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08 Dec 2014

OFI: The First Final Four

by Chad Peltier

The wait is over and the inaugural College Football Playoff final four has been announced: Alabama and Ohio State will square off in the Sugar Bowl, while Oregon and Florida State head to the Rose Bowl. Baylor and TCU, despite beating Kansas State and Iowa State by a combined margin of 93-30 on Saturday, were snubbed at fifth and sixth in the final rankings.

The Big 12's snub comes from two sources. First, Ohio State's surprising 59-0 demolition of the Wisconsin Badgers (17th in the current F/+) with the Buckeyes' third-string quarterback arguably pushed their resume ahead of either Big 12 school. You can debate whether the size of the fan base or final impressions had an inordinate impact of the Committee's final decision, but according to committee chairman Jeff Long, the decision to move Ohio State into the fourth spot was "decisive." Second, the lack of a Big 12 championship game inarguably hurt either Baylor's or TCU's chances because of the weight the committee put on Ohio State's 13th game and outright conference championship.

However, if you go by the F/+ rankings, Ohio State still makes the cut and TCU and Baylor are still snubbed -- but so is Florida State. Instead, the fourth-ranked team in the most recent F/+ rankings is 9-3 Ole Miss, who lost two games by a total of seven points and then came up demoralized and unmotivated in a 30-0 shutout versus Arkansas. However, while matching three of the top four F/+ teams with the Playoff top four is a testament to validity of the F/+, it also says that the Committee valued the regular-season accomplishments of Florida State. As the country's only undefeated team and eighth in the latest F/+ rankings, the Seminoles were an obvious pick for the final four despite failing to dominate any team in their 13 wins this season.


  • Missouri's best chance at the upset over Alabama was to limit Amari Cooper and create turnovers on defense (this was because the Missouri defensive line was third in Adjusted Sack Rate and 18th in Defensive Passing S&P+). While Cooper had the most receptions in the game with 12, he was held to just 6.9 yards per reception and no touchdowns, so A- in containing Cooper. However, the Missouri defense only managed two sacks for a loss of 9 total yards, three quarterback hurries, and no turnovers. Even with Cooper controlled as a possession receiver, Alabama's offense went wild, only punting three times and averaging 4.2 points per possession. The Missouri defense simply couldn't contain all of Alabama's playmakers: it limited Cooper's explosiveness, but left DeAndrew White running into the end zone. It held T.J. Yeldon to just 3.4 yards per carry, but allowed Derrick Henry to rush for 85 percent efficiency and 7.1 yards per carry. Blake Sims, without being pressured as consistently as expected, was extremely efficient, going 6-of-6 on third downs.
  • Maybe the biggest surprise of the weekend was the Ohio State defensive line's complete domination of the Wisconsin run game. The Badgers offense was built perfectly to take advantage of what many thought was the Achilles' heel of the Buckeyes defense: perimeter run defense. Ohio State's defense is 15th in Defensive F/+, but is 56th in Rushing S&P+ and 67th in Adjusted Line Yards. The Buckeyes allowed Indiana to rush for 281 yards and Navy to rush for 370. The Badgers, in contrast, were ninth in Offensive Rushing S&P+, ninth in IsoPPP, and 16th in Adjusted Line Yards. It was easy to predict that Melvin Gordon would break explosive run after explosive run and the Wisconsin offensive line would control the line of scrimmage. However, the Buckeyes held Gordon to just 2.9 yards per carry, 76 total yards, and 44 percent efficiency. The longest run they allowed all day was 13 yards, they racked up nine tackles for loss (24 percent of the Badgers' 37 rushing attempts), and ten of Gordon's 26 carries went for no gain or a loss.
  • The Florida State offensive line wasn't highly rated entering the ACC Championship, and is still ranked just 46th in Adjusted Line yards. However, the Seminoles offensive line cleared the way for Dalvin Cook to rush for 177 yards, only allowed one tackle for loss, and didn't allow a single sack or quarterback hurry. The Seminoles had only six plays for no gain or a loss out of 33 rushing attempts.

