Stats & Info: USC Trojans

Top Things to Know: Fresno State-USC

December, 21, 2013

Getty ImagesWR Marqise Lee (left) leads No. 25 USC against QB Derek Carr and No. 20 Fresno State in the Royal Purple Las Vegas Bowl (Saturday, 3:30 ET on ABC).

• Fresno State senior QB Derek Carr will cap his illustrious career in this game. He has a QBR of 83.9 this season, fourth in the FBS, behind only Jameis Winston, Marcus Mariota and Teddy Bridgewater.

Carr’s opponent-adjusted QBR takes a hit however (77.5, 19th in the FBS) because of the level of Fresno State’s competition.

• Carr has been sacked on only 1.8 percent of his passing plays, the lowest rate in the FBS. Fresno State has yielded 11 sacks this season and has attempted 620 passes.

• Carr shares a hometown with USC’s Cody Kessler, his opposing QB in this game. Both are from Bakersfield, CA (Carr was two years ahead of Kessler). “Cody and I are good friends,” Carr said. “We'll be trash-talking him and telling him to lighten up his defense.”

• This is only the third meeting between these schools and first since USC’s undefeated regular season of 2005. In November of that season, AP No. 1 USC beat No. 16 Fresno State, 50-42.

The Bulldogs came close to pulling off the upset, leading 42-41 in the fourth quarter. Reggie Bush ran for 294 yards and set a Pac-10 record with 513 all-purpose yards (the Trojans later vacated the win due to NCAA penalties).

The only other meeting came in the 1992 Freedom Bowl in Anaheim, CA. Fresno State and QB Trent Dilfer won, 24-7.

• These teams will open next season against one another. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, it will be just the seventh time that two teams met in a season opener after playing in a bowl game to end the previous season.

• Offensive coordinator Clay Helton will coach for USC in this game. He rounds out what has been a tumultuous year at USC’s head coaching position: Lane Kiffin started the season as coach, then Ed Orgeron took over as interim coach after Kiffin was fired.

Following the regular season, USC announced that Steve Sarkisian was hired as head coach and Orgeron decided to resign from the program.

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.

USC’s improved offense under Coach O

November, 13, 2013

Matt Cashore/USA TODAY Sports
USC has improved offensively since Ed Orgeron took over for Lane Kiffin as head coach.
In an interview with ESPN Pac-12 blogger Kevin Gemmell, USC RB Javorius “Buck” Allen described USC’s transition to interim coach Ed Orgeron, “It hasn't been difficult. We all love Coach (Orgeron). He's a player's coach. He loves us, and he wants to see us happy and have fun. We really play off of that, and we want to win for him.”

USC is 4-1 under Coach Orgeron and its offense seems to have found an identity. USC has turned to its run game, led by Allen and Silas Redd, which has opened up the passing game for Cody Kessler and the Trojans.

Orgeron’s return to the run
USC is averaging 181.2 rush yards per game under Ed Orgeron, which is comparable to its average in the first five games of the season under Lane Kiffin. However, the Trojans are running more often on early downs and finding success in doing so.

In their past five games, the Trojans have run on 70 percent of their first-down plays, an increase of eight percentage points from their first five games. They have averaged 5.8 yards per rush and gained a first down on 22 percent of their first-down rushes in those games.

Success on first down has resulted in increased efficiency on third down. USC ranked 112th in the FBS through its first five games with a 28 percent third-down conversion rate. With Orgeron at the helm, the Trojans have increased that rate to 36 percent, including 52 percent in their past two games.

Buck Allen’s emergence
The biggest difference in USC’s running game has been the emergence Javorius “Buck” Allen. According to sources, Allen was one of USC’s most productive backs in training camp, but he did not get many carries at the start of the season. Those carries went to Tre Madden and Justin Davis, who were both productive, but recently went down with injuries.

Even before the injuries to Madden and Davis, Allen was given a chance by Ed Orgeron. In five games under Orgeron, Allen has gained 327 yards, including at least 130 in each of his past two games. He is averaging 8.8 yards per rush and has added an element of speed that complements the bruising style of Silas Redd.

Allen’s speed has allowed him to turn the corner on opposing defenses. He is averaging 11.4 yards per carry outside the tackles and seven of his 23 rushes have gained at least 10 yards. Overall, he leads the Trojans with seven rushing touchdowns, including four outside the tackles, despite ranking fourth on the team with 51 carries.

Improved QB play
Under Orgeron, USC is attempting more passes per game and its average pass distance is one yard farther downfield than when Lane Kiffin was the head coach.

