Stats & Info: Ohio State Buckeyes

Michigan State offense doing its share

November, 5, 2014
Nov 5
9:41
AM ET

AP Photo/Al GoldisMichigan State’s Jeremy Langford consistently posts 100-yard games against Big Ten opponents.
Defense is often the first word associated with Michigan State football. The Spartans are one of two teams (Alabama) to finish each of the previous three seasons ranked in the top 10 in points per game allowed and defensive efficiency. The offense was often an afterthought, but things are different this season.

Michigan State is averaging the fifth-most points per game in the FBS (45.5) and has already scored one more offensive touchdown (47) than it had all of last season. Its offense is adding nearly seven more points to its net scoring margin than in any other year since Mark Dantonio was hired before the 2007 season.

What has made the offense so successful?

A 3-headed monster
The Spartans are one of three FBS teams (Mississippi State and Marshall) this season that are averaging at least 250 passing and rushing yards per game. They are also one of three FBS teams (USC and Western Michigan) that have an 1,800-yard passer, an 800-yard rusher and an 800-yard receiver.

Connor Cook has led the way for Michigan State’s passing game. He leads the Big Ten in Total QBR (81.9) and yards per attempt (9.4) this season. Cook has also been the best downfield passer in the conference; he has eight more completions on passes thrown 15 yards or longer than any other Big Ten player.

On the ground, Jeremy Langford has been one of the most consistent backs in the nation. He has rushed for at least 100 yards in 12 consecutive conference games, tied with Arizona’s Ka’Deem Carey for the longest streak in at least the last 10 seasons. Langford has averaged 3.0 yards after contact per rush in conference play this season, second-best among Big Ten running backs (min. 50 attempts).

The third piece of Michigan State’s dynamic trio is wide receiver Tony Lippett. He has a Big Ten-high 889 receiving yards and is averaging 21.2 yards per reception. On passes thrown 15 yards or longer, he leads the conference in receptions (16) and touchdowns (six).

So, although Michigan State’s defense has received the bulk of the attention, it now has an offense to hold up its part of the bargain. On Saturday, the Spartans may need that offense to produce against an Ohio State team that has scored at least 50 points in five of its last six games.

Adjustment helped ease Barrett into QB role

September, 3, 2014
Sep 3
5:03
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AP Photo/Patrick SemanskyOhio State's improved blocking in the 2nd half helped open things up for QB J.T. Barrett in Week 1.
Ohio State was a different offense in the second half of its season-opening win over Navy, due in part to the play of its offensive line and the adjustments its coaching staff made in playcalling.

The Buckeyes ran on 21 of their 25 second-half plays. They averaged 3.8 yards before contact per rush in the second half, two more yards than they averaged in the first half.

Barrett’s average pass in the second half traveled 18.3 yards downfield, including 36 yards on his 80-yard touchdown to Devin Smith. All four of his second-half passes were off play action.

Ohio State's offense struggled in the first half. The Buckeyes had their fewest points (6), yards (162) and averaged their fewest yards per play (5.4) in the first half of a game in the last two seasons. As a result the Midshipmen took a one-point halftime lead.

One of the main reasons for Ohio State’s struggles was its offensive line.

The Buckeyes had their fewest rushing yards (66) in the first half of a game in the last two seasons and tied for their most rushes (6) that failed to gain yards.

Ohio State’s inability to block factored into the play calling. J.T. Barrett was eased into the game with eight of his first nine passes coming at or behind the line of scrimmage. His average pass in the first half traveled just 2.8 yards and all but six of his 96 passing yards in the half came after the catch.

Will it be enough against Virginia Tech?
Ohio State will face Virginia Tech on Saturday, a team that brings in one of the best rushing defenses in the nation. Since the start of last season, the Hokies rank ninth in the FBS in opponent rushing yards per game (108.4) and eighth in opponents yards per rush (3.2).

If Ohio State cannot run the ball, it will put Barrett into a position to make plays on third down - something he did not do against Navy. He attempted two third-down passes against the Midshipmen with neither resulting in a first down.

For the game, the Buckeyes ran on six of their eight third downs, despite the fact that their average distance to go was 6.9 yards. They ended up converting on 25 percent of their third downs, their fewest conversions in any game that they won under Urban Meyer.

This could be an issue Saturday, as Virginia Tech has allowed opponents to convert 28 percent of their third downs the last two seasons, second best in the FBS behind Louisville (25 percent).

FPI likes the Buckeyes
According to ESPN’s Football Power Index, Ohio State has an 80 percent chance to win Saturday. FPI is a predictive look at overall team strength. FPI ranks every FBS team by the likelihood that it would beat an average team on a neutral field.

The Buckeyes will need to play like they did in the second half against Navy if FPI’s projection is going to be correct.

How Miller's injury impacts Ohio State

August, 19, 2014
Aug 19
2:02
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Greg Bartram/USA TODAY SportsOhio State will have a huge void to fill with QB Braxton Miller out for the season.
ESPN and media reports indicate that Ohio State quarterback Braxton Miller is out for the 2014 season after re-injuring his right shoulder in practice Monday.

