Who Will Win The 2013 BCS National Championship?

Image via Oakley Foxtrot/Flickr
Image via Oakley Foxtrot/Flickr

What do you look for in your National Championship contender?  Is it a veteran QB?  Is it an elite defense?  What is it about a team that leads you to believe they can go undefeated and play for all the marbles?

For me, I look for patterns in things.  While I understand that past performance doesn’t indicate future success, I think there is something to be said for trends.  When it comes to National Champions, one thing I look for is teams who have “big game pedigree”.  More specifically, almost everyone who has won the national championship in the BCS era has recently played in a BCS game within the previous two seasons.  Here’s what I mean:

Year Champion Coach HC Year BCS within
previous 2 years
1998 Tennessee Fullmer 7 yes (1997 and 1996)
1999 Florida St Bowden 24 yes (1998 and 1997)
2000 Oklahoma Stoops 2 no
2001 Miami FL Coker 1 yes (2000)
2002 Ohio St Tressel 2 no
2003 LSU Saban 4 yes (2001)
2004 USC Carroll 4 yes (2003 and 2002)
2005 Texas Brown 8 yes (2004)
2006 Florida Meyer 2 no
2007 LSU Miles 3 yes (2006)
2008 Florida Meyer 4 yes (2006)
2009 Alabama Saban 3 yes (2008)
2010 Auburn Chizik 2 no
2011 Alabama Saban 5 yes (2009)
2012 Alabama Saban 6 yes (2011)

Of the 15 national champions of the BCS era, 11 have played in a BCS game within the previous two seasons of their title run.  In short, they know what it takes to reach that level and their veteran leadership knows what it takes to get back.

Speaking of leadership, notice the coaching experience of the teams who the championship.  It’s interesting to see that of the 4 teams who didn’t have recent BCS success, all had second year coaches.  Let’s explore that for a second.  If you think about it, when a new coach gets hired everyone gets excited.  There’s a new burst of energy.  Every position is up for grabs.  Teams are hungry again.  In certain instances, it seems possible that the new-coach energy can continue through year two and, in the case of four teams, carry them to a national championship.  Let’s see if we can find any more trends in addition to the BCS history and/or the 2nd year coach.

Year Champion Previous Season Bowl Starting QB Age onDec 31 of Season
1998 Tennessee yes (orange) Jan2 20.4
1999 Florida St yes (fiesta) Jan4 27.4
2000 Oklahoma yes (independence) dec31 22.8
2001 Miami FL yes (sugar) Jan2 20.7
2002 Ohio St yes (outback) Jan1 21.5
2003 LSU yes (cotton) Jan1 24.9
2004 USC yes (rose) Jan1 21.8
2005 Texas yes (rose) Jan1 22.6
2006 Florida yes (outback) Jan 2 21.7
2007 LSU yes (sugar) Jan3 22.5
2008 Florida yes (capital one) Jan1 21.4
2009 Alabama yes (sugar) Jan2 21.6
2010 Auburn yes (outback) Jan1 21.6
2011 Alabama yes (capital one) Jan1 21.3
2012 Alabama yes (bcs champ) Jan9 22.3

Every team that has won the National Championship of the BCS era played in a bowl game on December 31st or later in the previous season.  This takes things one step further than just the BCS pedigree.  It indicates that there has been sustained success.

Additionally, notice the QB ages as of that bowl game date.  As you have seen at RotoViz, I believe that quarterback age matters for prospect development.  In this case, it matters for national championship projections too.  13 of 15 champion QBs have been older than 21, including the last 11 winners.  After they won the championship, they were legally able to drink the champagne.

Looking ahead to the 2013 season, there appear to be two recipes for playing for a national championship.  First and foremost, everyone has been from a BCS conference.  From there, two “tracks” exist that seem to be qualifiers for teams to make a title run.

Track #1)  Played in a BCS bowl game within last two seasons > Played in bowl game later than Dec. 31 in the previous season > Had  a starting QB who will be 21 years old on Dec. 31 of the upcoming season.

