Stats & Info: C-USA

SEC leads tight race in Power Rankings

August, 25, 2014
Aug 25
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Joe Faraoni/ESPN ImagesWith a new college football postseason format comes a new trophy for the national champion
With the dawn of the college football playoff, conference strength will be examined more closely than ever before.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Does Ohio State have argument for No. 2?

November, 25, 2013
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After Baylor lost to Oklahoma State on Saturday, the number of undefeated teams from BCS AQ conferences is down to three with Alabama, Florida State and Ohio State all vying for a spot in the BCS National Championship.

It appears that the No. 2 spot is Florida State’s to lose, but does Ohio State have an argument to be included in the title game based on conference and schedule strength?

Florida State vs Ohio State

According to ESPN Stats & Info’s Conference Power Rankings – a formula that equally weighs the rankings from the AP Poll and Football Power Index (FPI) - the Big Ten has the advantage over the ACC.

Five teams from the Big Ten received votes in the AP Poll, including three teams ranked in the top 15. In comparison, three teams from the ACC received votes and only two are ranked in the top 15.

However, Ohio State has only played one of those Big Ten teams and it was at home. The highest ranked team that the Buckeyes beat on the road, according to FPI, was Northwestern (64th in FPI).

Florida State, on the other hand, won at No. 3 Clemson and is 3-0 on the road against teams ranked in the top half of the FPI. As a result, despite playing in a conference ranked ahead of the ACC, the Buckeyes have played an easier schedule that Florida State, according to ESPN’s SOS rankings.

Looking deeper into the numbers, Florida State has had a higher average in-game win probability than Ohio State, meaning it has been more dominant in its wins. The Seminoles lead the nation in FPI, a forecast of team strength, and are predicted to be 10.2 points better than Ohio State on a neutral field.

The good news is that there is only a 29 percent chance that Alabama, Florida State and Ohio State will all remain undefeated entering bowl season, according to ESPN Stats & Info’s projections. So, the argument of team and conference strength may be settled on the field.

Rivalry Week

After nine straight weeks of primarily conference games, next week features its share of notable out-of-conference matchups.

The ACC has three notable non-conference games against SEC opponents on Saturday as Florida State heads to Florida (12 ET, ESPN), Georgia Tech hosts Georgia (3:30 ET, ABC) and Clemson takes on South Carolina (7 ET, ESPN2). According to FPI, the ACC should be favored in all three of those games. If the ACC can go 3-0 against the SEC, it will get a boost in the Conference Power Rankings next week.

Elsewhere, Alabama, Auburn and Missouri have must-win games that will impact the SEC and National Championship races. Ohio State should be tested at Michigan and Stanford will face a tough test against Notre Dame, which could also shake up the conference rankings next week.

Power rankings: Fresno State has BCS edge

November, 18, 2013
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The BCS Selection Process is clear:

The champion of Conference USA, the Mid-American Conference, the Mountain West Conference or the Sun Belt Conference (the "non-AQ group") will earn an automatic berth in a BCS bowl game if either:

A. Such team is ranked in the top 12 of the final BCS Standings, or
B. Such team is ranked in the top 16 of the final BCS Standings and its ranking in the final BCS Standings is higher than that of a champion of a conference that has an annual automatic berth in one of the BCS bowls.

However, no more than one such team from the non-AQ group will earn an automatic berth in any year, unless non-AQ teams finish both No. 1 and No. 2 in the final BCS Standings. If two or more teams from those conferences satisfy the provisions for an automatic berth, then the team with the highest finish in the final BCS Standings will receive the automatic berth.


This season, No. 15 Fresno State of the Mountain West Conference and No. 16 Northern Illinois of the Mid-American Conference are in prime positions to earn an automatic berth to a BCS Bowl game. Both teams rank in the top 16 of the BCS Standings and are ranked higher than No. 18 UCF, the highest-ranked team in the American Athletic Conference.

Only one non-AQ team will earn an automatic berth, so when evaluating the résumés of these two schools, conference strength is an important factor.

ESPN Stats & Information’s Conference Power Rankings can provide an objective measure of conference depth. According to these rankings, the Mountain West Conference is the strongest non-AQ conference from top to bottom.

