Stats & Info: Marcus Mariota

Efficiency hallmark of NFL-bound Mariota

January, 14, 2015
Jan 14

Ezra Shaw/Getty ImagesAmong FBS quarterbacks with 100 or more TD passes, Marcus Mariota has the fewest interceptions.
Marcus Mariota, one of the most efficient and accurate quarterbacks in college football history, announced Wednesday he will leave the University of Oregon with a year of eligibility remaining and make himself available for the NFL draft. The 2014 Heisman Trophy winner is the No. 2 player on the Scouts Inc. Big Board and No. 1 in Todd McShay’s first mock draft.

Mariota finished his Oregon career with the lowest interception percentage in FBS history (1.2 percent). Among quarterbacks with at least 14 starts, his 88.8 career Total QBR is the second best in the past 10 seasons. Of the top five players on that list, three were drafted No. 1 overall (Cam Newton, Andrew Luck and Sam Bradford).

It’s worth noting that the five Heisman Trophy-winning quarterbacks active in the NFL have a winning percentage of 46 percent. Early-entrant quarterbacks chosen in the first round in the past 10 seasons also have a winning percentage of 46 percent.

NFL draft
Mariota and Florida State’s Jameis Winston, the 2013 Heisman winner, are widely expected to be the first two quarterbacks chosen in the NFL draft this spring. Winston declared for the draft last week.

Early-entrant quarterbacks generally have struggled in the NFL. Since 2006, the first year of ESPN's Total QBR, 13 early-entrant quarterbacks have been chosen in the first round. Three -- Luck, Mark Sanchez and Vince Young -- have winning records as starters; four have posted career Total QBRs of 25 or worse.

If Mariota or Winston is chosen first, he would be the sixth Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback chosen first overall in the common draft era (since 1967). There are five active Heisman-winning quarterbacks in the NFL, and none of them has a career record above .500. The group had zero combined playoff wins until Newton and the Panthers defeated the Cardinals earlier this month.

Each of the teams in the top six of the NFL draft order finished in the bottom 10 in Total QBR last season. Mariota’s former coach, Chip Kelly, has the No. 20 pick with the Eagles.

College career
Mariota led the FBS in Total QBR this season (90.8) after ranking second each of the previous two seasons. He has 21 games with a Total QBR of 90 or greater (including an FBS-high nine games this season), the most by any player in the past 10 seasons.

From a total offense perspective, Mariota finished his career as the most efficient player in FBS history. There have been 180 players to gain at least 9,000 yards of offense, and six have averaged at least eight yards a play. Mariota is No. 1 at 8.67. Second, at 8.47 yards per play, is Luck of Stanford.

Among the 20 FBS players who have thrown at least 100 touchdowns, nobody has thrown fewer interceptions than Mariota, and it's not even close. Five players have 100 or more passing touchdowns and fewer than 30 interceptions. Mariota doesn't even have 15 interceptions.

Mariota improved against the blitz each season. His touchdown passes against the blitz have gone up every year, and his 2014 statistics against extra pass-rushers -- including a 71.6 completion percentage -- were his best across the board.

Mariota was consistently accurate (completion percentage of at least 58 percent in every game) and consistently productive (responsible for at least one touchdown in 28 of 29 halves this season). He didn’t play the second half against South Dakota and didn’t account for a touchdown in the first half of the Rose Bowl against Florida State.

Mariota finished his career with 14 interceptions in 1,167 passes. His rate of 1.2 interceptions per 100 passes is an NCAA record (min. 1,050 passes), breaking Geno Smith’s record (1.43 per 100).

Elliott, Buckeyes run over Ducks

January, 13, 2015
Jan 13

Scott Clarke/ESPN ImagesEzekiel Elliott rushed for 246 yards -- a national championship game record -- in the Buckeyes’ win.
Much of the attention heading into Monday’s College Football Playoff National Championship Presented by AT&T was centered on Ohio State’s backfield. That was a key area, but the attention, as it turned out, should have been on two players.