Orgeron and new play caller Clay Helton have cut back on USC’s bubble screens, which were a staple of Lane Kiffin’s offense. After attempting more than five screens per game under Kiffin, USC has attempted just nine screens in five games (1.8 per game) under Orgeron and have relied more heavily on the arms of their quarterbacks.

Cody Kessler has responded to the increased responsibility by posting a 65.5 opponent-adjusted QBR in his past five games. He completed 81.6 percent of his passes and averaged 11 yards per attempt in his past two games against Oregon State and California.

The most noticeable difference for USC’s quarterbacks is on third down. In their past five games, they have converted a first down on 32 percent of their passing plays (pass attempts + sacks) and have a 54.1 Total QBR on third down. In comparison, they converted 22 percent of their passing plays and had an 11.1 third-down Total QBR in the first five games of the season.

USC’s quarterbacks will be challenged on Saturday against Stanford’s stout defense. The Cardinal rank seventh in adjusted defensive efficiency and are coming off of a game in which they held Oregon’s Marcus Mariota to a season-low 46.5 Total QBR.

CFB week in review: Marshall, Stanford best

November, 12, 2013
Week 11 featured an impressive defensive performance by Florida State, an efficient rushing game by Stanford and a dominant second half by Alabama.

With the help of ESPN’s new college football metrics (see explanations here), ESPN Stats & Information takes a look back at the best individual and team performances of Week 11 and ahead to next week’s matchup between Stanford and USC.

Best Individual Performances

Nick Marshall posted a 99.6 opponent-adjusted QBR in Auburn’s 55-23 win at Tennessee despite throwing only seven passes.

It was the highest opponent-adjusted QBR in a game this season. Marshall rushed for a career-high 214 yards and averaged 15.3 yards per carry.

Overall, Marshall gained a first down on 10 of 14 rushing plays and rushed for two touchdowns when the score was within one possession.

Kevin Hogan had a 99.0 opponent-adjusted QBR in Stanford’s dominant 26-20 win against Oregon. He converted 4 of 5 third-down chances, including all three of his rushing attempts. Hogan ran for 57 yards on eight carries and added a career-high 4.4 clutch-weighted expected points on running plays.

AJ McCarron had an 87.6 opponent-adjusted QBR in Alabama’s win against LSU. In his last three games against ranked opponents dating back to the BCS National Championship, McCarron has a 94.1 opponent-adjusted QBR and has thrown for 11 touchdowns and no interceptions.

Best Team Performances

Offense – Stanford added 14.4 expected points on offense, but when adjusted for the strength of Oregon’s defense, the Cardinal had the third-highest adjusted offensive EPA of Week 11.

The Cardinal running game added 10.3 expected points, the most that Oregon has allowed in a game in the last eight seasons.

Defense - Florida State added 54 expected points on defense, the highest defensive EPA in a game in the last 10 seasons.

The Seminoles held Wake Forest’s three quarterbacks to a combined 0.001 Total QBR. That's the lowest Total QBR for a team in any game in the last 10 seasons.

Special teams – USC added 13.8 expected points to their net scoring margin via special teams.

Nelson Agholor had two punt return touchdowns and the Trojans also returned a blocked punt for a touchdown. It was the eighth time an FBS team returned three punts for scores and the first time since Oklahoma did so against UCLA in 2003.

Looking ahead to Stanford vs USC

No. 4 Stanford heads to USC (8 ET, ABC) in a matchup of teams that have each won three-straight games.

USC has improved on offense with Ed Orgeron as its interim head coach. The key has been quarterback play. USC’s quarterbacks have had a 66.1 opponent-adjusted QBR in their past five games after posting a 35.8 opponent-adjusted QBR in their first five games under Lane Kiffin.

USC’s quarterbacks will be challenged on Saturday against Stanford’s stout defense. The Cardinal rank seventh in adjusted defensive efficiency and are coming off of a game in which they held Heisman-favorite Marcus Mariota to a season-low 46.5 Total QBR.

McCarron, Miller among the best in Week 9

October, 29, 2013

AP Photo/Paul VernonsBraxton Miller was at his best against Penn State.
Week 9 featured blowouts and surprises; the top four teams in the BCS Standings won by a combined 144 points, yet No. 7 Miami needed a fourth-quarter comeback against Wake Forest to remain undefeated. South Carolina had a comeback of its own against No. 5 Missouri; the Gamecocks’ win probability fell to 2.8 percent before they scored 17 straight points to send the game to overtime.

With the help of ESPN’s new college football metrics (see explanations here), ESPN Stats & Information takes a look back at the best individual and team performances of Week 9.

