Stats & Info: NCF Next Level

Why FSU may struggle vs. Ga. Tech offense

December, 4, 2014
Dec 4
11:50
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Florida State's school-record 28-game winning streak began with a 21-15 victory against Georgia Tech in the 2012 ACC championship game. Two years later, the Yellow Jackets get their first chance to end the streak that they helped start.

Based on Georgia Tech's run-heavy offense, ability to keep Florida State off the field and advantage in the turnover game, the Yellow Jackets may pose the greatest threat to Florida State this season.

Can FSU stop Georgia Tech's triple option?
Georgia Tech runs on 78 percent of its plays, the fourth-highest percentage in the FBS. Despite the fact their opponents know the run is coming, the Yellow Jackets rank in the top seven in the FBS in yards per rush, first downs per rush and percentage of rushes that gain at least five yards.

Florida State ranks 42nd in the FBS in rush yards per game allowed (145.8) but has not faced many top rushing offenses. The Seminoles have faced one rushing offense -- Boston College -- that ranks in the top 35 in rush yards per game, and they allowed 240 rush yards and 4.7 yards per rush to the Eagles. Against FCS team Citadel, which runs a triple option like Georgia Tech, Florida State allowed a season-high 250 rushing yards and 4.5 yards per rush.

Georgia Tech's triple option is at its best when its rushers can get to the outside. On designed runs outside the tackles, Georgia Tech leads the FBS with 23 rushing touchdowns and is averaging 7.0 yards per rush. This was a weakness for Florida State against Boston College and Citadel (102.5 rush YPG, 5.1 yards per rush) but a strength against all other opponents (46.5 YPG, 4.0 yards per rush).

Georgia Tech's offense is its greatest defense
Because of Georgia Tech's efficient running game, the Yellow Jackets have been able to keep their opponents off the field. Georgia Tech has gained an initial first down or a touchdown on 87 percent of its drives, on pace to be the highest on percentage in at least the past 10 seasons.

Initial first downs lead to clock-milking drives. Georgia Tech leads the nation in time of possession per drive (3:12), and its average drives gains an FBS-high 43.1 yards. All of these factors, in addition to the most efficient third-down offense in the nation, could keep Florida State's offense and Jameis Winston on the sideline.

Turnover advantage to Georgia Tech
Florida State has an ACC-high 27 turnovers, which is as many as Georgia Tech has forced this season. The Yellow Jackets lead the ACC with a plus-11 turnover margin, compared with a minus-4 margin for Florida State.

Not only has Georgia Tech been able to force turnovers, but it has also capitalized on its opponents' mistakes. This is something that Florida failed to do last week against Florida State. The Seminoles had four turnovers that resulted in the Gators beginning a drive on FSU's side of the field, yet Florida could muster only six points off Florida State's mistakes.

Georgia Tech has been much more opportunistic, ranking fourth in the FBS in points off turnovers and tied for second with six defensive touchdowns, including five pick-sixes. The Yellow Jackets should get an opportunity to run one back against Winston, who this season has thrown at least one interception in nine of his 11 games and is averaging the fifth-most interceptions per game in the FBS.

The Yellow Jackets appear to have all the factors necessary to keep it close -- they can control the clock, keep their opponent off the field and are opportunistic on defense. Close may be all the Yellow Jackets need, as they have the best fourth-quarter point differential among Power 5 teams. Then again, they are playing Florida State, which has an uncanny ability to pull out games late.

Conference races gaining clarity

November, 18, 2014
Nov 18
9:09
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Ronald Martinez/Getty ImagesMelvin Gordon and the Wisconsin Badgers have won five straight games to take the Big Ten West lead.
After another week of games with conference championship implications, the conference races are gaining clarity.

The Wisconsin Badgers took hold of the Big Ten West, and the Alabama Crimson Tide control the SEC West after significant divisional wins Saturday.

Using projections by ESPN’s Football Power Index, let’s break down how each of the Power 5 conferences are projected to finish, starting with the most likely conference winners.

ACC
FPI’s projected winner:
Florida State Seminoles (75 percent), Duke Blue Devils (15 percent), Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets (10 percent)

After Miami’s loss to Florida State, there are three remaining potential conference champions in the ACC. Florida State has already clinched the ACC Atlantic, and FPI projects the Seminoles have a 75 percent chance to beat the ACC Coastal winner in the championship game.

Despite its loss Saturday, Duke remains the most likely ACC Coastal champion (69 percent) because of its schedule and the head-to-head win over Georgia Tech on Oct. 11, but FPI projects Georgia Tech, which is ranked 11 spots ahead of Duke in the FPI rankings, would give the Seminoles a tougher test.

Potential clinching scenarios this week: Georgia Tech clinches with a Duke loss.

Big 12
FPI’s projected winner:
Baylor Bears (74 percent), TCU Horned Frogs (22 percent), Kansas State Wildcats (4 percent)

FPI projects Baylor has a 68 percent chance to win out, best among the one-loss Power 5 teams. If the Bears win out (including a win over Kansas State on Dec. 6), they own the head-to-head tiebreaker over TCU and would be the Big 12 champion. Based on these facts, FPI projects Baylor has a 74 percent chance to win the Big 12.

Potential clinching scenarios this week: None.

