Good morning everyone. Thanks for starting your day with me, and I hope you all had a wonderful holiday and a happy New Year.
I’ll admit that I wasn’t too inspired to write about college football given everything that happened in our nation’s capital yesterday. It was a sad day in America’s history, but hopefully a day we can soon put behind us, not by moving on (read: forget), but by moving forward together, and making progress.
Despite that, I’m giving it my best effort to break down the upcoming game for you, and put it into some context.
The Path to the Playoff
Despite speculation that the game might get pushed back, it looks like the National Championship between Ohio State and Alabama is still on. So let’s take a look at how the two teams got here.
Many would say that Ohio State had a much easier route to the championship game this year, and that would be fairly accurate. But they did have to beat one of the best teams to get there.
Ohio State was favored heavily in each of the six games they played in the Big Ten this year. As a result, their Elo rating didn’t improve much for the majority of the year. However, they made a huge jump into the stratosphere after last week’s win over Clemson, gaining 54 Elo points up to 2036, 31 points better than where LSU came in at last season before their national title game, to give you some perspective.
Meanwhile, Alabama had a very different path here: they faced a tough SEC schedule and continuously proved themselves throughout the season. They now head into the National Championship game at a 2052 Elo Rating and a 52.3% win probability.
This will be one of the closest matchups in CFB Playoff history based on Elo ratings. LSU had only a 36% win probability against Clemson last year, believe it or not. Clemson’s win against Alabama the year before was even more improbable, with a 31.5% WP.
The uniqueness of 2020 means that Ohio State essentially proved themselves National Championship-worthy just last week by beating one of the best teams in recent years.
Looking at the head-to-head matchup, I can’t help but think that Ohio State will be in over their heads, at least on the defensive side of the ball. As you can see, their biggest advantage is in their run defense, allowing .3 less EPA (Expected Points Added) per rush than Alabama. The only problem: that’s not Alabama’s game.
While Alabama only pass 4% more than they rush, they are just so much better at passing, and that is Ohio State’s weaknesses, so why wouldn’t they exploit it as much as possible in this game? And I know: Clemson’s strength was their pass game too, right? And they managed to slow them.
Yes, that’s very true. And there’s the chance that that could happen again. But two weeks in a row? Against two of the best passing offenses in college football? I can’t see it happening. And ‘Bama’s passing game has been even more effective (.7 PPA/Pass) than Clemson’s could ever dream of (.47 PPA/Pass), and that’s against much stronger SEC opponents than Dabo’s team had to face all year long, save maybe Notre Dame.
Now, I don’t see defense playing a huge role in this game, but if there’s going to be an offense that stalls out, I’d bet it will be Ohio State before it will be Alabama.
I’m unsure about Ohio State’s injury and COVID situation, but at least Justin Fields seems good to go, and after reading a comprehensive assessment of his injury from someone who claims to be a doctor (or at least a couch doctor), it sounds like it’s not much to worry about if they didn’t take him out of the game last week.
So, I’m going with Alabama in a close one. On the podcast Wednesday, Drew took Ohio State outright. We’ll see who comes out on top in the last game of a turbulent 2020 season on Monday.
Thanks for reading and stay safe out there. We’ll recap the season next week on Tuesday night live on Twitter, and then again in your inbox next Thursday.