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The Scoop on Stats - National Championship Edition

Monday night's tilt between Notre Dame and Alabama will be the 15th title game in the BCS era. In studying trends from the previous 14 games, what are some trends we may glean to predict how this year's national championship will unfold?

Here's a look at a few stats and trends and how they correlate to winning college football's ultimate game.

Scoring first: The team that scores first is 7-7 in previous national title games. So if your team allows an opening drive score, don't freak out, as this has proven to have no bearing on who would score the most points when the clock hits all zeroes. 
WHO THIS FAVORS: No one. A stat that's been split evenly in the past is even heading into this game. Notre Dame scored first 11 times in 12 games, and Alabama is 10-for-13.

Leading at halftime: 13-0-1. Unlike the above statistic, if your team is trailing at the break, it is officially time to panic. Every eventual champion has taken a dream into the break, with the 2009 game between Florida and Oklahoma tied 7-7 at the break. 
WHO THIS FAVORS: Alabama. Notre Dame as led at eight of its 12 halftimes, but the Crimson Tide have led at every halftime except for the loss to Texas A&M.

Leading after three quarters: 11-3. 2000 Florida State, 2002 Ohio State and 2005 Texas have proven a bad third quarter isn't a death sentence, as each team lost its halftime lead but rebounded with a strong fourth quarter (and overtime, in Ohio State's case). 
WHO THIS FAVORS: Alabama, slightly. Notre Dame has led after nine third quarters, to Alabama's 11. Alabama followed Florida State, Ohio State and Texas' blueprint against Georgia, as the Crimson Tide led 10-7 at halftime, trailed 21-18 after three and won the game, 32-28.

Non-offensive touchdowns: There have been seven non-offensive touchdowns in BCS title game history, five of them scored by the team that went on to win the game. A Nebraska punt return and Ted Ginn, Jr.'s opening kickoff return are the only non-offensive touchdowns scored by a losing team. 
WHO THIS FAVORS: No one. More often than not, only the offenses find the end zone in this game and that trend will likely continue on Monday. In 25 combined games, these teams have scored only four touchdowns with its respective offense on the sidelines. Notre Dame has both registered and allowed one non-offensive touchdown, while only C.J. Moseley's 16-yard interception return against Michigan tips the scales slightly in Alabama's favor, 3-2. With that in mind, in the unlikely event one team is able to break through in this facet, it could very well mean the difference in the game. 

Winning the rushing battle: 12-2. A football truism has carried over to the BCS title game, with the exceptions coming in Michael Vick's scintillating 2000 Sugar Bowl and Nebraska's option in the 2002 Rose Bowl.
WHO THIS FAVORS: Alabama, slightly. The Tide run for 40 yards per game more than Notre Dame, and allow 15 yards fewer.

Forcing more turnovers: 9-2-3. The eventual winner has either forced an equal or greater amount of turnovers every year since 2005.
WHO THIS FAVORS: Alabama, slightly. Both teams succeed in this metric; Notre Dame has forced 23 turnovers and lost 14, while Alabama has forced 28 and lost 15.

Total yards: 8-6. Like scoring first, accumulating the most gross yardage hasn't historically translated to wins, although four of the SEC's six straight champions have posted more total yardage.
WHO THIS FAVORS: Alabama. Notre Dame throws for an average of four more yards than Alabama, but on the whole, the Crimson Tide gain 18 more yards per game than the Fighting Irish. Alabama leads the nation in total defense, while Notre Dame is 40 yards behind at No. 6. 

Sacks: 9-3-2. In the SEC's current run, 2010 Texas is the only team to create more sacks without going on to win the game.
WHO THIS FAVORS: Notre Dame. The Fighting Irish rank 15th nationally with 34 sacks in 12 games and place 28th with 16 sacks allowed. Alabama has created 33 sacks in 13 games, but rank 51st with 23 sacks allowed.

First Downs: 8-4-2. The ability to stay on the field and keep your opponent on the sideline hasn't historically been a reliable metric, but five of the last six SEC champions have won the first downs battle, with Oklahoma's 25-24 edge over Florida the lone exception.
WHO THIS FAVORS: Push. Neither team is particularly great at producing their own first downs, but they're elite at preventing them. Notre Dame averages 22.1 first downs per game, and ranks sixth with 16.1 allowed per game. Alabama ranks 57th nationally at 21.2 per game but leads the country with just 13.5 first downs allowed per game. 

Final note: Alabama comes out slightly ahead in most metrics, but it's never by much. These teams got to Miami with similar strengths and very few weaknesses. (In a historical oddity, Alabama's win over LSU last January is the only time in 14 games one team has won all eight of the above metrics.)

In the end, this little exercise may not matter come midnight on Monday night. Ohio State's rushing edge over Miami isn't going to help Notre Dame beat Alabama. Thirteen teams trailing at halftime isn't going to stop Alabama from overcoming a midpoint deficit. But it will be a fun thing to track throughout the game and, if nothing else, you can be the smartest person at your watching party. 

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