Stats & Info: South Carolina Gamecocks

College football: Midyear disappointments

October, 21, 2014

Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images
Stanford leads a trio of disappointing teams heading into the second half of the season.
The Stanford Cardinal and South Carolina Gamecocks have fallen out of the AP Poll after starting the season in the top 15. The Michigan Wolverines did not start the season in the AP Poll, but they are 1-4 against Power Five opponents and are 17 point underdogs against instate rivals, the Michigan State Spartans.

Why I have these teams not lived up to expectations?

Stanford: running game/protecting QB

Stanford is allowing the second-fewest points per game (12.3) in the FBS this season. Yet, it has lost three games, tied for its most in four seasons under David Shaw.

One reason has been the running game. The Cardinal rank 92nd in the FBS in rushing yards per game and have not rushed for 200 or more yards in a game this season. Last season, they had six such games. Their efficiency on running plays (-2.5), which measures how many net points per game their running game contributes to their final scoring margin, ranks 109th in the FBS. They were 31st last season.

Stanford has struggled protecting Kevin Hogan. He has been sacked 14 times in seven games, matching his total from 14 games last season. All but three of the sacks have come when opponents have sent five or more pass rushers on a play. That is one more sack against the blitz than Hogan suffered in his first two seasons combined.

Michigan: offense

Michigan has been solid on defense. It ranks 14th in the FBS in yards per play and fifth in yards per rush. Yet, in five games against other Power Five teams, Michigan has been outscored by an average of 12 points per game.

The offense has been the main reason. According to ESPN’s efficiency rankings, the Wolverines offense has contributed -2.7 points per game toward their scoring margin, 92nd-best in the FBS.

Turnovers have been the main culprit. Michigan has 16 turnovers, tied for fourth-most in the FBS. The Wolverines have allowed at least three points off turnovers in every game and only Illinois (7.9) has allowed more per game (7.3) in the Big Ten.

Another issue has been production in the passing game. Michigan has thrown the most interceptions in the Big Ten and has the second-fewest touchdown passes. Three of its six passing touchdowns came in the season-opener against Appalachian State. The Wolverines rank 112th in the FBS in efficiency on passing plays. Meaning, given the same circumstances (down, distance, yard line) that Michigan passed on, the average FBS team would have scored about five more points per game than Michigan scored on its passes this season.

South Carolina: defense

Entering the season, ESPN’s Football Power Index projected that South Carolina had the best chance to win the SEC East and the second-best chance to win the SEC. These projections were partly based on a defense that was historically efficient and had recruited to replace stars such as Jadeveon Clowney and Kelcy Quarles.

Replacing those players, however, has not come easy. South Carolina ranks last in the SEC in defensive efficiency, which measures the points a defense contributes to the team’s scoring margin and adjusts for the offenses faced.

South Carolina has struggled getting pressure on opposing quarterbacks. The Gamecocks have recorded a sack on 3.3 percent of their opponents’ passing plays, almost two percentage points lower than any other SEC team. They are on pace to record their fewest sacks in a season since 2004, when they recorded 12 sacks in 11 games.

Big plays have also been an issue for South Carolina. The Gamecocks have allowed the most plays of 20 yards or longer (37) in the SEC and are the only team in the conference that has allowed 20 such passes and 10 such runs.

Gurley, South Carolina on collision course

September, 11, 2014

Dale Zanine/USA Today SportsTodd Gurley rolled over Clemson, but South Carolina’s defense has kept him bottled up
Todd Gurley made an early statement in Week One, setting a Georgia record with 293 all-purpose yards against Clemson. This week, however, he returns to the site of the worst game of his career, Williams-Brice Stadium in Columbia, South Carolina.

Two years ago, Gurley had career lows in rushing yards (39) and yards per carry (3.0) as Georgia lost 35-7. In two games against the Gamecocks, Gurley has averaged 4.0 yards per carry, his worst against any opponent.

This South Carolina defense isn’t the same, however. It ranks last in the SEC in points per game, yards per game and yards per play.

Below is a breakdown of how South Carolina has slowed Gurley and why the Gamecocks might not be able to replicate that success in Saturday’s matchup.

How South Carolina has stopped Gurley
One of Gurley’s strengths is his ability to run between the tackles.

