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The Numerical, Week 15: Auburn's efficiency, Connor Cook's improvement, and losing by winning

Two conference champions got hot on offense at the right time, the mid-major weekend was full of excitement, the regular season is almost done, and ... what's the point of all this for the little guys?

Kevin Liles-USA TODAY Sports

~$1.3 million

Bowling Green's reported athletics surplus last year. That number was produced in part by the million-or-so payout all MAC members received for NIU's 2013 Orange Bowl appearance. Without it, BGSU barely would have broken even.

The school would have received a similar sum this year if NIU had gone back to the BCS, but instead, the Falcons' football team stopped that from happening. They whipped NIU, 47-27, Friday night in Detroit. BGSU's Matt Johnson looked like the Heisman candidate NIU quarterback Jordan Lynch was supposed to be, completing 21 of 27 passes for 393 yards and five touchdowns. Lynch, meanwhile, was picked off twice and turned in a good portion of his yardage (219 passing, 126 rushing) after the game had been decided.

Oh yeah, and thanks in part to the big win, BGSU just lost its head coach to Wake Forest.

Goals are so contradictory and frustrating in the world of mid-major football. Bowling Green just won its first conference title in 11 years and has put a product on the field similar to that of Texas or Nebraska. The reward: less money and a coaching search.

Would it be more fun for all involved if they were part of a lower subdivision?

I'm in the small "the more, the merrier" camp when it comes to competing at the FBS level. I don't like the Division 4 idea. And I love that, despite ridiculous odds, there is technically a path to elite (or close to it) football for any of these schools. (Boise State, after all, was basically a glorified junior college not that long ago but just finished a run of seven straight 10-win seasons.) In yesterday's playoffs exercise, I found myself curiously drawn to the completely unrealistic no-more-subdivisions scenario that would give all of Division I a role in a big playoff. Granted, I might have been drawn to it partially because it was so incredibly unrealistic, but it had appeal regardless.

But while I love that the mid-majors exist at the highest level, part of me wonders why. Especially with the BCS loophole closing, just about the greatest thing a mid-major can accomplish is a single big upset win or a spot in a bowl named after food -- Pizza, Potato, Beef ('O' Bradys). Is that worth it? Would it be more fun for all involved if they were part of a lower subdivision with a shot at a national title, even if it was a lesser one?

I'm seriously asking here; I have no answers.


Announced attendance at UCF's 17-13 win at SMU early Saturday afternoon. On television, it looked like about 1,259. That attendance figure must have included media in the press box, logs of wood on the jumbotron, et cetera. SMU offered free attendance for anybody who wanted to brave the brutally cold weather that afflicted much of the weekend's football, college and pro, and very few took them up on it.


Yards per game allowed by Rutgers in its six games prior to USF's visit on Saturday. The Scarlet Knights allowed 6.9 yards per play and 35.7 points per game in that span. They allowed 151 yards (3.0 per play) in a 31-6 win that clinched bowl eligibility. Bring a bad, Florida-based offense north for a cold-weather game, and a lot of your defensive deficiencies magically disappear.


Yards gained by Arizona State in its first drive against Stanford in the Pac-12 Championship. It was punctuated by a 51-yard touchdown run by D.J. Foster, and it tied the game at 7-7. In their next four drives, the Sun Devils gained 35 yards (1.7 per play), punted four times, and fell behind by a 28-7 margin.

In Stanford's first four drives, the Cardinal gained 270 yards in 21 plays, scored four touchdowns, and created a scenario almost exactly like the one from the first Stanford-ASU game this year.

On September 21, Stanford went up 39-7 before weathering a late ASU charge. This time around, the charge was less difficult to weather. A suddenly one-dimensional ASU offense couldn't sustain any momentum, and Stanford was able to tee off on quarterback Taylor Kelly, who finished 17-for-25 for just 173 yards with one score and five sacks (yards per pass attempt: 4.6). The Cardinal cruised to a 38-14 win and a second straight conference title.

