Daily Blog • June 20, 2014


Which Teams Fit the
National Championship Mold in 2014?

Wouldn’t it be easy if there were key indicators that could trim down a list of National Title candidates prior to each year? I recently went and looked through every imaginable stat from each team that won the National Title and also those that got to the BCS Title game. I also included those few #3 teams that had a legitimate beef about being about being left out. I searched for common threads in numerous categories and was very pleased with what I have found.

Before I get into my selection process for the upcoming season, two years ago was the first time that I did the championship mold article and it had great success. The 11 teams who made the cut were Alabama, Florida St, LSU, Michigan, Michigan St, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Oregon, South Carolina, Stanford and Texas.

All 11 of my teams that fit the mold went on to a bowl game with six of the 11 teams winning at least 10 games. 4 of the 11 teams would go on to win a BCS Bowl game and of course, Alabama who was included would win the National Title!

Last year, 14 teams made the cut and of the 14 teams, 10 won at least 9 games, 6 teams won at least 11 games, four appeared in BCS games and of course, Florida State which was included would win the National Title!  

Naturally, we can not 100% accurately predict the stats that each team will have for the upcoming season so what I did for each previous National Title winner and contender was to look what they did the year prior to their great seasons in order to examine the teams coming into 2014 (used 2013 stats).

I used a combo of 24 different categories/stats from every National Title winner and contender from the last 22 years to come up with a list of just 15 teams that meet all of the criteria and in my opinion legitimately fit the national championship mode.

Before I get to those 15 teams, I thought it would be interesting to break down each and every category and analyze which stats/categories eliminate which teams. I also must say that for many categories I did not count the 1995 Arizona St (6-5) team which would go on to nearly win the national title in 1996 because their stats particularly on defense that year were far outliers and it would not have allowed me to eliminate any teams in those categories. Also last year’s Auburn team who was coming off just a 3-9 season in 2012, was not used in several categories since they were such an outlier as well. It should be noted that in the end, neither of these teams won the National Title, so not using their some of their stats keeps this formula’s integrity in tact.

First I started off with the 126 teams who played in the FBS last year as I think we can all agree that Georgia Southern or Appalachian St will not win the national title this year.

My first category was to look at wins and losses the previous season and each team that contended for and/or won a national title in the last 22 years at minimum lost five games or less the previous seasons (ex: Oklahoma 7-5 in ’99, Ohio State 7-5 in ’01). The Buckeyes did go 6-7 in 2011 before going 12-0 in 2012. However, the 2011 team was under extraordinary circumstances losing their head coach in late May and having five of their best players suspended for nearly half or all of the season, so I did not count them. I, obviously did not count Auburn as well from last year. This eliminated 66 teams right out of the gate and here are the 60 teams that met this first general category.

Alabama Navy
Arizona Nebraska
Arizona St North Texas
Arkansas St Northern Illinois
Auburn Notre Dame
Ball St Ohio St
Baylor Oklahoma
Boise St Oklahoma St
Bowling Green   Old Dominion
Buffalo Ole Miss
BYU Oregon
Cincinnati Penn St
Clemson Rice
Duke San Diego St
East Carolina South Carolina
Florida St Stanford
Fresno St Texas
Georgia Texas A&M
Houston Texas Tech
Iowa Toledo
Kansas St UCF
Louisiana UCLA
Louisville USC
LSU Utah St
Marshall UTSA
Miami, Fl Vanderbilt
Michigan St Virginia Tech
Middle Tennessee Washington
Minnesota Wisconsin
Missouri WKU

My next categories would start dealing with stats from the previous year. The first one examined offensive ppg where Michigan in 1996 avg only 23.1 ppg the year before their national title season and it was the lowest ppg in the last 22 years among title winners/contenders. All of the 60 remaining teams avg’d at least 23.1 ppg last year with the exception of Virginia Tech (22.5) who avg’d less than 23.1 ppg. This brings the list down to 59.

Naturally the next category was defensive ppg where the 2009 Auburn Tigers the year before their national title in 2010 allowed 27.5 ppg, which was the highest in the last 22 years. In order to fit the National Championship mold the remaining 59 teams would have had to allow less than 27.5 ppg last year. This category would eliminate 7 teams as Old Dominion (34.0), Texas A&M (32.2), San Diego St (31.7), Texas Tech (30.5), Fresno St (30.3), Georgia (29.0) and Toledo (28.6) failed to make the cut. Now we are down to 52 teams.

The next two categories dealt with offensive and defensive ypg. On offense the 1998 Virginia Tech Hokies (prior to Michael Vick) avg only 314 ypg prior to their National Title appearance the following season. This category eliminated no teams this year. On defense the 2010 Oklahoma St Cowboys allowed 409 ypg (Auburn 2012 D allowed 421 ypg but was excluded like many of their other categories). Every National Championship contender for this year would have had to allow 409 ypg or less and this eliminated nine teams in Miami, Fl (426 ypg), Auburn (421 ypg), Duke (418 ypg), Missouri (417 ypg), Houston (416 ypg), Northern Illinois (415 ypg), Ball St (414 ypg), Arkansas St (413 ypg) and Boise St (413 ypg).

