The Numerical, Week 14: Running the ball and stabbing Michael Kim

Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

This week's Numerical focuses on relentless running, Louisiana drama, Geno Smith's torching of bad defenses, and ... stabbing Michael Kim.

4. Conference titles or co-titles for Cincinnati in the last five seasons. The Bearcats won another co-title this season, have won 19 games in the last two years under head coach Butch Jones, and will have a chance to reach double-digit wins for the fifth time in six years with a win over Duke in the Belk Bowl. And yet ... Jones is seriously weighing leaving Cincinnati to take the Colorado job. Colorado was nearly the worst team in the country this year. Such are the costs of conference realignment.

4, also: Louisiana teams going bowling. UL-Lafayette is attending its second bowl ever (and in the last 13 months), UL-Monroe its first. LSU is, of course, bowling. And Louisiana Tech is ... wait, what? The Bulldogs aren't bowling because they refused to play ULM in the Independence Bowl and thought the Liberty Bowl really, really liked them?

4, then: Bowl-eligible teams from Louisiana. Terribly played, Tech. Terribly played. (In the meantime, I want to hear far, far more about this passive-aggressive ULM-Tech rivalry.)

4.0, again: Yards per play averaged by Florida State after its first four drives against Georgia Tech. The Seminoles burst out for 21 points and 209 yards (7.5 per play) at the start of the game, but poor execution and turnovers (three of them) conspired against them, and they didn't score again the rest of the game. They held Tech's offense mostly in check, and they did win the game, but … let's just say that Northern Illinois' defense is quite a bit better than Georgia Tech's, and NIU's offense is comparable, at worst. FSU is, and should be, a clear Orange Bowl favorite, but the Seminoles better bring more than they brought in their last five quarters of regular season play.

8. Drives of five plays or more orchestrated by Louisville in its conference-winning, 20-17 win over Rutgers on Thursday night. This number is not particularly impressive, in and of itself, until you also share Rutgers' number: one. Rutgers scored two touchdowns, and they came on drives of one (85 yards) and two (70 yards) plays. Either they scored quickly, turned the ball over quickly, or punted quickly, and the Scarlet Knights defense eventually began to wilt a bit against the Cardinals' offense and limping quarterback Teddy Bridgewater. For the game Louisville ran 80 plays … and Rutgers ran just 45. RU averaged a healthy 7.5 yards per play (thanks to two long bombs, basically) but couldn't maintain possession. The result? Louisville is going to get drubbed by Florida in the Sugar Bowl instead of Rutgers.

8, also: Tackles for loss by Texas State's Joplo Bartu in a 66-28 win over New Mexico State. Yes, it was against NMSU. But wow, is that an absurd number. Match Jadeveon Clowney up against high schoolers, and he STILL might not get eight sacks in a game. (Well, that's probably because the high school team would stop attempting to pass out of fear, but you get the point.) Hawaii's Art Laurel logged five TFLs versus South Alabama later that night and got completely one-upped.

10.7. Average yards per play for Wisconsin in a 70-31 win over Nebraska in the Big Ten title game. This was stunning. We knew that Wisconsin's offense was in better shape than it had been in September, and we knew NU's defense still wasn't playing at the elite level it established in 2009-10. We knew that, with NU's propensity for laying the ball on the ground, the Huskers would always be vulnerable against a solid team playing well. But … wow. Almost literally everything Wisconsin tried, worked not only once, but twice. Third-string tailback Melvin Gordon, who had been given just 44 carries for the season, rushed for a ridiculous 216 yards on just nine touches; he gained 60 on this incredible run.

Meanwhile, this was the most extreme Taylor Martinez game of all-time. The Nebraska quarterback averaged just 3.9 yards per pass attempt, threw two picks, fumbled twice and was sacked six times. Oh yeah, and he also did this:

By the way ... sorry, Michael Kim. But you asked for it.

11. Oregon State possessions versus Nicholls State (not including a clock eater at the end of the game).

11, also: Oregon State touchdowns. Head coach Mike Riley put the backups in relatively early during the Beavers' 77-3 win, but in Oregon State's case, the backups are just former starters. "Backup" quarterback Cody Vaz completed 14 of 17 passes for three touchdowns, and "backup" running back Malcolm Agnew gained 76 yards and scored once. Make no mistake: Nicholls State is really, really bad. But a perfect game is a perfect game.