Ezekiel Elliott continued his late-season surge, and starting quarterback Cardale Jones belied his inexperience, helping carry the Ohio State Buckeyes to a 42-20 victory over the Oregon Ducks.

Elliott gained 246 yards and four touchdowns on 36 rushes, setting national championship-game records (since the BCS era began in 1998) for rushing yards and touchdowns. Texas’ Vince Young and USC’s LenDale White rushed for three touchdowns each in the 2006 Rose Bowl.

With his third consecutive 200-yard rushing game, Elliott also broke Ohio State’s bowl record for rushing yards, surpassing the mark of Raymont Harris, who had 235 yards in the 1993 Holiday Bowl in 1993.

Jones strong in bowl debut
Jones, thrust into the starting quarterback job after injuries to Braxton Miller and J.T. Barrett, didn’t play like a third-string quarterback. He entered the game with two career starts. That is the fewest starts for an official championship-winning quarterback, beating the 12 starts of Alabama’s AJ McCarron (2012 season), LSU’s Matt Flynn (2008) and Tennessee’s Tee Martin (1999) before the championship game.

Jones continued the type of play that had led Ohio State to 101 points in his first two starts. The 6-foot-5, 250-pound sophomore completed 16 of 23 passes for 242 yards with one touchdown and one interception.

The interception came on a drop when Oregon’s Danny Mattingly nabbed a bobbled ball at the end of Ohio State’s first drive of the third quarter. That interception was part of the Buckeyes’ minus-3 turnover margin, a stat that Ohio State is alone in being able to overcome in a championship game.

Four teams had been minus-3 or worse in turnover margin in the championship game era: Notre Dame (minus-3) in 2012, Texas (minus-3) in 2009, Oklahoma (minus-5) in 2004 and Miami (minus-3) in 2002. All four of those teams lost the championship game. And Oregon had been 31-1 in the past five seasons when having a turnover margin of plus-2 or better.

The Ducks didn’t exploit the turnovers or maximize their red zone opportunities. The Ducks scored 13 points in four red zone trips compared with Ohio State’s 35 points in five chances.

Led by Heisman Trophy winning Marcus Mariota, Oregon took the opening kickoff and drove for a 7-0 score. Mariota finished with 24 completions on 37 passes (two touchdowns, one interception), but he became the latest current Heisman winner to lose in the championship game.

Quick hitters
Ohio State’s win probability at halftime, leading 21-10, was 84 percent (Oregon’s was 16 percent). The Ducks ranked second in the FBS with on average an 80 percent chance to win at the half and never had lower than a 30 percent halftime win probability this season. … Ohio State improved its record under coach Urban Meyer when an underdog to 6-0. … The Buckeyes have trailed in four of their past five bowl wins.

Mariota's case for best season ever

January, 8, 2015
Jan 8

Steve Dykes/Getty ImagesThe numbers say Marcus Mariota has had a historically great season.
Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota already has one remarkable performance in the College Football Playoff. And if he has his typical game and leads the Ducks to victory Monday night against Ohio State, a case could be made that his 2014 season will be the best in college football history.

Let’s go by the numbers to break down what Mariota has achieved and what’s at stake in the CFP National Championship Game.

Touchdowns vs. turnovers
56 – Mariota has been responsible for a Pac-12 record 56 touchdowns this season. He has been responsible for at least four touchdowns in 10 games, tied for the most such games in the last 10 seasons with Tim Tebow (2007) and Colt Brennan (2006).

50 – Mariota is on pace to become the first player in FBS history to account for at least 50 more touchdowns than turnovers in one season (56 touchdowns, six turnovers)

0.7 – With three interceptions in 408 passes, Mariota is threatening the record for lowest interception percentage in a season. If Mariota throws at least 23 passes in the national championship game without an interception, he will break the record for lowest interception percentage in a season, held by Boise State’s Kellen Moore (2009).

Heisman Trophy
10 – If Oregon defeats Ohio State on Monday night, Mariota will be the 10th quarterback in the poll era (since 1936) to win a Heisman Trophy and national title in the same season.

90.9 – Mariota received 90.9 percent of possible points in Heisman Trophy voting, second to Troy Smith in 2006 (91.6).