Miller was one of several early favorites to win the Heisman Trophy. He was tied for third with Georgia running back Todd Gurley on the most current Heisman Watch on ESPN.com behind only Marcus Mariota and Jameis Winston.

How valuable was Miller?
Miller was the only Big Ten quarterback to rank in the top 35 in Total QBR last season (he ranked 13th). He had the seventh-highest QBR among returning FBS quarterbacks (91.3).

Miller has been among the elite rushing quarterbacks in FBS over the past two seasons. His 2,339 rushing yards ranked second in FBS (Jordan Lynch of Northern Illinois ranked first with 3,735 yards), nearly 200 yards more than Johnny Manziel in that same time.

A knee injury in Week 2 against San Diego State hindered Miller early in the season, but he averaged 131.6 rushing yards per game in the last five games.

Miller improved incrementally as a passer from 2011 to 2013 as the chart on the right shows.

He led the Big Ten in touchdown passes and ranked second in completion percentage and yards per attempt.

Miller and Drew Brees are the only players to win Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year multiple times.

Potential replacements
Senior backup Kenny Guiton graduated after last season, leaving Ohio State without an experienced backup behind Miller.

Redshirt freshman J.T. Barrett is listed as the team’s top backup. He was a four-star recruit in the Class of 2013, and was ranked the No. 11 dual-threat quarterback in that class.

Barrett’s senior season in high school was cut short by a torn ACL.

Redshirt sophomore Cardale Jones (two career pass attempts, both against Purdue) is the only quarterback other than Miller on the Ohio State roster who has attempted a pass in an FBS game.

Jones has played a total of 39 snaps against three opponents (Florida A&M, Penn State and Purdue).

Other losses
Losing Miller would be one extra thing the Buckeyes' offense will need to replace.

The team is dealing with a near total makeover up front.

Gone are second-team All-American left tackle Jack Mewhort, first-team Big Ten center Corey Linsley, first-team Big Ten left guard Andrew Norwell and right guard Marcus Hall.

The Buckeyes' backfield stud, Carlos Hyde, is also gone. He was a second-round draft pick by the 49ers.

Hyde had a little more than 138 rushing yards per game, which was fifth in FBS last season. Over 57 percent of his rushes went for five or more yards, second best in FBS.

Miller was already looking for a new favorite weapon. Corey Brown led Ohio State in every major receiving category last season.

His 63 catches, 771 yards and 10 touchdowns were all best on the team. He was targeted 87 times in 2013, 14 more than any other wideout.

Ohio State’s schedule
Ohio State was favored in each game in the ESPN Football Power Index, with only one of its 12 opponents ranked in the preseason AP Top 25 (at Michigan State).

Before Miller’s injury, FPI projected the Buckeyes with a 41 percent chance to win the Big Ten, nearly twice as likely as the next-closest team (Wisconsin, 22 percent).

Looking at tournaments through BPI

March, 12, 2014
Mar 12
1:14
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AP Photo/Gerry BroomeESPN's BPI likes Duke's chances of winning the ACC tournament, but they could face tough competition along the way.
Duke has the best chance of winning the ACC men’s basketball tournament, according to ESPN’s Basketball Power Index, but the Blue Devils don’t have the greatest likelihood of making it to the ACC semifinals.

Oregon has the second-best BPI rating in the Pac-12, but four other teams have a greater probability of reaching the semifinals of that conference’s tournament.

In projecting the results of conference tournaments, a team’s BPI rating doesn’t tell the entire story.

To project the likelihood of each team reaching and winning in a particular round, BPI takes into account how challenging the tournament has been for a team to that point. That aspect of the BPI calculations leads to interesting projections that might seem counterintuitive in light of teams’ BPI ratings.

In the ACC, for example, BPI No. 7 Duke has the greatest projected likelihood of winning the tournament. But No. 10 Syracuse has a slightly greater likelihood of reaching the ACC tournament semifinals (82 percent) than the Blue Devils (81 percent) as well as regular-season champion and No. 8 Virginia (74 percent).

All three of these teams (as well as fourth-seeded North Carolina) receive byes to the quarterfinals. In that round, based on BPI projections, the Orange are most likely to play North Carolina State (71st in the BPI rankings), whereas Duke and Virginia are projected to have quarterfinal opponents ranking in the BPI Top 60.

There is not much difference in the projected championship chances for the top three teams. The Blue Devils have a 27 percent probability compared to Virginia’s 25 percent and Syracuse’s 23 percent.

Extra game has cost
In the Pac-12, only BPI No. 1 Arizona has a higher ranking than No. 16 Oregon. The Ducks finished in a five-way tie for third place in the standings and are seeded seventh in the tournament, which forces them to play a first-round game.

