Stats & Info: Texas A&M Aggies

Instant impact recruits for 2014

February, 5, 2014
Feb 5
National Signing Day has come and gone, and most ESPN 300 recruits have finalized their college decisions. Here are some notable recruits that could make an instant impact in their freshman seasons.

Myles Garrett, Texas A&M (No. 4 in ESPN 300; No. 1 Defensive End)

Texas A&M’s defense last year ranked last in the SEC in most categories including points per game, yards per game and yards per play. The Aggies did not win a game in which it scored fewer than 40 points. Garrett, the top player in the state of Texas, could have an immediate impact to help shore up that defense. He’s the highest-ranked player Texas A&M has signed since the ESPN began recruiting rankings in 2006.

Leonard Fournette, LSU (No. 1 in ESPN 300; No. 1 Running Back)

Fournette is considered the best player in the Class of 2014 after rushing for over 1,800 yards as a senior. On paper, the Louisiana product is a perfect fit as a downhill back in LSU’s system. He also fills a need. The Tigers lost 64 percent of its rushing output from last season with the departures of several running backs including Jeremy Hill. If Fournette lives up to his ranking, you can pencil him into the 2017 NFL Draft after his junior season. Over the last two seasons, 18 LSU players have declared early for the NFL Draft, most among all schools.

Raekwon McMilllan, Ohio State (No. 13 in ESPN 300, No. 1 Inside Linebacker)

Ohio State’s defense struggled down the stretch in 2013 as the quality of opponent improved. The Buckeyes allowed at least 34 points in each of its final three games against Michigan, Michigan State and Clemson. With the departure of linebacker Ryan Shazier, who led the Buckeyes in tackles and tackles for loss by a wide margin, there is an opening at linebacker. Five-star recruit McMillan is physically ready to play at the next level at just under 250 pounds, and as an early enrollee, he has extra time to get ready for a prominent role next season.

Racean Thomas, Auburn (No. 28 in ESPN 300; No. 5 Running Back)

Auburn broke its school rushing record last season, racking up 328.3 rush yards per game. Heisman Trophy finalist Tre Mason left for the NFL Draft, so Gus Malzahn’s run-first offense has a void at running back. Enter Thomas, a well-rounded running back recruit from Oxford, Alabama. The only other top-50 running back Auburn has signed since 2006, Michael Dyer, helped lead Auburn to a national title as a true freshman.

Chad Thomas, Miami (FL) (No. 65 in ESPN 300; No. 6 DE)

Over the last two seasons, Miami has struggled to stop the run. In that time frame the Hurricanes are last in the ACC in rushing yards allowed (196.4 per game), yards per rush (4.7) and 10-yard rushes (151). Miami also lost several defensive linemen to graduation. Thomas is an athletic product of nearby Booker T. Washington High School and may be counted on to play an early role.

Andrew Brown, Virginia (No. 5 in ESPN 300; No. 1 Defensive Tackle) and Quin Blanding (No. 10 in ESPN 300, No. 1 Safety)

Virginia surprised many by signing two five-star defensive players despite having just one winning season in the last six years. Virginia’s biggest issue on defense last season was allowing too many big plays. No ACC team allowed more 20-yard plays than the Cavaliers (69). Brown and Blanding are the two highest-ranked Virginia signees since ESPN began rankings in 2006 and are considered ready to contribute right away.

Top stats to know: Manziel's NFL profile

January, 8, 2014
Jan 8

Scott Halleran/Getty ImagesJohnny Manziel is headed to the NFL.
What are the top stats to know with regard to how Johnny Manziel's stats rate in some key areas related to his NFL future?

Improved pocket passing
Manziel completed 73 percent of his passes from inside of the pocket this season, best among quarterbacks from BCS automatic-qualifier conferences (AQ conferences) and up four percentage points from last season.

He completed at least 65 percent of his passes from inside of the pocket in every game but one this season.

Downfield success
Manziel completed 48 percent of his passes thrown 25 yards or longer this season, up nine percentage points from last season and in the top 10 among AQ quarterbacks.

Manziel had at least one such completion in every game he started this season.

In terms of comparisons to recent draft picks, among first-round picks in 2011 and 2012, only Robert Griffin III had a higher completion percentage on passes of 25 yards or longer than Manziel in his final year of college. Griffin’s was a hair better -- 52 percent.

Improvisation skills
Manziel had an AQ-high 589 rushing yards on scrambles this season, 95 more than any other AQ player.

Since the start of last season …

• Manziel has gained 1,393 yards and scored 15 touchdowns when scrambling, both of which rank best among AQ players.

• Manziel has scrambled for 30 first downs on third down, 14 more than any other AQ player.

• Manziel has completed 54 percent of his passes and is averaging 9.4 yards per attempt when forced to scramble out of the pocket.

The AQ averages are 36 percent and 5.2 yards per attempt during that time. Manziel has 23 completions of 20 yards or longer in such situations, 13 more than any other AQ player.

Making it count in tough situations
Manziel has also excelled at moving the chains with both his arm and his feet. Since the start of last season, he has the highest total QBR on third down, and only Jordan Lynch has rushed for more yards on third down than Manziel.

Manziel’s 97.0 Total QBR and 53 percent first-down conversion rate in third-down situations leads the nation.

A big concern about Manziel is his size. He is listed as 6-foot-1, 210 pounds on Texas A&M’s roster.

There are 12 active NFL quarterbacks listed as 6-1 or shorter, and only four of them -- Russell Wilson, Kellen Moore, Drew Brees and Case Keenum -- are listed as weighting less than 210 pounds.

Manziel’s small stature has not adversely impacted his ability to see the field.

He has only had 12 of his 864 passes batted down at the line (1.4 percent). That is actually below the AQ average over the past two seasons (1.9 percent).

