Numb on Numbers

Mark Twain said "figures often beguile me," and that was years before the NCAA even started compiling statistics on football.

There are going to be a lot of numbers tossed around before Wednesday night's national title game between No. 1 USC and No. 2 Texas, and the real danger would be to believe the vast majority of them.

My two favorite pregame Rose Bowl statistics are USC's being ranked No. 39 nationally in total defense and a woeful 75th against the pass, as if any of that means center squat.

If you took those numbers seriously and put them against a Texas offense averaging a nation-leading 50.92 points a game, and quarterback Vince Young, the nation's top-rated passer, Texas should score 70 and win by 30.

Why play the game?

The NCAA, like ancient Rome, keeps meticulous statistics for the betterment of we're not sure who or what.

Trying to make sense of pitches and passes in a sport that features 119 schools of disparate styles and abilities is almost folly, and it only confuses the masses.

College football isn't the NFL, in which there are only 32 teams, the talent level is evenly dispersed and everyone basically runs the same plays.

The difference in college football is the difference between USC and Temple. They even let you count statistics against Division I-AA schools, which is like Curt Schilling getting to count his strikeouts in a rehab assignment against Pawtucket.

In college, there are gulf-like differences in playing styles and conference strengths.

Some leagues build for the pass and others for muddy games in November.

This season, giving up 341.91 yards a game on defense in the Southeastern Conference ranks you ninth and makes you 4-7 Arkansas.

Giving up 344.67 yards a game on defense in the Pacific 10 Conference ranks you first and makes you 12-0 USC.

When the teams met in September, USC won, 70-17.

People in the SEC like to poke fun at the West Coast style, but what are SEC defenses stopping compared with Pac-10 defenses?

It's all relative, it's all good and it's all football.

It's just different in different places.

What the NCAA doesn't tell you when it says Texas Tech is fourth in scoring offense at 42.09 points is that Texas Tech averaged 66.33 points in wins over Florida International, Sam Houston State and Indiana State and 33 points in eight other games.

When you see a television graphic stating Boise State has the same winning percentage as Georgia over the last several years, well, it makes you want to laugh.

There are lies, damn lies and NCAA statistics.

In the pros, the all-time leaders are almost always the best all-time players.

Entering the 2005 college season, the career yards-per-game rushing leader was Ed Marinaro.

The career leader in passing yards was Timmy Chang.

The career leader in completion percentage was Ryan Dinwiddie.

The career yards leader for receivers was Trevor Insley.

So what does it mean that USC enters the national title game with the 39th-ranked defense?

And what does it mean that Texas is ranked sixth?

About the same as it means that Navy led the nation in rushing.

USC considered a completely different set of variables; so did Texas. The Trojan defense faced pro-style offenses in almost every game it played.

The Trojans butted helmets with six of the nation's top 30-rated passers, not to mention Oregon's Kellen Clemens and Arizona State's Sam Keller before those gunslingers were injured.

The Trojans surrendered yards because opposing offenses were trying to make up huge deficits on the scoreboard.

The best starting quarterback Texas faced this year was probably Texas Tech's Cody Hodges.

"The style in the two leagues is very different," San Jose State Coach Dick Tomey said of the Pac-10 and the Big 12.

Tomey spent time in both leagues as a longtime coach for Arizona and, last year, as a Texas defensive coach.

"USC has played against more challenging, wide-open offenses," Tomey said.

Tomey, however, thinks that Texas won the toughest game when it posted a 25-22 win at Ohio State.

"I don't think USC has played the personnel that Ohio State has," Tomey added.

If you're trying to figure out the Rose Bowl based on statistics, you might be making the same mistake you made before last year's Orange Bowl.

Remember the hype of No. 1 USC vs. No. 2 Oklahoma and how ugly that turned out?

Oklahoma led the Big 12 in rushing defense, passing defense and total defense, and was fifth in the nation in scoring defense, giving up 13.7 points a game.

It gave up 55.

Oklahoma ranked ninth in NCAA scoring with an average of 36.1 points a game.

It scored 19.

William W. Watt said, "Do not put your faith in what statistics say until you have carefully considered what they do not say."

According to the NCAA, Phil Horvath of Northern Illinois is the nation's fifth-best passer and USC's Matt Leinart is seventh.


Kansas (16), Toledo (21), Akron (23), Troy (25), Middle Tennessee State (29), Pittsburgh (32) and Marshall (35) have better defensive rankings than USC.


The important numbers regarding the Rose Bowl are these:

* 34 and 19, the number of consecutive games USC and Texas have won.

* 1.83. The per-game average of turnovers USC's defense has forced. (Tops in the NCAA!)

"That's the most important stat," Tomey said.

In last year's Orange Bowl,

Oklahoma had five turnovers to USC's none.

"Period, end of story," Tomey said.

* 6-1. The Pac-10's record in bowl championship series bowl games since the 2000 season.

* 10. The jersey number worn by Texas quarterback Vince Young.

* 5. The jersey number worn by USC tailback Reggie Bush.

Period, end of story.



Go figure

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