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» SDA Bowl Spectacular: Part I

Our first round of bowl games includes exciting players like Wyoming quarterback Josh Allen, a potential first-round pick in April's draft.

27 Nov 2017

One Foot Inbounds: Top Teams Fall

by Chad Peltier

  • Pitt > Miami
  • Auburn > Alabama
  • Stanford > Notre Dame
  • Everyone else -- Clemson, Ohio State, Oklahoma, TCU, Wisconsin, Georgia -- won.

Let's start with the big one: the Iron Bowl, with Auburn taking down Alabama 26-14. Auburn getting the occasional win over Alabama isn't really the surprising part -- the Tigers have probably been the best November team in the country in recent years. But what was surprising was how lost the Crimson Tide looked at times, from consecutive aborted snaps, to eight penalties for 60 yards, to the botched field goal attempt at the end of the third quarter, Alabama looked rattled by Auburn.

By no means can this game be spun as a dominant win by the Tigers. Despite being outgained by nearly 100 yards (in part because the Tigers ran 17 more plays than the Tide), Alabama's offense actually had a 3 percent higher success rate than Auburn's did and averaged nearly the same yards per play (5.23 to 5.15). But we're not used to seeing any part of Alabama look frazzled -- and that's what we saw in this Iron Bowl.

Auburn's win can be boiled down to two statistics: third-down conversion rate and performance in scoring opportunities. First, Alabama's third-down conversion rate: 3-of-11. Auburn's: 9-of-18. Seven of Alabama's 11 third-down plays came in the second half. Only three of those seven were successful -- and they were all due to long runs by Jalen Hurts of 10, 16, and 8 yards (those three third-down runs accounted for 43 percent of Hurts' team-leading rushing output). Two things there: not only did Alabama's first successful third-down play come with less than 12 minutes left in the third quarter, but the only way the Tide could convert a third down try was via Hurts' legs. I guess it's not too surprising given that Auburn's defense is fourth in the country on third downs according to S&P+. More infuriating, three of Alabama's 11 third-down attempts came up just a yard short.

Second, Alabama averaged 2.8 points per scoring opportunity to Auburn's 4.5, and had five scoring opportunities to Auburn's six. Things started off fine for the Tide, with touchdowns on their first two trips across the Auburn 40-yard line. But then a drive that started with a 55-yard kickoff return ended in the aforementioned botched field goal attempt, which was then followed by consecutive drives that ended on downs, and then the end of the game itself. Those two critical fourth-quarter drives that ended on downs failed due to botched snaps (the first drive) and then a combination of a false-start penalty and 7-yard sack.

Usually Alabama loses because an opposing quarterback such as Johnny Manziel or Deshaun Watson, plays an incredible game. But while Jarrett Stidham had a solid game, averaging 8.5 yards per attempt, his performance wasn't superhuman. Alabama just lost on third downs and couldn't finish drives in the second half.

While Alabama's defeat was the most consequential (probably -- we'll address that later), Miami also dropped from the undefeated ranks after a listless post-Thanksgiving loss to Pitt. We thought the Hurricanes' first loss would come when their turnover luck abruptly ended, but that wasn't the case. Instead, their offense just slowed down.

Miami still managed to recover two Pitt fumbles and win the turnover margin overall, but the Hurricanes just couldn't put long drives together, with only two scoring opportunities total. Of the Hurricanes' 14 drives, four were three-and-outs and two ended in fumbles, while six others ended in punts after gaining a total of 83 yards. Leading running back Travis Homer averaged 1.7 yards per carry with a long of just 4 yards, while Malik Rosier completed just 44 percent of his passes at 5.5 yards per attempt. Pitt ranks 84th in the S&P+ and just 83rd in defensive S&P+, so it's not like this was an obvious trap game for the Hurricanes.

