Stats & Info: Stanford Cardinal

Top stats to know: Thursday's Sweet 16

March, 27, 2014
Mar 27
The Sweet 16 tips off today with four games. Here are some of the statistical storylines we’ll be following tonight.

(6) Baylor vs. (2) Wisconsin
Both teams can score a lot of points, so this game could come down to which team defends better.

Against elite offenses, Baylor appears to have the more efficient defense: Baylor has allowed 105.1 points per 100 possessions in four games against teams ranked in the top 25 in defensive efficiency; Wisconsin has allowed 109.7 points per 100 possessions in eight games against those same teams.

Matchup to watch: Baylor plays zone on 57 percent of its defensive plays. Wisconsin has the most efficient zone offense in the country, averaging 1.20 points per play.

(11) Dayton vs. (10) Stanford
Dayton-Stanford is the second 10 vs 11-seed matchup ever. The other was in 2011 when 11-seed VCU beat 10-seed Florida State, 72-71.

Both of these teams dominated defensively against their first two opponents, allowing fewer than 60 points in each game.

The Flyers defensive strength has been on the perimeter, holding their opponents to a tournament-best 15 percent shooting outside the paint. Stanford, on the other hand, has shut down its opponents inside. Kansas shot just 38 percent around the basket in the Cardinal's upset win.

With its dominant defense down low, the key to beating Stanford is by making outside shots. Stanford is 5-9 this season when its opponents shoot at least 36 percent on 3-pointers. The Cardinal are 17-3 when their opponents shoot less than 36 percent on 3-pointers.

Dayton is shooting 40.3 percent on 3-pointers in its last seven games.

(4) UCLA vs. (1) Florida
This should be a familiar matchup for fans of both teams. Florida is 3-0 all-time in tournament games against UCLA, with all three meetings occurring in the last eight seasons.

The matchup to watch in this game is UCLA’s transition offense vs Florida’s transition defense.

The Bruins score a Pac-12 best 19.7 points per game and shoot 57 percent in transition. Florida’s defense allows only 9.0 transition points per game, fewest in the SEC, and holds opponents to 43 percent shooting on the break.

(4) San Diego State vs. (1) Arizona
Three times a charm, right? This is the third time that Arizona is a 1-seed in a regional in Anaheim. The Wildcats won their Sweet 16 game here in 1998 and 2003, but lost in the Elite 8 both years.

The first to 50 points might win this game. San Diego State and Arizona rank first and third, respectively, in fewest points per 100 possessions allowed in the nation.

San Diego State excels with its press defense. The Aztecs have the fourth-most efficient press defense of any team that presses on at least 10 plays per game. Arizona ranks 29th in the country in points per play against press defense.

Arizona has been at its been defending the interior, holding its first two opponents to a tournament-best 32 percent shooting around the basket. San Diego State has attempted a total of just eight shots around the basket in its first two games, the second-fewest of any team.

Top 10 biggest upsets of this year's tourney

March, 24, 2014
Mar 24
March Madness certainly lived up to its name during this first weekend of the NCAA Tournament, with exciting finishes and surprising winners. We rank the 10 biggest upsets according BPI pre-game win probability, starting with number 10...

10. Harvard (41.0% chance to win) over Cincinnati
Harvard picked up an NCAA tournament win for the second straight season with its win over the fifth-seed Bearcats. The Crimson are the first Ivy League team to win an NCAA Tournament game in back-to-back seasons since Princeton in 1983-84.

9. Kentucky (40.5%) over Wichita State
Kentucky ended Wichita State’s perfect season, handing the Shockers their first loss in 36 games. Did you know: the previous two teams that were unbeaten entering NCAA Tournament were eliminated by the eventual national champion (1979 Indiana State by Michigan State; 1991 UNLV by Duke).

8. Baylor (34.6%) over Creighton
Baylor routed Creighton by 30 points, the third-largest margin of victory by a 6 seed in NCAA Tournament history. The Bluejays, who got just 15 points from Doug McDermott in his final collegiate game, fell to 0-8 all-time in Round of 32 games, the worst record by any team.

7. Connecticut (33.6%) over Villanova
Connecticut advanced to its first Sweet 16 since 2011, which is also the last time the Huskies won the National Championship. After early foul trouble, Shabazz Napier led the Huskies down the stretch, scoring 21 of his game-high 25 points in the second half.