In Week One against Clemson, Gurley ran for a career-high 131 yards between the tackles on nine carries.

South Carolina has been better against Gurley than its Palmetto State rival.

Last season, it limited Gurley to 2.4 yards per carry between the tackles. The Gamecocks have held him to 1.4 yards after contact per rush, his lowest average against any opponent.

Although 6.4 percent of Gurley’s career rushes have been for at least 20 yards, Gurley has not run for more than 19 yards on one carry against South Carolina.

Why Saturday might be different
But South Carolina hasn’t shown it can stop a running game.

Opposing runners average 4.0 yards before contact per rush, the most against any Power Five team this season.

On runs between the tackles, South Carolina allows 4.8 yards before contact per carry – a yard worse than any other SEC team.

There have been two causes to the issues: a lack of experience up front and respect for opponents’ passing games.

First, the losses of stars Jadeveon Clowney, Kelcy Quarles and Chaz Sutton have led to a less experienced front. The Gamecocks have missed 24 tackles this season, most among Power Five teams.

Second, the combination of personnel losses in the secondary and prolific passing opponents has prompted South Carolina to take defenders out of the box.

The Gamecocks averaged at least 6.8 defenders in the box each year from 2011 to 2013. This year, having faced the pass-heavy offenses of Texas A&M and East Carolina, they average 6.1 defenders in the box, second-fewest in the SEC.

South Carolina has keyed on Gurley, who has faced an average of 7.0 defenders in the box in their two meetings. If the Gamecocks are to avoid falling to 0-2 in the SEC, they will probably need to key in on Gurley again and not let him get to the second level unimpeded.

Clowney brings a prolific pass rush

April, 1, 2014

Photo illustration by Trevor EbaughTeams actually had more success running at Jadeveon Clowney than running away from him.
South Carolina's pro day is Wednesday, which means that the top defensive prospect in this year’s NFL Draft will have a chance to show what he can do best.

Gamecocks defensive end Jadeveon Clowney ranks third in South Carolina history with 24 career sacks and second with 47 tackles for loss. He holds the school record with nine forced fumbles.

Clowney played in 11 of South Carolina’s 13 games this past season, lining up mostly as right defensive end. When lining up as the right defensive end, opponents ran to his side on 28 percent of their rushing plays. However, teams were successful when running toward him because of the double teams often thrown Clowney's way in those situations, as noted in the chart on the right.

Although Clowney’s sack total decreased by 10, he had 14 hurries last season, second among SEC defenders and tied for 11th among defenders from automatic-qualifying conferences.

Biggest strength: Speed
The 266-pound Clowney ran a 4.53 40-yard dash at the NFL Combine. Clowney’s time is the fastest at the NFL Combine by any player measured at least 260 pounds since 2006.

Clowney’s 4.53 40-yard dash at the NFL Combine was the fifth fastest of any defensive lineman since 2006 and 0.08 seconds faster than an average running back’s 40-time.

Among quarterbacks who have entered the league since 2006, Robert Griffin III was the only NFL starter in the 2013 season who ran a faster time in the 40-yard dash than Clowney at the NFL Combine. Colin Kaepernick matched Clowney's time.

Draft Outlook
Each of the past six SEC Defensive Player of the Year winners before Clowney (and co-winner, Michael Sam) has been selected in the top-11 in the NFL Draft.

South Carolina’s only player drafted No. 1 overall was George Rogers in 1981 by the New Orleans Saints. The school's most successful defensive alumnus is John Abraham, who has made five Pro Bowls in 14 seasons. His 133.5 sacks rank ninth all-time.

Abraham was selected 13th overall by the New York Jets in 2000.

The bowl winners will be ...

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

November, 29, 2013

AP Photo/Jeff RobersonMissouri leads the conference in sacks (35) and total pressures (109) this season.

The Missouri Tigers are just one win away from clinching the SEC East title. First, it must conquer reigning Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel and the Texas A&M Aggies (Saturday, 7:45 ET on ESPN). Manziel has been as productive as ever this season, leading all BCS-automatic-qualifying (AQ) quarterbacks in total offense (382 yards per game) and touchdowns responsible for (40).

Before last week’s loss to LSU, Texas A&M had scored 40 or more points in 13 consecutive games, tied for the longest streak in major college football history. However, Missouri has not allowed more than 28 points in a game all season.