The Mountain West has seven teams (out of 12) that are .500 or better, and is 18-8 against non-AQ opponents (including independent and FCS). Unlike other non-AQ conferences, the Mountain West does not have many weak teams.

The lowest ranked team in ESPN’s Football Power Index (FPI) from the Mountain Conference is No. 106 Air Force. In comparison the MAC and Conference USA each has at least six teams ranked below 106 in the FPI.

However, when looking at the top teams of each conference, the MAC has the most teams (5) and highest percentage of team (38 percent) with at least seven wins. Northern Illinois, Ball State, Bowling Green, Buffalo and Toledo are all bowl eligible and have at least seven wins.

When comparing Fresno State and Northern Illinois, voters will have to account for the strength of each team’s conference, their out-of-conference schedules and their dominance in their wins. Using ESPN’s new ratings systems, one can see that Northern Illinois has played a tougher schedule, but Fresno State has been more dominant in its games. It is up to the voters to decide which conference they believe is stronger and how much that affects their thinking.

This week, the MAC will be on display on Tuesday and Wednesday with three games on the ESPN family of networks -- Buffalo heads to Miami (OH) on Tuesday (8 ET, ESPNU), Kent State travels to Ohio on Tuesday (8 ET, ESPN2) and Northern Illinois will look to remain unbeaten at Toledo on Wednesday (8 ET, ESPN2). On Thursday and Friday, the Mountain West and Conference USA will have their time in the spotlight as Rice, UAB, UNLV, Air Force and San Jose State are all in action.

FPI favors Pac-12, ACC in power rankings

November, 11, 2013
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The SEC continues to lead ESPN Stats & Info’s Conference Power Rankings by a wide margin after an exciting slate of games in Week 11.

As noted in previous posts, the Conference Power Rankings are a formula that equally weighs the rankings from the AP Poll and ESPN’s new Football Power Index (FPI) in order to determine the best and worst conferences in the country.

The idea is that the AP Poll measures a team’s résumé and perception, and the FPI measures a team’s relative strength in order to predict future success. In other words, the AP Poll answers the question, “If there were a playoff, who would deserve to play in it?” and the FPI answers, “If there were a playoff, who would win on a neutral field?”.

How do these compare in terms of conference strength?

The SEC has seven teams ranked in the top 25 of the AP poll, including four teams ranked in the AP top 10. No other conference has more than four total teams ranked in the AP top 25.

In comparison, the Pac-12 leads all conferences with seven teams in the top 25 of the FPI. The SEC is second with six teams, but only one of those teams – Alabama – ranks in the top 8. The Pac-12 has four teams in the top 8.

It is important to note that the SEC has two more teams than the Pac-12, which makes the Pac-12’s lead in the FPI even more impressive.

This is not an indictment of the SEC; the conference had the most teams ranked in the FPI top 25 last season. However, this season, the SEC does not have as many elite teams as in past years. According to FPI, the majority of their teams rank in the 20 to 40 range.

The Pac-12 actually has the most depth at the top of its conference. When Stanford loses to a team like Utah, who has played the hardest schedule thus far according to ESPN strength of schedule rankings, it may not be as much of an upset as many would expect.

FPI also favors the ACC more than the polls. Florida State is the top team in the FPI, and Georgia Tech, Clemson, Miami and Duke also rank in the top 25.

In the annual ACC vs. SEC matchups at the end of the season, FPI projections favor Florida State over Florida, Georgia Tech over Georgia and Clemson over South Carolina.

So, while the SEC is getting all the accolades in the polls, future performance may be on the side of their rival conferences. The good news is that this debate will be settled on the field. Keep an eye on the FPI as bowls approach in order to determine the relative strength of teams and conferences.

For more on FPI, click here.

Big 12 Rises in Conference Power Rankings

October, 28, 2013
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A quick refresher: ESPN Stats & Information’s 2013 conference power rankings are based off of a formula that equally weighs the rankings from the AP poll and ESPN’s new Football Power Index (FPI) in order to determine the best and worst conferences in the country. For more information on the rankings and FPI, which will be released later this season, click here or here.

