Stats & Info: Ohio State Buckeyes

BPI vs Bracketology

February, 20, 2015
Feb 20

Joe Maiorana/USA TODAY SportsBracketology has Ohio State as a 7-seed, but BPI would have the Buckeyes as a 3-seed.
On Thursday, ESPN's Joe Lunardi released his latest Bracketology update, and there were some noticeable difference between his choices and ESPN's Basketball Power Index. Here are a few worth examining:

Teams BPI values more highly

Of all the teams BPI believes are seeded too low, Ohio State is the one that stands out. BPI has OSU ranked 11th (a 3-seed) despite a 19-7 record, but Bracketology has the Buckeyes as a 7-seed.

Ohio State has excelled against lower competition (16-0 vs. teams ranked outside of the BPI top 50) but struggled against top opponents.

All seven of the Buckeyes’ losses have come against opponents in the BPI top 50. Even in those losses, Ohio State performed admirably, losing each game by single digits and posting a Game BPI above 50 in all of them.

The Buckeyes are one of six teams that do not have a Game BPI below 50 this season, meaning OSU does not have any particularly “bad” games.

Teams BPI would seed lower

Among the teams seeded at 8 or higher in Bracketology, Maryland is one that stands out as a potential to be upset. The Terrapins are still projected to be a 5-seed in Bracketology despite losing three of their past eight games -- all road conference games. BPI, meanwhile, has Maryland as an 8-seed.

The Terps rank 80th in net efficiency; every other projected top-5 seed ranks in the top 60.

Teams left out of the tournament

There are three notable teams BPI would have in the tournament that were left out by Bracketology: BYU, Florida and Davidson.

BYU has lost eight games this season, but, as with Ohio State, all of the losses were by single digits. The Cougars’ average margin of defeat is 4.8 points, compared with an average margin of victory of 19.2 PPG in their 20 wins.

The Gators have the worst “luck rating” according to, have lost six one-possession games and have played the hardest schedule in the nation, according to BPI’s SOS ranking.

Davidson is hurt by a weak schedule (105th in BPI/151st in RPI) and has suffered some “bad losses” recently. But Davidson is efficient -- ranking fifth in offensive efficiency and 24th in net efficiency -- meaning the Wildcats could make some noise if they were to make the tournament.

Teams in the tournament BPI would have left out

BPI disagrees with Bracketology on a number of teams' current tournament statuses, a sampling of which is in the chart on the right.

Of note, Temple is the most egregious tournament team, according to BPI. Temple has a marquee win (77-52 vs Kansas) but ranks 114th in net efficiency while playing the 86th-ranked schedule.

The Owls have an important game Sunday against another potential tournament team: Tulsa.

Bracketology, BPI: Examining contrasts

January, 22, 2015
Jan 22
Joe Lunardi released his latest Bracketology on Thursday, and although BPI and Lunardi agree on quite a bit, there were also some marked differences.

Below is a breakdown of key differences from BPI’s perspective. It is important to note that the goals of Bracketology and BPI differ slightly: Bracketology projects which teams WILL make the tournament, while BPI ranks the teams based on which ones SHOULD make the field.

Is Providence a tournament team?
Providence College is a projected 6 seed in Bracketology. The Friars rank 49th in BPI, and based on that ranking, would be one of the first four teams out.

At first glance, Providence has a record (14-5) worthy of inclusion. When digging deeper, it is apparent that Providence has been wildly inconsistent. The Friars have wins against four teams in the BPI top 50, including Notre Dame, Georgetown and Butler. But the Friars have lost at home to Brown (No. 270 in BPI) and on the road to Boston College (No. 114), each by at least nine points. Additionally, they squeaked by Albany (No. 154) and Yale (No. 97) at home early in the season.

Providence has two great scorers – LaDontae Henton and Kris Dunn – but outside of them, the Friars are not particularly efficient. Providence ranks 94th in net efficiency, the lowest ranking of any projected top-10 seed in the latest Bracketology.

Is Ohio State underrated?
Ohio State has the same record as Providence but is projected to be a 9 seed. Unlike Providence, Ohio State has invariably excelled against lower competition (13-0 against BPI 50+) and struggled against top opponents. All five of the Buckeyes’ losses have come against opponents in the BPI top 50.

