Whit Watson Blog: A Numbers Game

Mark Twain is often credited with the statement that "there are three kinds of lies: lies, damn lies, and statistics," but it was actually former British prime minister Benjamin Disraeli who came up with that pearl in the 19th century. Disraeli, it should be noted, was Britain's first and only Jewish prime minister, which is, in itself, a statistic. I love this stuff.

My co-workers at Sun Sports know me to be a statmonger. Every week, while preparing for our Chevy Tailgate Saturday studio shows, I dig through game notes, media guides, and websites looking for the obscure, the bizarre, and the surprising. Anyway, during last week's Sports Talk Live on Sun Sports, the panel argued the question of which Division I football team in Florida was playing the best right now. Interesting question, and completely impossible to answer, but that's what we do on talk shows. Most votes were cast for Florida State, by virtue of two wins over ranked opponents, with some sentiment for Florida, after the slugfest win over top-five Tennessee. Me, I want numbers. Fortunately, the NCAA's statistical database is among the easiest to access and most comprehensive in the business.

For the purposes of this discussion, we are considering the seven Division I programs in the state: FSU, Florida, Miami, South Florida, UCF, Florida International, and Florida Atlantic. You know I love the smaller schools, but if I start comparing Webber International (in the NAIA polls for the first time in school history this week) to Bethune-Cookman (among the top ten in the Sheridan poll for HBC's) to Jacksonville to the Big Seven, well, we'll be here all day. Comparing programs across divisions is a fool's errand. I'll stick to D-I. All stats are prior to the weekend of September 24th.

First stat: total offense. The highest ranked team in the state in that category? South Florida, at number 46, right behind UConn and just ahead of Colorado State. The Bulls' 404.3 total yards per game is well ahead of Florida (60th) and Florida State (78th) in the category. Miami is 85th, UCF 96th. Number one in the country is Texas Tech, with a preposterous 700-plus yards of offense per game.

Of course, the Bulls benefited from having played UCF, which ranks 76th in the nation in total defense, allowing 394 yards per game. Florida International, which is not ranked by the NCAA due to its provisional D-I status (FAU is in the same boat), would fall 116th out of 119 teams in D-I, making the Golden Panthers the most porous unit in the state. Here's the shocker - Florida is ranked second in the nation in total defense behind Connecticut (also a stunner, when you think about it). The Gators have allowed 199 yards per game this season, better than South Florida (8th, 230.6), Florida State (13th, 261.3), and Miami (17th, 274). Coming against Wyoming, Louisiana Tech, and Tennessee - three teams with reputations of offensive firepower - that Gator stat is pretty impressive.

Break it down for me. Pass defense: South Florida is 5th nationally at 117.3 yards per game allowed through the air. Florida is 10th, Florida State tied for 32nd, Miami 34th, UCF 56th. FAU would be a healthy 28th in the nation against the pass if they were allowed in the rankings, while FIU would be a sickly 115th. Developing trend: Florida International's defense needs work.

Rush defense: Florida is 11th in the nation, allowing 61 rush yards per game, best in the state. FSU is 22nd, Miami 28th, South Florida 44th. UCF is 81st, and they have USF's Andre Hall to thank for it. FIU would be 91st and FAU falls at 111th - the Owls rarely saw a football in the air against Minnesota last week, as the Gophers happen to lead the nation in rushing offense at 335 yards per game.

Pass offense: now we know where Texas Tech butters its bread. 584 pass yards per game. In a related story, Cody Hodges' arm just melted. For all the griping about Drew Weatherford versus Xavier Lee, it is Florida State that leads the Sunshine State programs in passing offense at 267.3 yards per game, good for 27th in the nation (behind teams like Michigan State, Vanderbilt, and North Carolina, however). Florida is 49th, with UCF making a strong showing at 54th, with Miami at 78th and South Florida a dismal 106th (finally, a chink in the Bulls' armor). FIU and FAU, if ranked, would be close together in the mid-80's.

Rush offense: Told you about Minnesota already. South Florida leads the state teams with 266.6 rushing yards per game (Andre Hall accounting for 128 of those). Both USF and Hall are 9th in the nation. Miami and Florida are 63rd and 64th - the Gators are tied with Duke in that category at 136.67 rush yards per game, if you can believe it - while Florida State is a stunning 102nd and UCF is a predictable 108th. That Seminole stat - 84 rush yards per game - has got to be the biggest upset of the season so far.

A former D-I coach once told me that the only stat in football that really matters is scoring defense. All-righty then - Florida, Florida State, and South Florida are all in the top twenty nationally, with the Gators allowing only 8 points per game (4th). If they can't score, they can't win. Miami is an uncharacteristic 44th (20 points per game allowed), while UCF allows seven and a half more points per game than that, good for 75th. FAU would fall in the 90's, while FIU would be 113th, but I'm finished piling on the Panthers.

Last one: scoring offense, the number that fans love. There's Texas Tech again, scoring 68 points per game, with Southern Cal close behind at 66.5. The top Florida team? Umm...wait a minute, scrolling...still scrolling...there it is.

Florida State, at 33.3 points per game, is tops in the state, ranked 31st in the nation. Florida is 45th, four points lower, while South Florida is in the top 60. Miami is 79th (21.5 ppg), UCF 103rd (14 ppg), while Florida Atlantic and Florida International would fall in the 100's.

Of course, none of this takes strength of schedule into account, but it's still a fascinating exercise. What have we learned? You may hear some of these storylines on future Chevy Tailgate Saturday shows, and now you know where we get it from. Some are obvious, some not:

1. Despite all the hype surrounding the Urban Meyer spread offense, the Gators are winning with defense, ranked in the top 11 in four of the defensive categories above, including second in the nation in total defense. Game balls to Greg Mattison, Charlie Strong, Chuck Heater, and Doc Holliday.

2. Florida State's defense is as stout as ever - 13th in total defense - but it's the passing game that intrigues me. 27th in the nation with a redshirt freshman QB, better than any other team in the state, and the highest-scoring offense in Florida as well. Now imagine how good they would be if Booker and Washington could lift them beyond 102nd in rushing. Then again, with teams keying on the run in order to force Weatherford to pass, well, all those numbers start to make more sense.

3. South Florida is sneaky good. With the exception of their pass offense (106th in the nation), the Bulls are more than respectable in every category here. Andre Hall is the best running back in the state right now. Don't even bother arguing with me about this. If only the Bulls could straighten out their QB position.

4. Miami's numbers are hardly characteristic of Hurricane teams in the past - a fact that has not escaped many 'Cane fans. The defense is doing its part - top-20 in total defense - but of the four offensive categories outlined above (pass, rush, scoring, total), the Hurricanes' highest ranking is 63rd, with the other three in the 70's and 80's. With three of their next four games against South Florida, Duke, and Temple, it's time for the Miami offense to make some hay.

5. UCF's bright spot? The passing game, behind QB Steven Moffett and WR's Mike Walker and Brandon Marshall. If the Knights are going to build on something, that may as well be it.

6. FAU and FIU are taking their knocks as D-I programs, but we expected that. Together, the Golden Panthers and the Owls have played Kansas State, Texas Tech, Kansas, Oklahoma State, and Minnesota this season. Combined record? 0-5, by a total score of 190-53. Ouch, babe.

So as you watch Rec Warehouse College Kickoff, the postgame shows, or the Football Wrap this weekend, remember - the numbers never lie

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