Best Individual Performances

AJ McCarron had a Week 9-high 97.4 opponent-adjusted QBR in Alabama’s 45-10 win against Tennessee. McCarron completed 9-of-12 passes for 131 yards and two touchdowns in the first quarter. The Tide led 21-0 and had a 91 percent chance of winning after the first 15 minutes of play.

Blake Bortles posted a 97.0 opponent-adjusted QBR in UCF’s 62-17 win against Connecticut. Bortles had career highs in completion percentage (83.3 percent), touchdowns responsible for (five) and raw QBR (98.3) in that game.

Braxton Miller had a 95.7 opponent-adjusted QBR in Ohio State’s 63-14 win against Penn State. Miller threw for a career-high 252 yards and accounted for five touchdowns. This season, Miller leads the Big Ten in completion percentage (70.6 percent), third-down conversion percentage (45.7 percent) and opponent-adjusted QBR (80.4).

Jameis Winston had a 94.8 opponent-adjusted QBR in Florida State’s 49-17 win against North Carolina State. He now has an opponent-adjusted QBR of 90 or higher in each of his past four games, the longest active streak in the FBS.

Explaining Garrett Gilbert’s QBR

SMU’s Garrett Gilbert had 635 yards of total offense against Temple, the seventh-most by any player in FBS history. However, Gilbert’s opponent-adjusted QBR was ONLY a 84.9. Why?

First, Gilbert faced a Temple defense that was allowing a 68.3 Total QBR entering the game, third worst among BCS automatic qualifying conference defenses. As a result, Gilbert’s QBR fell almost 10 points when adjusted for the defense that he faced. Further, Gilbert started slow, holding a 58 Total QBR midway through the second quarter when the Mustangs were trailing 28-7. In the second half, he had a 99.2 Total QBR as he led SMU to a 59-49 victory.

Best Team Performances

Offense--Ohio State gained 686 yards and scored nine offensive touchdowns against Penn State. The Buckeyes added 42.8 expected points on offense, their most against an FBS opponent in the last 10 seasons. In terms of offensive EPA, Ohio State has two of the top four offensive outputs of the season.

Defense-- USC held Utah to three points and forced four turnovers in its 19-3 win. The Trojans contributed 31.1 expected points on defense and -13.5 expected points on offense and special teams combined. That means that if USC had an average defense (EPA = 0), and everything else remained the same, the Trojans would have lost by about two touchdowns.

Special Teams-- Louisiana Tech kicker Kyle Fischer made all five of his field goal attempts in Louisiana Tech’s 23-7 win at Florida International. Fischer’s five field goals were tied for the most by a player this season. Louisiana Tech punter Logan McPherson also had two punts that pinned Florida International inside of its own 15 yard line, including a punt downed at the Florida International 1 in the first quarter.

Looking ahead to Florida State vs Miami (FL)

No. 3 Florida State hosts No. 7 Miami (FL) (8 pm ET, ABC) in a top-10 matchup with plenty of history. It is the 13th time in series history that the two will meet with both in the Top 10, but the first such meeting since 2004.

This season, Florida State ranks second in offensive EPA per game and Miami ranks 12th in defensive EPA per game. However, the teams have been trending in opposite directions in their past four games.

Florida State’s average margin of victory in its past four games is 36.5 points, including two wins over ranked opponents by a combined 100 points. In those games, Winston has a 94.8 opponent-adjusted QBR, which leads the FBS during that time.

On the other hand, Miami has needed fourth-quarter comebacks against North Carolina and Wake Forest to remain undefeated. In each of those games, the Hurricanes’ win probability fell below 25 percent in the second half.

Further, Miami has had at least four turnovers in three of its past four games and has allowed 39 points off turnovers during that time.

USC Struggles in Lane Kiffin Era

September, 29, 2013

Matt Kartozian/USA TODAY Sports
Lane Kiffin has been let go as head coach in the middle of USC’s worst stretch of games in years.

Lane Kiffin has been relieved of his duties as USC's head football coach, Trojan athletic director Pat Haden announced early on Sunday.

Kiffin, who left as head coach at Tennessee after the Vols’ 7-6 season in 2009, has since accumulated a 28-15 record for the Trojans. However, this storied program has lost seven of its last 11 games and is on its worst stretch since the 2001 season, the last time that the program didn’t manage a winning season.

Let’s take a closer look at USC’s struggles during the Kiffin Era.

On-field Struggles

In the last two seasons, USC is 5-6 in the Pac-12 and have lost all four of its games against ranked opponents.

They are 0-2 in conference play this year and have lost three out its last four road games, both firsts for the team since 2001, the first season under Pete Carroll.

