Stats & Info: SEC

Gurley, South Carolina on collision course

September, 11, 2014
Sep 11

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SEC still the best in college football

January, 14, 2014
Jan 14
Despite losing its first national title in eight seasons, the SEC finished atop ESPN Stats & Information’s Conference Power Rankings by a wide margin.

The SEC lost its two BCS bowl games but went 7-1 in its eight other bowl games. Its only non-BCS blemish came when Georgia, without quarterback Aaron Murray, lost by five points to Nebraska in the Gator Bowl.

Overall, the SEC finished with seven teams ranked in the final Associated Press Top 25 poll, including four in the top seven. Only the Pac-12 had more than three teams ranked in the entire AP Top 25.

What sets the SEC apart is its depth. Mississippi State, which finished fifth in the SEC West, won its bowl game by 37 points. Similarly, Vanderbilt, which finished fourth in the SEC East, won by 17 points without its starting quarterback. In all, 10 of the SEC’s 14 teams finished with winning records, including seven teams with at least nine wins.

The Pac-12 also showcased its depth during bowl season. Despite losses by its top two teams, Stanford and Arizona State, the middle of the Pac-12 was dominant. All six of the Pac-12’s bowl wins came by at least 15 points, and Pac-12 teams' average margin of victory in those games was 22 points.

Overall, the Pac-12 finished with six teams ranked in the AP Top 25 and five teams ranked in the top 10 of ESPN's Football Power Index. As a result of its strength in the computers, the Pac-12 was the clear No. 2 conference in the Power Rankings.

The Big 12 finished third in the Conference Power Rankings for a second straight season. Oklahoma's win over Alabama was the highlight of bowl season for the Big 12, but losses by Baylor, Oklahoma State and Texas all hurt the conference.

After sending nine of its 10 teams to bowls last season, the Big 12 had only six bowl-eligible teams in 2013. The lack of depth and having no “elite” team kept the Big 12 from emerging as a top conference this season.

The Big Ten had the worst bowl record (2-5) of any BCS automatic-qualifying conference, but the conference won its most important game, the Rose Bowl.

Michigan State rallied from a 10-0 first-quarter deficit to defeat Stanford and give the Big Ten its first Rose Bowl victory since Ohio State won in 2010. The Spartans finished ranked third in the final AP poll, their highest finish in the national polls since 1966, and fourth in ESPN’s Championship Drive Ratings.

However, the Big Ten had a losing bowl record for a fourth straight season. Since its last national championship in 2002, the Big Ten is 30-52 in bowls and has only once had a winning bowl season (2009).

The ACC won its first BCS championship since 1999 and broke the SEC’s streak of seven straight titles. Clemson also won its bowl game against Ohio State to give the ACC two BCS bowl victories.

Despite sending a record 11 teams to bowls, the ACC’s bowl season will be defined by its two wins in BCS bowls. The only reason that the ACC is not ranked higher in the conference rankings, however, is the conference is still lacking depth; the ACC went 3-6 in its non-BCS bowl games, with the six losses by a combined 103 points.

Non-AQ conferences had an up-and-down bowl season, with the Sun Belt winning both of its games and the MAC losing all five of its contests.

The Mountain West finished the season as the top non-AQ conference, but the gap between the Mountain West and the “Big 6” conferences is quite large heading into the 2014 playoff. Many questions remain heading into the playoff, but the fate of the non-AQ conferences seems dim with only one spot guaranteed in the six major bowls for teams in the American, C-USA, Mountain West, MAC and Sun Belt conferences.

Next season, look for the Pac-12 to challenge to the SEC for the top conference in the nation. The Pac-12 should only get stronger with Oregon, Stanford, UCLA, USC, Oregon State and Arizona State returning their starting quarterbacks.

Conversely, seven of the SEC’s top eight teams will have to replace their starting quarterbacks next season. Check back next year to see where your conference ends up.

