Stats & Info: Notre Dame

Huskies turnaround keys: Stewart, defense

April, 7, 2013
4/07/13
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Three stats to know from Connecticut’s win over Notre Dame in the national semifinals, one that set up a meeting with Louisville (whom it has beaten 12 straight times) for the national title.

1-- Connecticut beat Notre Dame in the NCAA Tournament for the first time in four tries. The Huskies advanced to their eighth national championship game. They are 7-0 in their previous appearances.

2--UConn’s Breanna Stewart had the best game of her career, a 29-point effort to lead the Huskies to the win. Stewart went 4-for-5 on catch-and-shoot 3-pointers in this game.

She was 1-for-4 on catch-and-shoot 3-pointers in the first four games of the tournament and 0-for-9 on those shots in three previous meetings with Notre Dame this season.

3-- Notre Dame shot 15-for-46 (33 percent) in the paint and 2-for-13( 15 percent) in transition against Connecticut on Sunday. The Irish had one more turnover (3) in transition than they had field goals (2).

In their three previous games against the Huskies, the Irish shot 49 percent in the paint and 54 percent in transition.

The Irish also went 6-for-26 when one player touched the ball before a shot. Connecticut was 11-for-14 on the same type of attempts.

Seven signees that will impact 2013 season

February, 8, 2013
2/08/13
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Zuma Press/Icon SMNotre Dame's Greg Bryant (with ball) is a 2013 signee than can make an immediate impact this fall.
Signing day has come and gone and with much of the ESPN 300 having made their college decisions, we look at seven signees from the 2013 class that can make an immediate impact next fall:

RB Greg Bryant, Notre Dame
Cierre Wood and Theo Riddick are gone, leaving a vacancy in the backfield and over 300 carries to go around. Bryant is the first top-10 running back the Irish have signed since James Aldridge in 2006. Notre Dame posted a respectable 4.9 yards per carry as a team last season and will return three starters on the offensive line. With returning dual-threat quarterback Everett Golson, Bryant should have plenty of room to work.

QB Christian Hackenberg, Penn State
Matt McGloin threw for eight touchdowns and 5 interceptions in 2011. He had the same amount of picks last season, but led the Big Ten in both yards (3,271) and touchdowns (24) through the air. The difference? Coach Bill O’Brien, who tailored his offense to McGloin’s skills. Hackenberg's No. 1 ranking indicates his physical tools and with O’Brien’s help, will likely be put in a position to succeed.

ILB Reuben Foster, Alabama
Is Alabama the new hotbed for talented linebackers? Nick Saban is certainly making a case for it. Under Saban, the Tide’s marquee linebackers have all been in the running for the Butkus Award (nation’s top linebacker). With Nico Johnson heading for the draft, Foster could very well step in next to C.J. Mosley to solidify the front seven on one of the most dominant defensive units in the FBS.

WR Robbie Rhodes, Baylor
Terrance Williams and Lanear Sampson are leaving Waco, but the Bears will still be running their wide-open offensive scheme and need playmakers on the outside. Losing Williams is huge, as no player in FBS had more receiving yards than he did last season. But Rhodes is the highest-rated player the Bears have signed since the ESPN 150 began in 2006, and he is the first top-10 receiver they have signed as well.

RB Derrick Green, Michigan
Fitz Toussaint’s status for 2013 is unknown following ankle surgery and by the end of last season, Denard Robinson was getting a majority of the carries at running back with Devin Gardner at quarterback. Green is the highest-ranked running back prospect to head to Ann Arbor in the history of the ESPN 150, and without Robinson or a healthy Toussaint, the Wolverines backfield should have plenty of carries up for grabs.

ATH Greg Taboada & TE Eric Cotton Jr., Stanford
There is not a school in the country which has relied on its tight ends more than Stanford in recent seasons. Like Coby Fleener before them, Zach Ertz and Levine Toilolo are headed for the NFL draft and the Cardinal are looking for help at a vital position in their offense. The last top-20 tight end that signed with Stanford was Davis Dudchock in 2010, but he has yet to catch a pass in his collegiate career. Cotton is a pure tight end, while Taboada projects at either tight end or as a pass rusher - which is another position the Cardinal value, as the FBS leader in sacks last season.