Stat of the day
Manziel led the nation in opponent-adjusted QBR in 2012 (he finished third in 2013), and rates third-best over the last two seasons combined. That stat would be indicative of a reasonable chance of being an NFL starter. The three quarterbacks who finished No. 1 from 2009 to 2011 are among the NFL's best-- Colin Kaepernick, Andrew Luck and Russell Wilson.

Top stats to know: Duke vs Texas A&M

December, 30, 2013

Mark J. Rebilas/USA TODAY SportsJohnny Manziel will look to end his 2013 on a winning note.
The Chick-Fil-A bowl game has significant meaning both to Duke and Texas A&M. The Blue Devils are going for their first bowl win in a long time. The Aggies may be playing their last game with Johnny Manziel at quarterback.

What are the top stats to know for this contest?

1-- Texas A&M faded late in the season against tough competition, losing back-to-back games against No. 22 LSU and No. 5 Missouri. The Aggies had not previously lost back-to-back games in the Kevin Sumlin/Manziel era and now will look to avoid a three-game losing streak. Their last such losing streak came in 2011 under head coach Mike Sherman.

The Aggies have no wins against ranked opponents this season; they’re 0-4 vs ranked opponents and 8-0 vs unranked opponents.

Last year Texas A&M went 4-2 vs ranked opponents including a bowl win against BCS No. 11 Oklahoma.

2-- Duke is playing in a bowl game in consecutive seasons for the first time in school history.

But it’s been a long time since Duke had a bowl win. The last Duke bowl victory came in the 1960 season when the Blue Devils edged Arkansas 7-6 in the Cotton Bowl.

Since then there have been three bowl trips, all losses, under three different head coaches.

3-- There are several areas where Manziel made statistical improvements from his Heisman-winning season last year including in completion percentage and touchdown passes.

He’s also throwing for more yards despite fewer pass attempts per game.

Manziel has cut back on his rushing. He averaged 108.5 yards per game and 7.0 yards per rush in 2012, but only 57.2 and 5.2 in 2013.

4-- Duke has a pair of statistical strengths of note. The team is plus-76 in scoring margin in the fourth quarter, trailing only Michigan State (plus-78) for best in the FBS.

But the Blue Devils cooled off in that category of late: Duke is even in fourth-quarter scoring in its last three games (against Wake Forest, North Carolina and Florida State).

The Blue Devils offense has excelled in goal-to-go situations this season. They’re recording touchdowns on 96 percent of their goal-to-go drives, the second-highest rate in the FBS this season behind only Georgia Tech (97 percent).

In fact, Duke had a 100 percent conversion rate until its last regular season game, when it settled for a field goal on a goal-to-go drive against North Carolina. Overall Duke has had 25 goal-to-go drives on the season and ended up with a touchdown in 24 of them. By comparison, Texas A&M is 29-for-36 (80.6 percent).

5-- Both defenses have had their issues, Texas A&M’s being the one that has struggled more.

The Aggies rank near the bottom of the SEC in most categories. The defense is allowing 6.2 yards per play which ranks them 104th in the FBS. That’s behind teams like Hawaii (1-11 record), Southern Miss (1-11) and Western Michigan (1-11). The only SEC team worse in the category is Kentucky.

Duke’s defense has given up lots of yards this season – 408.5 yards per game, ranking 12th out of 14 ACC teams – but has limited how often opponents turn them into points. Duke is allowing only 1.64 points per drive, fourth in the ACC.

Opponents are only scoring on 27 percent of their drives against Duke, also fourth in the ACC. The three ACC teams that are ahead of Duke in each category are conference powers: Florida State, Virginia Tech and Clemson.

The bowl winners will be ...

December, 19, 2013
With bowl season upon us, we can project the winners of the 35 Football Bowl Subdivision bowl games using the Football Power Index.

FPI is a predictive measure of team strength that uses the elements of team offensive, defensive and special-teams performance (adjusted for opponent) that correlate most with future results.

We can use each team’s FPI and the site of the game (all bowl games are treated as neutral) to calculate the expected point differential in a matchup and the percentage chance of each team winning.

In prior years, FPI has done reasonably well in projecting bowl winners (taking the team with the higher chance as the “winner”), getting about 65 percent of games right since 2004.

There have been some lean years in the past, but FPI has been quite good in the three most recent bowl seasons, accurately projecting 70 percent of winners in those games.

FPI takes into account only a team’s on-field performance to date in the given season. It doesn’t explicitly take into account players who are out with injuries or for other reasons, coaching movement before the bowls or differing levels of motivation that are sometimes thought to exist in bowl games.

In the 2013 regular season, starting with games on Sept. 26, FPI accurately projected 74 percent of winners.

FPI believes there to be a very clear favorite (80 percent or more to win) in four of the five BCS matchups, with Ohio State and Clemson as the most evenly matched BCS opponents.

The projections for all 35 bowl games this season are below. A couple of things that stand out:

The two most-lopsided matchups, according to FPI, involve a Pac-12 team facing a Big 12 opponent from Texas. FPI has Oregon as 91 percent likely to defeat Texas in the Valero Alamo Bowl and Arizona State as 91 percent likely to beat Texas Tech in the National University Holiday Bowl.

The most-even matchup, according to FPI, is Kansas State versus Michigan in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl, with the teams separated by a little more than a point in FPI (the Wildcats are 53 percent favorites). The closest “high-profile” bowl game is the AT&T Cotton Bowl between Oklahoma State and Missouri, with the Cowboys 54 percent likely to win, according to FPI.

The Vizio BCS National Championship is the only bowl game with both teams ranked in the top 10 in FPI. Three other games involve two FPI top-20 teams: Wisconsin-South Carolina in the Capital One Bowl; Oklahoma State-Missouri in the Cotton Bowl and Ohio State-Clemson in the Discover Orange Bowl.

All six finalists have made Heisman case

December, 13, 2013

Melina Vastola/USA TODAY SportsFlorida State fans have made their pick, but Jameis Winston is just one of six Heisman finalists.
Six Heisman Trophy finalists will head to New York for Saturday’s ceremony, the most that have received invites to the ceremony since 1994, when there were also six. The last time there were more was in 1988, with eight.