TOP 25

1. Alabama
2. Oregon
3. Florida State
4. Ohio State
5. Baylor
6. TCU
7. Michigan State

8. Ole Miss
9. Mississippi State
10. Georgia Tech
11. Kansas State
12. Arizona
13. Georgia
14. Auburn
15. Arizona State
16. LSU
17. UCLA
18. Louisville
19. Wisconsin
20. Arkansas
21. Clemson
22. USC
23. Missouri
24. Boise State
25. Oklahoma

The top 25 is a little less important this week now that we finally have our first ever College Football Playoff top four of Alabama, Oregon, Florida State, and Ohio State. My top four didn't budge from last week, but some of the teams they beat took a dive in the overall top 25, including Wisconsin, Arizona, and Missouri. Looking at the recently-updated F/+ rankings, Oklahoma and Auburn are the top two highest-rated teams in the F/+ rankings, with four losses apiece but ranked in the top 15 nonetheless. LSU isn't much further down at 18th, and USC below at 22nd. This was a year for parity across the country -- where three three-loss teams can sit in the F/+ top ten (Georgia, Georgia Tech, and Ole Miss). The inaugural Playoff semifinal games are perfect matchups as well: the F/+ No. 1 vs. 2 (Alabama-Ohio State) and No. 3 vs. 8 (Oregon-Florida State). While Florida State and Ohio State are both touchdown underdogs, it's easy to make a case for either team winning and meeting the other in the national championship.


  • Ezekiel Elliott, RB, Ohio State. With quarterback J.T. Barrett sidelined and Cardale Jones making his first career start, the sophomore running back did his part in an explosive 220-yard rushing performance. Averaging 11 yards per carry with a 55 percent success rate against the 27th-ranked Rushing S&P+ defense, Elliott sprinted for explosive plays on 15 percent of his carries. According to ESPN's Stats and Information, all but 13 of his total rushing yards were actually on Ohio State's base zone-read running play, too.
  • Dalvin Cook, RB, Florida State. The freshman running back continued his surge to the forefront of the Seminoles' offense, carrying the ball 31 times for 177 yards (57 percent efficiency), and adding five receptions for 43 yards. Cook handled starting running back duties with Karlos Williams out with a concussion, but I would imagine that most Seminoles fans would elevate Cook to the front of the depth chart with a performance like this.
  • Bryce Petty, QB, Baylor. Both quarterbacks were nearly flawless, but apart from an interception, Petty came back from his concussion with no ill effects, only missing on six passes all night to finish with 412 passing yards.
  • Trevone Boykin, QB, TCU. Boykin and Petty form a high-flying Big 12 duo, with Boykin adding 460 passing yards of his own in the demolition of Iowa State.


  • Sorry to TCU and Baylor. Ultimately two deserving teams were going to miss the inaugural Playoff, and this year they both came from the Big 12. TCU was only three points away from an undefeated season and sure spot in the Playoff, while Baylor only had the Morgantown collapse preventing them from a spot of their own. TCU and Baylor are both in the F/+ top ten (fifth and ninth, respectively) and match up well with their New Year's bowl opponents -- Ole Miss (fourth) and Michigan State (11th).


  • Michael Bennett, DL, Ohio State. The entire Ohio State defensive line played out of its mind on Saturday, but Bennett gets top honors for a two-sack, four-tackles for loss performance. Bennett also forced two fumbles, including the one that Joey Bosa ran in for a score.
  • Xavien Howard, DB, Baylor. Besides clinching the game-winning interception with Baylor up 11 in the fourth quarter, the defensive back had 1.5 tackles for loss, a pass breakup, and a sack. This was Howard's fourth interception of the season, moving him into a tie for 27th in the country.
  • Chucky Hunter, DL, TCU. Hunter was a big reason why Iowa State only managed three points with his 4.5 tackles for loss, 1.5 sacks, and quarterback hurry.

Posted by: Chad Peltier on 08 Dec 2014

18 comments, Last at 09 Dec 2014, 4:28pm by Pat


by Tarrant :: Mon, 12/08/2014 - 4:43pm

I think the Big 12 got too big for its britches and its commissioner decided to bet on a number of teams losing over the weekend, and figured that if they offered two teams as "equals", if there were two open spots, the committee might have taken both of them.