Better defense: Alabama or Notre Dame?

November, 21, 2012
11/21/12
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Notre Dame and Alabama have each given up 111 points this season, the fewest in FBS. Both teams have held six opponents to 10 points or fewer, the most in the nation.

If defense wins championships, then who has the edge? The Tide and their defensive schemes under coach Nick Saban or the Irish and their dominating front seven led by Heisman candidate Manti Te’o?

RUNNING DEFENSE

The first thing teams must do on defense is stop the run. FBS teams are 211-42 when rushing for at least 250 yards this season.

Alabama and Notre Dame are two of the best against the run. Neither team has allowed an opponent to run for more than 170 yards this season. Florida State, Florida and TCU are the only other FBS teams who can make this claim.

Alabama has been slightly better at limiting yards. The Tide are allowing the third fewest yards per game (75.6) and the second-lowest yards per rush (2.3) in FBS this season. That is 16.6 fewer yards and 0.8 fewer yards per rush than Notre Dame. The Tide have also been better at limiting long runs. Alabama’s opponents have 21 rushes that have gained 10 or more yards, second-fewest in FBS and 10 fewer than Notre Dame.

Notre Dame has been the nation’s best at conceding touchdowns. The Irish have conceded two rushing touchdowns this season; every other FBS team has allowed at least five. In goal-to-go situations Notre Dame has been dominant, allowing one rushing touchdown and -31 rush yards in 18 attempts. That’s the fewest touchdowns and yards on such runs in FBS.

Tackling is fundamental to stopping the run. The Irish have 55 missed tackles this season, the third fewest among AQ schools. Alabama has 66 missed tackles, third fewest in the SEC and 13th amongst AQ schools.

PASSING DEFENSE

Opponents have struggled to move the ball through the air against both Alabama and Notre Dame. Both teams have allowed just six pass touchdowns and rank in the top 11 in pass efficiency defense.

At first glance, the Tide’s numbers appear to be better than Notre Dame’s. They are allowing 164.5 yards per game, fourth fewest in FBS and roughly 30 fewer yards per game than the Irish. Yet, Notre Dame has been better against ranked opponents. Alabama’s averaged 239.5 passing yards per game with five touchdowns and four interceptions. The Irish’s ranked opponents averaged 203.5 passing yards per game with no touchdowns and eight interceptions.

Notre Dame’s secondary has been questioned, but the Irish have allowed just seven completions on 41 pass attempts thrown 20 yards or longer downfield. The Tide have allowed 13 completions on 50 such passes.

Alabama has been better at keeping short throws to short gains. The Tide have given up 56.6 yards after the catch per game this season and only two opponents have had more than 100 yards after the catch. Notre Dame on the other hand has allowed 102.7 such yards per game with eight of its 11 opponents gaining at least 100 yards after the catch.

RED ZONE DEFENSE

Notre Dame is one of the best red zone defenses in recent history. The Irish have allowed a touchdown on 24.1 percent of their opponents’ red zone drives this season, the lowest percentage for any FBS team in the last eight seasons. Overall, Irish opponents have scored seven touchdowns and committed five turnovers in 29 red zone possessions.

Alabama is allowing opponents to score a touchdown on 47.8 percent of their red zone possessions, the 20th-lowest percentage in FBS this season. The good news for Tide fans is their opponents do not reach the red zone often. Alabama’s opponents have reached the red zone on 23 of their 136 drives (16.9 percent), the fourth lowest percentage in FBS. Like Notre Dame, Alabama has forced five red zone turnovers, including four in conference play.

LIMITING GAME-CHANGING PLAYS

Notre Dame has allowed 14 plays that have gained 25 yards or more, tied for second fewest in FBS. Alabama has allowed 20 such plays, tied for 13th in FBS. Alabama and Notre Dame are tied with Florida for the fewest touchdowns of 25 yards of longer (1) allowed this season.