The SEC took its largest lead of the season in the ESPN Stats & Information conference power rankings after five of its top six teams won on Saturday, including three wins over non-conference opponents by a combined 112 points.

The SEC is now 38-7 in out-of-conference games (.844 win pct), which is the best non-conference win percentage of any conference.

Despite two of its top four teams losing on Saturday, the Pac-12 remains the No. 1 conference in the Football Power Index. The Pac-12 has four of the top 10 teams in the FPI, a ratings system that measures overall team efficiency.

However, the SEC has a major edge in the portion of the conference power rankings that measures the AP Poll. Six of the top-15 teams in the AP Poll reside in the SEC, three more than in any other conference.

Elsewhere in the rankings, the Big 12 jumped ahead of the ACC for third place this week. Four of the Big 12’s 10 teams have one or fewer losses, most of any conference. Baylor and Texas are both unbeaten in conference play, which could result in a de facto Big 12 championship game in the final week of the season.

The top teams in the ACC Coastal division had a rough Saturday. No. 7 Miami needed a last-second touchdown in its win against Wake Forest, then-No. 14 Virginia Tech committed four turnovers and was held scoreless for the first 44:49 in its loss to Duke and Pittsburgh was outscored 17-8 in the fourth quarter in its loss to Navy. These struggles were reflected in the ACC’s rating in the conference power rankings.

Fresno State survived a 35-28 overtime thriller against San Diego State to remain unbeaten. The Bulldogs are carrying the Mountain West Conference in the rankings and have a chance to earn an automatic BCS bowl bid if they remain unbeaten. Similarly, the MAC’s eighth place spot in the rankings is a result of strong starts by Northern Illinois (8-0) and Ball State (8-1).

Next week there are only three matchups between ranked opponents, so look for upsets to have a major impact on rankings.

SEC remains on top after wild Week 8

October, 21, 2013
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Two weeks ago, ESPN Stats & Information released its 2013 conference power rankings, a formula that equally weighs the rankings from the AP poll and ESPN’s new Football Power Index (FPI) in order to determine the best and worst conferences in the country. For more information on the rankings and FPI, which will be released later this season, click here or here.

Week 8 was characterized by chaos and upsets; No. 3 Clemson, No. 6 LSU, No. 7 Texas A&M, No. 8 Louisville, No. 9 UCLA, No. 11 South Carolina and No. 15 Georgia all lost this week.

Overall, nine ranked teams were defeated, including five teams from the SEC, two teams from the Pac-12, one team from the ACC and the top team from the American Athletic Conference.

How has this wild week impacted the ESPN Stats & Info’s Conference Power Rankings?

The SEC did not fall as far as many would have expected because its losses came against fellow SEC opponents. Many of the points lost in the computer rankings (FPI) and in the AP Poll were picked up by their opponents.

For example, Missouri rose nine spots and gained 448 points in the AP Poll after its victory over Florida. Similarly, Auburn jumped 13 spots and gained 711 points in the AP Poll after beating Texas A&M on Saturday. In these cases, the Gators and Aggies did not lose as many AP points as their opponents gained.

Nonetheless, the SEC lost 2.9 points in the Conference Power Rankings after its top teams went down. The SEC had five teams fall at least seven spots in the AP Poll, and many of those spots were filled by other conferences, specifically the Big 12.

The Big 12 gained 14.8 points in the power rankings after its top four teams -- Baylor, Texas Tech, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State -- all rose in the polls. As a result, the Big 12 jumped to second in the portion of the power rankings that measures the AP Poll.

Similarly, the Pac-12 moved from second to first in the computer portion of the conference power rankings (FPI). The Football Power Index (FPI) is one of ESPN’s new storytelling metrics that measures the relative strength of a team in terms of scoreboard points on roughly a -30 to +30 scale with 0 being average. The average Pac-12 team has an FPI rating of 14.6, meaning they are 14.6 points better than an average FBS team on a neutral field. In comparison, the SEC’s average FPI rating is 12.8.