6. Dayton (30.6%) over Ohio State
Dayton started the Madness with the upset win over Ohio State on Thursday afternoon, in a game that featured eight ties and 15 lead changes. The Flyers scored 20 transition points against an Ohio State team that had allowed a Big Ten-best 10.1 transition points per game this season.

5. North Dakota State (30.4%) over Oklahoma
North Dakota State earned its first-ever NCAA Tournament win, shooting 52.9 percent from the field. North Dakota State outscored Oklahoma by 22 points in the paint, including 6-0 in overtime.

4. Dayton (28.1%) over Syracuse
Dayton advanced to its first Sweet 16 since 1984 with an upset of the third-seeded Orange. Syracuse made 1 of 19 shots from outside the paint, while Dayton made nearly half its shots from outside the paint.

3. Stanford (24.8%) over Kansas
Stanford reached its first Sweet 16 since 2008, holding Kansas to just 28 percent shooting against its zone defense. The Jayhawks entered the game shooting a Big 12-best 47.8 percent against zone defenses.

2. Stephen F. Austin (21.7%) over VCU
Stephen F. Austin extended its win streak to 29 games in the win, notching its first-ever NCAA Tournament victory in its second appearance. The Lumberjacks turned the ball over just once in overtime against VCU’s “Havoc” defense.

1. Mercer (12.6%) over Duke
Mercer outscored Duke by 16 points in the paint, holding the Blue Devils to a season-low 10 paint points. Duke became the first team in NCAA Tournament history to have five losses to double-digit seeds as a top-3 seed.

Keys to victory: Stanford 60, Kansas 57

March, 23, 2014
Mar 23
Another basketball power with a star freshman was upset, with Kansas falling to Stanford in the Round of 32.

This was one of those games in which the pictures tell the story.
Wiggins couldn't close
Andrew Wiggins was basically a non factor in this game for Kansas, making only 1 of 6 shots from the field. He had averaged 28 points on 51 percent shooting in his previous four games.

Wiggins averaged 10 paint points in the six games in which Joel Embiid didn't play prior to Sunday, but did not have any points in the paint against Stanford.

Andrew Wiggins didn't get many chances to score on Sunday.

Andrew Wiggins' point total dropped in each game after his 41-point game agianst West Virginia.

The zone worked
Kansas shot 28 percent (8 for 29) when Stanford played zone, including 19 percent (3 for 16) in the first half. The Jayhawks entered the game shooting 48 percent against zone defenses, best in the Big 12 and 21st in the nation.

Wiggins and Perry Ellis were a combined 1 for 8 against the Cardinal’s zone.

Jayhawks couldn't score from inside
Kansas went 10 for 31 in the paint (32 percent). Entering the game, the Jayhawks were shooting 62 percent in the paint for the season.

Kansas averaged 13.7 dunks and layups per game entering the day. It had only six on Sunday.

57 points tie Kansas' fewest in a game this season (61-57 loss to San Diego State on Jan. 5).

Did You Know?
Stanford survived going 0 for 9 from 3-point range to pull out the win. They're only the second team to go 0 for 9 from 3 in an NCAA Tournament win, joining Connecticut, which did so in a win over Gonzaga in 1999. No team has fared worse and won an NCAA Tournament game.

Top stats to know for Sunday's games

March, 22, 2014
Mar 22
Sunday's NCAA Tournament slate features eight compelling Round of 32 games, and we've got you covered with a look at the key matchups in each contest.

Stanford is the third-most efficient team in the country on pick-and-roll, ball handler plays, averaging more than a point per play on those plays.

Kansas ranks 221st in points per play allowed while defending pick-and-roll, ball handler plays.

That could be a big factor with Joel Embiid not there to protect the rim on pick-and-roll plays.

Kentucky ranks second in offensive rebound percentage (42.1%) and scores 9.4 points per game on offensive rebound putbacks, fifth-most in the country.

Wichita State ranks fifth in the country in defensive rebound percentage (74.2%) and only allows 4.3 points per game on offensive rebound putbacks, 17th-fewest in the country.

Iowa State relies heavily on 3-point shooting. The Cyclones rank in the top 25 in 3-point attempts and 3-pointers made per game.

North Carolina is holding teams to 30 percent 3-point shooting in its last 14 games. The Tar Heels have held 13 of their last 14 opponents below 40 percent on 3-point shooting. They're only allowing 5.4 3-pointers per game in their last 14 games.

