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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. 

Ron Turner introduced as FIU's newest head coach

Nearly one month to the day after stunningly dismissing Mario Cristobal, FIU introduced its next out-of-nowhere decision: head coach Ron Turner. 

Turner has spent the past eight seasons in the NFL, the most recent of which as the quarterbacks coach for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. That brings the obvious question, why leave? Why not continue to work under Greg Schiano coach a team with a young, up-and-coming roster?

"I love the challenge of being a head coach," Turner explained. "The happiest time I have in in coaching were the nine years I spent as the head coach in college. That's why I'm in coaching - the relationships you have with your players and their families that last forever."

Okay, that makes sense. But why FIU? 

"I really believe that this program is ready to take the next step, to win at a high level on a regular basis," Turner continued. "When I got down here, I could feel the excitement. It's kind of unbelievable the path they've been on, and I see that trend going that way. I could see the passion and they've got a commitment to be the best."

As he pointed out Friday, Turner has spent the vast majority of his coaching career at the college level. But the game is a much different place than when he left it in 2004. For starters, the spread offense was still considered a gimmick and Facebook was exclusive to Harvard students. 

Turner credited his son Morgan, an offensive at Stanford, for keeping him abreast of the NCAA's recruiting rules and practices, and his college-aged daughters for introducing him to social media. "I haven't gotten into the Twitter yet, but I know that's coming," said Turner.

We'll have a fast, tough, physical, explosive football team that plays with passion. You can't tough unless you play with passion. 

On the spread offense, Turner stated, "There were a handful of teams running it, now everybody's running it, including us. Implementing some of the spread, some of the option, that everybody's doing will be a big part of what we do."

Turner said he won't attend the upcoming AFCA Convention, giving the vibe that a newly-hired head coach at the annual coaches gathering would be like walking through a lion's den draped in raw steak. "I want to get to know the current staff and I've got some names of people I want to talk to," he said. "I'd rather bring them here, and give them the chance to see and feel what's going on."

For someone that's been out of the game for the better part of a decade, he certainly could have fallen in a worse situation. Even with a team coming off a 3-9 season that loses 30 seniors, he'll recruit an area with quality players at every turn at a school on the move to Conference USA.

In the end, though, it's about the players for Turner. He plans to use his NFL experience and contacts to "teach them how to manage their time, how to make that commitment, how to work and do all the things necessary to win."

West Alabama's Will Hall gets team to 'hold the rope' and buy in

In just his second season as a head coach, West Alabama's Will Hall led the program to their first outright conference title in school history this past season

The video above has some really good footage that chronicles Coach Hall behind the scenes as well as the Tigers journey (including Hall's 'hold the rope' pre game speech).

You can bet that this video is making its way out to recruits. All American Ridge Wilson talks to the camera crew about the impact that Coach Hall has had on his life, the perks of playing for a young and energetic head coach, and the blessing that it was for him to go from the University of Kentucky to West Alabama.

After that there's plenty of highlights of a quality team that flat out gets after it.

Chuck Martin explains 'The Luck of the Irish'

Chuck Martin entered this season with his work cut out for him, moving from defensive coordinator to coordinating the offense for the Fighting Irish. At this point, I think that it's safe to say that we all know how that transition went for everyone in South Bend.

Some reporters have referenced "the luck of the Irish" in a number of Notre Dame's wins, but as Martin explains, when people reference good luck it's always reserved for winners, never the losers. So as long as they keep referencing it, then they feel like they're doing something right

"I think in life there is a certain amount of luck in everything that happens. People always wish you good luck, and I always tell them 'Hey, we'll take all the luck we can get'."

"People that have been around team sports in general, and particularly football, know that if you prepare the right way and you do the right things all the time, or at least try to, it seems like those teams get more lucky than the other teams. There are certain people that have won a lot of games, and certain players that have won a lot of games, and the ones that lose never get deemed 'lucky', so the ones that win are always the one that are deemed 'lucky'." Martin explained.

"There are hundreds of plays where both teams are lucky every week. You guys (the media) just tend to pick out one or two that you remember, but we remember a lot more than you guys do."

Switching gears a bit to game planning, Martin explains at about the 10 minute mark why Alabama is near impossible to game plan for in the red zone.

"Since they don't give up many opportunities, unfortunately you're trying to study the opposing tape and there just isn't a whole lot of clips of teams getting down there. In the few clips that teams have gotten inside of the ten, where you can really game plan and organize a good plan, the score is typically like 48-0 and there's none of the starters in."

The Scoop on the FCS National Championship

Hidden among a landscape of bowl games, NFL playoff games and the BCS National Championship lies an interesting match-up complete with contrasting styles, fired-up fan bases, gallons full of emotion with a trophy up for grabs. North Dakota State and Sam Houston State will stage a rematch in Frisco, Texas, for the FCS National Championship at 1 p.m. ET on ESPN2.

North Dakota State won last year's game, 17-6, with an exercise of brute strength defeating Sam Houston State's speedy running game. The Bison held the Bearkats, who averaged nearly 270 rushing yards per game, to 95 rushing yards and quarterback Brian Bell, then a sophomore, was unable to to push the ball beyond the line of scrimmage, completing just 12-of-31 passes for 115 yards with two interceptions.

Bell has progressed mightily in the 14 games since last year's championship, entering Saturday's game ranking 11th in FCS passing efficiency. For the year, he has thrown for 2,252 yards with 21 touchdowns and six interceptions to go with 342 rushing yards and six scores. Bell hasn't thrown an interception against FCS competition since Oct. 20, connecting on 63-of-98 passes for 920 yards with 10 touchdowns in that span. Bell's numbers compliment a Bearkats rushing offense that has increased by 12 yards per game over last season.

An improved Sam Houston State offense will try its luck against a North Dakota State defense that hasn't become any more forgiving in the last 12 months. Led by FCS Coordinator of the Year Chris Klieman, the Bison rank third nationally in rushing defense and first in pass defense, total defense and scoring defense. North Dakota State has held all 14 of its opponents to 21 points or less, and half of its foes to seven points or fewer. 

Craig Bohl's team doesn't light the world on fire on offense, but a 32.6 scoring average has been more than enough for North Dakota State to arrive in Frisco with a 13-1 record and an eight-game winning streak. If Willie Fritz's 11-3 Bearkats should have a clear edge, it's when North Dakota State runs the ball. Sam Houston State ranks second nationally in rushing defense, allowing just 2.89 yards per carry, and will defend a Bison offense that ranks 26th nationally in rushing offense. 

If the Bearkats are able to do what North Dakota State did to them last year, clog up the running lanes, they will force North Dakota State into a similarly unfamiliar position, making Bison quarterback Brock Jensen beat them. Jensen has thrown 17 touchdowns, rushed for nine more and thrown only eight interceptions, but with just one outing of more than 20 completions to his credit this season, his passing success has come, much like Bell, as a symptom of a successful running game. 

 

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