That extra matchup helps reduce Oregon’s chances of reaching the semifinals to 43 percent. BPI No. 21 UCLA has the greatest likelihood of reaching the semifinals in that quadrant of the bracket (53 percent) and is the second-most likely Pac-12 tournament champion, with a 10 percent chance, compared with Arizona’s 63 percent.

An important 'if' for Big 12
BPI No. 4 Kansas has a 49 percent probability of reaching the Big 12 tournament final and a 37 percent chance of winning the tournament, making the Jayhawks the favorites in Kansas City, Mo.

BPI No. 17 Iowa State, on the same side of the bracket as the Jayhawks, has a 28 percent chance of playing for the tournament title – compared with 42 percent for lower-ranked Oklahoma, which is in the other half of the bracket. Should Iowa State reach the final, however, the Cyclones would have a 56 percent chance of beating BPI No. 24 Oklahoma.

The projections for Kansas reflect the team’s performance through the entire season and don’t take into account Joel Embiid’s back injury (which will keep him out of the conference tournament). In the three games Embiid missed, Kansas’ BPI was 85.0, compared to its 88.4 rating for the season. If that’s representative of the Jayhawks’ true level of play without Embiid, it’s enough to drop their chances to win to 24 percent, behind Oklahoma (29 percent) and slightly ahead of Iowa State (21 percent).

Big Ten projections
The Big Ten tournament projections demonstrate how BPI looks beyond wins and losses to gauge the power of teams. Michigan won the regular-season conference championship by three games, but the Wolverines are the third favorite to win the conference tournament based on BPI projections.

Wisconsin, which ranks ninth in BPI and tied for second place in the Big Ten standings, has a 26 percent likelihood of winning the conference tournament. BPI No. 14 Ohio State has a 19 percent likelihood of winning, fractionally better than No. 22 Michigan.

Not far behind is BPI No. 13 Michigan State, which has a 17 percent likelihood of winning the conference tournament.

Duke likely to beat UNC, BPI says

March, 7, 2014
Mar 7
1:11
PM ET

AP Photo/Gerry BroomeESPN's Basketball Power Index gives Jabari Parker and the Duke Blue Devils a 77 percent chance of winning against North Carolina Saturday.

ESPN’s Basketball Power Index rates teams using a system that takes into account factors such as the pace of a game, margin of victory, game site and absence of key players.

In addition, BPI can be used to make projections of each team’s chance of winning a specific matchup. The team with the higher chance to win according to BPI has won about 73 percent of the time this season.

Here is a preview of five matchups for the final weekend of the regular season, examined using information produced by BPI (through games of March 6):

BPI No. 27 North Carolina at 9 Duke (9 PM Saturday, ESPN)
BPI Projection:
Duke 77 percent likely to win

Duke
is coming off its worst performance of the season based on BPI Game Score, a 37 (on a 0-to-100 scale) in its 82-72 loss at Wake Forest on Wednesday. That game was two months after Wake Forest beat North Carolina 73-67.

North Carolina has won 12 games in succession, but the three most recent victories (by one point over North Carolina State, four points over Virginia Tech and two points over Notre Dame) were against opponents outside the BPI Top 70 and earned Game Scores in the high 70s, compared with Game Scores in the 90s for the first nine games of the Tar Heels’ streak.

The Blue Devils have the third-best home-court BPI this season (behind Kansas and Arizona), whereas North Carolina ranks 34th in road BPI.

BPI No. 44 Baylor at 49 Kansas State (1:30 PM Saturday, ESPN3)
BPI Projection
: Kansas State 62 percent likely to win

Kansas State would be the first team out if current BPI ratings determined the NCAA field; Joe Lunardi’s Bracketology has the Wildcats as a No. 8 seed. Baylor, a No. 9 seed in Bracketology, is the fifth-lowest team in BPI currently projected for a tournament spot.

What does home court mean to Kansas State? In their six Big 12 series against opponents in the BPI Top 60, the Wildcats have won at home and lost on the road. These teams played Feb. 15 in Waco, Texas, where Baylor won 87-73 in two overtimes. Since losing to Oklahoma on Feb. 8, Baylor has been 6-1 (six of the games against Top 100 teams) with all six wins earning BPI Game Scores of at least 94.

BPI No. 17 Pittsburgh at 52 Clemson (4 PM Saturday, ESPN3)
BPI Projection:
Pittsburgh 57 percent likely to win

Clemson would be the third team out of the NCAA field, if it were determined solely on current BPI ratings. Although the Tigers have two losses to teams outside the BPI Top 100 (Wake Forest and Auburn), they were by a combined seven points. This game represents a chance for them to improve on their 3-7 record against BPI Top 50 teams.

Pittsburgh, unranked in The Associated Press poll and a projected No. 10 seed in Bracketology, would be a No. 5 seed if the NCAA field were determined by current BPI ratings. The disparity arises in part from factors BPI considers, such as final scoring margin; five of the Panthers’ losses to Top 30 teams have been by a combined 15 points.

