Does Duke or Missouri Have a Better Chance of Ruining the BCS Picture?

Amy DaughtersFeatured ColumnistDecember 3, 2013

What stands between now and the last-ever BCS standings on Sunday, Dec. 8, are 10 games involving ranked teams.

The festivities begin on Thursday night when No. 19 Louisville travels to Cincinnati and end late Saturday when No. 2 Ohio State squares off with No. 10 Michigan State.

The two games which have the most potential to blow up the final BCS selection show are the ACC and SEC championships, each which involve a “team of destiny” ready to grasp the brass ring.

In the ACC, it’s crazy-good Florida State squaring off with how-did-they-get-there Duke.  If the Blue Devils were to upset the ‘Noles, everything from the national championship to the Heisman would be gone in a blink of the eye.  The next question would be obvious: If not Florida State in the BCS title game, then who?

In the SEC, it’s a battle between teams that nobody saw coming in the shock-and-awe championship between upstart Mizzou and revival-minded Auburn.  If Missouri completes its magical season by ending the Tigers’ ride on the Destiny Train, the discussion of whether Auburn should jump Ohio State is done. 

The other outcome to a Mizzou triumph is that the SEC could be locked out of the national championship game for the first time since Texas and USC played for all the marbles after the 2005 season.

In either case, an upset would turn off the valve on one controversy and unleash a flood of debate on another.

The big question is clear: Could either Duke or Missouri seriously win their respective title games?



On paper, Duke is obviously the biggest long shot in creating any sort of BCS havoc.  Florida State trumps the Blue Devils statistically in every major category, leading any reasonable person to predict that the ‘Noles will destroy Duke in the ACC title game.

According to ESPN, the opening line on the game is Florida State by 29 points, that’s four touchdowns and growing.

Here’s a look at how the two teams stack up:

Florida State vs. Duke: 2013 FBS Team Rankings
Florida StateDuke
Scoring Offense237Scoring Defense
Rushing Offense3072Rushing Defense
Passing Offense1456Passing Defense
Scoring Defense140Scoring Offense
Rushing Defense1356Rushing Offense
Passing Defense155Passing Offense
College Football Statistics

The numbers don’t lie…this one could get ugly.

The only glimmer of hope deeper in the stats for Duke is its success in punt returns versus Florida State’s struggle to contain opponents.

The Blue Devils rank No. 14 in the FBS in average punt-return yards, while the Seminoles rank No. 119 in shutting down punt returns.

But, it’s hard to sell Duke upsetting Florida State on a couple of lightning-bolt returns.

The only team that came close to beating the ‘Noles this season was Boston College, who managed to escape with a 48-34 decision.

One stat that stands out in this game is that Boston College rushed for 200 yards, the most of any Florida State opponent this season. 

The bulk of these yards, 149, came from the Eagles’ star running back Andre Williams.

The prospect of this happening for Duke is unlikely, as it has only posted a 100-yard rusher twice this season.

Junior Josh Snead was the back both times, and it happened in wins over Troy (108 yards) and Miami, Fla. (138 yards). 

What Duke needs to upset Florida State is a miracle: The Seminoles would have to suffer their worst performance of the season—the implosion of the century—while the Blue Devils play lights-out perfect.

To put it into perspective, here’s what Phil Steele had to say about four-touchdown underdogs in his Daily Blog dated Aug. 1, 2012.

Since 1997 there have been 596 teams that have been favored by OVER 31 points in a game.  Of those 596 only SIX have lost the game straight up…Basically if your team is installed as an underdog of 31 points or more in a game, they have a 1% chance of winning.

In case you’re wondering, here’s who Steele lists as the six exceptions to the rule:

31-Point-Plus Underdog Winners Since 1997
YearUnderdogFavoriteLineFinal Score
1998TempleVirginia Tech35.528-24
2000C. MichiganW. Michigan35.521-17
2010James MadisonVirginia Tech3521-16
1997North TexasTexas Tech3230-27
Phil Steele



The team most capable of upsetting the BCS picture, in a more subtle way than Duke, is Missouri.  To compare, according to ESPN, Mizzou is only a one-and-a-half point underdog to Auburn versus the Blue Devils’ 29-point deficit.

The Midwest Tigers match up quite well with Auburn and share a similar statistical composition.

Take a look at the major numbers:

Auburn vs. Missouri: 2013 FBS Team Rankings
Scoring Offense1714Scoring Defense
Rushing Offense514Rushing Defense
Passing Offense107112Passing Defense
Scoring Defense3114Scoring Offense
Rushing Defense5718Rushing Offense
Passing Defense10042Passing Offense
College Football Statistics

The statistics paint a clear picture of what Missouri needs to do: First, it will have to count on its No. 14-ranked rushing offense to squash Auburn’s ferocious ground attack.  Next, it will have to count on its passing game to wreak havoc on Auburn’s No. 100-ranked pass defense.

Only twice in 2013 has Auburn been held to less than 250 yards rushing: Once in its four-point win over Mississippi State and next in its 35-21 loss at LSU, the only defeat of the season.

Mizzou, on the other hand, has held its 2013 opponents to an average of 119 yards of rushing per game.  The top gainer for the year was Texas A&M, who racked up 184 yards in last Saturday night’s thriller.

Notable performances by the Tigers’ defense include holding South Carolina’s No. 29-ranked rushing attack to 75 yards and Tennessee’s No. 43 attack to 94 yards.

Holding Auburn’s No. 5 rated attack—which averages 318 yards per game—to less than 250 would not only be a huge accomplishment, it might be the key to the SEC title.

Auburn’s biggest defensive weakness this season is a secondary that’s given up more than 250 yards per game.  Again, this unit ranks No. 100 out of 125 teams.  To illustrate the impact, check out how the Tigers have fared against the pass.

Auburn vs. The Pass in 2013
TeamFBS Rank Pass YdsPass Yds vs. AuburnScore
Wash St534431-24
Ark St8828438-9
Miss St6021324-20
Ole Miss2434030-22
Texas A&M846945-41
College Football Statistics/Auburn

The numbers make a clear case that as opponents' passing yards increase, Auburn’s margin of victory decreases.  The way to beat Auburn—or get close—is to take advantage of its pass defense.


Statistics courtesy of ESPN, College Football Statistics, Florida State, Auburn and Missouri.




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