Wednesday, December 31, 2014

College Playoff Predictions: Who Survives Round 1


In the words of Michael Buffer "lets get ready to rumble!"! I'm talking Cormier vs Jones right? Sorry UFC fans as anticipated as that fight is (and we are looking forward to Saturday as well) we are talking the highly anticipated College Football Playoffs kicking off on Thursday and that means its time for predictions...


Ohio State

Line: Alabama -9

If Ohio State is going to win this game with 3rd String QB Cardale Jones running the offense they are going to have to establish the run game early and have continued success throughout the game. Ezekiel Elliot is more than capable of being a productive runner against the Crimson Tide's front as long as his offensive line can get net neutral. This is important because it will alleviate pressure from Jones who appears to have a very good arm and capable of making at least some next level throws. If Elliot and Jones get going early the Buckeye's will have a fighters chance of putting up better than expected numbers against the talented but less than perfect Tide defense. 

Defensively the Buckeyes front led by Joey Bosa will need to play their best game of the season giving up almost 30lbs per man vs Bama's veteran offensive line. The Buckeyes have a lot of NFL talent upfront that could give Alabama fits and they are going to need their defense to hold up their end of the bargain if they want to win this game. If OSU's front can't hold up and Alabama has their way in the run game it will open the passing game for Blake Sims. Sims is talented and has progressed along with the season even though he has struggled against strong competition he can make OSU or any team pay when he gets comfortable. Sims is also an above average runner and very tough as far as quarterbacks are concerned so the Buckeyes will need to contain him and not allow Sims to extend plays and drives with his feet if they want to win this game. As good as Sims is he hasn't played his best against top competition as evidence of his 40pt differential passer rating playing ranked teams vs unranked teams. Further evidence that Sims may be more pedestrian against top competition is his passer rating vs ranked teams drops well below his season averages in the 4th quarter, when the game is within 7 points either way, and on the road/neutral sites. This should be a positive sign for Buckeyes and a trend that Tide fans want to point to compensating factors named Cooper, Yeldon, and Henry.

How the Buckeyes could pull the upset: Even though most people think Alabama will win there should be caution in the wind as losing the turnover battle to Ohio State or allowing 150+ on the ground would level the playing field. Buckeye fans should note we have +2 in the turnover battle mixed with 150yds rushing as our magic numbers for a Buckeye upset. Obviously that's not a given but that is why they play the games..

How the Tide could Roll: Smothering on defense and balanced on offense are the calling card of the Crimson Tide. Alabama needs to play a complete game and open up the run game between the tackles forcing OSU to commit more guys to the box then get Amari Cooper 1 on 1 vs anyone. A steady dose of Yeldon and Henry should be high priority early. On defense the Tide need to make OSU one dimensional and shut down the deep and intermediate passing game mixing underneath zones and over the top cover 3 with blitz packages. I'm almost certain OSU will want to attack Bama in the passing game so taking the center of the field away and making Jones throw into tight windows will be key. Blitzing should get Jones throwing on the move and uncomfortable in the pocket thus greatly increasing the odds of him making a mistake. Bama needs to stay within +/-1 in the turnover margin to keep the advantage in the game along with rushing for at least 175 yards. If Bama can accomplish that the defense should be able to hold OSU in check and the Tide will Roll.

Who Wins: Alabama is the obvious favorite in both Vegas and public sentiment. Bigger, faster, stronger from a tougher conference etc... are the reasons Bama is such a heavy favorite but we aren't necessarily buying what everyone is selling. Ohio State is plenty big, fast, and strong plus will come out with a chip on their shoulder ready to prove to the world they belong in the playoff and back among the elite teams in CFB. OSU will put it on Bama early but fade as the game goes on due largely in part to inexperience at QB which will ultimately be the difference in the game. The Crimson Tide reach the championship winning 35-24.

Rose Bowl

Florida State

Oregon -8

Jameis vs Marcus is the big storyline here but we think it will be more about defenses than anything the offenses do. The teams on paper are evenly matched in athleticism though we believe Oregon is the slightly faster team and FSU the slightly bigger team. Oregon wants to start fast and keep the Seminoles in constant catch up mode. It also appears the Ducks do not want this game to come down to late in the 4th quarter because that will be an apparent advantage for FSU.  The Seminoles wants to keep the formula that teams that have beat Oregon have done which was made famous by Stanford in dragging Oregon out to "deep water" meaning keeping the game close and the pressure on the Ducks, limiting their possessions, and not allowing explosion plays.