BPI No. 10 Kentucky at 2 Florida (12 PM Saturday)
BPI Projection:
Florida 78 percent likely to win

In their first meeting, Florida won by 10 in a relatively slow 59-possession game in Lexington, Ky. That game earned the Gators a 99.3 Game Score, their second-best of the season. Florida has the fourth-best home-court BPI this season.

Although Kentucky is 3-2 since that Feb. 15 loss to Florida, the losses were by a combined nine points. Eight-loss Kentucky is No. 25 in the AP poll and a seven seed in Bracketology. Of the Wildcats’ losses, all but the one to Florida have been by five points or fewer.

BPI No. 14 Michigan State at 16 Ohio State (4:30 PM Sunday)
BPI Projection:
Ohio State 64 percent likely to win

Of its 30 games, Michigan State has been at full strength for 13, the fewest of any BPI Top 75 team.

Considering games when teams have been at full strength (having all five of its top players based on minutes played), the Spartans rank seventh in BPI. Michigan State is first and Ohio State second among BPI Top 20 teams as measured by inconsistency.

In their last six games, the Buckeyes have had three Game Scores of less than 70 and three greater than 93.

Instant impact recruits for 2014

February, 5, 2014
Feb 5
10:06
PM ET
National Signing Day has come and gone, and most ESPN 300 recruits have finalized their college decisions. Here are some notable recruits that could make an instant impact in their freshman seasons.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Key to OSU-MSU: Transition game

January, 7, 2014
Jan 7
11:04
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For the first time in series history, Ohio State Buckeyes and Michigan State Spartans will meet as top-5 opponents (9 p.m. ET tonight on ESPN).

The AP Poll isn't the only ranking with both teams in the top five.

When the Buckeyes and Spartans meet tonight, the key matchup could be in transition.

Michigan State's transition offense ranks third in the country with 24.3 points per game. Ohio State's transition defense allows just 7.4 points per game, fourth-fewest of any team.

Michigan State transition offense
The Spartans transition offense is led by Gary Harris (6.2 PPG) and Keith Appling (5.3 PPG), who lead the Big Ten in transition scoring.

Michigan State looks to push the ball quickly and often, whether it's off a missed shot, a made shot, or a turnover. The Spartans average 21.5 transition plays per game, the third-most in the country.

Much of their success in transition has to do with their ability to finish well around the basket. The Spartans are shooting 63 percent at the rim this season, eight-best among all teams.

Here's an example of a successful Michigan State transition play and how it transpired:

1. Against Kentucky, Branden Dawson grabbed a defensive rebound in the middle of the paint. Once Dawson secured the rebound, it's evident that all five Kentucky players were turned towards the ball with their eyes on Dawson, while Denzel Valentine was already leaking out in the open court.

2. Without dribbling, Dawson threw the ball ahead to Valentine for an outlet pass over the mid-court line. At the same time, three Michigan State players were spaced out while sprinting down the court with two Kentucky defenders behind them.

3. When Valentine caught the outlet pass, Aaron Harrison was the only Kentucky player back on defense.

4. Dawson -- who originally grabbed the rebound and threw the outlet pass -- beat four Kentucky players down the court, creating a 2-on-1 fast break for the Spartans. Valentine took just one dribble and threw an alley-oop to Dawson for an easy dunk. The entire play lasted less than four seconds.

Ohio State transition defense
Something will have to give in East Lansing tonight, because the Buckeyes transition defense has been just as dominant as the Spartans transition offense this season.

The Buckeyes limit their opponents to just 8.9 transition plays per game, the 14th-fewest of any team. Not only do they limit transition opportunities but they are efficient defending in transition as well. They hold their opponents to the 11th-fewest points per transition play. Teams are shooting just 43 percent against them on those plays.

Let's take a look at an example of an Ohio State defensive transition play that ended with a turnover:

1. After a defensive rebound by Notre Dame's Pat Connaughton, he passed the ball ahead to Demetrius Jackson near mid-court.

2. By the time Jackson caught the outlet pass, four Ohio State defenders were already ahead of the ball. As Jackson dribbled down the right side of the court, the four Ohio State defenders closest to Jackson all appeared to have their eyes on Jackson.

3. As Jackson attacked the basket, all five Ohio State defenders had at least one foot in the paint.

4. Aaron Craft forced Jackson to leave his feet under the basket, and Shannon Scott intercepted the pass.

The tempo of the game could play a large part in the outcome as Ohio State tries to limit Michigan State's easy points.

The Buckeyes transition defense is a large part why they rank second in the country in defensive efficiency and haven't allowed 70 points in any game this season.

Power runs make Buckeyes go

January, 3, 2014
Jan 3
9:02
AM ET
Two of the top offenses in the country collide in the Discover Orange Bowl tonight (8:30 ET on ESPN), as Ohio State and Clemson look to cap off their seasons with a BCS bowl win.

Yesterday we detailed how Clemson’s dynamic passing attack could dominate a struggling Ohio State pass defense.

Ohio State counters with a similarly prolific offense, built instead around a bruising ground game. How have the Buckeyes been so successful running the ball and can Clemson stop them?

