A number is worth a thousand words.
Not any old, run-of-the-mill digit, mind you: It has to be a telling number, an insightful statistic that gets to the heart of the matter.
As evidenced in the new movie Moneyball, statistics are an integral part of the modern sports landscape and, when properly studied and applied, can improve a team’s chances of winning on the field.
Though not to the same extent as baseball, football is also a numbers game.
The sample size is still very small, but three games into the 2011 season some numbers tell a very interesting story about USC football.
USC’s average attendance in its first three home games of the season is the lowest it has been since 57,744 fans showed up per week to the Coliseum in 2001.
Back then, Pete Carroll was in his first season as the Trojans’ head coach and quarterback Carson Palmer was a year away from winning USC’s fifth Heisman Trophy.
Granted, Minnesota, Utah and Syracuse aren’t exactly marquee opponents.
Traditional rivals Arizona, Stanford, Washington and UCLA are still left on the home schedule and the final average attendance number is expected to climb into the low to mid 70,000s.
Attendance, however, has fallen in each of the last four seasons, from a record high of 91,480 in 2006 to 79,907 last year.
Despite no NFL team in Los Angeles, the Lakers looking like they will be locked out for some time and the Dodgers out of playoff contention since June, USC still hasn’t been able to fill the Coliseum during one of the most barren sporting times in recent memory for the majority of Angelenos.
Robert Woods has garnered national attention for his early-season exploits, and for good reason: his 33 receptions lead the nation and are the most ever for a USC receiver over three games.
It’s what Woods has been doing away from the ball, however, that has really drawn praise from coach Lane Kiffin.
Following his 17-catch, 177-yard, three-touchdown game in the opener against Minnesota, Woods has faced a constant stream of double teams against Utah and Syracuse.
“Robert’s still playing really well even though his numbers aren’t the same as they were in the opener,” Kiffin said following Saturday’s win over Syracuse. “That’s where you see [tight end] Randall Telfer run wide open down the middle of the field because Robert’s out there and there goes the safety over the top to Robert and that leaves Randall open.”
16 points per game
Following a subpar 2010 campaign in which the Trojans gave up 26.7 points per game, their highest mark since 2000, USC coaches knew the defense needed to tighten up considerably.
Defensive mastermind Monte Kiffin tweaked his Tampa-2 scheme in the offseason to allow his players to read and react quicker to opposing offenses, rather than having to take the time to think through complex scenarios while the ball is in play.
The results so far have been substantial, with USC giving up 16 points per game, more than 10 points per game fewer than last season.
The revamped defense will face its toughest test yet Saturday night in the Arizona desert. Arizona State comes into the game averaging 457 yards of offense per contest, ranked 25th in the country.
Three forced turnovers
Though the Trojan defense has vastly improved, USC still isn’t forcing turnovers like it used to.
From 2001 to 2005 (Carroll’s first five years as USC’s coach), the Trojan defense averaged 38 turnovers per season, including a phenomenal 43 during the 2003 national championship season.
Over the last five seasons (2006-2010), however, USC has forced only 25.4 turnovers per year.
The 2011 Trojans have caused only three turnovers through three games: Torin Harris’ game-saving interception against Minnesota, T.J. McDonald’s first-quarter fumble recovery against Utah and backup linebacker Will Andrew’s fumble recovery in the fourth quarter against Syracuse.
Only 17 Football Bowl Subdivision teams have forced fewer turnovers this season.
One in Colley Matrix
USC fans, like those of any other school, have done their fair share of complaining in the past about BCS computer rankings.
With the Trojans ineligible for the postseason again this year, USC isn’t included in the weekly BCS rankings that combine six computer ranking systems with the Coaches’ Poll and the Harris Interactive Poll.
That doesn’t stop the computers from ranking the Trojans, however, and USC is the No. 1 team in the country this week, according to the Colley Matrix. Jeff Sagarin’s respected computer rankings have USC at No. 2 behind Alabama.
So, despite close-call victories over Minnesota and Utah, and a No. 23 ranking in the Associated Press poll, two systems reliant solely on numbers have pronounced USC the best college football team in the nation.
No one said statistics don’t have their limit.
“Sellin’ the Sizzle” runs Wednesdays. To comment on this article, visit dailytrojan.com or email Jonathan at firstname.lastname@example.org.