just three teams with a winning record.

Manziel faces LSU defense that starts fast

October, 19, 2012

Brett Davis/US PresswireTexas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel ranks second nationally with 392.7 yards of total offense per game this season.
In a matchup of ranked teams Saturday afternoon, the No. 18 Texas A&M Aggies host the No. 6 LSU Tigers in College Station, Texas (Noon ET: ESPN, WatchESPN, & ESPN3D). The Tigers arrive on the heels of a 23-21 win over then No. 3 South Carolina, their second of five straight games against teams currently in the Top 20 of the BCS standings.

Texas A&M comes in with some momentum of its own having won five straight games following a season-opening loss to Florida. In its two-point win over Louisiana Tech last weekend, Aggies freshman quarterback Johnny Manziel racked up an SEC-record 576 yards of total offense. It topped the previous record of 557 yards he put up earlier this season against Arkansas.

On the year, Manziel leads all FBS freshman in total offense per game (392.7) and a lot of it has to do with his legs. Manziel has gained 475 of his SEC-high 676 rush yards on scrambles this season, 90 more yards scrambling than noted runners Collin Klein, Denard Robinson, and Braxton Miller combined.

Overall, Manziel leads the SEC in yards per rush (10.3), touchdowns (seven), and 20-yard rushes (nine) on scramble attempts this season. Against LSU, however, Manziel and the Aggies will be facing a stout defense that doesn’t take long to get things rolling.

Seven games in, the Tigers have allowed just one touchdown, 10 points, and an FBS-low 191 yards in the first quarter (27.3 YPG). South Carolina managed just 23 yards in the first quarter last week and it didn’t get much better from there, particularly for Marcus Lattimore. The LSU defense held Lattimore to 35 yards on 13 carries, the fewest yards he’s gained in a single game since the 2010 Peach Bowl against Florida State.

The Tigers also got their own running game on track against South Carolina, rushing for 258 yards as a team after a 42-yard performance against Florida a week earlier. Another performance like that bodes well for LSU as it has won 16-straight games in which it has rushed for 200 yards or more.

On Saturday, the numbers say Texas A&M can afford to focus on stopping that Tigers ground game due to the inconsistent play by quarterback Zach Mettenberger.

Mettenberger has more passing yards through seven games than the duo of Jarrett Lee and Jordan Jefferson had last season, but he’s completed a lower percentage of passes and has half as many touchdowns.

The root of Mettenberger’s recent struggles has been throwing the ball downfield. He has completed just 14.3 percent of his pass attempts thrown 15 yards or more downfield against SEC opponents this season after completing 78.6 percent of such throws in non-conference play. Against those SEC foes, he has an interception and has yet to throw a touchdown on such passes.

Should those struggles continue and the Aggies pull the upset, it would continue a remarkable start for Kevin Sumlin. He’s the first head coach to start 5-1 or better in his first six games at Texas A&M since Dana Bible in 1917 (8-0). That’s something Bear Bryant, Gene Stallings, Jackie Sherrill and R.C. Slocum all failed to accomplish in their debuts in College Station.

SEC title run tops 2012 storylines

August, 25, 2012

Derick E. Hingle/US PresswireA school from the SEC has won a record six consecutive BCS National Championships.

We’re less than a week away from the first college football Saturday of the season and there are certainly a lot of compelling storylines heading into the year. Among them is the question of whether or not the SEC can continue its run of dominance.

The SEC has won six straight and eight of the 14 BCS National Championships since the format was implemented prior to the 1998 season. During that span, no other conference has won more than two titles and the six consecutive championships are the most by any conference in college football history.

The SEC will have a good chance to extend its run in 2012 if the Preseason AP Poll is any indication. In all, six SEC teams were ranked in the Top 25 (T-most among all conferences) including five in the Top 10.

Off the field, the conference added new members for the first time since 1992 and both Missouri and Texas A&M will be tested against ranked opponents in their conference debuts. In Week 2, Texas A&M hosts No. 23 Florida (3:30 ET, ESPN) and Mizzou hosts No. 6 Georgia (7:45 ET, ESPN 2).

Across the country, the USC Trojans have completed their two-year bowl ban and enter the season ranked No. 1 in the AP Poll. Recent history is working against them (No preseason No. 1 has finished the year atop the poll since the 2004 Trojans), but they hope to become the first school since Oklahoma in 1975 to win a national championship in its first season following a bowl ban.

If the Trojans do win it all, it will likely be thanks to the play of Heisman contender, Matt Barkley. Barkley enters the season with over 9,000 passing yards and 80 touchdowns in 36 career starts (27-9) and is on pace to become USC’s all-time leader in passing yards, touchdowns and completions.

Like Barkley, Wisconsin's Montee Ball comes into the year with Heisman aspirations after a tremendous 2011 season. Ball’s 33 rushing touchdowns were the second most in a single season in FBS history and his 39 total touchdowns tied the FBS record set by Barry Sanders in 1988. He also set the FBS single season record with two or more scores in each of his first 13 games of the season.

At South Carolina, Marcus Lattimore is another running back garnering Heisman hype. Lattimore scored 11 touchdowns and had rushed for over 800 yards in seven games before suffering a season-ending knee injury against Mississippi State on October 15.

All three are certainly worthy of the praise, but perhaps the 2012 Heisman winner is not among the preseason favorites.

Over the last five years, winners of the trophy have included three sophomores (Tim Tebow, Sam Bradford, Mark Ingram), three first-year starters (Tebow, Ingram, Cam Newton), a pair of QBs with three regular-season losses (Tebow, Robert Griffin III) and a player from a program with very little winning tradition (Griffin III). Will another unknown crash the party in 2012?

SEC duo may top AP Poll for first time ever

August, 17, 2012
The release of the preseason AP Poll officially means college football is right around the corner. This weekend's release does have some drama attached, as Alabama, LSU and USC each have claims to being ranked preseason No. 1. Here are some things to look for when the poll is released on Saturday:

• If Alabama and LSU are No. 1 and No. 2, it would be the fifth time (and first since 1987) where the Top-2 teams in the preseason poll came from the same conference. In all four previous instances, neither team ranked first or second went on to win the national title. Alabama and LSU would be the first SEC schools to accomplish the feat.

• In the Coaches' Poll, Alabama, LSU and USC had 20, 18 and 19 first-place votes, respectively. In the history of the preseason AP Poll, only once have three teams been separated by two first place votes. That came in 1955 when No. 1 UCLA had 33, No. 2 Oklahoma had 32 and No. 3 Michigan had 34. Since 1960, there has never been a preseason poll in which three different teams received at least 15 first-place votes.

• There is a chance the SEC could have as many as five teams ranked in the Top 10. If that happens, it would mark the first time a conference ever had five Top-10 teams in a preseason AP Poll. The Big Ten came close in 1959, with five teams ranked in the Top 11.

• Who will be the highest ranked team in the preseason that did not finish 2011 ranked? Texas is the most likely team to fit this mold in 2012. Dating back to 2004, four of the eight teams finished the year unranked, with only Oklahoma in 2010 and Michigan in 2006 posting Top-10 finishes.

• Being preseason No. 1 hasn't guaranteed a great finish lately. The last preseason AP No. 1 to finish the year ranked first was USC in 2004 and in three of the last four years, the preseason AP No. 1 team has actually finished 10th or worse.

• If Oregon and USC are both in the preseason Top 5, it would mark the first time the Pac-12 has ever had two Top-5 teams in the preseason poll.

• Michigan may begin the season ranked in the Top 10 for the first time since 2007. That year, Michigan lost to Appalachian State in its season opener.

• Boise State (46 weeks) and Stanford (23 weeks) have the longest active streaks of being ranked in the Top 10 but both will likely end with the release of the 2012 preseason poll. The new leaders in consecutive weeks ranked in the Top 10 will likely be Alabama and LSU (Both enter 2012 with 17 straight weeks ranked in Top 10).

• Notre Dame has been unranked in six of the last 10 (and seven of the last 12) preseason polls. From 1950-1999, Notre Dame was unranked only five times in 50 years. After being ranked to begin 2011, Notre Dame is looking to be ranked in consecutive preseason polls for the first time since 1998-1999.

Barkley deep ball supports Heisman hype

August, 16, 2012

Stephen Dunn/Getty ImagesUSC quarterback Matt Barkley is on pace to become the school's all-time leader in passing yards, completions, and touchdowns.
Matt Barkley will begin the year for No. 3 Southern California as a front-runner for the Heisman Trophy. Barkley would be the seventh Trojan to win the award (excluding Reggie Bush), tying USC with Notre Dame and Ohio State for most all-time.

His stellar play during the past three seasons has fueled the Heisman speculation heading into his senior year. To date, he has amassed over 9,000 passing yards and 80 touchdowns in 36 career starts (27-9) and is on pace to become USC’s all-time leader in passing yards, touchdowns and completions.

High expectations are nothing new for Barkley as he entered USC in 2009 as the No. 1 player in the ESPN 150. After enrolling early, Barkley won the starting job during spring practice and became the only true freshmen to ever start the season opener for the Trojans.