Finally, and much less consequentially, eighth-ranked Notre Dame was upset by Stanford 38-20. Stanford has scored more than 38 points against only Rice (121st in defensive S&P+), UCLA (120th in defensive S&P+), and Oregon (58th in defensive S&P+). Here again, the two teams had identical 33 percent offensive success rates, and Notre Dame was actually leading late in the third quarter. But following a field goal to go up 20-17, the Irish had a terrible run that saw a Cardinal touchdown, followed by a Brandon Wimbush interception on the very next play, another Stanford touchdown three plays later (on a 29-yard field), and then a fumbled kickoff return that led to yet another Stanford touchdown. And that final Cardinal touchdown was then followed by another Wimbush interception to seal the loss. The three Irish losses are to teams ranked No. 3, No. 12, and No. 27 in S&P+ right now.

Alabama's loss keeps the College Football Playoff picture muddied. Georgia or Auburn is definitely in, depending on which team wins the SEC Championship next week. The winner of the ACC is definitely in as well, though that team will now certainly have one loss. The loser of the ACC probably won't be able to slip in as a two-loss team, so that's two spots so far.

Oklahoma is certainly in with a rematch win over TCU next week, but it's tough to guarantee that a two-loss TCU would get in, even with a win over Oklahoma. Nevertheless, for now we can assume that the Big 12 gets a spot.

Wisconsin is also an obvious take if they can hand the Buckeyes their third loss in the Big 10 Championship Game. But if Ohio State wins, they're not guaranteed a spot in the playoff as the first two-loss team. Instead, the committee would likely have to argue between Alabama and Ohio State: Alabama's best win is over LSU, while Ohio State would claim wins over Penn State, Michigan State, Michigan, and Wisconsin. However, the Buckeyes have two extremely ugly losses. Alabama's single loss is to potential SEC champion Auburn, but the Crimson Tide did not play Georgia this year. It would be a tough decision, with both teams having a solid argument.

The one clear chaos result next week would be if TCU does manage to upset Oklahoma. According to FiveThirtyEight's College Football Prediction calculator, that would only bump the Horned Frogs' chances at the playoff to 17 percent, with six teams given a 42 percent chance of getting in, including Alabama, Georgia, and Auburn. If Clemson, TCU, and Ohio State win, there's a strong chance that Ohio State, Alabama, and the SEC champ all get in. Both Alabama and Ohio State might be rooting for a Horned Frogs upset, if they agree with FiveThirtyEight that TCU simply doesn't have a shot at getting in, even with a win.

TOEDRAGS

  • With 2:21 left in the game, undefeated Central Florida put together an 80-yard drive that included one completion for 30 yards and another for 23 yards and a touchdown. This put Central Florida up 42-34. South Florida only needed one play to answer -- an 83-yard pass from Quinton Flowers, followed by a successful two-point conversion -- to tie the game up. Central Florida didn't wait for its offense to get on the field to respond, with Mike Hughes returning the ensuing kickoff 95 yards for a touchdown and the 49-42 lead, which would seal the game for the Knights. That's three lead changes back-to-back-to-back, all in under a minute of game time. Central Florida now has a rematch against Memphis (the Knights won earlier in the season 40-13) to finish their undefeated regular season.
  • The Game between Ohio State and Michigan lived up to its hype as well, with Ohio State mounting its largest ever comeback win in the rivalry. After finding itself down by two scores at the end of the first quarter following three three-and-outs to start the game, Ohio State was either going to finish like they did against Penn State or like they did against Iowa. The run game was slowed early, and Michigan's aggressive defense, which finished with nine tackles for loss, held J.T. Barrett to just 30 yards on eight pass attempts midway through the third quarter. And then Barrett was knocked out of the game with a knee injury, forcing redshirt freshman backup Dwayne Haskins in to try and win the game, down six. At midfield on Haskins' first drive, consecutive false start penalties gave the Buckeyes third-and-13. Haskins responded with a 27-yard strike to Austin Mack, extending a drive that ultimately ended in a touchdown. Ohio State wouldn't relinquish the lead from that point on, and Haskins would finish the game 6-of-7 for 94 yards. Barrett is now "probable" to play against Wisconsin in the Big Ten Championship Game.
  • Ole Miss also upset Mississippi State in the Egg Bowl, a win that was followed by changes to the status of both head coaches. It's easiest to pin the upset on Nick Fitzgerald's injury on Mississippi State's second drive, forcing backup Keytaon Thompson into the game. But besides his early interception that led to an Ole Miss field goal, Thompson was fine, throwing for 195 yards on 7.2 yards per attempt, despite completing slightly under 50 percent of his passes. And the Bulldogs were much more successful than the Rebels on offense, with a 42 percent offensive success rate to Ole Miss' 25 percent. But Ole Miss scored touchdowns on all but one scoring opportunity, while Mississippi State averaged just 3.38 points per scoring opportunity, forced to kick field goals or having drives end in turnovers. Dan Mullen decided to take the Florida job on Sunday, and Ole Miss took the interim tag off of Matt Luke.