In order to slow down Manziel and win the division, Missouri’s defense will need to rely on arguably its two biggest strengths: its pass rush and its ability to defend in goal-to-go situations.

Manziel vs Missouri’s Pass Rush
Missouri has been the best pass-rushing team in the SEC, leading the conference in sacks (35) and total pressures (109). That pressure is a large reason why it has forced an SEC-high 16 interceptions.

The Tigers have allowed just one touchdown pass all season when pressuring the opposing quarterback, though it came at a costly time, by South Carolina’s Connor Shaw during the Gamecocks’ fourth-quarter comeback that eventually led to Missouri’s only loss.

When Manziel has been forced to throw under pressure, he has been ineffective, completing 44 percent of his passes. In the Aggies’ last two losses, Manziel threw two interceptions, was sacked five times and completed 36 percent of his passes while under pressure.

Missouri’s pass rush is largely generated by three- and four-man rushes. Its 30 sacks when sending four or fewer pass rushers leads all AQ schools.

However, Manziel has been elite at torching such rushes. When the opponent sends four-or-fewer rushers, he has thrown for 21 touchdowns on 10.0 yards per attempt and has scrambled for an AQ-high 417 yards on 7.3 yards per scramble.

Overall, he leads all AQ quarterbacks with 530 scramble yards.

Missouri has been effective at containing quarterback scrambles lately, allowing a total of 27 scramble yards in the last five games combined.

Missouri’s Defense in Goal-to-Go Situations
Another area where Missouri’s defense has been elite is in goal-to-go situations. Missouri allows touchdowns on 48 percent of goal-to-go attempts, best among AQ teams. Opposing quarterbacks have just a 21 QBR in those situations.

Manziel has been mistake-prone in goal-to-go situations with four interceptions. No other FBS player has thrown for more than two. His 28 QBR in those situations ranks 110th out of 127 qualified quarterbacks.

The Tigers goal-to-go run defense has also been strong, allowing 0.4 yards per carry in the red zone, fewest in the SEC. However, four of the seven rushing touchdowns Missouri has allowed have come from quarterbacks. Manziel leads all SEC quarterbacks with six rushing touchdowns in goal-to-go situations.

If Manziel can be efficient close to the goal line, Missouri may be in trouble. The only quarterback responsible for multiple goal-to-go touchdowns against Missouri this season was Shaw in the Tigers’ only loss.

Winston’s big first quarter leads Seminoles

October, 27, 2013
Below are some storylines from Week 9 of the college football season using ESPN’s new set of analytical storytelling metrics for college football.

There are items that include college QBR, team offense/defense/special teams efficiency ratings (also known as expected points added), and win probability.

For more background on these metrics, read Dean Oliver’s primer on all of them and his explanation of college Total QBR. For complete college Total QBR information, go here.

Oregon rides defense to victory
Oregon outscored UCLA 28-0 in the second half to win its eighth straight game of the season. Its 28 points were split between the offense and defense.

Defensively, Oregon held UCLA to 94 yards in the second half, including 21 pass yards on 10 attempts. The Ducks added 13.6 expected points in the second half, matching their per-game total entering the game, which ranked third in the FBS.

Alabama putting teams away by halftime
In the six games since Alabama allowed 42 points to Texas A&M, its most under Nick Saban, the Tide have five more touchdowns (31) than their opponents have points (26).

In those games, the Tide have outscored their opponents 151-0 in the first half and have had an average win probability of 95 percent at halftime.

Miami comes back on heels of its running game, again
Miami entered the fourth quarter trailing in each of its past two games. The Hurricanes had less than a 25 percent chance of winning in the fourth quarter in each of those games.

Miami came back to win in those games largely because it got its run game going. Against UNC, Dallas Crawford rushed for 69 yards in the fourth quarter, including a 3-yard game-winning touchdown with 16 seconds remaining. Similarly, Duke Johnson ran for 85 yards in the fourth quarter against Wake Forest, including a 1-yard game-winning touchdown with 53 seconds remaining.

In the fourth quarter of those games, the Hurricanes added 6.21 expected points per game on the ground. That means if Miami had had an average rush offense in the fourth quarter (EPA of 0), and all other things remained the same, it would have lost each of its last two games by about three points.

