Third down is one of the most routine, and also important, momentum-changing moments in a football game. Both sides of the ball get up for what could be one of their last downs on the field. After the play, one side will be deflated while the other will inject new life into their team. The crowd always gets into a third down, it's just a cool part of the game.
In 2010, third-down differential tended to be an indicator of success.
In a recent report from Sporting News, Dave Curtis analyzed the correlation between third-down differential and wins. To calculate third-down differential, you subtract defensive third-down conversion rate from the offensive third-down conversion rate. It's not an official NCAA statistic, but the logic behind it makes sense. He discovered that all five of the BCS bowl winners ranked among the top 13 in the nation in third-down differential.
Rose Bowl champ TCU led the nation with a plus-28.7 rating. The Horned Frogs converted nearly 53 percent of their third downs, and their defense allowed opponents to convert at a shade better than 24 percent.
Stanford, the Orange Bowl winner, came in second at plus-21. Ohio State (16), BCS national champ Auburn (15.9) and Oklahoma (10.9) also finished in double digits.
Boise State joined TCU and Stanford with ratings of better than 20. Top teams at plus-10 or better included Nevada, Nebraska and Alabama.
One particularly interesting revelation from the report was the one major outlier: Connecticut. The 2010 Big East Champion Huskies finished dead last in the conference for turnover differential. Their -8.79 rating was bad enough to put them 106th nationally. It does seem appropriate looking back at the Big East in 2010. Connecticut was the outlier of the conference, sneaking away with the title thanks to a couple of key wins late.
That may not fly in 2012 when TCU, the nation's best third-down team, joins the party in the Big East.