788 – The first-place votes Mariota received for the Heisman Trophy are the third-highest of any player in the history of Heisman voting.

Team and player efficiency
24.9 – Oregon leads the FBS with a +24.9 offensive efficiency this season, meaning the Ducks’ offense contributed almost 25 points per game to the team’s final scoring margin, compared with what an average offense would contribute. That is three points higher than any other FBS team this season.

91.7Total QBR is a complete measure of quarterback efficiency, and Mariota is on pace to post the third-highest single-season QBR since 2004. Neither of the two players with higher QBRs won a Heisman or a national championship.

Total player
4,852 – Mariota has 4,852 yards of total offense this season. His last three seasons rank in the top four in Oregon history. Mariota’s 4,121 passing yards this season alone would rank second in total offense in school history - behind his 4,380 yards last season.

ESPN’s Football Power Index predicts Oregon with a 63 percent chance of winning the inaugural College Football Playoff. The Ducks will again depend on Mariota’s arm and legs. Will he deliver another memorable performance to cap what might be the greatest season in college football history?

Top storylines: CFP National Championship

January, 2, 2015
Jan 2

Chuck Cook/USA TODAY SportsMarcus Mariota and Cardale Jones are leading their teams into a historic national title game.
Historic matchup
Ohio State and Oregon will meet for the championship in the first year of the new College Football Playoff, and it's not the first time these programs have matched up in the first year of a new postseason format.

Back in 1939, the Ducks and Buckeyes faced off in the final of the first NCAA basketball tournament, with Oregon earning the 46-33 victory.

The Ducks got the win on the hardwood, but it's been all Buckeyes on the football field. Ohio State is 8-0 all-time against Oregon, with two of those wins coming in bowl games. The silver lining for the Ducks is that the Pac-12 has gone 6-1 against the Big Ten so far this season.

Streaks on the line
Both teams enter the national championship on significant winning streaks. Ohio State's 12-game streak began following its Sept. 6 loss to Virginia Tech and ranks as the longest active streak in the FBS.

The second-longest active streak in the nation belongs to Oregon (nine), and the Ducks have been nothing short of dominant during that stretch.

During the nine-game streak, Oregon is winning by an average of 27.4 points per game, and has spent just 44 total offensive plays trailing.

The Ducks have scored at least 40 points in each of those nine games.

Bid for history
Individuals are in line to make history on both sides of this national championship game. Marcus Mariota will try to continue a recent trend of Heisman Trophy winners adding a national title in the same season.

With a victory over Ohio State, Mariota would be the fifth player since 2004 to win the Heisman and the national championship in the same year, joining Matt Leinart, Mark Ingram, Cam Newton and Jameis Winston.

On the other sideline, head coach Urban Meyer is trying to join Nick Saban as the only FBS coaches ever to win titles at multiple schools. He would also be the 11th coach to win three or more titles in the AP poll era.

Mariota's numbers add up to Heisman

December, 13, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

'Total value' stat shows Mariota as No. 1

December, 12, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

Total production

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

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

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

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

Signs point to Heisman

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

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

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

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

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

This may be good omen for Mariota.

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

How Arizona has slowed down Oregon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Top stats to know: Heisman contenders

November, 18, 2014

Scott Olmos/USA Today SportsAgainst the blitz and on deep balls, Marcus Mariota is among the best.
The competition for the Heisman Trophy might be down to two junior offensive stars: Wisconsin running back Melvin Gordon and Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota. We take you inside their numbers, providing context and perspective to their accomplishments.

That’s a lot of yards: Gordon set the FBS single-game record with 408 rushing yards against Nebraska. Penn State (388), Washington State (316) and Wake Forest (173) all have fewer than 400 rushing yards this season in conference play. Gordon had six rushes in the game that gained at least 35 yards, which is more than 85 FBS teams have had for the entire season.