Ohio State is one of 15 teams that does not have a Game BPI below 50 this season, meaning the Buckeyes do not have any particularly “bad” games. (Game BPI accounts for pace-adjusted scoring margin, opponent and site of game.) In part due to their consistency, the Buckeyes rank seventh in net efficiency, one spot ahead of projected 1-seed Duke.

Spotlight on Tobacco Road
Duke and North Carolina are two of the top teams in the ACC, but their ranking in BPI and Bracketology differ. Lunardi ranks Duke nine spots ahead of North Carolina, and BPI favors the Tar Heels.

North Carolina is the only team in the top 15 of BPI with four or more losses. The main reason for the Tar Heels’ ranking is their schedule. North Carolina has played the eighth-hardest schedule in the nation, including nine games against teams in the top 50 of BPI, tied for second-most in the nation. The Tar Heels were 5-4 in those games, but only one of their losses (at Kentucky) was by double digits.

In comparison, Duke has played an easier schedule than North Carolina, and both of its losses were by double digits. According to ESPN’s Game BPI scores, all of North Carolina’s losses were “better” than either of Duke’s setbacks.

Like with Providence and Ohio State, this debate comes down to consistency. Generally, the best teams in the nation are the most consistent, which is captured in their BPI rankings.

Buckeyes show: Yards per game deceive

January, 14, 2015
Jan 14

Ronald Martinez/Getty ImagesOhio State’s defense Monday night performed better than traditional stats say.
In Monday night’s College Football Playoff National Championship Presented by AT&T, Oregon gained 465 yards against Ohio State. That’s about 56 yards more than the FBS average in a game in 2014, and it dropped Ohio State’s FBS rank in total defense from 17th to 19th. So by yardage numbers traditionally used to rate and rank defenses, Monday night’s performance was below average.

But defense is about more than yards allowed. Looking at it on a drive-by-drive basis, Ohio State held Oregon without points on 10 of its 14 drives -- six punts, two turnovers on downs, the end of the first half and the game-ending interception. Preventing the Ducks from scoring on fourth-and-goal early in the second quarter and holding them to field goal attempts on two other red zone drives were particularly strong defensive sequences the yardage numbers don’t capture well.

So even before adjusting for how strong Oregon’s offense is, Ohio State’s defense added more than four points to the scoring margin in terms of expected points added (EPA), taking into account all it did based on the situation before and after every play. That’s not a tremendous number, but given that the FBS average is about zero, it does show that the defense was a positive for the Buckeyes within the game.

To get a more accurate measure of Ohio State’s defense compared with other teams across all games, the performance should be adjusted for the fact it came against Oregon’s offense, which ranks best in FBS in terms of offensive efficiency (based on EPA per game, adjusted for opponent strength). With that adjustment, Ohio State’s defense comes out as plus-23.8 in the national title game -- an extremely positive performance. In fact, it was the third-best defensive performance of the 2014 bowl season and the 11th-best in any BCS/New Year’s Six bowl game going back 10 seasons.

In summary, if you use yards, Ohio State’s defense played worse than average Monday night. If you use expected points added, it looks better than average. And if you adjust that for the quality of Oregon’s offense, it looks way better than average -- which is more in line with reality.

Most champions rank better in efficiency than yards or points per game
National champion Ohio State finished the season fourth in offensive efficiency and 16th in defensive efficiency. Efficiency measures the contribution of the given unit to the scoring margin across all plays, adjusted for opponent strength.

The Buckeyes, like each of the eight national champions before them, ranked better in offensive efficiency than in yards per game and points per game at the end of the season. Specific to yards per game -- the default measure of offense -- the national champion ranked better in efficiency each time, by an average of 13 to 14 spots.

The story is similar but not as extreme with defense. Each of the past five and eight of the past 10 national champions rank at least as highly in defensive efficiency as yards or points allowed.

Looking across both offensive and defensive efficiency, each of the last 10 national champions has ranked in the top five of at least one of these categories at the end of the season, with nine of the 10 ranking in the top 16 of both categories. This cannot be said about the yardage or points-based measures of offense and defense.

A set of 10 good teams ranking better in efficiency than the traditional stats is by no means proof that the efficiency stats are better -- they are better because of all they take into account that the traditional stats miss or wrongly assign. But it’s also good to know that the efficiency numbers align more with reality than the traditional stats do for the offenses and defenses of the college football teams that finished at the top the past 10 years.