Auburn rushes to victory over Missouri

December, 8, 2013

Scott Cunningham/Getty ImagesTre Mason carried Auburn with 304 rushing yards in the SEC Championship Game.
The Auburn Tigers shredded the highly regarded defense of the Missouri Tigers Saturday in the highest-scoring SEC Championship Game in history. The 101 combined points shattered the previous record of 75 set in 1996, when Florida beat Alabama 45-30.

Tre Mason’s record day
Missouri hadn’t allowed a team to rush for more than 184 yards this season. Auburn running back Tre Mason surpassed that by himself with a record-breaking game.

Mason had 304 rushing yards, the second-most ever by an Auburn player behind Curtis Kuykendall, who had 307 against Miami on Nov. 24, 1944. Mason posted the fifth-most rushing yards in a game by an SEC player, the most since Arkansas' Darren McFadden had 321 in 2007 against South Carolina.

Mason gained 182 yards inside the tackles, the most by an SEC player this season. He made it at least five yards past the line of scrimmage without being contacted on 14 of his 34 carries inside the tackles.

The Auburn running back made his mark on the school record book as well, setting single-season school records for rushing touchdowns (22) and all-purpose yards (2,137). The all-purpose yardage record was held by Bo Jackson, who amassed 1,859 yards in 1985.

Mason also set SEC Championship Game records for rushing yards (304), rush attempts (46), all-purpose yards (312) and most touchdowns (four).

Auburn dominates the line of scrimmage
Mason’s performance was indicative of Auburn’s dominance of Missouri at the line of scrimmage. Auburn ran for 545 yards, the most ever by an SEC team against an SEC opponent and the most by an SEC team since Auburn had 565 against Southwestern Louisiana in 1985.

Auburn rushed for the third-most yards in an FBS game this season. Missouri entered the game allowing 119.1 rushing yards per game, second-fewest in the SEC and 14th in the FBS.

Auburn’s 19 runs of at least 10 yards were the second-most in a game this season behind New Mexico’s 20 against Air Force on Nov. 8. Entering Saturday, Missouri had allowed 42 such runs this season and had not given up more than five in a game.

Auburn had 29 carries in which first contact was not made until at least 5 yards past the line of scrimmage, the most by any AQ school in a game this season. Entering Saturday, Missouri had not allowed more than nine such rushes in a game.

Auburn had 29 carries outside the tackles for 309 yards, the most such rushing yards yielded by any SEC defense this season and the second-most by Auburn. For the season, Auburn has more rushing yards outside the tackles (2,893) than 105 FBS teams have total rushing yards.

Could top conference be out of title game?

December, 2, 2013
Heading into the final week before the bowls are announced, the SEC leads ESPN Stats and Info’s Conference Power Rankings by a wide margin.

The SEC has seven teams ranked in the AP Top 25, including three of the top five teams in the country in Auburn, Alabama and Missouri.

The SEC’s strong out-of-conference record has a lot to do with its success in the polls; the SEC is 47-9 in non-conference games, including 3-1 last Saturday against the ACC.

Vanderbilt, Georgia and South Carolina all defeated their ACC rivals on Saturday, and the SEC’s only out-of-conference loss this past weekend came at the hands of then-No. 2 Florida State.

However, the biggest debate heading into conference championship weekend is whether the SEC deserves a spot in the BCS National Championship Game to defend its seven straight titles.

If the season ended today, the top team in the ACC would face off against the top team in the Big Ten. According to ESPN Stats and Info’s Conference Power Rankings, the ACC and Big Ten are the lowest ranked conferences among the five major ones, and the SEC is by far the top conference in the country.

However, the debate is not necessarily which conference is the best, but which team is the most deserving.

When looking at ESPN’s Championship Drive Ratings – a system that determines the most deserving teams in the country -- Ohio State and Florida State are both ranked higher than the top team in the SEC.

Looking deeper by using ESPN’s Football Power Index – a predictor of future strength -- Ohio State should be favored by three points over Auburn and six points over Missouri on a neutral field.

It appears the Pac-12 and Big 12 will be on the outside looking in on the national title debate despite ranking second and third respectively in ESPN’s Conference Power Rankings. Both conferences have depth, but their biggest issue is that there is no “elite” team at the top.

