Writers of Pro Football Prospectus 2008

16 Nov 2015

OFI: The Field Narrows

by Chad Peltier

With Stanford's upset loss to rival Oregon and Oklahoma's big win over previously undefeated Baylor, the College Football Playoff field is narrowing considerably. We're left looking at a probable Big 12 winner in either Oklahoma or Oklahoma State; Notre Dame if they take care of business against Stanford; Clemson with an ACC Championship win over North Carolina; Ohio State if they can sweep the state of Michigan; Iowa with a win over the Big Ten East champion; Alabama or Florida from the SEC; and the dark horse but undefeated Houston Cougars. That's roughly ten teams that are still in contention.

After last week's games, the most recent F/+ rankings have Alabama, Clemson, Oklahoma, Notre Dame, and Ohio State at the top, followed by eight teams that have little to no chance of re-entering the playoff picture except for 11th-ranked Florida. According to the F/+ margins, Alabama (64.8 percent) and Clemson (63.7 percent) are in a clear tier by themselves, with Oklahoma, Notre Dame, and Ohio State (51.5, 49.0, and 48.8 percent) rounding out a second tier.

Two observations on where things stand after most teams have played ten games. First, the Pac-12 looks like it will get the short draw as the conference left out of the playoff. Despite having five teams ranked in the AP Poll and three in the F/+ top 25, the conference has cannibalized itself since Oregon upset Stanford this past week and Washington State continues to take down all comers. Second, as things stand now, another huge name -- and possibly another conference -- will also be left out of the playoff. Is there a world where an undefeated Ohio State gets left out of the playoff due to strength of schedule concerns? Or a Notre Dame team whose only loss is to the current top-seeded Clemson Tigers? Thankfully we've got three weeks of upsets to straighten things out, but as of now, the Playoff Selection Committee has a difficult decision on its hands picking the first-out team.

TOEDRAGS

  • Besides an increasingly bizarre loss to Ole Miss, Alabama's season has gone about as well as they could have hoped. The Crimson Tide have dominated LSU, Georgia, and Mississippi State with the nation's best defense (in the S&P+) and a strong running game. Derrick Henry is having the best season for an Alabama running back since Mark Ingram's Heisman-winning year, even bettering Ingram's total yardage, albeit on more carries. And the pass defense is the best in the nation in the S&P+, with the second-best success rate and adjusted sack rate, after being a liability last season. But Dak Prescott nevertheless threw for 300 total yards -- doesn't that hurt the Crimson Tide's pass defense and add to the perception that defensive coordinator Kirby Smart and Nick Saban can't handle mobile quarterbacks? Well, not necessarily. While it's true that Prescott threw for a lot of yards, he had just a 35 percent passing success rate. Further, despite surpassing the Tide in total yards, the Bulldogs managed just six total points on six scoring opportunities. The Crimson Tide forced field goals and turnovers on downs in a dominating red zone defensive effort.

  • So is Tom Herman really a quarterback whisperer? Houston's Kyle Postma relieved injured quarterback Greg Ward Jr. in the second quarter of the Cougars' comeback win over Memphis and went 21-of-33 for 236 yards. The former receiver echoed Ohio State's Cardale Jones taking over for an injured J.T. Barrett against Michigan last season as the Cougars scored 21 fourth-quarter points to finish the one-point win and preserve Houston's undefeated season. Postma also led the Cougars in rushing, averaging 8.2 yards on six carries. In his first year, Tom Herman has Houston just two wins away from an undefeated regular season, though that would require a season-ending victory over Navy.
  • Leonard Fournette was once again held under a hundred yards against Arkansas. The former Heisman leader averaged 4.8 yards per carry with a long run of just 13 yards. While a defensive focus on stopping Fournette left the already poor Arkansas pass defense (112th in passing S&P+) vulnerable to Brandon Harris, the Razorbacks demonstrated that their 11th ranking in rushing IsoPPP is no fluke. It wasn't so much that Fournette had a bad game, it was just that he was contained on explosive plays. For instance, he rushed with a 63 percent success rate, but with a long carry of 13 yards, his overall numbers -- and the Tigers' offensive effectiveness -- were stymied. Once again, Arkansas is surging late in the season.
  • Oregon had been left for dead after losses to Michigan State, Utah, and Washington State this season, but the Ducks have a chance to finish the regular season with nine wins in a clear rebuilding year. Their upset win over Stanford was due largely to explosive plays -- four of the Ducks' five touchdowns were plays of 47 or more yards. And while Oregon hasn't fielded a quality defense all season, they more or less held Stanford in check, holding Christian McCaffrey to 4.5 yards per carry, with a long gain of just 14 yards on the ground, and 18 yards through the air. Because of Stanford's clock-eating offense (Oregon had the ball for just under 18 minutes, while Stanford controlled possession for 42!), the Ducks ran just 48 total plays. But the Ducks had nine total explosive plays, meaning that 19 percent -- or nearly one in five -- of the Ducks overall offensive plays were explosive. And four of those nine were over 47 yards. The critical run was in the third quarter, when the Ducks scored two touchdowns (in just two minutes and 37 seconds of clock time) while shutting out Stanford.

HONOR ROLL

  • Deshaun Watson, QB, Clemson. Deshaun Watson has looked every bit of the top-tier quarterback we expected him to be coming out of high school. With another 360-yard passing performance and 105 rushing yards too, Watson was easily the best player on the field against Syracuse.
  • Derrick Henry, RB, Alabama. After showing up Leonard Fournette in the head-to-head matchup last week, Derrick Henry's subsequent performance against Mississippi State may have solidified his lead in the Heisman race, as he gained 204 yards on just 22 carries. While he had just a 55 percent rushing success rate, that performance included two explosive runs of 65-plus yards.
  • Jake Rudock, QB, and Jehu Chesson, WR, Michigan. Indiana will make almost any opposing quarterback look decent, but Jake Rudock and Jehu Chesson nonetheless were on fire in this double-overtime thriller. Rudock looked like Andrew Luck, passing for 440 yards and six touchdowns while averaging nearly ten yards per attempt. Rudock also led the Wolverines in rushing, picking up 64 yards on the ground. Chesson turned in a performance unlike any of his career -- his best game this season had been a four catch, 58-yard performance. Against Indiana, he had ten catches for 207 yards and a school-record-tying four touchdown grabs.

LOWSMAN WATCH

  • The Entire Alabama Defensive Line. It's hard to single out a single player from a game where the Alabama defense had twelve tackles for loss and nine sacks. I started with Jonathan Allen, who led with three tackles for loss and sacks on his own, but had to include A'Shawn Robinson too, as he had 2.5 of each. But Ryan Anderson recorded two tackles for loss and sacks by himself too, so why not just give it to the entire Crimson Tide front seven? As a side note, who are we to bet against an Alabama defense that looks like it will rank among Nick Saban's best, along with potentially the best season for an Alabama running back in years?

Posted by: Chad Peltier on 16 Nov 2015

1 comment, Last at 17 Nov 2015, 8:52am by jedmarshall

Comments

1
by jedmarshall :: Tue, 11/17/2015 - 8:52am

There is no way an undefeated OSU will not be in the playoffs. If they go undefeated, they will have run through both Michigan schools and Iowa greatly improving SOS.