21.2. UCLA's average starting field position in its eventual 27-24 loss to Stanford in the Pac-12 championship. The Bruins outgained the Cardinal, 461 to 325, and held a healthy per-play advantage (UCLA averaged 6.6 yards per play, Stanford 4.9), but the Cardinal were able to do things to turn the tide and eventually win the Pac-12 title: They were able to severely tilt the field in their favor (Stanford's average starting field position was their 36.2, so while they were outgained by 136 yards, they basically made up 15 of those on every possession), and they were able to once again slow the Bruins down after a rough start. UCLA gained 224 yards (10.7 per play) and scored 14 points in its first three drives, but the Bruins gained just 237 (4.8 per play) and scored 10 points thereafter.

Kansas State rode the Stanford blueprint to a Big 12 title the next night as well. The Wildcats allowed 413 yards to Texas and trailed, 10-7, at halftime, but they flipped the field significantly in their favor as the game wore on. Average starting field position: KSU 42.1, Texas 26.1. KSU's offense eventually played its part, but it had less work to do as well. Turnovers and special teams can make an absolutely enormous impact on a game, eh? Who knew?

50. Carries by Tulsa running backs Trey Watts and Alex Singleton in the Golden Hurricane's 33-27 win over UCF in the Conference USA title game. Tulsa was merciless in its hurry-up-and-run attack, pulling off 94 plays despite an iffy passing game (quarterback Cody Green averaged just 5.6 yards per pass attempt) and a more efficient than explosive running game. Still, Watts and Singleton combined to gain 234 yards in their 50 carries; and after the Golden Hurricane blew a halftime lead, Watts sent the game to overtime with a 54-yard punt return touchdown with five minutes remaining. (To add an extra punch, USF actually blocked the ensuing PAT. Otherwise, Tulsa would have had a 28-27 lead.) It is difficult to pull off the grind-it-out routine at a nuclear pace, but Tulsa's got a title trophy as proof that they did just that.

Meanwhile, of course, a certain team not named Wisconsin or Tulsa also ran the ball with passion on Saturday: Alabama. When the bowl season is over and I am writing my "Top 100 games of 2012" list (here's 2011) the Tide's 32-28 win over Georgia in a delicious SEC title game will get serious consideration for the top spot. Rarely is such an important game so well-played and so intense all the way until the end. And Alabama is headed to the national title game, despite special teams disaster (Alabama failed on a fake punt, Georgia succeeded on one, and Georgia returned a blocked field goal for a touchdown, which gave the Bulldogs a double-digit lead in the third quarter), despite some lovely intermediate passing from Georgia's Aaron Murray, despite two painful turnovers, and despite Georgia's Jarvis Jones doing Jarvis Jones Things (three tackles for loss, two sacks, one forced fumble) and despite a terribly slow start (the Tide scored zero points and averaged 3.3 yards per play over their first four drives).

How did they pull that off? With five big uglies and two bruising running backs. Georgia did everything right in its attempt to play for the national title, but it simply couldn't stop the bone-crushing Alabama running game. Lacy rushed 20 times for 181 yards and two scores, and freshman T.J. Yeldon carried 25 times for 153 yards and one score. Center Barrett Jones officially moved from "one of the best linemen in Alabama history" to "one of the best linemen in college football history," and Alabama just pounded away, and pounded away, and pounded away. Despite the reputation, bruising, run-heavy football can be perfectly entertaining when it is done like this. It made this game incredible.

89.3. Geno Smith's completion percentage versus Marshall, James Madison, Baylor and Kansas. The West Virginia quarterback set a new standard for torching bad defenses in 2012, but the Mountaineers finished just 7-5 because a) their defense was terrible for much of the year, and b) they couldn't put up the same numbers against even decent defenses. In these four games, Smith completed 134 of 150 passes for 1,797 yards (12.0 per pass), 20 touchdowns and one pick. In the other eight games: 216-for-340 (63.5 percent) for 2,207 yards (6.5 per pass), 20 touchdowns and five interceptions. That's still good, but it's not elite. And that's how a quarterback can throw for 4,000 yards and 40 touchdowns and not end up making much of a ripple in the Heisman race. (Call this West Virginia Heisman What-If No. 1.)