Pac-12
FPI’s projected winner:
Oregon Ducks (69 percent), UCLA Bruins (15 percent), USC Trojans (9 percent), Arizona State Sun Devils (5 percent)

Oregon clinched the Pac-12 North division before last week’s games, but the South might be the most interesting division in the FBS. There are currently four teams in the Pac-12 South with two conference losses. FPI projects UCLA has the best chance to win the division because of its strength (highest ranking in FPI) and schedule. The Bruins have already beat Arizona State and Arizona, so if they beat USC on Saturday, they would be in great position to win the South. If USC defeats UCLA, however, the Trojans would become the favorite and would clinch the division with a loss by Arizona State earlier in the day. FPI projects UCLA has a 59 percent chance to beat USC at home.

Potential clinching scenarios this week: USC clinches with win AND Arizona State loss.

Big Ten
FPI’s projected winner:
Ohio State Buckeyes (61 percent), Wisconsin (36 percent), Minnesota Golden Gophers (1 percent)

Ohio State and Wisconsin are in control of their respective divisions. Ohio State has to win one of its remaining two games -- versus Indiana and versus Michigan -- to win the Big Ten East without the help of a Michigan State loss. FPI projects Ohio State has a 99 percent chance to win one of those games. The Big Ten West is a little more interesting, with Wisconsin still to face Minnesota. FPI projects Wisconsin has an 87 percent chance to win the division, but Minnesota, Iowa and Nebraska are all still alive.

Potential clinching scenarios this week: Wisconsin clinches a berth in the conference championship game with win AND a Minnesota loss. Ohio State clinches a berth in the conference championship game with win OR a Michigan State loss.

SEC
FPI’s projected winner:
Alabama (46 percent), Georgia Bulldogs (39 percent), Ole Miss Rebels (8 percent), Mississippi State Bulldogs (4 percent), Missouri (2 percent)

The SEC remains the most wide-open Power 5 conference. Alabama’s win against Mississippi State added some clarity; if the Tide defeat Auburn on Nov. 29, they will win the SEC West (they can also clinch via losses by Ole Miss AND Mississippi State). FPI projects the Tide have a 76 percent chance to win the West, followed by Ole Miss (14 percent) and Mississippi State (10 percent). In the SEC East, Georgia would win the head-to-head tiebreaker over Missouri, but the Tigers currently have a one-game lead in the loss column. Georgia has completed its conference schedule, and Missouri has two remaining SEC games, so if Missouri loses at Tennessee or versus Arkansas, Georgia wins the division. FPI projects Missouri has an 85 percent chance to lose either of those games.

Potential clinching scenarios this week: Georgia clinches division with Missouri loss. Alabama clinches division with losses by Mississippi State AND Ole Miss.

Stats to know: Six ranked CFB games

November, 6, 2014
Nov 6
12:23
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Saturday, there will be six games between teams ranked in the top 20 of the latest College Football Playoff rankings. Below are the stats you need to know heading into each game.

(4) Oregon at (17) Utah, Saturday 10 ET
FPI projection: Oregon 67 percent chance to win

Matchup to watch: Utah’s pass rush versus Oregon’s pass protection – Utah leads the FBS with 39 sacks and has had at least four sacks in an FBS-high six games. In the two games that Oregon allowed more than four sacks, the Ducks lost to Arizona and played a close game against Washington State. Not coincidently, those were the two games that left tackle Jake Fisher was sidelined with a knee injury. Fisher vs Utah DE Nate Orchard will be a specific matchup to watch as Orchard is tied for second in the FBS with 12 sacks.

Player to watch: How can Heisman candidate Marcus Mariota not be the player to watch? Mariota leads the nation in Total QBR (91.2) and touchdowns responsible for (34) and is averaging the second-most yards per pass (10.3) in the nation.

Stat to know: Oregon is 31-0 since the start of the 2012 season when it scores at least 30 points. Utah has held its last nine opponents, dating to last season, to fewer than 30 points, tied for the longest active streak in the FBS.

(5) Alabama at (16) LSU, Saturday 8 ET
FPI projection: Alabama 60 percent chance to win

Matchup to watch: LSU rushing offense against Alabama rushing defense - LSU has run the ball on an SEC-high 67 percent of its plays this season. The Tigers are 6-0 this season when they rush for at least 150 yards and 1-2 when they do not. They will have a tough test against an Alabama defense that has allowed the second-fewest rushing yards per game (78.1) and fewest rushing touchdowns (2) in the FBS.

Player to watch: Amari Cooper had a school-record 224 receiving yards in his last game, a 14-point win at Tennessee. Cooper has been responsible for 49 percent of Alabama’s receiving yards this season, the highest percentage for any FBS player. He also leads the nation with 20 receptions that have gained 20 yards or more and ranks second in receiving yards per game (141.5).

Stat to know: LSU has an FBS-high 24 come-from-behind fourth-quarter wins since Les Miles was hired in 2005. No other SEC school has more than 15 such wins.

(7) Kansas State at (6) TCU , Saturday 7:30 ET
FPI projection: TCU 36 percent chance to win

Matchup to watch: TCU’s big-play offense vs. Kansas State’s disciplined defense – TCU leads the Big 12 with 57 plays of 20 yards or longer. Those plays have gained 247.5 yards per game, second-most in the FBS behind Marshall. Conversely, Kansas State is tied for the second-fewest plays (22) and fourth-fewest yards (86.9) allowed on plays of 20 yards or longer.

Player to watch: Last week, Tyler Lockett passed Jordy Nelson for second on Kansas State’s all-time receiving yards list. He needs 156 more yards to pass his father, Kevin, for most in school history. He will likely be matched against TCU’s Kevin White, who helped shut down one of the top receivers in the nation, West Virginia’s Kevin White, last week.

