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Processing the Numbers, Football Edition | Surveying the Playoff Field

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Taking a look at how the Football Final Four came to be with the help of some advanced metrics (and a whole lot of color codes)

Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports

All statistics are courtesy of Football Outsiders, home of the F/+ Combined Ratings for college football.
The Fremeau Efficiency Index (FEI) was created by Brian Fremeau; check out his website BCFToys for other goodies.
The S&P+ rating was created by Bill Connelly; check out his college football analytics blog, Football Study Hall.
Hat tips to Addicted to Quack's kalon and FO's 7th Day Adventure column for the inspiration.

So, how’d last week go?

2014 SEC Champions: Alabama Crimson Tide

Like Coach Saban said after the game, winning the SEC is a big deal. Maybe not as big this year as in previous years — the SEC East was a bit of a dumpster fire, and the gap between conferences is not as big as it used to be — but to survive the SEC West and then abuse a very good Missouri defense in the title game is no small accomplishment. I’ve already talked about how terrible the officiating was and how awesome Blake Sims is, and to me those were the two big stories from the game.

Give a hat tip to Missouri though, they performed much better than I think anyone was expecting. The final score was a little misleading, as they hung tough with a locked-in Tide squad for three quarters before they were processed by Derrick Henry in the fourth quarter. We knew the Mizzou offense was overmatched by the Tide defense going in, and their success moving the ball on the Tide would be the key to the game. I mentioned Maty Mauk’s ability to connect with his receivers downfield would be crucial, and his success getting the ball to Jimmie Hunt on third downs kept Missouri in the game. At the end of the day the Tide proved to be too talented and too hungry for Missouri, who will likely be back to the drawing board with numerous senior starters departing after the season.

So, what’s next?

As you’re aware, the next opponent is the Ohio State Buckeyes on January 1st in the Sugar Bowl, opposite the Oregon Ducks against the Florida State Seminoles in the Rose Bowl. I intend to do a preview specific to the Buckeyes sometime during the last week of December, as today’s a bit early for that. Instead, I thought I might take a look at the all four playoff participants and how they got here — specifically, what level of competition they faced and what conclusions we might be able to draw from their season performance relative to those opponents.

To do this, I’ve pulled the F/+, S&P+, and FEI ratings for each FBS opponent1 the Final Four played this season, as well as the offensive F/+ and defensive F/+ ratings for those teams. I would have liked to pull in offensive and defensive S&P+ components, but I don’t think most of you are reading this on monitors 6 feet wide so I thought I’d be nice and keep it reasonable. At the bottom of each chart I calculated the average rating for that participant’s schedule. Perhaps not the most robust method to make this kind of determination, but it’s good enough for a quick-and-dirty look like this. In addition, I’ll go through similarity scores for the other three participants for each team, and talk a little about what such a game might look like.

1 | These metrics are not calculated for FCS squads. Even if many of them are better than Southern Miss.

Speaking of quick-and-dirty, I did not follow my normal method2 for identifying team colors for the 30 some odd non-SEC teams that appear below. I used a website that apparently pulled color codes from images of team logos without regard for brightness correction, etc. For the most part I went with it anyway, only making adjustments if the results were particularly heinous. So if you're a closet Indiana fan and the red's not just right... sorry.

2 | Pull colors from the associated SBNation blog such as Addicted to Quack (best. name. ever.), Tomahawk Nation, or Land-Grant Holy Land.

At any rate, let’s see what shakes out:

The Goods

Wondering what all these terms are?

