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October 21, 2012On Sunday mornings during the college football season, the NCAA releases a battery of statistics and, dependably in recent years, the University of Alabama has been at the top, or very nearly so, in all of the defensive categories.
But on this particular Sunday, Alabama sat atop a different category. By one measure designed by the NCAA itself, the Crimson Tide was the No. 1 passing team in he country.
Consider that statement for a moment.
Alabama is the current archetype of hard-nosed smash-mouth football, the anachronism of offense. Nick Saban, after some recent comments about no-huddle offenses, was vilified as if he had criticized Mom and apple pie.
So imagine how the words "Alabama has the nation's best passing game" turned to bitter dust in the mouth when uttered in Eugene or Waco or Morgantown.
The measure being used is "pass efficiency offense," and Alabama's current rating (183.3) is the best in college football. Here (and take a deep breath) is how that number is determined.
First, take yards per completion and multiply that number by 8.4. Then take the numbers of passing touchdowns and multiply that by 330. Then take the total number of completions and multiply by 100. Add those three results together, then subtract the total number of interceptions times 200.
Once you have gotten that figure, divide by the total number of attempts.
It's complicated, but far simpler than the formula used by the NFL, which seemingly incorporates all those statistics plus the average price of gas in Green Bay, the atomic number of helium and Tim Tebow's jersey number, among other variables.
What's being measured then, isn't how much you throw, or how many yards you gain (Alabama is a pedestrian 75th in that category).
It is designed to measure how efficient a team is when throwing the football. Think of it like the automobile ratings in Consumer Reports.
The best score doesn't go to the fast Italian sports car. Instead, it is a measurement of the smoothest ride, the best mileage and the highest likelihood that you - or in this case, your offense - won't end up as a pile of steaming metal wrapped around a tree somewhere.
In an odd bit of symmetry, Alabama also leads the NCAA in pass efficiency defense which means, using the above analogy, Alabama is the tree planted squarely in the middle of the road.
The Crimson Tide - which means AJ McCarron, who has thrown all of this year's meaningful passes - completes a good percentage of its throws, avoids interceptions like they were plague-bearing rats, gets decent gains and gets into the end zone via the air a fair number of times.
There are a couple of reasons for this. McCarron, as noted in yesterday's column pondering his potential Heisman candidacy, is good, and well-coached in understanding the Crimson Tide's offensive goals. The steadily improving group of receivers gets a lot of man-to-man coverage and when they can beat it, or break a tackle, a substantial gain is likely to ensue.
So Alabama can cover a lot of ground through the air, to mix metaphors. And it is highly unlikely to break down while doing so. In the coming three weeks, as the schedule toughness ramps up, the Crimson Tide may have to show a little more acceleration without sacrificing safety.
But to this point, while other teams have thrown the ball more than Alabama, none has thrown it better, with less risk.
Reach Cecil Hurt at email@example.com or 205-722-0225.