The Achilles' Heels of College Football's Contenders: Profile of a BCS Champion

Blake NiemanContributor IJune 19, 2009

NORMAN, OK - OCTOBER 18:  A statue of former Heisman Trophy winner, Jason White at Oklahoma Memorial Stadium on October 18, 2008 in Norman, Oklahoma.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

As the 2009 season draws closer, preseason magazines, columnists, and fans alike try to predict who the next BCS Champion will be. But what exactly makes a BCS champion?

There are certain, specific characteristics that past champions share with each other.

Coincidence? Maybe. Trend? More than likely.

Let's take a statistical look at those trends and who may continue them this year.

The first, most prevalent trend is a dominating defense. They say defense wins championships, and out of the last nine champions, eight had defenses in the top 10. Only Ohio State in 2002 had a defense worse than 10th in the nation (23rd).

To go along with that, championship teams have to control their opponent's ground game. Champions in this decade typically hold their opponents to under 100 rushing yards.

People were shocked when Vince Young ran in untouched against USC in the 2006 Rose Bowl, but did you know that D gave up 130 yards a game on the ground? Pretty porous.

Think that's enough? Running is only half the battle. Aspiring champions need to contain an opponent's passing attack as well. Under the century mark in passing efficiency defense would probably suffice.

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The 2002 Buckeyes and 2004 Trojans were the only champions in the 21st century to have a PED of more than 100. And we all know OSU didn't really win that year, right? 

Sacks don't hurt either...unless it's your QB on the turf. Sacking your opponent more than twice a game is on par for a champion. But don't worry too much if your QB is the one getting sacked more than twice a game.

The championship tandem (if you can even call it that) of Matt Flynn and Ryan Perrilloux got their share of grass stains in 2007—to the tune of 2.14 a game, if you want to get technical.

But what about offense? Does the other side of the ball really matter? Well, an explosive offense certainly doesn't hurt. But managing the game is where it matters—passing efficiency, to be exact. The key number is 150; if your team's quarterback is hovering around there, or more, this coming season, look for good things to happen.

Next is ball control. With your dominating defense and efficient QB, your title contender should be looking at a positive turnover margin. It's no surprise that Oklahoma and Florida were No. 1 and 2, respectively, in this category last year.

Lastly, luck. Whether it's the schedule, a tiebreaker, or just the college football gods, it takes a little luck to win a championship.

So what teams fit this profile for 2009? And what do they have to work on? Let's take a look...

We'll look at five teams that are getting the most attention to reach Pasadena this year and which of our trends they exude.

1. Florida

Which championship trends do the Gators have? Well, let's see...they are a championship team, so that certainly does not hurt. I'd say that everyone's favorite to repeat has an extremely good chance.

Not only does Urban Meyer have every starter returning on a defense that ranked ninth in the nation, but he also has eight starters returning on offense, including Heisman winner Tim Tebow.

Tebow maintained a 172 pass efficiency rating (good for fourth in the nation), was third place in Heisman voting, and singlehandedly circumcised the entire Filipino race.  All right, so I exaggerated that last part, but you can see why "Superman" might lead his team to an unprecedented third title in four years. 

Achilles' Heel: Not much. Losing Percy Harvin doesn't help, but his All-American speed may be easily replaced with Jeff Demps' All-World speed. Their defense did allow a shade over 100 rushing yards a game (105), but again, they already proved they can win a championship while doing so.

2. Texas

The Longhorns return seven starters on a defense that allowed 84 yards rushing a game in 2008. Good.

The Longhorns lost Roy Miller, Brian Orakpo, and Henry Melton. Bad.

Mack Brown may only be three deep in quality defensive tackles this year. Ugly.

And that's on a good day. But Will Muschamp is a quality defensive coordinator, and those seven starters could be enough to make this defense.

On the offensive side, Colt McCoy is an accurate—not to mention efficient—QB. Third most efficient in 2008, to be exact. He loses a 1,000-yard receiver in Quan Cosby, but has Jordan Shipley in his back pocket, plus some quality talent in Malcolm Williams and James Kirkendoll.

