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October 21, 2008
Bowden: Does Texas have what it takes?
»More: Bowden chat transcript
Now that the first BCS poll is out, everyone can start obsessing about who's going to make it to the championship game. Although no one knows for sure what is going to happen in the rest of the season – three No. 1 teams already have lost this season – everyone wants to talk about their team's chances of getting there.
I was in Austin broadcasting the Texas-Missouri game, and I have to tell you Texas looked every bit a championship contender in its 56-31 domination of the Tigers. I don't know what people expect out of the first BCS standings, but as far as the No. 1 spot goes, the formula got it right. After the past two weekends, I don't think anyone with an objective point of view and a clear conscience could have anyone else in the top spot.
Whenever I write about what it takes to win the national championship – besides the best talent – it always includes a veteran quarterback and a great scoring defense. These two criteria have withstood the test of time as being critical to winning the national championship. Of course, there are many other facets of the game that are important, such as scoring offense, rush defense and turnover margin. (If you're a stats junkie like me, check out a couple of my previous articles: Targeting the Top Ten and Coaching by the Numbers.)
When you look at Texas, the Longhorns have one of the best quarterbacks in the nation and a good – but not great – scoring defense. But do they have the whole package? More important, are there any other teams out there that, from a statistical point of view, are playing better?
I have gone back and looked at the statistics of the past five national champions. It seems to me that as we discuss the importance of various phases of offense, defense and special teams as it applies to determining a national champion, we should see how relevant those factors were in the past.
I have included all the statistical categories that I consider to be important in playing championship football, as well as some perceived to be important. Then, I highlighted the totals in the top 10 and the top 25 to make it easier to identify any patterns or consistencies that exist between the past five championship teams.
Since Texas currently is No. 1, I included them in the analysis. You might rather see how your favorite team compares to the past five champions, so feel free to search Yahoo! to check out the NCAA statistics yourself.
How Texas compares statistically to the past five champs:
• The greatest discrepancies between Texas (after seven games) and the past five titlists are in pass efficiency defense and total defense. All five past champions were in the top 10 in both; Texas is 72nd and 39th, respectively. With three new starters in the secondary, including two freshman safeties, this was expected to be an area of concern for the Longhorns.
• In scoring defense, the most important statistical category, Texas is 25th (17.6 ppg). The Longhorns currently are giving up fewer points per game than LSU did when it won it all last season.
• Although turnover margin is important, turnovers gained has been a much stronger indicator of a championship team. Great defenses don't just stop people; they also take the ball away. The past five champs were ranked in the top 25 in this category, with the average number of turnovers gained at 32.6. Texas is 84th, and at their current pace, the Longhorns are projected to force only 18.6 turnovers.
• Texas has turned the ball over only six times, which ranks third in the country.
• Two of the Longhorns' greatest strengths are scoring offense (48.1 ppg/second) and rush defense (48.0 ypg/second). Both are national-championship numbers.
• Colt McCoy is No. 4 in passing efficiency.
• Texas is eighth in net punting and seventh in kickoff returns, both important in regard to creating positive field position. But the Longhorns are 96th in punt returns, because they usually like to go after the block.
• Texas commits a lot of penalties, but so did almost every national champion in the past five years. This probably is the most misunderstood statistic in football.
With the season half over, we still don't know what colors the teams will be wearing in the national championship game. But we do have a good idea what their stats will be.
Terry Bowden is Rivals.com college football analyst. For more information about Terry, visit his official web site. Click here to view previous articles. To send Terry a question or comment for potential use in a future column or webcast.
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