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