Achilles' Heel: That gaping defensive line. Sergio Kindle may be able to replace Orakpo's sacks, but I'm not so sure if Lamarr Houston can do it all on his own in the middle. Their PED could be a little better too, but we'll give them a pass for being in the pass-heavy and veteran QB-laden Big 12.

3. Oklahoma

When you talk about championship contenders, you have to mention the Sooners. Bob Stoops has been the most consistent coach this decade, getting to four national championships, even winning one of them.

But winning six Big 12 titles—including three in a row—is no joke. 

The Sooners have nine starters returning on a defense that allowed 116 rushing yards a game. Not the best by any means, but you should see some improvement in what many are calling the best front seven in the nation, led by Gerald McCoy.

Add in the most efficient QB and reigning Heisman winner Sam Bradford, and you have a pretty good shot at a title. He gets a lot of help from two 1,000-yard rushers, Chris Brown and DeMarco Murray, plus a monster of a tight end in Jermaine Gresham.

Folks in Norman may be worried about losing what seems like four offensive linemen, but Trent Williams is a surefire stud on the left side. Plus, Brian Simmons (projected left guard) and Cory Brandon (right tackle) combined for over 500 snaps last year with over 65 knockdowns in backup duties.

Not quite the 900-plus snaps that Williams took, but serviceable nonetheless.

Achilles' Heel: It's still gotta be that offensive line. Replacing three-and-a-half starters is a tall task. The key is that two sacks a game number: Can they stay at or below it? It should also be interesting to see how Quinton Carter and whoever takes over at free safety (most likely Sam Proctor) replace the tandem of Nic Harris and Lendy Holmes. 

4. USC

Pick a QB. Will it be Aaron Corp, Mitch Mustain, or the true frosh Matt Barkley? Only Mustain has taken significant snaps in the NCAA, and that was at Arkansas. But early reports are that Corp is the front runner.

Whatever the case, the Trojans will have to rely on their stable of backs to open up the pass. 

But I'm not too convinced about Pete Carroll's squad. What have we all learned today? Defense wins championships—and this is a depleted defense. Taylor Mays is one of the only bright spots on this squad that lost roughly nine players to graduation.

Sure, there's a lot of talent there, but I'm not sure if they're ready to win a championship. They may be a year away. 

Why are they No. 4 then? The Pac-10 is weak. If they can get through an early road test in Columbus, they can easily roll to another Pac-10 title, which may further propel them to nearby Pasadena. 

Achilles' Heel: One of the nation's top defenses must now rebuild, or reload, as it were, at USC. If the D can come together, and come together quick, they may be thinking championship in L.A.

5. Alabama

I had trouble picking a fifth championship contender, but I went with the Crimson Tide. They seem to fit the trends to a T.

Dominating defense? Check. They lost only two starters from a top 10 D—and the good thing is that they're at opposite sides of the field (free safety and defensive end).

Ali Sharrief will pick up right where Rashad Johnson left off, Rolando McClain dominates the middle, and Terrence Cody is a mountain of a man up front. This could be a crazy good defense.

Their schedule sets up nicely as well. A neutral field battle with Virginia Tech could make or break their season.

The key for Nick Saban's squad is on offense, actually. They don't have to break records; they just have to score more than the other team.

I know, I know, Madden logic, right? But it's true. It's not like John Parker Wilson took control of games last year.

This offense plays ball control, and as long as the line melds together and breaks some runs for the backs, they should be fine.

Achilles' Heel: The green QB(s). Whether it's Greg McElroy (most likely) or Star Jackson, neither has much experience at this level. But like I said, Wilson didn't necessarily win games for them. Plus, half your throws are probably going to Julio Jones anyway. Just throw it in his general direction and he'll find it. 

So that wraps up my profile of a champion. Who's gonna win it this year? 

Note: I do realize the irony of having a picture of a statue of Jason White in a BCS Championship article...

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