Although the favorite entering the ceremony is Florida State QB Jameis Winston, all six have made a solid case for why they are the best player in the country this season.

QB Jordan Lynch, Northern Illinois
Although Northern Illinois' bid to be a BCS buster was ended in the MAC championship game, Lynch’s dual-threat ability kept the Huskies in it all season. He had 321 rushing yards against Western Michigan, the most by a quarterback in FBS history, breaking his own record of 316 set earlier in the year against Central Michigan.

Lynch ended the season with 1,881 rushing yards, also an FBS record for a quarterback.

QB Johnny Manziel, Texas A&M
Manziel’s bid to join Archie Griffin as the only other multiple Heisman winner saw a transformation of his game. While his 2012 season was built more on his legs, his 2013 campaign saw him develop as a passer.

Manziel added a yard to his yards per attempt (from 8.5 in 2012 to 9.5 in 2013). His touchdown percentage also increased from 6.0 percent in 2012 to 8.4 percent this year. Also in 2013, 63 percent of his completions this season have gone for a first down or a touchdown, compared to 57.6 percent last year.

RB Tre Mason, Auburn
Even after a 1,000-yard rushing season last year, Mason wasn't on the short list of Heisman contenders until he finished the season with five straight 100-yard rushing games, including 304 against Missouri in the SEC championship game, the fifth-highest total all-time in an SEC game.

Mason’s 2,137 all-purpose yards this season broke the Auburn school record, previously held by Bo Jackson. Mason’s 22 rushing TDs this season also set a school record.

QB AJ McCarron, Alabama
This is McCarron’s third season as Alabama’s starting quarterback, and he’s improved every season. His opponent-adjusted QBR was 76.7 in 2011, 81.5 in 2012 and 83.5 this season.

He was even better against SEC competition. In conference games, McCarron had an 86.4 opponent-adjusted QBR, tied for the best in the conference. Fellow Heisman candidate Manziel was third (85.5).

RB Andre Williams, Boston College
This season, Williams became just the 16th player in FBS history to run for at least 2,000 yards in a season, and the first since Donald Brown did so for Connecticut in 2008.

Williams also showed big-play ability. He had 26 runs of at least 20 yards, the most by an FBS player since Kevin Smith had 26 in 2007. His 11 touchdowns on such runs are the most for any player in the last 10 seasons.

QB Jameis Winston, Florida State
Winston is the clubhouse leader for the Heisman, and as the FBS leader in opponent-adjusted QBR (90.9), he has good reason to be. The leader in opponent-adjusted QBR in three of the last six seasons went on to win the Heisman, including Manziel last year.

Winston has also showed a clutch presence on the field throughout the year. On third downs, Winston has a 98.9 Total QBR, leading all FBS quarterbacks. Over the last 10 seasons, the highest third-down Total QBR in a completed season was also 98.9, by Andrew Luck in 2010.

Missouri D: pass rush, goal-to-go stops

November, 29, 2013

AP Photo/Jeff RobersonMissouri leads the conference in sacks (35) and total pressures (109) this season.

The Missouri Tigers are just one win away from clinching the SEC East title. First, it must conquer reigning Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel and the Texas A&M Aggies (Saturday, 7:45 ET on ESPN). Manziel has been as productive as ever this season, leading all BCS-automatic-qualifying (AQ) quarterbacks in total offense (382 yards per game) and touchdowns responsible for (40).

Before last week’s loss to LSU, Texas A&M had scored 40 or more points in 13 consecutive games, tied for the longest streak in major college football history. However, Missouri has not allowed more than 28 points in a game all season.

In order to slow down Manziel and win the division, Missouri’s defense will need to rely on arguably its two biggest strengths: its pass rush and its ability to defend in goal-to-go situations.

Manziel vs Missouri’s Pass Rush
Missouri has been the best pass-rushing team in the SEC, leading the conference in sacks (35) and total pressures (109). That pressure is a large reason why it has forced an SEC-high 16 interceptions.

The Tigers have allowed just one touchdown pass all season when pressuring the opposing quarterback, though it came at a costly time, by South Carolina’s Connor Shaw during the Gamecocks’ fourth-quarter comeback that eventually led to Missouri’s only loss.

When Manziel has been forced to throw under pressure, he has been ineffective, completing 44 percent of his passes. In the Aggies’ last two losses, Manziel threw two interceptions, was sacked five times and completed 36 percent of his passes while under pressure.

Missouri’s pass rush is largely generated by three- and four-man rushes. Its 30 sacks when sending four or fewer pass rushers leads all AQ schools.

However, Manziel has been elite at torching such rushes. When the opponent sends four-or-fewer rushers, he has thrown for 21 touchdowns on 10.0 yards per attempt and has scrambled for an AQ-high 417 yards on 7.3 yards per scramble.

Overall, he leads all AQ quarterbacks with 530 scramble yards.

Missouri has been effective at containing quarterback scrambles lately, allowing a total of 27 scramble yards in the last five games combined.

Missouri’s Defense in Goal-to-Go Situations
Another area where Missouri’s defense has been elite is in goal-to-go situations. Missouri allows touchdowns on 48 percent of goal-to-go attempts, best among AQ teams. Opposing quarterbacks have just a 21 QBR in those situations.

Manziel has been mistake-prone in goal-to-go situations with four interceptions. No other FBS player has thrown for more than two. His 28 QBR in those situations ranks 110th out of 127 qualified quarterbacks.

The Tigers goal-to-go run defense has also been strong, allowing 0.4 yards per carry in the red zone, fewest in the SEC. However, four of the seven rushing touchdowns Missouri has allowed have come from quarterbacks. Manziel leads all SEC quarterbacks with six rushing touchdowns in goal-to-go situations.

If Manziel can be efficient close to the goal line, Missouri may be in trouble. The only quarterback responsible for multiple goal-to-go touchdowns against Missouri this season was Shaw in the Tigers’ only loss.