Defensively FSU wants to get as many three and outs as possible giving the ball to their offense and having them sustain drives and put points on the board. FSU cannot afford to let Oregon get in a rhythm and start running downhill because things can go bad quickly with all the Ducks offensive talent. Limiting explosion plays, controlling tempo, forcing turnovers, and confusing Mariota will be keys for the FSU defense. Staying disciplined with the eyes and taking proper pursuit angles, and making tackles "in space" will also be of high importance for FSU.

Its been said that Oregon needs to pressure Jameis and make him uncomfortable but we think that stopping the running game and making Jameis beat you with arm all game long is the formula for success. Jameis has shown this year that he will make bad decisions under pressure and has but no defense has taken advantage of those mistakes. Oregon will need to simply capitalize on those mistakes. Against Louisville during the midst of a 21-0 4th quarter Jameis made a key 4th quarter throw into double coverage when Louisville was leading and the Louisville defenders ran into each other when either could have picked it off. It was at a point where a sustained drive with points at the end would have sealed the game for Louisville. Instead the pass was completed for a touchdown and the rest was history. There have been 3 moments down the stretch of the season that I can recall in which Jameis has made the wrong decision and worked out. You can argue they were the right decisions because they worked out but to me they are decisions that better competition will make you pay for and the Ducks defense will be the best defense FSU has faced all season from an athletic and turnover margin standpoint.

How FSU could pull the upset: Simply stated but hard to do would be to hold the Ducks under 30 points. This is the magic number to beating Oregon. When the Ducks score less than 30 points they are pedestrian and when they score more than 30 they are almost unbeatable. If FSU cannot hold Oregon under 30 points then they will need to win the turnover battle by +2 or dominate special teams. FSU has as much talent on defense as anyone Oregon has faced this season with the exception of the Washington Huskies but will need to play their best game in two seasons to beat Oregon. FSU's big defensive front could give Oregon fits and if they can control the edges and fill gaps properly it will help them get to that goal of holding Oregon under 30 pts. Offensively if FSU can control the line of scrimmage and sustain their running attack that will be a large assist in controlling the clock which should be a primary goal. If the Noles can play a complete game and mistake free football, they will have a great shot of making the championship game.

How Oregon Wins: Statistically speaking Oregon should win the turnover battle by +2 and that would be a formula for success. Oregon has held every opponent this season under their season scoring average which will have to continue for Oregon to win. Oregon will need to execute and finish drives with TD's on offense and defensively will need to keep FSU out of the end zone as much as possible. The Red Zone will be a key battle on both sides of the ball and we think Oregon will need to win those battles to keep the advantage. Oregon finished the season as strong on defense as any team in the country and that will need to continue. Offensively Oregon needs to get Royce Freeman going and have some designed runs for Mariota to start getting the FSU secondary coming up setting up play action.

Who Wins: It seems like the experts of College Football are split down the middle but as the game nears more people are leaning towards FSU and with good reason. You don't win 29 games in a row and are the defending national champion if you aren't a great football team. That being said with the recent bowl performance of the conferences its becoming clear that the PAC-12 could be the superior conference nationally and being the Champion from that conference means a lot. Would FSU have won 29 games in a row in the PAC-12 this year and last? We don't think so and we think Oregon will win this one going away after battling some early nerves. As a conference our opinion is the PAC-12 has the best QB's top to bottom, won 70% of the postseason awards, and Oregon blew just about everyone out. For those reasons we think Oregon wins 48-27 and advances to the Championship to play Alabama.


Sunday, December 21, 2014

Playoff Primer: Playoff Teams vs Currently Ranked Opponents (CRO)

Which of these 4 teams will win the College Football Playoff
January 1, 2015 will dawn the new era of the college football playoffs in Pasadena and New Orleans. After decades of whiffing on opinion champions, computer match-ups, and a mixed bag of BCS-BS we have now arrived with the long overdue playoff that pretty much 98% of College Football is happy with aside from a few hundred thousand people that live in the Lone Star State. Controversy is always going to be there whenever you have a "selection committee" vs on-field predetermined guidelines on qualification. Do I think the committee got it right? Not exactly, I would have put Baylor in the #4 seed instead of Ohio State but hard to argue considering how good the Buckeye's looked in the B1G Championship Game. You also have to consider the ambiguous stance the Big-12 had for their champion or lack thereof which sent a clear message that conferences need to define who their champion is. I found it ironic that the Big-12 was left out considering their attempt to put the committee in a quandary by sending Co-Champions forward instead of crowning Baylor Champion according to their tie breaking criteria identified at the beginning of the season. Anyway that water has flowed under the bridge and out to sea at this point so time to look forward at some very intriguing playoff match ups.

