Previewing Oregon vs. Ohio State for the National Championship
Here in the extended interlude between the National Semifinals played on New Year’s Day, and Championship Night set for Monday January 12, let’s review the key stats from the Rose Bowl and Sugar Bowl to see if they provide any hints about what to expect when Oregon battles Ohio State for college football supremacy…
ROSE BOWL STATS
Final Score: Oregon 59, Florida State 20
Yardage: Oregon 639, Florida State 528
Yards-per-Play: Oregon 7.9, Florida State 6.1
Third Downs: Oregon 58%, Florida State 38%
Turnovers: Oregon 2, Florida State 5
Oregon broke open a close game with a 41-7 win in the second half. You can see above that they moved the ball at will all day. But, it turned into a blowout because Florida State self-destructed when they couldn’t keep up. Normally you score more than 20 points when you gain 528 yards! It’s possible for opponents to move the ball on Oregon. But, they must play clean if they want to survive the steamroller.
The yardage stats you see above are more consistent with a victory margin of 10-14 points. A fumble return TD pushed Oregon’s scoring total higher, as FSU giveaways were taking potential points off the board for the Seminoles.
Is that the boxscore of a national champion? “Fast break football” hasn’t yet won a trophy, though many of the sport’s elite teams have been trending in faster-paced directions. In terms of past history, it’s NOT the boxscore of a champion because the best don’t allow over 500 yards and 6.0 YPP as a general rule. Even in last season’s shootout, FSU allowed 462 yards and 5.8 YPP in its win over Auburn. What you see above could represent the future boxscores of champions given how the sport is trending. Evolution continues to happen before our eyes.
SUGAR BOWL STATS
Final Score: Ohio State 42, Alabama 35
Yardage: Ohio State 537, Alabama 407
Yards-per-Play: Ohio State 6.9, Alabama 5.8
Third Downs: Ohio State 56%, Alabama 15%
Turnovers: Ohio State 3, Alabama 3
It’s important to note that Ohio State was really dominant here for an underdog. This wasn’t a Cinderella story where a down-and-out longshot caught a lot of breaks and stole a win. Ohio State won rushing yardage 281-170 (over ALABAMA!) and had six scoring drives of 65 yards or more compared to just three for the Tide. Look at those third down conversions! Ohio State held ‘Bama to just 2 of 13 on third down tries, while going 10 of 18 themselves.
Ohio State executed like they were the betting favorites. Extremely impressive performance for a market underdog of more than a touchdown.
Is that the boxscore of a national champion? Well, Ohio State’s defense was more impressive against Alabama than FSU was last year when the Seminoles beat Auburn. You’d have to say that it is for games played in great scoring conditions. That’s enough defense to win a shootout.
Currently, we seem to be gazing at the potential tipping point where fast break football either gets over the hump or doesn’t.
Market-Projected Score: Oregon 41, Ohio State 34 (Oregon -7, total of 75)
That’s Because: Both teams played very high scoring games in great offensive conditions on New Year’s Day…and will once again be in great offensive conditions Monday night in Arlington. This is the field where Michigan State beat Baylor 42-41! The market expects a shootout, with superior seed Oregon getting the best of it.
Given what we all watched on New Year’s, it would seem that the critical factor determining the straight up and ATS winners will be the composure of Ohio State quarterback Cardale Jones. He didn’t play at all like a third string quarterback against Alabama (particularly on third downs). He performed like an elite college quarterback, just as he did vs. Wisconsin in the Big 10 championship game. But, Jones did throw one poor interception in a neck-and-neck nailbiter. If Oregon gets scoreboard distance Monday night, will Jones implode the way Jameis Winston did?
If you believe Jones is for real (and he hasn’t provided any reasons to think otherwise yet), then it’s easy to make the case that this line is too high. Ohio State “right now” looks to be a legitimate championship team capable of hanging with or beating Oregon.
Numbers-wise…HUGE in that context! Though Cardale Jones wasn’t on the field for the next comparison, we do have a relevant high quality common regular season opponent from the top eight of the final committee rankings…
Very similar yardage differentials even though Oregon enjoyed the benefit of a home game. If Jones truly is at least equal to or comparable to J.T. Barrett, it’s hard to find evidence for an Oregon laugher.
If you believe Jones’ lack of experience will cause OSU to lose the turnover battle, then it’s much easier to see Oregon topping market expectations. That would generate an up-tempo replay of the Rose Bowl with the glowing green and yellow steamroller finally putting fast break football over the top.
Back with you next week after the result is in the books to run the numbers and wrap up the 2014-2015 campaign. Enjoy the game!
Jeff Fogle is a freelance writer living in Austin, Texas. He writes about college and pro football, college and pro basketball, and MLB on his blog StatIntelligence. You can follow Jeff on Twitter @JeffFogle.