Finally, the American Athletic Conference had the largest fall in the Conference Power Rankings after Louisville lost to UCF on Friday. Louisville was carrying the AAC in the polls and the computers after the conference went a combined 19-20 in its out of conference games. With the Cardinals’ loss, and their subsequent fall in the polls, there is a good chance that a non-AQ team will finish ahead of the American Athletic Conference champion in the BCS standings. If that team is also ranked in the top 16, it will be granted an automatic BCS Bowl berth.

If the last two weeks are any indication of what is to come, look for more chaos and upsets this upcoming weekend. Alabama, Florida State, Ohio State and Miami (FL) will look to avoid losses to unranked opponents at home. UCLA, Stanford, South Carolina and Texas Tech will all go on the road looking to take down a fellow ranked opponent.

SEC extends lead in power rankings

October, 14, 2013
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A quick refresher: Last week, ESPN Stats & Information released its 2013 conference power rankings, a formula that equally weighs the rankings from the AP poll and ESPN’s new Football Power Index (FPI) in order to determine the best and worst conferences in the country. For more information on the rankings and FPI, which will be released later this season, click here or here.

After a weekend of upsets and surprises, the SEC has extended its lead in the conference power rankings largely because of its strength in the AP poll.

The SEC has eight teams ranked in the AP poll, the most any conference has ever had in a week of the poll. Six of those eight teams are ranked in the top 15, including three teams in the top seven. To put that into perspective, no other conference has more than four teams ranked in the AP poll.

Losses by Georgia and Florida did not significantly impact the SEC in the conference rankings because they lost to other ranked opponents. Therefore, the points that the Bulldogs and Gators lost in the AP poll were accrued by Missouri and LSU, respectively.

In comparison, fifth-ranked Stanford lost 454 points in the AP poll after its 27-21 loss to unranked Utah. The Utes remained unranked and were able to add only 47 points (in the "others receiving votes" section) for the Pac-12 with their win.

ACC rises to third
The ACC continued to rise in the conference rankings after its top teams took care of business on Saturday. The ACC now has three teams ranked in the top 10 for the first time since the week of Oct. 30, 2005. Further, the ACC has more undefeated teams (three) than any other conference, and five of its 14 teams have one or fewer losses.

This will change next week as No. 5 Florida State heads to No. 3 Clemson (8 p.m. ET, ABC) in the first top-five matchup between two ACC opponents since Nov. 5, 2005, when No 5. Miami defeated No. 3 Virginia Tech 27-7.

Tough week for Big Ten
Elsewhere in the rankings, the Big Ten fell by 7.5 points after Northwestern and Michigan fell out of the AP Top 25 after losing to unranked opponents. The Big Ten now has two teams ranked in the AP poll, which is two fewer than any of the other “big five” conferences.

Look for the Big Ten to bounce back in Week 8 as conference play continues. Four of its top teams play at home, and three of those teams have a chance to jump into the AP Top 25 with a victory.

QBs the story in college football this fall

May, 20, 2013
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The 2013 college football season could showcase one of the best college quarterback classes ever. Here are five reasons why:

1. BEST TEAMS IN 2012 RETURN THEIR QUARTERBACKS
Each of the top six teams in last season’s final AP poll returns its leading passer. The last time that happened was entering the 1982 season. That 1982 group led to the famed 1983 NFL draft class that boasted six quarterbacks chosen in the first round -- including Hall of Famers John Elway, Jim Kelly and Dan Marino.

2. BEST PASSERS ARE RETURNING
Each of the top five and 10 of the top 11 quarterbacks in terms of passing efficiency return to school. In all, seven players with a passing efficiency of at least 160 last season are coming back, more than in the previous three seasons combined.

3. DIVERSE ARRAY OF NFL TALENT
This class is expected to produce a number of NFL starting quarterbacks. Four of Todd McShay’s top 15 prospects in the 2014 draft are quarterbacks (Louisville’s Teddy Bridgewater, Clemson’s Tajh Boyd, Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel and Alabama’s AJ McCarron).

Yet, showing how deep this class is, Brock Huard ranks Georgia's Aaron Murray, Oregon's Marcus Mariota and Ohio State's Braxton Miller ahead of either McCarron or Manziel on his quarterback draft board.

4. LITTLE QB TURNOVER IN SEC
The SEC is in prime shape to win its eighth straight national title with 11 of 14 starting quarterbacks from last season returning to school. Among the 11 are the starters of the top three teams in each division including Manziel, Murray and McCarron.