  • FEI: The Fremeau Efficiency Index, an overall team quality metric that is drive-based and opponent-adjusted. For a more detailed discussion of FEI, check out the PTN primer.
  • OFEI: The offensive component of FEI.
  • DFEI: The defensive component of FEI.
  • FPA: FEI Field Position Advantage, a measure of how much field position value a team earned against its opponents.
  • STE: FEI Special Teams Efficiency, a composite measure of a team's efficiency in all facets of special teams (kicking, punting, and returning), based on points per game.
  • S&P+: Another overall team quality metric, S&P+ is primarily play-based and consists of three components: Success Rate, Equivalent Net Points per Play, and a drive efficiency component. The "+" refers to opponent adjustments. For a more detailed discussion of S&P+, check out the PTN primer.
  • OS&P+: The offensive component of S&P+.
  • DS&P+: The defensive component of S&P+.
  • Rush OS&P+: S&P+ calculated on rushing plays for the offense — a good measure of a team's effectiveness at running the ball.
  • Rush DS&P+: S&P+ calculated on rushing plays for the defense — a good measure of a team's effectiveness at stopping the run.
  • Pass OS&P+: S&P+ calculated on passing plays for the offense — a good measure of a team's effectiveness at throwing the ball.
  • Pass DS&P+: S&P+ calculated on passing plays for the defense — a good measure of a team's effectiveness at defending the pass.
  • PD: Passing Downs, defined as later downs with medium yardage or more to go (3rd, 4th downs in excess of 5 yards to go), as well as 2nd down with more than 8 yards to go.
  • SD: Standard Downs, defined as all downs that are not Passing Downs.
  • SD OS&P+: S&P+ calculated on standard downs for the offense — a good measure of a team's offensive effectiveness on earlier downs and short yardage.
  • SD DS&P+: S&P+ calculated on standard downs for the defense — a good measure of a team's defensive effectiveness on earlier downs and short yardage.
  • PD OS&P+: S&P+ calculated on passing downs for the offense — a good measure of a team's offensive effectiveness on later downs and long yardage.
  • PD DS&P+: S&P+ calculated on passing downs for the defense — a good measure of a team's defensive effectiveness on later downs and long yardage.
  • F/+: The F/+ combined ratings combine FEI and S&P+ into one metric that serves as Football Outsiders' official rankings for college football. For a more detailed discussion of F/+, check out the PTN primer.
  • Off. F/+: The offensive component of F/+.
  • Def. F/+: The defensive component of F/+.
  • ST F/+: The special teams component of F/+.
  • Swanson Giddiness Index: Easily the most accurate predictor of success in college football, the Swanson Giddiness Index is a qualitative, completely unsupportable metric that is presented via the tone of that week's image/animated gif of Ron Swanson — beloved Parks and Recreation character and official spirit animal of Processing the Numbers.

Wondering what all of this means? Check out the PTN primer!

#1 — Alabama Crimson Tide
Team F/+ S&P+ FEI OF+ DF/+
ALABAMA 38.4% (1) 270.7 (1) 0.315 (2) 19.8% (3) 19.7% (2)
WEST VIRGINIA 12.6% (34) 224.5 (22) 0.098 (38) 2.8% (49) 9.4% (25)
FLA. ATLANTIC -14.5% (97) 181.9 (98) -0.134 (97) -6.2% (98) -9.0% (105)
SOUTHERN MISS -22.2% (121) 173.9 (117) -0.193 (122) -10.5% (110) -9.4% (106)
FLORIDA 9.3% (41) 211.5 (42) 0.093 (39) -5.9% (97) 12.9% (12)
OLE MISS 29.3% (4) 248.2 (7) 0.242 (7) 9.2% (21) 18.8% (3)
ARKANSAS 18.6% (20) 230.9 (19) 0.171 (17) 8.9% (23) 10.3% (19)
TEXAS A&M 3.8% (53) 209.2 (49) 0.027 (52) 7.5% (30) -5.4% (90)
OPPONENT 7.5% (43) 212.5 (39) 0.084 (42) -2.0% (69) 7.6% (31)
LOUISIANA ST. 19.4% (18) 234 (17) 0.135 (27) 3.0% (48) 14.0% (11)
MISSISSIPPI ST. 27.8% (6) 250.7 (5) 0.218 (10) 12.2% (14) 14.8% (9)
OPPONENT 23.5% (12) 234.2 (16) 0.214 (11) 18.0% (5) 6.1% (38)
MISSOURI 13.2% (31) 217.3 (33) 0.148 (23) 2.1% (52) 10.1% (21)
AVERAGE 10.7% 219.1 0.092 3.3% 6.7%

Observations

  • Average F/+ opponent: Virginia (F/+ #37)
  • Average S&P+ opponent: Boston College (S&P+ #29)
  • Average FEI opponent: Florida (FEI #39)
  • Average Offense: Western Michigan (OF/+ #46)
  • Average Defense: Miami (DF/+ #34)
  • Best Win: Mississippi State (F/+ #6)
  • Wins against F/+ Top-25: 4 (#6 Mississippi State, #12 Lee County, #18 LSU, #20 Arkansas)

As would be expected, the Tide faced the toughest slate of teams among the Final Four, though they tied with Florida State3 for that honor. Alabama’s opponents were the best on a play-by-play basis, but fell a bit short on drive efficiency and offensive performance. Opponent defensive performance was second among playoff participants, and Alabama tallied the best win by beating #6 Mississippi State. Alabama also tied Florida State with the most wins over F/+ top-25 teams.