Mercer's opponents are attempting 23.1 3-pointers per game in its last 10 games. Mercer is 9-0 when its opponents attempt at least 24 3-pointers (12-1 when they attempt at least 23), including a win over Duke (37 attempts).

Tennessee hasn't had more than 24 3-point attempts all season. They average 17.1 3-point attempts per game.

UCLA ranks in the bottom 20 of the country in turnover percentage. The Bruins only turn it over on 14.9 percent of their possessions.

Stephen F. Austin forces 16.2 turnovers per game, eighth-most in the country. However, SFA is only forcing 11.6 turnovers per game in its last five games.

Creighton is 23-1 this season when shooting at least 35 percent on 3-pointers (4-6 when shooting less than 35 percent). Creighton is 15-1 when making at least 11 3-pointers (12-6 when making 10 or fewer).

Baylor's opponents are shooting 38.5 percent on 3-pointers in its last 10 games. Baylor has allowed higher than 40 percent 3-point shooting in five of its last 10 games and at least eight 3-pointers in six of its last 10 games.

Memphis ranks second in the country in transition offense with 21.2 points per game. The Tigers rank 21st in transition field goal percentage (59.3%).

Virginia excels in transition defense. The Cavaliers allow seven transition points per game, second-fewest in the country. Virginia also ranks in the top 25 in field goal percentage defense in transition.

Pace will be a factor, as well. Virginia has the third-slowest pace (60.7 possessions per game), while Memphis ranks 34th in pace (71.2 possessions per game).

Gonzaga is very efficient on offense, ranking in the top 10 in field goal percentage and 3-point percentage.

Arizona ranks third in defensive efficiency, allowing 89.5 points per 100 possessions. The Wildcats are 15-0 this season when allowing fewer than 90 points per 100 possessions.

Gonzaga hasn't faced a single team all season that ranks in the top 30 in offensive efficiency.

Keys to victory: Michigan St. 24, Stanford 20

January, 1, 2014
Jan 1
What were the keys to victory for Michigan State in its come-from-behind win over Stanford in the 100th annual Rose Bowl?

Shutting down the run
Stanford had nine rushes for 91 yards in the first quarter, but managed only 71 yards on 27 rushes the rest of the way. Michigan State's defense, which allowed only 80.5 yards per game during the regular season, got back on track.

The Cardinal were able to run inside the tackles successfully in the first 15 minutes, but couldn’t do so at game’s end, epitomized by Michigan State’s fourth-down game-clinching stop.

Stanford had only 14 yards after contact on its 21 runs inside the tackle in the game’s final 15 minutes.

The Cardinal had 10 rushes that lost yardage in this game, their most since they had 10 on Nov. 8, 2008, in a loss at Oregon.

Winning Time
Stanford went 4 for 15 on third and fourth down in this game.

Michigan State held its last two opponents to 5 for 27 on third and fourth down, including 1 for 10 in the fourth quarter.

Connor Cook’s deft touch
Spartans quarterback Connor Cook was 22 for 36 for 332 yards and two touchdowns. He completed a career-high six passes on throws at least 15 yards downfield, including the go-ahead touchdown throw to Tony Lippett.

Cook fared far better than Stanford quarterback Kevin Hogan, who was 2 for 7 on his throws of that distance.

This was Cook’s second straight game with at least 300 passing yards. He’d never had such a game prior to that.

Did You Know?
Michigan State’s 4-1 record in Rose Bowls is the best of any team that has played in at least five of them. It marked Michigan State’s first Rose Bowl win since 1988.

The Spartans have won three straight bowl games for the first time in school history. Their 10-game winning streak is their longest since a 10—gamer spanning the 1978 and 1979 seasons.

Michigan State got its conference some much needed respect. It marked the second win in the last 11 Rose Bowls for the Big Ten.

Story of the Rose Bowl: Battle of the 'D'

December, 31, 2013
The 100th edition of the Rose Bowl features two of the top defenses in the nation as Michigan State takes on Stanford. Entering bowl season, the Spartans led the nation in yards per game (247.8), yards per play (3.9) and third-down defense (28 percent conversion rate).

Stanford has held its past seven opponents to 20 points or fewer and ranks atop the FBS in most major defensive categories despite playing the fourth-hardest schedule in the country (according to ESPN’s strength of schedule rankings).

A statistical comparison of Michigan State’s and Stanford’s defenses may not be fair because Stanford has faced eight teams ranked in the top 40 in the FBS in total offense, compared with just two for Michigan State. Instead, let’s take a look at what each defense does best and how that translates to the Rose Bowl.