Last season, Manziel set the SEC record for total offense with 5,116 yards. Murray is on pace to set conference records for most career passing yards and total offense, and McCarron is the two-time BCS national champion.

5. AWARD WINNERS BACK ON CAMPUS
The SEC isn’t the only conference returning elite quarterbacks. The Big Ten, Mountain West and MAC each return their first- and second-team quarterbacks from last season. So would Conference USA and the WAC if realignment hadn’t altered those conferences. The Big 12 is the only conference that doesn’t return either its first- or second-team quarterback.

Among the returnees, Boyd could challenge the ACC record for total offense in a career, Troy’s Corey Robinson is on pace to shatter the Sun Belt’s career record for total offense, and Jordan Lynch returns after leading Northern Illinois to its first ever BCS bowl game last season.
It is no surprise that the SEC finished the season atop ESPN Stats & Info’s Conference Power Rankings after winning its seventh straight BCS National Championship on Monday.

It’s impossible to deny the SEC’s dominance. The conference has won seven more BCS titles than any other conference and ended the 2012 season with five of the top 10 teams in the AP poll.

In its bowl games, the SEC went 6-3 -- the best record of any AQ conference -- and outscored its opponents by a combined 85 points. It was the 10th straight season the SEC finished .500 or better in its bowl games, by far the longest such streak in the nation.

Next season, the SEC does not look to be getting any weaker. Quarterbacks AJ McCarron, Aaron Murray, Connor Shaw and Heisman-winner Johnny Manziel return to the conference with their eyes on an eighth straight BCS title for the conference.

In the race for second-best, The Big 12 narrowly edged the Pac-12 despite an average bowl season. The biggest difference between the two conferences was depth. The Big 12 had nine of its 10 teams play in bowl games compared to eight of 12 teams for the Pac-12.

In head-to-head bowl games, the Big 12 won two of three games against Pac-12 opponents, including Baylor’s 49-26 victory over Pac-12 South champion UCLA. Yet, Oregon ran past Kansas State in the conferences’ only BCS Bowl matchup.

The Big Ten continued to struggle in bowl games (2-5 record), while the ACC surged during bowl season (4-2).

The Big Ten is a combined 4-13 in January bowl games in the past three seasons and has been outscored by a combined 193 points (11.4 per game) in those 17 games. The ACC turned around its dismal bowl record, putting together its first winning bowl season since 2005.

In its final season as an FBS conference, the WAC finished the season as the top non-AQ conference in the nation. The WAC went 2-0 in bowl games and finished the season with Utah State and San Jose State ranked in the AP Poll. Additionally, Louisiana Tech and UTSA finished the season at least four games above .500 but did not play in bowl games.

Conference USA finished at the bottom of the conference rankings despite going 4-1 in its bowl games for the second straight season. The conference could not overcome the weakness of its non-bowl members who were ranked low by the computers.

With 2012 in the books, it is not too soon to start looking ahead to next season. Conference realignment will continue to change these rankings significantly. Pittsburgh and Syracuse will join the ACC, while the fate of the Big East remains uncertain. Utah State and San Jose State will join the Mountain West Conference while four of the remaining WAC teams will head to Conference USA. How will this impact the conference rankings? Check back next season to see how it turns out.

Ground games on display in St. Pete

December, 20, 2012
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AP Photo/John RaouxLatavius Murray led Conference USA with 103.5 rush yards per game this season and has scored at least one rushing touchdown in eight straight games.
The Ball State Cardinals take on the UCF Knights in the fifth annual Beef ‘O’ Brady’s Bowl in St. Petersburg on Friday night (7:30 p.m. ET on ESPN). It will be the fourth all-time meeting between schools (Ball State leads 2-1) and the first since a come-from-behind win by the Cardinals in 2004.

UCF will be making its fifth bowl appearance in program history (1-3) and its second trip to the Beef ‘O’ Brady’s bowl. The Knights fell to Rutgers in the 2009 Beef ‘O’Brady’s Bowl and earned the school’s only bowl win the following season in the 2010 Liberty Bowl against Georgia. The win over the Bulldogs was also its last bowl appearance.