Offensively, USC has compiled a 30.6 QBR this season, which ranks 113th out of 126 FBS schools. On the other side of the ball, the Trojans have allowed 62 points twice in their last ten games, a feat which no other FBS team has done in the same span.

For the first time in the Lane Kiffin era, this season’s Trojans have a higher percentage of 3-and-outs (in 34 percent of offensive possessions) than scoring drives (29 percent).

Off-field struggles

USC’s on-field struggles could be largely due to off-field issues with recruiting and NCAA sanctions, both of which have made it difficult to field the national powerhouse team that USC fans have become accustomed to.

In 2011 USC landed the fourth best recruiting class despite NCAA sanctions. Quarterback Max Wittek was the prized possession of that class.

USC's 2014 recruiting class is not in the top 40 right now according to (Tennessee, Kiffin’s previous team, is third).

The Trojans were hit with severe NCAA sanctions in June of 2010, a few months after Kiffin arrived, making it difficult for him to field the best team possible.

Each year for three years, USC's annual scholarship limit was reduced, limiting the Trojans to 75 scholarship players on the roster each season, 10 fewer than the maximum allowed for an FBS team. The penalties end after the 2014 season because USC delayed implementation by appealing.

USC played at Arizona State on Saturday night with 56 recruited scholarship players, compared to the 85 that most FBS schools field each week.

How will USC get the ball to Marqise Lee?

August, 28, 2013

US PresswireMax Wittek (left) and Marqise Lee (right) hope to be celebrating a lot more together this season.
The USC Trojans have questions at quarterback, but Marqise Lee is the answer at wide receiver.

Lee was one of the most explosive receivers in FBS last season, highlighted by his Pac-12 record-breaking 345-yard receiving game against Arizona on October 27.

With Matt Barkley at the helm last year, Lee finished second in FBS with 1,721 receiving yards.

His 892 yards after the catch placed him second among players from BCS-AQ schools behind Tavon Austin (947 yards).

Lee was targeted on 39 percent of USC’s pass attempts and gained almost half of the Trojans’ receiving yards last season. He owns or shares 22 school records, including the most career games with at least 10 receptions.

Currently, the four quarterbacks on the roster have a combined 71 pass attempts at USC, with 69 of them coming from Max Wittek. This inexperience under center should be a sign of concern for Lee.

Inexperience at QB
Last season, Wittek completed just 52 percent of his passes overall, including 12-of-21 (57 percent) to Lee. Although it is a limited sample size, that is still a huge drop off from Barkley’s 70 percent completion percentage to Lee in their two seasons together.

One way to establish young unproven quarterbacks is to get the ball out of their hands quickly and use short-yardage throws to establish an offensive rhythm.

Lee should provide a nice security blanket for Wittek in this regard.

Of the 12 completions from Wittek to Lee, nine of them were thrown within five yards of the line of scrimmage and Lee gained 45 yards after the catch on those throws.

He led the Pac-12 in both receptions (64) and yards after catch (457) on throws within five yards of the line of scrimmage. Overall, nearly 55 percent of Lee’s catches were on those short throws.

Who will get him the ball deep?
Not only does Lee have big-play abilities on short throws, he is also a deep threat. Over the last two seasons, Lee has an FBS-leading 65 receptions on throws of 15 or more yards.

Lee leads FBS with 11 catches of 50-plus yards gained during that span and seven of his 25 receiving touchdowns in the last two seasons have been for 50 or more yards, tied for second-most in FBS.

In the two games Lee and Wittek played last season, Lee caught one pass in three attempts from Wittek that were thrown at least 50 yards downfield.

Mr. Everything
Even if his deep touches are down, Lee could also make big plays for the Trojans as a rusher and returner. Last season, Lee ranked third in FBS with 2,683 all-purpose yards and led the Pac-12 with 856 kickoff return yards.

Look for the fireworks to start early. USC opens the season on Thursday at Hawaii, a team that Lee burned for a 100-yard kickoff return in last year’s opener.
College football’s poll of historical record – the AP Poll – will be released Saturday. Here are some historical notes and trends to look for in conjunction with the release of the preseason poll.

• There has never been a unanimous No. 1 in the preseason AP Poll. Since 1990, five teams garnered at least 50 first place votes in the preseason poll. None would go on to win the title, and in this same situation in 2010, Alabama finished with three losses.

• Based on the preseason coaches' poll, the AP Top 10 could be comprised of teams which finished 2012 in the Top 13. The last time the AP Preseason Top 10 came from the Top 13 of the previous seasons final poll was 1992 - that year, preseason No. 9 - Alabama won the title.

• Preseason No. 1 hasn't guaranteed a top-five finish lately. Four times in the last five years the preseason AP No. 1 team has finished 10th or worse, among the teams a three-loss Alabama team in 2010.