Michigan State’s Strength
It is hard to identify just one strength for Michigan State’s defense; the Spartans have been among the nation’s best against the run and the pass this season.

Michigan State’s defense allowed the fewest rushing yards per game (80.5), yards per rush (2.7) and 10-yard runs (30) in the FBS entering the bowls. The Spartans have held 10 opponents to fewer than 100 rushing yards, the most such games in the FBS. They did not allow a team to run for 100 yards until Week 12 against Nebraska.

Against the Spartans, it is hard to find space to run. On designed runs, Michigan State leads the FBS in yards before contact per game (40.3) and yards before contact per rush (1.7). The AQ averages are 89 yards before contact per game and 2.7 yards before contact per rush.

Nicknamed the “no fly zone”, Michigan State’s starting secondary, led by cornerback Darqueze Dennard and safety Isaiah Lewis, has 29 pass break ups and 12 interceptions this season. With this group, Michigan State rarely gives up big plays.

The Spartans allow opponents to complete 23 percent of their passes thrown 15 yards or longer, best among AQ defenses.

They did not allow any opponent to complete more than 50 percent of such passes and limited Braxton Miller to 2 of 9 in the Big Ten Championship.

The Spartans ability to play man-to-man coverage has afforded defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi the luxury of being aggressive without jeopardizing his pass defense. Michigan State sends five or more pass rushers on 34 percent of its opponents’ dropbacks, the highest percentage in the Big Ten. On such plays, opponents are completing 46.9 percent of their passes and are averaging 5 yards per attempt.

Stanford’s Strength
The strength of Stanford’s defense is its front seven. Led by linebackers Shane Skov and Trent Murphy, the Cardinal rank tied for sixth in the FBS with 98 tackles for loss and tied for first with 40 sacks entering bowl season.

Stanford does not have to send extra pass rushers to get after the quarterback. When sending four or fewer pass rushers, the Cardinal have 31 sacks and an AQ-high 110 total pressures.

Trent Murphy, who is often the edge rusher, has the second-most sacks (14) in the FBS. All of his sacks came as a part of a three-or-four man rush. Because Stanford can create pressure without sending extra pass rushers, it leaves more men to drop into coverage.

Stanford’s defense has also excelled in the running game. The Cardinal rank third in the FBS in rushing yards allowed per game (91.2) and fourth in yards allowed per rush (3.0). They have held all but one of their opponents below their season average for rush yards per game.

The key for Stanford has been its ability to penetrate the backfield and not allow opposing rushers to get outside. The Cardinal have made initial contact with opposing rushers at or behind the line of scrimmage on 48 percent of their carries, the second-highest percentage among AQ conference teams behind Virginia Tech.

The Cardinal lead the Pac-12 in yards per rush (4.5) and touchdowns allowed outside of the tackles (4).

Which defense has the edge?
Adjusting for the strength of the offenses that each team has faced, Michigan State and Stanford have nearly identical rankings in ESPN’s defensive efficiency ratings – a measure of expected points added per game on defense that adjusts for the strength of competition.

Both teams have similar game plans: Play solid defense and rely on a run-heavy offense to control the game. It should be an old-school, smash-mouth football game. As David Shaw said in a recent interview, “People that appreciate real football are going to love this game.”

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.

BPI Talk: Duke is not a top-25 team

December, 17, 2013
The Duke Blue Devils came into the season as a preseason Final Four contender, but after losses to Kansas and Arizona and a one-point win over Vermont, the Blue Devils are ranked No. 31 in BPI.

Duke's BPI game score in its six-point loss against Arizona (ranked No. 4 in BPI) was higher than two of its wins (vs East Carolina, vs Vermont). Other than its wins over No. 40 Michigan and No. 63 Alabama, Duke doesn't have any other wins over teams ranked in the top 180.

Duke has the best adjusted offensive efficiency according to, but its adjusted defensive efficiency ranks 101st.

Is Wisconsin the best team in college basketball?
The Wisconsin Badgers rank No. 1 in BPI after starting 12-0 with five wins over top-50 BPI teams -- St. John's, Florida, Saint Louis, West Virginia and Virginia. Their five wins against top-50 teams are the most by any team. Kansas and Davidson are the only other teams that have even faced five top-50 teams.

