College football expert and prognosticator Phil Steele recently devised a system to trim down the National Title candidates from year-to-year. His study yielded eleven teams capable of winning the title this season. Florida State is on that list.
In whittling down the field to a select group that could win it all, Steele looked at every winner and runners up over the last 20 years. The first indicator of future success was the degree of past failure. None of the champions lost more than five games the year prior to hoisting the trophy. Unlike the NFL, worst-to-first stories are very rare in college football. The build up to a championship level team is steady and follows a progression.
The next categories were statistic based. Teams that scored less than 23.1 points per game or gave up more than 27.5 points per game last season were eliminated. Gaining less than 314 yards per game on offense or allowing more than 409 yards per game on defense eliminated you from contention. Rushing for less than 104 yards per game or allowing over 160 yards per game on the ground was another factor for removal from the contender list. Failing to achieve better than 3.3 yards per carry on the ground or allowing over 4.1 yards per carry on defense was an extension of the rushing yards numbers.
Interestingly, Steele eliminated USC from National Championship contention this season because of the high percentage of passes that were completed on their defense last season. The previous high water mark for a true contender was 62.5%. Last season, USC allowed over 63% of passes to be completed on them.
As he notes, turnover differential, strength of schedule, and playing in automatic qualifying conference were used, as well.
Steele’s formula isn’t perfect, but it does give a glimpse into the types of teams that have won in recent memory. Trying to factor in the change of the game — from Tom Osborne’s option to Urban Meyer’s spread attack — isn’t easy.
Take the study for what you will, but it’s noteworthy that Florida State met all the requirements. Despite not having a dominant 2011, they were very good across the board. If Steele is correct, they’ll be great this time around.
Joe is also the host of Charm City Sports Talk on WNST.net in Baltimore and member of the Society of American Baseball Research.