Biggest Strength and Weakness of Every BCS Title Contender

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Biggest Strength and Weakness of Every BCS Title Contender
Jamie Sabau/Getty Images

With five teams breaking away from the rest of the field, it's time to pull back the sheets on the top of the BCS rankings and see what's hiding underneath the covers.

Yes, as much as we think we know about the five squads that have put themselves in position to win the last-ever BCS title, the truth is often not what we expected.

Though the contenders share common traits, such as top-ranked scoring defenses, beyond that, they are as different as any two human beings could be.

While they are all enrolled in the gifted and talented program, different assets propelled them to the top, and varying flaws could send their high aspirations crashing to the ground.

 

Alabama

Strength: Schedule

Running under the well-guarded cover of a dreaded "SEC schedule," the Tide's best friend in 2013 is its slate of opponents.  Yes, they are the real deal, but no, their schedule is not.

Consider this: The Crimson Tide’s four nonconference foes this season are 7-3 Virginia Tech, 5-5 Colorado State, 0-9 Georgia State (which moved up to the FBS ranks just this year) and FCS Chattanooga.

That adds up to one BCS opponent and a 12-17 record among the FBS foes.

Next up, Alabama drew 2-7 Kentucky and 4-6 Tennessee from the East, representing the bottom of the division rankings.

Then there is the benefit of the Tide playing only four true road games (Texas A&M, Kentucky, Mississippi State and Auburn), leaving the neutral game in Atlanta with Virginia Tech and seven home games.

All in all, the Tide have played (or will play) three teams that are still ranked and a mere five that have a winning record.

Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images
Alabama pounded 0-9 Georgia State 45-3.

 

Weakness: Defensive Front Seven

Even though Alabama has the No. 1-ranked scoring defense in the FBS, two key statistical categories make you wonder if there isn't a liability hidden among the greatness.

First, the Tide rank No. 85 in sacks, recording only 15 in 2013.  This is the lowest ranking in the Nick Saban era.

Next, Alabama ranks an alarming No. 110 in tackles for a loss, and remember, this is out of 125 possible FBS teams.  This means that there are only 15 defenses with fewer tackles for a loss than the Crimson Tide.  Again, this is the lowest ranking in the Saban era.

 

Florida State

Strength: Defensive Secondary

Florida State’s defense is ranked No. 4 in scoring, giving up a mere 12 points per game.  Peeling back a few more layers, the unit ranks No. 21 against the run and No. 1 versus the pass.

So as good as the 'Noles have been at shutting down the run, they've been even better (than any team in the FBS) in zapping air attacks.

Here are some numbers to chew on: Florida State has given up only nine passing touchdowns in 2013.  Compare that to Texas A&M, which has allowed 24.

Next, the Seminoles rank No. 24 in passes defended as a team, but they don’t have a guy ranked in the top 80 in individual passes defended.  This means that their big-time stats are a team effort as opposed to being credited to one superstar.

Perhaps most impressive is Florida State’s No. 1 ranking in interceptions, a number that took a huge bump last week when it picked Wake Forest’s two quarterbacks a whopping six times in one game.

Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports
Florida State LB Christian Jones scored one of the Seminoles' six interceptions in the win over Wake Forest.

 

Weakness: Kick/Punt Return Coverage

Florida State’s one blaring statistical weakness in 2013 is its struggle to contain opposing return specialists.

The Seminoles rank an awful No. 122 in opponent punt return yards, giving up an average of 19.57 yards per return.  Only Cal, Louisiana-Lafayette and Eastern Michigan have allowed more this season.

Next, the 'Noles rank No. 91 in opponents’ long kickoff return plays, already allowing six returns of 30-plus yards this season.

Even though Florida State hasn't given up a touchdown via a return in 2013, if it gets into a tight spot where field position is critical (or it faces faster return specialists and better blocking), this area could become a huge deal.

 

Ohio State

Strength: Offensive Line

Leading the way for the No. 8 rushing offense in the FBS, Ohio State's offensive line is the heart and soul of an attack that has managed to ring up 48 points per game in 2013.

The Buckeye O-line ranks No. 20 in sacks allowed, giving up only 11, and No. 7 in tackles for a loss allowed, with only 35.

Compare this to Florida State, which has allowed 20 sacks and 53 tackles for a loss.