• In the previous ten years, preseason No. 1 finished in the Top 3 nine times, and never worse than 8th. The last preseason AP No. 1 to finish the year ranked first was USC in 2004

• Since 1976, only five teams that were ranked preseason number one finished the year ranked number one in the AP Poll, the last being USC in 2004.

• In the BCS era, only one time (2001) has there been an instance where every team ranked in the preseason Top 10 was ranked at the end of the season. Last year, preseason No. 1 USC disappointed and finished the season unranked. In 15 years, a total of 29 teams have ended the year unranked after beginning the season in the AP Top 10. Of those 29 teams, Nine were ranked as Top-4 teams..

• An SEC team (Alabama, Auburn, Florida, LSU) has been No. 1 in 54 of the last 71 AP polls. In the previous 71 polls there were seven weeks where an SEC team was number one. USC was ranked No. 1 in 37 of those 71 polls.

If Oregon and Stanford are both in the preseason top five, it would mark the second straight year the Pac-12 has had two teams ranked in the preseason top five (last year was the first time in conference history that happened - USC, Oregon)

• In the last 20 years, only once - 2011 - a team which wasn't ranked in the preseason finished in the Top 10. Last year there were two - Notre Dame and Texas A&M. The Aggies received a total of five points in the 2012 preseason poll, while the Irish were first among those receiving votes.

In 2011, USC was ranked 25th the preseason, so we nearly have 20 straight years of this happening. In fact, in the BCS era, 13 teams - almost one per year - have been ranked in the final AP Top 10 after receiving fewer than 10 points in the preseason poll. Seven of the 13 received no votes or one vote.

Prior to 2011, the last time every team in the final AP Top 10 was ranked in the preseason was 1992. Who will be this year's Cinderella?

• Alabama (33) and Oregon (29) have the longest active streaks of being ranked in the top ten.

• No team in the history of the 25-team AP Poll (since 1989) has gone from preseason No. 1 to unranked in the following preseason. Two teams have gone from preseason No. 1 to unranked the following preseason in polls which ranked at least 20 teams - 1983 Pittsburgh (No. 1 in 1982 preseason) and 1960 LSU (No. 1 in 1959 preseason).

• The last preseason No. 1 to be ranked outside the Top 10 the following preseason was Penn State in 1998 (No. 1 in 1997, No. 13 in 1998).

• Stanford has three preseason Top 10 appearances - 1950 (No. 7), 1970 (No. 10) and 2011 (No. 7). This should be its highest preseason rank in school history.

• It has been 94 weeks since Louisville appeared in the AP Top 10. Among teams which have been in the Top 10 more recently - Hawaii, Boston College, Kansas, South Florida and Cal. Those five teams combined to go 12-48 last year, with none winning more than three games. Louisville's highest preseason rank in history is 10th in 2000. It finished that season unranked.

Numbers to know from signing day

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

10 plays that shaped the BCS race

December, 5, 2012

Mark L. Baer/US PresswireManti Te'o and Notre Dame were involved in many of the moments that shaped the 2012 season.
Oct. 13: (7) Notre Dame stuffs Stepfan Taylor in OT to edge (17) Stanford
Down seven, Stanford had first-and-goal at Notre Dame’s 4. Taylor got stuffed four straight times, including a fourth-down run in which replays showed he may have crossed the goal line

Oct. 27: (5) Notre Dame’s Manti Te’o picks off Landry Jones to seal win over (8) Oklahoma
Leading 20-13 with less than five minutes left, Te’o intercepted a Jones pass at the OU 45. Te'o finished the campaign with seven interceptions, tied for second-most in the FBS.

Oct. 27: Jarvis Jones forces fumble near goal line to key (10) Georgia over (2) Florida
As Florida’s Jordan Reed was lunging for the end zone for a score that would have set up a game-tying two-point conversion attempt with a little more than two minutes left, Jones laid a hit on him that forced the ball to pop out and result in a touchback. The loss was Florida’s only of the season.

Nov. 3: Pittsburgh misses game-winning field goal in OT, falls at (3) Notre Dame
Notre Dame trailed 20-6 late in the third quarter, but fought back to force overtime. Pitt had a chance to spring the upset in the second OT, but Kevin Harper pushed the 33-yard field goal attempt. Everett Golson made the Panthers pay with a game-winning touchdown run in the third OT.

Nov. 3: (1) Alabama scores with 51 seconds left to win at (5) LSU
Trailing by three on the final drive, T.J. Yeldon took a screen pass 28 yards to the end zone to put Alabama up for good in a rematch of last season’s BCS title game.