Alabama has forced 24 turnovers that have led to 143 points this season. Notre Dame has 21 turnovers but has scored only 45 points off of those turnovers. Yet, 12 of Notre Dame’s 21 turnovers have come when the game is within one score. Alabama has built so many big leads that only five of their 24 turnovers have come in close games.

Irish, Kelly hope third season is a charm

October, 25, 2012
10/25/12
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Five great nuggets of information to get you ready for the weekend in college football

1. Could history be repeating itself in South Bend? Four different coaches have been responsible for Notre Dame's eight national championships in the poll era (since 1936).

All four of those coaches captured their first national title in their third season at Notre Dame (Lou Holtz in 1988, Dan Devine in 1977, Ara Parseghian in 1966, Frank Leahy in 1943). Brian Kelly is currently in his third season in South Bend.

2. Duke is bowl-eligible for the first time since 1994 and looks to knock off Florida State this week. But history says not so fast.

Duke is 0-17 all-time against Florida State with all of those games coming since the Seminoles joined the ACC in 1992. That's the most games ever played by a current BCS-AQ school against any opponent without a win. The next longest? Louisville is 0-13 all-time against Xavier, though the teams haven't met since 1962.

3. A loss this weekend would mean that Tennessee starts 0-5 in SEC play for the third season in a row. That's a stark slide for a proud SEC program that only started 0-5 in the SEC once before in 78 years of membership in the conference.

That came in 1977 during Johnny Majors first year at the helm. And Volunteers fans won't like being in this company. The only other school to start 0-5 in the SEC in three straight seasons is Vanderbilt, which most recently did it from 2000-03.

4. Kansas State's 7-0 start has been aided by its ability to avoid mistakes. The Wildcats are committing 3.4 penalties per game, tied for the fewest in FBS. They also have committed the second-fewest turnovers (four) in FBS.

In fact, Kansas State is the only FBS team that has not allowed a point off a turnover this season. The five teams that have given up fewer than seven points off turnovers this season are a combined 35-0 (Kansas State, Alabama, Florida, Mississippi State and Rutgers).

5. Both Baylor and West Virginia have allowed at least 42 points in each of their last four games. It's the first time in the BCS era (since 1998) that one conference has had multiple teams with such simultaneous streaks in a single season. Overall, there have been 33 teams over that stretch that have allowed 42-or-more points in four consecutive games.

Notre Dame hopes to 'box' up Spartans

September, 14, 2012
9/14/12
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Matt Cashore/US PresswireNotre Dame RB Cierre Wood returns from a two-game suspension Saturday against Michigan State. Wood rushed for 61 yards and two touchdowns last season against the Spartans.
In the only matchup between teams ranked in the AP Top-20 this weekend, No. 10 Michigan State hosts No. 20 Notre Dame at 8pm ET on ABC. The Spartans and Fighting Irish have split their last 10 meetings with the home team winning each of the last four contests.

The last time these two teams met in East Lansing, Michigan State defeated Notre Dame, 34-31, on a fake field goal in overtime two seasons ago. The 29-yard TD pass from Aaron Bates to Charlie Gantt gave the Spartans their first and only lead of the game.

Including that win, Michigan State is 9-1 in games decided by eight points or fewer since 2010. The win was also the second of what is now 15-straight wins at home for Michigan State, the fourth-longest active streak among FBS schools.

Notre Dame enters the game at 2-0 and hopes to win its first three games of the season for the first time since starting 8-0 in 2002. The Irish have entered their matchup with Michigan State at 2-0 twice since then (2005 & 2008) and lost each of those games on the road.

Should the Irish come away with the win, it would be their first win over a team ranked in the AP Top-10 since 2005 when they knocked off No. 3 Michigan. They have lost nine straight such games since then, the longest streak in Notre Dame history.

One player the Irish will need to slow down if they hope to come up with the road win is Michigan State RB Le'Veon Bell. Bell ranks sixth in the nation with 140.0 rush yards per game but has been limited when opponents have stacked the line of scrimmage.

Against defensive fronts with seven or more players in the box, Bell has averaged 3.5 yards per carry on 32 attempts with 37 yards after contact. Against fronts with six or fewer in the box, he has averaged 5.6 yards per carry on 30 attempts with 74 yards after contact.

