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2010 Auburn, 1968 Houston, and college football's *almost* perfect offenses

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Shanna Lockwood-USA TODAY Sports

Today at SB Nation, I posted a list of the 23 offenses that graded out in basically the 100th percentile in the estimated S&P+ numbers I recently concocted (and will continue trying to explain and unveil in the coming days/weeks!).

I also mentioned that there were quite a few other teams that hit 99.5 percent or higher on the percentiles chart. Let's talk about those now, just for grins.

The 99.5ers

Here are the 12 teams that finished with a percentile grade of 99.5 percent.

1895 Penn
1899 Chicago
1913 Iowa
1924 Stanford
1928 Detroit Mercy
1928 NYU
1949 Notre Dame
1964 Tulsa
1968 Houston
1971 Nebraska
1981 Penn State
2013 Texas A&M

Bill Yeoman's name has been mostly forgotten, probably because of the way his career ended. For 25 years, he was the head coach of Houston, and he raised the Cougars' profile from local to national with his offensive prowess. Unfortunately, he was also in charge of the football program when it committed countless recruiting violations in the mid-1980s; while Houston didn't get the death penalty like SWC-mate SMU, the Cougars got the next worst thing: postseason bans, live TV bans, and drastic scholarship reductions. Because of what happened near the end of Yeoman's tenure, Houston spent much of the 1990s rebuilding from the ground up.

As an offensive innovator, however, Yeoman was very nearly second to none. When he took over in 1962, UH had only been a top-level program for 13 seasons, had been to only one bowl, and had not yet gained admission into the Southwest Conference. But his version of the veer formation quickly turned Houston into an offensive powerhouse. The Cougars set scoring record after scoring record, and adjusting for opponent, they ranked in the top 10 of Est. Off. S&P+ five times in six years: second in 1966, seventh in 1967, first in 1968, second in 1969, eighth in 1971.

The 1968 offense was the gold standard. Paul Gipson rushed for 1,550 yards, Elmo Wright had 1,198 receiving yards, and Houston scored in high volumes, even considering a brutal schedule. The Cougars tied No. 4 Texas, 20-20, in Austin. They whooped No. 17 Ole Miss in Jackson, 29-7. No. 7 Georgia held them in check in Athens (a 10-10 tie), but no fellow mid-majors could even pretend to do the same, and Yeoman had no idea (or desire) to call off the dogs. Houston scored 54 points on Tulane, 71 on Cincinnati, 77 on Idaho, and an even 100 -- 100! -- on Tulsa.

If I had play-by-play data and could adjust for garbage time, perhaps that would ding Houston's numbers a bit. Clearly they had no intention of slowing down no matter the score. (Here's where I point out that high-volume artist Art Briles, Baylor's head coach, played for Yeoman in the 1970s.) But Yeoman's Cougars were devastating.

The 99.6ers

1906 Chicago
1926 Stanford
1926 Utah
1931 Utah
1932 Utah
1934 Ohio State
1935 Princeton
1939 Cornell
1940 Penn
1943 Notre Dame
1954 Arizona
1959 New Mexico State
1977 Notre Dame
1979 BYU
1995 Florida
2008 Texas

Dan Devine was known mostly for his defenses, but when he led Notre Dame to a national title in 1977, it was more because of what was happening on the other side of the ball. With Joe Montana at quarterback and Jerome Heavens at running back, the Irish fielded a nearly perfect offense, one that got better and better as the year progressed.

After averaging just 20 points per game through four contests (including a 19-9 win over defending national champion Pitt), Notre Dame caught fire. The Irish wrecked No. 5 USC, 49-19, in South Bend, put up 112 points on Navy and Georgia Tech, then survived No. 15 Clemson, 21-17. And after outscoring Air Force and Miami by a combined 97-10 to finish the regular season undefeated, they headed to Dallas to take on Earl Campbell and undefeated, top-ranked Texas. The Longhorns were the national title favorites, but at No. 5 the Irish would have a chance to steal the title with an impressive performance and some luck.

No. 2 Oklahoma got rocked by No. 6 Arkansas, 31-6, in the Orange Bowl. No. 4 Michigan lost to No. 13 Washington, 27-20, in the Rose Bowl. No. 3 Alabama rocked No. 9 Ohio State in the Sugar Bowl, but these results opened the door for Notre Dame. And against a Texas defense that had only once allowed more than 21 points, Notre Dame posted 38 points and 399 yards. Three Texas fumbles and three Vagas Ferguson touchdowns gave the Irish a 38-10 win, a national title, and a cap to maybe the school's best run of offense in the last 40 years.