Barkley also showed as a freshman that he would not shy away from the big stage. In just his second-career start, he led the Trojans on an 86-yard game-winning touchdown drive in the fourth quarter against Ohio State in Columbus. Barkley finished the season with 2,735 yards and 15 touchdowns, the most by a true freshmen in school history.

USC’s starting center Khaled Holmes said of Barkley, the Trojans first ever three-time captain, "Guys recognized not only his skill, but his work ethic, his willingness to learn and his mental strength as well."

It appears that Barkley's work ethic has paid dividends as his completion percentage, passing yards, touchdown-to-interception ratio and passing efficiency have all improved in each of his three seasons. In 2011, Barkley finished with the third-most touchdown passes (39) and had the eighth-highest passing efficiency (161.2) in the FBS.

The area in which Barkley has made the biggest stride is his downfield passing. In 2011, he led the Pac-12 with 13 touchdown passes on throws that traveled 25 yards or more downfield.

That matched the combined total of fellow Pac-12 quarterbacks Andrew Luck (4), Nick Foles (4), and Darron Thomas (5)

The 13 touchdowns were also nine more than Barkley’s combined total from his first two seasons. Most impressively, his interceptions went down while the touchdowns went up. In 49 attempts 25-plus yards downfield, Barkley threw one interception in 2011. He had five such picks in the previous two seasons.

One factor that led to Barkley’s improved downfield passing was the emergence of wide receiver Marqise Lee. Lee provided another quality option for USC so teams could no longer focus solely on containing all-American receiver, Robert Woods.

As a freshman last season, Lee caught eight of Barkley’s 13 touchdowns on throws of 25-plus yards, and he had more receptions on such throws than the rest of the team combined. As a duo, Lee and Woods caught 26 total touchdown passes, including 12 on throws of 25-plus yards. Both receivers are back for the 2012 season.

If Barkley, Lee, and Woods continue to make positive strides in 2012, there’s no telling how far the Trojans can go.

Big plays scarce against Alabama defense

August, 15, 2012

Marvin Gentry/US PresswireNick Saban and Alabama rode a dominant defense to the 2011 BCS National Championship.
We have all heard the cliché that defense wins championships. Nowhere is this saying more exemplified than at the University of Alabama. The Crimson Tide ranked in the top three in scoring defense and top five in yards allowed during each of the last three seasons. During that time, they won two of the three BCS National Championships.

In fact, the only season that Alabama did not rank in the top seven in both scoring and total defense under Nick Saban was 2007, Saban’s first season in Tuscaloosa. It was also the only season that the Tide did not win 10 games under their two-time national coach of the year.

Since the start of the 2008 season, Alabama is 48-6 with all six loses coming against opponents ranked in the top 20. Three of the six eventually played in the BCS National Championship Game.

With all of the great defenses that Alabama has had under Nick Saban, last season might have been the gold standard. The Tide held opponents to 8.2 points per game, the best scoring FBS defense since Auburn in 1988 (7.2). Georgia Southern was the only opponent that scored more than 14 points against Alabama in 2011.

The Tide allowed 12 touchdowns last season in 158 possessions, which is the lowest touchdown percentage (7.6) of any team in the last eight seasons. Three of those 12 touchdowns were scored when the defense was not on the field.

It was virtually impossible to move the ball against Alabama last season. The Tide held opponents to 3.3 yards per play, the lowest average of any team since 2000 and they allowed just 75 plays of 10 yards or more. That is 47 fewer than any other FBS team and it was the lowest percentage (10.4) of such plays allowed by any team in the last eight seasons.

Alabama ultimately forced a “3 & out” on 61 of its opponents’ 158 possessions (38.6 percent), the most total possessions and the highest percentage in the FBS. In the last eight seasons, only Ohio State in 2007 (40.1) and TCU in 2009 (39.0) forced “3 & outs” at a higher rate.

Everyone involved seemed to contribute, but the most impressive part of the Alabama defense might have been the play of the secondary.

The Tide’s opponents had a combined pass efficiency of 83.7, lowest in the FBS since the 2001 Miami Hurricanes. Alabama allowed 15 completions that gained 20 yards or more--10 fewer than any other FBS team--and on throws that traveled 20 yards or more downfield, the Tide had the same number of interceptions (seven) as their opponents had completions.

Alabama returns just four starters from last season’s dominating defense according to ESPN’s Chris Low. If Nick Saban and the Tide are able to replace the other seven, Alabama could roll toward its third national championship in the last four seasons.