This season, UCF went 9-4 and won its fourth C-USA East Division title since joining the league in 2004. The nine wins give the UCF senior class 33 for their careers (33-19), tied for the most in school history. A win Friday would give them one more than the 2010 class that went 33-20.

On the other sideline, Ball State is still searching for its first bowl win, having lost each of its five previous bowl appearances. The five straight losses are tied for the third-longest active bowl losing streak, trailing only Georgia Tech (7) and Northwestern (9).

Despite the bowl struggles, Ball State comes into the game having won six straight to end the regular season and its three losses in 2012 came against teams that are a combined 33-5 (Clemson, Kent State and Northern Illinois).

Friday’s matchup at Tropicana Field will be highlighted by a pair of running backs: Ball State’s Jahwan Edwards and UCF’s Latavius Murray. Each player is averaging over 100 rush yards per game, making this contest one of just six bowls with opposing backs averaging more than 100 yards per game this season.

Edwards ranks fifth in the MAC in rush yards per game in 2012 (110.1) and has rushed for at least 100 yards in five of his past six games. In his only sub-100 yard game during the stretch, Edwards rushed for 98 yards and tied his career high with three touchdowns in a 31-24 win over Miami (OH) on November 23.

For the Knights, Murray has been equally effective of late. Along with his C-USA-high 103.5 rush yards per game, he has rushed for at least one score in each of his past eight games. Since October 13, only Louisiana Tech RB Kenneth Dixon (19) and Kansas State QB Collin Klein (15) have scored more touchdowns on the ground than Murray (13).

Elsewhere for UCF, Quincy McDuffie has provided a spark in the return game. McDuffie is tied for second in the FBS with three kickoff return touchdowns and leads all FBS players with 34.2 yards per kickoff return this season.

If McDuffie can pad those numbers Friday, he will have to do it against a stout kickoff return coverage unit. Ball State has allowed only one kickoff return for touchdown the past five seasons.

History says Oregon won't win national title

November, 8, 2012
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Five great nuggets of information to get you ready for the weekend in college football.

1. Oregon allowed 51 points last week to USC, but won and kept its national championship hopes alive. In the AP Poll Era (since 1936), no team allowed at least 51 points in any game during a season in which it won the national championship. Only one national champion allowed at least 50 in a game. In 2007, LSU lost to Arkansas 50-48, but that game went three overtimes. LSU came back to win the SEC Championship Game and BCS Championship Game.

2. The SEC currently has three winless teams in conference play (Auburn, Tennessee, Kentucky) and could end the season with two (Tennessee and Kentucky still play each other). Since the BCS began in 1998, there have been only three instances of a conference having multiple winless teams in conference play and it hasn't happened in eight years. The MAC had multiple teams in 1999 and 2004, and the SEC had two in 2002 (Vanderbilt, Mississippi State).

3. Southern Miss remains winless at 0-9 this season and is at SMU Saturday. This on the heels of a 12-2 campaign a year ago. The Golden Eagles must win all three remaining games to avoid tying a dubious distinction. In major college history, the record for most losses after a 12-win season belongs to Ball State in 2009. The Cardinals went 2-10 after a 12-2 season in 2008.

4. Colorado has allowed at least 48 points in four straight games. In major college history, only two teams have ever allowed 48 or more points in at least five straight games in a single season. Temple had a five-game streak in 1993 and UNLV owns the all-time mark with a six-game streak in 1995. Prior to its current streak, Colorado never had a streak longer than two such games. The Buffs face Arizona this week. The Wildcats have scored at least 48 points four times this season.

5. Nebraska has the worst turnover differential (-9) of any FBS team with two or fewer losses this season. The Cornhuskers have had three or more turnovers in five games. Only Hawaii has had more such games. Yet, in all five of those games, the Cornhuskers still scored at least four touchdowns. They are the only team this season with five games in which they had at least three turnovers and four touchdowns. No team has had more than five such games in the past 10 seasons.

SEC pulling away in conference rankings

October, 29, 2012
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The SEC takes its largest lead of the season in the ESPN Stats & Info Conference Power Rankings after multiple top teams in other conferences fell on Saturday.