3 | No, really. Read on!

Similarity - Oregon

  • Offense – Rushing: Mississippi State
  • Offense – Passing: Somewhere between Lee County and Mississippi
  • Defense – Rushing: Orange Team, but not really
  • Defense – Passing: Texas A&M

No disrespect to the Ducks, but the thought of getting Alabama in a potential national final should be of great concern to them. Oregon’s pass defense is most similar to Texas A&M, and as you may recall they were completely obliterated by the Tide. The closest comp on the rushing side of the house are the Vols, but it’s not a close comparison – the two are 20 ranks apart in defensive rushing S&P+. I’m fairly confident the Tide would put up a lot of points on the Ducks.

All’s not lost though, because the Ducks would do the same. The fifth-ranked offense by passing S&P+, Oregon doesn’t line up very closely with any Tide opponent but falls neatly between the Mississippi schools and Lee County. In truth, this may rely more on individual matchups than anything else, as Alabama mostly seems to have an issue with big and fast, as opposed to big or fast. Rushing’s a different story, as Oregon certainly has not seen anything like the Tide’s defensive front. A conventional4 ground attack won't cut it against 'Bama. Mobile quarterbacks will, however, and as you may be aware Oregon features sort of decent chap at that position. I’d expect this potential matchup to be a very entertaining shootout that would lower my life expectancy by about 10 years or so.

4 | As in backs and receivers, not Arkansas.

Similarity – Florida State

  • Offense – Rushing: Texas A&M
  • Offense – Passing: Somewhere between Lee County and Mississippi
  • Defense – Rushing: Orange Team
  • Defense – Passing: Florida Atlantic

Oregon and Florida State have very similar profiles, although the Ducks appear to be the slightly better team overall. That matchup looks to be an absolute barnburner, but we’ll get to that later. Same comments about Oregon apply here, although the ‘Noles would have a little less margin for error with a worse defense and a less-favorable matchup on offense.

Similarity — Ohio State University

  • Offense – Rushing: Mississippi State
  • Offense – Passing: Lee County
  • Defense – Rushing: Orange Team
  • Defense – Passing: Florida

Ohio State is good. Really, really good. They lead the country in all four offensive S&P+ categories, and have a better defense than either Oregon or FSU. Once again the passing game is going to depend on matchups, because I would expect a very similar rushing performance to that of Mississippi State out of them. More on this later on and later this month.

#2 — Oregon Ducks
Team F/+ S&P+ FEI OF+ DF/+
OREGON 35.6% (3) 253.4 (3) 0.317 (1) 19.9% (2) 12.6% (13)
MICHIGAN ST. 23.6% (11) 248.9 (6) 0.165 (19) 11.1% (15) 9.7% (24)
WYOMING -20.7% (119) 178.6 (108) -0.174 (117) -4.6% (83) -8.8% (104)
WASHINGTON ST. -11.5% (89) 194.2 (76) -0.024 (68) 3.7% (45) -6.8% (96)
ARIZONA5 12.7% (33) 210.9 (44) 0.183 (14) 6.9% (33) 6.2% (37)
UCLA 18.8% (19) 221.6 (24) 0.208 (12) 15.0% (7) 3.0% (49)
WASHINGTON 5.0% (51) 197.4 (70) 0.089 (40) -5.4% (92) 7.7% (30)
CALIFORNIA 0.8% (61) 199.8 (65) 0.024 (55) 6.7% (34) -5.6% (91)
STANFORD 16.9% (23) 229.6 (20) 0.161 (20) 2.7% (50) 15.0% (8)
UTAH 10.2% (38) 200.3 (62) 0.156 (21) -3.4% (76) 8.8% (27)
COLORADO -7.8% (81) 188.3 (89) -0.046 (75) -0.1% (59) -6.9% (97)
OREGON ST. -3.8% (71) 191.7 (83) -0.015 (66) 1.4% (55) -5.0% (87)
AVERAGE 7.1% 209.7 0.094 4.7% 2.5%

5 | Oregon played Arizona twice; their ratings were doubled in calculating the averages.

