Five Thoughts On The College Football Playoff
1. Why all the close game predictions? I keep seeing pundits pick outcomes decided by seven points or less. And yet, close games have been a rarity when it comes to the College Football Playoff. Can you guess what the average margin of victory has been for a College Football Playoff game? 20 points. I know it’s only been three years (and 9 games) since the playoff came into existence but we’ve yet to have a year that includes more than one good game. Only one game each year has been decided by 7 points or less. And that 20 point margin I referenced includes three games decided by 30+ points, two games decided by 20+ points and another game decided by 17 points. I guess this is just proof that college football is incredibly top heavy (like we really needed it). Either way the point is that despite all the hype surrounding these teams, and predictions of tight contests, we are way more likely to see an old fashioned thrashing. Somebody is going to get blown out on New Year’s Day, the tricky question is who?
2. Here’s to betting it’s not Clemson or Alabama. Considering semifinal games have had a margin of victory of 24.83, and only one semifinal game has been decided by 16 points or less, maybe this isn’t the smartest play. However, Clemson and Alabama have given us the two best games in college playoff history, and two of the better National Championship games of the past 10 years. And chances are this one is a slug fest. Points should be hard to come by. These teams are ranked #1 & 2 in PPG allowed in the nation respectively. Clemson’ defensive line is simply the best in all of college football. Clemson leads the nation in sacks and are eighth in tackles for loss. And while Alabama has struggled to get the type of pressure they usually get on opposing quarterbacks (31 Sacks this year compared to 54 last year), they have a few injured players returning that should help the front seven, and Clemson quarterback Kelly Bryant isn’t on par with Deshaun Watson. My guess is this game never really takes off on the frantic pace the past two classics did, and the two teams settle for a score in the teens, removing any chance for a blowout.
3. Can the Sooners make a statement? It’s been 18 years since Oklahoma won its last National Championship. And it’s been 12 years since a Big 12 team won a National Championship. Remember that? Yeah, that was the Vince Young game. Doesn’t that feel like forever ago? So you really have two overarching continuums surfacing here. One, Oklahoma, despite it being the class of the Big 12, and one of the more prestigious college football powerhouses of the 21st century, hasn’t exactly fared well against the best of the best. They got waxed two years ago in the playoff against Clemson. They were beaten in 2009 by Tim Tebow and Urban Meyer. And they were blown out of the water by USC in the 2004 National Championship Game. Secondly, the fact is that no team west of Missouri has won a College Football Championship since that Vince Young lead Texas team in 2006. So I think it’s safe to say that the west coast prejudice does exist, only it’s not really a prejudice at all because it’s merely a symptom of the results we’ve had for the past decade. For it to change it’s going to take teams like this year’s Oklahoma team to break through and actually win the big game. Two wins for Oklahoma this year puts its name back in the lore of top college football programs, and takes a little bit of oomph away from the western teams can’t win the big one label.
4. Speaking of west coast prejudice, how will Baker Mayfield handle playing a real defense for the first time since september? As you might have already known, Baker Mayfield has been fantastic this year. He’s thrown 41 TDs to 5 Ints, completed 71% of his passes, and has a passer rating of 203.8. There’s a reason he won the Heisman Trophy. But as the playoff rolls around, this question has to be asked. It’s not that Mayfield is going to walk onto the field against Georgia and all of a sudden be subpar, but it might be an adjustment simply because of the competition he has faced for the better part of this year. The best defense the Sooners have played against this year statistically has been TCU, who allowed an average of 329.0 YPG (19th) and 17.6 PPG (12th). But TCU got hammered against ranked opponents, allowing 29.6 PPG in those contests. And honestly, is there any tangible evidence any team from the defense averse Big 12 matches up defensively with a team like Georgia? I don’t think so. It’s not that big of an assumption but Ohio State was probably the best defense the Sooners faced all year. If you remember, the Sooners only scored three points in the first half before exploding for 28 in the second half. OSU ranked 15th in Total Defense on the year, and allowed 19.9 PPG which was good for 22nd in the nation. That game occurred on September 9th. That’s a long time between facing top competition, and Georgia is on another level altogether than Ohio State. Georgia ranked 4th in PPG allowed, 4th in YPG allowed, 1st in Defensive Drive Success Rate, 1st in Touch Down Rate, and 4th in Defensive Drive Success Rate Adjusted for Strength of Schedule. Baker Mayfield lead the Sooners to the top offense in the country, but they’d better come out stronger against Georgia’s D than they did against the Buckeyes. A few early mistakes could put the Sooners in a hole they might not be able to recover from.
5. What’s the most interesting championship Game versus the most likely? Since we can’t have a Clemson-Alabama trifecta, I’m going to go with an Oklahoma-Clemson matchup for the most interesting. Since 2007 an SEC team has played in the National Championship every year except for 2015. So it would be nice to have something a little different. We haven’t seen a Big 12-ACC matchup since Miami clobbered Nebraska in 2002. Plus, you have Clemson going for a repeat against the Heisman Winner and the most interesting player in the country in Baker Mayfield. I think that would be the most fun to watch considering the storylines at stake. However, something tells me we’re going to get an Alabama-Georgia SEC bonanza. I just don’t trust Oklahoma against a much tougher opponent in Georgia, and I’m betting Nick Saban finds a way to exact revenge on Dabo for last year’s National Championship Game. I know it’s not the boldest prediction, but SEC dominance is likely to continue.