Sanders’ record in trouble? Gordon leads the FBS in rushing yards (1,909). If he stays on his current pace (190.9 rushing YPG) and Wisconsin makes it to the Big Ten Championship, Gordon would break Barry Sanders’ record for most rushing yards in a season, set in 1988 when Sanders won the Heisman. To be fair, Sanders set the record in 11 games and Gordon is on pace to do it in his 14th game.

The undisputed yards-per-rush king: With his 16.3 yards-per-rush average on 25 carries against Nebraska, Gordon set the FBS record for most yards per rush in a game with 25 or more carries. For the season, he is averaging 8.6 yards per rush, on pace to break the FBS record for yards per rush in a season (7.8) with at least 215 attempts set in 1983 by Heisman winner Mike Rozier. For his career, Gordon is averaging 8.29 yards per carry, on pace to break the career yards-per-rush average record (8.26) set by Army’s Heisman winner Glenn Davis from 1943-46.

The new “Mr. Outside”: Davis was known as “Mr. Outside” during his days at Army. Gordon might be the modern-day version. He is averaging a Power 5-high 10.9 yards per carry outside the tackles this season and has 19 such runs that gained 20 yards or more. No other FBS player has more than 16 total 20-yard rushes.

Teams should try the Leathernecks’ blueprint: Gordon has run for at least 100 rushing yards in nine of 10 games this season, including his last eight, the longest active streak in the FBS. The one team to hold Gordon to fewer than 100 yards was Western Illinois, which currently ranks 41st in the FCS in opponent yards per rush and 35th in yards per game.

A touchdown machine:
Mariota has been responsible for 38 touchdowns this season, tied with Ohio State’s J.T. Barrett for most in the FBS. Mariota has been responsible for four or more touchdowns in an FBS-high seven games.

If he has four touchdowns Saturday against Colorado, Mariota will move past USC’s Matt Barkley, who was responsible for 41 touchdowns in 2011, for the Pac-12 record. He would also be two shy of Barkley’s career record of 122. We should mention that Mariota was responsible for a career-high seven touchdowns against Colorado last season, which tied the Pac-12 record for a regulation game.

Keeping good company: Mariota leads the FBS in Total QBR (90.9) this season after ranking second in each of the previous two seasons. Since 2007, every player who has led the nation in Total QBR is either a Heisman winner or a current starting NFL quarterback.

Mariota has an FBS-high seven games this season with a Total QBR of at least 90, and no player in our QBR data set (since 2004) has had more such games in his career than Mariota.

Good things happen when he passes: Mariota leads the nation in yards per attempt (10.0) this season and ranks second in touchdown percentage (11 percent) and interception percentage (1 percent).

Blitzing is a bad idea: On plays with five or more pass rushers, Mariota is completing 72.6 percent of his passes, the highest for a Power 5 quarterback with at least 40 attempts. For his career, he has 25 touchdowns and three interceptions in such situations.

One of the best deep balls in the nation: Marcus Mariota is completing 53.7 percent of his passes thrown 15 yards or longer, second-best among Power 5 quarterbacks this season behind Clemson’s Deshaun Watson and 16 percentage points higher than the Power 5 average.

Stanford has blueprint to beat Oregon

October, 29, 2014

Ezra Shaw/Getty ImagesPressure on Marcus Mariota has been vital to Stanford's ability to contain Oregon's potent offense.
How do you stop Oregon's high-octane offense?

Stanford appears to have found the formula for success, holding Oregon to two of its three lowest-scoring outputs since the start of the 2012 season.

Three keys for Stanford in the past two seasons have been limiting Oregon’s designed running game, pressuring quarterback Marcus Mariota, and forcing the Ducks into third-and-long situations.

Limiting Oregon’s Run Game
Since the start of the 2012 season, Oregon ranks second in the FBS in yards per rush (5.9) and rushing touchdowns (112).

Against Stanford, however, the Ducks’ rushing attack has been stymied, totaling one touchdown in the past two meetings. The Ducks have averaged 3.5 such touchdowns per game against all other opponents during that time.

When looking at designed rushes, Oregon has gained 122 and 77 yards in its past two games against Stanford; the Ducks have had at least 150 such yards in 31 of their 32 games against all other opponents.

