probably noticed how very few statistics, when held to the
light alone, genuinely expose a team's strengths/weaknesses.
We will try to make sense of much of what has happened so
far in 2004 by breaking down third-down situations and
circumstances. When you poignantly align the right numbers
and use simple logic, much is revealed as to why a team is
performing a certain way. Trends definitely exist in some
areas. Of course, decipher what you will. But we think we
have a few cleaver, multi-faceted insider angles for how to
break this information down. We compare/contrast certain basic
vital statistics that, when focused together, can give a better
understanding as to why a team does/doesn't do well.
is this - what one set of stats means to one team, when
mimicked, often leads to a totally different statistical and
final outcome for another. In other words, there is no
statistical prototype for success. What does hold water
is analysis when deciphering third-down rates, offensively
and defensively, of one team compared to itself. Ostensibly,
a team has to limit their foes from achieving third-downs
at as high of a rate (or higher) as they do. But, just as
important as these rates is breaking down the total number
of third-down tries, their offensive/defensive rankings, and
how tough each schedule proves to be. We also provide, if
applicable, other unlisted stats that reveal more truth for
To Read - For our analysis, the table presented above
takes the Top 32 teams (via the latest Associated Press
poll) into consideration. The first column next
to each gives that teams' offensive ability in third-down
situations, with both the actual amount of tries/successes
and the corresponding percentage rate. In parenthesis
is their total offensive rank (out of all 117 I-A teams).
The next column to the right does the same, but it
does it for when that team is on defense. The next column
is NationalChamps.net's Strength Of Schedule (SOS)
ranking for each. The last column merely gives the
average time-of-possession differential so far for each squad.
This number almost always gives us the answer when the other
stats yield inconclusive results.
noticeable trend, for this analysis, is how a team's defensive
ranking becomes more important than its offensive ranking.
Vital is how only six of the 32 are ranked defensively in
the bottom two-thirds (lower than 40th). Even more so, 12
of the 32 (twice as many) are ranked offensively in the bottom
two-thirds. This indirectly proves what we all know, that
a good defense, more than a good offense, gets you where you
want to go.
six defensively lacking teams, only #31 Stanford fails
to rank 18th or higher offensively. Out of these six squads,
only Stanford again fails to rank a QB in the top 25
for individual pass efficiency. Evidently, strong-enough (passing)
offenses offset marginal defenses. Undefeated Minnesota
and Boise State add a selfish nature - they are good
ball control offenses that keep the pigskin for substantially
more time than opponents, which in turn helps to offset their
fledging defenses. Unbeaten Boise State's disparagingly
strong time-of-possession, added to their weak schedule, allows
the Bronco 'D' to bend but not break in holding foes
to a 29% third-down rate. Minnesota allows teams 41%
success on third-downs, so their 49% offensive third-down
rate is needed for them to stay unscathed. If you didn't know,
the Golden Gophers 3rd-ranked rushing offense is the
balancing factor for why they keep the ball more than opponents
and a bagel in the loss column. A team's weak defense can
be buoyed by its strong offense game by game, but staying
undefeated the entire campaign usually eludes those who cannot
consistently stop the other side at these most critical times.
Accordingly, the Auburn-loss revealed how Tennessee
won't go far if their 67th-rated defense continues to allow
foes a 43% third-down success rate.
those twelve who fail to rank in the top third (40th or higher)
offensively. Navy has the worst defense of the bunch,
coming in ranked 36th. Seven of the other squads have top
20 defenses. Of these, Navy, Southern Miss,
and Ohio State are the only ones that allow foes higher
than a 30% third-down success rate. The main point of this
table is proven by the Buckeyes - Ohio State owes their
loss to being the only team here that allows a higher third-down
rate than they earn. Consistent foes eventually broke through.
Navy's success, though allowing a 40% third-down rate,
is evidently due to I-A's weakest schedule. Southern Miss
has a blah slate, so when their 8th-ranked pass defense stymies
foes on 68% of their third-down tries, the Golden Eagles'
positive time-of-possession ratio grows and they remain undefeated.
Southern Miss also has the best Turnover-ratio in the
land, and that never hurts.
rest of these weaker offensive teams have stellar defenses.
With a negative time-of-possession stat, Miami stands
out. But the Canes use arguably the nation's best pass
defense and the third best total 'D', along with great special
teams, to dominate their opponents. Florida State holds
foes to this chart's lowest success rate on third-downs (18.5%),
while also holding the ball for five more minutes. Miami
beat them, but few others will if these 'seminal' (get
it?) numbers keep flowing.
an easy fact to extract - out of the eight that succeed half
the time or more when in third-down situations, the lowest
offensive rank is Missouri at 20th. Still, three of
them - Florida, Maryland, and Mizzu - have one loss.
And of these, the Tigers and Gators both noticeably
have negative time-of-possession ratios. Offense is important,
but a strong one can't keep losses from occurring, especially
when you have the ball less than your opponents.
allow opponents a 40% or higher third-down success rate. Oklahoma,
though ranked 38th defensively, offsets this by having a chart-best
66% success rate themselves. California, the only other
top ten team in this category, is an anomaly. The Golden
Bears allow foes a 40% success rate on third-downs, yet
boast the 11th-ranked defense. Cal also has the nation's
second best total offense and this charts' third-best offensive
third-down conversion rate, yet a negative time-of-possession
ratio. When you consider how Cal forces an average
of 17-plus third-downs per game for foes while offensively
finding themselves in only 28 third-downs over their three
games, you can see why they win - they score fast and often
enough (top scoring offense in the country) while bending
but rarely breaking (7th in scoring defense). Oklahoma
State has the lowest total offensive ranking (38th) of
this bunch, and they barely offset opponent's 44% success
rate on third-downs with their 45% rate. But the Cowboys
win every time by using the nation's 4th-rated rushing game
to control the ball a chart-best average of 9:12 more per
tilt. Again, keeping the ball out of the enemy's hands
can offset other weaknesses.
will be watching Texas and their 17th-ranked defense against
the 66% third-down success rate of Oklahoma. The numbers
favor the Longhorn's third-ranked offense against the
Sooner's 38th-ranked 'D', but Rice, North
Texas and Baylor do not prove that these Lone Stars
can shine at a 44% third-down conversion rate against the
nation's #2. This third-down dimension should tell all, as
it will in the USC-Cal match-up. Since these PAC-TENners'
stats are so comparable, it's likely that (similarly to the
USC-Stanford game) whoever can force more third-downs
will have the edge. The same goes for the SEC come November
13th. Analyze the third-down stats of Georgia and Auburn
beforehand to see which juggernaut should do better, and then,
accordingly, see what actually happens.