Nov. 10: (1) Alabama jumps offside in final minute, allows (15) Texas A&M to run out clock
It was this upset that vaulted quarterback Johnny Manziel to the front of the Heisman race.

Nov. 17: Baylor shocks (1) Kansas State behind Lache Seastrunk’s 80-yard score
On a night that completely shifted the college football landscape, Baylor took out the nation’s top-ranked team in epic fashion. Up 21 points in the third quarter, Seastrunk’s 80-yard touchdown run put the game out of reach.

Nov. 17: (13) Stanford drills field goal in OT to stun (2) Oregon in OT
After Zach Ertz’s touchdown catch survived a replay review and tied the game, Jordan Williamson hit a 37-yard kick in overtime to hand the Ducks their only loss of the season.

Nov. 24: (1) Notre Dame uses goal-line stand to top USC, seal berth in BCS title game
Down 22-13 in the final minutes, USC had first-and-goal at the 1. ND did not allow the Trojans in the end zone, locking up a spot in the national championship game. On the season, the Irish allowed one rushing touchdown and five total touchdowns in goal-to-go situations, both of which ranked No. 1 in the FBS.

Dec. 1: (3) Georgia’s Chris Conley comes up short vs (2) Alabama in SEC title game
With Georgia driving down the field in the final seconds trailing by four, Conley caught a deflected pass at the Alabama 5. He fell down and could only watch as the Bulldogs’ championship hopes expired.

USC close, but Notre Dame defense closes

November, 25, 2012
Jeff Gross/Getty Images Manti Te'o joined Bob Crable as the only players in school history with three 100-tackle seasons.
USC can take credit for staying within reach of Notre Dame for 60 minutes of football, but in the end, close was just not enough.

The 22-13 win was the narrowest margin of victory for Notre Dame in a road game this season. But an early touchdown and drives good enough to produce five field goals were well supported by a defense that showed at game's end why it ranks among the best in the country in just about every notable stat.

Let’s take a snapshot look at some of the key notes, stats and nuggets for this win.

The History
Notre Dame should be the first school outside of a BCS AQ conference to play in a title game in the BCS era. It also will be the first school to be unranked in the preseason AP poll to play in the BCS title game.

The Irish recorded consecutive road wins against USC for the first time since 1990 and 1992.

The 12 wins by the Irish match their most in a season. They also won 12 in 1988 (when they last started 12-0) and 1989 (when they finished 12-1).

USC lost for the fifth time this season, the most defeats for a preseason AP No. 1 since Ole Miss went 5-5-1 in 1964.

Key drive of the game
USC was on the verge of turning this into a one-score game late in the fourth quarter, but got stymied four times on fourth-and-goal from the 1, including three straight failed runs.

This was part of what has made Notre Dame’s defense so dominant this season. The Irish allowed a total of three yards on eight “and-goal” plays and that was actually a bad game for them.

Notre Dame has held opponents to -28 yards rushing and -5 total yards in goal-to-go situations, both best in FBS.

Golson’s improvements
Freshman quarterback Everett Golson was again sharp on his lengthier throws. He finished 10-for-16 for 179 yards on throws that traveled at least 10 yards on Saturday night. This was the third straight game in which Golson completed at least 60 percent of his passes. In his first eight games, Golson completed only 44 percent of his throws of at least 10 yards.

Riddick rolls again
Notre Dame's Theo Riddick ran for 146 yards, his fourth game with at least 100 rushing yards this season. That’s the most 100-yard games for a Notre Dame player since Darius Walker had six in 2006.

Reddick rushed 15 times between the tackles for 121 yards, piling up 53 yards after contact. By comparison, USC had 18 rushes inside the tackles, but gained only 19 total yards, its second-fewest yards after contact in a game this season (it had 18 vs Stanford).

Putting his best foot forward
Kyle Brindza made five field goals, the longest of which was a 52-yarder that extended the lead to 16-10 at the half. This was only the fourth field goal try of at least 52 yards by the Irish since 2004 and the second one that was made.

The other was a 52-yarder by David Ruffer against Maryland last season.

Marqise Lee limited
Marqise Lee had a 53-yard reception in the fourth quarter, but little else. Lee, who averaged 144 receiving yards in his first 11 games of the season, finished with 75 against the Irish. His 16 yards after the catch were his fewest in any game this season.

Notre Dame concedes very little on defense

November, 23, 2012
Matthew EmmonsWith one more win, Manti Te'o (right) and Notre Dame will play for the right to be No. 1.
(USC hosts Notre Dame on Saturday at 8 ET on ABC.)