Stat to know: Kansas State has seven turnovers this season (T-seventh in the FBS), four of which were of little harm because they came with the Wildcats leading by 24 or more points. TCU leads the nation with 26 turnovers forced and is one of two teams (Oregon) that has forced at least two turnovers in every game this season.

(14) Ohio State at (8) Michigan State, Saturday 8 ET
FPI projection: Ohio State 52 percent chance to win

Matchup to watch: Ohio State run game vs Michigan State run defense - Since its loss to Virginia Tech, Ohio State is averaging 295.3 rushing yards per game, fifth-most in the FBS. Michigan State ranks sixth in the FBS in rush yards per game allowed and has held five of its eight opponents under 100 rushing yards.

Player to watch: Jeremy Langford has rushed for at least 100 yards in 12 straight conference games, tied for the longest streak in the last 10 seasons with Arizona’s Ka’Deem Carey. Last season against Ohio State, Langford gained 93 of his 128 rush yards after contact, the most yards after contact that Ohio State has allowed to a player in the last two seasons.

Stat to know: J.T. Barrett has been responsible for 29 touchdowns, tied for third-most in the FBS and on pace to break Braxton Miller’s school record of 36 set last season. Barrett has been responsible for at least four touchdowns in four of eight games this season. Michigan State has not allowed a player to account for four touchdowns since Taylor Martinez scored four in Nebraska’s win in East Lansing on Nov. 3, 2012.

(10) Notre Dame at (9) Arizona State, Saturday 3:30 ET
FPI projection: Notre Dame 52 percent chance to win

Matchup to watch: Everett Golson against Arizona State pressure package - Arizona State sends five or more pass rushers on 55 percent of opponents’ dropbacks, the second-highest percentage for a Power 5 team. On such plays, the Sun Devils rank third among Power 5 defenses in both yards per play (2.9) and sacks (16).

Golson has thrown four of his seven interceptions this season against a blitz, including both of his picks against Florida State. Golson has averaged 5.9 yards per attempt against the blitz this season, 1.2 less than the average for a Power 5 quarterback.

Player to watch: Golson has been responsible for 29 touchdowns this season, tied with Ohio State’s J.T. Barrett for third-most in the FBS and on pace to break the Notre Dame record for a season (39 in 13 games by Brady Quinn in 2006). In the Irish’s win last week against Navy, Golson became the first player in Notre Dame history to pass and rush for at least three touchdowns in the same game. Oklahoma’s Trevor Knight is the only other FBS player to accomplish that feat this season (vs Iowa State).

Stat to know: Notre Dame is 12-0 since the start of last season when it has one or fewer turnovers and 4-5 when it has two or more, including the Irish’s loss to Florida State this season. Arizona State is 4-0 this season when it has forced multiple turnovers.

(12) Baylor at (15) Oklahoma, Saturday 12 ET
FPI projection: Oklahoma 66 percent chance to win

Matchup to watch: Baylor’s pass offense vs Oklahoma’s pass defense - Baylor has a Power 5-high 17 touchdowns on passes thrown 20 yards or longer. Oklahoma has allowed the most touchdowns in the Big 12 on such passes but also is tied for the conference lead with four interceptions. Zach Sanchez has three of those four interceptions and will be matched up against one of Baylor’s explosive wide receivers. The Bears have four receivers who have gained 300 yards and are averaging more than 16 yards per reception.

Player to watch: Trevor Knight had his best statistical game of the season last week against Iowa State, accounting for a career-high 376 yards of total offense and six touchdowns. The Sooners probably will need another big game from Knight to match Baylor’s high-powered offensive numbers. Last season, with Blake Bell at quarterback for Oklahoma, Baylor won by 29 and held the Sooners to a 3.5 raw QBR, their lowest in a game since the 2005 season.

Stat to know: Baylor has never beaten Oklahoma in Norman in 11 games dating to the first meeting in 1974.

Top stats to know: Auburn defeats Ole Miss

November, 2, 2014
Nov 2
1:10
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Nelson Chenault/USA TODAY Sports Nick Marshall was responsible for four touchdowns in Auburn’s win against Ole Miss.
The Auburn Tigers earned their first top-10 win of the season, defeating SEC West rival Ole Miss.

With the win, Auburn improves to an FBS-best 16-1 since 2005 in games in which both teams score at least 30 points. Its only loss in those games was in the 2014 National Championship against Florida State.

Auburn has now won five of its last six and 27 of its last 32 games against Ole Miss.

Auburn quarterback Nick Marshall had two passing touchdowns and two rushing touchdowns. He has three games this season with four touchdowns responsible for after only having one such game last season. Marshall completed 5-of-8 passes thrown 15 or more yards downfield, his highest completion percentage on such throws in any game in his career (minimum five attempts).

Ole Miss has allowed at least 200 rushing yards in consecutive games after not allowing 200 in any of its first seven games this season. The Tigers are now 0-8 under Hugh Freeze when allowing at least 200.

Auburn shredded the Ole Miss run defense with 248 yards, including nine rushes of 10 yards or more, the most such runs that the Rebels have allowed this season. Ole Miss allowed its second-most yards and the most yards before contact in a game this season.

Other Notes
Mississippi State is 8-0 for the first time since 1999. Dak Prescott threw for a career-high 331 passing yards. Arkansas has lost 17 straight SEC games.

Florida ran for 418 yards against Georgia, the most the Gators have rushed for since 1989 and the second-most the Bulldogs have ever allowed.