Observations

  • Average F/+ opponent: Tennessee (F/+ #43)
  • Average S&P+ opponent: Cincinnati (S&P+ #47)
  • Average FEI opponent: Florida (FEI #39)
  • Average Offense: Louisville (OF/+ #42)
  • Average Defense: Kansas State (DF/+ #51)
  • Best Win: Michigan State (F/+ #11)
  • Wins against F/+ Top-25: 3 (#11 Michigan State, #19 UCLA, #23 Stanford)

Oregon faced the best offenses among the playoff participants, with an OF/+ average most similar to that of Louisville. They also faced the worst defenses, so insert your favorite joke about the Pac-12 here. There’s definitely a gap in schedule quality between the Ducks and the Tide and ‘Noles, with an average F/+ rating over 3.5% lower. That doesn’t mean their schedule was easy, though — they faced three teams in the F/+ Top-25 and beat all three.

Similarity - Alabama

  • Offense – Rushing: UCLA
  • Offense – Passing: Michigan State
  • Defense – Rushing: Stanford, but not really
  • Defense – Passing: UCLA

UCLA put up the most rushing yards of any Oregon opponent this year and Michigan State the third-most passing yardage6, so I would expect the Tide offense to move the ball pretty easily on this defense. Again matchups will play a big role, but UCLA held Oregon to its lowest passing output of the year, which seems promising if you wear crimson. Oregon hasn’t seen anything like the Tide rush defense, and that matchup would depend entirely on Marcus Mariota, who I expect would have a pretty stellar game since he’s just as unstoppable as Amari Cooper.

6 | More like second-most; Mike Leach teams put up a ton of pass yardage on everybody and don’t win, so.

Similarity – Florida State

  • Offense – Rushing: Michigan State
  • Offense – Passing: Michigan State
  • Defense – Rushing: Washington
  • Defense – Passing: Washington

Well that’s certainly neat and clean. Michigan State played Oregon closer than you remember, but 2 turnovers and an inability to finish drives resulted in a somewhat surprising early-season beatdown. The good news for Oregon is Jameis Winston is all about throwing picks this season, leading the Power-5 conferences with 17. The bad news is FSU is considerably better at finishing drives than Michigan State. If the Jameis from last week shows up, FSU is going to put up a lot of points. If the Jameis from the Florida game shows up though it could get ugly. One wildcard is the ever-improving Dalvin Cook, who looked otherworldly against Georgia Tech and could have a huge day against a porous Duck rush defense.

Washington did not put up much of a fight, giving up 554 yards of offense and 29 first downs in a 35 point drubbing at Autzen Stadium. Oregon was 14/22 on third and fourth down conversions in that game, and if FSU puts up a similar effort it’s going to be a long game. This duel of the last two Heisman Trophy winners7 is undoubtedly the most interesting bowl matchup this year (pending the national championship, of course), and I fully expect a high-scoring, back-and-forth sort of affair.

7 | Yes, I’m trying to jinx Mariota so Cooper can win. No, it’s not going to work.

Similarity – Ohio State University

  • Offense – Rushing: UCLA, but not really
  • Offense – Passing: Michigan State
  • Defense – Rushing: Arizona
  • Defense – Passing: Michigan State

This would be an unpleasant scenario for Tide fans as it would mean the Buckeyes were victorious in the Sugar Bowl. It might be unpleasant for Ducks fans as well, as the Buckeyes would run over, around, and through the Oregon defense all night and pick up some yards through the air for good measure. That would all depend on Cardale Jones of course, who was effective in his only start of the season against Wisconsin. I’m thinking that wasn’t a fluke, and the fact the Buckeyes beat the Tide in this scenario would seem to back that up.

The first time Oregon played Arizona, it was in Tucson and the Ducks produced their lowest rushing output of the year. The second time was at a neutral site, and the Ducks produced their best output of the year. I’m thinking the latter is more likely here, as Arizona was playing way above their heads the first time around. Mariota had a pretty effective day against Michigan State as well, so I’m thinking this one would be another entertaining shootout. If it happens8.