One key to stopping Oregon’s designed run game has been funneling the Ducks inside the tackles. Since the start of 2013, Oregon is averaging 7.4 yards per designed run outside of the tackles (fifth among Power 5 schools) and 5.3 inside the tackles (16th among Power 5 schools).

Oregon was held to a season-low six carries and 30 yards outside the tackles last year against Stanford. In every other game, the Ducks had at least 13 carries and 50 yards to the outside (averaged 18 for 145). In 2012, the Cardinal were also able to funnel Oregon inside as they held the Ducks to season lows in yards (29), first downs (2) and 10-yard rushes (zero) outside of the tackles.

Pressuring Mariota
Marcus Mariota has a Total QBR of 67.0 in the two matchups against Stanford, compared with an 87.8 career Total QBR.

The Cardinal have done a great job of putting Mariota under duress. He has been pressured on 29 percent of his dropbacks against Stanford, and 17 percent against all other opponents.

When under duress against Stanford, Mariota is averaging fewer than 3 yards per play and has been sacked six times.

Forcing Oregon into third-and-long
Stanford has won third downs. Oregon, which ranks at the top of the conference in third-down conversions since the start of the 2012 season (47 percent), has converted 26 percent of its third downs against the Cardinal in its past two meetings.

More than the Ducks' other opponents, Stanford has been able to force them into third-and-long situations. They have needed eight or more yards on 14 of their 27 (52 percent) third downs against Stanford. Although Oregon’s average third-down distance to go is not significantly lower against other opponents (7.1 to 6.9), it has had eight or more yards to go on a much lower percentage of third-down plays (39 percent).

Given the difficult situations and the strength of Stanford’s defense, Mariota has struggled against Stanford on third down, posting a 29.7 third-down QBR and gaining a first down on 36 percent of his plays.

Can Stanford do it again Saturday?
Despite losing first-team All-Pac-12 members Ben Gardner, Trent Murphy, Shayne Skov and Ed Reynolds, in addition to defensive coordinator Derek Mason to Vanderbilt, Stanford’s defense still has been one of the best in college football. The Cardinal rank second in FBS in opponent points per game (12.5), second in yards per game (250.6) and first in yards per play (3.7).

The biggest difference for Stanford, however, is on offense. In their previous meetings, the Cardinal have been able to run the ball to keep Oregon’s offense off the field. They have had the ball almost twice as long as the Ducks the past two seasons, including for 42 minutes, 34 seconds in 2013. Stanford’s run game has been able to move the chains and keep the clock ticking (274 rushing yards last season).

This year, Stanford ranks 90th in the FBS in rushing yards per game and does not have a workhorse back like Tyler Gaffney or Stepfan Taylor. The Cardinal were held below 3.5 yards per rush in each of their losses this season.

SEC leads tight race in Power Rankings

August, 25, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ohio State's Braxton Miller back for 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Oregon's Mariota looks to take next step

August, 4, 2014

Kelley L Cox/USA TODAY SportsMarcus Mariota threw 31 touchdowns and four interceptions last year for Oregon.
The 2014 college football season has the potential to showcase one of the most talented groups of quarterbacks in recent memory. Jameis Winston, Marcus Mariota, Brett Hundley and Bryce Petty are all being talked about as potential first-round NFL Draft picks, while Braxton Miller and Everett Golson have the chance to solidify their places in their respective school’s storied histories.

In preparation for the 2014 season, and in conjunction with interviews conducted by ESPN CFB analyst Kirk Herbstreit, ESPN Stats & Info will take a deeper look at the top QBs entering the fall. Today we examine Marcus Mariota, who enters the 2014 season with a career 23-3 record for Oregon.

A Look Back at 2013
Marcus Mariota’s numbers speak for themselves. Boasting a career 23-3 record as a starter, Mariota has thrown for 63 touchdowns compared with 10 interceptions. Add his 14 rushing touchdowns, and Mariota has been a dynamic force on offense and a real challenge to opposing defensive coordinators since taking the helm in the 2012 season.