But when the weekend ended with all the top teams winning, and the Big 12 essentially putting forward a "You either take both of these, or neither" vibe, the committee chose to go with neither. They punted and took Ohio State.

I feel for TCU and Baylor, but I also feel like had the Big 12 named one of them its champion (you know, like their slogan has been the entire season, and using the rules that the commissioner clearly thought were in place over the summer when he announced that no matter what, they'd be able to name a single champion), then that single team would have had a far better chance than the two of them did as co-champions in front of the committee.

I place little blame on the committee, and much on the Big 12's commissioner and athletic directors. Baylor clearly knew that the strategy would backfire, and it did.

Sure, the lack of a conference championship game maybe mattered, but let's not forget that Baylor was playing a good team last weekend and won. Better than some of the other conference championship games. It's the wishy-washy-ness of the conference that did them in.

by Will :: Mon, 12/08/2014 - 4:57pm

On ESPN, they said that Baylor's OOC strength of schedule was 128th out of 128 FBS teams, and TCU's was in the 100's as well. If you are a contender and know you are playing one less game than other contenders, you have to schedule better than that.

Compared to Ohio State's OOC schedule that featured 6-5 Navy, 6-6 Virginia Tech, (AAC Co-Champion) 9-3 Cincinnati and a terrible Kent State team. The Big XII was stronger than the B1G this season, but I think Ohio State's somewhat strong OOC schedule, coupled with all of their best wins being on the road/neutral field, pushed them over the top.


by Hang50 :: Mon, 12/08/2014 - 6:15pm

Concerning OOC scheduling, I think every top program should be allowed—I'd go so far as to say "encouraged"—to schedule one (and only one) game with a regional FCS or small-conference school. It'd provide the big school with a tune-up game and the small school with a paycheck and increased visibility.

Here in Oregon, Portland State always seems to get really pumped up to travel to Eugene or Corvallis, even though it's rarely a competitive game (though Eastern Washington knocked off Oregon State last season). Given the rest of its OOC calendar, I actually think it's fine that Ohio State scheduled Kent State.

by Kal :: Mon, 12/08/2014 - 8:57pm

I'd rather abolish those games and make them a preseason game instead. If teams need warmups, schedule something like a scrimmage. The paycheck games suck for everyone.

by Pat :: Tue, 12/09/2014 - 3:16pm

Well, you're just saying that you make them so they don't count - but the problem is that there's no real 'count' and 'don't count' in college football anyway. I mean, it's easy enough to say that playing an FCS team is a paycheck game, but teams do lose those games. Top level FCS schools probably sit around the 30s-40s in most years.

I think a more interesting rule would be to allow teams to forfeit a game at halftime, allowing the remainder of the game to be played without changing the outcome. Actually, to make it more interesting you could basically reset the score at halftime if the trailing team agrees to forfeit. It'd be a lot more interesting, since the FBS schools could play bench players and let them get playing time and maybe even make the games more watchable later on.

by Will Allen :: Mon, 12/08/2014 - 5:09pm

The depth Ohio State had at qb this year really is stunning. Yeah, Saturday's game as a real outlier, but that 3rd stringer can really throw the ball.

by Pat :: Tue, 12/09/2014 - 3:24pm

I think it's clear that Jones is at least a viable quarterback, and there is no film on him that would help Saban and Alabama. The Wisconsin film doesn't help at all - that game got so out of hand so fast that the limited film on him is completely useless.

It'll be really interesting. Alabama's bread and butter is their defense, but they're really handicapped without any film on Jones. Lots of people are saying that Saban will find a way to confuse Jones, but if he does, he'll be doing it on the fly during the game, and if he guesses wrong on a weakness, that could lead to a cheap touchdown or two for Ohio State.

by Will Allen :: Tue, 12/09/2014 - 3:31pm

Yeah, having no film of a big, very talented qb, surrounded by other good players, while preparing for an elimination game, is a nightmare for a defensive oriented control freak like Saban. Alabama probably wins, but Ol' Nick probably sleeps about 3 hours from now until New Years Day.