Elliott, Buckeyes run over Ducks

January, 13, 2015
Jan 13

Scott Clarke/ESPN ImagesEzekiel Elliott rushed for 246 yards -- a national championship game record -- in the Buckeyes’ win.
Much of the attention heading into Monday’s College Football Playoff National Championship Presented by AT&T was centered on Ohio State’s backfield. That was a key area, but the attention, as it turned out, should have been on two players.

Ezekiel Elliott continued his late-season surge, and starting quarterback Cardale Jones belied his inexperience, helping carry the Ohio State Buckeyes to a 42-20 victory over the Oregon Ducks.

Elliott gained 246 yards and four touchdowns on 36 rushes, setting national championship-game records (since the BCS era began in 1998) for rushing yards and touchdowns. Texas’ Vince Young and USC’s LenDale White rushed for three touchdowns each in the 2006 Rose Bowl.

With his third consecutive 200-yard rushing game, Elliott also broke Ohio State’s bowl record for rushing yards, surpassing the mark of Raymont Harris, who had 235 yards in the 1993 Holiday Bowl in 1993.

Jones strong in bowl debut
Jones, thrust into the starting quarterback job after injuries to Braxton Miller and J.T. Barrett, didn’t play like a third-string quarterback. He entered the game with two career starts. That is the fewest starts for an official championship-winning quarterback, beating the 12 starts of Alabama’s AJ McCarron (2012 season), LSU’s Matt Flynn (2008) and Tennessee’s Tee Martin (1999) before the championship game.

Jones continued the type of play that had led Ohio State to 101 points in his first two starts. The 6-foot-5, 250-pound sophomore completed 16 of 23 passes for 242 yards with one touchdown and one interception.

The interception came on a drop when Oregon’s Danny Mattingly nabbed a bobbled ball at the end of Ohio State’s first drive of the third quarter. That interception was part of the Buckeyes’ minus-3 turnover margin, a stat that Ohio State is alone in being able to overcome in a championship game.

Four teams had been minus-3 or worse in turnover margin in the championship game era: Notre Dame (minus-3) in 2012, Texas (minus-3) in 2009, Oklahoma (minus-5) in 2004 and Miami (minus-3) in 2002. All four of those teams lost the championship game. And Oregon had been 31-1 in the past five seasons when having a turnover margin of plus-2 or better.

The Ducks didn’t exploit the turnovers or maximize their red zone opportunities. The Ducks scored 13 points in four red zone trips compared with Ohio State’s 35 points in five chances.

Led by Heisman Trophy winning Marcus Mariota, Oregon took the opening kickoff and drove for a 7-0 score. Mariota finished with 24 completions on 37 passes (two touchdowns, one interception), but he became the latest current Heisman winner to lose in the championship game.

Quick hitters
Ohio State’s win probability at halftime, leading 21-10, was 84 percent (Oregon’s was 16 percent). The Ducks ranked second in the FBS with on average an 80 percent chance to win at the half and never had lower than a 30 percent halftime win probability this season. … Ohio State improved its record under coach Urban Meyer when an underdog to 6-0. … The Buckeyes have trailed in four of their past five bowl wins.

Top storylines: CFP National Championship

January, 2, 2015
Jan 2

Chuck Cook/USA TODAY SportsMarcus Mariota and Cardale Jones are leading their teams into a historic national title game.
Historic matchup
Ohio State and Oregon will meet for the championship in the first year of the new College Football Playoff, and it's not the first time these programs have matched up in the first year of a new postseason format.

Back in 1939, the Ducks and Buckeyes faced off in the final of the first NCAA basketball tournament, with Oregon earning the 46-33 victory.

The Ducks got the win on the hardwood, but it's been all Buckeyes on the football field. Ohio State is 8-0 all-time against Oregon, with two of those wins coming in bowl games. The silver lining for the Ducks is that the Pac-12 has gone 6-1 against the Big Ten so far this season.

Streaks on the line
Both teams enter the national championship on significant winning streaks. Ohio State's 12-game streak began following its Sept. 6 loss to Virginia Tech and ranks as the longest active streak in the FBS.

The second-longest active streak in the nation belongs to Oregon (nine), and the Ducks have been nothing short of dominant during that stretch.

During the nine-game streak, Oregon is winning by an average of 27.4 points per game, and has spent just 44 total offensive plays trailing.