Ground and Pound
The Buckeyes run on over 60 percent of their plays, ranking among the top 15 teams in FBS.

No team has been more efficient on the ground than Ohio State, averaging an FBS-best 7.0 yards per game.

The key to Ohio State’s rushing attack is its ability to gain yards up the middle. The Buckeyes have rushed for 2,432 yards inside the tackles this year, nearly 500 yards more than any other school from a BCS automatic qualifying (AQ) conference entering bowl season.

The offensive line has also been dominant in opening up holes for the Buckeyes, who average 4.5 yards per rush before contact, the highest rate among AQ teams.

Carlos Hyde leads the OSU rushing game, averaging a Big Ten-high 141 yards per game. He has been one of the nation’s most consistent backs, gaining at least five yards on an FBS-best 61 percent of his carries.

Following the Buckeyes’ tendency to pound the ball up the middle, Hyde has done most of his damage inside the tackles. Hyde is averaging 7.4 yards per rush to that location, and has gone for over 100 yards inside the tackles in three of his last four games.

Quarterback Option
Hyde is not the only Buckeye who dominates on the ground. Braxton Miller has proven to be among the best dual-threat quarterbacks this season, as one of four FBS players with at least 1,500 pass yards and 1,000 rush yards this season.

Relying on Miller’s rushing skills and decision-making, the Buckeyes have been one of the most effective teams this season using the read option.

Only three schools have gained more rushing yards on zone-reads than Ohio State, and its average of 7.7 yards per rush is the highest among BCS-AQ schools with at least 100 zone-read rushes this season entering bowl season.

Miller seemed to find his legs during an off week before Ohio State faced Illinois on Nov. 16th. Miller has topped 100 rushing yards in all four games since then, including an average of 75 yards on zone-reads, while averaging more than nine yards per rush.

Clemson's Challenge
Clemson will be challenged to stop Ohio State’s punishing rushing attack, despite the fact that it has generally been effective stopping the run, allowing 3.7 yards per rush (fourth-best in ACC).

The Tigers struggled to contain two of the league’s best rushing teams, giving up a combined 571 yards against Syracuse and Georgia Tech. Clemson showed its vulnerability up the middle against those squads, with 304 of those 571 yards coming inside the tackles.

Clemson also was no match for one of the nation’s most read-option-heavy teams in Syracuse. The Orange torched them for 205 yards on 21 zone-read rushes, an average of 9.8 yards per rush.

The bowl winners will be ...

December, 19, 2013
12/19/13
10:25
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With bowl season upon us, we can project the winners of the 35 Football Bowl Subdivision bowl games using the Football Power Index.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

BCS bowl games at a glance

December, 8, 2013
12/08/13
11:29
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The final BCS standings were released Sunday along with matchups for all of the remaining bowl games. Here are some tidbits to prepare you for the five BCS games.

Rose Bowl Game presented by Vizio
4 Michigan State Spartans vs 5 Stanford Cardinal
January 1, 2014, at 5 ET on ESPN

Michigan State: First Rose Bowl appearance since the 1987 season and its first appearance in a BCS bowl. The Spartans have reached a bowl game in all seven seasons under head coach Mark Dantonio after making no bowl appearances from 2004-06.

Stanford: Second consecutive appearance in the Rose Bowl (def. Wisconsin 20-14 last season). The Cardinal are making back-to-back Rose Bowl appearances for the first time since 1970-71. Stanford has reached a BCS bowl in four straight seasons after making just one from 1998-2009.

Tostitos Fiesta Bowl
15 UCF Knights vs 6 Baylor Bears
January 1, 2014, at 8:30 ET on ESPN

UCF: First BCS bowl berth in school history. Won 11 games this season, tied for the most in school history (also won 11 in 2010).

Baylor: Like their opponents in the Fiesta Bowl, the Bears receive their first BCS bowl berth in school history. Baylor looks to extend a school-record 11 wins this season to 12 in this game.

Allstate Sugar Bowl
11 Oklahoma Sooners vs 3 Alabama Crimson Tide
January 2, 2014, at 8:30 ET on ESPN

Oklahoma: Ninth BCS bowl appearance, second-most all-time. The Sooners are 3-5 in BCS bowl games, snapping a five-game losing streak with a win in the 2011 Fiesta Bowl vs Connecticut.

Alabama: Third straight BCS bowl appearance and fifth in the last seven seasons under Nick Saban. The Crimson Tide will make their first Sugar Bowl appearance since the 2008 season (lost to Utah in that game).

Discover Orange Bowl
12 Clemson Tigers vs 7 Ohio State Buckeyes
January 3, 2014, at 8:30 ET on ESPN

Clemson: First BCS bowl appearance since 2011, when the Tigers played in the Orange Bowl. Those two games mark the only BCS bowls in school history. Speaking of history for the Tigers, they will make a school-record ninth straight appearance in a bowl game.

