Morning Tailgate Mailbag: Fun Title Games, Great QBs And Broken Hearts

BATON ROUGE, LA - NOVEMBER 12: Head coach Les Miles of the Louisiana State University Tigers stands on the field before the game against Western Kentucky at Tiger Stadium on November 12, 2011 in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

This week's Mailbag includes questions about the most entertaining BCS title game options, the possibility of a 6-7 conference champion, Case Keenum's greatness, Utah's John White and, of course, Tim Tebow.

Some good, entertaining questions this week. Keep them coming.

Which do you think would be the most entertaining BCS Championship matchup out of teams in the top 6-8 of the BCS?

-- @BradF79

Depends on what you deem entertaining.

You like soon-to-be pro talent and the highest possible athleticism? Then you have to go with an Alabama-LSU rematch. This one appears plausible if Oklahoma beats Oklahoma State and Oregon looks iffy and/or loses to USC, Oregon State or (probably) Arizona State in the conference title game.

You like historical helmets? Then how about Alabama-Oklahoma? This one is relatively tricky, as it probably requires Arkansas to beat LSU, Alabama to win the SEC West tie-breaker (and beat Georgia), Oklahoma to beat Oklahoma State, and, as above, Oregon looking iffy and/or losing at some point the rest of the way.

Does a crazy coaching matchup strike your fancy? Then Les Miles versus Mike Gundy might sound pretty damn appealing. Les Miles might call a fake punt on 2nd-and-short (it would work, by the way), and Mike Gundy might charge the field at any moment. You might want to start finding the appeal in this matchup, as it is certainly the most likely title scenario (even if its odds aren't just amazing).

Of course, when we think "entertaining," we usually mean "points and yards." In this case, you pretty much have to be rooting for Oklahoma State-Oregon, right? LSU loses to Arkansas, Alabama loses to Auburn (just in case), Oklahoma State takes out Oklahoma, and Oregon romps through the rest of its schedule. Granted, seeing these two uniforms on the same field might set the color spectrum back 100 years, but the points and yards involved might make up for that.

If a team with a 5-7 record wins a conference title game, do they go to auto-bid bowl? UCLA possibility is why I ask.

-- @CharlesKRoberts

It is my understanding that you can reach bowl eligibility in basically one of two ways: win six games (or, if you beat two FCS teams, seven games) or win your conference. North Texas famously qualified for the 2001 New Orleans Bowl by winning its conference despite a 5-6 record. So yes, if UCLA wins the Pac-12 South at 5-7, then beats Oregon or Stanford in the Pac-12 title game, they will be playing in the Rose Bowl at 6-7. This scenario terrifies me ... and yet, I now want to see it happen.

So here's what we need to happen:

  • UCLA loses out (to Colorado at home, USC on the road) and finishes at 5-7 overall, 4-5 in conference.
  • Arizona State also loses out (to Arizona and California, both at home) and finishes at 6-6 and 4-5.
  • Utah loses out (to Washington State on the road and Colorado at home) to finish 6-6 and 3-6. (If they also finish 4-5, then I believe Arizona State wins the tie-breaker with the best South division record.)
  • Via either miracle or 38 injuries to Oregon/Stanford, UCLA wins the inaugural Pac-12 title game.

So basically, all we need are a miracle, two Colorado road wins and two home upset losses for Arizona State. Piece of cake.

Houston's offensive F+ is 4th this year, from 42nd last year. Was Case Keenum's 2010 injury responsible for that large of a swing and can we expect another drop off next year? Teams considering Sumlin for a coaching vacancy have to wonder.

-- via email

Honestly? That just about explains it. Houston's defense has improved slightly (from 104th to 82nd), so that could potentially mean better field position and more favorable scoring chances, but basically, Keenum is that good.

Here are Keenum's stats since 2008 (when Sumlin took over), as compared to his replacements' (David Piland, Terrance Broadway, Cotton Turner) stats in 2010 when Keenum got injured.