The Ducks have scored at least 40 points in each of those nine games.

Bid for history
Individuals are in line to make history on both sides of this national championship game. Marcus Mariota will try to continue a recent trend of Heisman Trophy winners adding a national title in the same season.

With a victory over Ohio State, Mariota would be the fifth player since 2004 to win the Heisman and the national championship in the same year, joining Matt Leinart, Mark Ingram, Cam Newton and Jameis Winston.

On the other sideline, head coach Urban Meyer is trying to join Nick Saban as the only FBS coaches ever to win titles at multiple schools. He would also be the 11th coach to win three or more titles in the AP poll era.

Matchups to watch: Ohio State vs. Alabama

December, 12, 2014
Jason Mowry/Icon SportswireEzekiel Elliott is capable of gaining big yardage regularly for Ohio State.

The Sugar Bowl will feature two of the most storied programs and winningest coaches in college football history. What matchups may help decide the game?

Ezekiel Elliott vs Alabama rush defense

First-year starter Ezekiel Elliott has improved as the season progressed. He has run for at least 100 yards in four of his last five games after reaching the 100-yard mark in just three of his first eight.

Elliott’s improvement reached its peak in the Big Ten Championship Game, where he gained a career-high 220 yards and averaged 11 yards per carry.

In those last five games, Elliott excelled rushing between the tackles. He averaged 10.1 yards per rush up the middle, third-best among Power 5 running backs during that time.

Alabama ranks second in the FBS in rush yards allowed per game (88.7) and first in touchdowns allowed (3). The Tide are the only FBS team that has not allowed a player to run for more than 90 yards this season, and Elliot has eclipsed that mark eight times. On runs inside the tackles, Alabama has allowed a Power 5-low two touchdowns and an SEC-best 3.6 yards per rush.

Elliott has had multiple rushes of 10 yards or longer in each of his last 11 games, including a career-high 81-yard touchdown against Wisconsin. It will be interesting to see if he can break a long run against an Alabama team that has allowed the fewest 10-yard runs (34) in the nation.

Cardale Jones vs Alabama secondary

Cardale Jones made his first career start in the Big Ten Championship game, and Ohio State did not miss a beat. He threw for 257 yards and three touchdowns and averaged 15.1 yards per attempt as the Buckeyes rolled to a 59-0 victory.

Jones’ deep-ball accuracy was on display. He completed three-of-five passes thrown at least 30 yards downfield, and all three completions resulted in Devin Smith touchdowns. Jones had more completions and touchdowns on such throws in the Big Ten Championship than J.T. Barrett had in any game this season. The Buckeyes now have nine touchdowns on 30-yard throws this season, which trails only Baylor among Power 5 teams.

The Crimson Tide have looked uncharacteristically vulnerable on deep balls lately. In their last two games, against Auburn and Missouri, the Tide allowed nine completions and two touchdowns on passes of 30 or more yards. They had allowed three such completions and one touchdown in their first 11 games.

Alabama offensive line vs Ohio State pass rush

Alabama has allowed 13 sacks this season (tied for 11th in the FBS) and has not allowed three sacks in a game this season. Blake Sims has been under duress on 17 percent of his dropbacks, including 14 percent of his dropbacks against four or fewer pass rushers. The Power 5 average for duress percentage is 20 percent.

Ohio State has been among the most disruptive pass defenses this season. The Buckeyes are tied for seventh in the FBS with 40 sacks and have recorded at least three sacks in nine of 13 games. Their opponents have been under duress on 27 percent of their dropbacks, including 26 percent against a standard pass rush.

The Buckeyes are led by Bednarik Award finalist (Defensive Player of the Year) Joey Bosa, who leads the Big Ten and is in the top five in the FBS in sacks (13.5) and tackles for loss (20.0). If Bosa and teammate Michael Bennett can get to Sims, it could go a long ways toward slowing Amari Cooper and the Tide’s explosive passing game.

Alabama isn't invincible, stats show

December, 10, 2014

Wire photosNick Saban’s Alabama team has areas of vulnerability Urban Meyer’s Buckeyes can attack.
If Ohio State is looking for a weakness in its Sugar Bowl opponent, it might have trouble finding one.

Alabama can win games with its defense. It has three wins in which it scored 25 or fewer points; only Missouri (four) has more this season. The Crimson Tide can also win with their offense. They have an SEC-high seven wins in which they scored more than 40 points, including a 55-44 win against Auburn in the Iron Bowl.