Wisconsin has the 11th-most difficult schedule according to BPI. Seven of their 12 wins are against top-100 opponents and none of them are against teams outside the top 175.

The Badgers have been successful playing a slow pace (17th-fewest possessions per game). Two of their three worst BPI game scores this season have come in the two games in which they played at the fastest pace (at Green Bay, vs North Dakota).

Michigan State barely cracks the top 25
The Michigan State Spartans, previously ranked No. 1 in the AP Poll, come in at No. 24 in BPI. The Spartans only have one loss, but it was by far their worst BPI game score and it came against their second-best opponent (No. 23 North Carolina).

Why else is Michigan State's BPI lacking? The Spartans have five wins against teams ranked outside the BPI top 100. Three of those wins are by 15 points or fewer, including two by single digits, and one of the five wins is against No. 338 McNeese State. Also, they haven't played a single true road game yet.

Welcome to the top 10, Saint Mary's
The undefeated Saint Mary's Gaels are ranked No. 8 in BPI, and it's not due to any wins over top-notch opponents. The Gaels haven't faced a single top-50 team yet, but five of their eight wins came against top-100 opponents and six of their eight wins are by double digits.

Saint Mary's has performed well against top-100 teams, posting a BPI game score higher than 95 in four of those five wins.

Why isn't Pittsburgh ranked yet?
The Pittsburgh Panthers are ranked No. 9 in BPI but aren't in the top 25 in the AP Poll. The Panthers are 10-0 with each of those 10 wins coming by at least nine points and nine of the wins coming by at least 17 points.

Pitt doesn't have any top-50 wins, but the Panthers do have two wins against teams just outside the top 50 (No. 51 Penn State, No. 55 Stanford). Their three best BPI game scores came against their three best opponents -- Penn State, Stanford and Texas Tech (No. 110).

Pitt is one of seven teams ranked in the top 20 in both adjusted offensive efficiency and adjusted defensive efficiency according to, along with Louisville, Oklahoma State, Arizona, Wisconsin, Kansas and North Carolina.

BPI Rankings

If the four-team playoff started this year …

December, 11, 2013

Getty ImagesWhat teams would join Florida State and Auburn if there were a playoff this year?
If there were a four-team playoff this year, the current version of the Championship Drive Ratings would suggest that the four most deserving teams on résumé alone are Stanford, Florida State, Auburn and Michigan State.

Stanford is the highest-rated team in the current version of the Championship Drive Ratings on account of putting together a great performance against a top-five schedule. In the 10 years for which we have play-by-play data, no team with a schedule rated in the top five has done as well -- taking into account wins and average win probability -- as Stanford this year. An average FBS team would have won less than four games against Stanford’s schedule and would have had an average in-game win probability well below the Cardinal’s 72 percent.

If we are specifically interested in rating top teams’ résumés (and we generally are), one potential modification to this method would be to look at things from a top-team perspective rather than an average-team viewpoint. So instead of looking at how an average team would do against these teams’ schedules, how would a team at the 90th percentile -- such as Clemson this season -- do? The below chart helps answer this question.

The expectations rise against each of these team’s schedules, obviously, but now Auburn’s and Florida State’s results look more impressive relative to schedule than Stanford’s résumé. At the same time, going 11-2 against Stanford’s schedule would have been harder even for a top team than going 12-1 against Michigan State's schedule or 11-1 against Alabama's slate.

If you want to go beyond pure résumé and look at how strong the teams actually are, take a look at the Football Power Index top five: Florida State, Oregon, Alabama, Stanford and Baylor. Auburn is eighth, and Michigan State is quite a bit lower.

There is no exact answer here, but if you combine the numbers above with the stated goals of the College Football Playoff committee to value strength of schedule and conference champions, it’s pretty clear that Florida State, Auburn and Stanford -- yes, even with two losses -- should each earn a spot in the playoff. Each of those teams has a very solid résumé from either a top team or an average team perspective, and all three are rated strongly by FPI.

The fourth spot gets a bit trickier. From either the average team or top team perspective, Michigan State’s résumé of wins and losses alone is about as impressive as Alabama’s, and the Spartans have a conference championship that the Tide don’t. On the other hand, FPI shows that Alabama is quite clearly the stronger team, so if you put the résumé criteria aside at that point and just pick the better team, Alabama would be the choice.

BCS bowl games at a glance

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Take your pick: Kevin Hogan or Taylor Kelly

December, 5, 2013

ESPN Stats & InformationKevin Hogan and Taylor Kelly have been standouts for their teams all season.

