Defense leads top teams in offensive-minded game

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By KURT VOIGT, Associated Press

Offense is in, but defense is still what it takes to win big.

That's the lesson of college football's 2012 season.

For the fourth straight year, scoring rose during the regular season — with FBS schools averaging 29.6 points per game. That's up from 28.3 per game last season, from 27 in 2009.

Despite all of the pass-happy, fast-paced fun, those atop the BCS standings paint a far different picture of what it takes to be successful. Notre Dame, Alabama and Florida are Nos. 1, 2 and 3 in the BCS standings, and they also fall into that same order in another category — points allowed.

The No. 1 Fighting Irish (10.3 points allowed per game), No. 2 Crimson Tide (10.7) and No. 3 Gators (12.9) led all BCS schools in scoring defense this season.

It's no surprise that the top two in that category will meet in the BCS National Championship game on Jan. 7 in Miami, while Florida is headed to the Sugar Bowl against Louisville on Jan. 2.

It's hard to lose if the other team doesn't score.

IRISH FIGHTING: While Alabama had to rally in the closing minutes against Georgia this weekend to reach the championship game, Notre Dame was able to sit back with its ticket already punched.

The Fighting Irish and third-year coach Brian Kelly also managed to assume the mantle of top defensive team in the country, thanks to the Crimson Tide's 28 points allowed in the 32-28 win over the Bulldogs. Notre Dame, which secured its spot in the championship game with last week's win over USC, has allowed a grand total of 10 touchdowns in 12 games this season.

Alabama led the country in scoring defense entering this weekend's action, allowing just 9.25 points per game. Despite falling to No. 2 behind the Fighting Irish, the Crimson Tide still lead the country in total defense — allowing just 246 yards per game.

It's doubtful Alabama minds falling behind Notre Dame in any given statistic all that much, not when it has the opportunity face the Fighting Irish in person — bringing the full might of six straight Southeastern Conference national championships with it.

ALL-FUN LEAGUE: The Big 12 continued to carry the mantle of the country's top offensive conference this season.

For the fourth time in five seasons, the conference's teams at least tied for the most points scored per game. This season, Big 12 teams averaged 35.8 points per game.

Oklahoma State (44.7) led the way, with Baylor (44.1) a close second. Five of the conference's 10 teams averaged at least 40.2 points per game, while Texas Tech (37.8) and Texas (36.1) were hardly slouches.

Lowly Kansas pulled up the rear, averaging a paltry 18.2 points per game.

The only year the Big 12 hasn't at least tied for the most points scored over the last five seasons was in 2010.

The conference that led the way that season, you ask? That was the (allegedly) defensive-minded SEC, whose teams scored an average of 31 points per game that year.

50-POINT CLUB: A pair of programs topped the 50-point mark on average this season.

Louisiana Tech, which surprisingly missed out on a bowl game, led the country with an eye-popping 51.5 points per game. The Bulldogs scored at least 44 points in all but one of their games, a 28-14 win at New Mexico State on Oct. 27.

Despite all the points, and a memorable near-miss in a 59-57 loss to Texas A&M on Oct. 13, Louisiana Tech's season will likely be best remembered for the bowl game that wasn't.

DUCKS CALLING: Oregon was the other team to top the half-century mark.

The Ducks averaged 50.8 points per game this season, though that number could have been much higher were it not for coach Chip Kelly's kindly ways.

Oregon led by significant margins in several of its games this season before shutting things down. That included taking a 50-3 second-quarter lead over Arkansas State in its season opener before "settling" for a 57-34 win.

The Ducks scored at least 41 points in all but one of their games this season. That, of course, was their only loss — a 17-14 setback to Stanford.

EXTRA POINTS: Marshall quarterback Rakeem Cato topped several of the passing categories to end the regular season, including passing yards per game (350.1). ... Baylor quarterback Nick Florence led the country in total offense, averaging 387.7 yards — gaining 4,121 through the air and another 531 on the ground. ... Florence narrowly topped Heisman Trophy hopeful Johnny Manziel of Texas A&M, who averaged 383.3 total yards per game. ... Arizona sophomore Ka'Deem Carey topped the regular season with an average of 146.4 yards rushing per game, 1,757 total, though Northern Illinois' Jordan Lynch finished with the most yards (1,771) rushing.

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