8 | Roll Tide

Correction: The first time Arizona and Oregon played it was at Autzen, not in Tucson. Whoops.

#3 — Florida State Seminoles
Team F/+ S&P+ FEI OF+ DF/+
FLORIDA STATE 27.5% (8) 234.3 (15) 0.262 (4) 16.3% (6) 10.2% (20)
OKLAHOMA STATE -2.8% (68) 195.5 (73) -0.058 (80) -3.4% (77) -2.8% (71)
CLEMSON 21.1% (14) 238.8 (11) 0.168 (18) -0.1% (58) 23.4% (1)
N.C. STATE 5.2% (49) 208.6 (50) 0.016 (59) 5.8% (40) -2.2% (70)
WAKE FOREST -10.4% (87) 174.3 (116) -0.08 (86) -14.3% (123) 1.5% (55)
SYRACUSE -8.2% (82) 187.7 (90) -0.029 (72) -9.4% (108) 3.4% (48)
NOTRE DAME 11.0% (36) 213.8 (37) 0.079 (44) 7.2% (32) 2.9% (50)
LOUISVILLE 19.9% (16) 232.5 (18) 0.176 (15) 4.8% (42) 16.1% (5)
VIRGINIA 10.7% (37) 206.4 (55) 0.117 (31) -1.4% (66) 11.9% (15)
MIAMI 16.2% (24) 225.1 (21) 0.117 (33) 10.1% (17) 7.0% (34)
BOSTON COLLEGE 13.7% (29) 219 (29) 0.133 (28) 9.2% (22) 4.4% (45)
FLORIDA 9.3% (41) 211.5 (42) 0.093 (39) -5.9% (97) 12.9% (12)
GEORGIA TECH 25.8% (10) 224.3 (23) 0.266 (3) 22.8% (1) 0.9% (58)
AVERAGE 10.7% 213.2 0.097 3.2% 6.9%

Observations

  • Average F/+ opponent: Virginia (F/+ #37)
  • Average S&P+ opponent: Memphis (S&P+ #34)
  • Average FEI opponent: West Virginia (FEI #38)
  • Average Offense: Duke (OF/+ #47)
  • Average Defense: Miami (DF/+ #34)
  • Best Win: Georgia Tech (F/+ #10)
  • Wins against F/+ Top-25: 4 (#10 Georgia Tech, #14 Clemson, #16 Louisville, #24 Miami)

Better than you thought, huh? As noted, by this measure FSU’s schedule was on par with the Tide at an average F/+ rating of 10.7%. FSU also faced the best defensive slate (just a smidge better than the Tide’s) and faced the best slate with regards to FEI rating. FSU also has the distinction of facing both the top offense (Georgia Tech) and the top defense (Clemson) over the course of the year, two of the four F/+ Top-25 teams they beat during the season. In fact, FSU’s lowest-ranked FBS opponent was F/+ #87 Wake Forest — the other three participants all faced at least one opponent in the 100s. I’ll freely admit I was a little stunned when I saw this breakout, I was not expecting their schedule to look this good. Their myriad issues over the course of the season start to make a little more sense when you realize how tough their schedule was. After seeing this, my opinion is that FSU traveled the hardest road to get here, and if the committee had left them out of the playoff it would have been an absolute travesty. Hate all you want, but they deserve to be here.

That being said, all of these numbers are schedule-adjusted, and you’ll note that FSU is clearly the weakest team in the field by these metrics. Possessing both the lowest-ranked offense and defense of the four alongside the lowest S&P+ rating, FSU does rate out well in FEI, indicating they are efficient on a drive-by-drive basis. Looking at their OFEI and DFEI ranks they are more or less on par with the other participants in this regard, which tells me they will bend a bit on defense but bow up in the red zone, and they take care of business once they cross the 40 on offense. Finishing drives is a critical skill in football, and Florida State is as good or better at it than the rest of the field.