The 99.7ers

1901 Wisconsin
1913 Notre Dame
1920 California
1922 Nebraska
1930 Notre Dame
1931 Alabama
1932 USC
1935 Michigan State
1950 West Texas A&M
1960 Iowa
1962 Wisconsin
1966 Notre Dame
1972 USC
1978 Nebraska
1980 Nebraska
1997 Nebraska
2010 Auburn
2011 Oklahoma State

(Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

The raw numbers are impressive enough. With five-star JUCO transfer Cam Newton behind center and offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn calling plays, the 2010 Auburn offense averaged 41.2 points per game, 499.2 yards per game, and 7.4 yards per play.

When you adjust for opponent, these numbers go off the charts. In terms of Def. S&P+ rankings, Auburn played against No. 3 LSU, No. 6 Clemson, No. 11 South Carolina (twice), No. 14 Alabama, No. 24 Arkansas, No. 29 Oregon, and No. 32 Mississippi State. Some of these defenses held Newton in check for a while, and some never had a chance. And even if you slowed the Tigers down for two or three quarters, Newton was still going to make all the plays he needed to in the fourth.

Auburn went on a magical run to 14-0 in 2010, taking on a brutal schedule and winning seven games by a touchdown or less. The close wins maybe tamp down the perception of dominance, but what Auburn did against this slate of defenses was magical in and of itself.

The 99.8ers

1901 Michigan
1903 Michigan
1903 Minnesota
1916 Colorado College
1918 Colorado Mines
1920 Auburn
1921 Nebraska
1924 Alabama
1929 Utah
1933 Villanova
1937 Colorado
1942 Ohio State
1958 Iowa
1960 New Mexico State
1963 Navy
1969 San Diego State
1978 Oklahoma
1984 Boston College
1987 Florida State
1989 Houston
1995 Florida State
1996 Florida
2004 Boise State
2004 Louisville

2007 Florida

(Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

In 2004, I was not that far removed from making many stupid college road trips -- from Missouri to Clemson for an awful football game in 2000, from Missouri to Charlottesville for a concert in 2001, etc. But after Mizzou failed to make a bowl game in 2004, some friends and I decided to head to Memphis for the 2004 Liberty Bowl between Dan Hawkins' Boise State and Bobby Petrino's Louisville. It was probably the smartest road trip we ever made.

With a minute left in the first quarter, after Boise State had returned an interception 93 yards for a touchdown to take a 10-7 lead, one of my friends bet another that Louisville would score by the end of the quarter. The Cardinals scored on a 65-yard reverse to Harry Douglas on the next play. And then things got crazier in the second quarter. Boise State took a 31-21 lead into halftime, Little Richard played at halftime, and the Broncos extended the lead to 13 points early in the third quarter. But then Louisville's run game took over. Michael Bush and Eric Shelton combined for 172 rushing yards, Louisville surged ahead, 44-40, and Kerry Rhodes intercepted a pass in the end zone to seal a 44-40 Louisville win.

We elected to go to Memphis because we knew Louisville's and Boise State's offenses were good. Turns out, they were spectacular, the two best of 2004.

The 99.9ers

1905 Minnesota
1905 Vanderbilt
1909 Michigan
1910 Haskell
1912 Wisconsin
1916 Minnesota
1918 Georgia Tech
1919 Centre
1920 Centre
1921 Georgia Tech
1921 Cornell
1922 California
1924 Notre Dame
1925 Dartmouth
1930 USC
1934 Minnesota
1941 Texas
1947 Michigan
1953 Notre Dame
1953 Texas Tech
1972 Arizona State
1974 Oklahoma
1983 BYU
1994 Penn State
2008 Oklahoma

Your best team isn't always your most successful. In 1984, BYU rode a wave of close wins (20-14 over Pitt, 18-13 over Hawaii, 41-38 over Wyoming, 30-25 over Air Force, 24-17 over Michigan) to an undefeated record. And because of a wild string of upsets elsewhere -- Auburn, Miami, Nebraska, Texas, Washington, and Nebraska (again) all held the No. 1 ranking but lost unexpectedly -- the Cougars almost stumbled into the national title despite ranking just fifth in estimated S&P+.

In 1983, however, BYU ranked fourth, mostly because of a ridiculous offense. Steve Young threw for 3,900 yards and rushed for nearly 500, and five different Cougar players finished with at least 450 receiving yards. BYU lost a 40-36 shootout to Baylor in the season opener, then ran the table, outlasting UCLA (37-35) in Pasadena and beating every WAC opponent by an average score of 44-13. In the season-ending Holiday Bowl, the Cougars took on a dominant Missouri defense (No. 10 in Def. S&P+) and struggled. But with the game on the line, a throwback to Young made the difference.