Alabama vs Ohio State: Arguably the two most respected coaches of our generation will face off in the Sugar Bowl on New Years Day.  So many big story lines here, so much history, so many championships between these two tradition-wealthy programs when you look at the pure entertainment value it's simply gold.

Story line: It's easy to start with the coaching match up as both have won multiple championships in the past decade. Ohio State will have an opportunity to show America that it can play with and beat the big boys from down south. The last few times that teams from the B1G have been on this stage it has not gone well for them. Alabama will be out to prove that the SEC is still the top dog in college football and the road to the championship goes through them while they attempt to launch Nick Saban into coaching immortality.

Games vs season ending Top 25 and other notable: 

Ohio State over #18 Wisconsin 59-0 and #8 Michigan State 49-37. Notable Loss to unranked Va Tech 21-35 at home (second game of season for a young team), however the two big wins were on the road (MSU) and at a neutral site (Wisc).

Alabama over #7 Miss St 25-20 (a game that never felt in jeopardy), #16 Missouri 42-13, #19 Auburn 55-44, #23 LSU 20-13 (a game that never felt in control), and a loss to #9 Ole Miss 17-23. Other notable game would be a 59-0 win against Texas A&M that finished 7-5 (though a less than stellar OOC schedule).

Statistical Measurement: How teams perform against teams ranked in the current polls are the metrics we focus on. We don't put much into wins over clearly outmatched competition because there are so many other factors that play into a teams performance in a game like that. It's not a perfect system however we feel looking at how teams perform against top competition only brings enough clarity to help someone to fill in the blanks for at least a semi-educated conclusion.

Yards Per Play (YPP) vs Currently Ranked Opponents (CRO)

Ohio State ranks #1 in Offensive YPP vs CRO. Though they have only played 2 teams that ended the regular season ranked in the top 25, averaging 9.15 ypp is a eye opening number and should be plenty to get the Tide's attention. Penn State is actually #1 in this metric which the Buckeye's defeated in OT earlier in the season. Looking deeper at how those teams are defensively, Wisconsin ranks #39 and Michigan State #58 in YPP vs CRO. Alabama ranks #9 in the country yielding 5.15 YPP. National offensive ranks of those CRO the Tide has played are highlighted by Ole Miss at #14, Auburn #16, Miss St #23.

Alabama ranks #20 offensively in YPP at 5.97 vs (5) CRO. Those defenses and their ranks are highlighted by Missouri #20 and Ole Miss #27 along with unranked West Va at #24. Ohio State defense ranks #7 in this metric yielding a meager 4.99 YPP vs CRO offenses Michigan State #18, and Wisconsin #27.

Scoring Points Per Game (PPG) vs CRO

Ohio State ranks #1 offensively in this metric averaging 54 PPG vs the scoring defenses of #49 Wisconsin (37 ppg) and #59 Michigan State (39 ppg). Alabama ranks #7 holding their five (5) CRO to an average of 22.6 points per game and those offenses ranked #25 WVU (28.5), #26 Auburn (28.3), and #33 Miss State (27.3).

Alabama ranks #14 offensively in this metric averaging 31.8 PPG vs the scoring defenses of #3 Ole Miss (18.4), #5 Arkansas (20.3), and #11 LSU (25.2). Ohio State ranks #4 allowing 18.5 points per game vs CRO offenses #17 Michigan State (30.3) and #31 Wisconsin (27.7).

Turnover Margin vs CRO

Ohio State ranks #8 at +1.0 per game and Alabama ranks #19 at +.40 per game.

Takeaways: Even though Ohio State has a clear statistical advantage that very well may be only a small portion of the story. One consideration of comparison is to ask if they swapped schedules how would each team have fared. I'm sure most opinions will depend on your allegiance and geographical location but we'll get into this next week when we do predictions. For now it looks to be a very competitive game for the most part and some very intriguing story lines.

Oregon vs Florida State: This could easily be the most exciting game of the post-season. Good vs Evil, Heisman 2014 vs Heisman 2013, and teams that are so similar yet so different.

Story line: It begins with the Quarterbacks both of which are projected to be first round draft picks in the NFL draft this year. Both posses a Heisman Trophy, both are their respective team leaders, each are dual threats running and passing but only one is a national champion. As similar as these quarterbacks are on the field, they are the polar opposite off the field and their public perceptions are only one small example. Not to be forgotten are both start freshman at running back, have underrated defenses, speed at every position, have struggled with their offensive lines, and have been injury struck this season. FSU turns the ball over much more often than Oregon which is also of intrigue.

