The most important statistic in college football is wins and losses. You are judged solely on performance and many coaches have their own formula for success. I am going to point out five key areas in statistics that can truly be the barometer for success. I will also highlight five statistics that can be misleading when determining a team's success. I love statistics and looking inside the numbers for each college football game. Remember numbers don't always tell the game story, but they often tell the season's story. I believe these five stats are keys to a successful program.
"Ackerman's Formula for Success"
- Turnover Margin
- 3rd down offense and defense
- Rushing defense
- Red zone touchdowns offense and defense.
- Scoring defense
Everyone in America has written about turnover margin and the fact of the matter is, team's that are high up in the rankings have great seasons. If your team had a losing record last season the number one chance for a quick turnaround is turnover margin. The reason is simple; you gain added possessions/opportunities while improving your field position. In limiting the opponent’s opportunities you give yourself a great margin of error on offense and can grind out wins. The top ten teams in turnover margin had winning seasons and all went to bowl games in 2012, except for Texas San Antonio which was not eligible as a new school. Look at the team's that surprised in 2012 and their ranking in turnover margin.
- Kansas State - #3 turnover margin
- Kent State - #4 turnover margin
- Florida - #8 turnover margin
- National Champion Alabama finished 14th in the country with a plus 14 in turnover margin.
Third down offense and defense are also vital stats when measuring success. Third down offense allows you to keep drives alive, win the time of possession and advance the ball into favorable field position. When you convert third downs you keep the opposing offense off the field. The best third down offense in the country last year belonged to Texas A&M and Heisman winner Johnny Manziel. Only one team in the top ten in 3rd down offense had a losing season and that was Marshall. There were nine bowl teams in the top ten on 3rd down offense. Five teams in the top ten won ten games and four won 11 games.
- Texas A&M - #1
- Clemson - #5
- Kansas St. - #7
- Louisville - #8
Third down defense may be a better indicator of great defense than any statistic. Once again only one team in the top ten had a losing record and that was Connecticut at 5-7 who had a pretty salty defense in a bad league. There were nine Bowl teams including big years by Florida and FSU in the top ten. If you expand your reach to the top 15 you’ll find National Champion, Alabama. The better you are on third down defense the more opportunities your offense gets to score. It also helps with field position and can keep your defensive snaps down; which keeps your defense fresh. Florida and Oregon State had breakout seasons thanks to third down defense. Texas A&M was 9th in the SEC in total defense but 16th in the country in third down defense which led them to a 11 win season.
- FSU - #3
- Oregon State - #6
- Florida - #8
- Alabama - #13
- Stanford - #14
- Texas A&M - #16
Alabama has had the number one rushing defense twice in their three championships and it was second the other championship season. All three years they held teams to less than 80 yards per game on the ground. Nine of the top ten rushing defenses last year had winning records including four of the top five teams winning 11 plus games. Connecticut once again was the only team with a losing record in the top 10.
- Alabama - #1
- FSU - #3
- Florida - #4
- Stanford - #5
Red zone offense and defense should be judged on touchdowns scored and touchdowns allowed. There are some teams that rank very high in red zone efficiency offense but kick so many field goals they don't maximize their win opportunities. Teams that can keep you out of the end zone and hold you to field goals generally are the best scoring defenses. There were four BCS bowl teams in the top ten of the red zone touchdown efficiency and two that played each other in the Cotton Bowl. Notre Dame and Alabama along with FSU were both in the top ten in red zone touchdowns allowed.
Red Zone Offense Touchdowns
- Oregon - #2
- FSU - #4
- Texas A&M - #4
- Alabama - #10
Red Zone Defensive Touchdowns Allowed
- Utah State - #3 (had 11 wins)
- Notre Dame - #3
- Alabama - #6
- FSU - #6
- Florida - #12
- Ohio St. - #12
Scoring defense is the one statistic that coaches will point to first when speaking of defensive success. Bob Stoops used to believe that if you can hold a team to less than 15 points per game for an entire season you can win a championship. The game has evolved to a more offensive style the last ten years but the SEC's reign on BCS titles coincides with top ten defensive units. Auburn may have been the only one in the last seven that did not have a dominant defense, but they did have a dominant player in Nick Fairley. Four BCS Bowl teams were in the top ten in scoring defense including Notre Dame and Alabama. Six teams in the top ten in scoring defense won 11 games or more.
- Alabama - #1
- Notre Dame - #2
- Florida - #5
- FSU - #6
- Boise St. - #8
- The last five National Champions ranking in scoring defense ~ Alabama #1, Alabama #1, Auburn #53, Alabama #2, Florida #4.
This and That...
Stadium Expansion - I think Texas A&M is making a mistake with regards to expanding. They are trying to capitalize on the big season with a Heisman Trophy winner and I get that. But there are empty seats in the SEC every season and soon Manziel will be gone. Florida had standing room only for the Tim Tebow Era that finished in 2009. Three years later they have upwards of 10,000 empty seats for non-big games. The Aggies want to try and keep up with Texas, but need to be careful in this era of great home fan experiences.
The SEC nine game schedule talks will continue on into the month with the SEC meetings in Destin. While I would like to see a nine game schedule and think we will down the road, I have to ask what is the rush? Strength of schedule has not been a problem for the league in the last seven seasons. I think it would take the SEC champion being left out of the final-four playoffs, before I make the change. Consider some of the nine game road blocks including the neutral site Florida versus Georgia game before you make the switch. The idea that kids have to play everyone in the league during their career is ridiculous. It's a 14 team league with a championship game, there are no guarantees so why use that as an excuse to add a conference game? The only reason to add a conference game is to strengthen the schedule. As far as I am concerned that will never be an issue as long as the SEC continues its dominance.
Finally a lot of publicity and rightfully so is going the way of Johnny Manziel and AJ McCarron. These two guys have a Heisman and some national titles to go with good looking girlfriends. But I bet you didn’t know that Aaron Murray from Georgia has a chance to be the most prolific passer in SEC history in 2013. Murray quietly goes about his business and the only thing missing is an SEC title. Murray was a top recruit out of high school who won a state championship at Tampa Plant in Florida. He played the state title game with an injured leg showing the type of toughness that you want in a quarterback. It wouldn't surprise me if Murray, not McCarron or Manziel is the quarterback who gets to New York from the SEC.