Ohio State: Tenth BCS bowl appearance, most all-time. The Buckeyes will make their first Orange Bowl appearance since the 1976 season against Colorado. Their last BCS appearance came in a 2011 Sugar Bowl win over Arkansas.

Vizio BCS National Championship Game
1 Florida State Seminoles vs 2 Auburn Tigers
January 6, 2014, at 8:30 ET on ESPN

Florida State: After beating Northern Illinois in last year’s Orange Bowl, the Seminoles return to a BCS bowl game. It marks their first back-to-back BCS bowl appearances since 2002-03. This will be their first BCS Championship Game appearance since 2000 and fourth overall.

Auburn: Second BCS Championship Game appearance, first since winning the national title over Oregon in the 2010 season. This marks the third BCS bowl appearance for the Tigers, who are unbeaten in such games thus far.

Can Braxton hit the ground vs Spartans?

December, 5, 2013
12/05/13
9:28
AM ET

AP Photo/Jeff HaynesCarlos Hyde (left), Braxton Miller and the Ohio State ground game faces its toughest test this season.
Ohio State and Michigan State finished 8-0 in conference play this season. The Buckeyes are fueled by their potent rushing attack, while the Spartans have made their mark by stopping the run. Something has to give on Saturday when these two teams square off in Indianapolis for the Big Ten Championship.

A matchup of strengths
Ohio State is second among FBS teams in rushing yards per game (321.3), and leads the nation in yards per rush (7.1) and rushes of 10 yards or more (130). The Buckeyes lead all AQ schools with 1,502 rushing yards after contact.

They had four rushing touchdowns last week against Michigan, which is one fewer than Michigan State has allowed all season.

Michigan State has allowed the fewest rushing yards per game (64.4), yards per rush (2.2) and 10-yard rushes (19) in the FBS this season, and has held all but one opponent under 100 yards on the ground this season.

Miller coming on strong
Braxton Miller got off to a slow start running this season, but in his past three games, he’s got 481 rushing yards, which is fifth among FBS players since the start of Week 12.

The key for Miller’s improvement in the running game has been increased efficiency on zone-read plays. In his first seven games he attempted 24 zone reads, gaining 87 yards with no touchdowns. In the past three games, Miller has 21 such rushes for 276 yards and three touchdowns.

What does Michigan State do well?
Michigan State is on pace to allow the fewest rushing yards per game since TCU gave up 47.1 in 2008. One reason for their success is the Spartans do not let opponents turn the corner.

They allowed an AQ-best 2.9 yards per designed run outside the tackles and haven’t allowed one of those runs to go for more than 16 yards.

The Spartans have also done an excellent job limiting opposing quarterbacks on the ground. They’ve allowed -19 rushing yards on 92 carries by opposing quarterbacks this season, the fewest in the FBS.

Michigan State is the only FBS team that hasn’t allowed a run longer than 12 yards to a quarterback and is one of four teams that haven’t allowed a quarterback to score a rushing touchdown.

Looking toward Saturday
Michigan State has allowed two opponents to rush for at least 200 yards in the past two seasons. Both games were last season and the Spartans gave up the majority of those yards to quarterbacks -- Braxton Miller (136) and Taylor Martinez (205).

Martinez didn’t play in Michigan State’s win against Nebraska this season, but Miller will play on Saturday, in what will be the biggest test thus far for both Ohio State’s offense and Michigan State’s defense.

Could top conference be out of title game?

December, 2, 2013
12/02/13
12:42
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Heading into the final week before the bowls are announced, the SEC leads ESPN Stats and Info’s Conference Power Rankings by a wide margin.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Top stats to know: BCS standings shake-up

December, 1, 2013
12/01/13
8:41
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What are the top stats to know among all the changes to come from this week's edition of the BCS standings?

Seminoles jump to No. 1
Florida State moved to No. 1 in the BCS standings.

This is the eighth time that Florida State has been No. 1 in the BCS. That is the sixth-most all time. This is the second season that Florida State is ranked No. 1. It also happened in 1999, when the Seminoles went 12-0 and won the national championship.

Aside from Florida State’s dominance over Duke (18-0 in series all time), the Seminoles have another streak on the line against the Blue Devils in the ACC championship game (Saturday at 8 p.m. ET on ABC): FSU is 4-0 all time as the No. 1 BCS team. The only team with more wins and no losses as the No. 1 team is Tennessee (5-0).

However, Duke is 2-0 versus BCS-ranked teams this year (beat No. 23 Miami and No. 13 Virginia Tech). Before this year, Duke was 0-13 versus BCS-ranked teams.

The Buckeyes move to No. 2
Ohio State is ranked second or higher for the first time since it was No. 1 in the final standings of 2007. The Buckeyes are ranked in the top two for the 23rd time, passing USC for third-most all time.

The past four schools that needed to win a game on championship weekend to stay in the BCS top two won. That snapped a streak from 2006 to 2009 in which five of the seven teams in the BCS top two to play on championship weekend lost.

Stunning win nets Auburn one-spot bump
Auburn is ranked No. 3, its highest BCS ranking since it was No. 1 in the final standings of 2010.