Winston impresses in the first quarter
Jameis Winston threw for 229 yards and three touchdowns in the first quarter against NC State, the most pass yards in the first quarter by a quarterback this season.

Winston had a 99.4 Total QBR after one quarter, and his QBR did not fall below 96.

Winston now has a Total QBR of 89 or higher in each of his past four games. During that time, he has the highest Total QBR in the nation.

South Carolina’s comeback
South Carolina’s win probability fell to below three percent in the middle of the third quarter before the Gamecocks scored 17 straight points to send the game to overtime.

Murray gets elusive win vs. South Carolina

September, 7, 2013
Scott Cunningham/Getty ImagesGeorgia QB Aaron Murray (right) defeated South Carolina for the first time in four tries Saturday.
After losing his first three games against South Carolina, Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray finally got that elusive win against the Gamecocks on Saturday.

Murray completed 17 of 23 attempts for 309 yards and four touchdowns in Georgia's 41-30 win, just one week after failing to throw for a score in Georgia’s loss to Clemson.

One of the major differences for Murray on Saturday compared to his prior three meetings against the Gamecocks was his efficiency on third down. Murray went 6-for-7 on third down pass attempts Saturday, including two touchdowns.

He averaged nearly 20 yards per attempt on third downs Saturday, 11 yards more than his career average entering the game.

The win against 6th-ranked South Carolina was Murray's second against a top-10 team. Entering the day, he was 1-6 career in games against top-10 teams with eight touchdowns to nine interceptions in those games.

Murray now has 99 career passing touchdowns, leaving him 15 shy of the SEC career record held by Florida’s Danny Wuerffel.

While Murray led the Bulldogs’ passing attack, Todd Gurley led the way on the ground for Georgia.

Gurley carried the ball 30 times for 134 yards and a touchdown. It was his 10th game with at least 100 rush yards and a rushing touchdown since the start of last season, and his second of the 2013 campaign.

Much of Gurley's attack came outside the tackles: he had 10 rushes for 68 yards outside the tackles against South Carolina, two more yards than he had rushing inside the tackles -- and on 10 fewer carries.

It was markedly different than last week, when only one of Gurley’s 12 carries went outside the tackles.

On the other sideline, South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney recorded his first sack of the season in the loss.

Clowney's sack, the 22nd of his career, jumped him up a spot over Melvin Ingram for fourth on the school's career list. He's seven sacks shy of tying the school record, set by Eric Norwood (2006-09).

The loss was just South Carolina’s second (13-2) to an SEC East team since 2010, with the other coming to Florida last season.

Murray vs Clowney: A closer look

September, 6, 2013

Tyler Smith/Getty ImagesAaron Murray had a rough go of it on Saturday.
One of the nation’s most explosive offenses will face one of the best defenses when Georgia hosts South Carolina this Saturday (4:30 ET on ESPN). The winner will have the inside track to winning the SEC East and a possible BCS bowl berth.

Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray may be a Heisman contender but he has struggled in his career vs the Gamecocks. He is winless in three starts and his QBR of 44.8 against them is his worst vs any SEC East opponent.

Last season in Williams-Brice Stadium, Murray arguably had the worst game of his career, setting career lows in pass yards (109), completion percentage (36.0), and total QBR (8.4) in a 35-7 loss.

Murray also hopes to do something he’s rarely done in his career: beat a highly ranked team. He is just 1-8 in his career against top-15 teams after losing last week at Clemson.

However, Murray was successful stretching the field against the Tigers. He averaged 11.1 yards per attempt, including three passes that traveled more than 15 yards in the air.

South Carolina’s defense will need to prevent Murray from completing those long passes if they want to contain the Georgia offense.

Last week North Carolina quarterback Bryn Renner attempted seven passes of that distance and all seven fell incomplete. Renner was held to just 4.5 yards per pass attempt, the second-worst mark in his career.

The threat of South Carolina’s star pass rusher Jadeveon Clowney likely had an impact on Renner’s performance.

Despite not recording a sack, Clowney led the Gamecocks with three pressures and made a difference with his mere presence (as shown in the chart to the right).

Clowney has a history with Murray too, with three career sacks of him, including a 25-yard sack-fumble in 2011 that resulted in a South Carolina touchdown.

