The 2013 season is upon us, but there’s still plenty to dissect from recent seasons that may give us a hint of what’s to come after the first kickoff Thursday.
Returning starters, points per game, yards per play and recruiting rankings give us a slice of what’s going on in the college football landscape, but there are a few others numbers that deserve attention.
We’ve been through nearly the entire offseason, and a handful of numbers and trends have slipped through the cracks. Further indications of Alabama’s dominance, a potential weakness for Heisman contender Braxton Miller and signs of vulnerability for Louisville.
Every team has been dissected, every conference previewed, every bowl game projected, but there are still a few notes left in the Athlon notebook before the season gets started.
Alabama’s dominance everywhere
Over the last 10 seasons, only 21 teams have outscored home and road opponents each by an average of 20 points per game in a season. Only two programs have done it in back-to-back seasons in the last decade: Alabama in 2011-12 and Boise State in 2009-10. A third consecutive season of the feat would be unprecedented during that span.
Braxton Miller’s weakness
If Ohio State is going to make a run at the national title and Braxton Miller is going to contend for the Heisman, the quarterback will need to improve his sack numbers. Ohio State was sacked on 9.5 percent of drop backs, the ninth-highest rate in the country. Moreover, Miller was sacked 21 times in the last seven games despite never attempting more than 20 passes in a game. The offensive line improved as the season went along, and Miller is a mobile quarterback. Is this the case of a sophomore trying to do too much? Ohio State at least improved from a year earlier when the Buckeyes were sacked on 15.8 percent of drop backs.
Aaron Murray’s record chase
SEC coaches named Georgia’s Aaron Murray their first-team all-conference quarterback this week. Maybe the pick was due to uncertainty surrounding Johnny Manziel. Or maybe it was to acknowledge Murray’s chase for the record books. With Manziel’s record-breaking season and AJ McCarron’s chase for a third national title, Murray’s career achievements have been overlooked. If Murray keeps up his season averages as a senior, he’ll break SEC’s career records passing records held by four different quarterbacks: passing yards (Georgia’s David Greene), touchdowns (Florida’s Danny Wuerffel), attempts (Kentucky’s Jared Lorenzen) and completions (Florida’s Chris Leak).
Wide receiver is a forgotten position at Stanford
Most avid college football fans know of Stanford’s reliance on tight ends Zach Ertz, Levine Toilolo and Coby Fleener in recent seasons, but the move away from receivers as only become more pronounced over the last four years. In 2009 (Andrew Luck’s first season as quarterback), Stanford completed 32.2 passes to non-quarterbacks, that number jumped to 44 percent in 2010, 57.2 percent in 2011 and then an astronomical 63.8 percent in 2012. With Ertz and Toilolo gone, that number could fall back to earth, otherwise new starting tight end Luke Kaumatule and running back Stepfan Taylor (97 career receptions) will be quite busy.
Boise State hits the road
In Athlon’s piece on the toughest road schedules, Boise State is mentioned for its toughest road schedule. The Broncos will face five teams that went to bowl games last season (Washington, Fresno State, Utah State, BYU and San Diego State). If all five go to bowl games this season, as projected, it will be the first time in school history Boise State has faced five bowl teams on the road.
Auburn need Gus Malzahn in the worst way
The Tigers’ offense crumbled when Malzahn left for Arkansas State, but it’s more than just ranking 11th in the league in yards per play (5.3). In this era of up tempo offense, Auburn’s offense averaged the fewest plays per game in the country last season at 60.5, nearly four fewer than the next worst team (Central Michigan). Running a low amount of plays isn’t bad — Alabama doesn’t run its offense at a breakneck pace — but Auburn averaged 67.3 plays per game during Mazlahn’s stint as offensive coordinator.
Overrating Louisville’s rout of Florida in the Sugar Bowl may not be the only reason to be wary of the Cardinals’ high ranking in 2012. The Cardinals recovered 76.6 percent of their fumbles last season. A high fumble recovery rate is generally considered a product of luck. The Cardinals recovered 25 of all 36 fumbles (their own and their opponents’ fumbles) last season. On the other side of the spectrum, South Carolina recovered only 30.6 percent of its fumbles and did just fine last season.
Fewer yellow flags for Arizona State
Todd Graham’s biggest impact in his first season at Arizona State was a dramatic reduction in penalties. The Sun Devils lost 44.5 fewer yards per games to penalties in 2012 compared to 2011, going from last in the nation in penalties per game to a tie for 12th fewest. Arizona State averaged at least eight penalties per game in each of Dennis Erickson’s final three seasons. In Graham’s first, Arizona State averaged 4.3 flags per game. And as Erickson’s teams racked up penalties, the Sun Devils were dismal in close games.
Overrating Baylor’s defense
Baylor may get a bump in the preseason projections after its late-season surge with wins over Kansas State, Oklahoma State and UCLA, but don’t overrate the defense. Baylor 13 sacks and 46 tackles for a loss during the season, ranking ninth and 10th in the Big 12, respectively. With six sacks and 12 tackles for a loss against UCLA alone in the Holiday Bowl, Baylor moved to seventh in the Big 12 in sacks and eighth in tackles for a loss.
Miami settling for field goals
With Stephen Morris and Duke Johnson in the backfield and a standout offensive line, Miami has perhaps the ACC’s best offense outside of Clemson. But the Hurricanes settled way for way too many field goals in the red zone last season. In Miami’s 52 trips to the red zone, the Hurricanes settled for three points 34.6 percent of the time. That’s a high field goal rate for a good offense. Consider some of the other teams that got more than a third of their red zone scoring off field goals: Connecticut, USF, Virginia Tech, Boston College and LSU.
Spurrier has dropped the Fun ‘n’ Gun. You should, too.
For whatever reason, Steve Spurrier remains associated with a pass-happy offense. Every now and then, a pundit will mention that Spurrier would prefer to air it out. That’s just not the case anymore, and it’s pretty well-established the South Carolina coach isn’t interested in recreating what he ran at Florida. South Carolina ran the ball 60.5 percent of the time the last two seasons and 53.2 percent of the time during his tenure with the Gamecocks.
Washington’s futile return games
Washington has not had a touchdown in the return game since 2007 when Louis Rankin returned a kickoff for a touchdown against Washington State. The Huskies’ haven’t had a punt return for a touchdown since 2003.