StatTiger: The Key Numbers for a Championship

Stuart Carter crunches the numbers and takes a look at which statistical categories are most important to a college football championship team.

There are no magical formulas for winning a national championship in college football although we often hear how defense wins them.

Logic states a team needs talent, depth and good coaching when it comes to the basics. In the modern era of the BCS, strength of schedule helps and all teams need a little bit of good fortune somewhere during the season.

Coaches will tell you a good run offense, a strong run defense and good special teams will win the majority of games, but are those enough to win championships?

For the 2010 Auburn Tigers strength of schedule was vital as the computer polls favored Auburn all season long. Auburn had an outstanding offense, which included a solid running game and a very efficient pass offense.

Auburn's defense was suspect all year long except for stopping the run. Auburn was fairly consistent on special teams except for punting and punt return offense. Again, there is no magical formula to win a championship, but it does help to be very good at what you do well.

Auburn improved its record from 8-5 in 2009 to 14-0 in 2010. One of the keys to success in 2010 was the team's ability to win its close games.

Auburn was 2-3 in games decided by seven points or less in 2009. Better execution and finishing stronger could have resulted in an 11-2 season in 2009.

In 2010 Auburn was far more consistent on offense, resulting in a 6-0 record in games decided by seven points or less. Auburn's defense might not have been dominating, but the group did come up with crucial turnovers and impact plays during its close games.

How much did Auburn improve from 2009 to 2010 in national statistics?

Offense:

•Auburn improved from No. 13 to No. 5 in run offense.

•Auburn improved from No. 22 to No. 1 in pass efficiency offense.

•Auburn improved from No. 16 to No. 7 in total offense.

•Auburn improved from No. 17 to No. 7 in scoring offense.

•Auburn improved from No. 70 to No. 38 in tackles for loss allowed.

•Auburn improved from No. 44 to No. 10 in first down average.

•Auburn improved from No. 57 to No. 3 in third down percentage.

•Auburn declined from No. 3 to No. 28 in red zone offense.

Quarterback Cameron Newton's running was an important part of Auburn's offensive success.

Auburn improved almost across the board on offense, which resulted in a very consistent attack that was difficult to defend.

The only step backwards statistically came in the red zone, but that was misleading. Last season Auburn scored 95 percent of the time on 40 red zone trips compared to the 86 percent from 66 red zone possessions in 2010. There were three games this season in which the Tigers knelt on the football inside the opponent's red zone to run out the clock, which skewed their scoring percentage.

Auburn also improved its red zone opportunities from three per game in 2009 to nearly five in 2010.

Defense:

•Auburn improved from No. 78 to No. 9 in run defense.

•Auburn declined from No. 31 to No. 76 in pass efficiency defense.

•Auburn improved from No. 68 to No. 60 in total defense.

•Auburn improved from No. 79 to No. 53 in scoring defense.

•Auburn improved from No. 50 to No. 16 in tackles for loss.

•Auburn broken even at No. 88 in first downs allowed.

•Auburn declined from No. 17 to No. 35 in third down percentage.

•Auburn improved from No. 100 to No. 72 in red zone defense.

The linemen ended up being the strength of the 2010 defense, which made an impact in run defense and tackles for loss.

Nick Fairley makes a sack vs. Alabama.

Though Auburn improved in five of the eight defensive categories, its defense is still a project in the making, especially with the losses in personnel going into 2011.

Special Teams:

•Auburn declined from No. 64 to No. 82 in net punting.

•Auburn improved from No. 113 to No. 90 in punt return offense.

•Auburn improved from No. 106 to No. 9 in punt return defense.

•Auburn improved from No. 27 to No. 25 in kick return offense.

•Auburn improved from No. 97 to No. 16 in kick return defense.

This season kickoff return offense and defense were more important to the Tigers than the punting game. Because Auburn punted far less this season compared to 2009, punt return defense wasn't as important though the Tigers made a major improvement in this category. Because Auburn scored frequently in 2010, kickoff return defense became vital.

Fortunately for the Tigers, Auburn was No. 16 in kickoff return defense in 2010 compared to No. 97 last year. Auburn is still searching for a player who is a major threat on punt returns, something the Tigers have lacked the past two seasons.

Statistical Model for Championship Teams

Looking back at the two participants in the BCS national title game and the No. 1 teams voted by the Associated Press Poll from 2000-2010, here are the average national rankings in the 13 major statistical categories.

Included are Auburn's rankings from 2010. The categories are listed by the highest ranking to the lowest.

Scoring Offense: 10.6 (Auburn No. 7)

Scoring Defense: 11.6 (Auburn No. 53)

Pass Efficiency Offense: 12.3 (Auburn No. 1)

Pass Efficiency defense: 15.1 (Auburn No. 76)

Total Defense: 15.5 (Auburn No. 60)

Run Defense: 17.6 (Auburn No. 9)

Total Offense: 19.1 (Auburn No. 7)

Turnover Margin: 22.4 (Auburn No. 33)

Run Offense: 26.9 (Auburn No. 5)

Punt Return Offense: 38.6 (Auburn No. 90)

Punt Return Defense: 42.8 (Auburn No. 9)

Kick Return Offense: 43.5 (Auburn No. 25)

Kick Return Defense: 51.6 (Auburn No. 16)

Scoring offense was the No. 1 statistical category with the participants for the national championship posting an average ranking of 10.6 nationally. Kickoff return defense was the least important category with an average ranking of 51.6.

Looking at the teams that won the BCS title or finished first in the AP painted a different picture in terms of the top five statistical categories. The average rankings of the "winners" revealed that scoring defense was the most important category followed by run defense, pass efficiency offense, scoring offense and total defense.

Looking at the statistical model for the SEC teams that won a national title or finished undefeated from 2000-2010 (seven teams), here are the statistical categories arranged based the best average ranking to the lowest:

Run Defense: 8.3

Scoring Defense: 12.0

Total Defense: 12.3

Pass Efficiency Offense: 14.7

Scoring Offense: 14.9

Pass Efficiency Defense: 16.6

Run Offense: 18.9

Turnover Margin: 22.7

Total Offense: 23.6

Punt Return Defense: 29.0

Punt Return Offense: 40.6

Kick Return Offense: 53.9

Kick Return Defense: 54.6

The top five categories within the Southeastern Conference are run defense, scoring defense, total defense, pass efficiency offense and scoring offense. It's important to note the average national ranking in run offense is 18.9.

The 2010 Tigers had eight Top 25 rankings from the major statistical categories. They were No. 1 in pass efficiency offense, No. 5 in run offense, No. 7 in scoring offense, No. 7 in total offense, No. 9 in run defense, No, 9 in punt return defense, No. 16 in kickoff return defense and No. 25 in kickoff return offense.

In terms of their average ranking from all 13 statistical categories, the 2005 Texas Longhorns were the highest ranked team from 2000-2010 with an average rating of 12.5. The worst team was the 2002 Ohio State Buckeyes with an average rating of 42.4.

The 2010 Tigers had an average ranking of 30.4 from the 13 categories. The 2008 Florida Gators had the most Top 25 rankings in 11 of the 13 statistical categories. The 2002 Ohio State team and the 2005 USC Trojans were tied for the least Top 25 categories with five each.


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