Baylor handed Kansas its 25th straight loss in conference road games, the longest active FBS streak. Bears quarterback Bryce Petty has multiple touchdowns responsible for in 20 straight games, also the longest active FBS streak.

Ohio State's Braxton Miller back for 2014

August, 5, 2014
Aug 5
12:53
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Jonathan Daniel/Getty ImagesBraxton Miller could become Ohio State's winningest quarterback since 1960.
The 2014 college football season has the potential to showcase one of the most talented groups of quarterbacks in recent memory. Jameis Winston, Marcus Mariota, Brett Hundley and Bryce Petty are all being talked about as potential first-round NFL draft picks, while Braxton Miller and Everett Golson have the chance to solidify their place in their respective school’s storied histories.

In preparation for the 2014 season and in conjunction with interviews conducted by ESPN CFB analyst Kirk Herbstreit, ESPN Stats & Info will take a deeper look at the top QBs entering the fall. Today, we take a look at Ohio State quarterback Braxton Miller.


A look back at 2013
Braxton Miller had an outstanding junior season, becoming the first player in Big Ten history (since 1990 when the award was first given) to win the Offensive Player of the Year award in consecutive seasons. He was the only Power Five conference quarterback to throw for at least 2,000 yards and rush for 1,000 yards last year. If Miller can accomplish that feat again, he will join Colin Kaepernick and become the second FBS quarterback in the past 10 years to reach those thresholds in three seasons.

Miller has rushed for at least 100 yards in 14 games since the start of 2011, second most among FBS quarterbacks. He had five such games last season, which tied for fourth among FBS quarterbacks. Miller has always been a prolific rusher, but he’s also improved as a passer every year at Ohio State. Miller’s completion percentage, passing yards and touchdowns have increased every season.

He was more willing to operate from the pocket last year. He attempted 85 percent of his passes from the pocket, nearly 20 percentage points higher than in 2012. His 19 touchdown passes from inside the pocket were tied for the most in the Big Ten with Indiana’s Nate Sudfeld and Penn State’s Christian Hackenberg.

A look ahead to 2014
With another 11-win season, Miller will pass Art Schlichter for the most wins (36) on record at Ohio State (the school first kept such records in 1960). Assuming Miller stays healthy, he has a good chance of passing Schlichter.

According to the ESPN Football Power Index, Ohio State has the best chance (41 percent) of winning the Big Ten, nearly 20 percentage points better than Wisconsin, and is projected for between 10 and 11 wins heading into bowl season. The Buckeyes have won 24 consecutive regular-season games, four shy of tying the Big Ten conference record.

The Buckeyes have big shoes to fill. They must replace six of 11 starters on offense, including league-leading rusher Carlos Hyde and four starters from an offensive line that combined for 135 starts.

Miller might have to shoulder more of the load. In the past, he has stepped up when his team needed him. Miller enters 2014 with six career game-winning drives in the fourth quarter or overtime, including three last season. The six career game-winning drives are the most among returning FBS quarterbacks and five more than any other returning quarterback in the Big Ten.

One area in which Miller needs to get better is on third down. He ranked in the bottom third of the FBS in Total QBR (47.1) and completion percentage (50.9) on third down. Only Michigan’s Devin Gardner and Purdue’s Danny Etling were sacked more on third down than Miller (12) among Big Ten quarterbacks. Only two of the past 10 national championship quarterbacks have had a third-down QBR less than 70 in the season they won the title.

Winston trying to one-up historic 2013

August, 3, 2014
Aug 3
2:14
PM ET
Streeter Lecka/Getty ImagesJameis Winston won the BCS National Championship as a freshman.
The 2014 college football season has the potential to showcase one of the most talented group of quarterbacks in recent memory. Jameis Winston, Marcus Mariota, Brett Hundley and Bryce Petty are all being talked about as potential first-round NFL Draft picks, while Braxton Miller and Everett Golson have the chance to solidify their places in their respective school’s storied histories.

In preparation for the 2014 season, and in conjunction with interviews conducted by ESPN CFB analyst Kirk Herbstreit, ESPN Stats & Info will take a deeper look at the top QBs entering the fall. Today, we take a look at reigning Heisman Trophy winner and national champion Jameis Winston.


A Look Back at 2013
The case could be made that Jameis Winston had one of the most prolific single seasons in college football history. He became the third starting quarterback since 1950 to go undefeated, win a national championship and the Heisman Trophy all in the same season.

As a redshirt freshman, Winston set the national freshman records for touchdown passes (40) and passing yards (4,057) despite barely playing in the fourth quarter. His team not only won the BCS National Championship, but finished one of the most dominant campaigns in college football history, averaging the best point differential (39.5 PPG) for any FBS team since Houston in 1989.

Winston burst onto the scene in style by completing 25 of 27 passes (92.6 percent) in his debut against Pittsburgh. He continued this accuracy and efficiency, twice completing more than 90 percent of his passes in a game and averaging 10.6 yards per attempt (second most by a QB in last 10 seasons behind Robert Griffin III in 2011).

His poise and composure in pressure situations and on plays in which he was pressured was unmatched last season. Winston gained a first down on 59 percent of his third-down pass attempts, the best rate for any quarterback in at least the last 10 seasons.

In the few instances Florida State trailed, Winston completed more than 71 percent of his passes with six touchdowns and no interceptions. That includes a game-winning 80-yard touchdown drive to win the BCS Championship (Winston: 6 of 7, 77 yards, TD on that drive).

With pressure in his face, Winston was unmatched. He completed an AQ-high 60 percent of his passes and averaged 9.8 yards per attempt in such situations. To put that in perspective, the AQ average for completion percentage when pressured is 35 percent.