Murray will also be without his top wideout after Malcolm Mitchell suffered a torn ACL against Clemson. Since 2011, Murray has 96.9 Total QBR when targeting Mitchell, the highest among wide receivers on this year’s roster in that span (min. 10 completions).

If Murray is held in check, Georgia will have to rely on its dynamic running game. The Bulldogs ran for 222 yards last week against Clemson, with much of the damage done inside the tackles by Todd Gurley.

Gurley totaled 142 of his 154 rushing yards between the tackles, including three carries of 20 yards or more. Over the last two seasons Gurley has 18 rushes of at least 20 yards. Arizona’s Ka’Deem Carey is the only active running back with more.

As explosive as Gurley and the Georgia running game is, South Carolina’s defense is just as good at preventing long runs. Last season, the Gamecocks allowed six runs of 20 yards, the second-fewest in FBS, and held SEC opponents to the third-fewest yards per rush among conference teams.

That’s bad news for a Georgia team that is just 2-8 in the Murray era when rushing for 115 or fewer yards, including 0-2 against South Carolina.

How do SEC QBs rate via QBR?

August, 19, 2013
The SEC opens the 2013 season with six teams ranked in the top 12 of the preseason AP Poll. Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina, Texas A&M, Florida and LSU all have legitimate chances to win an eighth straight BCS National Championship for the SEC.

As recent history suggests, quarterback play is essential to winning the title. Four of the last five quarterbacks to lead their team to a BCS National Championship have ranked in the top eight in Total QBR.

Heading into the 2013 season, what are the strengths and weaknesses of the starting quarterbacks of these six ranked teams from the perspective of ESPN’s new Total QBR metric?

1. Johnny Manziel, Texas A&M (90.5 Total QBR – 1st in FBS out of 122 qualified QBs)

Manziel converted a first down on 51.9 percent of his third-down pass attempts last season, best in FBS. He also ran for 28 first downs on third down, including 22 first downs on broken plays. As a result, Manziel led the nation in unadjusted Total QBR on third down (98.6).

In order to repeat his success, Manziel must improve his second-half performance. His unadjusted Total QBR in the first half of games was almost 20 points higher than his unadjusted Total QBR in the second half of games. In Texas A&M’s two losses against LSU and Florida, Manziel had a second-half unadjusted Total QBR of 9.7 and 9.3, respectively.

2. AJ McCarron, Alabama (81.5 Total QBR - 5th in FBS)

McCarron posted an above average QBR (above 50) in all 14 of his games last season. McCarron’s worst game was a 53.1 Total QBR against Georgia in the SEC Championship. Every qualified quarterback had at least one worse game (in terms of QBR) during the season. McCarron threw just three interceptions in 314 attempts, resulting in an FBS-leading 10-1 touchdown-to-interception ratio.

Yet two of McCarron’s interceptions occurred inside of his opponents’ five yard line when the score was within seven points. Each of those interceptions decreased Alabama’s win probability by more than 10 percentage points.

3. Aaron Murray, Georgia (78.2 Total QBR – 13th in FBS)

Georgia gained a first down on 40.4 percent of Murray’s pass attempts last season, which ranked third in FBS. Murray led the nation in yards per attempt (10.1) and percentage of pass attempts that gained at least 20 yards (16.1 percent). His Total QBR rank jumped from 21st in his sophomore season to 13th in his junior season.

The biggest question surrounding Murray is his ability to win games against top-ranked competition. In his career, Murray has faced 14 teams that finished the season ranked in the top 25 of the AP Poll. Georgia is 3-11 in those games and Murray had a Total QBR below 60 in seven of those games.

In comparison, Georgia is 25-2 against all other opponents and Murray had a Total QBR below 60 in four of those 27 games.

It is important to note that Total QBR accounts for the strength of the defenses that Murray is facing.

4. Connor Shaw, South Carolina (68.2 Total QBR – 34th in FBS)

South Carolina gained a first down on 39.5 percent of Shaw’s pass attempts last season, which ranked seventh in FBS. In addition to precise passing, Shaw scrambled for 225 yards and 13 first downs when the play broke down.

Shaw must improve his downfield accuracy. Six of his seven interceptions last season came on passes of 20 yards or longer downfield. Additionally, he must improve on the road; Shaw’s had an unadjusted Total QBR of 42.8 in five road or neutral site games compared to an unadjusted Total QBR of 77.7 in six home games last season.

