Examining the statistics and personnel of previous national champions can help tell us if Georgia is equipped to claim the BCS title this season. From the trends evident among title winners in college football, the one constant truth is this: You need to play Ohio State in the national title game.
But let’s go back before 2006 to encompass all 10 BCS champions and see what we can find. That’s right, the BCS will crown its 11th champion in a few months, and like a lot of 11-year-olds, the BCS is about to go through kind of an awkward stage.
(In the BCS’s case, it’s beginning to realize that five or six teams are championship-worthy these days and, yikes, it’s becoming irrelevant. Parity is the acne of BCS development.)
A little research shows that the makeup of a national champion is this: no road games against top-10 teams, a high turnover margin, an extremely efficient passing game and an elite rush defense. Those are the four key elements.
Rushing offense doesn’t seem to dictate championship teams. Texas, in 2005, is the only title team to finish in the top 10 in rushing offense (thanks to a very fleet quarterback).
Coaching tenure? We’ve seen a first-year coach (Larry Coker) win a title. We’ve seen a 24th-year coach (Bobby Bowden) win a title. Experienced, super-awesome quarterback? We’ve seen a hot-shot sophomore quarterback (Matt Leinart) win a title. And we’ve seen a hot-shot dentist (Matt Mauck) win a title.
But those four aforementioned factors are almost infallible. First, the schedule. Oklahoma in 2000 (at Kansas State) and Texas in 2005 (at Ohio State) are the only championship teams who beat road opponents that finished in the top 10 of the final Associated Press poll. Last year, for instance, LSU didn’t visit a single Top 25 team (in the final poll, a better indicator of a team’s strength).
Only one school, that crazy-good Miami team in 2001, beat five ranked opponents during a championship season. But none of them were ranked higher than 14th.
What does this mean for Georgia? The Bulldogs, based on the coaches’ preseason poll, will play five ranked teams. Three of those teams — No. 16 Arizona State, No. 6 LSU and No. 11 Auburn — are road matchups. And they’ll play No. 5 Florida at a neutral site in the state of Florida.
But such a run, Georgia fans will he relieved to know, is not unprecedented. Miami beat three ranked teams on the road in 2001. (Warning: In consecutive weeks, Miami beat 14th-ranked Syracuse 59-0 and 19th-ranked Washington State 65-7. It was a very special team. Just a gentle reminder to Tennessee fans.)
What about turnover margin? Passing efficiency? This is where, and you hate to place too much pressure on a 20-year-old kid, you can’t say enough about the impact of Matthew Stafford’s play this season.
No Bulldog other than Stafford turned the ball over until the Troy game last year. Georgia, during one stretch, went 302 rushing attempts without a fumble. Looking back, LSU finished second in turnover margin last year. That 2001 Miami team finished first. So did Southern Cal in 2004.
The Bulldogs’ turnover margin and, obviously, their passing efficiency will largely depend on Stafford. As a freshman, he threw an interception every 19.7 passes. Last season, that number rose impressively to 34.8 and he raised his completion rate by three percent. He must make similar progress this season for Georgia to contend for a national title.
Other than the schedule — and they can lose a game and be fine — the Bulldogs will look like the other champions if Stafford improves. Only two of the 10 BCS champions didn’t finish in the top 12 in rushing defense. The Bulldogs finished 16th last season and held their last six opponents to an average of 77.5 rushing yards per game. And the front seven remain largely intact.
Here’s the problem for Georgia: There’s another SEC team that has an efficient quarterback, will likely avoid playing a top 10 team on the road, boasts an impressive rushing defense (10th last year) and turned the ball over only 15 times last year.