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The Numerical, Week 14: It's really, really hard to win three straight titles

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The most important numbers from college football's Rivalry Week, from a freshman quarterback's big day to Alabama's unsuccessful quest to the SEC's future.

Kevin C. Cox

Amount of hours it would take to make sense of Oregon State's 2013 season.

The Beavers allowed 625 yards (8.8 per play) in a 49-46 loss to Eastern Washington to start the season, then ripped off six straight wins, allowing 359 yards per game in the process while gaining an average of 514. Then, after a tight, competitive, 20-12 loss to Stanford, OSU lost to USC, Arizona State, and Washington by an average score of 43.3 to 19.3. And then they came within one point and 30 seconds of winning at Oregon in the regular season finale.

For the season as a whole, Oregon State went 2-4 at home, 4-2 on the road, 0-1 in August, 6-0 in September and October, and 0-4 in November. They allowed 8.4 yards per play to Washington and 4.5 to Arizona State. They gained 6.3 yards per play against Oregon and 5.0 against San Diego State. They sneaked by SDSU and dominated Washington State. Rhey barely fell to Oregon and Stanford and got ripped apart by Washington.

They currently rank 49th in the F/+ rankings, but that feels insufficient. It feels like they really need two different rankings, one for each pole. Wherever they end up in bowl season, make sure to watch that game. Whatever happens will be fun and entirely irrational.


The last time Colorado State won eight games in a season. Sonny Lubick's squad reached as high as 16th in the polls that year and finished 10-4. After a decade in the wilderness, the 7-6 Rams should get a shot at win No. 8 in a bowl game in Jim McElwain's second season in charge. And speaking of second-year coaches...

Akron won six games from 2009-12. The Zips went 3-9 in 2009, then went 3-33 from 2010-12. Rob Ianello won two games in two years as Akron's head coach, and Terry Bowden won one in his first year in charge (2012). That he engineered a 5-7 record in his second season -- Akron's best record since 2008 -- is a staggering achievement. And the Zips came within a single play of winning at Michigan and becoming bowl-eligible as well. (Granted, they went 4-2 in one-possession games, so the good fortune balanced out.)

It's odd that the "he's a winner" thing doesn't extend to Braxton Miller.


Jordan Lynch's current Heisman odds, second best behind those of Jameis Winston. I just wanted this to soak in for a bit. If voters are scared away from Winston because of his lingering potential legal issues, or if Winston is charged in the next four days or so, the NIU quarterback becomes the outright Heisman favorite.

How in the world did we get here? First of all, Lynch is phenomenal. After his most recent performance against Western Michigan, which included 321 rushing yards, he has passed for 2,457 yards and rushed for 1,755 in 2013. This comes after he went for 3,138 and 1,815 a year ago. If he comes up big against Bowling Green in the MAC title game on Friday night, he could have a shot at a 3,000/2,000 season heading into a bowl game. And while you can say he's doing it against inferior competition, he's also doing it with inferior (as in, mid-major) talent around him. NIU is fast and fun and interesting, but he's not exactly running behind a blue-chip offensive line and throwing to four-star receivers. Lynch is easily one of my favorite players in the country, and at this point he is more than deserving of a trip to the Heisman ceremony in New York.

But ... he's really the top alternate? First of all, it's crazy that last week's trendy favorite, AJ McCarron has been all but eliminated from the race after completing 17 of 29 passes for 277 yards and three touchdowns in the Iron Bowl. If he was Heisman-worthy before Saturday, he should still be considered after, but the fact that his stock dropped so much after a loss proves that people were taking the "he should win because he's a winner" thing way too far.

And it's still odd to me that the "he's a winner" thing doesn't extend to Braxton Miller, who has now won 22 consecutive games as a starter. (Miller's currently third in the odds race.)


Receiving yards for Fresno State's Isaiah Burse against San Jose State on Friday. Why is this notable? because it was only the fifth-highest receiving total in the game.

Fresno's Derek Carr and SJSU's David Fales combined to complete 75 of 95 passes for 1,066 yards, 12 touchdowns and one interception with no sacks. For the Spartans, Tyler Winston caught 10 passes for 164 yards and a touchdown, Kyle Nunn caught 10 for 160 and two, and Chandler Jones caught eight for 146 and three. Meanwhile, Fresno State's Davante Adams caught 13 for 264 and three scores.

This game was a lovely homage to the long-lost WAC; it was also a deadly one for Fresno State. The Bulldogs blinked first in a 62-52 loss that knocked them out of BCS bowl contention.


Yards gained by East Carolina on its first six possessions against Marshall, which included five punts (three three-and-outs) and an interception. The Pirates averaged 2.9 yards per play in this stretch and found themselves down 24-0 by the time they figured out how to move the ball.