5. Jeff Driskel, Florida (60.4 Total QBR – 46th in FBS)

Driskel gained 470 yards and averaged nine yards per rush on designed running plays. As a result, he added the 16th-most clutch weighted expected points on rushing plays in FBS last season.

However, Driskel was sacked 36 times on just 310 dropbacks (11.6 percent). He lost the second-most clutch weighted expected points as a result of sacks, behind only NC State’s Mike Glennon.

6. Zach Mettenberger, LSU (47.1 Total QBR – 79th in FBS)

Mettenberger’s best game of the season came in LSU’s 21-17 loss to Alabama. He posted a 95.5 Total QBR in that game, which was the second-highest Total QBR allowed by Alabama in the Nick Saban Era (Stephen Garcia 97.3 Total QBR in 2010).

Yet, Mettenberger struggled against the rest of the SEC, completing 52 percent of his passes with as many touchdowns as interception (4) in his seven other conference games. He had a below average (below 50) Total QBR in five of those seven games.

Total QBR measures all quarterback contributions to scoring accounting for game context and adjusted for opponent strength. It is based on a 0-100 scale, and 50 is average. For more information, see the description of the NFL version, which has the same principles as the college version, here

Clowney will try to buck DL Heisman trend

July, 16, 2013
Kim Klement/USA Today SportsIs there a Heisman in this man's future?

South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney is being talked about as a Heisman Trophy contender in 2013 after a sixth-place finish in last year's voting, but the history of defensive linemen in the Heisman voting has not been good.

In the last 25 seasons, 31 players have had multiple top 10 finishes in the Heisman vote. None of them have played defense.

In that time, only 29 non-skill position players have appeared in any form, with six getting an invite to New York and only two finishing in the top-3.

It seems all but certain that Clowney will be the first defensive player to finish in the top 10 of Heisman balloting in back-to-back years since Ohio State linebacker Chris Spielman did so in 1986 and 1987.

Clowney will have to improve his already impressive numbers to differentiate himself from past defensive linemen who have fallen short.

Ndamukong Suh in 2009 was the last defensive lineman invited to New York, with momentum from a 4.5-sack performance in the Big 12 Championship Game carrying him. His numbers in 14 games were nearly identical to what Clowney did in 12 games last season (13 sacks, 23.5 tackles for loss).

Great stats are no guarantee.

Western Michigan’s Jason Babin set the FBS record with 32.0 tackles for loss in 2003, and Arizona State’s Terrell Suggs set the sacks record with 24.0 in 2002, yet neither player ended up in the Heisman Top 10.

What each of the Heisman-top 10 defensive linemen had in common was a steady improvement as they got older and Clowney saw the same improvement in his two seasons.

Clowney made a big jump from 12 tackles for loss as a freshman to 23.5 as a sophomore, and from eight sacks to 13.

If he can add to his numbers with the same big jump this season, he would finish with 18.0 sacks and an FBS record 34.0 tackles for loss. Another six forced fumbles would give Clowney 14 for his career, which would tie the FBS record.

With a competitive team behind him and more highlight-reel plays in line with the Vincent Smith hit, Clowney could be headed to New York with a chance to win.

Pac-12 rises to 2nd despite Oregon loss

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tide roll closer to BCS title game

November, 4, 2012
John David Mercer/US Presswire
Nick Saban and Alabama are well on their way to playing for another BCS Championship.
With it’s comeback win Saturday in Baton Rouge, Alabama moved one step closer to raising the crystal football for the second straight season.

Let’s take a look at five statistical nuggets from this week’s BCS Standings release:

1-- Alabama is atop the BCS Standings for the fourth straight week and the 10th time in school history. That ties the Crimson Tide with LSU for the fourth-most weeks at No. 1 in the BCS.

2-- With Boise State dropping out of the BCS Top 25 for the first time since 2007, Alabama also takes over the title of the longest active streak in the BCS rankings.

The Crimson Tide has appeared in 36 straight BCS releases. Oregon (32), LSU (28) and Stanford (22) are the other three schools that have streaks dating back to 2009 or earlier.

3-- With Oregon passing Notre Dame to take over the No. 3 spot in the BCS, this marks the third straight week that a team ranked in the Top-3 in the BCS standings has fallen after winning their game.