You can expect Notre Dame to bring a safety or two up to help against the run because Spartans QB Andrew Maxwell has yet to stretch the field consistently. He’s completed only 38.9 percent of his pass attempts 10 yards or more downfield this season.

Speaking of defense, it’s tough to ignore the numbers that Michigan State has put up in two games this season.

The Spartans enter the weekend as one of three teams in the FBS yet to allow an offensive touchdown in 2012 and the other two (Florida State & TCU) have played only schools from the FCS. The 225.5 total yards they have allowed per game lead the Big Ten and rank eighth in the FBS.

Last weekend, Tommy Rees replaced Everett Golson at quarterback for Notre Dame’s final offensive drive against Purdue, which led to a game-winning field goal. However, head coach Brian Kelly said Golson will be the starter on Saturday.

Elsewhere in the backfield, the Irish hope the return of RB Cierre Wood will provide a spark against Michigan State like he did last season in South Bend. Wood, suspended the first two games of 2012, rushed for 61 yards and a pair of touchdowns in Notre Dame’s upset win over the No. 15 Spartans last season.

SEC duo may top AP Poll for first time ever

August, 17, 2012
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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.
Stats & Info insights into this morning's top sports stories


1. BAYLOR WOMEN MAKE IT A PERFECT 40: Baylor wins the NCAA Women’s Basketball Championship with a 80-61 win over Notre Dame. Brittney Griner (26 Pts, 13 Reb, 5 Blk) was named Most Outstanding Player. The Lady Bears become the 1st men’s or women’s basketball team to reach 40 wins in a season.

2. LeBRON GOES FOR 40: The Miami Heat clinch their 4th straight playoff appearance with a 99-93 win over the Philadelphia 76ers. LeBron James scores a season-high 41 points. FROM ELIAS: The only other NBA player this season to record more than 40 points in a game in which his team failed to score 100 points is Kobe Bryant, who did that three times in a five-day span in January.

3. KNICKS FALL APART LATE: The Indiana Pacers defeat the New York Knicks, 112-104. FROM ELIAS: That is the largest margin of victory for any NBA team in a game it was losing by 15-or-more points heading into the fourth quarter since October 30, 2010, when the Bulls rallied to beat the Pistons in Chicago, 101-91.

4. RANGERS CLINCH TOP SEED: The New York Rangers clinch the top seed in the Eastern Conference with a 5-3 win over the Philadelphia Flyers. It marks the first time that the Rangers secured the East’s best record since the 1993-94 season. That’s the last time the Blueshirts won the Stanley Cup.

Sidney Crosby
Crosby
5. CROSBY SCORING LATELY: Sidney Crosby scores two goals, with an assist in the Pittsburgh Penguins’ 5-3 win over the Boston Bruins. FROM ELIAS: Crosby has scored 22 points in 12 games (5 goals, 17 assists) since March 15, when he returned to action. That makes him the NHL scoring leader since that date, one point ahead of teammate Evgeni Malkin.

UTSA 115, Jarvis Christian 49
Jordan Sims of UTSA scored 26 points, making all seven of his three-point attempts, in 18 minutes off the bench. The 26 points match the most by any player this season in fewer than 20 minutes and the seven three-pointers without a miss also match the most by anyone this season.

Kent State 90, Northern Illinois 56
Northern Illinois’ starting lineup combined to shoot 2-of-18 from the field; the two made field goals are the fewest by any team’s starting lineup this season and the field goal percentage of 11.1 is also the lowest by a starting lineup this season. No team’s starters had shot a lower percentage since December 6, 2009, when San Diego’s starters combined to shoot 2-of-27 (7.4 percent) in a loss to Fresno State. Three of Northern Illinois’ starters did not score, something Texas Tech did later in the night. Entering Wednesday, a team had had three of its starters go scoreless only 10 times all season.

Wright State 69, UIC 63
Wright State’s Julius Mays hit 19 of 20 free throw attempts in his team’s win. Mays’ 19 made free throws are the second most by any player this season and his free throw percentage of 95.0 is the highest percentage (minimum 20 free throws) since North Texas’ Tristan Thompson made all 20 of his free throw attempts on March 6 of last season.