by Will Allen :: Mon, 12/08/2014 - 5:17pm

I think 16 hours of football this Saturday, featuring Baylor at Ohio State, TCU at Florida State, Mississippi State at Oregon, and Michigan State at Alabama, would be a lot of fun. Make seeding for an 8 team playoff, featuring 5 conference champs, heavily dependent on strength of out of conference schedule, and the regular season would be enhanced as well.

by Hang50 :: Mon, 12/08/2014 - 6:21pm

I suspect that an 8-team playoff is a matter of when rather than if. I agree that it'd make for a mostly compelling slate of games, and I don't think it'd rob the regular season of its importance.

by Will Allen :: Mon, 12/08/2014 - 6:53pm

If you guaranteed the top two seeds to the highest rated conference champs, but the three and four seeds, and HFA, were awarded to whichever of the remaining two teams, be they out of the 3 remaining conference champs, or out of the 3 at large bids, based in good part by quality of out of conference schedule, I think you could substantially enhance the regular season, by greatly curtailing the incentive to deliberately schedule cream puffs.

by Pat :: Tue, 12/09/2014 - 3:30pm

The only way you get rid of the incentive to schedule cream puffs is to hand the Power 5 conferences large amounts of cash. Those games are scheduled for money, and a slight boost to getting into a playoff won't change that.

by Will Allen :: Tue, 12/09/2014 - 3:36pm

Whattaya' think ESPN, and maybe CBS, would pay to have 16 hours of college football playoff games this Saturday, and would those networks ever try to influence regular season scheduling,as part of the negotiations?

by Pat :: Tue, 12/09/2014 - 4:28pm

I'm not sure the schools, or even the networks, would want to. More competitive scheduling = fewer games that large fan bases watch. If Baylor plays Ohio State instead of OSU playing Kent State, and Baylor playing Samford, that's 1 game instead of 2, and one of the network deals with the leagues has less leverage.

I mean, is the increase in viewership in having a competitive game that much? Somehow I don't think so.

That, of course, ignores the other point, which is that the extra home game is more important to the schools as a draw for students and fundraising. Football makes money, sure, but the universities makes much, much more.

by Kal :: Mon, 12/08/2014 - 8:58pm

I'm starting to think at least naive approaches would. For instance, Oregon knew that they were in the championship game 3 weeks ago. They wouldn't have had to play hard against Colorado or OSU if you give them an auto-bid for being the champion. Same goes for FSU and Ohio State. The way it worked, where demand well outstripped supply, was that everyone was fighting tooth and nail for the whole season.

by Will Allen :: Mon, 12/08/2014 - 9:25pm

I think teams would play pretty hard to avoid having to cross the country for a playoff game on another good team's home field.

by Kal :: Tue, 12/09/2014 - 2:47am

Maybe. There are certain circumstances where that might not be possible to avoid regardless. This is one big advantage of having a group of people judging instead of just using records - if you play like crap, chances are good you'll get dinged for it.

by Hang50 :: Tue, 12/09/2014 - 2:55pm

I think it's somewhat obvious that there are trade-offs involved.

A larger playoff pool means a greater chance that the brackets include every team that deserves (define that how you will) a chance at the national championship. I'm no fan of the SEC, but had Auburn squeezed by Alabama in the Iron Bowl, I'm pretty sure I wouldn't for that reason declare Alabama undeserving of a spot in the playoff. Likewise, I'm fairly convinced that this year's 5th and 6th ranked teams (Baylor, TCU) deserve a spot in the bracket.

A larger playoff pool also involves downsides: I'm not sure that this year's 7th and 8th ranked teams (Miss St. and Mich St.) are top-flight teams and, as you said, a team at the top of the rankings going into the last week might have reason to think it could skate through a game.

The tradeoff is between "include all the deserving teams plus maybe a couple that aren't" and "include some of the deserving teams, but perhaps excluding some." I haven't reviewed recent rankings, but I'm sure that in some years, the top four (or three or even two) teams are fairly clearly a cut above the rest. As I hinted, I think this year it's the top six. A playoff is never going to be flexible enough to do the right thing every year. There will always be situations that "break" the current number.

Personally, I don't think an 8-team playoff would regularly encourage anyone to slack off during the closing weeks of the season, but I know one thing about my predictions of the future: I'm usually wrong.