All of these factors resulted in Winston posting the top Total QBR in the nation last season while leading Florida State to one of the most dominant seasons in recent history.

A Look Ahead to 2014
The question remains whether Winston and Florida State can repeat their successes from a season ago.

Repeating as a Heisman Trophy winner is not easy. Thirteen players have returned to school after winning the Heisman, and only one – Archie Griffin – pulled off the repeat.

As noted above, Winston was nearly flawless in his first season starting for the Seminoles; however, there are areas in which he can improve.

Winston could do a better job of avoiding negative plays by throwing the ball away; he was the fourth-most sacked quarterback in the ACC last season (27 sacks), but threw the ball away on only two of his 445 dropbacks.

He also has room to improve his efficiency when teams drop seven or more in coverage. Winston proved that he was among the best in the nation at exploiting blitzes; however, he was more “human” against standard pressure and often forced the ball downfield.

The Seminoles return a lot of talent on offense, but Winston will be without his top two deep threats, Kelvin Benjamin and Kenny Shaw, who have both moved on to the NFL. Benjamin and Shaw accounted for 43 of Winston’s 73 completions of 20 yards or longer.

Even without these receivers, Florida State should again be one of the top teams in the nation; according to ESPN’s Football Power Index, the Seminoles have by far the best chance of any FBS team (40 percent) to finish the regular season undefeated.

However, as Jimbo Fisher noted at ACC media days, it is complacency that could hurt his team.

If Winston and the Seminoles maintain their drive to win, they may go down as one of the top teams in college football history and Winston may again be standing atop the college football world holding the Heisman Trophy.

All eyes on Watkins at Clemson Pro Day

March, 6, 2014
Mar 6
11:16
AM ET

Steve Mitchell/USA TODAY SportsSammy Watkins and Tajh Boyd keyed the Clemson Tigers' success this past season.
Plenty of scouts will put pencil to paper today as they check out Clemson’s Pro Day.

Teams looking for help at wide receiver need look no further than the Tigers’ Sammy Watkins – who was a big-time play-maker during his collegiate career. Of his 27 career receiving touchdowns, 21 came on plays of at least 25 yards.

The average pass thrown to Watkins this past season traveled just 4.7 yards downfield. As his career has gone forward, Watkins has been targeted closer and closer to the line of scrimmage.

In 2013, Clemson did whatever they could to get him the ball, targeting him behind the line of scrimmage 65 times last season, 14 more than any other AQ player.

At the NFL Combine, Watkins measured 6’1” and ran a 4.43 second 40-yard dash. That combined with his production in college was enough for Scouts, Inc. to rank him as the fourth-highest player on the board. Todd McShay and Mel Kiper are in agreement that he is the best wide receiver available – with both projecting him to go at No. 5 to the Oakland Raiders.

Watkins’ quarterback Tajh Boyd was a consistent performer in college as well and finished his career as the ACC leader in 300-yard games, touchdown passes and touchdowns responsible for.

Boyd also showed improvement each season as his yards per attempt and completion percentage climbed in each successive year.

The deep ball was one of Boyd’s specialties as he completed 54.7 percent of passes of at least 20 yards. That ranked highest among all BCS-AQ quarterbacks – nearly five percentage points better than the next two closest: Blake Bortles of UCF and Marcus Mariota of Oregon.

Although he was productive in college, Boyd’s height is one reason why he is just the 11th-ranked quarterback according to Scouts Inc. 54 players threw at least 20 passes in the NFL last season, and just seven of them were 6'1" or shorter. Of course one of those was Russell Wilson – who recently won the Super Bowl.

Clemson slices Buckeyes with short passes

January, 4, 2014
Jan 4
2:03
AM ET

Streeter Lecka/Getty ImagesOhio State didn't have an answer for Tajh Boyd and Sammy Watkins Friday
In a game that featured six turnovers and four lead changes, the Clemson Tigers had the last score and also the last takeaway to earn their first BCS bowl victory. The Tigers have now won consecutive bowls for the first time since winning the 2003 Peach Bowl and 2005 Champs Sports Bowl (Clemson did not go to a bowl in 2004).

Record-setting night
Tajh Boyd to Sammy Watkins was a combination the Tigers went to time after time to beat the Ohio State Buckeyes. Boyd finished with 378 yards passing and 127 rushing yards, which tied an Orange Bowl record. He became the first player in Orange Bowl history to throw for 300 yards and run for 100 more. In addition, Boyd tied a career-high with five touchdown passes.

Watkins set Orange bowl records for both receptions (16) and receiving yards (227). His 16 catches are the most ever for any BCS game, while his receiving yardage is the second most in a BCS game behind only a 239-yard game from Josh Reed in the 2002 Sugar Bowl for LSU.

Watkins also caught two touchdown passes giving him 27 for his career – tying the Clemson school record set by DeAndre Hopkins.

Short, but sweet
Boyd and Watkins connected on 16 of 17 targets due in large part to short passes. Boyd’s average pass traveled 2.9 yards downfield against Ohio State, 4.7 yards shorter than his average pass distance this season. Only five of his passes traveled more than 10 yards downfield, his fewest such attempts in the last three seasons.

Watkins 227 receiving yards, included 202 yards after the catch. His previous career high of 137 yards after catch came against Auburn in 2011.

Running wild
While he kept his passes short, Tajh Boyd ran for a career-high 127 yards, highlighted by a 48-yard touchdown run in the first quarter. He gained 116 yards on designed runs, 43 more such yards than any other game in his career.