Notre Dame 55, Seton Hall 42
Notre Dame made just 13 baskets in the win; only two teams this season have made fewer field goals in a victory.

US Presswire/Matt CashoreCierre Wood (with ball) will be a player to watch in tonight's Citrus Bowl

Two of college football’s most prestigious programs may not have had the best of seasons, but both have significant reasons for wanting to win today’s Champs Sports Bowl matchup (ESPN, 5:30 ET).

Here’s a closer look at this matchup:

History
It’s the first meeting between the two storied programs since 2003 (a 37-0 win by FSU in South Bend). This is their second bowl meeting.

The first bowl meeting came in the Orange Bowl on January 1, 1996 when Florida State rallied from a 26-14 fourth-quarter deficit by scoring 17 points in the final 9:47 of the game for a 31-26 victory.

Overall, Florida State leads the series 4-2.

Florida State is 7-0-2 all-time in games played in Orlando. One of those games is a 23-16 win over Notre Dame on November 12, 1994. This is the Seminoles’ second appearance in the Champs Sports Bowl. They defeated Wisconsin 42-13 in the 2008 edition.

Keys to the Matchup
The biggest battle in this game will be Notre Dame rushing the football against one of the best run defenses in the country.

Florida State holds opponents to 2.3 yards per rush (fewest in FBS) because it does not allow opponents to gain yards in chunks.

Fewer than a quarter of Florida State opponents’ rushes gain five or more yards. The Seminoles have only allowed 104 rushes of at least five yards out of 423 attempts.

The Irish, led by Cierre Wood (1,042 yards) and Jonas Gray (791), rank 20th among FBS schools in yards per carry, netting just over five yards per rush. In fact, the team gains at least five yards on 43 percent of its rushes, the sixth-best rate among FBS schools.

Notre Dame will have to take care of the football. The Irish enter the game fifth-worst in the FBS in turnover margin, with a minus-13 turnover differential. Much of that is attributable to quarterback Tommy Rees, who has thrown 12 interceptions and lost five fumbles. In the past eight games, they've trimmed that differential to minus-3.

This will be the third bowl game and second start for Florida State QB E.J. Manuel. Manuel is 28-for-39 for 273 yards in two previous bowl appearances, with one touchdown throw and no interceptions.

Over the past four games, Manuel has thrown 83 passes and not thrown an interception.

Manuel’s success at throwing the long pass could be significant in this contest. In the three Seminoles losses in which he played, he was 1-for-12 with two interceptions when throwing the ball at least 20 yards downfield.

In his other games, he is 13-for-29 on pass attempts of at least 20 yards, with six touchdowns and one interception.

Stats of the Game
Florida State is appearing in a bowl game for the 30th consecutive season, the longest active streak in FBS (though the NCAA does not recognize FSU’s 2006 Emerald Bowl).

Brian Kelly is trying to become the first coach in Notre Dame history to win bowl games in each of his first two seasons there.

Keep in mind, the Fighting Irish did not play in a bowl from the 1926-68 seasons because of a self-imposed bowl ban.
The 2011 USA Today Preseason Coaches' Poll was released late Thursday morning with the Oklahoma Sooners taking the top overall spot. This is the first time Oklahoma is the preseason No. 1 in the poll since 2003, a season in which they reached the BCS National Championship game before falling to LSU. The team finished third in the coaches' poll that season.

However, the Sooners do not have recent history on their side - the last team to open up the season No. 1 in the coaches' poll and finish the season No. 1 was USC in 2004.

One challenge the Sooners will have to overcome in order to stay No. 1 will be performance on the road. Specifically, the performance of quarterback Landry Jones.

Jones was much more effective at home during the 2010 season - he had a 37-6 touchdown-to-interception ratio at home compared to 27-to-20 on the road. The team's first road test will be on September 17 at Florida State, with other notable road/neutral games including Texas on October 8, Baylor on November 19 and Oklahoma State on December 3.