Keep an eye on the bowl matchups announced next Sunday to see how conference strength plays into bowl selections. In the last three seasons, the SEC has the best record in bowl games among the five major conferences (17-11) while the Big Ten has the worst record (9-16).

Big Ten rises in conference rankings

November, 4, 2013
After a fairly uneventful weekend, ESPN Stats & Information’s Conference Power Rankings remained relatively unchanged, other than a slight gain by the Big Ten.


The SEC continued to build upon its lead in the rankings after five of its top teams rose in the AP Poll. The SEC now has six teams ranked in the top 13 of the poll. No other conference has more than two teams in the top 13. 11 of the SEC’s 14 teams (79 percent) are also ranked in the top 50 of the FPI, the highest percentage of any conference.

The Big Ten

The Big Ten gained 3.9 points in the conference rankings after its top teams won on Saturday. Michigan State held Michigan to -48 rushing yards and confirmed that it has an elite defense. As a result, the Spartans rose six spots in the AP Poll and eight spots in the FPI. Michigan State’s emergence is important for the Big Ten because there is a perception that Ohio State is the only elite team in the conference.

The Big 12

The Big 12 fell 3.7 points in the rankings after Texas Tech lost its second straight game. The Red Raiders have fallen 15 spots in the AP Poll in the past two weeks, including 10 spots after their 18-point loss to Oklahoma State. There are now four teams in the Big 12 with no more than one loss in conference play. Each of those teams plays at least two games against the other three teams to end the season. That chaos at the top of the Big 12 will begin on Thursday night when Oklahoma travels to Baylor.

Next Week’s Slate of Games
Next week features seven different games that will shape conference races:

--SEC: LSU travels to Alabama on Saturday in a game that could eliminate LSU from the race for the SEC West.

--Pac-12: Oregon heads to Stanford on Thursday (9 pm ET, ESPN) in a game that will likely determine the winner of the Pac-12 North.

--Big 12: As mentioned above, Baylor hosts Oklahoma on Thursday in its first major test of the season.

--ACC: Miami (FL) will look to bounce back against Virginia Tech on Saturday in a game that could go a long way towards determining the winner of the ACC Coastal division.

--Big Ten: Nebraska heads to Michigan on Saturday in a must-win game for the Cornhuskers if they want to keep pace with Michigan State in the Big Ten Legends division.

--American: UCF hosts Houston on Saturday (7 pm ET, ESPN2)in a matchup of the only two undefeated teams in AAC play. If UCF wins, it will have beaten Louisville and Houston, the two 7-1 teams in the American Athletic Conference heading into this weekend.

--MAC: Ohio travels to Buffalo on Tuesday (8 pm ET, ESPN2) with first place up for grabs in the MAC East.

These games may not necessarily have a major impact on the conference rankings, but they will help determine the strength of the best teams in each conference.

For a refresher on the formula for the conference power rankings, click here

SEC leads 1st conference power rankings

October, 7, 2013
After six full weeks of football, it is again time to see how the conferences stack up.

Over the last few years, ESPN Stats & Information has published its weekly conference power rankings – a formula that equally weighs the rankings from the AP Poll and a compilation of available BCS computer rankings in order to determine which conference is the best and worst in the country.

This season, ESPN Stats & Information will be using ESPN’s new Football Power Index (FPI) instead of the BCS computers, but the premise of the rankings remains the same. The AP Poll will measure the strength of the top schools in the conference and the FPI will measure the depth of the conference.

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 top conference in the country.

FPI is a one of ESPN’s new storytelling metrics designed to determine which team is the best in the country. FPI does not necessarily answer the question of who DESERVES to be in a playoff; instead, it is designed to answer the question of which team would WIN if two teams were to meet on a neutral field. FPI ranges roughly between -30 to 30 and the difference between two teams amounts to a projected point spread.

The SEC has run away with the conference power rankings each of the last three years. However, the race for the top conference in the nation is much closer in 2013.

SEC vs Pac-12: The SEC leads the Pac-12 by 6.6 points through six weeks of football. The biggest difference between the top two conferences is the strength of the SEC’s top schools.