195. Total yardage for Northern Illinois' Akeem Daniels in NIU's indirectly historic overtime win over Kent State in the MAC championship. He rushed 17 times for 128 yards, scored once, and caught four of five passes for a healthy 67 yards. For the next month, the Orange Bowl billing will be "Florida State versus Jordan Lynch." But while Lynch, NIU's statistically ridiculous quarterback (2,962 passing yards, 1,771 rushing yards, 43 total touchdowns), is almost certainly the Huskies' best player, the engine wouldn't run as smoothly without the speedy Daniels, who was consistently able to get to the corner on Kent State's defense and make things happen. Obviously getting to the edge of Florida State's defense is a bit more challenging (to say the least), but Lynch and Daniels will also make for one of the most fearsome backfield duos that FSU has faced this year.

381. Yards Youngstown State gained on Pittsburgh in a 31-17 win on September 1. On December 1, South Florida gained 117 in a 27-3 Pitt win. It is almost unfair to constantly bring up the fact that Pitt lost to YSU -- it was a long time ago, after all -- but in this case it illustrates both a) how far Pitt came over three months (after losing to YSU and getting romped by Cincinnati, the Panthers whipped Virginia Tech, nearly took out BCS title game participant Notre Dame, and destroyed both Rutgers and USF to somehow reach 6-6) and b) just how much USF fell apart over what became the last month of Skip Holtz's tenure. Despite general disappointment, I don't think USF had any intention of firing Holtz a month ago. But he almost gave USF administrators no choice. The Bulls lost nine of 10 to finish the regular season and, after an injury to quarterback B.J. Daniels (who, really, wasn't good enough to make this much of a difference), scored a total of 35 points in their last four games. (They allowed 100 in those four games.) So USF begrudgingly enters the crowded field of BCS programs looking for a new top man.

515. Rushing yards gained by West Virginia's Tavon Austin in three games since his move to running back, or at least a running back-like position. Against Oklahoma, Iowa State and Kansas, Austin rushed 47 times for 495 yards and three touchdowns. He also still caught 14 passes for 291 yards and a touchdown (he had 77 rushing yards and 110 receiving yards in Saturday's 59-10 win over Kansas). Not that he could have maintained this pace for a full 12 games, but if he had … that's a pace for 1,980 rushing yards, 1,164 receiving yards and 16 touchdowns. That's also a pace for a free trip to New York City for the Heisman ceremony. Alas. (Call this West Virginia Heisman What-If No. 2.)

2005. The last time Baylor had beaten Oklahoma State before the Bears' 41-34 win over the Cowboys in Waco on Saturday. While both of these programs have taken significant steps forward over the last few years, OSU had always managed to remain a step ahead of Baylor. Actually, they had remained a FEW steps ahead; average during OSU's six-game winning streak over Baylor: OSU 49, Baylor 17. But two costly OSU turnovers, 615 Baylor yards and 11 Baylor trips inside the OSU 40 were just barely enough to end the streak and bump Baylor ahead of OSU on the 2012 Big 12 bowl hierarchy.

31,243.

Yes, rain dinged attendance at Stanford-UCLA, so consider this more of a nod to Arkansas State than a wag of the finger to Stanford. (Then again, 31K for a huge home game is rather inexcusable in almost any instance.) The Red Wolves are doing as good a job as any mid-major at the moment of following the Boise State blueprint, and thus far it has paid off. ASU clinched its second straight Sun Belt title with a 45-0 destruction of Middle Tennessee; after an iffy September (blowout losses to Oregon and Nebraska, a tight win over Memphis, a home loss to Western Kentucky), the Red Wolves began to thrive. They whipped a solid UL-Lafayette team by 23 on the road, took out Arkansas conqueror UL-Monroe by 22 at home, outlasted Troy on the road, and, on Saturday, destroyed a resurgent MTSU squad. And the fans seem to have noticed.

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