Beyond The Top Spot
The Fighting Irish of Notre Dame made the largest jump of all teams inside the top 20, going from unranked and 36th in receiving votes to No. 18 in the preseason poll. Three other teams jumped 10 or more spots based on their final ranking from the previous season, including Texas A&M and Florida State, both of whom jumped into the top 10.

On the other hand, three of the final top five teams from the final coaches poll last season dropped by more than 10 spots. Auburn fell 18 spots down to 19th, the largest drop for any team. That's thanks in part to returning only three starters on each side of the ball. It is the lowest debut for a defending national champion since USA Today began administering the coaches' poll in 1991. Meanwhile Ohio State found itself 16th in the preseason poll and TCU sits 15th after finishing No. 2 last season.

Alabama, which picked up 13 first-place votes, comes in at No. 2 and will once again be relying heavily on the running game to stay there. The team lost starting running back and former Heisman Trophy-winner Mark Ingram to the NFL and will now turn to Trent Richardson to pick up where he left off.

Thankfully, Richardson proved himself to be effective last season - perhaps more effective than even Ingram himself. Richardson was superior to Ingram in his yards per rush figures from virtually every angle; rushing inside the tackles (Richardson' 5.0 to Ingram's 4.7), rushing outside the tackles (7.8 to 6.5) and even yards after contact (2.7 to 2.4).

After completing fewer than half of his passes that were thrown in the air 10 yards or more in 2009, LSU quarterback Jordan Jefferson's deep passes regressed even further in 2010.

Jefferson is going to have to improve his deep touch if the Tigers are going to overcome of the nation's toughest schedules.

That schedule features an opener against Oregon, trips to Alabama, West Virginia, Mississippi State and home dates against Florida, Arkansas and Auburn. In other words, it will be a challenge for the Tigers to remain in the top five all season long.

At the other end of the spectrum, the Big East failed to place a team in the preseason Top 25 for the second time in three seasons.

However, a lot can change between now and January - just ask defending champion Auburn as it was ranked No. 23 in the 2010 Preseason Coaches Poll.

Nickel Package: Notre Dame's bad luck

September, 23, 2010
9/23/10
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1. All of the preseason top 8 teams are still unbeaten, and Alabama (at Arkansas) is the only team out of that group that isn't a double-digit favorite this week. If all are victorious, it will be only the second time that the preseason top 8 have gone undefeated into October. The first time was 1952, when the season opened on Sept. 27. Even then, one of the teams had a tie on the first weekend.

2. You'd think it would take Nick Saban more than three-and-a-half seasons in Tuscaloosa to equal any of Bear Bryant's accomplishments there, but he's now a win away from a fairly significant one. Going back to last season, Alabama has been ranked No. 1 in the last six AP polls. Believe it or not, that’s just one shy of the school record for consecutive weeks at No. 1, achieved by Bryant's teams in both 1979 and 1980.

3. Here are a few eye-popping numbers on Joe Paterno's tenure as Penn State head coach. Since he took over that job in 1966, there have been 876 head-coaching changes in major-college football. Twenty-two active head coaches in the FBS weren't even born then. And, in Penn State’s game against Kent State last Saturday, Beaver Stadium attendance during Paterno's time as head coach surpassed 23 million (23,098,439 to be exact). That's more than the population of Australia.

4. Even with an Irish head coach, Notre Dame hasn't been able to improve in the luck department this season. After back-to-back tough losses to Michigan and Michigan State, ND now has eight straight defeats by seven points or fewer - the longest active streak in the nation. That's one more than Iowa, which had some tough luck of its own last weekend at Arizona.

5. A Michigan win Saturday against Bowling Green would make the Wolverines 4-0 for the second straight season. Even before recently falling on rough times, back-to-back 4-0 starts wasn't exactly a common occurrence in Ann Arbor. The last time Michigan started consecutive seasons at 4-0 was 1995-97. Before that it was 1985-86, and then 1976-78 prior to that. In other words, it happens about once a decade.

