The One Statistical Requirement for Legit BCS Championship Contenders

Use your ← → (arrow) keys to browse more stories
The One Statistical Requirement for Legit BCS Championship Contenders
Andy Lyons/Getty Images

Did you know that 10 of the last 12 BCS champions share a common statistical thread that has nothing to do with passing yards or defense?

In the current climate of pass-happy and defense-worship college football, it’s a completely different indicator that points to the elusive crystal football.

The common link is the presence of a 1,000-yard rusher on the roster, something that all but two BCS title teams have shared since 2001.

 

The Proof

The following table details BCS title winners since 2001 along with each team’s top rusher. 

BCS Champions Since 2001
Year BCS Champion Top Rusher Total Yards
2001 Miami (Fla.) Clinton Portis 1,200
2002 Ohio State Maurice Clarett 1,237
2003 LSU Justin Vincent 1,001
2004 USC LenDale White 1,103
2005 Texas Vince Young 1,050
2006 Florida DeShawn Winn 699
2007 LSU Jacob Hester 1,103
2008 Florida Tim Tebow 673
2009 Alabama Mark Ingram 1,658
2010 Auburn Cam Newton 1,473
2011 Alabama Trent Richardson 1.679
2012 Alabama Eddie Lacy 1,322

Sports Reference College Football

The picture is crystal clear: Florida is the only team to win the big enchilada in the last 12 years without a 1,000-yard rusher.

Worth noting is that in 2008 the Gators had three backs that ran for 600-plus yards in addition to quarterback Tim Tebow’s 673 yards.  Percy Harvin rushed for 660 yards, Chris Rainey contributed 652 yards, and Jeff Demps had 605 yards.

Also of interest is that the only year in the last four that Alabama didn’t win the BCS title—in 2010 when Auburn won—was the only season since 2009 that the Tide didn’t have a 1,000-yard rusher.  Their top rusher in 2010 was Mark Ingram with 875 yards.

The bottom line is that of the last 12 BCS champs, 10 (or 83 percent) have had somebody hit the 1,000-yard mark.

 

Taking it to the Conference Level

A similar trend is apparent when looking a step down from the BCS title to major conference champions.

To illustrate, take a look at the SEC title winners since 2001 and their top rushers.

SEC Champions Since 2001
Year SEC Champion Top Rusher Total Yards
2001 LSU LaBrandon Toefield 992
2002 Georgia Musa Smith 1,324
2003 LSU Justin Vincent 1,001
2004 Auburn Carnell Williams 1,165
2005 Georgia Thomas Brown 736
2006 Florida DeShawn Winn 699
2007 LSU Jacob Hester 1,103
2008 Florida Tim Tebow 673
2009 Alabama Mark Ingram 1,658
2010 Auburn Cam Newton 1,473
2011 LSU Stevan Ridley 1,147
2012 Alabama Eddie Lacy 1,322

Sports Reference College Football

Even though only eight of the last 12 SEC champs have had 1,000-yard rushers (67 percent), one of these teams was only a few yards from the mark.

In 2001, LSU sophomore running back LaBrandon Toefield fell just eight yards short of 1,000 yards.  If Toefield would have gained eight additional yards, nine of the 12 SEC champs since 2001 (or 75 percent) would have shared the common thread.

Also worth mentioning is that South Carolina’s only SEC East title in history—in 2010—came the only year the Gamecocks sported a 1,000-yard rusher since 2000.  Marcus Lattimore’s 1,197 yards in 2010 was South Carolina’s best rushing performance since Derek Watson ran for 1,066 yards in 2000.

Next up, take a look at the Big Ten conference champions over the last 12 years.

Big Ten Champions Since 2001
Year Big Ten Champion Top Rusher Total Yards
2001 Illinois Antoineo Harris 626
2002 Iowa Fred Russell 1,264
Ohio State Maurice Clarett 1,237
2003 Michigan Chris Perry 1,674
2004 Iowa Sam Brownlee 227
Michigan Michael Hart 1,455
2005 Ohio State Antonio PIttman 1,331
Penn State Tony Hunt 1,047
2006 Ohio State Antonio Pittman 1,233
2007 Ohio State Chris Wells 1,609
2008 Ohio State Chris Wells 1,197
Penn State Evan Royster 1,236
2009 Ohio State Terrelle Pryor 779
2010 Michigan State Edwin Baker 1,201
Ohio State Dan Herron 1,155
Wisconsin James White 1,052
2011 Wisconsin Montee Ball 1,923
2012 Wisconsin Montee Ball 1,830

Sports Reference College Football

Since the Big Ten didn’t split into divisions and conduct a conference title game until 2011, there are several years with multiple co-championships.

All in all, there have been 18 Big Ten title winners since 2011 and 15 of these (or 83 percent) have had the services of a 1,000-yard rusher.