HONOR ROLL

  • Quinton Flowers, QB, South Florida. Quinton Flowers threw for 503 yards and ran for a team-leading 102 on 20 carries. That's 605 total yards of offense, an absolutely ridiculous output and effort. Flowers is in the top 50 in both rushing and passing yards per game. With a huge passing day in South Florida's bowl game (he'd need 400 yards, so not completely out of the question), Flowers would become one of the few players to throw for 3,000 and run for 1,000 in the same season.
  • Myles Gaskin, RB, Washington. Washington crushed Washington State in the Apple Cup 41-14, with the Cougars' two scores both coming in the fourth quarter with the game well out of hand. A big reason for that disparity was Myles Gaskin, who rushed for 192 yards on 25 carries, including a 43-yarder. Jake Browning threw for under 100 yards, but he wasn't really needed as the Huskies averaged 7.3 yards per carry.

LOWSMAN WATCH

  • Rashan Gary, DL, Michigan. Rashan Gary is a name that Ohio State fans thankfully will only have to remember for one more season. Gary, the former top overall recruit in the country, had two sacks and three total tackles for loss, saving his best performance of the year for The Game. Michigan finished with nine tackles for loss, and Gary was a big reason why.
  • Sam Hubbard, DL, Ohio State. Not to be outdone by a Michigan defensive lineman, Sam Hubbard also saved his best performance for The Game, registering 2.5 sacks and five total tackles. That's more than Hubbard had for the rest of the season.

Posted by: Chad Peltier on 27 Nov 2017

12 comments, Last at 28 Nov 2017, 6:42pm by Will Allen

Comments

1
by young curmudgeon :: Mon, 11/27/2017 - 11:15pm

If the NCAA is going to essentially demand that a conference put on a championship game (e.g., that's why there's a Big 12 championship game this year), it should not then put a team that doesn't even qualify for that game into the national championship playoff. Alabama should be eliminated from consideration. Is Alabama 'better' than some of the teams that will be in the playoff? Probably so. Did Alabama do what was necessary to qualify for the national playoff? Not if the conference playoff system actually means anything and is not just a blatant attempt to hype games, generate TV ratings, and earn even more money.

Oh, wait...

4
by jw124164 :: Tue, 11/28/2017 - 10:47am

presses the Like button

2
by Aaron Brooks Go... :: Tue, 11/28/2017 - 9:29am

Alabama's best win is the same as Troy's best win, except Troy did it on the road.

They've played two ranked teams and went 1-1. This is a title team?

5
by DisplacedPackerFan :: Tue, 11/28/2017 - 1:33pm

I've actually enjoyed seeing FEI ratings on them this year. Had them outside the top 15 for awhile, back in I think the 7-0 stage, and only 5th going into the Iron Bowl. Looking forward to seeing where they will rank after that loss. S&P has been a little more favorable to them. Are they a top 10 team, I'm pretty sure they are. Are they one of the best 4, hard to say with that schedule. They've beaten a lot of average teams a couple of good teams and some cupcakes.

I've looked at them like Wisconsin. Not a great schedule, but if they kept winning then they deserved their shot. Alabama didn't do that. If Wisconsin loses to Ohio State, same deal. If they win, then it's an example that they are a good team that was just faced with a crappy schedule. Personally I want to see three more games out of Wisconsin against solid teams. So yeah I want to see them in the championship game, I think that defense is that good and the offense is just good enough.

3
by Travis :: Tue, 11/28/2017 - 10:16am

That's three lead changes back-to-back-to-back, all in under a minute of game time

UCF was up 35-34 before the first of these touchdowns extended their lead to 8.