Mariota posted a Total QBR of 88.0 last season, which trailed only Heisman Trophy-winning Jameis Winston. It was the second consecutive season Mariota ranked second in the FBS in Total QBR behind the eventual Heisman Trophy winner.

Mariota made great strides as a passer last season, improving his yards per attempt and his touchdown-to-interception ratio from 2012. He was especially impressive on his downfield passes, completing 58.1 percent of his passes thrown 15 yards or longer, best among Power Five Conference quarterbacks and 16 percentage points higher than in 2012.

Mariota’s prowess running the zone read helped the Ducks lead the Pac-12 in rushing each of the past two seasons. He improved his efficiency on designed rushes, increasing his average by almost three yards per designed rush from 2012. Mariota’s 11.8 yards per designed rush was at least three yards better than any other Power Five Conference quarterback.

Mariota was a different quarterback, however, after he suffered a sprained MCL in a Week 11 loss against Stanford. Before the injury, Mariota had a 92.9 Total QBR, on pace to be the third-highest single-season Total QBR in the last 10 seasons. After the injury, his Total QBR dipped to 78.3 (excluding the game vs. Stanford) and he threw all four of his interceptions in Oregon’s last four games of the season.

Additionally, Mariota was less efficient on designed runs after the injury. He averaged 13.4 yards on four designed rushes per game before hurting his knee, but he totaled four designed rushes for 11 yards in the remaining three regular-season matchups, including none against Utah in the week after his injury.

Can Mariota fight off his Cardinal demons?
Mariota’s glorious career does have one glitch: he and the Ducks are 0-2 against the Stanford Cardinal compared with 23-1 against all other teams.

Stanford’s ability to keep the Ducks’ offense off the field and to contain their outside runs made it tough to open up passing lanes for Mariota. The Cardinal kept the Ducks narrow, limiting their ability to get out in open spaces.

Mariota and the Ducks will have an early test in the second week this season when they host Michigan State, the team that beat Stanford in last season's Rose Bowl. Mariota’s performance against the Spartans could be a good barometer of his progression as a complete quarterback.

Top stats to know: Alamo Bowl

December, 30, 2013
Oregon and Texas will clash in an Alamo Bowl (ESPN, 6:45 pm ET) that represents the end of an era for a significant figure in college football. What are the top stats to know from this game?

1-- This will be Mack Brown’s swan song as head coach of the Longhorns. Since 1950, Texas has had seven different head coaches. In that span, Darrell Royal is the only one to win his final game as head coach.

Brown is just nine victories behind Royal for most in program history. But since 2010, Texas has the fifth-best win percentage (.600) among FBS programs in the state of Texas.

2-- Oregon has scored 73 offensive touchdowns this season, including 48 on drives lasting 2 minutes or less. The Ducks’ 48 touchdowns on such drives is the second most in the FBS behind Baylor (57) and three more than they had all of last season.

The Ducks’ average touchdown drive has lasted 1:50, fourth fastest in FBS.

Oregon has four players with at least 500 yards rushing, each of whom average at least six yards per carry. Oregon is the only FBS team this season with that distinction, and only four other teams even have three such players.

Oregon has 337 touchdowns over the last four seasons. That number may not mean much, until you consider this: that’s 46 more than any other team in that span (Baylor, 291).

3-- Texas is currently on pace to allow the second-most yards per game in program history, surpassed only by last season. A big night by Oregon would push this season to the worst in Texas football history.

Texas has allowed 189 fewer rush yards per game in its wins compared to its losses. The biggest issues have been big plays and rushing quarterbacks. In their four losses, the Longhorns have allowed 44 rushes of 10 yards or more, and opposing quarterbacks have averaged more than 109 rushing yards per game.

4— How do you beat the Ducks? One team that has developed a pattern of knocking off Oregon is Stanford. Since 2009, the Cardinal have three wins over the Ducks – and have followed a similar pattern in each victory: They’ve held the ball for at least 37 minutes, rushed at least 46 times, and rushed for at least 200 yards.

5— Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota has a total QBR of 85.7 this season, second in FBS behind Jameis Winston (89.0). He had a total QBR of at least 95 in four games this season, matching Bryce Petty for the most such games in FBS this season.

Mariota has excelled throwing the deep ball, completing 57 percent of his passes thrown at least 15 yards downfield, the highest rate among players from automatic-qualifier conferences with at least 50 such attempts.

Stats to know: Baylor & Oregon are amazing

November, 7, 2013

Icon SMIMarcus Mariota and Bryce Petty have racked up points and stats all season.
Oregon and Baylor will each try to remain undefeated on Thursday night. Below are 15 need-to-know stats in preparation for their games.

1-- Baylor is averaging an FBS-high 63.9 points and 718.4 yards per game. The Bears are on pace to break the FBS records for points (56.0) and yards (624.9) per game that were set by Army in 1944 and Houston in 1989, respectively

2-- Oregon has scored at least 42 points in each of its first eight games this season. The Ducks are the fourth team in the last 100 years to start a season with at least 42 points in eight straight games.

3-- Baylor has scored 22 touchdowns in drives lasting one minute or less, eight more than any other FBS team this season. In the last 10 seasons, there have only been six teams that have scored more than 22 touchdowns in one minute or less in an entire season.
4-- Oregon has an FBS-high 59 offensive touchdowns, including 41 in two minutes or less. The Ducks’ 41 touchdown drives in two minutes or less is four fewer than all of last season when they led the FBS with 45 such touchdowns.

5-- Baylor is averaging more points in the first half (42.1) than 115 FBS teams average for a game. In the first half, the Bears average a FBS-low 15.9 seconds per play and their average touchdown drive lasts 1 minute, 19 seconds.

6-- Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota has thrown an FBS-high 225 pass attempts without an interception this season. Dating back to last season, Mariota has thrown a Pac-12-record 293 passes without an interception.

7-- Baylor quarterback Bryce Petty is averaging 13.9 yards per pass attempt, on pace to be the highest rate for a qualified quarterback in the last 10 seasons. The deep ball has been key for Petty. He has 19 completions and 10 touchdowns (both the most of anyone in an automatic-qualifier conference) on passes thrown 25 yards or longer.

8-- Oregon averages an AQ-high 7.5 yards per rush on zone-read plays, including 5.2 yards before first contact. On such plays, Mariota is averaging 13.7 yards per rush and has six touchdowns.

9--Petty leads the FBS with a 95.3 opponent-adjusted QBR. The leader in opponent-adjusted QBR in three of the last six seasons went on to win the Heisman, including Johnny Manziel last year.

10-- Oregon is the only team in the FBS that ranks in the top five in ESPN’s new offensive and defensive efficiency. The Ducks have ranked in the top five in offensive efficiency each of the last three seasons.

11-- Baylor is on pace to have the highest offensive efficiency in the last 10 years. Offensive efficiency measures an offense’s contributions to its team’s opponent-adjusted scoring margin per game.

Through seven games, Baylor’s offense is adding about seven more expected points towards its net scoring margin, more than any other offense has for an entire season since 2004 (as far back as our data goes).

12-- Oregon quarterback Mariota has posted a Total QBR of 90 or higher in six of his eight games, tied with Petty for the most such games in the FBS.

13-- Baylor running back Lache Seastrunk is averaging 9.1 yards per rush, second in the FBS behind Mariota. Seastrunk has made it at least five yards past the line of scrimmage before first contact on 39 percent of his rushes, the highest percentage among AQ running backs with at least 75 carries.

14-- Oregon has forced 23 turnovers and scored 100 points off of its opponents’ turnovers this season. Since the start of last season, Oregon leads the FBS with 63 takeaways and ranks second with 288 points off turnovers.

15-- Baylor has had an average in-game win probability of 86 percent across all of its plays this season, best in the FBS. Oregon ranks third with an 83 percent average in-game win probability.