This year’s Pac-12 Championship Game features the Stanford Cardinal and Arizona State Sun Devils, two of the top five teams in the Championship Drive Ratings. Both teams run the ball on more than half of their offensive plays, but they also have efficient quarterbacks.

If this game comes down to quarterback play, which team has the edge: Stanford with Kevin Hogan or Arizona State with Taylor Kelly?

Hogan avoids negative plays
Hogan is 15-2 as Stanford’s starting quarterback and has yet to lose a game against an AP top-25 opponent in nine career starts. One of those wins was a 42-28 victory against then-No. 23 Arizona State on Sept. 21. Hogan had a 94.6 Total QBR in that game, 55.2 points higher than Kelly.

Hogan has value that does not show up on the stat sheet.

Stanford has just 51 plays that lost yards this season, fewest in the FBS. Of Hogan’s 298 dropbacks, only 12 resulted in a negative play (4 percent) compared with 42 negative plays in 492 dropbacks for Kelly (9 percent). In fact, Kelly has taken 19 more sacks than Hogan has negative plays this season.

Hogan rarely gets credit as a rusher, but he has run for 290 yards this season, including a season-high 57 yards in Stanford’s win against Oregon.

Stanford’s rushing efficiency has opened up play action; Hogan has thrown seven touchdowns and no interceptions while averaging 10.6 yards per attempt after a run fake.

Kelly carries the Sun Devils
Arizona State is in the midst of a seven-game win streak, averaging 44 points per game in those wins. Kelly has been the driving force for the Sun Devils, as he has been responsible for 21 touchdowns and has just five turnovers during the streak.

Kelly has taken a lot of sacks partly because Arizona State has been more reliant on him than Stanford has been on Hogan.

Kelly has been the passer or rusher on 58 percent of Arizona State’s plays, compared with 42 percent of Stanford’s plays for Hogan. He is the Sun Devils’ second-leading rusher (437 yards) and has been responsible for running Arizona State’s zone read.

Kelly will also have the home-field advantage on Saturday, which has been important to Arizona State all season.

The Sun Devils are 7-0 at home and their average margin of victory is 28.3 points in those games. Kelly has a 82.9 opponent-adjusted QBR at home and has 15 more completions of 20 yards or longer at home than on the road. Stanford is 3-2 on the road and Hogan has a 58.3 opponent-adjusted QBR away from the Farm. His completion percentage is 8 percentage points worse on the road than at home as he failed to complete 65 percent of his passes in any of his five road games.

Top stats to know: BCS Standings

November, 17, 2013
A look at the most significant notes to come from this week’s BCS Rankings:

Stanford’s decline
Stanford dropped from No. 4 to No. 9 with its loss to USC, the biggest drop of any school this week.

The Cardinal are ranked in the top 10 in each of the first five BCS standings releases for the second time in school history.

They were ranked in the top 10 in each standings in 2011.

Five straight for Alabama
Alabama is No. 1 in the first five BCS standings for the first time in school history. This is the 15th week that Alabama is No. 1, tied for second-most of any team.

Alabama now as 10 wins as the No. 1 team, third-most all-time. Oklahoma and USC lead with 12 such wins.

No. 2 Florida State and No. 3 Ohio State stayed in the same positions.

Ohio State is ranked in the top 3 in consecutive weeks for the first time since the final two weeks of the 2007 season.

Looking ahead: Oklahoma State vs. Baylor
Saturday night’s game between No. 10 Oklahoma State and No. 4 Baylor will be the fourth matchup of BCS top-10 Big 12 teams in the last five seasons. If recent history is any indication, it should be a blowout – the victory margin in the previous three meetings was an average of 35 points per game.

Unbeaten and unrecognized
Fresno State and Northern Illinois are both undefeated but have not risen above No. 14 this season. No team that was undefeated at the time of the final standings finished worse than 12th in the rankings (Marshall was 12-0 and No. 12 in 1999).

Welcome back
No. 24 Ole Miss is ranked ranked in the BCS for the first time since Nov. 22, 2009, when it was No. 25. This is its highest ranking since it was No. 19 in the final rankings of 2003.

No. 25 Minnesota is ranked in the BCS for the first time since Oct. 26, 2008, when it was No. 17.