Let’s meet the teams who pass those criteria for the 2013 college football season and should be on our National Champion watch list:

Alabama

Stanford

Clemson

Louisville

Florida

LSU

Oklahoma State

Notre Dame

Michigan

Wisconsin

Track #2) Second year head coach > Played in bowl game later than Dec. 31 in the previous season > Had  a starting QB who will be 21 years old on Dec. 31 of the upcoming season.

Ohio State–Note that Ohio State didn’t play in a 2012-13 bowl game because of NCAA sanctions.  I was tempted to omit them, except for the fact that they WOULD HAVE played in the BCS championship game.  Plus their coach is Urban Meyer, so I’m giving them the benefit of the doubt.

Texas A&M

Ole Miss

Pitt

Just as important as who meets those criteria, it’s important to note who DOESN’T pass the test.  Amazingly, 13 of the preseason top 25 are “eliminated” right off the bat.  Sorry about your luck:

Oregon

Georgia

South Carolina

Florida State

Texas

Oklahoma

Nebraska

Boise

TCU

UCLA

Northwestern

USC

Oregon State

Using the system, we’ve narrowed 124 college football teams down to 14 teams who are in prime position to win the National Championship. From here, feel free to apply whatever criteria you want to pick your winner.  I like to look at close wins/losses from last season, turnover margins, and returning defensive talent.  Oh, and I might like to look at Vegas’ odds too, just in case anything catches my interest.

Being the gambling man that I am, I have landed on LSU (12-1) and Oklahoma State (30-1) as two teams that I think can make a run.  Consequently, I’ve put a few dollars on both just to see what happens.  A younger me would have put  money on Ole Miss at 100-1 or whatever it is now, but I backed away from that ledge begrudgingly.

In 2009, this led me to winning some money off a friend when I picked Alabama over the Tebow led Gators to win the SEC and National Championship.  Again in 2010, I won $400 after picking Auburn at 40-1 preseason.  Last year, Florida came within a Jordan Reed-fumble of putting my 50-1 Florida ticket into the SEC title game and possibly the National Championship game.

I’m not saying that you should make these same plays.  Instead, I’m just putting myself on record so that we can revisit this conversation throughout the season.

Terrelle Pryor, or why the Raiders are a disaster

Pryor is coming off the bench this week to start for the Raiders. How much longer until he takes a seat again?

Former Ohio State quarterback Terrelle Pryor is set to make his first start in the NFL on Sunday as the Raiders travel to San Diego.  Many people wonder what his future is.  Let’s put Pryor under  the microscope where I think we will reveal a guy with a short NFL shelf life.

The first thing that strikes me about TP’s days at Ohio State is how few passes he was asked to throw.  Of the 300+ seasons I have evaluated, Pryor’s 2009 and 2010 seasons both rank in the bottom 21 for fewest passes attempted.  During both the `09 and `10 seasons he averaged less than 25 passes per game in relevant matchups.  One would think that a ‘promising NFL quarterback prospect’ would be trusted to throw the ball more than six times per quarter, but that wasn’t the case.

But what’s that you say,  Pryor has upside?  Ok.  Well when we talk about upside, let’s remember this: upside is found when a player posts increasingly better numbers every year in college, indicating that there’s still room to grow.  If a player plateaus against college competition, what makes you think they can suddenly kickstart their growth against NFL competition? That said, let’s look at Pryor’s evolution from the 2009 season to 2010.

Relevant Games with 2+ TD passes:

  • 2009-  3
  • 2010-  5

Pass attempts/game:

  • 2009-  22.1
  • 2010-  24.8

Completion percentage:

  • 2009-  56.8%
  • 2010-  57.1%

Yards per completion

  • 2009-  13.2
  • 2010-  12.8

Touchdown rate increased by 17% — jumped from 5.16 to 6.06

Interception rate increased by 25%  — jumped from 3.23 to 4.04

Grade in my system (anything above 95 is a potentially elite prospect)

  • 2009-  84.4
  • 2010-  84.9

For the most part, it looks like Pryor stayed level.  The marginal gain in completion percentage is offset by the marginal decrease in completion distance.  The touchdown rate increase is good, but the interception rate decrease is bad.  Overall, it’s the same skill set. One bizarre red flag for Pryor is the fact that he had ZERO 3+ passing TD games against relevant competition in either `09 or `10.  More than 80% of quarterback prospects have at least one game with 3+ passing TDs, but not Pryor.