Auburn capable of running over Aggies

October, 18, 2013
John Reed/USA TODAY Sports
Tre Mason heads an Auburn rushing game that could give Texas A&M trouble.

First-year coach Gus Malzahn has led an offensive resurgence at Auburn. One year after finishing last in the SEC in total offense, Auburn’s run-heavy attack has improved to fifth this season. Saturday, Malzahn’s squad will hope to continue that success against a porous Texas A&M run defense.

Finding Running Lanes
No SEC team has run the ball more often than Auburn (64 percent of plays). One reason why it has been successful is because its runners have room to operate. Auburn ball carriers have not been contacted until at least five yards past the line of scrimmage on an SEC-high 83 carries.

Auburn averages an SEC-best 4.2 yards before contact per rush. Last year Auburn averaged just 1.9 yards before contact per rush, worst in the SEC.

Auburn has beaten up on lesser teams to compile much of those yards. Against SEC teams, Auburn averages just 2.3 yards before contact per rush.

However, Texas A&M does not resemble a typical SEC run defense. The Aggies allow 5.7 yards per rush this season, most among any BCS-AQ team (which includes Notre Dame). 3.3 of those yards come before contact, also worst among BCS-AQ teams. This is despite averaging 7.0 men in the box against the run, fourth-most among BCS-AQ teams.

As a result, over half of opponents’ carries against Texas A&M result in five-yard gains or more, second-most in the nation. In the Aggies’ only loss against Alabama, 65 percent of the Crimson Tide’s runs went for at least five yards. As a result, Texas A&M forced just six third-down situations the entire game, its lowest total since 2006.

Diversity on the Ground
Auburn is one of four FBS teams to feature four different rushers with at least 250 yards this season. Each has led Auburn in rushing in at least one game, and each has a different role within the offense.

Tre Mason is the team’s do-it-all runner, leading the team in carries and yards. Cameron Artis-Payne is the team’s primary inside runner with 82 percent of his yards coming between the hash marks.

Corey Grant does his damage outside, rushing for 97 percent of his yards outside the hash marks. So does quarterback Nick Marshall, who burned Ole Miss with 114 yards and two touchdowns to the left side two weeks ago.

Running outside has been a strength of Auburn’s this season. The Tigers average an SEC-high 185 yards per game outside the hash marks. Texas A&M has struggled to stop the outside run, allowing 7.5 yards per carry on such carries, most among BCS-AQ teams.

As ineffective as Texas A&M has been against the run, it has rarely mattered because it has scored at least 41 points in every game. For Auburn to win, its running game must operate at peak efficiency both to score points of its own and to keep Johnny Manziel and the Aggie offense off the field.

Johnny Football: Better in 2012 or 2013?

October, 17, 2013
Wesley Hitt/Getty ImagesJohnny Manziel has been a better downfield passer in 2013.
Johnny Manziel became the first freshman (redshirt) to win the Heisman Trophy in 2012, leading Texas A&M to an 11-2 record.

His signature moment came when he led the Aggies to an upset victory over Alabama in Tuscaloosa.

So far in 2013, Manziel is second in ESPN’s latest Heisman Watch. Despite losing to Alabama this time around, Manziel has the Aggies at 5-1 and ranked seventh in the latest AP Poll.

Let’s dive into the numbers and compare Manziel in 2012 to the 2013 version of Johnny Football.

One could say that Johnny Football "ran away" with the Heisman in 2012, as he led all SEC players with 1,410 rushing yards and 21 rushing touchdowns.

Manziel also led the SEC in rushing yards per attempt (7.0) and rushes of 20 or more yards (22). He was one of five FBS quarterbacks to average over 100 yards per game on the ground.

So far this season, the production hasn't been at the same level, as Manziel is averaging four fewer rush attempts and 35 less rushing yards per game than he did a year ago. If he plays 13 games this season, he would run for just 11 touchdowns based on his current pace.

Advantage: 2012

Downfield Passing
Big plays and precise downfield passing have been trademarks of Johnny Football in 2013.

His 32 completions of at least 20 yards ranks fifth among FBS quarterbacks this season. He was seventh among FBS quarterbacks with 54 such completions a year ago.

Manziel is completing 64 percent of his passes thrown 15 or more yards downfield in 2013. Last week against Ole Miss, Manziel went five-of-six on such pass attempts, his highest career single-game completion percentage on such throws. In 2012, Manziel completed only 41 percent of such pass attempts.

Advantage: 2013

Making plays outside the pocket
Johnny Football burst onto the scene in 2012 partly due to his playmaking outside the pocket and on scrambles.

Which version of Johnny Manziel is the better QB?


Discuss (Total votes: 1,807)

Manziel led all BCS AQ quarterbacks with 805 rushing yards and 11 touchdowns on scrambles last season. He was one of only two players from BCS AQ schools to have more than two touchdowns on scrambles for the season. Manziel is first among AQ quarterbacks in yards (316) and touchdowns (3) on scrambles once again in 2013, but is on pace to fall short of his numbers from a year ago.

On throws outside the pocket, Manziel had a 62.8 completion percentage and averaged 9.5 yards per attempt in 2012. In 2013 on such throws, those numbers are down to a 54.8 completion percentage and 7.7 yards per attempt.

Advantage: 2012

Third-down Passing
Johnny Football has been at his best on third down this season, posting a FBS-high 99.6 Total QBR.

Texas A&M is converting 63.3 percent of third down passing plays with Manziel at quarterback in 2013, the best rate in the FBS. Manziel is averaging 14.7 yards per attempt and completing 81.5 percent of his passes on third down, both second among qualified FBS quarterbacks.

Manziel also led FBS quarterbacks in third-down Total QBR (98.5) last season, and the Aggies converted on passing plays a FBS-high 51.7 percent of the time. Manziel ranked third among qualified quarterbacks in yards per attempt (9.8) and completion percentage (67.9%) on third down in 2012.

