USF best, worst in Big East red-zone rankings
Maybe once a year I start rambling about how misleading the NCAA's red-zone statistics can be, because college football teams are ranked simply by how often they are able to tally any points from a trip inside the opposing 20-yard line. A team that stalls at the 10 and hits a field goal every time will be ranked ahead of a team that gets in the end zone on 80 percent of their trips but has an occasional turnover.
So it's with a certain grain of salt that I report that USF is ranked dead last in the Big East in red-zone offense, having converted just 70.6 of its red-zone opportunities in the first four games. The Bulls have 10 touchdowns in 17 red-zone chances -- by that percentage, USF would tie for third in the league -- but they've missed three of five field goals in the red zone, which is a special-teams issue more than an offensive one.
USF, at the same time, has the league's toughest red-zone defense, holding its opponents to a nearly identical 70 percent success rate. The Bulls have only allowed five touchdowns in 10 red-zone chances, with two interceptions, which speaks well of the bend-but-don't-break aspect of that side of the ball.
Anyway, I asked offensive coordinator Todd Fitch on Tuesday how he evaluated red-zone success or failure, and here's what he had to say:
"Here's what I do: How many times have you been down there? We've been down there the third-most in the Big East. Frequency of touchdowns. We're third in the Big East. It was like 58 percent touchdowns. Then you say 'How many turnovers?' Well, we've had one turnover in the red zone. Everybody in the league has one turnover or more. The difference is we're 40 percent on field goals, and everybody else in the league is 100, 90, 80, 70 (percent).
"I haven't thrown the ball much in the red zone. Haven't had to. Our red-zone passing, I have to do a little bit more on that in practice. That's the comfortability of your passing game. You don't want to put the ball in jeopardy when you have points on the board. That's an area we know we have to grow. We're running the ball pretty well down there. ... We want to get better in the passing game down there for sure. One turnover is too many any time. You look at it and say 'Don't kick field goals. Score touchdowns.' That will be our emphasis and we'll work hard on that this week."
My model for red-zone success would be to evaluate points scored per red-zone trip, giving seven points for a touchdown and three for a field goal, then dividing by total opportunities. By that, Cincinnati leads the way in efficiency, averaging 5.75 points per red-zone trip, followed by Connecticut (5.25), Syracuse (4.82), West Virginia (4.71), then USF (4.47) and Pittsburgh (4.47). Louisville (4.14) and Rutgers (3.54) round out the rest of the league.
Here's more from Fitch: