Beware: What statistics have been overrated and overlooked for 2012
With college football season less than a month away, some (but hopefully not all) preseason predictions and projections will be moot. Trust us, weâve been digesting our thoughts on the upcoming season since the end of spring practice and even the end of bowl season.
As is the case each season, some of the summerâs biggest talking points will fall flat once the season begins. And after a few games into 2012, weâll be sure to ask ourselves âhow did we overlook that?â
Weâd like to step ahead of the curve in the final weeks before kickoff and point out a few things you may be overrating during the offseason as well as a few you may be overlooking, too.
How much of West Virginiaâs preseason love is based on a gaudy bowl score -- and is that fair assessment? Which numbers just didnât add up for Kansas Stateâs 10-3 season?
Conversely, how much are we overlooking statistically sound teams who simply ran into a case of bad luck or untimely injuries?
Weâre sure you have your picks for the overrated or overlooked storylines from the summer, but here are our picks:
West Virginia as a Big 12 contender.
Weâre on the West Virginia bandwagon as much as anyone. Athlon ranked the Mountaineers 12th nationally and third in the Big 12. Quarterback Geno Smith checked in as a second-team All-American. The Mountaineersâ eye-popping win over Clemson in the Orange Bowl handed West Virginia momentum into 2012, but donât forget to look at the whole picture. West Virginia was 9-3 at the end of the regular season, winning its final three games by a field goal or less. The Mountaineers may not have even reached the Orange Bowl had Cincinnati starting quarterback Zach Collaros stayed healthy. The Bearcats were 3-0 in the Big East and West Virginia was 2-2 when the two met at Nippert Stadium. Collaros suffered an ankle injury in the second quarter of West Virginiaâs 24-21 win and didnât return until the bowl game.
Related: West Virginia preview
Kansas Stateâs offense.
The Wildcats return 11 starters, including quarterback Collin Klein, to a team that finished 10-3 last season and 7-2 in the Big 12. Thatâs all good news, but thereâs reason to hesitate. Statistically, Kansas State looked more like a team on the bowl bubble than on its way to the Cotton Bowl. Kansas State was outgained by every Big 12 opponent except Kansas. In those eight games, Kansas Stateâs opponents topped the Wildcats by an average of 142.6 yards per game. K-State also was ninth in the Big 12 in yards per play (4.9) and sixth in yards allowed per play (5.7).
Related: Kansas State preview
Rich Rodriguezâs debut at Arizona.
The influx of new coaches and offensive gurus has been one of the biggest stories in the Pac-12 since January, but letâs not get carried away with any of these coaches being miracle workers in Year One. Start with Rich Rodriguez -- heâs 9-32-1 all-time in his debut season at a school, including Salem College (2-8), Glenville State (1-7-1), West Virginia (3-8) and Michigan (3-9). And with the Mountaineers and Wolverines, Rodriguez took over programs with winning records a year earlier. Rich Rod may have success at Arizona, but history says itâs going to have to wait a year or two.
Related: Arizona preview
Michigan Stateâs run game.
The departure of starting quarterback Kirk Cousins combined with the return of LeâVeon Bell (948 yards, 13 touchdowns) and a veteran offensive line seems to indicate Michigan State will return to a run-first approach. That may be a good idea, but there are signs it might not be a seamless transition. Michigan State was 11th in the Big Ten in rushing (137.9 yards per game) last season and tied for ninth in yards per carry (3.95). The Spartans havenât finished better than sixth in the Big Ten in rushing in four seasons.
Related: Michigan State preview
NC Stateâs turnover prowess.
With Florida State and Clemson struggling to get out of their own way, NC State may be poised to take advantage in the ACC Atlantic. Quarterback Mike Glennon is a game-tested senior, so the Wolfpack probably will be stronger out of the gate than it was last season. Still, we have reasons to be skeptical about NC State. First, the losses -- 30-point losses to Cincinnati and Florida State, not to mention 14-10 to lowly Boston College. Turnover margin can be a finicky statistic, too, and NC State was plus-14 in that category. The Wolfpack probably shouldnât count on David Amerson to repeat his 13-interception performance, either. Meanwhile, NC State finished 11th in the ACC in yards gained per play (4.64) in conference games.
Related: NC State preview
Knile Davis as the second coming of Darren McFadden.
Donât get us wrong: Weâre excited to see an Arkansas offense featuring both quarterback Tyler Wilson and running back Knile Davis. But donât forget: All our opinions of Davis are based on a seven-game stretch in the second half of 2010 before he missed all of last season with an ankle injury. It was a seven-game run that propelled him to lead all SEC running backs in rushing that season, but it was still just seven games.
Related: Arkansas preview
The Gators ranked eighth in the nation in total defense last season, but they were rarely mentioned in the same breath as Georgia and South Carolina, and thatâs just the SEC East, never mind the West with Alabama and LSU. The reason? An alarmingly low number of takeaways. The Gators forced only 14 turnovers last season, tied with Notre Dame for the eighth fewest nationally. Thatâs bad news for an offense that needs all the help in can get.
Related: Florida preview
Ohio Stateâs close losses.
A major reason Athlon ranked Ohio State sixth this season is the combo of Urban Meyer, Braxton Miller and a standout defense. Besides those factors, Ohio State was awfully close to better record than 6-7 last season. The Buckeyes last six losses all came by a touchdown or less, including four on the road or at a neutral site. All that was with an interim coach and two quarterbacks, one being a freshman and the other Joe Bauserman. Meyer was 8-1 in games decided by a touchdown or less in his first two seasons at Florida (and then 3-6 thereafter).
Related: Ohio State preview
Illinois is the mirror image of some of the âluckyâ teams mentioned above. The Illini were in the top three in the Big Ten last season in yards allowed per play, per carry and per pass attempt, leading to a top-10 finish nationally in total defense. The offense couldnât bail out the defense, though, turning over the ball a Big Ten-worst 28 times. During Illinoisâ six-game losing streak, the Illini averaged only 11 points. While Illinois loses defensive end Whitney Mercilus, the Illini have pro talent in tackle Akeem Spence and end Michael Buchanan.
Related: Illinois preview
Oklahoma Stateâs turnover trend.
The Cowboysâ defense was never as bad as its 456.8 yards allowed statistic indicated. Oklahoma State was middle of the pack nationally in yards allowed per play, a more telling statistic with so many hurry-up offenses. The Pokes also led the nation in takeaways with 44, five more than the next best team. Normally, weâd caution against getting too wrapped up in high turnover numbers, but itâs too much of a trend in Stillwater to ignore. The Cowboys have led the Big 12 in takeaways in each of the last two seasons and were tied for third in defensive coordinator Bill Youngâs first season in 2009.
Related: Oklahoma State preview
Texas A&Mâs SEC-readiness.
Donât laugh. The Aggies may be a little more ready to compete in the SEC than onlookers would realize. No, this doesnât mean A&M is ready to compete with Alabama, LSU or Arkansas, but the Aggiesâ defense and offensive line might give them a leg up in the SEC. Texas A&M ranked 59th nationally in total defense, but the Aggies could blame part of that in a leaky pass defense and second-half turnover problems. The Aggies faced four quarterbacks (Brandon Weeden, Landry Jones, Seth Doege and Robert Griffin III) last season who ranked ahead of the SECâs top passer (Tyler Wilson). After WilsonIn addition, the Aggies were solid against the run. Their 2.6 yards allowed per carry was better than LSU and behind only Alabama in the SEC last season -- though only Ole Miss in the SEC allowed more rushing TDs. Throw in A&Mâs pro prospects at offensive tackle, Luke Joeckel and Jake Matthews, and the Aggies may be able to keep the SECâs top pass rushers at bay.
Related: Texas A&M preview
USFâs season of bad luck.
USFâs good luck ran out after Notre Dameâs turnover-filled opener, which propelled the Bulls to a 23-20 win in South Bend. After breezing through the non-conference schedule, USF did everything wrong late in the season. The Bullsâ lost seven of their last eight games, losing a fourth-quarter lead in five of those games. Blame it on poor third-down defense or turnover margin. Or blame it on a strange schedule, which included four non-Saturday games in the final eight games and only two games total in October. Before things went haywire last season, quarterback B.J. Daniels was on his way to a career year. Through the first seven games (all before top receiver Sterling Griffin was hurt), Daniels was on his way to career highs in completion percentage and pass efficiency. He also ranked ninth nationally in total offense (he finished ranked 17th). With a more predictable schedule featuring one Thursday game and one Friday game more than two months apart, USF should have some much-needed stability.
Related: USF preview
Jordan Wynnâs return.
Donât forget: If not for an inexplicable 17-14 loss at home to Colorado on Nov. 25, Utah would have played in the Pac-12 title game. Most of the results last season was with a quarterback, Jon Hays, who slipped behind freshmen on the depth chart in spring. Jordan Wynn, who is 13-6 as a starter over parts of three seasons, returns after missing the final nine games following surgery on his non-throwing shoulder. Utah faces USC at home and misses Oregon and Stanford altogether, so the Utes could be in position for a winning Pac-12 record in only their second season in the league.
Related: Utah preview
Boise Stateâs schedule.
For the first time in four seasons, Boise State is lacking preseason buzz. Even teams like Louisiana Tech and Arkansas State are receiving more fanfare among non-Big Six teams. When the season is over, donât be surprised if Boise State has one of the nationâs best records, despite heavy personnel losses. Boise State faces one major conference team, Michigan State, all season. Like Boise State, the Spartans are replacing one of their best quarterbacks in school history in the 2012 opener. After that, Boise Stateâs toughest games are BYU at home and Nevada in Reno in the finale. The Broncos still have an experienced offensive line, playmakers at running back and receiver, and a handful of upperclassmen players on defense despite just one returning full-time starter. Boise State is an upset over Michigan State away from being in the BCS-buster conversation again.
Related: Boise State preview