The difference so far in 2013 is that Manziel has not committed a turnover on third down, after throwing five interceptions in those situations a year ago.

Advantage: 2013

Manziel might not be as flashy with his legs in 2013 as he was in 2012, but his passing has improved.

When looking at ESPN’s new metric, opponent-adjusted QBR, Manziel had a slightly higher rating in 2012 (90.5) than so far in in 2013 (88.3).

So after looking at the numbers, which version of Johnny Football do you think is better? Vote and share your thoughts in the comments.

Aggies overcome odds to beat Rebels

October, 13, 2013
Below are some storylines from Week 5 of the college football season using ESPN’s new set of analytical storytelling metrics for college football. For more background on these metrics, read Dean Oliver’s primer on all of them and his explanation of college Total QBR. For complete college Total QBR information, go here.

Texas A&M comes back to win
Texas A&M and Ole Miss combined for 41 points in the fourth quarter of the Aggies’ 41-38 win. There were five touchdowns, two lead changes and three ties in the fourth quarter.

Texas A&M’s win probability was 73 percent following Josh Lambo’s 37-yard field goal on the first play of the fourth quarter.

The Aggies’ win probability fell below 15 percent on two separate drives during the final 12 minutes. They had a 14.7 percent chance of winning before Johnny Manziel completed a 27-yard pass on third down with nine yards to go from their own 26 yard-line with the team trailing 31-24. Then they had a 14.6 percent chance of winning before Manziel ran for 13 yards on a fourth down and seven from Ole Miss’ 45 yard-line with a 38-31 deficit.

Texas A&M is the fourth team this season to win in regulation when it had less than a 15 percent win probability on two separate drives in the fourth quarter.

The Aggies started their final drive with a 52 percent chance of winning the game.

Stanford’s offense struggling
Stanford’s offense added -0.9 expected points toward its scoring margin in its 27-21 loss at Utah. It was the first time that the Cardinal had a negative offensive EPA in back-to-back games since David Shaw became the head coach in 2011. The Cardinal had two turnovers that led to six points for the Utes, doubling the amount of points off turnovers that Stanford had allowed entering Saturday.

Ty Montgomery had a 100-yard kickoff return for a touchdown in the second quarter, his second straight game with a return touchdown. Stanford’s special teams finished the game with an EPA of +2, its third game this season in which it had a higher EPA than the offense.

Kevin Hogan had a below average Total QBR for the second straight game (average = 50). Hogan started off strong with an 82.3 Total QBR in the first quarter, but finished with a 26.6 in the final three quarters.

Business as usual for Marcus Mariota
In Oregon’s 45-24 win at Washington, Marcus Mariota posted a 92.2 Total QBR, 27.1 points higher than the sum of the Huskies’ three previous opponents combined. It was Mariota’s FBS-high fifth game with a Total QBR of at least 90 this season.

Mariota finished the game with 454 total yards and was responsible for four touchdowns, including two in the fourth quarter.

He has 852 total yards, 11 touchdowns and no turnovers in his last two games. Mariota and Oregon State’s Sean Mannion are the only two players this season with at least three touchdowns in six games.

Notable quarterbacks
• AJ McCarron posted a 85.2 Total QBR in Alabama’s 48-7 win at Kentucky. McCarron finished with career highs in pass yards (359) and completions of 20 yards or more (8). McCarron has a 91 Total QBR in his last two games, after starting the season with a 67.4.

• Johnny Manziel had a 88.7 Total QBR in Texas A&M’s win. In the fourth quarter, he completed 8-of-10 passes for 126 yards and had six carries for 51 yards and a touchdown.

McCarron, Alabama offense key road win

September, 15, 2013

AP PhotoJohnny Manziel threw for 464 yards Saturday, but it was AJ McCarron and Alabama that got the win.
Here are some storylines from Week 3 of the college football season using ESPN’s new set of analytical storytelling metrics for college football. For more background on these metrics, read Dean Oliver’s primer on all of them and his explanation of college Total QBR. For complete college Total QBR information, go here.

Alabama offense outplays Aggies

Although a lot of the focus coming into this game was on how Alabama’s defense would fare in terms of slowing down Johnny Manziel (answer: not well), the real story was how Alabama’s offense was able to outscore Manziel and the Aggie offense.

Texas A&M had more offensive yards, but the one extra turnover by the Aggies (two interceptions compared to Alabama’s one fumble) made the difference.

This is reflected in each offense’s “expected points added” – the number of net points contributed by the offense while it was on the field, taking into account its performance on every single play of the game.

Both Alabama and Texas A&M finished with incredibly high offensive EPA, but Alabama added more points with both its rushing and passing attacks, resulting in the victory.

Alabama’s +28.8 offensive EPA was one of the highest by any team against a BCS-AQ opponent through three weeks this season, and the sixth-highest for the Tide in the Saban era (just behind their +29.1 in last year’s BCS Championship Game vs Notre Dame).

AJ McCarron deserves a great deal of the credit: More than half his pass attempts went for a first down, including seven completions of 20 yards or more (three touchdowns), and he had no sacks or turnovers. McCarron’s 93.9 Total QBR was the second-highest qualifying score of his career (97.0 vs Auburn in 2012).

On the other side, Alabama’s -22.7 defensive EPA was by far its worst mark under Nick Saban, nearly 10 points worse than its second-worst performance in his seven seasons there (not adjusted for the strength of the opponent).

Without the offense’s spectacular performance, this would have likely been a pretty bad loss for the Tide.

Manziel great again, but picks prove costly

Johnny Manziel proved that his performance in the upset of Alabama last year was no fluke, amassing 562 total yards and throwing for five touchdowns on Saturday. The reigning Heisman winner has a Total QBR of 78.7 against Alabama in the last two years, well above the 17.9 QBR registered by all other quarterbacks versus the Tide in that span.

Manziel has been way more effective as both a runner and a passer than almost all other quarterbacks Nick Saban’s defense has faced.