The SEC has six teams ranked in the Top 20 of the AP Poll, compared to four Top-20 teams in the Pac-12.

Many would argue that that Pac-12 has the best record in the FBS against non-conference opponents (29-4). However, 23 of their 29 wins came against opponents from non-BCS AQ conferences, including eight wins against FCS opponents.

In comparison, the SEC went 32-7 against out-of-conference opponents, but played five more games against BCS-AQ conference teams than the Pac-12.

The SEC and Pac-12 have split their only two games against each other as Oregon beat Tennessee 59-14 and Auburn beat Washington State 31-24.

SEC West vs Pac-12 North: The popular debate over the last few weeks has been whether the Pac-12 North is better than the SEC West. The rankings say that the race is very close, but the Pac-12 North has a 1.3-point advantage over the SEC West. It is important to note that the rankings system averages the points based on the number of teams in the conference, so the fact that the SEC West has one additional team does not give it a boost.

ACC and Big 12: Perhaps the most surprising results relate to the rise of the ACC and the fall of the Big 12 this season. The ACC has three undefeated teams, tied for the most of any conference, and all three of those teams are ranked in the Top 13 of the AP Poll. In comparison, the Big 12 has just one team ranked in the Top 13 of the AP Poll after finishing the regular season as the third-best conference in the country last season, according to conference power rankings.

Play action key for McCarron, Alabama

June, 26, 2013

AP Photo/David J. PhillipAJ McCarron hopes to win a third consecutive national title this season.
The 2013 college football season has the potential to showcase one of the greatest quarterback classes ever. Eight of the top 10 teams in last year’s final AP Poll return their starting quarterbacks, and every conference except the Big 12 returns either their first- or second-team quarterbacks from last season.

In preparation for the 2013 season, ESPN Stats & Info will take a deeper look at the top QBs entering the fall. Wednesday, we look at the Alabama Crimson Tide’s senior QB AJ McCarron.

A Look Back at 2012

McCarron was one of 15 quarterbacks who threw for at least 30 touchdown passes last season, and perhaps most impressively, he did so while throwing only three interceptions on 314 attempts. His touchdown-to-interception ratio (10 to 1) and his 175.3 pass efficiency both led the FBS.

Behind three NFL draftees on the offensive line, the Crimson Tide had the sixth-highest yards per rush in FBS. Consequently, McCarron thrived on play-action passes in 2012.

McCarron’s effectiveness using play action opened up the deep ball. After a play-action fake, he was 18-for-25 with nine touchdown passes and no interceptions on passes of 20 yards or more. When targeting Amari Cooper on those passes, he completed close to 70 percent of his attempts with five touchdowns.

What’s Ahead for 2013?

McCarron will look to build off of back-to-back national championships with a robust returning receiving corps.

The group is led by the aforementioned rising sophomore Cooper, with whom McCarron built a strong rapport toward the end of the season. Of Cooper’s 59 receptions, 27 came in the last five games of the year. Six of his 11 touchdown receptions also came during this span, including two in the National Championship game against Notre Dame.

Cooper will be joined by senior Kevin Norwood, the second-leading receiver last season, and redshirt freshman Chris Black, who was the 22nd overall prospect in the 2012 recruiting class according to the ESPN 150 and the second-rated wide receiver.

In addition to claiming offensive linemen Chance Warmack, D.J. Fluker and Barrett Jones, the NFL draft also took Eddie Lacy, Alabama’s leading rusher last season. Alabama will look to replace Lacy with T.J. Yeldon, who rushed for more than 1,000 yards and 12 touchdowns as a freshman last season.

The Crimson Tide will also look to capitalize on a favorable schedule. They have just four true road games and a neutral site game in the season opener against Virginia Tech. What are thought to be the Tide's two toughest matchups, at Texas A&M and home against LSU, each come after a bye week.

With the returning caliber of talent, Alabama should again be a contender for the BCS title. If the Crimson Tide accomplish the improbable “three-peat,” McCarron can become the first quarterback to start and win three straight national championships in at least the last 50 years.