After five categories we are now down to 43 teams and here they are:

Alabama North Texas
Arizona Notre Dame
Arizona St Ohio St
Baylor Oklahoma
Bowling Green   Oklahoma St
Buffalo Ole Miss
BYU Oregon
Cincinnati Penn St
Clemson Rice
East Carolina South Carolina
Florida St Stanford
Iowa Texas
Kansas St UCF
Louisiana UCLA
Louisville USC
LSU Utah St
Marshall UTSA
Michigan St Vanderbilt
Middle Tennessee Washington
Minnesota Wisconsin
Navy WKU

I now started looking at rush and pass yard stats and started off with offensive rush ypg. Oklahoma in 1999 avg’d only 104 rush ypg in their pass-happy offense prior to winning the national title in 2000. This category eliminated no teams.
Next up I looked at defensive rush ypg allowed and the 1995 Florida Gators who would appear in the title game that year (lost to Neb 62-24) prior to taking home the title in ’96 allowed a 22-year high among title contenders with 160 rush ypg. This category eliminated 12 teams as Middle Tennessee (200 ypg), Texas (183 ypg), Navy (179 ypg), UCLA (168 ypg), Notre Dame (168 ypg), Arizona (168 ypg), Buffalo (167 ypg), Oregon (166 ypg), Rice (161 ypg), Washington (161 ypg), WKU (161 ypg) and Marshall (161 ypg) all allowed more rush ypg last year.

With 31 teams left I then looked at pass ypg on offense/defense but due to the contrasting style of play over the last 22 years (more pass-oriented) I was unable to eliminate any teams as option-based Nebraska avg’d just 114 pass ypg in 1992 and surprisingly the 2003 USC Trojans who won the title that year allowed 276 pass ypg. Both were the low/high watermarks of the last 22 years.

I then looked at first downs avg’d per game on offense and defense as Va Tech avg’d just 17 FD’s a game in 1998 and Oklahoma St gave up 22.3 FD’s on defense in 2010. After 11 categories, I was still sitting on 31 teams.

I then dived further into rush stats and looked at rush ypc on offense and defense. I found that Florida St in their national title winning season in 1999 (again played in title gm following year) avg’d only 3.3 rush ypc. On defense, Auburn in 2009 was the high water mark of the last 22 years allowing 4.1 rush ypc. This surprisingly eliminated three more teams as Minnesota (4.5), Bowling Green (4.5) and South Carolina (4.3) didn’t make the cut leaving me with just 28 teams.

Since I dived further into rush stats, I decided to also look at pass % completed and % allowed as my next two categories. Again Nebraska’s 1992 option-based team avg’d just 44.9%, which did not eliminate any teams. On pass defense, Oklahoma St’s 2010 defense allowing 62.5 %, the high water mark among contenders the last 22 years, this again did not eliminate any teams.

Now after 15 categories I was down to 28 teams and here they are:

Alabama Nebraska
Arizona St North Texas
Baylor Ohio St
BYU Oklahoma
Cincinnati Oklahoma St
Clemson Ole Miss
East Carolina Penn St
Florida St Stanford
Iowa UCF
Kansas St USC
Louisiana Utah St
Louisville UTSA
LSU Vanderbilt
Michigan St Wisconsin

I then decided to take a look at TO margin. Ohio St in 2005 was -9 the year before appearing in the title game being the lowest of the last 22 years. This eliminated Nebraska who was -11 in TO’s last year.

With 27 teams left I then looked Offensive and Defensive YPP (yards per point). Michigan in 1996 had the highest offensive ypp with 16.5. Every other team had a lower ypp and this category again eliminated no teams. I then looked at defensive ypp (higher the number the better) and Auburn’s 2009 defense allowed 13.6 yards per point. This category again eliminated no one.

18 categories down and still 27 teams left! To further dwindle the list I then took a look at returning starters for the National Championship teams and contenders and the least amount of returning starters on offense was four while the least amount of returning starters on defense was three. These two categories helped me eliminate two more teams as Utah St (3 offense) and Arizona St (2 defense) did not meet the criteria. Also no team has ever competed for the National Title with less than 10 combined starters returning and this would eliminate Oklahoma St who returns just 8 this year.

Now after 20 categories, I was down to just 24 teams and now I felt it was time to look at non-stat factors.
First, no school from outside the BCS conferences has ever won the national title in the last 22 years, so this would immediately eliminate Louisiana, North Texas and UTSA. Also it should be noted that no Big East (now AAC) team has ever won the national title since it lost its strongest core of teams to the ACC in 2004. Even Cincinnati, who finished the 2009 regular season a perfect 12-0, was only #4 into their bowl game and it would take every single team in a conference like the SEC to have at least two losses for an undefeated AAC team to get voted above them. Therefore this would eliminate Cincinnati, East Carolina and UCF. BYU also really isn’t an AQ status team like their independent peer Notre Dame, so I decided to eliminate them as well.

With 17 teams remaining I started looking at other factors that separated them. Vanderbilt has lost at least two games in every single season since World War II and with a new head coach, it’s safe to assume they will not be a championship contender this year. Also Penn State is ineligible for a bowl this year and while statistically they qualify, their sanctions prevent them.

So here are the final 15 teams that met all of the criteria and in my opinion fit a championship mold for the upcoming season based on the last 22 years. While there may be a couple of teams left out (UCLA, Oregon, Georgia, Auburn, South Carolina), 14 of these teams made my preseason Top 32 (12 in Top 23) including my top 4 who I forecast to make the first college football playoff in Florida St, Alabama, Ohio St and Oklahoma!

The Final 15 Teams Who Fit the
National Championship Mold in 2014

Florida St
Kansas St
Michigan St
Ohio St
Ole Miss