The one major difference between Manziel’s play against Alabama this year and last year were the two turnovers.

Each of Manziel’s two interceptions on Saturday – one on 2nd-and-goal with the score tied in the second quarter, the other a pick-six that gave Alabama a three-score lead early in the third – decreased Texas A&M’s chances of winning by 12 percentage points.

Both picks dropped his QBR significantly, but his great performance otherwise (11.9 yards per pass attempt, 7.0 yards per rush, 23 total first downs) made up for it somewhat, giving him a solid 74.0 QBR for the game.

Although that’s pretty good, especially against Alabama (opponent adjustment is not available for this season yet), it actually represents the third-lowest single-game Total QBR of Manziel’s career. Not surprisingly, those three lowest scores came in Texas A&M’s three losses over the last two seasons (also 25.8 vs LSU and 59.7 vs. Florida in 2012).

Aggies have shut down Tide offense before

September, 13, 2013

AP Photo/Dave MartinThe Texas A&M defense caused trouble for Alabama a year ago.
Texas A&M hosts Alabama Saturday in arguably the most anticipated game of the season. While Johnny Manziel has garnered much of the attention, the ability of Texas A&M’s defense to slow down Alabama’s offense will play a significant role in determining the outcome.

Looking Back to Last Year
The Aggies’ defense, especially early in the game, was a key factor in last year’s upset. Texas A&M jumped out to a 20-0 first quarter lead, as the Aggies held Alabama to a single first down and a season-low 34 yards in the first 15 minutes.

AJ McCarron completed 1-of-5 passes for five yards with an interception, posting a QBR of 0.2 in the opening quarter. That was the worst of any quarter in his career (minimum four action plays).

McCarron bounced back to throw for a career-high 309 yards, including 201 yards in the fourth quarter. But he uncharacteristically struggled in the red zone, sealing A&M’s win with an interception on fourth-and-goal with 1:36 remaining.

Alabama’s running game also did not perform up to its usual standards. Last season, Alabama led the SEC in yards after contact (1,394 yards) and broken tackles (35).

Yet Texas A&M held Alabama to a season-low 42 yards after contact and didn’t allow them to break a single tackle in last year’s meeting. It was the only SEC game last year the Tide didn’t have a single run of 20 or more yards.

Looking Ahead to Saturday
Texas A&M’s defense enters Saturday struggling mightily against the run. Both Rice and Sam Houston State rushed for at least 240 yards in A&M's first two games this season, more than the Aggies allowed in any game last season.

Tackling has been a major issue for the Aggies. They’ve missed 18 tackles and had nine tackle attempts broken, tied for the most among SEC teams.

Alabama had its own problems offensively in its season opener, as the rebuilt offensive line struggled to contain Virginia Tech’s front seven.

Alabama was held to 96 yards rushing, its lowest total since its 2011 loss to LSU. Including sacks, Tide players were hit behind the line of scrimmage on half of their rushes against the Hokies. Last year Alabama players were hit in the backfield only 15 percent of the time.

McCarron, who finished with the second-worst QBR of his career (23.4), took four sacks and was hurried or knocked down on six of his 23 pass attempts (26 percent). Last year McCarron was hurried or knocked down on fewer than eight percent of pass attempts.

Texas A&M, however, has struggled to get to the quarterback in its first two games. The Aggies have only 10 total pressures this season, tied for the fewest in the SEC.

McCarron also needs to re-connect with his main passing target, Amari Cooper, who caught just four of 10 targets for 38 yards against Virginia Tech. In 2012 McCarron completed 77 percent of his passes to Cooper, his highest rate to any wide receiver.

Last year the Aggies couldn’t contain Cooper, who caught six of nine targets for 136 yards, including a 54-yard touchdown that cut Alabama’s deficit to five points in the fourth quarter.

How do you beat Alabama?

September, 13, 2013

John David Mercer/US PresswireJohnny Manziel is looking for a repeat of this scenario from last season.
Since the start of the 2008 season, Alabama is 62-7. But if you dive into the numbers, those seven losses tell a lot about what it takes to slay the mighty dragon that the Crimson Tide have become.

In its 2012 upset of Alabama, Texas A&M succeeded in five areas that are important for any team hoping to beat Nick Saban’s squad.

Clutch QB Play
It may seem like a no-brainer that the quarterback needs to play well for his team to win a big game, but it's even more important against Alabama. In the past 69 games, the Tide lead the FBS with 83 rushing yards allowed per game. In other words, running backs rarely produce against Alabama, and that puts even more pressure on the QB to make plays.

It just so happens that Alabama also has the best pass defense in the FBS during this span. There have been only six Alabama games since 2008 in which the opponent had a Total QBR above 60 (on a scale of 0 to 100), but the Tide lost five of them.

Johnny Manziel had a QBR of 82.4 last season in Tuscaloosa.

Stop the Run
Since the start of the 2008 season, the Crimson Tide are 50-0 when rushing for 150 yards or more. All seven teams that beat the Tide held them to less than 140 yards rushing, and six of the seven also held them to less than 4 yards per carry.

Last season, A&M held Alabama to 122 rushing yards and 3.94 yards per rush.

Explosive Plays
You can't expect to sustain long drives against the Alabama defense, so you need to find a way to get big chunks of yardage at a time. Since 2008, Bama opponents have scored a TD on 39 percent of drives that had a play gain 20 yards or more. Opponent drives without a 20-yard play have resulted in a TD just 4 percent of the time.

Texas A&M had five drives with an explosive play against Alabama last season and came away with a TD on four of them (80 percent).

Force turnovers
Alabama has turned the ball over the fewest times of any FBS team in the past five-plus seasons (73 in 69 games) and has a 39-0 record when winning the turnover battle. The Tide are also 25-0 during this span when not giving the ball away.

Obviously, that means every team to beat Alabama since 2008 has forced at least one turnover. Five of them forced two or more.