Top stats to know: NFL Draft summary

April, 27, 2013
The 2013 NFL Draft concluded Saturday night and now a great deal of analysis will begin on which teams fared best and worst.

But before you get to that, here are the most notable facts and figures we could find on this year's selections.

SEC: The dominant conference
Of the 254 picks, about one quarter (63), were drafted out of SEC schools. That’s eight more picks than any other conference in a single draft ever.

It’s the seventh straight draft the SEC has led all conferences in players selected.

The SEC had four more defensive players drafted than any conference had total players drafted.

LSU, Alabama, Florida and Georgia combined for 34 players drafted. No other conference had more than 31.

LSU had eight defensive players drafted (all in the first five rounds of the draft). Only Texas in 1984 had more defensive players taken in any draft.

The SEC had 32 more players drafted than the second-ranked conference (ACC). That is the biggest disparity in picks between the top two conferences in any draft.

The previous high was 19 when the Pac-10 had 55 picks and the Big Ten had 36.

But it was Florida State from the ACC that led all schools with 11 picks, the most in school history. Rutgers had the next-most among non-SEC schools with seven, more than any other school in the conference it will eventually join, the Big Ten.

You build it through the draft
Of the 254 picks in the 2013 draft, the San Francisco 49ers, Seattle Seahawks and Green Bay Packers each made 11, tied for the most by any team.

Those three franchises all reached the Divisional Playoffs in 2012.

The Carolina Panthers, Cleveland Browns and New Orleans Saints, none of whom made the playoffs in 2012, each made just five picks, tied for the fewest of any team.

Quarterbacks not highly wanted
There were three quarterbacks drafted in the first three rounds, the fewest since 2000.

Four quarterbacks were drafted in the first 18 picks on Saturday and then none were taken until the seventh round, when four more were selected.

In all, 11 quarterbacks were drafted, the same total as last season.

A weekend for veteran movement too
Several accomplished veterans were traded during the 2013 draft.

Chris Ivory, who led the New Orleans Saints in rushing in 2010 and has a career average of 5.1 yards per rush, was dealt from the Saints to the New York Jets.

LeGarrette Blount, who rushed for 1,007 yards as a rookie in 2010, was acquired by the New England Patriots" target="_blank">New England Patriots.

Davone Bess, who has recorded at least 50 catches and 500 receiving yards in each of his five seasons, was traded to the Cleveland Browns" target="_blank">Cleveland Browns from the Miami Dolphins.

Undrafted doesn’t mean undesired
If a prospect wasn’t among the 254 players selected during the draft, he can now sign with a team as an undrafted free agent.

Thirteen players who entered the league as undrafted free agents made the Pro Bowl in 2012, and four undrafted free agents to enter the league in the Common Draft Era are enshrined in the Hall of Fame (John Randle, Warren Moon, Jim Langer, Larry Little).

ACC, Big East fall in latest power rankings

November, 26, 2012
The SEC remains far ahead of the other conferences in ESPN Stats & Info’s college football conference power rankings after going 4-0 in non-conference games this weekend.

All four of the SEC’s wins came against ACC opponents, including wins over No. 10 Florida State and No. 11 Clemson. Overall, the SEC won its four non-conference games by a combined 87 points and won every game by double digits. On the season, the SEC is 48-8 in non-conference games, second to the Big 12.

The only conference that had a worse weekend than the ACC was the Big East, who lost 11.1 points in the conference power rankings this week. The Big East’s top two teams, Rutgers and Louisville, lost to unranked conference opponents.

As a result, Rutgers and Louisville both fell out of the AP top 25, leaving the Big East without a team ranked in the AP Poll for the first time this season. The WAC and MAC were the beneficiaries of the Big East’s rough weekend as both conferences passed the Big East in the conference power rankings.

The WAC is the first non-AQ conference to rank in the top 6 of the conference rankings this season. Four of the WAC’s seven teams have at least eight wins this season, including 10-2 Utah State, who is currently ranked 20th in the AP Poll.