Games vs Top 25 and other notable:  Florida State over #12 Ga Tech 37-35 in the ACC Championship Game, #17 Clemson (Without Jameis Winston) 23-17 in OT, and at Louisville 42-31.

Oregon over #8 Michigan State 46-27 at home, #10 Arizona 51-13 in the PAC-12 Championship Game, at #14 UCLA 42-30, at #22 Utah 51-27, and a home loss to #10 Arizona 24-31 in October.

Yards Per Play (YPP) vs CRO

On offense Florida State ranks #9 at 6.66 YPP vs CRO. The national ranks of those (CFP Top 25 Teams) defenses FSU faced are #13 Clemson,  #15 Louisville, and #34 Ga Tech. Interesting to look through the defensive ranks of the other teams FSU has played shows they've played a lot of good defensive teams at least statistically #5 Virginia, #16 Va Tech, #17 Syracuse, #19 Florida, #27 Boston College, #30 Wake Forest and #35 Miami but those teams are not included in this YPP metric since they are not ranked in the CFP Top 25. The Oregon defense ranks #25 yielding 5.58 YPP. The Oregon defensive metric was built against the offensive ranks #11 UCLA, #18 Michigan State, #51 Arizona (twice), and #62 Utah. Also note that Oregon played against other offenses #21 Cal, #31 WSU, #33 Stanford, and #45 Colorado but games against those teams are not included in the YPP metric since they are not ranked in the CFP Top 25. Interesting to note that statistically Utah at #62 was the poorest ranked offense Oregon defended all season.

Oregon ranks #10 offensively in YPP vs CRO at 6.63. The national ranks of those (CFP Top 25 Teams) defenses the Ducks faced are #8 UCLA, #26 Arizona (twice), #49 Utah, and #58 Michigan State. Other notable defenses Oregon played rank #6 Stanford, #22 Washington, #45 Oregon State, and #51 WSU. FSU ranks #52 yielding 6.27 YPP vs CRO. FSU has built that resume against the ranked offenses of #25 Ga Tech, #38 Louisville, and #88 Clemson. Also note FSU has faced other offenses #13 Miami and #30 BC but games against those teams are not included in the YPP metric since they are not ranked in the CFP Top 25.

Scoring Points Per Game (PPG) vs CRO

The Seminoles rank #12 scoring an average of 34.0 ppg vs CRO. Those opponents defensive scoring average vs CRO are #6 Ga Tech, #23 Clemson, and #35 Louisville. Also note that FSU also played against #16 BC, #19 Syracuse, and #25 UVA. Oregon ranks #13 in scoring defense vs CRO holding them to 25.6 ppg. The Ducks defense played scoring offenses #10 UCLA, #17 Michigan State, #34 Arizona (twice), and #52 Utah. Note that the Ducks also played #7 Cal and #23 WSU.

Oregon ranks #4 averaging 42.8 ppg vs CRO. Those opponents defensive scoring average vs CRO are #11 UCLA, #20 Arizona (twice), #33 Utah, and #58 Michigan State. Other noteworthy defenses Oregon played are #8 Stanford, #45 Oregon State, and #46 Washington. FSU ranks #21 allowing 27.7 ppg vs CRO. FSU has defended against the ranked offenses of #15 Ga Tech, #41 Louisville, and #77 Clemson. Other notable offenses FSU faced are #39 Notre Dame, #43 Florida, and #48 Miami.

Turnover Margin vs CRO

The Seminoles rank #44 and are -1 on the season. The Noles CRO rank #16 Louisville, #21 Ga Tech, and #26 Clemson. Other teams the Seminoles have played rank #21 Wake Forest (tied), #26 Syracuse and #42 UVA. Oregon ranks #3 and is +9 vs CRO #21 Arizona & Michigan State (tied), #25 UCLA, and #49 Utah. Other teams Oregon has played #16 Cal and #46 Oregon State.

Takeaways: The Rose Bowl is shaping up to be a very competitive game with no clear statistical advantage for either team. It could be argued that FSU played stronger defenses and Oregon against stronger offenses however both teams are NFL talent laden with play makers on both sides of the ball. Should be an excellent and entertaining prelude to the Championship Game.

It doesn't matter who you are or where you are from one thing is for certain, the new playoff system is a major upgrade for the College Football Postseason. My prediction is that when we are all gone from this earth that fans will look back on the years prior to 2014-2015 and laugh about how the champion was decided. Please enjoy this 2014-15 playoff because my fellow fans we are all witnessing a history that was created by the uproar due to systems that have failed us in the past. So no matter who wins on the field this inaugural playoff is a reward for fans and victory for the future of College Football!