In the Big 12, Oklahoma and Texas Tech lost to higher-ranked opponents, resulting in every team but Kansas State having at least two losses this season. In comparison, five of the SEC’s 14 teams have fewer than two losses.

In recent weeks the top of the Big 12 has shown weaknesses as Texas nearly lost to two teams that are a combined 0-9 in conference games, and West Virginia showed significant defensive weaknesses in its two losses.

Similarly, the top of the Pac-12 struggled this weekend with its second and third best teams entering the weekend losing on the road. As a result, USC and Oregon State dropped eight and six points in the AP Poll, respectively, with USC’s fall being the largest of any team.

As a results of these losses, SEC teams continued to rise in the AP Poll. The three largest rises in the poll this week were by SEC teams as Georgia, South Carolina and Texas A&M all rose at least five poll positions, more than compensating for a five-spot drop by Florida.

The Big East lost the most points in the conference power rankings this week after Kent State beat Rutgers on Saturday. It’s the second straight week that a team from the MAC has defeated a previously undefeated Big East opponent. Last week Toledo beat Cincinnati 29-23 at home.

Two weeks ago the Big East was ranked as the fourth best conference in college football. Losses by two of its top three teams the last two weeks hurt the conference as both teams fell out of the AP Top 25 and the conference fell to sixth in these rankings.

As mentioned above, the MAC has two victories over previously unbeaten Big East opponents. Four teams in the MAC received votes in the AP Poll this week. That is as many teams as the other four non-BCS conferences combined.

The MAC has four teams with fewer than two losses, which ranks second to the SEC. Yet, the MAC remains ninth in the conference power rankings because four of its 13 teams have seven or more losses, the most of any conference. The MAC is a prime example of how the conference rankings account for relative strength of a conference from top to bottom.

Next week is full of conference matchups, highlighted by Alabama at LSU and Oregon at USC. Last week five unbeaten teams lost, and many other favored teams faltered against conference opponents. Look for similar unpredictability next weekend that could impact the AP Poll and conference power rankings.

Drop from top puts Trojans in rare spot

September, 6, 2012
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Trojans slip from top spot is rare
The last time a No. 1 ranked team won by more than 35 points and allowed 10 or fewer and fell from the top spot was 1974, when Notre Dame beat Northwestern 49-3. Ohio State jumped from No. 2 to No. 1 after a 51-10 win over Oregon State.

USC is the eighth team to win by more than 35 points, allow 10 or fewer and fall from No. 1 (and the first to do so in their opener).

Tide look to roll after Week 1 ascension
If Alabama is to stay atop the AP Poll for the remainder of the season, it would be the first team in 40 years to ascend to No. 1 in the first regular season AP Poll and run the table. In 1972, USC took over the top spot after the first week from Nebraska and won the national championship.

The only other time it happened since the preseason poll began in 1950 was in 1971 when Notre Dame was the preseason No. 1, but was overtaken by Nebraska after the first week.

Savannah State looks to avoid dubious mark
Savannah State takes on Florida State this week after giving up 84 points to Oklahoma State. Could the Seminoles reach the 80-point mark this week? It would certainly be a rarity.

The only team in major college football to ever allow 80-or-more points in consecutive games was Samford in 1920. That year, the Bulldogs dropped an 88-0 decision to Auburn, then lost 120-0 to Centre (Ky.) the next week.

Post-Keenum era starts with whimper for Houston
Houston managed just 13 points against Texas State last week after leading the nation in scoring a year ago with 49.3 points per game. That's not good, but won't get the Cougars into the record books.

The fewest points in an opener for a team that led the nation in scoring the previous year was seven, by Colorado in 1938. The last such team to score as few as 13 in an opener was Oklahoma in 2009 after leading the nation in scoring in 2008.

Price is right when Huskies go downfield
Washington's Keith Price completed one of his five passes thrown 15 yards or longer in Week 1 against San Diego State. It was the rare game that the Huskies won in which Price struggled on these throws.