If the Notre Dame Fighting Irish can win on the road against the USC Trojans. History could, again, repeat itself.

Four different head coaches have been responsible for Notre Dame's eight national championships in the AP poll era (since 1936). All four captured their first national title in their third season at Notre Dame, and head coach Brian Kelly is in his third season at the helm in South Bend.

Notre Dame is one win from playing for the BCS Title thanks in larger part to its defense. The Irish have conceded a touchdown on 6.7 percent of their opponents’ possessions, the lowest percentage in FBS this season.

Notre Dame’s red-zone defense also is the best in the nation, allowing a touchdown on 24.1 percent of their opponents’ drives inside the 20-yard line. (Opponents have seven touchdowns and five turnovers in 29 red-zone possessions.) That’s the lowest percentage for any FBS team in the last eight seasons.

The defense is led by senior linebacker Manti Te’o. With two more tackles, Te’o will join Bob Crable as the second Notre Dame player with three 100-tackle seasons. Te’o also leads the Irish with six interceptions after not having any in his first three seasons.

Notre Dame’s defense will be tested one more time, this time by one of the best wide receivers in the country. USC’s Marqise Lee has more receiving yards (821) in his last four games than 52 FBS teams during that time span. Lee has gained more yards after the catch (837) than any player from any BCS-AQ school, and leads FBS with eight 100-yard receiving games. However, only one player this season has 100 yards receiving against Notre Dame, Jalen Saunders from Oklahoma.

However, Lee will not have Matt Barkley throwing to him – the senior QB will not play because of a sprained shoulder. Since 2002, USC’s only loss to Notre Dame came in 2010 when Barkley (then a sophomore) had a sprained ankle and did not play.

Without Barkley, USC may turn to its running game. The Trojans are averaging 160 rushing yards per game, and has gained 10 yards or more on almost 17 percent of their rush attempts. Curtis McNeal has 324 yards in USC’s last two games, but he’ll face a Notre Dame defense that has allowed just three running backs to rush for 80 or more yards this season.

USC has history of handing ND first loss

November, 20, 2012
Kirby Lee/US PresswireNotre Dame is one win from playing for the BCS championship for the first time.
Saturday will be the 84th meeting between the Notre Dame Fighting Irish and the USC Trojans and the 21st time that the Fighting Irish will enter the game undefeated, but the first time since 1993.

Which raises the question: How many times has USC ended a Notre Dame unbeaten season?

Six times, with four of those wins coming in Los Angeles, when the game was the finale on Notre Dame's regular-season schedule. Twice the Irish were ranked No. 1 and once No. 2. The last time came in 1980, Dan Devine’s final year as Notre Dame head coach. In 1980, USC was ranked 17th with a roster that included Ronnie Lott and a future Heisman Trophy winner, Marcus Allen.

Unranked USC beating No. 1 Notre Dame
Only once has a No. 1-ranked Notre Dame team played USC when it was unranked. The result was an agonizing one for the Fighting Irish.

In 1964, Ara Parseghian’s first year as head coach, the Irish were 9-0 with one game left on the schedule: a game against the 6-3 Trojans, a team with losses at Michigan State and Ohio State and at home to Washington.

Notre Dame was led by the 1964 Heisman Trophy winner, quarterback John Huarte, a Los Angeles native who went to Mater Dei High School. That school will be eagerly watching this week’s game because it's the alma mater of current USC quarterbacks Matt Barkley and Max Wittek, not to mention 2004 Heisman winner and former USC quarterback Matt Leinart.

Notre Dame had a 17-0 halftime lead, but the Trojans mounted a comeback to win 20-17 on a pass from Craig Fertig to Rod Sherman with 1:35 to play. A possible national title in Parseghian’s first season was dashed. Notre Dame fell to No. 3 in the poll, and the Alabama Crimson Tide went on to win the national title.

Top-ranked in this rivalry
Notre Dame has been the country’s top-ranked team heading into this game seven times, going 5-2. In five of those games, USC was also a top-10 team.

The shoe has been on the other foot, too. USC has been ranked No. 1 against Notre Dame five times, and the Trojans are a perfect 5-0 in those meetings. That includes the famous 2005 “Bush Push” game.

Has there ever been a No. 1 vs. No. 2 in this rivalry? Just once. Lou Holtz and his No. 1 Notre Dame team beat No. 2 USC 27-10 in 1988 in Los Angeles. The Irish went on to beat West Virginia in the Fiesta Bowl to claim the national championship.

Pac-12 rises to 2nd despite Oregon loss

November, 19, 2012
Despite two of its top five teams losing on Saturday, the Pac-12 has passed the Big 12 in the Stats & Info Conference Power Rankings.