It’s the first time in BCS history that this has happened three times in the same year. In the first 14 years after the BCS was introduced in 1998, a Top-3 team dropped after winning a total of 16 times and never more than twice in the same season.

4-- No. 8 South Carolina has been in the BCS Top-10 in four of the last five releases dating to last season. Before finishing the 2011 season at No. 9, the Gamecocks had only been in the Top-10 twice in 14 years.

Such a high ranking hasn’t been a sign of future success for the Gamecocks. South Carolina is 1-3 when playing as a BCS Top-10 team, with the only win coming against Nebraska in the Capital One Bowl last season.

5-- Four new teams moved into the BCS standings, led by UCLA, which entered the rankings at No. 18 after beating previously-ranked Arizona 66-10. This is the first time the Bruins have been in the BCS Top 25 since the end of the 2006 season.

Better yet for UCLA fans – the Bruins rank ahead of cross-town rival USC for the first time since 2001. The Trojans fell from No. 17 to No. 19 after losing to Oregon.

Minimal precedent for Alabama win vs LSU

November, 2, 2012
History shows that the No. 1 Alabama Crimson Tide, who are coming off a home win against a Top-20 opponent Mississippi State, have a tough test Saturday against another highly-ranked opponent in the fifth-ranked LSU Tigers at Tiger Stadium.

The AP No. 1 team has faced a Top-20 opponent on the road the week after a home win against another Top-20 opponent nine previous times. The AP No. 1 team is just 2-7 in those games, including the Crimson Tide, who lost in that situation at South Carolina two years ago.

Some of these games are defining moments in the history of at least one of the schools involved.

Here’s a summary of each game since 2000 that fits the same description as Alabama’s game at LSU this Saturday.

2010: 19 South Carolina def. 1 Alabama, 35-21
The Gamecocks came out firing, opening up a 21-3 lead that couldn’t be overcome en route to a 35-21 victory behind three touchdown passes from Stephen Garcia and three scores from freshman running back Marcus Lattimore.

The defense limited future NFL first-rounders Mark Ingram and Trent Richardson to just 64 yards on the ground, allowing South Carolina to earn the school’s first victory vs a No. 1-ranked opponent.

2008: 6 Texas Tech def. 1 Texas, 39-33
Texas was a play away from winning before Texas Tech QB Graham Harrell found Michael Crabtree on the sideline for the dramatic game-winning touchdown with one second left.

That loss would be the Longhorns’ only defeat of the season, but was enough to leave them (controversially) out of the BCS national title game that year.

2007: 17 Kentucky def. 1 LSU, 43-37 (3 OT)
The Wildcats, who hadn’t beaten a top-ranked opponent since taking down Ole Miss in 1964, rallied from a 13-point third-quarter deficit to force overtime.

In the third extra period, Kentucky quarterback Andre Woodson found Steve Johnson for a 7-yard touchdown pass, and LSU was unable to pick up a first down on its possession, setting off a wild celebration at Commonwealth Stadium.

Though it seemed like the loss dashed the Tigers’ national title hopes, they actually went on to lose another triple-overtime game later that season (50-48 to Arkansas), but still would end up playing for and winning the national title that season.

2001: 1 Miami (FL) def. 14 Virginia Tech, 26-24
The Hurricanes appeared to have the game under control after taking a 16-point lead in the fourth quarter, but Virginia Tech rallied for two touchdowns, including one off a blocked punt.

A failed two-point conversion by the Hokies and a late interception by Ed Reed (his second of the day) helped the Hurricanes ward off the comeback, giving them a two-point win that was their only single-digit margin of the season. Miami went on to crush Nebraska in the Rose Bowl and win the national title.

Zone reads key to Driskel's rushing record

October, 16, 2012

AP Photo/Wade PayneJeff Driskel set the Florida rushing record for a quarterback with 177 yards vs Vanderbilt.
The Florida Gators improved to 6-0 for the first time since 2009 with a 31-17 win over Vanderbilt on Saturday. They are one win shy of their total from all of 2011.

After spotting the Commodores an early seven-point lead, Florida scored 21 unanswered points to take control of the game. The Gator’s offensive surge was led by quarterback Jeff Driskel, who set the Florida record for rushing yards by a quarterback with 177, topping the 166-yard effort from Tim Tebow against Mississippi in 2007.