Similarity - Alabama

  • Offense – Rushing: Georgia Tech
  • Offense – Passing: Miami, but not really
  • Defense – Rushing: Clemson, but not really
  • Defense – Passing: Virginia

The ‘Noles have not faced an offense this year remotely like the Tide’s. While Georgia Tech finished with the top offense by OF/+, they are a triple-option team that mostly runs (59 rushes vs. 14 passes against FSU) and gives everyone fits with their unique approach. The Tide’s rushing offense is on par with Tech’s, but they are also a lethal passing team that’s far nastier than anything FSU’s seen so far. I don’t see anything here that suggests they could stop the Tide on that side of the ball.

Clemson’s a distant second to the Tide in rush defense, and FSU managed just 13 yards on the ground in that game. That doesn’t bode well. The only game where Winston was less effective than he was against Virginia was Florida, and that doesn’t bode well either. I’d be comfortable picking the Tide if this matchup were to happen.

Similarity – Oregon

  • Offense – Rushing: Georgia Tech
  • Offense – Passing: Miami, but not really
  • Defense – Rushing: Oklahoma State
  • Defense – Passing: N.C. State

The same comments for the Tide offense go for Oregon as well – they aren’t stopping the Ducks.

The defensive matchup is a little more favorable, but the results are a little quirky. The ‘Noles averaged barely over 3 yards a carry against OSU but put up much better numbers against a decent Syracuse unit (4.6 YPC) and a stout Florida one (4.4 YPC). I’d expect the latter sort of performance given Cook’s improvement over the year. Winston and Co. eviscerated the Wolfpack D through the air (albeit with two picks), so I’d expect FSU to be able to move the ball on the Ducks. As stated above, this should be a very exciting Rose Bowl.

Similarity – Ohio State University

  • Offense – Rushing: Georgia Tech
  • Offense – Passing: Miami, but not really
  • Defense – Rushing: Oklahoma State
  • Defense – Passing: Miami

The defensive mismatch is even worse here, as the Buckeyes own the top slot in both offensive passing and rushing S&P+.

The defensive matchup is less favorable here as well, as the Buckeyes rate out as the tenth-best passing defense in the country. The closest comp is Miami, who was able to limit Winston to a degree and held him to his lowest passer rating of the year before the pick parade against Florida. As we’ll get into below, the Buckeyes are filling the sleeper role this year, and they would be a very rough matchup for the ‘Noles if they both make it to the finals.

#4 — Ohio State University Buckeyes
Team F/+ S&P+ FEI OF+ DF/+
OHIO STATE 36.5% (2) 266 (2) 0.257 (5) 18.8% (4) 15.4% (7)
5.1% (50) 211.9 (41) 0.027 (53) 13.5% (12) -7.1% (99)
VIRGINIA TECH 12.7% (32) 218.7 (30) 0.144 (25) -5.4% (91) 18.1% (4)
KENT STATE -18.3% (108) 175.1 (113) -0.157 (111) -11.7% (115) -5.0% (86)
CINCINNATI 5.6% (46) 210 (47) 0.001 (62) 8.4% (25) -5.4% (88)
MARYLAND 6.3% (45) 203.3 (59) 0.017 (58) 1.6% (54) 0.2% (61)
RUTGERS -4.4% (73) 198.6 (67) -0.091 (88) -0.3% (60) -4.2% (78)
PENN STATE 3.6% (54) 215 (34) 0.032 (51) -7.9% (104) 14.2% (10)
ILLINOIS -6.6% (78) 192.6 (80) -0.056 (78) -1.8% (67) -5.4% (89)
MICHIGAN ST. 23.6% (11) 248.9 (6) 0.165 (19) 11.1% (15) 9.7% (24)
MINNESOTA 12.1% (35) 212 (40) 0.115 (34) 3.8% (44) 5.0% (42)
INDIANA -9.5% (85) 191.7 (84) -0.066 (82) -5.3% (89) -3.3% (72)
MICHIGAN 1.6% (60) 205.9 (56) -0.024 (69) -3.1% (72) 4.7% (43)
WISCONSIN 19.8% (17) 243.3 (9) 0.127 (30) 10.0% (18) 10.5% (18)
AVERAGE 6.3% 213.8 0.035 2.3% 3.4%
  • Average F/+ opponent: Maryland (F/+ #45)
  • Average S&P+ opponent: Notre Dame (S&P+ #37)
  • Average FEI opponent: Air Force (FEI #50)
  • Average Offense: Missouri (OF/+ #52)
  • Average Defense: Syracuse (F/+ #48)
  • Best Win: Michigan State (F/+ #11)
  • Wins against F/+ Top-25: 2 (#11 Michigan State, #17 Wisconsin)

Despite scheduling only FBS opponents the Buckeyes had the easiest schedule of any of the playoff participants, and I have to believe they would not have made it here if Minnesota had won the B1G West. Their obliteration of Wisconsin in the B1G championship game gave them the slight edge over TCU and Baylor, helping offset a puzzling home loss to F/+ #32 Virginia Tech.