The Huskies are 5-1 since the start of last season when Price completes at least 50 percent of his 15-yard throws and 2-6 when he does not. He will be put to the test Saturday against an LSU defense that allows opponents to complete 18.5 percent of their throws of 15 yards or longer since the start of last season, including just one completion in 24 attempts by non-SEC opponents.

Does new playoff system change anything?

June, 26, 2012
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AP Photo/Gerald HerbertThe BCS Presidential Oversight Committee approved a 12-year plan for a four-team seeded playoff to determine college football’s national champion beginning in the 2014 season.
The new plan for a four-team seeded playoff to determine college football’s national champion changes the landscape of college football.

How would the new playoff format have affected the last five national championships if the plan had already been in place?

LAST 5 NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIPS

Using the top four teams in the final regular-season BCS rankings for 2007-2011 to simulate the choices that will be made by a human selection committee, AccuScore ran 10,000 four-team playoff simulations. The No. 2 seed actually won the title the highest percentage of the time, which is not surprising given that in three of the five seasons, the No. 2 seed ended up becoming the actual national champion. The No. 3 and 4 seeds won nearly 32 percent of the time.

However, based on AccuScore projections with the new playoff format, the last five college football national champions would have remained the same.

COMPARISON TO OTHER SPORTS

A four-team playoff means 3.2 percent of the 124 college football FBS schools would now be playing for a championship (assuming the number is still 124 by 2014). By comparison, 20.1 percent of men’s college basketball teams play in the Men’s Basketball Championship (68 of 338).

DOES THIS FIX EVERYTHING?

Although this new proposal is a huge step, it no doubt will create the same kinds of arguments that the BCS system did, even though the BCS system did get a few things right.

Six national championship games that occurred during the BCS tenure would not have occurred under the previous system, based on conference commitments to specific bowl games.

Conversely, if the BCS had been in place before 1998, some controversial national championships of the past could have been decided on the field, including Michigan-Nebraska in 1997, Nebraska-Penn State in 1994 and Miami-Washington in 1991.

One of the arguments against a playoff is that regular-season matchups – especially BCS No. 1 vs 2 – would become less important. Since the BCS started in 1998, there have been three 1 vs 2 regular season games after November 1. Two of those times the loser was knocked out of national championship contention, but this past season, Alabama reversed that.

Since the BCS began in 1998, four teams have finished unbeaten AND in the top four of the BCS Standings, but not ranked in the top two. Those four teams were TCU in 2010, Cincinnati and TCU in 2009, and Auburn in 2004.

With the new system, it’s no guarantee, but there’s a better chance that those teams would be able to compete for a national championship.


Matthew Emmons/US Presswire
Houston Cougars quarterback Case Keenum (7) throws in the pocket against the Penn State Nittany Lions in Sunday's TicketCity Bowl.
Case Keenum and Houston ended Penn State's difficult season by making it look easy in the TicketCity Bowl.

The Cougars jumped out to a 17-0 lead in the first quarter, as Case Keenum set a bowl record for any quarter with 277 pass yards, besting the 223 yards by Louisville's Browning Nagle against Alabama in the 1991 Fiesta Bowl.

Keenum proceeded to throw for 532 yards on the day, the most pass yards ever surrendered by a Penn State team, topping the 520 by Boston College's Doug Flutie in 1982.

The record does come with an asterisk, as Ty Detmer threw for 576 against Penn State in the 1989 Holiday Bowl, but bowl stats were not official then.

He threw two touchdowns of more than 25 yards, the first such touchdowns surrendered by the Nittany Lions this season. Entering the game, Penn State was the only FBS team yet to allow a pass touchdown of more than 25 yards this season.

Keenum finishes his career owning most every career FBS passing record, including yards (19,217), touchdowns (155) and 300-yard games (39).

Houston's 600 net yards in the game were actually only a yard above the team's season average, but they pushed the Cougars season total to 8,387 yards and made them the first team to rack up 8,000 yards of total offense in a season.

Houston concludes the season with a school-record 13 wins, while Penn State loses back-to-back bowl games for the first time since the 1975 and 1976 seasons.

The Nittany Lions have now played three bowl games without Joe Paterno at the helm, and they have failed to win all three games, tying SMU in the 1948 Cotton Bowl and losing to USC in the 1923 Rose Bowl.

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