To make matters… more interesting, we could discuss Pryor’s off the field maturity, or his reported score of 7 on the wonderlic test.  We will leave that alone though.

Two players in my database who have similar profiles to Pryor would be Joe Webb, a lesser prospect, (UAB/Vikings)  and Dennis Dixon, a superior prospect (Oregon/Steelers).  Do either of those names get you jazzed up?

Perhaps the most amazing part of the whole Pryor-Raiders saga is the fact that Oakland ‘forfeited’ the 78th pick in the 2012 draft when they offered a 3rd round bid on Pryor in the 2011 supplementary draft.  For perspective, Russell Wilson was taken with the 75th pick, Nick Foles with the 88th, and Kirk Cousins with the 102nd.  I can assure you that all three of those players grade as more promising prospects in my system.

The Raiders are giving Pryor a look on Sunday.  Give him one too, if you must.  It might be the first and last time he starts a game in the NFL.

Week 3 recap

Logan Thomas and self doubt

As you have probably seen by now, the Virginia Tech Hokies lost @ Pitt on Saturday by a score of 17-35.  On one hand, this loss was miserable for the Hokies because of how terrible Pitt looked in the first two weeks, losing to both YOUNGSTOWN STATE and Cincinnati.  But, on the other hand, this loss was miserable because of how awful Logan Thomas played.  Many draft ‘experts’ consider Thomas to be one of the five best QB prospects in America.  Having just released my own QB rankings of draft eligible quarterbacks, I couldn’t help but feel a little self doubt with having Logan Thomas ranked so low.  Screw that.  I don’t care how big, athletic, or promising Thomas is, in this game he threw three first half interceptions, played like a total bonehead and was able to lead the Hokies on ONE drive of more than eight plays.  He has a LONG WAY to go as a passer.  Don’t buy the hype (at least not at this point)  Pathetic.

In related news, the Big East showed some life this week.  Pitt, UConn, and Louisville notched solid wins, with Louisville looking especially mean for three quarters.  I guess I’ll have to wait another week to bad mouth the crumbling Big East conference.

So this is a Harvard bar?  I thought there’d be equations and shit on the wall.

Let’s give it up for the smart kids: Stanford, Northwestern, and Cal.

Maybe the biggest story of the day was the Stanford win over USC, knocking off golden boy Matt Barkley and dashing USC’s national championship hopes.  In 2006, the last season pre-Harbaugh, Stanford went 1-11.  The Pac 10 was a high flying conference with an improving national profile on the shoulders of USC, CAL, and Oregon.  The league was perceived to be pass heavy, defense light, and soft.  So what did Jim Harbaugh do?  Look at the direction everyone else was going and do the exact opposite.

First things first, Stanford is an incredible school with elite admission standards.  So?  So my point is that right off the bat, Stanford is playing with a different deck of cards.  They’re going to be limited as to the type of players they can recruit.  Otherworldly athletes who may, or may not, have gotten pushed through life because of their out of classroom abilities aren’t going to cut it in Palo Alto.  So, what does Harbaugh do?  He says “screw the speed game.  Screw finesse and speed and flash.  We are going to be tough.”  He went out and got big, tough, smart players.  Yes, Andrew Luck didn’t hurt, but if you think this is about Andrew Luck then you’re missing the point.  Even WITH Luck they perpetually ran a variation of the goal line offense on EVERY PLAY.  They lined up with two running backs, two or three tight ends, and said “if you’re going to be stupid enough to leave your scrawny, punk cornerbacks on the field, then we’re going to run off-tackle right at them all game every game.  We’re going to outblock you, outtackle you, and out-execute you, and if you can stop it, hats off to you.”