Nickel Package: Why Alabama will win

September, 9, 2010
9/09/10
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1. Not many people are predicting that the No. 1 Alabama Crimson Tide will fall to the No. 18 Penn State Nittany Lions this weekend, partly due to the Nittany Lions starting a true freshman at quarterback. Here's one more reason to like the Tide. In the last 15 years, the No. 1 team in the AP poll is 26-0 at home against ranked opponents, with an average victory margin of nearly 22 points.

The last AP No. 1-ranked team to lose at home to a ranked opponent was Steve Spurrier’s Florida Gators, who dropped a 36-33 decision to sixth-ranked Auburn in 1994.

2. Alabama and Penn State are the only teams in the FBS that haven't allowed more than 24 points in a game since the start of last season. Recent history suggests that trend is in no jeopardy of ending for either side on Saturday. In Penn State's last four trips to Alabama, the teams have combined for 52 points. That's 13 per game with an average score of PSU 9, Bama 4. Without scoring a TD in any of the four games, the Tide somehow managed to win half of them ... mainly because Penn State mustered only two TD (both in 1986). The cumulative scoring of the teams in PSU’s last four visits to Alabama: 12 FG, 2 TD, 1 safety.

3. In the spirit of the Auburn Tigers return to Starkville to play the Mississippi State Bulldogs this week (Auburn won 3-2 there in 2008), here's another SEC offensive futility trend. The South Carolina Gamecocks host the Georgia Bulldogs on Saturday, and the last four times the Bulldogs have gone to Columbia, the Gamecocks have averaged 7.5 points, scoring a total of three offensive TD. On the other side of the ball, UGA hasn't scored more than 20 in any of its last seven visits to Williams-Brice Stadium ... yet has managed to win five of those seven games.

4. The weekly AP poll began in 1936, and the first 25 times the Michigan Wolverines and Notre Dame Fighting Irish met in the poll era, at least one of the teams was ranked. Times have changed. Saturday will mark the third time in the last four meetings that neither team has a number to the left of its name.

5. The Big 12 has a big weekend of non-conference games, highlighted by the Oklahoma Sooners visit from the No. 17 Florida State Seminoles. The Kansas Jayhawks also host the No. 15 Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets, and the Iowa State Cyclones travel to the No. 9 Iowa Hawkeyes. One of those teams needs to save a little face for the conference. Why? Because, last season, the Big 12 didn't have a single non-conference win against the final AP Top 25. Going by that final poll, the best out-of-conference win for the Big 12 in 2009 was Oklahoma's victory over the Stanford Cardinal in the Sun Bowl.

Harris deep ball could key Canes upset

September, 8, 2010
9/08/10
9:25
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It's a big weekend in college football. Let's take a look at some of the key storylines in the biggest matchups via Next Level previews:

12 MIAMI at 2 OHIO STATE (3:30 ET ON ESPN)

CANES RELY ON HARRIS' ARM

• Miami finished 2009 with a 9-4 record, and Jacory Harris' success throwing downfield was a good barometer for the Canes' success. Harris connected on 7-of-9 passes thrown at least 10 yards down the field against Florida A&M to start 2010, and the Ohio State defense must be ready to contain Harris' downfield throwing ability. Since the start of the 2009 season, Harris has completed 58.3 percent of his throws of 10+ yards in wins, compared to 39.4 percent in losses.

• Harris got off to an incredibly fast start last season, and helped Miami out to a 5-1 record through an incredibly tough early schedule. Much of this was due to his accuracy on passes of 20+ yards. But as injuries piled up and the toll of the season's 34 sacks wore on him, Harris faded in the season's final seven games as Miami lost three of its final seven.

PRYOR MAKES PLAYS ON 3RD DOWN

Terrelle Pryor is dangerous on third down because of his ability to tuck the football and run with it. Pryor finished with 366 rushing yards on third down in 2009, second most in the FBS, and had 16 rushes of 10+ yards, which was the highest total in the FBS on third down. Pryor has picked up yardage when called upon to run, but has also shown the ability to improvise: 14 of his 49 third-down runs over the last two seasons were on scrambles. He averaged over 14 yards per carry on those runs, compared to 6.1 on called run plays.