Stanford's résumé deserving of title shot

November, 13, 2013
In ESPN’s new Championship Drive Ratings, Stanford is rated No. 2 after an enormous win over Oregon last Thursday night. Despite having one loss, the Cardinal are just behind Alabama but ahead of everyone else, including undefeated Florida State (No. 3), Ohio State (No. 4), and Baylor (No. 8). Before you go screaming your head off about how biased or unfair or (other words not fit for print) these ratings are, keep in mind their intent: to measure the strength of a team’s résumé based on what it has done to date.

The calculations here are based on how difficult it is for an average FBS team to achieve the team’s results (primary W-L, but also average in-game win probability) given its schedule. It’s relatively easy to be undefeated if you play lower-quality opponents each week – people intuitively understand this, otherwise Northern Illinois and Fresno State would be ranked in the Top 10 this week. The flip side is that it can be quite hard to go through a much tougher (e.g. Pac-12 or SEC) slate with only a couple of losses – harder than it is for a lot of teams to go undefeated vs their own schedule.

Stanford has played an extremely tough schedule, one that is rated seventh-hardest in the Championship Drive system, and done quite well against it. The Cardinal have played six Top-50 opponents and beaten five of them, more than any other FBS team.

Their three wins over opponents currently in the Top 10 are two more than anyone else. The four BCS AQ unbeatens have played one such game combined (Ohio State over Wisconsin).

Only the San Jose State and Army games on Stanford’s schedule would be easy wins for an average FBS team. Compare that to the three or four “gimmes” on the others’ schedules.

Yes, Stanford lost the one game at Utah and that hurts, but looking at the entirety of Stanford’s schedule shows that suffering just one loss over all those tough games is still quite impressive (an average team would have less than three wins). Utah is not the one loss you’d expect, but it makes sense that with so many tough games, at least one loss would occur somewhere.

A quick digression about Utah: The Utes are MUCH better than their record indicates. Their 4-5 record is heavily influenced by having played the hardest schedule in the country. Instead of evaluating an opponent solely by its W-L, this system looks through all games and gets a better indication of every team’s true quality. This is how it knows that beating 7-2 UCLA is more impressive than beating 9-1 Ball State, for example.

Utah has high-quality wins against Stanford and BYU, and had close losses vs Oregon State, UCLA and Arizona State. Based on Championship Drive ranking (where Utah is 31st), the Utes would be the second-hardest opponent on Ohio State's or Baylor’s schedule to date (behind Wisconsin and Oklahoma, respectively); they are only the fourth-hardest opponent on Stanford’s schedule so far.

Put it all together and we can see that Stanford’s record given its schedule is the most unlikely in the country when compared to everyone else’s. The Cardinal fall behind Alabama in the final rating because of the average in-game win probability component, which favors the Tide for having dominated most of their opponents.

Keep in mind that the Championship Drive Rating is simply about comparing résumés, and does not imply that Stanford would beat Florida State, Ohio State or Baylor. There’s another rating system for that, called the Football Power Index, which shows the Cardinal currently a couple of points behind the Seminoles, Bears and Tide, just ahead of the Buckeyes.

Of course, this is how the résumés stack up now, and the ratings are clearly subject to change in the final month of the season. Stanford has some more solid opponents coming up in Notre Dame and USC, along with a potential Pac-12 Championship Game.

Alabama will face a good test at Auburn and its own conference title game. Baylor still has to face most of the tougher Big 12 teams. Florida State and Ohio State have what likely are the toughest games on their schedules behind them but can continue to take care of business and see what happens to the others.

But as it stands right now, Stanford’s résumé is definitely deserving of consideration along with the major-conference unbeatens for a top ranking.

CFB week in review: Marshall, Stanford best

November, 12, 2013
Week 11 featured an impressive defensive performance by Florida State, an efficient rushing game by Stanford and a dominant second half by Alabama.

With the help of ESPN’s new college football metrics (see explanations here), ESPN Stats & Information takes a look back at the best individual and team performances of Week 11 and ahead to next week’s matchup between Stanford and USC.

Best Individual Performances

Nick Marshall posted a 99.6 opponent-adjusted QBR in Auburn’s 55-23 win at Tennessee despite throwing only seven passes.

It was the highest opponent-adjusted QBR in a game this season. Marshall rushed for a career-high 214 yards and averaged 15.3 yards per carry.

Overall, Marshall gained a first down on 10 of 14 rushing plays and rushed for two touchdowns when the score was within one possession.

