Monday, September 11

College Football - Keys to a Championship?

In what seems like one of the most wide-open college football seasons in recent memory, let's look back to the past to gain a little insight as to what it takes to be a champion. Call me old-fashioned, but I've always liked experience at the QB position and a strong defense. Why? Only an unbeaten team has a strong chance of making it into the BCS championship. Several 1-loss teams have made it, but far more have been relegated to lesser bowls. Going undefeated means having a consistent performance game in and game out. An experienced QB is less likely to make the kind of mistakes that can lose a game, and a veteran QB will often have a calming effect on the entire team in those do-or-die situations that seemingly every to-be champion has to go through to keep their record unblemished. A strong defense can cover for the occasional poor outing by the offense, can turn their team's mistakes into 3's rather than 7's, and can stop the opposition from turning the game's final possession into a game-winning drive.

Statistics for the 1999-2005 seasons are listed here. 1998 info from here. Bolded teams finished the regular season undefeated.

1998: Tennessee
QB - Tee Martin (Sr)
Defense - 14.5 ppg (#8)

def Florida State
QB - Chris Weinke (So, injured for game)*
Defense - 12.4 ppg (#3)

1999: Florida State
QB - Chris Weinke (Jr)
Defense - 15.8 ppg (#10) , 304.6 ypg (#19)

def Va Tech
QB - Michael Vick (Fr)*
Defense - 10.5 ppg (#1), 247.3 ppg (#3)

2000: Oklahoma
QB - Josh Heupel (Sr)
Defense - 16.0 ppg (#7), 278.9 ypg (#8)

def Florida State
QB - Chris Weinke (Sr)
Defense - 10.3 ppg (#2), 277.0 ypg (#6)

2001: Miami
QB - Ken Dorsey (Jr)
Defense - 9.4 ppg (#1), 270.9 ypg (#6)

def Nebraska
QB - Eric Crouch (Sr)
Defense - 15.8 ppg (#6), 287.2 ypg (#8)

2002: Ohio State
QB - Craig Krenzel (Sr)
Defense - 13.1 ppg (#2), 320.9 ypg (#23)

def Miami
QB - Ken Dorsey (Sr)
Defense - 19.1 ppg (#22), 285 ypg (#7)

2003: LSU
QB - Matt Mauck (Sr)
Defense - 11.0 ppg (#1), 252.0 ypg (#1)

def Oklahoma
QB - Jason White (Jr)
Defense - 15.3 ppg (#5), 259.6 ypg (#3)

[USC's stats:
QB - Matt Leinart (So)*
Defense - 18.8 ppg (#19), 337.8 ppg (#33)*]

2004: USC
QB - Matt Leinart (Jr)
Defense - 13.0 ppg (#3), 279.3 ypg (#6)

def Oklahoma
QB - Jason White (Sr)
Defense - 16.8 ppg (#11), 299.0 ypg (#13)

[Auburn's stats:
QB - Jason Campbell (Sr)
Defense - 11.3 ppg (#1), 277.6 ypg (#5)]

2005: Texas
QB - Vince Young (Jr)
Defense - 16.4 ppg (#8), 302.9 ypg (#10)

def USC
QB - Matt Leinart (Sr)
Defense - 22.8 ppg (#35), 360.9 ypg (#48)*

I should note that these statistics include the bowl games, so for example 2005 Texas and USC's statistics both took a hit by that 41-38 thriller (I recall UT was #4 scoring), USC had the #2 scoring defense in the regular season in 2004, and OU had the #1 total defense in the 2003 regular season.

For the most part, the trend holds. Very few teams even make it to the championship game without both a Jr/Sr quarterback and a stiff defense. As for the four exceptions, 1998 Florida State did have an outstanding defense, though many did feel that Ohio State (Sr QB Joe Germaine, #2 scoring defense) belonged in that game against Tennessee. 1999 Va Tech had the #1 scoring defense, and QB Michael Vick is an exception to most rules. 2003 USC was not actually in the title game (nor was 2004 Auburn, though I listed them as an unbeaten team). 2005 USC's defense was probably ranked 5-10 spots higher prior to the Rose Bowl, and one of the best offenses in the sport's history was able to win a handful of shootouts prior to that game. Of those exceptions, only 99 Va Tech and 05 USC went unbeaten, so it is very rare to have an unbeaten team without both an experienced QB and a top defensive unit.

So where does that leave us for 2006?

#1 Ohio State
QB - Troy Smith (Sr)
Defense* - returns 2 starters, questions at LB, allowing 9.5 ppg through 2 games

#2 Notre Dame
QB - Brady Quinn (Sr)
Defense* - weak unit a year ago, but returns 9 starters, allowing 13.5 ppg through 2 games

#3 Auburn
QB - Brandon Cox (Jr)
Defense - returned 6 starters, allowing 7 ppg through 2 games

#4 USC
QB - John David Booty (Jr)
Defense* - returned 6 starters, allowed 14 points in opener

#5 West Virginia
QB* - Pat White (So)
Defense - returned 5 starters, allowing 6.5 ppg through 2 games

#6 LSU
QB - Jamarcus Russell (Jr)
Defense - returned 5 starters, allowing 3 ppg through 2 games

#7 Florida
QB - Chris Leak (Sr)
Defense - returned 6 starters, allowing 3.5 ppg through 2 games

#8 Texas - likely eliminated with loss to #1 OSU
QB* - Colt McCoy (rFr)
Defense - returned 7 starters, allowing 15.5 ppg through 2 games

#9 Florida State
QB* - Drew Weatherford (So)
Defense - returned 5 starters, allowing 13.5 ppg through 2 games

#10 Georgia
QB - Joe Tereshinski (Sr) (* Fr Matthew Stafford starts next 4-6 weeks)
Defense - returned 5 starters, allowing 6 ppg through 2 games, gave Spurrier first shutout since 87

#11 Michigan
QB - Chad Henne (Jr)
Defense - returned 8 starters, allowing 12 ppg through 2 games

#12 Louisville
QB - Brian Brohn (Jr)
Defense* - returned 7 starters, allowing 14 ppg through 2 games

#13 Tennessee
QB - Erik Ainge (Jr)
Defense* - returned 5 starters, two key injuries in week 2, allowing 24 ppg through 2 games

#14 Virginia Tech
QB* - Sean Glennon (So)
Defense - returned 5 starters, allowing 5 ppg through 2 games

#15 Oklahoma
QB - Paul Thompson (Sr)
Defense* - returned 9 starters, allowing 18.5 ppg through 2 games

LSU, Auburn, and Florida all have experienced QBs and excellent defenses to cover up mistakes. However, they may all do each other in. Ohio State and Notre Dame have experience at QB but uncertainties at defense. USC has a junior quarterback who is a first-year starter, and questions at defense. Booty looked strong in their opener. West Virginia has a good, but sophomore, quarterback. Though both play with great defenses, I'm not confident about Weatherford's and Stafford's abilities to lead their teams through their schedules. Michigan's Henne has two years under his belt but needs to play better. The defense is improved but needs to step it up another notch before travelling to Columbus. Louisville has more experience with Brohm, but their defense played in spurts against Kentucky. Tennessee's defense was impressive against Cal, but unimpressive and lost key players against Air Force. Va Tech's Glennon is a sophomore first year starter, who must face the Miami and FSU defenses in the ACC. Oklahoma has a good defense on paper but one that is badly underachieving early on. Though a senior, Paul Thompson has not shown great decision making nor consistency at QB.