Yea, we’re smarter than you AND we just beat you on the field (Photo: Marcio Jose Sanchez / AP)

Contrast this with USC.  The Trojans drops a game like this every year.  Honestly, I think the NFL-like-hype and big city lights go to the heads of these So Cal kids.  If ‘talent’ was all that mattered, few teams in college football would belong on the same field with USC.

There are currently ten teams in BCS conferences who are undefeated and have all three wins against FBS opponents.  Stanford is one of them.  Northwestern is another.  The Cardiac Cats have defeated a Big East team, and SEC team, and an ACC team.  Coach Fitzgerald’s team has now been to four straight bowl games and looks well on their way to a fifth.  At a time when the B1G Ten is taking its lumps and losses, it’s good to see the Northwestern Wildcats doing their part to carry the conference’s banner.

And, finally, the Cal Bears deserve a tip of the cap.  They were 17 point underdogs and went into Columbus for a 9am PST game, and played the Buckeyes right down to the wire.  If not for a missed field goal in the final minutes, the Bears could have pulled a colossal upset.

Speaking of Ohio State

Braxton Miller is not a good QUARTERBACK.  He is a nice football player.  Dare I say, a good halfterback?  Yes, a halfterback.  Part halfback.  Part quarterback.  I have been infinitely amused by Ohio State fans this season who insist on him being a good quarterback.  At first I got annoyed by this, then I took a sort of pity on these Ohio State fans.  The following list represents their idea of a ‘good quarterback’:

  • Terrelle Pryor
  • Troy Smith
  • Craig Krenzel

How are those guys doing in the NFL?  Oh?  Really?  Okay, glad we’re on the same page now.  Braxton Miller is a nice football player in an outstanding scheme.  (see:Denard Robinson)  He should thank his lucky stars that Urban Meyer is his coach and that he has the talent around him that he does.  The sad thing is that I’m not sure who in the B1G Ten has the personnel to slow them down.  The conference is looking more and more like a trainwreck every day.  Is Michigan State going to slow them down?  Maybe, but they’re offense is brutal.  Nebraska?  Meh.  Looks like we’re going to keep hearing the Braxton hype.  Ok, fine.  But, please, don’t call him a “good quarterback.”

Bret Bielema and Gene Chizik are frauds

While we’re on the topic of actual, real-life, outstanding players, let’s talk about two coaches who are getting exposed this season.

Imagine being Gene Chizik.  You lead Iowa State to a resounding 5-19 record in two seasons.  Somehow you career into being named a head coach in the SEC after having failed miserably in the Big12.  You inherit a team that went 5-7 in 2008 with a poor turnover ratio and a bottom feeding offense.  You hire Gus Malzahn, acquire Cam Newton as a JUCO transfer, win three bowls and a national championship and everyone loves you.  Your a genius!  Or are you?  It’s one thing to be a solid 8-5 SEC team.  It’s another thing to hitch your cart to arguably THE BEST offensive mind in college football (Malzahn) and have a once-in-a-generation lightning-in-a-bottle season from Cam Newton.  Now, what is going on?  Newton leaves after 2010 and you slip back to 8-5.  Malzahn leaves after 2011 and your offense putters out of the gate to the tune of 29 points in two games.  In game 3 you get taken to overtime by UL-Monroe.  Now you’re 1-2, have a new offensive scheme (mistake) and are embarking on this schedule: LSU, Arkansas, @ Ole Miss, @ Vandy.  Nobody would be surprised if you are 2-5 in mid-October.  The question is how are you going to pull another rabbit out of your hat?  Or better yet, how much longer can you ride on others’ coattails before people realize what you really are?

