February 18, 2009

Profiling the BCS title chase narrows the field

USC won't win the 2009 national championship.

Neither will Oklahoma, Alabama or Utah.

Florida, West Virginia and Virginia Tech might.

Before the residents of L.A., Norman, Tuscaloosa and Salt Lake City start making charges of East Coast bias, they should understand that proclamation is only based on the trends of past BCS national champions.

The 2009 Gators, Mountaineers and Hokies meet the profile of a national champion. The Sooners, Tide and Utes do not. Well, not completely, anyway.

Five common denominators of the 11 BCS national champions were used to determine the teams that are most likely to hoist the crystal ball in Pasadena next January. A half-dozen of the NCAA's 120 Football Bowl Subdivision teams meet all the criteria for each category.

A similar profile was created last year and only six teams Wake Forest, Rutgers, Kansas, Southern California, Alabama and Georgia matched all five characteristics. All posted at least eight victories, but none won the national championship.

Florida, which did win the national title, matched four of the five characteristics. The one the Gators did not fit was winning a bowl the season before their championship year.

Before Florida in '08, the previous four champions had won bowl games the preceding year. Now, though, six of the 11 BCS national champions won the title coming off bowl losses, so that no longer is used as characteristic in the profile.

By moderately tweaking the traits of the 11 BCS champions, here's a five-category breakdown to profile the teams most likely to emerge as next season's national champion.

1. Be a "Big Six" conference member or Notre Dame: There is no denying this requirement. Utah was undefeated last season, had a victory over Oregon State (which beat USC), then beat Alabama in the Sugar Bowl. Yet the Utes didn't get to play in the BCS title game and finished second in the AP poll and fourth in the coaches' poll. That's the second time in five seasons the Utes finished unbeaten but didn't get a chance to play for the national crown. Unbeaten Boise State was denied in 2006. Until the system proves otherwise, it has to be assumed no team other than Notre Dame that's not in the Big East, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-10, SEC or ACC has a realistic chance at the national championship.

Fitting the profile: The 66 "Big Six" teams.

2. Post at least eight victories the previous season: Last year, the standard was seven victories. But each of the past six national champions and nine of the 11 overall won at least eight games the previous season. In fact, eight champions were coming off at least nine-win seasons. We'll keep it at eight wins.

Fitting the profile: There are 37 teams that fit the first two characteristics.

3. Posted a winning record in post-October regular-season games: A strong showing in November often is a sign of a team improving and coming together. While LSU went 2-2 post-October in 2002 before winning the '03 national championship, every other BCS national champion had a winning record in November and December games. Six champions (Tennessee in '98, Florida State in '99, Miami in '01, USC in '04, Texas in '05 and Florida in '08) were unbeaten after October. Of course, some were unbeaten before October, too.

Fitting the profile: There are 25 teams that meet the first three criteria Alabama, 4-0; Boston College, 4-1; California, 3-2; Cincinnati, 5-0; Florida, 5-0; Georgia Tech, 3-1; Iowa, 3-1; Michigan State, 3-1; Mississippi, 4-0; Missouri, 3-1; Nebraska, 3-1; Northwestern, 3-1; Ohio State, 3-0; Oklahoma, 4-0; Oregon, 3-1; Oregon State, 4-1; Penn State, 3-1; Pittsburgh, 4-1; Rutgers, 4-0; Texas, 3-1; Texas Tech, 3-1; USC, 5-0; Wake Forest, 3-2; West Virginia, 3-2 and Virginia Tech, 3-1.

4. Return a junior or senior quarterback with starting experience: All 11 national champion quarterbacks were juniors or seniors and all but Tennessee's Tee Martin had previous starting experience.

Still fitting the profile: There are 17 teams still fitting the profile California (Kevin Riley), Cincinnati (Tony Pike), Florida (Tim Tebow), Georgia Tech (Josh Nesbitt), Iowa (Richard Stanzi), Mississippi (Jevan Snead), Northwestern (Mike Kafka), Oklahoma (Sam Bradford, Oregon (Jeremiah Masoli), Oregon State (Lyle Moevao), Penn State (Daryll Clark), Pittsburgh (Bill Stull), Texas (Colt McCoy), USC (Mitch Mustain), Wake Forest (Riley Skinner), West Virginia (Jarrett Brown) and Virginia Tech (Tyrod Taylor).

5. Return at least six starters from a defense that ranked in the top 20 in scoring defense the previous season: Last year, we looked at teams' ranking in the top 40 of total defense the previous year, but scoring defense makes the list even more exclusive. Statistics for '97 and '98 are unavailable, but eight of the past nine BCS champions ranked 20th or better in scoring defense the previous season. And 10 of the 11 teams returned at least six defensive starters (only Tennessee in '98 did not).

Still fitting the profile: There are six teams that meet all five criteria Florida (fourth in scoring defense, 11 returning starters); Iowa (fifth, eight); Mississippi (20th, eight); Texas (18th, seven); West Virginia (11th, eight) and Virginia Tech (ninth, seven).

Again, nothing is absolute, but history shows a team coming off at least an eight-win season and returning an experienced quarterback and the majority of a proven defense has a good chance to win the national championship.

Of course, that doesn't mean a team that only matches some of the criteria won't emerge as the national champion. Remember, Florida won the '08 national championship even though it ranked 46th in scoring defense in '07.

That's just a recent reminder some trends are meant to be bucked.

Olin Buchanan is the senior college football writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at olin@rivals.com.



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