The biggest difference between the Pac-12’s losses and Kansas State’s loss to Baylor is that Kansas State lost to an unranked opponent. As a result, Baylor did not pick up any of the 387 AP votes that Kansas State lost. In comparison, Stanford and UCLA gained a combined 308 AP votes and rose five spots in the AP poll with their victories. Those numbers cancel out Oregon’s fall from 1st to 5th in the AP Poll.

The Big 12 continues to be ranked first by the computers, but its lack of top-level teams has hurt the conference in the AP Poll. Both the Big 12 and Pac-12 have four teams ranked in the AP Poll, but the Pac-12’s teams are ranked comparatively higher.

Whether it is a matter of parity or a lack of top-level talent is unknown, but many of the Big-12’s top teams have been wildly inconsistent throughout the season.

West Virginia began the season 5-0 and ranked in the AP Top 5 before losing its next five games. Texas Tech began the season 6-1 before losing three of its next four games. Finally, Texas struggled at the start of conference play and has now won four straight games. This lack of consistency has led to fluctuations in the polls and the conference rankings.

Elsewhere in the conference power rankings, the SEC remains in first place after wins over seven FCS teams this week. The SEC now has five teams ranked in the AP Top 10 and six teams with two or fewer losses. No other conference has more than one team ranked in the AP Top 10 or four teams with two or fewer losses.

The WAC lost 5.9 points in the rankings after its top team, Louisiana Tech, lost on Saturday. Louisiana Tech was 9-1 entering the game and had a chance to represent the conference in a BCS Bowl game. The MAC, led by 10-1 Kent State and 10-1 Northern Illinois, has pulled within 1.9 points of the WAC for the top non AQ conference in the country.

Rivalry week begins on Thursday as nonconference foes face off with bragging rights on the line. Florida takes on Florida State, Notre Dame heads to USC, South Carolina faces Clemson and Georgia takes on Georgia Tech in notable nonconference matchups with BCS Bowl implications.

Tide, Seminoles defenses chase perfection

September, 20, 2012
1. Both Alabama and Florida State are coming off consecutive shutouts and will be looking to do something that hasn't happened in the BCS era (since 1998). No team over that stretch has posted three consecutive shutouts in a season. The last team with three straight shutouts was Kansas State in 1995.

Since the NCAA reclassified into FBS and FCS in 1978, it's happened six times (Ball State in 1978, Nebraska in 1979, Michigan in 1980, Auburn in 1988, Boston College in 1992 and Kansas State in 1995). The all-time record? 35 consecutive shutouts by Yale from 1890-93.

2. Auburn is in danger of going 0-2 in the SEC unless it can upset LSU on Saturday. It would be an unfamiliar place for the Tigers. Auburn hasn't been 0-2 in the SEC since 1980.

Only one current FBS team that's been in a conference at least that long has a longer streak without starting a conference season 0-2. Michigan hasn't done so since 1967, two seasons before Bo Schembechler came to Ann Arbor. Auburn certainly doesn't want to replicate its 1980 start. The Tigers went 0-6 in the SEC that season.

3. Speaking of Auburn, USC has dropped to 13th in the AP Poll after being ranked No. 1 in the preseason poll. That's the earliest a preseason No. 1 has dropped out of the top 10 since Auburn in 1984. That year, the Tigers fell to 11th in the September 11th poll after losing their opener to Miami. Auburn would also lose the following week and fall to 19th, before rebounding to finish 14th in the final poll.

4. Oregon’s De’Anthony Thomas leads FBS in yards per rush (17.5) this season (minimum 10 attempts), including four touchdown runs of 30 yards or longer, which also leads the nation. He’s carried the ball just 13 times this season, but on seven of those runs has not been contacted until at least five yards past the line of scrimmage, and on three of his 30-yard touchdown runs he was not touched at all.

Thomas will get a test Saturday as he faces an Arizona defense that has yet to allow a run of 30 yards or more this season and allowed just one 20-plus yard run.

5. Terry Bowden is back in the SEC.. sort of. He takes his Akron Zips to Knoxville this week for a battle with Tennessee in his first matchup with an SEC opponent since his final season at Auburn in 1998. But of all the SEC teams to play, perhaps the Vols were a bad choice.

In his coaching career, Tennessee is the only FBS school that Bowden has coached against more than once without a win (he’s 0-2). In fact, in his 16 seasons as a college head coach at all levels, there are only five other such teams that Bowden has faced more than once and never beaten (Georgia Southern 0-3, Emory & Henry 0-2, Jacksonville State 0-2, Nicholls State 0-2, Alabama State 0-1-1).