In 2012, Texas A&M forced three Alabama turnovers and gave away none.

Score, score, score
No matter how you do it, you must find a way to score several times to beat Alabama. As Virginia Tech found two weeks ago, you can hold the offense in check and still allow 35 points because of the strength of the Tide’s defense and special teams. Bama has scored 21 points or more in 46 of its past 47 games.

The magic number for opponent success seems to be 24. Since 2008, Alabama has allowed 24 points or more in a game nine times and has lost six of them. The only loss in which the Tide didn’t allow many points was the 9-6 overtime defeat to LSU in 2011.

Texas A&M scored 20 in the first quarter against Alabama last season and won 29-24.

Although A&M succeeded in all five areas in 2012, Bama opponents that come through in even two of these categories are usually able to keep the game close. In fact, in the past five years, teams managing to record a Total QBR of at least 50 (which is average) and also hold the Tide to less than 150 rushing yards in the same game have a 5-0 record.

Top things to know: Alabama at Texas A&M

September, 12, 2013

Ronald Martinez/Getty ImagesKyle Field, home to 6th-ranked Texas A&M and the 12th man, will host No. 1 Alabama Saturday.
A rematch 10 months in the making is almost here as the top-ranked Alabama Crimson Tide travel to College Station to take on No. 6 Texas A&M this Saturday. Here are five storylines to watch in this game.

1. Johnny Manziel and the Aggies tagged Alabama with its only loss last season, and in Tuscaloosa nonetheless. Now, the Tide seeks revenge, which is something they’ve done successfully under Nick Saban, going 7-1 in revenge games with an average margin of victory of 20.9 points in those wins.

2. Alabama is coming off a bye week, but the Tide have had mixed results in the regular season when having an extra week to prepare for teams.

Under Nick Saban, Alabama is 4-3 when coming off a regular season bye, with all three losses coming to LSU (2007, 2010, 2011). However, LSU also had bye weeks entering all three of those games. For a bit more perspective, in the four such wins, Alabama has outscored opponents 126-45.

3. Does Johnny Manziel have a successful encore for last year’s performance when he carved up Alabama?

Manziel completed 4-of-5 passes thrown 20 yards or longer in Texas A&M’s 29-24 victory last November.

Alabama’s other 13 opponents combined to complete only 24 percent of their passes of this distance and threw 10 interceptions on 66 attempts.

4. Let’s not overlook the performance of the A&M defense. The Aggies rank 92nd so far this season in total defense and 115th against the run.

They were outgained against Rice (509-486) and allowed 240 rushing yards to FCS-member Sam Houston State last week.

Alabama will need to improve on its offensive performance two weeks ago against Virginia Tech. The Tide totaled 206 total yards and averaged just 2.5 yards per carry.

5. The schedule-makers did A&M no favors by making this the SEC opener for both teams. Alabama has won 21 straight SEC openers. Not only is that the longest active streak for any team in FBS, nobody else is even close.

The next longest? Boise State, which has won 13 straight conference openers, but has done that in three different conferences (Big West, WAC, Mountain West). Lastly, Alabama is 21-0 in September since 2008.

Bryce Petty, Baylor among best in Week 2

September, 10, 2013

Jerome Miron/USA TODAY SportsBryce Petty had a near-perfect game in Week 2.
Week 2 of the 2013 college football season was filled with thrilling matchups of teams looking to make a statement. Miami stalled Florida in the red zone to win its first game over an AP Top-15 team since 2009, Georgia defeated South Carolina for the first time in four seasons to grab hold of the SEC East, and Michigan won its fourth straight game over Notre Dame at home in their final meeting (for now) at the Big House.

But which individual and team performances were the most impressive of Week 2?

With the help of ESPN’s new CFB metrics (see explanations here), ESPN Stats & Information will break down the weekend and look ahead to next weekend’s matchup of Texas A&M and Alabama.

Best Individual Performances

Bryce Petty (99.72 Total QBR) posted the highest Total QBR by a Baylor quarterback with at least 20 action plays in the last 10 seasons. Before being pulled early in the third quarter against Buffalo, Petty completed 13-of-16 passes for 338 yards and two touchdowns. His 21.1 yards per attempt was the highest average in any game in the last 10 seasons.

Travis Wilson (99.66 Total QBR) had the eighth-highest single-game Total QBR among quarterbacks with at least 25 action plays in the last 10 seasons, as the Utes put up 70 points (against Weber State) for the first time since 1973.

Zach Mettenberger (98.6 Total QBR) had a career-high Total QBR in LSU’s 56-17 victory over UAB. In two games this season, Mettenberger has a Total QBR of 88.0; he didn’t post a Total QBR of 88 in any of his 13 games last season.

J.W. Walsh (98.1 Total QBR) completed 24-of-27 passes for 326 yards and four touchdowns in Oklahoma State’s win over UTSA. Since the start of last season, Walsh has an 86.0 Total QBR, which ranks second to Johnny Manziel among players with at least 200 action plays.

Marcus Mariota (97.0 Total QBR) had his fifth career game with a Total QBR of more than 95 in Oregon’s 59-10 win against Virginia. Mariota and Arizona State quarterback Taylor Kelly (who had a 96.3 Total QBR on Thursday) are the only quarterbacks with at least five such games since the start of the 2012 season.

Best Team Performances

Offense –- Baylor: Baylor set a school record for points (70) and yards (781) in a game. The Bears’ offense contributed +39.7 expected points added (EPA) in the game, meaning they contributed about 40 net points towards their 57-point victory. It did not take Baylor long to score when it got the ball, with all 10 of its touchdown drives coming in 2 minutes or less.

Defense –- Oregon: Oregon is not typically known for its defense, but since the start of 2012 season, the Ducks have the sixth-highest defensive EPA in the nation. Turnovers have been the key. Oregon leads the FBS with 46 turnovers forced during that time. On Saturday it was no different, as the Ducks forced Virginia into four turnovers and added 29 expected points from defense.