Could Auburn still make the BCS National Championship Game?

Of the 30 previous teams to play for the BCS championship, eight entered the final weekend of the regular season outside the BCS top two, and four of those schools moved up after winning the SEC championship game.

However, Auburn jumping over an undefeated Ohio State team (assuming both win their conference championship games) would be unprecedented: No one-loss team has finished ahead of an undefeated BCS-AQ (automatic-qualifying) conference team.

Auburn and its SEC title game opponent, Missouri, are a combined 3-0 in previous BCS-top-five matchups. (Auburn defeated No. 1 Alabama on Saturday and Oregon in the 2010 BCS National Championship Game; Missouri defeated No. 2 Kansas in 2007).

It will be the fourth SEC championship game with both teams ranked in the top five of the BCS, but the first without Alabama.

Alabama falls to No. 4
Alabama is the second team to drop out of the BCS top two after at least six weeks at No. 1.

The only other school to do that was Florida, which was No. 1 in the first seven weeks of the standings in 2009 before losing to Alabama in the SEC championship game. The Gators fell to No. 5 in the final standings.

Northern Illinois hanging in
With Fresno State's loss over the weekend, Northern Illinois is now the only school from a non-AQ conference ranked in the top 16.

It also remains ahead of a projected champion from a BCS-AQ conference (Central Florida) and is thus in position to gain an automatic BCS bowl berth if it is either in the top 16 and ahead of a BCS conference champ or is ranked in the top 12 of the final standings.

If the Huskies reach a BCS bowl game this year, it would be a rare feat. They would be one of just four teams from non-AQ conferences to reach multiple BCS bowls and the second to do it in back-to-back years, joining TCU (2009 and 2010).

Northern Illinois is undefeated but has not risen above No. 14 this season. No team that was undefeated and ranked at the time of the final standings finished worse than 12th in the rankings. (Marshall was 12-0 and No. 12 in 1999.)

Reynolds, Fresno State among week's best

November, 26, 2013
11/26/13
1:25
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AP Photo/Marcio Jose SanchezKeenan Reynolds ran all over the field for Navy this weekend.
Week 13 had its share of big-time performances as Navy’s Keenan Reynolds rushed for an FBS quarterback-record seven touchdowns, Wyoming’s Brett Smith accounted for a FBS single-game high eight touchdowns and Fresno State’s Derek Carr threw for a school-record seven touchdowns.

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 13 and ahead to the chances of Alabama, Florida State and Ohio State remaining undefeated.

Best Individual Performances
In the past, this article has used opponent-adjusted QBR to rank the best individual performances of the week. Total QBR is a rate stat that measures efficiency. In Week 13, Kevin Hogan (98.0), Clint Chelf (97.8) and Braxton Miller (97.1) had the top three opponent-adjusted QBRs of Week 13.

Points above average (PAA) is another stat that can be used measure the top individual performances. PAA totals the number of points that a player contributes to his team’s net scoring margin above what an average quarterback would have.

PAA is a counting stat (rather than a rate stat) that accounts for both efficiency and the number of plays. If a quarterback has a high PAA, he was likely efficient and involved in a lot of plays. Week 13 featured four of the top 10 single-game PAAs of the season:

Keenan Reynolds (19.0 PAA) rushed for seven touchdowns in Navy’s 58-52 triple-OT win over San Jose State on Friday night. Reynolds set an FBS record for rushing touchdowns by a quarterback in a game, a mark previously held by Dee Dowis (Air Force, 1989) and Craig Candeto (Navy, 2002).

Brett Smith (18.6 PAA) threw for a single-game school-record seven touchdowns and 498 yards while leading Wyoming to a 59-56 overtime win against Hawaii on Saturday. Smith also ran for 142 yards and a touchdown. Smith’s 640 yards of total offense and eight touchdowns are the most by an FBS player in a game this season.

Marquise Williams (16.4 PAA) tied the school record for passing touchdowns (five) and was third in single-game total offense (469 yards) by halftime in North Carolina’s 80-20 rout of Old Dominion. He helped the Tar Heels rack up a school-record 721 total yards of offense in a game that did not even last 60 minutes.

Derek Carr (15.8 PAA) threw for 522 yards and a school-record seven touchdowns in Fresno State’s 69-28 win against New Mexico. He had the third-most passing yards and tied Brett Smith for the most passing touchdowns in a game this season.

Best Teams Performances
Offense – Fresno State added 48.7 expected points to its net scoring margin on offense in its 69-28 win against New Mexico, the highest offensive EPA in a game this season. The Bulldogs racked up a school and league record 822 yards of total offense and averaged 9.9 yards per play.

Defense– Oklahoma State contributed 17.5 expected points to its net scoring margin on defense in its 49-17 win against Baylor. The Bears were averaging 61.2 points and 684.8 yards per game entering the game, but were held to 17 points and 453 yards by the Cowboys. Oklahoma State is the first team to hold Baylor to a below-average offensive efficiency rating in a game in the last three seasons.