Longhorn issues start in red zone

August, 14, 2012

Brendan Maloney/US PresswireMack Brown and the Texas Longhorns have gone a combined 13-12 over the last two seasons.
After posting nine straight 10-win seasons from 2001-2009, Texas has slipped to 5-7 and 8-5 over the last two years. Even worse, the Longhorns are just 6-11 in Big 12 play. It is believed there is a lot of talent on the field in Austin, but how much talent is there?

For the first time since 1993-1994, Texas failed to produce a first-round pick in consecutive years.

For the first time since 2000, Texas did not have a player selected in the first three rounds in the NFL Draft.

So what are the biggest reasons for the Longhorns struggles the last two years?

First, they haven't been able to protect the football. Their 56 turnovers are the most by any AQ school over that span.

They haven't been able to replace record-setting QB Colt McCoy.

In 2009, McCoy threw 27 touchdowns in leading Texas to the BCS Championship Game. Since then, three different Texas quarterbacks have combined to throw 26 touchdowns, with a conference-high 32 interceptions. Their struggles in the red zone are highlighted in the chart below.

Texas has to get better in the Red Zone in 2012, especially when passing the ball. The Horns ranked dead last in the FBS last season in yards per pass attempt in the Red Zone (1.6).

Home-field advantage at Darrell K. Royal Texas Memorial Stadium is nonexistent these days. Texas is 2-6 in Big 12 home games the last two years, with the two wins coming last year over Kansas and Texas Tech. Those two were a combined 2-16 in conference games last year.

In the last two years, just seven AQ teams have won fewer than two conference home games, and three others have won exactly two (Northwestern, Texas Tech and Vanderbilt).

Under new defensive coordinator Manny Diaz, the defense was strong statistically, especially against the pass. The Horns allowed only two touchdown passes of 20 yards or more in 2011, tied for fewest among all FBS teams – with LSU and Alabama. Both of those touchdowns the Horns allowed came against Heisman winner Robert Griffin III and Baylor.

On the flip side however, in four games against ranked teams (all losses), Texas allowed 39.5 points-per-game. Eliminate Kansas State, and that number balloons to 47.0 points-per-game in losses to Baylor, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State.

With both Case McCoy and David Ash returning at quarterback, and Malcolm Brown, Joe Bergeron and highly touted freshman Johnathan Gray at RB, this could be the year where the Texas clicks on offense. If it doesn’t, what changes could be in store for 2013?

How Alabama’s schedule helps title defense

July, 17, 2012

Marvin Gentry/US PresswireAlabama won't need to do too much damage on the road to repeat as BCS National Champions.
With the SEC media days underway on ESPNU, here are 10 notes you need to know about the 2012 SEC schedule:

• Defending-champion Alabama looks to repeat in 2012 with a very home-friendly schedule. The Crimson Tide play just one game in an opponent’s stadium during the first six weeks of the season and their final three games are all at Bryant-Denny Stadium.

• Arkansas will have the chance to knock off SEC West stalwarts Alabama (Sept. 15) and LSU (Nov. 23) at home. The Razorbacks haven’t beaten the two schools in the same season since 2000.

•  For the first time since 1984, Auburn will open its season with two consecutive games away from home (Sept. 1 vs Clemson in Atlanta, Sept. 8 at Miss St). The Tigers started that 1984 season 0-2.

• Florida will play its first two SEC games on the road for the first time since 1985 (Sept. 8 at Texas A&M, Sept. 15 at Tennessee) and its trip to College Station will be its first regular season game played in the state of Texas since 1979.

• Georgia will go the entire month of October without playing on its home field (at South Carolina, open date, at Kentucky, vs Florida in Jacksonville) but it avoids both Alabama and LSU for the third-consecutive regular season.

• Kentucky will be busy as it opens the season with 10 straight games before an open date on November 10. Fortunately for Big Blue Nation, five of the first six will be played in the state of Kentucky (four home games, at Louisville).

• LSU will play eight of its 12 games in Baton Rouge, but its four road opponents all reached bowl games last season (Auburn, Florida, Texas A&M, and Arkansas). Also, the Tigers will open the season at home against an FBS school for the first time since 2006.

• Mississippi State will be tested late in the season as four of their final five opponents went to bowl games in 2011 (at Alabama, Texas A&M, at LSU, Arkansas). Interestingly, the Bulldogs and in-state rival Ole Miss are the only SEC schools that will play AT both Alabama and LSU during the regular season.

• South Carolina will face a tough three-game stretch in October (vs Georgia, at LSU, at Florida) but following that matchup with the Gators, the Gamecocks will not leave their home state the rest of the way (three home games, open date, at Clemson).

• Tennessee will not play in an opponent’s stadium until September 29 at Georgia and only one of their regular season road trips will be longer than 300 miles from Knoxville (Oct. 13 at Mississippi St).