Each of the WAC’s top three teams came within a few points of beating an AQ school that would have boosted the conference rating even further; Utah State lost by two to Wisconsin, San Jose State lost by three to Stanford and Louisiana Tech lost by two to Texas A&M.

The MAC conference trails the WAC by 3.2 points, but it is not the fault of the teams at the top of the conference. Kent State Golden Flashes and Northern Illinois are both 11-1 and ranked in the top 20 of the AP Poll.

The winner of the MAC championship game has a chance to represent the conference in a BCS Bowl game if it moves into the top 16 of the BCS standings and remains ahead of an AQ conference champion (the Big East champion).

The only reason that the MAC is not ranked ahead of the WAC is because it has three teams with 10 or more losses, including two of the three lowest ranked teams by the computers, Akron and Massachusetts.

Yet, the MAC remains ahead of the Big East because of the strength of the top of its conference. Overall, the MAC is 4-3 in head-to-head games against the Big East, including Kent State’s win over 7-0 Rutgers and Toledo’s win over 5-0 Cincinnati.

Next weekend is conference championship weekend. Look for many of these championship games to shape the bowl picture and impact the college football postseason.



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 boosts lead in Power Rankings

October, 15, 2012
The SEC has a commanding five point lead over the Big 12 in the conference power rankings after seven weeks of football.

The SEC has seven teams ranked in the AP Top 25, including four teams ranked in the AP Top 10. No other conference has more than four teams ranked in the entire AP Top 25.

South Carolina’s loss to LSU did not significantly impact the conference rankings because LSU and Florida gained about as many points in the AP poll as South Carolina lost.

Additionally, Texas A&M’s 59-57 thriller over Louisiana Tech late Saturday night gave the conference its 31st non-conference victory in 38 attempts. Only the Big 12 (26-3) has a better record in games outside of its conference.

The Big 12 was hurt most by West Virginia’s loss to unranked Texas Tech Red Raiders. West Virginia fell from fifth to seventeen in the AP Poll and no Big 12 teams were able to regain the points lost by the Mountaineers.

The Big East continues to rise in the conference rankings after victories by Louisville, Rutgers and Cincinnati to remain undefeated on Saturday.

Overall, the Big East has more undefeated teams than the Big 12, Big Ten, and ACC combined. The conference is tied with the SEC for the most undefeated teams in FBS, but the SEC has six more teams in its conference than the Big East.

Because the Big East has just eight teams, strong starts by three of its eight members have helped the conference jump over the Big Ten for fourth-place in the conference rankings.

If there is any doubt whether the Big East should be ranked ahead of the Big Ten and the ACC, just look at the AP Poll. The Big East has three teams ranked in the AP Top 25, and the Big Ten and ACC each have two ranked teams.

The top of the Big East will be tested next weekend as Rutgers and Cincinnati head on the road against Temple and Toledo, respectively. Additionally, Louisville will host a South Florida team that was picked to finish at the top the Big East in many preseason polls.

Other ranked matchups, particularly in the Big 12 and SEC, will add clarity to many conference races and the conference power rankings.

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?

LSU hopes Mettenberger passes test

August, 23, 2012

AP Photo/Gerald HerbertLSU QB Zach Mettenberger will look to turn around a passing attack that struggled last season.
With six starters returning on offense and five on defense from a team that reached the BCS National Championship Game, it’s no surprise the LSU Tigers are No. 3 in the Associated Press Preseason Top 25. That’s even with the loss of cornerback Morris Claiborne and defensive tackle Michael Brockers – both NFL first-round picks – and the dismissal of All-America cornerback Tyrann Mathieu, who won the 2011 Bednarik Award as the nation’s top defensive player and finished fifth in the Heisman Trophy voting.

A major reason for the high expectations is at quarterback, where LSU fans believe it’s a matter of addition by subtraction. Redshirt junior Zach Mettenberger replaces Jordan Jefferson and Jarrett Lee, who shared the starting job last season. Who would’ve guessed that would be the case for a school replacing two players with a combined 50 career starts (32 for Jefferson, 18 for Lee) since 2008 with one who has never started an NCAA game?