PRYOR WORKS DOWN THE MIDDLE

• Pryor has had recent success throwing downfield when he targets a receiver in the middle of the field. Since the start of 2009, Prior has completed 57.7 percent of his throws of at least 15 yards to the middle of the field. Conversely, he's completed just 37.9 percent of such passes to the right or left side of the field.

POSEY IS PRYOR'S BEST BET DEEP

• Since 2009 Terrelle Pryor has completed as many deep throws of 20+ yards to receiver DeVier Posey as all other Buckeye targets combined, but against Marshall, Pryor's only deep connections came with Dane Sanzenbacher. Six of Pryor's eight pass TD on throws of 20+ yards since 2009 have gone to Posey. If both Posey and Sanzenbacher prove to be viable options down the field, Ohio State opponents could be in for some trouble.

18 PENN STATE at 1 ALABAMA (7 ET on ESPN)

BAMA LOOKS TO SHAKE RED ZONE WOES

• Alabama won the National Championship last season, but it was a struggle for the Tide when the offense reached the red zone. Alabama scored a touchdown on just 47.5 percent of its red zone trips, ranking the team 108th out of 120 FBS teams. Quarterback Greg McElroy finished 2009 with a 35.0 percent red zone completion rate, the third-worst completion percentage among FBS quarterbacks with at least 30 attempts. McElroy can improve this season if he can find a way to get the ball to star receiver Julio Jones when deep in opponent territory. Jones' only red zone reception last season came against FCS opponent Chattanooga.

PLAY-ACTION MAKES PLAYS FOR McELROY

• Greg McElroy has had far more success throwing down the field when he uses the threat of the run to set up his passes. 68 percent of his completions on downfield throws (15+ yards) have come after a play-action fake since 2009 began. He's completed 47.5 percent of such attempts off of play-action, compared to just 29.0 percent with no play-action.

RICHARDSON PREFERS THE PISTOL

• Alabama running back Trent Richardson may have to carry the load Saturday if Mark Ingram is unable to go. Richardson averaged over 6 yards per carry against San Jose State, and found most of his success when lined up in the pistol formation rather than a traditional I-formation with a fullback. In the pistol offense, the quarterback is not under center, but also closer to the center than a traditional shotgun snap. The running back then lines up behind the quarterback.

CAN RICHARDSON RUN INSIDE?

• While Richardson is a tremendous talent, he was not able to match Mark Ingram's production between the tackles last season against SEC competition. Ingram averaged 6.2 yards per carry between the tackles, while Richardson averaged 3.3. Ingram took 17 of his 117 carries for 10+ yards, while Richardson did so with just 3 of his 48.

17 FLORIDA STATE at 10 OKLAHOMA (3:30 ET on ABC/ESPN2)

JONES COULD USE A SECOND DEEP THREAT

Landry Jones struggled last season to complete downfield passes, connecting on just 29.8 percent of his passes thrown 15 or more yards, but did have success when targeting star receiver Ryan Broyles. Oklahoma's offense would get a huge boost this season if another receiver can emerge as a downfield threat.

PONDER'S MOBILITY ON DISPLAY

• Florida State quarterback Christian Ponder was very solid when outside the pocket in the Seminoles' first game of the season against Samford. In fact, he was a perfect 5-for-5 on throws from outside the pocket (with 1 TD pass), while he was 7-for-9 from inside the pocket. Ponder used a play-action fake on 71.4 percent of his passes against Samford, completing nine of his 10 attempts with 4 touchdowns after faking the run.

MICHIGAN at NOTRE DAME (3:30 ET)

DENARD ROBINSON'S SECOND ACT

• Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson had a coming out party against Connecticut, and looks like one of the best dual threat quarterbacks in the country. Robinson hurt Connecticut in a variety of ways with his legs last Saturday.

ROBINSON NOW A POCKET PASSER

• Robinson worked hard to boost his passing game in the off-season, and his performance against Connecticut was an indication that his ability to drop back and throw a pass in the pocket is much improved. He was 8-for-18 passing from inside the pocket in 2009, but was 14-for-14 from inside the pocket against UConn. He was also 2-for-2 on throws of 15+ yards after going just 1-for-11 on such throws vs FBS opponents last season.


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