It is the second time since World War II that they've scored back-to-back crowns.


South Alabama's end-of-regular-season F/+ ranking. The 6-6 Jaguars smoked Sun Belt champion UL Lafayette, 30-8, and currently rank above a wealth of FBS teams, including Tennessee (75th), Syracuse (76th), Virginia (77th), Wake Forest (79th), West Virginia (80th), Iowa State (81st), Arkansas (87th), N.C. State (89th), Rutgers (90th), and UConn (91st). Not bad for a second-year FBS program. Head coach Joey Jones is doing a hell of a job, but thanks to five one-possession losses (four by two or fewer points), few have noticed. (So far.)


Brian Spurlock, USA Today

Net yards gained in Connor Cook's first 28 pass attempts of 2013. The Michigan State sophomore was 12-for-27 for 74 yards and a sack against Western Michigan and South Florida, but after two games of rotating quarterbacks to minimal success (remember when the story of the season was the Spartans' defense scoring about as much as their offense?), head coach Mark Dantonio and offensive co-coordinator Jim Bollman and Dave Warner decided to commit to Cook over Andrew Maxwell and Tyler O'Connor. I would say it paid off.

The overwhelmed Connor Cook of early September became Big Ten Championship Game MVP Connor Cook in early December. In the Spartans' most important game of the year, they handed the offense to Cook, attempting 41 pass plays to 31 rushes; he responded by throwing for 304 yards and three touchdowns. On a per-play basis, he was only fine -- 7.0 yards per attempt with a pick -- but he made a series of fantastic passes, none better than the long-range dart he threw to Keith Mumphery for a 72-yard touchdown early in the game.

The Buckeyes were simply beaten by a better team.

State jumped out to a 17-0 lead then watched Ohio State take control with 24 straight points ... and calmly reasserted itself, going on another 17-0 run. Ohio State didn't blow it, and Ohio State didn't choke. The Buckeyes were simply beaten by a better team, and Cook was a major reason for that. (So was that Pat Narduzzi defense, but you already knew that part.)


Auburn's success rate (as defined here) in Saturday's 59-42 SEC Championship win over Missouri. The game featured 1,211 yards and 101 points, but the Tigers from southeastern Alabama held the edge because of efficiency; they had it, and Missouri didn't.

While Missouri had plenty of big plays throughout the course of the game -- a 65-yard run by Henry Josey, catches of 55 and 37 yards by Dorial Green-Beckham, a late 43-yard catch for Marcus Lucas -- Mizzou managed only a 45 percent success rate on standard downs. Auburn's rate on such downs was 65 percent, and while neither team fared well on passing downs, Auburn faced far fewer of them.

Both teams' running backs fared well on Saturday. Auburn's averaged 7.6 yards per carry, and Missouri's averaged 8.9. But thanks to down-and-distance issues and a late deficit (not to mention the fact that Missouri simply throws a lot more than Auburn), Auburn backs rushed 53 times, and Missouri's rushed 19 times. Tre Mason was obviously the story of the game with 304 yards on 46 carries, but Auburn's ability to create easy yards on first downs and its success in sticking with Plan A (Mason right, Mason left, Mason up the middle) was the difference. What an offensive performance.


Yards per completion for Rice's offense in the Owls' 41-24 win over Marshall in the Conference USA Championship. Rice quarterbacks completed 10 of 18 passes for a whopping 239 yards and three scores; five Rice players caught a pass, and four caught a pass of at least 28 yards. Marshall's own offense had its moments -- quarterback Rakeem Cato completed 24 of 41 passes for 265 yards, two scores, a pick, and three sacks -- but when Rice's offense gets rolling, it keeps rolling for a while. The Owls got hot early, stayed ahead most of the way, and made head coach David Bailiff a conference champion.

