Sunday Summations - Week #3

September 15, 2012; Stanford, CA, USA; A Stanford Cardinal fan holds up a sign mentioning former quarterback Andrew Luck (not pictured) during the fourth quarter against the Southern California Trojans at Stanford Stadium. The Cardinal defeated the Trojans 21-14. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-US PRESSWIRE

By Ben Johnson - Special to SBNation.com

The top two horses in Alabama and LSU still appear to be head and shoulders above the rest of the field. At least according to the proverbial eye-ball test and fluid beauty pageant requirements, which are always a moving target in the BCS championship discussion.

Alabama in particular has been impressive with dominating performances against Michigan, Arkansas and Western Kentucky. Their in a different gear at present and honestly, I don't know if anyone can catch them. Only injuries and self satisfaction will slow them down for others to reach them.

LSU is still LSU, but without the honey badger, they don't hold the same electricity and excitement from a big play, game changing stand point. That's not to say that they are not talented, I just don't think they are as good as we witnessed a year ago and I think Alabama is better, given the confidence and improvement from A.J. McCarron.

So who are the true major contenders for the national championship at this point in the season other than Bama and LSU?

To answer that question, we must first understand the key indicators that translate to championship performance.

Since offense will sell the tickets, but the defense dictates a championship, lets highlight the defensive prominence, especially given most of the college football stalwarts are lighting up the scoreboards versus FCS and lower tier FBS opponents and we can't get a read on what is real and what is a propped up paper tiger.

If we are looking at the SEC model for a championship given they have won the last 6 in a row, you need a ball control offense that can run the football and eat up the clock, and a physical defense that seems to play with 13 players instead of 11. Special emphasis should be given to scoring defense, turnover margin, stopping the run, passing efficiency defense and 3rd down efficiency ratings.

This is the SEC Model for success. You don't necessarily need a wide open offense or a Heisman like quarterback who can set the world on fire. You just need an efficient leader that can manage the game and limit catastrophic turnovers which put stress on your defense.

You must run the football on offense and stop it on defense and third down efficiency both ways is a critical determining factor.

I came up with four teams that fit this model, but it became a wide open research project to name that fifth team given this years performances on the field and the limited number of quality match-ups that have occurred on the cupcake scheduling circuit in 2012.

Contenders:

1. Florida: The Gators have gotten better offensively each week of the season, but the defense in particular has been stout against two quality opponents in Texas A&M and Tennessee, both of which look to be much improved over last year. Florida is still a work in progress, but given their rushing defense and turnover ratio on offense, the Gators will be a force down the stretch. This is a team built on SEC speed.

Category Ranking Notes
Scoring Defense 32nd 17 Points P/Game Average
3rd Down Defense 31st 29.79%
Rushing Defense 29th 106 YPG
Passing Efficiency Defense 20th 55.5% Completion Percentage

Passes Intercepted

Fumbles Recovered

T-31st

T-79th

3

1

Total Defense 35th 337 YPG / 7 TD's
Sacks - Defense T-71st 5 Sacks ( -31 YDS)
Turnover Margin T-24th 4 Gained / 1 Lost (1.00 MPG)
Opponents: Bowling Green, Texas A&M, Tennessee Ave Margin Victory: 11

2. Stanford: Stanford isn't going to run out of the gate and impress anyone with quick strike big play potential on offense, but you have to respect that grinding blood bath of an offense that averaged 4.5 yards per play against USC. The Trojans had Stanford on the ropes early, but couldn't put them away, suddenly finding themselves behind the 8-ball as the game wore on and the defense wore down.

That's classic Stanford football!

If anyone looks like an Alabama last year at this point in the season this year, you have to include the Cardinal within the discussion.

Stanford is beatable, but that is easier said than done.

The pollsters, including myself, have vastly under-rated this program, largely due to Andrew Luck graduating and moving on to the NFL.

Even so, they may not even be the best team in the suddenly much improved PAC-12, with Oregon, USC and UCLA still very much in the discussion.

As the sign in the opening pic suggests, Luck had nothing to do with the Stanford model for success as they have plenty of horses and weapons in their armory.

The Cardinal are legit, going 24-3 over the last two and a half seasons so how can we really call it an upset when they have beaten USC four straight and in five of the last six seasons, plus their only losses since 2010 are to Oregon and Oklahoma State, both of which were ranked within the Top-5?

Category Ranking Notes
Scoring Defense 32nd 17 Points P/Game Average
3rd Down Defense 31st 29.79%
Rushing Defense 29th 106 YPG
Passing Efficiency Defense 20th 101.5 EFF/Rating

Passes Intercepted

Fumbles Recovered

T-5th (with Bama and LSU)

T-28th

6

3

Total Defense 31st 324 YPG / 5 TD's
Sacks - Defense T-27th 8 Sacks ( -55 YDS)
Turnover Margin T-5th 9 Gained / 3 Lost (2.0 Margin)
Opponents: #2 USC, Duke, SJSU Ave Margin Victory: 15.6



3. Kansas State: The Cats are not the sexiest kitten in the litter, but this isn't the first rodeo for KState head coach Bill Snyder. Texas, Oklahoma and West Virginia will grab the headlines out of the Big-12 with eye-popping offensive statistics, but if your looking for an SEC like grinding offense and a defense that is rarely out of position and is as well coached and discipline as any around, the Purple Pride can flat get after you.