Kevin Hogan had a 99.0 opponent-adjusted QBR in Stanford’s dominant 26-20 win against Oregon. He converted 4 of 5 third-down chances, including all three of his rushing attempts. Hogan ran for 57 yards on eight carries and added a career-high 4.4 clutch-weighted expected points on running plays.

AJ McCarron had an 87.6 opponent-adjusted QBR in Alabama’s win against LSU. In his last three games against ranked opponents dating back to the BCS National Championship, McCarron has a 94.1 opponent-adjusted QBR and has thrown for 11 touchdowns and no interceptions.

Best Team Performances

Offense – Stanford added 14.4 expected points on offense, but when adjusted for the strength of Oregon’s defense, the Cardinal had the third-highest adjusted offensive EPA of Week 11.

The Cardinal running game added 10.3 expected points, the most that Oregon has allowed in a game in the last eight seasons.

Defense - Florida State added 54 expected points on defense, the highest defensive EPA in a game in the last 10 seasons.

The Seminoles held Wake Forest’s three quarterbacks to a combined 0.001 Total QBR. That's the lowest Total QBR for a team in any game in the last 10 seasons.

Special teams – USC added 13.8 expected points to their net scoring margin via special teams.

Nelson Agholor had two punt return touchdowns and the Trojans also returned a blocked punt for a touchdown. It was the eighth time an FBS team returned three punts for scores and the first time since Oklahoma did so against UCLA in 2003.

Looking ahead to Stanford vs USC

No. 4 Stanford heads to USC (8 ET, ABC) in a matchup of teams that have each won three-straight games.

USC has improved on offense with Ed Orgeron as its interim head coach. The key has been quarterback play. USC’s quarterbacks have had a 66.1 opponent-adjusted QBR in their past five games after posting a 35.8 opponent-adjusted QBR in their first five games under Lane Kiffin.

USC’s quarterbacks will be challenged on Saturday against Stanford’s stout defense. The Cardinal rank seventh in adjusted defensive efficiency and are coming off of a game in which they held Heisman-favorite Marcus Mariota to a season-low 46.5 Total QBR.

Top stats to know: BCS Standings Week 4

November, 10, 2013
A look at the most significant notes to come from this week’s BCS Rankings:

Stanford gets a one-spot bump, Ducks slip from 3 to 6
Stanford beat Oregon on Thursday and was rewarded with a one-spot jump in the rankings from No. 5 to No. 4. The No. 4 rank matches Stanford’s best BCS ranking ever (done twice in 2010 and four times in 2011).

This is the first time in school history Stanford is ranked in the BCS top-5 in three straight weeks.

Saturday’s game between 4 Stanford and USC (8 p.m. ET on ABC) will be just the second time Stanford will play the Trojans as a ranked BCS team. The other came in 2011 in a very memorable game (and similar situation): No. 6 Stanford defeated a BCS-unranked USC team, 56-48, in triple OT.

Meanwhile, Oregon dropped from No. 3 to No. 6.

This is the first time the Ducks have been ranked outside the top five since they were ninth on November 27, 2011.

Oregon maintained its streak of 31 straight top-10 appearances dating back to the 2009 season.

Four straight for Alabama
Alabama is No. 1 in the first four BCS standings for the second straight year.

The only other team to be ranked No. 1 in the first four releases in back-to-back years was Ohio State in 2006 and 2007.

This is the 31st time Alabama has been in the top 2, moving past Oklahoma for the most all-time.

It was also a good week for the SEC, which now has four top-10 teams for the first time this season. Last year the SEC had at least 4 top-10 teams ranked in every BCS standings.

The SEC also has seven teams ranked in the standings for the first time this season. It is the ninth time the SEC has had seven teams in the BCS standings. The only other conference to have seven teams in the standings in any single week is the Big 12, which did it the first standings of last year.

Seminoles in top two, again
This is the third time Florida State has been ranked in the top two in consecutive weeks. It also happened in 1999, when it was No. 1 in every standings en route to its national championship, and when it was No. 2 for three straight weeks from Oct. 19 to Dec. 3, 2000.

Florida State’s 56-point win over Wake Forest on Saturday was its largest win as a BCS-ranked team and the largest by any BCS-ranked ACC school.

Good week to be a Bulldog
Fresno State moved up from No. 16 to No. 14, its highest ranking in school history.

The Bulldogs are the first team from a non-automatic qualifying conference to be ranked in the top-16 in 3 straight weeks since Boise State was ranked in the final three standings of 2011.