According to ESPN’s team efficiency rankings, Alabama's offense ranks fourth in the nation and its defense is 12th. TCU is the only other team in the top 12 of the FBS in both stats.

Yet, as its loss to Ole Miss indicates, Alabama is not invincible. Below, we look at some areas in which the Crimson Tide excel and others were they might be vulnerable.

Under first-year offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin, Alabama is on pace to finish with its highest offensive efficiency in the eight years under coach Nick Saban. The Crimson Tide rank 10th in the FBS in yards per play and points per drive, even though they have played seven of the top 20 teams in defensive efficiency.

T.J. Yeldon and Derrick Henry have led the way on the ground. Yeldon and Henry have both rushed for more than 800 yards, averaged more than 5.0 yards per carry and scored at least 10 rushing touchdowns. The only other FBS school with two such running backs this season is Arkansas with Alex Collins and Jonathan Williams.

Blake Sims has been the facilitator for the passing game. He has posted an 88.4 Total QBR this season, second-best in the FBS behind Oregon’s Marcus Mariota. Since 2004, two SEC players have had a higher Total QBR in a season than Sims (Cam Newton and Johnny Manziel). Both won the Heisman in those seasons.

As good as Sims has been, Amari Cooper has been better. Cooper leads the FBS in receiving yards (1,656) and receptions (115) and is tied for second in receiving touchdowns (14).

Yet, if the Buckeyes are able to take away Cooper, Alabama might be in trouble. Cooper has 100 more targets and 1,217 more receiving yards than any other player on the team. DeAndrew White is second on the team in receiving, and on one play – his 58-yard touchdown against Missouri – he gained more yards than he had in all but two games this season entering the SEC Championship.

When Sims is throwing to Cooper this season, he is completing 71.0 percent of his passes, averaging 10.2 yards per attempt and has 14 touchdowns and one interception. To put that into perspective, Mariota is the only other FBS quarterback averaging more than 10 yards per attempt this season. When Sims is not passing to Cooper, he completes 60.5 percent of his passes and averages 7.9 yards per attempt. The FBS averages are 60.0 percent and 7.3 yards per attempt.

Defense is where Alabama has always hung its hat under Saban. For instance, the Crimson Tide are allowing 16.6 points per game this season, fourth-fewest in the FBS. Yet, that is on pace to be the most they have allowed since 2007, Saban’s first season in Tuscaloosa.

Led by defensive tackle Johnathan Allen and linebacker Reggie Ragland, Alabama is as good as it gets against the run. The Crimson Tide have allowed three rushing touchdowns, five fewer than any other FBS school. They really buckle down around the goal line. On goal-to-go rushes, their opponents have run for minus 16 yards and have scored a touchdown on two of 24 carries (8%). That is on pace to be the second-best percentage in the last 10 seasons, behind Notre Dame in 2012.

If there is one area in which Alabama has not been as strong on defense this season, it is against the pass, especially the last few games. The Crimson Tide are allowing 223.7 passing yards per game, on pace to be their most since they allowed 227.8 in 2003. Big plays have been a big issue. Opponents have 39 completions of 20 yards or more, the most Alabama has allowed in at least the last 10 seasons.

Downfield passes have been the main culprit of late. On passes thrown 25 yards or longer downfield, the Crimson Tide have allowed an SEC-high 16 completions. In their last three games, opponents were 12-of-21 on such throws, compared with 4-of-30 to start the season.

Special teams
Even though Alabama has 2014 first-team all-SEC punter JK Scott and 2013 SEC special teams player of the year Christion Jones on its roster, the Crimson Tide have been below average on special teams this season, ranking 101st in efficiency. How has special teams play affected Alabama this season? Look no further than its 23-17 loss to Ole Miss. In that game, Jones had a fumble in the fourth quarter on a kickoff, which set up the game-winning score, and kicker Adam Griffith missed 46-yard and 51-yard attempts. This season, Alabama has made 64 percent of its field goal tries this season, 93rd in the FBS. Dating to the start of the 2011 season, Alabama has lost five games. In those five games, its kickers are 5-of-16 on field goals, including 2-of-11 from 40 yards or longer.