Jungkyu Lee, Micah Adams and Jason Starrett contributed to this post

Inside Auburn's unstoppable running game

January, 3, 2014
Jan 3
9:31
AM ET

Thomas B. Shea/Getty ImagesTre Mason has been a workhorse in Gus Malzahn's run-heavy offense.
If Auburn is going to knock off Florida State in the BCS National Championship, the Tigers will have to lean on their dominant running game.

Auburn rushed for 545 yards in the SEC championship, the most ever in a game between two SEC teams and the most overall by an SEC team since Auburn had 565 against Southwestern Louisiana in 1985.

Bo Jackson led the way for that Auburn team with 290 yards and four touchdowns. In the SEC championship on Dec. 7, it was Tre Mason, who had 304 yards and four touchdowns.

The week before the SEC title game, Auburn rushed for 296 yards in the Iron Bowl, the most Alabama had allowed in an SEC game since Nick Saban’s first season (2007), when the Tide allowed 301 to an Arkansas team led by Darren McFadden, Felix Jones and Peyton Hillis.

Origins of the running game
Auburn’s success can be traced to its hiring of Gus Malzahn. Malzahn was Auburn’s offensive coordinator from 2009-11. He left to become the head coach at Arkansas State in 2012, when he led the Red Wolves to a Sun Belt Conference championship.

As a coordinator and coach, Malzahn is known for his run-first offense, which has led its conference in rushing in three of the past four seasons.

With Malzahn as its head coach, Auburn has run on 71 percent of its plays, the highest percentage for any non-triple-option offense in the FBS. Entering the bowl games, the Tigers led the nation in rushing yards per game, rushing touchdowns and runs of 25 yards or more. They were one of five schools that had two players with at least 1,000 rushing yards each.

Heisman finalist Mason has been one of the main beneficiaries of Malzahn’s offense. His 283 carries were the fifth-most in FBS entering the bowls and 112 more than he had last season. As a result, he led the SEC in almost every major rushing category, and his seven 100-yard rushing games against SEC defenses are the most in a season for any player in the past 10.

Running quarterback is key
During the two seasons that Auburn has made the BCS National Championship, Malzahn has had the luxury of calling plays for a dynamic running quarterback. In 2010, it was Cam Newton. This season, it is Nick Marshall.

In both seasons, the Tigers ranked in the top five of the FBS in rushing yards per game, yards per carry and rushing touchdowns. In the two seasons between Newton and Marshall, Auburn had a combined 59 rushing yards by its quarterbacks and an 11-14 record.

Marshall has rushed for 1,023 yards, fifth-most by an FBS quarterback entering the bowl games. He has been outstanding making decisions in Auburn’s zone-read scheme. Zone reads have accounted for 46 percent of the Tigers’ carries.

On such plays, they average 7.3 yards per rush, including 9.0 when Marshall keeps the ball. Marshall’s 882 yards on zone reads ranks second among players from BCS automatic-qualifying (AQ) conferences entering the bowls behind Arizona’s Ka’Deem Carey (1,278).

Running outside tackles
Auburn is one of three AQ teams to run outside the tackles on at least 50 percent of its carries. On such runs, the Tigers lead all AQ schools in rushing yards (2,887) and rank second in yards per carry (8.5) behind Wisconsin.

In fact, they had more rushing yards outside the tackles than 106 FBS teams had total rushing yards entering the bowl games.

The Tigers do an excellent job of sealing the edge. They average an AQ-high 6.3 yards before contact on runs outside the tackles and have 77 such runs in which first contact was not made until at least 10 yards past the line of scrimmage, 27 more than any other AQ school.

Can Florida State stop them?
Auburn will try to keep its ground game going against the nation’s leader in scoring defense, Florida State. The Seminoles have allowed five rushing touchdowns all season, tied with Iowa for the fewest in the FBS before bowls began.

Boston College is the only team to score more than 17 points against Florida State this season. Led by Heisman finalist Andre Williams, the Eagles rushed for 200 yards and scored 34 points.

Boston College had success running outside the tackles, gaining 160 yards on 26 carries.

The Seminoles struggled against such runs all season, allowing 107 more yards outside the tackles than inside, despite 84 fewer rushes. The three runs of 30 yards or more that they allowed this season were all outside the tackles.

After the SEC championship, Malzahn said, "Right now, we can run the football on anybody. So why change?” The question is whether or not Florida State can make Auburn change come Monday.

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

November, 29, 2013
11/29/13
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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.

Key matchup: Alabama D vs. Auburn's run

November, 29, 2013
11/29/13
10:23
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US PresswireAuburn has scored at least four rushing touchdowns in each of its past six games.

This year's "Iron Bowl of all Iron Bowls” features a matchup of strengths as Auburn’s rush offense is pitted against Alabama’s rush defense.

Under new coach Gus Malzahn, Auburn leads the SEC in rushing yards, yards per rush and rushing touchdowns. The Tigers have 21 more rushing touchdowns than they had all of last season, and they have scored at least four rushing touchdowns in six straight games.

Alabama’s defense leads the SEC in rushing yards, yards per rush and rushing touchdowns allowed. The Tide have allowed five total rushing touchdowns this season, and they are the only FBS team that has not allowed an opponent to rush for multiple touchdowns in a game.

The key to Auburn’s success has been its ability to create holes, particularly using the zone read, which has led to big plays on the ground.