Special TeamsNebraska added 12.5 expected points on special teams in its 23-20 win against Penn State. The Cornhuskers blocked a punt and returned a kickoff 99 yards for a touchdown. They were also the beneficiaries of a missed extra point in the first quarter and missed field goal in overtime.

Looking ahead to rest of the season
After Baylor lost to Oklahoma State on Saturday, there are three remaining undefeated teams from BCS AQ conferences vying for a spot in the BCS National Championship. Alabama, Florida State and Ohio State are all deserving of a spot in the title game, but at least one will be left out.

What are the chances that all three teams will be undefeated entering bowl season? According to projections run by Analytics Specialist Alok Pattani, there is a 29 percent chance that all three teams will be undefeated after their conference championships.

Alabama has the toughest remaining schedule. The Tide have to play on the road at Auburn on Saturday, and if they win, against either Missouri or South Carolina in the SEC Championship. There is a 46 percent chance that the Tide win both of those games.

Florida State has the easiest remaining schedule, and there is an 87 percent chance that it wins its remaining two games.

So, while Ohio State appears to be on the outside looking in, there is a 60 percent chance that either Alabama or Florida State does not win out. Keep these projections in mind as Alabama heads to Auburn, Florida State travels to Florida (Noon ET, ESPN) and Ohio State goes to Michigan (Noon ET, ABC) on Saturday.

Top stats to know: BCS Standings

November, 24, 2013
11/24/13
9:30
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There was some movement, albeit not at the very top, in the BCS Standings heading into this weekend's slate of Rivalry Week games.

Alabama on the verge
Alabama is about to reach and surpass a couple of notable BCS milestones if it can get one more win.

The Crimson Tide now has 11 wins as the No. 1 team, one shy of the most all-time. Oklahoma and USC both have 12 wins.

Alabama is in the top three for the 37th week, tied with Oklahoma for the most all-time.

This Saturday’s Iron Bowl between Alabama and No. 4 Auburn will be the first time these teams have met when both ranked in the top five of the BCS. It is only the fourth time they will play each other as BCS-ranked foes. Auburn has actually won two of the previous three meetings.

The big gainers
No. 3 Ohio State remained in that position, but went from being .0792 points behind No. 2 Florida State to .0497 points behind.

The Buckeyes are ranked in the top-3 in three consecutive weeks for the first time since they were No. 1 the first four weeks of the 2007 season.

Other schools in the top 10 were able to move up a couple of spots with the losses by Baylor and Oregon.

Auburn jumped two spots to No. 4, its highest BCS ranking since it was No. 1 in the final standings of 2010. The only other season it was ranked in the top five with two weeks or less remaining was in 2004 when it was ranked No. 3.

Missouri got a three-spot bump from No. 8 to No. 5. This is the second time in school history that the Tigers are ranked in the top 10 in six straight BCS standings. They also had a six-week run in 2007.

Oklahoma State also jumped three spots, from No. 10 to No. 7. It is the school’s highest ranking since the final standings of 2011 when it was No. 3.

Baylor, Oregon drop
Baylor slipped five spots, from No. 4 to No. 9. Its 49-17 loss to Oklahoma State was the third-largest by a BCS top-four team.

Oregon also plummeted from No. 5 to No. 13.

Oregon had been in the top 10 in 32 straight weeks, the longest active streak and six standings shy of the longest all-time streak set by USC from 2002-06.

The importance of NIU’s jump
Northern Illinois jumped from No. 16 to No. 14. This is its second-highest BCS ranking (only bettered by a No. 10 in 2003).

Northern Illinois jumped ahead of Fresno State for the first time this season (.0496 points ahead. This is very important because:

A non-automatic qualifying (non-AQ) school is guaranteed a BCS Bowl berth if it is in the top 16 and ranked ahead of a champion of a BCS conference in the final standings; or is ranked in the top 12 of the final standings.

However, no more than one such team from the non-AQ group shall earn an automatic berth in any year, unless non-AQ teams finish both No. 1 and No. 2 in the final BCS Standings.

Welcome aboard
No. 24 Duke is ranked in the BCS Standings for the first time in school history.

Looking ahead: Rivalry games
Michigan is playing a top-3 BCS Ohio State team for the fourth time, but it’s the first time it will be unranked in such a matchup. Ohio State has won two of the three previous games (2002 and 2006); Michigan’s win came in 2003.

The “Palmetto Bowl” between No. 6 Clemson and No. 10 South Carolina will be the first game between them when both are ranked in the top 10 of the BCS.

Saturday’s Florida-Florida State game will be the second time that Florida takes on a BCS top-two Florida State team. The Seminoles won the only other such matchup -- in 1999, No. 1 Florida State defeated No. 4 Florida 30-23.

It will be the third time an unranked Florida team plays a BCS-ranked Florida State team. The teams split the previous two meetings, with Florida beating No. 8 Florida State in 2004 and No. 22 Florida State beating Florida in 2010.

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