What’s even more impressive is Ohio State’s No. 3 ranking in third down conversions, making good on 54.24 percent of its attempts.  Only Louisville and LSU have been better this season.

Proving this stat isn't front-loaded with easy foes, the Buckeyes have improved this number to 69.37 in their last three games.  A lion’s share of the credit goes to the offensive line.

Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images
Cal hung up 371 passing yards on Ohio State earlier this season.

 

Weakness: Pass Defense

Ohio State is ranked No. 48 against the pass this season, a number that doesn't look alarming until you consider who it’s faced.

The Buckeyes’ eight FBS opponents in 2013 combine for a No. 68 average in passing offense.  This number is skewed by Cal, a team that ranks No. 8.  If you throw out the Golden Bears (who scored on three long pass plays in their loss to Ohio State), the average ranking drops to No. 76.

It's no coincidence that with 34 points, Cal has done the most damage to the Bucks of any team this season.

Overall, the Buckeyes have squared off with five passing attacks that rank worse than No. 84 in yards, and they've given up more than 223 yards passing per game.

 

Baylor

Strength: Red-Zone Defense

Though Baylor is scoring more than 60 points a game this season, what’s even more impressive is what it’s managed to do defensively.

The Bears own the No. 8-ranked scoring defense in the FBS, giving up only 16.8 points per game in the high-flying Big 12.

The "wow factor" for the defense’s performance is its consistent ability to shut down opponents in the red zone.

How good has Baylor been inside the 20?  Well, how about No. 1 in the nation?

The Bears have allowed red-zone points only 56.52 percent of the time; that’s 13 scores in 23 attempts.  

Ronald Martinez/Getty Images
Baylor's defense prevented Oklahoma from scoring after a 1st-and-goal from the Bears seven-yard line.

 

Weakness: Special Teams

What may catch up with Baylor this season is its kicking game and return coverage.

The Bears rank No. 72 in field goals in 2013, making good on only 69.2 of their attempts.  Additionally, Baylor ranks No. 106 in kickoffs, averaging 59.3 yards per kick.  Touchbacks have only occurred 39.76 percent of the time, and three kickoffs have gone out of bounds.

To add to this, the Bears have struggled containing opposing returners on both punts and kicks.

Baylor ranks No. 107 in opponents’ long kickoff return plays, already giving up seven returns of more than 30 yards, three for 40-plus yards, two for 50-plus yards and one each of 60-plus and 70-plus yards.

In opponent punt returns, the Bears rank No. 121, allowing an average of 19.25 yards per return.  This number is somewhat skewed because Baylor has only had four punts returned this season.

None of these areas have had a real impact on Baylor's ability to win games.  This is true simply because it has blown out every opponent with the exception of Kansas State, which it beat by 10 points.

But moving forward, if the Bears get caught in a nail biter, these minor infractions may loom large and alter the final outcome of a significant game.

 

Stanford

Strength: Offensive Line

What keeps Stanford’s offensive line flying under the radar is that it anchors an offense that ranks No. 49 in scoring and plays second fiddle to a defense that ranks No. 17 in points allowed.

Bu, take a look at the numbers this unit has managed to achieve in 2013: First, the Cardinal O-line ranks No. 12 in sacks allowed with only nine.  This is a huge deal to a team that isn't going to score a point per minute, making every down and every yard precious.

Next, how about a No. 1 FBS ranking in tackles for a loss allowed?  That amounts to only 27 tackles for a loss this entire season, opposed to Florida State, which has given up 53.

Throw in that Stanford ranks No. 13 in third down conversions, No. 13 in red-zone conversions and is No. 28 in rushing yards ,and you get the picture.

This is an elite unit that is killing it.

Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

 

Weakness: Pass Defense

Though when thinking of Stanford, "stifling defense" might be the first thing that comes to mind, you should leave pass defense off the list.

Yes, did you know that the Cardinal pass defense ranks No. 100 in the nation in yards allowed?

And remember, that’s out of 125 teams…Yikes!

Stanford has given up more than 250 yards per game through the air in 2013, including 367 yards in its 42-28 win over Arizona State.

Furthermore, the Cardinal ranks No. 59 in interceptions and No. 69 in both passes defended and passes broken-up.  

These aren't necessarily all-world numbers.

 

Statistics courtesy of College Football Statistics, ESPN and College Football Data Warehouse.

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