I like to fiddle with numbers. I’m not necessarily good with numbers, but they’re fun to play around with.
Numbers are so friendly. You can make them support almost any theory if you massage them just the right way. They’re not
necessarily to be trusted, those little devils. But they’re mostly harmless and easily manipulated.
In my never-ending quest to determine the best college football team in the country – with a little more than half the season remaining to play, mind you – I messed around with some of the statistics on ncaa.com.
As of the latest AP poll, released Sunday, the top eight teams in the country are: Alabama, Oregon, South Carolina, Florida, West Virginia, Kansas State, Notre Dame and Ohio State. All are undefeated, as are quite a few more teams ranked lower. I would say that, as we speak, the top eight are the only teams with a legitimate shot at a national championship. And, of course, some will fall by the wayside in the coming weeks.
What I did today was look at the national ranking for all eight teams in the following categories: Total offense, total defense, turnover margin, scoring offense, scoring defense. What I’m looking for here is the most well-rounded team and I figured these five categories were the right ones to use. I could have thrown in some others, but settled on these five.
Then I took the ranking for each team in each category, added them together and came up with my own top eight. And here it is, with more explanation to come on the process.
1) Alabama (88 total points)
2) Kansas State (116)
3) Oregon (117)
4) South Carolina (143)
5) Notre Dame (158)
6) Florida (174)
7. Ohio State (183)
8. West Virginia (233)
When I started looking at these numbers, I didn’t know they would be as favorable as they turned out to be for Kansas State. But I’m not surprised.
Kansas State is a balanced team. The Wildcats rank 41st nationally in total offense and 44th in defense. Neither ranking is that impressive and at the top of the middle third among the 120 FBS teams.
But here’s where K-State makes its play. The Cats rank No. 11 in scoring offense despite being only 44th in yards gained. And they are tied for 16th nationally in scoring defense despite having the 44th-ranked defense in terms of yards allowed.
These numbers bare out what we’re seeing on the field with Kansas State, an opportunistic team that plays fundamentally sound and doesn’t make mistakes. That is also demonstrated by the team’s No. 5 standing in turnover margin and their No. 1 ranking in fewest yards penalized.
Breaking news: Kansas State is well coached. And while the Wildcats don’t bowl anyone over statistically, there is a lot there if you’re willing to look beneath the surface.
That’s why I give K-State, which first must take care of business Saturday at Iowa State, a good chance of winning at West Virginia in a couple of weeks. The Mountaineers are dynamic offensively. Unbelievable, actually. They rank third in total offense and fifth in scoring offense and Geno Smith is allowed to clear some space on his mantel for the Heisman Trophy.
But . . . and you knew it was coming . . . West Virginia ranks 102nd in total defense and points allowed. And 116th in turnover margin. Ultimately, there will be a team that slows down the Mountaineers’ incredible offense and allows them 30 points in a game instead of 50 or 60. Kansas State could well be that team, given how well-coached the Wildcats are and how they have made over-achieving such a part of their game that it’s not even accurate to call it “over-achieving” anymore.
I’m not saying Kansas State is the second best team in the country. It’s too hard to differentiate between all of these teams. But I think the Wildcats have a case to be made. I think K-State is in the mix.