QB Collin Klein may be the most efficient signal caller across the country in the opening three weeks and he is more than adequate with his arm, let alone his running ability. The Cats like to feature him rushing out of the shotgun as it gives them one more blocker than the defense can account for. It isn't a sexy offense like Oregon, but if you get behind early they can grind away at you and kill the clock.

The problem here is they are not the most talented team in a conference loaded with offensive weapons and will need some luck and good fortune to survive Texas, TCU, West Virginia and Oklahoma. If they do, that resume alone should be enough to enter the BCS championship discussion.

Category Ranking Notes
Scoring Defense 20th 14 Points P/Game Average
3rd Down Defense 50th 35.6 %
Rushing Defense 19th 93.3 YPG
Passing Efficiency Defense 72nd 130 EFF/Rating

Passes Intercepted

Fumbles Recovered

T-82nd

T-6th

1

5

Total Defense 41st 344 YPG / 4 TD's
Sacks - Defense T-42nd 7 Sacks ( -47 YDS)
Turnover Margin T-24th 6 Gained / 3 Lost (1.0 Margin)
Opponents: Miami, Missouri St, N. Texas


Ave Margin Victory: 31.6


4. Notre Dame: Irish eyes are smiling with a young quarterback who is not only gaining confidence, but is tailor made for Brian Kelly's spread-option offense. Yesterday's grinding 20-3 victory over Michigan State is the third straight game the Irish Defense has allowed 3 scores or less, which is plenty given Kelly's offensive play calling ability.

We may be over-hyping the Irish given the problems found within the Big Ten on a national level, but the bottom line is the Irish are giving up 10 points a game thus far, which is more than I can say for Oregon, UCLA, Texas, West Virginia, Clemson or once beaten USC. Although the jury is still out on the Ducks, Horns, Mountaineers and Tigers, we will get plenty of answers when they get off their cupcake diet of low BCS value.

What I like about Notre Dame is their balance on offense and the elimination of the early season turnovers that dogged them a year ago, plus they rank among the Top-20 in a number of the defensive categories. Confidence is a strange thing in college football and I see the Irish growing in this department.


Category Ranking Notes
Scoring Defense T-8th 10 Points P/Game Average
3rd Down Defense 47th 34.8 %
Rushing Defense 23rd 96.3 YPG
Passing Efficiency Defense 26th 106.2 EFF/Rating

Passes Intercepted

Fumbles Recovered

T-31st

T-14th

3

4

Total Defense 18th 288 YPG / 3 TD's
Sacks - Defense 10th 11 Sacks ( -70 YDS)
Turnover Margin 11th 7 Gained / 2 Lost (1.67 Margin)
Opponents: Navy, Purdue, Michigan St


Ave Margin Victory: 20.0

Who To Put At #5:

My first knee jerk reaction was UCLA and Clemson, but they can't answer the first basic question mark for any championship defense - stopping the run.

Clemson ranks 84th and UCLA is at 95th...get me out of here dude!

Oklahoma jumped to mind, but they rank 50th at stopping the run and have played a much easier schedule than both UCLA and Clemson after three weeks of action.

South Carolina, Rutgers and Oregon State jump into the fray, but all three are very offensively challenged to say the least. The Beavs have only played one game against a Wisconsin club that is very much discombobulated at present; a former shell of itself and I can't see them surviving in a wild and wide open PAC-12, much less running the table.

South Carolina has quarterback issues and has had difficulty running the football on offense so the balance is not there given Marcus Lattimore has not returned to form. They seem to be the best of this bunch in terms of potential but a lack of offensive consistency has doomed the Cock's before and their situation is worse off this year with the loss of Shaw at Quarterback.

Mississippi State looked great two weeks ago against Auburn and then gave up 24 to Troy yesterday. Can't pull the plug yet on either of these two.

TCU is young and hasn't played anyone of significance, but they look good statistically and have shown to be one of the better programs in this department, but can they survive the Big-12; similar to KState.

All of these teams could jump into the fray with better defensive production. If I had to pick a fifth at this point it would be South Carolina, Mississippi State or TCU just given the talent in the locker room.

Obviously Florida State is in the Top-20 in all the defensive categories, but look who they have played. Playing the likes of Savannah State doesn't help us determine any credibility, although we are close given yesterday's 52-0 shellacking of Wake Forest.

Oregon is in a similar situation, although they've given up a ton of yards and points to three very average, or even under-average opponents, plus their racking up a ton of key injuries on defense.

Any suggestions?

I would like to hear about it in the comments section because I can't nail down a fifth at this point that follows the SEC Model of a champion.

You make the call, I'm taking the 5th for the fifth on this one!

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