Wednesday, December 31, 2014

College Playoff Predictions: Who Survives Round 1

IT'S TIME FOR THE PLAYOFFS


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...


SUGAR BOWL



Ohio State
Alabama

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

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.


THE FAN






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