“I thought I told you not to share how big of a fraud I am!” (Photo: Marcio Jose Sanchez / AP)

Elsewhere, the Downtown Athletic Club has retroactively awarded Russell Wilson the 2011 Heisman trophy.  So far in 2012, sans Wilson, the Badgers have scored 26 points to defeat Northern Iowa by five, 7 points to lose to Oregon State by three, and 16 points to defeat Utah State by two. Yes, Bielema has won 10 games per year in Madison, but in big games–especially ones on the road– the Badgers continue to come up short.  This is a program that grows first round NFL lineman in their back yard.  Yet, this team continues to fatten up at home and run it down everyone’s throat (sorta).  Away from home, they are just 22-17.  If Wisconsin ever wants to truly take their seat at the big boy table, they need to cure their road woes or find a new coach who can.

The Muschamp Connection

Has anyone else noticed how eerily similar Will Muschamp’s current team, the Florida Gators, and Will Muschamp’s old team, the Texas Longhorns are?  Both teams have played for a National Championship in the past five seasons.  However, after sub-par seasons by both in 2010 and 2011 (Florida: 15-11, Texas: 13-12) these teams were waaaay under the radar this season.  In reality, both programs have struggled to find their identity after losing all-time greats Tebow and McCoy after the `09 season.  In 2012, these teams have found their way.  Both teams have elite defenses, anchored by their outstanding defensive lines.  Both teams have sophomore quarterbacks who have struggled to find their way, but look to be on track now.  Both teams have the capability to make a run for the national title. It will be interesting to watch them lean on their defenses and let their young offenses come along.  The true benchmarks will come in the next few weeks.  Florida hosts Kentucky before having a bye week and then hosting LSU.  Texas is off this week then plays @OK State, WVU, then vs Oklahoma at the Red River shootout.  Come October 13, we will have our answer.

In defense of defense.

While watching the Miami RedHawks play Boise State yesterday, it occurred to me how much defensive line play and tackling matter.  The RedHawks repeatedly missed tackles on the edge and got ZERO push with their defensive line.  With Boise, the first defender nearly always made the tackle and the defensive line dictated when on the field.

TAAAACKLEEE!!!

Fastforward to Alabama beating Arkansas 52-0.  For as much as college football has become a score-score-score fest with an ever-increasing love affair with offense, to play championship football still means to dictate with your defensive line and to tackle well.  When I think about Alabama, I continue to be amazed at how their defense keeps them in EVERY GAME.  I got to thinking “how often does their defense allow 10 pts or less?”  So, I went back and looked up the numbers.  Only looking at games played within the confines of the SEC conference since 2007 (Saban’s first year), what follows are the percentage of games in which the defense for these teams held their opponents to 10 or fewer points:

 

  • Alabama (47.7%)  `09 and `11 national champ
  • LSU (27.9%)   `07 national champ… LSU more than doubled their percentage with 2011’s defensive dominance
  • Florida (23.8%)  `08 national champ
  • South Carolina (19.5%)
  • Auburn (14.6%)  `10 national champ
  • Georgia (14.6%)
  • Tennessee (12.2%)
  • Arkansas (7.5%)
  • Mississippi St (7.5%)
  • Vanderbilt (7.5%)
  • Ole Miss (7.5%)
  • Kentucky (2.5%)

Yes, there is more to the picture, like being able to sustain drives, prevent turnovers, and play good special teams.  However, I can’t help but wonder what this means for other teams in the league.  When I think about Arkansas (moreso in the Petrino era) and the new Hugh Freeze era in Oxford, MS, I can’t help but wonder if the fans of these teams falsely put their hopes in high-flying offenses.  After all, it’s the defenses that are winning championships.

New Rule:

I ALMOST understand playing FCS teams in week 1.  However, to be playing FCS teams in week 3 is embarrassing.  Arizona, Clemson, West Virginia, and Oregon, I’m looking at you.  No more than one FCS school per year (ahem, florida state) and you have to play them in week 1 or not at all.

Quarterbacks I love:

Geno Smith (season):  66-75 (88%)  734 yards, 9 TDs, 0 int

Casey Pachall (season): 33-39 (84.6%) 536 yards, 5 TDs, 0 int

Can you hear me now? Good. So you don’t forget who I play for, I shaved it into my head.