6
by Will Allen :: Tue, 11/28/2017 - 3:06pm

I will state again my preference for 5 conference champs, seeded 1-5, and three at large selections, seeded 6-8, with the quarterfinals at the home fields of seeds 1-4, on the 2nd Saturday in December, semi finals at two of the traditional bowl games on January 1st, and championship game on the first Monday more than 7 days after January 1st.

This would honor the oldest tradition of college football, the primacy of winning a conference, while allowing a terrific one loss team that didn't win a conference a chance. Most of all, that 2nd Saturday in December, with teams from different regions making unusual late season visits to the home fields of teams in different regions, would be a blast.

7
by Sixknots :: Tue, 11/28/2017 - 3:27pm

I must emphatically agree with Will!

8
by young curmudgeon :: Tue, 11/28/2017 - 3:44pm

I'm on board with this as well. This would also give teams from other conferences a chance, albeit a slight one, to make the playoff. If this means that some teams play "too many" games, I have no problem with eliminating one of the regular season games played against a Division II (or whatever they are called now) opponent.

9
by Will Allen :: Tue, 11/28/2017 - 3:51pm

If you structured a formula for seeds 6-8 correctly, you could provide a very strong incentive, for teams that thought of themselves as championship contenders, to try to schedule what they guessed would be the strongest nonconference opponents possible, as opposed to the Mercer, The Citadel, Kent State, etc., tomato cans.

10
by DisplacedPackerFan :: Tue, 11/28/2017 - 5:47pm

When the BCS was announced years ago I was annoyed because like you I've wanted an 8 team playoff for a long time. Your system is an excellent one and close to one I've thought about. I also love the idea of Alabama or USC or Georgia having a December game in Wisconsin or Michigan. The semi's and the championship are still likely to always favor southern teams. I still worry that things are going to jump to 16 teams and while that could still be made to work(*) I like the smaller size and I think 8 is a pretty good number for the way D1 is structured. I think the D2 tournament is too big for the number of conferences and schools. While D3 is even larger there are also more schools and conferences. Regardless I like 8 teams for the FBS playoffs.

(*)For this interested NCAA Division III has 32 teams in their playoffs with the 25 conference champs, 2 slots for the best teams not in a conference and 5 "at large" slots. A committee determines at large teams and overall seeding.
Division II has 28 teams with the top 4 seeds all get a first round bye. I believe the 15 conference champions get in with 13 at large. Committee selects and seeds.
FCS (formerly Division I-AA) has 24 teams with the top 8 seeds all getting a first round bye, 10 of the 13 FCS conferences get an automatic bid, the other 14 teams are selected by a committee.

11
by horn :: Tue, 11/28/2017 - 6:02pm

Thus making it impossible for fans of the team to see those playoff games: Let's see, I go to Pasadena for the QF, then Miami for the SF, then New Orleans for the title game. Billionaires & airlines rejoice! Some of us actually attend these important games from our alma maters rather than just watch on TV.

It's a terrible idea and that's before we account for the added injuries due to all of those teams playing more games and 2 of them playing THREE more games.

It devalues the regular season into meaninglessness. You'll then get scenarios where say, a 2-loss GA team that lost to Auburn twice gets in and possibly plays them a 3rd time in a 1 v8 or 2 v 7 matchup. Miami plays Clemson in the ACC title game, next week watch Miami play Clemson again thus making the earlier win totally worthless!

Stop trying to make college football into March Madness. Going back to the old BCS system would be an improvement.

For argument's sake let's say WI and OK lose and Clemson and GA win. Title game: Clemson v Georgia. Orange Bowl: Miami v TCU. Sugar Bowl Auburn v Okla. Rose Bowl: Ohio St v USC. Fiesta Bowl: Bama vs Wisconsin.

The college football regular season is the most exciting because the games actually mean something when you lose. Stop devaluing 12/13 games to get more teams in that don't deserve it and ending up with the team with the most injury luck winning.

12
by Will Allen :: Tue, 11/28/2017 - 6:42pm

If you aren't going to read what was written, don't bother responding.