Winston, Florida State among best of week

October, 22, 2013

Joshua S. Kelly/USA TODAY Sports
Jameis Winston threw for a career-high 444 yards in Florida State's blowout win over Clemson.
Week 8 featured upsets and surprises as nine ranked teams lost, including five at the hands of an unranked opponent. Louisville, Texas A&M and Georgia all had more than a 90 percent chance of winning midway through the third quarter before blowing double-digit leads. Conversely, Clemson, LSU, UCLA and Florida never held a lead Saturday.

With the help of ESPN’s new college football metrics (see explanations here), ESPN Stats & Information takes a look back at the Week 8 action.

Best individual performances
Marcus Mariota had a 97.4 opponent-adjusted QBR in Oregon’s 63-28 win against Washington State. He completed 10-of-12 passes and ran for a touchdown in the first quarter. As a result, his Total QBR never fell below 95 in the game. Mariota leads the nation with a 96.6 opponent-adjusted Total QBR this season.

Jameis Winston posted a 97.0 opponent-adjusted QBR after throwing for a career-high 444 pass yards and accounting for four touchdowns in Florida State’s 51-14 win at Clemson. Entering the game, Clemson’s opponents had a Total QBR of 27, ninth-best in the FBS. Winston is the first player in the last 10 seasons to throw for at least 300 pass yards and three touchdowns in each of his first four conference games.

Bryce Petty had a 96.3 opponent-adjusted QBR in Baylor’s 71-7 win against Iowa State. He has posted an opponent-adjusted Total QBR of 75 or higher in all of his games this season. No other player in the FBS can make that claim (minimum five games played).

AJ McCarron posted a season-high 95.3 opponent-adjusted QBR in Alabama’s 52-0 rout of Arkansas. McCarron completed 71 percent of his passes with three touchdowns and no interceptions, and his Total QBR never dipped below 85 in the game.

Explaining Jordan Lynch’s Total QBR:
Northern Illinois’ Jordan Lynch set the FBS single-game record for rush yards by a quarterback (316), but his Total QBR was ONLY a 85.5. Why? QBR is a rate stat, meaning it measures efficiency.

Lynch gained 471 yards of total offense, but he was involved in 62 passing or rushing plays (7.6 yards per play).

To put that into perspective, Mariota, the nation’s leader in opponent-adjusted QBR, is averaging 10.3 yards per play this season. Furthermore, Lynch threw a costly interception from the Central Michigan 15-yard line with the score tied. That interception decreased Northern Illinois’ win probability by 12 percentage points and took 3.5 expected points off the board.

For a full list of Total QBR leaders for the season and Week 8, click here.

Best team performances
Offense-- Florida State gained 565 yards of total offense and scored 51 points Saturday against Clemson. The Seminoles’ offense added 25.3 expected points in the game, meaning they contributed about 26 net points towards their 37-point victory. Adjusted for the strength of Clemson’s defense, which had allowed 16.2 points per game entering Saturday, Florida State had the highest opponent-adjusted offensive EPA of Week 8.

Defense—Baylor’s average margin of victory this season is a ridiculous 48.5 points per game, and both its offense and defense deserves credit. On Saturday, Baylor held Iowa State to seven points and 174 total yards (2.9 yards per play). As a result, its defense added 27.5 expected points, the most for any defense in Week 8. Overall, the Bears lead the nation in both offensive and defensive expected points added this season.

Special Teams—Alabama blocked a field goal and forced a fumble on the opening kickoff of the second half of its 52-0 win against Arkansas. The Tide’s special teams unit contributed 12.1 expected points, the most of any team in Week 8. Alabama is averaging 5.8 expected points added per game on special teams this season, most of any team in the FBS.

Looking ahead to Week 9

Oregon hosts UCLA (7 PM ET, ESPN) on Saturday in a game that will feature one of the top offenses in the nation looking to continue its success against one of the Pac-12’s best defensive units.

Oregon has scored at least 45 points in each of its first seven games of the season. They are the first major college football program to do that since Harvard in 1887. UCLA, which has the second-best scoring defense in the Pac-12 (19.2 PPG), hasn’t allowed more than 27 points in a game this season.

Tune in on Saturday to see of the Bruins can slow the Ducks offensive pace and jump back into the BCS discussion.