Combining offense, defense and special teams efficiency, Alabama ranks second behind Oregon in overall efficiency. There are holes, as noted above, that Ohio State can exploit. The Buckeyes, with Cardale Jones at quarterback, scored three touchdowns on passes thrown 25 yards or longer in the Big Ten Championship Game, their most in a game this season. On special teams, they rank second in average starting field position and lead the nation in opponents’ average starting field position. If Ohio State can continue to play well in these areas during the Sugar Bowl, it may well be the difference in the Buckeyes pulling off the upset of No. 1 Alabama.

Top stats to know: Saturday's late games

December, 7, 2014
The three teams playing late Saturday night with hope of making the College Football Playoff didn’t make the selection committee’s job any easier. No. 4 Florida State won the ACC Championship Game, No. 5 Ohio State rolled to victory in the Big Ten Championship Game, and No. 6 Baylor held off No. 9 Kansas State in a Big 12 game. Here are the top stats to know from each game.

Florida State outlasts Georgia TechNo. 11 Georgia Tech became the first team this season to score a touchdown on its first three possessions against Florida State. With their triple-option offense, the Yellow Jackets appeared capable of wearing down the Seminoles after crafting three scoring drives of 10 or more plays. Florida State had allowed five such drives entering the game.

A key for Georgia Tech was rushing outside the tackles. Through three quarters, the Yellow Jackets averaged 7.97 yards a carry outside the tackles and gashed the Seminoles for 239 yards and three touchdowns on 30 rushes. In the fourth quarter, though, Georgia Tech had three rushes outside the tackles for five yards. Overall, Georgia Tech had 54 rushes for 322 yards through three quarters and five rushes for nine yards in the fourth.

Florida State, conversely, did its damage inside the tackles. Dalvin Cook, who set career highs in carries (31) and rushing yards (177) for the second week in a row, got 149 of his rush yards inside the tackles. The Seminoles averaged 49.8 yards per game inside the tackles coming into the game -- third worst among Power 5 teams.

As usual, Jameis Winston predominantly targeted Rashad Greene and Nick O’Leary. Those two combined to catch all three of the sophomore quarterback’s touchdown passes. Winston averaged 14.7 yards per attempt when targeting them and 5.9 yards when targeting anyone else. He had his first game without an interception since Oct. 11 at Syracuse.

Greene finished the game with seven receptions for 123 yards. With 3,771 career receiving yards, he broke the ACC record of Duke’s Conner Vernon (3,749, 2009-12).

Ohio State dominates Wisconsin
The Buckeyes' shutout victory over Wisconsin was not only the biggest shutout in a Power 5 conference championship game but also the only shutout in such a contest.

Cardale Jones, Ohio State’s third-string quarterback, did a first-rate job in leading the Buckeyes to a dominant win over Wisconsin. On throws of 10 or more yards, Jones completed five of seven passes for 167 yards and three touchdowns. His counterpart, Joel Stave, was 3-of-14 with two interceptions on passes of 10 or more yards.

Wisconsin’s Melvin Gordon gained 76 yards on 26 rushes. His longest rush was 13 yards; for the first time this season, he didn’t have a rush of at least 20 yards. Gordon raised his season total to 2,336 rushing yards, but he remained fourth on the single-season rushing list. He is six yards behind USC’s Marcus Allen, who gained 2,342 yards in 1981.

Gordon had his record for rushing yards in a Big Ten Championship game broken by Ezekiel Elliott, who rushed for 220 yards. Gordon rushed for 216 in 2012.

Baylor takes care of businessThe Bears seemed to have an answer for Kansas State quarterback Jake Waters. On designed runs inside the tackles, Baylor held Waters to 1.5 yards per rush, compared with his 6.2-yard average entering the game. Waters threw an interception in the fourth quarter, which effectively ended the Wildcats’ hopes. It was his third interception in his past four games, after he threw three in the Wildcats’ first eight games.

The Wildcats’ Tyler Lockett caught his 27th career touchdown pass and broke the school record held by his father, Kevin.

Baylor's Bryce Petty excelled when given time Saturday and completed a season-high 31 passes when not under duress. He completed 91.2 percent of his passes for 376 yards when not under duress.

The loss continued Kansas State coach Bill Snyder’s winless run against teams in the top 10 of The Associated Press poll. Snyder is 0-11 against AP Top 10 teams.

Michigan State offense doing its share

November, 5, 2014

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

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

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 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

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

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

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
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
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.