Let's start with an admission: The Auburn Tigers broke our model last season.
As we tracked the BCS conference races and BCS title race based on the statistical benchmarks set by past champions, we pointed out frequently how the Tigers' defense simply didn't measure up.
Not only were they allowing more points per game than any SEC or BCS champion of the past several years (and by quite a significant margin, we might add; Auburn allowed twice as many points as Alabama's 2009 squad did, for example), but also their passer rating allowed was 23 points worse than any other past SEC and national champ.
We can't say exactly how Auburn was able to overcome these weaknesses (although Cam Newton probably had something to do with it), but one of our takeaways at season's end -- after the Tigers knocked off Eliminator favorite Oregon -- was to begin tracking contenders against not only the benchmark met by all past champs, but also the average numbers of all of the past winners.
There are two reasons for the addition:
1.) It helps us better account for the inclusion of outlier champs in certain categories (like Auburn on defense).
2.) It helps us better evaluate the conference races in which the numbers are lower across the board.
We'll still be tracking the races based on the benchmarks, as we've done before, but now we'll be able to further differentiate between two teams that clear the same category or categories. We've got some new stats to track this season, as well, having once again run a correlation analysis to identify the stat categories that matter most when it comes to being successful in college football.
Here are the stats, benchmarks and teams to watch for each race this season (note: most stats incorporate the champs of the past seven seasons, while some reflect only the past five seasons):
• Score 29.7 points per game or more
• Post a passing efficiency rating of 133.6 or better
• Rush for 4.7 yards per carry or better
• Gain 5.8 yards per play or more
• Post a turnover margin of 0.36 or better
• Allow 24.1 points per game or fewer
• Allow 130.9 rushing yards per game or fewer
• Allow 7.0 yards per pass attempt or fewer
• Record 2.21 sacks per game or more
• Post a third-down conversions allowed percentage of 36.9 or less
Team to watch: Oregon Ducks
The Ducks were as sound statistically as any team in college football last season, with a defense that more than held its own despite playing in the shadow of one of the nation's best offenses. The potential for a repeat is certainly there, but they'll need to come up with a way to match last season's turnover production with the majority of last season's front-seven playmakers (Casey Matthews included) no longer on the team.
The Ducks were second in the nation in forcing turnovers last season, which helped offset an offense that could be a bit loose with the football at times.
A general note about the BCS benchmarks: Don't let those inflated defensive stats fool you. Auburn was able to pull off a title-winning season with mediocre production from its defense, but the average number of points allowed by the past seven BCS champs (including the Tigers' 24.1 from 2010) is 15.9.
Other notable averages can be found in run defense (97.5 yards per game) and passing efficiency rating allowed (101.8 QB rating). The chances of another team with a spotty D winning college football's ultimate prize are slim.