(Here's where I remind you that Rice was 2-6 at one point last fall, and it seemed that Bailiff was all but fired. Since then, Rice is 15-3.)


Points per game allowed by Memphis in its first 10 games. The Tigers' defense brought thunder for much of the year, but thanks to an offense that was averaging only 20.3 points, they were still just 3-7 overall. And then, as is often the case after a couple of months of carrying all the weight, the defense gave out, allowing 1,072 yards and 86 points to, of all teams, Temple and UConn. For the season, Memphis wasn't as bad as its 3-9 record would suggest, but there was some serious regression toward the mean happening there at the end.


Sack rate on Utah State quarterbacks in the Aggies' 24-17 loss at Fresno State in the Mountain West Championship. Darell Garretson and Craig Harrison completed just 16 of 35 passes for 253 yards and two picks and were sacked eight times, and Utah State averaged just 4.1 yards per play for the game as a whole.

The Aggies were able to stay in the game thanks to both their ability to make stops and Fresno State's ability to falter before the goal line. The Bulldogs made a whopping 10 trips inside Utah State's 40-yard line but turned the ball over twice (in one instance, USU returned a fumble the length of the field for a touchdown), punted once, and turned the ball over on downs three times. Thanks to the fumble return touchdown, USU bought time for its offense to get rolling; but USU was able to score only twice in six trips inside Fresno's 40, missing a field goal, turning the ball over twice, and faltering on fourth down once.



Southern Miss has collapsed on the football field of late, losing 23 of 24 games since winning the 2011 Conference USA title. But that's a hell of a gesture. In a perfect world, that would be worth quite a bit of extra recruiting clout and would more quickly help to turn the program around.


Streeter Lecka, Getty

Three-and-outs for Duke on Saturday night. In their first ACC title game, the Blue Devils came prepared on defense, allowing just seven points and forcing three punts and a turnover on Florida State's first five possessions. But the Duke offense traveled more than 11 yards just once in its first 10 drives and missed a field goal in its only scoring opportunity. When FSU's Karlos Williams scored on a mean, contact-heavy 12-yard run to make the score 14-0 late in the first half, it felt like the game was over. It would only get worse from there, of course; the Seminoles cruised, 45-7.


Yards per pass attempt for Louisville's Teddy Bridgewater in what was probably his final regular season game as the Cardinals' quarterback. Louisville beat Cincinnati in overtime, 31-24, but it could have been a rather unmemorable performance for the talented junior. But if not for some incredible plays late, the Cardinals wouldn't have won at all.

We'll miss you when you're (probably already) gone, Teddy.


Yards per play averaged by Oklahoma in an odd 33-24 Bedlam win over Oklahoma State. The Sooners scored on a punt return in the first quarter, a fake field goal (with the play clock down to :00) in the third, and a fumble recovery in the final seconds. Three Oklahoma quarterbacks combined to complete 15 of 32 passes for 185 yards, a touchdown and an interception and rushed for 46 yards in 13 carries. Running back Brennan Clay, fresh off of a 200-yard performance against Kansas State two weeks ago, carried 24 times for 70 yards. OU punted eight times, four times after three-and-outs. Their first four possessions of the second half: INT, three-and-out, three-and-out, three-and-out. And they scored 33 points and won.

In the end, this Oklahoma win was only marginally less fluky than Alabama's loss to Auburn a week and a half ago. And now the Sooners, ranked 23rd in the F/+ rankings (easily their worst ranking since 2005) will face the second-ranked Crimson Tide in what will probably be a big-name, low-drama Sugar Bowl.

But hey, the Clemson-Ohio State Orange Bowl should be a lot of fun, at least.


Bags of Tostitos in this strange, hilarious picture.

Congratulations, Baylor! You just won 11 games for the first time ever and took your first outright conference title in 33 years! Here, hold these tortilla chips!

Never change, college football. Never change.


Regular season game remaining in the 2013 college football season. Sigh.

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