Special Teams -– Boise State: Boise State had four punts land inside Tennessee-Martin's 20-yard line. The Broncos’ special teams also forced a fumble on a kickoff that led to a 15-yard touchdown drive. Overall, Boise State’s drives began 20 yards closer to the goal line than Tennessee-Martin’s drives, as the Broncos added the most expected points (+14.3) of any special teams unit in Week 2.

Looking ahead to Week 3

Scott Halleran/Getty ImagesJohnny Manziel helped lead Texas A&M to an upset of Alabama last year in Tuscaloosa.

The possible game of the year will take place on Saturday as Alabama heads to College Station to take on Texas A&M.

In last year’s meeting, Johnny Manziel ran wild against the Tide, gaining 94 yards on scrambles and throwing for an additional 78 yards when outside the pocket. He posted a 95.4 opponent-adjusted Total QBR, the third highest allowed by Alabama in the Nick Saban era.

Taking into account Manziel’s efficiency and usage (he was involved in 54 action plays), Manziel’s opponent-adjusted points above average was the highest allowed by a Nick Saban-coached Alabama defense.

Points above average is a stat that looks at the net points contributed by a quarterback above what an average quarterback would have posted. It accounts for the strength of the opponents’ defense, in addition to the quarterback’s efficiency and usage.

Look for Saban to adjust accordingly. No quarterback has posted an above average (above 50) Total QBR against Alabama in multiple games with Saban as the Tide’s head coach.

How do SEC QBs rate via QBR?

August, 19, 2013
The SEC opens the 2013 season with six teams ranked in the top 12 of the preseason AP Poll. Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina, Texas A&M, Florida and LSU all have legitimate chances to win an eighth straight BCS National Championship for the SEC.

As recent history suggests, quarterback play is essential to winning the title. Four of the last five quarterbacks to lead their team to a BCS National Championship have ranked in the top eight in Total QBR.

Heading into the 2013 season, what are the strengths and weaknesses of the starting quarterbacks of these six ranked teams from the perspective of ESPN’s new Total QBR metric?

1. Johnny Manziel, Texas A&M (90.5 Total QBR – 1st in FBS out of 122 qualified QBs)

Manziel converted a first down on 51.9 percent of his third-down pass attempts last season, best in FBS. He also ran for 28 first downs on third down, including 22 first downs on broken plays. As a result, Manziel led the nation in unadjusted Total QBR on third down (98.6).

In order to repeat his success, Manziel must improve his second-half performance. His unadjusted Total QBR in the first half of games was almost 20 points higher than his unadjusted Total QBR in the second half of games. In Texas A&M’s two losses against LSU and Florida, Manziel had a second-half unadjusted Total QBR of 9.7 and 9.3, respectively.

2. AJ McCarron, Alabama (81.5 Total QBR - 5th in FBS)

McCarron posted an above average QBR (above 50) in all 14 of his games last season. McCarron’s worst game was a 53.1 Total QBR against Georgia in the SEC Championship. Every qualified quarterback had at least one worse game (in terms of QBR) during the season. McCarron threw just three interceptions in 314 attempts, resulting in an FBS-leading 10-1 touchdown-to-interception ratio.

Yet two of McCarron’s interceptions occurred inside of his opponents’ five yard line when the score was within seven points. Each of those interceptions decreased Alabama’s win probability by more than 10 percentage points.

3. Aaron Murray, Georgia (78.2 Total QBR – 13th in FBS)

Georgia gained a first down on 40.4 percent of Murray’s pass attempts last season, which ranked third in FBS. Murray led the nation in yards per attempt (10.1) and percentage of pass attempts that gained at least 20 yards (16.1 percent). His Total QBR rank jumped from 21st in his sophomore season to 13th in his junior season.

The biggest question surrounding Murray is his ability to win games against top-ranked competition. In his career, Murray has faced 14 teams that finished the season ranked in the top 25 of the AP Poll. Georgia is 3-11 in those games and Murray had a Total QBR below 60 in seven of those games.

In comparison, Georgia is 25-2 against all other opponents and Murray had a Total QBR below 60 in four of those 27 games.

It is important to note that Total QBR accounts for the strength of the defenses that Murray is facing.

4. Connor Shaw, South Carolina (68.2 Total QBR – 34th in FBS)

South Carolina gained a first down on 39.5 percent of Shaw’s pass attempts last season, which ranked seventh in FBS. In addition to precise passing, Shaw scrambled for 225 yards and 13 first downs when the play broke down.

Shaw must improve his downfield accuracy. Six of his seven interceptions last season came on passes of 20 yards or longer downfield. Additionally, he must improve on the road; Shaw’s had an unadjusted Total QBR of 42.8 in five road or neutral site games compared to an unadjusted Total QBR of 77.7 in six home games last season.

5. Jeff Driskel, Florida (60.4 Total QBR – 46th in FBS)

Driskel gained 470 yards and averaged nine yards per rush on designed running plays. As a result, he added the 16th-most clutch weighted expected points on rushing plays in FBS last season.

However, Driskel was sacked 36 times on just 310 dropbacks (11.6 percent). He lost the second-most clutch weighted expected points as a result of sacks, behind only NC State’s Mike Glennon.

6. Zach Mettenberger, LSU (47.1 Total QBR – 79th in FBS)

Mettenberger’s best game of the season came in LSU’s 21-17 loss to Alabama. He posted a 95.5 Total QBR in that game, which was the second-highest Total QBR allowed by Alabama in the Nick Saban Era (Stephen Garcia 97.3 Total QBR in 2010).

Yet, Mettenberger struggled against the rest of the SEC, completing 52 percent of his passes with as many touchdowns as interception (4) in his seven other conference games. He had a below average (below 50) Total QBR in five of those seven games.

Total QBR measures all quarterback contributions to scoring accounting for game context and adjusted for opponent strength. It is based on a 0-100 scale, and 50 is average. For more information, see the description of the NFL version, which has the same principles as the college version, here