With Jefferson and Lee as the primary starters over the last four seasons, the Tigers’ passing attack has struggled mightily. They finished in the bottom half of the SEC in four key passing statistical categories during that span.

In 2011, LSU nearly became the second team to beat four AP top-3 opponents in one season (Notre Dame did it in 1943) since the poll came into existence in 1936. The Tigers beat No. 3 Oregon, No. 2 Alabama and No. 3 Arkansas before losing to the second-ranked Crimson Tide in their rematch in the BCS National Championship Game. In four of its key games – the season opener against the Ducks, both Alabama matchups and the SEC Championship Game against Georgia – LSU got almost nothing from its passing attack yet managed to win three of those contests.

Enter Mettenberger, a strong-armed, pure pocket passer and the most highly touted quarterback to arrive on the LSU campus since JaMarcus Russell (ranked sixth), the first pick of the 2007 NFL Draft, signed in 2003. Mettenberger, the ninth-ranked quarterback in the 2009 signing class, first signed with Georgia but was dismissed from the team in 2010 before ever playing a down for the Bulldogs after getting into legal trouble.

Mettenberger then transferred to Butler (Kan.) Community College, where he led his team to the national title game in his lone season there and was the top-ranked quarterback in the junior college ranks before signing with LSU in 2011. Last season, Mettenberger completed 8-of-11 passes for 92 yards and a touchdown in five games.

LSU already possesses arguably the best set of running backs in the country and one of the nation’s most ferocious defenses. If Mettenberger can improve LSU’s oft-anemic passing attack, it’s easy to envision the Tigers in South Florida playing for the national championship for the second straight season.

Connor Shaw: SEC’s Sleeper QB

August, 23, 2012

Mike Ehrmann/Getty ImagesConnor Shaw will look to replicate his late-season surge in 2012.

Can you name the FBS leader in pass efficiency rating from Nov. 6 to the end of the season?

Here's a hint: It was an SEC quarterback.

No, it wasn't Arkansas’ Tyler Wilson. Not Georgia’s Aaron Murray. And not the MVP of the BCS National Championship Game, A.J. McCarron of Alabama.

The most efficient quarterback, according to pass efficiency rating, was Connor Shaw of South Carolina. That's the same Connor Shaw who was not a starter until Week 6 of last season.

Shaw drastically improved at the end of last season, completing 70.1 percent of his passes with eight touchdowns and two interceptions after losing to Arkansas on Nov. 5. The Gamecocks went 4-0 to close the season, including wins against Florida, Clemson and Nebraska.

Prior to Nov. 6, Shaw was completing 62.8 percent of his passes and his pass efficiency rating tied for eighth in the SEC.

The key to Shaw’s success was a mix of accurate deep passing and more efficient rushing.

Shaw increased his completion percentage 15 points on passes of 15 yards or longer in the final four weeks of the season. Six of his eight touchdowns after Nov. 5 were on passes of this distance.

And in the final four games he averaged 5.0 yards per rush compared to his 2.8-yard average in South Carolina’s first nine games.

These reasons, along with and more reps in Steve Spurrier’s offense, made Shaw the best quarterback in the SEC in the final two months of the season. Despite throwing just 18.4 passes per game, he ranked in the top two among SEC quarterbacks in total yards per game, touchdowns, yards per pass attempt, yards per rush and pass efficiency rating from the start of November through the end of the season.

The return of running back Marcus Lattimore should further improve Shaw’s numbers this season. The threat of Lattimore could open up play-action opportunities, an area in which Shaw has excelled.

Shaw struggled most passing on the road in 2011, completing 9 of 33 passes thrown 10 yards or longer away from home.

Overall, he completed 61.9 percent of his passes with four touchdowns and four interceptions in road/neutral sites and 69.2 percent of his passes with 10 touchdowns and two interceptions at home.

If Shaw can improve his road splits, he has a chance to become one of the top quarterbacks in the nation. The good news for Shaw is that three of South Carolina’s first four games are in Columbia, and the Gamecocks don't face a ranked opponent until Georgia comes to town on Oct. 6.