  • Case Keenum (2008-11): 1,210-for-1,729 (70%), 15,278 yards (8.8 per pass), 130 TD (7.5% TD rate), 34 INT (2.0% INT rate)
  • Keenum's Replacements (2010): 254-for-418 (61%), 3,245 yards (7.8 per pass), 29 TD (6.9% TD rate), 15 INT (3.6% INT rate)

In 2011, Keenum is completing 74 percent of his passes at a ridiculous 10.5 yards per attempt. He's improved, his receivers have improved (Patrick Edwards is averaging 20.9 yards per catch over 61 catches this year, which is absurd despite the level of competition), and the Houston offense is clicking as well in 2011 as it probably ever will.

There is one other factor at play here: Charles Sims. The Conference USA Freshman of the Year in 2009 (he had 698 rushing yards, 759 receiving yards, and 10 combined touchdowns), Sims has just erupted in 2011. He is averaging a silly 8.8 yards per carry and is on pace for over 900 yards rushing (and 500 yards receiving) despite averaging just 7.5 carries per game. In his last two games, he has 24 carries for 278 yards and three touchdowns. Keenum only (only) passed 29 times in Houston's win over Tulane last week, both because the run game was working so well (Sims: 10 carries, 207 yards) and because Edwards returned a punt for a touchdown.

I get that S&P hates the Utes' running game, but John White has some really impressive numbers. I'm trying to figure out why. The best I can gather from looking at the situational stats is that their YPC is considerably higher when they are up by 15 or more points, so many of those runs would be discarded when calculating S&P?

-- via email

This is where a stat like Adj. POE comes in handy. Adj. POE compares a running back's output to what a perfectly average running back would have produced given the same carries, against the same teams, with the same offensive line. Utah's offensive line has been atrocious this year (which helps White in this instance), but White still has only managed a plus-1.5 Adj. POE (meaning he has produced approximately 1.5 points more than the aforementioned "perfectly average running back"), in part because he has taken advantage of some bad defenses. He gained 150 yards (7.9 per carry) against FCS Montana State, 205 yards (5.9 per carry) against Oregon State (which ranks 82nd in Def. Rushing S&P+) and 167 yards (5.1 per carry) against UCLA (100th). Plus, he gained only 35 yards (2.5 per carry) against Washington (81st). The three good games account for 44 percent of his season total, so it is very safe to say his stats have been padded a bit.

Still, White produced some solid efforts against decent run defenses: 174 yards (7.9 per carry) against BYU (28th in Def. Rushing S&P+), 85 yards (5.0 per carry) against Arizona State (45th) and 171 yards (4.8 per carry) against Pittsburgh (35th). He is a solid back -- better than average, clearly -- and his line has done him no favors whatsoever (the line and quarterback injuries are the primary reasons the Utes began conference play 0-4); but the stats do suggest that, given White's carries, an average back would still be sitting at 1,000 yards or so right now.

And a bonus question...

Tim Tebow once again proves that stats are for fantasy and losers. Winning is an attitude and he has it.

-- Kansas State basketball coach Frank Martin

(No, this isn't actually a question, and no, this wasn't directed at me. I still had to respond.)

You break my heart, coach. I want to love you for your persona that combines father-with-a-heart and, uh, burning passion, but then you go and spurn me like this.

Stats may be for losers, but they can also be used to explain why the Denver Broncos are 4-1 with Tebow as starter. in their four wins, Denver is rushing for 211.3 yards per game (that would be a distant first in the league for a full-season average), and Tebow is rushing for 72.0 yards per game (that would be 16th). The Denver defense, meanwhile, is allowing 314.8 yards (would be seventh) and 15.5 points per game (would be second). So basically, they are winning games with defense and a strong run game. How they are doing it may be a bit unusual (for the NFL), but the recipe is not. Whether this is sustainable or not, we'll see (hint: probably not), but those are very solid stats, and they can be used to explain why Tebow is doing well right now (without stopping at "he's a winner!" and "you can't measure clutch!").

Now, back to my mother's basement to play video games and write a lot about a sport I never actually played.

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