Marshall's 59-28 win gave Doc Holliday's Thundering Herd the Conference USA East title and a healthy boost (from 57th to 42th) in the F/+ rankings. They were 102nd in Holliday's first season (2010). And a win over Rice would give them their eighth conference title (in three different conferences) in 20 years (and first in 11).


Duke's current Def. F/+ ranking. The Blue Devils ranked 116th in the same category last season. The improvement has been stark and dramatic, and defensive coordinator Jim Knowles deserves credit for figuring out what buttons to press with this unit.

Melina Vastola, USA Today

Meanwhile, Virginia Tech ranks first in Def. F/+, and Florida State ranks third. First-team all-ACC defenders: Duke 3, Florida State 1, Virginia Tech 0. Now, obviously individual talent doesn't equal team defensive success. Miami ranks 87th in Def. F/+, but that doesn't automatically mean that linebacker Denzel Perryman didn't deserve a seat at the table. But this still feels ... off, yes? Perryman and Duke's Kelby Brown over FSU's Telvin Smith and Tech's Jack Tyler? Are we sure about that?


Houston's lead over SMU after three quarters. Judging by the way SMU's season has gone to date, I was about 99 percent sure the Mustangs would turn that 34-0 deficit into a 34-28 loss. No lead has been safe for either team in SMU games this year.

Alas, the 34-0 lead held up. SMU quarterback (and world champion s***-to-shinola converter) Garrett Gilbert was out with a knee injury, and redshirt freshman Neal Burcham (27-for-52 for 212 yards, three picks, and five sacks) did not have the same magic quotient.

It would be a damn shame, by the way, if Gilbert couldn't go on Senior Day against UCF. If nothing else, his quality play would force UCF to survive one more barn-burner to officially take the AAC's BCS bowl bid. (And his mistakes would probably allow UCF to survive. But there would be drama.)


Wisconsin's projected winning margin over Penn State in last week's F/+ picks. Rivalry Week featured all sorts of strange outcomes, but PSU's 31-24 win over the Badgers might have been the strangest of all. Christian Hackenberg, Penn State's blue-chip freshman who has labored through a predictably up-and-down first year, completed 21 of 30 passes for 339 yards, four touchdowns, no picks, and no sacks, and Penn State averaged 8.0 yards per play against a defense that allowed 4.5 per play for the season. ASU averaged 5.0 yards per play against UW, and Ohio State averaged 5.7. This was a surprising as it gets.


Georgia Tech's lead over Georgia after 29 minutes. It was drowned out by the cacophony a couple hours to the southwest, but in Hutson Mason's first start as Georgia quarterback, his Dawgs did things the hard way, allowing the first 20 points before outscoring the Yellow Jackets, 41-14, the rest of the way and winning in double-overtime.

In Mason's first 10 pass attempts, he was 4-for-8 for 43 yards, an interception, and two sacks. Yards per pass attempt: 2.7.

In his final 31 pass attempts, he was 18-for-28 for 256 yards, two touchdowns, and three sacks. Yards per pass attempt: 8.0.

Six will be replacing their starting quarterbacks.


SEC teams currently in the F/+ top 25. Assuming Johnny Manziel goes pro (as we are all assuming at the moment), six of these seven teams will be replacing their starting quarterbacks next year.

The identity of college football's most consistently great conference changed rather dramatically at the start of the 2013 season, and it was mostly due to the distribution of experience. Of the top six defenses in the conference (according to Def. F/+) in 2012, five were replacing large swaths of their defensive lines, and five were reloading at linebacker. Meanwhile, the top six offenses were returning large percentages of their offensive talent. Sure enough, offense reigned in the SEC for the first couple of months of the season (until injuries and increasing defensive experience leveled things out a bit).

In 2014, we could be looking at the opposite. Alabama's McCarron, Missouri's James Franklin, LSU's Zach Mettenberger, South Carolina's Connor Shaw, and Georgia's Aaron Murray are definitely gone, and Manziel might follow, too. Meanwhile, 19 of the 24 defensive members of Alabama's Iron Bowl two-deep are underclassmen (some could/will go pro, but we don't know which yet), as are 16 of 22 from Missouri's most recent depth chart, 22 of 26 from Florida's (though one has already announced he's going pro), 19 of 22 from South Carolina's (counting Jadeveon Clowney as a departure, as the Gamecocks did on Saturday), and 16 of 22 from Auburn's. Those were the top five defenses in the conference this year, and they could all either hold steady or get better next fall … in a conference in which the best quarterbacks are Nick Marshall, Bo Wallace, and … Maty Mauk, I guess? Anthony Jennings?