Space to Run
Auburn has won the battle at the line of scrimmage. The Tigers average 209.5 rushing yards per game before first contact, most among teams in BCS AQ conferences. To put that into perspective, 97 FBS teams do not average 209.5 total rushing yards per game. The AQ average for rushing yards before contact per game is 97.0.

On designed rushes, the Tigers are averaging 4.6 yards per rush before first contact, best among AQ-conference schools. They have made it at least 5 yards past the line of scrimmage before initial contact on an SEC-high 31 percent of these rushes.

How Alabama matches up: The Tide have allowed an SEC-low 44.3 yards before contact per game and 2.0 yards before contact per designed rush. The Tide have allowed just 13 percent of their opponents’ rushes to gain 5 yards before first contact.

Zone Read
Auburn has utilized a zone read on 43 percent of its designed rushes this season, the second-highest percentage in the SEC. The Tigers lead the SEC in yards (1,589), yards per rush (7.2) and touchdowns (18) on zone-read rushes.

When Nick Marshall keeps the ball on the zone read, he has gained 657 yards and has seven touchdowns. He is averaging 9.4 yards per rush on such plays, best among BCS AQ quarterbacks with at least 25 such rushes.

How Alabama matches up: No quarterback has gained more than 22 yards on zone-read rushes against the Tide. Overall, Alabama’s opponents have averaged 3.6 yards per rush and have one rushing touchdown on 78 zone-read plays.

Big Plays
Auburn has 64 rushes of 15 yards or longer this season, second-most in the FBS, behind New Mexico (66). The Tigers have at least three such rushes in every game except one, a win against Mississippi State.

How Alabama matches up: Alabama has allowed just three rushes of 15 yards or longer all season, on pace to be the lowest total in the past 10 seasons. The Tide are able to limit long runs because they do not miss tackles, and they limit their opponents after contact.

Alabama has 30 missed tackles this season, 16 fewer than any AQ conference team. The Tide also have allowed an SEC-low 40 yards after contact per game.


Saturday’s Iron Bowl
Something has to give on Saturday; Auburn has rushed for at least 200 yards and two touchdowns in 10 of its 11 games this season, and Alabama has not allowed any of its opponents to rush for 200 yards or two touchdowns in a game.

Though Marshall has shown the ability to throw the ball, Auburn’s game plan is predicated on its running game. The Tigers run on 69 percent of their plays, the highest percentage for a non-triple-option offense, and have not attempted fewer than 35 rushes in a game.

If Alabama can shut down Auburn’s running game, the Tide may find themselves one win away from a third straight trip to the BCS National Championship. However, if Auburn can run the ball, the Tigers may be able to pull the upset against their biggest rival.

Oklahoma State offense revived under Chelf

November, 19, 2013
11/19/13
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Oklahoma State enters its matchup with fourth-ranked Baylor (Saturday, 8 ET on ABC) riding a six-game win streak, and is averaging nearly 48 points per game over the last four games since Clint Chelf took over as the starting quarterback. One important part of its recent offensive success has been an increased reliance on the run.

Getting back to the ground game
In the first six games, rushing attempts accounted for fewer than 45 percent of the Cowboys’ total plays; since then, Oklahoma State has called a run on nearly 60 percent of its plays. The ground game has been more explosive over the last four games, totaling 10 rushes of at least 20 yards, which is six more 20-yard runs than it had in the first six games.

The key to Oklahoma State’s success on the ground has been improved play in the trenches. It has averaged 2.3 yards before contact per rush in its first six games and was first contacted behind the line of scrimmage on more than a quarter of its carries. In the last four games, the Cowboys have totaled at least 130 yards before contact in three of four contests, and are averaging 3.3 yards before contact per rush.

Chelf has set career highs in rushing yards in three of four games since taking over as starter, averaging 72 yards per game and 10.7 yards per rush on designed runs. His signature play was a 67-yard touchdown run up the middle in Oklahoma State’s win over Texas Tech.

As noted in the graphic above, in the last four games, Oklahoma State is averaging 12 more points per game than in its first six games. Yet at the same time, the Cowboys are averaging 27.4 fewer yards per game in the last four games than they did in their first six games.

More efficient in the red zone
One reason for Oklahoma State’s increased efficiency on offense is that the team is doing a better job of getting into the end zone when inside the 20-yard line.

Oklahoma State has scored a touchdown on 90.5 percent of its red zone opportunities in the last four games, the sixth-best rate in the FBS since the start of Week 9. From Weeks 1-8, the Cowboys scored a touchdown on 64.5 percent of their red-zone opportunities, 51st among FBS teams.

Protecting the ball
Another reason for Oklahoma State’s improved offensive output is better ball protection. The Cowboys have turned the ball over on 6.5 percent of their drives in the last four games, down from 10.6 percent in the first six games. They are one of nine teams in the FBS without a lost fumble since the start of Week 9.

Oklahoma State’s recent success in the running game will be tested this weekend against Baylor. The Bears have added 63.5 expected points on opponents’ rushes, the second-best rushing defense EPA in the FBS. Rushing defense EPA is a measure of the contribution that it makes to its team’s net scoring margin when opponents run the ball.

Chelf, Wisconsin rate among best of week

November, 19, 2013
11/19/13
11:31
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Clint Chelf/USA TODAY SportsClint Chelf rated the best of any quarterback last week.

Week 12 featured some of the craziest endings of the year. Auburn completed a 73-yard touchdown with 25 seconds remaining to defeat Georgia, UCF scored 10 points in the final 2:04 to beat Temple, and Michigan slid its way to a game-tying field goal and eventual win against Northwestern.