Driskel gained 150 of his 177 rushing yards on six zone read runs, including his 70-yard touchdown run to ice the game with 2:20 left in the fourth quarter.

On the season, Driskel is averaging 16.9 yards per rush on 15 zone read rushes. Over half of these runs have gained at least 10 yards.

Despite passing for just 77 yards on 20 attempts, Driskel accounted for a career-best 63 percent of Florida’s total offense against Vanderbilt.

Vanderbilt tried to stack the box against the Gators, putting seven or more defenders in the box on more than half of Driskel’s and Mike Gillislee’s 28 rush attempts. Against the added defenders, the duo still averaged 8.8 yards per rush.

Against seven or more defenders in the box in conference play this season, Driskel and Gillislee are averaging a combined 6.2 yards per rush, and have been hit at or behind the line of scrimmage on just 31 percent of their designed rush attempts.

Florida hosts South Carolina on Saturday and ESPN’s College Gameday will be there. This is the first top-10 matchup between these two teams in 33 all-time meetings. The Gamecocks have beaten Florida the last two meetings but have never defeated the Gators three straight times.

Look for South Carolina to continue to stack the box against Florida. Florida runs on 69.9 percent of its plays, the highest percentage in the SEC. Against Georgia in Week 6, South Carolina had seven or more defenders in the box on 75 percent of the Bulldogs’ rush attempts.

South Carolina must limit Driskel’s big rushes and force him to pass. Driskel is averaging 14.7 yards per carry on designed running plays and 8.8 yards per rush on scrambles. He has at least one rush that has gained 20 yards or more in five of six games this season.

Saturday’s showdown for the top spot in the SEC East will be won or lost in the trenches. South Carolina has one of the top rushing defenses in the country, but has yet to face a dynamic duo like Gillislee and Driskel this season.

Notre Dame defense reminiscent of Tide's

October, 11, 2012
Notre Dame has allowed six or fewer points in each of its last three games. No FBS team has had a four-game streak since Alabama in 1993. That Tide team held Vanderbilt, Arkansas, Louisiana Tech and South Carolina to six or fewer points early in that season. The streak was broken with a 17-17 tie against Tennessee.

Oklahoma State Goes for 30
Oklahoma State has scored at least 30 points in 22 consecutive games. If the Cowboys can reach the 30-point mark against Kansas this week, they will own the all-time record for consecutive 30-point games.

They currently co-own the mark with Hawaii, who had a 22-game stretch from 2006-07. In fact, two of the four longest all-time streaks are current. Oregon has scored at least 30 points in 19 straight games (tied with 1971-72 Arizona State for third most).

Vanderbilt Struggling Against Top Competition
Vanderbilt is facing its second AP top-five team of the season. The Commodores lost 48-3 earlier this season to fifth-ranked Georgia. It's not a situation where Vandy feels very comfortable. Overall, the Commodores are 0-46 on the field against AP top-five teams (was awarded a win against Alabama in 1993 due to forfeit).

To make things worse, 38 of those losses were by double digits and only four times did they score at least 20 points. Eight of the 46 losses have come against this week’s opponent Florida.

Duke Has Rare Bowling Opportunity
Duke can become bowl eligible this week with a win over Virginia Tech. The Blue Devils currently own the longest bowl drought among BCS-AQ teams, having not gone to the postseason since 1994. If Duke ends its drought, Washington State Cougars will now own the distinction, last appearing in a bowl in 2003.

But Duke will have to reverse some recent history to get there. The Blue Devils are just 4-72 since that last bowl appearance against the remaining six teams on their schedule this season (Virginia Tech, North Carolina, Florida State, Clemson, Georgia Tech, Miami) and hasn't beaten any of those teams since 2004.

Marcus Lattimore is a True Workhorse
In SEC games, Marcus Lattimore has run between the tackles on 76.3 percent of his carries. He has averaged 4.4 yards per carry on these runs with 48 percent of his yards coming after contact.

Lattimore gets even stronger in the fourth quarter, when he averages 5.5 yards per run inside the tackles with 3.3 yards coming after contact. He’ll face an LSU defense that allowed 52 yards on 12 carries in the fourth quarter to Florida’s Mike Gillislee last week, including 21 yards after contact.