Prepare yourself for lots of "SEC defenses are back!!" articles and story lines, in other words.


Streeter Lecka, Getty

The sack rate of Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd over the last two seasons against teams not named South Carolina. That's a bit higher than it should be -- Boyd hangs in the pocket far too long sometimes and takes a lot of hits -- but considering his aggressive passing style (yards per completion in 2012-13: 13.7), it makes sense. And considering Clemson is 21-2 against teams not named South Carolina in this span, it works pretty well for him.

I'm bringing this up, of course, because South Carolina has now sacked him 11 times in 62 pass attempts in the past two years (a 17.7 percent sack rate), and Clemson is 0-2 vs. the Gamecocks in that span. Granted, Boyd fared slightly better this year -- only five sacks in 32 attempts (sack rate: 15.6 percent)! -- but only slightly. Including sacks, he still averaged just 5.6 yards per pass attempt and threw two picks. His Gamecock counterpart Connor Shaw, the coach-proclaimed greatest quarterback in South Carolina history, averaged a paltry 4.7 yards per pass attempt including sacks, but he didn't turn the ball over (well, he was lucky -- he fumbled twice), and he ceded brief control of the passing game to receiver Pharaoh Cooper, who tossed a game-clinching, 26-yard touchdown pass to running back Brandon Wilds with 3:44 remaining in a 31-17 win.

Shaw didn't necessarily outplay Boyd, but he didn't move backwards as much. That seemed to make the difference.


Approximate points an average FBS team could expect from field goal attempts of 33, 44, and 44 yards. (This comes from an old Football Outsiders piece I wrote.) A college kicker should expect to make around 65 to 70 percent of his kicks from 33 yards and about 55 to 60 percent of his kicks from 44 yards.

Alabama's Cade Foster, of course, scored zero points on these three attempts. Foster was 11-for-12 on field goals for the season -- 6-for-7 on kicks of 30-49 yards -- but missed a 44-yarder in the first quarter, shanked a 33-yarder early in the fourth (he first made a 28-yarder, but it was called back because of a false start), and had another 44-yarder blocked by Auburn's Ryan Smith with 2:32 remaining.

These kicks allowed Auburn to repeatedly stay alive, and of course, after the Tigers tied the game on a gorgeous option pass from Nick Marshall to Sammie Coates, a fourth field goal, a 57-yard attempt by Adam Griffith with one controversial second left on the clock, led to perhaps the wildest ending in college football history, Chris Davis' 109-yard return of Griffith's miss.

Actually, we'll end with another number from the Iron Bowl.


Streeter Lecka, Getty

Teams that have won three straight AP national titles. Even if we mingle other sources and polls, there hasn't been a threepeat of any kind since Army in 1944 (AP), 1945 (AP), and 1946 (College Football Researchers Association).

It's really, really hard to do. USC didn't do it in the 2000s, Nebraska didn't do it in the 1990s, Miami didn't do it in the 1980s, Bear Bryant and Alabama didn't do it in the 1970s, and neither Notre Dame nor Alabama did it in the 1960s. No team in that span has won four in five years, either. Alabama was trying to do both in 2013, and unless both Florida State and Ohio State lose on Saturday (or one of them loses, Missouri beats Auburn, and unexpectedly funky math keeps Alabama ahead of Missouri), the Tide will come up short.

No matter how good you are, no matter how strong your Process is, you need absurdly good luck to pull off this run of good fortune. College football gives you a tiny sample size from which to choose a national champion, and the sport itself is played with a pointy ball that can get pretty cranky at times. It is a sport of randomness played by some of the least stable, predictable members of society: 18- to 22-year-old males. (As a former member of that demographic, I can attest.)

That Alabama came within two games and one second of a threepeat (Auburn, SEC title game, BCS title game) in an era of scholarship limits and attempted parity is a staggering success. But all of the big-game control Nick Saban has had left him on Saturday; his team was a mistake-prone mess at times, dropping passes it always catches, missing tackles it always makes, getting repeatedly fooled by Nick Marshall's option game, and, of course, missing field goals it usually makes. And unlike in 2011 and 2012, Alabama's loss comes with no games left for recovery.

The Tide still have a chance, if extreme craziness strikes this coming weekend, but the odds are minimal. Then again, they aren't as small as the odds of a 109-yard missed field goal deciding the biggest rivalry game of the year.

More from SB Nation college football:


New bowl projections: FSU-Ohio State national title

New BCS standings: Ohio State No. 2, Auburn No. 3

College football news | Sarkisian leaves USC for Washington

Long CFB reads | The night Baylor died in Stillwater