With the help of ESPN’s new college football metrics (see explanations here), ESPN Stats & Information takes a look back at the best performances of Week 12 and ahead to next week’s matchup between Baylor and Oklahoma State.

Best Individual Performances
Clint Chelf had a season-high 97.3 opponent-adjusted QBR in Oklahoma State’s 38-13 win at Texas, with his rushing proving critical. Chelf ran for a career-high 95 yards and six first downs against the Longhorns.

Jameis Winston had a 95.0 opponent-adjusted QBR in Florida State’s 59-3 win against Syracuse. It was his seventh game with an opponent-adjusted QBR of 90 or higher, most in the FBS this season. Winston completed his first 10 passes of the game and threw for 277 yards and two touchdowns in the first half.

Blake Bortles posted a 89.0 Total QBR against Temple, but when adjusted for the strength of Temple’s defense that number falls to 70.7. Bortles led UCF on a game-tying and game-winning drive in the final two minutes of the game. In the fourth quarter, he threw for 202 yards and two touchdowns and had a 96.6 Total QBR.

Best Team Performances
OffenseWisconsin added 33 expected points to its net scoring margin on offense in its win against Indiana despite having a below average (negative EPA) passing offense. The Badgers ran for 554 yards and six touchdowns, the most rush yards by an FBS team in a game since last season, when Wisconsin had 564 rushing yards, also against Indiana.

DefenseBoise State added 25.7 expected points on defense in its 48-7 win against Wyoming. Entering the game, Wyoming averaged 33.6 points and 492 yards per game but was held to seven points and 210 yards against the Broncos. They had four turnovers and three failed fourth-down attempts in the game.

Special TeamsMichigan State added 9.3 expected points on special teams in its 41-28 win at Nebraska. Michigan State’s average drive started on its own 43 yard line, which was 21 yards closer to the goal line than Nebraska’s average starting field position. Michigan State punter Mike Sadler had three punts downed inside of the 10 yard line, and Michigan State forced a fumble in the second quarter on another punt.

Looking ahead to Week 13
Baylor heads to Stillwater (8 ET, ABC) in a matchup of top-10 opponents looking to grab a hold of the Big 12.

The biggest question heading into this game is whether Oklahoma State can slow Baylor’s offense. The Bears are averaging 61.2 points and 684.8 yards per game; they are on pace to break the FBS records for points (56.0) and yards (624.9) per game that were set by Army in 1944 and Houston in 1989, respectively.

In terms of offensive efficiency, Baylor is on pace to have the highest offensive efficiency in the past 10 seasons.

Oklahoma State ranks 10th in defensive efficiency and has been one of the top teams at creating turnovers. The Cowboys have forced 26 turnovers, tied for seventh most in the FBS, and have at forced at least one turnover in all 10 of their games.

Oklahoma State’s opponents have a 27.2 Total QBR this season, seventh lowest in the FBS. Yet, Oklahoma State has not faced an opponent who ranks in the top 20 in QBR. Bryce Petty ranks second in the FBS with a 89.9 Total QBR and has a Big-12 high 84.7 QBR in conference play.

Power rankings: Fresno State has BCS edge

November, 18, 2013
11/18/13
2:35
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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.

Auburn gets improbable win vs. Georgia

November, 16, 2013
11/16/13
11:42
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How unlikely was Auburn’s miraculous victory Saturday over Georgia?

Auburn had a 7.3 percent chance of winning before Nick Marshall threw a 73-yard touchdown pass to Ricardo Louis. The touchdown came on 4th-and-18 with 25 seconds remaining to give the No. 7 Tigers a 43-38 lead.

At the end of the play, Auburn had a 99.8 percent win probability, so that play increased Auburn’s win probability by 92.5 percentage points. Nebraska’s Hail Mary pass as time expired against Northwestern was the only play that had a greater increase in win probability this season.

Here are the top five plays in FBS this season in terms of win probability added:

• 97.2: On Nov. 2, Nebraska threw a 49-yard touchdown as time expired to win 27-24 against Northwestern.

• 92.5: On Saturday, Auburn threw a 73-yard touchdown with 25 seconds remaining to take a 43-38 lead against Georgia.

• 90.3: On Sept. 21, Florida Atlantic threw a 21-yard touchdown pass with 3 seconds remaining to tie the game against Middle Tennessee.

• 89.8: On Nov. 2, Rutgers threw a 33-yard touchdown with 35 seconds left to take a 23-20 lead against Temple.

• 74.7: On Oct. 5, South Alabama threw a 65-yard touchdown with 48 seconds left to go ahead 33-27 against Troy.

Auburn has now won 86 consecutive games when scoring at least 20 points. Its last such loss came in 1996 against Georgia.

Florida State versus Duke in ACC championship?
Florida State dominated its competition once again. For the second straight game, the Seminoles won 59-3, this time against Syracuse. Florida State is the first FBS team to score at least 59 points and hold its opponent to three points or fewer in consecutive games since the Seminoles did it in 1988.

Meanwhile, Duke now controls its own destiny on the path to the ACC championship game. The Blue Devils defeated Miami (Fla.) 48-30, their first time winning consecutive games against ranked opponents since 1989. The Blue Devils have won eight games in a season for the first time since 1994.

New NCAA record
After Division III Western Connecticut’s Octavias McKoy broke the NCAA single-game rushing record earlier this season with 455 yards, we now have a new record-holder. Cartel Brooks of Division III Heidelberg set a new NCAA record Saturday with 465 rushing yards.

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