However, recall again all of these metrics are adjusted for opponent strength. Ohio State had the easiest schedule, which should depress their ratings accordingly. Except it didn’t, which means Ohio State dominated that schedule the way you’d expect an elite team to do. The fact they did this after losing Braxton Miller in camp and replacing him with a freshman quarterback is unbelievable. F/+ thinks this is the second-best team in the country, and that means they belong in the Playoff.

Similarity - Alabama

  • Offense – Rushing: Navy
  • Offense – Passing: Michigan State
  • Defense – Rushing: Penn State, but not really
  • Defense – Passing: Maryland

Interestingly enough, all of these comps were teams the Buckeyes played on the road. Ohio State travels very well, however, so expect the Superdome to be a truly neutral site.

Navy’s another one of those triple-option teams, so maybe not the best comparison, but suffice it to say the Tide will be able to get yards on the ground in this one. The Buckeyes were also lit up by Michigan State through the air, so I’d expect the Tide offense to roll.

Penn State gave up over 200 rushing yards to the Buckeyes, but that was on 57 carries. The only team to hold the Buckeyes to a lower yardage output was Virginia Tech, and neither of those teams are anything close to the country’s finest rushing defense. Once again, receiver matchups will be key, as the Tide’s closest pass defense comp gave up 19/24 for 264 yards and 4 TDs against the Buckeyes. Something tells me Ohio State will get yardage through the air, and the Tide will have to win a Lee County-esque shootout to get to the national championship game.

Similarity – Oregon

  • Offense – Rushing: Navy
  • Offense – Passing: Michigan State
  • Defense – Rushing: Kent State? Kent State.
  • Defense – Passing: Michigan

The Oregon and Alabama offenses are remarkably similar it seems. That will be an interesting matchup if it comes about. Once again, don’t expect the Buckeyes to stop the Ducks if these two teams advance to the title game.

On the other hand, Kent State yielded 284 yards on the ground at 5.4 yards a carry, which is not really what you need to do to beat this team. Michigan didn’t do much better than Maryland, allowing 176 yards to J.T. Barrett on 21 attempts before he was injured. Once again, everything hinges on Jones, but it says right here the Buckeyes would put up points on Oregon.

Similarity – Florida State

  • Offense – Rushing: Michigan State
  • Offense – Passing: Michigan State
  • Defense – Rushing: Kent State
  • Defense – Passing: Navy

Michigan State carved up the Buckeye defense and scored more points in the game than any of their other opponents this season. It took a virtuoso performance from Barrett for Ohio State to win, and I think you’d need to see the same from Jones if this matchup takes place. The Buckeyes had no answer for Jeremy Langford in particular, and while Cook is a very different back from Langford he’s absolutely more dangerous. Couple that with Winston’s penchant for stepping up in the big moments and you have a long day for the Buckeye defense.

We already discussed what Kent State was able to do — Navy didn’t really do much either. Barrett put up a 12/15 for 225 yards (15.1 YPA!) for a couple TDs and a pick. Really no team has stopped the Buckeye offense this year, and I would not expect Florida State to either if it comes to that.

Conclusions

These teams are remarkably close to each other — I don’t see a clear mismatch in any of the potential matchups. If there’s one real point of commonality it’s that these are all highly effective offensive teams and solid defensive teams, which is not surprising given that they should be the four best teams in college football. If there’s any edge I think it’s the Tide’s rush defense, which has rendered most of their opponents one-dimensional — that Does Not Work against Nick Saban and Kirby Smart. Marcus Mariota or Cardale Jones could be equalizers there, and we’ll definitely find out on the latter January 1st. I think the committee got it right, because each of these teams deserves to be here. New Year’s Day can’t get here soon enough.

ROLL TIDE