Worth noting here is that the 2001 Illini had two 450-plus yard rushers in addition to Antoineo Harris’ 626 yards (Rocky Harvey with 578 and Carey Davis with 454).

Additionally, the 2009 Buckeyes had two 600-plus yard rushers to go along with Terrelle Pryor’s 779 yards (Brandon Saine with 739 and Dan Herron with 600).

This leaves the 2004 Iowa squad as the true anomaly.

Perhaps the most surprising result comes by looking at the Big 12 since 2001, the results which are in the next table.

Big 12 Champions Since 2001
Year Big 12 Champion Top Rusher Total Yards
2001 Colorado Chris Brown 946
2002 Oklahoma Quentin Griffin 1,884
2003 Kansas State Darren Sproles 1,986
2004 Oklahoma Adrian Peterson 1,925
2005 Texas Vince Young 1,050
2006 Oklahoma Adrian Peterson 1,012
2007 Oklahoma Allen Patrick 1,009
2008 Oklahoma Chris Brown 1,220
2009 Texas Tre' Newton 552
2010 Oklahoma DeMarco Murray 1,214
2011 Oklahoma State Joseph Randle 1,216
2012 Kansas State John Hubert 947
Oklahoma Damien Williams 946

Sports Reference College Football

In this case it’s clear that the common denominator in winning the pass-happy league is, well, rushing.

Of the 13 teams to call themselves Big 12 champs since 2001, nine (or 69 percent) have had 1,000-yard rushers.

Of the four who didn’t, three were within 55 yards of the mark by season’s end.  Included in this group are the ’01 Buffaloes. who, along with Chris Brown’s 946-yard performance, had Bobby Purify rush for 916 yards. 

Also worth noting is the ’12 K-State squad that not only had John Hubert crank out 947 yards but also had quarterback Collin Klein rush for 946 yards.

 

What it Means for 2013

With a strong case made for the 1,000-yard rusher being the prerequisite—an average of 76 percent of the time in this study—for a conference or BCS title, the next question is obvious.

Which teams have a guy that can hit the golden number in 2013?

The following table forecasts the probability of a 1,000-plus yard rusher for each of the Top 25 teams in this week’s AP poll.  It utilizes the average yards per game for each team’s top rusher to project how many total yards each player will finish the season with (including a bowl game). 

Guys from the SEC, Big Ten, Pac-12, ACC, Mountain West and MAC receive an extra game to get to 1,000 yards under the assumption that they’ll participate in a conference title game.  Players from the Big 12 and American Athletic conference do not.

2013 Week 7 AP Top 25
Rank Team Top Rusher Yards Yds per Game Games Left Projected Yds.
1 Alabama T.J. Yeldon 445 89 9 1,246
2 Oregon B. Marshall 448 90 9 1,254
3 Clemson R. McDowell 294 59 9 823
4 Ohio St. J. Hall 427 71 8 996
5 Stanford T. Gaffney 449 90 9 1,257
6 FSU D. Freeman 385 77 9 1,078
7 Georgia T. Gurley 450 90 9 1,260
8 Louisville S. Perry 298 60 8 774
9 Tx A&M J. Manziel 314 63 9 879
10 LSU J. Hill 593 99 8 1,383
11 UCLA J. James 463 116 10 1,620
12 Oklahoma B. Clay 450 90 8 1,170
13 Miami-FL D. Johnson 572 114 9 1,601
14 S Carolina M. Davis 614 123 9 1,719
15 Baylor L. Seastrunk 589 147 9 1,914
16 Washington B. Sankey 732 146 9 2,049
17 Florida M. Jones 322 64 9 901
18 Michigan F. Toussaint 398 80 9 1,114
19 N'western T. Green 423 85 9 1,184
20 Texas Tech Q. White 130 26 8 338
21 Fresno St. M. Waller 330 66 8 858
22 Ok. State J.W. Walsh 265 53 8 689
23 N. Illinois C. Stingily 576 115 9 1,612
24 Virg. Tech T. Edmunds 380 63 8 886
25 Missouri Hansbrough 379 76 9 1,061

ESPN

Based on this analysis, Clemson, Ohio State, Louisville, Texas A&M, Florida, Texas Tech, Fresno State, Oklahoma State and Virginia Tech won’t win the BCS title or a conference championship.

Since most schedules are front-loaded with easier games, it’s safe to assume that each athletes’ yard per game average will go down rather than up.

This means that teams with a borderline case—like Florida State, Oklahoma, Michigan and Missouri—might join the list of “have-nots” before the season ends.

 

Stats courtesy of Sports Reference College Football and ESPN.

 

Load More Stories

Follow B/R on Facebook

College Football

Subscribe Now

We will never share your email address

Thanks for signing up.